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Jack Dawkes

The story behind Dawkes Music

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The death of my father thrust me into the role of breadwinner at the early age of fifteen and the only musical instruments that I could afford at that time were mouthorgan, ukelele and a cheap drum, none of which had the wage earning potential to help support the family.

Jack DawkesAs a regular income was required urgently I took a job on a greengrocery stall in Nottingham’s Sneinton Market. This didn’t last very long and I joined the workforce of the cigarette maker John Player and Sons, this being regarded as a "good steady job" in those parts.

At that time we were able to listen to the short-wave broadcasts from America and I soon became hooked on the Benny Goodman sound.

With my weekly wage of twenty five shillings(£1.05 new money) I went along to Jack Brentnall’s music shop and bought my first clarinet, also costing twenty five shillings. A local clarinet teacher had been recommended to me and he took one look at my prized possession and send me straight back to the shop, informing me that it was "high pitch simple system" and not at all what I needed. My clarinet was put down as deposit on a Buisson Boehm system costing £5, the rest to be paid off at 1/6p a week (15p to younger readers).

My pals and I thought it would be a smart idea to join the local territorial army unit and get the benefit of the 2 weeks camp each year.

We went on our first camp in August 1939 and returned home well pleased with ourselves, only to find a couple of days later that we were full time mobilised soldiers, war having been declared. Needless to say, this had not been part of our original plan………

As it happened, the army decided that we needed a lot more training before using us as gun fodder, so in the meantime I was able to keep up with the music studies .

Our unit (150th Regt South Notts Hussars Yeomanry - 25pounder guns) was despatched to Northern Ireland for a long spell and we were able to form a Regimental dance band, doing regular local hops and regimental "do’s". What was to prove important for me was that the regimental barber, Eugene Palmieri (Ali to his friends) was a good guitarrist and patiently taught me the chord progressions to all the standards and a good insight into harmonic sequences.

My appetite had been whetted and after we had landed in Normandy in June, 1944, I enrolled in a postal course on arranging run by the talented George Evans, who was resting from playing as a result of a bout of TB. He conscientiously marked and commented on every exercise I sent to him, returning the next lesson to me wherever I was in the field during the whole Normandy campaign. In hindsight it seems bizarre, sitting in dugouts and completing scores by the light of a Tilley lamp, but the effort was to pay dividends after the war.

Prior to demob from the army I was transferred to Army Welfare Services in Hamburg, initially to assist in preparing the music for a show at the Savoy Theatre (Hamburg). Whilst there I got to know musicians who were playing at a club (The Crusader club, I believe), amongst whom were Jackie Armstrong and Rusty Hurren, who I was to meet up with again two years later in Lou Praeger’s band. In Hamburg we had access to the AFN studios, where there were some of those marvellous V-discs from the States, and we would crowd into the studio and listen in disbelief to the likes of Woody Herman’s "Goosey Gander" and others.

After my demob in 1946 I obtained my first pro job with Jimmy Honeyman at Nottingham’s Victoria Ballroom - helped by the fact that I was to do arrangements for the band; my tenor playing still left something to be desired, I imagine. I gleaned more useful tips from the veteran tenor player there called Les Cripwell (still around at 97 years).

Early in 1947, my earlier contact with George Evans paid off and I joined his fantastic ten saxophone orchestra, playing outstanding arrangements. Being a co-operative band, no-one got paid much and as we could not afford to stay in digs when on the road, George equipped a massive pantechnicon with bunks for us to use between gigs.

Next came a short spell with Teddy Foster, the personnel including Cecil Pressling, Dave Ede, Albert Hall, Ronnie and Derek Price, all great players. The lasting memories of that tour are firstly, trying to get from Nottingham to Manchester in the blizzard of 1947 for my first gig, ending up in a snow drift, where I had to abandon my car, and catching what turned out to be that last train to Manchester for 6 weeks.

I still imagined that the "show must go on "and it did not occur to me NOT to get to the gig. The second memory is of travelling over the Yorkshire moors in a coach with windows missing and no heating while Teddy drove by in his limo en route to the gig. Six weeks elapsed before I was able to return to where I had left the car, and I was not surprised to find that it was no longer there – however my enquiries led me to a farmhouse where I found my old Hillman Minx all thawed out in a barn, where the farmer had stored it for my return. Would that happen in this day and age I ask myself? I doubt it.

