Monday, November 19, 2018

DIRTY DANCING or, the highest kickers of them all.


I didn’t set out to write a history of the can-can, and I’m not going to. I’m sure someone – or several someones -- from the dance world has/have done it in impeccable style already. Moi? I’ve seen more than one named person described as ‘the inventor of the can can’ and more than one ‘bal champêtre’ designated as its cradle, but let’s just say that it was well-established by 1829, when 19 year-old Mdlle Angiola Sauve was given three months’ jail for ‘offense contre la pudeur’, in other words, having danced the chahut or the cancan at the Elysée des Dames, rue du Montparnasse. The policeman who bore witness was able to demonstrate in court the difference between the steps of the two routines. Or the polka piquée. Or the galop. Or the cachuca.

Of course, the cancan of the early nineteenth century had little in common with what passes for a version of the dance, even in Parisian halls, today. There were no kicking lines of Rockettes! It was a joyous, rude, frenetic routine, danced not solo but in a couple. It was danced to country and suburban music in country and suburban venues by country and suburban folk, by milliners, apprentices and dressmakers … but, as these things do, as the dance became more popular, more Parisian, and more extravagant, as its featured high kicks became higher, it gradually eased away from being an ‘all-action sport’ to being a ‘spectator sport’. At the popular but distinctly licentious ‘bals de l’Opéra’ the management outfitted, and even paid, good young dancers to take part. And favourite stars of the genre, such as Amélie-Marguerite Badet, dite Rigolboche (‘la croustillante Rigolboche, reine du cancan, avec son grand écart...’), became personalities in Paris life, and the dance hall of M Mabille, the names of Chicard and Brididi, the stuff of legend.

The Morning Post of London reprinted a Parisian article (24 April 1841) describing the ‘modern’ version of what went on in ‘Les Bals Masqués and Parés of Paris in 1841’ which must have made a few English jaws drop. And a few lusty and libertine gentlemen hasten for the Channel ferry and the ‘tumultuous and passionate pleasure’ to be found in ‘the disheveled, frantic balls’ of France.

In 1833, at the Bal de l’Opéra ,‘at three or four in the morning, a party of young men, half of whom were attired as females, invaded the house and began dancing the chahut, a quadrille so revoltingly indecent and obscene that the police very properly interposed…’. But it was a quartet of men, half of whom dressed as females, who were to export the cancan to Britain and further fame, and that’s where I’m going to pick up the first strand of my story. 

Mons Clodomir Ricard was a Parisian woodcarver who loved to dance. And his dancing, eccentric to the extreme, soon caught the eye. He was engaged at such Parisian dance halls as the Casino-Cadet, the Château des Fleurs, and at the Casino of Asnières, before he encouraged three of his friends to join him in his crazy Quadille. Thus, Clodomir became Clodoche, a weird highlander with a false nose, huge sideburns and two huge buck teeth, Mons Liard became Flageolet the fireman with a too-short coat, too-large pants, and a huge headpiece, Mons Lord was La Normande and Mons Michallat La Comète, the one a burlesque baby-famer the other a busty fishermaiden. 

Needless to say, their version of the ‘naughty’ dances was professed a parody, which has always been a grand excuse for taking said ‘naughtiness’ to a higher level. The Clodoches quartet became one of the star attractions of the Bals de l’Opéra, and the theatre soon called.

First the Théâtre de la Gaîté for Paris la Nuit, later at the Châtelet, in La Lanterne Magique, ‘the famous members of the bal d’opéra’ were featured in the wild quadrille which the press assured ‘however dévergonde it may be, it is far from exhibiting the indecency of certain dances of the middle ages and other negro terpsichorean feats with which the slave-owners were so greatly amused’.

It was George Vining of the Princess’s Theatre who had the courage to hire the quartet for suspicious London. They (‘the notorious French grotesque dancers from the Théâtre Impériale du Châtelet’) were introduced into ‘one of the most spirited gipsy ballets ever seen’ in the second act of Watts Phillips’ The Huguenot Captain, and the cancan was on its way in Britain. ‘[It] combines all that we have been accustomed to admire in the late Mr Flexmore and the living Paynes, joined to a wild fun that is probably the growth of many hundreds of masked balls and Cancan dances at casinos’. ‘Bizarre and amusing’. The music for their act was supplied by the conductor, Charles Hall, but the choreography for their Callot Dance, I would guess, was of their own manufacture, rather than by the ballet’s dance designer, John Milano. ‘They do not appear to have any bones or joints, and those they have are in the wrong places. Their dancing is weird, incomprehensible and funny. It is dancing that makes one laugh … there is nothing in it, not a motion or a look, that is vulgar or offensive ...’ ‘With these dancers alone the piece would become the talk of the town’.

