Can you help get notes in the right order?

A packed dancefloor in the Winter Gardens Empress Ballroom in 1948.
A packed dancefloor in the Winter Gardens Empress Ballroom in 1948.
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Thanks For the Memory would be a good name for a project at Blackpool’s Central Library.

After a gap of more than 30 years, the Tower Company’s sheet music archive has returned to the resort. And help is needed to ensure all the notes are in the right order!

Big band leader Charles Barlow

Big band leader Charles Barlow

So Caroline Hall, the council’s collections manager, is appealing to musicians to volunteer their expertise and help sort it all out.

There is a fascinating story behind the return of the music archive – sold off by the Blackpool Tower Company in the early 80s, when they no longer had resident orchestras.

Among the music are the scores of hundreds of popular songs the company’s orchestras played for dancing in the ballrooms at the Tower, the Winter Gardens and the old Palace. ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ often led to ‘A Fine Romance’ and ‘Three Little Words’ before ‘I’m Getting Married In the Morning’ for hundreds of couples. The company’s music library also carried arrangements for concert orchestra (25-plus instruments), small string orchestras and the pit bands in the Opera House, Winter Gardens Pavilion, the Palace and Grand Theatres and Tower Circus.

Some locals can remember when the Grand had its own orchestra, conducted by Arthur Johnson, playing before the show – even when the week’s attraction was a dramatic play. I can place Tommy Jones in front of the Empress Ballroom Band, Charles (Charlie) Barlow with the Tower Ballroom Band, Erik Ogden conducting the Opera House Orchestra at Sunday concerts and Francis Collins leading a small string orchestra at Spanish Hall dinner-dances.

The music library had its own manager and occupied a large room.

Says Caroline Hall: “We’ve started to catalogue the music on Saturdays, but it’s a major job and we need expert help. Our appeal is to local or retired musicians to help.”

The person who donated the music archive is Preston-based musician and teacher Martin Read. He left Preston in 1979 to study trumpet, jazz arranging and light music at Leeds and in 1985 was teaching at a high school in Workington, where he ran an orchestra.

He says: “Always on the lookout for new sheet music, I received a catalogue from Rushworth’s Music in Liverpool, offering hundreds of pieces of dance band and Palm Court style music from the former library of Blackpool Tower Company. It was 50p an item. I wrote asking for an initial £5-worth and to my surprise and delight they replied I could have the lot for £5 if I could provide transport.”

One of his orchestra members had a friend working in Liverpool and brought it back in his van. Two years later, Martin became deputy head of department at a high school in Bury, where they had a showband playing jazz and popular music, but he had to stop playing in the 90s because of an ear complaint. He and his wife returned to Preston and the archive went into storage.

There it stayed until a couple of years ago, when Martin was on a tour of the Winter Gardens with Prof Vanessa Toulmin. He mentioned the music archive to her. This led to contact with Tony Sharkey, local history librarian, and late last year the music arrived back in Blackpool, in about 10 sturdy boxes.

Now the job of sorting and cataloguing is under-way, it would be a real journey down memory lane for musicians! If you can help, call Tony on (01253) 478090.