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Sir Harry Lauder,

The World's Most Beloved Musical Humorist

 

This month's issue somewhat violates our self imposed charter to dedicate our site to America's Tin Pan Alley composers, songwriters and performers as well as other aspects of America's music. Sir Harry Lauder was first, ever and always a Scot but for a significant period, his music and style was all the rage in America, as well as many other parts of the world. Lauder's humorous style on stage coupled with his music was a huge success in America and on several tours here, drew crowds of unprecedented mass. His music was ubiquitous and even found its way into my grandmother's home in the form of huge, heavy, single sided records. I remember hearing them as a child and his hearty Scotch burr and melodious booming voice captured my attention at an early age. My parents continued to listen to his songs well into the 50's and I remember saying; "play it again ma."

 

Above: High Street in Portobello, ca. 1880. Image courtesy of the website "The History of Leith," used with permission.
Lauder was born on August 4, 1870 in Portobello, a village of Edinburgh, the first of eight children. His father died in 1882 and their mother moved them up the coast to the village of Arbroath, the site of the famed Declaration of Arbroath at the old Abby in April 1320. It was there that young Harry began work at the mill and at the same time began singing. Only two years later, the family moved again and Harry worked in the coal mines there. Conditions in the mines were atrocious, with unsafe conditions and appalling living quarters yet Harry showed the good nature that stayed with him his entire life as he worked to help provide for the family. During this period. Harry continued to sing and entered a number of competitions and as a result, was soon obtaining paid engagements and later joined a concert party that toured Scotland. The concert
Above: Arbroath Abbey, Scotland
party was usually composed of a group of singers, much like a small choir who performed popular songs as well as art songs. The concert party format was very popular at the time and still exists in various areas of the UK.

 

Within just two more years, Lauder decided to form his own company and partnered with the famed Scottish violinist, Mackenzie-Murdoch. Murdoch later wrote several songs for Lauder, one of which we've featured here. Lauder took on the persona of the stereotypical Scotsman, replete with kilt, tam and often, a very crooked walking stick (see the image in the main title graphic). As he reached greater popularity, he added a number of other characters for the performance of some of his songs.

 

Lauder was fortunate to have developed his talents during the heyday of the English music hall mania that swept the UK from around 1900 to World War I. Although the music hall tradition continues today, during that earlier period music halls dominated the musical scene and virtually every town and village boasted music hall activities. The music hall was in many respects an extension of the prior centuries Tavern entertainment, but on a larger scale. Alcohol flowed freely and " a song and a pint" was the watchword for the patrons. No doubt, the alcohol added to the festivities as well as made many a singer undoubtedly seem better to the audience than they may have really been. The music hall was often a scene of chaos but where a great number of performers flourished and made a name for themselves. Audiences would often boo poor performers off the stage and generally joined in singing popular songs with the performers. It was a tough crowd but young Harry quickly established himself as a favorite and dominated the boards during the early years of the 20th century. A look and listen to one of his most famous songs will establish for you the appeal that this man's music had, and still has to this day. Though a few other songs contend for a place among his best, Roamin' In The Gloamin' seems to be the one most often remembered. Written and published a little later (1911) than many of his songs, it still was during his best period.

 

Most of Lauder's music was published in the US by T. B. Harms and Francis, Day & Hunter in New York. The UK publisher was Francis, Day and Hunter. A complete series of his music was issued by them with similar covers. Most like this one, depicted the characters that Lauder interjected into his show. Roamin' In The Gloamin' was also one of Lauder's earliest recordings, having been recorded in 1910 on the Amberol (UK) label. The song was also recorded over the years on several other labels. Lauder tended to add a bit of humor to every performance. He often laughed as he sung and he also often spoke a "patter" between the final verse and chorus. Several of the songs we present this month include the patter and you can see it on the Scorch versions on the very last page of the song. We're including a Real Audio (and MP3) recording of Lauder's 1913 recording of this song so you can hear him and gain an appreciation for his wonderfully infectious style. Real Audio recording of Roamin' In The Gloamin' or alternatively an MP3 file, both courtesy of Trevor Hill and his terrific site that includes many such recordings by Lauder at cylindersonthe web. For a more mundane experience, click the cover image or here to hear and see the Scorch version of the song (viewable using the Scorch plug-in) or listen to the midi and see the Lyrics .

