Manchester's Jazz in the 40's & 50's

I would certainly be happy to provide a few reminiscences.  I well remember the MSG and Jenks.  He was a character on his own.  Also the Eric Batty Jazz Aces at the Thatched Cottage in Market Street.  They had Roy Williams on trombone - he played wonderful Kid Ory stuff in those days.  Roy was very intrigued by our band (Ralph Watmough Jazz Band ) at that time, because we had no trumpet, we had alto sax as lead, with Bob Wright playing clarinet (he later joined the Zenith Six to replace John Barnes).

There used to be a tape (of the large variety - not a cassette) floating round of a session by the Watmough band at the Mardi Gras Liverpool (I would guess it was recorded in 1961 or 62), but I have never been able to trace a copy.  It was recorded by the late Joe Shannon, and the band was on a strictly Basie small band/John Kirby kick at the time, but eschewing any saxes owing to the "dirty bopper" element in audiences of those days.  The assembled alumni included Prof Stringer on clt, the late Tony ("Art") Reid on trumpet and either Harry Price or Mike Nash (if I had to swear on it, I would say the former) on tmb.

If anyone out there knows of a copy, I should be very interested.


Ralph Watmough (RIP)
Lots of other memories where that came from!

I remember The Sportsmans, on Market Street, Manchester. Down the steep stars into the basement, with the very small bar immediately to the left and the tiny jazz room opposite to the right. Many local bands played there, but they had a strange (Scottish, I understood) licence and closed the bar at 9.30 p.m. The Club continued to the more normal 10.30 p.m. We would rush to the bar and order several pints each - thank goodness for the Britannia tables with the shelf underneath. (No drinking-up time in those days.)  There we would store our extra drinks, to keep topping up our original glasses to keep them "live" for the rest of the evening and prevent the "management" from collecting them. A friend (to this day) and myself met a fellow fan in the Gents who was carrying three extra pints for himself, was bursting, but couldn't find any place to put them down. We assisted by relieving him of a pint each, and he became a friend for many further years.   Another Jazz Club (short lived) was the White (Horse ?) on Spring Gardens. It was here we saw the first band to be brought to Manchester by Ken Colyer following his break with Chris Barber - and did we look forward to it!. It was better than expected and contained this strange Clarinetist who played out of the side of his mouth - Bernard Bilk.  

Mike Howarth  -  fan since the 1940s
22 October 2005

Dear Fred,

Regarding Mike Howarth's article I remember seeing this session. It would be in the mid 50s, I went to the Bodega to see Colyer and was informed they had double booked the place and that the venue was transferred to the 'Three Tuns Restaurant' on Spring Gardens. On arriving there I discovered it was not licensed. Being used to the 100 club in London which was also dry at the time I waited until Half time to slip out to the Post Office Club (which was also a jazz venue). I remember the band very well that night with Bernard Bilk, Ed O'Donnel and Alexis Korner (Skiffle). Happy Days.

Tony Smith (Yorkshire Stompers)
27 October 2005

Dear Fred.

Reading through the jazz info on the net, where I came across your name, hoping you can help me to find some old recorded numbers, transferred to cds or even in the old tapes,33s,78s, better in CDs though.

I was a regular at the Grosvenor Hotel, Deansgate, Manchester, from 1950s, followed that great band the "The Saints Jazz Band". The 1st line up I listened to was, Mike McNama (trumpet), Ron Simpson (trombone), Al Radcliffe (clarinet), John Fish (piano), Tom Gregory (bass), Jim Lolley (banjo), and John Mills (drums). There were changes made later in the line up, Could you help me to get hold of some of their recordings? I used to hav
e some but lost them coming to Australia in the mid 1960s, I know they recorded " I want a girl just like the girl that married dear old dad" they played it fantastic at the royal jazz show with Princess Elizabeth there, that was put on record, they also recorded "The Saints" "Savoy Blues" and most likely many others, if you can get these and others I would be most grateful, I will post the money prior to you posting, the cost of the recording including postage.

