By: Joe Silmon-Monerri
October 2014


On Fred Burnett's website, I learnt from a report by Stuart Renn and by telephone to me through Tony Dunleavy, that Rod Hopton, trombonist, and fairly early pioneer of the 1940s Jazz Revival in Manchester and the North West, sadly passed away on 24th of September 2014. He was aged eighty-one. Rod was born in Leeds on May 14th 1933.

I have known Rod reasonably well since about 1960, about two years after I appeared on the local scene myself, when he was with Tony Charlesworth's bands, expanded on below. Rod was a dear friend. Even though we were out of touch more or less since Alan Hare died, he and I occasionally spoke on the 'phone - usually about the local Jazz scene - but, unfortunately, not as recently as I would have liked, given the tragic circumstances that always creep up on us to make us feel guilty about not making those calls more frequently - until it's far too late.

Rod's career on the local Jazz scene was not only multi-faceted, but it was also almost ancient by local standards. He was an adaptable player who could easily fit into most of the styles of Jazz that Manchester was to develop over the decades, from Bunk Johnson to Gerry Mulligan and beyond, although he settled for a middle-of-the-road Modern Dixieland style, by my reckoning. From the pioneering angle, Rod didn't go quite as far back as the Delta Rhythm Kings, put together without being named yet, in approximately 1942, by Harry Giltrap (bjo/gtr) and allegedly Eric Lister (clt/voc.), a band that had its first recording session in 1944. It is almost certain, though, that Eric and Harry also set up the next Revival band, the Smoky City Stompers, when Eric Lister repatriated on demobilisation from H. M. Navy, in 1946, via New York, where he developed an American-style vocals delivery.

However, Rod appears to have been making the rounds just a little later, in approximately 1948, at about age 15, when Jazz recitals at appreciation societies and clubs began to yield to live performances in those venues and eventually for the very first time that year, at concert halls, such as the Onward, Bridgewater in the City and the Edinburgh Hall, Moss Side. At the end of recitals given by the likes of London-based stalwarts such as Messrs. Sinclair Traille and Asman, local musicians on the way to carving their careers would pull out their instruments and perform live. The rest is history. Rod was among such apprentices and those who would blaze the trail.

The first band that I can recall Rod being a part of, from my researches and not by personal experience as I was not yet involved on the local scene, was Alan Jackson's Apex Jazz Band (that's Manchester's 'Alan Jackson', not the formerly London-based modernist). The Apex Jazz Band was set up in 1951 by Alan as the Apex Jazz Club, at Frascatti's Restaurant/Pub. on Oxford Road, near the old Clarendon then. It later moved up the road to the corner of Brunswick Street. The boys played in and around central Manchester, for most of this period boasting a residency later at the Thatched House Hotel, in a cul-de-sac near the corner of Cross Street and Market Street. The band had the following personnel between 1951 and 52. Alan Jackson (tpt/clt/vocals, leader); Ted Lucas (clt); Rod Hopton (tbn); Jack Farrer (d/bs); Frank Booth (bjo); Ronnie Arnold (dms).

It was at about the end of the above period that the Smoky City Stompers disbanded, the Delta Rhythm Kings already having done so earlier. However, this did not halt the forward momentum of the local Jazz Revival - which I am convinced started in Manchester and not London. As we know, Jazz bands were constantly being set up and clubs were formed around them at the respective venues. The Thatched House opening for the band that Rod had enthusiastically joined, happened when the highly popular Saints Jazz Band moved from the Thatched House to the outwardly prestigious but apparently threadbare Grosvenor Hotel at the Exchange Station end of Deansgate, where Modern Jazz sessions also took place. The Club Moderne ran on Fridays, the original night for the Saints. By March 1952, the Saints Jazz Band played in the Jazz Room on Saturdays. During this same period, another band played at the same venue as the Apex Jazz Band (at the Thatched House). This was trombonist/ Blues singer Eric Brierley's "Gut Bucket Five". Unusually for the period, they ran the "all-nighter" at the Thatched House. It set a trend that would be followed in the following decade, until the then Chief of Police, concerned when gratuitous drinking, drink-fuelled fights and drug-peddling, demanded that the local Constabulary should put a stop to it all.

