Chester, CH1 3DX
Date opened: Friday 15th March 1957.
Controlled by: The Rank Organisation.
Previous use: Cinema.
Date closed: Summer of 1965.
Frontage only survives.
When the Rank Organisation converted the Majestic from a Cinema to a Dance Hall in 1957, it soon became a popular fixture on the Chester social scene with its resident dance band, The Roy Williams Orchestra heading the line-up of regular entertainment.
The ten-piece line-up included leader and arranger Roy Williams on tenor sax, Don Owens, Harry Marsden and Derek Mitchell on trumpet, Stan Thomas and Ralph Wilkes on alto sax, Stan Bowness and Geoff Anderson on tenor sax, Dave Pearce on piano, Peter Price on bass, Bernard ‘Joe’ Rowe on drums and vocals by Harry Marsden.
The band was made up of top flight local musicians, many of whom played with other bands in the area. My own personal connection with the band is that saxophonist the late Stan Bowness was by marriage, my Mum’s Uncle. Stan enjoyed a long and successful career as a respected semi-pro musician and played with many dance bands and big bands at venues in Chester and North Wales throughout his life including with Al Powell at The River Park Ballroom (known locally as The Ack) and later for many years with the Bryan Jones Big Band. As a schoolboy growing up in the 80s, a real treat for me was being allowed to stay up late and go along to Rowton Hall Hotel to hear the band play a regular slot there once a month.
When Roy Williams moved on from The Majestic as the size of the band was reduced (a sign of things to come as musical tastes changed), Geoff Anderson took over as bandleader. The last resident band at The Majestic was headed up by Peter Dee who soon became a popular figure on the Rank circuit.
Several of the musicians who had made up the Roy Williams Orchestra migrated to other local bands, such was the network of bands and musicians and there still being a number of venues in operation. One of the most popular of these was Quaintways in Northgate St (now Rosie’s nightclub) with “Mr Chester” Gordon Vickers who was responsible for organising the Monday night jazz club. Stan Bowness moved across to Quaintways along with Geoff Anderson and Stan Thomas, joining the Ces Davies Big Band.
The band personnel included Steve Lloyd on drums who remembers “I joined in the autumn of 1967, replacing drummer, Brian Lee, who left to work with Jimmy Chadburn at the Grosvenor Hotel. The band was led by bass player, Ces Davies, and it was a 10-piece outfit: 4 saxes, 2 trumpets, 1 trombone, plus a rhythm section consisting of electric guitar, double bass and drums. I stayed with the band for a couple of years” As well as Steve on Drums the band included Stan Bowness (alto sax), and Geoff Anderson (second alto), as well as Harry Dennis Jones (tenor sax), Tony Harper (baritone sax), Roy Huckridge (trumpet), Mike Keegan (electric guitar) and later also Sid Hanson from Wrexham on piano.
The Sax section of the Ces Davies Big Band at Quaintways featuring former Roy Williams Orchestra Members Geoff Anderson, Stan Bowness and Stan Thomas (photo courtesy of Steve Lloyd)
Although the Majestic only lasted for eight years as a dance hall before being turned over to Bingo, it remains a much loved and much missed venue. Fast foward to 2006 and the discovery of long forgotten recordings made by band member Don Owens. These live recordings were made on a first generation reel-to-reel tape recorder and just one single microphone in 1958/59. Complete with background noise including general audience chatter, the recordings capture something of the lively atmosphere of the dance hall, with the band playing arrangements of popular tunes of the day. The tapes were mastered by Music Northwest and a CD of 16 tracks produced. Copies of the CD were sold via Chester History and Heritage.
Click on the sound bars below to hear the Roy Williams Orchestra, live at the Majestic Ballroom Chester
Complete page ~ Paul Crofts 2020chestercinemas.co.uk
Many thanks to Steve Lloyd for sharing his memories and for giving his kind permission to reproduce the photo used in this article and to Yvonne Jenkins, daughter of Geoff Anderson for the use of her photo.
Yvonne Jenkins~ My dad, Geoff Anderson, the saxophonist in the band, would have loved this piece! It was very emotional for me to hear the music. Thanks very much Paul, it has certainly pulled my heart strings! ? ( Geoff is a featured member of the orchestra).
Derek Mitchell~ Great story , I recall the opening night well playing with Roy Williams Orchestra, later with Pete Dee. Great times. (Derek is a featured member of the orchestra).
Joe Rowe~ I was the drummer Joe Rowe like Derek remember the opening night with the Roy Williams Orchestra and had my 90th Birthday in May. ( Joe is a featured member of the orchestra).
Rose Wilks~ My father inlaw, Ralph Wilks, is on the left of the photograph at the top of the page. ( Ralph is a featured member of the orchestra).
Kim Hooson~ My dad was the manager of the Majestic ballroom Bob Milne he then went to the Odeon cinema and Bowling Alley now Mecca bingo. Before these he was manager of the Majestic in Glasgow. As a child I was allowed in to his office and can still remember them xx
Ellen Evans~ Brilliant to read the illustrious history of the Majestic, I was too young during those days but I did go later on with my mum when it became a bingo hall, only once mind as bingo not my thing! I really did enjoy reading the article as other places mentioned which I remember from my youth, the River Park Ballroom. Also Quaintways where we saw Martha and the Vandellas, Status Quo and Thin Lizzy. Going back to the Majestic, I never knew they had a resident band, how wonderful! Thank you I loved reading the article
June Moore~ Oh yes had a lot of great times at the Majestic
Frances Ellson~ In the 60’s you had to show your heels (just like a footballer used to show the ref) and if the stiletto was too small you had to purchase a pair of plastic caps for 3d if none in your bag, to protect the dance floor.
Rita Baker~ My favourite Dance hall Fri. And sat. Night Thanks for the reminder So enjoyed my young life
Malcolm Maciver~ I went to the Saturday Afternoon sessions for youngsters. They used to try out the groups then before employing them for the evenings.
Joyce Gudger~ Great times there
Ron Davies~ Danced to there music many times
Audrey Orford~ Happy memories
Jacqueline Lee-Harper~ Happy days. Used to go with Peter’s wife Edna. Great band leader. Remember he would always sing mac the knife.
Angela Ferguson~ It’s an absolutely fascinating read, Paul. And those recordings! Goodness, what a fantastic opportunity to feel transported back in time to the heady days of 1950s Chester.
Tony Chester~ great read.
Peter Garnett~ Loved the Majestic.
Valerie Graham~ Great Saturday night memories.
Lionel Higgins~ I worked there from the opening day till it went to Peter Dee.