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Dunedin Sound, 1930s

May 15, 2014

Each generation is entitled to its own bad taste, suggested Dunedin music stalwart Walter Sinton in 1978 when writing about the 1930s:

Ambassadors, Dunedin WS088Ballroom dancing was a popular pastime in the early 30s and the [newspaper’s] amusement column advertising was plentifully bestrewn with the whereabouts of the various dances and the names of the bands.

These were the days when microphones were not needed by the instrumentalists and when saxophones, clarinets, violins, trumpets, banjos, string basses, drums and even sousaphones, on occasions, plus of course the indispensable piano, held sway.

What a contrast to the predominance of the guitars of today hitched up as they are to heavy artillery amplifiers, plus electronic devices such as organs and synthesisers.

What a contrast, too, in the names of the groups of yesteryear as compared to the somewhat weird “labels” chosen for many of today’s “pop” combinations. Maybe “weird” would be a more apt description of the appearances of present-day players in contrast to the dignified dress of the “old timers”.

The picture herein of “The Ambassadors” of the 30s, highlights the difference in dress and instrumentation and patrons of those days will recall that the dancers on the floor were similarly attired.

They will also remember names of some of the other bands such as, “Fraser’s Majestic”, “The Carlton”, “The Bandits”, “Smith’s Jubilee”, “The New Collegians”, “Stewart’s Imperial, “The Sports”, “The Ritz” and so on and band leaders like Arthur Frost, Alf Pettitt, Dick Colvin, Arthur Gordon, and the moto perpetuo, Doug Dagg.

As to which type of group you prefer, the “oldies” or today’s groups, it is the old, old story. It depends on your age and generation and your taste which is an automatic match. Yesterday’s lot gave their young bloods what they wanted and today’s bunch must be doing the same. After all, they’ve been at it for a fair while now.

But there are more than signs, particularly overseas, that the cycle is turning around again to the more formal [the Enemy? – ed], and that players of today, many of whom have been unable to play from the printed score, have perforce to learn to “read the dots”. Some folk will rejoice. Others will be saddened at the passing of an era. But let us “oldies” not forget how our forbears were shocked when the stately waltz gave way to the Foxtrot, the “one Step” and then, horror of horrors, the “Charleston”.

The picture shows the Ambassadors Band of the 1930s, Dunedin. From left: Ralph Hall. Jim Harris, Len Turner, Harry Aburn, George Walker, Hugh Weir, Dud Heathcote, Bert Munro, Jack Logan. Sinton’s story comes from his serialised history of Dunedin entertainment, Evening Star, 4 February 1978.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 15, 2014 11:24 pm

    Well, I don’t quite remember it… and I’m kinda glad I don’t have to listen to it now….

  2. Fiona Magrath( nee Walker) permalink
    June 18, 2015 4:16 pm

    I would sure like to learn about the bands at this time as my father played at the town hall in ’40s and early ’50s. His name is mentioned in the ambassadors band, he also played with the Ramblers at the Town Hall dances. His name was George Walker. Mostly pianist.

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