Bands and Bandleaders

“Sweet and Lovely” (1931)

“Sweet and Lovely.” Words and music by Gus Arnheim, Harry Tobias, and Charles N. Daniels (using the pseudonym Jules Lemare; 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 mx. 0Y-1506-2.

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-d-vib-x / Charles W. Saxby-or / Maurice Elwin-v

Orpheus Dance Band (v. Maurice Elwin) – “Sweet and Lovely” (1931)

I have yet to find a version of “Sweet and Lovely” that I do not like. A creation of lyricist Harry Tobias, composer-lyricist Charles N. Daniels, and California-based bandleader Gus Arnheim, 1 the song was surprisingly effective at using its unusual melody to elevate romantic attraction to the spiritual plane. It became Arnheim’s signature tune, but the Orpheus Dance Band’s version with Maurice Elwin stands out as something special.

John Firman’s Zonophone house band used the pseudonym “The Orpheus Dance Band” when it recorded in the Kingsway Hall with Charles W. Saxby on the organ (the name “The Arcadians Dance Orchestra” had been used for that purpose up until 1930). In “Sweet and Lovely,” the organ and Billy Bell’s tuba establish a mellow pulsation for the other instruments to play off of. The effect is decidedly hypnotic; it establishes a sort of dream state for Maurice Elwin’s vocals to emerge from.

On this website I say a lot about Elwin’s precision as a singer and about how funny he can be, but “Sweet and Lovely” gives us an example of his being incredibly tender. He is operating at the higher end of his baritone range, which makes him sound more emotionally vulnerable, and he moves through the vocal chorus just quickly enough to give the impression that he is being carried away — transported — by his own argument. I come away from listening to this recording feeling younger and less jaded, convinced of the higher potential of romantic love.

Some representative American recordings of “Sweet and Lovely” made in 1931 are those by Gus Arnheim and His Cocoanut Grove Orchestra (v. Donald Novis), Ben Selvin (as Phil Hughes and His High Hatters; v. Jack Miller), Bing Crosby (whose version includes the intro that would have been in the sheet music but that was dropped in band arrangements), and Ed Kirkeby (as Bud Leonard; v. Elmer Feldkamp).

Other British dance band recordings were made in 1931 by Roy Fox and His Band (v. Al Bowlly), Dave Frost and His Band (v. Sam Browne), Jerry Hoey and His Band (v. Les Allen and two unknown singers), The Savoy Hotel Orpheans (dir. Howard Jacobs; v. Al Bowlly), Percival Mackey and His Kit-Cat Band (v. Phyllis Robins), Eddie Grossbart and His Café de Paris Band (unknown vocalistPathé footage survives of Grossbart’s band performing “Sweet and Lovely” in the Café de Paris itself), Jack Harris and His Grosvenor House Band (v. Harry Bentley), Ambrose and His Orchestra (v. Sam Browne), Jack Payne and His Band, and Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (v. Pat O’Malley, in a 12″ concert arrangement). Jay Wilbur recorded three different versions in November and December 1931: one as Jay Wilbur and His Band (with an unknown vocalist), and two as the Biltmore Players (one with Sam Browne and one with Les Allen).

Notes:

  1. It is possible that Arnheim’s contributions were minimal, but he did have past experience with songwriting.

“I Have No Words” (1930)

“I Have No Words.” Composed by W. Desmond Carter (words) and Arthur Schwartz (music) for the London stage musical Little Tommy Tucker (1930). Recorded in London on October 23, 1930 by Percival Mackey and His Band with vocalist Maurice Elwin. Columbia CB-168 mx. WA-10819-2.

