Charles Hippisley-Cox: British Dance Band Collection BDB

Dated 1911-1949

Extent: 53 boxes, 6LP cases

A collection of approximately 12,000 shellac 78 RPM and vinyl records containing at least 17,000 audio recordings of British Dance Band music from the 1910s to the 1940s. The collection has been assembled by Charles Hippisley-Cox, a Senior Lecturer in Architectural Studies at the University of Huddersfield, who first started collecting the recordings in the early 1970s. The main focus of the collection is British recordings of dance band music from the inter-war period (the "Golden Age" of the British dance bands is widely believed to have been between 1928 and 1935), however there are some early examples of ragtime recordings from the 1910s and many recordings that were released throughout the 1940s. The vast majority of the records in the collection were commercially published 10-inch 78 rpm shellac discs with an A-side and B-side that both contain one track of up to three minutes, however there are also many rare and unreleased recordings that were never commercially distributed, and records that were made of other materials such as vinyl, card, glass, celluloid, aluminium and casein.

The collection is arranged by the name of the band or surname of the band leader that created the recording. This is the original order in which Charles Hippisley-Cox arranged and accessed the collection. The collection includes the recordingss of many famous dance band leaders such as Bert Ambrose, Roy Fox, Jack Hylton and Debroy Somers, and many famous dance bands such as the Savoy Orpheans, the Savoy Havana Band and the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra, but there are also thousands of recordings of less well-known bands.

To ensure the long-term preservation of these audio recordings the full collection has been digitised to current audio archival standards and access to the audio recordings is provided by these digital surrogates (copies), the physical records are accessible for researchers to consult alongside the digital audio.

The collection also includes a copy of the discography British Dance Bands On Record, 1911 To 1945, by Brian Rust and Sandy Forbes. This discography contains information about many of the recordings within this collection.

Disclaimer: These primary historical recordings reflect the attitudes, perspectives, and beliefs of different times. Some of the music of this period, including that composed by black, Asian and minority ethnic composers, features words, phrases, and "dialect" portrayals that can be considered offensive and demeaning. The University of Huddersfield and the collector do not endorse the views expressed in these collections, but is presenting this aspect of UK history in order to enable hidden narratives to be uncovered and to strengthen the coverage of under-represented or unheard/disregarded voices.

Admin History
Notes from the collection owner, Charles Hippisley-Cox (Feb 2019):

"I guess I have always been hooked on popular music since the days of Beatle-mania. In fact, it was around the time they disbanded that I started taking the old 78s at the back of the cupboard more seriously. They felt very different, heavy, cold and brittle especially when compared to the vinyl 45s and LPs. I had played the 78s before, but was put off by the frightening face of Beethoven on the Deccas. The little dog on the HMVs seemed friendlier than Beethoven as it spun backwards at 78 RPM seemingly chased by a horn gramophone! One or two were interesting musically including some very attractive jazz by the clown prince himself, Fats Waller. There was even a Louis Armstrong whose gravelly voice and soaring trumpet opened up a new world....or maybe it was an “old” one. In Birmingham during the early 1970s coinciding with relentless slum clearance, junkshops were piled-high with unwanted 78s. It wasn’t long before my cousin Mike Thomas and I were hooked on exploring the city for antique shops hunting down obscure record labels and exotic tunes. For 6d or 1/- it was possible to buy armfuls of old shellac discs ready to spin back to life. Within a couple of years we had become more focussed on certain types of music, in particular the rich, warm, intimate sounds of the British Dance Bands of the 1920s and 1930s.

Between the Wars despite all the troubles, popular music became heart-beat of the nation especially the gentle throb of the dance bands. The gramophone, and increasingly radio brought the music into peoples’ homes from the sophisticated supper clubs and luxury hotels of London’s West End. There were local bands and dances, but the latest sounds and the best musicianship was always provided by the London-based orchestras whose leaders became celebrities with followings akin to the film stars.