But ‘those dancers’ could only be in one place at a time, and the cancan, as it was otherwise rearranged to suit national proclivities, had the world open to it. When British dances Clara, Laura and Fanny Morgan were hired as star dancers in Vienna for Pied de mouton, two French ladies were included to dance ‘the real Parisian cancan as danced con furore at the Jardin Mabille and similar places of resort’, in Berlin the dance was inserted into the convivial scenes of La Dame aux caméllias and La Vie Parisienne, America got its first glimpse of the cancan from a French troupe playing Les Amours de Cléopâtre in October 1867, at the New York Théâtre Français, and London the same year brought two more versions of the dance out, from rather unlikely sources.

The first was in the course of a Benefit staged by Mrs Swanborough at her Strand Theatre, with the principal ladies of the company playing Byron’s burlesque of Ivanhoe opposite the aristocratic play-acting amateurs of the time. William Lauderdale Maitland, ‘a remarkably strange person … a relation of the Countess de Chabannes’, who would, with his brother, bring real Parisian opéra-bouffe to England, played Rebecca, the Marquis Townshend played Isaac and Lord Arthur Pelham Clinton (an unashamed homosexual with a taste for lowlife drag-queens) was Cedric. Alas, the one outraged review of this occasion which I have read, says only that the cancan was danced, and not by whom. But I am sure it was not Eleanor Bufton or Ada Swanborough! Maybe Elise Holt? Or maybe Mr Maitland?

At Christmas, however, the ‘straight’ cancan got its most notable boost yet. At the Lyceum, in W S Gilbert's pantomime Cock Robin (etc). As part of a festival of dance, a longside Miss Esther Austin of St John’s Wood, who had been principal dancing at the Paris Gaîété, and, here, was Harlequina in the harlequinade, with Misses Page and Grosvenor as columbines, a grand ballet of the animated flowers (100 coryphées) starring a Madlle Sophie and Espinosa, a ballet of gold and silver fishes, ‘The Wedding Procession of the Pet Dickies’ and Chapino’s kiddie ballet, a certain Mademoiselle Finette, said to be ‘of the Bal Mabille’, led the Milano choreographed ‘Delirious Dance of Delight’, ‘an extravagant quadrille in which the gentlemen caper about most briskly and kick their feet up to extreme height. The ladies do likewise and so display as much of the leg as a ballet dancer, though they do not wear tights, but ordinary boots, stockings etc’. As a sop to British pudeur they also wore plenty of underwear (‘the ladies’ style of dress on this occasion was different from that in which the dance is done in Paris’) but some of the tighter-lipped papers refused even to mention what was claimed to be ‘the first time on the English stage...' of the piece of dirty dancing, nor the fact that the routine was encored on opening night.

Finette and the cancan (or really the cancan and Finette) and as soon as the panto was over, she emigrated to the vastness of the Alhambra for a three-moths engagement. And this time she could not be ignored. The ‘new Anglo-French ballet’ mounted by Milano was entitled Mabille in London and she was largely featured in the cancan in the ‘Parisian Carnival Quadrille’ section, with the great Fred Evans as her male counterpart as an Englishman in Paris. He did a hornpipe, she kicked his hat off with her high-heeled boot in traditional fashion, ‘assisted by Miss L[ardy?] Wilson and numerous coryphées under supervision of M Milano’ -- 'Gracefulness is not cultivated … elasticity of limb and a certain kind of grotesqueness take its place'. Betsy Sismondi was there to provide the more usual kind of ‘ballet’.

