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

 

 

Birthday Elf unmasked!

One of the annoying things about being a parent is that, for years, Santa gets the credit for the best presents at Christmas. Same with Easter. If you grew up in rural Australia, where rabbits are loathed as a destructive environmental pest, letting the praise for the chocolate eggs go to a magical bunny is galling.

TipToeLabelSo, thank goodness that the creature on this record never caught on. Tip Toe the Birthday Elf. Yes, tune into the lyrics. The song is called “Happy Birthday to You”, but it is not the familiar version. Rather it is about another non-existent wretch trying to steal a parent’s thunder. His toe nails glow, or something, and he brings presents.

On the B-side, we meet this Tip Toe, who talks in a high squeaky voice, which at times morphs into a “mouse stampede” sound effect, said to be “Elf Talk”.

Planet Vinyl’s investigative unit can now reveal the shocking truth. “Elf Talk” is phoney! If you slow down Tiptoe’s supposed native tongue, it turns out to be some random dialogue from a radio play, a western, which features a horse which has gone lame having stepped in a “gopher hole”. And one of the voices seems to be that of Gene Autry. Have a listen.

So, dear Tip Toe you have been exposed as a sham. And the hole which crippled the horse? Probably dug by the Easter Bunny.

  • Artist: “Peter Piper” (Stephen Gale)
  • A side: Happy Birthday to You
  • B side: Birthday Party with Tip Toe
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac, mono
  • Label: Philips
  • Made in: unknown
  • Catalogue: B 21418 H
  • Year: unknown [early 1950s?]

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

 

 

 

 

The name suggests a gangster

Muggsy Spanier. The name suggests a gangster from the Al Capone era, but Francis Joseph “Muggsy” Spanier was a musician. Given that the mob controlled all the best nightclubs in those days, and that, like Capone, Spanier was a native of Chicago, they might have crossed paths.

Muggsy played the cornet. The what? It’s a cousin of the trumpet – same basic design but a bit smaller, and the tube is differently shaped, and has a mellower sound. For many years it was the preferred instrument in jazz bands. The trumpet was all a bit bold and, well, brassy.

Spanier was just outside the absolute top flight of jazz musicians in the 1930s and 1940s. He played with the big guys: Fats Waller, Sidney Bechet, Bob Crosby, many more. Just didn’t quite crack the A-list, but surely not through lack of talent.

Trumpet playing evolved, and that instrument became king in jazz. The cornet – well, it’s still around, but a minority thing. But, man, does it sound great? Certainly in the hands of Muggsy Spanier it does. This is a 1941 recording, a shellac cutting of a sort of Dixieland-meets-swing version of a gospel tune, “Little David, Play Your Harp”. Actually, no harp is played, but there are lots of horns, played with skill and exuberance. Just listen, especially to Muggsy on the cornet.

  • Artist: Muggsy Spanier And His Orchestra
  • A side: Little David, Play Your Harp
  • B side: Hesitating Blues
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac, mono
  • Label: Decca
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: Y5972
  • Year: 1941

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

Looking at a Foxconn factory

George Orwell was one of my first literary heroes. I got hooked by Nineteen Eighty-four, and went on to read everything he wrote. I don’t recommend this. His best work stands up: brave, clear sighted, a voice raised against tyranny. But don’t seek out the B-sides and rarities.

Having once been an uber-fan, though, I know his lesser works, and was reminded of one just now.

4019 AIn 1941, as the world careened into the darkest years in human history, His Master’s Voice released a recording of the BBC Symphony Orchestra performing Carl Maria von Weber’s delightful Invitation to The Dance (the record label calls it “Invitation to The Waltz” – it’s the same thing). The disc is a bit scratchy. That happens when a record gets played on a portable gramophone in an air raid shelter. But through the crackle we hear what must, in 1941, have seemed like paradise lost: the glittering ballrooms of privileged Europe, before the world knew of the machine gun.

4019 COnly months earlier, George Orwell wrote a poem about the factory where this disc was made. It channels the same tension. On a Ruined Farm Near the ‘His Master’s Voice Gramophone Factory’ contrasts the rural idyll of pre-industrial England – which the writer yearns for but knows is lost to him – with the intimidating power of modern industry.

The factory is:

where steel and concrete soar
In dizzy, geometric towers —
There, where the tapering cranes sweep round,
And great wheels turn, and trains roar by
Like strong, low-headed brutes of steel

There was a time when making 78 rpm records out of cardboard and shellac was new, the cutting edge – terrifying even.

These same records now seem quaint, archaic, objects of nostalgia.

