Category Archives: A story is told

Ragtime gets closer

Last week we started our story with a broad overview of ‘Ragtime’ from both sides of the Atlantic.  This week we’ll have a look at early British popular music. This music can be seen as originating in the 16th and 17th centuries and from this we can trace the arrival of printed musical copies which were sold cheaply and in great numbers through to the 19th century.

Most of the instruments used by British brass bands had existed for some time but they only became a mass activity in the 1840/50s out of village, church and military bands. For many these brass bands were an expression of the local solidarity and their newly formed and often rapidly growing communities.

This developed as a result of a steady increase in the number of households with enough surplus cash to purchase musical instruments and instruction in music and with the leisure time and cultural motivation to engage in recreational music-making. This high point of the parlor song came in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a distinction arose between ‘art music’ and ‘popular music’, even if it was not expressed exactly in those terms.

The increase in urban populations and the rise of the bourgeoisie brought a need for public demonstrations of social standing, since it was no longer common knowledge who was important. Attending concerts was, among other things, a means of displaying status.  What for a working-class audience might be down-to-earth, plain-speaking and funny – for the bourgeois audience might appear as rude, vulgar, and silly! Perhaps this is why inversion was common in popular form – for example, lust not love, crudity not politeness, degradation not sublimity, materiality not spirituality.

For the middle class, culture was in itself instructive but first required that people be instructed in it; hence the didactic character of attempts to encourage working-class ‘appreciation’ of music. The People’s Concert Society, founded in 1878, was an amateur organization dedicated to making high-status music known among the London poor. The Society began Sunday concerts of chamber music in South Place, Moorgate, in 1887. From the succeeding year, admission was free, or a voluntary contribution could be made, and attendance was good.

The British Brass Band Movement, in the second half of the century, was another example of ‘rational recreation’, with the willingness of factory owners to sponsor works bands. These bands had their roots in the industrial North, but the steel, ironworks and shipping companies of east London also had bands in the 1860s. Some of the difficulties and distractions facing London bands compared to bands further north have been discussed by Dave Russell. Huge annual contests were held at the Crystal Palace during 1860-63. The first of these, a two-day event with entrance prices of 2s 6d for the first and 1s for the second day, attracted an audience of 29,000. The test pieces for the contests at the Crystal Palace placed an emphasis on high-status music: selections from Meyerbeer’s grand operas were the favourite choices, as at the Belle Vue contests in Manchester that same decade.

The labouring poor may have been sung about and even felt to be understood in certain socially-concerned drawing-room ballads, but their lives often lay outside the experience of those who sang the ballads. Antoinette Sterling, who so movingly sang ‘Three Fishers Went Sailing’, confessed that not only had she no experience of storms at sea, but ‘had never even seen fishermen’. Actual acquaintance with fishermen was undoubtedly unnecessary, since the subject position such ballads addressed was that of the middle class.

So we have now had a glance of both sides of the water in the years as music met with the changing needs and attitudes.
Our story, though, was born as being from ‘Ragtime to Rock ‘n’ Roll’. That arrives next week – on Wednesday 25th April 2018.   Please be there!

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The aftermath of Marlene Dietrich’s life

It was on Saturday 6th May 1992 that Marlene Dietrich died of renal failure at her flat in Paris – she was 90.  Her funeral ceremony was conducted at La Madeleine in Paris, a Roman Catholic Church on Sunday 14th May 1992 and her funeral service was attended by approximately 1,500 mourners in the church itself—including several ambassadors from Germany, Russia, the US, the UK and other countries—with thousands more outside. It was rather a surprise, therefore, when the U.S. institutions showed no interest at all in Marlene’s estate.  Germany was different: the Deutsche Kinemathek had officially opened in February 1963 with Gerhard Lamprecht as its founding director. Over the following decades he had meticulously put together an extensive collection of films, documents and equipment. The City State of Berlin had acquired this collection and then handed it over to the new institution for its preservation and use.

It must be remembered that Marlene was German by birth and, on Sunday 24th October 1993, the largest portion of her estate was sold to Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek – and that very soon became the core of the exhibition at Filmmuseum Berlin.

