The great British Big Bands of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s served as the breeding ground for many of the UK’s finest arrangers and composers. Alan Moorhouse, Johnny Keating, Laurie Johnson and Pete Moore, to name a few, all contributed arrangements to the libraries of the major British Big Bands early in their careers. Laurie Johnson started arranging for the famous Ted Heath band at the tender age of 19, trumpeter Alan Moorhouse’s work in the 1950s included playing and arranging for the Eric Winstone band, while Pete Moore started out arranging for the Ken Mackintosh band. During the 1970s, they composed some of the most outstanding and memorable examples of funk-orientated Big Band music.
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Many of the most gifted British jazz musicians also passed through the ranks of the Big Bands. Men such as Don Lusher, Duncan Lamont, Johnny Hawksworth and Kenny Baker all became key members of the major bands of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. They went on to carve out highly successful careers as world-class studio musicians, bandleaders and star soloists in their own right. Trumpeter Kenny Baker went on to lead his Baker’s Dozen group , and Don Lusher has led the Don Lusher Big Band since its inception in 1980.
The consummate professionalism and virtuoso instrumental abilities of the musicians who had honed and perfected these skills during their tenures with the Big Bands, found their services in demand throughout the world. They formed an ‘elite’ of first-call session musicians; their names turned up time and again on album sleeves that bothered to credit the members of a band or orchestra. From the 1950s onwards, they played in concerts and on recording sessions for the leading musical directors and artists from the UK and abroad. Their talents have graced the music of Henry Mancini, Roy Budd, Nelson Riddle and Lalo Schifrin, among many others.
Musicians and arrangers who had paid their dues with the Big Bands became part of the backbone of the British music industry. Their work, in one form or another, could be heard everywhere. Many of them were prolific writers of ‘library’ music. Ted Heath’s bassist, Johnny Hawksworth, contributed lots of compositions to the KPM and De Wolfe music libraries. David Lindup, who arranged for Johnny Dankworth’s band in the 1950s and 1960s, also wrote profusely for the British music libraries. These pieces were regularly used on TV, radio and in films. If you went to the cinema in the 1960s or 1970s, you would have also heard Pete Moore’s famous Pearl and Dean jingle.
A lucrative sideline for arrangers was working with popular singers of the time. Johnny Keating, (who recorded the Space Experience albums for EMI in the 1970s) was behind the short-lived career of pop singer Eden Kane in the early 1960s. Brian Fahey, who had arranged for the Eric Winstone band in the 1950s, (and wrote At The Sign Of The Swingin’ Cymbal , famously used as the signature tune for the BBC’s Pick Of The Pops show ) became Shirley Bassey’s musical director in the 1960s. He subsequently accompanied the singer on one of her world tours. Alan Moorhouse wrote Lulu’s 1969 Eurovision Song Contest entry Boom Bang-a-Bang . Arrangers were also commissioned to score films, TV series and commercials. Laurie Johnson’s scores for 1970s TV shows The New Avengers and ~QThe Professionals reveal strong traces of his roots in Big Band arranging. His music for both series expertly welds driving, brassy arrangements to the funky rhythms of that decade.
The Big Bands led by Ambrose, Geraldo, Jack Parnell and Ted Heath were among the most popular in Britain during the 1950s and 1960s. The line-ups of these bands fluctuated, tending to be interchangeable; a circle of musicians played for the various bands at different times. The bands contrasting styles also helped to distinguish the leaders from one another. Geraldo and Ambrose were known for playing music of a warm and gentle disposition, whilst the Ted Heath band favoured a more vigorous and swinging sound.
It was Heath’s band that attracted the lion’s share of the UK’s top arrangers and musicians. This, of course, played its part in making his the most famous and successful British Big Band of them all. His list of personnel from the mid 1940s to the late 1960s reads like a who’s-who of some of Britain’s finest musical talent. Among these names were – Alan Branscombe, Bill Geldard, Don Lusher, Don Rendell, George Shearing (arranger), Harry Roche, Johnny Hawksworth, Johnny Keating (arranger), Kenny Baker, Laurie Johnson (arranger), Pete Moore (arranger), Ronnie Ross, Ronnie Scott, Ronnie Verrell, Jack Parnell and Stan Tracey. All of them became major session players, bandleaders, soloists, composers and arrangers, often encompassing more than one of these roles in their careers.
