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…