Ken Mackintosh (1925–2014)
Ken Mackintosh was a saxophonist, composer and bandleader who had one of the most popular British big bands of the post-war era. He was known for his swinging interpretation and commercially successful recording of “The Creep” in 1953, which he co-wrote under the pseudonym ‘Andy Burton’.
Mackintosh was born in Liversedge, Yorkshire, England, where his father was an amateur musician. He learnt tenor saxophone from the age of 14 and soon started playing in local bands.
At the outbreak of World War II Mackintosh joined the Royal Army Service Corps, also playing in a military band. After demobilisation he joined a series of bands before forming his own in 1948.
He broadcast regularly on the BBC during the 1950s and 1960s and toured for more than 10 years, playing concerts in the UK and performing on cruise ships. A seven-year residency at the Empire Ballroom in Leicester Square, London, was followed by a similar stint at The Hammersmith Palais before moving to The Royal, Tottenham.
His band recorded albums and accompanied singers such as Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Matt Monro, Alma Cogan, Anne Shelton and Frankie Vaughan. The band also had its own radio series – Mack the Knife.
With big bands in decline, bookings reduced during the 1970s and Mackintosh took semi-retirement, though he remained in demand as a conductor. He occasionally played saxophone and led a local orchestra until shortly before his death.
Biography by John Rosie
In conversation with Spencer Leigh
In a 2010 interview by broadcaster and author Spencer Leigh, bandleader Ken Mackintosh talks about his early musical interests, playing saxophone and starting his own big band after the war. He recounts writing and recording “The Creep”, which he thought a good title for a tune.
Ken Mackintosh: Article 2
|1st January 0001
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One thing leads to another. In the March edition of IN TUNE, I spoke to the British arranger Tony Osbome, who now lives in Australia. He told me that he kept in touch with Ken Mackintosh, so naturally I asked for a phone number and made contact myself. On my next visit to London, I went to Mitcham and met up with Ken. Outside the house is a banger, as giving old cars a make over is one of Ken's many interests. Even though he is 85, he is still repairing cars and he is a radio ham with imposing equipment. As you will discover, you can even book Ken Mackintosh and his Orchestra. "Unfortunately not with any of the original members," reflects Ken, They have nearly all passed on. I spend a lot of my time going to funerals."
Ken's wife died 20 years ago and he has moved from his five-bedroom house in Streatham to a smaller one in Mitcham. His partner Eva has her own extraordinary history having being the nurse to the stars - Katharine Hepburn, Cynthia Payne and Yoko Ono among them. She also makes excellent cakes so this was a most enjoyable interview.
SL: What got you interested in music?
KM: Well, my father was a musician but I really became interested when I was 14 or 15. I come from the West Riding of Yorkshire and I used to listen to the local bands. I remember seeing a little five piece band at a dance and being awestruck by the saxophone player called Willie Whiteley. He asked me if I was interested in music. I said that my father was a musician and he said that he used to play for him. He said, "Do you like the saxophone?' I said, 'Very much.' He told me to get one because they were easy to play, so I went home and told my father. He said, 'Well, if they're so easy to play, why can't he play it?'
SL: But you did get a sax.
KM: My family was not well off and my mother said, 'You're not going to get one, you'll finish up like him', pointing at my father. I used to play for the local cricket team with the intention of becoming a cricketer, and to this day, Geoff Boycott is a big friend of mine. I said, 'I'll stop playing cricket but I'll become the scorer for two shillings a week.' I put the money down for a saxophone and I had to pay off £19 before it was mine. It was an alto like the one I'd heard playing. It was a French model, made by Paul Cavour. I would walk miles for my lessons and that was another two shillings a week. It wasn't long before I was playing it better than my teacher!
SL: Were you playing professionally before the war?
KM: Yes, I got good enough to play in local bands and then I graduated from this little village that I came from, Cleckheaton, and I went to Bradford to play there. That was a professional band and I used to walk a long way every time I played. Someone would drop me off a couple of miles from where I lived. I was working during the daytime in engineering as my mother said I should have a trade. I was 20 when war was declared and I was conscripted into the army. I reported to Eckington, and I met a pianist there, and we formed a little band whilst we were training. I added a drummer and bass player and I would play the clarinet and the alto and we played little dances and they kept us together for three or four years in the army.
