Monthly Archives: May 2018

Singers and songs are moving on towards the 1930s.

Albert Alick Bowlly [Al Bowlly] was born to Greek and Lebanese parents who had met en- route to Australia.  They moved to South Africa and their child was brought up in Johannesburg! After a series of odd jobs across South Africa, including being a barber and a jockey!  At the same time Al gained his musical experience singing for a dance band led by Edgar Adeler on a tour of South Africa.  That tour expanded to Rhodesia, India and Indonesia during the mid-1920s but in Surabaya, Indonesia Al fell out with Adeler and was fired from the band. After a spell with a Filipino band in Surabaya he was then employed by Jimmy Liquime in India. Al worked his passage back home by busking and, in 1927he had a date in Berlin, where he recorded Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” with Edgar Adeler.

Albert’s next move was to London for the first time as part of Fred Elizade’s orchestra. That nearly didn’t work as Al foolishly frittered away the fare money sent to him by Elizalde!  However – that year “If I Had You” became one of the first popular songs by an English jazz band to become well known in America as well.  First, however, the onset of the Great Depression in 1929 resulted in Al Bowlly being made redundant and returning to several months of busking to survive.

In the USA a male singing duo began performing together in 1925.  In late 1926 they were recruited by Paul Whiteman to join his band. They were called The Rhythm Boys and were now three as, in 1927, pianist/singer/song writer Harry Barris had joined the pair of Al Rinker and one Bing Crosby. They made a number of recordings with the Whiteman Orchestra and released singles in their own right with Barris on piano. In Mau 1930, after three and a half years with Paul Whiteman the ‘Rhythm Boys’ moved on – and we’ll come back to them later.

Let’s end this session with two individuals whose names still ring in Britain today. 

Noel Coward was stage struck from childhood and, by the age of 20, was already writing plays.  By 1923 he enjoyed his first West End success with ‘London Calling’ and over the next 20 years, enjoyed continues success.

Our other is Gertrude Lawrence who had many similarities to Noel Coward.  Her multi-talent was ‘discovered’ by the time she was 18.  She made her name in Coward’s ‘London Calling’ in 1923 and then shared top billing with Beatrice Lillie in ‘Charlotte’s Revue’ in New York in 1924.  A true product of ‘the revue’ she had that ‘star’ quality that made her popular across the entertainment spectrum.

 

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Music through good times & bad in the 1920’s

By the mid-1920s jazz was thriving in Britain with its popularity being boosted by the Melody Maker, a music newspaper which first appeared in January 1926, as well as by radio programmes from the recently launched British Broadcasting Corporation.

However this mid-1920s post-war period of prosperity was soon to be well and truly over. The re-introduction of the Gold Standard by Winston Churchill in 1925 kept interest rates high and meant UK exports were expensive. Coal reserves had been depleted during the War and Britain was now importing more coal than it was mining. All this, and the lack of investment in the new mass-production techniques in industry, led to a period of depression, deflation and decline in the UK’s economy. Unemployment rose to over 2 million, and particularly affected areas in the north of England and Wales, where unemployment reached 70% in some places. This lead in turn to the Great Strike of 1926 and, following the US Wall Street crash of 1929, the beginning of the Great Depressions of the 1930s.

From a decade that started with such a ‘boom’, the 1920s ended in an almighty bust, the likes of which weren’t to be seen again for a great many more years. None-the-less – all this poverty amongst the unemployed contrasted strikingly with the affluence of the middle and upper classes!

An American who came to the UK in the 1920s was Carroll Gibbons. He was born and raised in Clinton, Massachusetts. In his late teens he travelled to London to study at the Royal Academy of Music. In 1924 he returned to London with the brassless Boston Orchestra for an engagement at the Savoy Hotel in the Strand. He liked Britain so much that he settled there and later became the co-leader (with Howie Jacobs) of the Savoy Orpheans and the bandleader of the New May Fair Orchestra, which recorded for the Gramophone Company on the HMV label. In 1929, Gibbons appeared in the British film ‘Splinters’ as “Carroll Gibbons and His Masters Voice Orchestra”. Ray Noble himself led the New Mayfair Orchestra starting in 1929

Despite all of the hardships in the UK and the USA there were glimpses of a ‘new world’ – of ‘new people’.

A story of a soccer team – my soccer team!

