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The Musical Times - August 1st 1869

Review of a Comic Concert by Henry C. Lunn

The following is from an article in the Musical Times of 1869 entitled 'A Comic Concert' and written by Henry C. Lunn, in which he writes, rather disparagingly, on the Music Hall artistes of the day, including seeing Arthur Lloyd perform 'Aldgate Pump' at the St. James's Hall, London. It reminds me of the critics of today and their sometimes caustic and cutting reviews, and is quite unusual for the period.

 

A COMIC CONCERT

BY Henry C. Lunn

We remember once reading of a man who, whilst he was employed as a mute by an undertaker, one of the merriest fellows in existence; but afterwards taking up the profession of a clown, his spirits entirely left him; he became morbid and melancholy and eventually, if we recollect rightly, died from sheer despondency of mind.

A recent entertainment at which we "assisted," has made us consider whether the "great" "unrivaled," and "jolly," vocalists who devote their energies to the interpretation of so-called "comic songs," are ever troubled with those fits of depression which they, no doubt unintentionally, convey to their audience; whether, infact, it does not sometimes occur to them that a hat, a black face, a seedy coat, or a red nose, are merely the colouring to a caricature which, if it do not in itself possess merit, must utterly fail in its intended effect. To us it appears strange that by those whose profession it is to excite mirth, the theory of laughter should be so little understood that scarcely two lines in any of their songs should raise a smile; and that those who undertake to sing these effusions should therefore be compelled to resort to dancing and sundry contortions of the body to ward off any expressions of dissatisfaction at the conclusion of their performance.

It may be said that this class of entertainment has nothing whatever to do with music; but when we see that many of the senseless productions of which we have been speaking are now taken up by well known music publishers - that the flaunting coloured illustrations of the various incidents in the Bohemian life on which the compositions are founded stare at us from the shop-windows in some of our most fashionable thoroughfares - that they are announced as the 'songs of the day' - that patronage is accorded to them in the very highest quarters and that St. James's Hall is taken for a concert for the exclusive performance of these works, it is time to consider what claims they really have upon the Sympathy and support of these who pride themselves upon the possession of an intellectual superiority over the usual frequenters of the music-halls.

Impressed with this feeling, we attended Mr. George Leybourne's "Comic Concert," on the 1st and seating Ourselves in St. James's Hall, prepared to enjoy the humour of the evening. The larger portion of the orchestra was concealed by a red curtain, in front of which was placed a pianoforte and several chairs and music-desks. At the appointed time, a small, but select band, aided by the pianoforte, dashed off into the overture to Zumpa, which, considering the speed at which it was taken, was by no means badly played; and if it did not afford any pleasure to the audience, the performers had at least the satisfaction of feeling that it did not interrupt the conversation.

Then a vocalist, whose name was not announced, sang what used to be called a "patter" song, containing a punning autobiography, and afterwards a composition called "Sarah's young man," both of which he struggled manfully against the utter nonsense of the words.

Mr. Jolly Nash, was then announced; and on his appearance he was greeted with much applause. This "jolly" gentleman wears a perpetual grin upon his face, and presumed to be in a chronic state of intense satisfaction at everything; a quality which might be turned to some account had he the power of conveying his good humour to the audience. His first song was called "Go to Putney," and described the various situations in a man's life when, on the eve of expectancy, he is put off with this phrase. He makes love and is only told to "go to Putney " - he expects to be paid a debt, but receives only the advice to "go to Putney." Then came a song in which a man is always laughing; and although the hilarity was chiefly confined to the singer, there was much cleverness in the manner in which he laughed to the music.

Mr. Harry Rickards, who was next introduced as a "swell," commenced by singing an effusion descriptive of his vapid state of existence; and in the next song "It's nice to be a Father," finding it utterly hopeless to get a laugh, he started off with a sort of galvanic dance, in which the burden of the song was repeated as well as his breath would allow him.

About this stage of the proceedings we began to reflect whether, as we could not get up even a smile at anything which had yet been done, we were justified in remaining at a "comic" concert, merely for the purpose of setting a bad example to those around us; but a little more observation convinced us that, although the applause at the end of each composition was most enthusiastic, scarcely a laugh was to be detected during its progress; and we resolved, therefore, to keep our seat, and exhibit the same audible demonstrations as the rest of the audience at the right time and in the right place.

Passing over some character - dancing by two girls, and a short "bicycle act, we were introduced to, Messrs. Hildebrand and Ormond, who, with their faces blackened, gave what was termed an "Ethiopian "Entertainment," although why common-places uttered with a white face should be considered witticisms with a black one is a mystery beyond our comprehension.

The next singer, Mr. Arthur Lloyd, is somewhat superior to the rest, both in his method of delivering, the words of his songs, and his musical acquirements; and if he had been supplied with good material, no doubt he would have made the best of it. Unfortunately, however, the compositions he gave were quite on a level with the rest. We have no doubt that Mr. Lloyd will agree with us that there is nothing exquisitely comic in meeting a girl "near Aldgate pump;" but then he strictly believes, from a long course of music-hall training, that the oftener you repeat these words, the more the fun heightens.

