Category Archives: history

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.

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Ragtime begins to change our music

Ragtime became central to the development of jazz in both America and Britain around the turn of the century.  The term ‘ragtime’ comes from the syncopated or ‘ragged’ rhythm and had its origins in the African-American communities in cities such as St. Louis. One of the first pioneers and composers of ragtime was Ernest Hogan. He was the first composer to have his ragtime pieces (or “rags”) published as sheet music, beginning with the song “LA Pas Ma LA” published in 1895.  More important, though, could be the fact that he has been credited for coining the term ragtime.  Ben Harney, another Kentucky native, has often been credited for introducing the music to the mainstream public. His first ragtime composition, “You’ve Been a Good Old Wagon but You Done Broke Down”, helped popularize the style. However – the composition was published in 1895, a few months after Ernest Hogan.

Nun-the-less – it is neither of these that keep Ragtime in our memory.  That composer is Scott Joplin who became famous through the publication of the “Maple Leaf Rag” in 1899 and was followed by “The Entertainer” in 1902.  Despite this Scott, and many others of the time, were later forgotten by all but a small, dedicated community of ragtime aficionados.  It was not until a major ragtime revival in the early 1970s that brought them to the fore.

So what’s happening in Britain at this time?  Well – not too much with regard to day-to-day music it would appear.  Many of the earliest parlour songs were transcriptions for voice and keyboard of other music.  Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies, for instance, were traditional “folk” tunes with new lyrics by Moore.  Many arias from Italian operas, particularly those of Bellini and Donizetti, had become parlour songs, with texts either translated or replaced by new lyrics. Various other genres were also performed in the parlour, including patriotic selections, religious songs, and pieces written for the musical stage.  However – excerpts from blackface minstrels, arranged for voice and keyboard, were particularly popular.  Also we we have a handful of the better-known songs, such as Schubert’s “Serenade”, that became part of the parlour repertory. Lyrics written for parlour songs often have sentimental themes, such as love songs or poetic meditations.  We’ll come to these at a later time.

However – the following has been tracked down as being the top 10 pieces in 1901 to 1910. Starting at 10th best – and heading to number one – we have:

Arthur Collins (1902) we have ‘Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home’.

Harry MacDonough with Miss Walton (1909)‘Shine on Harvest Moon’.

Hayden Quartet (1903) ‘In the Good Old Summer Time’.

Bill Murray in 1905 ‘Yankee Doodle Boy’.

Billy Murray (1904) ‘Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis’.

Byron Harlan (1907) ‘School Days (When We Were a Couple of Kids)’.

Bill Murray (1905) ‘Give my Regards to Broadway’

Hayden Quartet (1908) ‘Take me out to the ball game’.

Hayden Quartet (1904) ‘Sweet Adeline (You’re the Flower of My Heart)’.

And at number one for the years 1901 to 1910 we have:

Bill Murray (1906) ‘You’re a Grand Old Flag (aka ‘The Grand Old Rag’)’.

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!

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.

In England and fancy a day out this Saturday, 6th January 2018?

It is Haxey Hood day – the day when a part of the Isle of Axholme goes a bit crazy for the afternoon to mark one of England’s oldest traditions.  Where is it? It’s in North Lincolnshire – the only part of Lincolnshire west of the River Trent – and between the three towns of Doncaster, Scunthorpe and Gainsborough.

There in the Isle of Axholme goes one of England’s oldest traditions. Regulars from four pubs will be going head to head in a marathon battle to get the famed Hood into their favoured watering hole in the latest staging of the traditional contest which has been running for more than 700 years.

The official story is that in the 14th century, Lady de Mowbray, wife of Isle landowner, John De Mowbray, was out riding towards Westwoodside on the hill that separates it from Haxey. As she went over the hill her silk riding hood was blown away by the wind. Thirteen farm workers in the field rushed to help and chased the hood all over the field. It was finally caught by one of the farm workers, but being too shy to hand it back to the lady, he gave it to one of the others to hand back to her. She thanked the farm worker who had returned the hood and said that he had acted like a Lord, whereas the worker who had actually caught the hood was a Fool. So amused was she by this act of chivalry and the resulting chase, that she donated 13 acres of land on condition that the chase for the hood would be re-enacted each year.

If you can get there this year, or want plan for a visit next year, or want to arrange a similar event for your community, here’s 21 things you might like to know about the Haxey Hood!

