The 1951 Hammersmith Palais Jazz Band Ball (Jiving is Forbidden!)

The following article was written by Robert Raymond and appeared in the Picture Post on 7th April 1951:

‘Jazz as they play it at the Hammersmith Palais, is a serious matter. Youth goes mad about it – one way or the other. It’s the music of an unsafe, unsure, age.

Hundreds of boys and girls danced vigorously, tirelessly, for four hours, while hundreds more listened voraciously. The amateur musicians played music, the golden age of which passed away long before most of them were born, and which few of them had ever heard in its native setting.


This ‘revival jazz’ craze has fostered hundreds of clubs and dozens of bands in Britain since the war. It is a musical phenomenon. A whole new folk movement has been built up without there being any live contact between its new devotees and its source.

Here is a style of playing Negro music, as it was played and sung in New Orleans where the infant jazz first developed its brassy lungs. Today it is roared out by youngsters whose lives and background are utterly different from those who brought it into being. They have caught the sound and the spirit of it from records alone. This in itself is a unique link in folk-music heritage.

And whatever these amateurs may lack in ethnic inspiration (for this revival did not start among professional musicians), they make up for in enthusiasm. Even the names they choose are evocative of the Mississippi which carried jazz northwards into the white man’s world: Mick Mulligan’s Magnolia Jazz Band, Mike Daniels’ Delta Jazz Band, the Crane River Jazz Band, and Chris Barber’s New Orleans Jazz Band.

And when they break out with the rich, gutty sonorities of Creole tunes like ‘Eh la bas’, or New Orleans funeral marches like ‘Oh, Didn’t He Ramble’, it is difficult to realise that Mick Mulligan runs a chain of wine shops, that his vocalist George Melly (who sings things like ‘Send Me To The Electric Chair’) is a morning-suited usher in an art gallery, that Mike Daniels is director of a refrigerator firm, and Chris Barber an out-of-work clerk.

But why does this foreign jazz appeal so strongly to them – and the thousands of people who get immense satisfaction from simply listening to it? Perhaps because the music itself, with its strong, interweaved melodic lines for trumpet, clarinet, and trombone, and its simple harmonic structure, is comparatively easy to understand.

Or even, some say, this essentially Negro music makes a definite appeal to young people like the English who lack their own native folk music and dances. Whatever the reason, the response to it was unmistakable at the second annual Jazz Band Ball at the Hammersmith Palais, staged recently by the National Federation of Jazz Organisation.

For four hours the music blared out, the three bandstands never unoccupied, while the crowd pushed and danced, sweated and shouted, cheered and booed in friendly partisanship. Humphrey Lyttelton and his band, who have led the revivalists to a high standard, may have played the most mature jazz.


Freddy Randall, with his trumpet, may have split a few ear-drums among the deep-packed crowd around the stand. And Joe Daniels and Harry Gold may have shown that professional bands can make a noise like enough to the self-styled righteous jazz.

But it was the Mulligan, Crane River, Daniels, Barber quartet of bands and their ‘Cavalcade of Jazz’ feature that sweated out the spirit of New Orleans and caught the imagination of the crowd.

The spring-heeled dancers leaped and gyrated tirelessly, the connoisseurs sat transported to a world of long ago, and hundreds of disappointed non-ticket holders hung about in the street, seemingly unable to let themselves drift away.’

It was an interesting period musically; a few years earlier musicians such as Ronnie Scott and Johnny Dankworth had lead the Modern Jazz movement in London at venues such as Club Eleven. Later in 1959, Ronnie Scott was to open up a club in a basement in Gerrard Street before re-locating to nearby Frith Street.

There was also to be the Skiffle craze in 1955 and with the showing of two American films; ‘Blackboard Jungle’ and ‘Rock Around the Clock’ around the same time, this was to do so much to pave the way for Rock ‘n’ Roll in the 50’s.

Steve Russell

One thought on “The 1951 Hammersmith Palais Jazz Band Ball (Jiving is Forbidden!)

  1. Those were the days. I learnt to dance by going to dances all over local towns and villages, cycling smartly dressed or in my army uniform from national service. by heck,big bands like Ted Heath, Jazz, Skiffle, summers dancing at Butlins to the Eric Winston band with Colin Prince the jazz orientated basist and singer Michael Holiday ! I could Jive with the best and loved the jazz clubs like eel pie island,The iron bridge in Hanwell, and the Crane river band performing at Cranford next to where they were building Heathrow airport. Ah heady days, what it was like to be young, free and off to the Paladium every month to the Ted heath concerts with girl friends who dressed like heaven, and the young men too.

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