Before the Beatles: the bop boys and the jive halls

The 1950s and the rise of the teenager in the vibrant post-war Medway towns is a neglected subject. The Beatles and the 1960s caused a revolution in music — but they by no means started it, as Roy Morgan recalls so vividly.

Two Gillingham dance halls were much favoured by the young stuff of the day in the 1950s: the Pav and the Paget.

The Pav was at the lower end Canterbury Street, almost opposite St Mark’s Church and the Paget was in Paget Row off Paget Street not half a mile away.

The attraction of these two venues to the young teens of the Medway towns was that they both presented, on a Saturday evening, the top big bands, now called swing bands, of the day and also the very best traditional and modern jazz groups to be found in the British Isles.

These bands played the latest and best of British dance and jazz music of the time — you could listen to it, dance to it or, more often as far as the majority of patrons were concerned, jive to it.

The Pav was the more popular of the two because it had a top-name band practically every Saturday night; the Paget’s performances were much more infrequent.

The Pav was run by a Mr Squires, who was always standing alongside the pay kiosk to make sure that all patrons were suitably dressed and otherwise presentable. He was maybe in his forties with dark, wavy hair and always very smartly, neatly dressed in a dark suit and tie.

The Paget was looked after by Reg Adams who also provided the resident band to play at the start and in the interval of the evening if there was a big name band on the programme. Reg was the drummer. I don’t know if either of these two gentlemen were involved in the ownership of the dance halls.

The resident band at the Pav was led by Brian Jenner who was, I understand, a farmer of sorts near Maidstone. He played trumpet very well and sang a bit. When he retired from the scene he was replaced by Alan Ryder who led his band on alto sax. I believe that Alan is still around and playing. He is/was a brilliant alto player in the modern jazz style.

Brian Jenner always played what he called the top 10 tunes of the day and this usually happened towards the end of the evening. These tunes were played without stop, one after the other and it was imperative that the lads had, by then, sorted out the girl most worthy of their attention especially if the question “Can I see you home?” was to be asked.

Some of the songs of the day were jazzy or up-tempo and some were dreamy. The dreamy ones were called “bum feelers”.

At 11.45 the dance ended and a fleet of double-deckers waited outside to carry patrons to the four corners of the Medway Towns and a little beyond. If you were going to see a girl home then you walked her home if she lived nearby or got onto whichever bus she needed and then walked back.

Very few of us lads had cars or motorbikes in those days. A mate and I once bussed two girls home and then had to walk back home in Strood from Tovil in Maidstone. And it was raining.

However it was normal, as far as I was concerned, living in Strood and not having chatted up a bird, to take that bus but to dismount at the Chatham station stop, one of several, and go to the pie stall which was a caravan cafe just below the station.

This was a congregation point for late-night revellers on their way home for a cup of tea or coffee but most of all for a Humphries meat pie. They were delicious.

I think the little old guy that ran the stall was named Syd. There was sometimes a disagreement between the more antagonistic or drunk customers but it was easy enough to move away from the fracas and get on with munching at your pie and sipping your tea.

All change: two nights for the price of one

It was normal for us to get a pass-out for the interval at the Pav and go to the British Queen on the opposite corner to St Mark’s Church and have a bottle of brown ale but we sometimes went to the Sunny Cafe just above the Pav on the corner of Lock Street and Canterbury Street for a cup of tea and perhaps egg and chips. Very good egg and chips at The Sunny.

There were times when both the Pav and the Paget had such great bands on the same Saturday night making it difficult for us lads to choose which one to go to. The solution was for us to split more or less 50-50 for half to the Pav and half to the Paget.

At the interval we would all meet in the British Queen with our pass-outs and swap so that we got to hear both bands. It was obviously not in the best of interests to chat up a bird in the first half if you weren’t going to be there for the second

Drainpipe trousers, with DA styling by Lance

Dress codes were specific. If you were into the modern jazz scene then you wore a suit, usually of a dark blue or grey, shirt, maybe with a button-down collar and a narrow tie with two-colour diagonal stripes.

