Dance Band Encyclopaedia
pianist & arranger
Rosebery is generally remembered today for the excellent recordings he
and his band made for Parlophone from 1928 to1930. However, those
recordings were just one small part of a long and varied career, as
you will see.
born in Fulham at Christmas time 1904. His father was quite a
well-known person in the show business world and worked for nearly 20
years at the Lyceum Theatre where he organised shows. He also wrote
and produced his own shows and toured with them all over the country.
He started playing the piano at the age of eight, encouraged by his
father, who would take Arthur to show business parties and get him to
play, Arthur would receive sweets & money for his playing, which
encouraged him to practise more, with the idea of playing for a
living. He soon started to assist his father at the Lyceum, both in
the actual performances, and in the rehearsals at the Rosebery home.
leaving school, Arthur went to college in Chiswick and formed a
little college band. After college, despite his father wanting him to
pesue a career as a pianist, Arthur's mother felt he should have a
steady secure job, and so he went to work at Lyons, the cake people.
Hi uncle worked there and got me the job. Arthur didn't like the job
much and one day was so fed up with it that he poured the ink
bottle all over the paperwork; he was fired, of course and his mother
father got to know through the musical director at the Lyceum that
there was a man in the West End who was willing to take on a young man
to train him to copy orchestrations. Arthur got the job and eventually
learnt to score parts for 28 piece orchestras - very useful training.
Then, in 1921, he started work as a song demonstrator at Francis, Day
and Hunter, at 35 shillings a week. The management at Francis, Day and
Hunter use to complain that Arthur didn't play the songs as written,
but put his own interpretations onthem. Edmund Lowe, the boss, used to
say, “I do not want Arthur Rosebery’s version, I want you to play
what the composer has written.” Despite this, Arthur stayed at
FD&H for two years.
at Francis, Day and Hunter, Arthur formed a little dance band which
was originally just a duet with Arthur on piano and his old school
friend Laurie Johnson playing violin. He described Laurie as a
very scrappy violin player but said that there were very few dance
musicians around at the time, so one had to get by with the musicians
that could be found. Arthur reckoned that if they could find a
drummer, they could start doing gigs. As it happened, Laurie's uncle
used to be a drummer in the army, so they roped him in. His name was Billy
Billy was a young man who was working as a bus driver and playing
centre forward for Brentford Football Club on Saturday afternoons. Rehearsals
took place in Arthur's parents’ house which used to drive his mother
to distraction! After much practice, the trio managed to land a
job playing for the local school’s dance at five shillings a night
they’d been gigging around for a while, Laurie got wind that the
Ealing Dance Hall needed a relief band. The problem was that they
wanted a five piece band with a saxophonist in it. There were very few
sax players around in this country at the time even though there was a
real need for them. Fortunately, they discovered that there was a
German living in Bedford Park who played the C-melody saxophone.
apparently, he couldn’t read music and had an awful tone but at
least they has a saxophone!. The fifth musician was a South African
banjo player whose name was Max Chappell. They got the job at Ealing
in September 1923 at £3 a week each, playing three night each week.
After a few months the manager called the band in and told them they
could keep the job for the whole winter, asking them to play six
nights each week, at £6 each. Arthur had given up the job at
Francis, Day and Hunter by this time. the job ran
until February 1924.
the start of 1924 Arthur got to hear about a big exhibition that was
being staged at Wembley called the Empire Exhibition. They were going
to have a palace of everything including a palace of dancing. Soon
after they heard about the exhibition, they were approached by
somebody connected with it who was looking for a dance band on behalf
of Bertram Isles, the manager of the palace of dancing at the
exhibition. Isles had approached the Savoy Havana Band to ask them to
play but they wanted a lot of money and the organisers couldn’t
afford them. They asked Arthur to form a band of 12 to 14 players for
the palace of dancing and Arthur asked for something like £100 a week
for the whole band. Arthur then went round all the night clubs in
London trying to find musicians willing to play from 7 to 10 in the
evening, which appealed to quite a few musicians as many had jobs
which didn’t begin until after 10 in the evening. He soon has his
orchestra, though I don't have any details about the musicians, apart
from Burton Gillis who payed saxophone. (Burton later became a
mainstay of Henry Hall's bands at the Gleneagkes and the BBC.).
