From the archive: Black British Swing

The BBC2 Culture Show Special 'Swinging Into The Blitz' (16 Feb 2013) - 'the untold story of the black British swing musicians of the 1930s' - follows a comprehensively annotated CD collection reviewed in JJ July 2002:


(1) Tap Your Feet; (2) Washington Squabble; Please Be Kind; (3) Snakehips Swing; Exactly Like You; The Sheik Of Araby; My Buddy; (4) Give Me My Ranch; (5) Tuxedo Junction; lda; (6) Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind; lt Was A Lover And His Lass; (7) Sweet Georgia Brown; Blue Skies; Untitled Double Bass Cameo; Stompin’ At The Savoy; (8) The Jumping Jive; (9) Cyril’s Blues; Frolic Sam; Rhythm ls Our Business; (10) Soft Winds; (11) Swing Low, Sweet Chariot; Big Top Boogie; (12) Dr Heckle And Mr Jibe (68.39)
(1) Leslie Thompson with the Spike Hughes Orchestra: Leslie Thompson, Norman Payne, Jimmy Macaffer (t); Lew Davis, Billy Mulraney (tb); Sid Owen (cl, as); Billy Amstell (as); Buddy Featherstonehaugh (ts); Eddie Carroll (p); Alan Ferguson (g); Spike Hughes (b); Bill Harty (d). London, April 8, 1931.
(2) Ken ‘Snakehips’ Johnson and his West lndian Dance Band: Dave Wilkins, Leslie ‘Jiver’ Hutchinson, Wally Bowen (t); Lad Busby (tb); Carl Barriteau (cl); Bertie King (as); George Roberts, David ‘Baba’ Williams (as, ts); Errol Barrow (p); Joe Deniz (g); Abe ‘Pops’ Clare (b); Tommy Wilson (d); Betty Dale (v). July 17, 1938.
(3) as (2) except Barriteau (cl, as). Betty Dale out. September 22, 1938.
(4) as (3) except add Jack Cosker (t); Freddy Butt (tb); Yorke de Souza {p); Ernie Stevens (b); Don Johnson (v). Bowen, Busby, Barrow, Clare out. January 29, 1940. (5) as (4) except Johnson out. February 27, 1940.
(6) as (5) except add Al Bowlly and the Henderson Twins (v). April 24, 1940.
(7) de Souza (p); Deniz (g); Tommy Bromley (b); Wilson (d). 1940.
(8) Lauderic Caton Ouartet: Frank Williams (t); Lauderic Caton (g); Willie Wilson {p); Clinton Maxwell (d). London. ca 1940-September 1941.
(9) Cyril Blake and his Jigs Club Band: Cyril Blake (t, v); Freddy Grant (cl); Colin Beaton (p); Caton (g); Brylo Ford (b); Maxwell (d). London, December 12, 1941.
(10) Frank Deniz and his Spirits of Rhythm: Frank Deniz, Joe Deniz (g); Jimmy Skidmore (ts); Clare Deniz (p); Bromley (b); Tommy Lytton (d). London, May 17, 1944.
(11) Leslie ‘Jiver’ Hutchinson and his Coloured Orchestra: Hutchinson, Wilkins, Frank Williams (t); King, Roberts, Grant, Joe Appleton (reeds); Harry Roche (tb); de Souza (p); Joe Deniz (g); Coleridge Goode (b); Maxwell (d). London, July 31, 1944.
(12) Hutchinson, Wilkins, Pete Pitterson (t); King, Roberts, George Tyndale and either Appleton or Johnny Jones (reeds); Frank Baker, possibly Roche (tb); de Souza (p); Joe Deniz (g); Bobby Henry (b); Maxwell (d); London, December 19, 1946.
(Topic TSCD 781)

This is a remarkable and historic album which presents a representative sample of what the annotation describes as ‘the African Diaspora’s contribution to England’s own jazz of the 1930s and 1940s.’ A number of the tracks are private recordings and several come from private collections, so there is a fair amount of rare and unissued material here. The CD comes complete with a comprehensive, 20-page booklet which details the involvements of these mainly British West lndian musicians written by Andrew Simons, the jazz curator of the British Library National Sound Archive, with discographical information by Peter W.G. Powell.

I shall probably be criticised in the letter columns of JJI if I say that some of the earlier items sound a little wooden, but the likely reason for that is that these excellent players were probably better able to listen to the British bands, such as Jack Hylton, Lew Stone and Ambrose, where you can find the same woodenness, rather than the looser, easier swinging sounds of Basie, Lunceford and Ellington, and not withstanding the frequency of visiting Americans. Don’t misunderstand what l’m trying to say! This music is very, very, good, but the colour of these musicians didn’t automatically put them on a par with their American cousins and if you have a need to assess their playing skills, it should be more fairly done against their British counterparts of that time, rather than the Hodges and Hawkins and Armstrongs! The other thing we must remember is that these bands mostly played for dancing and several of these recordings were made in London nightclubs, including the ill-fated Café de Paris.

The first track features trumpeter Leslie Thompson playing with the Spike Hughes Orchestra. Thompson had played with Louis when the American star toured Europe in 1934 and the influence shows, but not exclusively. The Ken Johnson band has long been a listening soft spot for me and there are some exciting solo passages to be heard in the selections included here, not least those by another fiery trumpet man, Dave Wilkins. Tenor player David Williams also has some nice spots. Carl Barriteau, of course went on to become a popular leader in his own right and altoist Bertie King was on more than one occasion compared with Benny Carter. Several of Johnson’s rhythm team subsequently played with Harry Parry’s Radio Rhythm Club Sextet.

Lauderic Caton was a superb guitarist, with the influences of both Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian apparent in his playing. He manages to combine bits of both in his quartet version of The Jumping Jive and is heard to good advantage in the three numbers from Cyril Blake’s Jigs Club Band, which is possibly the hottest of the bands which can be heard here.

It is interesting to note the presence of Jimmy Skidmore in Joe Deniz’s group and the strong Goodman styling . ‘Jiver’ Hutchinson’s band effectively re-united many of ‘Snakehips’ Johnson’s sidemen several years after the leader’s unfortunate death during a bombing raid on London in 1941, and happily resurrected much of Johnson’s swinging sound.

This is an album which ought to be in all good jazz collections, firstly because of its historical importance, but also because it reminds us just how much good jazz there was in Britain in the 1930s and 1940s. Obviously it will mostly appeal to devotees of the swing style of jazz, to whom I strongly recommend an early acquisition.
Martin Richards

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