Posts Tagged ‘Capital Ballroom’

The Glorious Fifties

November 1, 2015

The Glorious Fifties
When you look at us now you may see that we have lost a bit of hair, a few teeth, we may be a bit stooped and a bit saggy around the middle, we may even have a metal knee or hip. You might think, look at that poor old wreck but don’t pity us, rather you should envy us for those of us who were teenagers in the 1950s have won the lottery of life because the fifties decade was the pinnacle of all the decades and we were the ones luckily enough to be on hand to enjoy them.

They trot out black and white documentaries of the fifties on T.V. that show an austere world of primitive domestic appliances and utility furniture, nine inch tellies, hair nets and curlers, dads seated in their chairs smoking pipes and reading newspapers still uncomfortably attired in full suit and tie. But that wasn’t us, they were the tag end of the generation before us, the ones with the richly deserved tag ‘the greatest generation’ and they really knew what austerity was about after living through a depression and two world wars. They had seen off the Germans and the Japs for us and now they were gracious enough to hand over a beautiful new world for us to enjoy; and didn’t we know how to do it! We exploded onto the scene with bright colours and great music.

Every generation of teenagers since then have looked back and said their music was the best – they would wouldn’t they? But our teenage era of music really was the best (it did spill over into the 60s a bit but it was well over by the 70s). Some may argue other decades were better but just consider how many contemporary TV adverts use 50s music in the background: Buddy Holly, Eddie Corcoran and Roy Orbison to name but a few. The unmistakable soothing sound of a fifties ballad has the power to sooth the savage beast, and we were in at the start of rock and roll too. When Bill Hayley came rocking and rolling over the ocean waves we danced in the aisles to ‘rock around the clock’.
We were the ‘Teddy Boys’ with the slicked back oiled hair with just a little bit pulled forward in the middle at the front and a parting at the back like a duck (DA). Regaled in finger tip length jackets of pastel pink or powder blue and string ties complemented with drain-pipe pants and thick crepe soled suede shoes. When you hit the town in a rig like that your heart soared to the heavens and we were set up to dance. (They did look a bit naff when they filtered down to be work-a-day clothes). The girls too were stylish in their crisp white blouses, ballerina shoes and pencil slim black skirts all tied around the middle with thick three inch elastic belts to emphasize tiny waists. And above the belt great pointed appendages, (whatever happened to those). Janet Leigh used to make my eyes pop out!

We were no angels but we never did drugs, life was good enough already. I wouldn’t have recognised a ‘drug’ if it had jumped up and bit me on the nose. We were lucky in that there was no shortage of work everyone had a job. We whistled while we worked hard through the week and let our hair down at the weekend. Beer was 1/6 a pint the equivalent of seven new pence. There were no nightclubs in Leeds – I recall that The Ace of Clubs at Woodhouse was the first club on the scene but that was too late for us; instead we had the dance halls – Mecca, Scala, Majestic, Astoria, Capital, 101, Mark Altman’s and The Leeds School of Dancing near the Corn Exchange. We jived, bopped and rocked to the big bands, Ted Heath, Ken Mackintosh, Jack Parnell on records and Charlie Marcos live at the Scala. We smooched the night away under the great silver glitter ball to the sounds of the great fifties ballads of: Frankie Lane, Guy Mitchell, Dickie Valentine, Connie Francis, Ronnie Hilton and the rest: Blow me a Kiss from Across the Room, Teen Angel, Hold My Hand, A Blossom Fell and more. If you were lucky you might get to walk a girl home with just the possibility of a goodnight kiss, then you had to walk the rest of the way home on foot – no taxis, they were not in our plans or matched our pockets.

In the midst of all this some of us were lucky enough to experience the incomparable comradeship of National Service, live something entirely different and see something of the world in the process. And if that was not enough we had BLACKPOOL a rite-of-passage for every fifties teenager. Of course it helped that we were young and fit enough to enjoy the fifties but that is the prerogative of all teenagers of all the decades. It’s a sad guy or gal who didn’t enjoy their teenage years.
So please don’t dismiss us for the geriatrics we appear to be, inside we are still rocking the fifties away!

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The Sound of Music

May 1, 2010

The Sound of MusicThe Sound of Music is another of Eric Sanderson’s great tale0w of old East Leeds and how he, and his friends, decided to form a skiffle group.

                          THE  SOUND  OF  MUSIC

For our group, the mid fifties saw our interest in music begin to burgeon, starting with our regular Saturday night record session. One of our friend’s parents had acquired a magnificent Radiogram with a stackable autochange mechanism which would hold about ten or twelve singles, 78’s at that. It also had a stylus which lasted for hundreds of plays, saving the excruciating need to change the needle after each record. Real progress ,where a half hour of uninterrupted music could be enjoyed.

            In those days , just before the era of R&R burst onto the scene here, we used to listen to , and believe it or not, even like modern jazz, the likes of Humphrey Littleton, Stan Kenton, Dave Brubeck and Louis Armstrong as well as the big bands of the day such as Duke Ellington & Ted Heath.

            Many a Saturday night was enjoyed with endless repetitions of “Bad Penny Blues” ,“Peanut Vendor” and Eric Delaney’s “Oranges & Lemons” along with a shared bottle of beer between about 5 or 6 of us.

            Then came the explosion of R&R to be followed by an offshoot known as Skiffle, one of the characteristics of which was that to form a group, only basic instruments were needed along with some improvised equipment equipment in order to attain  the required sound .