I’ve been a Manchester United supporter ever since they beat Blackpool 4-2 to win the FA Cup at Wembley in 1948.  Twenty years later – on Wednesday 29th May 1968 – I was on tenterhooks as I listened to another game at Wembley.  This one was the European Cup Final between Manchester United and the Spanish masters Benfica.  Bobby Charlton put United ahead 8 minutes into the second half; Benfica had equalized 20 minutes later and, but for a great save by United’s goalkeeper Alex Stepney from Eusébio, came close to defeat.  In extra-time goals from George Best (93 mins), Brian Kidd (94 mins) and Bobby Charlton (99 mins) made United 4-1 winners and me VERY happy!  Manchester United – ‘my team’ – had become the first English club to win the European Cup!

Ten years after the Munich air crash, which killed eight of Matt Busby’s young team, Manchester United had reached the pinnacle of European football again.  Celtic FC had become the first Scottish and British club to win the cup the previous year.  Manchester United were out to be the second.  United’s star player, George Best had been named European Footballer of the Year – just a fortnight after being named the British football writers’ Footballer of the Year.

At Wembley Stadium on 29th May 1968 there were100,000 supporters to watchers with an estimated 250 million TV viewers across Europe making it the biggest television audience since the World Cup final two years previous.  The match was to determine the winners of the 1967-68 European Cup – the 13th season of this trophy – a final being contested by Benfica of Portugal and Manchester United of England.  The first half passed in a flurry of fouls but no goals.  In the second half Bobby Charlton broke the stalemate with a headed goal to United but with just 10 minutes left Benfica scored the equaliser.  Things now got challenging and Benfica nearly won the match when Eusebio broke away from Nobby Stiles and blasted the ball towards the net.  However – United’s keeper, Alex Stepney, made the save and the game went into extra time.

The world now seemed to take care of United because two minutes into extra time Georgie Best put United ahead again, when he slipped round the Benfica keeper and gently tapped the ball over the line.  Two more United goals followed – one from the 19-year-old Brian Kidd and the last one from captain Bobby Charlton.  The ‘United’ had won 4-1.

Matt Busby – the United Manager said: “They’ve done us proud. They came back with all their hearts to show everyone what Manchester United are made of. This is the most wonderful thing that has happened in my life and I am the proudest man in England tonight.”

Matt Busby had been seriously injured in the crash that had claimed the lives of his so-called Busby Babes and there was speculation at the time that the club had been so badly damaged it would have to fold.  But they struggled on to complete the 1958/59 season and when Busby returned to the manager’s role the following season he began the task of rebuilding the side. Bobby Charlton and Bill Foulkes were the only survivors of the crash who played in today’s final. The European Cup marked the highlight of Matt Busby’s long career at Manchester United and he later received a knighthood from the Queen.  He retired after the following season to become the club’s general manager.

For George Best it was the highlight of his footballing career. The same year he was also named European Footballer of the Year and was regarded by many as one of the greatest footballing talents in the world, ranked alongside the Brazilian great Pele.

Bobby Charlton had a distinguished playing career for England and Manchester United. He scored 48 goals for England, a record which still stands. He was knighted in 1994.

The wars are over and a new world begins

With the end of the conflict both sides of the Atlantic took a deep breath and moved on.  The third decade of the 20th century- the 1920s – looked exciting.  It would be the decade that marked the beginning of the modern music era. The music recording industry was just beginning to develop and a myriad of new technologies was coming along.  That would help to create the way music would be made and distributed.

By the 1910s the first commercial public radio stations had begun broadcasting in the United States and, once radio became widespread and popular, the worlds of radio and recorded music began to merge. The music recording industry’s profits dropped with the proliferation of commercial radio and, beginning in 1923, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) required licensing fees to play their music on the radio. A final influence on the music industry came near the end of the decade when silent movies turned into “talkies”, incorporating recorded sounds and creating a whole new venue for the distribution of popular music. Movie versions of Broadway musicals became extremely popular and introduced different types of music to audiences across the world.

What we all know is that the modern music industry developed wider skills in the 1920s with all of the new technologies that were created and used to make and distribute music. The music world was wide open, making way for the popularization of genres like Jazz, Blues, Broadway and Dance Bands.

The gramophone had been created in the late 1880s; become popular in the early 1900s and developed the way the music was recorded in the mid-1920s. As the recording process improved, a number of independent record labels began to appear and, in doing so, helped to expand the modern music industry.  For many this expanded in the harbour city of Charleston in South Carolina.

