2019 - Celebrating 40 Years of Savannah
See also http://www.jazzandjazz.com/?p=31134

If you have any memories of listening to, or playing with the band, please let me have them for inclusion on this page.

I have pulled together a few anecdotes from the site along with a recent email


The Savannah Jazz Band with Frank Brooker at Moor Park Jazz Club, Preston on 7th Aug 2005

Written by the late Gordon Hughes some years ago-

TWO proud boasts used to surface in the one-time mill town of Huddersfield One was that this gritty town on the edge of the Pennines in West Yorkshire used to produce the finest worsted cloth in the world. In the face of stiff competition from the rest of the world that may now be open to some dispute.

The other boast was that it hosted one of the country’s finest traditional jazz bands. And this probably isn’t in any dispute at all.

For well over two decades the Savannah Jazz Band has been flying the flag on the British and European jazz scene, and beyond. Wherever else they have appeared, in Holland. Denmark, Germany, Finland, Majorca and beyond, in Canada and America, the lads have easily added to their legion of dedicated fans.

Humphrey Lyttelton once described the band as “totally professional, one of the very best in the business.” Praise indeed, from a man who knows what he’s talking about.

Naturally, the band has been forced into adapting to change over the years, but it is a tribute to their dedication, shrewd replacements and a general willingness to rebuild that today, most; say, they are playing as well as ever.

The admiration between the band and the constant stream of musicians queuing up to guest with drummer leader John Meehan and the boys is mutual. The band’s music is inspired by the legendary Ken Colyer. Yet, there’s a passion and a drive which makes the Savannah quite inimitable.

Their fans reckon it’s due to a perfect blend of musicianship, remarkable cohesion, jazz craft and musical values. Added to this is the knack of catering for Dixieland as well as the basic New Orleans jazz tastes to appease both the casual and serious listener. It works well.

“We keep on playing and the people keep coming” says leader Meehan, “so we must be doing something right.”. The band has been doing it right for well over 25 years and there’s no sign yet of any let up..

Demand for the band’s music has prompted sixteen recordings, eleven live concerts and five in the upstairs room of a pub at Golcar, in the hills high above Huddersfield.

Lake Records’ chief Paul Adams first met up with the band some fifteen years ago. “I’d heard rumours of them before that, but nothing I could really pin down” says Paul. ‘It had been an average, run-of-the-mill jazz weekend in a large ballroom and I was definitely restless. Then the Savannah took the stage. I remember thinking that’s more like it.... I think I’ve felt the same ever since‘.

Playing at Eagley Jazz Club 19th June 2006 when John Meehan invited a young drummer to take his place



Terry Birkinhead 8th April 2014 -

I always refer to the Savannah as a Rolls-Royce band – they always provide a great performance without fail.

I first heard them in the ‘Starlights’ club in a dark upstairs room at Keswick Jazz Festival in 1992 and I was hooked. The band at that time – Brian Ellis (tmb), Tony Smith (tpt/voc.), Martin Fox (clt), Jack Cooper (bjo)), Tony Pollitt (s/b) and John Meehan (dms & leader.)

Subsequently, from October ’92 to March ’08, I hired the band on 14 occasions at clubs in Newton, Winwick & Croft and they were always enormously popular. Barbara and I heard them on 53 occasions over 25 years, at 24 different venues !

I remember them playing to a packed Rawnsley Hall at Keswick Jazz Festival (1997 ?), and Tony Smith told the audience “It’s so nice to see so many of our friends here, from Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and NEWTON-LE-WILLOWS !” Many of the comments were of the type “Newton le where ?”

Best of all for me was the surprise (early) retirement party in 1995, my wife – a member of the MI5 – having secretly hired the Savannah and invited 100 friends as guests at Newton Sports Club. I was completely gob-smacked – supposedly dropping off a camera for my daughter at a party! During the evening, my daughter announced that as I was retiring, it was about time that I learned to play an instrument, and would I come up and receive a present, which looked ominously like a clarinet case, with the smiling Martin Fox looking on. Under audience insistence I opened the box –it contained a kazoo! So I can proudly say that I have ‘sat in’ with the Savannah, though most of them couldn't play for laughing.

Thanks, Savannah, for all the extremely enjoyable jazz that you have served up for us for 40 years.

Fred Burnett 8th April 2019 -

Speaking of surprise birthday parties, one of the Savannah's biggest fans was the late Freda Barker, who booked them as often as she could, to play at Blakey's Jazz Bar in Blackburn. So when her daughter asked for my help to organise a birthday party for her,  I approached Terry Birkinhead as I knew he had booked them to play at Croft and I took this photograph of Freda with the band, for her 80th birthday. Terry reserved us front row seats for the occasion.



Video of the band at Moor Park Jazz Club, Preston, on 6th January 2008

10/06/19 -

Savannah Jazz Band's 40th anniversary concert.

Saturday 8th June we attended this special gig in the ‘Keys’ restaurant in a medieval crypt below St. Peter’s parish church, Huddersfield.

A great evening with about 60 fans present. Only leader/drummer John Meehan has the full 40 year medal, but trombonist/pianist Brian Ellis follows close. Frontman/trumpeter/harmonicist/vocalist Bill Smith and bassist Tony Pollitt (excused for family duties on this evening) chalk up many years ; Roger Myerscough (the Essex scouser) on clarinet/alto/vocals & repartee has clocked up 10 (?) years ; Chris Marney on banjo/vocals and dep. Jim Swinnerton on his romping string bass completed the evening’s line up.

Some of our favourite numbers : - ‘Travellin’ Blues’, Oscar Petersen’s ‘Hymn to Freedom’ (appropriate following the 75th anniversary of D-Day.) and ‘Running Wild’ with John Meehan ripping into a break on percussion.

We were that mesmerised that we got hopelessly lost on the 4 mile trip to our B & B in Elland, but were rescued about midnight) by some friendly & understanding Yorkshiremen taking pity on a couple from the Red Rose side of the fence.

All the best,

Terry Birkinhead.





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