I don’t know what became of Finette. I imagine she went back to France. If she were actually from there. But there were plenty of lassies straining at the leash to take her place. In versions proper or slightly improper. Esther Austin gave her version, politely named ‘the French Quadrille’ at the Pavilion, the City of London Theatre billed ‘Madlle Fanchette of the Cirque Impériale and her sisters Maria, Janette and Sophia in the cancan, assisted by the most lovely and graceful ballet dancers in the world’, the Marylebone Theatre used the same quartet in the burlesque Lucrezia Borgia, but the most notable cancan, in 1867-8 Britain, was at Covent Garden. It preceded even the Cock Robin performance, which had been so lavishly advertised as ‘the first’. It just wasn’t called a cancan. Not yet. It soon would be.

18 November 1867 is an important date in the history of the British Musical Theatre (of which history Wikipedia says I am ‘the pope’!). John Russell produced, at Covent Garden, the first real and significant, unbotched English-language production of one of the great works of the French opéra-bouffe tradition. That tradition which went hand in hand with the heyday of Second Empire Paris and its ‘national dance’, the cancan. The musical was the brilliant La Grande-Duchesse, which, like Orphée aux enfers and others from the same stable included, of course, a ‘delirious dance of delight’ of its own. But what is in the 21st century known as ‘the cancan from Orphée aux enfers’ was designated a ‘galop infernale’. I don’t know what the difference is, but it seems to me to have been a simple one of terminology. Maybe the gendarme who took poor Mlle Sauve to court for her ‘dirty dancing’ could demonstrate the difference: he seems to have been well up in choreography.

Mr Russell (of whom I have written elsewhere) seems to have been a fine hand at casting. For his month or so of limited season, he cast former child singing-dancing-acting star Julia Mathews as the Duchess, and for the piece’s high-kicking yeeee-hay finale, teamed her with the best pantomime/dancing family group of all. That same Payne family whom the critic had mentioned in his review of the Clodoches. Their routine brought down the house. But it wasn’t the cancan. Not officially. The cancan was that grungy bit of lowlife stuff (ooooh!) from Mabille.

When La Grande-Duchesse went out to the grateful countryside in 1868, Julia and the Paynes went with it, but when it came back to town, Julia wasn’t there. So Russell called in the non pareil Mrs Howard Paul. She was a little old, but she sang and acted the part to perfection. But she did NOT dance the chahut or the can-can! So someone from somewhere pulled up a Mademoiselle/Madame Adrienne La Ferté ‘from the Vaudeville, Paris’. Mdlle La Ferté appeared in a dress with a long train, and scribes said she was ‘very different to Finette’. I think that, apart from the Clodoches, England was being served up with a few second-rate and fake cancanners!

Right. This my not-a-history of the cancan. It’s an introduction, setting the scene for a wee bit of chat about some of the English-dancing world’s earliest and greatest performers in the genre. It was one of them who got me into this. Well, her husband, really. But the further I dug …

End of Part 1. 

Saturday, November 17, 2018

The MIKADO in wartime, THE GEISHA for all time ..

In the nineteenth and earl twentieth century, English-language comic operas which appealed to European audiences were rare. Rare, but not unheard of. The greatest of them all, and really in a class of its own, was Sidney Jones's Daly's Theatre piece, The Geisha. The surviving programmes, reviews, recordings and so forth back up history show that it was played almost as much in central Europe as Die lustige Witwe and Die Fledermaus.

Hungary with Sidney Jones unrecognisable under the Hungarian version of his name:

France, with Opéra-Comique diva Marguérite Carré starred

Germany, under the splendid Jose Ferenczy, with Mia Weber in the star role

Alas, snobbery (?) has relegated the (non-G&S) British musical of the 1890s to an almost forgotten place. I don't know when The Geisha it was given its last professional production. It was horrifically recorded by Hyperion some years back(with an opera diva as Letty Lind!), and less horrifically by yours truly as Hayden Coffin, for the Chappell archive ...

Well, I guess the whole world knows that I prefer the music of The Geisha and A Greek Slave to 90 percent of European operetta of the period. Shame no one has the courage to let them take their chance in the 21st century.
However, I didn't come here to talk about The Geisha. I came to show you today's discovery-in-the-picture box. A 101-year-old theaterzettel from the second-most popular British musical of the last century: Der Mikado

It had, of course, been played in English, German, Hungarian and probably Russian and Albanian already, but ... 1917? Er .... I know this is from Austria, and not Germany (whose composers' works were effectively banned in Britain), but ... well, I guess a bit of oriental fun helped lighten the atmosphere? Of course, in 2017 we have the pathetic look-at-me-racists trying to get heavy. Go on, national operas ... programme The Geisha! Oh! I can just imagine it at the Deutsche Oper ... Brück, Hutton, Stagg, Newlin, Kurucova ...   is anybody listening!