Indeed, we may say that these songs are so completely cut to a pattern that, with the exception of the heroine sometimes living at a "pie-shop," and sometimes at other establishments frequented by their devoted admirers, you can scarcely tell, one from another. The excessive attraction of the lady who serves over some counter is too much for the vocalist who relates the tale; he declares his love, is favorably received, pays for everything liberally during his courtship, is astonished at finding her with a rival (who, by the way, is always "tall"), upbraids her with her perfidy, is laughed at, and eventually; retires from the field, with his heart full and his pockets empty, to relate his misfortunes in music.

After Mr. Lloyd had, with Christian forbearance, in spite of the ill usage he had received, declared that he should always think of the girl he met "Near Aldgate pump" he gave a short assumption of a "nigger," * and retired amidst the usual applause.

Then Mrs. Brian sang Offenbach's " I dote on the Military," and an old song, called "My pretty Maid," in which she displayed the full force of her voice, having overcome, from long appearance before the public, any undue feeling of nervousness.

After an Irish love scene, in which some cleverness was exhibited by the bashful swain and the coy maiden, Mr. Fred French gave, with tolerable effect, a song called "Toil, until you prosper."

This was followed by Mr. J. H. Stead, who sang and danced the "Perfect Cure." Mr. Stead is usually described as "the man who never stood still ;" and indeed, seeing that he has jumped into so good a thing, there is no reason why he should relax his efforts as long as the public will pay to see him, and his muscular system will hold out. Abstractedly, there is nothing either pleasing or amusing in seeing a full-grown man, in a striped suit and an eccentric cap, bounding up and down like an India-rubber ball, whilst he is trying to sing. But it is clever nevertheless; and, although we do not sympathise with his "line of endeavour," as Carlyle says, we can at least praise him for his industry.

Next came a song by Miss Emma Alforde, which was much applauded. The playing of Mr. Liskard - the "Musical Momus" - upon a common whistle, and his eccentric performance upon the concertina, may be cited as the best and most legitimate exhibition of the evening. In this man there is a talent which appears worthy of cultivation.

Mr. Sydney Frank's "make up" as Billy Barlow was, as usual, too good for the nonsense he had to sing; and Mr. Brian tried hard as a Jew, to elicit a smile; but the custom of greeting the singers with a burst of applause at the conclusion of their songs was rigidly adhered to in both these cases; and if their reputation were not advanced by their performance, therefore, it at least was not injured.

A song was then sung by a vocalist whom we presume to have been the concert-giver, and this was followed by some tricks by Dugwar, "the Queen's Juggler." The National Anthem was in the programme, but we did not remain to hear it.

So ended the"Comic Concert," of which we have endeavoured to give an impartial account. That it was in all respects exceedingly well conducted, we willingly bear testimony; and that every person exerted himself to the utmost we also freely admit. Here we would stop, were we not impressed with the conviction that the literary and musical pretensions of these entertainments are now pressed upon the public attention with a pertinacity which can only be checked by the expression of a few plain truths. In glancing at the programme, we find that there is not the least desire on the part of the members of the music-hall profession to underrate the value of the words of their songs, for they print them whenever they can find an opportunity; and that they wish the compositions to take rank as musical works is proved by the motto, from Shakespear, adpted by Mr. George Leybourne in his programmes - "Here will we sit, and let the sounds of music creep into our ear." And this is a specimen of the words which creep in with the music:

"The way that I won her is strange you will say,
Twas one afternoon that I went to Bellevue;
A young friend of mine was there for the day,
And took little Polly, for whom he'd to pay."

Many of the tunes of these compositions are exceedingly good; but the lines we have quoted, taken at random from a song, printed in the programme of the concert, called "The Lancashire Lass," will give some notion of the literary contents of the works which are so plentifully displayed in several of our metropolitan music-shops.

The concert was entirely under the management of Mr. Charles Roberts, who styles himself "Premier Caterer," and informs us that his great " practical experience" enables him to provide "artists" from a long list which he gives, to enliven Fetes and Galas during the season. Like the man who, when asked if he were going to hunt that morning, replied that he "had been," we confidently expect that our "practical experience" would induce us to stay away from Fetes and Galas so "enlivened."

We have often enjoyed ourselves very much in public Gardens until the "amusements" began; and should be glad indeed, therefore, if the character of out-door pastimes were such as to attract, either by wit or humour. Shakespear's fools are about the cleverest fellows in his plays, and none but consummate artists dare to act them. Bad jokes and false wit are depressing enough under any circumstances; but it is cruel to add to the melancholy which they produce by painting the face, or donning the cap and bells. A dull clown may excite our pity, but never can excite our laughter.

The Musical Times - August 1st 1869 - Courtesy John Grice.

 

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