About this Recording
8.120603 - BRITISH DANCE BANDS, Vol. 1 (1930-1943)


Original Recordings 1930-1943

British dance bands have, for too long in some quarters, occupied an inferior status to their American counterparts. The release of these CDs, which will present a panorama of homegrown talent, should enable modern enthusiasts for the first time to make an overall assessment of the British dance band scene as it really was when at its height during the inter-War years of the last century. Despite generally good to excellent presentation British bands, it must be admitted, could not often in their formative years boast soloists of the calibre of their American cousins. Indeed, during the 1920s in particular, their ranks were not infrequently swelled by imported American players. However, by the early 1930s, our own native musicians had already learned as much from listening to the flood of American recordings pressed in England as from playing alongside such “resident” Americans as Danny Polo (1901-1949), Adrian Rollini (1904-1956) and Sylvester Ahola (1902-1995) and were producing records which seriously rivalled American versions of the same repertoire. All too often, the precision of ensemble to be heard in British band records outshines its nearest American equivalent. And releasing a cross-section of the ‘Best of British’ in this A-to-Z format may also have the added advantage of juxtaposing the big names with the lesser-known, many of whom may seldom or never have been re-issued previously.

We commence our survey with a fine up-tempo rendition of “My Love Parade” (title-song of an Oscar-nominated 1929 film-musical starring Maurice Chevalier) by Alfredo (aka Alfred Gill, 1891-1966), whose fine band at London’s New Prince’s Restaurant in the 1920s was reputedly the first in Britain to wear white waistcoats with black ties and dinner-jackets. His vocalist is the South African Harry Jacobson, the pianist with the Savoy Orpheans from the autumn of 1931 to the spring of 1932 who was subsequently heard on keyboard on virtually all of Ray Noble’s British recordings.

Next, come two offerings from Bert Ambrose (1897-1971), the London-born violinist who in 1927 was elected musical director of the exclusive Mayfair Hotel at a then record annual fee of £10,000 and whose outfit was by the early 1930s regarded as crème de la crème among British bands. It might now be interesting to ponder just how many of the Mayfair’s rich and famous clients who danced to these sophisticated arrangements of Oscar Levant’s “Lady, Play Your Mandoline” or Sherwin Myers’ characteristic “Butterflies In The Rain” were aware that Ambrose was the son of an East End rag-and-bone man! Bert paid the best money and got the finest players, many of whom went on to become bandleaders themselves.

Bert’s fellow-Londoner, the redoubtable Sam Browne (1899-1972) sings on both tracks, and although resident with Ambrose at the time was in great demand as a session singer elsewhere, too, due to the fact he was one of the few who could sight-read the latest ballads. He is also the vocalist on our first track by another Londoner, “The Girl In The Little Green Hat”, by Billy Cotton (1899-1969) which well illustrates his excellent phrasing and clear diction at speed. These two tracks could well prove a revelation to those who only remember the Cotton band from its long-running radio Band Show (1949-1968), when the staple diet was knockabout comedy numbers. The band’s long-serving vocalist Alan Breeze (1909-1980) gives a sensitive account of “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square”, in one of the earliest recordings of this song.

A few may question the eligibility of The Ballyhooligans, led by pianist Phil Green (1911-1982), to a disc of this kind when Brian Rust, the Prince of discographers, categorises them as a jazz outfit. Their repertoire, however, has distinct dance band overtones. They were, moreover, purely a recording group and therefore commercially orientated towards those went out and bought their records – to dance to – as they surely did to those of The Blue Mountaineers, which was directed by Ambrose’s guitarist Joe Brannelly (1900- ) and featured other Ambrose alumni, notably trombonist Ted Heath (1902-1969), the doyen of British trumpeters Nat Gonella (1908-1998) and the ubiquitous Sam Browne. Another best-selling 1930s studio band was that fronted by the London-born pianist-arranger Harry Bidgood (1897-1957), a versatile outfit and very much a movable feast whose latest 10” and 7” records were the pride of Woolworth and Peacock stores. Bidgood directed hundreds of recordings for the Vocalion and Crystallate companies and subsequently also appeared on stage as… Primo Scala!

