Tag Archives | 1930s

Wild Man Blues

Louis-Armstrong-young

I have a passion for old shellac 78rpm records which I play on my cherry red HMV 101 wind-up gramophone. My tastes run from 1920s dancebands through classic French chanteuses et chanteurs to early tango orchestras. The collection is modest by most collectors’ standards (about 120) and is governed purely by the amount of space I have to store the records – 78s are heavy and bulky. Creating a personal collection isn’t a costly affair: I have only one or two rarities and don’t care if a particular record was so popular in 1925 they pressed hundreds of thousands of them. I buy my records, usually costing £1 or £2, from my old friends at The Gramophone Emporium in Edinburgh.

Perhaps surprisingly, I have only a few classical 78s and these are of iconic opera singers of the time. No sopranos though – the recording process wasn’t kind to the soprano sound. But tenors, including of course Caruso, the first real recording star, are a different matter. Singing directly into a huge recording horn with the orchestra placed around and behind the singer, the tenor voice rang out clear and true.

The appeal of 78s is mysterious, but their appeal for me is largely the immediacy of the sound. It’s like sitting in the front row of the stalls as Caruso gives it his all, or leaning on the bar while Fats Waller tinkles the juke joint ivories.

The first taster of my 78s collection is a number by the inimitable Satchmo. As he continued to record right up to his death in the 1970s, most people are familiar with the name of Louis Armstrong, but this earlier recording is Armstrong at his raw best.

Label details:
Wild Man Blues
(Armstrong-Morton)
LOUIS ARMSTRONG
Trumpet Solo, acc. by His Original Washboard Beaters
Parlophone
R 2162

❦ To listen, click the audio player below ❦

Music

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Swedish Design in the ’30s

Sleeve 1 small

Sleeve 1b small

In 1932, Erik Ljungberg established a record label, AB Sonora, produced entirely in Sweden. Sonoras were sold originally at 2 krone but the price was reduced to 1.65 krone during 1933. Ljungberg sold the label to Philips in 1958. The company also produced a portable gramophone.

Although all that’s interesting, what really grabs my attention about this record sleeve is the fabulous design. There are two fonts in classic black and red. I particularly love the uppercase E & S and lower case f & r of the script font. The contrasting blocky font has just a few subtle serifs and is mainly used in uppercase. One text block reads “Giv arbete åt svenska arbetare” which translates as “Give work to Swedish workers”.

And just look at that great little logo at the foot of the sleeve. Feet like musical notes and a disc-shaped body – but what’s with the little flag apparently flying from the bridge of his nose? Who cares when it’s designed with such flair?

[More information on Sonora can be found here.]
Arts

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Whatever became of

Edinburgh-sleeve-5

I’m always interested in paper ephemera and the record sleeves for my 78rpm discs are fascinating little pieces of social history and design. So, while listening to some of my records today, I wondered what became of those shops who once supplied Edinburgh’s listeners with gramophones, records and music?

There was Methven Simpson Ltd – Piano and Musicsellers to H.M. The King, whose main branch was at 83 Princes Street. I’m guessing that the King was George V. They were obviously a prosperous company, with branches in Dundee, Forfar, Perth and St Andrews. They stocked pianos, player pianos, gramophones, sheet music and music rolls, also offering a tuning and repair service. I like the art deco border and those stylish numerals 83. Number 83, near Hanover Street, was once part of the Life Association of Scotland building. It now houses offices and Superdrug.

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Only a street away at 28 Frederick Street was Pentland’s. The advertising here is less grand than Methven Simpson. Under the ‘Pianos and Player-Pianos’ is CASH or CONVENIENT TERMS. People who bought from Methven Simpson could probably afford to buy their piano outright, but Pentland’s was aiming more at the middle classes who had recently discovered Hire Purchase. And now? 28 Frederick Street has yet more offices and a branch of Thomas Cook.

Edinburgh-sleeve-1 Moving up Lothian Road, there was James Beaton’s The Gramophone House at Number 96. This building once housed opticians G Prescott & Co & a branch of Black & Lizars is still there. Beaton’s takes the prize for fanciful sleeve design, with smiling lambs at the foot of a classical column upon which sits a Pan-like figure playing two pipes. In the distance, a strange couple dance to the music, he wearing Cossack costume and she with a gay straw hat.

Edinburgh-sleeve-4A little further away from the centre of town was Kilgours at 66 Nicolson Street, boasting that they were agents for Columbia and His Master’s Voice for over a quarter of a century. Just a few doors away used to be La Scala Electric Theatre which opened in 1912. The cinema changed its name to the Classic in 1974 and has subsequently been converted for use as a bingo hall. Now Nicolson Street is one of the main places on the Southside for restaurants and cafes.

