Tributes to musician and entertainer Eric Norton, 84

Eric Norton
Eric Norton

Eric Norton, who died on Wednesday, September 6, at the age of 84 was for many years a local picker-maker and part-time musician, who later fulfilled a life-long ambition by becoming a professional nightclub entertainer.

Born on September 12, 1932, he was the only son of Edgar and Nellie Norton, who lived on Brook Street.

His father was a cotton weaver who later took up a professional career with long-time friend Joe Mortimer as a song-and-dance duo. They appeared in small clubs and theatres across the north of England and once, even, at a pier in Blackpool.

Eric was educated at Roomfield School until he was 15 when he started an apprenticeship with the British Picker Company, off Key Sike Lane.

A keen footballer, he played for Todmorden Youth Centre, once suffering a broken arm during a match on a cinder pitch at Woodhouse.

He also enjoyed rock climbing in North Wales and the Lake District with his friend Andy Savage.

At 18 he was called up for National Service in the RAF, luckily stationed at Wharton, near Preston, for the duration.

It wasn’t long before he developed a passion for modern jazz, influenced by the weekly Melody Maker newspaper and hearing recordings of American saxophonists Charlie Parker and Stan Getz.

He longed to become a musician and, once out of the RAF, took up the alto saxophone under the tutorship of Wilfred Clegg, who for many years was the leader of the local Belvedere Dance Orchestra.

On alternate weekends he continued his studies at the Johnny Roadhouse School of Music in Manchester, with tuition from Norman Hunt, the lead tenor saxophonist with the BBC Northern Dance Orchestra.

The city had become a veritable jazz haven, rivalling that in London, with dance halls, clubs, pubs and theatres catering for every style imaginable, the huge Free Trade Hall showcasing international stars on an almost weekly basis.

Eric was usually there with three or four Todmorden friends, equally studying instruments, and they often took in an evening’s jazz at the same time.

Now and then - funds permitting - they spent Sunday afternoons at the Astoria in Levenshulme, watching the best modern jazz groups from London.

Growing in confidence and ability they formed a small jazz outfit, rehearsing at the Golden Lion pub and additionally at Priestwell Sunday School in an experimental 22-piece jazz orchestra.

Still with British Picker, Eric formed a quartet with pianist Geoff Martin, drummer Derek Hollows and myself on double bass, playing for Saturday night dances at the White Hart Hotel and Golden Lion.

Then, with John Butterworth playing tenor sax and Peter Kerr on drums, the combo gigged at the Trades Club in Hebden Bridge, the Dusty Miller at Mytholmroyd and the Plebeians Club in Halifax where Eric’s wily, sometimes unpredictable jazz phrasing was immensely popular with fans at late night sessions.

He had an extensive run at the Grove Inn, Luddenden Foot, with Geoff Martin and Peter Kerr and later, with Colin Hilton playing organ and Russ Wood on drums, played the Rosegrove in Burnley and the Blue Dolphin at Colne.

As a full-time professional singer and entertainer, he found his most enthusiastic following in the North East, appearing often at clubs in Newcastle and Sunderland.

On the Manchester Scene he worked at the Talk of the North and Bossa Nova clubs and eventually his success brought him engagements on Mediterranean cruise liners and USAF bases in Turkey.

Eric was married twice; firstly to June Powell from Hebden Bridge and then to Todmorden-born Wendy Glover who survives him. He had no children.

His funeral will be at 12.30pm on Wednesday, September 20, at Carleton Crematorium, Blackpool.