Johnny Roadhouse: Saxophonist and central figure in Mancunian music
Saturday 04 July 2009
Over a career spanning more than half a century, the saxophonist Johnny Roadhouse was one of the country's leading instrumentalists. And as the celebrated owner of a legendary Manchester music store, his expertise helped guide many of the city's musicians to the forefront of British musical life.
Born in Sheffield, John Roadhouse spent his formative years in Moss Side, Manchester. Largely self-taught, he inherited his love of music from his father, a fine amateur performer. During the Second World War, while working as a fitter's mate at the Metro Vickers factory in Trafford Park, at night he played saxophone in local venues. He joined Bonelli's band at the Belle Vue dance hall for two years, from 1946, then started touring with the Teddy Foster Orchestra.
In 1948 Roadhouse began his long association with the BBC in Manchester, initially joining the corporation's Northern Variety Orchestra. However, it was the arrival of an innovative new conductor, Alyn Ainsworth that, for Roadhouse, heralded a most significant change of direction. Out went the string section, the main line-up itself dramatically revamped as an up-to-date swing band under its new title, the BBC Northern Dance Orchestra.
Roadhouse was an elegant and lyrical player, his warm tone and apparently effortless delivery endearing him to listeners. Likewise his generous spirit, impeccable timing and unerring accuracy won him the regard of colleagues. He led many distinctive sections during his years with the NDO.
Whether backing variety acts or working on studio sessions, the band quickly became one of the country's leading ensembles. In 1955, the first staff orchestra to play for royalty, they appeared at the Royal Variety Show at Blackpool's impressive Opera House. However, it was their landmark radio series, Make Way for Music, later successfully transferred to television, that brought them wider acclaim.
Here the musicians revelled in their artistic freedom, none more so than Roadhouse. He was resplendent as always in braces, his laconic humour regularly proving more than a match for the studied insouciance of announcer Roger Moffat. On the demise of the NDO in 1974, Roadhouse joined its replacement, the more mainstream Northern Radio Orchestra.
While continuing to perform, in 1955 he opened his own highly individual music shop in Oxford Road. Over the years, everyone from Joy Division to the Gallagher brothers would call in to seek his help and advice. Oasis later featured the shop's distinctive façade in the video they made to accompany their single "The Masterplan".
A regular contributor to the long-running BBC series The Good Old Days, Roadhouse enjoyed bridging the cultural divide, performing with the Hallé and Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestras. Honoured by Manchester with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005, in recent years, still performing, he remained tireless in supporting local charities.
John Roadhouse, musician: born Sheffield 13 January 1921; twice married (two sons, two daughters); died Manchester 11 April 2009.
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