Empress Orchestradrummer

"It doesn't get any better than this - the best dancers in the world supported by the best orchestra in the world. Wow!"

"...it's the most incredible sound I've ever heard"

Marcus Hilton MBE

"...quite simply, this is the finest orchestra in the world today".

Peter Maxwell

"The music is phenomenal. It's by far the best orchestra I've heard in all the years I have been coming to Blackpool."

Kenny Welsh


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Scroll each box to read the full biography.

 Ashley Frohlick                       Musical Director

ashley frohlickAshley was born in Blackpool but brought up in Wigan, a small coal-mining town in the north of England. He started to play the trumpet from age 12 as a way of skipping classes for an hour a week, only to find out that he quite enjoyed the experience.

He joined the Wigan Youth Jazz Orchestra a couple of years after starting lessons and his first concert with them was at the Royal Albert Hall in London. From there he joined the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, toured Spain and recorded an album with John Williams. 

At age 17 (unbeknown to him) Ashley was entered into the Radio 2 Big Band Competition (a competition run by the BBC to find Britain’s best performers), and won its coveted ‘soloist of the year’ award. He then toured many countries in Europe, also Hong Kong and Japan before taking ‘Jazz & Contemporary Studies’ at Leeds College of Music.

Since then he has performed throughout the world with many different bands and orchestras in varying genres, playing on radio, television, shows, films, DVDs and albums. Some of his most memorable performances in an extensive CV include those for Her Majesty the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Lady Diana, Frank Sinatra, Dame Shirley Bassey, Tony Bennett, Sir Tom Jones, Stefan Grappelli, Nigel Kennedy, Jack Jones and Sir Elton John. 

He has performed with many different bands and orchestras throughout the world including the Syd Lawrence Orchestra, Francy Boland Big Band, Glenn Miller Orchestra UK, The Drifters and the Communards as well as a European tour with the Pasadena Roof Orchestra culminating in a special one-hour show for Belgium television.

He has appeared on many television shows and worked with national treasures, Bruce Forsyth, Les Dawson, Phillip Schofield, Joe Pasquale and Sir Michael Parkinson amongst others. The Empress Orchestra and Empress Dance Band (under his leadership) have appeared on shows recorded for the BBC, Granada Television, ITV, Channel 4, CBeebies, RTL and Sky 1. 

Over the years Ashley has lived and worked in Monte Carlo and Florida before coming back to the U.K. and now lives near Solihull with his beautiful wife Lyn and their daughter Madison. He also has two other beautiful children; Jodi and Ethan. 

Curbing his touring commitments to remain with his family led him, amongst other things, to work over an 11-year period as trumpeter with the different bands and orchestras performing in the Tower Ballroom, Blackpool and also as Musical and Assistant Musical Director with five of the orchestras during this time. 

In 1996 he joined the Irvin Tidswell Orchestra playing trumpet and after Irvin’s retirement in 2002 was asked by Leisure Parcs and festival organiser (at the time)   Mrs. Gillian Mackenzie to take over the role as Musical Director to the Blackpool Dance Festivals. 

In 2004 Ashley was also asked by Leisure Parcs to provide music for dancing in the world famous Blackpool Tower Ballroom, where for four years both the Empress Orchestra and seven-piece Empress Dance Band performed successfully to record crowds.

Ashley’s trumpet playing can be heard on a few chart CDs and as featured soloist on the recent album ‘Anyone But Me’ from platinum award winning singer/song-writer Rick Guard.

Much of his time now is dedicated to his family and the creation of new music and material for film, television and of course the Empress Orchestra having recently composed and orchestrated much of the music for their first two albums ‘Always & Forever’ and ‘With You in Mind’.

 Danny Hammerton                 1st Trumpet

danny hammertonBorn in Darfield near Barnsley, Danny is a multi-instrumentalist, capable of playing professionally in every section of the orchestra. He started his musical journey from the age of six playing piano and violin then adding the trumpet from age 13. He studied his degree at Leeds College of Music where he added the trombone to his repertoire of musical instruments and the saxophone shortly after this.

