Friday, 24 January 2014

The Good Old Days

One of the books I most enjoyed reading last year was My Old Man, 'a personal history of music hall', by John Major. The book is thoroughly researched - John Major acknowledges that he had help with this -  but what really makes it stand out is John Major's very evident respect and affection for the performers.

Music hall was the great popular entertainment of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, from grand city centre halls to small town venues. Performers such as Marie LloydVesta Tilley and Harry Lauder were highly paid international superstars. 

Very few recordings exist of these artists performing, and those there are were mostly made when they were past their best. In any case, as John Major points out, their true talent  was for performing on stage in front of an audience. 

We have to rely on (not always favourable) contemporary accounts, re-enactors and our imaginations to recreate the sights and sounds of Victorian music hall.

Sadly, some of the music hall stars were unable to cope with fame and the sometimes punishing schedules of performances. Some fell back into poverty, their health ruined. Others were forgotten as wireless and cinema superseded  music hall as the most popular forms of entertainment. 

But their songs remain. Some of them have given us words which have entered the language, although most people now have probably forgotten their origin. And most of us can probably sing snatches from Victorian music hall songs, even if we don't know their history.

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