Dance Band Encyclopaedia


Arthur Rosebery

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Bandleader, pianist & arranger 
Died:   1986

    Arthur 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.

Arthur Rosebery was 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.

After 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 was furious.

Arthur's 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.

While 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 Cotton. 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 each.

After 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.

At 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.

The 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 Goldberg, 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 alto-saxophone 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!

The 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." They learned two numbers and, luckily, the manager of the Carlton Ballroom hired them after hearing just one number! Although the band was named after Arthur, it was a co-operative and they split the money equally between the musicians. 

Not 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.

When 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 saying  “Commence at the Cafe de Paris in August". This was in 1928. There was a gap of about four weeks before the Cafe de Paris job started, so Hylton’s agent got the band a fill-in engagement at Tag’s Island on the Thames. The venue was a big club on the Island, owned by a very rich impressario. He turned out to be a crook and went bust; the band never got paid for the job, and neither did Jack Hylton, despite taking the impressario to court.

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 unstuck - 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.”

One 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 learn from".

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.

To 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.  

The 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. Arthur realised, looking back, that, though they were all rather young and inexperienced, he still felt he should have realised that image and showmanship were important factors in becoming a top band.  

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.

Each 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.

The 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.

One 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. On returning to London, Arthur went straight back to leading small bands in little clubs. Then Mr Stewart, the Ex-Romano's manager. who had become Arthur's own manager got him an audition for the Chez Henri which was looking for a band to replace Charlie Kunz, who was opening at the new Casani Club. Stewart told Arthur:  “if you want this job, you’ve got to put on a white tail suit, sit at the piano and don’t raise your hands, or look up, or smile, and you’ve got to play twenty minutes strict tempo on your own every night, as well as leading the band. Can you do it?”  Arthur said that for the money they were offering he'd do anything!  

The band at the Chez Henri was a eight piece band which included a South African bass player who also sang (Arthur couldn’t remember his name). 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. (By the way, none of these recordings have ever turned up. If anyone should have any details of them, please let me know - and I'd love to hear them as well!). Arthur was doing well - back at the top, but the music and style of playing wasn't really to his liking. However, he stuck at it for a couple of years until the club closed for redecoration. Following a row and a split with his manager, Arthur heard that the Paradise Club was reopening following a management condortium buyout and they were looking for a band. Arthur and his band from the Chez Henri auditioned and got the job, playing there from 1937 until the outbreak of war in late 1939. They also doubled at the Dolphin Square; the Paradise job didn't start until 10pm (running until 2am). The band grew in size from an 8-piece to a 16-piece during its time at the Paradise. Although the band made no recordings at this time, snippets may be heard on some Pathe shorts made about the Paradise club in the late 1930s. 

By 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 marvellous experience." When the war started, Arthur realised that it wouldn’t be too long before the band would be broken up, and sure enough they all got called up pretty quick. He formed a new band and toured the troop camps using a show-band billed as Paradise on Parade. The band included his old trumpet sideman Doug Bastin.

By 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. He managed to get a job as a solo pianist in West Germany, on an American forces site. The man who booked him advised me to change my professional name to something more American sounding than Arthur Rosebery. So Arthur became "Al Shine", a name he used until his death. Although booked as a solo pianist, Arthur soon found myself involved with bands again. It started as a small band, about four musicians, and eventually grew into a big band. In addition, he also organised other bands over there and became something of a band fixer.

    Arthur returned to London in the early 1960s and worked in little pubs, purely as a solo entertainer, basing his style around his act at the Paradise plus what he learned from Tommy Trinder. In 1968 he began working in Flannigan’s and that’s where he remained until his death in 1986.

Transcribed from Nick Dellow's interviews with Arthur Rosebery in the mid-1980s which were originally published in "Memory Lane".                                                     ©Mike Thomas 2006

Arthur Rosebery

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Arthur's Kit-Cat band  in 1929

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Another photo of Arthur's band - c1929.