If you have any memories of listening to, or
playing with the band, please let me have them for inclusion on this page.
I have pulled together a few anecdotes from the
site along with a recent email
The Savannah Jazz Band with Frank Brooker at Moor Park Jazz Club, Preston on 7th
Written by the late Gordon Hughes some years
TWO proud boasts used to surface in the
one-time mill town of Huddersfield One was that this gritty town on the edge of
the Pennines in West Yorkshire used to produce the finest worsted cloth in the
world. In the face of stiff competition from the rest of the world that may now
be open to some dispute.
The other boast was that it hosted one of the country’s finest traditional jazz
bands. And this probably isn’t in any dispute at all.
For well over two decades the Savannah Jazz Band has been flying the flag on the
British and European jazz scene, and beyond. Wherever else they have appeared,
in Holland. Denmark, Germany, Finland, Majorca and beyond, in Canada and
America, the lads have easily added to their legion of dedicated fans.
Humphrey Lyttelton once described the band as “totally professional, one of the
very best in the business.” Praise indeed, from a man who knows what he’s
Naturally, the band has been forced into adapting to change over the years, but
it is a tribute to their dedication, shrewd replacements and a general
willingness to rebuild that today, most; say, they are playing as well as ever.
The admiration between the band and the constant stream of musicians queuing up
to guest with drummer leader John Meehan and the boys is mutual. The band’s
music is inspired by the legendary Ken Colyer. Yet, there’s a passion and a
drive which makes the Savannah quite inimitable.
Their fans reckon it’s due to a perfect blend of musicianship, remarkable
cohesion, jazz craft and musical values. Added to this is the knack of catering
for Dixieland as well as the basic New Orleans jazz tastes to appease both the
casual and serious listener. It works well.
“We keep on playing and the people keep coming” says leader Meehan, “so we must
be doing something right.”. The band has been doing it right for well over 25
years and there’s no sign yet of any let up..
Demand for the band’s music has prompted sixteen recordings, eleven live
concerts and five in the upstairs room of a pub at Golcar, in the hills high
Lake Records’ chief Paul Adams first met up with the band some fifteen years
ago. “I’d heard rumours of them before that, but nothing I could really pin
down” says Paul. ‘It had been an average, run-of-the-mill jazz weekend in a
large ballroom and I was definitely restless. Then the Savannah took the stage.
I remember thinking that’s more like it.... I think I’ve felt the same ever
Playing at Eagley Jazz Club 19th June 2006 when John Meehan invited a young
drummer to take his place
Terry Birkinhead 8th April
I always refer to the Savannah
as a Rolls-Royce band – they always provide a great performance without fail.
I first heard them in the ‘Starlights’ club in a dark upstairs room at Keswick
Jazz Festival in 1992 and I was hooked. The band at that time – Brian Ellis (tmb),
Tony Smith (tpt/voc.), Martin Fox (clt), Jack Cooper (bjo)), Tony Pollitt (s/b)
and John Meehan (dms & leader.)
Subsequently, from October ’92 to March ’08, I hired the band on 14 occasions at
clubs in Newton, Winwick & Croft and they were always enormously popular.
Barbara and I heard them on 53 occasions over 25 years, at 24 different venues !
I remember them playing to a packed Rawnsley Hall at Keswick Jazz Festival (1997
?), and Tony Smith told the audience “It’s so nice to see so many of our friends
here, from Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and NEWTON-LE-WILLOWS !” Many of the
comments were of the type “Newton le where ?”
Best of all for me was the surprise (early) retirement party in 1995, my wife –
a member of the MI5 – having secretly hired the Savannah and invited 100 friends
as guests at Newton Sports Club. I was completely gob-smacked – supposedly
dropping off a camera for my daughter at a party! During the evening, my
daughter announced that as I was retiring, it was about time that I learned to
play an instrument, and would I come up and receive a present, which looked
ominously like a clarinet case, with the smiling Martin Fox looking on. Under
audience insistence I opened the box –it contained a kazoo! So I can proudly say
that I have ‘sat in’ with the Savannah, though most of them couldn't play for
Thanks, Savannah, for all the extremely enjoyable jazz that you have served up
for us for 40 years.
Fred Burnett 8th April 2019 -
Speaking of surprise birthday parties, one of
the Savannah's biggest fans was the late Freda Barker, who booked them as often
as she could, to play at Blakey's Jazz Bar in Blackburn. So when her daughter
asked for my help to organise a birthday party for her, I approached Terry
Birkinhead as I knew he had booked them to play at Croft and I took this
photograph of Freda with the band, for her 80th birthday. Terry reserved us
front row seats for the occasion.
Video of the band at Moor Park Jazz Club, Preston, on 6th
Savannah Jazz Band's 40th
Saturday 8th June we
attended this special gig in the ‘Keys’ restaurant in a medieval crypt below St.
Peter’s parish church, Huddersfield.
A great evening with about
60 fans present. Only leader/drummer John Meehan has the full 40 year medal, but
trombonist/pianist Brian Ellis follows close. Frontman/trumpeter/harmonicist/vocalist
Bill Smith and bassist Tony Pollitt (excused for family duties on this evening)
chalk up many years ; Roger Myerscough (the Essex scouser) on
clarinet/alto/vocals & repartee has clocked up 10 (?) years ; Chris Marney on
banjo/vocals and dep. Jim Swinnerton on his romping string bass completed the
evening’s line up.
Some of our favourite
numbers : - ‘Travellin’ Blues’, Oscar Petersen’s ‘Hymn to Freedom’ (appropriate
following the 75th anniversary of D-Day.) and ‘Running Wild’ with John Meehan
ripping into a break on percussion.
We were that mesmerised that
we got hopelessly lost on the 4 mile trip to our B & B in Elland, but were
rescued about midnight) by some friendly & understanding Yorkshiremen taking
pity on a couple from the Red Rose side of the fence.