Jack Highley, 84, a musician’s musician and council officer

Jack Highley, who has died aged 84, was a long-standing member of Todmorden Old Brass Band which he joined as a 15-year-old prior to the end of the second world war.

Sunday, 27th April 2014, 5:00 pm
Jack Highley (trumpet), fourth from the left, with The Eddie Clark Band at Sowerby Bridge Baths, circa 1950s. With him from the left are Clarence Lee (tenor), Fred Clarkson (alto), George Stansfield (drums), Rex Greenwood (trombone), Brian Gilboy (guitar) and Tom Fielden (piano)

His affiliation with the later-formed Todmorden Community Brass Band went on for more than a decade until it came time for his swansong, just a year ago, writes Bill Birch.

Jack was born in Todmorden on August 24, 1929, the youngest of three sons born to Walter and Hilda Highley. His father was a picker-maker, his brothers named Albert and Harold.

He was educated at Roomfield School and began lessons on the cornet at the age of 14. A year later he started full-time work as an apprentice plumber.

At 18 he was called up for National Service, joined the Royal Air Force and got posted to the Suez Canal Zone in Egypt. It was there that his lifetime love affair with dance bands began after he joined the squadron’s orchestra on trumpet. Known as “The White Wings”, it was a modest seven-piece outfit of four saxes, piano, bass and drums and Jack’s punchy sound was just what the band was short of.

Following his demob from the RAF in 1950 Jack returned home to find his previous plumbing job safeguarded and unhesitatingly rejoined the Old Brass Band. He was soon back on the local dance band scene too, following an approach by Fred Clarkson, the pottery and cutlery merchant who ran a popular business on Halifax Road, close to the town centre. He was an alto saxophonist with a six-piece combo operating under the name Eddie Clark. Clarence Lee played tenor sax, Rex Greenwood, trombone, Brian Gilboy, guitar, Tom Fielden was at the piano and George Stansfield, the drums. Jack, playing trumpet, fitted in perfectly.

At the time almost all the dance band engagements held at the Town Hall and the Co-op Hall in Todmorden seemed to be shared between Ellis Wood’s Astorians and the Belvedere Orchestra, whereas Eddie Clark’s main territory was Hebden Bridge, being popular there over a long period at the Carlton and C-op Hall.

Still, if the band was not engaged and Todmorden’s principle ensembles were either augmenting or in need of a trumpet “dep”, Jack was invariably first choice. He was certainly in the four-man trumpet section of Brian Earley’s experimental 18-piece jazz orchestra that rehearsed a number of times in the main hall of the one-time Priestwell Sunday School on Sunday afternoons during the mid 50s.

Sometimes he played with a band called the Consuls, a sextet formed in 1958 by local drummer Ronnie Ford, who ran a small business off Halifax Road selling all manner of motor car parts and accessories. The band existed until 1976, through repeated engagements in Accrington, Bacup, Halifax and even in the Manchester area.

Through the years Jack became recognised as a musician’s musician, always dependable and capable of reading and playing any type of music at first sight, maintaining an unwavering high standard in whatever band he played with.

He was especially fond of, and occasionally enjoyed reminiscing about, his time with the local ten-piece Johnny Allen Orchestra and the Sounds 18 Orchestra: the former named after its founders, trumpet player Bryn Allen and tenor saxist John Butterworth, with repeated engagements at many regional venues and a 16-weekend residency at the King’s Hall, Littleborough; the latter, a top-notch jazz orchestra, mainly of East Lancashire musicians, styled and influenced by the music of Count Basie’s band. It included Colin Sutcliffe and Gerry Kirk, time-served stalwarts of the Belvedere and Astorian Orchestras.

During all this time Jack and become the Environmental Health Officer, first for the Todmorden Council and then for Calderdale.

On February 4, 1956, he had married Mary Smith, who pre-deceased him on August 6, 2012. Jack died on Monday, April 14, and was buried at Cross Stone Church following a service at the Old School Chapel, Priestwell.

He leaves their three children, Ann, Steven and Ian, and grandchildren Tom, Adam and Sam.