We continue our story on Peterhead’s Kings of Swing, The Ambassadors as written by Tom Peter back in the Buchan Observer of 1968...
“We were all apprentice engineers, it was more or less imperative that we had to get parental assistance in buying new instruments, but that apart, it showed the ‘old folks’ that we had some aim in life and not a lot of wasters.
On February 25, 1938, for some unknown reason the diary records that we played at our first dance, in Allardyce’s Ballroom in Aberdeen. This was with a drummer, George Brown, who was paid 8/- and we lads 14/- each; we had a great reception and arrived home at 3.30am.
Next day Jimmy got a brand new trumpt, a Paul Cavour, and a real beauty.
On Sunday 27, we atatended a Rhythm Club session where the guest artists were Pressley’s Band from Fraserburgh and a real hot combination they were. We got talking with them and the upshot was that Dave Pressley, who I think had played with a band in Glasgow, agreed to give us some coaching.
Monday the 28th saw us playing in a combined band of 13 at the Rhythm Club Dance in the Rescue Hall on Prince Street, and a great time was had by all - so the diary records.
On the following Saturday we were invited out to the Booths for practice and, guest what? - there was Graeme with a spanking new drum kit in ‘glitter gold’. Now we were moving - two saxes, trumpet, guitar/piano, and drums and I see that we got our first three music numbers from Bons Publishing Co, and made a point of practising with renewed interest.
These were ‘Goodbye Blues’, ‘Moon Glow’ and ‘Georgia on My Mind’. Later on we got more specials ‘Night Ride’, ‘Harlen’, ‘Rockin’ in Rhythm’, etc.
Douggie Cameron being at Aberdeen University joined us now and again when he managed time off his studies.
By ow Pressley’s had established a Baker’s business in Peterhead and during the months of June, July and August Dave gave us coaching sessions on Monday evenings, the boys on their instruments and myself on jazz piano, reading, phrasing etc.
July saw us at the YMCA hall (at 2/- per night) for band practice every Saturday evening for a month or two until we started regular rehearsals at the Waverley Hotel ballroom in the month of October.
My life at this period had another musical aspect as I was taking professional singing lessons every Wednesday evening in Aberdeen, and in the hometown talking part in concerts and music evenings in the company of Jim Buchan, Norman Geekie and Harry Forbes, often in the home of signer Hilda Brown.
Again, I read that apart from my own church choir I assisted at Longside and in the local Baptist Church with Billy Duthie and his charming wife-to-be Chrissie.
Meantime, Dave Pressley was coaching another trumpet player, apprentice baker Jack Wilson, and he was persuaded to join the band as second trumpet. He joined the rest of us on a trip to HM Theatre in Aberdeen to hear Jack Hylton and his band on August 17.
A comical aside concerning Jack was, that sometimes after playing at a dance in the country, resulting in our returning at three or half past in the morning, instead of going home he just went straight to work.
We all got a bit of a shock at the end of September with the news that the Pressleys, for business rasons, had to give up their place in town and proceed to Eyemouth - Dave had been our mentor for so long that we felt like a bunch of lost kids. We gave him a nice music case in appreciation of his tuition and interest in our progress.
War clouds were gathering at this time but they didn’t appear to affect us up in the North-east apart from one or two ARP preparations.
We listed to the Hitler speeches etc, on the wireless, but life went on as usual - the air raids came later on.
Incidentally, my apprenticeship with Robertsons in New York Street finished in September but I continued working there and teaching customers to drive.
Now we were looking for a double bass player.
Whose folks could help a lad to purchase a bass? Ah, Joe Zanre filled the spot, one of the apprentices with Ali, Jimmy and Sandy and the engineering shop at the harbour in Seagate if I remember correctly.
Joe coincided more or less with the start of practices in the Waverley Hall, although during the marvellous summer of 1938, what with the holidays etc, not much playing was done until later in the year.
I read that Joe and I got together a few times for joint practices in my home at St. Mary Street to get the rhythm right.
A popular finish to band rehearsals in the Waverley was the trek to Joe’s dad’s place, Zanre’s chip shop in Queen Street, next door to Scott’s Garage which was, in turn, next to the courthouse.
There, in the sitting-room upstairs, we indulged in pies and peas and chips with lemonade to wash it down. I can still see the heaped plates , sometimes alternating with fish or black pudding - we enjoyed those nights!
My father’s connection with HM Prison comes in here, as with the dark nights again I was asked to arrange to give a concert to the ‘lads’ therein and on November 4 we did just that.
With songs from Mrs Johnston (of Milne’s buildings), Mr and Mrs Wilson and myself, an accordionist and a full band, we gave the prisoners a night to remember. We were well received and thanked for our efforts.
I daresay this was one of the first concerts given to the inmates of Peterhead Prison by an outside party.
Referring to the old diary again, I see that Hitler was doing his nut in Europe, had an ineffectual meeting with our MP Chamberlain and the two of them, together with Daladier of France and Mussolini of Itlay, then had a conference in Munich on September 29, also to no avail. War clouds were slowly gathering.
But back to the home ground. I read that one practice in December Graeme was absent because of university exams and Alistair ditto having his tonsils out.
And at another Jimmy was in bid with some sort of body rash - oh! we all had our own troubles too.
After studying diesel engine and heavy transport hand-books at nights I got a job with Charles Alexander Transport in Aberdeen and this lasted until March 1939 when I returned to fill a vacancy with James Sutherland’s Victoria Garage at St. Peter Street.
During my sojourn in Aberdeen I got home every weekend and we had our usual practice in the Waverley Hall with chips etc. later in Joe’s place, the time pleasantly broken with playing a super party at Booth’s on Hogmanay night - an all-night session”
And so into 1939 and a cold one apparently.
Since I was officially out of town, Alec Clyne, who had been playing with other local bands, now took over the piano while I concentrated on the rhythm guitar and there’s an interesting diversion here.
Our church organist, Jim Buchan, was promoted in his work to take over the Kirkburn Mill’s London agency in March and on my suggestion to my father, who was session clerk, and the Rev. William Morrice, Alec was approached to take the job; a bit of a change from swing but he managed fine.
Dance music on a Saturday, and hymns on a Sunday - I daresay a few hands were held up in horror!
On Friday, April 7, the boys’ engineering shop held their annual staff dance in the Masonic Hall in Broad Street and we played there as one of our first real engagements; showed the bosses what we did in our spare time.
I read that Italy invaded Albania on that date, and the local Episcopalian vicar, Rev Cathels, died on the Sunday. Looking back it is surprising the amount of details and events that I wrote about.
The story of the birth of The Ambassadors concludes tomorrow