Many years ago, how long ago I wonder? I think we were still living in London so that was more’n twenty years, I thought of an evening’s entertainment called “Say What Shall My Song Be Tonight?” I’m not sure if it was before or after “Champagne Charlie” but at that time a number of small companies were performing Victorian Music Hall in various venues. Chris became well known and very popular on the circuit performing a George Leybourne number, “Oh The Fairies” at the end of which he was transformed costume wise into one, a fairy that is, plus other songs such as “Oh That Gorgonzola Cheese,” which was performed with a surprise puppet maggot that came out of the cheese dish at the end, “Music Mad,” another Leybourne song, “Sweet Isabella,” “Anchored” about a sailor boy whose ship is caught and goes down in a violent storm whilst he dreams of being safe in his father’s home. At the end of the final chorus Chris sprouted a pair of wings and flew up to - well a bourrée across the stage did for the flying – to be ‘safe in his father’s home at last.’ Very Victorian sentiments. ‘Paree, that’s the place for me, just across the sea from Dover,’ was another, “Gilbert The Filbert” and quite a few more. Chris, being ever the perfectionist, every number was costumed, propped, rehearsed and performed to get the most out of it and they invariably went down a storm. One bloomer was made when he chose (in the socialist borough of Hackney of all places) to perform a number he discovered called “Why Don’t We Nationalise The Ladies?” and we were verbally and almost physically set upon by a bunch of very butch ladies who objected to it. No amount of explanation as to history, period piece, etc., could sway them from their opinion IT WAS ANTI-FEMINIST AND THAT WAS THAT. We did manage to escape unscathed except for the verbal battering.
It really was a great shame he was never invited to perform at the old Players Theatre, late Gatti’s underneath the arches; a venue with so much atmosphere we used to thoroughly enjoy the many many evenings we spent there. Unfortunately the bills were invariably performed by the small clique of Player’s artistes and there never seemed room for a newcomer, no matter how talented. The company then, due to development, were forced to move from late Gatti’s to further up the road, into a modern building and all the wonderful ‘old tyme’ atmosphere was lost, so much so that I seem to remember we visited it only once and were so disappointed we never went again.
But back to “Say What Shall My Song Be Tonight,” a very pretty Victorian number with a quite haunting melody, I was reminded of it when the other evening I came across the folder in which I had started to make notes. The idea was to use three or four singers, bass/baritone, tenor, soprano, contralto, and a pianist and the songs would be interspersed with bits and pieces of chat, not necessarily all period, mostly one hopes, humorous. I momentarily wondered if I should revive the idea as something to do with ex-pats here on Crete but decided no, I don’t think I have the will anymore to put up with the kind of egos that would be involved. Somehow I nostalgically wish I had followed it through all those years ago back in London but no regrets as Piaf would say.