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 – “I Have No Words” (1930)
(Transfer by Henry Parsons)

Percival Mackey’s “I Have No Words,” like its reverse side (“Let’s Be Sentimental”), derives from the London stage show Little Tommy Tucker, a comedy of errors that was not particularly successful. The song did not make it into the movie version (Out of the Blue), so I have no way of telling which character sang it or what the context was, but no matter. “I Have No Words” is a musically compelling love song with light, witty lyrics by Desmond Carter that have been called “nonchalantly sophisticated” and “flippantly unsentimental.” 1

Percival Mackey’s version of the song has a very stylish arrangement, quick and upbeat. Maurice Elwin delivers the vocal refrain in a somewhat deadpan way, as if not in on the fact that the lyrics are incredibly silly. As in so many other comical vocals, Elwin plays the straight man; his seriousness or earnestness is the source of the humor. There is, perhaps, also a level on which Elwin’s smooth, sweet delivery rescues the lyric from being merely comical. I do not think that would have been possible if other excerpts from the original lyrics had been included:

I would beg for you,
Break a leg for you,
Lay an egg for you... 2

As usual, producing a first-rate recording of this sort is the work not only of a band and its vocalist but of the arranger, who, among other things, decides which short excerpt from a song to use as the vocal refrain.

The other British dance band treatments of “I Have No Words” occur only in medleys. The New Mayfair Dance Orchestra had recorded a purely instrumental medley (it literally had no words) three days before the Percival Mackey recording. On November 1, The Million-Airs (under Arthur Lally’s direction) would release one that had Maurice Elwin once again singing a snippet of “I Have No Words.”

While there are very few recordings, then, of “I Have No Words” per se, there are many of its basic melody. Immediately after working with Desmond Carter to set the lyrics of “I Have No Words” to music, composer Arthur Schwartz would turn to Howard Dietz to write new lyrics, producing the song “Something to Remember You By,” which was introduced on Broadway by Libby Holman in Three’s a Crowd (1930). Both Holman and Helen Morgan committed memorable versions of the song to shellac that year, and it has continued to be recorded every few years since and been featured in many movies.

It is interesting to note that “I Have No Words” had little staying power, while “Something to Remember You By” — fundamentally the same tune — has been so favored by musicians and audiences over the course of nearly a century. Composer and musicologist Alec Wilder was unaware of the melody’s origin in Little Tommy Tucker but had heard what he thought was an “unsubstantiated story” that an original version of “Something to Remember You By” had been sung “at least twice as fast as its later version.” 3 Wilder praised the decision to slow it down as having been “fortunate for all lovers of good song.” 4

This is a rare case where I cannot agree with Wilder or, apparently, popular taste. To me, the slow pace of “Something to Remember You By” makes it treacly, and its lyrics seem hackneyed. Percival Mackey’s “I Have No Words” with its Maurice Elwin vocal will always stand out as an excellent example of how the original concept could be executed successfully.

Notes:

  1. Philip Furia, The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America’s Great Lyricists. New York: Oxford University Press.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Alec Wilder. American Popular Song: The Great Innovators (1900-1950). Kindle location 4031.
  4. Ibid., Kindle location 4035.

“Let’s Be Sentimental” (1930)

“Let’s Be Sentimental.” Lyrics by Desmond Carter, music by Vivian Ellis (1930). Recorded in London on October 23, 1930 by Percival Mackey and His Band with vocalist Maurice Elwin. Columbia CB-168 mx. WA-10818-2.

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 / Billy Harty-d / Maurice Elwin-v

Percival Mackey and His Band – “Let’s Be Sentimental” (1930)
(Transfer by Henry Parsons)

“Let’s Be Sentimental” is, like many British dance band tunes, a delightful by-product of a not very successful London show. Little Tommy Tucker is the story of one Thomasina (“Tommy”) Tucker, the daughter of an impoverished baronet, who has to — you guessed it — “sing for her supper.” The man she has fallen in love with is betrothed to her sister. He does not love the sister, but his best friend does. Trying to get away from it all, Tommy ends up in Biarritz, impersonating a singer who has herself been pretending to be an exiled Russian princess. This is a comedy of errors reminiscent of the P. G. Wodehouse Blandings novels, insofar as several of the characters are always confused as to the others’ identities.

Little Tommy Tucker toured for six weeks, was partially recast and rewritten, and then lasted only two and a half months on the London stage. 1 In spite of this lackluster performance, Pathé would release a film version the next year, although it used only two of the songs and renamed it Out of the Blue, after one of the songs. “Let’s Be Sentimental” is the other, and it is sung by Gene Gerard and Jessie Matthews.