Danny was a member of the Pasadena Roof Orchestra for eight years touring the US and many countries in Europe where he wrote a number of arrangements and was featured on various recordings including the soundtrack to the film ‘The Comedian Harmonists’.

Since leaving the PRO, Danny has toured the world with different bands and orchestras and now amongst other things, is a regular member of the Glenn Miller Orchestra UK and its vocal group the ‘Moonlight Serenaders’.

He recently produced two albums for a group he plays with called ‘The Brasshoppers’, a Funky/New Orleans/Mardi Gras type band. The albums, for which he also wrote much of the original material, are called: ‘VaVa Voom’ and ‘Simple Harmonic Motion’.

Danny started to play with the Empress Orchestra in 2005 and his musicality, strength and vitality are some of the attributes which help to drive the ‘brass section’ and add excitement when needed the most.

 Russell Bennett                       2nd Trumpet

dave hitchenRussell started playing the cornet aged 6 making his performing debut with Brackley and District brass band, his home town band. He was duly paid in every young boys dream currency……..Lego. This made Russell immediately aware of two things: 1. Music was to become a major part of his life and 2. There is no money in brass bands.

Having moved onto the trumpet at fifteen, other musical influences became apparent to Russell, playing in a huge range of different ensembles ranging from symphony orchestras to big bands, including the Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra.

In 2000 Russell took his place at the Royal Northern College of Music where initially he struggled to balance practice with the lure of Rusholme's curry mile. However in 2004 he waddled away from the college having earned a highly respectable degree as well as jazz improvisation prizes and a PPRNCM diploma.

Since leaving college Russell has been fortunate enough to work with a huge variety of incredible ensembles and musicians all over the UK. He has worked with orchestras in the north of England such as the Halle, RLPO and the Northern Symphonia, as well as the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the John Wilson Orchestra.

Pop credits have included the main stage at Glastonbury with Tony Christie, tours with the Brand New Heavies and most recently Cliff Richard.

As well as pop tours Russell has also been lucky enough to tour with highly regarded jazz ensembles and artists including Brititsh Jazz pianist Julian Joseph and the Syd Lawrence Orchestra, of which he has been a member since 2005. He has appeared on numerous radio and television broadcasts, the pinnacle of which being the Parkinson show with the jazz legend Harry Connick Jnr.

Russell joined the Empress Orchestra on a permanent basis in October 2010 having worked with us as a deputy since 2005. We are glad to have him on board for the ride.

 Neil Shatliff                             3rd Trumpet

neil shatliffNeil was born in Oldham in 1970 and at age six starting cornet lessons with the conductor of the church brass band where his father played drums. Two years later he was awarded a Junior Exhibition Scholarship to receive advanced tuition at the North Manchester Music Centre. Once there he was introduced to different styles of music and joined their brass band, concert band, symphony orchestra and big band.  

At age 14 he joined British Aerospace (Newton Heath) Brass Band on repiano cornet and at roughly the same age started working with local theatrical companies performing for their shows. Just a year later he held the position of first trumpet for the Manchester Youth Orchestra touring around the world with guest conductors such as Sir Charles Groves and Sir Malcolm Arnold. One of the highlights of his four years with the orchestra was performing the world premiere of Michael Garrick’s symphony for jazz sextet and orchestra entitled ‘Zodiac of Angels’ for Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Philip.  

Neil has worked with the: Glenn Miller Orchestra UK and the New Squadronaires; on shows such as My Fair Lady with Christopher Cazenove, Amy Nuttall and Honor Blackman and appeared in the British gangster movie ‘Shoreditch’ where he also played on the soundtrack directed by Sir Elton John.  

Neil joined the Empress Orchestra in 2004 and for the last two years has been a regular member with us for all the work that we do. He now lives on the outskirts of Blackpool with his partner Anne-Marie and their two boys, Matt and Miles.        

 Lee Hallam                             1st Trombone

lee hallamLee was born in 1977 and from age ten tried a number of different brass instruments at his local ‘Boys Brigade’ headquarters in Sheffield. He eventually decided upon trombone at age 15, and started to take lessons joining as many of the local youth music organizations as he could. His formative years included playing with the Sheffield Youth Brass Band, Sheffield Youth Orchestra, many of the local rehearsal bands and with ‘Concord’, a drum and bugle corps where from 1990 to 1995 he marched in competition for the UK Championships.

