Dance Band Encyclopaedia


Tony Hill

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Full name: Anthony Albinus Hill
Instruments: Banjo and guitar
Died:   1986

Following an apprenticeship with the Metropolitan Railway, Tony Hill joined the Army for the war. During the war, he taught himself the ukelele and subsequently graduated to banjo. He was demobbed early in 1919 and worked for a while for Peugeot cars in London on his return to civvy street. At the same time, he was working as a semi-pro  musician. He made his semi-professional debut at a dance at Stepney Baths where he was obliged to 'deck' a punter for fooling around with his banjo during the intermission. 

By about 1921 he had turned professional and by 1925 was playing at the Oxford Galleries in Newcastle-on-Tyne in Percy Bush's band. This band included future bandleaders Vincent Norman, George Newman and Lew Stone. He remembers meeting Paul Whiteman and George Gershwin who shared the stand at the Oxford during their British tour. He married in 1928; his new wife was a dance hostess at the Oxford Galleries, the ballroom in Newcastle on Tyne, She danced with George Gershwin on the occasion mentioned above.

Tony Hill also played for Leonard Pilbeam.  He described Pilbeam as a martinet; a strict disciplinarian. At one rehearsal the pianist (I think it was Lew Stone) had a novelty toy on the end of the piano keyboard, a small round box which, operated by gravity, bleated like a sheep every time you turned it upside down. Pilbeam thought one of the band was doing it with his mouth and threatened dire punishment for the culprit. He watched them like a hawk but every time he looked at his score there was another bleat.  He never did find out the reason.

He also did some theatre work in the orchestra pit for variety and musicals, as well as a season in Berlin in 1925 during the currency crisis when people were literally taking their wages home in wheelbarrows.  Fortunately the band's contract called for payment in US dollars!

Tony bought the first Gibson Mastertone tenor banjo to come into Britain - No 8661.It was brought over by Gibson USA to demonstrate round the dance halls  - a tenor has a two octave spread over four strings - top one is tuned to A above the E on a guitar top string - and it will cut through a 16 piece band - which was why they became popular in the days before amplification.Gibsons printed an advertising leaflet showing Hill holding the banjo.  The text said "This fine musician has selected a Gibson instrument"

Around the beginning of the 1930s, Tony played in Geraldo's Gaucho Tango Band, Don Sesta's Gaucho/Accordion Band and Joe Loss and his Band. He may well be present on some of the recordings by the first two names (his son mentions him recording at Winner and possibly Eclipse for Don Sesta, but it is thought he had left Loss by the time of his recordings for Winner in late 1933.

He claimed to be the world's first televised guitarist having done a gig for John Logie Baird's experimental transmissions. They wore green or blue make-up and played in a dark room scanned by a flying spot of light. The band was offered the job of house band but the money was not good enough.  In addition, his sons recall him saying that he had done a few gigs with Stanley Black and he also played with Stanley Osborne's orchestra.

By early 1934, Tony Hill retired from a full-time musical career to something more secure for a family provider and he opened a pet shop. He continued playing guitar on a part-time basis, however.

At some time in his career, he toured with an American showman banjo player who did things like making the banjo talk etc as backing banjoist. Unfortunately, his son can't recall this musician's name.

Tony Hill's two sons, Tony jr and Peter are both semi-professional musicans; Tony plays Piano & keyboard and Peter plays guitar and bass, singing folk songs. Peter also still has the first Gibson banjo that his father had (as mentioned above).

My thanks to Tony Hill's sons, Tony & Peter Hill for providing the information for this page.
Mike Thomas April 2003 

Tony Hill; 1925

Percy Bush Orch 1925.jpg (120408 bytes)
Percy Bush's Band in 1925
(photo courtesy of "This England" magazine)

Don Sesta's Band.jpg (264072 bytes)
Don Sesta's Band - Tony Hill is 4th from the right.