Harry Strutters Hot Rhythm Orchestra celebrates its first half century with a special gig at Shoreham’s Ropetackle.
The concert on Friday, May 25 at 8pm comes exactly 50 years and a day after the band first started, founded in Brighton in 1968.
Maurice Dennis joined the following year and is enjoying it all just as much as ever.
“I have always thought that if you can achieve a level of excellence and have fun, that’s just the thing. If you think of a watching a great sportsman who is always grim-faced, the public won’t warm to him, but they will if he has got a smile on his face.”
And that’s always been the approach the band has taken, ever since it first set out to recreate the jazz and hot dance band music of the 1920s and 1930s with drive, wit and visual appeal.
“It was formed in a pub, just a four-piece originally in the King & Queen in Brighton. It was just four young lads that really loved the early jazz music, especially some of the hot dance bands of the period.
“We had had all the trad music in Britain, and I think they got interested in doing something a little different, more hot dance band music from the smaller groups in America and in Britain as well.
“They formed this band and started playing the music, and I think it took off pretty quickly. When I first saw them in the September of that year (there were two friends of mine in the band), the place was jam-packed full.
“One of them left and I moved in on banjo and guitar the next year.
“That would have been some time in 1969. I can have my own 50th anniversary next year!”
The band moved around various venues over the years that followed including a residency in the bar in the terminal building at Shoreham airport: “But when you get popular in your area, the other thing that starts to happen is that you get other gigs, particularly abroad. We were starting to play in Europe. Germany was very fruitful for us. We used to play regularly in Germany, Den-mark and Sweden.
“The band has never stopped. It has had transformations and people leaving and new people coming in, and it has gone from being a five-piece to a seven-piece and now it is a ten-piece. It has got bigger, and that’s what will be at the Ropetackle.
“We started to do concerts at festivals and theatres, and we have done nearly all the main festivals in Britain and a lot of them abroad, and we did quite a lot of TV when it was the sort of thing that could get on TV in those days.”
But the constant has always been the fun: “I am enjoying it as much as ever.
“I have played with other bands. We all play with other bands, but there is something about the camaraderie between us in this one. It has always been very good. That’s not to say that there haven’t been tensions. But by and large it has been good because we have all believed in the spirit of what we are doing. We have been professional for a long time, but it has never been a job.
“For the Ropetackle, we will have past members coming on the evening and will probably do something or other with us.
“There are four or five ex-members that will probably come up and do one or two numbers. And there will be some reminiscing, some stories. There have been some extraordinary things happening to us over the years...”