  1. The contest is always held on the Twelfth Day of Christmas – January 6, unless the date falls on Sunday when it’s held on January 5.
  2. The rugby style scrum is officially called The Sway.
  3. The hood is actually a cylindrical piece of leather.
  4. Four pubs compete – The Loco, Duke William and the King’s Arms in Haxey and the Carpenters Arms in Westwoodside.
  5. The nobles mentioned in the story did exist. Records show that John De Mowbray (29 November 1310 – 4 October 1361), the 3rd Baron Mowbray of Axholme, would be the most likely candidate for the husband of the lady. {If you can’t get one of these I’m sure someone will improvise}
  6. The Hood is thought to date from about 1359. {I’m sure someone could make a hood to suit.}
  7. It has similarities to other village combats, such as Ashbourne’s Royal Shrovetide Football, the Shrove Tuesday Football Games in Sedgefield, Durham and Alnwick, Northumberland and the Hallaton Bottle Kicking contest in Leicestershire. {Gives you a valid excuse to do your own event.}
  8. There is speculation regarding the hood having originally been the head or penis of a sacrificial animal used in a fertility ritual is just that. {I guess that it could be replicated.}
  9. The songs sung ahead of the contest in the pubs are well-known folk songs including ‘John Barleycorn’, ‘Cannons (Drink England Dry)’ and ‘The Farmer’s Boy’.
  10. The red-coated overseer of proceedings is the Lord of The Hood. He is assisted by the Chief Boggin, ten other Boggins and the Fool.
  11. The Fool leads the procession between pubs and has the right to kiss any woman on the way.
  12. Once at the green in front of the Parish Church, the Fool makes his traditional speech of welcome at around 2.30pm standing on an old mounting block in front of the church known as the Mowbray Stone.
  13. During this speech a fire is lit with damp straw behind him. The smoke rises up and around him and this is known as ‘Smoking the Fool’.
  14. This is a watered-down version of the earlier custom in which a more substantial fire was lit with damp straw beneath a tree. The Fool was then suspended over the fire and swung back and forth until he was almost suffocated before being cut down and dropped into the fire, where he had to make his escape as best he could.
  15. At the end of the speech, the Fool finishes with the traditional words that the crowd chant along with him. They are: “hoose agen hoose, toon agen toon, if a man meets a man knock ‘im doon, but doan’t ‘ot ‘im,” which translates as: “house against house, town against town, if a man meets a man, knock him down but don’t hurt him.”
  16. The Lord also carries his wand of office. This is a staff made from twelve willow wands with one more upside down in the centre. These are bound thirteen times with willow twigs and a red ribbon at the top. The thirteen willow wands are supposed to represent the twelve apostles and the upside down one represents Judas.
  17. Proceedings start at 3pm with the throwing of twelve Sack Hoods. These are rolled hessian sacks, a prequel to the main game, mainly for children.
  18. The Hood, which cannot be thrown or run with, is moved slowly by ‘swaying’, that is pushing and pulling the Hood and people within the ‘Sway’ toward the direction of their pub.
  19. Nobody parks on the roads where the Sway may go, and for good reason. In 2002, a couple of drivers parked opposite the Duke William. The Sway headed right for them and pushed one of the cars 10 feet down the road and into the other.
  20. The game ends when the Hood arrives at one of the pubs and is touched by the landlord from his front step. The landlord then takes charge of the Hood for the year, and is supposed to give everyone a free drink. The winning pub pours beer over the Hood and then hangs it behind the bar (each pub has two hooks especially for this purpose).
  21. Last year’s winner was the King’s Arms, the first time the pub had won since 2014.

Let me know if you go and enjoy or if set about replicating it in your community,  I’m happily post the fact! 

Not in the UK and our history?  No problem – I’m sure that there are similar opportunities to put on a similar event.  If you do have a go I’m happy to post the fact!

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.

What Guy Fawkes could have done!

I just can’t leave the following alone.  It was in the ‘Daily Mail’ of Saturday 28th October 2017 in their ‘Weekend Magazine’ supplement.  It reads:

‘If Guy Fawkes had managed to blow up Parliament on this day – Saturday 5th November 1605 – it has been calculated that the 5,500lbs of gunpowder would have also destroyed everything within a 500-metre radius – and that that would have included Westminster Abbey!’

 

Today is Hallowe’en – day or night

My most recent version of Chamber’s Book of Days [2004] tells us that:
This is All-Hallows Eve, better known as Hallowe’en, when witches fly abroad and ghosts, fairies, evil spirits and other supernatural beings are at their most active.  The traditional beliefs and practices of Hallowe’en may be connected in origin with the rituals performed during the night before Samhain.

