“I’ll Be the Same.” Composed by Jack Strachey. Recorded in London on June 5, 1930 by the Rhythm Maniacs under the musical direction of Arthur Lally with vocalist Maurice Elwin. Decca F-1814 mx. MB-1458-2.
Personnel: Arthur Lally-cl-as-bar dir. probably Norman Payne-Bill Shakespeare-t / Jock Fleming or Ted Heath-tb / Danny Polo-cl-as / Joe Jeanette-cl-ts / Claude Ivy-p / Joe Brannely-bj / Spike Hughes-sb / Bill Harty-d / Rudy Starita-vib-x / Maurice Elwin-v
I like to delve into songs’ origins, whether they be in London theater, Broadway, Tin Pan Alley, Hollywood, or elsewhere. Decca F-1814 presents a bit of a puzzle in this regard. The songwriter “Strachey” mentioned on its label would appear to be Jack Strachey, who wrote music for the theater and the music hall. His compositions would eventually see a fair amount of success; in later years he collaborated on the hits “These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)” and “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.” And yet Decca F-1814 seems to have the only known recordings of “I’ll Be the Same” and “Tell Me Over Again.” This one record is the sole testament that I can find to the songs’ ever having been written, which is strange, as they are both rather beautiful.
The title phrase “I’ll Be the Same” might at first appear to be an impossible pledge on the part of the singer never to change, advance, or decline (“You may alter; / I’ll be the same”). We gradually learn that he is actually promising fidelity in the face of inconstancy on the part of the song’s addressee. The song’s bittersweet theme is nicely expressed by the contrast between Maurice Elwin’s almost solemn interpretation of the lyrics and the exuberant instrumentals, which seem almost modern in their sensibility (and perhaps even in their volume level).
We should expect to see contrasts of this sort frequently when bandleader Arthur Lally uses Elwin as his vocalist. Elwin had the lion’s share of Lally vocals from 1929-1932, and sometimes his ability to sound serious and old-fashioned is comically juxtaposed with something silly and modern, such as Jack Jackson’s scatting. But in “I’ll Be the Same,” a tone of sincerity is actually called for thematically, and Elwin’s delivery of the vocal refrain makes this stylishly elegant recording surprisingly moving as well.
“How’s Your Uncle?” Lyrics by Dorothy Fields, music by Jimmy McHugh; composed for Shoot the Works (1931). Recorded in the Kingsway Hall, London c. October 23, 1931 by the Orpheus Dance Band under the musical direction of John Firman with vocalist Maurice Elwin. Zonophone 5987.
Personnel: John Firman dir. Max Goldberg-t / cl-as / cl-as-bar / cl-ts / ?Bert Read-p-cel / pac / Joe Brannelly-bj-g / Billy Bell-bb / Rudy Starita-vib-x / Maurice Elwin-v / Charles Saxby-or
“How’s Your Uncle?” is a song deriving from the 1931 American revue Shoot the Works! (a slang expression referring to placing all of one’s money on a single bet). The show had been arranged as a way of providing temporary work for actors unemployed due to the Great Depression. The illustrious contributors to the revue (including “How’s Your Uncle?” songwriters Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh) did not charge royalties for their work; instead, as much money as possible went to the cast.
Now, a revue involves singing, dancing, and sketch comedy, and the individual acts are held together by minimal, flimsy, or even no unifying narrative; the audience, including the reviewers, would not have expected much of a plot. In spite of those low expectations, apparently Shoot the Works! still lacked something important. New Yorker reviewer S. Finney wrote that it “had been put together with string,” and in spite of constant rewriting, it closed after only nine weeks. 1
Fortunately, the failure of a revue does not vitiate its constituent parts, and “How’s Your Uncle?” saw great success with recording artists. The song’s lyrics consist of the sort of small talk (e.g. “How’s your uncle? How’s your auntie?”) that might lead up to a more important question (“And incidentally, baby, how are you?”). The questions about the more pedestrian aspects of life always precede the theme of love:
How's the cooking
And the washing
And the plumbing coming along?
