Derek Atkins


  • 16/12/12 - Dear Fred, I am hoping you may be able to help? My grandfather Derek (Atkins) Atkinson passed away aged 89 on 4.12.12 peacefully at the Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI). I was directed to your site via tributes to Alan Hare who passed away in 2007. My grandfathers funeral will take place at Manchester crematorium on Wednesday 19th December at 14:15. I know Jazz music was a massive part of his life and anybody with memories of my grandfather are more than welcome at the funeral. If there is a notice you could post or a message to inform people of his passing it would be most appreciated, a notice was placed in Fridays Manchester Evening News also - Jason Atkinson


By: Joe Silmon-Monerri, Manchester 18th December 2012

Webmaster and staunch friend of the Jazz Community, Fred Burnett, recently passed me some very sad news given to him by Jason Atkinson, grandson of one among the earliest outstanding pioneers of the Manchester Jazz Revival, cornetist Derek Atkins (real surname, Atkinson), who sadly passed away, peacefully aged 89, on 4th December 2012, at the Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI).

It is hoped that as many members of the Manchester Jazz scene, musicians, vocalists and fans, will be present at his funeral at Manchester Crematorium Chapel on Wednesday 19th December at 14:15 pm. to celebrate and commemorate Derek's significant contribution to what eventually became the "Revival of Jazz" in Manchester; that fairly independent, unsupported effort locally, in response to what was happening in London in the early-mid 1940s. So far, a four-piece band will be playing; as the mourners enter the Chapel and possibly inside, between the recordings chosen by Diane, Derek's widow and her grandson Jason Atkinson.

This original 'revival' and its hundreds of musicians appears to go unrecognised today by the Arts Council and the organisers of the present Manchester Jazz Festival. However, it did exist; so did hundreds and even thousands of Jazz musicians, vocalists and dancers who made it all happen, and caused so much Media interest and coverage, well before the existing "Revival" organisations were set up about three decades later. Back in the early-mid 1940s, the War had rekindled the need for that infectious foot-tapping music that once again began to fascinate millions worldwide, mainly through radio broadcasts, in which Derek was to play a very important part.

Derek Atkinson was born in Manchester in 1923. As a very young teenager, he became almost instantly hooked on Jazz by listening to Mugsy Spanier, mainly on the radio at first, and later at Jazz record recitals and meetings. Before reaching the heights with his Dixielanders, his beginnings in the idiom were, as they often tend to be, modest. Derek was in his early teens when he decided to join with others of like mind; usually school-friends are the first candidates. The early "band" consisted of Derek on cornet and John Stovold on trumpet, and on hearing them practice through the open window of Derek's lounge one afternoon, a youth in short trousers - Barry Schumm - knocked on the door. "Can I bring my clarinet, and join in?" - Barry tentatively asked. John and Derek enthusiastically encouraged him to do so. Now there were three! Thus, after some three years' hard practice, by which time the boys' ages ranged between19 and 21, the "Strutters Swingtet" was formed, virtually in Derek's front room in Longsight. Barry already played in a style, loosely based on Benny Goodman's, and Derek tended towards "Nicksieland" or a cross between that and the "Frisco"-style. Before they had reached 20, the boys managed to attract the interest of other instrumentalists, one being Tommy Wrigley (trombone). One or two others followed, as they became members of local rhythm clubs. However, while they all kept up their practice throughout the War, they had begun between approximately 1944 and 1947, to attend Jazz record recitals regularly, mainly at a large public house on Oxford Road , All Saints - The Clarendon Hotel - although other centres were of interest to them too. The association at the Clarendon was run by Jazz enthusiast, Jack Gregory, and it was called the Manchester Jazz Society, a follow-up after the War, of the organisation set up in 1934 by a man called "Jenks" (but not the one from the Manchester Sports Guild in the 1950s/60s). There, the boys met up with other musicians from different local areas.

At one of the Society's recital meetings, the Committee, knowing that there were several flesh-and-blood musicians in the room, asked Derek and friends and one or two others to form a band that would be based at the Clarendon to play live sessions - for a change. It was eventually decided that it would be renamed Derek Atkins Dixielanders; and was possibly the most important decision that the Committee had ever made.

