Ken Mackintosh

Swinging big band-leader
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The Independent Online

Kenneth Victor Mackintosh, saxophonist and band-leader: born Liversedge, Yorkshire 4 August 1919; married 1944 Elsie Burton (died 1986; one son, one daughter); died Mitcham, Surrey 22 November 2005.

Ken Mackintosh was a big band-leader for many years and in October 1953, his swinging interpretation of "The Creep", an instrumental he had written under the pseudonym Andy Burton, brought recording acclaim to Mackintosh, his saxophone and his orchestra. So successful was the number that almost all the leading big bands around the world recorded it, including Ted Heath and his Music and the legendary American band of Stan Kenton.

Mackintosh's father was an amateur musician, so the young Ken grew up familiar with bands and, at the age of 14, decided it was the alto saxophone that interested him the most. Told that it was easy to play, he bought one on hire purchase for two shillings a week. His father was sceptical - if it was so easy why couldn't he play one? But Ken Mackintosh did find it easy and was soon to play it better than his tutor, getting employment in bands around the Leeds and Bradford areas.

At the outset of the Second World War, he joined the Royal Army Service Corps and was posted to France in the British Expeditionary Force. They were soon cut off by a German attack, and it became every man for himself, but Mackintosh gallantly found his way to Cherbourg and evacuated back to Britain, where he spent the next four years in the machine workshops of his regiment. He also played in a military band before being demobbed and then went straight into a London band led by the trumpeter Johnny Claes, before joining the bands of George Elrick, then Oscar Rabin, and finally Frank Weir.

Mackintosh was intent on creating his own swinging big band, and the opportunity arose in 1948 with an invitation to open the new Astoria Ballroom in Nottingham. That in turn led to regular BBC Midland Region radio broadcasts, and his band-leading fame began to spread. He remained in Nottingham for two years, until Wimbledon Palais beckoned and Mackintosh and the band came south to the new venue, from which they regularly began broadcasting on the BBC Light Programme. In 1951 he secured a recording contract with HMV, kicking off with Victor Herbert's "Kiss Me Again", and scoring a big hit with "The Creep" two years later.

The Wimbledon Palais tenure lasted three years and by then Mackintosh felt the band was becoming musically stale and a tour would be the cure. It lasted more than 10 years - entertaining on cruise liners and playing concerts all over the UK. The band also featured in a Diana Dors film, An Alligator Named Daisy (1955), and they appeared on television on Come Dancing and later their own show, Flying Standards.

It was such a punishing schedule for so many years that the idea of a ballroom residency was again becoming attractive. As luck would have it, the lavish £1m-refurbished Empire Ballroom in Leicester Square, London was about to reopen - and Ken Mackintosh and his Orchestra were the first choice, with a seven-year contract. The Hammersmith Palais came next, with another seven-year stint to fulfil, before moving over to the Royal, Tottenham, for a few years.

The band was still busy recording, with "Raunchy" and "No Hiding Place" becoming notable. Records were also made accompanying the star vocalists Alma Cogan, Anne Shelton and Frankie Vaughan, and the band were given their own radio series entitled Mack the Knife.

But by the 1970s, big bands were in decline, having been replaced by less expensive guitar-led pop groups. The desire for bands hadn't gone completely, but bookings were slack and, although touring remained on the agenda, it was time to consider partial retirement. With so many years as a ballroom band-leader behind him, Ken Mackintosh personally remained in demand and, for three successive years in the late 1990s, he was invited to conduct the International Championships at the Royal Albert Hall and, in 2001, was awarded the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters "Gold Badge" for outstanding services to British music.

Always mentally and physically active, for his hobbies Mackintosh became an enthusiastic radio ham by night and, by day, restored vintage cars using the skills he had acquired during the war in the RASC machine workshops. Up until recent months, he was still occasionally playing and leading a local orchestra.

Brian Willey