Monday, 31 August 2009

Belle Baker "Hard Hearted Hannah" 1924

If ever you're going to get a new record there, get "Oh Miss Hannah!" great fun, believe me. And think that it has a better moral than H.H.H. Letter to Carol Brown May 1926 in Collected Letters of Malcolm Lowry.

I have already posted a feature on "Oh Miss Hannah!" by the Revelers. Sherrill E. Grace, the editor of Lowry's Collected Letters has suggested that the song Malc refers to as H.H.H. is possibly "Hard Hearted Hannah". More than likely, the version Malc would be familiar with would have been Belle Baker's song from 1924.

Belle Baker (25 December 1893, New York City, New York - 29 April 1957, Los Angeles, California) was an American singer and actress.

Born Bella Becker, she rose to fame as a vaudeville vocalist, appearing on Broadway and in nightclubs, films, radio and television.

In the early 1920s, when she was well known as The Ragtime Singer, Baker took part in a Baltimore song competition with Catherine Calvert, the Hamilton Sisters (Pearl and Violet) and Jessie Fordyce. She was the first artist to record "All of Me," one of the most recorded songs of its era, and she was also the first person in the United States to do a radio broadcast from a moving train.

In 1926, Baker had the title role in Broadway's Betsy. She introduced Irving Berlin's "Blues Skies" in the Florenz Ziegfeld production, which ran for 39 performances from December 28, 1926 to January 29, 1927. With music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Lorenz Hart, the musical comedy had a book by Irving Caesar and David Freedman. Victor Baravelle was the musical director.

On radio, she was a guest performer on The Eveready Hour, broadcasting's first major variety show, which featured Broadway's top headliners. After roles in the films Song of Love (1929) and Charing Cross Road (1935), she appeared as herself in Atlantic City (1944).

She was married to the composer Maurice Abrahams (1883-1931), who wrote the songs "I'm Walking with the Moonbeams (Talking to the Stars)" and "Take Everything But You" for Song of Love. The couple had one child, Herbert Baker. On September 21, 1937, she married Elias E. Sugarman, editor of the theatrical trade magazine, Billboard.
She died of a heart attack in 1957 at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles.

It is also possible that Malc was referring to the very popular Savoy Orpheans who had a regular radio show where Malc may have heard the song?

Hard Hearted Hannah Fox Trot (Yellen, Bigelow & Bates) Savoy Orpheans at the Savoy Hotel, London HMV B1955/Bb5643-3 Hayes, Middlesex 21.1.1925.

Here's a great version of the song by Ella Fitzgerald from 1955:

Fascinating Rhythm 1924

The above song certainly had some emotional significance for the young Malc as he wrote to his teenage love Carol Brown:

Every time I hear "Fascinating Rhythm" it reminds me of that evening by the gate. Letter to Carol Brown May 1926, Collected Letters of Malcolm Lowry

Below is a photograph taken at the spot outside Hilthorpe where Carol and Malc spent sometime together in 1925 or 26 which prompted Malc's reminisce in the extract from the letter above. You can read more details of their friendship in Gordon Bowker's biography of Lowry. We can only speculate the significance of the moment.

The song is from the musical Lady, Be Good written by Guy Bolton, Fred Thompson, featured music by George and Ira Gershwin. It debuted at the Liberty Theatre on December 1, 1924.

It is a musical comedy about a brother and his sister who are out of money and each eager to sacrifice him- or herself to help the other. It originally starred brother and sister performers Fred Astaire and Adele Astaire. It ran for 330 performances in the original Broadway run.

What is difficult to gauge is how Lowry would have been aware of the song? Perhaps, he picked up the song via his elder brothers Stuart and Russell or did he hear it on a visit to Carol Brown's house Hilthorpe in Caldy or could he conceivably seen the musical at the Empire in London? The last premise is unlikely as he was writing to Carol in May 1926 and the musical only opened Prince of Wales Theatre, London on 14 April, 1926.

The version below was performed by the Savoy Orpheans, the resident orchestra at the Savoy Hotel, London during the 20s and 30s. They were also on BBC radio.

The Savoy Orpheans were formed in early 1923. The main attraction at London's famed Savoy Hotel had been Bert Ralton's Savoy Havana Band, and when Ralton left in late 1922 for an Australian tour, the band's violinist, Reginald Batten, became the leader. (Rudy Vallee was playing the Sax and Billy Mayerl was on the Piano). In 1923, due to the great popularity of the NY Havana Band, the Savoy decided to hire still another band - called The Savoy Orpheans - with Debroy Sommers as Leader. (Vallee was still on Sax but Billy Thorburn was on the piano. Carroll Gibbons was also in the new band). Now, both the New York Havana Band and The Savoy Orpheans bands were feature attractions at the Hotel.

