BRITISH DANCE BANDS, Vol. 1 (1930-1943) (Naxos: 8.120603)
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BRITISH DANCE BANDS Vol.1
Britishdance bands have, for too long in some quarters, occupied an inferior status totheir American counterparts. The release of these CDs, which will present apanorama of homegrown talent, should enable modern enthusiasts for the firsttime to make an overall assessment of the British dance band scene as it reallywas when at its height during the inter-War years of the last century. Despitegenerally good to excellent presentation British bands, it must be admitted,could not often in their formative years boast soloists of the calibre of theirAmerican cousins. Indeed, during the 1920s in particular, their ranks were notinfrequently swelled by imported American players. However, by the early 1930s,our own native musicians had already learned as much from listening to theflood of American recordings pressed in England as from playing alongside such\resident" Americans as Danny Polo (1901-1949), Adrian Rollini (1904-1956) andSylvester Ahola (1902-1995) and were producing records which seriously rivalledAmerican versions of the same repertoire. All too often, the precision ofensemble to be heard in British band records outshines its nearest Americanequivalent. And releasing a cross-section of the 'Best of British' in thisA-to-Z format may also have the added advantage of juxtaposing the big nameswith the lesser-known, many of whom may seldom or never have been re-issuedpreviously.
Wecommence our survey with a fine up-tempo rendition of "My Love Parade" (title-songof an Oscar-nominated 1929 film-musical starring Maurice Chevalier) by Alfredo(aka Alfred Gill, 1891-1966), whose fine band at London's New Prince'sRestaurant in the 1920s was reputedly the first in Britain to wear whitewaistcoats with black ties and dinner-jackets. His vocalist is the SouthAfrican Harry Jacobson, the pianist with the Savoy Orpheans from the autumn of1931 to the spring of 1932 who was subsequently heard on keyboard on virtuallyall of Ray Noble's British recordings.
Next,come two offerings from Bert Ambrose (1897-1971), the London-born violinist whoin 1927 was elected musical director of the exclusive Mayfair Hotel at a thenrecord annual fee of ?é?ú10,000 and whose outfit was by the early 1930s regardedas cr?â?¿me de la cr?â?¿me among British bands. It might now be interesting toponder just how many of the Mayfair's rich and famous clients who danced tothese sophisticated arrangements of Oscar Levant's "Lady, Play Your Mandoline"or Sherwin Myers' characteristic "Butterflies In The Rain" were awarethat Ambrose was the son of an East End rag-and-bone man! Bert paid the bestmoney and got the finest players, many of whom went on to become bandleadersthemselves.
Bert'sfellow-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 sessionsinger elsewhere, too, due to the fact he was one of the few who couldsight-read the latest ballads. He is also the vocalist on our first track byanother Londoner, "The Girl In The Little Green Hat", by Billy Cotton(1899-1969) which well illustrates his excellent phrasing and clear diction atspeed. These two tracks could well prove a revelation to those who onlyremember the Cotton band from its long-running radio Band Show (1949-1968),when the staple diet was knockabout comedy numbers. The band's long-servingvocalist Alan Breeze (1909-1980) gives a sensitive account of "A NightingaleSang In Berkeley Square", in one of the earliest recordings of this song.
A few mayquestion the eligibility of The Ballyhooligans, led by pianist Phil Green(1911-1982), to a disc of this kind when Brian Rust, the Prince ofdiscographers, categorises them as a jazz outfit. Their repertoire, however,has distinct dance band overtones. They were, moreover, purely a recordinggroup and therefore commercially orientated towards those went out and boughttheir records - to dance to - as they surely did to those of The BlueMountaineers, 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 SamBrowne. Another best-selling 1930s studio band was that fronted by theLondon-born pianist-arranger Harry Bidgood (1897-1957), a versatile outfit andvery much a movable feast whose latest 10" and 7" records were the pride ofWoolworth and Peacock stores. Bidgood directed hundreds of recordings for theVocalion and Crystallate companies and subsequently also appeared on stage as...
DonMarino Barreto (1908-1995) was a Cuban violinist and a talented pianist (who,coincidentally, recorded a fine version of "Rhapsody In Blue." An ally and anearly inspiration to his junior colleague Edmundo Ros, Barreto was among thefirst leaders in Britain to popularise Latin-American dance music, and exampleof which ("Green Eyes") is included here, with vocal by the charming (and stillvery much with us) Kay Harding. This is followed immediately by "The PeanutVendor" (a novelty number "in pseudo-Latin style" by Moises Simons);surely one of the very first British rumba recordings, it compares favourablywith other versions: by Ambrose (British), by Don Azpiazu (American). WhenLeamington-born Jack Payne (1899-1969) left the BBC D.O. in 1932, he wassucceeded by Londoner Henry Hall (1898-1989) who here turns in a typicallysuave performance of "Stars Over Devon", complemented by an equally smoothvocal 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 thesuggestions of her male competitors to the contrary! Ivy herself offers asuperb alto solo in this lovely version of Tommy Dorsey's signature-tune "I'mGettin' Sentimental Over You". Conversely, Josephine Bradley (1893-1985) becamethe grande dame of dancing teachers; she actually invented the fox-trot andfrom 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 (throughrecordings) were based in Blackpool. The first, resident until 1935 at theTower Ballroom and led by Bertini (aka London-born Bert Gutsell, 1896-1957),offers Noel Gay's cheery "Letting In The Sunshine", with a tunefully rhythmicrefrain by 'Vagabond Lover' Cavan O'Connor (1899-1998), that most versatile,Nottingham-born tenor who was always kept busy recording thanks to hisquick-learning capacity. The other Blackpool band, at the Winter Gardens, wasled by Larry Brennan (? - 1949), the son of a London vicar who forsook theministry for music and trained at Kneller Hall. Also enormously popular in theEnglish provinces, the Minsk (Russia)-born publisher and arranger HermanDarewski (1883-1947) studied music in both London and Vienna. The purveyor ofmany successful musical comedies and author of over 3,000 light-musicalcompositions, intermittently, between 1923 and 1939, he was also the much-fetedM.D. of the Spa Hall, Bridlington, a seaside venue tailored to the largeaudiences of holiday-makers (it seated 4,000!) who flocked via speciallychartered trains to hear his orchestra.
EddieCarroll (1907-1969) was a very talented and popular pianist who in 1937 tookover at London's Casani Club from another much-loved and inveterate ivorytickler -the American Charlie Kunz. Leamington Spa-born pianist Jay Wilbur (akaWilbur Blinco, 1898-1969) assumed the session-name 'Connect