Mike Denham made a few early, though fruitless attempts to become a bandleader. His very first band was beset by opposition from his peers who objected to being told which chords to follow ...

As he grew somewhat older and wiser, he realised that he had a particular talent for management, and so he signed up a group of his grandmother's friends from the bowls club with the intention of hitting the charts - maybe even achieving his lifetime ambition of appearing on Six-Five Special ... but the band folded after his lead singer mislaid her false teeth on their first gig and left the venue in tears ...

Later, his penchant for carefully coordinated band uniform took over, and he formed a nattily-dressed ensemble which had every chance of making it during the Swinging Sixties - until it was discovered that one member of the band had non-matching buttons on his shirt and another regularly sported the wrong colour socks, and Mike had to fire them all ...

So it was back to the drawing board until ...

... Mike and Alan Potton (cornet) - who had both played in Eric Dolby's Jazzmen in the Midlands in the 1970s - coincidentally found themselves relocated to Dorset in the early 80s in the context of their 'proper' jobs ... after a handful of casual gigs around the Dorchester pub scene, a more regular line-up was eventually assembled, and in 1989 The Sunset Cafe Stompers launched themselves upon an unsuspecting public ...

The first sessions with this regular line-up took place at the Greyhound Hotel (now a Wetherspoons) in Bridport in the late ‘80s - the year 1989 has therefore become traditionally regarded as the official 'birth year' of the Stompers.  The personnel of this original incarnation of the band were :

Alan Potton (cornet),  Mike Denham (piano),  Bob Boorman (trombone),  Mike Pass (banjo),  Matt Tucker (clarinet), Mike Chorley (bass) and Nigel Stockwell (drums). After a year or so, Pete Farley replaced Mike Pass on banjo and Rick Coyne took over from Matt Tucker on clarinet. Under Alan's expert leadership the band settled down nicely, based on a weekly residency at the New Inn, Charminster, which lasted some seven years ...

The band's first appearance at the Bude Jazz Festival came in 1991, and this historic occasion - in addition to their enthusiastic reception at the Hawarden Club - marked the first in a series of intermittent, comical-farcical incidents spanning the band's history ... right up to the present day, if Mike Denham's recent incursion into the 'Ladies' at the Ropemakers in Bridport is anything to go by. At Bude, panic set in when Mike - something of an absent-minded professor at times - managed to lock his car keys into his vehicle, which happened to contain many of the band's instruments. Having rushed off to find a phone box (yes - that's what one did in those days!) to contact the AA, he returned to find that Mike Chorley had managed a very successful break-in ... or so he thought!  It transpired that he'd broken into a similar car nearby ...

The personnel remained remarkably steady throughout the 90s, the only changes being Bob Kefford replacing Bob Boorman on trombone in 1992, and Julian Davies coming in on bass after Mike Chorley's untimely death in 1993. 'Keff' went on to play a very influential role in the band until he hung up his trombone in 2010, and Julian certainly added further jazz pedigree, having been a member of the legendary Crane River Jazz Band. The distances travelled by the band gradually increased as its reputation grew, with gigs at clubs and festivals from Bude to Hull, and from Farnham to Keswick, and several recordings from that decade now fetch a small fortune on eBay (a very small fortune!). These included Festival (1994), Hot Stomps (1995), Beautiful Sunset (1996) and Come On And Stomp, Stomp, Stomp (1999)...

With the late 90s came several personnel changes, as ill health forced the retirement of Nigel Stockwell and Rick Coyne. The Stompers' new drummer was Don Kassell, and John Levett - a fine player - took over clarinet duties. It was also time for another of those SCS tragi-comic incidents ... in 1999, the band found itself en route to the Keswick Jazz Festival, Julian's bass lashed to the roof of the car.  Somehow - and who knows where the blame lay - the bass worked itself loose from its lashings and, in a very few dramatic seconds, was transformed into matchwood littering the M5. Not surprisingly, the resultant trauma led to the almost immediate retirement of Julian, so a new bass player was urgently required. As is often the case, one man's loss is another's gain, and Pete Ward was duly piped aboard. So far, he has managed to stick around since that fateful year, and remains the only member of the band to have broken an arm and a leg on two different gigs ... fortunately, on both occasions his bass remained unscathed!

The 'Potton Era' eventually came to an end in 1999 as Alan announced his retirement from the band. It was time for Mike Denham to take over the management of the band, and he somehow succeeded in recruiting, as Alan's replacement, a very experienced and highly-regarded trumpet player from London, who had just moved down to West Bay. Jim Holmes was widely known and admired in New Orleans jazz circles, and had even spent time in the Crescent City during the 1960s learning from Punch Miller of the Preservation Hall Band. Regular monthly dates at the Bull Hotel soon became a Bridport institution, drawing on an increasing fan base, and indeed kept going until the hotel was sold in 2006. Thus proceeded the 'Jim Holmes Era' ...

Anyone present at those regular sessions at the Bull Hotel cannot fail to remember the flamboyant local ‘character’ - and occasional frequenter of boxing booths when the fair came to town - known to one and all as ‘Gordon the Dancer’. This larger-than-life personage certainly dominated whatever space he could find – sometimes with his dance partner, Molly, but mainly as a solo act – and while he amused some of the audience (and band members) he managed to thoroughly enrage others. Bob Kefford, in particular, was invariably infuriated by the pungent cigar smoke emanating from Gordon's position very close to the band. During these uniquely energetic performances, Gordon's piece de resistance was a dramatic ‘fall’ forward to a prone position, instantly springing back upright like a circus acrobat. To add to the spectacle, his sartorial appearance was not unlike that of a 1940s ‘spiv’ - extremely dapper, with brylcreemed hair, pin-stripe suit, 'kipper' tie, right down to the crocodile-skin shoes …

When John Levett lost his life in the tsunami that struck Thailand in 2004, Terry Emptage came in to replace him for a brief spell, before Mike Betts took over the clarinet chair, and also added to the band's armoury his superb, booting tenor sax playing. Long drives to gigs became the norm - northwards to Nottingham, Warrington, Bingley ... eastwards to Colchester, Norwich, Yarmouth ... not to mention a second trip to the 100 Club in Oxford Street.  Further recordings had by now appeared, including Down South (2001), Monday Date (2002) and Dreamy Sunset (2004). There had also been a change in drummers, as Pete Winterhart - with his intuitive feel and flair for the New Orleans style of drumming - took over from Don Kassel ...