Lowry was actually aware of the The Savoy Orpheans and mentions the band in a later letter to Carol in June 1926.

The Revelers I'm Gonna Charleston Back To Charleston 1925

Here is a second helping of The Revelers this afternoon.

The young Lowry was much taken with this group and again highly recommended the above song to his teenage friend Carol Brown:

They also recorded "I'm Gonna Charleston Back To Charleston" - also priceless. Letter to carol Brown 1926, Collected Letters of Malcolm Lowry.

The Revelers "Oh Miss Hannah" 1925

Talking about Hannahs. There's another tune, "Oh Miss Hannah!" on the other side of "Collegiate", sung in the most original manner by the Revellers on HMV. It's absolutely the world's best sung tune, and they sing it in Fox Trot Time as though they were a band. Letter to Carol Brown in Collected Letters Of Malcolm Lowry

Oh, Miss Hannah Fox Trot (Hollongsworth-Deppen) played by the Revelers Victor Record Company with Orthophonic Scroll label 19796-A Electrically Recorded in 09.15.1925 would appear to have been a hit with the young Malc while at the Leys School in Cambridge.

The Revelers were an American quintet (four close harmony singers and a pianist) popular in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The Revelers' recordings of "Dinah", "Old Man River", "Valencia", "Baby Face", "Blue Room", "The Birth of the Blues", "When Yuba Plays the Rumba on the Tuba", and many more, became popular in the United States and then Europe in the late 1920s.

All of the members had recorded individually or in various combinations, and formed a group in 1925. The original Revelers were tenors Franklyn Baur and Lewis James, baritone Elliot Shaw, bass Wilfred Glenn, and pianist Ed Smalle. Smalle was replaced by Frank Black in 1926. The group (with Black at the piano) appeared in a short movie musical, The Revelers (1927), filmed in the sound-on-disc Vitaphone process. This one-reel short film, recently restored by "The Vitaphone Project," shows the group performing "Mine", "Dinah", and "No Foolin'". A second short, filmed the same day with another three songs, awaits restoration.

The Revelers Quartet (1927) includes James Melton (#1), Lewis James (#2), Elliot Shaw (#3), Wilfred Glenn (#4), and Frank Black (#5), their arranger and accompanist. (Photo by Bruehl)

Here is another version recorded by Paul Whiteman Orhestra featuring Charles Margulis, Harry Goldfield (tp); Bix Beiderbecke, Andy Secrest (c); Boyce Cullen, Bill Rank, Wilbur Hall, Jack Fulton (tb); Frank Trumbauer, Chester Hazlett, Irving Friedman, Roy Maier, Bern:

I would imagine that the less youthful and more knowledgeable Malc of Cambridge University days would have preferred the above version given that the band contained 2 of his heroes Frankie Trumbauer and Bix Beiderbecke. Bing Crosby delivers a brief (uncredited) "vocal refrain", demonstrating his abilities as a "mellow crooner", for which he'd later become famous, in a beautiful Bill Challis arrangement.

Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie

The above clip is a version the play by Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie starring Joan Crawford and Spencer Tracy recorded in the Lux Radio Theatre 1938. You can listen to the entire performance in clips on You Tube and the audio quality improves by Part 2.

Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie was a favourite of Lowry's. He received a copy of the play as a prize while he was at the Leys School, Cambridge in 1925. We know this because he tells the above to his friend Carol Brown in a letter to her in 1926 and he lists O'Neill as one of the writers on his current reading list alongside Alec Waugh, Noel Coward, Michael Arlen and Samuel Butler.

Eugene Gladstone O'Neill (16 October 1888 – 27 November 1953) was an American playwright, and Nobel laureate in Literature. His plays are among the first to introduce into American drama the techniques of realism, associated with Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, and Swedish playwright August Strindberg. His plays were among the first to include speeches in American vernacular and involve characters on the fringes of society, engaging in depraved behavior, where they struggle to maintain their hopes and aspirations, but ultimately slide into disillusionment and despair. O'Neill wrote only one well-known comedy (Ah, Wilderness!). Nearly all of his other plays involve some degree of tragedy and personal pessimism. Read more on Wikipedia

Stanley Lupino

We don't have precise details of exactly how many trips Lowry made to music halls in Birkenhead, Liverpool, Cambridge or London. However, there are clues scattered amongst his work and his early letters that he was very familiar with music halls which was a popular form of entertainment in the 1920's.

