NATIONAL ORCHESTRA (Sydney)
aka Brennan’s National Orchestra / Fullers’ National Orchestra
(1906-1918) Pit band.
The National Orchestra was the name given to the pit band at James Brennan‘s National Amphitheatre (later Fullers’ National Theatre), Sydney. The first ensemble, comprising eight musicians, was led by Percy Davis who remained in charge until ca. 1908. Over the next 10 years the line-up ranged from five to eight musicians, although it was briefly reduced to three during a 1914 industrial dispute between the Fullers and the Musicians’ Union. From 1914 to the closing of the National in 1918 (it re-opened in 1919 as Fullers’ Theatre) the band featured Charles Von der Mehden’s sons, Harry and Carl.
Known members are: Percy Davis (piano, 1906-08), Carl Mehden (drums, 1914-18), Harry Mehden (trombone, 1914-18), Carl Oberdorf (cornet, 1914-18), H. Oberdorf (violin, 1914-18), Alvin L. Tatro (piano/leader, 1914-18)
ROYAL SQUADRON SYNCOPATORS
Formed in July 1925 by Will Quintrell, the first incarnation of the Royal Squadron Syncopators was short but burned brightly. Mostly comprising members from his pit band at the Sydney Tivoli, the 10 musicians undertook a 5 months tour of the Tivoli circuit as both headline act and musical support, and garnered much acclaim as Australia’s premiere jazz band. The Royal Squadron was revived in 1940 by Quintrell for lengthy seasons at Hoyts’ Regent theatres in Brisbane (1940-1942) and Sydney (1943-1944). The latter season saw them accompanied by Chinese tenor, Stevie Chung Doo
Known members of the Royal Squadron Syncopators were: 1925: – Will Quintrell (leader), Dick Porter (trumpet), Keith Lester (horn), Bill Smith (sax), Sammy Cope (drums), Frank Bull (piano), Will James (banjo), Jock Thompson (sax/clarinet); 1940-44: Will Quintrell (leader), Sammy Cope (drums), Clive Amadio (sax, clarinet), Stevie Chung Doo (vocals).
- See also: Will Quintrell
Image source: Lewis Collection, National Library of Australia.
TINY DOUGLAS & HIS VARSITY BOYS
(aka Tiny Douglas & His Palais Royal Band / Tiny Douglas & His 4 Aces / Tiny Douglas & His Stage Band-its)
(1928- ca. 1939) Jazz band
Formed by former Charleston Symphonist violinist Cyril “Tiny” Douglas in late 1928, the Varsity Boys joined Nat Phillips’ Whirligigs after he disbanded his Stiffy and Mo Revue Company. Over the next 10 years Douglas and his band performed as both feature vaudeville act and support to revue companies led by Stan “Stud” Foley and Amy Rochelle (Novelettes), Frank O’Brien (Revellers), Nat Phillips (Stiffy and Syd), Al Mack (High Hats), George Sorlie, and Graham Mitchell. The Varsity Boys was a popular attraction with film exhibitors and often appeared on radio during the 1930s.
Known members of the band were: Al Batchelder, Don Bennett (piano), Ernie Brooks, Cyril “Tiny” Douglas (violin), Jimmy Downes, Buddy Hodgson, Jack Smith, Tom Torrens, and former Charleston Symphonists Art Dewar (banjo/guitar) and Bede Lewis (sax).
VASCO’S VARSITY BOYS
aka Bert [or] Sam Vasco’s Varsity Boys / Vasco’s Jazz Band
(1928-1929) Very few details regarding this band have yet been located, including its line-up. Even its leader’s given name is unclear (see Bert Vasco entry for details). Linked exclusively to the Fullers‘ Australian and New Zealand vaudeville circuit, the Varsity Boys’ first engagement was in Newcastle, New South Wales beginning 26 May 1928. This season saw them employed as the pit band for George Ward‘s Snap Shots Company. The remainder of the year saw it fulfill the same duties with Eric Masters‘ Merry Whirls (Melbourne) and Frank O’Brien’s London Revue Co (Adelaide and New Zealand).
It is unclear if the same group (or members of that group) were also associated with Sam Vasco’s Ten Musical Loonies, which played a season at the Melbourne Tivoli in April 1928. If so the Varsity Boys was scaled back to seven musicians from May.
WILL QUINTRELL & HIS TIVOLIANS
(1928-1932) Jazz band/pit orchestra
Although Will Quintrell’s Tivolians was essentially the pit orchestra at Sydney’s Tivoli Theatre, the name does not appear to have been used in advertised billing for any of the theatre’s programmes. It was used instead for phonograph releases and radio appearances during the late 1920s and early 1930s. The only names connected to the band to date, apart from Quintell’s, are singer Len Maurice and musician James Riley (who joined in 1931).
- See also: Will Quintrell
- “Breeze” – video at Dailymotion
- “Do That Heebie Jeebie Dance” – video at Dailymotion
- “Slow River” – audio file at Internet Archive
- “Yale Blues” with Len Maurice (vocals) – audio file at Internet Archive
Image source: News (Adelaide) 25 July 1928, 4.