Sunday, July 4, 2021

By the seaside: from the concert-parties of England came forth ...


One can't know everything. So I rarely venture outside my area of 'expertise' and into the twentieth century. But the Excelsior Opera Singers tempted me, this week, and while I was there, amongst the seaside entertainments of the 1900s and 1910s, I saw this card ...

Carrie Tubb? At the seaside? But Carrie Tubb was a splendid soprano in opera and oratorio. So I looked. A nice biographical interview Herman Klein. One of eight children, no money, Guildhall School of Music, School Prize 1900, debut in the first British Elektra at Covent Garden in 1910, and on we go. 

There is the Tubb family, father, mother, six at-home children in 1901, at 81 Claverton Street, Westminster. Poor? But father is 'living on his own means', two of the boys are legal clerks, another works for an organ-builder, another for an ironmonger ... So, back a decade before John Tubb started living on his own means. Ah. 'Club porter', and 14 year-old Caroline Elizabeth (b 17 May 1876) is a dressmaker's apprentice. That's right, she said that. John must have risen, I see that by 1911 he has a civil service pension.

Guildhall, yes. Prize, yes. But then a gap of ten years before Covent Garden when she appeared as 'fifth maid' behind the Elektra of Edyth Walker. What was she doing?  The first mention I see is in December 1899 and 1900 singing 'patriotic music' for the Primrose League at Westminster Town Hall. Then 

Well, we all have to start small, but this is really small. 'The Dominos' on Southend's Clarence Pier. The Pier usually used the not-quite-good-enough and the clapped-out of the singing world. I have no idea what became of Dominos 1, 3 and 5 from this team. But number four, musician Alexander E Oliveira, married Carrie.

Most of her next credits seem to be at Bath. Sixpenny concerts in 1901, and in 1902 we see that she sang Goring Thomas's 'A Summer Night', 'Il Bacio', Mattei's 'Dear Heart', Goetz's 'Melisande in the Wood', Clutsam's 'Folk Song' and ... Elsa's Dream.

It seems that she did indeed, for a decade, gravitate between piers and pump rooms and the like. So, when was she part of this particular group. It seems to have been 1909, for I spot this team (Mr Oliver and Miss Stuart were, alternately, the pianists of the affair) at Croydon 10 November 1909... and yes, 13 December was a Monday ... but what is this? Here is the same team in Shields 'The Rendall Jackson Comedy Concert Co in April 1908, already ... and he and she singing together in Tottenham in November 1908 .. they're at Margate for summer season ..

So I guess we now know what Carrie did after school. I see her singing with Hayden Coffin at the Empire Southend, and then she's up at His Majesty's Theatre singing Rosalinde in Fledermaus for Beecham ('her exceptional powers of song were coupled witha rare ability to act a trying part'), giving 'Ocean, thou mighty monster' in concert, and Wagner at the Queen's Hall. But she kept in her repertoire Herbert Oliver's 'Queen of the Roses' which she had sung with the Concert Party. And when she mounted a London concert of her own, Oliver was the accompanist and Philip Ritte sang.

Well, of course, I couldn't help myself. I had to find out who the other folk in my original photo were. Mr Ritte (tenor), Mr Jackson (baritone), Mr Wright (humorist), Mr Wildon (musical comedian) and Mr Oliver (pianist).

I had actually encountered Mr Ritte before. For he was a scion of the D'Oyly Carte company at the Savoy. Philip RITTE (Philip RITTENBERG) (b Edinburgh 8 January 1871; d 136 Brondesbury Villas 14 December 1954), born of a Jewish Russian family in Scotland, father: Bernhard Rittenberg (minister), mother Bertha Wasserzug. I don't know what happened, but he can be seen aged 10 in the Levi Hospital and Orphan Asylum in Norwood. He wasn't an orphan, so I guess it was hospital. He first appears to me as a vocalist in 1899, a member of the Savoy chorus, before he joined fellow Savoyards Iago Lewys, Alfred Gater and Arthur Boielle in a group named the Thuringian Part Singers. I see him in Paul Mills's Olympian Entertainers ('a pleasantly modulated tenor voice'), at the Nottingham Glee Club, and in 1907 featured as Walther in the Cheltenham Philharmonic Society's concert Tannhäuser. In 1904 he had a supporting role in The Cherry Girl ('When the stars are shining').