But imagine a young person in China, uneasy about the country’s breakneck modernisation and pursuit of wealth, looking at a Foxconn factory. Imagine the same young person writing a poem, while listening to lovely classical Chinese music on an iPhone. A lifetime ago, that was the experience of listening to this record, .

  • Artist: BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Arturo Toscanini
  • A side: Invitation to The Waltz, Op. 65 – Part 1 (Weber, Orchestration. Berlioz)
  • B side: Invitation to The Waltz, Op. 65 – Conclusion (Weber, Orchestration. Berlioz)
  • Format: 12”, 78 rpm, shellac
  • Label: His Master’s Voice
  • Made in: England
  • Catalogue: DB 3542
  • Year: 1941

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

 

Liquorice stick

On Sunday, my wife and I saw a jazz band, Sandra Tulty’s Swing Quartet. Australians all, and all stellar musicians: one of those jaw-dropping jazz ensembles, which sing, play multiple instruments, and take on solos without so much as raising a sweat. I was particularly impressed by the clarinettist, Michael McQuaid. He moved in and out of the music, soloing with extraordinary power and dexterity.

It reminded me of the great Artie Shaw – one of those musicians I have discovered through Planet Vinyl. Shaw was a contemporary of Benny Goodman, and they were built up as rivals, though the two men liked and respected each other. They were both Jewish (Shaw was an anglicization of Arshawsky) and they both took the jazz clarinet, the “liquorice stick” as it was called, into aural spaces no one had ever even thought of.

IMG_2241This is Artie Shaw’s recording of “Begin the Beguine”, released in 1938. The record has been played so often that the label is hard to read, but it once belonged to someone called Dawson. Whoever that was, they took good care of their records – the shellac still plays well, letting the smooth, sinuous clarinet sound shine.

  • Artist: Artie Shaw And His Orchestra,
  • Track: “Beguine the Beguine”
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac
  • Label: His Master’s Voice
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Catalogue: EA 2369
  • Year: 1938

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

 

 

 

 

After the movie finished

Australia and America have been close friends for a long time. It dates back to the Second World War, when Australia found itself facing a Japanese invasion. Traditionally, Australia had looked to Britain for protection. But Britain was in a desperate struggle for survival herself, and unable to help. So on 27 December 1941 the Australian Prime Minister, John Curtin, made one of those this-changes-everything speeches:

Without any inhibitions of any kind, I make it quite clear that Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom.

One result was a huge influx of US servicemen. At the peak, some quarter-of-a-million Americans were based here.

IMG_2240 (002)This gramophone record is an artifact of this period. Specially made, it has the same track on both sides. It was not allowed to be broadcast, and was played many, many times – note the wear around the central hole. And the music? An unknown brass band plays the first few bars of God Save the King (which was then the Australian national anthem), segueing into John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever”.

I think that this strange record was played at cinemas inside American military bases. In those days, it was routine for the national anthem to be played after a film had finished. The first section is a polite nod to the host country, before they launch into America’s national march – which, it must be said, is far and away the better tune.

  • Artist: Unknown
  • Title: God Save the King followed by Stars and Stripes, march
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac
  • Label: His Master’s Voice
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Catalogue number: Special Record No. 1
  • Year: Unknown (c. 1942?)

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

Early-model Bieber

Paul Anka was a sort of early-model Justin Bieber. A Canadian-born singer who became a star at a young age, and was a bit of a honey.

Paul_Anka_1961

Paul Anka in 1961. Photo Wikimedia

This was his first big hit: a love song in which a young man expresses his undying devotion to a lady by the name of Diana. Lyrically, Shakespeare it ain’t:

Thrills I get when you hold me close
Oh, my darling, you’re the most

Hmm. Even the start: “I’m so young and you’re so old”. In my experience, telling a girl you fancy that she’s old is not a great plan. If untrue, she will be offended. If true, she will be offended …

Never mind, the song was a one of the biggest hits of all time – something like nine million copies were sold, which in 1957 was a staggering number.

Paul Anka, happily, seems to have avoided the personal tragedy which is often the lot of the teen star. He reinvented himself several times, and remained active as a performer and composer for  some fifty years. Among his credits are the lyrics to Frank Sinatra’s signature song, “My Way”. He is still with us, and well into his seventies he is still performing. This is a guy whose first recordings came out on 78 rpm. If Justin Bieber manages something similar sixty years from now,  he’ll be doing pretty well

  • Artist: Paul Anka
  • Single Title: Diana
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, mono
  • Label: W&G
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Catalogue number: WG-XPN 496
  • Year: 1957

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