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Manx Musical Worthies

Harold Moorhouse

by Maurice Powell

‘His dance music brought joy and love to many ‘‘In the Mood’’ ’*

Born 1907; died 2002

Father: James Moorhouse, born c. 1879

Mother: Emily, born c. 1879

Wife: Harriett Hart, born c. 1917; died c. 2008

Brother: Frank, born c. 1905; died c 2007

Daughter: Victoria (Vicki), born 1940

Son: Christopher, born 1953

More than any other local dance band leader, Harold Moorhouse, who for decades kept the dance music going in Douglas and elsewhere on the island throughout the seasons, and was particularly associated with the Palais de Danse, the Palace Ballroom, the Villa Marina and as the resident band leader at the Balqueen Hydro in Port St. Mary, fully merits his place in my selection of Manx Musical Worthies.

* From the plaque on a commemorative seat in the Villa Marina Gardens.

Harold Moorhouse was born at 43, Albert Street, Hollinwood, in the Parish of Chadderton, Oldham, Lancashire, a district largely inhabited by workers from Oldham’s cotton mills and the Oak and Bower collieries and bordered by the Rochdale canal and the Lancashire and Yorkshire railway. His father, born in Manchester, was at one time corporation tramways inspector. The family, consisting of Harold, his widowed father and brother Frank, moved to the Isle of Man in 1915*, and resided in Church Road, Douglas, near St. Thomas’ Church, and before long James Moorhouse opened a butchers and greengrocery store in York Road. For a time after he left school at the age of fourteen Harold worked in a bakery and chocolate shop on Prospect Hill, eventually taking over the family business with his brother Frank.* We learn nothing about his musical training, except that he sang in St. George’s Church choir until his voice broke, and early on became interested in jazz and became a largely self-taught drummer. According to Frieda Standen,* his pianist for many years, Harold, together with his brother Frank and Donald Ashton, violinist and vocalist, played in a small band for the Sunday concerts at the Groudle Glen Pavilion as early as the 1920s when the resort was open all day for open-air dancing. Ketèlbey’s In a Monastery Garden was a favourite piece, with Harold ‘doing the bird noises’.*

* An obituary of Harold Moorhouse, June 2002, states that the family moved to the Island when he was eight years old.  Harold’s daughter Vicki Hipkin believes that the family may have moved earlier, around 1911, which in view of the difficulties in travelling to the Island during the first part of World War I, seems likely.

* J. F. and H. Moorhouse, 1-3 York Road, Douglas, was a well-established and popular ‘master butcher’ until the 1970s.

* See Maurice Powell, Frieda Standen in Manx Musical Worthies, manxmusic.com

* See Trivial Tales of Music and Mann by Frieda Standen, Peel, Trafalgar Press, 1990.

It was the age when there was ‘dancing, dancing everywhere’, and when ‘jazz had spread its tentacles to practically every hole and corner of our little island’* Groudle and Laxey Glens, Glen Helen, Rushen Abbey and a host of other open-air venues resounded to the sound of popular local syncopated bands such as Tom Barrowclough’s Havana Syncopators at the Hydro Hotel Port Erin. The Island was ‘a dancers paradise’ and many considered the local syncopated bands superior to anything heard during the recent summer seasons. ‘Where in the whole universe are the delights of dancing made so alluring and so appealing . . . as in our own little island?’*

*  Isle of Man Examiner, 10.07.1925.

* Frieda Standen ibid

Harold formed his own band in 1927,* and in 1929 commenced a forty-five year residency as the summer season band at the Balqueen Hydro in Port St. Mary. The first reference of Harold in the local newspapers - the Mona’s Herald of 4th October, 1932 - has no connection with music, but refers to the newly-formed Stanley Players production of Aloma, an idyll of the South Seas at the Gaiety Theatre, in which he is listed amongst the lesser roles in an ‘extremely promising cast’. Perhaps he directed the Hawaiian Band which performed ‘very effectively’ throughout he play. Surviving photographs show that Harold’s band consisted of four players: a pianist, a saxophonist doubling on clarinet, a trumpet player and Harold on the drums.

* The Balqueen Hydro, originally Ballaqueeney Hydro and later the Bayqueen Hydro, dominated the skyline above Chapel Beach in Port St. Mary, and promoted itself as a sophisticated, family orientated resort set in an old-world fishing village. It boasted two lifts and prided itself on using fresh produce from its own farm. No alcohol was served. The hotel organised many events and excursions for the visitors including dances, cycle excursions to Rushen Abbey and Laxey, walks, fancy dress dances, bridge sessions, cricket matches on the beach and tennis tournaments. Harold may also have provided dance music at the Perwick Bay Hotel at this period.

A master butcher by day, a popular bandleader by night.

