Viv Hardwick talks to Kenny Ball about his Jazz legend status, his touring life-style and his 52 years of entertaining stories heading for a book.

KENNY Ball is 80 and still has a tour list longer than his hits and albums from 52 years of success with His Jazzmen. The great trumpeter may no longer bounce into Darlington Civic Theatre on Saturday, but he is now one of the living legends of jazz… even if he’s uncomfortable about the subject.

“I think I’ve taken over Humphrey Lyttelton’s mantle because he was 86 and I did a concert with him about a month or two before he died.

The gig was a big hall in Southend and he came to see me in my dressing room and wanted a little chat. I thought the world of him and he signed a book for me and the missus and it was weird because he kind of knew he was going to die and I realised this was our farewell.

“They’re all falling off the perch now. Two of my piano players are now dead, but I didn’t work them that hard,” he jokes.

“I never used to be the oldest in the band but now I am,” adds Ball who will be appearing on stage with son Keith, who sings, and the Jive Aces.

“I play a couple of gigs a week and my life is marvellous. I do write a hell of a lot of music now and I’m writing a book with Digby Fairweather (the cornettist and Jazz Radio presenter) and my trombone player John Bennett who has been with me from the start.

John’s six years younger than me and he’s kept a diary for every day of the band’s history.

It’s incredible, he’s got four huge volumes with pictures as well,” says Ball who penned his autobiography, Blowing My Own Trumpet, seven years ago.

The new book will be called Pop-pourri and feature some of the many stories of life on the road for Ball & Co including perhaps some of the high points for him in the North-East.

Ball recalls spending a lot of money on a mini-van from the Ford dealership around the corner from Darlington’s Civic Theatre and marrying his second wife after meeting her at a Gosforth concert.

“The band wrote off the van on the way back. I’d flown back to do a TV show in the morning and I got a phone call saying all the band were in hospital. The roadie was my cousin and the van had gone off the road on a bend and hit a tree right in the middle of the bus and it was literally wrapped around the tree. I’ve never seen anything like it. Luckily everyone got out okay,” he says.

“My wife, Michelle Wilde, comes from Wideopen near Newcastle and I snatched her away from the North. She’s half- Danish and we met in 1973 during the interval and I was struck dumb. It was like an anvil falling on my head. Her mother was a fan but I went after her daughter. Her mother was from Newcastle but her dad was Admiral of the Fleet in the Danish Navy. I loved her accent because she learned her English in Denmark and she sounded like Marlene Dietrich,” Ball comments.

He also recalls during the band’s first tour of Germany that they all slept in a dormitory room to save money and awoke one night to a slapping sound to find that a sozzled Dickie Bishop had managed to set fire to his vest with a cigarette and was struggling to put out the wicklike advance of the embers.

“I also loved our first tour of Russia where our guide spoke perfect English and I got talking to him about books. He said he’d read James Bond and I asked ‘have you ever read the Bible?’ and he said ‘No, I’ve never read it, but I know the plot’.” he laughs.

“I’m not trying to be bigheaded but I honestly don’t know how many hit singles I’ve had and what they are all called. Some I like – Sukiyaki, Midnight In Moscow, Samantha and So Do I – but there’s one I’ve never performed on stage called I Still Love Them All because I can never remember the names of the girls, there are about 25 in total.”

Ball feels that performing keeps him alive and explains: “I love playing, I really love playing. Perhaps the journey is not so incredible, mainly because I have to be in Berlin the day after Darlington. I fly straight from Stansted and then back to England to continue the tour. I’ve just taken in a job for Christmas, 2011, in Birmingham. I’ve got the contract and I said to my secretary, who organised 50 per cent of the money up front, ‘we ought to try and make the gig, although we can keep the money if I’m dead’.”

■ Jazz Meets Jive, Kenny Ball and His Jazzmen, Darlington Civic Theatre, Saturday, 7.30pm. Tickets: £17, £15. Box Office: 01325-486-555 ■ December 7, Kenny Ball, Acker Bilk and Chris Barber, The Sage, Gateshead. 0191-443-4661