Alan Hare and Rod Hopton were in several nameless embryo outfits together from the late 1940s onwards, to gain experience. Such try-out combos and sit-in sessions with local bands led up to Alan's famous Blue Note Jazzmen, which Rod would eventually take over. They also frequented and became members of the Jazz clubs blossoming everywhere profusely. Alan went even further back than Rod, having started to gain interest in Jazz, as a pianist, while at grammar school in Chingford, Essex, during World War Two, emigrating to Cheadle Hulme in 1946. The pair met up while Alan was in the forerunner of Derek Atkins Dixielanders, Manchester Dixieland Jazz Band, managed by Jack Gregory, around 1948, Alan Hare soon taking up the trombone as a second instrument. They now had at least one instrument in common and their friendship was solid and remained so until Alan passed on in recent years. They still came together to the Thursday sessions at the Chorlton Conservative Club, to listen, not play, when Don Long and Alan Yates were running bands there seven or eight years ago. I was in both bands twice monthly. Their teenage-like interest and enthusiasm in Jazz never diminished as death drew nearer. Both have been invaluable sources for my researches, because of the depth of their knowledge about the local Jazz scene. It is a debt of gratitude that I will never be able to repay.

The band that eventually became Alan Hare's Blue Note Jazzmen, was actually set up in Stockport by 1952, according to Manchester Evening Chronicle Jazz Critic Doug Enefer, on 5th September 1952. Rod Hopton was to join some time later. It is not clear when, though. His friend, Alan, clearly was already a part of it. The man in charge, after whom the band was named, was clarinettist Don Simmonds, who left later that same year, being replaced by Derek "Mo" Mosedale. Personnel at that time included: Alan Hare (tbn); Roy Cooper (tpt) - replaced later in 1952 by Tony Bagot; Frank Joynson (dms);Bryan Haughton (pno); Ron Baker (on guitar - a veteran of Manchester Grammar School's 1936 early non-commercial Jazz band "The Heat Spots" - run by under-14-year-olds). At a rough guess, Rod joined after Alan Hare took over from Don Simmonds as leader.

In 1959, Alan Hare, FRICS (a highly qualified Surveyor), left for a Colonial Service post in Hong Kong, from where he was to return in 1963. Tony Charlesworth (trumpet/vocals) took over the Blue Note Jazz Band in 1959, renaming the band Tony Charlesworth's New Orleans [Jazz] Band, with Bryan Haughton now on banjo [due to a drastic non-Chicago-style band policy - which Eric Welch, their excellent Chicago-styled clarinettist, seemed to have accepted stoically]. By now Rod must have spent some years in the band.

Band names in this outfit were on a mercurial turnover at the time. In January 1960, the band became Rod Hopton's Jazzmen, as Rod had replaced Alan Hare on trombone. Bryan was now back on piano [another change in policy - common during that period]. The band was once again renamed Tony Charlesworth's, ... Jazzmen, Sextet, etc., reflecting a new Mainstream bias, after late 1961; then the name reverted back to Rod for a while. Rod, playing in the two bands, eventually decided to join The Saints. So the band became Tony Charlesworth's band, once again. By the time Alan Hare returned from Hong Kong in 1963, his old buddy Rod was a permanent member of The Saints. Alan was immediately invited by bandleader Roy Bower (tpt) to join the Southside Jazzmen, resident at the Black Lion, which he did, on piano this time, as the late John Featherstone had shortly before become the piano man in Joe Silmon's Dixielanders, formerly Tony Smith's Jazzmen.

Eventually, Rod developed the rare quality of being able to blend in smoothly and effectively with any band he played with, and on free nights from the Saints, would freelance here and there, as we all did. An excellent player, a great vocalist with a gentle voice delivery and a thorough gentleman always, success was almost forever guaranteed. He was, in fact, of noble lineage. I came across references to several of his ancestors in my own historical and genealogical research, including a 'Sir Rodney Hoptone' around 1350 A. D., most definitely a member of his family, an actual 'knight errant'.

