“Jus’ Keepin’ On” (1930)

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.

“Pantomime Hits — Selection — Part 1” (Intro. “Jericho” / “You’re My Silver Lining of Love” / “Jus’ Keepin’ On”). Recorded in Chelsea, London on November 27, 1929 by Philip Lewis and His Orchestra (a.k.a. the Rhythm Maniacs) under the musical direction of Arthur Lally with vocalist Maurice Elwin. Decca F-1585.

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

Philip Lewis and His Orchestra (a.k.a the Rhythm Maniacs; v. Maurice Elwin)
“Pantomime Hits — Selection — Part 1” (1929)
(Transfer by John Wright)

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.” It is worth noting that Elwin sings the lyric conventionally, sticking to the melody. His voice is soft and he sounds slightly weary, but there is nothing resembling overacting going on.

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.

“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)

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.

I should add that, vis-à-vis declaiming lyrics in place of singing them, there is a reason we might lump Elwin’s performance in the Rhythm Maniacs’ “Jus’ Keepin’ On” together his two interpretations of “I’m the Medicine Man for the Blues.” It would appear that Elwin went through a phase of imitating Ted Lewis, who introduced the latter song, and who, being a poor singer, was prone simply to speak lyrics, often in an odd, sentimental way, with slight diversions and repetitions. I hear Maurice Elwin doing the same in many of his solo Zonophone and Decca recordings of this period. I look forward to eventually sharing some of them on this website.

“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 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.

Notes:

  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.

“My Lucky Day” (1933)

“My Lucky Day.” 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-13778-1.

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

Carrroll Gibbons and the Savoy Hotel Orpheans (v. Maurice Elwin)
“My Lucky Day” (1933)

“My Lucky Day,” like its reverse side on Columbia CB-641 (“Happy Ending”), has Maurice Elwin interpreting lyrics originally given to Gracie Fields in the star vehicle This Week of Grace. He begins to sing after a very brief instrumental introduction and warmly expresses elation at his good fortune. In dance band recordings of this sort, it is more common to have the vocalist come in halfway through the song or even later; it speaks to Elwin’s reputation as a powerful vocalist that he was chosen for this particular arrangement.

Other dance bands who recorded “My Lucky Day” in 1933 were Harry Bidgood and His Band (v. Tom Barratt), Harry Leader and His Band (v. Sam Browne), Sydney Kyte and His Picadilly Hotel Band (v. Norman Phillips), Charlie Kunz and the Casani Club Orchestra (v. Eve Becke), Larry Brennan and the Winter Gardens Dance Band (whose unidentified female vocalist is amusingly terrible), and Billy Cotton and His Band (in a medley of songs from This Week of Grace). Gracie Fields also made a record with this song on it.