Is the coffee
That you're making
Just as strong as your love for me?
The sing-song tune is catchy and perfectly suited to up-beat dance band arrangements.
The arrangement used by the Zonophone house orchestra, the Orpheus Dance Band, is particularly delightful, especially considering the interplay between the band and the organ played by Charles W. Saxby. There is also a wonderful sense of space in this recording. The echo that can be heard in Zonophone recordings made in Kingsway Hall is the polar opposite of the acoustically dead studios used by Decca in its otherwise excellent early recordings.
Maurice Elwin had been the Zonophone bands’ main vocalist since late 1927, so we should not be surprised to find him singing the refrain in “How’s Your Uncle?” He does seem perfectly suited for this song about the pedestrian sort of banter that people bury their real feelings in. Elwin’s approach to interpreting lyrics is famously understated, so to the extent that the song is a joke, Elwin could be said to be delivering it deadpan. He does alter his tone slightly when alluding to his love for the song’s addressee (and while asking after “the brother [he] could smother”), but for the most part he sounds like any one of us does when beating around the bush. The vocal refrain is subtly comical and contributes to the success of the whole recording.
Other British dance bands who recorded “How’s Your Uncle” in 1931 were Nat Star and His Dance Orchestra (v. Cavan O’Connor), Jerry Hoey and His Band (v. Les Allen and unknown person), Ambrose and His Orchestra (v. Sam Browne), the Filmophone House Band (v. Sam Browne), and Bidgood’s Good Boys (v. Tom Barratt).
Dan Dietz, The Complete Book of 1930s Broadway Musicals, Washington, DC: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018, 138-140. ↩
“Somebody Mighty Like You” originated in the partially Technicolor 1929 musical film Paris, whose plot concerns an upper-crust American man who causes a scandal by falling in love with a French cabaret girl. Less than two minutes of the actual movie still exist, although the soundtrack survives on Vitaphone discs. Paris was based on the 1928 Broadway play of the same name, whose songs were all by Cole Porter. Strangely, very little Cole Porter material made it into the movie (some of it, such as “Let’s Do It [Let’s Fall in Love],” may have been deemed too racy). Instead, other songwriters, including Alfred Bryan and Eddie Ward, were brought in to write entirely new songs. Bryan and Ward’s “Somebody Mighty Like You” was introduced in the film by Irène Bordoni and Jack Buchanan (in his talking-picture debut).
I have not seen the full lyrics as they were used in the movie, but it is easy to get a sense of their contents by comparing different vocal refrain excerpts. There are two themes. First, the singer invokes the idea of an ideal lover that he has found in dreams, one who is “somebody mighty like [i.e., very much like]” the real-world lover that he is addressing. 1 Second, the singer appears to be highly frustrated by the beloved’s lack of reciprocation; this theme seems to have been edited out of many arrangements of the song. As it happens, Maurice Elwin ended up singing two vocal refrains of “Somebody Might Like You,” one without and one with the element of discontent.
“Somebody Mighty Like You.” Words by Alfred Bryan, music by Eddie Ward (1929). Recorded in London on January 16, 1930 by the Rhythm Maniacs under the musical direction of Arthur Lally with vocalist Maurice Elwin. Decca F-1586 mx. MB-855-2.
Personnel: Arthur Lally-cl-as-bar dir. 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
Maurice Elwin’s usually restrained vocals sometimes contrast with the hotness of the bands he accompanies, but that is not so much the case in the Rhythm Maniacs’ version of “Somebody Mighty Like You.” This version is smooth and mellow by their standards, contrasting greatly with the flip side, the booming and slightly bizarre “Jus’ Keepin’ On.” The song is arranged in such a way that Maurice Elwin uses the higher end of his range; his voice sounds gentle and appropriately dreamy. The B part uses the lyrics
If I fell in your arms, dear, would you complain?
And would you smile and coax me to fall again?
The theme of frustration is absent, and Elwin is able to make a 35-second vocal refrain memorable for its sweetness.