According to Rod's article on the band, he joined the Saints Jazz Band in 1962. He said, "1962 was an outstanding year for the Saints, with an appearance on the TV show 'Thank Your Lucky Stars along with pop stars Billy Fury, Carl Denver and Vince Hill, in which the band was miming to their recording of "Roses Of Picardy", made for Parlophone". The reason for the miming might have been two-fold. Parlophone (E) 45-R 4907 with "Roses of Picardy" and "There'll Be Some Changes Made" on it, was recorded with slightly different personnel, and this might have created legal problems. The recording had been made in April that year (1962). The personnel on the recording is listed as: Barry Dixon (tpt); Rod Hopton (tbn) who had replaced Fred Fydler the previous year; Alan Radcliffe (clt); John Fish (pno); Jim Ashe (bjo); Reg. Kenworthy (d/bs) Merton Kaufman (dms). By the time of the above TV show, the personnel was listed - and photographed - as: Dizzy Burton (tpt); Rod Hopton (tbn); Alan Radcliffe (clt); John Fish (pno); Jim Ashe (bjo); Reg. Kenworthy (d/bs); Denis Grundy (dms). See photograph below.

Rod and I were in both The Saints in the 60s 70s, when I replaced Randy Colville around 1974, and in the 80s (myself intermittently by then) and in Colin Tomkin's Jazzmen in the 80s and, as far as I can recall, Rod stayed with The Saints until the boys and the lovely Julie Flynn, vocalist with the band, and the dearest of long-term friends, played the last session at the Valley Lodge, Wilmslow, which I think was 1982, but I stand to be corrected, after which the long-serving outfit disbanded permanently in 1984. Saints Personnel towards the time the Saints disbanded: Julie Flynn (vocals); John "Ed" Fish (pno); Reg. Kenworthy (d/bs); Mike Carnie (dms); Denis Gilmore/Ian Royle (cnt/tpts) [alternating]; Rod Hopton (tbn); Joe Silmon (reeds).

Joe Silmon (reeds); Denis Gilmore (tpt/cnt); Julie Flynn (vocals); Mike Carnie (dms), Reg. Kenworthy (d/bs) ; John "Ed." Fish (pno); Rod Hopton (tbn).]

Between the capitulation of The Saints Jazz Band at the Valley Lodge, Wilmslow, (the venue photographed expertly here by our late and old friend of all bands John Metcalfe) and the remainder of the 1980s, 90s and the Millennium to the present, Rod still continued to freelance with several local outfits. For instance, in the 80s, he and I were part of Colin Tomkin's Jazzmen (an excellent Mainstream band that certainly suited my approach). We both freelanced too, occasionally, myself with the late Maurice Pike's Panama Jazz Band, based at Tommy Duck's on Sundays, but with quite a lot of out-of-town bookings. In 1989 I accepted a linguistic job in Gloucestershire and left Colin's band and the Panama in March. I'm fairly sure that Rod continued for some months afterwards in Colin's band, until Colin and his wife moved to Wales shortly after I left Manchester. From then onwards, by which time I was going to be away from the area [for the next twelve years - in a very insular Civil Service job in Cheltenham for nine years], I somehow lost contact with Rod. This also applied to practically everyone I knew well. The nature of the job demanded the least contact possible with friends, as it was a "hush-hush" type of occupation subject to extreme regulations.

By the time I returned to the area in 2001, i. e, just after the Millennium Bug that never was, I found that Rod had a habit of taking things easy, preferring to concentrate on family and home. According to his children and daughter-in-law, Rod kept up almost daily practice on his instruments, rather than actually playing gigs. In more recent years, especially after the death of his Wife, a great blow to Rod and the children, he probably decided to throw in the towel, but kept up his interest in Jazz by visiting any last remaining outposts of the once thriving local Jazz scene, almost invariably accompanied by his close friend Alan Hare. Once a Jazzer, always a Jazzer.

Rod's funeral took place on Friday, 3rd of October 2014 at Stockport Crematorium and the ceremony, attended by around eighty people, including family, friends and a sizeable local Jazz community contingent, was held in the Rowan Chapel, at 4 p.m. My thanks to Stuart Renn, Tony Dunleavy & Dave Berry for the original information and to Fred Burnett for relaying it to everyone prior to the funeral.

I am sure that everyone on the Manchester Jazz Scene, Fred and Barbara Burnett, and all who knew Rod closely and intimately will join me in sending our deepest condolences to Rod Hopton's family and friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all.

