British dance band

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British dance band leader Jack Hylton, c. 1930

British dance band is a genre of popular jazz and dance music that developed in British dance halls and hotel ballrooms during the 1920s and 1930s, often called a Golden Age of British music, prior to the Second World War.[1]

Thousands of miles away from the origins of jazz in the United States, British dance bands of this era typically played melodic, good-time music that had jazz and big band influences but also maintained a peculiarly British sense of rhythm and style which came from the music hall tradition. Often comedians of the day or music hall personalities would sing novelty recordings backed by well-known British dance band leaders. Some of the British dance band leaders and musicians went on to fame in the United States in the swing era.[2]

Thanks to Britain's continuing ballroom dancing tradition and its recording copyright laws, British dance music of the pre-swing era still attracts a modest audience, which American dance music of the same period does not.

Notable band leaders[edit]

Famous British dance band leaders and musicians included (see also List of British dance band leaders for a more comprehensive list):[1]

Notable musicians[edit]

Notable musicians who performed with British dance bands included:

Notable vocalists[edit]

Many popular singers rose to fame as vocalists on recordings by the British dance bands. They are not always attributed on the record label, except for the description "with vocal refrain", but an experienced listener can usually identify the voices of these otherwise anonymous singers. Famous British dance band vocalists included:

British service dance bands[edit]

The Squadronaires are a Royal Air Force band which became the best known of the British service dance bands during the Second World War, with hits like "There's Something in the Air" and "South Rampart Street Parade". They played at dances and concerts for service personnel, broadcast on the BBC and recorded on the Decca label. Many of the members formerly played as side men in Bert Ambrose’s band, and they continued to be popular after the war under the leadership of Ronnie Aldrich. Other British service dance bands included the Blue Mariners, the Blue Rockets and the Skyrockets.[1]

Notable venues[edit]

Cafés, clubs, hotels and restaurants in London noted for British dance band music during the Golden Age included:[3][4]

In popular culture[edit]

  • The 1935 British musical comedy film She Shall Have Music, featured Jack Hylton as himself in a speaking role, and his orchestra.
  • The 1937 British musical comedy film Calling All Stars featured Bert Ambrose, Carroll Gibbons and Evelyn Dall.[6]
  • The 1938 British musical comedy film Kicking the Moon Around featured Bert Ambrose and Evelyn Dall.[7]
  • The BBC Radio programme Dance Band Days ran from 1969 to 1995 with a playlist of British dance band music. It was presented by Alan Dell, and subsequently by Malcolm Laycock. The programme was later transferred to Sunday Night at 10, until the British dance band content was dropped by the BBC in 2008.[8]
  • The BBC Radio programme Thanks For The Memory, presented by Hubert Gregg, regularly featured British dance band music, and ran for 35 years until his death in 2004.
  • The English television dramatist Dennis Potter was responsible for repopularizing music from the British dance band era in several of his works, with his actors miming period songs in Pennies From Heaven (1978) and The Singing Detective (1986).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Ades, David; Bickerdyke, Percy; Holmes, Eric (July 1999). This England's Book of British Dance Bands. Cheltenham: This England Books. pp. 86–89. ISBN 0-906324-25-4.
  2. ^ Sid Colin, And the Bands Played On, Elm Tree Books, 1977, ISBN 0-241-10448-3
  3. ^ "Memory Lane Events". Memory Lane magazine. Archived from the original on 28 May 2012. Retrieved 26 April 2012.
  4. ^ "London Dance Places -". Mike Thomas. Retrieved 30 April 2012.
  5. ^ "Bag O'Nails Club Heritage". Bag O'Nails. Archived from the original on 16 March 2017. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
  6. ^ "Calling All Stars (1937)". IMDb. Retrieved 12 May 2012.
  7. ^ "The Playboy (1938)". IMDb. Retrieved 12 May 2012.
  8. ^ "Malcolm Laycock: Broadcaster who parted company with the BBC in a row over the age of Radio 2's target audience". The Independent. London. 11 November 2009. Retrieved 28 April 2012.

Further reading[edit]

  • James Nott, Going to the Palais: a social and cultural history of dancing and dance halls in Britain, 1918-1960 (OUP, 2015)
  • James Nott, Music for the People: Popular Music and Dance in interwar Britain(OUP, 2002)
  • Abra, Allison. Review of "Going to the palais: a social and cultural history of dancing and dance halls in Britain, 1918–1960." Contemporary British History (Sep 2016) 30#3 pp 432–433.
  • White, Mark. The Observer's Book of Big Bands: Describing American, British, and European Big Bands, Their Music and Their Musicians [and their vocalists], in The Observer's Series, no. 77. London: F. Warne, 1978. ISBN 0-7232-1589-8.

External links[edit]