Jazz Professional               



A Living Legend

A Living Legend
At the Empire

In the late 1940's  50's 60's and 70's, the name Ken Mackintosh was synonymous with  great Big Band Music. Leading his band from saxophone, Ken himself was a musician of enormous stature.

Ken started life in Hightown Liversedge, quite close to Cleckheaton in the West Riding of Yorkshire. His musical career began with a visit to a local where he was quite overwhelmed by the alto saxophonist. The band were all sat in the corner playing and Ken was able to have chat with the sax player. He said that he had seen Ken being very interested , he asked his name and he replied by saying he knew Ken's father and that he used to  play along side him.

He told Ken to buy an alto sax as they were easier to play. Ken told his father all about his conversation with the sax player and that as the sax was easy to play could he get hold of one……his father said " if they're easy to play…why the hell can’t he play it. His mother said, “You are learning a trade and if you start messing about with music you'll finish up like him”, looking at his  father as she spoke.

Ken joined the local cricket team. Instead of playing with the team he took the scorer’s job for 2/6 a week which enabled him to hire-purchase an alto saxophone for two shillings a week. Before long he was playing in local bands in nearby Bradford and  Leeds.

Ken was conscripted into the army in 1939 and in 1940 was involved with the British Expeditionary Force going into Cherbourg after the Dunkirk retreat to evacuate the remaining troops. He had been in France for only three weeks when his unit was cut off by a German attack and it was left to each man to look after himself….Lorries were disabled and left in ditches .Ken threw his rifle and equipment into a ditch and, keeping his alto sax, marched the ten miles to Cherbourg where he was able to get on to a one of the British relief ships. Utterly exhausted he fell asleep. When he awoke the ship had landed in Southampton. His rescue became a story featured figured prominently in the national press.

On his demobilisation from the army his first professional job was with Johnny Claes and his Clae Pigeons, but he was none too happy working in London so eventually returned to his native Yorkshire. The drummer George Erick sent for him and offered him a job. This was a very good band  with the arranger Johnny Douglas on piano, Freddy Clayton on trumpet and several other big names. When George disbanded after about twelve months  Ken joined Oscar Rabin’s band, where he stayed for three years . It was during this period with Oscar that Ken organised a programme called "Reeds and Rhythm" which featured  the Rabin saxes in featured sax items. Some of the number they played were very fast and technical.. The programme made a lot of impact with the listeners and is still talked about today.

Ken moved from the Rabin band to join Frank Weir. Frank now had what he called his All Star Band. Two pianos, played by George Shearing  and Ralph Sharon, Jack Seymour on bass, Bobby Kevin on drums. Alan Franks was the trumpet player, Ken played lead alto sax. Bill Lewington, Aubrey Franks, Norman Fantham and Biff Byffield Baritone made up the rest of the section with Frank leading the band on alto sax and clarinet—an outstanding player.

During this period Alec Taylor, who owned the Sampson And Hercules ballroom in Norwich, came up to London and offered Ken the job of leading the band at the Astoria Ballroom in Nottingham, which he had only just purchased. Ken was not too keen at first as he really wanted to take advantage of  the London recording studio sessions that were just beginning. They were promising to offer a good source of employment for top-class musicians. Ken said he would give Alec’s offer some thought.

That night he told the musicians in the Frank Weir band that he had been offered the Astoria job, adding that he didn’t fancy it too much. Bobby Kevin and Jack Seymour said at once that he should take the job, and that, if he did so, they would go with him. Frank’s band was currently playing.in the Lansdown Resuraunt in Berkeley Square, a refined atmosphere requiring very quiet, subdued music for the patrons. Most of these players were big band fans and would have preferred playing music in the style of Les Brown, or even Stan Kenton, both of whom were all the rage at the time.

Ken formed a rhythm section using arranger Alan Roper on piano, Bobby Kevin on drums and Jack Seymour on bass. He booked the outstanding trumpet player Bobby Pratt to lead the brass section. Trumpeter Alan Moorehouse  and the baritone saxophonist Jimmy Staples were also in the new band. They opened on Easter Monday 1948 and played at once to packed houses. People were coming from far away Sheffield and Derby to hear them. The regular BBC Midland broadcasts, transmitted live from the ballroom, were heard all over the country. The band really took off on this residence and put the new ballroom firmly on the map.

A few years later Alec Taylor told Ken he was thinking of buying the Wimbledon Palais in London, and wanted Ken to take the band down there. Ken agreed at once, but took a six weeks offer at the Locarno Ballroom in Glasgow while the Wimbledon Palais take-over was being completed. Almost at once he was offered a permanent job in the Glasgow Locarno with his band.

Ken and his band opened at Wimbledon Palais in September 1950 and was once again an immediate success. London welcomed Ken with open arms and the band broadcast regularly on the BBC Light Programme.  Ken now began making records as a saxophone soloist, and, with the band, recorded  many best sellers, the most popular of which was "The Creep”, which became a top hit of the day.

After a lengthy stay in Wimbledon Ken and the band went on tour for some fifteen years. It was a tough life. On one occasion the band performed a gig at Weston Super Mare and were on the way back to London to play the following evening at The Chelsea Arts Ball at the Albert Hall when their bus got stuck in a snow drift on the plains of Wiltshire in the middle of the night.

The musicians pushed the bus into a nearby R.A.F camp where they were put up for the night, finally making it to London,  and the Chelsea Arts Ball  the next day.

After that episode Ken decided that he would be better off taking a residency once again. He received an offer to re-open the Empire Leicester Square, which had recently undergone a million pound refit. After a brief haggle over the length of contract involved Ken won the argument and moved into the Empire, where he stayed for seven years.

After that he took the band into the Hammersmith Palais for a further seven years, then on to The Royal, Tottenham for another couple of years. All the time he was doing big record business and broadcasting regularly

Finally Ken went back on the road again, doing a few gigs here and there—still doing so into his eighty-fifth year, an incredible achievement.

The London Coda Club musicians recently made Ken a presentation to mark a remarkable career. He was awarded The Gold Badge Of Merit for services to the music and entertainment industry. He is also a Freeman of the City of London.

The name Ken Mackintosh is now a byword in the big band entertainment world.  The man has become a living legend.

Adapted from an article by Stan Hibbert