Don Marino Barreto (1908-1995) was a Cuban violinist and a talented pianist (who, coincidentally, recorded a fine version of “Rhapsody In Blue.” An ally and an early inspiration to his junior colleague Edmundo Ros, Barreto was among the first leaders in Britain to popularise Latin-American dance music, and example of which (“Green Eyes”) is included here, with vocal by the charming (and still very much with us) Kay Harding. This is followed immediately by “The Peanut Vendor” (a novelty number “in pseudo-Latin style” by Moisés Simons); surely one of the very first British rumba recordings, it compares favourably with other versions: by Ambrose (British), by Don Azpiazu (American). When Leamington-born Jack Payne (1899-1969) left the BBC D.O. in 1932, he was succeeded by Londoner Henry Hall (1898-1989) who here turns in a typically suave performance of “Stars Over Devon”, complemented by an equally smooth vocal by Dan Donovan (1901-1986).

Hitherto, all our bands have been male, but Ivy Benson (1913-1993) led an all-girls’ outfit which was second to none, despite the suggestions of her male competitors to the contrary! Ivy herself offers a superb alto solo in this lovely version of Tommy Dorsey’s signature-tune “I’m Gettin’ Sentimental Over You”. Conversely, Josephine Bradley (1893-1985) became the grande dame of dancing teachers; she actually invented the fox-trot and from 1937 lent her name to a sizeable series of strict-tempo dance records -featuring male musicians – culled, in this instance, from the band of Geraldo (aka Gerald Bright, 1904-1974).

Two of Great Britain’s most popular bands (through recordings) were based in Blackpool. The first, resident until 1935 at the Tower Ballroom and led by Bertini (aka London-born Bert Gutsell, 1896-1957), offers Noel Gay’s cheery “Letting In The Sunshine”, with a tunefully rhythmic refrain by ‘Vagabond Lover’ Cavan O’Connor (1899-1998), that most versatile, Nottingham-born tenor who was always kept busy recording thanks to his quick-learning capacity. The other Blackpool band, at the Winter Gardens, was led by Larry Brennan (? - 1949), the son of a London vicar who forsook the ministry for music and trained at Kneller Hall. Also enormously popular in the English provinces, the Minsk (Russia)-born publisher and arranger Herman Darewski (1883-1947) studied music in both London and Vienna. The purveyor of many successful musical comedies and author of over 3,000 light-musical compositions, intermittently, between 1923 and 1939, he was also the much-feted M.D. of the Spa Hall, Bridlington, a seaside venue tailored to the large audiences of holiday-makers (it seated 4,000!) who flocked via specially chartered trains to hear his orchestra.

Eddie Carroll (1907-1969) was a very talented and popular pianist who in 1937 took over at London’s Casani Club from another much-loved and inveterate ivory tickler -the American Charlie Kunz. Leamington Spa-born pianist Jay Wilbur (aka Wilbur Blinco, 1898-1969) assumed the session-name ‘Connecticut Collegians’ from Cecil Norman (1897-1989), another fine pianist who had actually led a band in Connecticut, USA, in 1928. Jay Wilbur made well over 1,000 recordings under various pseudonyms and was, in 1940, the first British bandleader to broadcast on a Sunday! The vocalist on the now virtually-forgotten 1931 ‘Horatio Nicholls’ number “Day By Day” is Jack Plant (1897-1977). Noted for his high crooning voice and faultless diction, Plant also masqueraded under the pseudonyms ‘Carol Porter’ (on Eclipse) and ‘Jack Gordon’ (on Imperial).

The final two tracks are by the ‘Durium Dance Band’. Frequently directed by London-born pianist Lew Stone (1898-1969), this was one of several house bands organised by the Durium Record Co., whose single-sided, cardboard-backed brown cellulose records offered the month’s latest dance-hits, two-at-a-time, for one shilling! Not surprisingly, these did not prove so very durable and today are consequently rarely found in playable condition. Like this one, with vocals by perhaps the most enduringly popular of all inter-War British dance band vocalists, the Mozambique-born Al Bowlly (1899-1941), they are eagerly sought by 78 collectors. The personnel on these discs, by and large, was drawn from the resident band which Stone was then directing at London’s prestigious Monseigneur Restaurant.

