Don Radelet

ABOVE: Don and Bill Radelet on their way to England 1939, Don on his bike.

“Do you remember your first interaction with Arthur?”

“Yes,” “Keep still! Get a pair of black pants and a white shirt for your first concert and a little bow tie.” “That was for the General Gordon School Band.”

“You weren’t one of the originals?”

“No, I lived in the neighborhood though, with several of them. Stu Ross was one.

My brother was the first to get a horn. He got a trumpet. I was upset, so they bought me an eight dollar alto horn. Then we went down to Mr. Delamont’s place to have a private lesson. He scared the devil out of me. I didn’t have any idea what I was doing. Eventually, he said to me, “You should be on trumpet. You’re smarter than your brother.”

“Who were some of the boys who died in the war?”

“Meade Sinclair, Ross Sturley, Pete Humphrys. I was a very good friend of Pete Humphrys. I received a card from Pete at Christmas time 1943. He said, “Hope to see you soon old boy!”

It wasn’t long after that I found Pete’s picture in the paper. There were several fellows who were killed in action in the air force.

“What was Arthur’s reaction to the loss of so many of his boys in the war?”

“Oh, it really upset him. I remember when the boy died in France on the 1962 band trip. Arthur played a hymn at every concert after that. Deep Harmony was the hymn. I stayed in the band until I joined the Air Force in 1942. When I came back in 1945, I got involved in soccer. Around 1950, after the band came back from England, someone said, “Why don’t you come down to the station to welcome the band back?” So, I borrowed a horn and it was like I had never been away. Then someone said, “Why don’t you come down to the Air force Reserve band?” They had horns that I could borrow. I didn’t have my own baritone. Before long I was playing in every band. Half the Air Force band was ex-kits band members, Don Cromie, Ray Louden, Fraser McPhearson, Ozzie McCoomb. The better players always ended up in Delamont’s Concert band. He was very faithful.

I have been playing cruise ships since 1954. Right up until a cholera epidemic broke out on the boat then off for three years. I have been back with the Cunard for about four years. It was always a bit of a thrill, marching out to the end of the dock. He would play ‘Auld Lang Sang’.

Every band I have played in, there has always been a half a dozen or so ex-kits band members: the Navy band, the Lions band, the PNE band, the Air Force Reserve, the Delamont Concert band. A lot of Delamont’s boys went on to conduct their own bands, Dal Richards, Ken Sotvedt, Ron Smith from Magee high School. He would never say they did well, he would always say, “I wouldn’t have done it that way“.

Around 1954, a bunch of us approached Mr. D about him starting his own Concert band. Dal Richards was one of us. Mr. D got up and said, “I have just got a contract for the British Empire Games.” He says, “It ties in nicely, we just need uniforms.”  Dal Richards got up and said, “Well Mr. Delamont, as you know, it’s dog eat dog in this business. I may have jobs that conflict with your band from time to time.” He was just showing him that he was independent of him at that time. Anytime Arthur wanted an MC though, he was there. But he wasn’t going to let Arthur conflict with his own livelihood.

There were only a few of us who have stuck with him over the years. Stu Ross is one. He was one of the originals. Roy Johnston wasn’t an original member of the band. He came a year later but he has been a soloist with him for a long time, as have Kenny Bucholl and I. For years, he would telephone us up to see what was going on. We played in all the bands and he wanted to be in the know. Right up to the end, he was still calling up. He’d telephone at midnight just to talk if he couldn’t sleep. We never let him down. We played lots of Chinese funerals, dozens and dozens. All my best friends came out of the band, Alan Pugsley, John Symonds. Our wives all knew each other.”

“Who were influences in your life?” “Arthur of course but another was old Bob Quinn, a janitor at General Gordon School. Through him I got involved in top flight hockey at St. Andrews. Through Arthur, I got involved in playing in all these bands. The extra money I made was because of Delamont.

“Do you have any thoughts about the other guys?” “Wayne Pettie is probably one of the top trumpet players in Canada. He plays everywhere in Vancouver, great player. He can play anything.”

“Tell me about the ‘39 trip?” “Safeway was our sponsor. On the boat going over we always had a rehearsal. This was on the drunken Duchess. It was called that because she rolled. We lost our encore book on the boat. For the whole trip we played without our music. He never did know. We were too afraid to tell him. We used to see lots of army trucks moving around. We toured the Blenheim Bomber factory, outside of Liverpool. We knew something big was coming. Sandbags were going up around the buildings, air raid balloons were going up. I guess they knew Chamberlain wasn’t going to make it when he went to see Hitler. Germany invaded Poland while we were there. We were just kids, more interested in girls and going to the amusement parks on the pier.

Our ten cent Canadian coins fit perfectly in the Players cigarette machines. They were going to arrest us all if we didn’t make up the difference. We all had Players cigarettes on us. In Birkenhead we stayed in a real old place. We were taken to Port Sunlight, a soap factory. We were all given samples of soap. We had a soap fight when we got back to our hotel. One bar of soap went through the ceiling. Cost Mr. D, fourteen pounds.

