Southport in the 70s
with The Alt River & Dobbs Gutter Bands


Phil Yates -  

The recent addition of the Crosby Rhythm Kings to the memory page prompted affectionate memories of a true jazz eccentric-the late Bix Roscoe who plays trombone on that very competent rendering of "Copenhagen" all those years ago. I was privileged to have known Bix and played with him many times during the more recent past-- 1976-1990 when there was a lively home-grown traditional jazz scene in Southport which sadly is no more.

It began with the formation of Formby Jazz Club in 1976. The club met weekly at the British Legion, and anyone who played an instrument at whatever level was welcome to have a go. From these meetings the nucleus of a performing band developed which became the Alt River Jazz Band. They played at the Crown Hotel in Birkdale for several years before moving to the Marine, later called the Tara, in Coronation Walk.

After the formation of the Alt River, there remained enough surplus musicians at Formby Jazz Club to create a second band. There is a very small stream which runs through Formby and flows into the River Alt. This stream is known as Dobbs Gutter. So the Dobbs Gutter Jazz Band began playing at the Sands pub near Ainsdale beach, and later played for many years at the Royal Clifton Hotel.

The Alt River members were George Lapsley (Tpt), Dave Blackledge (clt), Kevin Bargen (bjo), Jeff Lewis (tmb) and Roy Swift (dms), (now both Rioters ), Mike Mcloughlan (pno) and Norman Cuff (bs) (now both Wirrorleans). 

The Dobbs Gutter comprised Don Evans (tpt), Dennis Clarke (tmb), Ricky Whiting (pno), Ian Patterson (Bs), Wilf Jenkinson (bjo) (now Yarrow River), John Rothwell (dms), (now Silver Bell) and myself (clt) (now Mathew St). Later members included the late Al McDowell (tmb) (founder of the Wirrorleans) and Tony Ormesher (bjo) and Rae Owen (bs) (now both Chicago Teds). 

As a total novice, the Alt River was the first band with whom I played in public, first as a sitter-in and later as a dep. Bix Roscoe invariably appeared at most gigs, often with an array of instruments, a valve trombone, flugelhorn, mellophone, euphonium, banjo. He always sat in. If he wasn't invited, he got up and played anyway! Bix was a natural musician and his knowledge was encyclopaedic. He often gave the audience erudite lectures on the history of the tune about to be played and its composers which often took longer than the tune took to play! Off the bandstand, you could not have an ordinary conversation with Bix, because he spoke like a textbook all the time, but you always came away knowing something new. His vocals were equally eccentric and entertaining. When he sang "Shiek Of Araby" he didn't wait for the response from the rest of the band" He's got no pants on" He confessed to it himself!

A vast number of guest musicians from all over the region and further afield were regular visitors to Southport. Digby Fairweather, who held jazz workshops at the Arts Centre throughout the 80s regularly dropped in for a blow, and both the Alt and the Dobbs played interval spots for Humph and for Kenny Ball on more than one occasion. Looking at my old diaries of that period, I cannot believe how busy we were. Anyone in Southport organising any kind of function seemed to want one of the local bands.

This brief reminiscence of the Southport jazz scene would not be complete without mentioning an unsung hero---- a gentleman called Bill Scott, a fan of both bands who regularly invited them to perform for friends at his home, where he made recordings on what was then "State of the Art" equipment. He then generously donated copies of these soirees to every musician and guest. I still have several of these recordings and other people will have many others. They would make an interesting archive if collected together. When both bands died a natural death in the very early 90s, it was Bill who kept the flame alive by forming the Southport Melodic Jazz Society. This still organises regular concerts and its influence went a long way to bringing about the recent highly successful Southport Jazz Festival. So although there are no longer any traditional bands specifically local to Southport, it's good that the music is still alive there, and I have so many happy memories of being a part of it. I hope others have memories to share.

Phil Yates


My father, Bill Scott (mentioned in 'Southport in the 1970s' by Phil Yates), died peacefully at home in Dorset last week.

Very many thanks - Pip McKerrow
April 28th 2008

22/06/06 - 

Are there any survivors of the long-standing jazz sessions at the Marine Club, Coronation Walks, Southport, 1980s? Roy Swift was always on drums. Front line varied; George Lapsley (tpt), Alan Pendlebury (tbn) were regulars with Kenny Doran(tpt) and various clarinettists. Once, the entire Blue Mags arrived and gave a stunning performance of Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver Stuff. Somebody once told me there was a dubious sort-of club upstairs, above the jazz club but I never had the courage to find out".- 

Frank Farrington.

19/03/07 - HI Fred,

I am somewhat saddened by the memories of Frank Farrington of the Alt River JB days at the Crown in Birkdale and the Marine in Southport. He only seems to remember the "novelty" guests, and the Blue Mags, who appeared there on one occasion only for a special anniversary only.

This was a regular band, led by George Lapsley on trumpet ( good NO stuff !! ) which played at these venues and others for something like 15 years ( I was in the band on drums for the best part of 10 years). It was not just a bunch of guys who turned up and had a blow !!! Sure Bix was a bit of a novelty, and had been a good jazz player in his day, But by this time he was well past his sell-by date a good musician, evidenced by his work and standing in the Banks Brass Band. I remember him depping with the band for a full night on one occasion - a good first half but the second half was a different matter when his lip/stamina went altogether.

