Talking to Ron
Prolific Big Band Tenorman
See also Pete's biography on Earlsdon
I started playing clarinet
in 1943...1944 to 46, then played Alto Sax/clarinet with all, yes all
the bands in Coventry, except Billy Monk. In December 1946 I was
called up into the R.A.F. to do my national service and was stationed
at Leuchers in Fife until demob in 1948.
I then changed to Tenor Sax and joined George Rowe at Coventry
Casino, my first pro job. This lasted until May 1950 when Cyril Narbeth
the well known Coventry trumpet player got me an audition with Teddy Fosters
band. I was with him until the end of 1950 and then I joined the then famous
Vic Lewis big Kenton–style band. I stayed there a about a year playing alongside
the great giant of jazz, Ronnie Scott. You can’t buy experience like that.
Kathy Stobart also came in bringing Derek Humble (magical). Ronnie
Simmonds was our majestic lead trumpet. It was some band.
1952 came and I found myself in Oscar Rabin’s immaculate sax section.
We were on
a Billy May kick, as we used to say then. It was soon after that I moved
up to Edinburgh to my favourite band of all: Basil Kirchin and the swingiest
band of the 50s. After that, back to Rabin, worn out with high living!
Soon after that I became associated with the Ken Mackintosh road
band. Many of my dearest friends passed through that team, amongst them
Bert Courtley, Alex McGregor and many others. This was during 1953 thru
1954. We did appear in the film An Alligator Named Daisy with a cast
During 1954 Johnny Dankworth, as he was then known, heard me and
invited me into his very, very slick band. I sight–read his library on my
first night at Swindon with the band. It may have peeved him a bit although
he was very complimentary. Alas, I did not leave him on good terms although
I have the greatest respect for his work.
1956—and on to Eric Delaney’s drum band until it perished
. One small happening during my stay with Eric. On a certain live radio
broadcast from the Paris Cinema in Lower Regent St, I had a feature
to play, On The Alamo. Eric absentmindedly beat it in at half tempo!
Ron Simmonds who was on lead trumpet refused to budge on the tempo, I should
have thanked him later as I got a good write up for my effort.
After Delaney, back to Ken Mackintosh again. I stayed until 1961
when I took my own band in to Mecca, in Glasgow—even did a T.V. with it
whilst up there.
1962 joined Cyril Stapleton. I know you won’t mind if I tell you
a short story of one of my best tries at becoming famous during that time.
We were playing for the prestigious Carl Alan awards at the Lyceum ballroom,
which was being televised live as usual, and attended by such musical
luminaries as Ted Heath, Geraldo, Joe Loss, the King of Dance etc.
I was with Cyril Stapleton and we were to accompany Lionel Blair, the British
I was to play the Stan Getz version of Desifinado. On the
floor Lionel minced around and our drummer (who shall remain nameless)
sailed into a Mambo tempo but I stuck to half tempo and no-one noticed,
including the drummer. We completed the number. Joe Loss who was present
almost immediately offered me a job on the strength of my performance.
1963 Savoy Hotel...1964. Back to Ken Mack again and into theatre
work and lots of recording sessions and radio. In 1974 I joined the B.B.C. full–time
as a member of the B.B.C. Radio Orchestra, which included the Big Band and
many very interesting combinations.
I stayed with the B.B.C. until my retirement in 1987. I did much
feature work with them, with Robert Farnon, Billy May, Bob Brookmeyer, Nelson Riddle
and many other American musical directors of major importance. Something
which took no skill at all was solo spots on the Royal Variety
shows from the Palladium with Joe Loss.
I have played for the great Don Lusher bands for a number
of years including his Ted Heath band. A beautiful experience to work with Ted’s old
combo of Jack Parnell and Norman Stenfalt with Lennie Bush. During a
lot of this time I taught clarinet, flute and saxophone at the prestigious
West Heath School at Sevenoaks, previously attended by H.R.H. Princess Diana.
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