And so, instead of the "Strutters' Swingtet", it was the Derek Atkins Dixielanders, appropriately under the leadership of Derek, who now appeared live, for the very first time before a captive audience, at the Manchester Jazz Society. It was a far cry from the so far 'record recitals only' policy of the Society. Up to 1947 it had relied on the recitals and on talks by prominent Jazz enthusiasts and connoisseurs, such as Sinclair Trayll, Harry Giltrap, Alan Stevens and others, and run super-efficiently by Jack Gregory at the Clarendon. This was quite a serious project at the time, which put the band at the forefront of those bands that had already recorded live Jazz in Manchester in the early days: the Delta Rhythm Kings and the Smoky City Stompers. Although they had been slow to come onto the scene as a recognised band, the boys had been among the first Jazz musicians to play live on the scene, albeit for themselves, before the Manchester version of the Jazz Revival kicked in with bands such as Harry Giltrap's/Eric' Lister's Delta Rhythm Kings and the Smoky City Stompers in 1944-46. Again, these two bands had been slowly put together during WW2; it was easier to retain personnel once the War was over, of course. Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen were now back or on their way back to Britain, from the various fronts. Harry Giltrap played banjo and guitar; Eric Lister played clarinet, and after the War, he had become an expert vocalist, after returning from Navy duties via New York, in 1946, stopping off there to practice with local Jazz musicians, and picking up American vocalist styles. These last two bands were recording as early as 1946-48.

I photographed Derek with his old band-mate, the late Alan Hare, and the photo appears in my tribute to Alan on Fred's magnificent website, with a lot of information about Derek Atkins Dixielanders. The surname appears to have been shortened at the Clarendon, for the first of several performances by the band. Derek was also in Alan's bands, Particularly the Blue Note Jazzmen, who played at both the Wheatsheaf Hotel and at the Queen's Café on Queen Street. He was also actually playing regularly until relatively recently, with Stretford Brass Band, and much earlier with Burnage Brass Bands, not far from his home. His widow is Diane. She was an avid Jazz fan, and followed Derek around to clubs and gigs; at first it was the drummer to whom she gave her attention. Later, she fell hook, line and sinker for Derek and that was it, forever! Diane put together, in a beautifully set-out scrap-book, many items that she and Derek allowed me to photocopy for the book on the local Jazz scene. When I can get around to it, it will be interesting for Jason as well as anybody keen on knowing how the Manchester Jazz scene - the REAL one - came about. 

Derek Atkinson was the cornettist/leader of the Derek 'Atkins' Dixielanders, that started out in at least 1944-46 as a practice band, i. e. at least 3 years before the Saints Jazz Band, and about the time of the Delta Rhythm Kings (the first recognised band of the local Revival). But Derek's band also preceded the Smoky City Stompers (c. 1946-1952), in which some of the personnel of the Delta Rhythm Kings, had started spasmodically in approximately 1942-44. However, the DRK wasn't the first recognised Jazz band in the Manchester area either. That was reputed to be Max's (or Monty's Creole Aces, or similar, who played in a dance hall or theatre in Rusholme between 1919 and 1923, a band that aped the Hammersmith-Palais-based Original Dixieland Jazz Band from the USA. However, let us not forget that even earlier Jazz band - not allowed to use the term "Jazz" either - "The Hot Spots" in 1936. This was a band playing actual Jazz, but non-commercially, performed by under-14 year-olds at Manchester Grammar School, under the eventual leadership of Frank Dixon (multi-reedman extraordinaire, still playing today) and their Maths. Master, Harry Lob, a non-Jazzer but a flautist in a classical orchestra. He gave the boys unlimited support for their venture; in "ULULA", the MGS magazine, the word Jazz was never mentioned in connection with the band, which was never mentioned by name either during the brief years of its existence. Instead, it would appear as 'Mr. Dixon's band'. This was a reference to Frank Dixon, see above. Frank also ran the "Decibel" label, on which it is possible that Derek's band recorded at the Johnny Roadhouse studios in All Saints.

Derek was a major, dare I say heroic, character of the Manchester Jazz Revival of the 1940s. People will say that his band appeared at the Spring Gardens Post Office Club between the 1950s and 1960s/70s. However, by that time (1952ish through to the 1960s and possibly a little longer), he was not actually in the band during those periods even though the band played under his name. In his everyday life he was a draughtsman, very much in demand at his place of work. He had married Dinah and soon he would have more mouths to feed; so he left his more philanthropic pursuit (Jazz) behind, although reluctantly however realistically, but this move away from Jazz was only temporary. The band simply retained his name, because he was so well- known. National newspapers wrote about the Dixielanders in glowing terms when Derek was still with the band. By about 1952, Derek had left the Jazz scene and in his spare time, was exclusively playing dance-music, at Cadman's Dance Hall, Stretford for a number of years. At his funeral I was corrected by his widow, Dinah, with regard to his having left Jazz altogether. Apparently, although this is what I had been led to believe, it was not actually the case. Any other comments about this period from people who knew or played with Derek are, of course, welcome.

