Dance Band Encyclopaedia
To Dance Music
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A Quick Intro...
What Type Of Dance Music The Site Is About
Record Fairs in Britain
Links To Other Sites
A Quick Intro
I want to try and document all I can about dance bands of the 1920s & 1930s, even though the interest in the music seems to be fading. I would be very grateful for any information and especially scanned photographs which I can publish here. I can give you acknowledgments or you can remain anonymous as you please. Don't hesitate to tell me my mistakes either. I can take it!
You may e-mail me by clicking here.
I've been collecting dance music on 78s since 1970, when I was a mere 12 year old, along with my cousin, Charles Hippisley-Cox (who is a year younger than I). Our parents hoped it was just a phase we were going through, as they saw the bedroom floors of our respective homes bowing with the weight. I now have about 15,000 records and it is still growing..... Charles and I may be seen at most of the English record fairs, both trying to sell records and buy 'em. Note: A rough count undertaken on November 25th, 2001 reveals that actually I ONLY have about 12,500 dance & jazz records plus about 500 ragtime / early popular vocal 78s.
One of my other main interests is Genealogy. I am documenting my family tree in another section of my web site. Click here to return to my front page and visit the Genealogy section if you're interested.
What Dance Music Is This Web Site About?
This web site is concerned with the dance music that was prevalent between the two world wars in the 20th century.
To start with, it was very much of a ragtime style, played generally by a small orchestra, the instruments would depend on the location. It could have included cornets, trombones, horns, clarinets, flutes, tubas and drums and maybe strings, or it could have been a trio playing in a tea-shop. On record, the larger orchestra is generally heard, with exceptions.
The exceptions are the likes of The Original Dixieland Jazz Band, making their recording debut in 1917, consisting of cornet, trombone, clarinet, piano & drums.
There were banjo quartets consisting of two banjos, piano & drums. Some other trios of saxophone, piano and xylophone.
Novelty groups, such as the Six Brown Brothers, all playing various saxophones.
Anything went, really. But then in 1920, Paul Whiteman in America asked his friend and colleague, Ferde Grofe, to try and get it down on paper for an orchestra. He set the standard, really; Whiteman's orchestra consisted of 2 trumpets, trombone, 3 saxes, violin, piano, banjo, tuba and drums. This became the normal orchestration for a dance band or orchestra for the next twenty years! The saxophone and banjo came to signify the music of this period.
The acoustic recording methods being used required the more percussive and up-front sound of the banjo and tuba, but once electrical recording (generally introduced in 1925-6) became established, the banjo made way for the guitar; the tuba for the double bass. Interestingly, some photographs of dance bands in the early 1920s show the use of the double bass & guitar, but the acoustic horn couldn't record either of them very well.
Most dance bands were quite small, probably 6 to 8 pieces, in the early 1920s, but gradually they grew, especially the show bands like Whiteman's, which was about 30 strong by 1928!. In England, Jack Hylton was Whiteman's counterpart, though it wasn't until the end of the 1930s that his band was this huge.
In the mid-1930s, America was taken over by Swing Music (like "dance music", this is another term that has recently been hijacked for a kind of modern pop music). This was played 4-in-a-bar rather than 2. It was exciting and different and appealed to the young. The bands were usually 14 or 15 piece and revolved around the bandleader, who was a top-player of his instrument. The names of Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Bunny Berigan, Harry James, Woody Herman all come to mind. The music was either instrumental, the tune revolving around a couple of riffs (repeated musical phrases) or reviving an old tune of about 10 years previous, or they were "pop" songs of the day, played rather slow and sensuously. The style got into a rut rather quickly, the songs were always played at the same speed, the arrangements were minimal, revolving as I said, around the playing of the bandleader. The instrumentals became a bit "samey" too; there are only so many riffs and only so many ways to play them.
The style survived, though, through the war and generally evolved into a "Big Band" style using a big 20+-piece orchestra. In England, bands never really took to swing and the British music papers gave it the thumbs-down for being all the same. English dance music became more sophisticated in its arrangements and the vocalist became more important during the later 1930s. The war helped this along, as those vocalists, such as Vera Lynn, toured the country (and abroad), boosting the morale of the troops. It was relatively easy for one entertainer to tour, and use the local band as accompaniment, compared to trying to move a big orchestra around. After the war, dance music gradually faded as the singers took over the popular music scene. As usual, there were exceptions, like Ted Heath's big band, but most other bands slipped into an accompanying role.
