Saturday, May 8, 2021

Charles Chilley: top of the second division


Charles Chilley wasn't a footballer, he was a tenor singer. A very good tenor singer, well-known  from Southsea to Dundee for more than fifteen years in the 1880s and 1890s. I have compiled a list of hundreds of the engagements that he fulfilled, sometime half the length of the country apart in the same week, and my list won't be half of it. Mr Chilley was during his fifteen years very much in demand for the tenor solos concerts and oratorios in all kinds of venues and at all kinds of levels. 

Charles was, it seems, an impeccable performer. From his very beginnings, through the hundreds of reviews I have read, emphasis was made of his pleasantly-timbred voice and his perfect technique. He was reliable, too, I've only seen a couple of instances where he scratched from an engagement, and many more where he deputised in extremis for one of the favourite tenors of the day. Notably, of course, for the notoriously fragile Sims Reeves to whom, it was once reported, he was engaged to cover for an entire season. But Charles was not a 'top tenor'. A newspaper article, writing of the lack of good tenors in Britain, and speaking from the point of view of provincial and minor concert promotors, complained that the likes of Edward Lloyd were too expensive (and there was only one of him!), others such as Barton McGuckin were occupied in opera companies, or, like Ben Davies, in the musical theatre, so singers such as Charles, Edward Branscombe, Harper Kearton -- perfectly good performers all -- were in great demand, and racked up vast lists of engagements. There were, after all, in the late nineteenth century, hundreds of concerts weekly throughout the British Isles!

One area where Charles found employment was as a member of various touring concert parties, some with colourful headliners. For the principle with a concert party promotion (unless you were a Mapleson, with stacks of singers under contract) was: take your megastar, bill her (or him) hugely, and support him (or her) with inexpensive performers. In this way, in his time, Chilley was tenor to (and sang duets with) such as Patti, Melba and Albani.

Charles, throughout his career, stuck very largely to ballad music. Although he was briefly (and incorrectly) rumoured to have been hired by the Carl Rosa in his early career, I find no evidence of his having appeared on the stage, and only rarely did he sing operatic music -- the Garden Scene from Faust and a concert performance of Trovatore in the suburbs, a Miserere with a striving soprano in Birmingham. And, as a ballad singer it was that he succeeded in rising to the heights of the field with four seasons of employment in the shopwindow series of the genre, Boosey's London Ballad Concerts at St James's Hall. But let's start at the beginning.

Charles Chilly (sic) was born in London in 1856. His father was Julius Chilly (b Garboldisham, Norfolk c 1822; d Pimlico 14 September 1868) sometime butler to the Tollemache brothers of East Stoneleigh Villas, Leamington Priors, who had since become a 'beer retailer' in London. His mother was Eliza née Goddard (d Stanstead Rd, Forest Hill 15 May 1915), a publican's daughter. Julius died when Charles was twelve, Eliza soon gave up the licence of the Grosvenor Arms in Lower Belgrave Place, Charles was sent to school at the Albert Memorial School in Framlingham, and mother remarried (16 February 1871) the widowed Robert Batt of Forest Hill. Charles can be seen living with them in 1881 'scholar of music'.

After his time at Framlingham, he had begun by working in an office, but in 1879, when he revisited his old school to sing ('Pilgrim of Love', 'The Blue Alsatian Mountains') at Prize Day, it was reported that he had decided on a musical career. He trained under J B Welsh at the Guildhall, and was seen out in public (now as 'Chilley') in  such as the Crosby Row Chapel, the Civil Service Vocal Union, the Victoria Coffee House and at St Margaret's Patten Rood Lane, where he sang in The Woman of Samaria and Redemption, before making an appearance at the Covent Garden proms ('Mary Morrison', 'Bay of Biscay'). He was seen with such as the Crouch End Choral Society, the Tradesmen's Benevolent Society, the City Temple Free Concerts, at New Brighton in St Paul, at St Leonard's and in the modest Crystal Palace afternoons, before making something of a breakthrough at the same venue singing Die letzte Walpurgisnacht with Hilda Wilson and Charles Santley. He was adjudged 'a light tenor of some promise'.