In a letter to his teenage friend Carol Brown in early May 1926, Lowry mentions Stanley Lupino who was a comedian who Lowry must have seen in pantomine or at a music hall.

And then you fairly rubbed it in about being in love with love and not with me. Do I need telling that? Why, as Stanley Lupino says, Why Naow. Collected Letters of Malcolm Lowry Volume 1

Stanley Lupino (15 May 1893 - 10 June 1942) was an English actor, dancer, singer, librettist, director and short story writer.

Lupino began his career as an acrobat and made his stage debut in 1913 and first became known as a music hall performer and played in pantomimes at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Between the wars, Lupino wrote and performed in several shows, including Phi-Phi (1922) and From Dover Street to Dixie (1923) at the London Pavilion, and several at the Gaiety Theatre in London, including Love Lies (1929), Hold my Hand (1932), and Sporting Love (1934), which ran for 302 performances. He also wrote and starred in So this is Love (1929) at Drury Lane. He also performed extensively for BBC radio. Later, he turned to screenwriting and films, although he also continued on stage in works like Lady Behave (1941).


Lupino was a member of the celebrated theatrical Lupino family. His father was actor George Lupino. He was the brother of actor Barry Lupino and the father of Ida Lupino. Lupino published From the stocks to the stars: an unconventional autobiography in 1934.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Ukulele Madness

I don't know what Malc would have made off all these videos featuring his favourite instrument.

The above video features the Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain with their take on Isaac Hayes's Shaft played live at Cambridge Folk Festival in 2007.

Cliff Edwards who I featured earlier this year on the blog, was a guest on Arthur Godfrey's radio show in 1943. Godfrey is credited with inventing the baritone ukulele. Edwards was in his forties at the time of this recording. More Cliff Edwards below with the Irving Berlin song Remember with some great ukulele related photos from the 1920's:

Above George Formby in the film Trouble Brewing singing Fanlight Fanny

Above we have Eddie Thomas & Carl Scott My Ohio Home and Tomorrow from November 21, 1928. I came across the above on Ukulelia which is a good jumping off point for all things ukulele.

But just to show the madness of it all let's finish on this last piece of You Tube video:

Monday, 24 August 2009

Holt's Mutual Aid Society Booth Cathcart Street Birkenhead

After agreeing to meet Nikolai on the Oedipus Tyrannus, he had gone with some of the sailors to a "Mutual Aid Society Booth" in Cathcart Street, near the berth of the ship, a street dreary in the grainy rain, and loud with the clatter of shunting dockside engines and the shouts of floury stevedores... Ultramarine

We continue with my detailed look at Lowry's first novel Ultramarine based on his journey to the Far East aboard the Holt's Blue Funnel Line ship Pyrrhus in 1927. Lowry's hero Dana Hilliot goes to the "Mutual Aid Society Booth" to collect his uniform and equipment for his journey to the Far East as Lowry had done in 1927.

The Holt's wharf was based at the bottom of Cathcart Street in Birkenhead adjacent Vittoria Dock in the East Float section of Birkenhead Docks. In the 1930 photograph above, you can see the wharf in the centre of the photograph on the far left. The map below shows the position of the wharf with Cathcart Street running all the way down from Conway Street in the west to the Great Float in the east.

The Birkenhead Warehouses which were used by Holt's were demolished in the late 60's and replaced by the existing dockside buildings which run from Duke Street down to Tower Road. Below is a photograph of the wharf in the 1950's which shows Blue Funnel ships tied up a the wharf.

The gate which Lowry would have used to cross into the docks is now bricked up and the lower part of Cathcart Street has disappeared covered over by the later warehouse. The old LNWR goods station which was next to the Holt's wharf has also long gone. The only railway tracks that still exist are the ones which run alongside the later dock buildings and were last used in the early 90's and are now overgrown with weeds and plants.

Until recently, I was unsure of the precise location of Holt's "Mutual Aid Society Booth". I have now located a building which stood at the top end of Cathcart Street which was owned by Holt's Mutual Aid Society to manufacture maritime clothing. Unfortunately, the building no longer stands. It was located behind shops on Conway Street and could be accessed by a short entry running from Cathcart Street to the rear of houses in Edgar Street. You can see below the site of the building as it exists now:

The map below indicates the exact position of the building:

In 1927, Holt's Mutual Aid Society Limited was managed by Captain Alfred B. Pightling who was a Marine Superintendent. It is possible that Holt's had a "booth" nearer to the dock but I have not found one indicated on any map, in a trade journal or a history of the company. Certainly, the uniform Lowry obtained for the journey and proudly wore during his time at Cambridge University was manufactured in the above building.