Friday, November 16, 2018

'Tottie' and 'Charlie': matinee idol

A combination of circumstances led me, a year or three ago, to a little coven of enthusiasts fascinated by the works of American composer Willie Fullerton. Which had led, of course, to an interest in his partner, designer, Percy Anderson, which led, in its turn, to an interest in their whole little group of gay theatrical men who flourished in the world of the turn-of-the-century musical theatre – Henry Hamilton, Paul Potter and, it seems … Hayden Coffin. Well, it’s not the first time that a masculine sex-symbol has been gay. Or, at least, helped them out when they were busy. And, by the company he kept, he didn’t seem to mind who knew it, although nothing was hinted in the press. To his armies of adoring female fans, ‘Tottie’ Coffin was Hugh Jackman all rolled into one. And his rather bland autobiography certainly had nothing of the salacious or even colourful or insightful to it. So I dug no further. Charlie, with his large, rawboned wife, and his gay circle of friends was, for what it mattered, surely homosexual to some degree.

Charlie in The Girl Behind the Counter
But guess what? Today a got a surprising missive from Colin Perry, one of the best historical delvers and stitchers I know. To wit:

"Charles Hayden Coffin. CHC. Charlie. Tottie, to those in the know. Late 19thcentury and early 20th-century heart-throb baritone. Born 1862, Manchester, to American parents, died 1935 Kensington, London. Married divorcee Adeline Maria Elizabeth de Leuw Randegger (actress, silent films) in Hamilton, Ohio in 1892. A late marriage, and they are rarely mentioned together… a convenient marriage? Well, people have drawn their own conclusions for a long time. There is copious information on his career, and he had, it seems, a good reputation for nurturing upcoming talent. Not much else to add. A quick look at his Wikipedia page – needs a lot of work to do him justice. Click on its Talk page to see if anyone is taking an interest… 

The young leading man
What? A long detailed missive from his ... what? His grandson! He is offering evidence for the existence of a mistress, and illegitimate children, which is peremptorily dismissed by an editor. This MUST be worth following up! Gael Hayden Guthrie Lewis – well it is not a common name. He’s a company director so we have an address. I write – just in time notice a recent change of address, and the letter edited is finally, posted. Radio silence for a couple of weeks. Then a phone call – Gael has been in France! A torrent of emails and a cornucopia of evidence. A few weeks of cross-referencing information, building a cogent story from the newspaper archives, adding some family context on Ancestry. Now the story can be told. 

Best to start squarely in the middle of the timescale with the incontrovertible evidence. A male child named Errol Blanchard Hayden Christie has his birth registered on 27 November 1918. Mother Mamie Christie of independent means, father named as Charles Hayden Coffin, an actor and singer. Aah, what’s to stop any wannabee single mother naming a celeb as the father? But the birth (11 October 1918) has been registered by both mum and dad! Charlie IS the father! That settled, it’s a bit of an anti-climax to just slot in all the other info. Gael’s mother, Crystal Hayden Christie, was born 12th September 1914. Mamie was coy – the father was named as a John Christie, a civil engineer. Her maiden name was given as Jefferson. Lest there be any doubt, we have a letter written, 21st April 1915, by Charlie’s elder brother, Walter: “My dear Mamie, I thank you for your charmingly kind note, and for the little glimpse yesterday of an earthly paradise. You have made dear old Charlie happy at last, and will have a great reward. The perfectly delightful little daughter we may hope should link us all up in a greater love. She may bring us some message of our beloved mother [Sarah Powell Coffin had died 21 February 1913] – I say our mother, as she is now yours. We both know she was fond of you, and I pray for her blessings.” 

