Singer Dennis shares his big band memories
DENNIS Putt was a keen music fan and could sing most of the hit songs of the day.
So it was a happy day in 1955 when, after completing his National Service, he got a gig with one of Plymouth's premier dance bands, led by Ted Coleman.
"Ted had a contract to play at the Lecture Hall every Saturday night," recalls Dennis. "This was a temporary building at the side of the Guildhall and we performed there right through until they started work on restoring the Guildhall itself. Then our Saturday night sessions moved to the Assembly Hall, another temporary affair, located in the complex of pre-fabs alongside the ABC cinema (Reel as it is now). This motley collection of semi-circular structures was then serving as the NAAFI and we'd put in long shifts there – some of the gigs lasted up to six hours – 9pm to 3am." There was a third temporary stage that the band played on, up on the Hoe Promenade, near Drake's Statue. "There was dancing there every Thursday," says Dennis.
"We did a lot of work for the city council too. We played for all the Lord Mayor's functions. The band was really busy. We had up to four gigs a week, a lot of them were in Cornwall. Of course, if we had a really late night across the river, we'd have to wait for the 5am ferry to get us home. A few of us always used to travel in the drummer's car: it was a Standard Vanguard, with a bench seat across the front. I can still remember the registration number – 293 PAF. The drummer, Frank Barnes, had been a prisoner of war."
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After singing for some eight years with the band, Dennis bought a house. "It needed a lot of work done on it and the band never had a Saturday night off, so I packed in the singing for a while."
But not before he'd met and married Shirley Doel.
"Shirley was at one of our gigs, and came up to me afterwards and said that she particularly liked one of the songs I'd sung and could I get her a copy of the lyrics.
"The song was Autumn Concerto: it was 1956 and I said I'd get a copy and give it to her at the next gig. And so I went home, copied the words out and the next time I saw her, I gave a sheet with the lyrics on it. And then I danced with her … and, two years later, married her.
"Sadly Shirley died in 1999, of breast cancer. I had the song played at her funeral."