“A group of the older boys, our fashion leaders, began wearing sporty pork-pie hats, which were very trendy at the time. This seemed to be a really “neat” thing to do, so I, being a painful copy cat, bought one too. Big mistake.”
I sat down with Jim McCullock who had been a trombone player on the most important and most successful trip the Kitsilano Boys Band ever made to England in 1936, the Crystal Palace Tour. He talked candidly about joining the band, finally being selected to go to England with the band on its next four month tour and many details about the trip itself and the other boys. What follows is a very good recollection of what it was like to play in the Kitsilano Boys Band when it was at its peak!
I graduated from elementary school in June 1931 and in September I was enrolled in Grade 7 at Point Grey Junior High School. Soon after that, an announcement was sent home to all parents to the effect that a school band was to be formed under the direction of Arthur Delamont. By this time Mr. Delamont had attained a certain degree of local fame through his successes with the Kitsilano Boys’ Band at various musical festivals, notably the one at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto.
My mother was all-aflutter with the notion that her little boy could become a “boy soloist” – just like Roy Johnston! My father was rather less enthusiastic, and I think that I felt somewhat indifferent about the whole idea. However, my mother’s iron will prevailed and we accordingly presented ourselves at the school one evening to be interviewed by the great man.
Arthur took one rather critical look at my protruding lower lip and promptly nixed the suggestion that I should learn to play the trumpet and decreed that, instead, I should play the trombone. I think that my mother was quite disappointed, but in due course we purchased a second-hand trombone for seventy-five dollars from Pacific Music on Richards Street (to be sure, Mr. D. was there to handle the transaction), and I embarked on what was to be a long and undistinguished musical career.
To paraphrase an old popular song, –
“Arthur Delamont taught me trombone in a hurry.” He gave me two lessons in the basement of his Kitsilano house, and I learned how to read the transposed C scale, as written in the treble clef for trumpet or Bb baritone. This apparently qualified me to play in the school band. Certainly, it gave strength to the idea that early indoctrination can have a lasting effect, for although I learned over the next couple of years how to properly read bass clef notation, I also acquired a lifelong tendency to misinterpret chord symbols in trombone music.
What can I say about the Point Grey Junior High band? – it struggled – the concert audiences suffered – the parents took pride – Delamont roared and lashed out with his baton – (all the legendary stories are true!).
During the first year, my fellow trombonists were Russ White and Mel Oughton. The three of us eventually did move up to the Kitsilano Band, but Russ and Mel soon lost interest. Forty five years later, I renewed acquaintance with Mel in his hobby activities as a church organist and restaurant pianist in North Vancouver. Don Cromie was our experienced veteran first trombone player, soon to move on to Magee High School. Hector McKay played French horn.
In the winter of 1933-34, when I was in my final school year at Point Grey Junior High, Mr. D. suggested that I should come down and attend rehearsals with the Kitsilano Boys’ Band. My mother was in seventh heaven and my father prepared himself to shell outtwenty-five5 cents, twice weekly, out of his one hundred dollar per month salary. I contented myself with a smug sense of superiority at now being part of the Kitsilano Boys’ Band, of Toronto and Chicago fame.
Rehearsals at the General Gordon School annex always started with Mr. D. sitting near the entrance with his notebook, carefully checking off each of our names as we tendered our twenty-five cent fee. Then came the testosterone – charged warm-ups, as each of us tried to show off his expertise, – arpeggios, trills, grunts, wails, or the latest “neat” fragment from a current popular tune, finally to be interrupted by a testy, “come on, you fellows, do your practicing at home!”
Rehearsals could be quite intimidating – the pecking order was much in evidence. Some of the older members were kind, or at least tolerant; others were decidedly not. The music seemed discouragingly difficult at first. I was quite awestruck by our first trombones, Van Dunfee and Norm Pearson, who could actually play a solo passage without cracking a note. I had a very kind and tolerant mentor, Jack Read, who, despite being one of the older boys and having a lot of experience, seemed quite content to continue playing third trombone year after year. But he had a great low register sound and he played the third parts so beautifully!
And we had a killer saxophone section – Clif Bryson, Herb Melton, Alan Newbury and young Dal Richards, who had started out in the clarinet section.
There were the stars and celebrities: Roy Johnston, Don Endicott, Bob Reid on trumpet; Jack Allen, Harry Bigsby, Bernie Temoin on clarinet; the funny and unpredictable Mickey Crawford on flute; the caustic and formidable Stuart Ross on tuba, who, thirty years later, was to become a great friend and trusted business associate of mine. And there was Gordon McCullough, snare drum, the quintessential man-of-the-world, along with Doug Cooper, bass drum, whose off-beat sense of humor would often lighten up a performance, not always with Mr. D.’s approval.