SL: Were you in an entertainments unit?
KM: No, I was fighting. We were in the first evacuation of France, we went in after Dunkirk. I did ENSA when I came out of the army. First of all, I joined George EIrick and his Band, and he had Johnny Douglas playing piano and Freddy Clayton on trumpet. I was with George for 12 months and I was leading sax then. Oscar Rabin sent for me and I did ENSA with Oscar. We did ENSA to keep the band together and we did theatres in Paris. We were on the Champs Elysees and at the Olympia was Glenn Miller and his Orchestra. Glenn had been lost and Ray McKinley and Jerry Gray were running the band. We became very friendly with them. Hank Freeman who played the leading sax became a great pal.
SL: Would your first records be ones where you were playing saxophone for someone else's band?
KM: Yes, I was intent on becoming one of the top sax players in the country. I played with Oscar for three years and as I wanted to stay in London, I joined Frank Weir. He was forming the Band of All Stars, and they were too. They played at the Lansdowne Restaurant in Berkeley Square. George Shearing was on one piano and on the other was Ralph Sharon. They both went to America and did very well. I was the leading sax player and the second player was Bill Lewington, who had a big music shop in town latterly. Another saxophone player was a swing musician called Aubrey Frank and Jack Seymour was on bass. On trumpet we had Alan Franks and on drums Bobby Kevin from Ramsbottom: he passed away a couple of months ago and I went to his funeral.
SL: George Shearing is known for his own creativeness so could he fit into the discipline of a band?
KM: Oh, George wrote most of the arrangements. He had a copyist with him: he would play bits on the piano and this chap would write them down. George had been blind from birth and he told me that he could hear a lamppost when he passed it. We were in Berkeley Square and he would walk to the station at Baker Street without any help. He could feel my shoulders and know immediately who I was. He was fanatical about cricket and he would go to Lord's and so he must have a terrific imagination. His piano playing was amazing. Frank Weir would also let him play what he wanted and he played these little light pieces. Ralph Sharon was a great pianist too. I went to see Ralph with Tony Bennett at the Fairfield Hall in Croydon but they had had a few words with each other and Ralph was too upset to talk to me.
SL: When you started up your own band, you presumably had observed a few bandleader's and knew what to do and what not to do.
KM: Absolutely. Frank Weir was so disorganised. He was a good clarinet and alto sax player and he would ask me to do the PRS forms as he was very bad with paperwork. I was doing these little jobs and I thought I might well form my own band. Actually, I formed my band from Frank Weir's band.
SL: A revolution?
KM: Not really. A friend came from Norwich to London to see me. He owned the Samson and Hercules Ballroom in Norwich and he had admired the fact that I was in his ballroom every morning practicing the sax as I was determined to be one of the top boys. He was a millionaire and he had a chance to buy a ballroom called Greyfriars Hall in Nottingham. He wanted me to lead the band, but I was very keen on becoming a top session man. You could get a lot of work playing on film soundtracks. I went back to the Lansdowne that evening and I was talking to Bobby Kevin and Aubrey Frank and told them that I had this offer. They said that they would join me as none of them were keen on restaurant playing even though the band was so good. We had to be subdued all evening and we wanted to play Stan Kenton! The bass player, Jack, knew a marvellous trumpet player in the army, Bobby Pratt, and he also knew him from a ballroom in Aberdeen. He also knew Alan Roper who could play piano. We had a week's rehearsal and we opened on Easter Monday 1948. It was a marvellous band and it took off. The ballroom would be packed and they would come from Sheffield and from Derby in coaches. We started to broadcast on the midland region and when the name bands came to Nottingham to play, like Ted Heath's, they didn't like to go on the stage after us. (Click the pic to enlarge)
SL: Were you there for some time?
KM: We left Nottingham after three years and we had made a big impact but because we were in the midland region, we could only broadcast in the midlands. I went to see the BBC in London and I asked if we could broadcast for the Light Programme and I was told, 'No, you are still in the midland region.' He did give us an outside broadcast from Nottingham called HOLIDAY EXPRESS. It was with Ted Heath who was in Torquay. He rang me the Monday after the broadcast and said that if I ever came into his region, he would look after me. In 1952 the chap who bought Greyfriars Hall bought the Wimbledon Palais and wanted me down there. Then it started to happen. We did a lot of broadcasts including Billy Cotton's show when he was on holiday. I wrote THE CREEP which became a big hit. A large number of American bands recorded it, Stan Kenton included, and Ted Heath too.