Since these “heady” days his progression has been notable winning an ‘Archer Scholarship’ to Trinity College of Music in London studying under the great Bobby Lamb, the culmination of which led to an outstanding performance award at the I.A.J.E. (International Association for Jazz Education) conference in Los Angeles in 2005.

Along the way Lee has worked with a number of national and international artistes including; Diahann Carroll, Joe Longthorn, John Dankworth, Cleo Laine, Georgie Fame and Diane Schuur amongst others. His work has ranged from ‘The English Three Tenors’ to ‘The Rat Pack’ and has appeared with many bands and orchestras including The Debbie Curtis Radio Big Band, the Andy Prior Big Band, the Nick Ross Orchestra and the Glenn Miller Orchestra UK.

Lee joined the Empress Orchestra on lead trombone in 2005 and has appeared on television programs for Granada, ITV, BBC, RTL and 20th Century Fox since then. He currently holds the position of ‘Trombone’ tutor for Salford University and runs ‘Jazz at the Picture House’ near his home in Sheffield.

 Dave Pearce                           2nd Trombone

dave pearce - tromboneBorn in Nottingham, David started to play the trombone at the age of 14 after hearing music of the big band era and in particular the music of Glenn Miller.

He continued studying trombone at sixth-form college receiving lessons from Chris Dean (now the leader of the Syd Lawrence Orchestra) and the late Don Lusher, OBE (Ted Heath’s lead trombonist). Whilst at college David started to play with the local big bands and he also appeared with the Herb Miller Orchestra, directed by John Miller, nephew of Glenn Miller.

From 2002 - 2006 David studied at the Royal Northern College of Music and during his first year was awarded the prestigious "Stan Barker Memorial Prize" for jazz improvisation. Whilst at the RNCM he performed in many different styles with ensembles including the Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra, Opera Orchestra, Wind Orchestra, Brass Band, Brass Ensemble and RNCM Big Band hosting many touring jazz musicians.

He started to receive lessons from the Halle Orchestra’s bass trombonist Adrian Morris and was asked to work with the Halle in 2006, later that year David graduated from the RNCM with a BMus (Hons) degree.

During his final year at music college David started to perform with the Empress Orchestra and Empress Dance Band during the summer months of its Blackpool Tower season and since then has worked with many bands throughout the country and across Europe, notably the Nick Ross Orchestra, Glenn Miller Orchestra UK, Debbie Curtis Radio Big Band and the (French) Glenn Miller Memorial Orchestra. He has performed on the ‘Rat Pack – Live from Las Vegas’ show and also toured with the ‘Rat Pack’ show in Germany.

 Nigel Hailwood                       1st Alto

nigel hailwoodNigel was born in Leigh, Lancashire and was well into his teens before taking sax and woodwind lessons. Within a year, he began to perform with the local rehearsal bands and subsequently recorded an album with the Wigan Youth Jazz Orchestra. Within three years he was working professionally aboard the QE2. He returned home to attend both Salford University and Leeds College of Music before heading back to sea to play for several different cruise-liners.

Throughout his career Nigel’s playing has been in constant demand and like many members of the Empress Orchestra, he has an extensive C.V. His passion is Big Band music, though he has performed in many different genres over the years with some of the world’s greatest entertainers. From a very long list, here are a few of the finest: Bob Hope, Neil Sedaka, Kevin Spacey, Jack Jones and Stephen Sondheim.

Some of the ensembles he has performed with include the: Syd Lawrence Orchestra, Back to Basie, Echoes of Ellington, Pasadena Roof Orchestra and Ronnie Scott Big Band.

He has over twenty theatrical productions to his name and was lead alto for four years in the acclaimed West End production of, “The Rat Pack – Live From Las Vegas”. He has donned Lycra to appear onstage in Hamlet (a sight for sore eyes) and also performed at the Olivier Awards.

Nigel has played on numerous film soundtracks, starring the likes of: Liam Neeson, John Malkovich, Michael Douglas, Roy Scheider, Melanie Griffiths and Sir John Gielgud. He can also be heard on the Harry Potter movie, "The Half Blood Prince."

