Enthusiasms No 40|
A collection of shorter pieces on subjects of
interest, outrage or enthusiasm ...
"I learned a lot of my songs off records; the big 78s"
Tom Goddard from the Eel's Foot Inn, Eastbridge
During a recent conversation with the Sussex singer Bob Lewis, mention was made of the song The Crocodile, which Bob sings on his new CD1. Although Bob had learnt most of the song from another Sussex singer, Bob Blake, he recalled that his family once owned an old 78 rpm disc of the song. Did I, he wondered, know who had recorded the song on that ancient record? The short answer was "No", although I did say that I would check through Brian Rust’s excellent survey of Music Hall 78s to see if I could locate the recording2. In fact, I was unable to find any reference to the song in Brian’s book. I was, however, reminded of just how many songs that I had heard sung by what we call ‘traditional’ folksingers were listed as having been recorded by Music Hall singers.
It is almost a commonplace to say that traditional singers do not only sing traditional songs. Popular and Music Hall songs feature frequently in traditional repertoires, and this has been the case for many, many years. Early song collectors, such as Cecil Sharp, Lucy Broadwood and Ralph Vaughan Williams constantly bemoaned the fact that they had to ‘suffer’ such songs during the process of extracting ‘folksongs’ from their respective singers. As musicians, these collectors were probably motivated in the first place by the song’s melodies. The words, they knew, had been printed on broadsides - ‘veritable dunghills’ according to Professor Child - and, so, were of lesser importance. And, of course, the Music Hall and popular songs of the time were of no interest whatsoever.
Well, as we know, singers have never made such distinctions and what follows is a survey of some of the Music Hall songs that I know have passed into ‘oral’ tradition. I am sure that there will be many more that I am not currently aware of. All of the songs mentioned have appeared on either 78rpm or cylinder recordings and it may be that these recordings, rather than printed songsheets, have been the source of the songs for the singers. I do have to stress that this is speculation on my part. We have precious few known cases where singers did learn a song from a recording - and here Walter Pardon springs to mind3 - and so what follows must, at this stage, remain as speculation. Also, in some cases, I know of recordings which have titles similar to songs sung by traditional singers, but, I am unable to confirm that the songs are identical because I have, so far, been unable to locate copies of these recordings. It follows that comments and additional information from readers will be welcome, especially if they relate to these questionable song-titles.
So, let us begin with a song sung by one of the most famous families of traditional singers, the Copper Family of Sussex. Songs collected from the Coppers appeared in the first volume of the Journal of the Folk-Song Society (1899), but one family song, When the Old Dun Cow Caught Fire, must have entered their repertoire at a later date. It was recorded by Harry Champion (who also recorded such classics as I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am and Boiled Beef and Carrots) in 1911 and issued on two 78’s, (Columbia 1828 & Favorite 368). Champion also recorded Standard Bread in 1911 (Columbia 1621, Homophone 910 & Zonophone 595), a song later collected from Charlotte Renals4, and I’m Getting Ready for My Mother-in-Law, also a 1911 recording (Zonophone 728, coupled with the song Any Old Iron, & Columbia 1828), which I recorded from George Spicer. This was not the only recorded Music Hall song that George knew. He also sang Mucking About the Garden a song that had been recorded four times in 1929, firstly by Tommy Handley & Leslie Sarony (Columbia 5555), and subsequently by Ronald Frankau & Tommy Handley, using the names ‘North & South’ (Parlophone R-506), Clarkson Rose (Zonophone 5429) and Randolph Sutton (Edison Bell Radio 1253). Clearly this was a popular song in 1929. I can only find one 78 rpm recording of The Body in the Bag, one of George Spicer’s favorites, and this was recorded in 1920 by Kirkby & Hudson (Edison Bell Winner 3450). There are also solitary recordings for two other songs that George knew. These are You Can’t Get Many Pimples on a Pound of Pickled Pork, recorded by Ernie Mayne in 1914 (Edison Bell Winner 2680, and the following year on Favorite 878), and Down in the Field Where All the Buttercups Grow, recorded in 1931 by Charlie Higgins (Broadcast 738 & Rex 8065). It may be that Ernie Mayne’s I Do Like to Be in Good Company, recorded in 1923 on Edison Bell Winner 3806, is the song that George simply called Good Company. Two other songs were recorded at least twice. In 1925 both Ernie Mayne and Clarkson Rose recorded A N’Egg and Some N’Ham and a N’Onion (on Edison Bell Winner 4292 and Zonophone 2589 respectively), while in 1912 both Sam Mayo and Albert Whelan had recorded versions of Far, Far Away, which I assume to be the song Far, Far Away on the Banks of the Nile (Roud 5386). These recordings are on Grammavox E-80 and Jumbo 944)5. It comes as no surprise to find George singing songs by Harry Champion and Ernie Mayne. Like George, they were both extrovert performers and I can easily see why George would have been attracted to their recordings.