In America, it wasn't all swing, though the alternative was often even more set in its ways. The so-called "Mickey-Mouse" bands, using a novelty technique in every record which soon became tiresome. Shep Fields blowing bubbles in a glass of water, for instance. Guy Lombardo, who seemed to only have one arrangement to play. There were the bands in between, so to speak, such as Freddy Martin, Vincent Lopez etc, playing quality dance music, smooth and sophisticated. They survived in one form or another right into the 1960s, but times had changed.
So, on this site you will eventually find a comprehensive set of pictures and history of the record labels around in the 1920s & 1930s (with some earlier & later ones too - It's my page and I'll make my own rules!). Photographs of the bands and musicians and information about them. Please be patient, there are a lot of bands - it will take ages to bring all the information together. Being English and living in England, most of the information I've collected is about British bands, but I do intend to document what I know about American bands too and I'll be grateful for any help, especially with photograph scans of recording artists.
British Record Fairs Listing
Now that the junk
shop has all but died in most of England*, the place to find second-hand records
(especially 78s) is at one of the organised record fairs. Here is a list of
British record fairs.
*I would be very interested to know of any that do still exist and are willing to deal in records
I have added the National Vintage Communications Fair to the list from 2009. I went to the fair in 2009. There were some stalls with 78s and quite a few gramophones along with lots of old radios etc.
Dates for the fairs in 2013; Red dates are estimates, light blue are definite :
***** Note the date change for the October Birmingham fair ******
|2013||Record fairs for 2013|
|Month||Day||Name/Location||Address of Fair|
|March||10||Birmingham||National Motorcycle Museum. nr Birmingham. M42 Junction 6|
|April||28||Croydon||Fairfield Halls, Croydon|
|May||12||National Vintage Communications Fair||Warwickshire Exhibition Centre, The Fosse, Fosse Way, Leamington Spa, CV31 1XN|
|June||9||Birmingham||National Motorcycle Museum. nr Birmingham. M42 Junction 6|
Village Hall, Powick, nr Worcester, Worcs
|August||11||Greg's Greats||79, High Street, Foxton, Cambridgeshire, CB2 6RP|
|September||29||Croydon||Fairfield Halls, Croydon|
|October||20||Birmingham||National Motorcycle Museum. nr Birmingham. M42 Junction 6|
|December||8||Greg's Greats||79, High Street, Foxton, Cambridgeshire, CB2 6RP|
Both the Birmingham & Croydon fairs have a licensed bar and a restaurant
selling hot and cold food.
Greg Butler at Foxton also offers snacks and soft drinks (burgers in the summer), which is why he likes you to call first if possible, so that he can estimate requirements! Snacks and soft drinks are available at the CLPGS fair in Powick.
Note that Greg's fair at Foxton is a one-man show as far as the records for sale are concerned; i.e. there are no stalls for hire, but Greg has 10000s of records of all categories for sale (and not just 78s).
Information about the record fair venues including contacts:
5 Robinson's Meadow, Ledbury,
Herefordshire. HR8 1SU
Tel: 01531 635 281 or email
£38 each or 2 for £66 (no
Stallholders arrive 8:00 am
Entry £3 9.00am (£1 after 12 noon)
Parking: free on site (fair closes at 4.00 pm)
1 Blackbird Close, Basingstoke,
Hampshire RG22 5QL
Phone: 01256 462218 or email
Stalls: £42; Half stall: £27
Stallholders arrive 8.00 am
Entry: £3 from 9.15am; £2 from 12.30am; fair closes 4pm
Parking: pay car park under the halls. Limited car parking in front of the building £5 per day
|Greg's Greats:||Greg Butler
79, High Street, Foxton,
Cambridgeshire, CB2 6RP
Tel: 01223 872 937 or email
|Starts at 11.00
No stalls for rent. Free entry & food.
Contact Greg first if food required
Parking: free on-road near to site
Lynwood, Kings End Road
Powick, Worcs WR2 4RA
Tel: 01905 830 540 or email
Stalls £12 each
Public admission from 9 .a.m.: £2
|National Vintage Communication Fair||
NVCF, 13 Warneford Road
Oxford OX4 1LT, UK
Stalls: £30 each (discount
for BVMS members) [these are the 2012 prices]
Early entry £25 from 9 a.m (£8 from 10.30) closes at 4 p.m.
Free car parking. See website for more details (link in previous column)
Links To Other Sites Of Interest
Dance Bands e-group.
Discussion group covering anything to do with British dance bands of 1920s - 1940s.
Join in. Don't be shy !!
Dance bands e-group.
As above but for American dance bands, of course.
Dance Bands e-group
Lively group for those interested in dance bands "down under".
Bowlly discussion group
Are you a "fan" of Al Bowlly's singing? Then come and share your views here.
