Opus One Big Band



A chilly school hall. A group of excited youngsters. A knot of intrigued music teachers. And a man with a vision................

The Opus One Big Band with The Satin Dolls & John Sharples

The Opus One Big Band first found itself on the musical map on the 9th May 1983, when musical director Ted Higgins decided that what the youth of Hertfordshire really needed was to get into real music rather than all that rock stuff.

Persuading the powers-that-be to help him in his mission does not seem to have been a problem - Ted’s enthusiasm is both legendary and contagious. He worked with a stream of dedicated music teachers and long suffering headmasters to put together a sound as near to authentic as he could get. "I was always interested in the war years” he confides and I was finally able to put some of the knowledge I’d amassed over the years to some advantage. “We worked right from the start to make the whole thing an experience rather than just a set of musical numbers". The first concert was a resounding success, and the one hundred people who had each paid the princely sum of three pounds entrance fee left the hall feeling that they really had witnessed the start of something big. Ted allowed himself a little smile of satisfaction, but knew his dream had only just begun, and there was a lot of hard work to do.

It was all very well the kids enjoying themselves, but in a very short while the teachers had begun to get itchy fingers to play too. Ted always one step ahead, had already thought of this - now was his opportunity to really put his vision into action. He started to get some of his beloved swing tunes transcribed into arrangements that his new, adult band could do justice and began the monumental task of finding the kind of sponsorship that a band of 16 musicians plus singers has to have in order to survive.

Before long he was using his astute business prowess and steam-roller enthusiasm to woo potential sponsors. He did not have to wait long. Within months drugs giants Corda and Glaxo jumped on board, helping with the costs of concerts in 1985. In the meanwhile, the school band had become so popular that it was forced to split into two - juniors and seniors.

Ted set his mind to really getting things as authentic as possible “We have a lot of people in our audiences who remember The War vividly, and they notice the tiny details. If we can get the little things right, we've won them and their enjoyment will be complete” he reasons. He made sure that everything was just right using real GI uniforms with proper insignia and badges. He dressed the halls with reproduction WWIl posters and photos, sandbags and flags. “I made sure that even The Stars and Stripes had the correct number of stars" he notes "It may seem silly, but things like that can irritate if they're wrong and take so little effort to get right".

The first real test of how far Ted would go to "get it right” was his suggestion that Opus One recreate the excitement of the Hangar Dances that were so popular during the war but that had been forgotten almost immediately afterwards. In 1987, he got his break, and created, not without a little initial suspicion from the local council, to whom this was a pretty revolutionary idea, the first hangar dance since the war, at North Weald aerodrome. With a little help from all kinds of unlikely friends, the event captured the imaginations of all 2300 members of the audience. The flying club ‘Aces High' left their planes in the hangar - the band played with a bomber as a backdrop, and one Gary Numan (yes, that Gary Numan) disguised his plane as a Japanese aircraft and “bombed” the crowd, to squeals of delight. Everyone had made an effort to arrive in costume, and even the tickets were in the shape of ration books. Several senior members of the public were astonished to see “Winston Churchill" himself coming through the throng to greet them, and everyone delighted in the vocal talents of Denis Lotis, at the beginning of what has been a very long~standing relationship with Opus One

It took about three years for the rest of the world to cotton on to the trend of Hangar dances, but since then they have been a mainstay of many other nostalgia big bands. Ted smiles to himself - he enjoys having been the one who resurrected it all.

Ted, although he went on to even bigger and better hangar dances, was never one to stand still for long. His next project was even more audacious In 1988, the very floor of The Hippodrome opened and, rising resplendent from the cavern below came the entire Opus One orchestra, playing “In The Mood”.

By unofficial accounts the band certainly were in the mood having earlier discovered a stash of beer and getting a fine view of the somewhat scantily-clad waitresses on their way up through the floor!!!!

Having already played many straight concerts by now, Ted decided to try his hard at really making events into a show. Remembrance Day 1992 gave him the opportunity to try out something which he had been cooking up for sometime.

