Denis Preston

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Denis Preston
Birth nameSidney Denis Prechner
Also known asSidney Denis Preston
Born(1916-11-16)16 November 1916
Stoke Newington, London, England
Died21 October 1979(1979-10-21) (aged 62)
Hove, Sussex, England
GenresJazz, skiffle, blues
Occupation(s)Record producer, critic
Years active1940-1970s
LabelsLansdowne Records

Sidney Denis Preston[1] ( Prechner, 16 November 1916 – 21 October 1979) was a British record producer, recording studio owner, radio presenter and music critic. He was particularly influential in the British jazz and associated skiffle scenes from the 1940s to the 1960s.[1]

Preston worked independently;[2] he was not contracted to a particular record label and would often risk cutting a record before pitching for a deal.[3] He has been described as "Europe's first independent record producer",[2] and as "probably the most important figure to emerge from the British jazz business".[4] Neil Ardley described him as "a rare Diaghilev like figure" who steered many of the key figures of the British jazz scene into the studio when nobody else would record them.[5]


He was born Sidney Denis Prechner on 16 November 1916 in Stoke Newington, London, the son of Louis Prechner and Sarah née Hobsbaum.[1] He changed his surname to Preston by deed poll in 1946.[6] His cousin was the historian (and jazz critic) Eric Hobsbawm.[7]

From 1940, Denis Preston was a regular presenter of shows on BBC Radio, including Radio Rhythm Club and later Radio Blackbirds, on which he championed black American jazz performers such as Duke Ellington. After the end of the Second World War, in July 1945, he organised concerts featuring black musicians such as Freddy Grant, and also edited the influential Jazz Music magazine. He visited New York in 1948 for Decca Records, and while there heard Trinidadian musicians play calypso music.[8] In January 1950, he supervised recordings made by calypso musicians Lord Kitchener and Lord Beginner at the Abbey Road Studios in London; the recordings were issued on the Parlophone label.[9][8]

Inspired by the example of Norman Granz to set up as an independent producer,[10] he supervised recordings issued on the independent Melodisc label, including Lord Kitchener's "London Is the Place for Me"; recordings by Roaring Lion; early recordings by Humphrey Lyttelton with Freddy Grant as the Grant-Lyttelton Paseo Jazz Band; and pianist Mike McKenzie.[8] He also produced recordings by pianist George Shearing and blues musicians Big Bill Broonzy and Josh White.[11] In 1952, he produced recordings in London by American singer Marie Bryant, including Sam Manning's risqué calypso "Don't Touch Me Tomato", for the Lyragon label, an offshoot of Polygon Records.[9][4]

Preston continued to edit and occasionally present World of Jazz on BBC radio. He set up Lansdowne Productions in 1953.[11] The following year, he also founded Record Supervision Ltd, a production company which licensed recordings to major labels.[4] In 1955, he accepted a licensing deal with Pye Records and produced records for Chris Barber, Acker Bilk, Alex Welsh, Frank Holder, Sandy Brown and Al Fairweather, Terry Lightfoot, and Kenny Baker.[4][12] He also produced some of Lonnie Donegan's early skiffle recordings, including "Rock Island Line", recorded in July 1954 and first released on Chris Barber's album New Orleans Joys in January 1955 before becoming a top ten hit in the UK later that year.[9][4]

In 1956, he established Lansdowne Studios (and associated label Lansdowne Records) in Holland Park, west London.[13][14] The same year he produced Humphrey Lyttelton's record "Bad Penny Blues" with the recording engineer Joe Meek.[4] When Meek left Lansdowne in 1960, he took inspiration from Preston's independent approach and expanded on this by also producing in his own recording studio.[15]

In 1958, immediately after the Notting Hill race riots, Preston was active in the anti-racism movement. With musician and critic Fred Dallas, and musicians Johnny Dankworth, Cleo Laine, Winifred Atwell, George Melly and others, he helped set up the Stars Campaign for Interracial Friendship (SCIF). The organisation linked with activist Claudia Jones to arrange several events and clubs in the area on a non-racial and anti-fascist basis.[16]

During the early 1960s, Preston worked with EMI on their Columbia label. He produced Acker Bilk's international hit "Stranger on the Shore" in 1961.[11] Preston was quoted in 1963: "I was a great admirer of those involved in traditional jazz. It was very alive and active. Colyer and Barber seemed to be ploughing a lonely furrow, united against the world.... But with every successive would-be hit, another spark has died."[17]

Preston's production branched out from traditional jazz into folk, modern jazz and guitar-based genres, working with artists such as Jack Elliot, Roger Whittaker, Wout Steenhuis, Shawn Phillips, Joe Harriott and Stan Tracey, as well as African and Indian-inspired artists Amancio D'Silva and Kofi Ghanaba.[4][18] Among his jazz production successes were Stan Tracey's "Under Milk Wood" Suite, and the Indo-Jazz Fusions albums by John Mayer and Joe Harriott.[11]

Preston died in Hove, Sussex, in 1979. His Sunday Times obituary described him as "probably the most important figure to emerge from the British jazz business".[4]


  1. ^ a b c Wilmer, Val. "Preston, (Sydney) Denis". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/75566. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ a b Reetze, Jan. "RGM Sound Ltd". Joe Meek - A Portrait. The Joe Meek Page. Retrieved 25 June 2010.
  3. ^ "BIOGRAPHY - Later recording". Retrieved 25 June 2010.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Adams, Paul. "Denis Preston and the Record Supervision story". SINGSONGPR NEWS. Sing Song Entertainment Publicity. Archived from the original on 4 October 2010. Retrieved 25 June 2010.
  5. ^ Higgins, Tony (2021). Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain, Decca CD and booklet 0600753935866
  6. ^ London Gazette, 27 August 1946, p.4315
  7. ^ Eric Hobsbawm "Diary", London Review of Books, 32:10, 27 May 2010, p.41
  8. ^ a b c John Cowley, "London is the Place: Caribbean Music in the Context of Empire 1900-60", in Paul Oliver (ed.), Black Music In Britain: Essays on the Afro Asian Contribution to Popular Music, Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1990.
  9. ^ a b c Billy Bragg, Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World, Faber & Faber, 2017, pp.125-128
  10. ^ Barry Cleveland, Joe Meek's Bold Techniques, 2001
  11. ^ a b c d Richard Morton Jack, "Denis Preston: A Smooth Operator", Galactic Ramble, 26 July 2012, incorporating material by Bob Houston, Melody Maker, 14 September 1968. Retrieved 14 April 2019
  12. ^ "Production Discography". Denis Preston. Discogs. Retrieved 25 June 2010.
  13. ^ "Pye Launches Spoken Albums". Billboard Magazine. 1 May 1961. p. 3. Retrieved 25 June 2010.
  14. ^ "Biography". Retrieved 25 June 2010.
  15. ^ Leigh, Spencer Leigh (2 June 2005). "Preview: Telstar - The Joe Meek Story, New Ambassadors Theatre, London". The Independent. Retrieved 25 June 2010.
  16. ^ Billy Bragg, Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World, pp.354-357
  17. ^ Les Tomkins, "Britain's Number One Jazz Salesman", Crescendo, February 1963, pp.10-11. Retrieved 14 April 2019
  18. ^ "Kofi Ghanaba: Ghanaian drummer and bandleader". The Times. 13 February 2009. Retrieved 25 June 2010.