Django’s UK Itinerary 1939 – Aged 29
The Hot Club Quintet Tour of the UK
Django & Stephane with the English composer, Michael Carr. London August, 1939.
Michael Carr (1905 – 1968), real name Maurice Alfred Cohen, was an English Light Music Composer who is best remembered for the song “South of the Border (Down Mexico Way)” written with Jimmy Kennedy (Teddy Bears Picnic)
1st August 1939: Empire Theatre, Hackney for a Week
8th August 1939: Metropolitan Theatre, London. Edgware Road.
The earliest Django was likely to have met Beryl Davis was in 1939 when she was more probably 14. Dregni claims Davis was part of the 1938 UK Tour by the Quintette but reviews I have read of those shows say Carola Merrild was the Singer & Compere. There is a photo of Django and Stephane with Carola taken in the UK in 1938 which tends to confirm this. However, to confuse the issue, Delaunay implies that Beryl Davis was part of the UK Tour that year (1938). So perhaps she just joined them for some of the Concerts. She definitely performed duly chaperoned with them in Paris in 1938. On at least one occasion, she was booed for Singing in English. The Scandanavian Tour (see photo of them together Backstage) was at the beginning of 1939 and Beryl performed with the Quintette a lot that year.
From the age of just 12-yrs, accompanied by a Chaperone, she also Performed & recorded with Django Reinhardt in Paris and on several European Tours, and was the featured Singer with the Quintette du Hot Club de France during their Tour of the UK in July-August 1939, including a Performance with the Quintette for BBC Television (Broadcast in August 1939), of which, unfortunately, no Copy appears to survive
These Performers tend to get very confused with the dates as they get older. Stephane Grappelli was particularly flexible with Dates & Memories. Bert Weedon once told me he performed with Django on a TV Program from Alexander Palace in 1953. Obviously that was wrong and he is probably talking about the 2 “Stars in your Eyes” Programs Broadcast in 1948. I think Beryl Davis was the best Singer Django recorded and probably performed with. He obviously liked her as no other singer lasted with him for more than 5 minutes. – Roger Baxter
14th August 1939: State Theatre, Kilburn with Beryl Davis aged 15
15th August 1939: Empire Theatre, Glasgow for a Week
Talking about the “Boeuf sur le Toit” let me remind that this the very place where according to Yves Salgues in “La légende de Django”
One night at 2 o’clock in the morning, Django who had just gambled and lost 100,000 Francs at the ‘Chemin de fer (shemmy or chemmy game)’ in a clandestine gambling-den. The Jo Bouillon Orchestra was playing there. His cousin Eugène Vées rejoined him, then his brother, and then Fouad.– “Champagne, Monsieur Moïses” said Django with a tired voice. The Musicians of the Orchestra are packing up their belongings. On the stage lies a Guitar. Django looks at it for a moment, he stands up, takes it and rests it on his knees and starts ringing a few notes. Does he realise at this moment that he is improvising something eternal just as imperishable as Handy’s ‘Saint Louis Blues‘ or Gershwin’s ‘The Man I Love‘? That Night, at the “Boeuf sur le Toit” was born ‘Nuages‘…He will receive in less than 3 years, 780,000 Francs in Royalties for this sole Ttitle [15M of 1957 French Francs]. Some Lyrics will be added to this tune and it will be played even in the smallest French Village Dance.
August 1939 (exact date unknown): BBC TV Studio, White City with singer Beryl Davis.
Program Broadcast on 16th August 1939. The QHCQ played at least 8 tunes.
22nd August: State Theatre, Kilburn
– with Singer Beryl Davis. English Big Band Singer who Toured with her father Harry Davis’s Orchestra and subsequently with Grappelli, Shearing and Ted Heath. Recruited to Glenn Miller‘s Army Air Force Orchestra. Hollywood debut on Bob Hope’s show. Sang with Frank Sinatra, Benny Goodman, Vaughn Monroe & David Rose. Formed a popular Gospel Quartet with Jane Russell in 1954 which scored a Series of Hits.
25th August 1939: Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens
Last recordings of the pre-War Quintet. Django flees back to France at the declaration of War necessitating the Cancellation of at least 5 Concerts. The Rhythm Section of the Quintet follows him but Grappelli remains in the UK.
It is claimed that Django & Stephane also appeared at the Golders Green Hippodrome
Hippodrome, North End Road, Golders Green, Barnet
Vic Lewis recalled playing with Django Reinhardt & Stéphane Grappelli before the WW2 and also associating with Musicians such as the pianist George Shearing. Lewis transferred from the Banjo to the 4-String Guitar, inspired by the recordings of the American Jazz Guitarist Eddie Lang. Dispatched to the Essex Coast to benefit from the sea air, he located some like-minded players and formed his own Swing String Quartet. Ron Burton (vln), Allan Hames, Vic Lewis (g), Joe Muslin (b).
The Hot Club’s English idylls were brief, however, as Germany declared War on 3rd September 1939. Django returned to France, but Grappelli decided to stay in Britain. There wasn’t much drawing him back to Paris. His father had recently died. The family Home was no more. A female friend had disappeared with a child Grappelli had fathered. All that was left for Stéphane in Paris was an empty Flat. The Germans were poised to invade. England before the Blitz, on the other hand, seemed a Fortress by comparison and no one expected the War to last very long. At 31, Grappelli stayed on in London where there were more opportunities to work than there were in France. There were several Hot Club Reunions & Recordings after the war – notably ‘Djangology ’49‘ – but the Band never worked together on a regular basis again.
The reasons Django returned to France whilst Stephane remained in the UK? Well Django was an incredibly capricious individual and his decisions were almost invariably based on Emotion rather than Logic. He once said, when asked why he returned to France at the declaration of War, “It is better to be frightened in your own Country than in another one“. Stephane was an altogether different personality and I think he would have thought about the situation very carefully before deciding it made much more sense to remain in the UK. Despite what Stephane said later in life when looking back through rose-tinted glasses, there were no real emotional ties between them. In fact, most of the time I don’t think they liked each other. Django was actually at his most popular in France during the War. He was almost on the level of Maurice Chevalier & Edith Piaf in terms of Ppopularity. He survived primarily because he was Django Reinhardt and many Germans loved Jazz and were quite prepared to compromise their “Principles” when away from their Homeland. Django neither collaborated with nor attempted to alienate the Germans and he had the Gypsy’s innate ability to survive. Fortunately for him, the Germans in France had a more relaxed attitude to Gypsies than in other occupied European Countries. I have a couple of photographs of Sarane Ferret, one of Django’s fellow Gypsy Guitarists, playing in a Night Club to a Group of German Soldiers & French Collaborators. (See Django WW2) I think for much of the time, the War simply passed over Django because he only cared about Music, Women & Gambling. He would only become concerned with the occupation if it interfered with any of these activities. For much of the time, he was not of the real world. – Roger S Baxter
Stunning footage of Nazi-occupied France captured surreptitiously by a brave Pathé cameraman, Gaston Madru, from 1942 to 1944. It gives a snapshot of everything from Swastikas flying from French Buildings to the German retreat from France in 1944.