The lyrics concern the supposed necessity of going through commonplace romantic gestures if romance is to succeed. There is some clever wordplay, but it is the tune that is truly daring. In each verse the melody gradually rises, then falls a fifth abruptly, rises a fifth, falls a fifth, and then rises and falls a third time. That pattern is likely to throw off a less than competent singer, and even then, there is the risk of sounding like a police siren. Composer Vivian Ellis must have liked the effect, as he used a toned-down version of it in “I’m on a See-Saw” in Jill Darling (1934). 2

Percival Mackey must have felt bullish about Maurice Elwin, as it is the latter who introduces the unusual melody, and not the instrumentalists. By contrast, in the Jack Hylton version of “Let’s Be Sentimental,” first-rate vocalist Pat O’Malley comes in comparatively late in the recording. 3 It is my overall impression that Elwin leads with the vocals somewhat more often than other singers — I shall have to substantiate that claim over time — and I suspect that, if I am right, it is because he is reliably interesting without upstaging the band. There is little risk of doing that here, though: Percival Mackey’s band is at its most elegant in this piece, successfully executing the clever arrangement that puts foregrounded saxophones and violins in antiphonal conversation with muted brass. 4

Notes:

  1. London Musicals (1930-1934). Over the Footlights.
  2. My thanks to Julian Dyer for pointing out the resemblance.
  3. The third British dance band appearance of “Let’s Be Sentimental” is in a New Mayfair Dance Orchestra medley, which may be heard on John Wright’s British Dance Band Show No. 274.
  4. My thanks to Terry Brown and Henry Parsons for their comments on the arrangement.

“I’ll Be the Same” (1930)

“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

The Rhythm Maniacs (v. Maurice Elwin) – “I’ll Be the Same” (1930)

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?” (1931)

“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

Orpheus Dance Band – “How’s Your Uncle?” (1931) (Andy LeMaitre)

“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.

Some American versions of “How’s Your Uncle” that were recorded while Shoot the Works! was still on stage were those of the Jesse Stafford Orchestra (v. Paul Small), the Troubadours (directed by Nat Shilkret, with vocalist Chick Bullock), and Fred “Sugar” Hall and His Sugar Babies (v. Arthur Fields).

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).

Notes:

  1. Dan Dietz, The Complete Book of 1930s Broadway Musicals, Washington, DC: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018, 138-140.

“Somebody Mighty Like You” (Two Versions; 1930)

“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

The Rhythm Maniacs (v. Maurice Elwin) – “Somebody Mighty Like You” (1930)
(Transfer by Henry Parsons)

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

Paris selection: “Miss Wonderful,” “Paris,” “My Lover,” “Somebody Mighty Like You.” London Orchestra directed by John Firman, with vocals by Maurice Elwin. Charles W. Saxby, organ. Recorded May 1930. Zonophone 5637.
(Transfer by John Wright)

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.

There was only one other dance band recording of “Somebody Mighty Like You” made in Britain, that of Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (v. Sam Browne). There were quite a few good American versions in 1929-1930, including those by Larry Siry and His Hotel Ambassador Orchestra (v. Charles Murray), Wayne King and His Orchestra (v. Ernie Birchill), the Carolina Club Orchestra (v. Hal Kemp, Saxie Dowell, and Skinnay Ennis), Tom Clines and His Music (v. Jack Carney), the Badgers (v. Scrappy Lambert), Joe Curran’s Band, John Vincent’s Californians (v. Rodman Lewis), and Sam Lanin and His Orchestra (v. Irving Kaufman).

Notes:

  1. Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh would use the same idea the next year in “Exactly Like You.”

“Come Ye Back to Bonnie Scotland” (Two Versions; 1931 & 1932)

“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

Henry Hall and His Gleneagles Hotel Band
“Come Ye Back to Bonnie Scotland (1931)
(Transfer by Henry Parsons)

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

Henry Hall and His Gleneagles Hotel Band (v. Maurice Elwin)
“Come Ye Back to Bonnie Scotland”
(Transfer by Henry Parsons)

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.

Notes:

  1. Maurice Elwin, “Some Truths About Microphone Singing,” Rhythm, March 1934, 33.

“Nobody’s Using It Now” (1930)

“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

The Rhythm Maniacs (v. Maurice Elwin) – “Nobody’s Using It Now” (1930)

“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.

