Savoy Orpheans Articles

“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)

“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.