Charlie and his children
Mamie E. Christie, in the UK just-pre-war ‘1939 Register’, records her date of birth as 12th February 1877 (so her two children were born just either side of her 40th year of age). She was in fact born as Maud Ella Cohn, to Herrmann Cohn, a naturalised German ‘Australian merchant’, and Anita, daughter of medical Dr Maurice Davis, both wealthy Jewish dynastic families. Her brother was Jefferson Davis Cohn, a very successful businessman and horse breeder. A maternal uncle was none other than the celebrated Sir George Lewis, solicitor to the mighty. So she was a wealthy society girl. She seemed to violently dislike her first name of Maud so was soon instead ‘Mamie’. She sometimes adopted Jefferson as her surname too. The surname of Christie was religiously adhered to after the birth of her daughter in 1914. She had been an ardent amateur, even semi-professional, actress with appearances studded in the Stage. She was also an accomplished pianist – Crystal said she trained at the Paris Conservatoire. But at some point she caught something that left her profoundly deaf. It never held her back – she could lip read very well – and Gael remembers her holding court to hosts of foppish men in felt hats well into her seventies and eighties until she died 26th October 1966. So, backtracking, we first find her, in playbills preserved by the family, in the late 1880s playing Little Red Riding Hood and Beauty [alongside the Beast] in productions written by her grandfather, Dr Maurice Davis, accompanied by the children of such theatrical luminaries as George Edwardes and the Lovedays, and stage managed by the actress Alexes Leighton. In the papers, by 1891-92 she is ‘a child elocutionist of much promise’, doing benefit performances for hospitals and churches, followed by a touch of professional work in 1894, playing a Pastoral and one of Chopin’s valses on the piano ‘with a careful if not powerful touch’ for minor actress and promoter Lilla Norden. Just to remind ourselves she was primarily a society girl, it was off to the Windsor Ball with brother Jefferson in 1898. A hospital fundraiser playing ‘a dainty little Daisy Brent’ in Edwardes’s The Shop Girl in 1901. Next year, another benefit, acting in an original one-act comedy entitled ‘We Three’, a first work by Eric C Scott (son of Clement, no less!) and a starring role. 1903 and a high quality amateur part as Lucy Lorimer in Sydney Grundy’s hit comedy A Pair of Spectacles– alas not on the London Stage but for the London Rifle Brigade Musical Society, albeit with glowing revues. She is moving in the right theatrical circles. 1910 sees her sending a wreath to the funeral of H J Loveday, so long stage director to Sir Henry Irving, brother to G B Loveday of operatic management renown, and, so, also brother in law to the wonderful Annie Tremaine/Madame Amadi.

Now she is getting close to Charlie Hayden Coffin. So, it is now time - what do we have now when we peer into our new family heirloom treasure chest? The fly sheet from the family bible in two hands separated by half a century: ‘To my beloved Crystal, x 1914, from Charles Hayden Coffin who received it from his dear Papa on his first birthday anniversary April 22nd 1863, London’. A 1919 letter from Charlie to his daughter: “Sweet Crystal. I was glad to get your letter and the drawing of Bowen. I shall soon be home now. Please tell Mummie to get my room ready for Sunday or Monday.” A letter from Mamie’s solicitor, dated May 1928, explaining to her that changing her name by deed poll to Christie could be done ‘silently’ so as not to alert Errol’s school that she was still, legally, Maud Ella Cohn. A photograph that must have been taken (by Mamie?) around 1928, still pasted in the family photo album (and annotated by Crystal), that shows a doting dad with his two children – Errol in school uniform aged about 10, Crystal, now looking very grown up aged about 14, and Charlie, therefore in his mid-sixties. This was no mere fleeting dalliance! And a quick dip back into the newspapers gives us the first image of Mamie, presenting the Bartlett Cup for fencing (sabre) to G. R d’A Hosking in April 1940. (both Crystal and Errol were champion fencers). And another photo a year later shows her presenting a cup for the junior foils. "And finally, a letter to the Radio Times of July 22, 1938 written by Crystal “As I am the daughter of the late Hayden Coffin…” – perhaps the relationship between Charlie and Mamie was more widely known at the time than we imagined…"

Well, I guess that is incontrovertible. Surprising but incontrovertible. But many a leopard changes spots, especially with age.

I can’t change my Encyclopaedia of the Musical Theatre: it's printed, published and reprinted and republished, and anyway it doesn’t really deal with the singer’s sex-life. But you know my mania for facts and ‘getting it right’. And I really love it when someone such as Colin, with the same devotion to facts and truth, as opposed to myths, comes along. Three cheers for Tottie Coffin, baritone superstar, and all he sailed in.


