Dance Band Encyclopaedia

Visiting Americans

Paul Specht - Part 3

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Part Three: The lido Venice and Canadian Club Orchestras, and the Kit Cat Club.

Following his unfortunate experiences with the Carolina Club Orchestra, Specht continued to appear in America with his own orchestra, and run his management and booking agency. In about October 1924 he sent the Lido Venice Dance Orchestra over to Europe. The personnel of this band seems to have been:­

Barney Russell (Trombone/Bass Sax/Clarinet/Alto Sax/Vocal) 
John Evert Davidson (Banjo)

rl Smith (Drums/Leader)
Fred Morrow Clarinet/Alto Sax/Baritone Sax)

William “Bill” Haid (Piano)

Joe Rose (Comet)
Henry Nathan
(Violin/Clarinet/Alto Sax/Guitar)

I have been unable to trace any incoming ship on which they sailed, and it seems very likely they did not come to England first. Details of exactly where they played and when are rather sketchy, but they appear to have opened their tour in Brussels in October 1924. From there they moved to Berlin, where they played for about eight weeks. At the beginning of 1925 they appeared in Paris, but this engagement seems to have been terminated rather suddenly, for reasons unknown. They then moved on to London; according to Melody Maker they played at the Empress Rooms. Following this, they returned to Europe, and in the Spring of 1925 were playing in Rome. At the end of this engagement they apparently returned to Berlin, where the band broke up in about June, 1925. (1 can only assume Work Permits were granted for the English part of this tour.)

It has been stated in several editions of “Jazz Recordsthat the Lido Venice band visited London in 1924, and even made records for Columbia whilst they were here. I have been unable to find any reports of their appearance here until early 1925, although recordings may have been made then.

In May 1925 the Kit Cat Club opened in London, and Vincent Lopez and his Hotel Pennsylvania Orchestra were brought over to play on the opening night. (This visit is covered in detail in a separate article),

There are reports that Specht was asked to bring over his band for this event; but that Work Permits were refused. Variety for June 10th, 1925 carried a banner headline “RETALIATION FOR ENGLAND” which referred to permits being denied to Specht, and “thousands of English actors and musicians in America working without hindrance” (sic). It was also suggested that the American State and Labour Departments were inquiring into the matter of “British Labour Unions discrimination against Americans “. By their issue of July 1st, Variety had toned down their reporting somewhat, stating “... in the Paul Specht matter which concerned the Kit Cat, it is said that the American Ambassador will not make a protest to the Foreign Office.”

It is interesting to note that the July 1st issue of Variety also carried another item, “ENGLISH BAND IS OFFERED DATES IN AMERICA, Keith-Albee Wants Jack Hylton - Squaring Any Feeling “. The article reported that Hylton and his band had been offered this trip in an attempt to alleviate some of the feeling that American bands were keeping the English bands out of work. The William Morris Agency had also offered Hylton a concert tour. In the event Hylton was officially unable to accept either of these offers in view of his heavy workload in England over the coming months. He himself took an advert in Variety to publicise this fact, thanking the American bookers for their offers. It is equally likely he knew very well he would not be able to play in America because of AFM opposition.

(By December of 1925, Variety in particular had started to name Hylton as leading the objections to visiting American bands. This was unfair and inaccurate. Hylton was not against American bands working in England, provided they were good bands, and later on it was through his efforts that bands such as the Ellington orchestra played here. It may well be he had objections to Specht in particular, however, as has already been seen.) 

Meanwhile Specht was certainly not prepared to let matters rest, and commenced lobbying in America for reciprocal measures against the English, although even Variety suggested his radical attitude might prove to be a hindrance.

At some point during this period, Specht was appointed Musical Director for the Piccadilly Hotel and Kit Cat Club. Specht’s own account of this, given several years later, was that he was responsible for supplying three bands a week for a period of one year to both these establishments. Since all American bookings to the Kit Cat Club at least handled by the William Morris Agency, whose English agent was Fosters Agency of London, it is difficult to determine exactly what his duties were. Quite apart from which, he was hardly ever in England anyway!