The splendid Derbyshire singer George Fradley was also heavily indebted to the Music Hall recordings6. In his youth George had performed in a family troupe that toured the local villages and many of their songs clearly came from the Music Hall. His lovely comic song Mary Ann, She’s After Me was recorded twice by George Bastow, firstly in 1911 (Columbia 1869) and then two years later, in 1913 (John Bull H-32). Barstow, incidentally, also made recordings of Farmer Giles in 1903 (G & T 2-2355) and Jolly Jarge in 1904 (Edison cylinder 13097). A recording that I made of Oxfordshire singer Bill Dore singing Jolly Jarge is currently available7. George Fradley also sang Our Little Garden Subbub, recorded in 1922 by the obviously popular Ernie Mayne (Edison Bell Winner 3764) and The Bushes at the Bottom of the Garden which had been previously recorded by Norman Long in 1931 (Columbia DB-738) and quite a number of singers in 1932, including Leonard Henry (Sterno 905), Leslie Sarony (Decca F-2896) and Randolph Sutton (Imperial 2683). Another of George’s songs was Fifty Years Ago, a song that had been recorded in 1934 by Charles Coburn (Rex 8213).
Coburn was perhaps best known for the song Two Lovely Black Eyes, first recorded in 1929 (Columbia 5665) that I recorded from Walter Pardon of Norfolk8. Both Walter and George Fradley sang a song called For Me, For Me9 and I wonder if this is the same song that George Formby Sr recorded in 1917 as Me, Me, Me (Zonophone 1892). I also wonder if Follow the Footprints in the Snow, recorded in 1912 by both Florrie Ford (Zonophone 898) and Albert Whelan (Jumbo 870) was the same song as Walter’s I Traced Her Little Footprints in the Snow, although something tells me that this may not be the case. Another of Walter’s songs, When the Fields are White With Daisies, was recorded by Florrie Ford in 1932 (Imperial 2724), the same year that Randolph Sutton recorded Round the Marble Arch (Imperial 2703) which Walter also sang10. Walter was also a fan of the singer Billy Williams, and sang at least two of the songs that Williams recorded. These were Put a Bit of Powder on it Father, recorded in 1908 and 1909 and issued on numerous labels) and The Old Arm Chair, recorded in 1909 (Zonophone A-18). Walter also sang a version of Irish Molly, which had been recorded in 1905 by Madge Lessing (Beka 8315). The song had also been recorded by Irish singers, such as the Flanagan Brothers, and it seems hard to say if Walter’s version comes from Lessing (presumably an English singer) or from an Irish recording that he may have heard.
Two of the earliest examples I have of hearing singers sing songs that may have come, directly or indirectly, from recorded sources were The Village Pump, sung by some of the Headington Morris dancers in the mid-1960s, which had been recorded in 1909 by Ben Lawes (Edison Bell Winner 2074), and Down the Road sung around the same time by Fred Jordan. Fred’s song had, of course, been recorded in 1899 by Gus Elen (Berliner 2362)11. Another song, American in origin, was My Blue-Haired Boy. American collectors had noted it from the Appalachian singer Horton Barker, but it was also sung by Pop Maynard in Sussex, and, again, there is an early British recording by Fred Wright Jr (Columbia 25200, recorded 1903)12. Pop also sang Up I Came With My Little Lot, a song recorded in 1903 by Herbert Campbell (G & T GC2-2859), while his singing companion Harry Holman would often oblige with The Hobnailed Boots that Father Wore, this latter having been recorded in 1907 by Billy Williams (Homophone 380 & Coliseum 1301).