The Charleston was a dance with rhythm that had popularized the mainstream dance music in the United States by a 1923 composer/pianist – one James P. Johnson.  It was called “The Charleston” and had originated in a Broadway show ‘Running Wild’ and became one of the most popular hits of the decade.  The show itself only ran from 29th October 1923 to 28th June 1924 but the Charleston, as a dance by the public, peaked in the mid-1926 to 1927.

The Charleston – and similar dances such as the Black Bottom which involved “Kicking up your heels – were very popular through to the end of the 1920s

Jazz music had begun in the early 1900s within the New Orleans community and reached the mainstream in the 1920s when Southern African American musicians began moving up to Chicago looking for work. The Twenties are often called the Jazz Age because the popularization of that music had an enormous cultural effect.  The music was important because it influenced fashion, dances, accepted moral standards, youth culture, and race relations. It was one of the first types of music to be culturally appropriated by the American white middle class and Jazz scholars often separate the music into “Jazz” and “White Jazz”. This marked a difference in style and meaning between original African American jazz artists and popularized white jazz artists. Jazz music was also popular on the newly booming radio networks and it was one of the ways that white musicians appropriated and popularized the music as many national stations refused to play records by black artists at the time.

Two predominant black artists that had popularity and played in jazz bands. Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington were two, while one influential white jazz artist at the time was Bix Beiderbecke. Jazz gained popularity and spread through the country in clubs, speakeasies, and dance halls where Jazz bands would play their new music.

We’ll have a looks at Britain’s music work next week!

An unplanned man becomes King of England

Wednesday 12th May 1937 saw the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. This was the day that had originally been chosen for the coronation of Edward VIII, before he abdicated. As a result the whole thing appears to have been quite a shambles behind the scenes.

All the planned images of ‘King Edward VIII’ were used with the equivalent of a modern day ‘PhotoShop’ job putting George’s face where Edwards would have been. On this day the staff on duty started work at 4am and the crowns and other regalia were brought to the Jerusalem Chamber – a part of the Deanery – at the crack of dawn.  The guests began arriving at 6am, with many peers reported to be carrying sandwiches in their coronets!  At 9.30 the procession of the Regalia started, going through the cloisters to the Abbey. Eye witnesses recalled that the overall impression in the Abbey was colour everywhere, with blue and gold hangings and carpets, and crimson robes and uniforms. Queen Mary and Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret watched from the royal gallery while around 40 newsreel cameramen, all in full evening dress, were in the Abbey to capture the enthronement. Virtually all of the ceremony was broadcast live on the radio.

However – one of the clergy fainted; a bishop stepped on the king’s train – the King later recorded in his diary that ‘I had to tell him to get off it pretty sharply!’ and, to cap it all, Archbishop Cosmo Gordon Lang put his thumb over the words of the oath when the king was about to read it!

The coronation procession was shown as the first major outside broadcast by the BBC’s new television service. The Royal couple were briefed beforehand as to when and where they should wave so that the cameras caught them. Some 50,000 people were claimed to have watched that television broadcast – a broadcast described by commentator Freddie Grisewood.

George’s real name actually Albert but he assumed the regnal name “George VI” to emphasise continuity with his father and restore confidence in the monarchy. The beginning of George VI’s reign was taken up by many questions surrounding his predecessor and brother, whose titles, style and position were uncertain. He had been introduced as “His Royal Highness Prince Edward” for the abdication broadcast, but George VI felt that by abdicating and renouncing the succession, Edward had lost the right to bear royal titles, including “Royal Highness”.  In settling the issue, George’s first act as king was to confer upon his brother the title “Duke of Windsor” with the style “Royal Highness”.  However – the ‘letters patent’ creating the dukedom prevented any wife or children from bearing royal styles.

There were also other steps involved in the whole situation.  For instance – King George VI was forced to buy from Edward the royal residences of Balmoral Castle and Sandringham House, as these were private properties and did not pass to King George VI automatically!

However – three days after his accession, on his 41st birthday – the new King George VI invested his wife, the new Queen Consort, with the Order of the Garter and a ‘new world’ began – a new world that would soon fall back into conflict caused by others.

The war moved on as the USA took a hand

The United States had carefully kept out of the conflict in Europe while being helpful to the sufferers.  In 1917 the British intercepted and decoded a telegram from the German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann to Mexico urging that country to enter into war against the United States. The American states of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico were to be offered to the Mexican government in return for such assistance.

