jabw_vintage/report no. 20

Let Us Tell You About.....

The Rhythm Brothers

The Rhythm Brothers, British vocal group of the 1930s

this page first published by John Wright, 1999
last update 22 October 2012vintage@r2ok.co.uk


Back in 1998 I was contacted by the family of Frank and Jack Trafford and informed that they were members of the British 1930s singing group The Rhythm Brothers. Referring to the Rust/Forbes dance band discography I was able to confirm with the family that the brothers were listed as attending recording sessions with Lew Stone and Debroy Somers but that other names were also associated with the trio The Rhythm Brothers. Jack Trafford was still alive at that time and during 1998/99 we exchanged letters and tapes and I interviewed Jack when he visited family in Oxford. Together, Jack and I and Frank Trafford's daughter Frances have pieced together as much information as we could to unravel which records by the Rhythm Brothers actually featured Frank and Jack Trafford.

all images featuring Jack and Frank Trafford are the property of Frances Flynn and should not be reproduced without permission


from Jack Trafford’s tapes and interviews 1998-99

Influenced by the Rhythm Boys (Bing Crosby, Al Rinker, Harry Barris) in the Paul Whiteman film, 'King Of Jazz', Frank and Jack Trafford and Eddie Chadwick performed as a singing trio and first called themselves ‘The Broadcast Boys’. Early on songs performed included titles from 'King Of Jazz' like 'Mississippi Mud', 'So The Bluebirds and the Blackbirds Got Together', 'Bench In The Park', but their repertoire increased. They also picked up stage routines from the film. The boys began performing at variety theatres who put on free amateur shows on Friday nights, e.g. The Shakespeare Theatre in Liverpool, then got a one week job at Widnes which was a very high unemployment town at the time. Entry was 3 pence. The trio were paid 10 guineas for the week. Around this time a demo recording was made at an unknown studio featuring 'So The Bluebirds And The Blackbirds Got Together' and 'Sunday Down In Caroline' and a copy still exists.

Jack recalled writing to Carroll Gibbons, maybe in 1932, and they got an audition at the Savoy Hotel, but Carroll politely suggested they go and learn more about show business. In 1932 they started work in London and lived in digs in Brixton Road, above a radio shop (Senna?). They went round the agents in the Charing Cross Road area. Elkin Simons was putting on concert parties around the country. As 'The Broadcast Boys' they got an eight week job in the Glasgow Parks, performing on bandstands in a different park every day, earning £10-10s per week. Jack recalled seeing the Duke Ellington Orchestra in Glasgow (June 1933). At the first matinee they started up with 'Three Little Words', and Ivie Anderson sang 'Stormy Weather'. Glasgow was recognised as a centre for hot jazz, and a good starting place for tours, getting good reviews ahead of the main tour.

Back in London it was difficult to find more work, just managing sometimes to get a Friday night and a week at Hackney Empire was a bit of a disaster, a learning experience. There was also a booking at the Windmill Theatre, five shows a day (12noon - 12 midnight). At that time they met Alicia Markouva and Frank dated her sister (Doris Marks/Doris Barrie).

Frank was a member of the Port Club and one evening he talked to journalist Charlie Beneke who suggested the boys work in Europe. The boys paid Charlie to go to Brussels and he booked them a month at the 'Palais de The'. They aquired a wardrobe trunk and took the train to Harwich, and the ferry to Belgium, staying at the Hotel de la Post, Rue D'Argent. They still had to pay Charlie Beneke's hotel bill, and were not allowed to appear anywhere else before starting at the 'Palais de The'. They spent three weeks paying bills and not working, exploring Brussels for future work. They only did a week at 'Palais de The' then found better work at Ciro's. The boys did well at Ciro's and this led to several bookings elsewhere. They had met a six girl act and went along with the girls to places in Rotterdam and The Hague, and worked at Radio Luxembourg and Radio Hilversum.

Taking the Orient Express, Jack visited Vienna looking for work (date is precise here, 25 July 1934, Dolfuss assassinated), but work continued in Holland for some months. Then one of the girls, Goody, got the boys a booking in Copenhagen, and later Bergen and Oslo. Jack met agent Walter Nagel in Copenhagen. Jack recalled hearing Gigli from open windows at the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen.