Records vary as to when he first sang in the Boosey Ballad concerts. I have lists and lists of the composition of those concerts (which were in decline from their St James's Hall heyday) and I can't find him once. Yet it is said he appeared anually for some years and in 1909, when he took part in small Essex concert he was referred to as 'of the Boosey...'. I'll wait till I find a programme.
What no-one can deny is that he recorded a number of ballads around this time ('Because', 'Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes', 'Alice Where Art Thou', 'Come into the Garden, Maud', 'Kathleen Mavourneen', 'I think', 'Love's Old Sweet Song', 'Killarney', 'The Meeting of the Waters', 'Oft in the Stilly Night', 'The Bay of Biscay', 'The Holy City', 'The Wearing of the Green') some of which can be heard on youtube. With the odd odd vowel!

During a long career, he appeared on many a pier, on radio, on film, even once in The Messiah with 'Elsa Stralia', but his main occupation, however, was as a concert party tenor and, latterly, promotor: and a decidedly successful one .. latterly with his daughter, Sheila

Ritte married Henrietta Helena Latte in his Savoy days and fathered four children.  I wonder if this little lovely is one of them

A very illusive photo. This is not the famous St James's Hall, London's one-time celebrated concert venue, and the birthplace of the Ballad Concerts and the Pops, with Philip in big letters and the rest carefully hidden. It was left to its doom when Philip was at the Savoy, and demolished when he was an Olympiac Entertainer. I would say this photo is from the 1920s, and the St James's Hall is one of the many of that name from Islington or Great Portland Street to Newcastle and Bridlington. And I'll bet the hidden part of the bill says Philip Ritte[s Entertainers] or [Revellers].

Oddly, the man behind the Jackson group caused me a lot of sweat. Randell JACKSON. Was it his real name? No, it wasn't. But I got him in the end. Henry William Jackson (b Evelyn St, Deptford 27 May 1874; d Sea Lane, Rustington 3 February 1951) was the son of a shipwright, William Henry Jackson and his wife Anna the widow Kern (m 1873), who had just time to bear him two sons, to add to her previous two, before he died. Young Henry duly became a clerk to a builder, married the resoudingly name Katherine Amy Wordsworth Saunderson. The marriage would be blessed in 1902 with a daughter, Ellaline Margaret Anna (Mrs Robert David Rae).
By this stage, though still sticking to his day job, young Henry had begun singing, en amateur, in the suburban concerts, underhis new named. I see him first in 1897, and then 1898 playing Pippo in a performance of La Mascotte. His voice was an attractive baritone, of medium weight, and he delivered a range of songs dentimental and heroic, from 'Whos's that calling', 'Thy Sentinel Am I', 'Nita Gitana', 'I saw thee weep', 'The Old Brigade' to 'The Young Friar', 'If Love were all' and 'O dry those tears' in 'a voice of exceptional sweetness' at venues such as St John's Wood, Dulwich, Reigate, Croydon, Norwood, Islington, the small London rooms, at a Portman Rooms charity bazaar, and the concerts directed by James Turle Lee, sharing sometimes a stage with such denizens of a slightly higher ecehelon as Whitworth Mytton, Herbert Grover, Robert Radford, Dalgety Henderson, Musgrove Tufnell, Franklin Clive, Frederick Ranalow or Ernest Pike, and sometimes several times a week.
He seems to have ventured to the south coast in 1901, singing with a Blue Viennese Band (which was, doubtless, neither) at Folkestone, and in May 1902 he took part in a season at the Beach Concert Pavilion, Hastings, with a group yclept 'The Olympian Pierrots'. Folkestone, Bognor, back to Hastings for another season ...his diary was shared between the seaside and the suburbs. I see him in 1903 in a concert with Paula Stuart, already. And in 1905 he formed his own troupe. 