Joining the Orchestra on lead alto in 2002, Nigel has made a huge impact on the saxophone section; he is still an extremely busy and highly sought musician and now resides in the South of England with his wife and daughter.

 Andy Hunter                           2nd Alto

andy hunter - altoAndy is originally from Chorley in Lancashire and as a child started to learn the piano, clarinet and saxophone. At age 18 he took a Trinity College of London Performance Diploma in ‘classical’ clarinet and from there studied ‘Jazz and Contemporary Music’ at Leeds College of Music.

Andy’s career started thereafter on a cruise ship in the Caribbean and since then he has worked in a wide variety of musical fields. He performed on the world tour of an American production of West Side Story, and has toured the UK and Europe with a number of West End shows which amongst others includes: Les Miserables, 42nd Street, Cabaret and the Rat Pack.

He has played with many artistes including: Jack Jones, Gene Pitney, Michael Ball, Wayne Sleep, Lorna Luft and Al Martino. As a player he has been much in demand by many of the different bands and orchestras nationwide including the Charlie Barlow Orchestra, Pasadena Roof Orchestra, Andy Prior Orchestra and the Ted Heath (Tribute) Orchestra to name a few.

In a break from music a number of years ago, Andy took a Civil Engineering degree and subsequently worked successfully as a consultant bridge engineer. Fortunately for us, he is now back playing music full-time and joined the Empress Orchestra and Empress Dance Band in 2005.

 Mike Hope                              1st Tenor

mike hopeBorn in Wythenshawe now living in Rawtenstall, Mike started to play the alto sax at age ten adding clarinet a couple of years later. His studies in music continued at Leeds University where he started playing tenor sax and flute and where he gained a MMUS (Master of Music) specializing in performance. This involved a year’s placement at North Texas University studying Jazz with Harry Connick's Saxophonist.  

In 1996 Mike was voted the Northern Jazz Musician of the Year in a competition that led to a place in the London finals. From there he formed his own band Mike Hope’s Jazzmahoot and started to write and record some of his own original material.   His work since then has been diverse covering genres in Jazz, Latin, Big Band, Pop and Light Classical. He worked for four years on ‘The Rat Pack’ show with West End runs at the Haymarket and Savoy theatres. The highlight of this period came when he was asked to accompany Kevin Spacey at the Olivier Awards as he sang “I’ve Got A Crush On You” to Judi Dench.  

Mike is now a highly sought-after musician performing in the US and across Europe. He has recently worked with Jack Jones, Matt Monroe Junior, John Wilson and the Halle Orchestra and is also a member of the Syd Lawrence Orchestra.   Mike joined the Empress Orchestra in 2004 where his end of evening solos at the Blackpool Dance Festivals have received high praise from some of the world’s most eminent figures in dance.

 Adrian Wilkinson                    2nd Tenor

adrian wilkinson biogAdrian was born in Lancaster and started playing the clarinet at the age of nine. He later took lessons on the saxophone and very soon began to play with the local dance bands in his area. He later went on to study ‘Jazz and Contemporary Music’ at the City of Leeds College of Music and also gained an M.A. in composition from Huddersfield University. Adrian then moved to Manchester where his skills as a saxophonist and clarinet player were in great demand with the many dance bands and jazz bands in and around the north west of England.

Over the past decade or so Adrian has worked with many of the country’s leading Big Bands, Dance Bands and Jazz Bands including the Syd Lawrence Orchestra, Bricktop’s Jazz Babes, The Rat Pack, Andy Prior, Matt Monro Junior and the Glenn Miller Orchestra UK. He performed music for dancing for four seasons in the world famous Tower Ballroom, Blackpool and whilst on tour with the Bricktop’s Jazz Babes was made an Honorary Citizen of New Orleans!

Adrian has played clarinet and saxophone on several film soundtracks. He has also appeared on-screen in several films, most recently in the blockbuster movies ‘Brideshead Revisited’ and ‘Al`s Lads.

Adrian is the newest member of the Empress Orchestra, joining us in 2009, where his experience and professionalism are attributes, which are enhancing this very fine saxophone section.

