“You’re Mine, You” (1933)

“You’re Mine, You.” Words by Edward Heyman, music by Johnny Green (1933). Recorded in London on May 25, 1933 by Carroll Gibbons and the Savoy Hotel Orpheans with vocals by Maurice Elwin. Columbia CB-620.

Personnel: Carroll Gibbons-p dir. Bill Shakespeare-Billy Higgs-t / Arthur Fenoulhet-t-tb / Paul Fenoulhet-tb / Sam Acres-tb / George Melachrino-cl-as-vn / Laurie Payne-cl-as-bar / George Smith-ts / Ben Frankel-vn / Sid Bright-2nd p / Harry Sherman-g / Jack Evetts-sb / Rudy Starita-d-vib-x / Maurice Elwin-v / Stanley Andrews-a

Carroll Gibbons and the Savoy Hotel Orpheans (v. Maurice Elwin)
“You’re Mine, You” (1933)
(Transfer by Charles Hippisley-Cox)

I usually think of Maurice Elwin’s vocal personas as being so wholesome that I am almost surprised to hear him sing the lyrics of “You’re Mine, You”:

I own you:
I don't need to buy love;
You're a slave to my love.
In every way, you're mine.

Elwin sings these words with a surprising intensity. I am also struck by how well he sings the higher notes. He has some of the smoothness that I associate with his friend Jack Plant, but Elwin’s voice is less stylized and thus potentially more relatable. I have to admit that the first time I heard his voice, I thought he sounded like a bemused Sunday school teacher, but here he proves that he can evoke a sense of romantic passion and make it sound genuine.

One cannot write about “You’re Mine, You” without mentioning Al Bowlly’s recording of it with Ray Noble and His Orchestra. There is not much reason to think of Elwin’s version as having influenced Al Bowlly; the latter is unlikely to have heard it before recording the song himself. I find absolutely nothing lacking in Al Bowlly’s rendition of “You’re Mine, You”; it is one of his best songs. I think it is therefore great praise to say that, compared to Bowlly, Elwin holds his own. We know that Elwin himself had the highest regard for Bowlly’s talent and praised him publicly in the most admirable terms.[1]Maurice Elwin, “We Should Not Let Al Bowlly Go!” Rhythm, October 1934. Many thanks to Terry Brown for sharing this article with me.

“You’re Mine, You” was recorded in America in 1933 by Gertrude Niesen and by Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians (v. Carmen Lombardo). In Britain, in addition to the Ray Noble/Al Bowlly recording, versions were made by Howard Flynn and His Orchestra (v. Bobby Sanders), Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (v. Pat O’Malley), and Syd Lipton’s New Grosvenor House Band (v. Cyril Grantham).

References

1 Maurice Elwin, “We Should Not Let Al Bowlly Go!” Rhythm, October 1934. Many thanks to Terry Brown for sharing this article with me.

“I’m the Medicine Man for the Blues” (1930)

Surely two of the strangest recordings made by Maurice Elwin are his versions of “I’m the Medicine Man for the Blues,” a song written for Is Everybody Happy? (a Warner Brothers star vehicle for bandleader Ted Lewis). In order to understand what Elwin is doing with this song, it is important first to understand who Ted Lewis was. A self-styled “high-hatted tragedian of song,” Lewis led a commercially successful jazz band while wearing a battered top hat and playing a clarinet — badly. To his credit, he employed, at various times, first-rate instrumentalists such as Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey, and Frank Teschemacher. On the other hand, though a non-singer, he insisted on doing vocals much of the time; the result was a lot of awkward speeches intoned over the music. He even had a way of making established song lyrics sound impromptu, and the result is highly irritating. A self-promoting, larger-than-life extrovert (perhaps comparable in some ways to Al Jolson), Lewis does not now enjoy the following he once had.

Is Everybody Happy? has been lost, although five minutes of it do survive; it is is worth watching the surviving footage if you want to understand his schtick (encountering real pirates, Lewis and his band claim to be pirates — for jazz). Lewis did make a record of “I’m the Medicine Man for the Blues,” and he does talk his way through this curious song praising the psychological benefits of music. Which brings us to Elwin.

“I’m the Medicine Man for the Blues.” Composed by Grant Clarke (words) and Harry Akst (music) for the Warner Brothers film Is Everybody Happy? (1929). Recorded in Studio A, Hayes, Middlesex on February 20, 1930 by Maurice Elwin under the musical direction of John Firman. Zonophone 5555.

