Written by Terry Brown
Terry Brown is a very well respected researcher, discographer, author and authority on the history of early dance bands and the performers of the big band era. He has written many articles and discographies for the Discographer.
Cyril Ramon Newton
The Voice of the 1920’s
A Two Part Biography
(Part 2 of 2)
KEY: ⦾ 78rpm Acoustic/⦿ 78rpm Electric
Other solos issued over 1925, include Cyril’s appearance as, ‘Earl Collins & his Ukelele’, on Vocalion in September and November 1925. I earlier mentioned something of Cyril’s song writing abilities and in 1924, he had scored with, Back to Colorado and during 1925, he contributed to a number of modest hits, including, I’ve Got a Real Daddy Now, Light of Your Smile, My Radio Dream Girl, Must You Break My Heart, I Want a Girl Like Peggy O’Neill and That’s Why I Love the Moon.
Undoubtedly, though, Cyril’s biggest earner as a contributor, was for the 1925 smash hit, Show Me the Way to Go Home. Cyril explained to journalist Norman Cribbens, how the song came about. Cyril and several band musicians, including Hal Swain from the Hotel Cecil were relaxing in a hotel bar off Charing Cross Road in London, singing around a piano played by Billy Mayerl. Here Cyril takes up the story,
‘One of them said, It’s getting late – show me the way to go home, someone, and the boys took it from there. We improvised the whole thing, line by line, and somehow it grew into a song. But none of the established publishers would touch it. Two of our friends, Jimmy Campbell and Reg. Connelly, set up a publishers in a small room and had the song printed. I sang it on the radio with the Havana Band and Ella Shields sang it on the music halls. Soon the song was acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic and the large publishing firm of Campbell Connelly grew out of it’.
The song was published under the pseudonym, Irving King, with each contributor, including Cyril on an undisclosed percentage. (Hal Swain, later said he could make a good living just off his percentage of the song). Apart from his own contributions to popular music, The Savoy Havana Band regularly appeared on publishers’ sheet music as a sure way to get the music buying public’s attention. If the Havana band played it, broadcast it, or recorded it – it must be good.
Meanwhile, Cyril remained fully engaged with his Savoy activities, including a memorable BBC broadcast made on 15 June 1925. Radio Times announced, ‘A program of symphonic music’, to be played by the Savoy Orpheans and Havana Band, from the Savoy, which would include the UK premier of, Rhapsody in Blue, to be played by the composer, George Gershwin. Incidentally, the Radio Times noted, Cyril as, ‘Music Director of The Savoy Havana Band’, again confirming Cyril rather than Reg. Batten as leader. The Savoy Havana Band under Cyril remained a top attraction at the Savoy and its charismatic leader highly regarded as a vocalist and musician.
With the arrival of 1926, more change was in the air when, (as mentioned earlier), at the start of March, the Savoy group’s MD, William de Mornys was shocked to receive 6 weeks’ notice from the Orpheans leader, Debroy Somers, who decided to quit to form his own band. So at the end of Somers notice period, in April, (as confirmed by Melody Maker), Cyril was moved as Leader of the Havana Band to become the leader of the Savoy Orpheans. (Reggie Batten, identified by Melody maker as Deputy Leader of the Orpheans, took over the Havana Band).
The Savoy Orpheans under Cyril consisted, (at least initially), of Vernon Ferry, Walter Lyme (trumpets), George Chaffin (trombone), Van Phillips? Herb Finney, Watson Marsh (reeds), Carroll Gibbons (piano), Pete Mandell (banjo), Jim Bellamy (brass bass), and Ronnie Gubertini (drums).
Over 1926, there were comings and goings, with Vernon Ferry replaced briefly by Harry Thompson, who was then replaced by Charles Rocco, Sydney Kite added on violin, Ray Starita replacing Watson Marsh, the arrival of Arthur Lalley and the like. Otherwise, Cyril was a capable and well liked leader whose busy schedule included, upwards of four recording sessions a month on the HMV label, three BBC broadcasts per week, as well as a seven day presence at the Savoy.
Apart from his work with the Orpheans from May 1926, Cyril entered into a loose arrangement with the Crystalate Company to make solo recordings under a range of pseudonyms. Cyril had already recorded three solo vocal sides with Crystalate as, ‘John Boyd’, on its Imperial label back in March 1925, but under the new arrangement he became, ‘Peter Rush’, starting with, Susie Was A Real Wild Child/ Dreaming of a Castle in the Air, recorded 10 May 1926 (⦿ Imperial 1598).
In addition during the course of the year, Cyril appeared on many of Crystalate’s mini-discs, including the Oliver, Mimosa, Marspen and Imperial Junior labels.