Variety for December 23rd, 1925 reported on “Specht 's plan to circumvent British labour embargo on musicians ", and referred to him coaching Canadian bands to be sent over to England under his management. The first of these visitors was to be the “Royal Canadian Orchestra, which will carry his name and sails Dec 28 on the Majestic to open in London. The Specht unit opens at the Kit Cat and will also double in vaudeville. It is his 17th Orchestra to go to Europe.”

As set out elsewhere, the reason for bringing over a Canadian band was that Canadians were regarded as British citizens and therefore no Work Permits were required. The quoted figure of 17 orchestras is impressive but may not be totally accurate, in that “bands within a band” may have been treated as separate units.

Paul Specht’s Canadian Club Orchestra, as it was billed in England, needed little coaching from Specht or anyone else. According to Melody Maker for February, 1926, they were “A ten-piece combination, its members, who are all Canadians, between them account for thirty-five different instruments. There are three vocalists in the outfit, and the leader can sing and extemporise on the spur of the moment a song about anyone or anything he notices. Art Christmas, the first trumpet, is also a red-hot “dirt” sax. player, and the whole crowd is about as lively a bunch as one could wish for.”

The article also stated the band had been playing for four years, and was the official orchestra for the Government House at Ottawa. It was the only band which had been allowed to use the Canadian Government Crest, this being equivalent to a Royal Warrant in England. Other reports say the band was playing in New York towards the end of 1925 and was heard by Specht, who then booked them to go to England.

The band duly arrived here on board the “Majestic” on January 3rd 1926. The Passenger List (BT26/825) showed:-

Orville Johnston Aged 30 Piano/leader
John Lindsay Aged 22 trumpet
James Wilson Aged 22 Trombone
Brockton Cole Aged 21 Drums / vocal
Albert Mittelstadt Ages 22 reeds
Leo St Germain Aged 23 Banjo
Howson Brocklebank Aged 24 reeds
Bazil Rock Aged 18 violin
Allan Saunders Aged 24
James Christmas Aged 20 trumpet & reeds

James Christmas is presumably Art Christmas; I have been unable to find out his full names. Many of the Christian names listed above differ from published discographies, but were presumably taken from Passports, and should therefore be correct.

(Amongst these musicians was included one “Gypsy Rhoumaje”, aged 17, and listed as “Dancer”. Her entry was crossed through on the List, which normally indicates that a passenger did not actually sail. Whether she was supposed to be part of the Canadian Club outfit is unclear, but the Times in early February 1926 reported her as working at the Piccadilly Hotel, so she must have arrived on an earlier or later boat.)

The band duly opened at the Kit Cat Club, and scored an immediate success with a new number they bad brought with them. This was “Clap Hands! Here Comes Charley”, and within 24 hours many bandleaders in London were trying to get hold of the band parts. However, the English agent for this song was the Lawrence Wright Music Co. who stated it would not be released here for another ten days or so. Almost inevitably, by the time it was put on sale, most bandleaders already had their own “private” copies, either by taking it down at the Kit Cat Club, or perhaps even borrowing the Canadian Club parts.

Whilst in England the band recorded for Columbia, presumably through Specht’s influence with that company. It is suggested in some quarters that one or two English musicians played on these recordings, notably Julian Vedey, a drummer and later on the Editor of Rhythm, a rival to the Melody Maker. Also mentioned in this respect is Harry Hayes (Alto. Sax.). Although Vedey is on record as saying he worked in a Specht band prior to starting Rhythm, it is not clear whether this was actually the Canadian Club outfit.

(At least two of the records by this band seem to be extremely rare; of one of them only one copy is known to exist.)

It seems the band wanted to stay in England, but had to return to Canada at the end of 1926, to play at the opening of the Regent Theatre in Ottawa in January 1927. However, Art Christmas stayed and worked here for many years, apart from a trip home in 1929/30.

As well as the personnels suggested above, there is a further report that Fred Morrow (reeds), having left the Lido Venice band when it broke up, returned to America and then came to England as part of the Canadian Club outfit. I have been unable to confirm this, and in any event it seems unlikely. The whole point of Specht’s sending over this band (all Canadian citizens) was to get round the permit restrictions. Adding an American player would hardly help his cause! 

This brings us to a convenient point to pause before proceeding to the next instalment, which covers the visit of Specht’s own orchestra later in 1926. And also the matter of the Willis-Vaile Bill.....

Click here for: Part Four: Paul Specht and his Orchestra; 1926.