Posts tagged ‘Music Hall’

January 15, 2016

Week 230 – Corduroy

Many of the Copper Family’s songs are much loved and widely sung – national treasures, you might say. This is not one of those, but there was a time when I would be called upon to sing it at least once a year. I learned it from the Copper Family 4 LP set A Song for every Season, and from Bob Copper’s book Early to rise. 

The entry for this song on the Copper Family website links to this Mudcat post where the late Malcolm Douglas provides the following background information:

This was a popular song of the mid-19th century; presumably it had its origins in the Music Halls–the tune is very much of that type. There are several broadside copies at the Bodleian Library Broadside Collection:

Suit of Corderoy Printed between 1846 and 1854 by E.M.A. Hodges, (from Pitt’s), wholesale toy warehouse, 31 Dudley street [S]even Dials.

The suit of corduroy Printed between 1860 and 1883 by H. Disley, 57, High-street, St. Giles, London. W.C.

Suit of corduroy Printed by Bebbington, J.O. Oldham-road, Manchester.

Suit of corduroy! Printed and Sold between 1849 and 1862 at Such’s Song Mart, 123, Union Street, Boro’ S.E.

There is also a mostly illegible Glasgow edition, which specifies the tune as that of Four and Nine.

Some of the above are in Standard English, others are written in the “Stage Cockney” of the day. There isn’t a great deal of variation in the texts, though locations and the name of the tailors vary. Evidently, the song made it to the USA as well; there is a songsheet at the “America Singing” Collection:

The Suit of Corduroys H. De Marsan, Publisher, 60 Chatham Street, N. Y. [no date.] Again, much the same, but with the incontinence episode omitted, perhaps for the benefit of tender American sensibilities!

 

Suit of corderoy. Broadside from the Bodleian collection. Printed between 1846 and 1854, by E. Hodges, Printer, (from Pitt's), wholesale toy warehouse, 31 Dudley street [S]even Dials

Suit of corderoy. Broadside from the Bodleian collection. Printed between 1846 and 1854, by E. Hodges, Printer, (from Pitt’s), wholesale toy warehouse, 31 Dudley street [S]even Dials

I have followed John Copper’s lead on the 1970s recording and inserted an additional raspberry into the last line of the song. As John so eloquently put it

Well, hardly worth paying a man for one raspberry

Corduroy

October 17, 2015

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

August 28, 2015

Week 210 – So Was I

In which our hero – against the express wishes of his wife – goes on a drunken spree with a pal, spends the night in the cells, is landed with a fine by the magistrate… and is totally unrepentant. It would be worth learning just for the classic final line. But as an added bonus you also get to sing

Old Brown said “Go and boil your head!”

which is not a line I’ve encountered in any other songs.

The song is in Roy Palmer’s A Taste of Ale, and it’s one of the pieces included on the Magpie Lane CD brought out to accompany the book.

It was written by the British stage actor and silent film star Arthur Lennard (1867-1954) published in B. Mocatta & Co’s Second Comic Annual (exact date unknown – late 19th century).

The song has been collected a couple of times in oral tradition – by Fred Hamer in Cornwall, and by Sam Steele from Charlie Giddings in Cambridgshire. In fact you can hear Charlie Giddings singing the song on the Veteran CD Heel and Toe (although I have to confess that this is one item in the Veteran catalogue I don’t own, and have never heard).

I dare say that there were actually many more country entertainers who had this in their repertoires, but it’s not the sort of thing that folk song collectors would have been interested in at one time. Certainly those of Cecil Sharp’s generation would not have given it a second thought. And while I’m glad that collectors such as Mike Yates and John Howson have taken a much more open-minded  approach to their work, I can’t say I really blame Sharp et. al. for ignoring songs like this. After all, even at the time of Sharp’s death, this song was probably no more than 25 years old. So collecting it then would have been comparable to collecting, say, ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ today. In Sharp’s pre-war heyday, it might have been more analogous to a modern day collector making a field recording of that X-factor wannabe’s ballad of choice ‘You Raise Me Up’!

 

So Was I

November 8, 2014

Week 168 – The Fellow Who Played the Trombone

Jimmy Knights. Photo by Keith Summers? from Musical Traditions.

Jimmy Knights. Photo by Keith Summers? from Musical Traditions.

More smutty innuendo from East Anglia.

I think I first heard this sung in the early 1980s by Dave Townsend, although I remember that Ramsbottom, who were going at around the same time, also used to do it. I learned the song, as I assume Dave had done, from the Topic LP Sing, Say and Play – a companion album to The Earl Soham Slog, featuring traditional songs and dance music from Suffolk recorded by Keith Summers.

The singer of this song was Jimmy ‘Holy Jim’ Knights, born in 1880 in the village of Debach, and  recorded by Keith in 1975 at his home in Little Glenham. You can read about Jimmy in Chapter 4 of Sing, Say or Pay, Keith’s survey of East Suffolk Country Music, reprinted on the Musical Traditions website. And you can hear Keith’s recordings on the British Library Sounds website. The songs available include two recordings of ‘The Fellow Who Played the Trombone’, and there are interviews with the singer – then well into his nineties but sounding very much full of life. Go to http://sounds.bl.uk/Search and search for Jimmy (‘Holy Jim’) Knights.