SL: Do you remember writing THE CREEP, which was a hit in 1954?
KM: Don Lang came to me one Sunday evening in the interval and said, 'Ken, I've been reading about a dance called the Creep'. I thought it was a good title for a tune. I was recording for HMV a little while later and the producer Wally Ridley, Don and I were sorting out songs for Don Lang to sing. Bob Merrill had written a lot of jolly little songs for Guy Mitchell and you didn't need much of a voice to sing them - (sings) 'She wears red feathers and a hula-hula skirt', you see what I mean. I had Don singing these sort of numbers. We were up at HMV this day sorting out a side for him to record. Wally Ridley asked me what we were going to put on the other side. Don mentioned the Creep and Wally said, 'That sounds good. We will record it on Tuesday.' I said to Don, 'Thanks for dropping me in it. I have got three days to write this song, arrange it and copy it, you'd better come with me to the Palais. I got Brian Fahey in as an arranger as he lived by the Palais. I sat down at the piano and I played something that could be played on the baritone sax. Brian said, 'I've got that down.' I played a little more and I invented the middle few bars and Brian said, 'I've got enough, that will do.' This had taken about an hour. I remember walking across the floor and I said, 'If anything happens to this tune, we will split it three ways.' It took off and the Daily Mirror wrote about this new dance, but I'd no idea what the dance was like when I wrote the tune.
SL: And Don Lang could sing tremendously fast.
KM: That was when he left the band and became a recording star. He was a very good jazz trombone player from Halifax and I met him when he was 18 and he used to come and listen to our band. He was on 6.5 SPECIAL and he sang the signature tune and became a great showman. In later years, he had prostate problems, and the infection went to his bones and he couldn't stand. I got him doing little gigs, and he would sit on a high stool because of the pain in his spine. We lost him when he was only 67.
SL: I know you dipped your toes in rock 'n' roll on occasion. What's the story of RAUNCHY?
KM: Wally Ridley said he wanted me to cover this thing by Bill Justis. We were doing a couple of weeks in a ballroom in Torquay and I came up to London to do this thing. He only wanted a small rhythm group on it and so Bert Weedon played guitar, Phil Seamen drums, he was a very comical chap, and I did the alto. We recorded it in half an hour, but there was nothing to it. When the record was issued, we were playing in Felixstowe and I thought we would give it a try. The applause was tremendous. We had to play it again and I said to Wally, This is a hit.'
SL: Another hit was the theme for NO HIDING PLACE.
KM: We weren't on the TV show but I wanted to cover it as I thought we could do a good job. We enjoyed doing that: the band played very well and we sounded very good.
SL: You worked with Alma Cogan, who was also on HMV, so I presume that was through Wally Ridley.
KM: Yes, Wally Ridley sent her to Wimbledon Palais to get a job with me because she needed the experience. We sat in a little cafe opposite the ballroom and she knew that Doris Day and Rosemary Clooney had been big band girls and that this would be good for her. She suggested £14 a week and I told the boss of the ballroom that we could have a very good girl singer for just £14 a week. He said, 'What do you want a girl singer for?', and Alma didn't get the job. I did quite a number of records with Alma Cogan and she had a good feeling for swing and she was a clever girl. That giggle was very infectious and made her sound very distinctive. I made a lot of records with Max Bygraves too. He always dressed smartly but quite often he bought his clothes off the peg from Cecil Gee's. We backed lots of singers. As soon as I hear a band on a record, I can tell you immediately whether it's mine.
SL: Is Frankie Vaughan another one?
KM: I was discussing tunes at HMV with Wally Ridley when his secretary told him that Frankie Vaughan had arrived. I said, 'I know him, he's a great showman and a good looking boy. He comes to the Palais and he sings with Nat Temple and his Band.' Wally said he'd had a go with Decca but they found that he couldn't read music. He told me that he would send him to the Palais with me and he could learn a couple of songs and work with the band. Wally recorded MY SWEETIE WENT AWAY and it was his first big record. Jack Jackson took a real fancy to it and our big band sounded great on the backing. Frankie didn't do much else at HMV but he never forgot me and he gave me a good mention in his book.
