Variety

With the help of his agents he had at last achieved his ambition of working the Variety Theatres and, following his skiing holiday in Switzerland, his first show was to be at the Blackpool Palace Theatre. In order to drum up some business he concocted a publicity stunt, sending a sealed letter from Switzerland to Blackpool and predicting the results of the local football club's match to be played on the Sunday prior to his opening night. The captain of the winning team opened the letter during David's performance on the Monday. It foretold the score, injury time and penalty details and gave David the publicity he wanted and a full house into the bargain.

After Blackpool he appeared at London's Finsbury Park Empire, considered to be the best Variety Theatre outside of the London Palladium. Singer Joseph Locke, later portrayed in the movie Hear My Song, was top of the bill at that time. Band call was between 11 am and 1 pm and David arrived promptly clutching the orchestrations that Carol Gibbons had prepared. Bandleader Sid Kaplan took the call and one by one the various acts went through their rehearsal. All except David who was still waiting for his turn at one o'clock when everyone started to leave for lunch. Band call was apparently over. David rushed up to Sid Kaplan and pointed out that he hadn't had his turn.

"Why?" said Kaplan.

"Well you've taken everyone else but I was one of the first here this morning." Kaplan then explained the procedure. It was first come first served regardless of billing. As you came into the theatre you placed your "books" (music) on the left side of the stage. Those who arrived after you placed their books to the right of yours. Starting at the left each act took

Backstage at the Finsbury Park Empire.

First time top of the bill at the Palace Theatre, Leicester.

their call. David had missed out because he'd been holding onto his music throughout.

Reluctantly Kaplan gave him a rehearsal. He looked at the parts David had brought, grimaced and asked who wrote them. David didn't dare tell him it was one of the most prominent bandleaders in London, Kaplan was clearly displeased. "I'll write these out for you. You've got to have new parts. And all the covers are tatty. I'll replace them."

For a hefty fee he provided David with a completely new set of parts all bound in black linen covers with his name in gold print at the centre and the name of the instrument in the top right hand corner. There were more parts than David would ever need: first trumpet, second trumpet, third trumpet, first trombone, second trombone, piano, bass, drums, violins desk A, B and C, oboe, flute and harp and every known kind of saxophone. This at a time when most acts got by very well with piano, bass, drums and maybe a trumpet or sax. It was only later that David learned that Kaplan pulled this scam on even, new act to cross his path. He must have made a small fortune over the years. To this day, whenever his name is mentioned in show business circles you can be sure to hear the phrase, "How many band parts did he sell your

The larger Variety theatres had their own full time bands but in the smaller ones the musicians were often part time. They would arrive at the theatre in the evening in their day clothes, don a dinner jacket and take their position in the orchestra pit. It wasn't uncommon to

see a musician combining a smart jacket with, for instance, postman's trousers or a set of working boots, with only the top half showing.

The acts communicated with the band via the musical director and taking a good band call was an important part of preparing for the show. David's own musical background was both an asset and a burden. He cared about the musical accompaniment to the routines and was disappointed when the musicians cared less than he did. It was then a matter of exercising tact and diplomacy in communicating his displeasure to the musical director in a way that wouldn't lead to resentment from the musicians. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.

It wasn't until David saw a gentleman by the name of Benny Payne take a band call that he realised even the rustiest bunch of musicians could be turned into an enthusiastic and polished orchestra. Benny Payne was the musical director for legendary singer Billy Daniels {That Old Black Magic) and watching him rehearse was like watching magic. He would first size the orchestra up by asking them to play through the various tunes. At the end, and it was often a squeaky performance, he would say, "That's fine. You've got the tune now let's play it again. This is what I want." He directed each musician and got them to put feeling and emotion into their playing. And they loved him for it. genuinely touched by his enthusiasm not just for music but also for them and their playing. By the time he left they sounded like a different orchestra and were ready to give the best performance of their lives. David watched Payne's

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David's signature tune, Coimbra, later called April in Portugal.

Two theatre posters during David's career in Variety.

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Like all good acts David needed a signature tune. It made the act instantly recognisable and established a rapport with the audience. The tune he picked was originally called Coimbra, and he first heard it in 1949 played in a night club in Portugese East Africa. It was composed by the bandleader Raul Ferrao. David was so impressed with it that on his return to London, and with the composer's permission, he tried to get it published. Unfortunately no one was interested. A year later a Frenchman went to the same nightclub, heard the same tune and spoke to the same bandleader. One thing was different. He took the middle eight of the song and made it the main theme. It was retitled The Girls of Nazare but became an international hit as April in Portugal and David took it as his signature tune. Over the years he has had it played by every type of band and musician, from fifth rate pianists tinkling the ivories in a Northern club to large concert orchestras at the Albert Hall.

His Variety tour took him from the Finsbury Park Empire to Glasgow and then to Edinburgh. After that he was zigzagging all over the country. In fact he did thirty-two consecutive weeks in his first year and it was a rare day when two venues were anywhere near each other. Travel was further complicated by the fact that he had been booked to appear on BBC Radio and no matter where he was working he would have to be in London on Sunday for the recording of a broadcast.

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