In Ultramarine, Dana Hilliot buys the following from the "booth":

....a sea jersey, two singlets, a shanghai jacket, and dungaree trousers, and a pair of sea boots. Norman, who bought a pair of Blucher boots, had advised him to get all those, as it was his first voyage.Ultramarine

Another reference made in his later short story Enter One In Sumptuous Armour by Lowry of the Cathcart Street area is The Dolphin Pub. The pub was located on the corner of Cathcart Street and Corporation Road. The pub can been in the slide show above as it is today. The pub was re-named the Royal Hotel after Lowry's time and had this name before it was closed and converted to a private home.

According to an ex-Blue Funnel sailor who I know, the Dolphin Pub and the Mersey Arms on Neptune Street/Corporation Road (which can be seen in the slide show above) where regular stopping off points for the Blue Funnel Line crews to have a drink before setting sail. So it is entirely possible given Lowry's mention of the Dolphin that he drank there before sailing in 1927. He may have drank in any of the 40 odd pubs that I have identified in the area adjacent to the docks on the Birkenhead side of the Great Float which existed in 1927. I doubt whether the Dolphin pub landlord, a Mr William George Rogers, had any trouble with the young Malc as other landlords had in later life!

Drawing near the Birkenhead dockside the pubs came thick and fast, with sea sounding names here: the Dolphin, the Blue Peter, the Right Whale. Funnels appeared over the sheds; the crosstress of a windjammer. Smells of cordage wafted to our nostrils. Enter One In Sumptuous Armour

I have not been able to find the other 2 pubs in 1927 trade journals that Lowry mentions in Enter One In Sumptuous Armour. It is entirely possible that it suited Lowry to give the other ones sea-sounding names.

What is interesting is that Lowry must have been quite familiar with Birkenhead as it is mentioned more times than his birthplace New Brighton in Ultramarine. Birkenhead has a significant place in Lowry mythology as the starting point for his great adventure East. Windjammers still sailed into Birkenhead even in the 1920's giving the port a romantic air of years gone. Lowry may have been harking back to memories of his grandfather John Boden who had been first mate aboard the Vice Reine. Below is a photograph of the Cutty Sark in Birkenhead circa 1910 when she was called Ferreira.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Bill Gaston A Forest Path

I have just read Bill Gaston'e A Forest Path from his book of short stories Mount Appetite.

"A Forest Path" has no time. The illegitimate, unrecognized and self-righteous son of Malcolm Lowry, and a teetotaler, he carefully rectifies the drunken inaccuracies in his father's prose, putting a new spin on his story "A Forest Path to the Spring" wherein a crouching cougar turns out to symbolize more and less than what Lowry and his readers might have imagined. Amazon CA

Bill Gaston (born 1953) is a Canadian novelist, playwright and short story writer.

Gaston grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Toronto, Ontario, and North Vancouver, British Columbia.

His story collection Mount Appetite (2002) was nominated for the 2002 Giller Prize and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. Gaston received a second Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize nomination for his novel Sointula (2004). He was the recipient of the inaugural Timothy Findley Award in 2003.

Gaston currently teaches creative writing at the University of Victoria. He previously served as director of the creative writing program at the University of New Brunswick, and as editor of The Fiddlehead.
Read more on Wikipedia

Known for literary genius, dogged by alcoholism

I only came across this article in the Vancouver Sun this AM.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Richard Woodman Blue Funnel Voyage

Lowry's novel Ultramarine does give us some insight into life aboard a Blue Funnel ship. However, it wasn't Lowry's intention to give us a full account of life onboard a ship.

Richard Woodman's Blue Funnel Voyage is one book which gives us a better idea of life onboard a ship making a similar voyage to the one made by Lowry on Blue Funnel ship Pyrrhus. Though set in the early 60's, Woodman's novel describes an era of seafaring which was nearer to Lowry than to present day shipping.

Here is the publicity blurb:

What was life like aboard a British vessel in the last days of the British Merchant Navy? In this novel Woodman takes us on one of the Holt Line's "China Boats" on a typical trip to the Far East and back. The time is the 1960s and it is a style of seafaring now totally lost among today's container ships and roll on-roll off ferries.