Tuesday, November 6, 2018

In Memoriam: Ian A W Bevan.

The first week of November may be the Melbourne Cup and springtime ... but it is also, for me, a time tinged with tears. Twelve years ago, on 4 November, my Ian died in my arms, here mid the green, green grass of Gerolstein. So those of you who knew him, do take a minute out to remember this wonderful man ...

Not many still alive will remember him as a bright young thing of the Sydney 1930s ...

I wonder who the others were. Rada Penfold Russell, I would imagine ... and ...?

Not many, either, will remember him as the very serious war correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald, the youngest (and most wideawake) journalist at the Nuremberg trials ..

This is how I like to remember him. In the 1970s and 1980s, when we had become a couple ..

I still have that jersey. It's scheduled for the Sally Ann this week....

So many happy years in London, and then in France ...

Until we were forced, after Ian's first two strokes, to flee back to the English-speaking south: eventually to the beautiful surroundings of Gerolstein, Sefton, Canterbury ...

This photo was taken shortly before his death. Twelve years ago.

We are still here, Wendy and I. And Ian is too. In spirit and also ... well, I buried his little box of ashes in my garden, and Wendy planted some beautiful yellow irises to mark the spot. They flower in November ...

And life has moved on. His wheelchair ramp has become the habitat of others ..

And the view from his spot on his bedroom-suite deck has changed somewhat, courtesy of earthquakes and storms ...

I now sleep where he used to sleep ... until the day comes, I suppose, when it's my turn. But, in the meantime, we will remember him, not only in November but all of the time ...

I hope you who knew him will too.

Monday, November 5, 2018


Any week now, John Yap’s company, JAY Records, is going to release a recording of Ivor Novello and Christopher Hassall’s musical spectacular, The Dancing Years. And not just any old recording. A complete double-CD of the entire music – interludes, dance-music, choruses, the lot. Why am I writing about this before the event. Well, I can’t really do it after the event, because there’s a little bit of me in there, and I have heard the recordings way before the event.

The Dancing Years and I go back a long way. When I was a teenaged basso in Christchurch, NZ, powering out Daland’s Aria and the Death of Boris,‘Three Fine Ships’ and the Dvorak Biblical Songs to piano accompaniment on the local airwaves, I took part in the odd stage show. Only the odd one, for University Latin and Greek had to come first. I had little or no knowledge of ‘show music’, apart from G&S, so such events as plump Audrea Beddie’s deliciously coy rendition of ‘Moonstruck’ and Natalie Brittenden’s tremulous soprano versions of Novello -- Clara Novello? Vincent Novello? -- were an eye-opener. Then when I was co-opted for the concert of a rival group, across town, for a kind of Nelson and Jeannette spot, with a lady from London (wow!) named Gillian, we were given what I seem to recall as being a duet arrangement of ‘Waltz of my Heart’ …

Well, I wasn’t going to sing much Novello over the years that followed. Ivor Novello clearly had a aversion to the bass or baritone voice (possibly because he didn’t have one … other musical writers, today, suffer the same inability to write for a low voice) and his scores, thus, included nothing that could interest me. Back to Verdi and Wagner, and on to light and show music of a more beautifully bass-baritonic kind.

It was a decade down the track, when I had renounced performing for writing, that I bumped into Ivor again, and much more thoroughly. Because, of course, he and his shows feature largely in volume two of my British Musical Theatre. They sounded like good colourful entertainment. So, I read them, played them. Yes, the dialogue was a bit … er … twee … thirty or forty years on, but the music, as sung on record by Bronhill, Hill-Smith et al, was lush and lovely. And when my friend, the soprano Diana Martin, starred in a revival of Perchance to Dream alongside Simon Ward, I had a chance to see a Novello work in an, admittedly less than Drury Lane-sized, production. As a period piece, it worked fine.
Shirley Low and Judy Scollay in my Elektra
Flashback. When I had begun writing, in the 1960s, I had started with plays. One-acters for the British Drama League. Elektra was the first and best. The Women of Troy (yes, I was still in my Latin/Greek stage) won second prize and was published. But then I was off to London, to become the new 9-stone Gottlob Frick. Needless to say, I didn’t. And after a few years enjoying myself singing ‘Was I wazir’, Danilo in The Merry Widow and ‘Once Nearly was mine’ round the world’s oceans, I met Ian, and settled down to a long, long ‘married’ life. 

