DENNY DENNIS was one of the finest romantic vocalists of what is now fondly remembered as the golden age of British dance bands, with a career as a band singer, solo recording star and broadcaster which spanned three decades. Yet it all started by chance when he was heard by the editor of the Melody Maker, Percy Mathison Brooks, at a regional dance band contest.
Dennis Pountain, as he then was, was playing drums for a semi-pro band in Derby, where he worked as an apprentice electrician on the LMS railway. No vocal was scheduled for that night in 1932 but he filled in during a lull in the proceedings and Mathison Brooks was so impressed he sent the teenager to London for an audition with the American bandleader Roy Fox. Fox liked Pountain's resonant baritone voice, but felt he needed more experience. So for 12 months or so he sang with the Freddy Bretherton Orchestra at the Spider's Web, a roadhouse on the Watford by-pass where he was heard by another bandleader, Jack Jackson, with whom he made his first recordings in 1933.
One of them, 'I'm getting sentimental over you', became the signature tune of Tommy Dorsey, whom Dennis would join in 1948 - the first Englishman to sing with an American big band. By then he was a household name, recording in the Thirties, touring Britain and Europe with Fox and broadcasting not only on the BBC but the two commercial stations Radio Normandy and Radio Luxembourg.
It was Fox who renamed him Denny Dennis only moments before his first BBC broadcast with the band, from the Kit Cat restaurant. Dennis spent five years with the Fox band before it broke up in 1938. He did not enjoy touring and the prospect of a settled residency in London tempted him to join Ambrose. When they too went on the road Dennis, by now a solo artist on Decca's Rex label, felt confident enough to branch out on his own. But with the onset of war work became limited, and he accepted a job with the BBC's variety and light music departments, which had moved to Bristol for safety.
Meanwhile his 1939 recording of 'South of the Border' with Ambrose attracted attention in the US and two bandleaders, Paul Whiteman and Sammy Kaye, cabled offers. Wartime restrictions forced him to decline. In 1940 he enlisted in the RAF. After demobilisation in 1946, however, he recorded a vocal version of Django Reinhardt's composition 'Nuages'. It became 'the bluest kind of blues' and a massive hit in America. An approach from Benny Goodman followed, and then an offer from Dorsey, which Dennis accepted in 1948. Because of a union ban he made only five recordings before domestic circumstances forced him to return home in 1949.
In the early 1950s the music scene changed drastically. After some recording and broadcasting work with the Sid Phillips band Dennis found himself touring the country once more, this time in variety. In Brighton he discovered a group called the Frazer Hayes Quartet and went on tour with them. Despite a disastrous start at the Regal, Southend, where the pit orchestra played their opening number at the wrong tempo, they were a success - even at the notorious Grand Theatre, Byker, where the gallery was wired in like a zoo enclosure to stop the acts being pelted.
Later Dennis appeared in a downmarket touring show called Disc Doubles, where he was obliged to impersonate Bing Crosby. As the music scene continued to change, a job as compere at a Yorkshire country club, where he worked with artists like Chick Murray, Alma Cogan, Johnny Ray and Donald Peers, ended when he refused the lady owner's demands that he should work with a stool and wear a woolly cardigan like Val Doonican.
Denny Dennis drifted into a number of non-musical jobs in the North, including clerk at a paper mill and manager of a holiday camp supermarket, before retiring in 1978. But he was never forgotten, and only a week before his final illness he was in London to accept an award from Basca (British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors) for his services to music.
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