We have heard many stories of how the evacuation to Petersfield had a positive impact upon many Emanuel School boys, and Derek ‘Eggy’ Ley (OE1940-46) is an outstanding example, as this is where he developed his early love for music.
Originally a drummer, Eggy was a member of the ‘Original Dixieland Stompers’ who were later renamed ‘The Windsor Rhythm Kings’ and frequently gigged in Petersfield, including a notable performance in the town square on VE Day. The ‘WRK’, which was the cooler shorthand version of their name written on Eggy’s drum kit, featured Bass Younger (trumpet), Pete Dudley (trombone), Viv Higgs and Mike Sutters (saxophones), ‘Dicky’ Goodchild (clarinet), Tom Manley (bass) and Eggy (drums).
The WRKs took their name from the fact that they practiced in the Methodist Church Hall on Windsor Road and Eggy’s own nickname derived from the fact that his name ‘D.Lay’ inferred to ‘‘Delayed Time Bomb’, thus he became ‘Eggy’ (although another recollection conflicts this story, noting that the nickname originates with his poor grasp of Latin!). Eggy was remembered as a very enthusiastic member of the band but, at the time, nobody suspected that this was to become his livelihood; his many early shows in the Petersfield Town Hall must have played a part in his eventual career decision.
Andrew Pearce, who was a near contemporary of Eggy’s, noted that his diminutive stature had its uses in the evacuation period, but it also meant he was obscured in many photos. In the WRKs he was the only member small enough to climb through the toilet window of the church hall to sneak the rest of the band in for extra practices after the caretaker had locked up. As well as Petersfield, the WRK also played in the surrounding villages, including the hamlet Steep. In a lovely 1995 recollection Andrew noted: “On Saturday nights when the Windsor Rhythm Kings performed at Steep the boys had to stay the night there, sleeping under the stage, in a cold and dark atmosphere, with candles as their only illumination. They were not very keen on it but their hostess (the lady with whom he was billeted) bolted the front door at 10pm, which was not opened until the following morning.”
It is worth paying special reference to the WRK’s special performance on VE Day which is recalled fondly by Andrew: “On May 7th 1945 the band were practicing in the Poor Law Institute on Love Lane, Petersfield when the news broke that the war was over. Much preparation was then made to play an all-night session the following day. They were presented to the town on top of an air raid shelter in front of St Peter’s Church. It was a marvellous occasion much enjoyed by the school, their girlfriends and all the locals. Even our usually stern Headmaster Cyril Broom was impressed and joined the Victory Party. The Windsor Rhythm Kings were an important and memorable feature in our wartime life, away from home, and did much to enliven and relive those dreary times.” The local Petersfield newspaper often referred to the band, calling them the ‘’Emanuel School Dance Band’ rather than their full name.
After school Eggy first worked in music publishing in the West End, but also continued to expand his musical repertoire and, during his military service in the Royal Air Force, he discovered the soprano saxophone and was soon on the way to becoming a highly distinguished jazz musician. Eggy was a multi-instrumentalist who continued to play drums, clarinet, boogie-woogie piano, sing and was one of Britain’s first jazz soprano saxophonists. He was an incredibly talented all-round musician, who lived and breathed jazz in a variety of different bands over many decades.
As both a composer and performer Eggy toured Germany in the sixties with his own band and founded his own record label (Viaphon), even scoring a number one hit in Germany for “Blues for St. Pauli” (Hamburg), a tune which is still played today. One OE recalled visiting the Victoria Pub in North Cheam around 1961 and being told “some group from Germany” were playing, only to recognise Eggy playing a soprano saxophone. The Old Emanuel newsletter makes the occasional reference to OEs catching Eggy on stage in far flung locations; John White (OE1940-46) noted seeing his old form-mate ‘Eggy’ Ley and his hotshots playing jazz at the European Bandstand there and at the Hot Jazz Society in Vancouver.
In a very long career Eggy performed and recorded with many top jazz musicians, including Mick Colliers, Chicago Rhythm Kings (1952) with Eric Silk (1953), Hugh Rainey, Cy Laurie, and with Stan Sowden (1955). He also founded his own traditional jazz band, which in August 1955 received a long guest appearance at the New Orleans Bar in Hamburg, with an initial two-week residency stretching to a mammoth six years. In the 1960s he remained with his band, gigging across Germany and Scandinavia, and recorded several records with Benny Waters and others. Such was his reputation that other members of the jazz world would often turn up to play with him, and Eggy loved these occasions where much of the music was improvised.
Although Eggy lived abroad for many years he continued to play regularly with his band in London and eventually moved into radio production, including long stints with the famous Radio Luxembourg and the British Forces Broadcasting Service in which he eventually retired with the rank of Colonel and the title ‘Head of Music’. He also worked with the legendary DJ John Peel and produced some of his shows between 1972 and 1983. Eggy referred to his radio work as “a proper job”.
Eggy made a return to performing in 1982 when he founded his band ‘Hot Shots’ and ran ‘Jazzin’ Around’, a small magazine which promoted jazz in the South East of England, before emigrating to Canada in the late 1980s. Sadly, he was too ill to perform at the 1989 Petersfield evacuation fifty-year reunion, but was well enough to take to the stage again with local Vancouver groups after his move west.
Eggy died as a result of a heart attack in 1995, but his son Martin continues on the jazz tradition, playing trombone in casual pick-up groups. Derek ‘Eggy’ Ley had an amazing career and his music lives on.
Tony Jones (Senior Librarian and Archivist)