Personnel: Sylvester Ahola-t / ?Arthur Lally-Danny Polo-as / Bert Read-p / Joe Brannelly-g / bb

Maurice Elwin – “I’m the Medicine Man for the Blues” (1930) (Transfer by John Wright)

Elwin’s Zonophone recording of “I’m a Medicine Man for the Blues” is a solo recording, which is to say that it foregrounds his singing, with the studio band backing him, and the record label has Elwin’s name, not the band’s, on it. What is so funny about this song is that Elwin, an excellent singer known for sounding unaffected, makes all sorts of gestures of tribute to Ted Lewis, who cannot sing and who comes across as schmaltzy and decidedly insincere. You can tell that Elwin has seen the sheet music, because he sings plenty of real notes, but he keeps veering off into an approximation of Ted Lewis’s loud declaiming.

“I’m the Medicine Man for the Blues” (Clarke-Akst; 1929). Recorded in Chelsea, London on March 5, 1930 by the Rhythm Maniacs under the musical direction of Arthur Lally with vocalist Maurice Elwin. Decca F-1677.

Arthur Lally-cl-as-bar dir. Sylvester Ahola-Dennis Ratcliffe-t / Ted Heath-tb / Danny Polo-cl-as / Joe Jeanette-cl-ts / Claude Ivy-p / Joe Brannelly-bj / Spike Hughes-sb / Max Bacon-d / Rudy Starita-vib-x / Maurice Elwin-v

The Rhythm Maniacs (v. Maurice Elwin) – “I’m the Medicine Man for the Blues” (1930)
(Transfer by Mick Johnson)

You will note that, while made at a different studio with a different musical director, the Rhythm Maniacs version of “I’m the Medicine Man for the Blues” has a lot of the same instrumentalists. The sound engineers are a very different story, however: this recording is blaringly loud in that familiar, early Decca way. The arrangement is truly inspired, and someone is either tap-dancing or doing a very good approximation of the sound. Maurice Elwin’s briefer vocal on this record also acknowledges Ted Lewis; Elwin talks his way through some of the lyrics, although he cannot help singing others nicely. He fully embraces the spirit of boasting derived from the lyrics and from Lewis’s interpretation of them.

These offbeat recordings give us an idea of how unlike himself Elwin was willing to be. They are outliers, but they were clearly done in good fun by an artist who did not mind seeming a bit ridiculous. It is hard to think of two men from this era with singing personas more different than Lewis’s and Elwin’s, and it is funny to think of what the latter must have looked like when he committed these somewhat bizarre songs to shellac.

Another British version of “I’m the Medicine Man for the Blues” was recorded in 1930 by Tommy Kinsman’s Florida Band (v. Harry Bentley, who gives the song a fairly straight interpretation). In America in 1929-1930, in addition to Ted Lewis’s own record, there were versions done by Nat Shilkret and the Victor Orchestra (v. Johnny Marvin) and by the Campus Cut-Ups.

“Short an’ Sweet” (1927)

“Short an’ Sweet.” Words by Billy Tracey and Sam Ehrlich, music by Dan Dougherty (1926). Recorded in Studio B, Hayes, Middlesex on October 20, 1927 by the Devonshire Restaurant Dance Band under the musical direction of Bert Firman with vocalist Maurice Elwin. Zonophone 5033.

Personnel: Bert Firman-vn dir. Frank Guarente-another-t / ?Ben Oakley-tb / ?Arthur Lally-cl-as-bar / as / ?Bill Barton-ts / John Firman-p-cel / Jack Simmons-bj / ?Billy Bell-bb / Jack Trebble-d / Maurice Elwin-v

The Devonshire Restaurant Dance Band (dir. Bert Firman; v. Maurice Elwin)
“Short an’ Sweet” (1927)
(Transfer by John Wright)

In the Devonshire Restaurant Dance Band version of “Short an’ Sweet,” Maurice Elwin gushes about a diminutive woman that he is in love with. The lyrics themselves are about as cute as their “eeny-meeny-teeny-weeny” subject, and Elwin effervesces with enthusiasm that almost seems to give rise to the hot instrumental segment. I was happy to see that Rust lists this song not only in his dance band discography, but also in his jazz book.[1]Brian Rust and Sandy Forbes, British Dance Bands on Record, 1911 to 1945, and Supplement, Bungay, Suffolk: Richard Clay, Ltd., 1989, 230; Brian Rust, Jazz and Ragtime Records 1897-1942, Sixth … Continue reading

Near the end of the song, Elwin returns abruptly to reveal something more about his motivation in pursuing his love interest:

Lovely ma,
Wealthy pa,
Bank account and a great big car,
She's as sweet as she can be.