I was a member of " Lancashire Society of Jazz Music" still got the card 540, other clubs I was a member was "York Club" 2, Bootle Street, Manchester, "Manchester Jazz Club", when the Zenith Six was resident, "Oasis' 45-47 Lloyd Street, Manchester, Club Southside: with the South Side Jazzmen as resident, plus "Imperial Club" Stockport, "The Bamboo Club", Hazel Grove, and "Buxton Jazz Club". I still have my membership cards for these and a few others, but would love to get hold of the recordings and more if there are any around.

Great Memories.

Neville F. Jones ( nevfjones4 * (replace " * " with "@"

35 McConechy Drive, Victoria Point, Queensland 4165, Australia

Southport Rhythm Club


Since I sent you an email re Frank Wilson I have found, after much searching, a photo of Frank Wilson taken about 1948 at the Southport Rhythm Club. Perhaps you may wish to put the photo of Frank on your web site. 

Frank played in and around the Southort area with Dave Wilson’s Dixielanders, Dave was no relation to Frank, they were an outstanding band, in that era most of the gigs were dances etc, they also had a regular gig at the old Southport Pier Pavillion, it is possible that they were one of the first bands to play jazz in that style.

John Chilton's Who’s Who of British Jazz states the band was formed in the early 40s and played Manchester Rhythm Club in 1943. Frank will be 85 in 2008. He was playing very well last year in London.

Eric Lister lived in Southport for many years and I remember him well, I cannot remember were I heard him playing apart from the Southport Rhythm Club, which I helped run along with 5 others including Eric Moonman who later became an MP.

I do hope the old programme from Manchester Jazz Club will be of some interest. - Alan Grubb, IOM


Jazz in Manchester 1950  - 1980

         The Bodega Jazz Club
                      From George Roberts

In between say 1958-1964 my brother Don (who changed his name to Richards for some reason) was a director and managed the Bodega approx the period 1956-1965. He used to rent out the large room to Paddy McKeirnan.As you will know, Sat night was trad jazz and average attendance was about 600 people.

I used to work there every Sat night with 3 of my other brothers, 1 in bar, 1 in cloakroom, and me in the jazz room.

During that time, I saw Ken Colyer,, George Melly, Mick Mulligan, Alex Welsh, the Dutch Swing College Band, Merseysippi, Kenny Ball, Acker Bill, Karl Denver and many I cannot remember.

We travelled there on train from Liverpool and used to have a drink first in Sinclairs, Fatted Calf, Listons, Long Bar.

There was also a guy called Paul Beatie who played there most nights, he played guitar.

In fact I wrote to George Melly last year asking if he remembered the club and my brother which he answered "of course he did" and I still have his letter. I read in my local paper (Ainsdale, Southport) that his last gig 6 weeks before he died was The Talbot Hotel in Southport.

As I worked the bar in the jazz room, I met all the bands but they wont have any reason to remember me, here are some of them.


Does anyone remember those days?

George Roberts

Hi Fred, 

I have just read George Robert's letter about the Bodega and it brought it all back. I started going to the Bodega in the mid 50's when I was 16. I remember you went down the stairs into a corridor where there was usually a long queue waiting to get in. As it shuffled forward I was always in a state of nerves wondering whether I could con my way in as I was 2yrs. under age ! I always made it apart from once when I was asked my age and replied without thinking 16. The next Sat. I was worried that they might remember me but with an average crowd of about 200 weekly I was alright. I used to occasionally venture into local pubs where everybody in those days drank Mild beer. I recall fighting my way through seemingly hundreds at the bar at the Bodega and saying ' a glass, please ' which was a standard request for half of Mild where I came from and, you've guessed it, being given an empty glass ! I was a real man about town. Two years later I was playing at the Bodega with the Dallas Jazz Band one Weds. when in walked Dizzy Burton and Bill Brennan from The Jazz Aces. At the end of the evening they asked me to join the band which was probably one of the best in Manchester. Yes I have many happy memories of the Bodega. 

