Captain Ken #22 - A Love of Music

Captain Ken Owen had a long career at sea which included sailing as master with Overseas Containers Limited (OCL), P&O Containers and P&O Nedlloyd.   Ken is now retired and in 2020 he started writing a monthly article for publication using the pen name 'Captain Ken' in the Mellor Church Outlook magazine.

A number of articles that Ken has written are about his time at sea and he has very kindly agreed that we can share them here.  

In this, the 22nd article in the series to be reproduced on the PONLHeritage site, Captain Owen tells the story of the opportunities taken to experience live music played by some of the American greats

This article was first published in the church magazine in June 2022.

Before actually going to sea in the merchant Navy at the age of seventeen,  I was quite keen on jazz music and expected it would be just one of many interests I would have to forgo.  To my surprise, this did not turn out to be the case.

In the late fifties  and early sixties I was serving as a junior officer on the ‘Ulysses ’running between the Far East and the east coast of America.  Of course in those days, BC ( before containers ), cargo ships spent at least fifty per cent of the voyage in port, loading and discharging cargo.  This of course gave us a wonderful opportunity to enjoy shore life and make many friends, all over the world.


We were in New York, in a particularly bad spell of winter weather, and people had been advised on the radio not to venture out as snow blizzards were rampant.  I had noted that my favourite jazz singer, Peggy Lee, was appearing at the ‘Copa Cabana’, which  I considered to be the  greatest night club.


All road traffic had ceased, but we were berthed in Brooklyn close to the underground railway, and so could make the journey.  Although hardly any audience had been able to make it, the huge cabaret  and orchestra continued as normal, and was fantastic.  The Copa dancers being equal to the famous  Tiller girls.  And it felt as if Peggy Lee was singing specially for us.  Her greatest hit at the time was ‘The folk who live on the Hill’.  I’ve often wondered if that had anything to do with my eventual choice of residence.

On another occasion when berthed in Boston, Massachusetts, my friend and I were outside the Storyville night club, where the Count Basie Orchestra was expected to play.  A friendly chap at the door, approached us and asked if we were English, having heard us talk.  He asked if we had heard of  a place called Warrington, as he had been stationed there, while serving in the U.S. Air Force , and loved every minute.  This must of course been Burtonwood.


We managed to get a table, right at the front, and as one of the greatest swing bands in the world prepared to play.  Count Basie himself introduced the man who had just been voted the finest Jazz singer in the world.............Joe Williams.  Of course we then realised it had been Joe, with whom we’d been talking, and he gave a special wave to us, and said ‘Hi Boys’, as the band began to play, and we realized that we were probably the only people to know that the world’s top jazz singer, loved Warrington.  We also noted that the secret of Count Basie's unique sound, was that his percussion section was led by his brilliant guitarist,  Freddy Green.

Sometime  later we berthed in New York’s Manhattan, and loved to frequent Greenwich Village.  While we were  actually in the  pub, ‘Cafe Bohemia’ listening to Donald Byrd’s group, playing , we noticed Donald say to the group, ’Miles has just come in’, then immediately changed the tune they were currently  playing, to ‘Bye Bye, blackbird’, which was Miles Davis’s most recent hit tune.  Later, as I collected two pints from the bar, I actually stumbled in to the man standing next to me.  Realizing who it was, I apologised, saying  ‘Sorry Miles’.  He replied in a most agreeable manner, ‘That’s alright.’  

Although that was the full extent of our conversation, I was quite astonished, as it was top news at the time that Miles Davis, considered the world’s top trumpet player, and had been assaulted by the New York police, in the doorway of the ‘Bird Land’ night club, on Broadway, where he was top of the bill. The Press had reported that Miles had had become very bitter after the experience, so it was good to find him so friendly.

(This article was first published in the June 2022 edition of the Mellor Church Outlook Magazine).

For further articles in this series:

Captain Ken Owen has kindly provided us with a new series of articles which will be published on a regular basis here.  If you are interested in reading other articles that he has written which we haven't yet used then please feel free to go to