It turns out that the little lady is wealthy. Elwin rattles off these lines quickly and does not sing the rest of the verse, highlighting the joke.

“Short an’ Sweet” is thus a predecessor to the Coon-Sanders song “Got a Great Big Date with a Little Bitta Girl” (1929), in which Joe Sanders expresses excitement about a “little bitty[2]He never does say “bitta,” does he? And yet that is what is on the label. girl,” only to reveal that he finds her ugly — but she is rich. At least “Short an’ Sweet” has Elwin merely expressing two different reasons to be attracted to a woman. The song is funny, and Elwin’s vocals complement the band nicely.

I am so used to seeing a bewildering number of band names attached to what appears to have been one Zonophone studio band directed at various times by Bert or John Firman that I had written off the individual band names as mere marketing gimmicks, but it turns out that in 1926-1927, Bert Firman really did direct music at the Devonshire Restaurant in Piccadilly (and so presumably had acquired the legal right to use its name commercially).[3]John A. B. Wright. “Short ’n Sweet.” The British Dance Band Show 377 (May 25, 2018 – June 8, 2018). It would appear that the restaurant band’s personnel overlapped quite a bit with the studio personnel in this recording.[4]Chris Hayes, Dance Band Diaries from the Melody Maker 2 (1927): 2.

The only other version I could find of “Short an’ Sweet” was one by American Jay C. Flippen and His Gang. The composer, Dan Dougherty, would go on to write the music for the song “Moanin’ for You” (1929).

References

1 Brian Rust and Sandy Forbes, British Dance Bands on Record, 1911 to 1945, and Supplement, Bungay, Suffolk: Richard Clay, Ltd., 1989, 230; Brian Rust, Jazz and Ragtime Records 1897-1942, Sixth Edition, Free Personal-Use Edition, Littleton, Colorado: Mainspring Press, 2016, 442, https://78records.files.wordpress.com/2020/05/rust_jazz-records_free-edition-6.pdf.
2 He never does say “bitta,” does he? And yet that is what is on the label.
3 John A. B. Wright. “Short ’n Sweet.” The British Dance Band Show 377 (May 25, 2018 – June 8, 2018).
4 Chris Hayes, Dance Band Diaries from the Melody Maker 2 (1927): 2.

“I Fell for You” (1930)

“I Fell for You.” Composed by Rowland Leigh (words) and William Walker (music) for Charlot’s Masquerade (1930). Recorded in London on October 4, 1930 by Percival Mackey and His Band with vocalist Maurice Elwin. Columbia CB-145 mx. WA-10736-2.

Personnel: Percival Mackey dir. Jack Jackson-Andy Richardson-t / Ben Oakley-tb / Chester Smith-another?-cl-as / George Smith-ts / Dave Fish-vn / Pat Dodd-p / Bob Martin-bj-g / Jim Bellamy-bb-sb / Bill Harty-d / Maurice Elwin-v

Percival Mackey and His Band (v. Maurice Elwin) – “I Fell for You” (1930)

Percival Mackey’s version of “I Fell for You,” with its Maurice Elwin vocal refrain, starts out in a most impressive, stately fashion, and until we hear the lyric, it does not sound ridiculous in the slightest. Like “Who Cares?” “I Fell for You” comes from André Charlot’s sophisticated, short-lived Charlot’s Masquerade (1930) and has the same lyricist, Rowland Leigh. The song was introduced on stage by actors Constance Carpenter and Patrick Waddington, and we are fortunate to have a record of Waddington himself singing it to the piano accompaniment of Peggy Cochrane and William Walker (the song’s composer). The complete song is very witty, but I think the funniest lyrics have been fully preserved in the arrangement that Percival Mackey uses:

I fell like an apple from an apple tree,
I fell like a Dutchman in the Zuiderzee,
I fell like a Scotsman falls for £sd
On the day I fell for you.