During 1884, I spot him singing in La Messe des Morts in Glasgow, The Bride of Dunkerron at Portsmouth, with Willing's Choir in Throne's 57th Psalms and Handel's Resurrection, at Shields in The Redemption, with Josef Cantor's singer at Liverpool, for the German Hospital, Elizabeth Philp at St James's Hall, in the Albert Hall ballad concerts, back at the Crystal Palace, in Samson in Dundee as he began to establish himself as a useful performer. He was seen at Paisley in The Lord of the Isles, The Church in the Grove at Sydenham, Acis and Galatea and Mozart's 12th Mass at the Finsbury Choral Association, Rivière's Proms at Her Majesty's, the London Male Voice Choral Union, more Old Vic ballad concerts, the Albert Palace ('Maid of the Mill', 'Death of Nelson', the inevitable Southsea Clarence Pier concerts (Pinsuti's 'The Last Watch', 'a cultured tenor'), Alfred Caldicott's concert at Worcester ('Sound an alarm', ''Goodnight beloved'), Rea's Newcastle concerts (Cowen's 'All in All'), in an engagement with Antoinette Sterling with the London Ballad Singers, St Paul at Ipswich ... mostly with local and otherwise little or unknown singers, but when Sims Reeves scratched from an Albert Hall concert, Charles Chilley replaced him in a concert bill topped by Christine Nilsson. And he sang Reeves's eternal 'The Bay of Biscay'. 

And thus it continued: Dublin for Judas Maccabeus, Portsmouth Philharmonic for The Crusaders, Falcon Cliff in the Isle of Man for the summer concerts, the Birmingham Exhibiton concerts ('Miserere' with one Jeanetta Frazier), more Covent Garden proms, the Dublin pops ('Salve dimora' 'fully sustained his reputation for perfect technique and splendid vocalism') a Messiah at Leicester and one at Hawick where Anna Williams was the soprano, a Guy's Hospital concert at Willis's Rooms ('Sleepest thou still', 'Wouldst thou gain the tender creature'), Ladbroke Hall, Northfleet, Lobegsang at Craven Hill and Winchester. the Indigent Jews' Benevolent Society, with Bottesini playing, Belfast with Mary Davies, The Creation  at Southampton, the Peckham Conservative Club, Hackney, Prince's Hall, the Isle of Man, a concert with ex-Guildhall colleague, Bantock Pierrepoint.

In September 1887 he joined Farley Sinkin's concert party, with soprano Rosina Isidor, mezzo Eleanor Rees, and basso Foli, for a tour, and followed up in a much-advertised Constabulary Concert at Newcastle, with Albani, Janet Patey and Foli, but it was soon back to the usual run of things: more Dublin concerts for Dr Collisson, Elijahs at Portmouth and Huddersfield, concerts from Braintree to the Isle of Man to Sunderland, more appearances at the Victoria Hall, at the Olympia Proms (with Sterling and Maybrick), at the Crystal Palace (Choral Symphony), Finsbury (Eli), Brockley (Il Trovatore with Marion Fenna). He returned to Portsmouth to sing On Shore and Sea.

The modest mixture as before continued through 1890 and into 1891:Covent Garden, Dublin, Southsea, the Isle of Man and/or Llandudno in the season, The Crusaders at Tynemouth, Lobgesang at Wakefield and for the Post Office Musical Society, before he was hired to sing with a concert party put out by the management of the London Ballad Concerts. Mary Davies, Antoinette Sterling, Alice Gomes, Michael Maybrick ... all singers in whose company he had appeared before, but who, all together, made up a very appreciable team. And he did all right: 'An agreeable tenor voice, sympathetic in quality ..'. And he made himself a place. When the tour ended, and he and Pierrepoint had fulfilled a Prodigal Son at Reading and a Messiah at Liverpool (and he and growing family had moved house) he was called to St James's Hall for the regular Boosey concerts. His growing status was confirmed when he was called in as an adjudicator for some of the RAM's vocal prizes.

