Greasborough Working Men’s Club
April 6, 2020

Still photograph Greasborough

From left to right: Terry Herrington, piano; GB, bass; Gordon —, drums; Dennis Rumble, Hammond Organ.In centre, with back to camera, comedian Jack Rigby, who I worked with several times and who always finished his act with the “Egyptian” sand dance, made “famous” by Wilson, Keppel and Betty…

I worked as house bassist at Greasborough Working Men’s Club, known as The Palladium of the North, from January 1965 to August 1966 and almost never took a night off. It was set up by South Yorkshire miners, in an unlikely place, Greasborough, just outside Rotherham and was a kind of collective enterprise by the miners. The club would have huge beer sales: when the miners come out of the pits, they needed to slake their thirst. But the profits were ploughed back to provide entertainment, and then the profits from this entertainment, and more beer sales, into better and better acts, and better and better technical facilities.

There were 8 shows a week – 7 nights plus Sunday lunchtime, and seven or eight acts in each show, with the top of the bill, being the most famous, on last and all were rehearsed from 10am to midday on Sunday morning, when the first show started. The band’s sight-reading was phenomenal and with some things that we didn’t even bother rehearsing, we would glance at the parts or let Terry, the pianist, talk it through Some comedians included songs, but most were just played on and off and during their time the back curtains were drawn so we could slip off for a drink. We would be back in place for the last gag followed by a high-speed version of “When You’re Smiling…”

The house band comprised piano (Terry Herrington), bass (me) and drums (Gordon …) plus Hammond organ (Dennis Rumble) which would simulate orchestral or big band effects. Sometime there would be an act that was a self-contained band (in my first week Freddy and the Dreamers topped the bill) which meant we finished early. On other occasions a singer might bring their own pianist so Terry would drop out. There were some occasions when someone only needed a bass player, having his own pianist and drummer (Dickie Valentine was one of those) – as most clubs would not have a bassist, it was a luxury for them to have this opportunity.

As I mentioned, the first week I was there the top of the bill was Freddy and the Dreamers and as this was a band, we didn’t have to play for them. But we did play for the rest. There was a Frenchman, Roger Mistin, who called himself the world champion xylophonist, who played popular light operatic overtures: things like Si j’étais Roi and pieces by Suppé, as well as xylophone show pieces. He had one of those old-style xylophones that are played up and down away from the body, like a zither or cimbalom, rather than from side to side. To finish his act, he would put on roller skates, strap the xylophone to his waist, and play The Beer Barrel Polka spinning round and round, faster and faster (in strobe lights) and we were trying to read the parts… Then there was also a light classical soprano, Susan Lane, who sang arias from Puccini and songs made famous by Jeanette MacDonald. I’d find myself playing the orchestral cello part in those things. Even with our limited instrumentation – piano, bass, drums, and Hammond organ – we were trying to fill in all the orchestral parts. And there were five more acts to rehearse in that two-hour slot! We played for comedians, conjurers, mind readers and ventriloquists, in addition to the more obviously musical ones, which were all incredibly varied. The first act on the bill was always the worst, and some were really appalling. But some of the top of the bill people I played with could be quite good: singers like Dickie Valentine, Dusty Springfield, David Whitfield, Kathy Kirby, Val Doonican, Vera Lynn and some of the arrangements were very skilful.

There were very good comedians too, some of whom would never be heard outside the clubs (on radio or TV) because of their material. Some great ones, like Arthur Askey, incorporated musical routines into their act – his involved playing Rachmaninov and so the band became part of his set. One downside from working with comedians, though, was that we would hear the same jokes every night – eight times a week. And then another comedian would arrive the next week with many of the same jokes and so on, even if told with subtle differences…  There were, however, comedians who I did not particularly enjoy on radio or TV who turned out to be terrific live. They were able to move away from their routines according to the way the house responded. One of the best of these was Des O’Connor, and Bob Monkhouse had the same alertness to the atmosphere.

Some local performers came fairly frequently, maybe eight or nine times in the year, and we got to know them quite well. A few – like Ronnie Dukes and Ricki Lee for whom Terry later became musical director – did break into the outside world of TV performance. A double comedy act with whom we were friendly was called Syd and Eddie, who became very successful ten years later as Little and Large. I was sorry to learn of Eddie Large’s death quite recently…

For the evening shows we would start at 7pm and have six acts up to the first break, which was a bingo session. This would be followed by the penultimate act, usually a comedian of the top of the bill was a singer, and then a second bingo session before the last performer. The quietest and most respectful, almost sacred, silences in the whole evening were reserved for bingo…

I think that in the whole 18 months that I was there I only took one night off and that was to work with tap dancer Will Gaines, who I’d already worked with at the club. It was always a pleasure to work with him as his musical material was jazz, and he would tell stories and reminisce while dancing. We  performed on the very popular live TV variety show Sunday Night at the London Palladium. The Freddie Bowden Trio, with Tony Oxley on drums and me on bass, accompanied Will with a version of Summertime, close to the Bill Evans version, but more in the Oscar Peterson style. To my horror it turned out that Oscar Peterson’s trio was also on the show… No one told them of the routine whereby every performer would come back on stage and form a circle on the perimeter of a roundabout, which went slowly round and round while as the closing music played. Compere Jimmy Tarbuck brought top of the bill Tom Jones back through the curtains onto the roundabout only to see a large gap and he urged us desperately to spread out… (I did have chance for long conversations with bassist Sam Jones though)

(Will was an amazing man who subsequently did some astounding performances and recordings with Derek Bailey’s free improvising, and we met again at Derek’s funeral when, in his mid-seventies, he ended up tap dancing on the tables in the pub).

Eventually I left Greasborough, but it was a happy time and an incredible musical education. When I was there, there were negotiations to bring Sammy Davis Junior and Shirley Bassey to Greasborough – it didn’t work out, but that is a measure of the place’s ambition and status. In the video link, we see the club secretary, Les Booth, on the phone discussing with an agent, this plan…I appear twice in the footage, once early on with comedian Jack Rigby, and then briefly with the much more famous Bob Monkhouse. You’ll also see quite early on, from the side of the stage, organist Dennis Rumble…

Memory's of Greasbrough social club
Watch this video on YouTube.

Gavin Bryars