Back for the new decade, that decade being the 1910s, audio historian James Errington returns for a deep dive into the sounds of 110 years ago. This time we’re joined by Cambridge 105’s own George Kirkman to listen to some ragtime frolics, eccentricities, proto-barbershop, proto-gospel and some meandering comic monologues.
Listen to the show on 105fm in Cambridge, on DAB digital nationwide, on the Cambridge 105 website here, or on any good radio apps, or, as you have already missed it, just listen via this mixcloud player.
Occasionally the CoS world will bump into the news, and so it was last week, when Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell was asked whether Winston Churchill was a hero or a villain and replied, after a long pause. “Tonypandy – villain”
It wasn’t a surprise that the newspapers and political twitter made a big deal of this – the only surprise really is that anyone was surprised. Churchill has divided opinion since he first emerged as a political figure – the cartoon portrait of him as “The Greatest Briton” has never been universally agreed upon – the nation of India and the British electorate which put him out of power in 1945 can attest to this.
Naturally it is beyond the scope of this website to determine whether he was a hero or a villain, but we can at least talk briefly about Tonypandy.
Tonypandy is a mining town in South Wales. The 1910 conflict there started when a cartel of mining companies accused miners of working too slowly, leading to a lock-out, strikebreakers, picketing, and protracted, fruitless negotiations. Eventually skirmishes between strikers and police broke out, and Churchill (then the Liberal Home Secretary) sent in the army, and at least one striker was killed. This action may seem fairly unimportant next to Gallipoli or the carpet bombing of German cities, but it is how he is still remembered in much of South Wales – to the extent that, 109 years later, it is the first thing that comes to mind when John McDonnell thinks about Churchill.
As far as I’m concerned 20th Century British Monarchs go something like this:
Edward VII – Portly saucy man with big beard and elaborate clothing, had his own era.
George V – Had a funny moustache and looked very much like his royal cousins?
Edward VIII – Quit to get married to Wallace Simpson, bit too friendly with Hitler.
George VI – King during WW2, Queen’s dad, had a stutter, died youngish.
Elizabeth II – The Queen
* WW1 (of course) – did a lot of troop visits, was injured by falling off his horse.
* Refusing to have the Romanovs given asylum in the UK for fear of a revolution here, leading to their deaths.
* Also votes for women, the first Labour government, independence for Ireland happened.
* Being euthanized / murdered in order that the news be in the more respectable morning papers.
* The apocryphal-but-still-worth-mentioning last words “Bugger Bognor” and the real last words “God Damn You!”
“On or around December 1910, human character changed. I am not saying that one went out, as one might into a garden, and there saw that a rose had flowered or a hen had laid an egg. The change was not sudden and definite like that, but a change there was, nevertheless.” – Virgina Woolf, “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown”
Pity the author trying to conjure up the aural landscape of the world before WW1. It’s too late for Victoriana, too early for the slightest hints of jazz, ragtime (in its popular conception) seems odd outside of saloon bars, and popular song? Well, there’s plenty of that, sure, but does it evoke anything peculiarly about this particular era? I would say not.
What we’re experiencing here is the distorting effect of multiple pairs of rose-tinted glasses. The shock of the war and the flu pandemic, closely followed by the shock of jazz and blues, these things walled off the pre-war era, made them look artificially old, and ripe for reinvention as nostalgia – both in the fairly harmless personal sense and in more sinister uses by those who wished to roll back social and political progress.
Some common ways to encounter popular songs of this time are;
* As “barbershop,” an invention sourced to a revival in the 1940s which pieced together several aspects of music and fashion of this era into a unified tradition which bears little resemblance to the way people actually understood it at the time. Certainly we have harmony singing quartets, but the narrow stylistic focus in Barbershop has no real predecessor.
* As “standards” or even “The Great American Songbook” which is traditionally understood to date from the dawn of the Jazz age (say 1917-1922) to the birth of Rock & Roll (say 1954-1959), but by 1910 we have many of the most important figures already on the board – Irving Berlin himself appears in this mix, and Gershwin’s piano rolls are coming fairly soon.
* As jazz – many of the hit songs of this time (especially those which mentioned “the blues”) were reinterpreted into jazz standards. See how many you recognise from this list – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pre-1920_jazz_standards – you may be surprised.
* As cartoon music. These were the songs of the artists’ childhoods, the most readily available touchstones available in their subconscious, it’s no wonder that when sound cartoons began in the late 20s they gravitated towards the simpler, less swervy melodies of a simpler time. When I’m playing band music from this era to friends, “this sounds like music from a cartoon” is an almost universal response.
The common thread through each of these is, again, nostalgia. We hear these songs as interpreted by the following couple of generations. Advances in recording (particularly electronic recording) would render these originals sonically poor, encourage re-recording and reinterpretation, and yes, that’s good, it’s the heart of the constant recycling at the heart of popular music. The jarring thing is the relative lack of this re-interpretative sense in the music of 1910. The remakes of recent classics like Old Folks At Home and The Mockingbird seem to have faded away, fueled by ragtime and tin pan alley, everyone seems to be looking to the present, or even the future, and that’s kind of an amazing place to be.