Dance music of the interwar years having roots in ragtime, rapidly developed following an injection of “spice” when the Original Dixieland Jazz Band visited London in 1919 and the visit of Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra in 1923 provided more signposts for the British musicians. It was the Anglo-American orchestras convened for the Savoy Hotel that took up the mantle and became the pace-setters for the Roaring 20s with the Charleston and Black Bottom alongside the more conventional Fox-Trot and Waltz.

By 1928 driven by a handful of arrangers, the British bands started to develop a distinctive richness and warmth rarely found in American bands and for the next eight or nine years were the “Golden Age of British Dance Bands”. The bands of Jack Hylton, Carroll Gibbons, Roy Fox, Jack Payne, Henry Hall, Lew Stone, Ray Noble, Billy Cotton, Harry Roy and Bert Ambrose set the standard.
There were about thirty major record labels during the 1920s with opportunities for bands to make recordings whilst competing for precious late-night broadcasts on the BBC. Record sales peaked in 1929 and the recession following the stock market crash gradually forced mergers and take-overs. By the end of the thirties, there were only a handful of labels left, but by this time the “Golden Age” was almost over as the Swing Era muscled-in just as the clouds of war started to gather. During the first few years of record collecting, my cousin Mike Thomas and I had managed to fill our bedrooms with old records. I came up to Sheffield as a student in 1977 and did the same to the various digs and houses I lived in. Sheffield was still clearing large party of the city and like Birmingham a few years before, the second-hand shops overflowed with goodies. There was still the famous Violet May’s record shop; a veritable honey-pot and gathering-place for collectors and enthusiasts. A couple of years before my move to Sheffield I had worked briefly on Saturdays at the equivalent record shop in Birmingham called the Diskery where the late Morris Hunting offered advice on jazz and the nuances of record collecting.

In 1978 I ventured to my first record fair in London. I caught the Master Cutler train and came back to Sheffield with a ruck-sack full of records. Devoted almost entirely to old 78s, the fair was held in Wembley and later in Wandworth. At these events I was introduced to a much wider set of enthusiasts and collectors such as Tony Clarke, Chris Ellis, Sandy Forbes, Derek Spruce, Norman Jenkinson, Tom Soall, Frank Ball and the famous discographer Brian Rust. When work took me to the south coast, after Brian had retired to Swanage, we became very good friends. At some of the record fairs and the annual parties held by Ray Pallett’s magazine Memory Lane, it was still possible to meet some of the surviving musicians and vocalists from the inter-war years. Amongst those I got to know quite well were Van Phillips, Anne Lenner, Judy Shirley, Alan Kane, Tiny Winters, Ivor Mairants, Eric Whitley, Kay Munro-Smyth, Harry Hayes, Joe Daniels, Harry Gold, Billy Amstell, Ian Stewart, Billy Scott-Coomber, Bert Firman, and the radio presenter Alan Dell, responsible for the very popular Radio 2 programme “The Dance Band Days”. Through the kindness of former Melody Maker reporter Chris Hayes, I corresponded with many others including Les Allen, George Barclay, Les Allen, and Gene Crowley.

Eventually, record fairs and inheriting other collections replaced “junk-shopping” although occasional gems can still be found in charity shops. It was the death of Sandy Forbes in the mid-1990s and the subsequent dismantling of his record collection that made me realise that there was an opportunity for my collection to become the definitive archive of inter-war popular music.
The foundation of the Heritage Quay run by the Huddersfield University Archive Service provided an ideal repository for the 10,000 78s. The Archivist, Sarah Wickham and staff from the Music Department were quick to see the potential of such a resource and the significance of such a collection. There was one proviso that the collection be available digitally and that the transfers were made prior to the records arriving at the university. This took nearly eight years with almost 20 thousand sound files now stored and backed up on the University server."

Access Conditions:
Original 78 RPM shellac and vinyl records available: how to access. Access to the audio recordings is provided by a digital surrogate (copy). WARNING: These historical recordings may contain offensive or inappropriate language.