These ties were to be found only in Woolworths and it was our practice to go there, when possible, on Saturday afternoon to see if they had a combination of colours that you hadn’t got. Trousers were “pegged” or “drainpipe” with a circumference at the turn-up usually of between 13 and 15 inches depending on choice. Suit jackets were referred to as “drape jackets”.

Shoes were preferably with toecaps and a heavy notched welt. Haircuts were “bop style duck’s arse” by the favourite barber of the in crowd, Lance Onslow. His shop was opposite St Margaret’s Banks in Rochester just along towards Star Hill from the North Foreland pub. If you wanted a haircut by Lance on a Saturday afternoon you faced a wait of maybe two hours but it was worth it to get it right.

The dress for girls in the “bop” fashion was varied but most often they wore white blouses and a short, waist-length jacket with long skirts to ankle length and flat shoes known as pumps. Hairstyles varied from pageboy to beehive.

On Sunday evenings the jazz scene with local musicians, including some off-duty Royal Marine bandsmen, moved to the Piggeries Restaurant opposite Laveys gent’s outfitters. Down a flight of stairs and you were in the back room of the restaurant which had an entrance on to Medway Street.

It was usual, before going into the Piggeries and during the half-time break, to have a half in the Sun Shades, which was the lower bar of the Sun Hotel on the corner of High Street and Medway Street. It was later the site of BBC Radio Kent.

Changing bands at the Hammersmith Palais

During the Sunday evening session we would often make arrangements, if there was nothing on at the Pav or Paget, to go to one of several dance venues to hear the bands of the day. One of the crowd was a guy named John Lytton (I think that’s how his name was spelt). He was a bus driver for the Chatham Traction company and after we had decided where we wanted to go, he would arrange for a coach and drive it to the venue. And back of course, when he used to switch off all of the lights in the coach.

We used to visit Hammersmith Palais to hear Vic Lewis and the Wimbledon Palais to hear Ken Mackintosh. We went to hear the Oscar Rabin Band at the Old Opera House in London, Ted Heath, Johnny Dankworth, Toni Anton, The Squadronaires, Harry Gold & his Pieces of Eight and other big bands and smaller jazz groups. We went to the Star Hotel Ballroom in Maidstone, to the Coronation Ballroom in Ramsgate, to Aylesford Paper Mills social club and to the Orchid Ballroom in Purley.

Most of these bands came to the Pav and Paget in any case but if there was nowt on at either then we went to wherever the music was.

I can tell you from an old diary that on Saturday 19 January 1952, Kenny Baker’s Dozen were playing at the Pav and Johnny Dankworth was at the Paget. On 14 June the Kirchin Brothers band were at the Pav. The 1 November saw The Ralph Sharon Quintet at the Pav. He subsequently became Tony Bennett’s long-time musical director.

From the same 1952 diary I can see that Kit Tomkins was living at 5 Scott’s Terrace, Chatham, and Naomi Baker was at 70 Darnley Road, Strood…

Rochester & Strood
Medway villages
Medway at war
Crimes that Shocked the Medway Towns

54 thoughts on “Before the Beatles: the bop boys and the jive halls”

  1. Roy Morgan mentions the pie stall. It was run by Mr and Mrs West for years and was a great place to meet after a good night out. It stayed open until two in the morning. The sausage rolls and a mug of Bovril worked wonders for the walk home.

  2. I served an apprenticeship in the yard from 1951-56. I enjoyed your article — it was as exactly as I remember my teenage years in Gillingham. A couple of other worthwhile venues: Chatham Town Hall (the Danny Kent band) and up on the top road there was the Drill Hall (the Al Worth band). Interval time at the Pav was spend at the Anglo-Saxon pub in Paget Street.

    1. Hi John, this is a very long shot but my partners Father (Sydney Edwards) played in the Danny Kent Band on Sax he is 92 now but we would love to find and more info that you might have about this band. Your reply is the only link that I can find up to date. If you can please help, Thank you Martin.