Early modernism has now been so recycled as to become an abandoned cliche, but sometimes this era can throw other curveballs at you. Have a look at this device, the “chronophone”, designed to play discs to accompany short ‘phonoscènes’ in a single French cinema, but looking for all the world like a steampunk dj deck.
The biggest star in the world in 1910 is still Enrico Caruso, and for good reason too. His superb singing style was exploited by the best engineers and with the most expensive studio setups. But something doesn’t feel quite right with these recordings, they are just too good. The truth is that while the vocal is most likely from this year, the backing seems to have been added at a later date – an unsatisfactory state of affairs for my obsessive side, but making for perhaps a more comfortable easing into and out of the era.
This is the final mix made using my “driftnet” technique, which meant finding every available recording from the year in question. This worked fine in the 1890s, but at this stage I had over 3000 mp3s to listen to in a single month, most of them poor quality opera recordings, and annoyed my family by listening to them all hours of the day. From this stage on, recordings are selected from lists and compilations prior to listening, not as extensive a reach into the year as before, but continuing to use the driftnet was madness.
Enrico Caruso & Frances Alda – Miserere (I Have Sighed to Rest Me) 0:00
Arthur Collins & Byron Harlan – I’m A-Dreamin’ of You 2:42
Sousa’s Band – Dancing Girl 4:15
Murry K Hill – Monologue on Married Life 6:07
Marie Dressler – Marie Dressler’s Working Girl Song 7:00
Ada Jones & Len Spencer – The Suffragette 8:20
Billy Murray – I’m on My Way to Reno 8:45
Jose Rocabruna – Romanza Expresiva 9:51
Aleister Crowley – One Sovereign for Woman 11:07
Belfs Rumaenisches Orchester – Yikhes 11:27
Sarah Bernhardt – Phedre 12:46
Schrammel Quartett Maxim – Slibowitz Tanz 13:39
Imperial Russian Balalaika Court Orchestra – Toreador Et Andalouse 14:23
Banda Odeon – Ze Pereira 15:54
Resurrección Quijano – Sarasa 16:40
Quarteto Da Casa Faulhaber & Cia – Chave De Ouro 18:33
Trio Instrumental Arriaga – El Novio De Tacha 20:40
Agustín Barrios – Ay Ay Ay 23:55
Jack Johnson – How I Won The Big Fight 23:37
Agustín Barrios – Jota 26:26
Fisk University Jubilee Singer – When Malindy Sings 26:27
Fisk University Jubilee Quartet – Swing Low Sweet Chariot 27:01
Bert Williams – Constantly 29:51
Sophie Tucker – That Lovin’ Rag 33:04
Steve Porter – Flanagan’s Courtship 34:53
Mr R. White – Ragtime Frolics 35:35
George Formby Sr – Standing at the Corner of the Street 39:03
Harry Lauder – We Parted on the Shore 41:45
Charles Daab – Irish and Scotch Melodies 43:10
Murry K Hill – Father’s Eccentricities 45:16
Eddie Morton – You Ain’t Talking to Me 45:56
Stella Mayhew – There Are 57 Ways to Catch a Man 47:10
Cal Stewart – Uncle Josh’s Rheumatism 49:40
Ada Jones and Billy Murray – Mandy, How Do You Do? 50:15
Nora Bayes & Jack Norworth – Come Along My Mandy 52:04
Irving Berlin – Oh How That German Could Love 54:48
Billy Murray & Ada Jones – Come Josephine in My Flying Machine 57:03
H Benne Henton Saxophone – Scenes That Are Brightest 59:08
Vess L. Ossman – the Moose 59:43
Sembannarkovil Ramaswamy Pillay – Sowrashtra-Mangalam 1:01:35
Brahma Sri Tiruchendur Appadurai Aiyengar – Karaha Athi 1:02:48
P.S. Ramuloo – Harmonium Instrumental- Abhogi-Athi 1:04:18
Nagamma and Sister – Lakshmi Saraswati Samvada 1:05:28
Fatma Ben Meddah – Zeza Barkak Melbeka 1:06:44
Si Said Ben Ahmed – Yemma, Yemma 1:07:21
Nai Chon & Nai Suk, the Luang Sano Phinphat Ensemble – Lakhon Rueang Kraithong 1:08:04
Kachikuri Mimasuya – Shiokumi Kasatsukashi (Collecting Water) 1:09:03
Jere Sanford – Jere Sanford’s Yodling and Whistling Specialty 1:10:21
Stella Mayhew and Billie Taylor – That Beautiful Rag 1:13:15
Albert Benzler – Ideas and Ripples 1:15:14
Performers Not Given – Brown Wax Home Recording of Cheering and Greetings 1:16:23
Stroud Haxton – Canzonetta 1:17:07
Edgar L Davenport – Sheridan’s Ride 1:19:04
Mischa Elman Violin Solo – Melodie (Tchaikovsky) 1:19:41
Lieutenant Ernest Henry Shackleton – My South Polar Expedition 1:21:14
Roxy P La Rocco Harp – Annie Laurie 1:21:53
Victor Herbert Orchestra – Spanish Dance 1:23:53
Raymond Hitchcock – So What’s the Use 1:24:50
Arthur S. Witcomb and the U.S. Marine Band – The Premier 1:26:29
Marguerita Sylva – Habanera (Bizet – Carmen) 1:29:08
Geraldine Farrar- Madama Butterfly- Finale Ultimo (Butterfly’s Death Scene) 1:30:22
Nellie Melba – Puisqu’ on Peut Ne Fléchir Vainement Ma Bien Aimée (Lalo – Roi D’ Ys) 1:31:48
Enrico Caruso – Carmen – Air De La Fleur (Flower Song) 1:33:12
