Leggett’s Ballroom

Tony Newstead’s band guested at Leggett’s Ballroom in August 1949 and took over there from Graeme Bell’s band on Mondays and Fridays until the end of the year while the Bells went on tour with Rex Stewart. ‘Tony Newstead’s Gang gave forth some really good jazz which was well appreciated by the crowd,’ the Southern Jazz Club’s first newsletter reported. The Bells had been at Leggett’s since October 1948 and ‘the weekly attendances were never less than a thousand and often more than two thousand.’ Leggett’s Ballroom, located next to Prahran Station, was a Melbourne landmark. It moved to the Prahran site in 1920 and was a very popular dance venue through to the 1960s, but was burnt down in an unsolved arson attack in 1976.

‘Leggett’s had this big dance floor with a bandstand at each end,’ Don Reid said, ‘and there were huge audiences – around 600 I’d say. At one end was the reading band, about twelve pieces playing arrangements [the Pat Vincent Band], and at the other end was the Dixie combo and this time it was the Tony Newstead group. The dancers seemed to accept both styles. When the big band played an arrangement we liked the Newstead band would stand up and give them a big hand and the thumbs up. And when we played something they liked like “Singing the Blues” or, I remember, Tony loved to play “September in the Rain”, in the Shearing style, they’d stand up and give us the big thing. Relations between the two groups were good and we used to fraternise.’

The South Side Gang wound up their season at Leggett’s at the end of the year, with Frank ‘Doc’ Willis subbing for Ken Ingram on trombone for the last few weeks. ‘My best jazz playing was with Tony Newstead and the South Side Gang,’ Ray Simpson said. ‘We played all over Melbourne, but we had a good gig at Leggett’s for a while, taking over from the Bell band. Tony was very good at getting gigs. They were all different and they were all over the bloody place, Brighton, St Kilda, town halls and so on.’