I gradually learned that Rachmaninoff was still alive, Rossini was not, mp means “not very loud” – not “more power,” how to double and triple tongue, how to count two consecutive 43 bar rests, hymns must only be played the Delamont way, Tchaikovsky was a Russian who may or may not be dead, proper stage deportment, trombones typically leave a messy floor in front of them, and how to keep two eyes on the music and one on the conductor at all times.
In the summer of 1934, the band prepared to tour England and Scotland. I wasn’t chosen to go! I probably couldn’t have afforded it anyway. We, who were to be left behind, were delegated to play with another of Mr. D.’s bands that summer – The Vancouver Girls’ Band. I can’t recall who conducted us (it might have been Garfield White our publicity agent), but I do remember that we were fairly active, playing park concerts and excursion trips to Belcarra Park and Newcastle Island. Russ White and I were on trombones, Hector McKay on French horn, and Bob Trerise on trumpet. Bob and I began a friendship and musical association that lasted until his death in 2005.
I can’t recall any specific activities or interesting stories about the Vancouver Girls’ Band, but I do remember some of the girls – Vera Filer was a pretty fair trombonist; Phoebe Findlay, flutist, also an excellent musician, was the sister of Jim Findlay, who was on tour with the Kitsilano Band. Their father was magistrate James Findlay, a well-respected member of the Vancouver legal profession. Mae Scott, with whom I was half smitten, was the daughter of the head gardener at the McRae estate, Hycroft. And then there was Joan Agnew, who was to marry Gordon Delamont, and whose younger sister, Lois, became a singer with Irving Lozier’s dance orchestra, with whom Bob Trerise and I played in the late 1930’s.
After the Kitsilano Boys’ Band returned from the 1934 trip, a major reshuffling of personnel took place over the next year. Many of the old timers and star players moved on to other activities or went professional– Roy Johnston, Don Endicott, Art van Dunfee, Clif Bryson, – and several died over the next year or two, notably trombonist Norm Pearson and saxophonist Alan Newbury.
Gradually the band took on a new face – with imports from Mr. D.’s West Vancouver Boys’ Band: Bill Barker, oboe; Russ Escott, drums; Stan Patterson, clarinet; Walter Parker, French horn; and Bob McCartney, trumpet. There were also new young players who would eventually become the stars and personalities of future years, such as Alan Johnstone, Teddy Reser, Harold Atkinson, and Pete Humphrys. Dal Richards and a very young Marvin Seis and Junior Green made up the saxophone section. Gordon Delamont, Harvey Stewart and Ross Armstrong were the first trumpets, and in the trombones Pete Watt and Don Cromie moved up to first chair, Eb Spencer played second, and Wally Reid and I shared third trombone. Even some of the “originals” remained – Stuart Ross, who had abandoned the trumpet for the tuba, Wally Oatway, Bud Mottishaw, Cece Jenkins. Bob Trerise, who was my age, was even an original, having started with the General Gordon School Band at the tender age of eight.
As the year 1935 came to an end and we got into the new year, activity and anticipation of another tour of Britain increased. Each of us had to come up with a cash contribution of one hundred dollars towards the band’s expenses, and in addition, we were each expected to take at least one hundred dollars in spending money. Many of us tried to find spare time jobs to bolster our meager finances. I was able to work on Saturdays delivering groceries for our local Piggly Wiggly store on my bicycle. Mowing lawns and delivering newspapers were sources of funds for some. Band mothers held afternoon teas and bake sales.
The Safeway stores organization sponsored the band in a series of half-hour radio broadcasts. To this day I can remember the rather banal lyrics we sang to the tune of the “Jolly Coppersmith” march as the opening introduction to each broadcast. Theses lyrics were written, I believe, by Garfield White, and of course gave due credit to our sponsor, but in truth they were dreadfully corny: “We are the jolly Safeway men, from care and trouble free” – and so on. Finally the great day, June 15, arrived and we were on our way, to return exactly four months later, on October 15.
For many of us making our first trip this was a big adventure – an excursion into the great unknown. We were depression era kids, relatively unsophisticated, with little knowledge of a Canada that existed to the east of the Fraser Valley, let alone Great Britain. Kamloops and Revelstoke were unknown places somewhere up in what was referred to as “the interior.” Calgary, Winnipeg, Montreal, we had read about in geography classes in school. Strangely enough, we had all heard about the Roxy Theater in Toronto, where there was reputed to be burlesque entertainment, complete with strip-tease acts. We could hardly wait!
The trip across Canada was exciting, busy, and enlightening – traveling in a crowded Pullman car was noisy, hard on the ego, and smelly. It was no place for a sensitive soul or anyone who cherished privacy.
