Am I in the music business, or am I a professional passenger? This is what went through my mind as I met the mini-bus at Hammersmith Odeon four afternoons per week as members of the band met to depart in convoy for the south coast - four different destinations on each of four nights of the week - traveling from between two and three hours each way to play a four hour gig at Butlins and other similar holiday resorts. I was working with the Jack Hawkins band which was acting as the relief band for those outfits which had permanent summer season engagements in towns extending from the south-west Dorset coast (Weymouth) to the Sussex south coast (Bracklesham and Selsey).
This was a big band plus three vocalists playing mostly Dave Tanner arrangements of past and current pops for the holiday crowd to do their dance thing after a busy day on the beach. For me this was really demanding in that I had to rapidly get my sight reading skills into shape, since every piece depended to some extent on piano cues and there was serious reputational damage done each time I messed up. I managed on the whole, despite my inherent resistance against wearing the right colour socks (they had to be black, and not dark blue!) and having to behave like some music-slave just because I happened to be booked to play the piano. The band leader was a tyrant!
This went on for a couple of months before I realised that musically, it was a dead end for me and would lead me nowhere. However, the upside was that I was once again onto a fairly steep learning curve, and I gained exposure to repertoire which was to stand me in good stead for future engagements with another dance band led by someone whom I really respected - Chris Allen. And, thankfully he did not have to drive to hell and back purely for the sake of a getting a gig, plus he paid a lot better. So, I left the Jack Hawkins band and got myself the first of my many West-End gigs which in their own way turned out to be equally disheartening before I was to once again experience the thrill of playing in a full band.
Through some twist of fortune (a year or two later ) I ended up getting a call from Chris Allen when his regular piano player could not make it leading to my subsequently getting a fair number of gigs (always "depping"), playing at some interesting functions, sometimes in places (like the Dorchester and the Savoy), the interiors of which I had only ever seen in the movies. We would often appear alongside other interesting acts (like one of the Grenadier Guards light music bands) and the musicians, being mostly session players, were top class. I was always amazed at how good the vocalists were - many of them scarcely out of their teens yet good enough to appear alongside the best. It was at this time that I started discovering how much musical talent there was in London and my hopes at making a success of my musical career were encouraged.
I recall the last time I worked with one of Chris Allen's smaller groups - we were booked to play for Paul McCartney's end-of-production party for his Give My Regards To Broadstreet movie and there was a host of famous people in attendance. After making a brief welcome speech Paul was asked by the guests to sing a number with us, but much to all of our disappointment, he declined.