In 1935 Harold formed the band with which he is most associated, the New Havana Band,* which soon began to win ‘golden opinions’ whenever they played, and became the popular resident band at the Palais de Danse for nearly two decades. One of the band’s first engagements was to provide the dance music for the Castletown Ladies Golf Club annual dance at the Oddfellows’ Hall, said to be a successful evening ‘with a very large attendance’. In April 1937 the Palais de Danse mounted a Grand Benefit Dance for Harold and his Havana Band ‘for all those who have throughout the winter spent many enjoyable hours dancing to the first-rate music of this versatile band’.  One surviving photograph of the Havana Band after the war reveal a ‘combo’ consisting of seven players: two saxophones (one doubling on the clarinet), trumpet, trombone, double bass, drums and piano, plus Harold conducting.

* The first members of the band were Freda Kelly (later Frieda Standen), piano; Johnny Loughlin and Bobbie Quayle, saxophones; Alf Smith, trumpet and Harold Moorhouse, drums.  Later, when Harold conducted the band, his brother Frank played the drums.

On 10th May, 1938, Harold Moorhouse and Harriet Hart were married at St. George’s Church, Douglas, the day of her twenty-first birthday.* Harriett was a petite, talented dancer, dance teacher (an assistant at Miss Doris Lowthian’s Dancing School) and a former Beauty Queen, the winner of the first Isle of Man Examiner beauty contest at Villa Marina in 1936. She was also the producer of many local entertainments and shows - such as the 1st Douglas Scouts Raise a Cheer at the Gaiety Theatre in 1953 - in aid of local charities, and a highly regarded as a teacher of flower arranging. Harold’s brother Frank was best man; the reception for sixty guests was held at the Sefton Hotel, and the honeymoon in North Wales, after which the couple set up home at ‘Tarney Kayre’, Sandringham Drive, Onchan. According to Frieda Standen, ‘Harriett was, without doubt, one of the most talented (ballet) dancers the Island has produced, and both she and Harold had the liveliest and loveliest sense of humour’.

* See wedding photograph in the Isle of Man Examiner, 13.05.1938.

World War II

The summer of 1939 was shaping up to be a ‘bumper’ one until the outbreak of war, when, as in 1914, the season ended abruptly and the holiday makers, the bands and the variety stars urgently headed back to the UK. The local bands kept busy, though, providing dance music for local residents, for the servicemen stationed here and eventually for Manx servicemen returning home on leave. By 1940 Harold and his Havana Band were attracting more dancers than ever to the Palais de Danse, and in common with other local bands were able to keep going with service musicians playing with them when required. With Palace and Derby Castle Ballrooms closed, the Villa Marina, with Steve Lahmer’s Swing Star Band and Sunday concerts featuring the Royal Marines Band and Douglas Town Band in the Royal Hall, and the Palais de Danse fully came into their own as Douglas’ main venues for dancing, whist drives - such as the telephone exchange ‘Hello’ Girls annual whist drive and dance - and charity events, such as the Douglas High School Old Boys Association Dance in aid of the local newspapers’ Cigarette Fund for servicemen.

Harold and Harriett’s daughter Victoria, known as Vicki, was born in 1940,* and the following year Harold joined the RAF.* Sam Acres and his band took over at the Palais de Danse for a time, but in February 1942 a ‘Night of Nights’ at the Crescent Hotel featured Aircraftman Moorhouse conducting an RAF band. There were further similar engagements that year, and in August 1943, Harold Moorhouse and the Aeronautics Dance Band from Jurby appeared at the Villa Marina. In November Harold and the band were back at the Palais d Danse played for the local newspaper’s Cigarette Fund Dance, and again for the December Christmas Parcels Dance with Harold himself appearing as Santa Claus. A winter pantomime, Babes in the Wood was given at RAF Jurby, conducted by George Broad with Harold leading the band.

* Vicki began her career as a Primary School Teacher in London’s East End, and on the Island. She and her husband Paul Hipkin later ran Phink Engineering.

* Harold Moorhouse spent five years with the RAF, and for two of those years was stationed at RAF Jurby. He was in France two days after the D-Day landings and organised concert parties British Liberation Army (BLA) or the British Army on the Rhine from 1945, in Belgium, where he was honoured by the town of Blankenberghe, and later Hamburg.

Throughout the war the Palais de Danse had succeeded in maintaining a programme of nightly dances, Saturday Tea Dances and Service Balls, such as the Military ‘leap year’ Dance in 1944 attended by one thousand people dancing to Harold’s Augmented Havana Band, an event which also featured a number of novelty dance displays. Later that year an entertainment entitled ‘Memories’ was staged and presented with great success at the Ramsey Plaza by the Mrs Harriet Moorhouse School of Dancing, featuring pupils from the school and the Aeronautics Band.*

* The Aeronautics Band is mentioned several times in the local newspapers playing at various local functions, but Harold Moorhouse is not always mentioned, his wartime his duties doubtless preventing him from participating in every event.

