The first thing I personally remember about the early Saints was the remarkable sound of the band, very compact, 'hot' and full of energy. I saw them for the first time in 1950 at the Old Thatched House Hotel, just off Market Street in Manchester, only weeks before they moved to a new and very successful venue at the Grosvenor Hotel. Every Saturday night for months there were queues outside the hotel and out along Deansgate, such was the popularity of Manchester's own new jazz band, and the fans were prepared to sit on the floor or stand packed together in order to hear the lads from Ashton-under-Lyne who were fast becoming celebrities within the new jazz revival. I think it's only fair to say at this point that there were, of course, other very good bands in the Manchester area at the time - Derek Atkins' Dixielanders, the Smoky City Stompers, the original Zenith Six at the Clarendon Hotel on Oxford Road (another very popular jazz club). Also Alan Jackson's Apex Jazz Band who had moved into the Thatched House when the Saints went to the Grosvenor in 1953, the Bluenotes at the Sportsman on Market Street. But the Saints seemed to have just that little extra appeal and impact over the other bands.
The line-up of the original band was: Alan Radcliffe (clarinet), Mike McNama (trumpet), Ron 'Slim' Simpson (trombone), Ed Fish (piano), Tom Gregory (bass), John Mills (drums), and Jim Lolley (banjo and guitar). I feel that one reason for the unique sound they created was partly due to Mike McNama's unusual tone (he played a trumpet/cornet), not unpleasant at all, but certainly different, and together with his simple attacking style he helped to give the band an identity. Al Radcliffe was certainly one of the best semi- professional clarinet players in the UK at the time, and Slim Simpson a competent tailgate man with good vocal style and a sense of humour. The rhythm section were all excellent, and John Mills was a particularly fine drummer. (He tragically died in 1960.)
The band started recording for the Parlophone Company in 1952 and during the next 10 years or so made
discs, several LPs and a number of EPs, usually under the supervision of the now famous George Martin. The Saints were, by 1952, a well organised unit, with their own manager (the well-known Paddy McKiernan), their own band wagon )a vintage Rolls Royce hearse, with driver) and roadie. The next 10 years during the great and exciting jazz revival, mainly throughout Europe, were the busiest and most successful for the band. In 1951 they appeared at the Royal Festival Hall in London in the presence of HRH Princess Elizabeth, along with several of the best bands of the day - Humph, Freddy Randall and Joe Daniels, where they received the biggest ovation of the evening
for their rendition of I Want A Girl. An LP of this almost legendary concert was produced some years later on which the tremendous reaction of the audience can be heard. Another high point in the band's career was when Louis Armstrong and his All Stars first visited this country in 1956. A concert was arranged at the old Kings Hall, Belle Vue, Manchester, as part of a country-wide tour, and the Saints were chosen as the supporting group. This occasion was, for me, and many others in the audience, a most memorable and moving experience, the volume of applause as the great Louis Armstrong walked onto the stage was almost overwhelming, and to have a Manchester band on the same bill was an honour indeed.
Ron Simpson was the first to leave the original group in 1952, and Fred Fydler took over on trombone, vocals and chatting up the girls. Fred was a great humorist and an asset to the hand, with a good singing voice and a Jack Teagarden-style trombone. Reg Kenworthy joined the band after bass player Tom Gregory left in 1956 to follow his career as a designer.
Reg had heard from someone that a bass player was needed, and although he had only played piano until then, he asked Tom to stay on a while longer to give him time to purchase and learn to play double bass, which he managed to do well enough to join after about 12 weeks.
The band was always well rehearsed, with most of their many arrangements done by the talented and musical Alan Radcliffe, who was always considered to be the overall leader. The most featured member of the band over the years was pianist Ed Fish, a very fine exponent of
bangle-style playing. Ed is now the only member of the very first Saints Jazz Band to be still active on the local jazz scene, mainly solo piano in and around his hometown of Ashton-under-Lyne. In 1960, when drummer John Mills died, his place was taken by another first-class player, Merton Kaufman, who had worked professionally with various groups, which included some years with Harry Gold and his Pieces of Eight. Mert really swung the band along until he and his wife decided to emigrate to Canada in 1962, where they still live with their son (also a drummer).
