Demand for the melodious sounds produced by British Dance Bands in their halcyon days remains very strong. One can view them as a refuge from the discordant mish-mash that constitutes today's world of popular music. To meet this need, we are pleased to present this collection of twenty-two tracks, each one by a different orchestra, transferred from the original discs, all of which were issued between 1928 and 1943.
How appropriate that the first track is by Jack Hylton and his Orchestra. This was the great show band of the 1930s. Not for them the routine of the fixed hotel, restaurant or ballroom engagement. Prestige was maintained and enhanced by regular appearances on stage at theatres and halls not only throughout Britain, but also on the continent. Frequent sessions in the recording studios produced a flow of 78s on the HMV and Decca labels for almost twenty years. Did You Mean It? was made in December 1936, just as Edward VIII's predicament was belatedly revealed to the nation; happily, this did not affect a sparkling performance by Jack's orchestra and his own vocal group, The Swingtette.
If the Hylton unit could be described as Britain's leading showband, few would dispute Ambrose's Orchestra. Ambrose's position as the man behind the top British dance combination of the period. Indeed, in the mid-Thirties it was accepted by those in the know as the best one on either side of the Atlantic, which in those days meant the world. The wealthy patrons of the Mayfair Hotel enjoyed foxtrots of the standard of I Guess I'll Have To Change My Plan. Ambrose insisted on employing only the best available musicians and paid them accordingly. He even imported top men from the USA from time to time. With Sam Browne and Elsie Carlisle as resident vocalists, he couldn't really go wrong, as your ears will no doubt confirm.
Henry Hall made a major impact on the popular music scene through the medium of the 'wireless' as we used to know it. Appointed from outside the West End coterie to direct the BBC's own dance orchestra in 1932, he received much unsolicited advice from other more established, and perhaps envious, members of his profession. This he chose to ignore, having already devised his own formula for success. After a shaky start, the band went from strength to strength, until by 1934, over fifty per cent of all the post arriving at Broadcasting House was for Henry from his multitude of fans. The contribution here is Got To Dance My Way To Heaven - bringing memories of Jessie Matthews singing and dancing her way through the 1936 Gaumont British film 'It's Love Again'.
Surely the record for longevity as an active bandleader is held, perhaps forever, by the late Joe Loss. He wielded the baton for almost sixty years, from 1930 until a few months before his death in June 1990. His band always produced work of the highest quality, subtly changing its character over the years to suit contemporary taste. Joe and his boys made hundreds of records - the one on this collection, You Go To My Head comes from the striking red and gold Regal range. The vocalist is Chick Henderson, today a cult figure of a standing approaching that of the great Al Bowlly.
It wasn't only good tunes that we received from across the Atlantic. Bandleaders arrived too - Carroll Gibbons, Jack Harris, Jay Whidden and Hal Swain all found fame and fortune on this side of the water. To these must be added Roy Fox, who landed here in September 1930, fresh from leading his own orchestra at the Embassy Club in Hollywood. His immaculate turnout, coupled with an ability to play unobtrusive but effective cornet, ensured his popularity at the Cafe de Paris, hard by Leicester Square. I've Got Beginner's Luck was recorded much later on, during the Fox band's touring period, when Mary Lee, Roy's teenage singing discovery, was working with him on a full time basis.
The name of Carroll Gibbons became synonymous with the fine musical fare provided by the Savoy Orpheans at the famous hotel in the Strand. He can be heard leading his men at the piano in unmistakeable style as they play From The Top Of Your Head. Guest studio vocalist is Brian Lawrance, available for such freelance jobs during the day, but very busy by night playing violin and singing with his own sextet at the Lansdowne Restaurant in Berkeley Square. The cream of British dance musicians didn't get excessive sleep or free time in the Thirties and Forties, but the cheques must have come in with welcome regularity.
The sheer majesty of sound produced by Louis Levy and His Gaumont-British Symphony remains unique. Nothing is more evocative of the cinema atmosphere of some sixty years ago, when nearly everybody visited these centres of entertainment at least once a week. This very large orchestra, some fifty-plus strong, was formed to provide film background music, but some of its records were obviously aimed at the dance band purchaser.
Further great names are set before us as we look down the contents list of this collection. There is Billy Cotton, who was more than a maestro of long standing. He was sportsman enough to play for Brentford FC in earlier days, and also represented Britain as a driver in the ERA motor racing team. To these achievements must be added his hundreds of bandshows on radio and television.
Nat Gonella was a former member of Billy's band who became a trumpet star in his own right and a 'great name on the halls' with his Georgians. Jay Wilbur, never one for the bright lights, was the driving force, as studio manager, behind some thousands of recording sessions. Jack Jackson had been a kingpin on trumpet in the bands of Messrs. Hylton and Payne before he led his own small team in to play at the Dorchester in 1933. He rounded off his career as a most popular disc jockey in the post-war years.
Annunzio Mantovani is probably best remembered for his 1950s light music recording hits. Who can forget the cascading strings in his revival of 'Charmaine'? In earlier career, however, he was very much a dance band man. When he made the waltz Let's Fall In Love For The Last Time he was directing the orchestra at the Hollywood Restaurant in Piccadilly.
Temptation Rag? Well that one goes back to 1911! It was a perfect subject for the ragtime style purveyed by Harry Roy at the Mayfair Hotel. Walkin' By The River, a 1943 offering by Geraldo, clearly demonstrates the effect of American practice on British arrangement. Ballroom king Victor Silvester was also under transatlantic influence when he formed his jazz orientated Jive Band. Instrumental stars such as George Chisolm and Tommy McQuater show their prowess on Crazy Rhythm.
Plenty more talent waits to entertain you in the remainder of this collection. Jack Payne, a martinet Thirties leader; Ennis Hylton, wife of the great Jack, leading a band which included singer/pianist Jimmy Miller, who was later to receive acclaim as conductor of the mighty Squadronaires; and recordings directed by three of Britain's best arrangers - Lew Stone, Sid Phillips and Ray Noble.
Palais de Danse was included in a session played in London in 1937 and intended solely for the American market. The oldest record on the playlist is My Pet, one of the excellent but difficult to find dance ones made by Bert Firman.
We know that for those who remember this music of the time, this album will bring back happy memories. For those perhaps too young to remember, it still has the ability to set your feet tapping. Why not go one further and roll back the carpet and dance to this wonderful music, just like they did in the 1930s?
SANDY FORBES 1994