On Mimosa he was usually unidentified, with just, ‘vocal’, appearing on the label.
For his other vocal outings at Crystalate, he could be, Peter Rush (again), or a myriad of other pseudonyms, including, Eric Keen, Jack Longstaff, and Dan Fitzroy.
Meanwhile, Cyril appeared on the cover of the July 1926 edition of Melody Maker and in a featured article was described as, ‘One of the most popular voices on the radio’. In the same item, Cyril spelt out his approach to leading the Orpheans. He maintained that,
‘By developing dance bands on strict melodic lines, with a rhythmic foundation provided in accompaniments, and by cutting out too much exaggeration in the, ‘hot’, or ‘dirt’, styles, much of the opposition to modern popular music would be eliminated, and a great future will be opened up for it’.
From assuming its leadership to January of 1927, Cyril’s Orpheans recorded some 80 sides for HMV, with Cyril usually vocalising on at least one side from each recording session. Some of his more notable Orpheans sides include, Static Strut (⦿ HMV B5083), Dizzy Fingers, which includes a piano duet from Carroll Gibbons & Donald Thorne (⦿ HMV B5105), Jig Walk (⦿ HMV B5136), and Baby Face (⦿ HMV B5147). But as ever at the Savoy, nothing seemed to stay the same and the February 1927 edition of Melody Maker announced that William de Mornys had completed yet another re-organisation of the Savoy Bands, which once again meant another move for Cyril.
The then leader of the Sylvians, (based at the Savoy Group’s Berkeley Hotel), Carroll Gibbons, had taken over a re-vamped Orpheans, and Cyril was appointed leader of the Sylvians. In Cyril’s new band, (to be based in the Berkeley Hotel), apart from himself were, Herbert Finney (saxophone), Billy Thorburn (piano), Ronnie Gubertini (drums), Pete Mandell (banjo), and Johnny Frytag (saxophone). Cyril’s Sylvians recorded three titles for HMV in February, (albeit augmented with brass, including Frank Guarante on trumpet). According to Rust/Forbes, Ben Evers seems to have taken over the Sylvians, at least for recording sessions from March to April, (their last session), although Melody Maker for April 1927 reported that Boston born saxophonist, Howard Jacobs had arrived in the UK and had been appointed joint leader of the Sylvians with Cyril.
But in the May edition of Melody Maker, Baker is named as sole leader of what had become the New Sylvians, with no mention of Cyril. It appears Cyril remained part of the Savoy’s overall operations as he was singing vocals on the Orpheans/Sylvians and Havana Band recordings to at least October 1927. But clearly, (as indicated by what happened next), at some point in the second half of 1927, Cyril decided to call it a day at the Savoy. Before we get to, ‘what happened next’, let’s take another opportunity to consider Cyril’s other vocal work during 1927. Well, as in 1926, he continued making anonymous mini-disc appearances for Crystalate as well as more Peter Rush, Imperial label issues. Some new pseudonym’s appeared, including, Stephen Crost, Richard Deane and Peter Baynes and from November 1927, Cyril became a regular vocalist with Harry Bidgood & his Broadcasters, on the Broadcast label for the Vocalion Company. * (It should also be noted that Cyril was a member of the pool of players Harry Bidgood drew on for his Vocalion Broadcast label, and according to Rust/Forbes, Cyril was a regular player with Bidgood’s recording band from 1926 to 1933). He also did one solo vocal session under his own name for Columbia. In addition, (also from November 1927), Cyril became Debroy Somers’ regular recording vocalist on the Columbia label and as an indication of his status as a vocalist, he was usually credited on the label.
Indeed, as far as Cyril’s career was concerned, it was Debroy Somers who was behind, ‘what happened next’.
Somers, had been incumbent at London’s Ciro’s Club from February 1927, and on the 2 October 1927, he decided to leave and take his band touring. October’s Melody Maker announced, Somers had, ‘nominated‘, Harry Bidgood to form an eight piece replacement unit, consisting of Cyril Newton (violin), Bidgood (piano), Victor Sterling (drums/xylophone), Ernie Abbe (trumpet), George Gibson (1st saxophone), Fred Gilmore (saxophone), Barney Singleton (bass), and Len Sheville (banjo).
In November’s Melody Maker, the following correction appeared,
‘We erroneously stated that this band, with which Mr Somers has supplied Ciro’s Club, was under the direction of Harry Bidgood. The leadership of the combination is, of course, in the hands of Ramon Newton (late of the Savoy Orpheans), and with such a talented director it should turn out to be one of the best in London’.
Clearly, a somewhat miffed Cyril had been on the phone.