(As an American, I had to think a little bit when I first heard that verse. “Ell-ess-DEE” refers to the symbols for pounds, shillings, and pence, and not the popular hallucinogenic drug, and Scotsmen were once reputed to be thrifty, if not stingy or miserly. Apparently Maurice Elwin, a Scot himself, was being a good sport that day.)

The lyrics continue in that vein, using bathetic similes involving falling, literally or metaphorically, to describe the act of falling in love. Elwin seems to be doing something comparable to telling a joke with a completely straight face; he sounds earnest, as if he does not know in the slightest how silly he sounds. He is all enthusiasm and warmth.

Another British dance band version recorded of “I Fell For You” in 1930 was that of Jack Leon (v. Jack Plant). Ray Noble had recorded an instrumental version of it in a medley of songs from Charlot’s Masquerade.

“She’s My Slip of a Girl” (1930)

“She’s My Slip of a Girl.” Composed by Cyril Watters for the Melody Maker “All British Song Competition” (first prize, 1929). Recorded in Chelsea, London on January 31, 1930 by the Rhythm Maniacs under the musical direction of Arthur Lally with vocalist Maurice Elwin. Decca F-1630 mx. MB-914-2A.

Personnel: Arthur Lally-cl-as-bar / Sylvester Ahola-Dennis Ratcliffe-t / Danny Polo-cl-as / Joe Crossman or Johnny Helfer-cl-ts / Claude Ivy-p / Joe Brannelly-bj / Tiny Stock-bb / Max Bacon-d-vib / Maurice Elwin-v / Lew Stone-a

The Rhythm Maniacs (v. Maurice Elwin) – “She’s My Slip of a Girl” (1930)
(Transfer by Henry Parsons)

“She’s My Slip of a Girl” was the winning entry in the 1929 Melody Maker magazine “All British Song Competition,” whose goal was to identify a foxtrot “considered worthy of holding its own with foreign importations.”[1]Daily Mirror, January 1, 1930, 4, British Newspaper Archive. The judges included C. B. Cochran, Noel Coward, and Jack Hylton, and there were 500 competitors. The prize was taken by Cyril Watters, a twenty-two year old pianist and musical clerk who would go on to compose over 250 songs and win many more prizes in the coming decades.

“She’s My Slip of a Girl” is inherently catchy, infectious even, with its dactylic patter and rapid-fire rhyme scheme. The singer speaks of his elation (verging on ecstasy) at somehow having been so fortunate as to have a certain slender or otherwise diminutive type of woman in his life. The B part is particularly precious:

Maybe she's not a beauty,
But beauty's only skin deep.
She's the kind of a cutie
Knocks 'em all of a heap.

I know of no other lyrics that express so well the idea of a visceral attraction that transcends conventional standards for good looks.

Of the four British versions recorded of “She’s My Slip of a Girl,” the Rhythm Maniacs’ version is best at realizing the trance-inducing qualities of the tune, which is very repetitive without being in any way boring. As with many early Decca recordings, the sound engineers set the gain very high, and the song is blaringly loud. The result is that it almost pulsates, bringing out the nearly primal appeal of the Lew Stone arrangement.

One of the side effects of the overall volume being so loud is that it creates contrast between the blaring instrumental parts and Maurice Elwin’s vocal. The latter sounds deeply earnest — who would expect otherwise from Elwin? — but he is also enthusiastic, almost impassioned. There is considerable warmth in his voice. At a couple of points the melody goes rather high, and the baritone follows it upwards deftly, allowing himself to sound momentarily more vulnerable, as men sometimes do when they successfully sing above their usual range.

“She’s My Slip of a Girl” encapsulates for me one of the things that I love generally about Elwin: he is a fundamentally calm, mellow singer with a wholesome-sounding voice who found himself working with some of Britain’s hottest bands (I think particularly of the Firman bands along with Lally’s studio orchestras). To a certain extent he introduces a pleasant contrast with his comparatively composed vocal refrains, but at no time does he sound out of place.

