Before the Beatles: the bop boys and the jive halls

The 1950s and the rise of the teenager in the vibrant post-war Medway towns is a neglected subject. The Beatles and the 1960s caused a revolution in music — but they by no means started it, as Roy Morgan recalls so vividly.

Two Gillingham dance halls were much favoured by the young stuff of the day in the 1950s: the Pav and the Paget.

The Pav was at the lower end Canterbury Street, almost opposite St Mark’s Church and the Paget was in Paget Row off Paget Street not half a mile away.

The attraction of these two venues to the young teens of the Medway towns was that they both presented, on a Saturday evening, the top big bands, now called swing bands, of the day and also the very best traditional and modern jazz groups to be found in the British Isles.

These bands played the latest and best of British dance and jazz music of the time — you could listen to it, dance to it or, more often as far as the majority of patrons were concerned, jive to it.

The Pav was the more popular of the two because it had a top-name band practically every Saturday night; the Paget’s performances were much more infrequent.

The Pav was run by a Mr Squires, who was always standing alongside the pay kiosk to make sure that all patrons were suitably dressed and otherwise presentable. He was maybe in his forties with dark, wavy hair and always very smartly, neatly dressed in a dark suit and tie.

The Paget was looked after by Reg Adams who also provided the resident band to play at the start and in the interval of the evening if there was a big name band on the programme. Reg was the drummer. I don’t know if either of these two gentlemen were involved in the ownership of the dance halls.

The resident band at the Pav was led by Brian Jenner who was, I understand, a farmer of sorts near Maidstone. He played trumpet very well and sang a bit. When he retired from the scene he was replaced by Alan Ryder who led his band on alto sax. I believe that Alan is still around and playing. He is/was a brilliant alto player in the modern jazz style.

Brian Jenner always played what he called the top 10 tunes of the day and this usually happened towards the end of the evening. These tunes were played without stop, one after the other and it was imperative that the lads had, by then, sorted out the girl most worthy of their attention especially if the question “Can I see you home?” was to be asked.

Some of the songs of the day were jazzy or up-tempo and some were dreamy. The dreamy ones were called “bum feelers”.

At 11.45 the dance ended and a fleet of double-deckers waited outside to carry patrons to the four corners of the Medway Towns and a little beyond. If you were going to see a girl home then you walked her home if she lived nearby or got onto whichever bus she needed and then walked back.

Very few of us lads had cars or motorbikes in those days. A mate and I once bussed two girls home and then had to walk back home in Strood from Tovil in Maidstone. And it was raining.

However it was normal, as far as I was concerned, living in Strood and not having chatted up a bird, to take that bus but to dismount at the Chatham station stop, one of several, and go to the pie stall which was a caravan cafe just below the station.

This was a congregation point for late-night revellers on their way home for a cup of tea or coffee but most of all for a Humphries meat pie. They were delicious.

I think the little old guy that ran the stall was named Syd. There was sometimes a disagreement between the more antagonistic or drunk customers but it was easy enough to move away from the fracas and get on with munching at your pie and sipping your tea.

All change: two nights for the price of one

It was normal for us to get a pass-out for the interval at the Pav and go to the British Queen on the opposite corner to St Mark’s Church and have a bottle of brown ale but we sometimes went to the Sunny Cafe just above the Pav on the corner of Lock Street and Canterbury Street for a cup of tea and perhaps egg and chips. Very good egg and chips at The Sunny.

There were times when both the Pav and the Paget had such great bands on the same Saturday night making it difficult for us lads to choose which one to go to. The solution was for us to split more or less 50-50 for half to the Pav and half to the Paget.

At the interval we would all meet in the British Queen with our pass-outs and swap so that we got to hear both bands. It was obviously not in the best of interests to chat up a bird in the first half if you weren’t going to be there for the second

Drainpipe trousers, with DA styling by Lance

Dress codes were specific. If you were into the modern jazz scene then you wore a suit, usually of a dark blue or grey, shirt, maybe with a button-down collar and a narrow tie with two-colour diagonal stripes.

These ties were to be found only in Woolworths and it was our practice to go there, when possible, on Saturday afternoon to see if they had a combination of colours that you hadn’t got. Trousers were “pegged” or “drainpipe” with a circumference at the turn-up usually of between 13 and 15 inches depending on choice. Suit jackets were referred to as “drape jackets”.

Shoes were preferably with toecaps and a heavy notched welt. Haircuts were “bop style duck’s arse” by the favourite barber of the in crowd, Lance Onslow. His shop was opposite St Margaret’s Banks in Rochester just along towards Star Hill from the North Foreland pub. If you wanted a haircut by Lance on a Saturday afternoon you faced a wait of maybe two hours but it was worth it to get it right.

The dress for girls in the “bop” fashion was varied but most often they wore white blouses and a short, waist-length jacket with long skirts to ankle length and flat shoes known as pumps. Hairstyles varied from pageboy to beehive.