Eventually, the long-standing regular sessions at the Bull Hotel came to an end in 2006, when the hotel was sold and the band was 'dumped' by the new management, but by now there was no stopping us, so we made sure that the 'anchor' of regular monthly sessions survived, first at the Coach and Horses in South Perrott, and later at the nearby Winyards Gap Inn. During this time we played several gigs with young vocalist Caroline Rovina, including yet another visit to the Bude Jazz Festival, and a further CD Don't Advertise Your Man with several tracks featuring Caroline ...

 

Having lost John Levett in 2004, we lost another good friend in 2008. A day or two after observing during a gig : "Life doesn't get much better than this!", Pete Farley, a fine banjo player and a great bloke, died suddenly and totally unexpectedly. Having been with the band since almost the very beginning, he was clearly going to be very hard to replace, but after much searching, Mike was eventually able to recruit Eddie Edwards in 2010. Later that year, Bob Kefford - another long-standing mainstay and 'anchor' of the band, decided to retire from playing, and Pete Middleton was recruited to take over trombone duties, following a series of dep jobs during Bob's illness ...

Further changes occurred as the months and years rolled inexorably onwards - Pete Winterhart eventually decided to concentrate solely on his gigs with Black Cat Jazz and was replaced initially by a fine drummer of many styles (and immaculate co-respondent shoes) Jim Newton.  Later - in 2014 - John Coad joined us on a permanent basis, though Jim kindly remained on call as a highly reliable dep. Furthermore, Mike Betts had to pull out on health grounds, whereupon, after sterling dep work from Mike Snelling and Nick White, we were incredibly lucky to poach Trevor Whiting from the Barber band! Our regular monthly sessions moved to the Ropemakers in Bridport, a truly superb pub with a highly ambitious live music policy as well as having the friendliest bar staff in pub history! They make us feel truly welcome on every third  Monday of the month, along with an enthusiastic crowd of both regulars and visitors ...

Jim Holmes had been leading from the front for well over ten years when his health began to deteriorate rapidly during 2012. He was soon seriously ill and was finally unable to play any longer. During his illness, both Andy Dickens - based in Southampton - and Steve Graham covered most of our gigs for us, the latter taking over trumpet duties officially towards the end of the year, shortly before Jim's death. Jim was such a fine trumpet player that he was a very hard act to follow, but the show had to go on, and Steve, of course, rose to the occasion, as the band now entered its third phase - the 'Graham Era' ...

The gig calendar continued to keep us pretty busy, with festivals - Bude, Upton, Swanage, Pershore ... jazz clubs - Bude (again!), Bournemouth, Cotleigh, Gosport, Wantage, Salisbury, the Concorde in Eastleigh, Great Bookham (the 'Far East'!) even overseas (to the Isle of Wight!) ... and concerts in some fine old churches and some equally fine old (and newer) village halls in remote Dorset villages with quaint double-barrelled names, like Melbury Osmond and Langton Budville. A major highlight of recent years was our appearance at the prestigeous Three Choirs Festival in Worcester in 2017 where we (or rather, five of us) were tasked with impersonating the ODJB, as the Festival's theme was '1917', the year of the first ever jazz recording ...

At some point within the last few years we seem to have recruited our first ever specialist vocalist - as opposed to random members of the band simply chipping in on a whim! Mike Denham claims to have found Hamish Maxwell purely by chance in a seedy club somewhere within the bohemian underworld of Bridport. True or not, we all certainly remember Hamish showing up for the first time at a gig in the jazz club at Cotleigh Brewery, and all being knocked out by this distinguished-looking elderly gentlemen who could belt out the blues with the best of 'em. He has since graced most of our subsequent gigs, and seems blessed with an amazing knack of wowing particularly the female section of our audiences - somehow he always manages to attract more applause than the rest of the band put together! ... he also invariably sports coloured socks matching his shirt of the day, something which is strictly forbidden to the rest of the band ...

The most recent change in the band's personnel was the result of our losing Eddie Edwards in 2019. He suffered a very long period of serious illness, over many months, with the inevitable attendant medications, treatments and hospitalisations, but he determinedly soldiered on through nearly all of our scheduled gigs without ever uttering a word of complaint until he was finally physically incapable of playing any longer. In nearly ten years with the band, he'd added not only his extremely fine and tasteful playing to the band's collective sound, but also his enthusiasm, encouragement and gentle sense of humour. Yet another loss ... yet another hard act to follow ...

But - as before - the show had to go on, and Keith Hall, now the New Boy in the band, was duly welcomed aboard to fill the banjo chair, as well as bringing his considerable guitar playing talents to vary the sound of some of our numbers ... he's also a fine vocalist, so we are indeed thrice blessed! ...

And so an empty stage awaits as we embark on a new decade in the illustrious history of this fine band ... who knows what the future may hold in store for any of us? ...

 

We'll simply carry on playing and see how it all pans out ... we hope to see you there!

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