Ian didn't work with Ivor, but he was pals with the other chappie
Doing…? Write, said he firmly. So, I wrote. Plays. I still have some: Anyone for Armageddon, which actually got to casting stage with Duncan Wheldon, The Red, White and Blue Brigade, and even a Palladium panto, The Black Crook, for Louis Michaels (‘but it’s not Aladdin or Cinderella!’). I even adapted a couple of Ngaio Marsh mysteries. And there was an Arthur Schwartz musical for Dora Bryan. And a remake of Coward’s Pacific 1860 for Joan Sutherland. But none of them saw the light of a professional stage. Shame. They were/are good. But perhaps now rather old-fashioned. I mean, the aristocrats and right-wingers in the original plays are the GOODIES! Desperately unfash in 2018.

Then, one evening, Ian came home, from a trip to New York, with Gerry Bordman’s American Musical Theatre under his arm, and the rest is history. I didn’t become a playwright, I became an historian. 

19 September 1986. The day I became a published author.

Now when my British Musical Theatre came out, with rather resounding results, some odd things happened. I was invited to speak on radio and on television, I was invited to write all sorts of other books, and blow me down, I was invited to work on the libretti of a couple of musicals. One was an American piece about, if I remember Abelard and Eloise, whose author-composer had recorded his curious and derivative score, in the fashion of the day, on vinyl. It was all right. I forget its name. Anyway, if the music was harmless, the text was .. um .. in need of mending. Rewriting. So I remodelled and rewrote (I’m good at that) and returned the script. Apparently the American was not at all happy! He didn't want ANYTHING changed. The project was abandoned.

But the same management had taken up the rights to The Dancing Years, which had been left in Ivor's will to the young son of producer, Tom Arnold. The book was proven and competent, not like the other piece, but --- the central plot premise was a horror and the language, well, twee. So, a second time, I went to work. The result was excellent. I liked it, Ian liked it, the producers liked it … but Mrs Arnold senior didn’t like it. Too much of Ivor’s text was changed. Well, of course it was. It needed to be. People didn’t SPEAK like that any more! I rewrote, but she was adamant. It all collapsed. I hope she gave the producers their option money back. They really had done well by the piece.

The Dancing Years in my Encyclopaedia
So, I had spent some months of my life (re)thinking and (re)writing The Dancing Years. And recently, I found the printed-up text the producers prepared. I think it is the revised version. And, oh dear, two CF-2 floppy discs --- one of each version – I say, if listening to John’s outstanding recording prompts anyone to think of producing the piece, and if Maxell discs can be revived … do give a chance to a now elderly gent who didn’t become a playwright or a librettist, thanks to this almost-final set-back, but who still made his life and career writing about, rather than for, the theatre! 

PS: I forgot to tell you my connection with this recording. I have been writing sleeve notes, off and on, for John, for what we will simply call ‘a very long time’. I think Pacific 1860 was the first. Well, here I am again (who else?), decades down the line, with the booklet for The Dancing Years. However, John also, with the goal of completeness, wanted to link the musical numbers on the thread of the show's story. Wisely eschewing the original dialogue, he had me write a slim narration to do the job. I curbed my prolix tendencies and … here it is! I never got to sing with Valerie Masterson, but at least I’m sharing a recording with her.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Nineteenth century musicians and vocalists

Breakfast time, and I'm trolling through the ebay emporia ... faustinosdad (again!) and antiqueinspired gave me the most pleasure. Two splendid e-shops. I'm going for a second coffee, and I'll immerse myself once more ... my team! I've done the searching (and the correcting), you can do the shopping!

C H Parry

Geo Elvey
A C Mackenzie
James Maurice Wehli

Dan Godfrey

Joseph Barnby
John Sims Reeves
A slimmer than usual Euphrosyne Parepa 
Paul Juignet
Mary Davies
Agosto Susini
Not a Czech soprano as labelled, but Irma Marié of Parisian opéra-bouffe
Labelled 'A scene from a play?' TRILBY, I think?