Say what shall my Blog be today? Back in London some, goodness knows how many, years ago I thought of working up an evening’s entertainment called “Say what Shall My Song Be Tonight?” which is an actual Victorian ballad and a very pretty one it is too. The lyrics of many Victorian numbers may not have been up to much, in particular some of the most popular Music Hall numbers, but tunes, my boy, tunes, that’s what it’s all about, and Victorian tunesmiths knew what they were doing. The idea of the entertainment was to have four singers, one of each: tenor, bass baritone, soprano, contralto and an accompanist, the music interspersed with light verse and anecdote. This was when a number of small companies were doing the pubs playing Music Hall and Chris was in great demand to do his Gilbert The Filbert, Oh That Gorgonzola cheese, She Pushed Me Into The Parlour, In The twi-twi-twilight, Paree, and more. He had quite a repertoire and always went down a storm so no one could understand why he was never invited to appear at the old Players in London. The reason was actually quite simple – it’s called a clique. We used to love going to the Players. We knew most of the artistes performing there, some quite close friends and, even if you saw the same faces over and over, the atmosphere in that dilapidated old tunnel of a place with the trains from Charing Cross Station sometimes rumbling overhead, it was always an evening of jollity. Unfortunately, when it came time to move to a brand new venue a little way up the road, all that wonderful old atmosphere simply disappeared. I think we paid maybe two visits to the new home and lost interest. In the old building we saw pantomimes and, of course that very successful musical “The Boy Friend” started its life in the old Players. Sandy Wilson wrote himself a lifetime’s income with that one piece and nothing that followed could compare. As pastiche it is just too perfect, a little gem. That’s not to say it can’t come unstuck. I saw a production in America that was simply awful but that was mainly due to some of the weirdest casting and misdirection. So often in theatre there is misjudgement of that kind – the right play in the wrong house, the wrong play in the right house, the wrong director, the wrong cast, so when one sees something that literally makes you shake with excitement it’s a wonderful experience. Such a one was a production I saw in Toronto of “March Of The Falsettos”, a small cast giving everything they’d got quite brilliantly to a tiny house in the Canadian equivalent of an off-off-Broadway house. Also at James Madison a student production of “Come To the Five And Nine Jimmy Dean” that had me on my feet and that doesn’t happen very often.
But back to my proposed Victorian evening that never happened. I seem to remember one of the anecdotes was of an English actress, I think it may have been Fanny Carby, who was feeding the squirrels in New York’s Central park, got bitten on the finger and a cop wanted to know if she could identify the squirrel wot done it before she was whipped off to hospital for an anti-tetanus shot. And so to the next number, a ballad titled “Somewhere A Voice is calling.” Of all the Victorian/Edwardian music I know I only mention that one because my father, if ever he was persuaded to sing, and he had a very good voice despite his shyness, would always sing “Somewhere A Voice Is Calling.”
Handel seemed to be a favourite with my mother: Lascia ch’io piango, Ombra mai fu, known as the Largo. Then there was O Don Fatale and Softly Awakes My Heart from Samson and Delilah, a song called Parted (mentioned in my autobiography), and she loved Just A Song At Twilight, and of course there was I’ll Walk Beside You she was always being asked to sing at weddings. All good old schmaltzy stuff. All tunes.