On Sunday evenings the jazz scene with local musicians, including some off-duty Royal Marine bandsmen, moved to the Piggeries Restaurant opposite Laveys gent’s outfitters. Down a flight of stairs and you were in the back room of the restaurant which had an entrance on to Medway Street.

It was usual, before going into the Piggeries and during the half-time break, to have a half in the Sun Shades, which was the lower bar of the Sun Hotel on the corner of High Street and Medway Street. It was later the site of BBC Radio Kent.

Changing bands at the Hammersmith Palais

During the Sunday evening session we would often make arrangements, if there was nothing on at the Pav or Paget, to go to one of several dance venues to hear the bands of the day. One of the crowd was a guy named John Lytton (I think that’s how his name was spelt). He was a bus driver for the Chatham Traction company and after we had decided where we wanted to go, he would arrange for a coach and drive it to the venue. And back of course, when he used to switch off all of the lights in the coach.

We used to visit Hammersmith Palais to hear Vic Lewis and the Wimbledon Palais to hear Ken Mackintosh. We went to hear the Oscar Rabin Band at the Old Opera House in London, Ted Heath, Johnny Dankworth, Toni Anton, The Squadronaires, Harry Gold & his Pieces of Eight and other big bands and smaller jazz groups. We went to the Star Hotel Ballroom in Maidstone, to the Coronation Ballroom in Ramsgate, to Aylesford Paper Mills social club and to the Orchid Ballroom in Purley.

Most of these bands came to the Pav and Paget in any case but if there was nowt on at either then we went to wherever the music was.

I can tell you from an old diary that on Saturday 19 January 1952, Kenny Baker’s Dozen were playing at the Pav and Johnny Dankworth was at the Paget. On 14 June the Kirchin Brothers band were at the Pav. The 1 November saw The Ralph Sharon Quintet at the Pav. He subsequently became Tony Bennett’s long-time musical director.

From the same 1952 diary I can see that Kit Tomkins was living at 5 Scott’s Terrace, Chatham, and Naomi Baker was at 70 Darnley Road, Strood…

BACK TO HOME PAGE
Rochester & Strood
Chatham
Gillingham
Medway villages
Medway at war
Crimes that Shocked the Medway Towns

24 Responses to Before the Beatles: the bop boys and the jive halls

  1. Grales12 says:

    Roy Morgan mentions the pie stall. It was run by Mr and Mrs West for years and was a great place to meet after a good night out. It stayed open until two in the morning. The sausage rolls and a mug of Bovril worked wonders for the walk home.

  2. Ian Underwood says:

    Very interesting reading. Shows just how alive Kent really is.

  3. John 'George' Forrester says:

    I served an apprenticeship in the yard from 1951-56. I enjoyed your article — it was as exactly as I remember my teenage years in Gillingham. A couple of other worthwhile venues: Chatham Town Hall (the Danny Kent band) and up on the top road there was the Drill Hall (the Al Worth band). Interval time at the Pav was spend at the Anglo-Saxon pub in Paget Street.

  4. Olwen O'Dowd says:

    I am pleased to read above article. In Twydall Library on Wednesday older residents meet for a chat and a cup of tea. Today we were discussing the Pav and Paget Street. I started going to Pav in 1960 when I was 18 after going to Paget Street to learn to dance.
    Alan Ryder was leading the band by then and they had a lady singer. Of course by then rock’n’roll was popular. We were discussing the buses to take you home but I lived in Gillingham but many a Saturday night I walked up Canterbury Street to home with aching feet and no shoes on. I met my husband John who was Irish (he was working on the M2) at Pav and he was an excellent dancer. All the lads were turned out smartly and well behaved.
    I will show the article to the people at Twydall library.

    • roy morgan again. says:

      Pleased to hear that you enjoyed the article, Olwen. Shame though that you had to put up with that dreadful rock stuff. If we hadn’t been smart and behaved we wouldn’t have been allowed into the places. Alan Ryder was a brilliant alto player. I think that his singer was a friend of mine named Loretta Young. She lived in Strood and later sung with the Eddy James Quartet at Greenways on the A20 and other places.

  5. barbara esposito says:

    I wonder if anyone knows anything about Herbert Arthur Smith (1905-1968). He had a factory making neon signs,and another called (I think) Lustalol, or similar. He used to have a lot to do with dances in the Chatham/Gillingham area.
    I know he was at The Central Hotel, Gillingham. My mother Beryl Smith used to do tap dancing with him when she was young. She’s 85 now and lives in Australia. Also, he was something to do with The Reg Adams Band.
    All her photographs were destroyed and I am trying to find out if anyone has any pictures etc. During the war he worked at Short Brothers, as did Beryl. She was a hairdresser in Gillingham. Does anyone remember her?

  6. Karan says:

    I was fascinated reading about the Pav and Paget where I went to learn ballroom in the mid 1970s. Does anyone know what happened to Len and Ina Wall who owned it? I believe they lived in Warren Road, Blue Bell Hill area and also had a bingo hall in Paget Row.