To appreciate the brilliance of the Rhythm Maniac’s version of “She’s My Slip of a Girl” requires us to compare the other contemporary interpretations of the song, which happen to be all very good in their own ways. Eddie Hardie and His Night Club Boys recorded a December 1929 version on Piccadilly with a Harry Bentley vocal that is slow and bluesy. The same month, Ray Noble’s New Mayfair Dance Orchestra made a booming but elegant one, also comparatively slow, with touching vocals by Pat O’Malley, who scats gently at the end of the recording. In March 1930, Jack Payne and His BBC Dance Orchestra did a purely instrumental interpretation of the tune that must be at least as fast as the Rhythm Maniacs and whose arrangement is marked by amusing variations on the underlying tune that keep it from seeming overly repetitious. Finally, there is an interesting French version that I think may be a response to the Rhythm Maniacs.

References

1 Daily Mirror, January 1, 1930, 4, British Newspaper Archive.

“Try a Little Tenderness” (1932)

“Try a Little Tenderness.” Composed by Jimmy Campbell, Reg Connelly, and Harry Woods (1932). Recorded in London on December 1, 1932 by Carroll Gibbons and the Savoy Hotel Orpheans with vocalists Maurice Elwin and the Carlyle Cousins. Columbia CB-546.

Personnel: Carroll Gibbons-p dir. Bill Shakespeare-Billy Higgs-t / Arthur Fenoulhet-t-tb / Paul Fenoulhet-tb / Sam Acres-tb / George Melachrino-cl-as-vn / Laurie Payne-cl-as-bar / George Smith-ts / Ben Frankel-vn / Sid Bright-2nd p / Harry Sherman-g / Jack Evetts-sb / Rudy Starita-d-vib-x / Maurice Elwin-The Carlyle Cousins (Cecile Petrie-Pauline Lister-Irene Taylor)-v

Carroll Gibbons and the Savoy Hotel Orpheans – “Try a Little Tenderness” (1932)
(Courtesy of Charles Hippisley-Cox)

Some musical compositions have inherent flaws, while others, as a result of their success, acquire unpleasant associations over time. I would argue that “Try a Little Tenderness” actually falls into both categories. By making overly general psychological observations about women, it risks sounding patronizing and heavy-handed. Moreover, there is something about the tune and the lyrics that encourage saccharine performances.

Some renditions appear to be more than a little aware of the song’s cloying tendencies. I think particularly of the intentionally awkward title sequence of Kubrick’s 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, in which a rather syrupy instrumental version of the tune is played over images of a nuclear bomber being fueled by another plane’s flying boom in a manner inviting Freudian interpretation. Then there is the 1958 recording of Dragnet star Jack Webb speaking the lyrics in his trademark stiff, dead way over overproduced orchestral music (by way of a joke, presumably, although it is not clear that Webb himself was in on it). These sorts of offbeat uses of a tune can be very entertaining, but they can also forever ruin our ability to enjoy it unironically.

Carroll Gibbons’s 1932 version of “Try a Little Tenderness” rescues the song for me, serving as a sort of musical palate cleanser and reminding me of what was good about the original composition. The whole recording is imbued with the elegance one expects from the Savoy Hotel Orpheans, and Maurice Elwin is exactly the right singer to deliver the song’s prescriptions for harmonious human behavior. His tone of sincerity and sympathy brings out what is admirable in the lyrics, and the alternation between his voice and those of the Carlyle Cousins is sweet, light, and playful.

Other British dance bands who recorded “Try a Little Tenderness” in 1932-1933 were Jack Payne and His Band (v. Jack Payne), Ray Noble and His Orchestra (v. Val Rosing), Ambrose and His Orchestra (v. Sam Browne), Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (v. Pat O’Malley), Billy Cotton (rejected by Regal Zonophone), and Syd Roy and His R.K.O.lians (v. Sam Browne), and Oscar Rabin and His Romany Band (v. Sam Browne; on Sterno and 4 in 1).

The Carlyle Cousins (depicted on a Wills’s cigarette card)

“Jus’ Keepin’ On” (1930)

“Jus’ Keepin’ On.” Composed by Alexander Phillips (a.k.a. Van Phillips). Recorded in Chelsea, London on January 16, 1930 by the Rhythm Maniacs under the musical direction of Arthur Lally with vocals by Maurice Elwin. Decca F-1586 mx. MB-765-3.