By 1935, back in London and looking for radio work Frank and Jack Trafford met Jack Lorimer who worked at publishers Francis-Day-Hunter. He was Max Wall's brother. Lorimer suggested working with Clive Erard, and they recorded 'A Little Bit Independent'. Clive thought the recording was poor due to Eddie and a better take was made with Clive. Eddie Chadwick left the trio. Jack Lorimer, had organised the session, which included Frank Bailey-sb, a guitarist, and Clive at piano. Jack remembers being told that Clive Erard had sung with Fred Elizalde's band. At this time they met Marjorie Gordon who became famous in South Africa.

Frank and Jack worked with the Sydney Lipton Orch. in 1935-36, performing with the band as the Three T's at the Grosvenor House Hotel, the third member might have been Eddie Chadwick and maybe Ronnie Hill, and they supported Chips Chippendall who was Lipton's regular vocalist. Some recordings were made but Jack does not think they were involved in all of the Three T’s records and certainly not on the recording with Doris Hare, a comedienne who later often appeared on TV.Frank Trafford composed several songs at this time. The song 'Just Dance', with composer credits Ives-Trafford, was recorded by the Sidney Lipton Orch, with vocal Chips Chippendall, arranged by Billy Munn, 10 Oct 1936. Another 1936 Trafford-Ives composition was 'Counting Crotchets In My Sleep' which was recorded by Stanley Barnett, Billy Cotton, Joe Loss, and the Krakajax.

Listen to the The Three T's singing Oh My Goodness!

In 1935 Frank and Jack met Ronnie Hill, who worked with Clive Erard in the ‘Rhythm Brothers’ trio performing and recording with the Ambrose Orchestra. The trio was at first Clive Erard, Ronnie Hill and Jack Lorimer, e.g on Decca F5550 they had recorded Ambrose's Tiger Rag and on F5558 Lullaby Of Broadway with Sam Browne.

Listen to the Rhythm Brothers BEFORE Frank and Jack Trafford joined them; Clive Erard, Ronnie Hill and Jack Lorimer singing Ambrose's Tiger Rag! (arranged by Clive Erard) 10 May, 1935.

Ronnie Hill left Ambrose at some point and Frank Bailey joined, and so the Rhythm Brothers trio on records became three from: Clive Erard, Jack Lorimer, Frank Bailey, Jack Trafford, Frank Trafford. Some of the later 1935/36 records attributed to Rhythm Brothers may have involved Jack and Frank Trafford, and also vocalist Jack Cooper. Usually the 'five' would supply the trio to support Ambrose's main male and female vocalist during broadcasts from the hotel dance floor. They had to be professionals who could rehearse new numbers in the morning and perform them in the hotel the same evening. This success got the Trafford boys more recording sessions with Ambrose. Frank and Clive began writing songs and these were performed on commercial radio shows. Jack remembered stage work with Ambrose's band including Shepherd's Bush, and Tiger Rag became their speciality, as well as comedy numbers like Ragtime Cowboy Joe, Phil The Fluter's Ball, Paddy McGinty's Goat, Basin St Blues.

While with Ambrose the boys met Cole Porter's wife and Josephine Baker, and some of the Royal family were regulars, Princess Marina, Prince George, and Edward Prince of Wales for whom the band had to stay on for, though sometimes Ambrose would ask to finish as they had recording sessions the next morning. Working with the Bert Ambrose Orchestra, 1936-39, Jack remembered some of the musicians like Danny Polo, Billy Amstell, Sid Phillips, Ivor Mairants, Alfie Noakes, Max Goldberg, Tony Thorpe, Lew Davis, Ted Heath, most are featured in the picture above, and of course he knew the singers Sam Browne, Evelyn Dall and Vera Lynn. For the hotel dance floor the band had to play the music in strict tempo, and singer Sam Browne had to do likewise, which was not always easy with some popular songs of the day.

While working with Lipton and Ambrose, Jack recalled recording sessions at this time with Jay Wilbur's band at studios in Finchley. Usually they'd get a call the night before and be told which songs they would be required to sing, usually just one chorus. At recording sessions the boys used to get 10 guineas for two recordings. Jack remembers that the records made were smaller than usual, that would be the 9" Crown records.

The Rhythm Brothers consisting of Frank and Jack Trafford and Clive Erard are likely singing this version of Tiger Rag with Jay Wilbur's Rhythm Rascals, 19 June 1935.

