In 1930 a talented musician aged 21 decided to form a dance band, and hey presto, the country’s, if not the world’s, longest serving entertainment unit was born and has been doing jus that non-stop ever since! The Joe Loss Orchestra now directed by Todd Miller is still appearing countrywide to this day.
I say “entertaining” because Joe always said, “although we are in the music business we are also entertainers.” When Joe became ill in 1990 he asked Todd to take over the Orchestra and not one booking was cancelled. Todd himself joined the Orchestra in 1972 and is now regarded by many as one of the best front men in the business.
It was in 1969 that Joe decided, for financial reasons, that he would reduce the personnel to ten musicians and three vocalists. He felt that when the moment was right he would re-assemble the big band. Indeed to this day there are many musicians playing in present day big bands who appear in the Joe Loss Big Band whenever the band is booked.
On the subject of big bands and their leaders there is an amusing story relating to Joe and Billy Cotton. It appears that one morning just after the end of the war, Joe arrived home after a gig just before breakfast. Having had a quick cup of tea and still in pyjamas and dressing gown, who should be knocking at the front door other than Billy Cotton with a brand new motor car. He insisted on taking Joe for a spin and although the weather conditions were pretty grim, bitterly cold and with thick snow off they went into the surrounding countryside. Unfortunately, before too long the car ran out of petrol (it still being rationed that time didn’t help) and Billy left Joe in the car whilst he set off in the quest for a garage. There sat Joe as cold as ice and with teeth chattering when along came the local bobby. Pushing his bicycle, he enquired as to why Joe was sitting in the car in freezing weather wearing his pyjamas and dressing gown. Joe informed the police constable that he was Joe Loss and that Billy Cotton had gone off to try and get some petrol. By the look in his eye the constable was finding it hard to believe such a story, until Billy re-appeared with a can of petrol and convinced the sceptic that the story was indeed true! The constable cycled away with a smile on his face with two prized autographs in his notebook!
But I digress. It was with an eight-piece band, playing in the style of Oscar Rabin’s Romany Band at the Astoria Ballroom, that Joe took the first steps to becoming well-known. His growing popularity brought him a job at the Kit Kat Club where he made many of the BBC outside broadcasts. During his time there he raised the personnel to 11 plus a young lady vocalist – a croonette as they were known. She made her first broadcast singing “Red Sails In The Sunset” the top hit of the day in 1935. She was only 18 and in years to come became the “Forces Favourite” none other than Vera Lynn.
After a long residency in London Joe began to tour the music halls, as did many bands of the day. During the war he took the band to entertain the troops around the UK and eventually to France and Holland. In 1946 Joe began a regular residency in the Isle of Man from May until the end of September, which lasted until 1959. With the coming together of the ITV companies Joe and the orchestra became the house band for ABC and opened up all of the television regions throughout the UK during the period from 1956 to 1960. They were to be seen regularly on television often up to four times a week. This was followed by a long residency at the Hammersmith Palais until August 1969 broken only by an 18-week season at the Empire Leicester Square and 12months at the Lyceum in 1967. They then moved on to the Empire until November 1970 at which point Joe decided to retire. He told Sam Watmough, the current manager of the band, who joined in 1956 that during the meeting he was to inform the band of his decision.
Joe opened his speech saying “Gentlemen, we shall be leaving the Empire and Mecca in 6 weeks time on November 30th.” This brought Stan Pickstock, lead trumpet, to his feet, Stan had been with the band since 1961, who said, “bloody great, now we can get back on the road,” at which point the band applauded.
Joe however was taken aback and said, “I didn’t think you would want to go on the road again, but if you do that’s fine.” So the Joe Loss Orchestra was back on the road once again and had remained so ever since.
When Joe first became too ill to travel To0dd fronted the Orchestra until Joe eventually retired on January 31st 1990, two weeks before his 81st birthday. Joe passed away on 8th June, many thought that the Orchestra would not carry on without him, how wrong they were! They remain one of the most popular and busiest bands in the country. To quote Sam Watmough, who had been Joe’s manager for 30 years, “I knew what Joe wanted and we are still proud to be known as Todd Miller and the Joe Loss Orchestra.” As Todd himself says, “We must be doing something right!”
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