Personnel: Arthur Lally-cl-as-bar dir. Sylvester Ahola-Dennis Ratcliffe-t / Danny Polo-cl-as / Joe Jeannette-cl-ts / Claude Ivy-p / Joe Brannelly-bj / Tiny Stock-bb / Max Bacon-d-vib / Maurice Elwin-v

The Rhythm Maniacs – “Jus’ Keepin’ On” (1930)
(Transfer by Henry Parsons)

There is a curious relationship between Maurice Elwin, the Rhythm Maniacs, and the odd, forgotten song “Jus’ Keepin’ On.” The Rhythm Maniacs are the only musicians I have identified who recorded it. What is more, they recorded it at three different sessions, each time giving Maurice Elwin more time to vocally express its bizarre, plodding themes of exhaustion and resignation.

The first recording was on November 27, 1929, where “Jus’ Keepin’ On” was the last element in the issued medley “Pantomime Hits — Selection, Part 1.” On December 16, the Rhythm Maniacs would record two rejected takes of the whole song. It is worth noting that in take 1 Maurice Elwin sings a fairly straight version of the tune before launching into a declamation about halfway through the song that is intoned, not sung. The last third of the first take is a fairly uninspired instrumental treatment of the refrain.

The issued third take (recorded on January 16, 1930) has Elwin very much in the foreground for almost the entire recording. If he was ever at risk of being a little histrionic, he is here in this remarkable recording (although perhaps we should reserve a place of honor for “I’m the Medicine Man for the Blues”). He sings, declaims, and sings again, dominating almost the entire booming, high-gain early Decca recording. I have the feeling that Arthur Lally must have come to the realization that the underlying composition was not really all that good, but that it would be incredibly funny to have a normally subtle vocalist bellow it out. By having Elwin ham it up a bit for comic effect, Lally (presumably) rescued what would otherwise be a rather wearying song about weariness.

“Sitting on a Haystack” (1930)

“Sitting on a Haystack.” Composed by Julian Wright, Carol Bourne, and Harry Castling. Recorded in Chelsea, London on November 13, 1930 by the Savana Players under the musical direction of Arthur Lally, with vocalist Maurice Elwin. Decca F-2057 mx. GB-2268-2.

Personnel: Arthur Lally-cl-as-bar dir. Jack Jackson-Andy Richardson-t / Ben Oakley-tb / Peter Rush-as-vn / Harry Berly-ts-oc-vl / Pat Dodd-p / Jack Hill-bj-g / Spike Hughes-sb / Bill Harty-d

The Savana Players (v. Maurice Elwin) – “Sitting on a Haystack” (1930)

The Savana Players’ version of “Sitting on a Haystack” with Maurice Elwin appears to be the only recording of that song. The original composition may not, therefore, have been a commercial success, but this Decca issue is a comedy gem and a good example of the hot music being produced under Arthur Lally’s supervision in 1930. The song begins with a curious snoring or even snorting sound and a small child crying, “Daddy, daddy!” At this point we hear Lally’s voice snarling, “That’s not your father, child — them’s pigs!” “Oooh!” the child exclaims. The grunting is incorporated into the first bars of the song, establishing its comical, rustic setting.

The tune is introduced first instrumentally. Then comes Maurice Elwin’s vocal refrain, which describes a haystack that once served as a trysting place until a pipe-smoking vagrant accidentally lit it on fire. Elwin sings the lyrics quietly, as if sharing a dirty joke, and one can hear his amusement at the ridiculous scenario.

After Elwin’s part concludes, there is a series of interesting, hot variations on the tune, played with a great deal of pep. In many ways, the pleasure of listening to “Sitting on a Haystack” derives from the contrast between the understated vocals and the more extroverted instrumental music. Elwin contributes to the overall sound of this recording without in any way dominating it; the result is a collaboration that is delightfully silly yet elegant.

Arthur Lally, musical director at Decca

“Who Cares?” (1930)

“Who Cares?” (1930). Words by Rowland Leigh, music by Norman Hackforth. Composed for Charlot’s Masquerade (1930). Recorded in London on October 4, 1930 by Percival Mackey and His Band with vocalist Maurice Elwin. Columbia CB-145 mx. WA-17034-1.