 

Lauder's first successful song was Calligan-Call Again from 1898, the same year that he made an appearance at the Argyle Theater in Birkenhead. Interestingly, Lauder appeared then as an Irish comedian, not a Scot as that was the fad at that time. By 1900, Lauder was in the Scottish character(s) that made him a huge hit both in the UK and later in America. Kinkle, p.1296, (see our resources page) described him as "Comical, bandy-legged appearance: wore kilts, spoke in thick Scottish burr." According to the New Grove, Lauder wrote, published and performed at least 90 songs of his own as well as using some material from a few others. Most of his songs were published in the UK and then later were published in the US. Our copies are the later editions published after Lauder toured the US and captured our attention. His success in Birkenhead was followed by many other similar successes and in 1907 Lauder came to New York to perform at the New York Theater. He would return for an unprecedented twenty-two tours over the next three decades culminating in a grand coast to coast tour in 1930.

 
Lauder contemplates the New York Skyline on his first US visit. Image courtesy of sirharrylauder.com used with permission. Lauder and his wife "Nanc," circa 1900. Image courtesy of sirharrylauder.com used with permission. A young Harry Lauder. Photo courtesy of The Scottish Theatre Archive, Special Collections Department, Glasgow University Library, used with permission.

 

In 1921, T.B. Harms and Francis, Day & Hunter published one of his songs written for an American tour.OHIO tells the tale of a young Ohio lass that captured his attention. As usual, in his own special way, Lauder tells the tale with his very wry and clever humor. You'll note that the cover of this work shows two more of his characterizations. Each is labeled with the "name" or song associated with Lauder's various performances. The labels are (anti-clockwise from the upper left;) "The Safetest O' The Family, I Love A Lassie, We Parted On The Shore, Stop Yer Tickling, and She Is Ma Daisy."

 

As usual, Lauder has produced a jaunty and infectious tune, almost a march, to expose his story and humor. When viewing the song using the Scorch player, be sure to page over one more page after the music stops to see the "patter" Lauder used between verses. Click the cover image or here to hear and see the Scorch version of the song (printable using the Scorch plug-in) or listen to the midi and see the Lyrics .

 

The first two decades of the twentieth century were Lauder's most successful period although his popularity carried on to his later years. He not only toured America but also Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Africa and the far East. Quite an amazing accomplishment considering the difficulties and time required for such long distance travel back then! When the first World War broke out in Europe (1914), Lauder was in Australia. His son John had accompanied him and had to return to Scotland as his regiment had been called up. Lauder continued his tour and before returning home Toured America again where he encouraged America to join the war effort with Britain as he concertized.

 

During the war years, Lauder continued to tour and write new songs, some of which were related to the war effort. One such song, written in 1917 told a common tale; There Is Somebody Waitin' For Me tells the story of the soldier (sailor) away from home, longing for his best girl and his "cot in a very sweet spot." The song is unlike many of Lauder's in that is really a quite tender and melancholy ballad. The cover gives us a view of yet another of his many characters.

 

Lauder wanted very much to join the military and fight the good fight but was rejected as too old. He was intensely patriotic and no doubt disappointed but carried on as a performer for the boys in the trenches at the suggestion of the government. Click the cover image or here to hear and see the Scorch version of the song (Get the Scorch plug-in) or listen to the midi there are no Lyrics for this work.

 

The year before "Somebody Waitin'" Lauder wrote a wonderfully rowdy and upbeat song that also became one of his most popular songs. In some respects,We'll All Go Hame The Same Way (this version published 1916) is a drinking song as well as a song of comraderie. It was featured as a part of a musical revue written by Lauder and produced by William Morris, his manager for America. This song was one of Lauder's greatest hits. Again, we have a song written completely by Lauder. Almost all of Lauder's songs were solely written by himself but a few were co-written with others and in a very few cases, Lauder had no hand in writing the song. Kinkle p. 1296 comments that Lauder's major collaborator in writing some of his songs was Gerald Grafton.

 

This song is delightful, which seems to apply to almost every song he ever wrote. It has a joyful and bounding sound to it. In some passages you'll hear a "bagpipe" sound in the baseline which was often used by Lauder in his songs. Interestingly, The New Grove comments (p. 543) that his songs bear little resemblance to true Scottish songs save this one effect. Click the cover image or here to hear and see the Scorch version of the song (viewable using the Scorch plug-in) or listen to the midi or view the Lyrics for this work.

