Eric Delaney

By Tony Parker

In the early 1950s, which were still regarded by many (some with great affection) as the post-war years, certain elements of show business in Britain were thriving: cinemas, music halls and an elite band of dance orchestras.

With regards to the latter, the influence of radio highlighted both the popularity and regular broadcasts of such worthy band leaders as Geraldo, the great Ted Heath, Vic Lewis, Edmundo Ros, Ken Mackintosh, Joe Loss, Johnny Dankworth and Cyril Stapleton.

As a result of their regular appearances on the 'wireless' it was good news for ballrooms: dancers have always shown a preference for a name band. It was also a training ground for the many musicians who had aspirations of eventually fronting their own outfits.

All of which meant that the name of Geraldo was especially held in the highest regard, and not just because of the excellence of his music. His orchestra had, arguably, proved to be the best training ground of them all. Remember a certain trombonist called Ted Heath, and everything that he went on to achieve in later years? Also, into this equation appeared the name of drummer Eric Delaney.

Eric Delaney

Eric Delaney, Britain's own dynamic giant of the drums, pictured at the height of his career.

Delaney was born in London on April 25, 1924, At the tender age of six, Eric, a natural drummer, played to his first live audience and from that day his obsession with show business began. By the time he had reached his early teens, Delaney toured the country with the Royal Kiltie Junior Band and the Hughie Green Roadshow.

When he was 16 he was voted Britain's Best Young Swing Drummer, and in 1941, at the age of 17, he joined George Shearing and the famous Ambrose Octet, which saw him touring the many variety theatres which were around at that time.

From 1947 to 1954 Eric provided the rhythmic impulse for the great Geraldo Orchestra, but he resigned his post to take the bold step of forming his own big band. The event proved to be a unique highlight for the bold, talented Delaney, for in his first year after leaving Geraldo to become a fully-fledged bandleader - plus having a double-sided hit records in the charts with Oranges and Lemons and Delaney's Delight - Eric won three prestigious awards in Melody Makers' readers' poll. These being Band of the Year, Musician of the Year and Drummer of the Year.

In the long history of BBC Television News, the number of occasions when a performing individual was responsible for the delaying of one of its bulletins can almost be counted on one hand.

But in 1955, during a programme preceding the summary, drummer Eric Delaney, who was well into one of his famous solos, did exactly that, causing the news to be held up for two minutes in order that he could finish his electrifying stint.

It was to prove a historic landmark for Delaney in what had already been a remarkable year, and it prompted a BBC spokesman at the time to record: "The only other person we've held the news up for was Winston Churchill."

When analysed, the success of Eric Delaney at this period can be attributed to two main factors.

First, he nursed a desire to front a band that was strikingly different from any of the others. To this end the new and dynamic young leader introduced what he described as his "symphonic percussion equipment". This comprised two drum kits and three tympani, which certainly put him ahead of his contemporaries.

Second, by bounding from one set of drums to the other during his solos, he dedicated his energies in the direction of becoming this country's number one big-band showman - a factor endorsed by his ever-increasing army of fans, together with the results of those readers' polls in the musical Press.

There was also another very good reason as to why this new showband achieved its aim, for unlike so many of the other aggregations which were around at the time it was soon apparent that the Delaney outfit did not fall into the conventional category of music to dance to.

Eric Delaney with Ron Simmonds

An older Eric Delaney (right), is pictured with Ron Simmonds, the great lead trumpet player who passed away in 2005. Ron and Christian writer Robin Brace (this site's webmaster) exchanged several e mails during the last year of Ron's life. Thanks to Jazz for the photo.

Right from the word go, Delaney's stock-in-trade was powerhouse music, described by the pundits of the period as a "time bomb waiting to happen". His band was labelled incomparable and a complete change from the established and fashionable sounds of the day.

This high-powered brand of music played a very important part in the format of Eric's line-up, with five trumpets proving a prominent feature and the saxophone section providing a further tower of strength. Not to mention, of course, that dynamic array of drum kits and those famous solos.

There was, however, a sense of irony in the fact that when Eric Delaney formed his exciting orchestra, rock and roll was beginning to make its presence felt. Consequently, when the new musical craze swept these shores, and when there were at least 30 big-name dance bands in existence, it came as no surprise when many found themselves unable to compete and went to the wall.

Only a small handful were able to survive during this climate: Eric Delaney's was one of them. But then the line of thinking of this showman band leader, now 78, was different - he had his own ideas and plans firmly in place in order to avoid becoming one of the casualties. In short, he survived the strangle-like grip of the new idiom during the 60s, thus proving that he had no intentions of going under.

And in the 70s, 80s and 90s, in order to compete with the ever-changing musical vogues, Delaney adapted both the size and personnel of his various bands to suit the financial needs of himself, his musicians and the promoters - a decision that proved to pay off handsomely.

Consequently, over the years he has many times diversified his stage presentations, both as a soloist and a band leader, and has succeeded in becoming one of the most popular attractions on the seaside summer season and variety club circuits, the most notable of which are his regular guest appearances around the country with Lancashire's popular Wigan Youth Jazz Orchestra.

Coming up to nearly 50 years as a band leader and drummer, the aggressive and almost maniacal playing style of Eric Delaney (obviously a bit slower these days due to his age) shows no drastic signs of abating. In show business circles, as the saying goes, most things are possible and what goes round comes round -as this extraordinary entertainer can confirm.

Now domiciled in Spain, the question as to whether or not we will ever again witness one of Delaney's solos causing another delay to a television news summary is at best arguable, but as we all know, in show business anything is possible and nothing is impossible.

This articles comes from the Memory Lane website and we are very grateful to Memory Lane to allow us to also post the article here.

Jazz; A Musical Passion