Mozeltov - Danny Polo and his Swing Stars
Dave McQuater and Friends were, unsurprisingly, run by Tommy McQuater who played guitar and sang. The band numbered anything from six to ten, but for myself and Neville in particular, the most important member of the group was Dave's father, Tommy senior (his other son, also Tommy, often played with them too), a spry septuagenarian who played trumpet sitting down but still could knock the spots off a set of dice, especially when he stood up for his scorching but always well-organised solos. Neville, an ex professional trumpet player himself, appreciated and admired his playing and always made sure he had a chat with the old jazz pro when he arrived. Tommy had a very amusing, very dry sense of humour, always joshing with his son and the other members of the band who often included up to four musicians of his generation including his best friend trombonist George Chisholm. I think Neville was able to establish that Tommy was one of the legendary RAF Second World War band, the Squadronaires, but as we didn't ask and he, a modest man, didn't offer it, we had no idea how much else we didn't know. I recall that I spotted him listed him as trumpeter on a Victor Silvester Dance Orchestra album, and Dave often said his dad had played with the best of them and spoke of the "stories he could tell" but we never thought too much about it.
Now, in the days of the internet, it's easy to find out that he and George were in the resident band of the Goon Show (no doubt Spike Milligan, a trumpeter himself, appreciated Tommy's unique style), that he was in the Muppets' house band, Doctor Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, Tommy playing the trumpet parts of the puppet "Lips". In the sixties, while in the Barry Gray Orchestra, he performed on the soundtracks of numerous Gerry Anderson tv themes including Thunderbirds and Supercar.
In the late 1930's both Tommy and George were in the Bert Ambrose Orchestra along with clarinettist and saxophonist Harry Lewis. Ambrose was the man who "discovered" the late Vera Lynn and she sang with them from 1937 to 1940. Harry, Bert and Tommy and other members of the orchestra joined the RAF together in 1940 to become the Squadronaires where once again they often found themselves backing Vera in moral raising concerts for the troops and civilians alike. Harry and Vera married in 1940 and he became her manager after the war.
Tommy was, in many ways, typical of the tea dance crowd. They may have looked old and therefore boring. But the very fact that they were there tea dancing in the first place instead of staying home and watching tv or some such meant otherwise. All of them had great stories to tell, if only we asked the right questions and when we did we were richly rewarded. But we were usually too busy to stop, and talk with them. As is often the way of the world.
Sadly Tommy died in 2008 aged 93, and I guess most of the "tea dance mafia" are long gone too. But any suggestion that the lives of ordinary people of their age should be seen as expendable or sacrificed for some greater economic cause makes a mockery of the recent commemoration of VE Day.
Here are Tommy and George circa 1938 with Danny Polo and his Swing Stars with Tommy leading the way in a sedate quickstep, the vinyl smoking with excitement even today. FAB.