Gorgeous prancing gallopers with barleytwist poles await their riders.
A painted ceiling shimmers with lights and the music begins…
Click the arrow to listen to some traditional fairground music
All Photographs © Rachel Cowan
Jean Sablon, a popular French singer and actor, was born in Nogent-sur-Marne in 1906. The son of a songwriter, he studied piano at the Lyceé Charlemagne and the Paris Conservatoire. He began his career in musical comedy but shot to fame when he was spotted by the legendary performer Mistinguett who chose him as her partner at the Casino de Paris.
In 1933 he moved to the USA where he became a hit on many radio shows. George Gershwin and Cole Porter wrote songs for him and he appeared in the Broadway musical ‘Streets of Paris’ with screen comics Abbott and Costello plus the singing star Carmen Miranda.
Jean Sablon, with his ‘crooner’ style, was often compared to such singers as Bing Crosby and Dean Martin. His biggest song success, for which he won the Grand Priz du Disque in 1937, was “Vous qui passez sans me voir,” written for him by Charles Trenet and Johnny Hess. He also helped to popularize swing music in France by teaming up on several occasions with Stephane Grapelli and Django Reinhardt.
Jean Sablon’s records sold in their millions around the world and he became one of the most widely acclaimed male French singers second only in reputation to Maurice Chevalier. He is frequently referred to as the French equivalent of America’s Bing Crosby. He died in 1994 at Cannes and was interred in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris.
Si Tu M’aimes
(Michel Emer & Ordner)
Sung by Jean Sablon
Garland Wilson at the Piano
Columbia DB 1709
As Jenny pinned a rosebud cut fresh from the garden onto her frock, she remembered standing in this scullery for the very first time exactly a year ago. Then, she had been an excited bride clutching a posy of lily-of-the-valley tied up with blue haberdasher’s ribbon.
Now, she thought, Arthur and she were a very ordinary couple living very ordinary lives. But back then at the Locarno, a time that seemed so long ago, her first impression was that he was like a god, so tall and fair. Arthur, in reality a hardworking clerk for Henry Hughes & Hughes, had come along mainly to keep his friend Sidney company and it was he who suggested they ask the two laughing dark-haired girls to dance.
The band struck up ‘Happy Feet’ and Arthur asked his dancing partner if she’d ever heard Jack Hylton & His Orchestra play. She hadn’t but smiled anyway, a lovely, natural smile, Arthur thought.
For the rest of that summer, they walked out together and eventually Jenny took Arthur home to meet her parents. Her father, a porter at Covent Garden fruit market, took him out into their tiny back yard and, while puffing on a venerable pipe, grilled the polite young man before him on his intentions towards his eldest daughter.
The Dickens family was a large one and Jenny’s mother often struggled to keep poverty from the door. Arthur however was the only child of a comfortably off couple originally from Kent. Although his mother doted on him, Arthur Charlesworth Snr took care to instill in his son a keen awareness of life’s responsibilities.
Soon enough, they were officially engaged. Their world was bounded by the busy drag that was Streatham High Road. They saw a Jack Buchanan film in the Odeon’s cheap seats and caught the trolleybus to Streatham Hill to watch ‘Murder in Mayfair’ at the theatre. There were some half-hearted tennis lessons and long walks, hand in hand, with stolen kisses in the shrubberies of the Common. And on Jenny’s twenty-first birthday, they spent a magical evening at Crystal Palace where Jenny squealed with pleasure (and Arthur held her tight) as they rode the newest showground ride at Thurston’s Fair.
The wedding was a quiet affair but the men of both families rolled back the carpet at Leigham Avenue, the groom’s family home.
Arthur brought a blush to his new mother-in-law’s cheeks with an energetic foxtrot and Jenny thought she would never have a day so happy as this one in her whole life.
And now here she was, daydreaming, when she had still to make the sandwiches for today’s outing. Plain ham for her and some English mustard spread on top for Arthur. Two crisp green apples, along with a flask of tea, were already packed in the basket.
To celebrate their first anniversary, Arthur had suggested taking the early train down to Brighton and making a day of it at the coast. Jenny knew that the wind-up gramophone would accompany them, as it did everywhere, and she’d tucked a record of ‘Happy Feet’ into its lid. No matter if Arthur thought her sentimental – she still remembered that first dance.