Adrian now lives in Ramsbottom in Lancashire with his wife Emma and their 3 boys Thomas, Oliver and Alex.

 Steve Sanders                       Piano

steve sandersSteve Sanders Was born in Higham nr. Hinckley, Leicestershire 30/10/65.

Began to play piano and trombone at an early age and studied with Leicestershire Schools of Music before moving to Leeds College of Music in 1985.

A varied career as a trombonist, pianist and Musical Director includes functions, cruises, summer seasons, cabaret, big band, pantomime, tuition, theatre, arranging.

Regularly plays piano with the Empress Orchestra for world championship ballroom dance competitions in Blackpool, England and worldwide.

Most recent theatre experience includes “The Full Monty”, “Mamma Mia”, “Hairspray”, “Sister Act”, “Chicago”, “Singin’ in the Rain”, “Top Hat”, “Dance ‘til Dawn”, “Love Me Tender”, “Priscilla – Queen of the Desert”.

Now living in Hinckley, Leicestershire with Russian wife, Anna.

 Carl Barnett                            Bass

carl barnettCarl was born in the south east of London; his father Harry was a guitarist (who in the late 1950’s coincidentally worked for bandleader Maurice Smart, Ashley’s Grandfather). Carl first played piano, then trumpet, before moving to guitar and bass guitar. After leaving school and before becoming a professional musician, Carl worked for three years at Boosey & Hawkes on the retail side of the business.

Early work for him included summer seasons, cruises, and residencies in ‘Mecca’ ballrooms, also a year-long tour with the Eric Delaney Band. Since then he has worked alongside a host of household names including the great Matt Monro, Bob Monkhouse, Joe Longthorne, Frankie Vaughan, Tony Christie, Paul Nicholas and Cilla Black.

In the mid-eighties he attended (what is now) Salford University and developed a keen interest in arranging and music copying, the latter of which he did much of for Goff Richards and the BBC.

Since then his work has been extensive, performing in many theatres around the country, working in the world famous Blackpool Tower Ballroom for three consecutive years with bandleader Ray McVay and also as performer and musical director for many visiting American soul artistes including: The Temptations, The Miracles, The Contours, Kim Weston, The Platters and The Drifters.

Alongside his busy schedule he is also ‘Bass Guitar’ tutor at Salford University.

Carl joined the Orchestra in 2004 and is responsible for a number of “New” arrangements added to the Orchestra’s extensive library, some of which can be heard on our album ‘Always & Forever’. He is also the composer of ‘Samba de la Torre’, a wonderfully exciting piece of music that has proven incredibly popular with dancers and listeners alike and is the personal favourite of Karen Hilton MBE.

 Bill Hayton                              Drums

bill hayton biogBill was born in London and moved to Hull early in his childhood where aged eleven he started to play drums and tuned percussion through Hull’s youth music service. Before taking his graduate diploma at Leeds College of Music, Bill played drums for the: City of Hull Youth Swing Orchestra, Brass Band, and Symphony Orchestra as section leader. 

Whilst studying at Leeds and shortly afterwards much of his early work revolved around Brass Bands, performing with the bands: Brighouse and Rastrick, Grimethorpe Colliery, Hammonds and Black Dyke Mills. Some notable highlights of this period were tours to Russia, Lithuania and Switzerland, concerts and competitions at the Royal Albert Hall and Kenwood Bowl in London and the recording of three CD’s.

Since then Bill has had an extensive and varied career performing with cover and rock bands, on cruises and foreign tours and in musicals such as: Miss Saigon, West Side Story, Dr. Doolittle and the Full Monty and as musical director on the ‘Make ‘Em Laugh Comedy Tour’, ‘The Rock & Roll Years’ and the Roy Orbison tribute show, ‘This Lonely Heart’.

Bill has been involved in over twenty “winter seasons”, the majority of which as musical director working alongside household names such as Ross Kemp, Leslie Grantham, Joe Pasquale, and Paul Daniels.

He was a founder member of the Empress Dance Band in 2004 after joining the Empress Orchestra in 2003 where his expertise and time keeping has been invaluable to the advancement of the orchestra and its world-class standing.