Cyril’s Ciro’s Club Band became very popular particularly as they began broadcasting, on average twice a month from the start, right through to April 1929, when Teddy Brown’s Band took over. Ciro’s Club Band signed a recording contract with Vocalion for its Broadcast label, and from mid-April 1928 to September 1928, issued 24 sides under that name.
The band heard actually consisted of Cyril’s outfit augmented with members of Debroy Somers main band. Cyril plays violin and vocalises.
Following his last Ciro’s Club issue for Broadcast, and whilst still at the club, Cyril formed a recording unit named, The Original Havana Band for Broadcast, which began recording on 12 September 1928. It issued 38 sides to April 1929, with a personnel again consisting of members of Cyril’s Ciro’s Club Band, and as before, some of Debroy Somers outfit, including – Jimmy Wornel? (trumpet), Ernie Abbey (trumpet), Bernard Tipping (trombone), George Gibson and Fred Gilmore (reeds). Most of these musicians had played at various times over the years with the Savoy Bands including the Savoy Havana Band and so calling his outfit, The Original Havana Band was not too far from the truth. Cyril led, played violin and sang for the majority of their recordings.
Over the whole of his two year or so period at Ciro’s, Cyril continued issuing solo work, including 11 sides from October 1928 to June 1929, under his own name for Broadcast. With the arrival of Teddy Brown’s Band at Ciro’s, (mentioned earlier), in April 1929, apart from his solo vocal work on record, Cyril was clearly at a loose end for a period of weeks. During May, Cyril did the rounds of the London recording studios and got some, ‘vocal chorus’ jobs with Bertini, Herman Darewski, and Ronnie Munro.
In June of the same year, Rhythm magazine reported that,
‘Cyril Newton, late of Ciro’s, has joined up with pianist, (and future band leader), Billy Mason, and will be seen shortly in vaudeville in a double act’.
Cyril and pianist ‘Smiling Billy Mason’, as he was billed, made a few cabaret and variety appearances, over the next couple of months including one at Belle Vue in July 1929, where Cyril also conducted the Belle Vue Dance Band.
But this enterprise quickly ran out of steam, as clearly Cyril wanted bigger and better things, and over August/September 1929 he was in negotiation with what was considered to be Newcastle Upon Tyne’s best restaurant, Tilley’s, (located at 22/24 Blackett Street), to supply and lead a new band there.
It’s unrecorded as to how this came about, but the fact that Tilley’s Orchestra had been extremely popular and had an enduring presence on the BBC’s Newcastle service on 5NO, from 1924 up to the arrival of Cyril was no doubt a factor. In any event, Cyril formed his band to be known as The New Havana Band for Tilley’s and it was certainly already operating there by October 1929, according to local press reports.
In February 1930, Rhythm magazine caught up with Cyril and reported as follows:
‘Ramon Newton, the well-known leader and vocalist, is now at Tilley’s Grand Assemby Rooms, Newcastle-on-Tyne, where he is proving a big draw. The instrumentation of the band is alto and tenor saxes, 1st and 2nd trumpets, string bass, guitar, piano and drums, with, of course ‘Newt’, as violin leader’.
The same article gives a brief biography of Cyril, mentioning his time with Bert Ralton, before confirming,
‘When Ralton left, Newton took charge of the band, which by this time was re-named the Savoy Havana Band, and held this position for some years, until he was given charge of the Savoy Orpheans’. It concludes by mentioning Cyril’s voice as, ‘very pleasing, both on air and on wax’ and that the band, ‘occasionally broadcast from 5NO and are doing a national broadcast on February 19 from Tilley’s Grand Assembly Rooms, from 10.30 to 12 midnight’.
Over the next few years, although Cyril disappeared from the music press, he maintained a highly successful presence at Tilley’s, with further broadcasts both locally in Newcastle as well as relayed to Manchester and London. Cyril’s band also did regular gig work around the North, at Hunt Balls, Civic and Corporate events and the like, and from 1931, usually spent summer seasons at Bridlington, Scarborough, Llandudno and the like, from where he also broadcast. Everything was going swimmingly until June 1933, when Cyril found himself in court accompanied by a mountain of embarrassing press reports.
An action had been brought by Cyril’s American wife Florence, who accused one Mrs Pat Hardy of ‘enticing’, Cyril away from her. Pat Hardy and her husband had apparently been friends of the Newton’s for some time.
The case shone an unwelcome light on Cyril’s marriage, with Cyril confirming in court that,
‘there had been strained feelings between he and his wife for years’.
Testimony revealed secret assignations between Cyril and Mrs Hardy at Scarborough and The Waldorf Hotel in London, although both Cyril and Mrs Hardy denied adultery had taken place.
