Newcastle 50 years ago and the sound of youthful jazz bands on the march

The 1970s jazz band craze really took off in the North East, Wales and the Midlands – and were particularly popular around town estates and mining towns.

It was October 1972 and the young people of the United Kingdom were vibrating with the sound of the charts of Mama Weer All Crazee Now by Slade, Children of the Revolution by T Rex, and Wam Bam wig by Le Doux.

But 50 years ago there was another sound – that of kazoos, drums and walking feet. It was the golden age of the youth jazz band. For children growing up in 1970s Tyneside – and elsewhere – their unmistakable sound was a familiar part of the soundtrack from childhood.

The jazz band craze really took off in the North East, Wales and the Midlands. It dates back to the Depression years, fell out of favor during the war, then became popular again in the 60s and 70s, especially around municipal housing estates and mining towns.

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Discover the cult gangster movie, Get Carter, shot in Tyneside in 1970 and featuring Pelaw’s Hussars marching through Gateshead in a memorable scene; or the iconic photograph of Tish Murtha whose fabulous work includes Youth Jazz Bands, a set of grainy images captured in the West End of Newcastle in 1979.

Usually under the supervision of keen parents – acting as tutors, fundraisers and coaches – the groups would rehearse on playgrounds during the week, then travel by bus to compete at weekends in often crowded tournaments. .

The groups gave teens and children a sense of purpose and pride, and inspired a healthy sense of rivalry and competition. As one parent from Tyneside told the Chronicle at the time: ‘It keeps the kids busy in a place where there’s nothing to do.’ It was also very fun. For most groups, anyone between the ages of 3 and 18 could join.

Our photographs capture an event from October 1972 when 10 bands battled it out for the title of best in the region at Brough Park Stadium in the East End of Newcastle. The groups, made up of nearly 1,000 children dressed in brightly colored uniforms, marched to the beat of 100 drums through the streets of Newcastle to reach the Byker greyhound racing venue where 8,000 spectators turned out in force.

The Chronicle reports: “The winning group was the South Shields Golden Eagles who soared with the title, despite taking four hours of marching and music to claim victory. . . and only by the smallest of margins. The finalists were the Felling Fusiliers, and they just surpassed eight other superb groups. Both the competition and the standard set were first class.

Other bands included Walker Majestics, Simonside Mariners, Wallsend Rising Sun Legionnaires, Howdon Hussars, Willington Revelers and the Old Tyme Has Beens Jazz Band.


Ada J. Kenney