Southampton’s long and interesting musical history

Local history author and tour guide with SeeSouthampton Martin Brisland looks at just a few of the city’s many connections with the world of music.

Niccolo Paganini, an extrovert violinist, gave two concerts in the Long Rooms on 1832.

They were near to today’s The Quays Swimming & Diving Complex. His showmanship and play style won him many female admirers.

Some claimed that he had sold his soul and was called “The Devil.” “The Devil’s Violinist”.

Nicolo Paganini by Richard James Lane in 1831

He was well-known for his difficult to play caprices, or variations for solo violin.

His 24th caprice was the basis for the South Bank Show’s theme song. Paganini was to his violin what Jimi Hendrix was to his guitar later on. It is believed that Hendrix visited the Bay Tree pub at New Road in 1967. He was visiting Southampton to play at the Southampton Guildhall.

Billy Reid

In 1902, Billy Reid was conceived in St Mary Street.

He started making extra money as a musician along with his brother George. George played the piano, while Billy played the saxophone.

In the 1920s, the brothers went professional and moved to Southampton.

Billy Reid photo.

Photo of Billy Reid

Billy began to play the accordion, which is the instrument for which his greatest memories are. He formed an accordion group that performed until the end of the Second World War.

He wrote several chart hits for Dorothy Squires in the 1940s.

He also wrote songs, among others, for Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Eddie Fisher.

Billy Reid plaque in Ogle Road.

Billy Reid plaque on Ogle Road

Ink Spots’ Gypsy became the first US number-one hit in 1945.

Unfortunately, he mismanaged his money and was soon bankrupt. He died at the age of 71 after moving to the Isle of Wight.

He is honored with a blue plaque in Ogle Road

Bert Osborne and Gil Hume

Dancing was a popular pastime in the 1930’s and 1940’s and two of the main local dance band leaders were Gil Hume and Bert Osborne.

Gil Hume in later years.

Gil Hume in later life.

They played regularly in the area, often at The Guildhall and at the Royal Pier.

In fact, Bert Osborne’s band performed at the first dinner dance at the Guildhall on February 5, 1937.

Bert Osborne band - he was a pianist.

Bert Osborne band – Bert was a pianist.

Nat Gonella

Gosport’s jazz trumpeter Nat Gonella was said to be British Louis Armstrong.

He played occasionally at the Northlands Road’s former Royal Court Hotel.

White Town took a muted trumpet melody from a 1932 song called My Woman by Al Bowly in 1997. They included it in their Your Woman album, which reached number one in the UK.

Heinz Burt

Heinz Burt’s ashes are buried in Eastleigh Cemetery.

The White Tornado, Heinz Burt in his 1960s heyday.

Heinz Burt, The White Tornado, in his 1960s glory.

Famous for his peroxide blonde hair in 1962, he was also the bassist for The Tornados, who had a number-one hit with the instrumental Telstar. Heinz also had a solo hit with Just Like Eddie in tribute to Eddie Cochran.

The Beatles

1969 saw the release of The Ballad of John & Yoko, which was their last number one single. The opening line of the song was:

“Standing in the dock at Southampton

Try to get to Holland and France

The man in a mac said

‘You’ve got to go back’

You know, they didn’t even give us a chance”

John and Yoko, having been turned away at Southampton, finally got married in Gibraltar.

John and Yoko, who had been rejected at Southampton, got married in Gibraltar.

March’s chauffeur-driven white Rolls Royce, had suddenly decided to sail to France one night.

They were refused a booking or passport and were therefore turned away.

John and Yoko’s names are on a brick at the Millennium Gardens in Portswood.

Benny Hill

Who could forget the 1971 Christmas number for Ernie, the Fastest Milkman West by Southampton born TV comedian Benny Hill

The song recalled his time as an Eastleigh milkman for Hann’s Dairy: “And he galloped into Market Street, his badge upon his chest”.

Benny Hill through the years.

Benny Hill as Ernie.

The song also mentions Sue the widow he loved who lived at number 22,

The Southampton house he inherited was 22 Westrow Gardens.

Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut made it to number one in the UK album charts in 1983.

It featured a Roger Waters’ solo track called Southampton Dock about Second World War soldiers passing through Southampton.

Pink Floyd’s first gig without Syd Barrett, their founder, was at Southampton University in 1968.

Martin Brisland works as a tour guide for SeeSouthampton.co.uk

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