Marlene’s collection included some 3,000 textile items from the 1920s to the 1990s, including film and stage costumes as well as over a thousand items from Marlene’s personal wardrobe.  There was also a photograph collection containing some 15,000 photographs from various sources including Cecil Beaton and Lord Snowdon.  There were also 300,000 or so pages of documents with correspondence from such individuals as Yul Brynner / Orson Wells / Nancy & Ronald Reagan / Ernest Hemingway and Burt Bacharach.

Separate to this there was Marlene’s Manhattan apartment along with her personal effects.  The personal items – such as jewellery and items of clothing were sold by public auction at Sotheby’s in Los Angeles on Saturday 1st November 1997.  Her former apartment at 993 Park Avenue, Manhattan was sold for $615,000 in 1998.

In 1992 a plaque was unveiled at Leberstrase 65 in Berlin-Schöneberg, the site of Marlene’s birth and on Thursday 14th August 1997 a postage stamp bearing her portrait was issued in Germany.

Glamorous star of the cinema screen, idolised vamp and charismatic diva – Marlene Dietrich was one of the most captivating women of the 20th century. In spite of her fame, star-performer’s salary and brilliant Hollywood career, the “Blue Angel” always remained true to her ideals and lived according to her own code of conduct, which not only made her perhaps the most uncompromising star of her era, but also a role model for all women who believe in realizing their visions.

Marlene Dietrich in Australia

Marlene was a great traveller in the 1960s & 70s.  She was settled in England but in 1963 she also visited and performed in Monaco; Belgium; Spain; Germany; Mexico; various states in the USA; Stockholm as well as the Royal Albert Hall & the Prince of Wales Theatre in England.  This traveling would continue until the mid-1970s.  Her first visit to Australia was in 1965 where Marlene was at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre from the 7th to 23rd October before moving on to Sydney’s Theatre Royal from 28th October to 13th November.

It was three years later, in March 1968, that she returned to Australia and her arrival for a Festival was front page news, particularly when she was accused of slapping a television reporter!

Her first visit, though, was to the Adelaide Teachers College Theatre, Adelaide on 8th March where she appeared before an adoring audience at the Adelaide Teachers College Theatre.  The next day Jeff Turner of The News reported that Marlene was: ‘Magnificent in yards of fur and a shimmering form-hugging gown, she sang about love, about war. She sang old songs and new songs. And the audience did exactly as she wanted.’

She was still in Adelaide from 18th to 21st March before moving to the major performance that was to be at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne on Friday 23rd March.  The 1968 Festival was programmed by a committee of six officials and, while Marlene Dietrich was indisputably the Festival’s star attraction, other highlights included the Jerusalem Chamber Orchestra; the Salzburg Marionette Theatre; a performance of Mahler’s Eighth symphony by the combined South Australian and Melbourne symphony orchestras; opera singers Marie Collier and Tito Gobbi, and Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band!

The press of the time records: ‘the Hollywood screen legend Marlene Dietrich, performing songs which are musically arranged by Burt Bacharach, musical direction and orchestra directed by William Blezard, lighting devised by Joe Davis – performances by arrangement with Aztec Services Pty. Ltd. (Kenn Brodziak – Managing Director) and the 1968 Adelaide Festival of Arts, support act: Twiliters.’

It was seven years later, in September 1975, that Marlene made her third Australian visit.  From September 1st to 13th she was at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne.  She then moved on to the Canberra Theatre in Canberra for the 16th to 18th September.

Her final performances were at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Sydney.  The schedule was for a run from 22nd September to 4th October 1975.  Unfortunately Marlene’s career largely ended on 29th September 1975, when she fell off the stage and broke her thigh.

She would perform publicly no more.  To add more to her troubles – the following year, on 24th June 1976 her husband, Rudolf Sieber, died of cancer.

Marlene’s final on-camera film appearance was a cameo role in the 1979 film ‘Just a Gigolo’ which starred David Bowie and was directed by David Hemmings, in which she sang the title song.