Rest in the Peace of the Lord, dear old friend.

Joe Silmon-Monerri ("Joe Silmon")

08/10/14 -  Dear Fred,

I am saddened to hear of the death of Rod.

He played with Colin Tomkins Oriole Jazz Band in 1957,before Colin joined the Zenith Six,and I joined Pete Haslam in The Crescent..later Collegians band.

I remember him well. We played in Rochdale and Bury, even on a float in Bury carnival when Stan Stennett joined us.

I have been in contact with him over the last couple of years as I was introduced to Alan Thomas who used to play trombone in Maurice Pikes band and he had Rods phone no in his address book, so called him one weekend in 2012 and he was so pleased to hear from us.

I then sent him a newsy letter and printed out this picture of us from 1957 when he played with our first band ...that was before Colin joined the Zenith Six and I joined the Crescent Jazz band, later The Collegians.

Alan and I did call him from time to time then as he seemed lonely, but we did notice the last time, probably about 4 months ago, he seemed forgetful and was very quiet.

He was a lovely chap, I only remember seeing him as a young man, over 50 years ago, but he left an impression on me as a wonderful trombonist.

This cutting from the Bury Chronicle on the Oriole Jazz Band page sees him as a young 24 yr old and fills in a space that Joe didn't know!.....and Joe is fantastic at all these records!!

Brenda Canty Forrest (nee Tomkins)

08/10/14 -

I am sorry to hear of the death of Rod Hopton. When I was fifteen years old in 1960 I formed The Apex Jazz Band with Rod on trombone. We rehearsed in his mother’s front room and played at local youth clubs. As none of us could drive, we sometimes travelled by bus, with the drums under the stairs and the bassist on one of the triple seats nearest the entrance, with his instrument in front of him in the aisle. People may remember that these triple seats faced one another across the aisle.

When I first asked Rod to join the band he said that he was sorry, but he had just decided to change to playing drums. However I persuaded him to stick to the trombone and join the band and from then on he abandoned his idea of becoming a drummer.

Barrie Quilliam

13/10/14 -

During the second half of the 1980s Rod and I were fellow members of The French Quarter. Rod was an excellent trombonist and we enjoyed several happy years together. In a band of New Orleans believers and devotees Rod and I were the agnostics which gave us a certain bond. We had a number of catch phrases, all but one of which I’ve forgotten: at the end of each gig one of us would announce: “finished with engines”, the signal for the amplification to be switched off.

With The French Quarter we played at Enkhuizen Festival, Rod, Alma, Meryl and I taking a later Suckling Airways flight from Manchester to Amsterdam (the rest of band having preceded us with KLM). The fun began at the airport when with five minutes left before scheduled take-off we (in International Departures) had found no flight information. A public address announcement summoned us to Internal Departures (a labyrinthine contraflowing journey), so that we arrived late at the ’plane, a high-wing twin piston-engined Fokker (yes, really). The dozen or so businessmen comprising the rest of the passenger complement viewed us with ill-disguised scorn for delaying the flight, the craft taking off almost immediately. A touch down scheduled for Ipswich (International?) was diverted to neighbouring RAF Wattisham because of a dispute between the Suffolk airport authorities and Suckling. Interesting features of the low altitude flight included apparently passing over every airfield between Manchester and the East Anglian coast (a safety measure?), and use of the toilet permitted only after lunch had been served, the facilities doubling as a galley. A bonus was the splendid view of the Dutch bulb fields in Spring. Although the return, en masse with KLM, was much enlivened by banter from Les Moore and Ron McKay, the flight itself was rather prosaic. For some years Rod and I had much amusement recalling the outward journey.

After Rod and I had left The French Quarter we exchanged Christmas cards regularly. I last saw him a few years ago where he was playing at one of Graham Brook’s Wilmslow jazz nights, trying, I think, to re-ignite his musical career, though I don’t think it took off. He also played drums in small groups, and possibly continued this after his main tromboning days. Rod was a great pie-eater, and took almost as much pleasure in anticipating his return journey via a pie emporium as in playing the gig. I was saddened to learn of his death (Alma had predeceased him), and will remember him as a fine musician and as an entertaining and considerate companion.


John Muskett


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