A jazzman who lit up the town

Fylde Coast Jazz Men, with Norman Wakefield, bottom right, the band's drummer
Fylde Coast Jazz Men, with Norman Wakefield, bottom right, the band's drummer
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Norman Wakefield perhaps isn’t as well known as Robbie Williams, Gary Barlow or Jonathan Ross, but he can boast something they can’t – he’s helped turn on the Blackpool Illuminations more times than they have.

Mr Wakefield, who has died at the age of 81, was the drummer in the Fylde Coast Jazz Men, a band that must have been seen by just about everyone in the resort, and most visitors here too.

Formed in 1960, their busy schedule included seasons at Blackpool’s Tower and Winter Gardens; a residency band at the old Dixieland on Central Pier; and regular Thursday night jazz clubs at the Royal Oak in Poulton, The Kings Arms and The Queens Hotel.

They won Opportunity Knocks in the 60s, which led to further TV shows including Star Town and All Stars It’s A Knockout, alongside Stirling Moss and Bonnie Langford.

Not bad for a group of local lads.

On top of that, they played a key role in the annual Illuminations Switch-On.

For almost a decade they were the band that kept the crowds entertained until a big-name celebrity switched on the Lights.

Mr Wakefield’s daughter, Jacqui, remembers those years well.

“There used to be a podium built outside the town hall, all done up in red, blue and yellow, with a roof on it,” she said.

“The band used to play to warm up the crowd before a celebrity of the day would enter the podium, flick the switch, and then leave – they didn’t really say anything in those days, and there was no big show like there is now.

“Then my dad’s band would start playing again.

“During the years he performed he met all the people who switched on the Lights, like Julie Goodyear, Wendy Craig and Danny La Rue. Red Rum even did it one year.

“I was a little girl then but it was really exciting to have a dad who played such a big part in an event like that.”

Mr Wakefield’s band were in demand for all the big events. They played each year at the finishing line of the Milk Race, which, for the benefit of younger readers, was a major cycle race that started in Brighton and ended in the resort.

They also played during the Vintage Car Rally.

“Music was his lifelong passion,” added Jacqui. “He even played drums on the dinner plates on a Sunday – it used to drive my mum mad!”

Mr Wakefield was born in the Midlands and had a residency at Wolverhampton Jazz Club before moving to Blackpool.

He lived on Preston North Road at the time of his death, and there was a fitting send-off at his funeral.

“He had a New Orleans-style funeral, so a jazz band led the hearse to the chapel at Lytham,” added Jacqui.

“There were hundreds of people there and I was overwhelmed by the turnout, it was lovely to see.

“I’m so sad he is no longer with us, but I feel really proud of what he achieved during his life.

“He was a lovely gentleman, and I am proud to be his daughter.”