Guy W. Rowland, 2001

1. MY LOVE PARADE – Fox-trot (Schertzinger–Grey)
Alfredo & His Band; Harry Jacobson, vocal & piano
(7” Edison Bell Radio 89685X) Recorded 18th March, 1930, London 3:04

2. LADY, PLAY YOUR MANDOLINE – Fox-trot (Levant, arr. Stone)
Ambrose & His Orchestra; Sam Browne & The Three Ginx, vocal
(HMV OB 99-2) Recorded 12th February, 1931, Hayes, Middlesex 2:57

3. BUTTERFLIES IN THE RAIN – Quick-step (Myers–Reaves, arr. Munro)
Ambrose & His Orchestra; Sam Browne, vocal
(Brunswick GB 5650) Recorded 7th March, 1933, London 2:59

4. WHISPERING – Fox-trot (Schonberger–Schonberger)
The Ballyhooligans directed by Phil Green
(HMV OEA 2704) Recorded 27th February, 1936, London 2:58

5. GREEN EYES – Rumba (Rivera–Woods–Menendez)
Don Marino Barreto & His Cuban Orchestra; Kay Harding, vocal
(HMV OEA 9537) Recorded 17th October, 1941, London 3:10

6. THE PEANUT VENDOR – Fox-trot (Sunshine–Simons–Gilbert)
The BBC Dance Orchestra directed by Jack Payne;
Jack Payne, Bob Busby & Bob Manning, vocal
(Columbia CA 11238-2) Recorded 23rd February, 1931, London 3:09

7. STARS OVER DEVON – Fox-trot (Flynn–Egan)
The BBC Dance Orchestra directed by Henry Hall; Dan Donovan, vocal
(Columbia CA 15321) Recorded 7th October, 1935, London 3:16

Ivy Benson, saxophone, & Her Girls’Band
(HMV OEA 10069) Recorded 14th October, 1943, London 3:21

Bertini & The Tower, Blackpool, Dance band; Cavan O’Connor, vocal
(7” Eclipse 1321-2) Recorded 7th March, 1933, London 2:38

10. TELLING IT TO THE DAISIES – Fox-trot (Warren–Young)
Harry Bidgood & His Broadcasters; Tom Barratt, vocal
(7” Broadcast 1675) Recorded 30th September, 1930, London 2:48

11. LOVE, YOU FUNNY THING – Fox-trot (Ahlert–Turk)
The Blue Mountaineers directed by Joe Brannelly;
Nat Gonella, trumpet; Ted Heath, trombone; Sam Browne, vocal
(Broadcast Twelve 1150) Recorded 18th June, 1932, London 2:58>

12. TEA FOR TWO – Quick-step (Youmans)
Josephine Bradley & Her Strict-Tempo Dance Orchestra directed by Geraldo;
Gerald & Sid Bright, piano duet
(Columbia CA 17971) Recorded 30th April, 1940, London 2:59

13. WHEN CAFÉ LIGHTS WERE LOW – Fox-trot (Carr–Kennedy)
Larry Brennan & The Winter Gardens (Blackpool) Dance Band; Ken Beaumont, vocal
(Regal-Zonophone CAR 3183) Recorded 8th January, 1935, Blackpool 3:07

14. IN THE SWEET LONG AGO – Fox-trot (De Rose–Tobias)
Eddie Carroll, piano, & The Casani Club Orchestra; Hugh Diamond, vocal
(Parlophone CE 8257) Recorded 12th April, 1937, London 3:01

15. DAY BY DAY – Fox-trot (Nicholls–Gottler)
The Connecticut Collegians aka Jay Wilbur & His Band;
Jack Plant, vocal; Jay Wilbur, speech
(7: Eclipse JW 681) Recorded 18th May, 1932, London 2:35

16. THE GIRL IN THE LITTLE GREEN HAT – Fox-trot (Scholl–Browne–Rich)
Billy Cotton & His Band; Sam Browne, vocal
(Regal-Zonophone CAR 1826) Recorded 10th March, 1933, London 2:43

17. A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE – Slow fox-trot (Maschwitz–Sherwin)
Billy Cotton & His Band; Alan Breeze, vocal
(Rex R 4840) Recorded 12th July, 1940, London 3:19

18. WISHING (WILL MAKE IT SO) – Fox-trot (De Sylva)
Herman Darewski & His Band; Gerry Arthur, vocal
(Parlophone CE 10037) Recorded 20th August, 1939, Spa Hall, Bridlington 2:26

19. CAN’T WE TALK IT OVER? – Fox-trot (Washington–Young, arr. Fenhoulet)
The Durium Dance Band directed by Lew Stone; Al Bowlly, vocal
(Durium flexible disc E 1029) Recorded 20th April, 1932, London 2:17

20. a. TOO MANY TEARS – Fox-trot (Warren–Dubin)
b. WHEN YUBA PLAYS A RUMBA ON THE TUBA – Rumba fox-trot (Hupfeld)
The Durium Revellers directed by Arthur Lally; Sam Browne, vocal
(Durium flexible disc E 1072-C) Recorded c. June 1932, London 5:24

Transfers and digital noise reduction by Peter Dempsey.

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