Nevertheless, in his Jazz column for the Manchester Evening News, for September 1953, Alan Stevens (pen-name "Jack Florin") advised the boys in Derek Atkins Dixielanders to change the name of the band, as Derek had long since left it. It began to appear under the name of the new trombonist, Reg. Payton. While Payton was still playing with the band, Eddie Miller-styled saxophonist Wilf Harman sat in one evening on tenor sax, at the Three Shires Restaurant, on Spring Gardens, and was promptly hired, his involvement changing the overall style significantly. Shortly afterwards, the band was renamed 'Derek Atkins's Dixielanders', for publicity purposes. To recapitulate on Derek's temporary abandonment of the Jazz scene, Barrie Quilliam (piano), recalls a period which changes my original perception of Derek's Jazz career. Barrie Quilliam, partly reinforcing the information volunteered by Dinah Atkinson , Derek's widow, at the funeral, recently sent the following to Fred Burnett for the News Page:

"Derek Atkinson joined the Barrie Quilliam All Stars, the resident band at The Railway Hotel in Wilmslow, in about 1956. He had been playing with The Bluenotes at The Sportsman and it seemed that there had been a musical disagreement with the leader Alan Hare. Our trumpeter Jimmy Yarrow had replaced him with The Bluenotes, so in effect we swapped trumpet players. The Barrie Quilliam All Stars folded in about 1957, but Derek and I continued for about 2 years with a trumpet. drums and piano trio, playing dance music at weddings, parties and social clubs. This paid a lot better than jazz. I lost contact with Derek when I formed The Dave Barrie Quartet playing the latest pop and dance music. I returned to jazz in the 1980s playing with the Geoff Wild band at the Malt Shovels in Altrincham".

I recall Barrie's playing at the Malt Shovels, as during the 70s and 80s, I too played with Geoff Wilde and Barrie there. This statement by Barrie, however, still leaves Derek only playing some form of Jazz (however more lucratively) until some time in 1959, alongside Barrie in his new trio (piano, trumpet, drums), and perhaps in so doing straying away from the general Jazz scene.
Cornetist John Tucker, currently of the Temperance Seven, used to know Derek quite well from brass band sessions. I was surprised to learn from John that Derek actually returned to Jazz, and played alongside that other celebrated cornetist, ex-Saints' Bob Connell. The Jazz sessions took place at Heaton Moor Golf Club, Heaton Moor, near Stockport, in probably the mid-70s. He also played at the Dustman's Club, Withington, some twenty years ago. Therefore, he didn't give up on us altogether.

Before and during their involvement at the Clarendon, and just after the start of the Revival proper, the forerunners of Derek Atkins's Dixielanders (the "Strutters Swingtet") had also played for some time at the Edinburgh Hall on Princess Road, Moss Side, around 1946-48. For part of that time, the line-up, as the resident band, had been: Derek Atkins's (cornet/leader); Mo' Mosedale (clarinet); Fred Fydler (trombone); at first (1946), Alan Hare (piano), replaced in approximately 1947 by Snowy Hansen and Ted Roberts (guitar). There was no bassist (string or brass). In the 1949 recording of the band on the "Delta" label, Ted's wife, Joan Roberts, came under severe criticism from Max Jones of the "Melody Maker", although, according to most accounts, Joan was a reasonably good vocalist. It would be interesting to hear for ourselves how she really sounded. I believe Jason might have access to this and other recordings. Derek had an old-style 'radiogram' in which some of his beloved recordings have remained to this day. I hope that that D. A. D. recording is among them.

It only remains for me to say to Diane, Jason and all members of Derek's family and their friends, on behalf of all on the Manchester Jazz scene, that we are with them in their loss and thoughts, but hope that the celebration of his highly varied life and career will bring us all some degree of comfort and pride about a life thoroughly well lived and worthwhile.

Joe Silmon-Monerri Manchester, UK, December 2012.

16/12/12 -

"Hi Fred, I remember, when I was very young in about 1951/52, going to a small jazz festival at St. Georges' Hall, Liverpool and seeing a band called the "Derek Atkins Dixielanders". It was a pretty good band, I seem to remember, though not in the popular " revivalist style ( not Trad then, am glad to say !!! ) Of the time. It suited my friends and me, as we had already become enticed by Eddie Condon' music. Don't remember much else, but I do seem to remember reading that Alan hare was in the band on trombone! ".

Roy Swift

16/12/12 -

Dear Fred, Derek was a trumpet player and I played with him in my very early days when Alan Hare had a band playing at The Kings Hall in Cheadle Hulme. I have a not too good cassette tape recording of that band playing. The older band members used to go to the pub at the interval and John Mayall and myself used to do a duet".

Mart Rodger


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