PLAYING IN A WARTIME ALL-GIRL BAND WAS A HOOT ( by Kat Dibbits, Prestwich & Whitefield Guide - August 2006).

Muriel Higson may not have be starring in the current Octogen production but the 84 year old is Boltons own Blonde Bombshell.

Alan Plater's play "The Blonde Bombshells of 1943" chronicles the high jinx of a fictional all-girl band partially based on the famour Ivy Benson's All Girl Band, a musical institution spanning 40 years.

Muriel Higson, who has lived in Bolton all her life, was actually one of the 250 girls who featured in the various lineups created by Ivy.

She remembers her time with the band, playing saxophone, clarinet, accordian and piano, as one of glamour, good fun, and good friends, even among the bombs that were wreaking havoc across the country as Europe was in the midst of the Second World War.

When playing at the Ritz in Manchester, Muriel and her friend Irene would be dolled up in glamorous dresses. However, unbeknown to the audience, before the last act, they would put on slacks, boots and coats under their outfits, so they could pull the dresses off as soon as they were backstage and run for the train home to Bolton.

"The conductor would always hold the train for us. We'd be running down the platform, and he'd be shouting "come on you two!", said Muriel.

Two other girls who played at the Ritz had already played with the Ivy Benson All-Girl Band, and it was through them Muriel got her big break.

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"When Ivy came to see me, everyone was buzzing round saying "Ivy's in the crowd . I'll never forget, she has a mink coat on and she swept it all to one side as she sat down so she wouldn't crush it".

Muriel, who grew up in Vernon Street, Doffcocker, first started appearing on stage, having been pushed into music by her mother who "made me practice the piano when I would rather have been playing outside".

Now 84, she still has her original Buescher alto saxophone, although now she only plays for her own enjoyment and for a few friends. The girls in the "Blonde Bombshells" get up to some awful tricks, and it seems that Ivy Benson's girls were not above creating a little mischief themselves.

"When we were in the North of Scotland, Inverness actually, we were looked after by the NAAFI (Navy, Army and Airforce Institutes) girls and treated like queens" says Muriel.

"We were billeted in these castles with big iron knockers and antlers on the walls. One night we took the antlers down and put them in one of the girl's beds. She screamed and screamed!".

Ivy's was not the only band with which Muriel played. At one point the war caused such a shortage of male musicians that she found herself playing the piano for an all-male band.

"They were ex-brass band men and I learned more from them than I did from anyone else. I remember standing up to do a solo in Intermezzo and the first trumpet just looked and winked. I'd been so nervous and that was worth a million pounds".

Courtesy of Prestwich and Whitefield Guide August 2006.