  3. I am pleased to read above article. In Twydall Library on Wednesday older residents meet for a chat and a cup of tea. Today we were discussing the Pav and Paget Street. I started going to Pav in 1960 when I was 18 after going to Paget Street to learn to dance.
    Alan Ryder was leading the band by then and they had a lady singer. Of course by then rock’n’roll was popular. We were discussing the buses to take you home but I lived in Gillingham but many a Saturday night I walked up Canterbury Street to home with aching feet and no shoes on. I met my husband John who was Irish (he was working on the M2) at Pav and he was an excellent dancer. All the lads were turned out smartly and well behaved.
    I will show the article to the people at Twydall library.

    1. Pleased to hear that you enjoyed the article, Olwen. Shame though that you had to put up with that dreadful rock stuff. If we hadn’t been smart and behaved we wouldn’t have been allowed into the places. Alan Ryder was a brilliant alto player. I think that his singer was a friend of mine named Loretta Young. She lived in Strood and later sung with the Eddy James Quartet at Greenways on the A20 and other places.

  4. I wonder if anyone knows anything about Herbert Arthur Smith (1905-1968). He had a factory making neon signs,and another called (I think) Lustalol, or similar. He used to have a lot to do with dances in the Chatham/Gillingham area.
    I know he was at The Central Hotel, Gillingham. My mother Beryl Smith used to do tap dancing with him when she was young. She’s 85 now and lives in Australia. Also, he was something to do with The Reg Adams Band.
    All her photographs were destroyed and I am trying to find out if anyone has any pictures etc. During the war he worked at Short Brothers, as did Beryl. She was a hairdresser in Gillingham. Does anyone remember her?

    1. My parents used to work with the dance bands in the central in the 60s and probably knew the bands and artists as they did the saturday nights mum did the tables with Lottie and Reg and a few others, and Dad ws the cloakroom attendant for the gents .

  5. I was fascinated reading about the Pav and Paget where I went to learn ballroom in the mid 1970s. Does anyone know what happened to Len and Ina Wall who owned it? I believe they lived in Warren Road, Blue Bell Hill area and also had a bingo hall in Paget Row.

    1. I learnt to dance there too in the 70’s, used to live in the shop in Stafford St….do you remember the young woman that worked for Len & Ena? Barbara or Brenda springs to mind……

      1. The young lady was Brenda Ward. She is my sister in law. I used to teach at the Paget Halls with Carol back around 1970.

        Len and Ena moved abroad after retiring.

  6. The names Len and Ina ring a bell… I think Len formerly owned a taxi business in Gillingham, while Ina used to help out John and Wynne who had the Anglo Saxon pub… Ina wasn’t a local girl and I seem to think they returned up north (Tyneside).

  7. I found your website by accident – so glad I did, it took me back to 1954 when I was 16 and just started going to the Pavilion on a Saturday night, my dad was not happy “going to a dancehall” as he put it, I used to look forward so much to going. I remember Brian Jenner and the top 10, when you dreaded who you got for this one. I also remember going to the Pie stall by Chatham Station with my 1st real boyfriend. I can remember a girl called Shirley Buckle who sang at the pav now and again. I also went to dances at the Drill Hall on the top road as we called it then,. This was interesting as you then had the barracks up Darland Avenue. I now live in Bristol.
    Don’t go back to Gillingham very much – used to live in Longfellow Road, near the hospital – so changed now. Nice to read you website – thankyou.

  8. My husband says it was Reggie Keams who ran the Paget Halls and his son also of same name played the drums in the band. My husband’s family ran the Napier Arms in Britton street where the dancers from Paget Halls used to come for drinks during the interval before the Paget Halls had a bar licence.

    1. Reg Keame used to have a second-hand clothes shop near the end of Green Street/Gardiner Street in Canterbury Street, Gillingham. He also used to look for local bands to play at whichever venue he had on his books. Some were pubs some were small clubs and were mainly for bithdays/weddings/just entertainment. Most gigs were reasonably paid and I presume Reg received an agent bookings fee. Couple of bands I remember were Dougals Playmates and J Unity.