While many of its arrangers composed for the music libraries, the Heath band itself recorded for the KPM music library, appearing on the company’s pre-1000 series brown-sleeved releases. Towards the end of the 1960s, the band did not record or perform as much as it had done previously. This was due in part to the failing health of its leader, and to the dominance of Rock and Roll. Sadly, this music had all but overshadowed the Big Bands in the UK and elsewhere. The arrival of television also hastened their demise. They had been very popular in ballrooms, hotels and clubs, providing a ‘golden-era’ of live entertainment. With TV sets installed in many households across the nation, people could now be entertained in their homes without the need to go out, and Big Bands suffered because of this. In 1969, Ted Heath passed away and the band ceased playing concerts all together.
During the 1970s and 1980s the majority of musicians from the Heath band played in the orchestras of conductors and arrangers like Alyn Ainsworth, Ronnie Hazlehurst and Jack Parnell’s ATV band. They were the ‘pit’ orchestras that provided the music for TV shows such as Sunday Night At The Palladium and The Royal Television Variety Show (trombonist and composer Derek Wadsworth used Jack Parnell’s ATV band in 1976 to record his scores for the Space:1999 TV series).
Many of them played on, or composed some of the best funky music to come out of the UK in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, whether it was for library records, commercially released albums, or film and TV soundtracks. Any British film or TV score from this period that incorporated jazz elements would almost always feature the playing of ex-Ted Heath members. Ronnie Scott, for example, played the dynamic sax solo for the car chase sequence on Roy Budd’s scintillating, funky score for the 1972 UK film Fear Is The Key.
When it comes to funky Big Band music, some of them have composed classics in the genre. Pete Moore is responsible for Spiral , the funky 10-minute opus from the 1973 Pye LP of the same name by The Harry Roche Constellation, as well as the equally funky Solid Rockin’ Brass LP, recorded under his own name in 1974. A number of Pete’s funky compositions, often with a Big Band edge, were written as library music for companies like Boosey and Hawkes, De Wolfe and Rediffusion. Alongside Spiral , The Harry Roche Constellation released other funk influenced Big Band LPs during the 1970s, including Spindrift and ~QSometimes.
They all featured the talents of leading UK musicians and arrangers, such as Stan Tracey and Bill Geldard. The bands that got together to record LPs like the ones mentioned were not dedicated units that performed or toured regularly; this would more likely have been the case in previous decades. Instead, they consisted of session men who were specifically assembled to play on recording dates that would form the material for an album.
Arrangers augmented their Big Band scores in the 1970s with not only the rhythms from the funk idiom, but also the instruments. Fender Rhodes electric pianos replaced their acoustic counterparts and guitars were played through wah-wah effects pedals. The bass guitar was used instead of the double bass, while rhythm sections were expanded to feature various Latin American percussion instruments. These additions helped to keep Big Band music alive and in step with the times. They also increased the palette of sounds available to arrangers and composers.
The following is a selection of five albums, which feature (in the opinion of this author) excellent examples of British funky Big Band music of the 1970s:
The Barry Forgie Orchestra
Artist: The Barry Forgie Orchestra
LP Title: Combustion/Big Band Sound
Label: Peer International Library
Limited Year: 1971
Track Title: Declamation
Biography: Barry Forgie worked in the 1970s as a composer and arranger. After gaining a Bachelor of Music Degree from the University of Wales he gave regular broadcasts with his own Big Band for the BBC. He wrote library music, and in this area his name is closely associated with the Peer International label. Peer LPs that feature his compositions include Combustion, Gemini, Mindbender and Zenith. He provided the arrangements for fellow Peer composer Peter Dennis?s commercially released LPs Back To The Bands and Big Band Boogie Woogie , from 1974 and 1975 respectively.
During the 1970s his other activities included being a musical associate on various Hollywood films. He has also composed a symphony based on the music of The Beatles. Barry became the conductor of the BBC Big Band in 1977, a position he holds to this day. He toured America with this band in the 1990s, participating in concerts featuring artists such as George Shearing. Through his jazz arranging and conducting he has been associated with projects involving artists such as Clark Terry and Cleo Laine.
Comments: Declamation opens with strident brass fanfares punctuated by tight drum fills, and then develops into an aggressive and funky up-tempo groove. The first part of the tune helps to set the tone for the rest of the piece, with the brass fanfares re-stated over a pounding rhythm section. An exciting and furious sax solo follows, backed up by punchy brass interjections, the groove underneath having become more fluid with the drummer now really driving the piece along. Everything comes full circle when the brass fanfares and drum fills from the beginning return to complete the piece. Barry Forgie?s Thames Eight , on the same LP, was re-recorded under the title of Big Band Extra by arranger Peter Dennis, for his commercially released Back To The Bands LP . Peter Dennis was an alias used by Dennis Berry (who founded the Berry Music and Conroy music libraries) to compose under.
