After all these years, Ken’s still got the music in him

Ken, back row far right, on South Parade Pier in the 1950s
Ken, back row far right, on South Parade Pier in the 1950s
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For trumpeter Ken Howell his life has been of wood and brass.

As a joiner you would think he would have taken up a woodwind instrument but Ken went for brass and has played the trumpet in so many Portsmouth bands the list reads like a who’s who of local talent.

Ken was a Copnor lad who took up the instrument young and by the age of 10 was playing with the Jack Schulman orchestra and later with Esquire, a six-piece band.

He was called up to join the RAF in 1949 and became an immediate member of the station band at Boscombe Down near Bournemouth.

It was while Ken was in the RAF that the Berlin airlift took place and part of his duties as an airframe fitter was to fly with the aircraft with provisions loaded on board through the corridor to Berlin.

On arrival he would check over the aircraft as they suffered from terrible vibration.

Rivets and bolts were shaken loose and a daily inspection book had to be signed for approval for the aircraft to take off.

On being discharged from the forces Ken thought he might have a go at being a professional musician. A pal told him how things worked in London.

Each day musicians would stand in Archer Street in Soho with their instruments by their side and bandleaders or managers would pick the musician they needed.

The pay was about £1 a session. This was all right for a while and Ken lodged in the Union Jack Club, Waterloo for 2s 6d (12p) a night, but it was not what he wanted.

Returning home he got a job with Frank Privett in his joinery shop on £7 a week. While there he took up playing on a semi-pro basis, playing five or six nights a week earning about £14.

When the Soviet cruiser Ordkhonikidze, with president Nikita Khrushchev on board, arrived in Portsmouth in 1956, many of the crew visited South Parade Pier to see Ken’s band perform.

Ken recalls: ‘There were dozens of secret service men all over the place.’

The Mick Mitchell band was one with whom Ken played at the Savoy and in 1960 he took over from Len Ashdown to lead his own band. One of his favourite nights was Friday Band Night at the Savoy.

After he learnt his trade as a joiner he opened up his own business and also went into property doing up run-down houses.

Ken and his band never travelled far. The farthest east was to Bognor Regis, Petersfield to the north and Southampton to the west, but there was more than enough work to go round.

With the coming of the sixties and the pop revolution, Ken formed another band and kept up to date with all the latest pop numbers, although not the three guitars and drummer format.

Although the new format was successful, Ken returned to playing in big bands, at one time with the Langstone Big Band.

Ken, now a very fit 84, is still arranging and playing with his own outfit The Southern Dance Orchestra and plans to do so for many years to come.