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Mac Thomas, Reg Bartlam, and other big noises of the Big Band scene

By Black Country Bugle User  |  Posted: June 24, 2004

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Despite its origins across the Atlantic, Big Band music has long established itself as part of the soundtrack to our history. It can still be heard live today, and the importance of those unmistakable swinging sounds are such that the acts who proliferated in the post war years have never left our collective memory. Here, band member Bernard Morton, now of Spalding in Lincolnshire, shares with us some of his recollections of those days:

“Due to the continuing interest in what some of us regard as the Golden Age of Dance Music, I thought you might be interested in the enclosed photographs to which I offer some explanatory notes.

“In the issue of the Bugle dated 15th January 2004, reference was made to the shows at Dudley Hippodrome in the mid 1950’s, which reminds me that I took part in a very successful show at that time as a member of Frank Beech and the Dixielanders. We had been approached to do this by Hedley Ward - better known at the time as a Birmingham band leader and as the manager of the popular Hedley Ward Trio who had some involvement with the Dudley Hippodrome.

“For the event we had our usual group, a classic six-piece Dixieland line-up, which comprised Frank on clarinet, Pete Dobson on trombone, myself on trumpet, Charlie James on bass, plus piano and drums (I’m uncertain of their identities as there had been changes) and band leader Charlie (Styx) Wilkinson provided the vocals which included a favourite old warhorse of his - Minnie the Moocher.

“The first picture should have been an ‘action shot’ of the brass section of the Reg Bartlam band playing at the Civic Hall, Wolverhampton, but, due to the camera failing to include my brother Paul, the trombone is omitted leaving the three trumpets - Alec Pugh, Frank Mansell and myself. This was taken in my early days with the band which I joined in 1949 at the age of 19, while I was doing my National Service in the RAF, where I ran a similar sized band in my off-duty time. When Frank Mansell moved to Ireland I became lead trumpet and the section was completed by Bob Sadler. After I left the band, Bob and Alec Pugh joined Brian Pearsall and both were on the photo in the Bugle of 15th January.

“At the time I joined Reg, the rest of the personnel were - Reub Rowley on piano, Ken Carter on bass, Ron Bayliss on drums, and the saxes were Arthur Jones and Jack Wilson (altos) Les Bayley and Wilf Bevan (tenors) with Mac Emery on vocals. During my stay my other brother, John, joined on piano, so that all three of us were together.

“Reg Bartlam was the original bandleader at the Civic Hall when it opened in 1938 and he continued to play for the Saturday dances for almost twenty years before moving to the Forum ballroom in Cannock. During the war when he was in the army, the band was, for a time, fronted by Mrs Jean Bartlam.

“The second photograph of the Mac Thomas Band is about ten years later and also taken in the Civic Hall when we were playing for the Monday dances. A very good band enhanced by the excellent arrangements and featuring the clarinet playing of lead alto Cliff Woodley. The personnel was: trumpets - Johnny Jones, myself and Paddy Lynham; saxes - Brian Charlesworth, Derek Chadwick, Cliff Woodley, Joe Browning and ___ Vaughan, whilst the rhythm section comprised Ray Barnes on piano, Geoff Barnes on bass and Joe Hodson on drums, with Ray Mercer on vocals.

“The band also did successful summer seasons at Darlaston Town Hall and winters at West Bromwich Baths on Saturdays. Readers who are keen observers of these matters may notice that the picture in the Bugle of 17th August 2000, of the Mac Thomas Band in 1949, includes five of the above, ie the Barnes brothers, the two Joes and, of course, Mac (Tom McEwen) himself.

“The third photograph. Here, I was caught performing a feature number with the band at a location now unknown, in the mid nineteen-sixties.”

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