At one session the American Ruth Etting was also in the studios, accompanied by her armed gangster husband, Martin "The Gimp" Snyder. Frank Trafford could do great impressions of the gangster. This would have been around Aug-Sept 1936 when Ruth Etting made at least six recordings with Jay Wilbur's band.

Around this time are several Jay Wilbur dance recordings for Rex which say on the labels that they feature the Rhythm Brothers but on most of their records, including some as by the Rhythm Rascals, they feature as a vocal group supporting singers like Jack Lorimer, Jack Cooper, Cyril Grantham, issued on Rex and Crown labels.

The comedy item 'Knock Knock', see the Crown label, is likely another example of the boys with Jay Wilbur which they also recorded for Rex.

In the summer of 1937 Frank and Clive wrote a very successful cowboy song 'Oh, They're Tough Mighty Tough In The West' which was recorded by six dance bands Ambrose Orch, Billy Cotton Band, George Elrick and his Swing Music Makers, Nat Gonella and his Georgians, Jack Harris Orch and the Bram Martin Band.

Listen to the Rhythm Brothers (possibly) singing that hit on the Ambrose record, label credit to the pseudonym Manhattan Trio. Regarding The Manhattan Trio recordings with Vera Lynn, Jack was unsure about involvement with those after listening to 'The Love Bug Will Bite You'.

Note: during the perfomance of 'Oh, They're Tough Mighty Tough In The West' with Ambrose there is a reference to 'Hanley' and that might suggest the trio here is in fact The Three Ginx (one of whom was named Hanley). My thanks to Tony at the BDBYG for that observation.

Another successful Erard-Trafford-Ives composition at this time was 'With Mary Tattooed On His Arm' recorded by George Elrick and his Music Makers, the New Mayfair Orch., and here listen to Jay Wilbur Orch. with vocal by the Rhythm Brothers Dec 28, 1937. Other Erard-Trafford cowboy compositions included 'Give Me A Ride on Your Horse, Buddy', which was recorded by the Billy Cotton Band in Sept 1938, and 'The Lonesome Trail Ain't Lonesome Anymore' which was recorded by Billy Cotton Band, Syd Lipton Band (vocal Al Bowlly) and Jack White's band (a vocal trio including Tony Morris). Jay Wilbur records during 1937-38 often feature vocal groups, some record labels do credit vocals by Rhythm Brothers, some are by the more famous group The Three Ginx, and some records credit vocals to the Tin Pan Alley Trio but Jack wasn't sure that would be the Rhythm Brothers.

In January 1938 Jack, Frank and Clive made several very good recordings with Debroy Somers' Band, selections from 'Me And My Girl', where the boys sang the title song and 'Lambeth Walk' (Columbia FB1894), and the 'Going Greek' selection, singing 'But Me No Buts' and 'For The Honour Of The School' (Col DX-790).

Jack remembered doing one session during which Fats Waller arrived to rehearse or record. Fats sat down with a bottle of Scotch on the piano but wouldn't start rehearsing till the bottle was empty. Jack thinks it might have been Jay Wilbur who was involved and had an organ in the studio for Fats to play. (Note: Fats made recordings, including organ, but at the HMV Abbey Road studios on Aug 21 and 28, 1938, and there was probably also a session involving drummer Joe Daniels but there is no surviving evidence of that session).

Jack also recalled being around at a session involving Coleman Hawkins, this would have been in May 1939. (It was organised by bandleader Jack Hylton. American Fletcher Henderson was also there; his arrangements of Darktown Strutters Ball and My Melancholy Baby were recorded May 26th).

Radio work during 1938-39 included Radio Luxembourg's 'Horlicks Programme' with Debroy Somers, Bebe Daniels, Ben Lyons, Vic Oliver. Jack thinks they appeared weekly on this show for about a year. Then there were the 'Symington's Soup' shows which went on until the outbreak of war when, as the Southern Airs, they worked with Arthur Askey, Richard Murdoch, Al Bowlly, Marjorie Stedeford, Harry Karr, Jack Penn. The Radio Pictorial of August 4, 1939 featured many photographs from the Sunday night show. Jack remembers also working three days with Max Miller.