One surprising fact is that there were a number of ‘folksongs’ recorded by some of the Music Hall singers. We all know that Albert Richardson recorded The Old Sow and Buttercup Joe in 1928 (Zonophone T5178), following four years later with recordings of The Farmer’s Boy and Sarey, but Richardson was to all intent and purpose a traditional singer, rather than a professional Music Hall performer13. But, at least one Music Hall singer, Lesley Sarony, did record The Old Sow. The recording was made in 1934 (Rex 8145 - coupled with On Ilkla Moor Bah’t ‘At) and Sarony probably based his version on Albert Richardson’s performance.
Other folksong recordings include Tom Clare’s 1912 recording of The Green Grass Grew All Round (HMV 02407); versions of Old King Cole, recorded in 1909 by George Formby Sr. (Edison cylinder 13924), in 1925 by Ben Albert (Mimosa ?) and in 1932 by The Weston Brothers (Broadcast 3209 & Rex 8235); Jack Lane’s 1915 recording of Oh Dear, What Can the Matter Be? (Regal G-7032); The Ram of Derby recorded in 1930 by North & South (Parlophone R-683), and Joe O’Gorman’s 1904 recording of Three Men Went Out a-Hunting (Edison cylinder 13008). A further recording, Jack Lorimer’s Three Jolly Scotchmen, recorded in 1906 (Edison cylinder 13552) and 1908 (Jumbo 207), may be a version of this latter song. Charlie Penrose, well-known for his song The Laughing Policeman, also appears to have had one foot in the folksong camp, recording other songs such as The Jolly Old Farmer (Zonophone 1312. Recorded in 1914) and The Jolly Ploughman and The Merry Farm Boy (Zonophone 1508 and Zonophone 1506. Both recorded in 1915). One other song, which some may not quite consider as a folksong, although it remains popular with singers, is The Rest of the Day’s Your Own, which Jack Lane recorded in 1915 (Regal G-7032)14
This is by no means a complete listing. Was Harry Fragson’s 1909 recording of Billy Brown the same song that Freda Palmer sang to me in Witney, Oxfordshire? Freda’s song began with the lines ‘Billy Brown was a worn-out clown/And a worn-out clown was he’, so, maybe they were the same songs; although I suspect that Florrie Ford’s 1905 recording of Barnet Fair may have been somewhat different from the one that I got from the gypsy singer Jasper Smith. Sadly, we will never know because Ms Ford’s recording company rejected the song and it was never issued. Again, what of Florrie Ford’s 1909 song Mary’s Ticket (Edison cylinder 13924). Was this the song that an elderly gypsy sang to me one evening in a Ludlow pub? He called it She’d Never Had Her Ticket Punched Before and told me that it was from Marie Lloyd. Perhaps he was confusing the two giants of the Music Hall.
Mike Yates - 27.8.03
2. Brian Rust British Music Hall on Record. General Gramophone Publications Ltd. 1979. (ISBN 0 902470 07 9).
3. See, especially, the booklet notes to Walter Pardon’s double CD Put a Bit of Powder on it, Father - Musical Traditions MTCD305-6. (2000). A listing of 78 rpm record owned by Walter is also included in the booklet.
4. Issued on Catch Me if You Can - Veteran VT119CD.
5. My recordings of George Spicer are now housed in the National Sound Library, London. Copies are held at Cecil Sharp House.
6. For recordings by George Fradley, see One of the Best - Veteran VT114 (cassette).
7. Up in the North...and Down in the South - Musical Traditions MTCD311-2.
8. Available on Put a Bit of Powder on it Father - the other songs of Walter Pardon. Musical Traditions MTCD305-6.
9. For George Fradley’s version, see note 6 above, and for Walter Pardon’s version see note 8 above.
10. Walter’s version of Round the Marble Arch is on MTCD305-6 (note 8 above).
11. Fred sings Down the Road on First I’m Going to Sing You a Ditty - Topic TSCD657.
12. Pop Maynard’s version is on a limited-edition double CD, Pop Maynard - Down the Cherry Tree. Musical Traditions MTCD400-1.
13. Albert Richardson’s The Old Sow is available on First I’m Going to Sing You a Ditty - Topic TSCD657.
14. Sussex singer Cyril Phillips sings The Rest of the Day’s Your Own on Just Another Saturday Night - Musical Traditions MTCD309-10. The CD also includes versions of The Hobnailed Boots that Father Wore, sung by Harry Holman, and Up I Came With My Little Lot, here titled My Lot Took the Cake, sung by Pop Maynard.
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