The 1864 edition of Chambers said:
Great fun goes on in watching the attempts of the youngster in the pursuit of the swimming fruit, which wriggles from side to side of the tub, and evades all attempts to capture it; whilst the disappointed aspirant is obliged to abandon the chase in favour of another whose turn has now arrived.  The apples provided with stalks are generally caught first, and then comes the tug of war to win those which possess no such appendages.  Some competitors will deftly suck up the apple, if a small one, into their mouths.  Others plunge manfully overhead in pursuit of a particular apple, and having forced it to the bottom of the tub, seize it firmly with their teeth, and emerge, dripping and triumphant, with their prize.

So – what is the ‘real’ story?

The last night of October; Old Year’s Night in the Celtic calendar; was a night of witches and fires that was changed by the Church into the vigil of All Saints’ or Hallowe’en.

‘Teanlas’ or ‘tinley’ fires would glow on northern hills on All Souls’ Eve, symbolising the ascent to heaven of souls in purgatory. It was only the introduction of farming enclosures, when bushes were grubbed up, that put an end to the small ‘tindles’, lighted in the furze of Derbyshire commons.

In one Lancashire field, called Purgatory by the old folk, men stood in a circle to throw forkfuls of burning straw high in the air on the night breeze, and all present fell to their knees praying for the souls of the departed. More prosaically – some farmers maintained that the procedure was useful against weed ‘darnel’.

Samhain is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the “darker half” of the year.  The Celtic day began and ended at sunset so it was traditionally celebrated through the 31st October to 1st November – a time that is about halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice.

That’s it – there’s nothing for me to add apart from just saying:

HAVE A GREAT TIME ON THIS HALLOWE’EN

Tomorrow – 31st October – is Hallowe’en. So – what is that all about?

The origin of the festival is disputed, and there are both pagan and Christian practices that have evolved into what Hallowe’en is like today.  Some believe it originates from the Celtic pagan festival of Samhain, meaning ‘Summer’s End’ which celebrated the end of the harvest season.

Gaels believed that it was a time when the walls between our world and the next became thin and porous, allowing spirits to pass through, come back to life on the day and damage their crops. Places were set at the dinner table to appease and welcome the spirits. Gaels would also offer food and drink, and light bonfires to ward off the evil spirits.

The origins of trick or treating and dressing up were in the 16th century in Ireland, Scotland and Wales where people went door-to-door in costume asking for food in exchange for a poem or song. Many dressed up as souls of the dead and were understood to be protecting themselves from the spirits by impersonating them.

The Christian origin of the holiday is that it falls on the days before the feast of All Hallows, which was set in the eighth century to attempt to stamp out pagan celebrations. Christians would honour saints and pray for souls who have not yet reached heaven.

Celts dressed up in white with blackened faces during the festival of Samhain to trick the evil spirits that they believed would be roaming the earth before All Saints’ Day on November 1st.

By the 11th century, this had been adapted by the Church into a tradition called ‘souling’, which is seen as being the origin of trick-or-treating. Children go door-to-door, asking for soul cakes in exchange for praying for the souls of friends and relatives. They went dressed up as angels, demons or saints.  The soul cakes were sweet, with a cross marked on top and when eaten they represented a soul being freed from purgatory.

In the 19th century, souling gave way to guising or mumming, when children would offer songs, poetry and jokes – instead of prayer – in exchange for fruit or money.

We’ll go into a little more detail tomorrow – Hallowe’en day/night itself!  Have a great time.

The gunfights I had as a child – but don’t worry too much about the heading

Yesterday – 26th October 1881 – was the day of the gunfight at the OK Corral; the most famous – or was it infamous – shoot out in the Wild West.  It took place in Tombstone, Arizona when the Earp family [Virgil, Wyatt and Morgan] had a shoot-out with the Clantons [Ike, Phineas and Billy] and the McLaurys [Tom and Frank].

The sight of this gunfight is now a tourist attraction with life-size replicas of the combatants and a daily re-enactment of the 30-second exchange of bullets that have resounded through history and captured the imagination of cowboy enthusiasts the world over.

I was one of those ‘cowboys’ here in England back in the 1940s and, maybe, into the early 1950s.  My children – and grandchildren – just look blankly at me when I tell them of the ‘battles’ I had when I was their age.

Do you have any situations like this? I’d love to hear about them if you have.