Dance Band History – L’Orchestra Rara/The High Society Dance Orchestra

L'Orchestra Rara at the Grosvenor House 1988
L'Orchestra Rara - Quartet in 1982
L’Orchestra Rara – Quartet in 1982

It may be quite unusual to have two accordions in a dance band outside of accordion orchestras but L’Orchestra Rara, later also known as The High Society Dance Orchestra put the accordions to good use.  Through some clever arranging the ensemble could recreate some very authentic dance band sounds from many different eras.  The accordions played a vital role in creating the sound by often avoiding some of the sounds that people identify as being a typical accordion sound and using some of the more subtle sounds to blend effortlessly with winds and other instruments of the ensemble.  The typical accordion sounds would then make even more impact when used in tango and musette.
L’Orchestra Rara started life as a small dance band in London’s Italian Community in 1981.  The founding members Romano Viazzani (Accordion) Armando Guselli (Accordion) Roberto Collini (Keyboards) and Andrew Cordani (Drums) soon became a very popular band and could be seen playing at Dinner and Dances, Weddings and restaurants around the capital and around the UK  especially in South Wales.

Later they were joined by singer/guitarist Dino Bergonzi and this formation lasted until 1986 when the band expanded to an 8-piece.  The new formation now featured Gabriele Finaldi on Keyboards, John Proto on Trumpet, Alf Proto on Sax and Clarinet, and Tony Minnion on Double Bass.

The new members also added to the ensemble’s backing and lead vocalists.   The first album Dancing in the moonlight was recorded in 1987.

More staff changes in 1987 with Janet Cropton joining on Double Bass, in 1989 with Edward Tothill taking on the role of keyboard/vocalist, Andrew Hampton in 1990 on Saxes, Clarinet, Flute and Vocals, Alan Gibson on Double Bass/Bass Guitar and in 1993,Craig Beecham joined as accordionist, flautist and vocalist. With success came expansion outside of the Italian Community and for this the band became known as The High Society Dance Orchestra

Next to join were Ben Twyford on Drums and Alan Gibson on Double Bass. L’ Orchestra Rara – I primi 15 anni was recorded the same year.

In 1996 Titch Walker joined on Trumpet and vocals, Tom Stewart on Keyboards, Matt Stewart on Sax, Clarinet, and Vocals, Erran Kendler on Guitar, Mark Lloyd on Drums and Gennie Rose on Vocals and thus becoming a 9-piece dance orchestra.  In 1999 Andy Briton joined on Guitar. The female vocalists with the band have been Gennie Rose,Gaynor, Jocelyn Dunleavy. 1999 saw the release of their final album The High Society Dance Orchestra – Steps in Time.

Up to its disbanding in 2002 the band also saw  appearances from many fine musicians including Penny Hughes (Keyboards), Simon Cheney (Trumpet), Richard Hyams (Trombone), Bob Knight (Drums), Dave Webster (Drums), Chris Higginbottom (Drums), Frank Walden (Sax/Clarinet/Flute), Simon Mulligan (Keyboards), Danny Marsden (Trumpet), Chris Hatchins (Trumpet) George Hart (Guitar), Jay Jackson (Guitar/Vocals), Rob Rickenburg (Double Bass),Jonty Fisher (Double Bass) Kirsty Roberts (Vocals).

The repertoire spanned a huge time spanfrom the Viennese waltzes of Strauss, right through the Charleston era and dance band years, The big Band era through to rock and Roll, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s.  The band could also boast a continental repertoire of Italian and French dance music and Argentine Tango.

Over the years the ensemble played for many balls, dinner dances, weddings and corporate events in many fine venues around the country and abroad and many of the top hotels in London: The Savoy Hotel (London), The Grosvenor House (London), The Dorchester (London), The Waldorf (London), The Cumberland (London), The Hilton (London), The Langham (London), The Park Lane (London), The Hyde Park (London), The Royal Garden (London) The Lancaster (London), Cafè Royal (London), The Mayfair (London), The Intercontinental (London), The Rainbow Suite (Kensington Exhibition Centre) (London), Wembley Conference Centre, The International Press Centre (London), Middle Temple Hall (London), Inner Temple Hall (London), Clivedon House,  Highclere Castle, The Villa Cimbrone, (Ravello Italy) and many, many more.

It would be great to hear of any memories (hopefully happy ones) that you may have of the band whether you played with the band or danced to it! Any photos also welcome.

RomanoViazzani