I joined Billy Merrin who was reforming his Commanders to re-open a ballroom in Nottingham until February 1948,when I thought it was time to try my luck "in the smoke" i.e. London. I came down to start a job in Fischer's restaurant in the West End, only to learn on my first night that the band had received two weeks notice!

Things were looking desperate when Ken Mackintosh phoned to say that he was forming a band to go to Nottingham (knowing that it was my home town). Having just left the place I wasn’t keen to go back so soon, but I learned that a tenor player from Lou Praeger’s band was joining Ken, so I nipped smartly along and became his replacement.

The personnel included George Hunter, Duncan Campbell, Don Lusher and the band was pretty good at times. Most enjoyable was playing in the Palais football team which included Johnny Gray, whose knee cap slipped out of place every now and again, needing us to clamber on his back while he jumped up and down to get it back into place.

After 18 months with Lou I joined Paul Fenhoulet for about a year alongside Bob Efford, Jimmy Wilson, and Ted Brennan. The most useful tip I picked up from Paul was how to fold up a dinner jacket without creasing the lapels. Roy Plummer was used on guitar instead of a piano, which was unusual in those days. A short spell with the Harry Parry Swing Club sextet followed and with hindsight, I believe this concluded the first phase of my career.

The decision of some members of the Squadronaires Dance Band to leave opened up an Squadronaires saxesopportunity for me which changed a whole load of things. For the very first time, non-RAF musicians were recruited into the band and I replaced Jimmy Durrant, Don Lusher and Ric Kennedy replaced George Chisholm and Eric Breeze. Don Honeywill came in on baritone when Cliff Townshend moved up to play lead alto.

I moved house to Hayes, Middlesex as it soon became clear that no matter where the gig was, the band coach ALWAYS came back via Uxbridge where Tommy McQuater, Jock Cummings and Andy McDevitt lived.

Arranging for this band was a real pleasure – I remember one special feature I scored for Eric Delaney called "Showcase for Drums" which allowed Eric to demonstrate his skill around the kit, which I understand he is still doing 50 years later. What stamina! Eric also formed a jazz group with Don Lusher, Jimmy Watson, Don Honeywell, myself, Dennis Wilson and Charlie Short to do some jazz clubs.

I also fitted in the job of staff arranger for the publishers Bradbury Wood, which entailed scoring for all types of groups and styles. Serious study was put in to improve my writing for strings to avoid nasty remarks from the "gypsies", as we liked to call them.

In October 1951 the Squads decided to do a season in the Isle of Man and having built up a free-lance connection in London, I was reluctant to go away and, with some regret, left the band.

It was about this time that I made the trip to New York as part of "Geraldo's Navy" as the ships' orchestras were called. We were just holiday deps for the regular guys and were a motley crew. The second alto player wore a rather cumbersome hearing aid with a wire leading to a body-worn receiver and this used to become disconnected occasionally so that he could not hear what was going on. I never figured out if this was accidental or deliberate.

On arrival in New York, I found my way to a bar which was known to be a hang-out for musicians and got chatting to a record company A & R man. Learning that it was my first trip to NY, he insisted on showing me around all the legendary clubs and locations, especially 52nd Street, so that I could see and hear my heroes of the jazz scene. A very generous man and a memorable experience.

Sydney Lipton at the Grosvenor House, Park Lane was the next step and the hours suited the cultivation of freelance work and we broadcast quite frequently from the hotel. Some excellent players passed through the band - Bill McGuffie, George Latham, Johnny Shakespeare and trumpeter Freddy Clayton. Freddy spent his breaks in the bandroom writing his book on "How to play jazz" and another bandroom entertainer was the eccentric pianist Billy Penrose whose party piece was chewing glass tumblers.

During the 4 years spent with Syd my teaching connection had been building and I decided to form a Student Orchestra (one of the earliest in the country) to give the students experience of section work and eventually to make a disc so that they could hear themselves. It is gratifying to think that some of the members still keep in touch to this day.

An interesting sideline during this fairly hectic period was fixing musicians to appear in films made at Pinewood studios to "dummy" on screen to the music that had been pre-recorded in the studio. Apart from the pleasure of appearing in films involving Marlon Brando, Sophia Loren, Charles Chaplin and the odd Bond movie, a couple of episodes stand out. One was the sight of Muir Mathieson trying to synchronise the bowing action of my "dummy" violinists with the recorded symphonic music. In those days the fellows booked did not always play the instruments they were holding – some had never held a violin before in their life. After this fiasco we always tried to book chaps who actually played the instruments they were holding.