There were some very good nights in Southport in those days, and the Alt River should be given full credit for the entertainment provided (free!! ) over all those years. After all, when they began at the Crown in 1978 (?), there had been no jazz to speak of in Southport for very many years. Surely Frank has some good memories of hearing the band play ?

Regards, Roy Swift

25/06/06 - Hi Fred, 

Good to hear from Frank Farrington ( and his wife Dorothy) from whom I hadn't heard for years since I left the Alt River Jazz Band, which was the band he referred to as playing first at the Crown Hotel, Birkdale, Southport and later the Marine Club in Southport in the late 80's to join the WirrOrleans Jazz.

I played most of the sessions there for the 10 years or so I was with the band - hence his comment on me "always playing ", tho' I did stop sometimes !!! A regular dep for me was Billy Morton, so sadly now out of action because of a stroke.

George Lapsley led the band on trumpet, and the regulars were Dave Blackledge (Clt), Mike Mclachlan (Pno), Kevin Bargen (Bjo), Norman Cuff (Bass).After Jeff Lewis left while we were at the Crown, Frank Robinson was on trombone for some time, then Dave Park from Preston. Later, there was a rota of trombonists each month - Alan Pendlebury, Bob Hambleton, Brian Oldham (with of course the lovely Carole on vocals), Dave Renton and Dave Park.

Deps and guests included Ken Doran and Hughie Gerrard (Tpts), Phil Yates (Clt), Wilf Jenkinson ( Bjo), Digby Fairweather (Tpt), Red Price (Tenor), Harold Troughton (Clt), Keith Smith (Tpt) at various times. The list is a long one !!!

It was a most enjoyable time. There had been no jazz to speak of in Southport for many years and the sessions were very popular. Sadly, the attendances were affected by the start-up of jazz at the Hesketh Arms in Churchtown, with the importation of bands from Manchester and further afield. The band continued into the early nineties, still led by George Lapsley but with different personnel in the main.

I am still playing, mainly with the Rioters Dixieland Jazz Band ( and still looking for gigs - see Deps list here) along with Phil Yates and Jeff Lewis, and Norman & Mike have most recently been with the Wirrorleans. Kevin continues to run his Folk band, and Dave has retired from playing jazz. George spends a lot of time in Portugal where he plays from time to time with a bunch of ex-pats !!!

Thanks to Frank Farrington for bringing back these happy memories.

Regards, Roy Swift


Dear Fred, 

Re: Frank Farrington's letter, there are some survivors of the Marine Club sessions. The band was the Alt River band, I replaced Kevin Bargen on banjo for the last 2 or 3 years at the club. Roy Swift is playing with the Rioters, Mike McClashlan (piano) and Norman Cuff (bass) are with the Wirrorleans and I'm with the Yarrow River band. The dubious club upstairs was nicknamed the Zoo, and if you'd seen the clientele you'd know why. 

Wilf Jenkinson


Great to hear Roy Swift is still playing. A very good drummer and raconteur. Is Ken Ratcliffe (bass) still around ? He was another Marine Club Regular, and who can forget Bix Roscoe, a complete crackpot from Hesketh Bank, who played an odd slide/valve trombone? 

Bix was, in local dialect, "three sheets to the wind" but he had a phenomenal knowledge of early jazz, and could sing the Louis Armstrong Hot Five numbers, switching to Lil Hardin's vocals with a knotted handkerchief on his head. I once played sousaphone next to Bix when he sang Elvis Presley's "Wooden Heart" in German, this time wearing a monocle. 

Frank Farrington 

11/05/05 : Hi Fred,

Can I correct some of your info. re. Dobbs Gutter in 1976 please. I can assure you that the band had occasional practises in my house, and I am married to the guy who not only named it, but led and guided it until 1978 - the trombonist Alan Wilde. 

The original band consisted of: -

Don Evan - trumpet
Jim O'Rourke - piano
Lovely Dave - clarinet ( can someone remind me please) & alto sax
Ricky Whiting - piano and my friend
Peter Dunne & Peter Pemberton - drums
The man who made love to his double bass - another Dave I think
Bob Willets - clarinet
Don Bell -trumpet
Marion Wroe - vocals

& I don't forget those who came along either with ambition or expertise from a professional career.

My abiding memory of this line up is of their enthusiasm and creativity - and a great sense of fun and the welcome they gave to any musicians who wanted to share a love of jazz.

It would be great if any of these folk would contact us - or perhaps they're listening to Humph tonight, as we are.

Lynda Wilde

Hi Fred

I was interested in Phil Yates's comment about Bix Roscoe sitting in whether invited or not .  I believe this habit originated in the Picton Hall concerts at Liverpool on Sunday evenings.  When the Mulligan Band came to town, they would march round the auditorium while playing the final number.  Bix would join in on the end of the column, and end up on stage.

He would bring out his trombone again on the train back to Southport and give an impromptu concert.  After the first "happening", other musicians who lived along that line would bring their horns too.

Ralph Watmough

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