On a wider front unrestricted U-boat warfare was renewed with all allied and neutral ships to be sunk on sight. Over the next month close to a million tons of shipping would be lost and on 3rd February the United States of America severed diplomatic ties with Germany.

As U.S. president, it was Woodrow Wilson who made the key policy decisions over foreign affairs: while the country was at peace, the domestic economy ran on a laissez-faire basis, with American banks making huge loans to Britain and France — funds that were in large part used to buy munitions, raw materials, and food from across the Atlantic. Until 1917, Wilson made minimal preparations for a land war and kept the United States Army on a small peacetime footing, despite increasing demands for enhanced preparedness.

On 24th February the Cunard passenger liner S.S. Laconia sailing from New York to Liverpool was sunk off the Irish coast by a German U-boat and, on 2nd April 1917, the U.S. President Woodrow Wilson addressed Congress and asked the House of Representatives to declare war on Germany and, on 6th April 1917, the United States of America declares war on Germany.  On 26th June 1917 the first U.S. troops, men of the 1st Division, begin to arrive in France.

In October, the first American soldiers entered combat, in France. That December, the U.S. declared war against Austria-Hungary with U.S. troops arriving on the Western Front in large numbers in 1918.  When the war concluded in November 1918, with a victory for the Allies, more than 2 million U.S. troops had served at the Western Front in Europe, and more than 50,000 of them died.

Looking at the American involvement from a different slant we find that they also brought their music with them!  The most significant song was “Over There“, a 1917 hit song written by George Cohan, that was popular with the United States military and public during both this and the 1939/45 war. It was a patriotic song designed to galvanize American young men to enlist in the army and fight the “Hun”. The song is best remembered for a line in its chorus: “The Yanks are coming.”

It was Cohan’s biggest hit recording and was performed by the American Quartet. The American Quartet consisted of Billy Murray, John Young, Steve Porter and Donald Chalmers and recorded the song on June 28, 1917. There were many singers singing ‘Over There’ –  Enrico Caruso’s version of Over There, sung partly in French, was a major hit just before the end of the war in November 1918.  By the end of the conflict the song had sold over a million records and two million copies of sheet music. George Cohan was awarded a medal of honour by Congress in 1936 for writing You’re a Grand Old Flag and Over There. His sequel to Over There, ‘When You Come Back (and You Will Come Back)’, was a hit for John McCormack and for the Orpheus Quartet in early 1919:

Johnny, get your gun, get your gun, get your gun.  Take it on the run, on the run, on the run.   Hear them calling you and me, Every Son of Liberty.  Hurry right away, no delay, go today.  Make your Daddy glad to have had such a lad.  Tell your sweetheart not to pine, To be proud her boy’s in line.

Johnny, get your gun, get your gun.  Johnny, show the “Hun” you’re a son-of-a-gun.  Hoist the flag and let her fly; Yankee Doodle do or die.  Pack your little kit, show your grit, do your bit.  Yankee to the ranks from the towns and the tanks. Make your Mother proud of you and the old red-white-and-blue.

Over there, over there, send the word, send the word over there that the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming – the drums rum-tumming everywhere.  So prepare, say a prayer, send the word, send the word to beware – we’ll be over, we’re coming over, and we won’t come back till it’s over, over there.

The conflict was over and the music did begin again.  The first – in 1918 – was ‘Tiger Rag’ by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band.  Close behind as the best from 1919 we have ‘After You’ve Gone’ by Marion Harris.

Enjoying a ‘Furry Dance’

On 8th May every year (or Saturday 7th if the 8th is a Sunday) the Cornish town of Helston is home to ‘The Furry Dance’. A Gentleman’s Magazine report in 1790 tells us that: ‘At Helstone (sic), a genteel and populous borough town in Cornwall, it is customary to dedicate the 8th of May to revelry (festive mirth, not loose jollity). It is called the Furry-day, supposed Flora’s day; not, I imagine, as many have thought, in remembrance of some festival instituted in honour of that goddess, but rather from garlands commonly worn on that day. In the morning, very early, some troublesome rogues go round the streets with drums, or other noisy instruments, disturbing their sober neighbors, and singing parts of a song, the whole of which nobody now recollects. About the middle of the day they collect together to dance hand-in-hand round the streets, to the sound of the fiddle playing a particular tune, which they continue to do till it is dark. This is called a ‘faddy’.