Whether novice or expert, you'll find friendly advice and discussion here.
Websites about 1920s & 1930s music and 78s:
Wright's page of Vintage Jazz and Dance Music at 78rpm
Lots of stuff about bands in films too. Well worth a visit or 200 !!
Big Band Database
American site worth visiting - lots of information about British and American bands.
This site was run by Murray L Pfeffer, who, sadly, passed away in 2008 and the website not longer exists.
However, Doug Henkle is attempting to save some of the webpages and his site can be found here.
Norman Field's website
Very interesting stuff about 78 labels. Norman also offers a 78-to-CD transfer service.
Tim's in California and has some interesting stuff on his page.
He has also published some books about early recording artists.
An online journal about American record labels and artists of the 78 era.
Also a book publisher - has published the new "Jazz Records" discography in 2002.
Clark's 78rpm pages
An English site covering the early years of recording and Music Hall.
The popular magazine featuring dance bands (mainly British) of the 1930s & 40s
now has it's own web-site.
Official Jack Hylton Website
Peter Faint's site devoted to Jack Hylton with detailed biography, photographs and lots
of Real Audio sound files.
Hans Koert's "Keep
Hans' site has details of his research into flexible records and other relevant information
Lists over 100 other sites pertaining to records and gramophones etc
Another list of links to websites about old records & gramophones
NOTE: All the sites where you can buy records mentioned below are genuine and reliable. I use them regularly myself and am personally acquainted with most of the people running them.
Resources - where you can buy CD reissues of 1920s-30s dance band records
Labs & Vocalion CDs
Mike Dutton is at the helm producing excellent CD transfers for the Vocalion label.
Lots of dance band CDs available here as well as vintage classical and light music - and
Ned Newitt, son of banjo & violinist Nigel Newitt is producing CDs of rare 1920s
British Dance Bands - available here!
If you can't find what you want on Vocalion (above) - try here. Worlds records have a
search engine on the site, and have a fast and reliable service.
Maybe you are still buying 78s or LPs? Here are a few places where they can be found
VJM (Vintage Jazz Mart)
VJM has many record auction listings which may be to your taste. Some auctions are online.
There are also many fine articles here and in the magazine as well.
Mark is co-owner of VJM and also has his own website where he posts occasional
auctions of records. Click on his name to go there.
Sadman records is run by Nigel Haslewood. Nigel is in Leicester and deals in 78s & LPs -
anything with a Jazz, Dance Band or Blues link. He runs regular auction lists and also has a
market stall in Leicester Market on Thursdays (stall D36).
Alan is in the States and runs regular on-line auctions of 78s, concentrating on Jazz,
Dance Band and Popular music.
What you may need to play your 78s:
Expert Stylus Company
A very long established company. They can supply cartridge & stylus replacements to suit
all your needs for playing records. They have no website, I'm afraid, but you can write,
telephone, fax or email to the following address: (I have found it best just to phone!)
Expert Stylus Company, PO Box 3, Ashtead, Surrey KT21 2QD, England
Telephone: 01372-276604 Fax: 01372-276147
Dance bands that may still be heard today! (in alphabetical order) (Click on name to go to website)
The Ashby Big Band
Formed in 2006, this band plays big band music similar to the bands of Glenn Miller and Ted Heath.
It is run by David Bradford and they play in the Derbyshire and Noth Staffordshire area.
Bert Firman's Dance Orchestra
No, I haven't made a mistake; Pete March, who organises the band, was given permission
by the late Bert Firman to perpetuate his name. As you'd expect, the band plays music of
the 1920s, generally genuine arrangements of the period, too. They play gigs in the Walsall
area and have a regular spot at the Lyttleton Arms, Hatherton Street, Walsall, on the first
Monday every month, bar bank holidays.
New Foxtrot Serenaders
A dance band playing the music of the 1920s & 1930s, based in the South East of England.
A CD of their recordings are available too.
Palm Court Dance Orchestra
A 9-piece band of musicians recreating the 1920s & 1930s music, based in the Leeds,
Yorkshire district. See their site by clicking on the name above.
Probably the longest established vintage orchestra, the PRO were formed in 1969.
They are only orchestra I have seen live, and they are, in my opinion, excellent.
The Piccadilly Dance Orchestra
Formed in 1988, the Piccadilly Dance Orchestra concentrate mainly on the 1930s, and have
been playing at The Savoy Hotel, London since 1997 and have performed before royalty!
The Regency Dance Band
A six-piece band formed in 1983 which plays the music of the 1920s, 30s & 40s, based in North Staffordshire.