Frank and Jack first worked with Jack Hulbert on radio, appeared regularly on the Jack Hulbert/Cicely Courtneidge radio show, (Heinz Half Hour Of Happiness ?). There was also some involvement with the early Jack Hulbert TV shows. The work with Jack Hulbert on the 'Under Your Hat' show, and the film, is the highlight of Frank and Jack's career. It was while they were appearing on the radio show that Hulbert began rehearsing for an unnamed theatre musical. Vivian Ellis was in charge of the music/songs, Lew Stone was Music Director, and rehearsals started when Chamberlain was in Germany seeing Hitler. Ellis disappeared for two weeks so Hulbert asked Clive and Frank to write a title song - they came up with 'Keep It Under Your Hat'. Frank worked on other songs with Hulbert and Ellis e.g. 'If You Want To Dance', 'I've Lost My Way', 'Swingin'. Jack was quite amused to know that Vivian Ellis did not have flies on his trousers, but some sort of flap thing instead!

Listen to, possibly, the Rhythm Brothers singing 'Keep It Under Your Hat' with Lew Stone's Band. I say possibly because Jack Trafford couldn't remember being involved with Lew Stone in the recording studio, but it is possible that Lew didn't attend the actual session that produced Decca F6928 and F6929, Jan 18th 1939.

The show went on tour including Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, and ran for 9 months. Jack recalled that Cicely Courtneidge always being terribly nervous just before stepping on stage, but she stopped the show every night. Jack recalled that Jack Hulbert did not approve of anything 'smutty' in his comedy. The Sketch magazine of Jan 18th 1939 featured several photographs from 'Under Your Hat', where can be seen Jack Hulbert, Cicely Courtneidge, Madeline Gibson, and the Rhythm Brothers. The film is available on video and at least part has been shown on TV, in BBC's 'People's Century' documentary.

While with Jack Hulbert the boys were earning £75 per week, but in 1939 their total earnings were about £10,000! a huge amount in those days, maybe equivalent of 1 million pounds today.

During later work with Jack Hulbert, which went on after WW11, Frank used to have to write a song every week for the radio show, sometimes singing the song over a phone to a copyist. One of the songs, 'Spring's Around The Corner', was recorded by Jack Hulbert. Jack Trafford recalled a show after the war, 'Here Come The Boys' with Jack Hulbert and Pat Dixon which was worked out during a meeting in a tube station between Clive Erard and Pat Dixon. Bobby Howes was also involved. Frank still had his Standard 'A' car (VHX 153) at that time. Jack remembers using it to collect Bobby Howes to open Frank's club in Bishop's Stortford. Jack Trafford also reckoned he and Frank appeared in three or four of George Formby's films, including 'It's In The Air'. They also appeared in several commercial films, e.g. for Ford Motor Company, and some have been shown on TV.

Also in 1938-39 Jack and Frank worked on the radio with Big Bill Campbell and his Hill Billy Band, on Friday afternoons and Sunday mornings, the vocal trio was referred to as the Three Top Hands, and Jack did solo songs as The Mountain Boy. Advertisements appeared in Radio Pictorial, and at least one recording was issued, 'The Lonesome Trail Ain't Lonesome Anymore', which Jack believes featured Frank and Clive. Possibly also a song called 'Haul That Timber' was recorded. As well as radio work, Jack and Frank went on tour with Bill Campbell after the war. Jack remembers Bill as a big drinker, and remembers at a party someone gave Bill a glass of ink to drink!

Frank and Jack were booked for the 'Bandwaggon' show but they could not spare the time. Miff Ferrie got the job there. In the Spring of 1939 Jack had joined the London Welsh/Territorial Army, having got drunk with a medical officer who then put A-1 on his medical card. The battery commander was Major Gwillhelm Lloyd George (son of Lloyd George). They had gone on leave to open a show in Blackpool with Clive Erard - war was declared while they were in Blackpool. Jack's wife and child were stuck on a taxi to Blackpool. Jack was 'called up' on the 15 August while the show 'Under Your Hat' was still on. One night there were only 24 people in the audience, so Jack Hulbert got them all in the front stalls and they did the whole show for the 24. Nothing really happened that first month but by September there were practice blackouts. Soon Jack joined the London Welsh army unit in Dulwich. Often they gave little concerts and there was lots of singing by the Welsh boys in the evenings in the canteen. During the first winter of 1939 Jack was assigned to an anti-aircraft gun site in Southend. Jack knew they wouldn't have much to do so one day he brought in his collection of 78's featuring the Rhythm Brothers with dance bands. Unfortunately it was a hot sunny day and Jack left the records in the back seat of his car and they warped in the hot sun.

