The unmistakable ‘big band’ sounds of the world-famous Syd Lawrence Orchestra will be echoing through Shanklin Theatre later this month.

Although the band, under the leadership of renowned trombonist Chris Dean, has played on the Island several times in recent years, it will be a first appearance at Shanklin, and one that is being eagerly awaited by its many fans.

Chris has had two spells with the band, first in the 1970s and 80s, and then rejoining it in 1996 when Syd Lawrence decided to retire. Since Syd’s death two years after his retirement, Chris has successfully managed to maintain the image and unmistakable sounds that have been synonymous with it for nearly 45 years.

Island Life caught up with Chris, generally recognised as one of the leading trombone players in Europe. Although he and his wife Angie, who sings with the band, live in Port Solent, they are regular visitors to the Island and are members of the Brading Haven Yacht Club.

Although he has had a long association with the Syd Lawrence Orchestra, Chris has also performed alongside some of the most famous names in show business, and his trombone playing has featured on a host of blockbuster films.

Born in Derby, he moved with his family to the south coast as a youngster, and learned to play the trombone at the age of 11. He recalled: “My mother was an opera singer, so I had a good musical grounding. Then one day the music teacher at my school came in with his battered old trombone and said ‘sixpence for anyone who can get a note out of it’!

“Health and safety wouldn’t have been too pleased these days, but one by one we all had a turn and when I blew, it made a right racket. But the teacher thought that was good enough. Chris continued: “I joined the Lifeguards Band as a 15-year-old and stayed until I was 27, during which time I was also doing a lot of West End shows. When I joined Syd’s band for the first time we were on television virtually all the time, so that helped put me on the map and was great for my career.

“I first joined as a trombone player in 1978, and stayed until 1983 when I decided to leave to go into the session business. That allowed me to work with John Barry on the music for many James Bond movies, as well as ‘Out of Africa’, ‘Batman’, ‘Superman’, ‘Basic Instinct’ and many others, including ‘Evita’ with Madonna.

“I also worked in recording studios with Nelson Riddle, and was fortunate to perform alongside such artists as Frank Sinatra, George Benson, Quincy Jones, Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand and a host of pop music artists, such as Cliff Richard and Eric Clapton at the Albert Hall, so I have been very lucky.”

Chris has no hesitation in naming Quincy Jones as his favourite artist, saying: “I was always a fan because I was brought up in that era, and always dreamed of being in his band. So to play in front of him was something very special and something I will always remember.”

He initially joined Syd’s band for six months, but stayed some six years before moving on to pursue his session career. However, when Syd announced he was going to retire, Chris was approached to take over the band, and did so. Subsequently Chris Dean’s 15-piece Syd Lawrence Orchestra, with vocalist Angie Mills, has been voted best big band in the country for the past 13 years.

Despite his 100 or so appearances each year with the band, Chris still records fairly regularly and among his TV credits music has been ‘Surprise, Surprise’, ‘New Faces’, ‘Barrymore’ and Royal Variety performances.

He said: “Since taking over I have worked to keep the band very similar to the way it was under Syd, because one of the things I enjoyed when I worked under him was how he maintained such a high standard. He made you feel as if you were a part of something special. Before he died I promised him I would try to maintain those standards, and arrange the music the way he arranged it, but also moved things on as well.”

The band continues to go from strength to strength and has the largest big band society in the world. When Chris is not at the helm he can often be seen at Brading Haven Yacht Club performing for members as part of a quartet.

“We have some nice concert evenings, and at the same time raise money for the Yacht Club. It is a good social occasion, and I have a lot of friends there. As for sailing I am a naughty sailor, because I have what is generally called a ‘stink pot’ – a motor boat,” smiled Chris. “But I do spend a lot of time in Bembridge because I love the Island, and feel very relaxed every time I visit.”