            So, we decided to form our own Skiffle group with Dave Carncross on lead guitar, myself on rhythm, Bryan on Tea Chest Base , Tony  on Washboard and Ronnie  on Glockenspiel.

Our practice sessions took place in Dave’s basement which was a ideal, away from prying ears and complaining neighbours.

Only Dave had any musical nous , which I think he’d inherited from his father, and in addition to guitar, could also play the drums.

            Without having any musical talent or cadence whatsoever, I managed to master a few basic chords whilst Bryan & Tony  seemed to just do their own thing. And the Glockenspiel ?. This may have been ok for a Tyrolean Oompah band but didn’t fit too well with the sound we were hoping to achieve.

            Anyway, we practised most days during the school holidays and managed to achieve what to us sounded a like a half decent result – with the exception of the Glockenspiel. Unfortunately, we had to retire Ronnie, much to his chagrin. He would sit there muttering obscenities at his ill treatment until we hit upon the idea of letting Ronnie become our MC, introducing us to the public in glowing terms & providing him with an important place in the band.

            At first he wasn’t too keen on this but, finally relenting made his first introduction :-

“Ladeez and Genelmun, I would like to introduce to you, the worst ******* band your ever likely to here in the whole of your miserable ******* lives. If you’ve paid to listen to this load of ****, you must be out of your tiny ******* minds and my advice is to leave now, before you’re carried out screaming “ – or words to that effect.

            At this, we were all in stitches and thought that Ronnie had found his true vocation. In fact he took to the task with relish and developed ever more lurid  intros as the days went by. He must have devoted time to studying and rehearsing them because he became ever more imaginative and proficient and of course, we all enjoyed them immensely  .

There was only one occasion when we fell foul of our activities and this was when we’d overlooked that Dave’s father was upstairs sleeping , following his working a late shift on the buses.

Down he stormed into the basement , startling us with his wrath ,as he was invariably an easy going and friendly man. “What’s all this racket ( racket ?? – we thought it was sweet music) , pack up & get out, NOW.” This nearly put paid to our aspirations but , a few days later after having calmed down and true to form and his better nature, he encouraged us back into our “studio” provided we respect his sleeping pattern. I seem to remember that he actually joined in once or twice, playing the snare drum ,at which he seemed very adept.

            Came the day when we thought we might be ready to go public for the first time and decided the venue would be Dave’s basement, which was big enough to hold a decent sized audience.

We never dreamed of asking for Dave’s parent’s consent and what they would have made of strangers wandering through their home & down into the basement, goodness only knows.

            Undeterred, we concocted a few hand made posters, calling ourselves “The Easy Riders” ( long before Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper hit the scene) and placing them on the gable ends of nearby streets, confident that a free “concert” would bring the punters in.

            As curtain up time approached, we waited nervously in our dressing room (the kitchen), wondering if this might be the start of something big.

            The clock ticked on, no sign of any takers and nor did any turn up, even though we waited patiently for what seemed an eternity. What more did people expect than the promise of a free concert and (possibly) light refreshment ( a glass of water was the plan). 

            It was at this point when I think the penny dropped that we really didn’t posses much talent and that our big break wasn’t going to happen.

            We reluctantly decided there and then to abandon our musical ambitions but, for a few weeks in the summer of ‘55, hope sprang eternal and we had lots of fun to boot.

Around this time, some of the local pubs began to employ live music which was, for young people , a welcome break away from the dead hand of the lone pianist and the WM Clubs which had little appeal for many. This was probably a result of changes in the licensing laws but local pubs such as the “Slip”, White Horse, The Shaftsbury, The Prospect etc all benefited from a huge surge in popularity with young people from miles around flocking to a night of cheap beer and free entertainment where early doors was essential if you were to get a good seat with room for a few friends.

Who knows, this may have been the dawn of “binge drinking”.

            One favoured Saturday night venue for us was the Beckett Arms at Meanwood, close by the Capitol Ballroom. This was one of the first pubs in Leeds to boast a live band ( and rotten beer) and was always full to the gunnels up until closing time, which in those days was 10pm within Leeds.

By this time, the buses had stopped running and so we had to walk all the back into town , calling at a couple of fish & chip shops en route, before heading home.

Towards the bottom end of Meanwood Rd was an area known as Camp Road which had a notorious reputation and through which we had to pass.

This was mostly uneventful as we used to give other groups a wide berth except on one occasion when we were stopped by a large group of “Teddy Boys”, resplendent in their knee length, velvet trimmed jackets and suede “brothel creepers”.

            Heavily outnumbered, we were held at knife point whilst they tried to relieve us of our meagre funds, there being not much left after a good Sat night. None of us were any means cowards but this was frightening experience and a refusal to submit was met by one of us being battered about the head with a heavy piece of timber, with much bloodshed resulting and threats of even worse unless we coughed up.

One weasel faced thug held a long, stiletto like blade close to my stomach whilst another searched my pockets. Strangely, they didn’t have the brains to remove anyone’s wrist watch which was probably the only things of any value most of us had on us.

At that time, the Public Dispensary on North Street was operative & so we promptly took our friend there who, by this time seemed to have lost a lot of blood , his clothing being soaked in it.

Several stitches later, he emerged with a huge head bandage and threatening retribution on the perpetrators.

Fortunately, he sensibly dropped the idea once he’d recovered but it put paid to our enjoyable Sat night sojourns at the Beckett Arms