Personnel: Percival Mackey dir. Jack Jackson-Andy Richardson-t / Ben Oakley-tb / Chester Smith-another?-cl-as / George Smith-ts / Dave Fish-vn / Pat Dodd-p / Bob Martin-bj-g / Jim Bellamy-bb-sb / Bill Harty-d

Percival Mackey and His Band (v. Maurice Elwin) – “Who Cares?” (1930)

Percival Mackey’s “Who Cares?” (with its vocal chorus by Maurice Elwin) is a truly impressive treatment of a comparatively obscure song from “Charlot’s Masquerade,” which played at the Cambridge Theatre for only ten weeks in late 1930 — a comparative failure, though surviving silent footage of it leads me to believe that at least parts of it must have been mesmerizingly beautiful. The cast was impressive enough: the names Beatrice Lillie, Constance Carpenter, Florence Desmond, and Patrick Waddington are still familiar — less so that of Philip Lorner, an up-and-coming actor who impressed at least one reviewer with how he sang the closing number, “Who Cares?”[1]”London Theatres,” The Stage, September 11, 1930, BNA. The reviewer seems to be under the impression that the song is titled “Who Cares — If Love Be There?” whereas the … Continue reading It is not clear to me that Lorner’s career really did go anywhere after that, and unfortunately his one dance band recording with the Four Brights Sparks (“Let’s Go Native”) was rejected by Columbia. His co-star Patrick Waddington did release a beautiful version of “Who Cares?” that preserves the intro, which makes its way into the compelling dance band arrangement of Percival Mackey, right after Maurice Elwin sings the refrain.

The song is about love’s being able to transcend all adversities. Elwin’s delivery is mellifluous and seems effortless, but more than anything he sounds sincere. There is a pleasant interplay between the elegant simplicity of his vocal refrain and the sophisticated complexity of the arrangement used by Mackey.

Other British dance bands to record “Who Cares?” in 1930 were Jack Leon’s Dance Band (v. Jack Plant) and the Original Havana Band (as the Rhythm Maniacs; v. Len Lees). Leslie Norman’s Radio Revellers (v. Jack Plant) would record the song in early 1931.

References

1 ”London Theatres,” The Stage, September 11, 1930, BNA. The reviewer seems to be under the impression that the song is titled “Who Cares — If Love Be There?” whereas the lyrics that we have are “Who cares? — as long as there’s love.”

“Happy Ending” (1933)

“Happy Ending.” Composed by Harry Parr-Davies for the film This Week of Grace (1933). Recorded in London on July 1, 1933 by Carroll Gibbons and the Savoy Hotel Orpheans with vocalist Maurice Elwin. Columbia CB-641 mx. CA-13777-1.

Personnel: Carroll Gibbons-p dir. Bill Shakespeare-Billy Higgs-t / Arthur Fenoulhet-t-tb / Paul Fenoulhet-tb / Sam Acres-tb / George Melachrino-cl-as-vn / Laurie Payne-cl-as-bar / George Smith-ts / Ben Frankel-vn / Sid Bright-2nd p / Harry Sherman-g / Jack Evetts-sb / Rudy Starita-d-vib-x / Maurice Elwin-v

Carroll Gibbons and the Savoy Hotel Orpheans (v. Maurice Elwin) – “Happy Ending” (1933)

Carroll Gibbons’s “Happy Ending” and the equally upbeat song on the opposite side of Columbia CB-641 (“My Lucky Day”), both of which have Maurice Elwin vocals, derive from This Week of Grace, a 1933 Gracie Fields film about a female factory worker who loses her job and becomes housekeeper to a duchess. I have not seen the film, although a clip of Gracie singing “Happy Ending” can be found on YouTube. Gracie starts out whistling the tune while strumming a banjulele. She begins to sing the lyrics, slowly and deliberately at first, but then in a more animated way, as if moved by its optimistic message.

By comparison, in Gibbons’s version of the song, Maurice Elwin is measured in his delivery of the vocal refrain, putting as much emphasis on sounding reassuring and convincing as he does on seeming happy himself. As is so often the case, Elwin’s interpretation of this song relies on an elegantly understated approach to conveying emotion. Elwin would appear to be singing towards the upper limit of his vocal range at points during this recording, but does not appear to be particularly challenged by the higher register.

Other dance bands who recorded “Happy Ending” in 1933 were Joe Loss and His Band (v. Jimmy Messini — on Joe Loss’s first record), Charlie Kunz and the Casani Club Orchestra (v. Eve Becke), Jack Payne and His Band (v. Billy Scott-Coomber), Ray Noble and His Orchestra, Larry Brennan and the Winter Gardens Dance Band, and Billy Cotton and His Band (in a medley of other songs from This Week of Grace). Gracie Fields also committed the song to shellac herself.