Many of us enjoyed swimming – so we swam in the Columbia River, the Bow River, the Natatorium at Moose Jaw, the swimming pool in the Chateau Laurier. We saw the Canada we had read about: – the Kicking Horse Canyon, the Continental Divide, the Rockies, the Prairies, the nickel smelter at Sudbury, the lonely shores of Lake Superior. We went to the Roxy Theater in Toronto – it was everything we had hoped for. Our horizons were broadening rapidly.
And we played our music – Kamloops, Revelstoke, Calgary, Medicine Hat, Moose Jaw, Regina, Winnipeg, Kenora, White River, Sudbury, wherever there was an available park, or station platform or Elks hall. And we stole souvenirs – notably engraved cutlery from the Nickel Range Hotel in Sudbury and the Walker House in Toronto.
Cliques started to form, some of which were to last long after the end of the trip; petty jealousies began, a pecking order was established. None of this served to diminish the esprit de corps that began to form –the conviction that we were an elite musical organization – the best in the world.
We arrived at Quebec City and there it was, our ship, the Empress of Britain, much grander than our West coast Empresses of Japan, Canada and Russia.
The ocean crossing was relatively uneventful – every morning we were awakened by the steward knocking on the door, “come and see the icebergs” – I think that one day we did actually see something that may or may not have been an iceberg.
There were rehearsals, a few performances, occasional forays into the first class areas – and much lusting after one particularly attractive young woman in First Class, who appeared to be the personification of wealthy and worldly sophistication. It was widely rumored that Pete Watt had been well received by this glamorous creature, but Pete was always a consummate gentleman and never did satisfy our prurient curiosity.
We docked at Southampton, and we must have had a few hours of free time before boarding the train for Yeovil, because I vividly remember the wonder of walking through the narrow winding streets and marveling at the ancient stone archways and cobbled streets, exactly as they had appeared in the old books and British newspapers of my family home.
What can I say about our next three months? – it was certainly busy – with as many as three concerts a day, often in a different town each day. There were rehearsals, and extra rehearsals for the brasses; – fussy and fast little English trains, ancient buses, salty boarding – house landladies, and flushing the toilet by pulling down on a chain.
Memorable occasions: – tea with the Lord Mayor of London was all very nice, but how about the time when I had to hang on to the belt of an inebriated flute player as he peed out of the open back door of our bus all through Picadilly Circus during a late night return from a tour. The Crystal Palace Brass Band triumph was wonderful, but does anyone remember the infamous “black-balling” episode at the barracks of the Northamptonshire Regiment, during which considerable quantities of black Nugget shoe polish were used to paint certain sensitive regions of several youthful anatomies. Or the very next night when a pillow fight took place, using heavy army-issue straw filled pillows. I remember it vividly, because I took a blow full in the face and was knocked unconscious briefly. The Northhamptonshires, of World War I fame, must have been glad to see us leave.
And the older guys were prone to brag about their prowess at “haystacking”. We younger ones made tentative attempts to emulate their example but I have good reason to believe that they were seldom successful. I have humbling memories of meeting a frighteningly persistent young girl (she might have been all of 14 or 15). I was selling band postcards during a short intermission at one park concert. She was very “friendly” indeed, and I can well remember my feeling of panic at wondering how I was going to escape. Fortunately, I somehow did manage to get away, and when I got back on the bandstand, found out that she had already propositioned several of the other guys!
There was a steady improvement in musicianship, our chops were getting better, and we could sense that we were developing into a first rate musical organization. There was a feeling of confidence that had previously been missing – we were now professionals – in spirit if not in actuality.
The brass players now started rehearsing in earnest for the approaching Crystal Palace Competition. I was quite devastated when Mr. D. announced the personnel he had selected for the actual performance. I was not “up.” I can remember being quite resentful about it, but later on I came to realize that Eb Spencer and Wally Reid were more dependable trombonists than I, and Arthur had made the right choice. But at the time it was a bitter pill to swallow.
It is interesting to note that later on we heard that during our band’s performance in the competition, the adjudicators, upon hearing the rich and mellow sound of our trombone section, had assumed that those passages had been played instead by the French horns. Such a substitution would not be permitted, and they had briefly considered disqualifying our band as a contestant.
We went to Ireland, and had a chilly sleep on the deck of the ferry during a night-time crossing of the Irish Sea from Holyhead to Dublin. The Irish capital was quite an experience – the old buildings, the bullet marks in the stonework of those buildings, the small boys bumming cigarettes, meeting the Mills Brothers – who were on a concert tour, the pageantry and pomp of the Royal Dublin Horse Show, the thrill of seeing the Irish Sweepstakes Drum (that was a pretty big deal in 1936 – I suppose that for today’s youth it would be a big yawn).
ABOVE: Drawing the winning ticket
Then came our stay at the working-class seaside resorts of Southport and Morecambe. I’ll never forget Arthur’s embarrassed silence as our agent, Mr. Stockwell, “Stocky,” gave us a cautionary talk on the dangers of striking up an acquaintance with “a certain type of woman” who probably came from nearby Blackpool, the noted sin center.
