ABOVE: The Winter Gardens in Blackpool
The earliest association with Ted Heath and members of the Kits Band came in 1936 in a Selmer sales office in London, England. The Ambrose band was the hottest band in the land. Ted Heath played trombone for the band. A few of the boys were in the Selmer sales office in London and Ted Heath was there trying out a trombone. Dal Richards went up to him and said, “Mr.Heath would you play something for us?” Heath replied, “Oh no, I’m not a solo man, I’m just a section man.” And he kept trying his trombone. That was before he had his own band.
In 1949 Art Tusvik joined the Kits Band. His father was a fisherman and he had a particularly good catch so he bought Art a brand new trumpet. Art traded it in for a Conn ‘Constellation’ like Bobby Pratt played (lead trumpet in the Ted Heath Orchestra). Arthur hated him because he had a brand new horn. He used to hit him on the back of the head with his horn. The boys had to restrain Art because he was going to rap him back. They had a sort of love hate relationship over the years. Art was in the band from 1949 through 1958 and went on three of the best trips the band ever made to England.
On September 11, 1950 the boys were again on tour in England and had just returned to London where they were billeted at Golders Green. After lunch, they left for the Harringay Arena Horse Show. Back in London after dinner a bunch of them went to hear the Ted Heath orchestra playing at the Empire Theatre in Hackney, a London suburb. The boys often ran into the Ted Heath Orchestra while on tour.
On the 53 tour of England the boys saw the Ted Heath Band in Blackpool. The boys always played the Palace when they were in Blackpool.
ABOVE: The Palace Theatre, Blackpool
In 53 the boys got to know Jack Parnell, the British Stan Kenton (drummer with the Heath band) at the Winter Gardens Ballroom. After playing their twice nightly show at the Palace the boys would go down to see the Heath Orchestra at the Winter Gardens. The boys had a larger audience at the Palace than the Ted Heath Orchestra did at the Winter Gardens and the same was true when Frank Sinatra came to town. The boys often hung out backstage with the musicians at the Winter Gardens including Phil Siemens and Jack Parnell. When the show at the Winter Gardens was over they would all go down to an all-night fish & chip joint and gab for what seemed like hours. After hearing and seeing the life style of a professional musician, Ron Wood decided to become a banker.
On the 1955 tour this is when the boys really got in close with the members of the Ted Heath Orchestra. When the boys arrived in Liverpool they immediately headed to Blackpool where they were booked for two weeks at the Palace Theatre. Each night after they were through the boys would go up to the Winter Gardens to hear the Ted Heath Orchestra play. The members of the Heath orchestra kind of adopted the boys and they had an open invitation to visit them back stage anytime they wanted.
Blackpool was England’s Coney Island in the fifties. It was a big amusement park with bands playing, dancing and lots of nightlife.
Art Tusvik heard Bobby Pratt play for the fist time at the Winter Gardens on the 1955 trip. He couldn’t believe his ears. What a sound! The Ted Heath Band played dances at the Winter Gardens. One marathon dance they played was six hours long. Bobby’s sound was remarkable. At the end of the dance he was still playing screamers. Whenever they recorded they used one mike in each section. They had to put Bobby five feet behind the rest of the guys. Jimmy Coombes sat in front of him. They would say to Bobby, “Take it easy Bobby. You don’t have to work so hard.” Bobby would just laugh and say, “Oh let’s have some fun!”
Henry McKenzie was Ted Heath’s top clarinet player. He wanted to trade one of the boys Earl Hobson, his Boosey & Hawkes for Earl’s Buffet. Earl was afraid he would have problems at customs or he would have done it. They met Johnny Dankworth there as well!
Donny Clarke remembers running down to the Winter Gardens to hear the Ted Heath Orchestra on the 55 trip as well. The following year the Heath band came to Vancouver on an exchange tour with Duke Ellington. Donny got tickets and came over to Vancouver with some of his buddies. It was fantastic!
On the 58 trip several of the boys continued to renew their relationship with members of the Ted Heath Orchestra. In London the boys went to the Hammersmith Palais a ballroom to hear the Ted Heath Orchestra. Art Tusvik happened to see this girl run out onto the dance floor when the band was playing. He liked what he saw. Her name was Kay and she was the daughter of Jimmy Coombes, Ted Heath’s bass trombone player. Art had introduced himself to Jimmy on the 1955 tour in Blackpool. After the 58 tour was over Art went back to England in 1959 where he and Kay were married. He stayed in England through 1963 playing in the clubs and where ever he could find work. He never did play in Ted Heath’s band but he sure knew all the players. Art played a Xmas Show one year with David Whitfield (Cara Mia). It was called David Whitfield on ice and marked the end of his career. Art would say Ted was a quiet fellow. But you didn’t want him to stand in front of you. Then he was like a death ray. Ted was the biggest thing in Europe in those days!
ABOVE: The Ted Heath Orchestra
In the sixties the boys, of which I was one, traveled all over England, Scotland and Wales by bus. Our connection to the Ted Heath Orchestra was we used to listen to them on the buses muzak. We listened to a lot of England’s big bands as we traveled the country roads and towns of the Old Country. None of us of course knew that those who came before us actually heard the Ted Heath Orchestra in person let alone knew they had become friends with a lot of their members and that one even married the daughter of Ted Heath’s bass trombone player Jimmy Coombes. I am not surprised that our boys especially those on the ’55 trip got close to members of his orchestra. Some of the best players in the Kits Band were on those trips: Arnie Chycoski who became the lead trumpet with the Boss Brass for 30 years. Donny Clarke who was first call trumpet in Vancouver’s professional music scene for 20 years. Earl Hobson who went on to become a band director and then a District Music Supervisor in Burnaby. Dennis Tupman who became a band director and the longest serving District Music Supervisor in the Vancouver School District. Ted Lazenby the first music graduate of the new UBC Music school in 1962 and who went on to play 1st trombone in the Berlin Philharmonic under Herbert van Karajan. Peter Erwin who became the Director of the 15th Field Regiment band in Vancouver.There were more who went on to a wonderful career in music such as Dick McManus who taught band at Burnaby Central for many years.