 

In 1916, Lauder was still deeply involved in the war effort and was singing his heart out to help recruit soldiers for the war effort. It is said that he personally was responsible for the recruitment of over 12,000 men for the war effort. That same year, Lauder opened a musical review titled Three Cheers and in the grand finale, a company of Scots Guards marched onto the stage. Lauder had also been given permission to entertain the troops, no matter where they may be and Lauder took full advantage of the permission to go straight to the front and entertain right in the trenches much to the consternation of the War Office who assumed that he would perform at behind the lines bases. In 1917, while performing in Three Cheers, Lauder received the tragic news that his son had been killed in action.

 

Lauder wrote When I Was Twenty One in 1918. Still very much involved in the war effort and writing many songs related to the war, this song has not a thing to do with war. Rather, we have another of his good natured songs with a great melody and that "bagpipe" accompaniment. As with most of his songs, this one has three verses. In general, that was unusual for songs of the day but Lauder's songs are almost all three or even four verses and in most he interjected some humorous patter. That made his songs quite long and in many cases, they stretched the limit of the ability to place the full song on one disk or cylinder.

 

In this song (as in many of the songs we've featured) we get a liberal dose of some of the Scottish words that Lauder interjected in almost every song. Most are relatively easy for non-Scots to decipher; for example, nicht for night. But others are more difficult and a little harder to define such as "noo" which is "now," the present.' If you are curious and want to define any of the other words used in his songs, try the great Scots online site that says it is "Pittin the Mither Tongue on the Wab!" They have a Scots to English dictionary and other interesting things about the "Mither tongue." To hear this song, click the cover image or here to hear and see the Scorch version of the song or listen to the midi or view the Lyrics for this work.

 

By 1919 the war had ended and Lauder's efforts on behalf of the Crown were rewarded when he was Knighted. Lauder was not an unknown at the high levels of society and politics. He often performed at Buckingham Palace and the New Grove (p. 543) credits him with performing for "several American presidents." The same year of his Knighthood, the now Sir Harry Lauder wrote I Think I'll Get Wed In The Summer, a very nice love song in waltz time. Though I certainly don't hold myself out as an expert on his music for I've not seen or heard every one, this one is somewhat unique in my collection as it is a waltz, and a very nice one at that. It seems to me that though always in character with some of his songs he stepped out of character and got serious. In fact, the New Grove comments that "he preferred the sentimental appeal of love songs and usually ended his performances in a serious vein."

 

This song I believe fits that sentimental vein. I think the melody as well as the sentiment of the lyrics are nothing short of the epitome of sweet love. Click the cover image or here to hear and see the Scorch version of the song (printable using the Scorch plug-in) or listen to the midi or view the Lyrics for this work.

 

Many of Lauder's "sentimental" songs spoke of memories of home or familial longings. In fact, as you may have noted from many of our other features, thoughts, memories and the people of home were frequent popular song subjects during the majority of the 20th century. Compare that to the songs of today (except for the "country" genre) and you get an interesting musical reflection of changing values and icons in the world today, particularly America. Lauder's Hame O' Mine was published by Harms/Francis-Day in 1920. This work is also one of Lauder's most popular songs having been nearly as popular as Roamin' In The Gloamin' according to several of the references I've used.

 

The melody and sentiment in the song are wonderful, I personally think this is one the best melodies I've ever heard. Hame O' Mine was written by Lauder's great friend Mackenzie Murdoch and you can feel and hear a bit of a difference in style when compared to the Lauder composed songs. Murdoch's song is a little more complex musically and denser in its harmony. It ebbs and flows beautifully with the emotion of the words and music and has little if any humor. It is a very touching ballad and I'm sure Lauder used it often at the end of his concerts. Click the cover image or here to hear and see the Scorch version of the song (printable using the Scorch plug-in) or listen to the midi or view the Lyrics for this work.

 

In 1921, Lauder collaborated with George Walker to write and publish a wonderfully humorous work, Bella The Belle O' Dunoon. According to the website, Undiscovered Scotland; "The Cowal peninsula, formed by Loch Fyne to the west and Loch Long to the east, is the most visited part of Argyll. It is not far from Glasgow and frequent ferry services by CalMac and Western Isles Ferries from Gourock serve Dunoon. Dunoon is the capital of the Cowal region, and grew from a village to a major Clyde seaside resort in the 1800s. It is dominated by Castle Hill upon which sits Castle House, built in the 1820s by a wealthy Glaswegian who generated local protest about access to common land around the house." We know much about Dunoon, but who was Bella? No doubt, just another creative character from the mind of Harry Lauder.

