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Thousands of miles away from the origins of jazz in the United States, British dance bands of this era typically played melodic, good-time music that had jazz and big band influences but also maintained a peculiarly British sense of rhythm and style which came from the music hall tradition. Often comedians of the day or music hall personalities would sing novelty recordings backed by well-known British dance band leaders. Some of the British dance band leaders and musicians went on to fame in the United States in the swing era.
Thanks to Britain's continuing ballroom dancing tradition and its recording copyright laws, British dance music of the pre-swing era still attracts a modest audience, which American dance music of the same period does not.
Many popular singers rose to fame as vocalists on recordings by the British dance bands. They are not always attributed on the record label, except for the description "with vocal refrain", but an experienced listener can usually identify the voices of these otherwise anonymous singers. Famous British dance band vocalists included:
The Squadronaires are a Royal Air Force band which became the best known of the British service dance bands during the Second World War, with hits like "There's Something in the Air" and "South Rampart Street Parade". They played at dances and concerts for service personnel, broadcast on the BBC and recorded on the Decca label. Many of the members formerly played as side men in Bert Ambrose's band, and they continued to be popular after the war under the leadership of Ronnie Aldrich. Other British service dance bands included the Blue Mariners, the Blue Rockets and the Skyrockets.
Cafés, clubs, hotels and restaurants in London noted for British dance band music during the Golden Age included:
The BBC Radio programme Dance Band Days ran from 1969 to 1995 with a playlist of British dance band music. It was presented by Alan Dell, and subsequently by Malcolm Laycock. The programme was later transferred to Sunday Night at 10, until the British dance band content was dropped by the BBC in 2008.
The BBC Radio programme Thanks For The Memory presented by Hubert Gregg regularly featured British dance band music, and ran for 35 years until his death in 2004.
James Nott, Going to the Palais: a social and cultural history of dancing and dance halls in Britain, 1918-1960 (OUP, 2015)
James Nott, Music for the People: Popular Music and Dance in interwar Britain(OUP, 2002)
Abra, Allison. Review of "Going to the palais: a social and cultural history of dancing and dance halls in Britain, 1918-1960." Contemporary British History (Sep 2016) 30#3 pp 432-433.
White, Mark. The Observer's Book of Big Bands: Describing American, British, and European Big Bands, Their Music and Their Musicians [and their vocalists], in The Observer's Series, no. 77. London: F. Warne, 1978. ISBN0-7232-1589-8.