The other epic was "Caesar & Cleopatra" where the chaps had to climb up on to pillars and high steps with fanfare trumpets wearing only togas to cover their embarrassment. This was being filmed in October and although I demanded " cold money" for the boys, several went down with colds and flu, having worked in clubs etc. until the early hours and they were not in any fit state to withstand that chill wind whistling up their togas. The final straw was that Elizabeth Taylor was ill and the whole lot was scrapped and moved to Italy.

I then spent an enjoyable 2 years with Felix King at the Colony restaurant in Berkeley Square, continuing with the session work such as Take it from Here, Round the Horne, Ray's a Laugh and others for the BBC.

It so happened that Jack Emblow (of jazz accordion fame) lived down the road from me in Hayes, Middx. He was also working in the West End at the Berkeley Hotel. Jack finished work a little earlier than I and his transport was a Ford eight car which was not too reliable. I lost count of the number of times I came across Jack waiting for me along the Bayswater Rd leaning against his "non-functioning" jalopy waiting for a lift home. Jack repaid the favour by booking me to play clarinet on his broadcasts on numerous occasions.

A long spell of theatre work followed with some excellent shows such as "How to Succeed in Business", "Hello Dolly" under the batons of Alyn Ainsworth and Burt Rhodes and the 11pm finishes meant that I could go and dep in clubs until the early hours. Hardly a healthy lifestyle but it paid the mortgage.

A very enjoyable show was "One over the Eight" with Sheila Hancock, Kenneth Williams and Kenneth Connor. A sextet led by ex-Ted Heath pianist Frank Horrox provided the music. The line up was Frank, Don Lawson, drums), Geoff Southcott, bass, Chick Norton, trumpet, myself on reeds and a guitar player. The Duke of Yorks was an intimate theatre and the band were very close to the audience and Frank used to make his entrance after we were all seated and the audience was waiting in quiet anticipation. After Frank had taken his bow, Don would often slip a "whoopee" cushion on to his piano stool. When he sat down the show would get off to a rip-roaring start, much to the delight of the crowd. Being the lovely man that he was Frank would give an embarrassed little smile and get on with the music.

What I regard to be the third phase of my career overtook me when, as a result of my war service in the artillery, my hearing went for a burton, and after many sessions with specialists I was advised to seek another way to earn a living. I was, of course, completely shattered by this turn of events, and after sitting at home feeling very sorry for myself for a couple of weeks, I went and had a chat with my friend the woodwind genius Edward Planas at his home in Iver Heath, Bucks. Ted took me under his wing and gave me a crash course in Woodwind repairing and I took to it pretty well. I had not heard of disability benefits at that time and it never occurred to me that anyone would give me money for not working.

I set up my workshop in the garage at home and some good friends entrusted me with their instruments which said something for their blind faith in human nature. My first tenor overhaul involved strip down, tighten mechanism, clean and buff polish, degrease and re-lacquer, re-pad and reassemble - a whole week’s work for £18.00! Betty my wife had to muck in and help with the polishing etc. to get us up and running. The word slowly reached the RAF Central Band at Uxbridge, and orders to sort out their instruments began to arrive.

The supplies of repair materials such as pads, springs and cork were a constant problem and eventually I went over to France and arranged to get my orders direct from the manufacturer. However there were still delays in the arrival of the goods and I had to order far more than I needed to make sure a steady flow of the necessary bits were to hand. I was soon in a position to pass some of the extra parts on to other repairers – thus the firm that was to develop into WINDCRAFT Ltd was created.

A similar sequence of events happened regarding the supply of instruments – as teachers came for advice on the selection of suitable instruments for their pupils and subsequently asked me to supply them, some dealers got upset – I was still working from home which in their eyes was not playing the game. My son Lindsay was by now helping me in the workshop, so we opened our first shop in Uxbridge, which by coincidence was opposite the RAF Central Band Headquarters.

Steady expansion of the business has taken place over the years and now occupies extensive premises in Maidenhead, Berkshire, housing wholesale, mail order, retail and repair departments all under one roof. We employ eight qualified repairers and all sales staff are skilled musicians, many with degrees. As a result, all our customers have confidence that the people they are dealing with know what they are talking about.

My son Lindsay is now in control of the business and he has built up an enviable reputation in the music trade with his world wide contacts, his frequent visits to various factories giving him a knowledge of manufacturers’ products second to none. Two of Lindsay’s sons are now involved in the business so it looks as though I can round off Phase 3 and retire from the scene gracefully.

Copyright © Jack Dawkes, 2002