Stuart back to his roots after career with stars
He has joined the likes of Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey while enjoying a six decade career performing at theatres and halls all over the world.
But Flockton-born musician Stuart Atkins’ latest concert is bringing him right back to where he started.
Born into a musical family in 1937, Mr Atkins took up his first instrument, the piano, at the age of nine.
By 11, he joined his bass trombonist father and conductor uncle as a member of Flockton Brass Band.
After leaving school at 15, he trained as an apprentice tailor. But his real passion remained with music and every Saturday night, he performed as a trombonist in a dance band at Horbury’s Primrose Hall.
On Saturday, September 17, the now 79-year-old will return to the venue again, six decades on.
He and wife, Patti Gold, singer, actress and comedienne, will present ‘the Great American Songbook’, looking back at the works of some of the most renowned songwriters from the USA.
Mr Atkins said it would be a “nostalgic” visit.
“That was the start of my career as a trombone player and as a jazz and swing musician,” he said.
“I used to play, and sing, with the band every Saturday night. It was a great place to be, and always full.”
Mr Atkins’ days at Primrose Hall were cut short when he was called up for national service in The Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.
He became a pianist in the dance band and trombonist in the military band, where he played alongside John Barry, award-winning composer for the James Bond films.
In the 1960s, Mr Atkins played at jazz clubs, music halls and in dance bands across West Yorkshire, including at the Marmaville in Mirfield and the Mecca ballroom in Leeds.
He then witnessed the glory days of Batley Variety Club, which attracted the biggest names of the 70s to play in front of packed audiences.
Mr Atkins first played at the club a few months after it opened in 1967 and it was here he met Patti, with whom he now lives in Tingley.
He was involved in the club right through to its closure in 1978, as musical director as well as pianist and trombonist for stars including Tom Jones, and Shirley Bassey.
He said: “It was terrific. They were the big names of the day. They were world stars and I played with those people and for them.”
Mr Atkins reflects fondly on “the great memories” he shared with “fabulous” performers in his book Swingin’ With the Stars, The Ramblings of an Itinerant Trombone Player.
Seven of the 25 chapters focus on his time at the world-famous variety club.
Speaking at the time of publication in 2007, he said: “We had coach parties from as far away as Sterling in the north and Cornwall in the south. Batley, right to the end, always had a great feel about it, certain theatres have this feeling built in and Batley had it.”
After leaving Batley, Mr Atkins started as a musical director with the Dorothy Solomon Agency, working with acts including the Bachelors.
From 1971 until 1981, he was also resident conductor of the Blackpool Opera House Concert Orchestra for all Harold Fielding’s Sunday concerts.
He spent much of the rest of his career as a freelance musician and orchestra conductor, both on land and aboard cruise ships, and visited more than 100 countries.
He also formed and ran his own 18 piece big band, doing one-night gigs and nationwide tours. The group backed stars including Al Martino and Freddie Starr.
Although Mr Atkins has officially retired, he can still be found playing at Betty’s Tea Room in York every Wednesday.
“While ever the phone goes and someone asks you to do a gig, you do it,” he said.
He will play Primrose Hall at 7.30pm next Saturday. Tickets cost £6 and are available by calling the hall on 01924 272619.