Hence why we are looking for Rhythm Brothers records today!

Check the listing of Rhythm Brothers records

Copyright Frances Trafford-Flynn and John Wright © 2007

Additional memories from Frances Trafford-Flynn in 2007

Frank Trafford’s life was cut short by multiple sclerosis and he died in November 1956 after a long struggle. It was his sickness that finally put an end to the Rhythm Brothers career. As soon as he got out of the army in 1945, perhaps sooner, Frank would occasionally trip and fall and was generally weak. He shrugged it off for a year or so but it eventually became obvious that this was not going to go away, although it was quite a while before the disease was actually diagnosed.

During that time, however, the boys did try to restart their career and appeared in “Here Come the Boys” with Bobby Howes at the Saville Theatre in Shaftsbury Avenue. That was probably 1946. They also did some early television at Alexandra Palace, which included a musical done on a tiny stage with a single camera, and worked with Gracie Fields at the Palladium (I can clearly remember that and also sitting on Gracie’s lap in her dressing room.) Clive was also with them there.

Frank also continued writing songs, mostly for Jack Hulbert for his weekly radio show. I used to hold the telephone while he played and sang the song for a music copyist in London, who would transcribe it for the show. I remember two of the songs from that time, “Spring’s ‘Round the Corner” and “Let’s Make the Most of What We’ve Got While We’ve Got It”. The latter was particularly poignant in light of his illness.

Also, during the late 1940’s or early 50's Steve Race, the jazz pianist, who was a friend of Frank’s had a puppet show on television called “Hank the Cowboy” and he used “Tough Mighty Tough” as the show’s signature tune.

When Frank got out of the army, he and my mother (Trixie) bought a very large house in Bishop’s Stortford called Oak Hall. How they managed this, at a time when money was so short was by selling a couple of cars that Frank had stored in a barn throughout the war. Cars were very much in demand at that time and their value provided a good down payment on the house, which had originally belonged to the Tetley family (the tea people) who had sold it to the army when they emigrated to Canada at the beginning of the war. It was used as a communication center during the war.

The idea behind buying the house was to turn it into a country club where Frank could serve as both host and entertainer. The Oak Hall Country Club was opened by “Big” Bill Campbell, who lived in nearby Newport, Essex, and went quite well for a couple of years. Many of my father’s showbiz friends came down from London to stay at the club or to perform for a dance or cabaret show (there was a ballroom with a stage in the house). One fairly frequent visitor was Bobby Howes. Frank would play and sing at the piano for hours on end and at times I (at 7 or 8 years old) would be hidden behind the bar listening. Frank retained his sense of humour also and I can remember one particular event to illustrate that. Oak Hall had a darts team that was to host a tournament with another club. The visiting team was obviously superior to ours so Frank rushed up to London and brought home a huge trunk of theatrical costumes. He then dressed all the team in drag for the tournament. These were really over-the–top “Widow Twanky” type of costumes, and the evening was a great success. I recognized this type of costume because, as a small child I had seen Frank play Widow Twanky in a pantomime (Aladdin) with Vera Lynn. I suppose he must have got leave to do this. He really loved being on the stage and one of the joys of my childhood was playing with Daddy’s makeup!

Frank was a very good Jazz pianist. He was a great admirer and friend of Fats Waller (he often helped Fats get home after performing when Fats was too drunk to make it on his own) and loved to play in Fats’s stride piano style. He also loved the music of Django Reinhardt, and spoke of him, but I cannot be sure that he actually knew him.

Jack’s account of him getting drunk one night in a pub and getting enlisted in the London Welsh division of the Territorial Army, is quite true, but Jack was not alone. Both he and Frank signed up that night. When the general of the regiment (believe it or not, his name was Lloyd George) found out about the Rhythm Brothers enlistment, he contacted them at the theater where they were playing in “ Keep it Under Your Hat” and said something like “Carry on with the show, it’s good for morale. I’ll let you know when I need you.” After the general’s second call Frank and Jack both went to learn RADAR, where Jack blossomed and Frank flunked. For most of the war Frank was in cold dark places, such as the Orkneys, entertaining his fellow troops between watches (watching for the enemy). There is probably much more to it that this but, sadly, that’s all I know about his army life except that he made it to sergeant.

Copyright Frances Trafford-Flynn © 2007

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