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An Interview with Arthur Lloyd, The ERA, July 19 1890

 

Holders Grand Concert Rooms - Later The Gaiety Theatre - From the book ' Birmingham Theatres Concert & Music Halls' Victor J. Price.Mr Arthur Lloyd, while at Birmingham last week, (At the Gaiety, shown Right, M.L.) had the rule run over him by the irrepressible interviewer, and the following was the result: - Mr Lloyd would hardly convey to an observer the ideal type of a lion comique in ordinary life.

Right - Holders Grand Concert Rooms - Later The Gaiety Theatre - From the book ' Birmingham Theatres Concert & Music Halls' Victor J. Price.

He has rather a clerical air about him, which, taken with the cut of his features and the trim of his moustache, reminds you rather forcibly of another " Arthur " who not many years ago was a famous pulpit orator in Birmingham. Perhaps this is because he is a middle aged man with a wife and responsibilities; and because he did not affect the Air of juvenility with which some comic singers contrive to maintain their reputation for jeu d'esprit. And yet when he tells you he has drawn £60 a-week-which he believes to have been the highest salary ever paid to a comic singer in the provinces; and when you find over what a sea of time and experience his memory navigates him, you begin to reflect on the danger of putting a trust in appearances. When a Mail representative found a respectable looking, rather portly gentleman with an eyeglass, a frock coat, a tall hat, and a walking stick, occupied in the dingy daylight of a mid-day rehearsal, and tra-la-la-ing a tune over to the leader of the orchestra, the figure turned out to be no other than that of the composer of a hundred comic songs which have been whistled, sung, played on barrel organs, yelled at free-and-easies, and otherwise tuned to the world. " I'm always careful to get as pretty a melody as I can to my Songs,'' he said ; "whatever the audience can whistle or hum over to themselves is bound to become popular. George Leybourne and I used to run each other closely in that respect.

In the course of conversation it transpires that Arthur Lloyd is a Scotchman, whose father was a comedian in the stock companies that interpreted the drama to Edinburgh and Glasgow. He played for some time in the drama himself, and assisted his father in some Sketches given in the Old Gallery of Illustration near the Theatre royal in New-street. "Put it down that I was quite a boy then," he adds "or they will reckon me up to be as old as Methuselah." His father looked very serious when he proposed to go on the music hall stage, for be possessed all the actor's prejudice against music balls. "Mind," he warned the aspirant , "If you take to the music halls you will become a drunkard." I remembered that" says his son, "and profited by it. I have never missed an engagement, except by unavoidable accident, and never went on the stage the worse for liquor.''

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His London experience carries him back to the days when Evans's, the Coal Cellar, and such places filled to a large extent the days of the present magnificent London music halls. He remembers when admission to the Pavilion was free, and the management recouped themselves by charging sixpence for every glass of liquor sold. At that time it was not always crowded, but gradually the attendance got larger, then sixpence an a shilling were imposed as the prices. In the process of years two rows of the pit ware set apart as stalls, and two shillings charged, and so, little by little, the present elaborate and costly palaces of amusement were formed. The places known as Evans's and other cellars were hidden away up narrow passages, ill ventilated, and with no comforts, the seats hard, the tables bare and sawdust on the floors. Only men were admitted. They might get eating as well as drinking at the tables, and at the far end was a platform on which the singers stood. During the evening the place would be comparatively deserted, but about eleven o'clock it would begin to fill. The Punch staff of the day were regular frequenters. "I have seen Mark Lemon there, and Dickens and Thackeray," says Mr Lloyd ; "and noblemen by the score, sitting quite contentedly at the singing. There used to be about a dozen boys from the choirs of the churches and chapels about looking half asleep, and standing with their hands behind them, winging such glees as 'The Men of Harleob.' One of the celebrated singers of that day was G. W. Ross, a Scotchman and his famous song was 'Sam Hall.' It could not be sung at the music halls, but he used to give it at the cellars. He sang it wonderfully, putting on a hang-dog, Bill Sikes sort of expression, and sitting with his arms and chin over the back of a chair. Whenever it became known that he was going to give it the place would always be packed.

"I only sang at Evans's once myself," pursues the speaker. " On the eve of the boat-race. I had gone in, and the waiter had just brought me a chop and a large potato baked in its skin, which was one of the treats of Evans's when Paddy Green, the proprietor, came up and asked me to sing there on the following night. He would have given me about five guineas, but I refused. The year before the undergraduates had come to the cellars in a crowd, and had demolished half the chairs and tables in the room, so that the prospect was no pleasant one. On the boat-race night I turned in to see what was going on. All the pictures had been removed, all the chairs and tables, the place was in uproar, the undergraduates had taken possession. About twenty of them were upon the stage, and the poor pianist was vainly endeavouring to make himself heard above the din. All at once, as I stood there, one of them pointed straight at me, and exclaimed 'Arthur Lloyd.' Before I knew where I was I was hustled up to the stage, where they demanded a song. I had no music, no stage dress or anything, but. I gave the pianist the time to vamp to, and sang them three. Then one of the undergraduates shouted, 'Boys, we're not going to let Mr Lloyd do this for nothing.' I remonstrated, but the hat was whirled round, shillings and half-crowns, and even half sovereigns were thrown in, and by the time it returned the hat contained about £12. That was my only appearance at Evans's."

Arthur Lloyd says he has written " hundreds " of songs. He used to sell them outright to the publishers. Certainly his most famous was" Not for Joe, " which was sold in scores of thousands. That, he remarks, he sold for £20. Occasionally G. W. Hunt would write songs for him and for George Leybourne without charge, because when they undertook to sing his compositions the publishers would always give a good price for them.

" Leybourne told me one night, " he says, as we were driving in a coach together, that I prompted him to become a comic singer. He was a North of England man, and he was so overjoyed at my singing one night that he took out his watch and in an ecstasy thumped it upon a table. He went home and told his father he was going to be a comic singer. 'I'd like to know,' said his father, 'where thee gets thy comicality froom? It's not froom thy mother, and it's not froom me.' But Leybourne was not to be denied, and after a few preliminary trials in the South of England he got a London engagement where 'Champagne Charlie ' and ' Up in a Balloon' brought him eminence and wealth.

Mr Lloyd tells an interesting story of his first appearance before the Prince of Wales, just at the time when the fashion was springing up of inviting professionals to eke out aristocratic entertainments. Lord Carrington sent to the Royal in Holborn, and Lloyd and Jolly John Nash went in response. They were not required until two o'clock in the morning, and when they were, a screen formed by curtains made a sort of sanctum between them and the audience. The Prince was seated with a blue sash round him in a lounge chair, whilst the rest were all ranged round him with their chairs turned behind-before, and the occupants leaning over the back. " Nash was very nervous," continued Mr Lloyd, and persuaded me to go first. I went and sang a song, of which the chorus ran 'It's the sort of thing you read about but very seldom see.' After two or three verses I sang the following:

I must now award a word of praise to a gent who's sitting there,
I mean that worthy party who so ably fills the chair,
See how sweetly now he smiles, as pleasant as can be,
It's a sort of smile I read about but very seldom see.

As I sang it the Prince leant forward to listen, and all those round him turned and clapped their hands towards him. He seemed immensely amused, and when I had finished the last verse he applauded very good humouredly "And so that's how," Mr Lloyd concludes with proud satisfaction, "I came to be the first comic singer who sang before the Prince of Wales."

 

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