In March 1946 Harold and his Havana Band - known briefly as the Demobbed Musician’s Band - entered into a contract with the Palace & Derby Castle Company to provide dance music at the Palais de Danse until Whit-week with Morning Coffee Dances, afternoon dances during which refreshments were served, and in the evenings from 7.30 until 10.30. In April the Havana Band joined forces with the Royal Naval School of Music Marine Band in a non-stop programme of dance music which lasted until mid-night in aid of the Bolton Wanderer’s Football Disaster Fund.* Once the summer season started, Ralph Fidler and his Strict Tempo Band and Billy Page’s London Dance Band took over at the Palais de Danse until September, when Harold and his Havana Band returned for the winter.

* This ‘forgotten football tragedy’ occurred on 9th March 1946, at the Wanderer’s ground Burnden Park when a crush resulted in the deaths of thirty-three people with hundreds injured.

This was quickly established as the annual pattern at the Palais de Danse for Harold and his band.* In 1947 the New Year brought with it ‘Old Tyme Nights’, ‘Carnival Nights’, Saturday ‘Whooppee Nights’, Sunday concerts, the Manx Dance Championships in May assisted by the Havana Band and Al Boyd’s Jive Five, and in April, Princess Elizabeth’s 21st Birthday Dance during which the new Royal Minuet was demonstrated. Between June and September Harry Roy’s Tiger Ragamuffins, Eddie Edwards and His Music and Harry Roy took over until Harold returned in September from his summer residency at the Balqueen Hyro, Port. St. Mary.

* According to recollections of Allan Wilcocks and Dougie Davidson, the band at this period featured Frank Moorhouse on the drums, Bob Whittle, clarinet and saxophone with Harold musical director. All worked in the family business.

In 1949 it was Joe Kirkham who occasionally relieved Harold’s band at the Palais de Danse until Vincent Ladbrooke and his band became resident there from July until September. The following season Stanley Broughton and his orchestra provided the dance music during the summer, including the Sunday concerts, occasionally assisted by stars from the Derby Castle shows, until Harold returned in September.

The Palais de Danse closed its doors in 1951, the consequence of a serious fire at Woolworth’s opposite, and did not e-open again until 1954. For the time being the popular dance hall was used as a storage facility for the department store. Harold did not appear at any of the other main entertainment venues in 1951, but in 1952 and 1953 the band was engaged by the Villa Marina to provide music for dancing when it opened for the season in May, after which Jack Leon and his band returned for their second season, with Harold returning in September for the final two weeks of the season. Harold and his eight-piece ‘relief’ band provided the music for the Grand Opening Night at the Villa in 1954 and stayed until Joe Loss returned for the summer, retuning once again in September for the tail end of the season.

Some of the visiting summer season band leaders were frequent visitors to the Moorhouse home at number 1 Waverley Terrace, and Harold’s daughter Vicki recalls several lively after show fish and chip suppers during this period in the company of Joe Loss, Ronnie Aldrich, Cyril Stapleton or Max Jaffa and the Palm Court Trio.* 

* Harold and Harriett’s son Christopher was born in 1953; he later became a top executive in the oil industry with British Petroleum.

The summer season at the Villa Marina in 1955 commenced on 28th May with Harold in residence until 11th June.  No one knew it at the time, but this was to be Joe Loss’s last season in Douglas for he was not engaged for the 1956 season.* Later that month Harold headed south for the summer as usual for his 28th season to the Balqueen Hydro and Perwick Bay Hotel, and occasionally played for the  twice weekly dances at the Marine Hall, Peel. He was back at the Villa again in November for the Grand Old Time Ball.

* See Maurice Powell, Summer Entertainment on the Isle of Man, The Joe Loss years, Part II 1951-55, manxmusic.com

In 1956 Harold opened the season at the Villa Marina on 19th May and stayed until 2nd June when Ivy Benson and her all-girl band took over.* In August Harold’s ‘Old Time Orchestra’ appeared with Jim ‘Jim the Jazz’ Caine, the Manx jazz pianist, radio presenter and raconteur, at a concert to raise money for the victims of the Hungarian Uprising. In November he was back at the Palais de Danse for the Isle of Man Dance Teacher’s Association Ball, and at the Villa Marina in December for old time dancing at the King George’s Fund for Sailors Ball. Harold and his band once again opened the 1957 season at the Villa Marina during the last week of May.

* Harold’s daughter recalls that Ivy Benson was petite, very slim (even skinny) bundle of energy, but was not a frequent visitor to the family home, presumably because her main pre-occupation at the end of each busy day was to ensure that her young girls were safely tucked up securely in their accommodation.

