Obituary: Les Carew

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The Independent Online
Leslie Priestley (Les Carew), trombonist; born Lincoln 15 August 1908; married 1932 Elsie Moss (died 1970; one son deceased), 1971 Avril Dankworth; died St Albans 16 March 1994.

LES CAREW was the featured trombonist with the Jack Hylton orchestra in its Thirties heyday.

He was born Leslie Priestley in Lincoln, but spent his formative years in Shipley, Yorkshire. The son of theatrical parents (his mother, a dancer, worked with Little Tich), he nevertheless in his post-school years found himself working in the local mills. But he was drawn to music and the trombone, upon which instrument he made rapid progress.

His early brilliance in local dance bands soon brought him to London and to the notice of Hylton, who quickly co-opted him. Over the ensuing years the band and its members gained international acclaim and star status, with concerts all over Europe, film appearances, radio shows and even a performance in Paris of a work by Igor Stravinsky in the presence of the composer. Carew was also featured comedy man with the band - he was a natural clown - and he played a large supporting role in the 1930s film She Shall Have Music featuring the Hylton band.

Carew showed considerable skill as a jazz soloist in his early recorded work, but was discouraged (in common with all the other Hylton jazz- oriented musicians) from displaying such talents by his bandleader, who found improvisation confusing to conduct. And Carew's total abandonment of any jazz aspirations coincided, he always related, with the arrival on the scene of the virtuoso jazz trombonist George Chisholm.

Eventually Carew left Hylton for another famous band of the period, led by Bert Ambrose. Military service in the Second World War was curtailed by health deficiencies, and during the latter part of it he led the Ambrose Octette which featured a young singer, Anne Shelton.

After the war Carew freelanced in London with Geraldo, Eric Robinson, Mantovani, George Melachrino and many others. In 1970 his first wife, Elsie, died and he subsequently married the music lecturer Avril Dankworth - founder of the children's music camps bearing her name - a partnership which lasted the rest of his life.

Les Carew will be remembered with affection for his uncompromising opinions and his forthright way of expressing them, usually in my case (as his brother-in- law) in after-dinner conversations. One of his favourite hobby-horses was his detestation of vocal music which was not performed in the language of the listener, and many a Radio 3 producer became the target of his wrath as a result, usually by way of a letter from his prolific pen. He could be infuriating in argument one moment and humorously disarming at the next. Faults he may have had, but most of us who knew him well found him an endearing and gifted British eccentric.

An exceptionally fit and active man until his final year, Carew died of Parkinson's disease, shortly after completing his autobiography.

(Photograph omitted)

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