SL: Staying with Liverpool acts, did you have any contact with The Beatles?
KM: I was at the Empire, Leicester Square for seven years and one evening it was an awards ceremony for Mecca. The Beatles won one of them. As I left the stage, John Lennon said, 'Can we shake your hand?' and Paul McCartney added, 'When you came to Liverpool, I would sit in the front row for your concerts. You had a marvellous band, the best one of all.'
SL: Did the beat groups put you out of business?
KM: A lot of my work was residencies. I made a name for myself in London and then we went on the road and my money was always guaranteed. I did two years with Shiriey Bassey and toured with Jimmy Young, Guy Mitahell and Johnnie Ray, but I actually felt that we were on our way out before the Beatles. We did a concert with Tommy Steele in Leicester and the audience didn't want to know about my band. They were talking while we were playing, and the cheering when he bounced on was tremendous.
SL: Johnnie Ray cried on stage. Was that genuine?
KM: He would put a lot of emotion into his songs but I felt he could cry to order. He was always inviting the boys up to his room and giving them drinks and he was a lonely lad. When the tour finished, he bought everyone in the band one of those new organiser things - we call them Filofaxes now - and he gave me a watch with his name on. I remember my father coming to see the band once and when he saw the long lead on Johnnie Ray's microphone, he said, 'Have you got a dog on the end of that?'
SL: There must have been some tense moments with Shirley Bassey.
KM: Well, yes, she was very difficult to accompany. She would snatch her words, singing them in quick phrases, and it was difficult to get an orchestra of 16 blokes to match that timing, particularly when she would be different every night. She was always arguing with MDs. She criticised my drummer once and I stuck up for him and said, 'You're too fussy, Shirley, we did well.' It got worse when she married Kenneth Hume who was also her manager and very fussy and bossy. He wanted to get rid of me because he said that we were like a double act. He said that he was going to replace me with Nelson Riddle. Well, I shouldn't laugh. He did get Nelson Riddle in from America and they assembled a band using top musicians from the like of Ted Heath's orchestra. We were a moderately priced band and most promoters couldn't afford this extravagance. They only did a few shows as many of the dates were dropped. Nelson Riddle then went back to America.
The Ken Mackintosh band in 1948
Alan Roper piano; Jack Seymour, bass; Bobby Kevin, drums; Dave Usden, Johnny Oldfield, trumpets; Harry Simons, trombone; Jimmy Staples, Alan Ross, Ronnie Sheen, Ray Wright, saxes.
Bobby Pratt is at the microphone, singing with Irene Miller
SL: Your son is also a noted musician.
KM: Yes, Andrew is one of the top alto sax players in the worid. I had a little bent soprano sax - there are straight soprano saxes and there are small bent ones with an alto shape - and he picked it up so fast. It was a natural talent and he has been playing since he was three. When he was a youngster he used to play for my band. I was so confident in him that I had him on some of my records. We did some Stan Kenton numbers and he played the lead on them. He left the country when he was 17 to play with Maynard Ferguson. He lived in LA for nine years and he worked with Buddy Rich and Quincy Jones. He was also with James Last for 15 years. He would tell musicians to stay with me in London as it would save on hotel bills! I had many top players staying with me. He's not in the UK very much but he was on a sell-out tour with Elaine Paige recently.
SL: Do you still play the sax?
KM: Oh, yes, I have a band in London, made of local lads including a doctor and a lawyer. I have trained them for 20 years at a little club every Tuesday night. I said, 'I'm sorry about the outburst last week, but you were all playing so badly.' They said, 'Don't stop shouting at us. That's what we come along for.' We go out occasionally, usually charity performances, and to be fair, they can play very well. I also have a professional band too and we play hotels and the like.
SL: Ken Mackintosh, thank you very much.
KM: I'm very pleased to meet you as I have a soft spot for Liverpool. When I did the Empire, I used to stay in Hoylake with my cousin in Hoylake and they owned the Falcon Steam Laundry.
SL: Laundries come in useful.
KM: Even today. A few weeks ago I said to this band that I train, 'We are doing this charity show so there's no need for anything formal. Just wear something casual.' A couple of them came along with their trousers hanging out at the knees. It looked as though they'd come from a building site and I wasn't having that.