Arthur paid the musicans about £7 per week and split the remainder
three ways between himself, Laurie & Bill.
exhibition opened on 24th April, 1924 the band, calling themselves the
Samprado Dance Band, played there for a few months. Although
the band was very successful, after a while Laurie, Arthur and Bill
started to row, so they decided it was best to split up. Arthur then
played at the London Club (this would have been late 1924) and then in
1925 he joined the Buffalo Band.
This was originally an all-Canadian band which came over in 1923. By
1925, when Arthur joined the band it featured Max
who was one of the original members, Charles Spinelli, alto sax
and clarinet, and Ben Frankel, violin.
After this, Arthur formed a band based around the Buffalo Band
personnel, including Charlie Spinelli and Ben Frankel. They had a yearlong
engagement at the Majestic Dance Hall in Leeds. Arthur considered
Charlie Spinelli to be one of the best
players in Europe. He couldn’t read a note but that didn’t matter -
he played beautifully. In fact he was so good that the Queen of Norway
presented him with a blue enamelled saxophone. But he was a wild way
out character - very temperamental. Ben Frankel was an old school mate
of Rosebry's, a very good fiddle player who played really good hot
fiddle. He also doubled on kazoo! In an interview, Arthur commented
that the trumpet player was from Yorkshire and wasn’t any good -he
kept cracking his notes, but didn't say who he was!
band moved to the Regent Dance Hall in Brighton (replacing Billy
Cotton) and Arthur found Max Goldberg leading a band of his own at the
Astor, nearby. Max didn't start his job until 11 pm, so Arthur
Persuaded him to play a the Regent until 11, for £10 a week. Max
wasn't interested, until he heard Spinelli and Frankel were in the
band. However, after two or three months at the Regent, the job
finished and Arthur returned to London with nothing. He was out of
work for six months when a chance meeting with banjoist Max Chappell
who told him of auditions being held for a band to play at the Carlton
Ballroom, Tottenham Court Road. Having made the appointment for the
audition, Arthur started looking for musicians and someone suggested a
semi-pro saxophonist called Bob Wise. Bob had been playing for Ray
Noble, but Arthur persuaded him to go professional. Bob brought along
Reg Pink who was also playing Saxophone for Ray Noble. Arthur found
Doug Bastin playing at the Brent Hotel, Golder's Green. Doug was a hot
player who, unusually, doubled trumpet and saxophone. The other
members were Les Julian (sax and violin), Max Chappell (banjo), Jim
Risley (bass) and Len Lees (drums). At their first rehearsal, Arthur
was very impressed with the sound of his saxophonists: "
I thought ‘This is a miracle, they sound just like one man,’ You
see, Doug had a thin narrow tone with no vibrato, Bob had a fat tone
with lots of vibrato and Reg had a thin tenor tone with some vibrato.
long after they had started at the Carlton, Edgar Jackson of the
Melody Maker heard the band. He liked what he heard and in the
next issue of M.M. he wrote to say that he had been to see a good
little band at the Canton Ballroom. Edgar subsequently became the
band's manager and got them a job at the Friars Club when the Carlton
contract finished. The Friars Club was a small place but the band
enjoyed playing there and had been working there for about six months when
they had a visit from one of Jack Hylton’s talent scouts. He offered
them a job working for Jack Hylton, which they took, and though there
was no work for them at the time.
the Friars' Club job finished, Arthur kept in close contact with his
musicians so that he had the band ready for when he received the call
from Hylton. In the meantime, he married one of Cochran's young ladies
and while he was on his honeymoon, he received the Hylton telegram
“Commence at the Cafe de Paris in August".
It was while Arthur and the boys were at the Cafe de Paris that they first broadcast and made records. Hylton had fixed up a long recording contract with Parlophone for the band. Arthur arranged the numbers for the first recording session, but it took him a week to do. Luckily, Paul Fenoulhet joined soon after and he was an excellent arranger. The first session, when they recorded "Mississippi Melody" and "He Loves And She Loves" were actually just balance tests for the band and there was great surprise when they were actually issued! Although labelled as by the Kit Cat band, they were still at the Cafe de Paris at the time of the recording. Arthur remembers that when they went into the recording studio they always took a crate of beer with them!
After 10 weeks at the Cafe de Paris, the management were so pleased with
the band that they moved them into a more popular venue. So, in December 1927,
they opened at the Kit Cat club
in the Haymarket. The management explained
that they would be playing opposite some top American bands, so they
realised it was going to be hard work, but they were very popular at
the Kit-Cat and Arthur was certain they could hold their own. But in
Arthur's own words: "And that’s where I came
I became a big-head.