Moe Green.

Jazz At The Bodega in the 50s ©Rod Smith

Hi - Enjoyed your jazz website(s). I'm now in Oz but grew up in M/cr and spent many happy hours on Sat nights at the Bodega. Fond memories of Alex Welsh, Ken Colyer, Chris Barber, George Melly and more. I recall Lonnie Donegan played banjo with one of the trad bands until he had a big hit song in the US with Rock Island Line. Wrote a story about those nights in my website which has other stories of growing up in Wythenshawe in the 50s. The web address is
- Rod Smith

This article is reproduced here by kind permission of Rod Smith. 

It was on Cross Street in Deansgate. You went down some stairs and you were in the world of 1950s trad jazz - Dixieland some called it.

It was a large room full of tables and chairs, with the proverbial bar of course. In those days there wasn't much awareness of the hazards of inhaling cigarette smoke. On a Saturday night the Bodega was so full of it the place looked like a typical Manchester smog. I shudder when I think how much of it I inhaled.

Still, it all added to the atmosphere, and what an atmosphere it was. A mass of bodies all swaying, foot-tapping, even jumping to the roaring trombones, piercing trumpets and piping clarinets of Alex Welsh & His Dixielanders, the Chris Barber Jazz Band, and Ken Colyer. Lonnie Donegan's banjo playing was part of it, and there was the wonderful knockabout singing style of George Melly when he was up north. There were others too but the names fade with the years.

It was interesting that Lonnie (as British as fish and chips) made a solo record of an American folk song "Rock Island Line" that shot to No 1 in the United States hit parade, and that was the end of his humble banjo-playing with the trad bands.

As Saturday night wore on everyone became tipsier including the band, and when ten o' clock came the place was jumping like a kangaroos conference.

It was a thrilling kind of music, played without any kind of written guide, just a bunch of musicians who knew each other's style intimately, and it all blended into a rousing, marvellously-free combination that would have held its own in New Orleans. Some of the musos had in fact been there.

Everyone loved George Melly. His speaking voice was cultured, very English, even BBC-ish, yet when he sang you'd really think he was a son of Uncle Sam. He wore a kind of black track suit in which he strutted the little stage like an arrogant peacock. When it came to the shooting bit in "Frankie and Johnny" he would crash to the floor like a felled tree and everyone roared. I never could figure out how he did it without injuring himself. My favourite was "Judge, Judge, Send Me to the 'Lectric Chair."

There was always an anti-climax to it all, because around ten when everything was in top gear, bells would ring, lights would flash, and there came a "last drinks" announcement, and the joy-killing news everything would end in about fifteen minutes. We were all victims of Britain's antiquated liquor laws! It was sad because the night was young as they say.

So that was the Bodega, circa 1955, and I'll always have fond memories of my teenage years and those swinging Saturday nights in that basement


Many years ago I met George Lewis at the Bodega in Manchester. I was playing there with the Zenith Six and we sat and talked for about an hour. I have scanned the picture he gave me but regret I didn't ask him to sign it. It must have been at the time when George played that concert at the Free Trade Hall when the roof came off after "St. Philip Street Breakdown" .. I was there and it was an unbelievable evening. - Mart Rodger


Further to comments already made regarding the Bodega - I too spent many Saturday evenings watching Mick Mulligan with George Melly and Ken Colyer's band. Readers may be interested to hear that several years later, when jazz had been replaced with pop music, the Rainy City Jazzband did a 12 week residency there on Sunday evenings . 

Regards Ian McCann 

Mart Rodger's Jazz Aces rhythm section 1953/4.

MART RODGER'S JAZZ ACES - Eric Batty, Sue McManus and Keith Pendlebury.


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