Palm Court Dancing In Park Square

Memories of the Park Trio based at the RAFA Club, Newport, in 1968/9

By Jim Dyer

© Jim Dyer 2012

In 2012 the regency house is still there in Park Square. Though no longer a club, it is still a stylish looking, large building, perched on the very top corner of the Square commanding a marvellous view of the Usk Estuary. This was where I played with the Park Trio, a strict-tempo dance combination in the late 'sixties.

At one period Park Square was a 'posh' part of Newport with large detached houses, so I suppose it was good spot for the Royal Air Force to site a club for their many members returning from war service. So it was here every Saturday the Park Trio, named after the Square, performed.

I was about twenty then, with years of experience playing drums with pop groups and blues bands, so playing proper dance sets was a completely new experience for me. From Cream and Jimi Hendrix it was now sambas and quicksteps. After a few months I was a knowledge on famous dance bands.

The Place

Generally during weekdays it was quiet there with the odd member popping-in for a pint and a game of snooker. The two storey building was big with a large rear extension and small car park. Downstairs was the snooker room, a bar and lounge, with the fruit machine taking pride in the entrance hall. A majestic staircase led upstairs.

Here the dance hall took up the whole top area, with a small bar tucked in the corner. Along the one wall was the stage with an upright piano on top, with connections top the microphone system.

Before the Park Trio started to perform, one of the committee members would spread chalk over the slippery floor to stop the dancers tripping or sliding. Around seven-thirty on a Saturday evening the clientele would trickle-in in their Sunday Best clothes.

Hardly a hive of activity like the Hammersmith Palais but it served the purpose for the members who attended without fail, rain or snow. Couples and families like the Jermyn's and Murray's never missed, and the long-time member and Chairman, Frank Toplis was ever present.

The Boys

It was out of the blue that Norman Bishop turned-up at the Pill house one evening asking if I would give it a try with him on the piano. He was well into his forties then so there was a big age difference. He explained the position and as always was a true gentleman and dressed smartly. I liked Norman, he had a wicked, quiet sense of humour and liked a smoke. He owned a car as well, which helped. So it was me and him that Saturday at the RAFA Club.

As it so happened it went rather well and he was highly pleased with me, which surprised me a lot. I wasn't too loud and got into the sequences pretty well. That evening we went through most of his repertoire –Latin American, waltzes, two-steps and old fashioned stuff.

Over the following few weeks we discussed the possibility of bringing-in another artist - guitarist or accordion player, for instance. This would add to the ability to expand our tunes and programme.

So along came Henry Butcher, known to his pals as 'Bubbles' because of his curly hair, another oldie who played clarinet with many top dance bands in the town. He was highly proficient, good with jokes and announcing the next dance. Whilst Norman was a ladies knickers salesman, Henry was a printer locally.

A Typical Evening

Once the room was reasonably full and we had had a few beers, we generally kicked-off with a few quick steps, followed by waltzes. There were usually some requests for old fashioned dances like the Paul Jones, Rumba Roy ale and St Bernard. Around ten we would have a break downstairs to chat and plan supping another beer. Accordingly the last part of the evening was lighter with twists, Latin American, and a few songs too from the irrepressible Henry.

Occasionally there would be someone from the audience who would get up to sing – country and western sometimes. Sometimes jazz. The scrumptious Mrs Pocock I recall loved to sing ' I.I...II.. like you very much....', a swinging samba tune.

There was rarely any fracas except when my drunken cousin David turned-up one night and it kicked-off for a short time. Embarrassing! On another occasion a lad kept giving me jibes about my drumming but this soon stopped after I had a word with him in the toilet.

On the odd evening different socio-groups would attend for the evening, one being the Divorcee Club. Other times we played for club members private do's like engagements and birthdays. In fact I had my 21st there. The only things that never changed were our programme and the songs we played!

Out-of-Town Bookings

Apart from the RAFA Club the trio had few other bookings. Some that come to mind are the Taffs Wells Rugby Club which went down well and a private club on a hill outside Risca. We were there for a few weeks and always given superb meals for free. Like everything does, it ended because of lack of attendance.

A classic was The Angel Hotel, a well-known hostelry and posh venue, in Abergavenny. We were booked for the Transport Association’s annual dinner. As they only wanted the pianist to play through their dinner Henry and I had hours to kill and spent the time mainly in the bar of the Hen and Chickens. The effect was highly noticeable as I dropped my sticks and Henry blew more than just a few bum notes. Norman, love his heart, was not too pleased.

Another one I recall was playing at the Clarence Hotel in Pontypool. No great occasion but got to speak to the Foundations, a notable pop/reggae band who were staying there.

Just before I left for London in late 1969 the trio got a regular Sunday night gig at The Paddocks Hotel, Symonds Yat. They were still there in 1975 when I returned home and I stood-in for their drummer, old Ed who had piles! It was Christmas and as was the usual practise of the management there they gave the boys a bottle of spirits each. Not to feel out of it they gave me a box of chocolates. We laughed all the way back to Newport in Norman's Vauxhall.

Sometime in the late 80's the trio folded but their activities conjure-up fond memories now. After 2000 both Henry and Norman passed away and I doubt now whether many people are about who remember those pleasant evenings at Park Square.

Jim Dyer – 1st April 2012