It was nice to see you Marlene

On the late morning of Tuesday 27th February 2018 (yesterday) I was scanning through my weekend magazine to see what was on.  On page 55 I found that, at 12.35pm in their Film 4 program on Freeview 15; Freesat 300; Sky 315 & Virgin 428 (HD429) was a 1939 film – ‘Destry Rides Again’.  The star, playing the sheriff, was James Stewart that ‘makes an enemy, later a friend, in the shape of a sultry saloon singer’.  No mention was made of the real name of that woman but I knew who she was – I had written about her in my posting earlier this month.  It was Marlene Dietrich!

I wonder if I could make this a valid excuse to sit at home and watch more films!

The War was over and Marlene moved on

After the 2nd World War things began to change for so many people.  Marlene was one of them! In 1953 she was offered $30,000 per week to appear live at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas.  The show was short and mainly consisting of a few songs associated with Marlene and her daringly sheer “nude dress” – a heavily beaded evening gown of silk soufflé that gave an illusion of transparency.  Surprise Surprise – it attracted a lot of publicity!  One of these ‘attractions’ led to her being signed to appear at the Café de Paris in London the following year.  She also had her Las Vegas contracts renewed.   From that point forward to the mid-1970s she was a highly paid cabaret artist, performing live in large theatres in major cities world-wide.

Marlene employed Burt Bacharach as her musical arranger starting in the mid-1950s; together, they refined her nightclub act into a more ambitious theatrical one-woman show with an expanded repertoire. Her repertoire included songs from her films as well as popular songs of the day. Bacharach’s arrangements helped to disguise her limited vocal range – she was a contralto – and allowed her to perform her songs to maximum dramatic effect.

Francis Wyndham offered a critical appraisal of the phenomenon of ‘Dietrich in Concert’ when he wrote in 1964: “What she does is neither difficult nor diverting, but the fact that she does it at all fills the onlookers with wonder … It takes two to make a conjuring trick: the illusionist’s sleight of hand and the stooge’s desire to be deceived. To these necessary elements (her own technical competence and her audience’s sentimentality) Marlene Dietrich adds a third—the mysterious force of her belief in her own magic. Those who find themselves unable to share this belief tend to blame themselves rather than her.”

At this time Burt Bacharach felt he needed to devote his full-time to song writing. Together, they recorded four albums and several singles between 1957 and 1964.  However – Marlene had come to rely on him in order to perform and, in a TV interview in 1971 she credited Bert Bacharach with giving her the “inspiration” to perform during those years. She said:-

‘From that fateful day on, I have worked like a robot, trying to recapture the wonderful woman he helped make out of me. I even succeeded in this effort for years because I always thought of him, always longed for him, always looked for him in the wings, and always fought against self-pity…  He had become so indispensable to me that, without him, I no longer took much joy in singing. When he left me, I felt like giving everything up. I had lost my director, my support, my teacher, my maestro.’

In November 1972 a version of Marlene’s Broadway show ‘An Evening with Marlene Dietrich’ was filmed in London.  It was titled ‘I Wish You Love’ and Marlene as paid $250,000 for her co-operation but she was unhappy with the result. Non-the-less the show must go on and in January 1973 it was broadcast on the BBC in the UK and on CBS in the US.
Continue reading The War was over and Marlene moved on

Valentine day with a difference

 

As I write this I am aware that Valentine’s Day is close at hand – well tomorrow as I write and today when you see it!.  What should I – must I – do on that special day?  I’ve been checking and have come across the cutting from the ‘Mainichi Daily News’.  On a page I found a story that may be fun – its headline are ‘Valentine’s Chocolate has various meanings’. I had to be intrigued so I bought a copy of the paper.

Oh – did I tell you where I found this?  The newspaper is the ‘Mainichi Daily News’; it was – and far as I am aware still is – published in Tokyo and Osaka – and I bought it there on Tuesday 11th February 1986.

The story – on this page – starts with a 13 year old girl called Fumiko who explains: ‘There was this boy that I really liked, but I was too shy to talk to him.  When Valentine’s Day came, I presented him with a homemade chocolate heart.  He said he didn’t want it and gave it back on the spot.”  All over the world, Valentine’s Day gives people the chance to say “I love you”.  Here in Japan it also gives you the chance, if you’re a high school boy, to say “get lost”!