January 1st – U.S. President William H. Taft opens the New Year by shaking hands with 5,575 members of the general public at The White House
January 11th – Charcot Island is discovered by Antarctic expedition led by French explorer Jean-Baptiste Charcot, while sailing on the ship Pourquoi Pas
January 13th – The first radio broadcast of a live musical performance takes place from New York’s Metropolitan Opera, inaugurating the use of a new system set up by Lee DeForest
January 21st – Two days after heavy rains, the Seine overflows its banks at 10-50 a.m. Over the next few days waters rise 24 feet, overrun power stations and black out the city, forcing thousands to flee
February 19th – Old Trafford, the stadium for Manchester United, is opened. A crowd estimated at 80,000 watch as the Red Devils lose to visiting Liverpool F.C., 4–3
February 23rd – In a scene that would be repeated in 1959, troops from China invade the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, and the Dalai Lama flees to India.
February 28th – The Wellington, Washington avalanche, the worst in the history of the United States in terms of lives lost, kills 96 people
March 17th – The National Museum of Natural History, second of the museums of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., opens to the public for the first time
March 24th – Hind Swaraj, a pamphlet by Mohandas K. Gandhi advocating disobedience to British rule in India, is banned by colonial authorities upon recommendation by Sir H.A. Stuart
April 20th – Halley’s Comet makes its closest approach to the Sun since 1835, and is visible to the naked eye through the rest of May
May 13th – Woolworth’s becomes the first large retail chain to sell ice cream cones, test-marketing the treat at counters at several sites that had been supplied with modern refrigerator-freezers
May 27th – At the Palace Theatre in London, the first newsreel is shown. Produced by Sir Charles Urban, the Kinemacolor film showes a portion of the funeral procession of King Edward VII
June 1st – The British Antarctic Expedition, led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott on the steamer Terra Nova, departs London with 55 people and a goal of reaching the South Pole in December
July 4th – Black challenger Jack Johnson defeats white world heavyweight boxing champion James J. Jeffries in the 15th round at Reno
July 12th – Aviator Charles Stewart Rolls is killed at Bournemouth after his airplane suddenly drops from a height of 40 feet. His partnership with Henry Royce lives on as Rolls-Royce
July 19th – In Washington, D.C., Cy Young of the Cleveland Naps becomes the first—and to date, the only—Major League Baseball pitcher to record 500 wins, in a 5–2 win over the Washington Senators
July 26th – The comic strip character Krazy Kat debuts as a companion feature to George Herriman’s strip The Dingbat Family
August 9th – The Thor, the first commercially successful, automatic, washing machine, invented by Alva J. Fisher, is granted U.S. Patent No. 966,677
August 22nd – The Japan–Korea Annexation Treaty is signed by Yi Wan-Yong, Prime Minister of Korea, and by the Japanese Resident-General, Terauchi Masatake – this changes Korea into the Japanese territory of Cho-Sen
September 5th – Marie Curie announces to the French Academy of Sciences that she has found a process to isolate pure radium from its naturally occurring salt, radium chloride, making large scale production feasible
September 8th – Manhattan and Long Island are linked by subway as the East River Tunnels opens at ten minutes after midnight
October 4th – King Manuel II of Portugal and the Queen Mother are forced to flee Lisbon, after the Army and Navy join a coup by the Republican movement and begin shelling the royal palace
October 5th – Teófilo Braga is named as the first President of Portugal by revolutionists who abolish the monarchy
October 30th – A mob in Shiraz, Persia, drives out most of the 6,000 members of the Jewish community, after a false rumor has been spread that a Muslim child has been murdered as part of a ritual killing
November 14th – Eugene B. Ely demonstrates the feasibility of an aircarft carrier, launching his airplane from the deck of the cruiser USS Birmingham, then flying five miles before landing at Hampton Roads, Virginia
November 27th – Penn Station, hub of the New York City mass transit system, is opened as the Pennsylvania Railroad inaugurated train service between New Jersey and Manhattan
December 3rd – Neon lighting is first demonstrated publicly by French inventor Georges Claude at The Paris Motor Show
December 21st – 360 British coal miners are killed in an explosion at the Hulton Colliery Company, near Bolton. The blast and the subsequent filling of the mine with carbon monoxide kill all but three people in the pits