  9. Hi,
    Does anyone have any old 1950’s photo’s of the Pavilion in Gillingham?
    Its my mothers funeral on Wednesdy 13th January 2016

    and I would love to include some pics of her old dance haunt.. also ‘The Strand’ Outdoor pool in Gillingham

    Many thanks,

  10. By the way my mothers name was Lilian Bradley, one of 6 sisters: Mabel, Joan, Iris, Sybil, Pamela, two brothers: Bill and Roy ( who died in WW2) Girls often nicknamed the ‘Bragging Bradleys’ – they were all good looking! :0) Lived in Pier Road, Gillingham.

    She was 87 when she passed…

  11. I remember going to the pav in the Sixties. I had a ford zodiac and had great joy showing off by parking outside. so many years ago but life was much more fun then

  12. I was in a schoolboy band called The Dominators. We played as support act to Carter Lewis and the Southerners at the Paget, in 1962, I think and we were as awful as they were good.
    We did get better and had one particularly good gig at the Rochester Corn Exchange along with Dave Champion and the Strangers.
    Happy days !!

  13. Hello
    I am trying to put together a photo book for my mum and dad’s 50th wedding anniversary and would like to find some photos of the PAV where they used to go dancing. Can you direct me as to where I may be able to find some . Ive tried searching google but nothing appears .. .Any ideas … the library perhaps?

    1. Message for Nikki Pacquette,

      Did you have any success in finding any pictures of the Pav? My mum used to go there alot in her youth with her sisters and would appreciate it if you found anything in your search.

      Kind regards,

      Mrs Lisa Jarvis

  14. I notice you never mentioned my father Ray Wade who was responsible for bringing Kenny Baker to the Pav in 1952. He also brought Johnny Dankworth and had Ronnie Verrell live with us.

    He also got Ronnie Scott with Ted Heath Orchestra – and was responsible for booking the Beatles in Chatham in 1963 – I remember helping Ringo set his drums up for my dad – and retrieving John Lennon’s stolen guitar.

    I saw my father shouting at Jerry Lee Lewis for setting fire (literally) to the piano on stage. He made Jerry pay up for that. These were my fondest memories… my father was responsible for getting Kenny Baker’s first job with Ted Heath – and also introduced Matt Monro to Ted.

    Just for the record – The Ray Wade Showband was the most popular band of that era in the Medway towns. Great memories.

    Anthony, Ray’s son.

    1. What great memories we have of your dad, Ray. I met my husband at the 2Rs which was run by Ray Wade and Ronnie Vaughan above the Piggeries in Chatham. In his latter years he was Father Christmas for my Travel Agency during an exhibition. Rita Arnold new Williams

    2. How wonderful to hear your comments about your dad, Ray Wade. I worked with Ray at NALGO in Regent’s Park from 1947 to 1950 and found him a great friend as we were both into big band music. I was drummer with a jazz quartet. I remember Ray with his lovely suits and colourful ties, a couple of which he sold to me.

      I was a few years younger than him and being only 17 probably looked upon him as a father figure. He set a trend in hairstyles and used to visit Ivan’s in Jermyn Street regularly for his haircuts, which must have cost a fortune. I always remember going down the stairs at Regent’s Park underground with him after he had had his hair styled. He would have to hold a newspaper behind his head to stop the downdraught from disturbing his locks.

      I remember getting Ronnie Verral’s tom-tom re skinned for him and collecting it with the promise by Ray that I could appear at the Pav with Claude Giddings for my trouble. Unfortunately it never transpired as I never had the chance to visit Gillingham, but Ray was a great teller of tales of the music industry and we used to slip down to the canteen to listen to the radio whenever Ted Heath was playing. Would love to know what happened to Ray with his great suits, ties and immaculate hair and handlebar moustache.

    3. i remember playing at the Invicta with Dave Champion and the Strangers where I had drum duel with Reg Keam. Your dad laughed andI drummed him off the stage. good memories. all the best you mick

  15. I have just found this site when researching to find my dad’s swing band the Danny Kent band … he played the tenor saxophone and clarinet. He left the band in about 1950. He is sitting with me now aged 90 and just loving this experience.

    His name is Syd Edwards he lived in White Road, Chatham.

    We would love to hear of anymore information of the band etc.