Florence Madeleine Venning Southgate (Mrs Fox, for the moment b Tooting 7 August 1866; d Bath 26 May 1950) and Ada Sarah Tunks (b 31 August 1880; d Barnstaple 23 November 1956) were the lady vocalists, Paula Stuart already was the pianist , Walter Clyde (né Davies b Llanelly 1874) had been several years a tenor with the Mohawk/Moore & Burgess Minstrels and more recently on the halls in the Manchester area, Walter Walters was the 'humourist', last seen humouring the High Wycombe Conservative Club ('It was Bessie's Idea, Not Mine', 'What's the use?').

Walter Clyde

In 1906, Henry entered another arena: the recording world. I see him putting down versions of 'The Trumpeter', 'Come, be a Soldier' and Three for Jack'.  

I'm sure he put out more concert parties. I have several undated photos under his name. But I don't see him again until the 1908-9 one with Carrie. Summer at Margate, I think. Then there is this photo from 1911 

Ritte again, Oliver again (now a well-known songwriter) instead of the mysterious Paula on piano. And, surprise! Kenna Lawson! William Kenna Lawson (b Glasgow 1872; d Fulham 1919) had a neat career in the theatre after giving up being an accountant and stockbroker's agent. He played in the Ada Reeve musical Butterflies in London, toured in The Count of Luxenburg, The Girl in the Taxi, Oh! Be Careful, played in pantomime and in concert parties such as The Gems. So, if he's on team in 1911, this photo must be from not too far away ... and, of course, before 1919.

Paula's back, Philip, Henry and Lawson ... but we have two newbies. Lena Hutchings from Ilfracombe has been round a few years since sang with the local Baptist Band of Hope in 1901. In 1912, I see her on tour with Pélissier's Follies. My last sighting of her is in 1919 at the Hull Palace. So when did she do a stint with Henry? Emil Clare 'singer and raconteur' can be seen doing his act in Great Bardfield in 1921. 

Here's the 1912 team

The three 'backbones', new ladies again, and Rex Harold 'comedian'. Mr Harold was a member of the 'Middies and Maids' troupe in 1910 and, like so many of the other players seems to have a connection with the Chelmsford area. There he is in 1936 entertaining at a dinner in Springfield. A definite 'occasional professional'. Which one would not say about Miss Edris Owen Coombs (b Stamford Hill, 19 October 1891) from Hackney.  I see her at the Ardwick Empire in a revue entitled Splash Me! in 1914 ('a sweet soprano'), then a revue Go Ahead ('Miss Coombs studied under Geraldine Ulmar') before evolving an 'artistical musical act' the Edris Coombs Trio, with a violiniste and a pianiste. I guess this picture is before she became a trio? I see her still in 1926 playing in The Melody Box Revue. And Winnie? Well, she was principal girl in the Aberdeen panto of 1906 ...   I think the vocal values of the group may now have been a bit sacrificed to the funnies. But this was 1912, and folks were keener on ragtime than Lohengrin.

1914. Oh dear ... just Philip and Henry ... I wonder who these other folk are. The photo is taken in Margate, so I guess that's where they are

And one more photo. Date? But Paula is back. With one of Carrie's hats. Or ...

Well, there the photos stop. But Henry/Rendall/Randell didn't. He went on tour with the D'Oyly Carte's Elsie Spain in 1917-8 with success .... 

Well, I'm not sure when the last Jackson concert party went out, but I see him with - yes - Philip Ritte's Concert Party ('the famous London baritone') in 1921 -- on a  bill with Elsie and Doris Waters in 1926 ... and still singing on the radio in 1932 ...

He died in 1951, and his wife just twelve days later ..

Dammit, what happened to Paula?

But back we go. To the original photo. Ritte and Jackson had long and successful professional careers, and a third member of our team rendered them nothing in either longevity and popularity. Fred Wildon was born 2 June 1880 in Dulwich, Bermondsey, or Peckham (the say-so varied), as Frederick George Ling, son of a newspaper clerk from Debenham, and spent his earliest working life as a manual training pupil teacher in Lewisham. However, he soon began to appear in concerts, featuring a cominal act with a one-stringed fiddle, round Norwood, Croydon, Kennington, Deptford, Fulham and South London. By 1904 he had joiuned a group named the IDK Minstrels giving humorous songs and the fiddle act, and joining in such finales as 'The Bogey' and 'The Mummies'. He expanded his horizons with a performance of 'The Living Marionettes' and then 'The Gollywogs', developed the fiddle act into a one entitled 'Phonofiddleoddities', played sketches (Stage Struck), did his act at the Queen's Hall Sundays and as far afield, now, as Scotland and even visited the phonograph recording studios, as he worked himself up into a very original and popular performer.

