Week 217 – It’s A Great Big Shame

It’s a Great Big Shame! - sheet music

It’s a Great Big Shame! – sheet music

A song from the repertoire of Gus Elen (1862-1940), the Coster Comedian. I think I first came across the song in the early 1980s at the Heritage folk club in Oxford, sung by my friend Dick Wolff (who, as I recall, also used to sing ‘If it Wasn’t for the Houses in Between’, another of Elen’s hits – another one in fact written by the prolific George Le Brunn – and one which I’ve often thought of learning). I found the words in a book of Music Hall songs in my local library back home, and have been singing it ever since.

Elen effectively retired in 1914 to concentrate on his passion, fishing. But he was coaxed out of retirement at the age of 70 to be recorded by British Pathe in 1932.  Who have now put their entire archive up on YouTube, meaning that we can watch one of the big names of the golden age of Music Hall performing one of his hits. Isn’t the Internet wonderful?

Gus Elen - from the Victoria and Albert collection

Gus Elen – from the Victoria and Albert collection

It’s A Great Big Shame

7 Comments to “Week 217 – It’s A Great Big Shame”

  1. A bit disappointed – I was expecting a more sprightly rendition with an anglo accompaniment !

  2. No, not really ( although I was glad to be introduced to Dapper’s Delight ! ) – I was thinking more of the bloke that recorded a superb version of “Leaning on a Lamp-post” on Week 157.

  3. Funnily enough, I’ve always thought of this as an unaccompanied piece. It’s never occurred to me to do a concertina accompaniment, in the same way as I’ve never thought of singing Wop She Ad-it-i-o or Corduroy with an accompaniment. Anyway, time for next week’s post, in which you get a prominent mention.

  4. I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but I find the fact that you’ve “always thought of this as an unaccompanied piece” as somewhat bizarre ! In common with other Victorian/Edwardian music hall songs it would have been composed and published with an accompaniment, indeed this type of melody often doesn’t “sound right” without the underlying chordal structure. Obviously there are music hall songs that you can get away with singing unaccompanied, this however I fear isn’t one of them.

  5. Well we obviously have very different perceptions of the song. I had never heard it with an accompaniment until I got the second Dapper’s Delight CD, earlier this year – more than 30 years after I first started singing it.
    Anyway, where would we be if George Spicer had said “I can’t sing these old music hall songs without an accompaniment”?

  6. Just listened to the Dapper’s Delight version (which I’d not heard before),- and blow me if they haven’t made a “dogs dinner” of it too !! I can hear so clearly in my head how I thought you’d record it i.e. in the same rip-roaring style as you out “Formbyied” George Formby on “Leaning on a Lamp-post” ! Oh well, I suppose it wasn’t to be, although I’d be interested to hear other subscribers views on the matter – Reinhard ?

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