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Way back in the ‘50’s, when ration books had finally been torn up and we were no longer toying with our rusks on the hearthrug, our ears were being bombarded with either lung-bursting ballads promising undying love, or sugar-coated novelties concerning runaway trains, elephants joining the circus, and the price of a doggie in the window.
The media remained aloof to a burgeoning youth culture. It didn’t understand, preferring to spoon-feed us a safe, cosy, and ultimately bland diet of Dickie Valentine, Alma Cogan, David Whitfield, and their ilk.
Then in 1955, a compromise of sorts was reached when Decca innocently lifted a track from a Chris Barber album featuring Lonnie Donegan on an update of Leadbelly’s ‘Rock Island Line’, and released it as a single.
Almost simultaneously a humble movie entitled ‘The Blackboard Jungle’ had caught the public’s fancy, prompting Decca (through its Brunswick outlet) to switch the film’s anthemic ‘Rock Around the Clock’ to A-side status on a single by Bill Haley and His Comets.
Both songs went on to sell a million, the latter defining an era, which caused a sea change in the media’s attitude to music, and the barriers were well and truly down.
Of a direct consequence of this, the public’s own view of music, and life in general, would never be the same again.
Throughout the UK, young men idly picking at the strings of their acoustic guitars discovered ‘the three-chord trick’, a sequence that was the bedrock of the two previously mentioned classics and their derivatives. Augmented by anyone with a sense of rhythm, a thimble and a washboard, plus a third person on an upright tea-chest bass, and the rudiments of ‘skiffle’ were born. Dating back to jug bands in the USA, this inexpensive form of entertainment, fashionable for only two years, in the U.K. kick-started the thrill of teenagers performing in front of their peers.
With the advent of Elvis, still retaining the twelve-bar sequence in his rock covers of blues standards, the adventurous skifflers became discontented with their limited kit and turned to either the lure of hire-purchase agreements or simply pressureised their parents into supplying them with electric guitars and ‘proper’ drums.
Although in its infancy, this groundswell was nationwide, and inevitably, London and the big cities led the way in allowing bands to take to the stage in their local dance halls.
Regionally, the development was a slower affair, and here along the Wharfe Valley, the transition was no exception – local venues stuck to the tried and trusted dance bands, efficient, traditional in their output. Ilkley’s Kings Hall, for example, provided the public with the likes of orchestras under the direction of Phil Wayne, Les Pratt, Jimmy Harrison etc. This offered ‘50/50’ dancing, which referred to a cocktail of waltzes, fox-trots, quicksteps and tangos. One exception was the ‘Eddie Bell Orchestra’ who, in late 1961, agreed to allow the local band ‘Johnny Crusoe and the Castaways’ to play during the interval, thus adding a new dimension to the term ‘50/50’.
Prior to this, Yeadon Town Hall had been far more enterprising. Throughout 1961 the venue was advertising established recording stars such as Gene Vincent, Nelson Keene, The Brook Brothers and Yorkshire’s own Mike Sagar and the Cresters from Bramley, Leeds. These were supported by local bands, the calibre of ‘Barry Corbett and The Mustangs’ who, in particular, went on to share the bill with ‘The Beatles’ at the Royal Hall, Harrogate, in 1963 (pictured below).
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