The song itself was apparently written in 1896 by the music hall performer Walter Kino.

The Fellow Who Played the Trombone

July 27, 2013

Week 101 – Come and be my little teddy bear

For Carol, with love.

I learned this from the singing and playing of Suffolk fiddler Harkie Nesling, on the Topic LP The Earl Soham Slog.

The song was also included on the Veteran CD Good Hearted Fellows. Mike Yates notes

The term ‘Teddy Bear’ was first coined sometime around November, 1902, when American President Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt was hunting in Mississippi. He had failed to shoot
anything, so friends captured a bear, which they tethered to a tree, and invited him to shoot it. Roosevelt’s reply: ‘Spare the bear. I will not shoot a tethered animal,’ soon became common knowledge and later that month Clifford & Rose Michtom of Brooklyn produced a soft bear which they called‘Teddy’. I would suspect that Harkie Nesling’s tune and short text probably date from the period 1902 up to the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, a time when Teddy Bears were very much in vogue and millions were sold in Europe and America. At least one other similar piece can be dated to 1907: this is Be My Little Teddy Bear by Vincent Bryan (best known for writing In the Sweet Bye and Bye) and Max Hoffman. Sadly, though, this is not the song that Harkie sings.

(from http://www.veteran.co.uk/vt154cd_words.htm#Teddy Bear)

You can hear Keith Summers’ recording of Harkie Nesling singing this song on the British Library website.

You can hear a 1907 recording of that other Teddy Bear song, sung by Ada Jones and Billy Murray, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHPeGd5qn9I

Come and be my little teddy bear

Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

September 30, 2012

Week 58 – There Was Four-and-Twenty Strangers / The Irish hop-pole puller

Monument to the hop-pickers who died in the tragedy, Hadlow Churchyard, from http://tonbridgecollectables.com

Monument to the hop-pickers who died in the tragedy, Hadlow Churchyard, from http://tonbridgecollectables.com

Two contrasting songs connected with hop-picking.

I learned ‘There Was Four-and-Twenty Strangers’ from Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger’s Travellers’ songs from England and Scotland, where it is given as ‘The Hop-Pickers’ Tragedy’. They recorded the song from the traveller Nelson Ridley, in a municipal caravan-site at Harlow New Town, Essex.

Their notes say

The event described here occurred on 20th October 1853, when a horse-drawn brake carrying a party of hop-pickers plunged over Hartlake Bridge into the River Medway. The memorial in Hadlow graveyard says that thirty people, including several Travellers, were drowned.

They also say that the singer, Nelson Ridley, was born in Wineham, Kent, and travelled mainly in Kent and Surrey. At least, I think it says “Wineham” – I can’t actually read my handwriting – but if so, that would mean he was born in West Sussex. Not having the book to hand, I can’t check.

It would seem that the story has survived in folk memory, amongst travellers at least, and the song has been recorded from a number of travellers with Kentish connections – you can hear versions by Jasper Smith and Ambrose Cooper at http://www.bbc.co.uk/kent/voices/hartlake/song.shtml

(hint: these sound files are in Real Audio format – but if you don’t want Real Player taking over your computer, download the free Real Alternative which plays them just as well)

That BBC Kent site appears to have been prompted by a memorial service held at St Mary’s Church, Hadlow on the 19th October 2003 – the 150th anniversary of the accident.

There is a very full account of the tragedy at http://tonbridgecollectables.com/page23.php

By contrast, ‘The Irish hop-pole puller’ is a comic piece which I learned from George Spicer (born in Liitle Chart, just outside my home town of Ashford, Kent). As I recall, he had it from Pop Maynard, who had indeed worked as hop-pole puller. You can hear Pop singing it on the British Library website– although he dissolves in a coughing fit before he can get to the conclusion. Hunton, mentioned in the song, is between Maidstone and Paddock Wood, very much in a hop-growing area. I’ve never been to Hunton, however from what I can see on the web, “The Bull” was in East Street, but is no longer a pub.

I have a feeling that my friend Adrian will tell me I sing this all wrong (he has done so in the past!). But since he freely admits he never finds time to visit this blog, I might just get away with it.

There Was Four-and-Twenty Strangers

The Irish hop-pole puller

July 14, 2012

Week 47 – Wop She ‘ad it-io

From the saucy side of the Copper Family repertoire. Learned from the LP A Song for Every Season. The words are in the book of the same name and in  The Copper Family Song Book as well, of course, as on the Copper Family website.

I sang this to my daughter once when, as a very little girl, she had fallen over and hurt herself. The song soon had her smiling again – in fact, who can resist smiling at a song which includes the words “bott-um” and “bum”?

Wop She ‘ad it-io