With the Fourth Mate, who acts as narrator, we keep the long watches of the night, observe officers and men, sea and weather, in every mood. We learn about the transvestites of Singapore and the whores of Hong Kong, as well as the intricacies of derricks and cargo stowage, human hair and hog bristles from China, liquid latex and palm oil from Malaya. It's all here in a wonderful time capsule as only Richard Woodman can write it.

You can still pick up copies on Amazon or direct from McBooks Press.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Port Sunlight

And he thought of that time when their families, for ten years neighbours in Port Sunlight, had met in Christiania when he was a boy, and how their love for each other had never changed. Ultramarine

This is the second reference Lowry makes to Port Sunlight in Ultramarine and I have already explained the significance of the reference. For this post, I have found some video of Port Sunlight which gives an indication to why Lowry may have chosen the place to contrast to Liverpool in Ultramarine.

I also managed to find a video from the early 20th Century which shows the village nearer to Lowry's time.

I have a great affection for Port Sunlight Village. As a child, I spent many happy times there visiting my uncle and his family. My uncle used to work at Lever Brothers as a glassblower and this entitled him to rent a house in the village which was owned by the company.

We used to sail boats on the lake outside the Lady Leverhulme Art Gallery before buying ice creams from a man who carried them on a specially built bike. Then as teenager, I spent many afternoons admiring the exhibits at the Lady Leverhulme Art Gallery especially the Pre-Raphaelite collection.

Later, I worked 2 summers on the Lever Estates; first as a gardener, working all over the village as portrayed in the Youtube videos; and the second time I worked at Brombrough Dock unloading oils for the factory.

The best way to find out about the village is take a tour followed by going around the Visitor Centre.

I did come across 3 interesting books on line while researching this post:

Port Sunlight; A Model Village of England. A Collection of Photographs by Edward Beeson (1911.

Labour and Housing in Port Sunlight by Walter Lionel George 1909

Port Sunlight; a record of its artistic & pictorial aspect by Thomas Raffles Davison ([1916])

The above books demonstrate the international importance of the village and the impact that it had on town planning.

The village also doubled for a Dutch town in Powell and Pressburger's 1943 film The Silver Fleet. The main character of the film played by Ralph Richardson walks down King George's Drive in the village where my uncle lived and where I tended the gardens. In the next scenes, he walks towards the village school before calling in on his son who attends the school.

Untitled Holograph Poem/Notes

I came across the above on the Abe Books website.

The holograph is being sold by Ken Lopez - Bookseller, ABAA (Hadley, MA, U.S.A.)for £2420.75. Here is his annotation:

Undated, but probably circa 1954-57. A single page, approximately 200 words, with several changes and corrections. The first line of holograph reads: "Story or poem combining:" and Lowry goes on to jot down a number of images, which read as though they may hang together poetically, as a deliberate work, or may just be the jottings, connected in the author's mind, of images and ideas to use in future writing. The first image is "The windmill, sails ever motionless, transfixed over Polegate." He goes on to write: "Polegate a Railway 'Graveyard.'/ Polegate Station is becoming a 'graveyard'/ for old railway wagons. Work began last month/ On breaking up a large number of wagons/ -- Some over 50 years old -- , and, says the Stationmaster,/ Mrs. Roberts, it will continue for years." There is poetic rumination on the after-effects of the breaking up of the wagons, and the choice of Polegate as the site; and on the twenty-four local men who have been hired to do the work, and then the point of view shifts to that of a passenger on a train passing through Polegate: "For some weeks passengers fr [sic]/ from Bewick on the Eastbourne line [?] have watched the/ swan with delight, as she/ sat, unblinking, believing herself/ hidden on her nest./ To-day she was seen for/ the first time with her/ young cygnet." Polegate Windmill is a well-known landmark in Eastbourne, Sussex, England, which was built in 1817. Polegate Station is a stop on the Eastbourne line from London. When Lowry left Canada in 1954, he returned to England where he had been born in 1909, and lived in Ripe, Sussex, not far from Polegate. He was working on a number of different manuscripts at the time of his death from an overdose of sleeping pills, and this sheet seems to fall somewhere between being an attempt at a formal poem and being notes for a scene from a larger work. Edge-creased with one short edge tear, not affecting text. Near fine; housed in custom folder, chemise and slipcase. Manuscript material by Lowry is very scarce: much was destroyed in a fire in Canada, and much since has been institutionalized. While his letters turn up occasionally, this is the first fragment we have had of a piece that has obvious literary intent. Bookseller Inventory # 019208 Abe Books

You can find out more about Polegate Windmill here.

Polegate Station closed in 1986 but you can read about the history of the station on Subterranean Britannica.