AJEX (The Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen) had asked Opus One to create something a little special, so a series of cameos of wartime life were staged in between the musical numbers. A serviceman leaving his family to go to the front. A schoolboy evacuated to the countryside. A family re-united. It all went down very well and in subsequent concerts, Ted developed the concept into a full-blown set piece, covering war in the twentieth century. For the 50th anniversary commemorations, the idea was resurrected; this time covering WWII only.

The anniversary of WWII was a very busy time for Opus One. The D-Day celebrations saw the band on-stage at the Royal Albert Hall alongside Herb Miller, The Kaye Sisters and Margaret Whiting. With his parents in the audience, this was one of Ted's proudest moments, though he admits to a tiny flutter of nerves just before the concert. This was nothing to do with whether the band would play well (he never had any doubt about that!); but a rather more delicate matter entirely. “I knew that The Albert Hall is in the round, and I was worried that the people sitting behind would see my bald patch!" he giggles “Luckily I was wearing my Major’s uniform, which has a very smart cap, so I was able to keep my modesty!”

The commemorations saw many many hangar dances for Opus One - including one at RAF Bentwaters that was rather special - its last ever. The BBC came to make a documentary, “Yanks Go Home" and Opus One found itself, to Ted's delight, featured heavily. In fact, throughout it’s fifteen years, Opus One have been included on many TV and radio broadcasts - BBCI and 2, Radio 2, NBC, CBS and US coast to coast networks.

Although the WWlI commemorations lasted for five years, and Opus One played some incredible concerts during the time (who can forget the A10 completely jammed with people trying to get to the gig at Broxbourne, or the sight of jitterbugging couples projected onto the very walls of Petworth House during a National Trust extravaganza?). Ted knew that they would eventually have to finish. Ted Higgins being Ted Higgins, however, saw this not as an ending, but an enormous opportunity. He started to concentrate on other aspects of the nostalgia he adores.

"I've always loved those arrangements Nelson Riddle wrote for Frank Sinatra" he confides "but they just don't sound as good without strings. So I had arrangements made for full orchestra and strings - thirty of them in fact!" The first strings concert that Opus One gave was heralded as a complete success. "As soon as I heard the first strains of "Nice and Easy", I knew it had all been worth it.” he says.

The new millennium started with a bang for Opus One with the first of many dates showcasing the fabulous Sinatra sounds that Ted Higgins has worked so hard towards. "My Kinda Sound," in co-operation with Surefire Entertainment not only includes the fabulous Opus One string section and The Satin Dolls, but features special guest star, Gary Williams. A superb Sinatra-style entertainer, Gary is now a firm favourite with fans. Indeed, at their most recent concert, for The Sinatra Society convention in Birmingham - surely a tough gig for any male singer - he won the audience immediately with his wit, charm - and of course The Voice. Ted is still receiving thank you letters which all agree that Opus One was "The best ever convention entertainment."

Not that Ted and the band are neglecting their Miller duties. Back in 1999, he arranged a fantastic Golden Wedding celebration featuring The Coldstream Guards, a 100-voice choir, Max Bygraves, a barbershop quartet - and, of course, the central feature, Opus One themselves. By June 2000, they became the only big band to play all seven of the renowned annual "Jitterbug Balls," and in September they enjoyed the great honour of playing for the final RAF commemoration of The Battle of Britain at Tangmere Aerodrome. Rubbing shoulders with Ron Goodwin's band, The Squadronaires, Warren Mitchell and a certain HRH Prince Edward, they celebrated with a fabulous Spitfire Hurricane and Blenheim Fly Past.

Ted Higgins is never one to stand still. His next ambition is to give a concert featuring a 45-piece orchestra. "I'm also working on the Paul Whiteman version of "Rhapsody In Blue," he says. One thing that can be guaranteed is that whatever happens next for Opus One, it will be both innovative and exciting - so watch this space!

email: info@opusonebigband.com