  7. John 'George' Forrester says:

    The names Len and Ina ring a bell… I think Len formerly owned a taxi business in Gillingham, while Ina used to help out John and Wynne who had the Anglo Saxon pub… Ina wasn’t a local girl and I seem to think they returned up north (Tyneside).

  8. Marjorie Roper-Marshall says:

    I found your website by accident – so glad I did, it took me back to 1954 when I was 16 and just started going to the Pavilion on a Saturday night, my dad was not happy “going to a dancehall” as he put it, I used to look forward so much to going. I remember Brian Jenner and the top 10, when you dreaded who you got for this one. I also remember going to the Pie stall by Chatham Station with my 1st real boyfriend. I can remember a girl called Shirley Buckle who sang at the pav now and again. I also went to dances at the Drill Hall on the top road as we called it then,. This was interesting as you then had the barracks up Darland Avenue. I now live in Bristol.
    Don’t go back to Gillingham very much – used to live in Longfellow Road, near the hospital – so changed now. Nice to read you website – thankyou.

  9. Joan medhurst says:

    My husband says it was Reggie Keams who ran the Paget Halls and his son also of same name played the drums in the band. My husband’s family ran the Napier Arms in Britton street where the dancers from Paget Halls used to come for drinks during the interval before the Paget Halls had a bar licence.

    • Derek Hatton says:

      Reg Keame used to have a second-hand clothes shop near the end of Green Street/Gardiner Street in Canterbury Street, Gillingham. He also used to look for local bands to play at whichever venue he had on his books. Some were pubs some were small clubs and were mainly for bithdays/weddings/just entertainment. Most gigs were reasonably paid and I presume Reg received an agent bookings fee. Couple of bands I remember were Dougals Playmates and J Unity.

  10. Joan medhurst says:

    Spent many good times there. Happy days.

  11. Lisa Jarvis says:

    Hi,
    Does anyone have any old 1950′s photo’s of the Pavilion in Gillingham?
    Its my mothers funeral on Wednesdy 13th January 2016

    and I would love to include some pics of her old dance haunt.. also ‘The Strand’ Outdoor pool in Gillingham

    Many thanks,
    Lisa.

  12. Lisa Jarvis says:

    By the way my mothers name was Lilian Bradley, one of 6 sisters: Mabel, Joan, Iris, Sybil, Pamela, two brothers: Bill and Roy ( who died in WW2) Girls often nicknamed the ‘Bragging Bradleys’ – they were all good looking! :0) Lived in Pier Road, Gillingham.

    She was 87 when she passed…

  13. geoff erwin says:

    I remember going to the pav in the Sixties. I had a ford zodiac and had great joy showing off by parking outside. so many years ago but life was much more fun then

  14. Lester Dinnie says:

    I was in a schoolboy band called The Dominators. We played as support act to Carter Lewis and the Southerners at the Paget, in 1962, I think and we were as awful as they were good.
    We did get better and had one particularly good gig at the Rochester Corn Exchange along with Dave Champion and the Strangers.
    Happy days !!

  15. nikki pacquette says:

    Hello
    I am trying to put together a photo book for my mum and dad’s 50th wedding anniversary and would like to find some photos of the PAV where they used to go dancing. Can you direct me as to where I may be able to find some . Ive tried searching google but nothing appears .. .Any ideas … the library perhaps?

    • Lisa says:

      Message for Nikki Pacquette,

      Did you have any success in finding any pictures of the Pav? My mum used to go there alot in her youth with her sisters and would appreciate it if you found anything in your search.

      Kind regards,

      Mrs Lisa Jarvis

  16. Anthony Wade says:

    I notice you never mentioned my father Ray Wade who was responsible for bringing Kenny Baker to the Pav in 1952. He also brought Johnny Dankworth and had Ronnie Verrell live with us.

    He also got Ronnie Scott with Ted Heath Orchestra – and was responsible for booking the Beatles in Chatham in 1963 – I remember helping Ringo set his drums up for my dad – and retrieving John Lennon’s stolen guitar.

    I saw my father shouting at Jerry Lee Lewis for setting fire (literally) to the piano on stage. He made Jerry pay up for that. These were my fondest memories… my father was responsible for getting Kenny Baker’s first job with Ted Heath – and also introduced Matt Monro to Ted.

    Just for the record – The Ray Wade Showband was the most popular band of that era in the Medway towns. Great memories.

    Anthony, Ray’s son.

    • Rita says:

      What great memories we have of your dad, Ray. I met my husband at the 2Rs which was run by Ray Wade and Ronnie Vaughan above the Piggeries in Chatham. In his latter years he was Father Christmas for my Travel Agency during an exhibition. Rita Arnold new Williams

  17. Jane blackwood says:

    I have just found this site when researching to find my dad’s swing band the Danny Kent band … he played the tenor saxophone and clarinet. He left the band in about 1950. He is sitting with me now aged 90 and just loving this experience.

    His name is Syd Edwards he lived in White Road, Chatham.

    We would love to hear of anymore information of the band etc.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>