Brass And Rhythms
Artist: Cy Payne / Johnny Hawksworth
LP Title: Brass And Rhythms
Label: Chappell Recorded Music Library
Track Titles: Checkpoint / The Brass Funk
Biography: Cy Payne scored various British films including Murder On The Campus (1962), Crocodile Safari (1968) and I?m Not Feeling Myself Tonight (1976) alongside his work writing library music. Among his commercial LP releases is an album of children?s TV themes he recorded for the Contour label in the early 1970s. As a commercial arranger he has worked for many popular singers, doing some of the arrangements for Elton John?s 1980 Lady Samantha album. He also arranged for the 1960s/1970s Canadian rock band The Guess Who. He has written songs, sometimes collaborating with fellow composers Richard Harvey and Reg Guest. He is currently the Honorary President and musical director of the Norfolk-based Downham Market Swing band.
Comments: It sounds as if Checkpoint was written to be used as the title theme for a thriller or detective-style film of the period, featuring a memorable melody and a dramatic edge. In this respect it is quite similar to Doug Gamley?s funky title music for the 1974 British film The Beast Must Die . In spite of only lasting for 2 minutes and 46 seconds, there are plenty of excellent musical ideas packed into this short of space of time. A light, propulsive groove underpins atmospheric solos from flute and trumpet; the rich, thick chords played by the brass section further enhancing these elements. The low, ominous notes from the trombones and saxes during the introduction help to add an air of suspense and tension to the piece. Checkpoint is scored for a large band, lending the tune an expansive feel, suggesting its suitability for use as a dramatic title theme.
Biography: As a bassist, Johnny Hawksworth was a mainstay of the Ted Heath Big Band. As well as playing in the Geraldo band, he also played with smaller groups in the 1950s, notably pianist Stan Tracey?s quartet. In 1953 and 1954 he was voted best bass player by the readers of the NME. As well as his duties as a staff arranger at ABC television, he played in the backing bands for 1960s TV shows such as 6-5 Special . He was particularly active as a composer of library music, his compositions appearing on many of the early KPM 1000 series LPs. Other music libraries he has composed for include Chappell, De Wolfe and Parry. His tune Up To Date, from a 1969 De Wolfe LP, was used as the title theme for the popular 1970s TV sitcom Man About The House . Other TV themes he has written include the second theme for Thank Your Lucky Stars and the theme for the animated children?s series Roobarb And Custard . He provided the music for the first season of the classic comedy series George and Mildred and scored the British films The Penthouse (1967) and Zeta One (1969). He is also responsible for composing Thames Television?s famous Salute To Thames station ident, which was in use between 1968 and 1988. Johnny now lives In Australia, where he continues to write library music and leads a band at the Australian jazz restaurant Soup Plus.
Comments: The Brass Funk is an apt title for this piece as that is exactly what it is: a brilliantly funky, brassy piece of music. It is written in a flamboyant manner and could easily be imagined turning up as background music in a nightclub scene from a British or European movie from the 1970s. Starting with a simple bass line and some percussion, they are joined by huge, overblown brass chords and over-the-top funky drums. The incessant rhythm guitar and punchy brass accents add to the piece?s relentless, extroverted groove
The Don Lusher Collection
Artist: Don Lusher
LP Title: The Don Lusher Collection
Label: EMI (One Up)
Track Title: Carnaby Chick ~CBiography: Don Lusher is a world-class trombonist and one of the most in demand and respected names on the session scene in Britain and abroad. He was born in Peterborough and began to play the trombone at the age of six, playing in his home town?s Salvation Army Band. After serving in the Army during the war he played in various Big Bands, including those of Geraldo, The Squadronaires and Jack Parnell. He then joined the Ted Heath band where he played lead trombone for nine years. Don has played for many of the worlds leading musical directors, and in the 1970s wrote library music for companies including Syd Dale?s Amphonic label. He was also chosen to front the Ted Heath Big Band when it reformed, some years after its leader?s death. He was awarded the BBC Jazz Society Musician of the Year prize in 1976. In 1980, he formed the Don Lusher Big Band, which has recorded several successful albums. During 1997 he became Professor of Trombone at the Royal Marines School of Music in Portsmouth. He currently plays lead trombone with Laurie Johnson?s London Big Band, as well as giving concerts with his own Big Band.
