Dance Band Music in Chesterfield – the 1920s to the 1950s

The preview site of David McPhie’s ‘Waltzing Round the Spire’.

Welcome to David McPhie’s ‘Waltzing Round the Spire’. On these pages David takes a look at Chesterfield’s music scene generally the dance-bands and their venues of the 1920s up until the 1950s (and possibly a bit beyond).

A lost Chesterfield dance hall – inside the Rendezous’, Sheffield Road in 1928.
Though this section of of our website is still very much under development you can still start your ‘waltz around the spire’ by downloading Geoff Sadler’s history of the venue from this page. (Photograph originally donated to Chesterfield Local Studies Library by Mr Arthur Holmes and reproduced with their permission).

This section of our website is currently under development, but when completed you’ll be able to find:

  • David’s introduction to the project – already live on this page. A little about himself and acknowledgements – to follow.
  • A downloadable pdf of the late Geoff Sadler’s landmark history of the The Rendezvous dance hall, Sheffield Road, (courtesy of Derbyshire County Council) – now live and linked at the bottom of this page
  • Not yet live – links to the rest of David McPhie’s ‘Waltzing Round the Spire’ pages – comprising chapters in Chesterfield’s music story (when live you’ll be able to use the links below or at the bottom of this page).
    • 1 – Venues
    • 2 – The dance band leaders and musicians
    • 3 – Jazz, skiffle, country and rock ‘n‘ roll
    • 4 – Cinemas and theatres 

Each of the above chapter page will also contain a further link from where you will be able download each page as a pdf. Download all the pdfs and you’ll have a book on Chesterfield’s musical waltz around the spire – all for free!

We hope you enjoy this preview section of our web-site. Please keep popping back to explore new content.

If you have any problems, want further information, or to contribute your memories or photographs, please contact us.

Great films and great dancing. The Victoria entertainment complex on Knifesmithgate not only offered, at one time, a café, billiards and films, but dancing. For many years these were under resident band led by Stan Cox. An advertisement from the Derbyshire Times 9 March 1945.

Waltzing Round the Spire – introduction – David McPhie

In contrast to the experiences as retold in my book (jointly with Ian Lee – published in 2018) In the Shadow of the Crooked Spire, which covers the 1960s and early 70s, I really had no affinity with the Dance Band Years; the palaces of waltzing and quickstepping being far from my natural environment, as opposed to the music and culture of the 1960s.

A chronological jigsaw

But I decided to make a contribution to the ‘chronological jigsaw’, looking at the development of Chesterfield’s music culture over the previous four decades, hoping that maybe the baton will, for more recent decades, possibly be picked up by such as Stuart Smith with tales from the Fusion Nightclub, and Aaron Brown with his S40Time podcast, (including musician interviews conducted by both myself and Aaron for exposure via the podcast). Already in place of course are Neil Anderson’s Dirty Stop Outs Guides for the 60s (written by Pete Dodd), 70s , 80s and 90s’.

Thus, with the inclusion in this website of Geoff Sadler’s Rendezvous dance hall story, commencing with its opening in 1925, there would (hopefully will) be nearly 100 years of Chesterfield music history preserved for posterity. 

But not the total picture!

In conducting my research I discovered more than I thought existed prior to the 1960s, but it by no means completes the total picture of all genres of music endemic in the area. Traditional folk music, beyond my remit, but worthy of further research by someone with the time to ‘do a Cecil Sharp’, on the traditional songs and performers of the area, is one such strand of the musical culture still to be uncovered.

What my ‘waltz’ covers

The majority of this book/website section covers the dance bands of the period, from the earliest memories I could uncover in the 1920s, through the 30s, 40s and 50s, to the ‘sunset years’ of the 1960s, when probably the last notable survivor of the early, pioneering dance band days, Al Needham, finished his residency at the Victoria Ballroom, Chesterfield, succumbing at last to the onset of the ‘beat group’ era that had swept the country. These groups drew their initial inspiration from the American inspired rock ‘n’ roll invasion of the late 1950s, thus bringing about the change in use of the ballroom and dance hall venues, from that of the relatively sedate ballroom dancing (waltzes, quicksteps, etc.) to be replaced by the frantic tones of rock and roll.

A period of cultural change

There was a short period when ballroom dancing existed uneasily alongside the rock ‘n’ roll promotions that were rapidly taking over the ballroom and dance hall venues. But the cultural change was inevitable and left the remaining dance bands to compete between themselves for the private business functions, Christmas parties etc. that were to provide the opportunities to fill their diaries from then on.

And of course then came the DJ (mobile disc jockey) to further limit even those dwindling opportunities, as a much cheaper option to entertain the audience and ‘balance the books’ ! 

I was surprised to discover so few jazz bands from the area, as also a dearth of rock ‘n’ roll outfits, and one skiffle group (initially attached to the Al Needham Band).

A significant part of the evening entertainment scene were the Cinemas and Theatres, and they too are featured herein. 

Enjoy our 100 year musical legacy!

I hope you’ll read the next ‘chapters’ in our waltz around the spire -downloading the pdfs at the bottom of each website page, if you want to make a book out of them – along with the late Geoff Sadler’s story of the Rendezvous Dance Hall.

David McPhie

May 2023

Photograph by Malcolm Adlington.

A little bit about David McPhie

I was born in 1941 in Chesterfield, and spent my childhood playing and watching football and cricket, trainspotting and wandering the woods and fields around the town.

My first ‘proper job’ after leaving school was buying the 45rpm singles for Hudsons Record Store in the late 1950s, and in the early Sixties opening (with first wife Geraldine) our own record shop, ‘Some Kinda Mushroom’.

During the Sixties I ran ‘The Smokestack Club’ in the Queens Park Hotel, was DJ for Top Rank at the Victoria Ballroom, and ran the ‘Velvet Underground Club’ in the same premises after Top Rank pulled out, booking bands such as Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Yes, Family, Free, etc.; and secured a recording contract for Joe Cocker prior to his iconic Woodstock Festival appearance.

I also doubled as a mobile DJ  and booking agent, bringing Bill Haley, Little Richard and Pink Floyd to the town. In the 1980s I moved on to open bookshops and craft centres around Derbyshire, currently owning (with my daughter Louisa) ‘High Peak Bookstore and Cafe’ at Brierlow Bar near Buxton.

My book, ‘Sounds in the Shadow of the Crooked Spire’, was completed in 2019, and is still currently available from Amazon.


Text to follow

The next steps on your waltz around the spire are:

1 – Download the late Geoff Sadler’s ‘The Rendezous Dance Hall: a history’ as a pdf.

Discover this once popular, but now forgotten, dancehall and entertainment venue on Sheffield Road, which started life as a malthouse. Its last use was as a bedding factory and warehouse, before it was demolished. Its site is now a nursing home.

Thanks to Derbyshire County Council we are able to publish this scanned version of the late Geoff Sadler’s 1990 publication.

2 – Download ‘Waltzing round the spire‘s’ cover, title page, list of contents, introduction, brief biography of David McPhie and acknowledgements, as a pdf

The downloadable copy below is for development purposes and does not represent the final version. But it does give a preview as to what we hope to achieve.

This page under development. Last updated 15 May 2023