“Paris — Selection” (Intro. “Miss Wonderful” / “Paris” / My Lover” / “Somebody Mighty Like You”). Recorded in Kingsway Hall, London on May 13, 1930 by the London Orchestra (dir. John Firman) with vocalist Maurice Elwin. Zonophone 5637.
Personnel: John Firman dir. Max Goldberg-another-t / Danny Polo-cl-as-bar / ?E. O. Pogson-cl-as / Johnny Helfer-cl-ts / Bert Read-p / Joe Brannelly-bj / Billy Bell-bb / Rudy Starita-d-vib-x / Charles W. Saxby-or / Maurice Elwin-v
Later in 1930, the London Orchestra, one of Zonophone’s studio bands under the direction of John Firman, recorded a medley of tunes from the movie Paris, all but one of which had been written by Alfred Bryan and Eddie Ward (“My Lover” is a Yellen-Ager composition). The recording session took place in the echoey Kingsway Hall, and the band was accompanied by an organ — overall the sound is very different from the comparatively dead acoustics of the Rhythm Maniacs’ Decca recording. The medley begins with a brief instrumental snatch of “Somebody Mighty Like You” and ends with Maurice Elwin actually singing it. Interestingly, this time his B part lyrics are
Why don't she try to coax me? I'll answer yes.
Fooling around provokes me. Why can't she guess?
One would expect Elwin to sound impatient singing these lines, and so he does. He does not sound as if he is happily drifting into a dream; rather, he seems mildly annoyed. I say mildly because the difference between the two vocals is subtle. A reserved singer, Elwin seldom overacts, but when he does, he makes quite an impression.
“Come Ye Back to Bonnie Scotland” was the signature tune of Henry Hall and His Gleneagles Hotel Band. Hall had formed the band at the LMS Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire, Scotland when it opened in 1924. They were frequently resident at the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool and the Midland Hotel in Manchester during the off-season, but they always associated themselves first and foremost with Gleneagles.
The controller for LMS Hotels was one Arthur E. Towle, CBE, whose wife, Margery Lawrence, a fiction writer, penned the lyrics to “Come Ye Back to Bonnie Scotland.” Hall himself wrote the tune and arranged it. He had studied music at Trinity College of Music and had experience composing hymns for the Salvation Army.
“Come Ye Back to Bonnie Scotland.” Words by Margery Lawrence, music by Henry Hall (1931). Recorded in London on October 11, 1931 by Henry Hall and His Gleneagles Hotel Band. Decca F-2614 mx. GB-3431-1.
Personnel: Henry Hall-sp-a dir. Eddie Cromar-as-bar-vn / Cyril Wookey-cl-as-vn / Burton Gillis-cl-ts / Henry Reed-p / Theo Farrar-sb / Arthur Haydock-d-vib / Maurice Elwin-v
We can hear Henry Hall’s gentle voice announce the tune “Come Ye Back to Bonnie Scotland” at the beginning of the recording on Decca F-2614; he does so as if for a radio broadcast. Then the orchestra comes in, loudly approximating the sound of bagpipes. Allusions to native Scottish music are not entirely rare in British dance band recordings, but the use of strings to imitate woodwind instruments would be a clever effect in any context.
It is arguably the voice of Maurice Elwin that gives this song its greatest source of Scottish authenticity. Born in Uddingston and educated in Glasgow, he was one of the Scottish voices most frequently heard on British records. What he does with the vocal refrain is impressive. While I do not wish to be too hard on the lyricist, the words that made it into this arrangement are little more than a laundry list of northern topographical details. And yet Elwin, singing them softly, as if solemnly and reverently assessing the natural beauty of his native region, produces an effect that is deeply moving. I am not the first to observe Elwin’s ability to convey sincerity, but here he evokes a sense of longing that is less evident in his other dance band recordings. It is as if the music, which is unusually pretty, has given Elwin the opportunity to show off a new facet of his art.
Decca F-2614 was among the last records that Hall released whose label mentioned the Midland Hotel, Manchester. We can see that the label of Decca F-2777, which has take 4 of “Come Ye Back to Bonnie Scotland” on it, lacks the hotel reference:
“Come Ye Back to Bonnie Scotland.” Recorded in London on January 10, 1932 by Henry Hall and His Gleneagles Hotel Band. Decca F-2777 mx. GB-3431-4.
