Category Archives: English pop songs

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’.

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Jo Douglas and Six-Five Special

An hour or so ago I was reminding ‘us of a certain age’ some music of 13th July.  This piece, though, touches the downside of my music recall.

It was on Wednesday 13th July 1988 that Josephine Douglas died.  Again there will be readers who ask ‘Who’s she?’.  But others of a certain age will remember her as the deviser, producer and co-presenter of ‘Six-Five Special’ on Saturday evening BBC TV. Without the aid of synthesisers, strobe lights, multi-track tapes, mime, colour and all the dressings of modern pop music ‘Jo’, as she was known, planted rock’n’roll firmly in the laps of people like me. With co-presenter Pete Murray she made the BBC very much aware of the fact that teenagers did exist – and could become avid watchers of programmes for them. The BBC may have been aware but it appears not to have listened. Despite its success the ‘Six-Five Special’ only ran from 16th February 1957 to 27th December 1958.  Other popular music programmes took its place but us of a certain era missed Jo on our TV screens and even more on her departure on this day in 1988.

A last look at my box of records

One last look into my box of records – and the first story I found this time was a number of 45s and LPs of Duane Eddy.  In fact – in a second look these cover virtually everything of Duane’s from Rebel Rouser forward.  To balance it out – or maybe distort the collection – is Charlie Drake’s version of ‘Splish Splash’ – Bobby Darin’s version had not appealed to me and my parents and any way, we had seen Charlie Drake in person – well ‘on-stage’ actually.

His ‘Dream Lover’ did, though, and as a result I got to see both Eddy and Darin in London during their 1960 tour.  Stage presence was not a strong point of Duane’s performance.  He just stood there and played – and the theatre crowd loved it.

The second half was Bobby Darin – and he sat at the piano and we had minimal performance but a distinct presence.  There was a nod toward rock with ‘Splish Splash; an outstanding ‘Dream Lover’ and then his new genre of swing-style ‘Mack the Knife’ followed by ‘Beyond the Sea’, ‘Clementine’ and a few more that I didn’t write down!

However, not everyone appreciated the change; it was not quite the ‘rock ‘n’ roll we expected.  However – he recognised the challenge, and thanked the audience for their requests, but if they didn’t mind he would stay on the stage and carry on singing!

Now – what else is there in my box that brings back memories?  Ah, a clutch of Billy Fury records.  Now there was a performer.

A part of the Larry Parnes collection of British performers toured Britain at the end of the 1950s and into the 60s.  We were on a Youth Club day trip to Great Yarmouth – primarily to see the evening performance of our idols.  We were on the Britannia Pier where Billy and Marty Wilde, Adam Faith, Joe Brown and the like could walk unmolested down the sea front between performances.  One such stroll killed all the passion for them as far as the girls were concerned when one of them said: “Look – they’ve got make-up in their ears!”

A more local venue for the travelling show as far as we were concerned was the Broadway Cinema in Letchworth, Herts.  Here they were regular visitors – and so were we – and it was one night in 1960 when I first heard Billy Fury sing ‘Wondrous Place’.

The stage curtains were drawn across.  The front of the stage was empty and the lights were dimmed – then, from one side there appeared the slight figure of Billy in a soft spotlight to provide a breath taking performance of his new record to a packed auditorium where you could have heard a pin drop.  It peaked at 25 in the pop-charts – why it never made number 1 I’ll never know but it still sends shivers down my spine – in fact it just has because I listened to it on You Tube!

I think this is all for now.  Now you know what my memories box is all about.  Do you have one?  If you do we’d love to hear about it.

More from my box of records

Let’s pick up from where we were last Saturday – with US funny man called Stan Freberg.  As I said – he’s in my box twice. The ‘British’ disc has Lonnie Donegan’s ‘Rock Island Line’ on one side and the take on Mr Presley’s ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ on the other.

Well – in the summer of 1956 I went on a holiday camp holiday with my parents – probably Butlin’s at Clacton. There Butlin’s provided their typical on-camp entertainments of the time and every evening Red Coats performed to Stan Freberg’s fantastic version of ‘Rock Island Line’.  But they also did the other side of their disc – Harry Belafonte’s then very popular ‘Banana Boat Song’.  As I write this I can still recall situations from both pieces – particularly from the Banana Boat when the ‘Belafonte’ character was singing and when he sang: A beautiful bunch a’ripe banana, Hide thee deadly black tarantula he stepped away saying, very clearly, ‘I don’t do Spiders’.