Mike McNama gave up the trumpet altogether during 1959 in order to concentrate on his teaching career, and for about 12 months Bob Connell, a really excellent Dixieland-style player, worked with the band. Bob was one of the best semi-pro jazz trumpeters I have ever heard, but unfortunately was prone to lip trouble and eventually had to stop playing in 1961 due to business commitments and his job at Granada TV. Next in line for the trumpet chair came Barry Dixon, a very capable musician who joined the band at about the same time as Jim Ashe came in on banjo and guitar, but Barry was only able to stay for a matter of months and his place was taken by the great Desmond 'Dizzy' Burton. I could write a whole chapter devoted to the antics and the humour of Diz Burton, but for the present time that will have to wait, except to say that he added a splendid new dimension to the sound and visual aspect of the band and was an asset in every way. He had a good microphone style, sang very well and played a good strong lead with a nice trumpet tone. Dizzy stayed with the Saints from late 1962 until 1975, when a serious illness forced him to give up playing. He eventually made a full recovery and lived with his sister and her son in Whitefield until his death in 1996.
There were several changes of personnel during 1962. Dennis Grundy took over on drums from Merton Kaufman; Fred Fydler moved to the Stoke-on-Trent area for business reasons (he later joined the Ceramic City Stompers), and that year I was asked to come in on trombone, an offer I readily accepted, and stayed with the band until it played it's last gig early in 1984.
After the various changes of personnel over the years, by 1962 the band seemed more settled at last, and with a
new trumpet player (Diz), trombonist (me), and drummer (Dennis), another phase was under way, and for the next
22 years there would be no changes made.
* * * * *
When I joined the Saints Jazz Band in 1962,1 had the feeling of becoming part of a tradition which was, in fact, to last for another twenty years or more, when the band simply accepted its last engagement in March, 1984.
I also realised that there was an unspoken but accepted discipline among the players, rather like a code of conduct, e.g. no lateness, no sloppy dressing, and rehearsals every week.
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, in April, 1962. George Martin, who supervised the tracks, was also busy grooming The Beatles for stardom at the time when Rock and Pop music were taking over from the jazz bands (with the exception of Kenny Ball, Acker Bilk and Chris Barber, whose recordings stayed in the charts for several years).
There were also some BBC broadcasts for us on The Jazz Club programme and on Bill Grundy's show, 'People and
Places plus an important concert at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester together with Kenny Ball and his band. This show was memorable, not only because most of us had never appeared in front of such a huge audience before and never walked out onto such a big stage, but because the band happened to be on particularly good form that night and gave Kenny Ball and his lads something to think about - some of our inspiration came from the fact that a very attractive girl in the audience threw several fresh roses onto the stage whilst we were playing our version of
Roses Of Picardy, which had been released a few weeks earlier by Parlophone records. This was a great moment for us.
With some changes in personnel at the beginning of 1962, there naturally developed a different sound from the earlier band, slightly more commercial, which in fact suited the type of work that was coming in at that time, and in some ways the band was more versatile, using a wider variety of tunes, which included some excellent arrangements by Alan Radcliffe and bassist Reg Kenworthy.
The day-to-day management was undertaken by Reg, who dealt with agents (not easy), and with quoting fees etc.
As previously mentioned, time-keeping was important, together with the appearance of the band on stage. This meant that we always wore decent matching suits, white shirts and ties. Seven of the ties were purchased from Leslie Charteris, who wrote the original detective novels featuring 'The Saint and were dark blue with the Saint stick-motif in red.
I don't recall any serious arguments within the band, but the nearest we ever came to falling out was when it was time to buy new suits. This entailed all meeting somewhere in Manchester City Centre, usually on a busy Saturday morning, and visiting several men's outfitters, where the unfortunate assistants had the unenviable task of measuring some very unusual shapes and attempting to supply seven identical suits in the style and colour that everyone was happy with. As you can imagine, this was almost impossible and on more than one occasion the whole project was abandoned with much frustration and grumbling from all concerned.
