BOOKING a band for social occasions can be a bit of a lottery. I should know. Over the years I have booked dozens of them.
One of the first bands I booked was for a New Year Ball at the Royal Lion in aid of Lyme Regis Regatta & Carnival. I got them through an agency who assured me they could play anything and would get every one up dancing.
They turned out to be a country and western band and could not even play ‘Auld Lang Syne’ at midnight. In the end I think we paid them off and retired to the bar.
Back in the seventies there were two local bands that had a big following and I booked both of them many times – the Tony Graham Combo and the Rowland Halliday Orchestra.
The Tony Graham Orchestra was a showband that played all the popular numbers at the time, led by the late Frank Huddy, who ran the Double H Agency in Chard.
I usually booked them for the Miss Lyme Regis Ball, always held at the Woodroffe School. They were quite posh occasions, always well supported with 200-plus attending, but on one occasion a massive fight broke out at the front of the hall and spilled onto the steps leading up to the stage.
In the true tradition of ‘the show must go on’, Frank Huddy continued playing the xylophone whilst he was kicking those who were having a scrap off the stage where the bouncers dealt with them.
The Roland Halliday Orchestra was a big band which played a lot of swing music and which included a number of local musicians, including the Perry brothers, Pat and John, Cecil ‘Jim’ Sweetland, and publican Joe O’Donnell. I have to admit I became a bit of a groupie and followed them all over the South West, such was their attraction.
The biggest and most famous band I booked was the Joe Loss Orchestra for the Lyme 1200 Ball, part of the programme of events I organised in 1974 to celebrate the town’s 1,200th anniversary.
Again the venue was the Woodroffe School. The Roland Halliday Orchestra were the support band and started playing at around 8pm. Joe Loss was due to go on at 9pm for two one-hour slots. But at 8.50pm there was still no sign of the great man and his ensemble so we sent Harry Williams, the town clerk who was a member of the Regatta & Carnival Committee, out to look for them. There was no mobile phones or any way of contacting them in those days.
Eventually Jo Loss arrived with his orchestra in a very posh bus. I got summoned to his dressing room, a tiny cubicle backstage used by the school’s PE master to change. One of the most famous band leaders of all time, he stood before me in just his Y-fronts and apologised profusely for their late arrival. They travelled from London and thought Lyme was near to Bournemouth, it being in Dorset, so had not left themselves enough time.
He then instructed me to inform the support band that their services would not be required after 11pm as his band would play to the end of the ball at midnight. As soon as they struck up the first number – ‘In The Mood’ – people danced to every piece of music they played and it was a tremendous night.
Other big names I have booked for various events included Alvin Stardust for a ball I organised for the group of newspapers I was managing at the time, Star Newspapers in Taunton, to celebrate the raising of £25,000 for the CLIC children’s cancer charity. He was a really nice bloke.
Not so nice were The Wurzels when I booked them for a Regatta Dance at the Marine Theatre when they were top of the hit parade with ‘I’ve Got A Brand New Combine Harvester’. They were very demanding and I thought their No 1 success had gone to their heads a bit.
That didn’t stop me booking them 30 years later for an open-air gig at the football club when they could not have been more co-operative and even changed in our smelly old dressing rooms. It’s surprising what fame does to people.
The nicest bloke I ever booked, however, was Terry Wogan, just after he started his Radio One career, for the princely fee of £175, to compere the Miss Lyme Regis contest. He advised me to give up the newspaper malarkey and concentrate on becoming a full-time presenter.
If only I had listened to him…