How it was back then.
A brief account from our leader Fred Dyer.

Read what it was like back in the day when our leader Fred Dyer was in the midst of "The Swing Era"

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It seems like only yesterday.

My name is Fred Dyer and this year (2017) I am 87 years old being born in 1930. I am the instigator and leader of Swing Era which gives me and all the band members great pleasure in performing our style of music to enthusiastic audiences.
The first gig I played (and got paid for) was in 1944 when I was still at school. Subsequently I played in many bands both pro and semi pro and formed a band in the army with a pianist from Manchester called David Burke when I did my national service for a grateful King! I was In The Royal Corps of Signals as a radio mechanic instructor and the band was called The 1TR Grippers. I also gigged with local bands around Catterick and Darlington in North Yorkshire and Durham always gaining valuable experience of the genre. I was offered the chance to turn professional when my lead trumpet player in the Grippers, a fellow called Artie Dance, wanted me to join him in London with his cousin - band leader Felix King who had his band in one of the big London hotels. After much heart searching and fatherly advice I turned it down. At times like that your future is sealed.

On being demobbed in 1950 I started playing regularly or depping in many bands around Merseyside, Chester and North Wales. There were still many full time (6 and 7 nights a week) professional dance halls in the area. There were several in Liverpool, The Locarno with the Hal Graham Band, The Grafton Rooms with Mrs Wilf Hamer and Her Band, Orrell Park Ballroom with Harry Bostock and his band Reeces Parker Street with not one but 3 bands and ballrooms in a 5 storey building run by Freddy Corbett (who was a world class trombone player and a big man physically ). I was playing for Freddie Corbett in 1950 when I first met Ken Dodd who was doing a turn as a singer with the band. There were also others but I can't now remember the leaders' names such as the Rialto and a huge place off Edge Lane called the Marmaduke hall.

In New Brighton the beautiful , sprung floor, Tower Ballroom had Bert Yates and his band later followed by Bill Gregson and his orchstra with the great Georgie Birchall as lead alto. Their signature tune was "Poor Butterfly" . The Tower was simply huge and Bill Gregson used 4 trumpets 4 trombones 5 saxes, drums, bass and TWO grand piano's on a stage over 6 feet high which cantilevered out over the dancers Also the Carl Ellis Rhumba Band played there. They often had visiting name bands do sets like Sid Phillips and his trad band.

In Birkenhead there were many dance halls which opened on one two or three evenings in the week, mainly Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Mostly just on Saturdays There was just one professional dance hall open all week called the Kingsland on Borough Road next door to the Plaza Cinema which has now gone. It was on the first floor and run by a man named Bill Boyd.Tuesday nights were reserved for “Old Time Dancing” Ie sequence dancing based on 16 bar repeats. Some tunes like The Gay Gordons, Strip the Willow, The Dashing White Sergeant, The Military Two Step and the Veleta. It was hard work playing from 8 o’clock to 11.45 with only 20 minutes break. The band was led by alto sax player and singer Alan Johnson known to everybody as “Al” The band had 3 saxes 1 trumpet , Piano, Bass and Drums. It was a good standard professional band with most players doubling other instruments. Al had some great swing arrangements including ones from Jimmy Dorsey, Fud Livingstone and others as well as the big band standards. Most nights the hall was packed out before 9.00 o’clock.

Moving towards Chester there was a very big purpose built Dance Hall in Ellesmere Port ( known then as boomtown) called the Majestic Ballroom with Artie Williams leading the band ( he also owned the Mother Redcaps club in Wallasey ) Artie was the lead Alto and was one of the better bands in the area with very good individual arrangements done by his pianist Don Lownes from Wallasey Artie was one of the few Pro bands who used 5 saxes. It was a great band to play with and the signature tune was "Night Train"
Although the pro bands were playing to packed dance halls on a nightly and often afternoon tea dance basis as well there were a lot of other dance venues which only operated at the end of the week i.e Thursday Friday and or Saturday. Byrne Avenue Baths (in the winter) and the Eastborough Dance hall in Eastham.

Most of the pro bands carried 3 saxes 3 rhythm and 3 brass. Exceptions were The Locarno with 5 saxes and 5 brass, The Grafton rooms with 4 saxes, The Majestic with full sax and brass sections, The Riverside Ballroom in Chester with full big band numbers.

It was a period I can only describe in hindsight as a halcyon time for me in my late teens and early twenties. There is no doubt the music genre was immensely popular. Times rolled on and the advent of television, and bingo halls and changing popular tastes forced the closure of cinema's and dance halls to follow.

Near the end of the 1950's I went to work abroad, got married and found little time for music. However, due to a combination of circumstances in 1999 following the meeting of an old friend, a trombone player called Harry Abrahams who was about 4 years older than me but is now sadly no longer with us I contacted a newly formed concert band in Heswall. As an aside I should say that the last time I had seen and played with Harry was way back in the 40's when we played with a band leader called Eddy Mendoza on the pier at New Brighton for saturday afternoon dances when people came over from Liverpool on the ferry to dance on the pier.
Next Sunday morning I went to Heswall and met the director and life long profession musician called Les Stevenson (in the bar at the British Legion Club) and I was allowed into the band on saxophone and clarinet.

At that time there were several semi pro musicians in The Heswall Concert of similar age to me with trhe same sort of experience as myself In the dance halls. Les of course who is 7 years older than me Dr John Booth, and Dennis Roscoe who were a year older and Bill Jones who is 6 months younger than me. Sadly Dennis has passed away.

It was Les, John, Bill and myself who got together and decided to start swing era around about 2010 with me acting as the director. Sadly Les who was a geat reed and flute player played Lead Tenor with swing Era until he was 92 and wasstill perfoeming well but age has cought up with him and the same seems to be happening with Bill who replace les on Lead Tenor
Les Stevenson learned his trade in the army becoming a graduate of Kneller Hall in London and an Army Band Master we are still using many of the great arrangements that Les wrote although he himself is not well enough to take part in performing any more.

Fred Dyer

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