Dudley 'Hip' Hippodrome
Memories of the 1950s by John Sparry in 1998 (The Blackcountryman)
When asked about his youth and interests in the 1950s, he replied, “Did you ever go to the DHSS?”
Yes, that’s right, DHSS. He was describing the ‘Dudley Hippodrome Swing Sessions’. He continued, “before the curtain opened the thrills began, listening to those trumpets tuning up!” In the mid-1950s every Sunday evening was a star night for all local big band music lovers. Each week there was a different ‘named’ band.
To hear the opening bars of ‘Listen to My Music’ and watch as the curtains parted to reveal the great Ted Heath Big Band with drummer Ronnie Verrell playing the roll on the deep tom-tom as the signature tune finished was such an exciting start to any evening!
Jack Parnell was the original drummer with Ted Heath and Kenny Baker was in the trumpet section. Don Lusher was on trombone with Bert Ezzard and Bobby Pratt also in the trumpet team. John remembered reading that the Count Bassie musicians were in awe of the Heath trumpets.
Big bands they were but they played all styles of music including the mysterious ‘Haitian Ritual’ and the exciting ‘King’s Cross Climax’,
The bands had arrangers like Johnny Keating and Kenny Graham and vocalists including Dennis Lotis, Dicky Valentine and Lita Rosa.
John remembered local tenor sax man, Johnny Gray, with his ‘Band of the Day’. Another local lad, Peter Cater kept rhythm on the drums for the Teddy Foster Orchestra.
Every weekend was different and exciting because live performance is so memorable. Take Sid Philips who was one of a group of eight musicians. He played the clarinet and they specialised in Dixieland tunes. Then Kenny Baker would appear on stage with them, playing trumpet and another talented versatile player ‘Professor’ Cyril Glover would join in the session. He played many styles of instrument, from sax to violin and even washboard. He was a good comedian too.
One of the smaller bands to appear at the Hippodrome was led by Reggie Goff who was in a wheelchair. He played saxophone and had a good singing voice. Reggie was accompanied by two accordionists, one of whom was the now World famous Stan Tracey.
John saw the Vic Lewis Orchestra, just before they toured America, and from America, the Gerry Mulligan Quartet. Ronnie Scott brought his big band to Dudley Hippodrome featuring Derek Humble on alto sax and Ken Wray on trombone. The Ronnie Scott evening was highlighted by Victor Fledman and Phil Seamen. Feldman, a child prodigy, played piano and vibes and Phil was behind the drum kit. The highlight came in a drum duet.
John was a budding drummer and his hero was Eric Delaney who was a great showman on drums and timpani. Eric’s star trumpet performers were Albert Hall and Bert Courtley.
The Sunday evening entertainment had a spot where a member of the public could join and John had his ‘spotlight moment’ when the Kirchin Band came to the Hippodrome. Their speciality was the Mambo and Basil, the son of bandleader Ivor invited John on stage to play ‘Short Stop’.
It didn’t lead John into a career as a musician, but it did provide him with an unforgettable experience, playing his favourite music, with his musical idols at his local venue. “Hurray for the ‘hip’ Hippodrome”.
Sadly the Hippodrome is to be demolished but the memories live on!
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