Trad mad

Who are the Temperance Seven? And how are they connected to The Beatles?

The Temperance Seven on Dutch television in 1962. Picture courtesy Nationaal Archief
The Temperance Seven on Dutch television in 1962. Picture courtesy Nationaal Archief

A few weeks ago, I bought a batch of 45-rpm singles from a second-hand record store in Chandni Chowk. One particular record attracted my attention—“You’re Driving Me Crazy” b/w “Charley My Boy” by a group called The Temperance Seven. Or I should say, my eyes were transfixed by the dark red Parlophone labels on it, the very same that appeared on the super-rare first pressings of the Beatles’ debut single “Love Me Do” with “P. S. I Love You” on the B-side.

When I put the record on, I was expecting some kind of gospel group (the song titles should have told me otherwise). Instead, “You’re Driving Me Crazy” was Dixieland jazz—a quaint number harking back to the Prohibition era of the 1920s featuring trumpets, trombones and even a banjo. There was a very valid reason why this particular disc could be found on the shelves of a second-hand store in Old Delhi. It turns out that The Temperance Seven had a rather unlikely number one hit in the UK with it in 1961. And in those days, the majority of Western music available on records in India, were best sellers from the “mother country”.

The Temperance Seven, thanks to their chart hit, found themselves at the vanguard of the short-lived “British trad boom” of the early 1960s. The group, which was formed in 1956, followed in the wake of several traditional jazz bands inspired by Dixieland jazz that cropped up in Britain after World War II in the late 1940s—groups with names such as the Crane River Band, the Clyde Valley Stompers and the Merseysippi Jazz Band. These musicians, including the likes of trumpet and cornet player Ken Koyler, trombonist Chris Barber and clarinettist Monty Sunshine, trumpeter Humphrey Lyttleton and future skiffle music star Lonnie Donegan, shunned the bebop jazz that was sweeping the US at the time. Instead, their heroes were from New Orleans in the 1920s—Louis Armstrong, Bunk Johnson, Kid Ory…

Much like the folk revival purists of the late 1950s in the US, these British trad jazz musicians were chasing “authenticity” and a “genuineness” that was far removed from the current “showbiz” trends of the day. Something as innocuous as the saxophone, the bedrock of much of modern jazz, was anathema. Musicians toting such an instrument in say, a London jazz club in the early 1950s ran the risk of being booed onstage. British music purists are quite good at that, as Bob Dylan would attest.

The Temperance Seven broke out of these narrow confines, and their repertoire included tunes popularised by white American dance bands of the 1920s and 1930s (“You’re Driving Me Crazy” was one such number). Their line-up frequently had a number of saxophonists. But what caught the eye of the British public was their dress sense. Instead of the more down-to-earth flannels and workman shirts of the earlier British jazz revivalists, the Seven were outfitted in smoking jackets and blazers and other more outré items such as a dog collar.

Riding on their new found fame, they appeared in director Richard Lester’s first film, It’s Trad Dad!, which also featured rock ’n’ roller Gene Vincent and twist sensation Chubby Checker. The hits dried up for the Temperance Seven soon after, but their producer George Martin would soon find a far bigger commercial success in the Beatles.

With the advantage of hindsight, it could be argued that The Temperance Seven and similar groups played their part in the rise of the Beatles and the others who followed them. The “trad boom” showed British artists that it was possible to take American influences and shape it into a uniquely English product. Humprey Lyttledon’s “Bad Penny Blues” was one of the influences for the Beatles tune “Lady Madonna” and if you listen closely to The White Album, “Honey Pie” sounds almost like a love letter to the Temperance Seven.

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