Personnel: Henry Hall-a dir. Eddie Cromar-t-as-bar-v / t / tb / Cyril Wookey-cl-as-vn / Burton Gillis-cl-ts / Henry Reed-p / Theo Farrar-bb-sb / Arthur Haydock-d-vib / Maurice Elwin-v
Note that the matrix for this recording is the same as for the previous transfer, even though the two were recorded three months apart. Take 4 was originally used for late issues of Decca F-2614 and later assigned to F-2777. It is understandable that Decca treated it as a remake, as it is very similar to the original. It lacks Hall’s announcement at the beginning, and Henry Parsons has pointed out to me that the tenor sax is featured prominently after the vocal — an anticipation of a slightly later trend in US dance band arrangements.
Elwin seems to sing the refrain with greater boldness in this take. I would be tempted to attribute the difference to microphone placement, but we happen to know that Elwin was obsessed with his physical relationship to the microphone, 1 so any difference in vocal character was probably intentional. Personally, I prefer the earlier take as being slightly more subtle.
Around the time that the new take of “Come Ye Back to Bonnie Scotland” was recorded, Henry Hall was negotiating to become the BBC’S new bandleader. Jack Payne was about to end his tenure there, and Hall would begin broadcasting with his new band in mid-March. There would be no more Gleneagles Hotel Band, but it is nice that they managed to record their signature tune before being disbanded. They were not the only ones to do so, though; there exists a January 1932 recording of “Come Ye Back to Bonnie Scotland” by the Savoy Hotel Orpheans, then directed by Howard Jacobs, with vocalist Anona Winn. There is also a solo recording of the song by Maurice Elwin on Zonophone 6072.
Maurice Elwin, “Some Truths About Microphone Singing,” Rhythm, March 1934, 33. ↩
“Nobody’s Using It Now.” Words by Clifford Grey, music by Victor Schertzinger. Composed for the film The Love Parade (1929). Recorded in London on March 31, 1930 by the Rhythm Maniacs under the musical direction of Arthur Lally with vocalist Maurice Elwin. Decca F-1716 mx. MB-1136-2.
Personnel: Arthur Lally-cl-as-bar dir. Norman Payne-probably Bill Shakespeare-t / Jock Fleming or Ted Heath-tb / Danny Polo-cl-as / Joe Jeannette-cl-ts / Claude Ivy-p / Joe Brannelly-bj / Spike Hughes-sb / Rudy Starita-d-vib-x / Maurice Elwin-v
“Nobody’s Using It Now” is but one of several memorable numbers from the musical comedy The Love Parade, Ernst Lubitsch’s first sound film. In the movie, Maurice Chevalier plays a military officer in Sylvania, a Ruritanian state located somewhere in Europe. He becomes prince consort to the queen — “a husband, and nothing else” — his nights busy and his days empty. Bereft of self-respect, the boyish, sexy Chevalier sings to the queen’s dog about how he would like a position of greater responsibility, although comically he keeps appealing to his talents in the bedroom as relevant qualifications. “[He’s] just wasting [his] youth,” he complains, “’cause nobody’s using it now.” As is the case with many Broadway and Hollywood tunes, if you take “Nobody’s Using It Now” out of its original context, its lyrics constitute a generic love song — the singer sounds merely lonely, not bored and disrespected like Chevalier.
In the Rhythm Maniacs’ version of “Nobody’s Using It Now,” Maurice Elwin gets a mere 25 seconds to sing the vocal refrain, but it is nonetheless memorable for its boldness. Particularly noteworthy is his ascent into his upper register with “no, no, no, NO!” It puts Elwin’s performance into the same comical territory as Chevalier’s original (the latter goes implausibly low in his intro). Elwin’s quickly delivered vocal at the beginning of the recording sets the fast pace for this up-tempo and loud early Decca recording, whose arrangement is infectiously catchy.