Instead of behaving properly and paying attention to detail, we used
to go to the band room and play darts and drink. The Italian
management were the strictest in London and they didn’t like our
attitude one little bit. The boss said to me, “This is not good
business. You are here to play music, not play darts and drink
beer.” I said, “Oh, this is how we’ve always behaved. If you
want good music you’ll have to put up with our behaviour.”
of the problems was that, although Arthur was leader of the band, he was
really just one of the boys, and acted like one. One day he was called
into the management office and it was suggested that he must
disassociate himself from the rest of the band and play the leader,
keeping the band in order and instructing them when to come on to the
stand and where to sit, and they must acknowledge him as the leader.
The idea was so foreign to Arthur that he didn't know how to do it, or
see the reason why he should: " I was too inexperienced really to understand the
importance of such things, and anyway we thought we were so good we
didn’t need to bother - this was an error I was later to regret, and
One of the big American bands they faced at the Kit Kat was Abe Lyman’s. Arthur recalled "They were a show band and all the members of the band were dressed in white tuxedos and white trousers. They’d stand up to take loud flashy solos, and generally clown about a lot. We thought ‘What a dreadful thing, a trombone player standing on a chair with a mute in the end of his bell, playing 12th Street Rag. Is that what musicians have come to?"". Lyman, after listening to Arthur's band reckoned on the British band being the superior one, but Arthur realised they were not showy enough, which was why Lyman's band got all the attention, and probably the reason the management brought the band (and other American units) over in the first place.
try to make Arthur's band more appealing, the management dressed them up in
foxhunting outfits and billed us as ‘Arthur Rosebery and his Tally
Ho Band’. They said, “If Abe Lyman’s band is dressed up like
that, you’ll have to dress up too.” The management chose the
foxhunting theme because all the big hunts around the country had
members who came into the Kit Kat. They each had to wear a different
coloured hunting outfit to correspond to a certain hunt. The outfits
were all handmade by Halls & Curtis of Mayfair and cost a fortune.
This idea was very unpopular amongst the boys in the band; in fact it
caused a minor revolution. They just wouldn’t have it. Doug Bastin
said, “I’m not a clown.” So he took his hunting jacket off and
hung it up behind the band on a hook which was on the hunting scene
backdrop. He played the rest of the night in his shirt.
Melody Maker were always supportive of the band. This was probably
mainly because it was a musicians band, and other musicians
raved about it. The magazine, which was then monthly, would give them headlines
like ‘Arthur Rosebery up to his tricks again.’ Even Hannon Swaffer, the great critic, wrote about
them. He reported
that he had seen the Prince of Wales dancing to Lyman’s band but not
to Rosebery's. He was really saying that the Prince was turning his back
on English bands and would only dance to the big American bands. That
sort of reporting was quite shocking in those days. Despite all the
praise, the band's contract was not renewed.
Following the Kit-Cat job, which finished in August 1929, Arthur found himself out of work and in debt. He'd been earning a lot of money and basically just blown it all on high-living and an expensive flat in Mayfair. His musicians were in great demand, however, with trombonist/arranger Paul Fenoulhet and saxists Bob Wise & Reg Pink both joining The pit band for "Follow Through" at the Dominion Theatre. The band was directed by Percival Mackey. Arthur kept much of the band together just for recordings at Parlophone and also moonlighting for Homochord (as "The Rhythm Spinners") and Sterno (various names, but usually "Vincent Howard").
As a fill-in for a year he organised small bands for venues like the Tricity Restaurant and the Mitre Club. At the Mitre Club, which was also known as Nunky’s, he had a four piece with Sonny Farrar (guitar), Stan Andrews (violin and sax), and Doug Bastin (trumpet). The Melody Maker, ever supportive, called the group “Nunky’s Hot Five". Arthur recalled: "even if I was leading an ordinary four piece band they’d say that it was the hottest thing in town -anything to get the spotlight on me. Even when I was doing one night gigs with pick up bands the Melody Maker would cover it".
