Likeable rogue on guitar

Astonishing, the human stories which lie behind the neat gold lettering on a gramophone label. “Never heard of him,” I thought of Vic Lewis, placing this 1946 shellac disc on the turntable. Lowered the needle. And, wow. Lovely jazz guitar in front of a tight band. But not just tight, there’s real feeling in this. That extra “something” – indefinable but unmissable.

So, who is this Vic Lewis? An Englishman, he was born in 1919. Inspired by American recordings, he became one of the pioneers of jazz guitar in Britain. He visited America and at different times played with the cream: Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Django Reinhardt, Stéphane Grappelli, George Shearing. At least, he claimed to have played with them, and this was mostly true. Vic Lewis was, you see, not the most reliable witness.

viclewis

Vic Lewis

He served in the RAF during the war, and it was there that he met the other musicians on this record. He was successful as a band leader and arranger after the war.

When rock’n’roll arrived, he shifted into management. He worked with Brian Epstein, and was involved in the careers of Cilla Black, Elton John and The Beatles. Like most managers, he was a bit of a spiv. His business dealings were not always honourable; his word, not always his bond. But people liked him: he might cheat you, but he was also generous with his time, his talents, his connections and his money.

And he never lost his love for jazz. And that shines through on this recording. “That’s a Plenty” is an up-tempo stomper, with a Dixie feel; “Singin’ the Blues” more mellow. Something special about them both, I reckon. Just listen!

That’s a Plenty

Singin’ the Blues

  • Artist: Vic Lewis and Jack Parnell’s Jazzmen,
  • A side: That’s a Plenty
  • B side: Singin’ The Blues
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac, mono
  • Label: Parlophone
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: A7551
  • Year: 1946

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

 

The man with the monocle

There was a time before microphones. Think about what that meant for a singer. You had to stand on stage in front of an orchestra, and your unaided voice had to reach the far corner of the hall. It is an astonishing thing: to sing with pitch, control, feeling, as well as power and volume. It requires talent, dedication and training, and technique.

OGt-TauberTopper

Richard Tauber in his dapper prime

Microphones changed singing. From the 1930s on, it was possible to front a band and sing, and let the microphone do the heavy lifting. You could focus on timing, timbre and expression. Paradox: the electronically amplified singer can sound more natural.

So to modern ears, operatic singing is a bit of an acquired taste. The power and volume of the natural, trained classical voice seems a bit odd, stylised, artificial. It is worth making the effort, though. Before the microphone, classical singing was singing. This was how it was done, how music sounded.

One of the early superstars of recorded music was Richard Tauber. He wore a monocle. Along with a silk top hat, it was his trademark. He did not need the lens to see. In fact – well-kept secret – monocles are completely useless for helping vision. They were only ever a silly fashion item. But Tauber had a squint in one eye, and the monocle disguised that, and made him look dapper besides.

More to the point, Tauber could sing. A measure of his popularity is that long after he died (of lung cancer, in 1948), when superior recording techniques allowed other tenors to share their art, Richard Tauber’s work continued to be reissued.

I have not been able to determine when this track – one of more than 720 he recorded – was released on shellac. Guessing mid-1930s? Nor do I know when the vinyl EP reissue, with this and three other songs, came out. Guessing late 1950s? All that matters: here is a voice than has pitch, control and feeling, as and can reach the far corner of the hall. Just listen!

  • Artist: Richard Tauber
  • EP Title: Richard Tauber Favorites Vol. 1
  • Track: A2 “Liebestraum” (Liszt)
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, mono
  • Label: Parlophone
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: REPO 7501
  • Year: Unknown

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

 

 

 

I have to catch everybody

It is easily 25 years since I read J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, but I still remember the pivotal scene vividly. Holden Caulfield is speaking to his sister Phoebe, who is pretty much the only person he trusts.1013 label

“You know that song ‘If a body catch a body comin’ through the rye’? … I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.”

It is an odd vision. Holden is a city boy, who probably doesn’t know much about rye fields, and as Pheobe points out, he has misheard the lyrics. There is no “catching” of bodies. But there is something in Holden’s strange image – and reading the passage alone can’t quite convey it, the whole book has been leading up to this – something which burns with the beauty and the sadness of the world.

The song “Coming Thro’ the Rye” is ancient. It is often attributed to the Scots poet Robert Burns, but he was merely the first person to write down (in 1782) a song that was already well known and already old. It is, as ancient songs often are, puzzling. It is about a girl, Jenny, who meets a boy coming across a wet rye field, and there is a sexual encounter but how loving and consensual it is – well, it’s hard to tell. A lot of questions are asked, and not answered.

Gin a body meet a body
Comin thro’ the rye,
Gin a body kiss a body,
Need a body cry?

Need a body cry? That means cry out for help. Maybe not, but maybe yes.1013 cover

It is beautiful, but dark and ambiguous. Much like Catcher in the Rye.

This version is just the tune, performed as a waltz by Jimmy Shand, a prolific Scots dance band leader whose accordion fired up a million dance parties in the 1950s. As a dance, it is a bit happier than that ballad is, or Holden Caulfield was, but a lovely tune still.

  • Artist: Jimmy Shand And His Band
  • LP Title: Comin’ Thro’ The Rye
  • Side 1, Track 1: “Comin’ Thro’ The Rye”
  • Format: 10” LP 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Parlophone PMDO 1047
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1950