THE ALAN DEAN STORY
By DENIS OBRIEN
Alan Deans eventful and crowded life would daunt
a biographer because it collides so often with Names.
It would be difficult to avoid the reflected glare from
the gamma rays of the celebrities as they seem to rise
into his narrative so often.
It is not that Alan is a name-dropper for effect, simply
that he has encountered so many celebrated people in his
life that his pleasant personality makes his mention of
them seem essential.
He had a somewhat precocious start as an entertainer
singing and playing the piano accordion as an 11-year-old
in his fathers Bethnal Green pub during World War
II. That led to a job with a small jazz group in Londons
West End and from there he was offered work as a singer
touring with the Oscar Rabin band. By then he had put
his accordion aside and was studying orchestration. Two
years later, tired of touring, he was back in London and
working for bands such as Harry Roy, Stephan Grappelli,
Ambrose and Frank Weir.
He met Johnny Johnston and together they answered a request
by the BBC to form a vocal group as part of a new radio
comedy series, "Take It From Here".
They recruited two female singers and, hey presto, the
Keynotes were launched on a long life. Alan left the group
after two years. "They were very popular but my work
with the group was beginning to interfere with my desire
to build on a solo career" he said. In 1949 Alan
had been voted Most Popular Male Singer in Great Britain
and the accolade was repeated in 1950 and 1951. Alan knew
his career was now at a point when he needed to be careful
of his next move. The memory of awards such as he had
received from Melody Maker faded quickly from the public
mind and it was essential he didnt take the wrong
He had noticed small indications of changing public tastes.
The first stirrings of rocknroll had occurred
in the USA and that was something which needed carefully
watching. He recalled talking about his concerns with
the pianist George Shearing when both were working with
Frank Weir. Soon after that George had left England and
had gone to the U.S. where hed become very successful.
And on a subsequent visit to London he advised Alan to
consider a similar move: "Im sure youll
do well over there. Please come and prove me right."
Alans manager Harold Davidson was equally in favour
of Alan going to America. "There is nothing more
I can do for you in England. You are now at the top here.
I cant get you more money, better billing, or the
best hotel suite for a week at the Wigan Palace. Im
sure youll do very well in the States."
So at the end of 1951 Alan left England accompanied by
his wife Muriel, and his publicist Ken Pitt. It would
be six years before he returned on a visit but he would
never make England his permanent home again.
The pace and pulse of New York was exhilarating. Alan
felt energized and ready for work but since music wasnt
international in those days he was totally unknown in
the U.S. But out of the blue he was offered a two-weeks
engagement in a stylish nightclub in Washington D.C. which
was called The Old New Orleans. Reviews of his performance
in Washington papers and in the national showbiz paper
Variety were amazing.
A few days later General Artists Corporation approached
him and told him they wished to sign him up and when he
returned to New York they introduced him to the MGM Record
Company which offered him a three year contract. His first
and second recordings were excellent sellers, especially
"Luna Rosa". He then embarked on a long list
of engagements throughout the east coast. He played in
Pittsburgh, Boston, upstate New York and Washington.
After about six months of touring, Alan was feeling tired
and with his wife Muriel went to Miami, Florida for a
rest. While there he was looking at a bundle of maps one
day and realised the vast expanse of America that was
still to be conquered. They decided to buy a house in
Miami and use it as a base from which he would now operate.
But in 1959 he received a cable from a television station
in Australia GTV Channel 9 in Melbourne, offering
him a three month contract to appear in variety programmes
on the station. The offer seemed amazingly generous. The
money was good, a round trip air fare was included and
Alan found it rather hard to believe. He cabled his acceptance
yet remained puzzled as to why they had made the offer.
After arriving he found that he was already known in
Australia from his appearances on "Take It From Here".
It was still running on the ABC. It was his first visit
to Australia and he was very impressed by the professionalism
he found at GTV9. "They had a remarkably good five
nights a week variety talk show called In Melbourne
Tonight headed by an exceptionally talented man
named Graham Kennedy" he said. "The production
standards were very high, the orchestra was conducted
by musical director, Arthur Young who I remembered had
fronted the Hatchette Swingettes in London." At the
end of the three months enjoyable engagement Alan
spent a few weeks in Sydney with his sister, Peggy and
her husband Norman Burns, who was at that time the A and
R man for PYE records in Sydney.
He returned to Miami but two years later received another
offer from GTV9 Melbourne, and in accepting he mentioned
that he was considering settling in Australia. While living
in Miami he had begun writing, arranging and producing
jingles and radio station promos for the local radio industry.
"On my first visit to Australia, I sold a packet
of radio promos to Melbourne and Sydney radio stations
and I could see great opportunities there."
It would be some years before Alans life could
be called leisurely. His permanent move to Sydney had
opened up opportunities for him to develop his talents
for providing radio stations with tapes for promoting
programme identification, weather reports and promotional
material. He formed a company called Deanote Productions
which has proved successful. He also undertook engagements
on television for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation,
Bandstand a remarkably successful pop show
and a number of programmes on Channel 7 where he worked
with an accomplished musical director, Tommy Tycho.
Alan Dean has a gentle manner and a warm personality.
At the end of a long talk together he told me quietly
of a time when he was asked to undertake a singing engagement
at short notice. When he arrived at the job the orchestra
leader handed him a sheet of music and asked him "Can
you read music?" Alan said he could, studied it for
a few minutes and then said "Im right now."
The band started playing some rather difficult passages
but Alan breezed through the song with no problems. Before
he left the job a number of the musicians complimented
him. "Its very rare that singers can read music.
Congratulations." Alan related that brief anecdote
with a quiet sense of pride.
His first wife, Muriel died some years ago. He was divorced
from his second wife, Diana but they are truly great friends.
He is now happily married to Maralyn and they live in
a comfortable home in Sydneys leafy north shore,
where he has often entertained a number of musical colleagues
from his days in London. The combination of his singing
career and the work he does for radio stations makes for
a busy yet fulfilling life for a contented man of 86 years.
This article first appeared in Journal Into
Melody September 2011