MY LIFE IN MUSIC by Jimmy Smith
DISCOVERING the ORGAN
FARFISA 'Compact Duo' (There's a blast from the past) ! My first venture into organ and pedalboard. It went everywhere with me in a small trailer. A very useful instrument in those days. In the 60s I was playing for Dancing in venues all over - known as 'The Jimmy Smith Duo' with my then drummer Dave Spurdle. That instrument allowed me to travel easily with some good sounds for Dancing. We worked all over the place including a prestigious booking for the Malvern Theatre Festival. A residency at The Frensham Pond Hotel was a major engagement and the Hotel boasted many celebrity guests including
Dudley Moore. During my period at the Chichester Motel Residency = Jacques Lousier would come in when he was playing
at the Chichester Festival Theatre. We were booked for all sorts of functions, Parties, Cabaret, Weddings, Celebrations and Dinner Dances etc., even twice at Baron's Hall - Arundel Castle. We also had the pleasure of backing famous comedian Tommy Trinder when he played Goodwood House Moving on ...... I graduated to the Fabulous Lowrey
Heritage & Berkshire and recorded my first LP album "So What's New" (Saturn Records) on the Lowrey Berkshire.
EARLY YEARS as CHILD PERFORMER
It all started at the age of 4 years. I won a talent contest at Bognor Regis Esplanade Theatre in the Bunny Baron Show - playing a toy set of drums to my Father's Piano Accompanyment. Father then bought me a full set of drums and I played all round the Sussex area in Concert Parties which were all the rage in the late 40s. Performing at a Cricket Club Dinner Dance in Arundel at this time, the Duke of Norfolk said "This young man should be in bed" ! was now being encouraged to learn to play OTHER instruments and the Xylophone and Vibraphone were introduced and I began to play
them in public. At a Charity Concert at Bognor Esplanade Theatre when I was 8 yrs old appearing
with Charlie Kunz - the famous Pianist / Band Leader told my Father "with wrists like that he should be playing PIANO". His advice was taken and I was put to Piano Lessons.
Mr. Kunz later invited me to his home on several occasions to see what progress I was making on the Piano. I also had tuition with Verdi Shaw, percusionist with the
Worthing Municipal Orchestra then conducted by
Herbert Lodge. Their Sunday Night Concerts were then a regular engagement for me to play with the Orchestra. Also, a little earlier I was introduced to Pianist Charles Tapson, who became my regular MD for many years. He was a brilliant solo performer as well as an accomplished accompanist. He had worked with such famous names in the 30s as Albert Chevallier, Cecilia Loftus & George Graves
So now I was performing on stage with Piano, Drums, Xylophone and Vibraphone. Reaching the age of II yrs (Whilst performing at a local venue) I was seen by Billy Sullivan who was manager for the prestigious Moss Empire group of Theatres controlled by Bernard Delfont. He immediately took me under his wing and arranged for me to audition for
Hughie Green's Opportunity Knocks radio talent show being broadcast each week from London's Star Sound Studios for the Maker's of Horlicks on Radio Luxembourge 208m. Very exciting for me to be in the company of such musical giants as
Steve Race and Cyril Stapleton and Lew Stone who were arranging the music. I won the show that week which lead to appearing in the following weeks edition in which a young sailor David Whitfiled was introduced (still
(in his naval uniform). Of course, he won the show that week and that was the start of
his rocket to world fame.
Hughie Green was so taken with my
performance that he immediately
arranged for me to appear at the
London Palladium with the great
Ted Heath Orchestra and to seek Mr.
Heath's impressions of this young
musician. I played in front of
the famous band with their Drummer
Jack Parnell coming to the rescue as
my bass drum was sliding down the
sloping stage (he put his foot
in front to stop it !!) Afterwards
Mr. Heath said to Hughie "This boy MUST be seen - He should be on TELEVISION " ...... Enter Richard Afton. He was producing one of the first big Television variety shows for BBC called "Rooftop Rendezvous" with Al Burnett and
Ricky Fullton guest compere/presenters. Mr. Afton was contacted and asked to see me play at a rehearsal room in London. I was immediately booked for the next show. We travelled to BBC TV Studios at Alexander Palace the next week to appear with Tessie O' Shea. At this time 'Rooftop Rendezvous' was huge in the world of entertainment and it opened all the doors for my young self. Our show was such a success that Mr. Afton booked me immediately for the following week. The Orchestra was lead by Eric Robinson and the resident dancers were the TV Toppers. Later in the year Richard Afton was producing another variety series from Shepherds Bush Empire (The BBC TV Theatre) called 'Music Hall'. These shows had Arthur English and Alfred Marks amongst the star guests and I was booked for two of them.
........ 'Rooftop Rendezvous' made the front pages of the Music Press ('The Stage' and 'Melody Maker ) that year.
What followed then were engagements for the Bernard Delfont Moss Empire Theatres. I was engaged for various weeks at Major Theatres all over the UK. Wolverhampton Hippodrome with Vera Lynn, Brixton Empress with Dorothy Squires & Billy Reid. A Six week run at Portsmouth Empire with a wonderful cast of: Barry & David Lupino, Jack Jackson, Dick James and Alfred Marks.
