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George Elrick - Bandleader & Broadcaster
 

 

A Profile by Jimmy Brown
Billed as the Smiling Voice of Radio, musician, entertainer and agent, George Elrick was 95 when he died in a London nursing home.

Born in Aberdeen the eldest of a family of nine, George dreamed of becoming a surgeon and even won a bursary to Robert Gordon’s College but lack of funds forced him to leave school and take a job as a traveller in stationery and fancy goods. In his spare time he played drums in local dance bands and after winning the best drummer award in the All-Scottish Dance Band Championship for 1929 he went professional to take a band into Aberdeen’s Beach Ballroom.

Then in 1931 he left Aberdeen to seek fame and fortune in London. Initially he found it difficult to break into London’s clique of highly skilled session musicians but he got his first break when he was engaged as second percussionist to Max Bacon in Ambrose’s orchestra for a nationwide tour. Next Henry Hall signed him as drummer and featured vocalist in his BBC Dance Orchestra. Broadcasting nightly at 5.15 pm, George Elrick’s happy voice soon turned him into a household name, with such chart-toppers of the day as The Music Goes Round And Round.

He left Henry Hall in 1937 to lead his own band round the ballrooms and music halls of Britain and was a regular visitor to Glasgow in those days, playing in the Dennistoun Palais, Barrowland and Green’s Playhouse Ballroom, where he was billed as "Mrs Elrick’s Wee Son George." He was appearing at Dennistoun Palais in 1940 when the BBC started their Music While You Work programmes. He secured a broadcast from the BBC’s Glasgow studios and the band was all set, with just minutes to go, when the producer suddenly asked: "What about the sig tune?" There was a bit of a panic at this since no one had told them about the sig tune and they had no parts.

Piano player John McCormack and trumpeter Duncan Whyte were the only ones who thought they knew the tune so they went on the air busking the sig tune on trumpet and piano for a few bars before launching into their programme. John McCormack suspects that the producer did not like George Elrick and deliberately dropped him in it. The Elrick piano chair was John McCormack’s first full time pro job, although he went on to play with many of the other bandleaders of the day such as Lew Stone and Carl Barriteau. Son of Glasgow accordionist and music shop proprietor, Neilly McCormack, John was only 18 at the time and before he left home he had been sternly warned by his dad against the hazards of band touring such as predatory groupies and excessive drinking.  George Elrick was already tiring of the stresses of band-leading in wartime and when he suddenly gave the band notice to quit, citing their drinking habits as his reason, John was naturally concerned about what his dad would say, particularly since he was still a tee-totaller at the time. John complained to Elrick about this unjustified slur on his character and George withdrew his notice just as suddenly.

Competent musicians willing to tour in wartime were scarce and when 14 year-old Edinburgh trumpet player Freddy Clayton applied for an audition in 1942 Elrick decided to hear him despite his youth. The band was resident in Glasgow’s Green’s Playhouse at the time and when young Freddy turned up George broke out a new orchestration just up from London. But unknown to him Freddy had already been playing this particular piece for a fortnight in his brother’s band in Edinburgh so he sailed through his test and was duly signed up to start a career that took him onwards and upwards through the Lew Stone and Geraldo bands to become a star session man in the London studios. Freddy told me that when he joined Elrick he was approached by the Playhouse’s legendary bouncer, Big Adam, who put the bite on him for the price of a drink. Fred coughed up to the extent of five bob (25p), quite a sum in 1942, and Big Adam was touched at this generosity. The rest of the band were spilling out of the hall at the time and Big Adam nodded over to them, asking Freddy: "Any of them you want thumped?" Young Clayton hastened to assure Big Adam that no such action would not be necessary, while thanking him for the kind offer which he said he would bear in mind.

George Elrick Band on Video

George Elrick signed a record contract with EMI and enjoyed reasonable success with his band, grooming such promising musicians as trumpeter Archie Craig and sax man Harry Lewis, both of whom later became featured players with the famous wartime Number One RAF Dance Orchestra, "The Squadronairs." But the rigours of wartime touring eventually forced George to give up bandleading and he became an agent for such as Mantovani of Charmaine fame. He still retained some links with the entertainment world, however, appearing as a disc jockey on programmes such as the very popular Housewives Choice where he accidentally coined one of the very first gimmicks one day when he hummed along with the going out music at the end of the broadcast. He thought he was humming to himself but his mike had been left open by mistake and his cheerful chortling went out over the air. Listeners’ reaction was so favourable that he had to keep the gimmick in his act for the rest of his time on Housewives Choice

Mantovani.

Always very active in the show business charity organisation, The Water Rats, George Elrick was in line for the award of the OBE in recognition of this when he died. His wife, Alice, a former model, died in 1992 at the age of 82 while their only child, Ian, was tragically killed in an accident in 1954 at the age of 20. He was survived by his sisters, Peggy, who lives in Aberdeen, Winnie of Montrose and Bessie of Plymouth.


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Last modified: 01/09/2013