This edition of The Archive Hour not only shines a spotlight on the lesser-known stars of the British music hall but also reveals how this cultural phenomenon is surviving, thanks to a team of dedicated archivists who are using their computers to store recordings that go as far back as the 1890s.
But however remarkable the rather nerdy way in which a band of enthusiasts are saving these rare recordings, it is nothing in comparison to the performances themselves. Barry Cryer, a highly informed fan of the genre, obviously relishes his opportunity to introduce acts such as Nellie Wallace, stored in archives and caught working a live audience for all she was worth. “I sat by h is bedside and fanned him with a kipper,” she says (her family being so poor that th is was their equivalent of sending their sickly father to the seaside). The programme ends with a good old singalong to Down the Road-which is where Barry Cryer, in keeping with the music-hall tradition of always having a flowing supply of booze on the premises, says he is going.”
Decca LP ACL1170
1 RANDOLPH SUTTON. When are you going to lead me to the altar Walter?
2 KATE CARNEY. Are we to part like this, Bill?
3 GUS ELEN. Nice quiet day (The postman’s holiday)
3A GUS ELEN. Speech.
4 HETTY KING. Piccadilly.
5 JACK PLEASANTS. I’m shy Mary Ellen.
6 FLORRIE FORDE. Down at the Old Bull and Bush.
7 CHARLES COBURN. The man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo.
8 GEORGE JACKLEY. We all went up the mountain (with Harry Hudson and his Radio Band).
9 LILY MORRIS. Why am I always the bridesmaid?
10 GEORGE FORMBY JNR. John Willie, come on.
11 BILLY BENNETT. The League of Nations.
12 BILLY MERSON. The night I appeared as Macbeth.
13 TESSIE O’SHEA. Nobody loves a fairy when she’s forty.
14 BILLY RUSSELL. On behalf of the working classes—including We’re gonna hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line.
Decca Ace of Clubs Q ACL1170 (12 in., 17s. TO. plus 25. 101d. PT.).
“A good selection and, surprisingly, mostly electrical recordings. A sad exception is Charles Coburn, the oldest inhabitant here (born 1852) who certainly recorded electrically, e.g., in the famous Regal “Old Time Music Hall” records, when he sang Two Lovely Black Eyes. Coburn developed a habit of singing a chorus in French, a useful gimmick to break the monotony of repeating a simple chorus over and over again to fill out the side. This is very effective in The Man Who Broke the Bank. As a piece of totally irrelevant information readers may like to know that in his eighties Coburn unsuccessfully contested a seat on Paddington Borough Council. Considering the bold, brassy songs she sang with bold gestures—a fine display of underwear beneath voluminous skirts–Lily Morris had a soft voice with a wide vibrato. It is good to have Why am I always the bridesmaid? but I hope EMI will bring forward some of their material—they have Don’t have any more, Mrs. Moore and In the shade of the old apple tree, but has anybody got the song about poor old Mrs. Scott “who was paying for the lot”? I was never a fan of Randolph Sutton but he had a winner in When are you going to lead me to the altar, Walter? long a favourite record of mine and given with a fine pit band accompaniment. Orchestras vary (Coburn has a piano!) and the opening symphony to Kate Carney’s Are we to part like this, Bill? conjures up the whole ridiculous era. Hetty King . . .made two excellent electric records for Decca, one side of which is here. Like Melba and other famous voices, Florrie Forde, the great chorus singer and creator of Tipperary (1912) came from Melbourne. This must be a late recording, and those of us who have belted out Down at the old Bull and Bush on Saturday nights will be pleasantly surprised by this performance with its “dea . . . . r” sung an octave lower than usual, giving the song that note of distinction that separates the wheat from the chaff in all popular music. What Tessie O’Shea is doing here I cannot think. She is hardly one of “the stars who made the music hall”, which was generating its last illness before she was born! It comes as quite a shock to hear the neat accompaniment, very well played, to Nobody loves a fairy when she’s forty, which gets a most polished performance and includes what is perhaps the one line of sheer poetry in this whole recital— “when your wand has lost its magic and your tinsel looks like rust instead of gold”, which gives the rhyme and points the sentiment, and is a model of the craft of lyric writing. Nobody could help setting that line to music! I kept thinking this was the same tune as something else, and in case it bothers readers I found the answer in My brother makes the wises for the talkies, which HMV recorded with Hylton at the Empire, Liverpool, on June 2nd, 1931, and that record has a throw-away reference to Rolls Razor—it really was razors in those days before Mr. Bloom was born. I once had a classical tutor who insisted that Gus Elen’s song ‘E dunno where ‘e are sounded like Greek; anyway it was Greek to him. Nice Quiet Day, topically sub-titled The Postman’s Holiday is so-so, but the track carries a speech by Elen to mark his come-back in 1932. George Formby pays tribute to his father; Billy Bennett (“almost a gentleman” and once half of Alexander and Muse) could do with better material; Jack Pleasants wants a better song and Billy Merson a better recording. George Jackley epitomizes the silly pantomime chorus; he was essentially a pantomime artist. When the “washing” comes down in the penultimate scene the staidest member of the audience is caught singing this rubbish, which I have been doing maddeningly at the office all last week. And so we come to Billy Russell, appearing “on behalf of the working classes”. This is a live recording made at the historic Argyle, Birkenhead, at the beginning of World War Two, and if you can bear to hear We’ll hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line with the hindsight of what was to come, you will relish the brave patter of this grand comedian, who recalls what was going on in every hall during those dark days and darker nights—and this is ultimately why the amateur English beat the professionals. But these ladies and gentlemen were and are real pros.” R.W.