Other bookings were with: Semprini, Bob Monkhouse, Max Miller, Anton Karas ('The 3rd man' zither player), Betty Driver, Charlie Chester and more. I was also touring in the UK with the Hughie Green Road Show as special guest artiste. And, the occasional special one night show or Cabaret playing with Big Dance bands of the Day - Eric Winstone and Oscar Rabin.
Ed Sullivan (Major USA TV entertainment show in New York) saw me at the Palladium and immediately booked me to fly out and appear on his next TV show. A GREAT DISAPPOINTMENT ...... the West Sussex County Council would not issue a licence
(a requirement for all child performers). What a great opportunity to further ones education - that trip would have been for a 12 yr old !!!
Then it was time to concentrate on schooling and I settled to that. I studied Harmony & Piano (London College of Music) taking four exams but I only achieved 'first class' in the four !.
In the mid-70s Melton Productions (Harold Landey), (He brought over The Carpenters for their last UK tour) - signed me up for a series of concerts he was presenting that included :
Blackpool North Pier, Corn Exchange-Ipswich, Wellington Pier-Great Yarmouth. I performed on Xylophone and a selection of Piano Impressions to my own 'tape recorded' backing. The star billings were: Les Dawson, John Hanson, Terry Seabrook, The Batchelors, and Tom O'Connor.
On very enjoyable engagement for me at this time was recording an LP album at the Jackson Studios, Richmansworth, with
Chris Karan -drums (Dudley Moore Trio). Chris is in my opinion one of the finest drummers in the Country and a real pleasure to work with.
JOINING the SELECT BAND of CONCERT & DEMONSTRATION Organists
The 1970/80s took me into a different sphere of my musical career. I became associated with
WURLITZER UK and BALDWIN Organ distributers through my retail music stores. We had three.
Horsham, Chichester and Bognor Regis. We sold a wide range of instruments and in one period sold more Baldwin organs than any other dealer in the UK - winning a super 'go-anywhere' ticket for three weeks in the USA, during which I was invited to have tea with Liberace whilst he was appearing at Cesar's Palace in Las Vegas. Liberace was dedicated to playing Baldwin Pianos. I met him after his show and had tea with himself, his manager and Johnny Carson.
During my time in retail, we put on many organ concerts locally and enjoyed artistes like Ernest Broadbent (who was currently @ the Wurlitzer Blackpool), and Brian Sharp playing the huge Kawai flagship organ,
Alan Haven came down to Bognor Esplanade Theatre with his Trio prior to opening @ Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club. He brought, with him, Miss World , Leslie Langley (his wife), who graced the proceedings.
TEACHING & MUSICAL EDUCATION
In our Organ Retail shop in Horsham we employed specially trained teachers to run our YAMAHA music school.
We were also main agents and stockists of Wurlitzer, Baldwin, Kawai, Yamaha, JVC and Welson Organs.
My close association with the Organ Distributers lead to my being engaged for demonstration shows throughout the UK and Europe.
I worked for:
Wurlitzer & Baldwin Organs: with Glen Derringer
Lowrey ................................... with Jerry Allen & Harry Stoneham
Kawai & Gulbransen: ,,,,,,,,, with Brian Sharp
JVC ......................................... with Alan Haven
Welson ................................... with Santi Latora
Several years running I would fly to Paris or Frankfurt to play and Demonstrate Wurlitzer, Baldwin or JVC organs
at the International Trade Fairs. I also worked in Lille and Dusseldorf for the Selmer Music Co. of Paris.
Organ Societies in the UK, Jersey & Guernsey, which are still prevalent and thriving today, would become some of my favourite engagements and occupy a considerable anount of my time and travel.
In 1972 - I appeared, with my son Steven, on the major TV talent show - Hughie Green's Opportinity Knocks for Thames Television.
'Jimmy Smith & Son' won a record number of times and appeared in some ll programmes. Steven was 6 yrs old playing a full set of drums whilst I played the Lowrey Organ. We thought that this event would be a 'one-off' bit of fun and good experience for the lad. Little did we know the impact it would have reigning in the highest number of viewers on any TV show. It went on for months. They had to close Marks & Spencers in Edinburgh, because of the crowds, when we were spotted doing a little shopping. We were flown to JAPAN for an appearance on Fuji Television's "WORLD SURPRISE SHOW and a week in AUSTRALIA to appear in OP KNOCKS 'down-under and a special concert at London's VICTORIA PALACE as well as cabaret at Dorchester and other London Hotels.
That was the show that introduced the up-and-coming star Bobby Crush. Half-way through the shows, the act was re-named "Steven Smith & Father". We recorded an LP during this time for Decca, but all of that is another story .