The newspaper in 1986 says: ‘Valentine’s Day in Japan is a strange institution.  It was introduced into the country in the 1960s by confectionery companies, as a means of boosting chocolate sales.  In that respect it has been a resounding success. Unlike other countries where cards and miscellaneous gifts change hands, chocolate is firmly established here as the standard token of love.’

Later on in the newspaper we have: ‘This can lead to such heart-breaking refusals as Fumiko’s.  On the other hand, it does vastly increase the institution’s efficiency as a way of getting teenagers together.  For while the British are scurrying around trying to work out who sent the card, and whether it was meant seriously or not, the Japanese system in its purest form is a perfect matchmaker.’

Let’s now let’s us move forward to 2018 and there we find a strong tradition of women giving chocolates to men on Valentines Day. There are two types of chocolates, “Giri-choco” (obligation chocolate), and “Honmei-choco”.

Giri-choco is meant to be for friends, colleagues, bosses, and close male friends. “Giri” means obligation hence this Giri-choco has no romance involved. On the other hand, Honmei-choco is given to a boyfriend, lover, or husband with true love.

Japanese women often prepare the Honmei-choco by themselves as many of them think it is not true love if they just buy the readymade chocolate at shops. You will start seeing large displays of chocolate, often heart-shaped in department stores and grocery stores from mid-January. Days before the Valentine’s Day, stores get packed with a large variety of chocolates, the cooking tools, and women!

What is more unique in Japan is that there exists a “White Day” which takes place on 14th March – exactly one month after Valentine’s Day. On White Day men are supposed to give return gifts to women who gifted them chocolates on Valentine’s Day. More often the colour of the chocolate is white because of the name of the day. Flowers, candies and other gifts are also popular along with the chocolates. Again, department stores have many advanced reminders with gift displays so men will have no excuse to forget about this special day which is important for women.

 

Some February Traditions, Celebrations & Superstitions

February was, for the Romans, the month of atonement and purification, the time to regret sins and put things right.  Purification is also the concept in the Christian festival of Candlemas – the fortieth day after the birth of Christ and known as the ‘Presentation of Christ in the Temple’.  As such it was the day on which the purification of the mother and the presentation of the son should occur.

Other traditions and celebrations followed as the years went on and they spawned superstitions – things and activities that took on an increased importance.  In Britain February is also a time when the weather plays strange ‘tricks’ – confusing animals and plants alike. As both are instinctively influenced by nature the actions of plants & birds & flowers were seen as foretellers of the future – and this generated a whole range of traditions and superstitions as we have today.

The earliest reference to the festival we call Candlemas is in the late 4th century when a pilgrim to Jerusalem celebrated it on February 14th – 40 days after Epiphany (then celebrated as Christ’s birthday).  After December 25th was fixed as Christ’s birthday the emperor Justinian I decreed that the Presentation should be moved to February 2nd – 40 days after Christmas.  By the middle of the 5th century the custom of observing the festival with lighted candles had been introduced and the name Candlemas developed from this custom.  In the East it is primarily a festival of Christ; in the West it was primarily a celebration of the Virgin Mary until the calendar reform of 1969.

Until the tradition of Twelfth Night was established Candlemas Day was also regarded as the end of the Christmas season – and the time to take down Christmas decorations.  It was considered crucial that every last vestige of Christmas decoration was cleared from churches as traces of berries, holly and so forth would bring death among the congregation before another year was out.

Let’s now have a look at the above from a different slant – Weather forecasting! Superstitions grew across Britain with regard to our weather happening. At the time we are talking now we have the following:

“If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, Winter will have another flight; but it be dark with clouds and rain; Winter is gone, and will not come again.”

 

Robert Burns – the Scottish Poet

‘Robert Burns, the Scottish poet, first saw the light on this day, the 25th January 1759, in a small cottage by the wayside near the Bridge of Doon, two miles from Ayr.  A wonderful destiny was that of the peasant’s babe born that day – a life of toil, imprudence, poverty, closed in early death, but to be followed by an afflatus of popular admiration and sympathy such as never before nor since attended a literary name in any country.  The strains of Burns touch all hearts.  He has put words together, as scarcely any writer ever did before him.  His name has become a stenograph for a whole system of nation feeling and predilections.’