She wore her favourite blue frock but had replaced the rather tired collar with one she’d sewn out of some pretty lace. And on her slim feet were new shoes bought at Pratt’s Department Store which she felt showed off her ankles to perfection.
Arthur’s colleagues would scarcely have recognised him. Day in and day out dressed in a drab grey suit, he was today resplendent in tan knickerbockers, matching argyle patterned socks and co-respondent shoes. Jenny thought what a very handsome husband she had and how lucky they were to have each other.
As they sat on the train together, she considered when the best moment would be to break her news to him. Perhaps after they’d had their first cup of tea on the beach or when the gramophone was playing their favourite song.
Catching her reflection in the window, Jenny saw that Arthur was smiling at her and as she turned, he reached out his hand to take hers.
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.
Wild Man Blues
Trumpet Solo, acc. by His Original Washboard Beaters
The Portugese music known as fado is intense, heartfelt and inextricably linked to a deep sense of loss as depicted here in a romantic painting by José Malhoa. It has echoes of African slave rhythms and a distinct Arabic influence.
The most popular form of fado emerged in Lisbon’s working-class districts such as Alfama. Maria Severa Onofriana (1820-1846), widely acknowledged as the greatest fadista of the 19th century, is said to have been a tall and gracious prostitute who would sing the fado and play the Portuguese guitar in taverns. To this day, female performers wear a black shawl in memory of her. Her almost mythical status was largely due to a novel by Júlio Dantas entitled A Severa. Later made into a play, it became the first Portugese talking movie, directed by Leitão de Barros.
I first found fado through the singing of Amália Rodrigues, who performed to huge acclaim worldwide. When this legendary singer died in 1999, she was given a state funeral and three days of national mourning were declared in her honour. Her CD ‘The Art of Amalia’ is a great introduction to fado and there’s also a documentary from 2000 directed by Bruno de Almeida. Here’s a modern street art stencil of her photographed by Môsieur J in Lisbon.
Contemporary fado is very much alive with the singer Mariza dubbed the new Queen of Fado (Amalia Rodrigues having held the original title). Below is a video of her on electrifying form on Jools Holland’s show.
My 78rpm record is of a performer who predates both Mariza and Amália Rodrigues. Edmundo de Bettencourt (1899-1973) was a renowned poet and singer born in Funchal, Madeira. My record is from the first series (of two) that Bettencourt made for the Columbia Graphophone Company in February 1928.
The recording took place in a former royal palace in Oporto and he was accompanied on the traditional Portugese 12 string guitar by Artur Paredes and Albano de Noronha and on viola by Mário Faria ad Fonseca, who was also the song’s composer. Teamed with ‘Mar Alto’ is Fado de Santa Cruz, composed by Fortunato Roma Da Fonseca.
Columbia Graphophone Co. Ltd., London EC1
Brown label with ‘Magic Notes’ logo
Mar Alto (Fádo Cançáo)
Composiçăo de Mario Faria Fonséca
Dr. Edmundo de Bettencourt – Tenõr
Acompanhamento de guitarra e viola
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.
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.
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.
A 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.
In 1924, Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle wrote a stage show named ‘The Chocolate Dandies’. The show was unfortunately ultimately a flop because it failed to fit the stereotypical ‘fast dancing and negroid humor’. The name, however, lived on and was used by a number of different jazz ensembles from the late 1920s to 1940.
Don Redman, one of the first great jazz arrangers, was also a reed player and vocalist, appearing with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra until 1927, when he moved onto McKinney’s Cotton Pickers as well as working with Louis Armstrong and his Savoy Ballroom Five. In 1928, Redman brought together a small group of players to record with Okeh under the name The Chocolate Dandies. My 78rpm record is a pressing by Parlophone Records, headed at that time by Oscar Preuss.
Parlophone established a master leasing arrangement with Okeh and issued the Rhythm Style Series which included the two fabulous 78rpm numbers included here. Cherry was written by Don Redman himself and the vocals may be by him. Four or Five Times, written by Hellman & Gay, have what sounds like a quartet of voices including interjections in a woman’s voice. Note that on one side, the billing is The Big Chocolate Dandies and the other side The Little Chocolate Dandies!
In 1950, Oscar Preuss of Parlophone Records hired a young man named George Martin and five years later, Martin succeeded Preuss. The rest, as they say, is recording history.