There were many medleys inspired by The Love Parade and Maurice Chevalier’s singing in general, and the Rhythm Maniacs themselves would do a reprise of “Nobody’s Doing it Now” later in 1930 in “Maurice Chevalier — Selection” (v. Fred Douglas). There were other British dance band versions of “Nobody’s Doing It Now” in 1930 by Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (who recorded a full version with Sam Browne on the vocals, and an instrumental excerpt in a medley), Cecil Norman’s Savoy Plaza Band (v. Cavan O’Connor), Bidgood’s Symphonic Dance Band (in a medley with vocals by Patrick Waddington, followed soon after by a full version — under the band name Al Benny’s Broadway Boys — with vocalist Sam Browne), Jack Payne and His BBC Dance Orchestra (who did an instrumental treatment in a medley), Nat Star (v. Tom Barratt), the Midnight Minstrels (dir. Stan Greening; as an instrumental in a medley), the Debroy Somers Band (v. Tom Barratt), and Jack Leon’s band (as an instrumental in a medley).

“Figaro” (1930)

“Figaro.” Words by Sidney D. Mitchell, music by Otto Motzan (1928). Recorded in Chelsea, London on May 20, 1930 by the Rhythm Maniacs under the musical direction of Arthur Lally with vocals by Maurice Elwin. Decca F-1799.

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 Brannelly-bj / Bill Harty-d / Rudy Starita-vib-x / Maurice Elwin-v / ?Jack Jackson-sc

The Rhythm Maniacs – “Figaro” (1930)
Transfer by Henry Parsons

Did the Rhythm Maniacs just reference the Figaro of Rossini’s Barber of Seville? They did, but only obliquely, as it turns out. The original lyrics of Mitchell and Motzan’s “Figaro” refer not to a Barber of Seville, but rather to a barber of Greenwich Village who likes to sing “Figaro, Figaro, Figaro” 1 (whereas the Bidgood’s Broadcasters version relocates its “Figaro” to Saffron Hill, a London street housing Italian immigrants). In the Rhythm Maniacs version of “Figaro,” then, Maurice Elwin is not singing about the opera character Figaro, but about someone who thinks that he can sing opera.

The vocal refrain that Elwin is given is so short, at thirty-three seconds, that he does not get to specify who his “Figaro” is or where he lives and works. The lyrical excerpt has been torn from its context in the Mitchell-Motzan “Figaro,” so the repetition of “Figaro, Figaro, Figaro” and the general spirit of boasting that Elwin projects might actually lead us to recall the opening scenes of Rossini’s opera rather than the barber in New York or London. Elwin sings some generalities about “Figaro’s” attractiveness to the opposite sex and states that he is “the king of all.”

But Elwin ends up seeming like the straight man in a joke, as he is upstaged by another vocalist engaging in purposely comical scat. Rust and Forbes do not mention Jack Jackson’s presence at this session, but it sounds like him. One of the reasons that the scat sounds so awkward is that there is an additional joke of some sort embedded in it. Tim Machin of the Facebook Golden Age of British Dance Bands group is right, I think, to make out something like “Napoleon…one arm…could have been Nelson” embedded in amongst all the nonsensical vocalizations, and Nick Dellow suggests that there could even be a reference to the 1920s song “Why Sell Kippers in Pairs?” which has the line “Lord Nelson only had one eye and one arm, / So why sell kippers in pairs?” 2

Other British dance bands who recorded “Figaro” in 1930 were the Savoy Orpheans (directed at the time by Ben Loban; v. Cavan O’Connor and chorus), Arthur Roseberry and His Dance Band (v. Leslie Holmes and chorus), the Debroy Somers Band (v. Tom Barratt), Jack Leon’s Dance Band (v. Jimmy Allen), Nat Star and His Dance Orchestra (as Selwyn’s Dance Orchestra; v. Tom Barratt), The Rhythmic Eight (directed by John Firman), the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra (dir. Ray Noble; v. Leonard Henry and Wally Vernon), Hal Swain and His Band (v. Fred Douglas), and (as mentioned above) Bidgood’s Broadcasters (as Ted Summer’s Dance Devils; v. Leslie Rome).

“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

“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).

Notes:

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