So wrote the original Chambers Book of Days in 1864.  What can we add to this?  Perhaps the descriptions in the 2004 publications will serve us:-

‘The birthday of Robert Burns (1759-96) on 25 January is celebrated by people of Scottish descent all over the world.  The central attraction of the Burns Night festivities is a traditional Burns Supper of haggis – a dish made of the heart, lungs and liver of a sheep or calf, chopped up with suet, onions and oatmeal – and traditionally boiled in a sheep’s stomach-bag.  It is then served with tatties and neeps – potatoes and mashed swede.

The meal begins with the ‘Selkirk Grace’ and a short rhyme of an unknown author:  Some hae meat and canna eat; And some wad eat that want it; But we hae meat and we can eat`, And sae the Lord be thank it.

The company then stand to ‘receive the haggis’ as it is ceremoniously piped into the room and set down in front of the chief guest, who the recites Burn’s poem of 1786 –    ‘To a Haggis’:-  Fair fa’ your honest, consie face, Great Chieftain o’ the Puddin-race!  Aboon them a’ ye tak your place, Painch, tripe, or thairm: Weel are ye wordy of a grace as lang’s my arm.

This is, of course, just a touch of the whole event but – unless you have the right credentials – I’m afraid that I cannot tell you anymore!

 

A New Year begins

Hello all – I hope you have had a good Christmas and that 2018 will deliver everything you wish for – well, quite a lot of what you wish for, we mustn’t be too greedy!

Today is the first day of a New Year – a year that will, one hopes, deliver new work; new challenges – and that long standing beliefs will become truths. As far as my life is concerned many of these beliefs go back to happenings long ago.  Over the past few weeks I have been recalling the past and looking forward to the future.  Often these thoughts caused me to think – ‘was that a real happenings or am I just remembering things?‘

I have always lived and worked in England so – did I really go to Detroit and then on to Toronto in the 1970s at my boss’s request – and money?  Did a different company & boss take me to Las Vegas and San Francisco – and what about my 8 day in Japan for yet another company?  My life has had so many events and changes.

At this time of the year in Britain there are many things that I wish I had done but never have – and never will.  A friend of mine enjoyed one of these wishes and who knows – you may have the chance.   This is the story he told to me:

‘I walked along the High Street at Stonehaven in Scotland at Midnight on New Year Night to watch the Ancient Fireballs Ceremony. I had been told that, for over 150 years, at the stroke of midnight, the High Street would be lit up as sixty or so local fireball-swingers make their way through their town, swinging their fireballs above their heads.

It looked dangerous but the fireballs were, I was told, very safely packed in wire cages and attached to strong, five-foot-long wire ropes. The balls are made of combustible and oily waste matter, (rags, twigs, cones, bits of coal), soaked in paraffin and are held together in a case of wire mesh. The ‘balls’ are made as heavy as each ‘swinger’ feels they can handle – anything from 5 to 15 pounds. Some balls can be 3 feet in diameter and, in the past, have been recorded to burn for 2 hours but now they only last for 20 minutes maximum: – Health & Safety rules must be followed you know!

For the parade, the swingers, all of whom must reside in the Burgh, marched down the High Street to the accompaniment of Pipes and Drums from the Mercat Cross to the Police Station, swinging the flaming balls around their heads. After the ‘fireball swingers’ have proceeded through the town they go down to the harbour where the balls are then thrown into the sea.

I was told that the ceremony dates from a fishermen’s festival in the 19th century but that the torch processions go back to before Christianity arrived in Scotland and that there is a number of theories about the significance of the festival.  Some say that it coincides with the winter solstice and the swinging fireballs relate to the recall of the sun but others follow the pre-Christian theory in that the fireballs are to purify the world by consuming evil and warding off witches and evil spirits.

From The Weekly Telegraph 1905

I must admit that I do not know the actual source of the following but it is from a very reliable friend of mine who ‘published’ it in our Family History magazine quite some time ago.

Issue no. 2272 – Estab. 1862      Saturday 28th October 1905     Postage One Penny

                                                               Deceased Wife’s Sister
He: “I can’t understand why an Englishman always wants to marry his deceased wife’s sister”

She:  “Why? I should have thought anyone could see.  It saves him the bother of breaking in a new mother-in-law.”