    1. My Father was Percy Morris and was Bass player in Danny Kent’s band in the 50s.
      He also played in other bands including Eddy James and his Music and a larger band I think 7 or more musicias. The banners on the drum kit has a monogram LL – I have a vague recollection of a friend of Dad’s called Les Leavie – not sure of spelling. Can anyone confirm?
      I have several Photographs of him playing, It would be good to put names to some of the musicians shown.
      Dad died in 2006
      I am more than willing to share the photos if you are interested

      1. My father Syd Edwards played the tenor sax in the Danny Kent band for many years . I believe he left in 1950 .
        I would love to hear more from you and any info you have
        My dad is now 92 and doing well

  16. I came across this site by accident and thought you might like a bit more information about the ‘Pav’ as supplied by my late father, Roy Bone. Here’s what he remembered:

    Brian Jenner Band , Pavilion, Gillingham, 1960s
    Lead alto sax, Alan Ryder
    Second alto sax, Ron Simpson
    First tenor sax, Roy Bone
    Second tenor sax, Malcolm Scrivener
    Baritone sax, Arthur Cameron
    Trumpet, Brian Jenner
    Drums, Ken Millard
    Bass guitar, George Lawrence
    Lead guitar, Graham ?
    Piano, Charlie Swan
    Singer, Shirley Spree

    In the early days Claude Giddings used to play piano and supply the music, but was such a bad pianist they got rid of him and replaced him with Charlie Swan.
    They used to play the latest top 10 hits every week from sheet music with no rehearsal!
    They used to have a signature tune. (Couldn’t remember its name)
    Owner of the ‘Pav’ in 1960’s was Mr Squires.
    Brian Jenner died aged 87 in New Zealand.

    Hope you find it useful.

  17. A bit more info. I played lead guitar with Ray Dell and the Rockin’ Deacons, a typical rock group of the day. We had a regular gig (very few months) in Gillingham – I’m sure it was the Pav. It had a superb jazz band with a great female vocalist who used to sit at the side of the stage when not singing. I lived right across London in Acton in those days but really looked forward to the Gillingham gig, despite the longish drive in our decrepit Bedford Dormobile.

  18. As far as I know my Dad Albert Newman played sax in the Brian Jenner band in the 50s. Does anyone remember him in that band or any other band? He also played flute and cClarinet.

      1. It was top of St William,s Way opposite George pub we lived. Not sure of names of bands Dad Bert played in apart from KLB Sounds and Brian Jenner. Other musicians Dad knew included Norman Williams (piano, organ), Ken Johnson from Gravesend (guitar), Charlie Judge (guitar), Stan Port, Eddy Newport, a female singer, Lanette, who used to be in one of Bert’s bands but don’t know her full name. Some other names that I think are associated with Dad’s bands include Allan Ryder and Charlie Swann. Bert died in December 1980.

  19. I met met my fiancée at the Pav in 1964 while serving on HMS Cavalier. Unfortunately, I got a Dear John on reaching Gibraltar after the ship was in a collision while being towed.
    I always wondered what happened to that beautiful lady and never forgot her.
    Last year I got in touch with her, and we are getting married on my 76th Birthday on the 3rd of August. If anyone has any photos of the Pav past and present, could they kindly send them on.

  20. I remember going to the Paget on the Friday and the Pav on Saturday in the early 60s. Then walking home up Canterbury Street to Copenhagen Road. Saw The Tremeloes there.Such happy carefree days.

  21. I started learning to dance at Paget Hall when I was 17 1/2 with a couple of friends, I had just started working in London, my friends and I met up with four lads who were gas board fitters. I learned to dance with a lad from Strood but he was a good dancer but a little shorter than me. When I was eighteen 1960 we all started going to the Pavilion, it was well organized and we all loved the band with the lady singer. If a lad invited you up for a drink upstairs you made sure where he lived, if it was not in Gillingham or Rainham you knew he needed to get one the M&D buses home so you may not get walked home.

    During this time as well as the local lads, the navy and army lads came to the dances, also the young Irish lads who came over to work on the M2 began to come, I met my husband John who came from the west coast of Ireland, he was an excellent dancer and I spent many happy jiving and walking home with no shoes on because my feet were sore. Another place the Royal Star ballroom in Maidstone were saw Kenny Ball and his Jazzman Midnight in Moscow, and Acker Bilk played Stranger on the Shore and I think we saw Jonny Dankworth and Cleo Laine.
    We did not have a car but used to go over by bus and get the late bus home. Those were the days of lovely music.