With Cyril confirming his, ‘affection’, for Mrs Hardy and that he in effect was the prime mover in the relationship, the action failed, as did a subsequent appeal by Cyril’s wife.
Cyril and his wife remained together briefly, and then he left her and set up home with Pat Hardy, who in later years was always referred to as his, ‘wife’. Cyril’s actual wife Florence, later returned to the US with Cyril’s son, although they apparently didn’t divorce. (Sadly, Cyril’s son, also named Cyril, was killed in action in 1944 during WWII). After all this unwelcome attention in the press, no doubt, Cyril was glad to return to band leading and Tilley’s, which he did till October 1934. On the 5th of that month, the Yorkshire Evening Post announced that from 6 October 1934, Cyril would be taking over the leadership of the existing band, (The Majestic Players), at the Majestic Hotel in Harrogate, although how this came about was unrecorded.
Cyril & the Majestic Players, quickly became Cyril Newton & his Band and he broadcast from there for the first time on 18 April 1935, with further broadcasts during the year.
At the start of the summer season in 1936, Cyril decided to leave The Majestic and took a band to perform at The Seaview Hotel on the Isle of Wight.
In a Radio Pictorial interview published on 21 August 1936, Cyril revealed he had also been appearing in Luxembourg’s Rinso Soap Flakes sponsored, Six-Thirty Special, ‘A Musical Weekly’, on Sundays. In fact whilst at The Seaview, Cyril had returned to singing, sometimes in a choral group, sometimes solo, for The International Broadcasting Company. IBC was a major producer of sponsored radio programmes broadcast from Radio Luxembourg/Normandy etc. These programmes were made at IBC’s studio, just opposite the BBC in London.
From 1937, apart from his Rinso shows, Cyril could also be heard on Idris Drinks, Phillip’s Tonic Yeast and Brook Bond Dividend sponsored shows over the next couple of years. Cyril did another summer season at Seaview in 1938, and undertook more work for IBC. Singer Paula Green who also worked for IBC at the time, remembered Cyril well – she told me personally, she always found him a rather sad man, who quietly got on with his work – which now included playing in the various instrumental groups performing in, ‘sustaining’ shows, that is, unsponsored shows to fill the schedules.
Although Cyril was reasonably well paid at IBC, he told Paula Green, that what he really missed running was, ‘his own show’. Fortunately, Cyril did get the opportunity to run, ‘his own show’, again, in the form of another prestige residency from 3 June 1939, when newspaper adverts announced, the, ‘Special engagement of Ramon Newton’, (late of the Savoy Hotel)’, at Marsham Court Hotel, in Bournemouth. His band would play,
‘music each evening during dinner’, and ‘a special dance is given every Tuesday and Saturday night in the magnificent ballroom’.
This residency clearly suited Cyril, who remained at Marsham Court till 6 July 1940. It was at this point in time that Cyril made the decision to quit the entertainment business completely and join the war effort.
In a 1949 interview in Radio Times, Cyril talked about this choice. He said had no regrets about his decision, but wanted to do something, ‘immediately necessary’, and volunteered for munitions work at the Royal Ordnance Factory in Poole, Dorset. The same article said that when the war ended,
‘he had no inclination to start again’, and preferred to keep on with his work at the factory.
‘that working at the factory was, ‘not every musicians choice of a job, but at 55 I’m quite happy to stay out of the limelight and let the youngsters have their fling’.
In the early 1950’s, Cyril became a laboratory technician in cancer research at the Christie Hospital & Holt Radium Institute in Withington, Manchester. In an August 1953 interview, with a Canadian news magazine, (where he started his musical career), he explained,
‘Well, I’m rather old for band-leading now, and frankly this cancer research is far more satisfying. My violin is rusting in its case, though I take it out for practice every now and then’.
Cyril remained working at the hospital for the next 9 years until his death at Baguley Hospital in Manchester of “heart failure” on 16 June 1962.
Cyril’s passing went unrecorded in the newspapers. A rather sad end to a momentous career which embraced the entire period of the Golden Age of British Dance Bands. Fortunately Cyril’s vast recorded musical legacy remains for us to enjoy and is a testament to Cyril’s musical and vocal talents.
The first part of this article is located here…
* For a detailed biographical article on Harry Bidgood, see the Discographer Magazine, Volume 3, No.1 (August 2105) ‘Harry Bidgood – From Vocalion to Primo Scala’. Researched and written by Terry Brown. (Pg. 54-101) – 78rpmcommunity.com/beta/documents/10/43/the-discographer-august-2015-volume-3-no-1