By 1963 the jazz scene was changing: Beat and Pop music were becoming more and more popular, club owners and promoters were starting to employ Rock and Roll groups in place of (and, at first, as well as) the jazz bands, and it was not unusual to have an evening of pop and jazz music.
The Cavern in Liverpool, which was originally a jazz club, is a good example of what was happening at the time when gradually the pop groups replaced the jazz bands that had played there since the early 1950s, and it is hard to believe now that The Beatles, along with other groups of that type, had been playing the interval spot on a jazz night when bands such as the
Merseysippi Jazz Band, The Zenith Six, The Saints and others were the main attraction.
I remember sharing the programme at different venues with Gerry and the Pacemakers, Herman's Hermits, and Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, but all this changed and a different pattern of work began to develop for many of the jazz groups. Golf, social and political clubs were, by late 1963, holding jazz nights, and The Saints were in demand for this type of work as well as playing at the established jazz clubs such as the Manchester Sports Guild, which was run by a crotchety character known only as 'Jenks' The Bamboo Club in Hazel Grove was another regular weekly gig, which is now a successful disco.
To some extent, the band was a showcase for trumpet player Desmond 'Dizzy' Burton, who was a great front
man and vocalist as well as being a very fine musician, although each member of the band was always featured on a particular tune and the limelight (if any!) was shared equally.
The personnel in 1963 was: Alan Radcliffe (clarinet and leader), Dizzy Burton (trumpet), Rod Hopton
(trombone), Ed Fish (piano), Jim Ashe (banjo and guitar), Reg Kenworthy (bass), and
Dennis Grundy (drums).
By the end of 1965 things had settled into a more routine format, there were no more recordings, fewer broadcasts and the variety of work was different to that in the 50s and 60s, when venues included
night clubs like the Southern Sporting Club and the Wishing Well Club in Swinton (test your memory!), also jobs at several dancehalls in the Manchester area where we would alternate with the resident band.
However, there was still plenty of work around and still quite a lot of travelling throughout the 1960s: for example, a trip to Coventry where the Hotel Leofric held a jazz night, as did the Dancing Slipper Ballroom in Nottingham, plus many private jobs, weddings, anniversaries and 21st parties, which were the mainstay of the band during the 1970s and until we decided to break up in 1984.
One of the longest journeys I remember from those days was to Cromer in Norfolk, where we were booked as a part of a variety show on the pier (chorus girls and all!). This was for one night only, which meant a long return trip (no motorways then) and no staying overnight due to the fact that we all had to be back at our day jobs the next morning.
I recall the Cromer gig mainly because! was driving (with Jim Ashe and Diz Burton) in my 1954 Standard Vanguard MK1 which on the way developed a disturbing lateral body movement due to a suspension fault (at around 60mph), which I later found out was known as 'yawing; causing passengers to become disorientated and bilious. Not, however, D. Burton Esq., who, as always, slept soundlessly and motionless, even on the occasion when, one dark night, we drove into a trench recently excavated by the Gas Board (no one hurt, and Dizzy slept on!).
Another story regarding transport from 1962, after playing at the Cavern Club in Liverpool: Drummer Merton
Kaufman, who managed to pack his full kit together with (the then) trumpet player Barry Dixon into his tiny Fiat 128, was determined to stop for fish and chips on the way home. The only chippy to be found open was near the city centre and busy with a very noisy crowd spilling out onto the pavement. As Merton stopped in front of the chip shop, the crowd became even more noisy and some began to shake the car menacingly, shouting abuse. Whilst the hungry Merton hesitated, Barry shouted, "For God's sake move, you've just parked on this blokes foot!" Forgetting his appetite, Mert sped off, with several members of the local thuggery in eager pursuit!
The personnel of the band remained unchanged until 1975, when clarinettist Al Radcliffe decided to retire from
music and spend more time developing his artistic skills as an accomplished landscape painter in oils.
At about the same time, Des Burton was found to be suffering from Hodgkinson's disease, which meant that he had to give up the trumpet. He did, in fact, recover after several years of treatment but was never able to play again. Sadly he died in 1996 of a smoking related ailment.
