The Gaumont State Cinema 1939
Aug 14th 1939
The vast edifice, in Italian Renaissance style, was ready for the grand opening on 20th December, 1937, with Henry Hall and his Orchestra, Alfred van Dam and his State Orchestra, Gracie Fields, Larry Adler, George Formby, Carroll Levis, Vic Oliver, Stone and Lee, a military band and Sidney Torch at the Wurlitzer organ. There was seating for 4,000 and standing room for a further 4,000.
The Gaumont State in London’s Kilburn High Road is a remarkable building for a number of reasons, not least of which is its sheer physical enormity. With a capacity of 4,004 upon opening (2,648 in the stalls, with a further 1,356 in the balcony), the Gaumont State was the largest single-auditorium cinema ever built in England, and the third largest in Great Britain. It was dwarfed only by the vast Green’s Playhouses at Dundee and Glasgow. Benny Carter, Lee Konitz, John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, JATP, Thelonius Monk among other great luminaries played the the State Cinema. Count Basie and Duke Ellington whose bands took advantage of its enormous stage featuring a full-width orchestra lift that rose at the touch of a button. The curtains fell on the silver screen in 1982, but the building was saved from demolition when its owner, Top Rank, turned it into a flagship Bingo Hall, and spent nearly £1 million to restore the State to its former architectural glory.
While playing at a gig at the State Cinema in London, England, the legendary jazz guitarist, Django Rheinhardt (1910-1953), took the time to befriend an 18-year-old British lad just before the teenager joined the Army in 1940. Albert Offenbach served throughout the war as a radar man, keeping his Gibson guitar at his side until WW II ended. He told Modern Guitars magazine that he, “landed on the beach in Normandy with it and full kit in the water!” When hostilities ended, the Army assigned him to the British Forces Network with CAPT Ian Carmichael (British comedy actor), where Albert played in the showband. After the war, Offenbach joined his family’s fashion business, Shubette of London Ltd., and built it up to become one of the leading fashion companies in England. He has seen the beginning and ends of many music eras and today he is retired and living in France. Let’s join him as he reminisces about the day he met Django, an artist that many musicians and music lovers still consider to be the greatest guitarist the world has ever known.
The Day I Met Django – Albert Offenbach
I went to Deauville, [coastal city in the Normandy region of France], on holiday. I was 18. In those days tea dances were in, so every afternoon I went to the Yacht Club tea dance. It was run by Georges Carpentier, the French boxing champ, and featured 2 bands, Maurice Winnick‘s dance band and a small gypsy band. In the gypsy band was a guitarist who played in the style of Django. I was not much good at French, but I managed to tell him he played like Django. Well, he was delighted to hear it and told me he was Django’s brother Joseph (Nin Nin to Django) As I saw him every day we got quite friendly and he told me that the Hot Club [of France] was playing at the State Cinema in Kilburn, London, in a few months time and that if I came backstage to see him he would introduce me to Django. Well, that couldn’t be missed, could it?
So when the time came I took my young brother (who played very well in those days) and a friend to see the show. After the show we went backstage to see if Joseph remembered me. He did and was very pleased to see me! He introduced me to Django, who was polite but not very interested at first. Then I saw Django‘s guitar laying there. I thought, “I would love to be able to say I have played Django’s guitar!” So, I asked him if I could and he said, “Sure.” I banged out a few chords in the Hot Club style and his whole attitude changed. He became very friendly. I asked him if he would like to come for a drink in the pub and he said, “Yes!” Then, in French, he said to the rest of the Hot Club that of course we were all going for a drink. They all came, except Stéphane Grappelli.
On the way to the pub, the friend I came with said, “Let’s not go to the pub! Let’s go home for a drink!” Django said, “Okay.” We got back to my friend’s house. He had a great bar and we had a few drinks. I then asked Django, “If I got my guitars, would you play?”
He said, “Yes,” if I played with him. So, off I went to get my guitars. I lived close to my friend’s house. I had two Gibsons. One I’d bought from Len Williams, the father of John Williams for £5 and the other was a Gibson FDH Special. What a thrill to play for Django! My young brother was a much better player than I was and he had taken the solo of “Limehouse Blues” off the Django record.
After a bit of playing we stopped, then started to play some gramophone records. One was of Chick Webb [and his Orchestra] playing “Undecided” sung by Ella Fitzgerald. He loved it and said he would record it. He said he needed a singer for it. So, we recommended the singer from the Oscar Rabin Romany Five Band, a girl called Beryl Davis. After a few more drinks we took them all back to their hotel and said “Good night!”
I thought that would be the end of it, but a couple of days later Django rang me and invited us all to the night club where the Hot Club was playing called the Nut House, run by Al Burnett. Well you can imagine how excited I was, a kid of 18 invited by the great Django! We went to the club but Al Burnette would not let us in. He did not believe we had been invited by Django, however I would not let go. I persuaded him to check. It took some doing, but at last he did, and Django came out and told him we were his guests. He had a table reserved for us right in the front!
We watched the show, danced a bit with a few of the birds that were there, then at about 4:30 am, we all went to Lyons Corner House for breakfast, the whole Hot Club, but again not Grappelli. I think he was a bit too posh for us in those days!
Django paid the bill for everybody! I tried to pay him back but he wouldn’t hear of it.
Well, that’s the end of the story
Nevil Skrimshire –
Elegant 6-string jazz guitarist who rarely played a solo but was a favourite addition to the rhythm sections of Humphrey Lyttelton, Mick Mulligan, John RT Davies and Diz Disley as well as a member of Bob Cort’s skiffle group. Recorded under the pseudonym Nigel Sinclair while working for EMI, where he turned down Mick Jagger‘s application for a record contract, telling him:
“It would be fine if you could sing”.