‘Old time dances for all tastes, a rare thing in Douglas these days’

A further delving into Harold’s engagements for the year paints a picture of a much-sought-after and popular bandleader at the height of his popularity. In addition to running the family business, that year alone he fulfilled dozens of engagements. Here are just some of the most prestigious ones mentioned in the local newspapers:

The Barrovian Society Annual Dance at the Castle Mona Hotel in January, with a programme of old time, new and party dances, with the ‘festive spirit still in full swing’; The King George’s Fund for Sailors Grand Old Time Ball and Whist Drive at the Villa Marina in February; also that month a Valentine Dance for the Isle of Man branch of the Royal Air Forces Association, with three hours of dancing to Harold’s band; the Peveril Club Dinner and Dance; the Manx Viking Wheelers Cycling Club Dinner Dance at the Empress Hotel; in July, the Manx Rose Society 4th Annual Rose Show at the Villa Marina, with a ‘Swan Lake’ themed display created by Mrs H. Moorhouse; in September, the Territorial Army Golden Jubilee Supper Dance, with a scene evoking a French night club with band dressed as matelots; the Airport Social Club Dinner and Dance at the restaurant; the Lancastrian Society Buffet Dance and Whist Drive at the Sefton Hotel when spot prizes were awarded. Finally, ‘a wonderful teenage party’ hosted by Lt. Colonel and Mrs Riggall at Great Meadow, Malew, attended by eighty people including many young people home from school and college. There were novelty dances such as ‘Crossing the River’ and ‘Statues’ and the ever-popular spot dances. A final Conga was followed by cups of soup and ‘home’ at 12.30am.

Harold and his band were engaged for the early season at the Villa Marina from mid-May 1959, and thereafter was busy most months of the year with other regular local engagements. In May the following year Harold and his band were in action for the selection of Miss Isle of Man 1960 (twenty-three-year-old Dorothy Shimmin of Douglas was the winner) at which comedian Bernard Bresslaw and his wife were among the judges. In May the band played for dancing at the Malew Parish Church Garden Fête at Rushen Abbey, and in June they were in the north at the Andreas Sheep Shearing Competition in the New Hall, and in Peel for the selection of Peel’s Lifeboat Queen.

A happy family occasion took place on 3rd January 1961 when Harold and Harriett organised a barn dance for their daughter Vicki at Onchan Church Hall featuring ‘lantern, hay and hill-billy music’. One event was staged in April partly to provide entertainment for early season visitors, the Douglass Circle Annual Old-Time Dance at the Villa Marina in aid of King George’s Fund for Sailors. On Easter Monday there was a Hunt Ball organised by the Isle of Man Drag Hunt and Southern Hunter Trial Committee at the Derbyhaven Hotel when Harold’s band played dance music until 1.00am.

‘We thank you so dear Harold . . .’*.

Harold Moorhouse retired in 1973, the last of the Island’s ‘big’ bandsmen. In an interview in Manx Life in May 1975 he reflected: ‘I had hopes that there could be a big band revival, but now I am not so sure’. He was right about that. His retirement from the local dance scene marked the end of an era, just as the tragic destruction by fire of Summerland that year proved to be a nail in the coffin of the Manx tourist industry.

Harold enjoyed a long retirement in Tromode indulging in his favourite pastimes, fishing, painting and playing his electric organ. He had lived through an extraordinary period of rapid changes in social and musical history. He was born at the height of the Music Hall era, witnessed the coming of the Jazz age, the rise of radio, talking pictures and early television. He lived through two world wars and served during the second of them. His band played on during the resurgence of television after the war; the growth of continental holidays for all; the slow decline of the dance bands and the resorts that supported them; the coming of Rock ‘n’ Roll, the Beatles era and into our era of personal computers and mobile phones. Throughout it all, his broad, engaging smile, twinkling eyes, friendly and jovial manner and great sense of fun endeared him to all, whether they knew him personally, or crowded into the Palais de Danse to dance to his Havana Band.

* A line from an ‘Ode to Harold’, written for him upon his retirement from the family business. The writer - possibly Frieda Standen - suggested that it should be treated ‘as a burnt offering . . .’ The Ode ends with: ‘We hope you’ll be so happy, and that we’re sure you will. With your lady dear beside you, and a long life to fullfil’.

Acknowledgments

I am indebted to Vicki Hipkin – the daughter of Harold Moorhouse – for her delightful memories of her father, his band, and the exciting decades after the war which she recalls as being ‘a particularly happy time on the Island’, and for the loan of several family photographs and other memorabilia.

I am also grateful to Allan Wilcocks and Dougie Davidson for their recollections of Harold Moorhouse and the local music scene in the 1950s and ‘60s.

By Maurice Powell 2021

 

 

 

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