On the way, he met musician Jessie Louise Pitman, and 21 October 1908 they were married. Jessie continued to make music and she and her ladies' quartet featured at seaside resorts and in variety for many years.

Fred continued his upward swing, and in 1909 he was featured at the London Pavilion. The Hippodrome, the Alhambra, the Tivoli followed, and I see him sharing a bill with Wilkie Bard, Fred Emney and Sidney Fairbrother and Violet Loraine in 1911. He was put under contact by Moss's Empires and made a nationwide tour of Hippodromes sharing, in London, with a Leoncavallo operetta, the American Ragtime Eight and Woodward's Seals.  And in between, he went back to the summer seaside with 'All the girls are lovely by the seaside', 'Beauty and the Guards' and his instrument, which on one occasion he used to accompany Nora Bayes in song.
In 1916 he toured with Fred Karno, and so it continued, taking in records, radio, television ... in the 1950s he was still running seaside seasons at Margate and Herne Bay, and concert seasons at Croydon ... and he was yet performing occasionally right up to his death 2 March 1954.  Jessie had predeceased him (4 April 1953).


Next up. Hugh Wright. Didn't really click that this is Hugh E Wright. Hugh Esterel Wright (b Cannes 13 April 1879; d Windsor 12 February 1940) the actor in twenty years of British films. But, like Carrie Tubb he started off as a 'pierrot'. And just plain 'Hugh Wright'. 
I see him in 1907 singing with Randell Jackson, in 1908 giving 'My Country Cousin' with Wildonm at the Mansion House, then as 'humourist' with our concert party. He moved on to Pélissier's Follies, West End revue, radio and the screen ...

And the pianist. Herbert [James] Oliver (b St Giles 20 October 1883; d Paddington Hospital 4 October 1950) was the son of a London maker of upholsterer's trimmings, and initially worked in the family business in Mornington Crescent. He began working in music as an accompanist in the London suburbs, and at the same time began publishing music, first for piano and then songs. Those songs, over more than thirty years, would become legion. The first which I spot are 'Go to sleep, curly head' and 'Love Divine' in 1908. A website
has had a go at compiling a list of his songs. I will limit myself to the most successful. It was his suite of five songs 'Songs of old London' and in particular 'Come to Vauxhall' that gave him real lift off, a revuette 'The Passing Show' proved popular in concert and radio, the more intense 'Yonder' was taken up and largely featured by Clara Butt, and the waltz song 'The Dancing Lesson' was promoted by old friend Carrie and all proved popular. He provided music for Harry Day's revue Rockets, joined Teschemaker for a 'Cries of London' suite, composed a radio operetta, The Vauxhall Belles, Peter Dawson recorded his 'Gog and Magog' and his melodies often played or accompanied by himself poured forth from national radio regularly.

His concert party activities became lesser as his popularity as a songwriter grew, but he was liable to pop up in all sorts of places and piers, tickling the ivories for an old friend.
Latterly, he became musical director for the Clacton Amateur Operatic Society. 

So, that's our photo. Every single one of that seaside-postcard troupe made good. Like repertory theatres, the concert parties were fine teachers of the actor's and musician's trades. I've enjoyed this little wander through that world and those times ... it was all but utterly vanished by the time I entered showbusiness, though there were traces remaining. The stout Glasgow landlady who proudly brought out her old playbills. I met a few like her. But, alas, who goes to the seaside now to watch the pierrots ...?  Imagine a pierrot with a microphone  ... 

And, please, what became of Paula?
I see her in 1903 with Jackson, in 1904 at Margate with Will Edwardes, in 1905, 1907-8, 1912-3 back with Jackson ... and then ..?


Chris Zwarg has come up with 78rpm recordings of many of our artists
Steve Bray has pretty certainly identified St James's Hall with the house of that name in Worthing, where Philip's company appeared between 1916-9.  Thursday 24th July ... 1919. Yay!

1 comment:

k dee said...

Amazing detective work.