Memories of the famed Kingsdale School Big Band

Arthur Dodd writes:

The information that the new music school at Kingsdale Foundation School was completed immediately invoked memories of the famed Kingsdale School Big Bad and the excitement and musical pleasure their discovery gave me, incredibly thirty years ago.

The prime mover and driving force behind the band was the late Eric Matthes who died in 1993. From a school which was hardly the Eton of South London he assembled a group of young musicians from a background as varied as it is possible to imagine and whose enthusiasm and accomplishment was outstanding.

Our initial discovery of the band was about 1976 at an open-air fete in the grounds of the Maudsley Hospital. Whilst searching amongst the stalls I became aware of the unique sound of a big band performing of all things, ‘A Night in Tunisia’. How could this be? Was I hallucinating, were my aural responses playing tricks? Not so.

Arising out of a discussion with the late Tony Hogg, their conductor, trombonist and part-time music teacher at Kingsdale School we were invited to a concert at Fairfield Hall, Croydon, where the band would display in a proper setting all they could offer. What a feast this was. Nothing it seemed was beyond them. The discipline, the interplay between sections of a large Big Band contrived to produce the sheer power and excitement which only such an aggregation can summon.

Their party piece was the theme music from the T.V. programme ‘Hawaii Five -O’, which if short in intellectual content was high in rhythmic thrust. Their programme included the most advanced scores from such as Lennie Niehaus, Pete Rugolo and I think Billy May. Amongst their musicians was local boy Jamie Talbot who I have seen in the theatre bands in recent times in such as ‘Kiss Me Kate’ and ‘Anything Goes’ and is I believe a well known personality in the Musicians’ Union. Also prominent was multi-instrumentalist Gail Thompson, who with Virgi the trombonist who played with an almost seamless vibrato worthy of Tommy Dorsey himself, and drummer Nigel Green became professional musicians.

The school, which received the award of ‘outstanding’ in a recent Ofsted inspection, has revived its Big Band and has some very impressive young musicians.

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