 

And as with most of his songs, we get a good dose of Lauder's humor and use of Scottish words as well as a wonderful love story with an engaging tune. In 2/4 time, the song has a very upbeat tempo and light melody. It has the sound of a march tune, which many of his songs seem to be. The story the lyrics tell is also bright and gay (in the original sense) and you can just imagine Lauder marching around the stage in his kilt and tapping that crazy curly walking stick that he often carried. Click the cover image or here to hear and see the Scorch version of the song or listen to the midi or view the Lyrics for this work.

 

The same year as the Dunoon song, Harry Lauder took us to another delightful place in Scotland with O'er The Hill To Ardentinny. A village of Argyll and Bute, Ardentinny lies near the mouth of Glen Finart on the western shore of Loch Long, 4 miles (7 km) north of Strone Point. It's not all that far from Dunoon or Loch Lomond another famous Scottish landmark made famous by song. Stronchullin Hill rises to the south west of the village. That hill plays a prominent part in the geography in the area and you'll find many references to "O'er the Hill" with regard to either entering Ardentinny or to get to other places of interest in the area.

 

The music of this song is a beautiful and dreamy waltz with a very pleasant melody. The lyric, as with "Bella" is yet another love song. The final line of the third verse provides the expected Lauder punch line. Don't miss the patter at the end of the Scorch playable version, it gives insights into his humor and love of family. Click the cover image or here to hear and see the Scorch version of the song or listen to the midi or view the Lyrics for this work.

 

We'll end our look at Lauder's music with a song that I think is quite appropriate as a final tribute to his life and music; It's A Fine Thing To Sing. Again, we have a work where he collaborated with another songwriter, this time Willie Cochrane. The current Willie Cochrane is a famed Scots piper and leader of the Balmoral Highlanders. Finding no other information, I can only assume for the moment that Lauder's collaborator here may have been the Senior Cochrane.

 

Lauder and Cochrane have given us the gift of their wisdom and heartfelt feelings about the power of song. With a wee bit 'o the pipe sound, the lyrics speak to how song can overcome pain, sorrow, strife and struggle and make a gloomy day into one of joy and brightness. And, in the end, that is exactly what Harry Lauder brought into our world and to many thousands of people around the world Click the cover image or here to hear and see the Scorch version of the song (viewable using the Scorch plug-in) or listen to the midi or view the Lyrics for this work.

 

Lauder continued to perform almost to the end. His legacy of music is one that will long be remembered and many of his songs will stay with us, hopefully for centuries to come. His legacy of patriotism and concern for soldiers and sailors will also be long remembered. Not only did he help the war effort with recruiting but he also established the Harry Lauder Million Pound Fund in September of 1917 to provide for soldiers and sailors who were maimed in the war. At one point, Lauder had met with none other than Charlie Chaplin in Hollywood and they planned a short film starring themselves to promote fundraising for the fund. The film was begun in January of 1917 but unfortunately was never finished.

 

Chaplin and Lauder, 1917. Image courtesy of sirharrylauder.com used with permission.

Lauder always was an enthusiastic supporter of the Scouting movement and his last stage appearance was for them in 1947 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Rover Scout Group in the Gorbals. Three years later on February 26, 1950, Lauder passed away in his beloved Scotland. To learn more about Lauder's life with many photos and excellent articles, I suggest you visit sirharrylauder.com, without question, it is the most comprehensive site on the web devoted to Lauder. In addition The Scottish Theatre Archive, Special Collections Department, Glasgow University Library, has an excellent biography of Lauder and many of the facts and incidents we have used in this article are taken (with permission) from that biography.

 

This article published December, 2004 and is Copyright © 2004 by Richard A. Reublin and The Parlor Songs Academy Text, images or music may not be reproduced in part or in total without written permission of the author or the Parlor Songs Academy.


That completes this month's feature and another addition to our continuing songwriter biography series. We hope you've enjoyed this article and the music and will come back to explore more of our features and articles. See our resources page for a complete bibliography of all other resources used to research this and other articles in our series.

 

If you'd like to contribute an article to us at ParlorSongs, we'd love to have your help and contribution. The "rules" for submissions can be found here, we'd love to have submissions by any of our readers, anytime and would enjoy having a "reader submission" or "favorites" feature from time to time. Heck, get involved, help us out and write a feature for us!



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