Shortly after leaving the Kit-Cat, Arthur stared doing gig work, working at hunt balls and big society "do's". To get good gig work he teamed up with Alvin Keech, an American ukulele player. Keech was an entertainer and played the ukulele very well, even teaching the Prince of Wales how to play. Arthur would recruit the band by scouting round Archer Street (where all the musicians used to gather) and seeing who was available. They didn't need any rehearsal as they would just play stock arrangements of old favourites. In the interval, Keech would come out and do a turn on the uke. "Melody Maker" referred to Arthur as "Society's favourite" and he was learning about showmanship all the time. At the end of an evening he would sometimes do a "Grand March" where he would pick up the cymbals and lead the band a march round the house. They'd go all over the house, up the turrets and down the dungeons and at dawn have their photograph taken with the guests.
Although making enough money doing gig work and playing in small outfits, Arthur really wanted to lead a larger band in the West End. The trouble was that at the time there was a lot of competition amongst the West End bands. However a chance meeting in 1930 with Arthur Bush, stage manager of the Savoy Theatre lead to him being given the job of MD for the new show "Wonder Bar", though he lead Bush to understand he still had a band, when he didn't. He was asked to audition in two days time, so he hurredly scraped together nine musicians who he knew he could get playing together with a minimum of rehearsal. They gambled by only learning three numbers and made sure they could play them by heart. The band included a young Sid Millward (Arthur describes him as very shy and quiet!) and trombonist Eric Tann. They were lucky in that the producer, Andrew Sharlow gave them the job after hearing their three numbers, little realising that that was they're total repertoire! (One of the tunes was "Thank Your Father").
The show opened om December 5th, 1930 at the Savoy Theatre and ran for 10 months. During this run, Arthur heard that Romano’s Restaurant, which was also in the Strand, had been making some changes and had not yet appointed a new band. So he arranged with the boss of Romano’s, Mr Stewart to play there from 10.30 until midnight. (The show at the Savoy finished at 10.00). This worked out well as the band just had to cross the Strand to Romano's from the Savoy as soon as the curtain had come down. However, on the first night, when they'd finished at the Savoy Theatre, they carried on playing the theme tune of Wonder Bar as they walked out and into the Strand. It was a superb publicity stunt for the show, the band and Romano's and a far cry for the attitude Arthur had whilst at the Kit-Cat.
member of the Romano’s band would do something theatrical to
help keep up the entertainment. Sid Millward would play ‘Oodles of Noodles” out front with just a spotlight on him. They
would even turn a number into a little theatrical drama. One
such routine was for ‘Ain’t It
Grand To Be Blooming Well Dead” which featured an eerie graveyard
backdrop. The management were very flexible and generally let the band do what
they wanted, and the customers just lapped it all up.
band carried on at Romano’s after the end of
"Wonder Bar" for about two years when things came to a very abrupt end. The management at Romano’s had been found to be
cooking the books and absolutely everybody who worked in the club was
fired by the Italian owners, and that included the band. (In an
interview with Peter Tanner some years ago Arthur put forward another
reason for his band leaving Romano’s. He said that it was due to a
difference of opinion between himself and the management. Of course,
they may have been cooking the books as well).
Mr Stewart, Romano's manager told Arthur he was starting another
venture, but it flopped and Arthur never got paid for the job.
day, soon after leaving Stewart’s club, Arthur was asked if he could
organise a small band for a job in Iceland. The job was meant to
be for just a few weeks but lasted for two years, during which time
Arthur built the original small band up to one which was fourteen strong.
the Chez Henri was a eight piece band which included a South African bass player who also sang (Arthur couldn’t remember his
During this time, Arthur also landed a contract to do the
Horlicks “Music in the Morning” show for Radio Luxemburg. The band
would go down to HMV to record the programmes and they broadcast them
four mornings a week at 9 am.
this time, Arthur had built up a good comedy patter routine at the piano
and the band would put on quite a show - a long way from the Kit-Cat
days!. There were quite a few well-known personalities
performing in the cabaret, and as a matter of fact Tommy Trinder had one
of his first professional jobs there. One of the highlights of the Paradise Club was when the
Heralds of Swing came in as a show band for two weeks. Arthur recalled:
"They taught us
that we knew nothing! The job was very interesting and it was a
the end of the war, things had changed so much for the dance bands. For
one thing, the Musicians Union was taking a very tough line with respect to conditions and wages. It was becoming a question of
what hours and what rate of pay, rather than any concern for the music
itself. Arhur decided not to try and reform a band but instead to go it alone as a
solo piano entertainer, which funnily enough was what his father had
wanted me to do all those years before.
Transcribed from Nick Dellow's interviews with Arthur Rosebery in the mid-1980s which were originally published in "Memory Lane". ©Mike Thomas 2006