When we were in Great Yarmouth, we were ordered by the Admiralty to: “GET OUT OF ENGLAND.” We were told to go to Liverpool and catch the Athenia. We didn’t seem to mind. We knew some of the girls on the Athenia. They were Americans over on a bike trip. We had met them on the way over, so we didn’t seem to mind having to leave. We couldn’t get through to Liverpool though because of all the cars and trucks on the roads and school kids. This was about the first or second of September. Everyone was getting out of the cities. There were lots of military vehicles. We ended up being told to go down to Southampton where we caught the Empress of Britain. Went over to Cherbourg, where we picked up a bunch of Polish refugees and a lot of Americans. The ship was crowded, there were beds everywhere. We all had life preservers. We never missed a meal. During the day, we were up on deck. We could see the zigzag behind us. We went down the coast of Africa. We could see the crew hanging over the side, painting the portholes black. We were told the submarines were after us. War had been declared! We finally got home and made it to Ottawa. Delamont had us set up under the Peace Tower and started to play a concert. Someone came out and told us to leave. We didn’t have permission. So, we went back to the train.”

“What do you recall about the New York World’s Fair?” “Well, we played for Swifts Ham. We stayed at the YMCA on 20th Street. We had a wonderful time. Every day the bus would take us out to the Fair. We went to all the different pavilions and saw the Billy Rose Show, the sky train, great place!

I remember in Bath, there were about three or four of us in this one room. We had the only window from which you could get to the ground. We charged the guys to use our window because we were broke. That’s where we saw Haile Selassie who was in exile at the time. It was in a freight yard. This old fellow was out painting with his easel and his dog. It was Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia. We stood and watched him painting.

We saw Beverly Baxter, an MP. He showed us around the Houses of Parliament. We had high tea and fancy cakes.”  We could play pretty good by the time we returned home.

“Do you have any thoughts about the 79 trip?” “We stayed in this great old place in Glasgow. We were very lucky.  Did some jobs we were hired to do. He came to me one day and said, “You didn’t bring me anything to practice did you?” I said, “Yes, I have Scenes That Are Brightest!”

Instead, he had me learn it! I had to play it at every concert. He didn’t have any good trumpet players.”

“Do you have any other memories of your band days?” “I remember playing for this one Chinese funeral in particular. We had to change in a funeral home. They had open caskets in the room. That was kind of eerie. We played so many that sometimes we would just leave work and go to them. Only problem was, we would often wind up on the evening news because the fellow was famous. You could only go to the dentist, so many times! Stu Ross was the MC at one of Arthur’s concerts at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. He said, “We have some guys who have gone to the dentist so many times. Stand up Don and show everyone your teeth!”

Jimmy Pattison would always show up late. The curtain was ready to be drawn. He wouldn’t have a bow tie. I always carried a couple of extras. I would pass one along to him. Jimmy was on the committee that organized the reunions. Even at those meetings, he would be in the corner on the telephone. He looked after the advertising.

“The girl that I got to know on the Athenia going over to England, I got a letter from her sister, when I returned, saying, “Norma had drowned on the Athenia!” “We all had to wear life jackets coming back in 1939. He was very concerned. He knew it was risky. After the Athenia was hit, there was lots of concern back home. I know that he split his money up between himself and his wife. It was in a belt which he gave to her in case there was an emergency. She had half and he had half. He was a very sentimental guy. He’s been on the telephone to me crying about his marriage, how lonely he was. His eyes were bothering him at the end. His contact lens’ would go away up inside and he couldn’t see. He had a concert in the morning. George Fischer and his wife, he was a druggist up on Dunbar Street, they sort of looked after him at that time. He liked to be babied. He had to have his apple sauce and tea after the concert was over. There was a sentimental side to the guy, almost childlike in some respects. He would push chairs around and say, “Don, go out and set those chairs up.” He knew I knew where they went and how many we needed. He had me hiring the guys. He’d call me and say, “Don, I need six trumpets tomorrow.”

I didn’t know where I was going to get six trumpets. Often the guys would have concerts on that same day but I usually came up with them somehow. If I sent him the wrong guy though he would give me hell. “I didn’t want him!” he would say. Not only that, I would go all over the place picking up uniforms for the guys who didn’t have them. He wrote something to me once about being a “Real Friend’ to him all these years.  I was one of the ones he always relied on. If I can take any credit for it, I sure earned it. On those hot days, lugging six or seven blue uniforms down to the dock and then if I was a minute late, “Don, where have you been?” I never got paid anything extra. He knew who he could talk to that way.”

“Do you have any last thoughts?”“On the ‘79 trip, we were in a place in Scotland where they have mock weddings. There was a piper playing with his hat set out on the street. Our bus pulled up and Delamont says, “Everyone out and get set up.” He didn’t realize that this piper was trying to make a living. He just takes over but that was Delamont at the end. He then puts his own hat down and says, “We are playing our way around Scotland and we need your support.” That night, Jack Bensted, one of the “originals,” and Ozzie McCoomb, met with Arthur and told him they were going to go home if he did that again. That and the fact he started ranting and raving at everybody because he didn’t have a good trumpet section, upset the guys. After they talked to him and he realized they weren’t kids anymore, it was a great trip. I even gave out flowers, at the end, to all the ladies. I saved the last one and said, “This is for the little girl that didn’t make this trip. Vera!” He was in tears. Just an old softy!

This interview was conducted with Don in 1988. In October 2007, Don entered a nursing home, suffering from the effects of Alzheimers disease.  A great guy! Don passed away in March 2011.



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