Scotland followed, with concerts in Edinburgh and Dunfermline, bicycle jaunts to see the Forth Bridge, bus tours to Loch Earn and Stirling Castle, and the Highlands, and much shopping for tartan, tam-o-shanters, neckties, and mufflers. So many of us suddenly discovered Scottish ancestral connections.
A group of the older boys, our fashion leaders, began wearing sporty pork-pie hats, which were very trendy at the time. This seemed to be a really “neat” thing to do, so I, being a painful copy cat, bought one too. Big mistake. A short time later my hat suddenly disappeared – big mystery – no one had seen it, although I had my suspicions. These seem to have been justified since the hat was to be returned to me several years later by one of the former “in-group,” with whom I was by then on fairly friendly terms. I called him an obscene name, we had a good laugh, and I finally got to wear my no longer fashionable hat.
I have often wondered what it must have been like, for Arthur and Lillie Delamont personally, to take on the task of leading a pack of teen-aged boys on these trips – particularly in those days when society’s standards for acceptable behavior were somewhat more restrictive than they were to be later on. It seems to have been such a terrifying responsibility, and such a lot of hard work, and yet most of the trips were relatively trouble-free. Arthur seldom showed the effects of any severe stress – I can recall only one incident on our entire trip – it may have been at the Brixton Astoria Cinema, when, in the middle of a performance, he suddenly threw down his baton and stormed off the stage. Fortunately, Gordon Delamont had the presence of mind to pick up the baton and continue conducting through the rest of the program.
After the Brixton Astoria engagement, Mr. D. allowed me to take a few days off to spend some time with my relatives, who lived nearby. I rejoined the band in time to play the night-time performance at the motorcycle races in Wembley Stadium. This was quite a thrill – to play before a crowd of more than 70,000 people. Then came the 6-day Bicycle Races at the Wembley Sports Arena, followed by the big triumph of our brasses at the Crystal Palace Competition. The excitement of that event almost eclipsed the wonder of the Crystal Palace itself – that magnificent 19th century structure of cast iron and glass.
Our tour was now rapidly coming to an end – we played one more week-long engagement at the seaside resort of Eastbourne and then all of a sudden we were at Southampton getting ready to board ship to Canada.
The return trip on the Empress of Britain was relatively uneventful. One cameo memory I have is that of Bob Trerise and I having a conversation on deck one night with Canon F.G. Scott, of Great War fame, and his presenting us with cards on which were printed the words of the John McRae poem, “In Flanders Fields.” Canon Scott was just then returning from the dedication ceremonies for the Canadian War Memorial at Vimy Ridge.
The train trip across Canada was also without major incident. There were concerts, and civic receptions. There was even swimming at Chapleau and Kenora, despite the early October chill. There was the thrill of the Kettle Valley train ride and the Myra Canyon – and on the last morning awakening to see the farm lands of the Fraser Valley out of our Pullman window, and realizing that in an hour or two we would be seeing our families again. It was over – how could you feel happy and sad at the same time?
I asked Jim if he wanted to say anything more about any of the other boys?
“Post band days, I got involved with Stu Ross very closely. He had Reliance Machine and I had my own business. I did a lot of work for him and a lot of consulting. Stu was his own person. Didn’t care who he insulted! We got along well! I had a great deal of respect for him and like wise! For years we had lunch together down on Hastings Street at the old Waldorf Hotel.”
“Did he talk much about Arthur?”
“Some, it was usually about how he helped Arthur do this or how he helped him do that, nothing critical. They were both strong personalities and probably clashed a little, friendly clashing! Stu went right up to the top of the Shriners. He always wanted me to join. Even back in thirty-five or thirty-six, Stu wasn’t adverse to telling him his opinion and he took it. The rest of us were very careful about voicing our opinion to Arthur Delamont!
1937 – A heart-stopping moment when a tire on our bus blew out on Highway 99, on route to San Francisco.
1938 – I, as a freshman engineering student, playing in the UBC band en-route to a football game at Victoria College (U Vic), being reproached by our conductor, Arthur Delamont, for being drunk.
1950 – Taking a lunch break from my job in a Winnipeg foundry to cross the tracks to the CPR Station to listen to the Vancouver Boys’ Band on their way to Europe, and Arthur trying to remember who I was.
1968 – Arthur’s first comment when I showed up for rehearsals for the 40th Anniversary concert – “I thought you were dead.”
ABOVE: c1940’s Dance Band rehearsing at the Orpheum Theatre.
Wally Reid, Bill Brealey, and Jim McCullock on trombones. Ken Almond, Bob Tipple, Alan Johnston trumpets. Ken McKinley on drums. Leo Foster, bass. Ray Lowden,