Charles M. Brown were Electrical, Wireless and Gramophone Suppliers, situated at 1 & 2 Melville Terrace on the edge of The Meadows. Or as the sleeve helpfully says Opposite Dick Veterinary College. The Dick Vet has since moved to modern accommodation on the outskirts of Edinburgh and there’s a Thresher’s off licence at No 1 Melville Terrace. The typography on this sleeve has pronounced serifs rather reminscent of Kelmscott and there’s a marvellous ampersand with swash.

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Gallimaufry

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The Four Robert Bensons

Four-generations

This photograph was taken in the back garden of Retta Cottage, 2 Edward Street, Hamiton. The photographer has arranged some items from the house as props. A rug has been flung over the fence to make a backdrop and there are potted aspidistras on either side of the men. The photo’s purpose was to show four generations of a family who were all named Robert Benson.

It was clear that this was a professionally taken photograph and thanks to some terrific help from Angela at the Reference Library in Hamilton, I discovered that it appeared in the Hamilton Advertiser for 13 May 1933, with the caption ‘The Four Robert Bensons’. No story accompanied the photograph, but there were details of who the men were.

fourgensofrobertsThe eldest Robert – he of the luxuriant mouser – was 82 here and had outlived two wives, Euphemia Baxter and Agnes Craig. He and Euphemia had 7 children, all boys. This accounts for the masses (and I do mean masses!) of Bensons who followed. Had it not already been a common name in the west of Scotland, Robert’s contribution must have ensured that it became so.

The last of the Bensons to be born in Linlithgow, his father was the first to be named Robert. The male line was vigorous, most of them living into their 80s – the same, alas, can’t be said for their poor wives! According to my mother (who was 17 when her great-grandfather died) Robert Senior was to be approached with caution. As he’s glowering in every photo I have of him, I wouldn’t be at all surprised. He looks trim of figure and rather nattily dressed. I imagine him flinging open the bedroom window to do his callisthenics then shouting to his daughter-in-law ‘Nell! Have my best breeks got a good crease in them? The man frae the Hamilton Advertiser’s coming today.’

The next generation is the craggy-faced gentleman on the left, aged 61. Like his father and grandfather before him, he was a colliery engine keeper at the pit. This Robert married a gentle Irish girl called Nell Wilson on Christmas Day in 1896. (Churches don’t do marriages on Christmas Day anymore, do they?) My mother spoke warmly of her grandparents, although Robert was typically brusque in the way of his generation. Oddly though, Mother never told me that Nell was Irish – I had to find that out for myself and I haven’t yet found a birth record for her.

This Robert had a relatively small family – two daughters Rachel and Euphemia and one son, yes you guessed, Robert. Rachel was known as Retta and I wonder if she was always content with that version – as a Rachel, I must say I would have hated it. Euphemia was of course Effie – my wonderfully characterful great-aunt.

Son Robert (who’s the youngest man in the picture) was named with plenty of reminders of the family’s history. He was Robert Spence Thom Benson. Individuals with multiple names are a godsend in genealogy, with an instant link back through the generations. My Aunt Effie gloried in hers and signed Euphemia Gibb Baxter Benson with a flourish. Robert was my mother’s ‘Uncle Bob’ . He and his wife Barbara were apparently cheerful folk in contrast to the dourness of some of the Bensons – maybe Barbara was responsible for that.

The little boy, the youngest Robert Benson, is aged about 8 here and was instructed to sit on his great-grandfather’s chair. He protested vehemently and with tears, but was told sharply to obey by the old man. You can see just how uncomfortable the poor thing is by the way he’s perching there. In my mind, this boy is always ‘Cousin Bobby’ but he’s actually my mother’s cousin, not mine. He got his share of family names too – Baxter & Hunter (his mother’s maiden name). He would, in his turn, also live at Retta Cottage.

Three piece suits were still required dress for formal occasions, complete with breast-pocket hankies (a patterned one in the case of the young man). This family were never, to my knowledge, poor enough to suffer the ignominy of wearing your best suit to church on a Sunday then pawning it on Monday morning till the next week. The old man’s suit was built to last – the waistcoast is cut high at the neck in the old style. His grandson wears a suit with a bit of a check in it and what looks like a striped shirt (but still with detachable white celluloid collar). The two older men are both wearing fob watches in their waistcoats – these would be handed down through the generations. The youngest man’s hairstyle looks almost modern, and his son’s locks look to have been tamed by Brylcreem.

There are Robert Bensons still in my generation. I hope the name survives, continuing that tradition which began almost two hundred years ago.

Family History

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