Captain Ken #24 - Music across the oceans

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 24th article of the Captain Ken articles to be reproduced on the PONLHeritage site, Captain Owen talks further about his love of music and the places that he has played 9and heard playing) around the world.  

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

The recent magnificent Organ Recital given by John Le Grove, with Nathan and Eleanor, at Mellor Church, reminded me of an occasion some years ago when my ship ‘Strathconon’ was calling at Marseille.  I had decided to make use of a free afternoon by visiting the old Byzantine Cathedral which stands majestically above the ancient port.

The Cathedral also intrigued me, as it looked down several miles out to sea, on the Chateau D’If  prison island of the Count of Monte Cristo.  It was a hot sunny afternoon, and nobody seemed to be about so I entered through a small door and was admiring the interior when I noticed another visitor who drew my attention to the magnificent organ.  We obviously didn’t share a language, but I nodded my agreement with his enthusiasm, and to my delight, he sat down at the organ and began to play.

After several minutes of truly delightful organ music, a Church security official suddenly entered and began to remonstrate with the very capable organist who immediately pointed out that it was me that had given permission for him to play.  There followed a most fascinating argument as we seemed to have no common language, and the French ‘job’s worth Official was clearly unimpressed with the organist’s obvious talent.


As a keen though not particularly good boogie and jazz pianist, I have several memories of some interesting pianos in a variety of countries.


The current troubles in Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon, are very unfortunate.  The capital, Colombo, was once a very popular place to visit.  On one visit several of us decided to go for a lunch at the Mount Lavinia hotel, some several miles south of Colombo.  It was the perfect tropical spa on the Indian Ocean beach.  As we settled down in front of the hotel, I noticed a magnificent grand piano, on a stage facing out to sea.

With full permission from the management, I sat on the piano stool and prepared to play.  I opened the keyboard lid and, to my complete surprise, found someone had stolen the keyboard.  The piano was empty.  I think I was more disappointed than the audience.  


I did enjoy playing on the old jazz piano at the famous Peace Hotel in Shanghai and then at the old Portuguese observatory on the Bund promenade.  That felt very romantic. 

Although I did play boogie in New Orleans, it was only at the Seaman’s Mission not a proper jazz club, but it was at Gulfport Mississippi at the Best Western Hotel where I really enjoyed my best session ever.


My most memorable appearance was in the late seventies, in Hong Kong.  I was chief officer of the OCL Container ship ‘Liverpool Bay’.  The captain was Canadian , Bob Peterson, who had been a drummer before coming to Britain in a Blue Funnel ship in order to join the R.A.F as a fighter pilot.  However he changed his mind and decided to become a ship’s officer. and indeed became the best captain ever. and was on his final voyage.  Of all things, the chief steward on that  voyage was Dave McCartney, an actual older cousin of Beatle Paul McCartney.


The ship was not due to sail until the following morning, so we decided to call at the Speakeasy night club.  The Club asked us to play and introduced us as ‘The Liverpool Bay City Rollers playing for the first time in Hong Kong’.  I added that it was in fact the first time playing anywhere.

So there we were, ship’s captain on drums, chief mate on piano, second mate on guitar, and Dave McCartney serving drinks.  It was quite hilarious as every time Bob hit the cymbal, the audience gave loud applause.  And Bob observed he had never ever enjoyed making such a fool of himself.

(This article was first published in the August 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