ROYAL ARTILLERY BAND - and - National Service. Woolwich
National Service afforded me opportunities in my musical career that I would never have otherwise happened. It was MOSTLY a good time (!) and definitely a wonderful learning curve once the basic training had been completed at Tonfanau and Oswestry and I arrived at Woolwich where the staff band was based. Initially I auditioned for the RAF but their signing was for 5 years so I opted for the three year engagement with the RA. (Its was the best band anyway !!) Over 100 strong it gave me the opportunity to work alongside professional session musicians doing their National Service in the Woolwich Band because of its close proximity to the West End, as well as the regular service bandsmen who could always teach one a lot. Musicians like Derek Wickens (Oboe) and David Snell (Piano & Harp) & ERIC ALLEN - Session Percussionist & Stuart Hastain (Trumpet) (Liverpool Philharmonic). I played Piano in the Orchestra and Dance Band and Percusion in the Military. At Woolwich, the main band would perform all the usual military functions and parades
and Each summer season we would be touring the South Coast playing Bandstands and venues at Eastbourne, Bexhill, Hastings, down to Plymouth and West-Super-Mayor. We would be engaged in Military Band, Orchestra, String groups, Dance Band and my speciallity - Quartett for Tea Dances etc.
We did many broadcasts, 'Friday Night is Music Night' etc. and several LP records. One recorded at Walthamstow Town Hall. Back at Woolwich there would be many formal engagements like 'The Lord Mayor's Banquet' and lunchtime concerts on St, Paul's Steps in the City. We went to Jersey as part of Princess Margaret's Escourt and did the Edinburgh Festival and Tattoo. There were, of course, BIG concert engagements like Royal Festival Hall and Royal Albert Hall. At the Burma Reunion (RAH) I accompanied Stage and Film Star Jimmy Edwards - playing the full concert grand piano. The dance-band was kept very busy. We played all over the place. Christmas, New Year and National Holidays. New Years Eve at Arundel Castle one year, and Worthing Pier Pavilion another.
Major S. V. Hayes was the Director of Music at that time. A great thing about Woolwich at that time was that after we had served a few months - we could live-out in digs. This was great. On leaving the Army the well known Band Leader Sydney Lipton had heard me with the Dance Orchestra and met me to see if I would join his band on my exit from the service, but I declined.
It was certainly the most challenging time of my life and required a lot of adjustment- both joining, and coming out. I still see faces I know in Orchestras on TV from time to time.
The NEW and PRESENT SITUATION OF AMALGAMATING and re-siting the service bands (taking it away from Woolwich) doesn't seem right to me. The Bands seem to have lost their identity. By the way, did you Know, The Royal Artillery musicians formed the world's first SYMPHONY orchestra - in this Country ?.
Prior to National Service - I had made several appearances on TV playing Piano, Xylophone and Drums to my own tape-recorded backing. 'LET'S GO', a tea time BBC show produced by Terry Henerberry, 'HOME GROWN', a Southern TV show introduced by Eric Winstone and a couple of spots on 'Day-by-Day' (Southern TV).
ROUND TABLE I am proud to say that I am (was) a founder member of MIDHURST Round Table. I lived there for
several years. One of the highlights of events was doing the cabaret (with RT Collegues) for the Round Table International
Convention which was held at Butlins Bognor Regis that year. We did a music and mime performance of Al Jolson's "Sonny Boy".
My Father, Bill Smith, in Midhurst, was a founder member of ROTARY.
BBC & Local RADIO BROADCASTS
Over the Years I have enjoyed many plays on National Radio. Desmond Carrington and David Jacobs would regularly include my work in their programmes for BBC two. Charlie Chester also featured some of my LP tracks on his BBC 'Soapbox' programme.
I have been a regular artiste on many local radio stations including Radio Medway when Don Durbridge dedicated his whole programme to me with a live interview. Alan Ashton (Pedal Pipes & Percussion) also included my work and produced a special programme highlighting the Grosvenor release "JS plays Sinatra". The Falklands War (breaking news) unfortunately interupted it partially !!
Peter Pilbeam (BBC producer) asked me if I would like to do a complete programme (Half-Hour) for "The Organist Entertains". I was highly honoured by this and recorded the material in my own Studio on the JVC Victron Organ. That remains a highlight of my years in music.
Well ..... That's me - and the music, Thanks for looking. JS
I am retired now and when not in the Canaries, enjoy life at our home in
West Sussex. My wife of 45 years (Joy) is always at my side and always supporting
of my sometimes eccentric activities.
PHOTOS on this page:
JS DUO @ CHICHESTER MOTEL
PLAYING VIBRAPHONE @ KIMBELL'S BALLROOM, CHICHESTER (NOW MARKS & SPENCER)
PLAYING DRUMS @ BOGNOR PAVILION BALLROOM with OSCAR RABIN BAND
THE TED HEATH ORCHESTRA
A YOUNG HUGHIE GREEN with YOUNG Jimmy Smith @ STAR SOUND STUDIOS RADIO LUXEMBOURGE BROADCAST.
CHRIS KAREN (Dudley Moore Trio) DRUMS
PLAYING PIANO in ROYAL ARTILLERY BAND