The Boosey concerts, however, only occupied part of his time. He took part in a little tour with Miss Sterling, I see him with Decima Moore at Kennington, singing a local King Arthur at Airdrie, Mors e vita at Hastings, Gaul's Joan of Arc at Lowestoft, and at the so-called London Saturday concerts, before in June 1892 he and Ben Davies joined Patti, Patey and Santley in a concert at the Albert Hall. And he was hired for the Patti concerts ('Were I a streamlet', My Love, my Crown').  

The next series of Boosey concerts (he sang 'Tell me Mary how to woo thee', while Edward Lloyd gave Cavalleria rusticana) was perforated by a series of concerts toplined by Nellie Melba, and when he supported Albani, it was he who had a bash at the Cavalleria aria. After the season's end, he Foli and Clarissa Landi went on tour with Albani's party, but Chilley still returned to his old haunts: the Clarence Pier, Falcon Cliff and Llandudno. Later in the year he went out with another concert party topped by the ageing Santley and Antoinette Trebelli ('Feodora', 'The Dream of my Heart', 'Mary of Argyll', 'Sally in our Alley'), but at the year's end he was back in town for another Boosey series.

Antoinette Trebelli

The other engagements continued to tumble over one another: The Messiah at Bradford and Bromley, The Prodigal Son at Islington, St Paul at Oxford, more seaside engagements, more Crystal Palace concerts, more concerts for the Harrison organisation in the north, Elijah at Belfast and at Bristol, and with the opening of the Queen's Hall, he appeared there in concert ('Molly Bawn', 'Norah the Pride of Kildare', The Ancient Mariner). In 1895 he travelled with parties headed by Albani, then by Esther Palliser, but he did not return to the Boosey fold, and the best period of his career was over.

He returned to the circuits of his earlier days: the Harrison concerts and tours, a concert party with Ella Russell, Crystal Palace afternoons, the Victoria Hall, Messiahs at Ipswich and Alexandra Palace, The Creation at Banbury with the addition, now, of Robert Newman's Queen's Hall Proms. Finally, in 1899 he took over the tenor part in the Meister Glee singers, making up a team with W G Forington, Norcross and William Sexton. He did not stay very long, and in 1900 was replaced by Ager Grove.

Thereafter, he was seen only occasionally in concert, and my last sighting is with a little tour of Walter Evans's concert party, playing his song cycle Cupid's Mirror. He was now 'teacher of singing'. But he had fifteen years of a very solid professional career as a tenor.

Charles married Caroline Grieg Burton, daughter of a vet, on 20 June 1885. The couple had five children: Charles Goddard (b Percy Rd 11 June 1886), Victor Robert (b Percy Rd 28 June 1887), Marion Caroline (b 4 Henry Rd 6 June 1889), Michael Maybrick (b Eglantine Rd 1892), Lionel Courtenay (b Eglantine Rd 1894). Michael died 27 April 1917 of wound received at Flanders Field. Lionel survived the war, and became a British West Africa Bank official in Accra, Gold Coast, Charles (d 1961) became a storeman and Victor (d 1955), after a brief attempt at the stage, became a supervisor of milk pasteurisation. Marion married Allan Montague Smith (d 2 March 1928) and herself died 9 January 1947. Lionel seems to have been the best value of the bunch. Mr Smith made him his executor. He died in Accra 11 April 1945.

Charles himself died at 96 Venner Rd, Sydenham 21 July 1927. His wife had predeceased him, and he shared his home latterly with daughter Marion and her husband and daughter, Marion Maud (Mrs Boorman d 19 November 1972).

And that's the story, as far as I can tell it, of Mr Chilley the tenor.


k dee said...

So, a "gigging" tenor. Quantity, not quality. As a muso myself, I knew a lot of gigging musicians who did very well, thank you, by working a lot for less money, rather than working occasionally for a larger sum. Things don't change, just the music being performed.

k dee said...

Especially drummers, who often became agents due to contact with all the bands and artistes they worked with.

Unknown said...