It was going to be difficult to find replacements for Alan and Des, particularly musicians with the same commitment which they undoubtedly had. However, we were fortunate in obtaining the services of the very fine trumpet player Doug Whalley, and on reeds we had Randy Colville, Joe Silmon and Dave Mott (all top players), who alternated on numerous gigs. Excellent trumpeter
Denis Gilmore also helped us out on many memorable sessions, but things were never quite the same after Al and Diz left, although the band was still very much in demand, mainly for private functions and at the few remaining jazz clubs in the area.
All members of the 1962 Saints are now enjoying a quiet but active retirement, except for bass player Reg Kenworthy who is seemingly unaffected by Anno Domini and at the tender age of 75 is still playing several nights each week with another well established Manchester band.
There are many more adventures to talk about and more anecdotes to make us laugh (if I could remember
them!). Just suffice to say that we wouldn't have missed it for all the tea in Tesco's.
In your June issue, I was impressed by the study of the Saints Jazz Band, so well researched by Rod Hopton, and just to show that articles of this nature are read thoroughly, I would like to offer you the following ‘BUT’.
But the article failed to mention the singer Doreen (D’reen) Beatty, known as The Angel, who was with the band from about 1950-1953 and indeed appeared with The Saints at the famous 1951 Festival Hall concert.
D’reen now lives quietly in Hove, and when I mentioned Rod Hopton’s ‘Memory Lane’ tribute to The Saints, she reminded me of a Manchester journalist called Douglas Efener
who was a fan of the band and, she believes, wrote a little book about it back in the 1950s.
I hope this contributes to the general history of The Saints Jazz Band.
Joy Sutton, Sanderstead, Surrey
Rod Hopton’s entertaining article about the Saints (Just jazz’, June) is a welcome and long overdue tribute to one of Britain’s great jazz bands.
The feature contains, however, a couple of minor factual errors that ought to be corrected.
I played trumpet with the Saints Jazz Band from January 1961 to June 1962 a year and a half, rather than the few months’ that Rod remembers - recording two singles for EMI as well as making a BBC broadcast and appearing at the ‘Melody Maker’s’ Blackpool Jazz and Pop Festival - ‘the biggest galaxy
of stars and bands ever assembled at one time’, according to the Manchester Evening News. Rod also says that bassist Reg Kenworthy is the only member of the 1962 Saints’ line-up who is still playing. It is certainly true that Reg is in great demand with the Smoky City jazz Band. However, I continue to be busy with my own group. Dixon’s Dixie Jazz Bond. entertaining at parties, weddings, riverboat cruises and corporate events. And I understand that Ed Fish can sometimes be coaxed out of retirement to remind festival audiences of the exciting boogie-woogie piano that the Saints featured.
Although Rod Hopton has now retired from music, in his heyday he was a superb musician who could give most British Dixieland trombonists a run for their money.
A good example of Rod’s playing can be heard on ‘There’ll Be Some Changes Made" featured on the Lake CD Swingin’ With The Saints’. He hits a concert high D in the course of his solo - no mean feat in the stressful atmosphere of EMI's Abbey Road recording studio!
I am currently writing a book about the popular music scene in the north of England in the early 1960s, with particular reference to the Saints Jazz Band and the birth of The Beatles.
I would be very grateful to receive any information, memories or anecdotes about the Saints, The Beatles and Liverpool’s Cavern Club from 1961-1962. Any material used in the book will, of course, be acknowledged. My e-mail address is:
Readers interested in the Saints might like to know that the band’s complete recorded output is now available on CD: ‘Great British Traditional Jazz Bands, Volume 12’ (Lake LACD105 'Swingin' With The Saints’ (Lake LACD147); BBC Jazz Club, Volume 9’ (Upbeat URCD183).
Yours faithfully, Barry Dixon, Banstead, Surrey.
01/12/03 - I read the page about this band with great interest. One point not
mentioned - Parlophone realeased a 78rpm record of the band playing 'I want a
girl...' in 1951 from the concert menioned. I have 2 great copies. So their
recording actually started in 1951, not 1952.
Merton Kaufam died in 2012 at the age of 82, and
was married to his wife Barbara for 56 years