My father did not need to be encouraged to sing in public, he did not need copious amounts, or indeed any amount of beer to get up and sing in public, although beer was often involved, if you were in charge of organising the entertainment in a pub, club or holiday camp then my dad would seek you out from the first minute of his arrival and he would make you all too aware that he was a singer willing to sing, anytime, anywhere and all you had to do was to switch on a microphone for him to be on his feet and ready for your curtain call.
The photo above is him at the microphone in the 1950s and its in one of two places, either The Meanwood Arms which was his local pub of choice or at The Rendevous Club in Cayton Bay, or maybe its somewhere else, don’t be fooled by the blokes in evening suits and the fact that the venue appears to have a proper band and everything for this was the era when folk expected, nay demanded to be entertained on a night-time and if they deemed your pub to be worthy of their custom then you as a landlord had better bloody well put some entertainment on or they’d be off elsewhere, so most pubs had at the very least a piano player and a few resident locals who could turn in a song at the drop of a hat, the larger establishments would have a piano, a drum kit and either a double bass or a tea chest and broom style bass – and my dad would sing.
I know what he is singing in that photo and I have no idea of when it was taken or where it was taken but he will be singing “Lady Is A Tramp” of that there is no doubt, it was his signature song along with “That Old Black Magic” and he sang both with the Frank Sinatra swagger…
Each summer we’d take the 70 mile car journey to Scarborough on the East Coast of Yorkshire, the drive would take all day for the whole of the city of Leeds seemed to be going to Scarborough that week, all day and we wouldn’t even leave Yorkshire, we’d arrive late afternoon at Wallis’s Holiday Camp in Cayton Bay, collect the keys to a rickety old caravan that had probably seen its better days a couple of decades before and we’d settle in for a week of organised entertainment, days on the beach and evenings spent in The Rendevous Club – and Thursday Night.
Thursday Night was the night of the big Wallis’s Talent Competition and whilst most of the happy campers would be hesitant about putting their names on a list to perform in a theatre in front of a crowd of hundreds my father would immediately seek out Roy Taunton and demand that he get the Talent Contest list out sometime on Monday to make sure his name was on there again this year. My father knew Roy Taunton for he was a piano and organ player who touted his business in the West Yorkshire district and my father had leaned on his piano with a microphone in hand on many an occasion – I’m not saying that they fiddled the result of the Wallis’s Talent Contest every year but let me just say that they shared the five pounds first prize money out in the upstairs lounge every year.
Another hint to the suspicion that maybe this had all been pre-arranged was the way in which my father would often disappear on the Thursday afternoon of the great Talent Contest night to seek out Roy Taunton and have a little rehearsal at a piano in a quiet corner of a bar, a facility that I doubt was ever extended to any of the other competitors – how do I know this, well let me explain.
If you had put your name on the list for the Wallis’s Talent Contest you’d join your fellow contestants sitting on hard wooden chairs at the back of the stage waiting for your name to be called to the spotlight, at this point you;d have to explain to Roy Taunton what it was you were here to do, if it was to do some paper folding then he’d sit back and let you get on with it but if you were a singer then you’d have to tell him the song and the key that you sang in and if you didn’t know either then the audience would have to sit and wait patiently while you hummed the first line and Roy Taunton tried to work the rest out.
My Father never had to do this because of course he and Roy knew exactly what he was going to sing, it was the same song every year and in a well rehearsed procedure my Fathers name would be called with the sort of build-up that Frank Sinatra would get at The Sands in Las Vegas in front of the Count Basie Orchestra and as he rose from his hard wooden seat Roy Taunton would already be playing the intro to “Lady Is A Tramp” as my Father swaggered across stage adjusting the cuffs of his best suit, tweaking his tie and then right on cue snatching the microphone from the stand and belting out “Shhh-eeeee gets too hungry for dinner at eayyy-taaahhh…”
He won every year.
Me and Ned were mortally embarrassed every year, slinking down into our seats in the audience and muttering to each other “Why does our dad think he is Frank Sinatra, why oh why …?”
Tony Bennett was another favourite of his and in the 1970s while I still lived at my parents house most of my Sunday mornings from 7am were spent drinking several cups of strong coffee whilst nursing a hell of a hangover from the night before, sitting in the living room with him sharing his Sunday People newspaper, hardly a word spoken between us and with Sinatra, Bennett, Matt Munro, Andy Williams, Jack Jones and especially Nat King Cole on the stereo, usually quite loud, too loud for a hangover, and from behind his half of the newspaper you’d hear the odd line joined in refrain and harmony. I’d sit there itching to put on one of my albums and show him what proper music sounded like but all these years later I acknowledge now that I was wrong and he was right and his 1940s and 1950s crooners could out sing any of my choice of 1970s popular beat combo’s, there are evenings even now when I select a Sinatra or Count Basie playlist on Spotify and this hurts but “Stardust” by Nat King Cole would still make my top ten of “Music I Want To Hear At My Moment Of Death”, what do you mean “Thats Weird”, don’t you have a list of tunes that you want to hear at your moment of death, its just me then ?