My grandfather Alvin Atkins, who has died aged 99, was the bandleader on Morecambe Central Pier from 1948 until 1965. Entertaining up to 2,000 dancers a night, Alvin Atkins and his band became one of Britain’s most respected names in popular music.
He first visited the Lancashire resort in 1936, at the age of 16, while a student at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, where he was studying to be an opera singer and a violinist.
The only son of Alice (nee Cragg), a hat-maker, and her husband, Charles, a railwayman, he was born in Colne, east Lancashire, where he went to local schools. On arriving in Morecambe he was desperate to see the ballroom on the pier. He was not disappointed. “It was like going on board an ocean liner,” he said.
On that first visit, while his friend took to the floor with different girls, Alvin sat by the side of the dance floor. He became spellbound by the music of Richard Valery and his broadcast band. He took a long look at Valery and thought: “That’s it, that’s what I want to do.”
In 1948, having played in theatres across the north-west as a saxophonist, he got the call he wanted. He was to become the next bandleader at the pier. Now married, he moved with his wife, Margaret (nee Fraser), to Morecambe permanently. With my grandmother’s support, these were to be his most successful years. In the summer the band would play six nights a week. Saturday nights were so popular that management would warn him not to play jive music, for fear the floor would give way.
As rock music appeared, demand for ballroom dancing gradually faded – and eventually Alvin and his band had to leave the pier. On their last night, in November 1965, in what must have been the most incongruous of evenings, they were followed on stage by the Small Faces.
Preferring to remain in Morecambe rather than seek work elsewhere, Alvin took up a residency at the Midland hotel. To supplement his income he taught music locally and later opened a photography studio – once flying over Morecambe in a small aircraft to take aerial shots of the town to be used for postcards.
I will miss his favourite stories: helping a young Victoria Wood to join the Musicians’ Union; how in the winter the band would wear pyjamas under their tuxedos; how he once shared digs with Max Bygraves.
His delight in performance was infectious. “Enjoy life” he would exclaim, as if still behind the microphone about to announce the band’s next song.
Margaret died in 2012. He is survived by his son, Howard, two grandchildren, Ben and me, and two great-grandchildren.