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27 May

Ronnie Aldrich

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Ronnie Aldrich was one of Britain’s most popular recording pianists during the 1960s and 1970s. He ultimately developed his own distinctive style which made him instantly recognisable to his countless admirers around the world. His technique could be deceptively simple: often he would begin by picking out a melody in single notes, before eventually revealing that he could make his two hands sound like many more. Added to this was a carefully chosen supporting orchestra, frequently providing a lush and sophisticated backdrop through the use of strings, but on other occasions he allowed the percussion to come to the fore. He liked to surprise his audience from time to time, but in his heart he knew what they really enjoyed and he always ensured that they would not be disappointed.

 

He was born on 15 February 1916 at Erith in Kent. Although he possessed a natural talent, he studied the piano extensively during his youth, including a period at London’s Guildhall School of Music which was cut short when he was drafted into the Royal Air Force during World War 2. Prior to that he had followed the usual pattern working at various local dances with different ensembles, including a spell with the Folkestone Municipal Orchestra.

Many musicians were called up during the war, and they often found themselves providing entertainment to their fellow servicemen. Military service did not seem to rule out occasional work in the recording studios, and Ronnie Aldrich’s illustrious recording career appears to have commenced on 3 May 1940 as pianist with the RAF Dance Orchestra, later to become famous as ‘The Squadronaires’. One of his colleagues in the band was guitarist Sid Colin, who also provided many of the vocals. A big wartime hit was "If I Only Had Wings", for which Aldrich provided the music to Colin’s lyrics. (Sid Colin later achieved fame as a scriptwriter). Ronnie eventually became leader of the Squadronaires when its famous director Jimmy Miller left in 1950, a post he held until it eventually disbanded in 1964, following their final season at the Palace Ballroom, Douglas, Isle of Man.

Thames Television appointed him as their musical director, and he managed to combine this with his extensive radio and recording work. The success of his Phase 4 LPs resulted in no less than nineteen albums being recorded, under the expert guidance of several producers including Hugh Mendl, Mark White and, latterly, Tony D’Amato. Arthur Bannister was the famous sound engineer who knew how to balance the Aldrich pianos perfectly with the backing, often provided by the London Festival Orchestra.

In his later years Ronnie Aldrich settled in the Isle of Man, where he and his wife Mary lived in a castle. He found it the perfect location to indulge his big passion, sailing, and one of his neighbours was his former producer Mark White (at one time also head of BBC Radios 1 & 2). The two had first met in 1946 soon after Mark had joined the BBC Variety Department, and he produced some early Squadronaires broadcasts.

Ronnie Aldrich died on 30 September 1993 aged 77. His many and varied recordings allow us to remember him as a versatile and talented musician, who never short-changed his audience. Students today can discover the ingredients of his success, through a collection of his dance band, jazz and popular arrangements which is held at Leeds College of Music.

 David Ades

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