  22. My dad used to work at the Pav, I helped out moving the chairs after the bingo nights, getting the room ready for other events , it must have been 1965 -66 I was around 11 at the time, But dad worked for the owner at the time, Jonny Reed who lived in Wigmore road, havent seen his name mentioned anywhere, so just checking I had the right place, it had 3 or 4 steps going up to the doors, and the chairs were the metal fold down ones, i can picture it as i write, Im just glad I have so many memories of the medway towns , there was the Central R n B Club i used to go to after that, there is a facebook page which is called Central R n B club in the 60s & 70s,
    with about 150 members all from the medway towns area..

  23. Just come across your site, brought back lots of memories.
    We played at the Pav and Pages halls with the Casuals, although we were a Gravesend band played a lot in Medway as it was a thriving music scene, The Good companions club was a great venue.
    I also sang with Shirley Spree at the Pav on a Tuesday With Alan Ryder band, Alan was a brilliant alto sax player.
    In the 69’s I joined Brian Jenner Band who were resident at the Moat Hotel at Wrotham and also top venues all over the South, including backing top bands at The Dreamland Ballroom at Margate.
    I left Jenner for nearly a year after getting a hit record under the name of Dorian Gray.
    In later years we all left Jenner to form the band Unit Five, which also featured at top venues, most of that band are with me still today as 5 in the bar swing band, so still singing those great songs today.

  24. Came upon your Website by chance which shows many names, bringing back my own 60s to 80s musical memories.
    Tony Ellingham and Unit 5 were a tip top local band, always in work in my day. Micky Clyesdale was an accomplished player, a musician above mere drummer. Jack Mattin was also very active on the music scene for a long time, from trios to big bands. Not mentioned previously are Wally Scott, who was prolific in his big band arranging work, and Don Barcott, his long time drummer and perhaps still active. Both were at the Pavilion (Pav) and the Paget Halls at some time.
    In your earlier texts are the names of numerous ‘name’ bands and musicians who helped pave the way for our present high profile national music scene. Gillingham’s Pavilion was the outstanding local venue and more than a few were locally resident. Tommy Whittle and Ronnie Verrell to name just two.
    The ‘pie stall’ as it was known was a regular late night stop off for an HMP (hot meat pie) and a coffee (with the occasional threat of a ‘punch up’). In the late 50s alternatives were rare and the sheer novelty of meeting outside at night and being a part of the general melee (in the station car park as I recall) brings back happy memories. If only today!

  25. It was good to read about the old Pav. I first met my current wife in 1964 whilst in the Navy on HMS Cavalier. We got engaged and I got a draft to Gibraltar on Cavalier, but unfortunately got a ‘dear John’. But I never forgot her, and about two year ago I managed to find her once again, and we finally got married last August 3rd on my 76th Birthday, and will be enjoying our first anniversary the week after next, on my 77th Birthday.
    I am interested in obtaining pictures of the inside/ outside of the Pav taken at around that time. I would be obliged if it was possible to send me a copy of any photographs you may have taken.

  26. Someone mentioned Kenny Ball at the Star, Maidstone … that was my first gig after I left school My second was at the Paget in a talent contest. In the 60s I played with Burnettes and then the ‘Cellmates’ who were on a circuit with a lot of top groups (great fun when you’re 19). I was in the audience when the Beatles played at the Invicta, Chatham and, in an evening class with John Childs when he taught me to play ‘Lullaby of Birdland’ (thanks John)
    I got to know most of the musicians mentioned at the Beaconcourt when I joined the ‘Alan Bannister Band’ (R.I.P. Alan….one of my greatest friends!) The keyboard player was Norman (Chunky) Williams who ended up being my father-in-law. I was with Alan for 30 years and played with some great musicians before starting a duo (Biriani) with Malcolm Wallace when the band work dried up.
    Happy days and end of an era!

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