Comments: Carnaby Chick originally appeared on the 1971 Amphonic Big Band Sounds Of Today LP . Don also recorded it with The Harry Roche Constellation on their 1973 Sometimes LP. The version on The Don Lusher Collection is taken from his 1972 EMI LP Lusher, Lusher, Lusher . This version is funkier than the Amphonic recording featuring some lovely, fluent drumming from Alf Bigden and an agile, intricate bass line. Don initially plays the catchy melody and contributes a short, but typically excellent solo. The tempo is also faster than on the Amphonic and Harry Roche versions, creating a more buoyant feel aided by the colourful punctuations from the combination of brass and reed instruments.
Dick Doerschuck – metropolis
Artist: Dick Doerschuck
LP Title: Metropolis
Label: KPM Recorded Music Library
Track Title: Grand Central
Biography: Dick Doerschuck has a degree from The American Conservatory of Music in Chicago. He lived in London in the 1970s and during this time composed for the KPM and Amphonic music libraries. His compositions for Amphonic include Nevada Sunset and Moment Of Time . He also contributed several compositions to the Flamboyant Themes Vol.5, Happy Hearts and Metropolis KPM LPs. Where The Girls Are (which he composed for the ~QHappy Hearts LP) was used as an underscore in the 1977 British film ~QAre You Being Served? – a spin-off from the popular TV series. His arrangements and music were also used in TV shows such as The Two Ronnies and Opportunity Knocks.
When the expiry of a contract he had making documentary films coincided with the end of his marriage, Dick started a new life on his own in West Hampstead. After recording seven original compositions, he sold them to Robin Phillips of KPM who published them in the company?s library. A year later Dick met Syd Dale, who invited him to contribute some scores to the Amphonic library. Dick now lives in America, in Silicon Valley, California.
Comments: Grand Central is written in a dramatic vein, and like Cy Payne?s Checkpoint , was obviously intended to be used as an underscore or theme for some type of thriller or spy film/TV series. Instead of featuring full-blown funky drums, Dick opts to use a simple, ticking hi-hat rhythm with explosive drum fills inserted in suitable places for maximum effect. Grand Central has a colourful, thrilling arrangement making great use of wah-wah guitars and a large brass section playing some exotic harmonies. There is also a marked difference in dynamics; the piece constantly alternates between sections that are light and heavy/soft and loud, making for constantly exciting listening. A powerful bass line and the panache associated with a Doerschuck arrangement helps make this a fine example of the integration of funk into the Big Band style.
Eric Winstone – ‘Plays 007′
Artist: Eric Winstone
LP Title: Eric Winstone Plays 007
Label: Avenue International
Track Title: The Man With The Golden Gun
Biography: Born in 1915, Eric led a Big Band that was very popular in the 1940s and 1950s. His band featured players and arrangers such as pianist Ralph Dollimore (who also played with the Ted Heath Big Band) and Alan Moorhouse, who wrote for some of the major British music libraries during the 1970s. As well as a bandleader, Eric was also a virtuoso piano-accordionist. He was the featured artist in two half-hour musical features made by the Hammer studios in the mid 1950s – namely The Eric Winstone Band Show (1955) and Eric Winstone?s Stagecoach (1956). He also served as Southern Television?s musical director in the 1950s. In 1964 he recorded the Dr Who theme, released as a single on the Pye label with an arrangement by Syd Dale.
During the 1970s Eric recorded various LPs for the Avenue International label, some of which included arrangements and compositions by composers who worked for the Amphonic library. His Eric Winstone Plays 007 LP from 1973 was co-produced and co-arranged by Syd Dale. Eric co-wrote Opus 88 that was included on the first Amphonic library LP, also composing for the Conroy and Francis Day and Hunter recorded music libraries. Eric died in 1974.
Comments: Eric co-wrote The Man With The Golden Gun with Syd Dale to showcase how they thought the theme for this particular Bond film should sound. Syd re-recorded it and released it again a year later on the Amphonic Super Sounds Unlimited LP. A driving, funky bass line played in unison with a Fender Rhodes piano and distorted electric guitar combines with drums that play an unusual pattern. This creates a throbbing rhythmic basis for the searing melody played by the trumpet section. The dramatic arrangement is complimented by the inclusion of John Barry-style staccato brass phrases, instantly recognisable from so many of his Bond scores.
An Interview with Don Lusher
A major name within the world of Big Bands and session recording for the last five decades, Don is the ideal person to offer some fascinating insights into the UK music scene of the 1970s. During this period he composed for various recorded music libraries.
“Around this time, I also did some things for companies like Boosey and Hawkes and Josef Weinberger, but in this field, Amphonic Music was the biggest company I worked for,” he said. “One of the places Carnaby Chick was used was in a TV advert for the Sprite soft drink. The library music I wrote then is still used all over the world today and I’m still collecting royalties on it, though it was really only a small part of what I was doing at the time. I didn’t, however, get as much chance as I would have liked to compose – my work as a session musician kept me very busy”.