Be it Rock ‘n’ Roll, Skiffle or Calypso Stan Freberg certainly had his finger on the pulse of 1950s pop music.

At this time, opportunities to see the new and the great performers in the flesh were rare for teenagers like me in rural Cambridgeshire.  However – there is one ‘live’ performer that sticks in my memory box.  Many of his disks remain safe and secure in my boxes and his performances in real life are still embedded in my memory box.

Who is this individual?  Well, if you are of my sort of age, records such as ‘Be Bop a Lula’, ‘Blue Jean Bop’ and ‘Pistol Packin’ Mama’ may help.

It’s Gene Vincent – an archetypal rocker who moved to England in the late 1950s and toured small halls across the country.  One of these small halls was that of the canteen of the Kayser Bondor factory in Baldock, Hertfordshire.  It was used for regular dances and ‘not quite’ performers.  Sad to say Gene was one of those but when I was sitting on the edge of the low stage while the black leather clad rock icon performed, at times inches from me, and once standing on my fingers, is another lasting memory.

The Bondor factory ceased production in 1983 and was redeveloped by Tesco as a Superstore. The original façade remains but the factory has ‘gone’.  I wonder how many of today’s ‘visitors’ realise that they are in the land of Gene Vincent!

Anyway – I’ll call it a day here and come back next Saturday – same time, same place – with the third part of what’s in my ‘Memories Box’.

My box of records

‘Do you really need to keep this box with all these records?’  The challenge so many of a certain age dread.

‘Of course I do.  They will be worth money in years to come.’  It’s a standard answer, but it cuts little ice.  Perhaps I should give the real reason – my teenage years are kept safe in this box.  Well, actually there are some other boxes around as well.  All full with 45rpm singles and EPs and LPs – oh – and some 78s!

Flipping through the contents the memories come flooding back.

There are all Elvis’ HMV releases here – starting with the May 1956 release of ‘Heartbreak Hotel’.  Also here is the HMV 10” compilation LP that describes it as ‘that blues tinged opus in agony’.  For me these are still ‘real’ Elvis.

Matching these are the full set of singles from Buddy Holly and the Crickets – starting with ‘That’ll be the day’, the distinctive black Coral label with the push-out triangular centre still there – now held in place by some ancient white glue.

There’s Lonnie Donegan’s Decca EP, released while he was still with Chris Barber’s Jazz Band.  While the band had a break, Donegan and two/three of the band had jammed in a folksy style that leant on American Blues.  ‘Digging my Potatoes’ is typical of this cross-over and, as far as I can remember, was banned by the BBC because of its double entendre!  It was through these breaks that Skiffle was born – and Lonnie Donegan was the name that everyone remembered.

However – there are others here in my memory box.  Nancy Whiskey – the only female vocalist to make a break through – fronting Chas McDevitt’s skiffle group with ‘Freight Train’; Wally Wyton – later to become a fixture on the radio – and the Vipers with ‘Don’t You Rock Me Daddy-O’ and ‘Streamline Train’.  Donegan had the bigger hit with ‘Daddy-O’ but I preferred the Vipers’ version.

The track, though, that made Donegan’s name was the US Country style ‘Rock Island Line’ that was released by Decca Records in January 1956.  While it made Donegan’s name it did not make him his fortune.  He was paid a flat recording fee – I believe it was £25!  The track was also released in the US – and it made the charts there as well.

There was, perhaps, another – unexpected – step in the popular success of ‘Rock Island Line’ and Lonnie Donegan himself; and that was a US funny man called Stan Freberg.  He’s in my box as well – well actually twice.  I have two disks with Stan’s fantastic version of ‘Rock Island Line’.  On the other side of one – the US version – is a take on Harry Belafonte’s ‘Banana Boat Song’.  The ‘British’ disc has Lonnie on one side but he has to put up with a take on Mr Presley’s ‘Heartbreak Hotel’.  What a mix!

I think this is enough for today.  We’ll have another dip in my Records Box same day next week.

However – were you of this era?  Are my memories the same as yours?  If you & they are – why not let me know?

You can post your memories here or to my e-mail address of talkinghistory@msn.com