In the afternoon, the gentility go to some farmhouse in the neighborhood to drink tea, syllabub, etc., and return in a Morris-dance to the town, where they form a faddy, and dance through the streets till it is dark, claiming the right of going through any person’s house, in at one door and out at the other. And here it formally used to end, and the company of all kinds to disperse quietly to their several habitations, but latterly, corruptions have in this, as in other matters, crept in by degrees.’.

Many things have changed since this piece was written but the day still sees a 7 a.m. dance; a Hal-an-Tow pageant at 8 a.m.; children’s dance at 10 a.m.; a midday dance which replicates the earlier dance of the gentry and their ladies. All wear Lily of the Valley sprigs – the gentlemen wearing it on the left, with the flowers pointing upwards, and the ladies wearing it upside down on the right. The day ends with an evening dance at 5 p.m.

It is one of the oldest British customs still practiced today but the modern variant of the dance holds few similarities with the original, having been revived long after the event had died out. Traditionally, the dancers wear Lily of the Valley, which is Helston’s symbolic flower. The gentlemen wear it on the left, with the flowers pointing upwards, and the ladies wear it upside down on the right. Lily of the Valley is worn on Flora Day by dancers, bandsmen, Flora Day stewards and by those who are “Helston-born”.

The world is changing – and perhaps not for the better

It’s the second decade of the 20th century and the world continues to develop and change.

At this time Great Britain was at the centre of the world’s largest empire, a beneficiary of colonial resources and trade.  It occupied territory on four different continents and was at the centre of a vast trading and commercial empire.  However, domestically, 19th century Britain was often unsettled by demands for improved conditions and political reform.  British rulers had engaged in imperial expansion over the years but had sought to avoid war – a policy dubbed ‘splendid isolation’.  However – this policy approach was waning in the early 1900s as British interest concentrated on events in Europe, particularly the unification of Germany and the expansionist policies adopted by Kaiser Wilhelm II.

In the USA Sophie Tucker was singing of ‘Some of These Days’; Arthur Collins & Byron Harlan were telling us all about ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’.  We also have the American Quartet group singing  ‘Moonlight Bay’; Billy Murray telling the story of ‘Casey Jones’ while Al Jolson was singing ‘You Made Me Love You (I Didn’t Want to Do It)’ to the US population at large.

By 1914 Britain was no longer the dominant economic power in Europe. It still had the world’s largest shipbuilding industry but in other areas such as coal, iron, chemicals and light engineering, Britain was being out-performed by Germany.

Britain was a constitutional monarchy under George V with a government formed by the majority party of the House of Commons with members being elected by some 8 million registered male voters. The aristocratic House of Lords had limited power to veto legislation.

Since the later part of the 19th century the British government had considered Germany to be the main threat to its empire. This was reinforced by Germany’s decision in 1882 to form a Triple Alliance with Austria-Hungary and Italy – an alliance to support each other if attacked by either France or Russia.  France felt threatened by the Triple Alliance and was concerned by the growth in the German Navy and, in 1904, the two countries had signed the Entente Cordiale (friendly understanding) with the objective of the alliance was to encourage co-operation against the perceived German threat. Three years later Russia, who also feared the growth of the German Army, joined Britain and France – and the ‘Triple Entente’ was formed.

By August 1914, Britain had 247,432 regular troops. About 120,000 of these were in the British Expeditionary Army and the rest were stationed abroad. There were soldiers in all Britain’s overseas possessions except the white dominions of Australia, New Zealand and Canada.  The USA had no links with either side at this time.

Despite everything, there was music to generate some cheerfulness.  One such number was ‘Pack up your troubles in your old Kit Bag – and Smile, Smile, Smile’ written in 1915 by Welsh brothers Felix Powell – an army staff sergeant – and George Henry Powell who became a conscientious objector.  A later play presented by the National Theatre recounts how these music hall stars rescued the song from their rejects pile and re-scored it to win a wartime competition for a marching song.  In its many ways it became very popular and boosted British morale despite the horrors of that war. It was one of a large number of music hall songs aimed at maintaining morale, recruiting for the forces, or defending Britain’s war aims. Here are the words if you want to turn back those challenging times:

Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag, and smile, smile, smile. While you’ve a lucifer to light your fag, smile, boys, that’s the style.  What’s the use of worrying?  It never was worthwhile, so pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag, and smile, smile, smile.

Another of these songs, ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ was so similar in musical structure that the two were sometimes sung side by side.