The Dance Band frenzy.
Harrogate had never experienced anything like it.
Although the town was well used to music being provided as an essential part of the Spa routine, the visit of a top class dance band on Sunday, September 26 1926 produced a sensation, with queues from the Royal Hall box office stretching up Parliament Street. The band was that of Jack Hylton, whose visit introduced a 20 year craze for dance band music that ended only with the different social conditions of the post-Second World War era.
Not that dance band music expunged other music in the town. Cecil Moon and his quartet continued to give his recitals in the Valley Gardens and Winter Gardens; Basil Cameron still conducted the Harrogate Municipal Orchestra to packed houses in the Royal Hall, and guest musicians of the highest international standard still visited the town. But for at least 15 years, the visits of the big bands and their own virtuosi soloists, were outstandingly brilliant occasions.
Jack Hylton had been working at the Queen’s Hall Roof Ballroom in London, when gramophone records of the famous Paul Whiteman band arrived from America. Jack was sufficiently perceptive to see the potential, in this country, for Paul Whiteman’s transcriptions, and his perception was recognized by Britain’s biggest recording company, HMV.
In May 1921, the Queen’s Dance Orchestra recorded four of Jack Hylton’s new arrangements of some neglected songs, and sales went through the roof. From then on, there was no stopping Jack Hylton, and by 1929, the sales of the Jack Hylton Band numbered millions. It is amusing to see the difficulty the Advertiser’s unnamed music critic had in reviewing Jack Hylton’s Band : “The visit of this band on Sunday, September 29 resulted in the hall being packed to its utmost capacity, many being content to stand all through the performance. In a succession of what are styled “symphonic syncopations” the band kept the audience interested for over two hours, along with duets on two pianos. The programme was further varied by the eccentricities of the conductor and the various soloists and lighting effects”.
Not a word about the music played, the performance of the band or the reaction of the audience beyond its being “interested”. Despite this unpromising review, the word spread far and wide, and the Jack Hylton Band was asked to return for further performances on September 4 1927, and May 20 1928. Fired by these successful visits, the Royal Hall management booked a second big name, and on July 26 1931, the Billy Cotton Band visited the Royal Hall, followed by the immaculately dressed Debroy Somers and his Band on August 30.
From then on, the floodgates opened. In 1936, at the height of the dance band craze, an amazing galaxy of talent performed to packed houses in the Royal Hall. They were as follow: on January 12, Jack Hylton’s return was welcomed warmly, followed by Jack Payne on January 26, Teddy Joyce on April 12, Ambrose on April 26, Mrs Jack Hylton on June 7, Roy Fox on June 21, Lou Praeger on July 12, Charlie Kunz on July 19, Joe Loss on August 9, Bertini and his famous Broadcasting Band on August 23, Syd Lipton on August 30, Roy Fox on September 6, Sydney Kyte on September 13, Geraldo and his Goucho Orchestra on September 27, Nat Gonella and his Georgians on October 11, Alfredo and his Gipsy Orchestra on October 25, Lou Praeger on November 15, and, to close the season, Mrs Jack Hylton and her Boys on November 22.
These were the top names in dance band music, and such notable absentees as Victor Sylvester or Carrol Gibbons appeared in following years. This was the time before popular music had been hi-jacked by the teenage market. The musicians were all superb executants, melody and harmony were sophisticated, with intelligible and often witty lyrics, and the players took a pride in their appearance, wearing either full evening dress or smart uniforms. The Royal Hall management knew the importance of attracting the best names in the world of music, to ensure the place was filled, and that the all-important visitors, as well as residents, were well entertained. Many of these bands can be heard on the CD produced in aid of the restoration of the Royal Hall.