I asked Don if he had played on library music sessions for other composers, in addition to his own? “Oh yes, certainly. As well as Amphonic, I played on sessions for companies like KPM and Bruton. Musical directors and session men are a close-knit circle and we are all good friends, so it’s only natural that we end up playing on each other’s recordings”. On the subject of musical directors, I mentioned to Don how much I enjoyed his solos on Dutch arranger Rogier Van Otterloo’s 1976 album The French Collection, recorded in London.
“Rogier was very polite and business-like, not to mention an extremely gifted musician, and this made the sessions that produced the album a pleasure to play on,” he said.
Continuing the thread, Don added he has been a guest player with the prestigious Dutch Skymasters radio orchestra, whose repertoire includes several Van Otterloo compositions.
I told Don one of my favourite funky Big Band numbers is Pete Moore’s Spiral, written for The Harry Roche Constellation. “Pete Moore is one of those guys who knows exactly what he wants when he gets up in front of a band, and because he is so talented always achieves the results he’s after,” Don said. “Pete is still going and still writing excellent arrangements. He’s also one of the nicest guys you could wish to meet and a true gentleman”. Don played on the Harry Roche sessions that produced both the Sometimes and Spiral albums. “Doing those sessions led to me playing on a recording date with the great Johnny Mercer, as Harry’s Constellation band did an LP where we provided the musical backing for Johnny to sing some of his own songs”.
What was life like as a session musician in the 1970s?
“One time I remember I was at Chappell’s studios doing a session from 2 till 5 in the afternoon, then by 6 I was over at EMI playing on a session conducted by the musical director Johnnie Spence, for Ella Fitzgerald,” said Don. “As the musicians arrived, the studio was being re-arranged to suit a Big Band recording, as previously it had been set up for an orchestral recording. That session lasted for four hours and we were finished and out of the studio by 10pm. The session scene was in good shape at that time, and there was plenty of work to go round”.
During the same decade, Britain had an international reputation as one of the best places to record film and TV scores, owing to its wealth of gifted musicians and first class studios and engineers. As one of the country’s top instrumentalists, Don was the first choice to lead the trombone section whenever a composer came to London from overseas to record.
“I’ve played for all the major film composers that have come to the UK. Guys like Bill Conti, Henry Mancini and Michel Legrand,” he said. “Apart from their musical skill, the things they all have in common are their professional attitude, organisation and efficiency. This meant that recording sessions with them always went smoothly, and excellent results were always achieved very quickly”.
I told Don besides Mancini and Conti, Lalo Schifrin is a favourite US composer of mine, having written some superb examples of funky Big Band music. Don recalled: “The first session I played on in the states was for Lalo Schifrin, an occasion made even more memorable by the fact that I was surrounded by so many star US instrumentalists, who I of course have great admiration and respect for”.
In 1979 Don worked with the legendary Nelson Riddle on Don Lusher’s World Of Music, his hour-long spectacular for BBC television. Nelson wrote an arrangement of Here’s That Rainy Day and conducted the orchestra with Don as the featured soloist. “When I first spoke to Nelson during rehearsals about the piece, I was surprised to find that he hadn’t yet written my part! He told me not to worry and that he would write it out that night. He did so, we rehearsed it the next day, and everything turned out wonderfully”. Don added: “I think it’s pretty unlikely that you would see a music special like that on TV nowadays, because of the way television has changed over the years”.
Don told me about his approach to Big Band music in the 1970s.
“In the early 1970s I started to add the funky rhythms that had become popular to my scores. This gave the music more of a backbeat, with the accents on the second and fourth beats, rather than using the ‘swinging’ jazz rhythms that had gone before”. This highlights the forward thinking musical attitudes of Don and many of his fellow arrangers. “Ted Heath was always of the opinion that Big Band music should move with the times and stay as up to date as possible. British composers like Laurie Johnson are helping to keep the tradition going, but he also writes very modern Big Band music”.
Finally, I asked Don what his thoughts were on the future of Big Band music.
“Even though the Big Band scene has changed over the years, there are still plenty of composers coming up who are writing excellent scores for the bands,” he said. “Having said that, guys in their senior years, like Quincy Jones and Sammy Nestico, are also still writing vibrant, exciting and contemporary Big Band music”. “When I give concerts with my own band, I always make sure we offer a balanced programme. We play the standards by people such as Glen Miller, but include modern pieces with a contemporary rhythmic feel. This way, both the past and the present are included and it helps to keep the music alive”.
I would like to thank Don for generously giving of his time and knowledge by participating in this interview