Magic of the Minstrels – Tony Mercer, Dai Francis and John Boulter

These days we look upon the “Black and White Minstrels” as a ludicrous and overtly racist form of entertainment. It’s hard to believe it commanded huge viewer ratings during the sixties when it was prime time programming in the UK. For more background history see this Wikipedia entry on The Black and White Minstrel Show.

Sleeve Notes:

Here they are again–one of the most remarkable phenomena to appear on the British show business scene for many, many years—the Black and White Minstrels! What makes them so remarkable —indeed, unique?

Well, in the first instance, it is incredible that a minstrel show should have taken this country by storm in an age when this form of entertainment was generally considered a relic of the past—the only comparable team in recent decades was the famous Kentucky Minstrels, who were at their peak as recording artists and broad-casters during the 1930’s and 1940’s. It has been suggested by a few cynics that black-faced minstrels are out of place in these days of more enlightened attitudes towards the coloured races—but this theory presupposes that the minstrel show is detrimental or derogatory to coloured folk, and certainly the Black and White Minstrels cannot be accused of any such approach; and their overwhelming acceptance throughout Britain and the Commonwealth would indicate that the vast majority of people accept them for what they are—honest-to-goodness entertainers. Anyone who is looking for political overtones in a situation such as this must, I feel, be deliberately striving to provoke trouble—and, happily, such complaints are restricted to a meagre few.

How can we analyse the Minstrels’ success? In a nutshell, it boils down to good, clean family entertainment which virtually no-one—irrespective of age, sex, or personal taste—can resist. To see the show on stage or television, one is first struck by the colour of the production—if I may use a paradox, in applying colour to black-and-white television and, indeed, Black and White Minstrels! It is vital, exuberant, sparkling, dynamic and alive—plus practically every other similar adjective you may care to apply. They move with an immaculate precision, which in itself is an education in the art of presentation and choreography. And this absorbing spectacle is one of the major reasons why the Minstrels have, seemingly, taken up residence at London’s Victoria Palace—where they have been one of Theatreland’s biggest box-office attractions for countless years. And it accounts for the similar success enjoyed by other Minstrel companies in theatres as far apart as Morecambe (where they have played several record-breaking summer seasons) and Australia. But in the final reckoning, the over-riding success factor of the Minstrels is their music—their choice of tunes, and the straight-forward uncomplicated manner in which they are performed. For these are the tried-and-trusted evergreens, the cream of the popular repertoire of the past century—from the Stephen Foster ballads of one hundred years ago, to the pick of today’s Tin Pan Alley output. They are songs we can all join in—and invariably do —whether participating in a sing-song at a party, or quietly enjoying the Minstrel’s brand of nostalgia in the relative quiet of our own homes. Nothing persuades the Briton to unwind more than an opportunity to “join in the chorus” and, in their skilful selection of long-lasting favourites, this is precisely what the Minstrels achieve.

It is this aspect of their widespread appeal which has made them such consistent favourites on disc—they rank among Britain’s top-selling album artists, with every one of their releases having reached the Top Ten LP Chart. Of these, three have—for varying periods—occupied the No. 1 position. No-one will be surprised by these facts—for the Minstrels’ albums are so infectious, so charged with compulsive entertainment, so durable in the lasting pleasure they create, that the issue of every new LP by this scintillating team is regarded as a significant event in every collector’s calendar. And those who don’t collect records—well, they continually request the Minstrels on “Housewives’ Choice” and “Family Favourites”, hadn’t you noticed? This latest programme is typical of the team’s own particular brand of bonhomie, and again features those three distinctive soloists who have become such an integral part of the Minstrels’ success formula—Tony Mercer, Dai Francis and John Boulter.

DEREK JOHNSON New Musical Express

Magic of the Minstrels - Tony Mercer, Dai Francis and John Boulter and the Black and White Minstrels

Label: HMV CLP 1917

1965 1960s Covers

Eric Johnson and his Orchestra – The Music of Ivor Novello Glamorous Nights

Sleeve Notes:


Ivor Novello, son of a distinguished actress, decided at a very young age to make the theatre his life, and was fortunate in having his name brought to the notice of the public right at the start of his career. This was in 1915 when he wrote the patriotic song “Keep the home fires burning”. He followed this, six years later, by music for the sophisticated revue, “A to Z”, which opened inauspiciously at the Prince of Wales Theatre during a heat wave, but which held on until its success was assured and which contained the number, “And her mother came too”, which soon became the rage of London. In 1924 he wrote a satirical number, “The Rat Step”, a sidelight on the somewhat ridiculous dances then in fashion, as well as music for the revue, “The Punch Bowl”.

However, it was undoubtedly in the sphere of the spectacular musical that Ivor Novello became known and loved by millions of theatre-goers. For some years it had become increasingly difficult to find the right type of show to fill the vast Drury Lane Theatre for a reasonable run. On May 2nd, 1935, his first large scale musical, “Glamorous Nights” opened there and was an immediate success. One of the chief contributions to this success was clearly the musical score, which rapidly built up a great popularity among light orchestras and the larger dance bands. Thereafterwards, until the outbreak of the 1939-45 war, Ivor Novello was ready with a new spectacular show
whenever business showed signs of slacking off, and in yearly succession produced, “Careless Rapture”, “Crest of the Wave” and “The Dancing Years”, the Drury Lane run of the last only being interrupted by the outbreak of hostilities, but was soon to re-open at the Adelphi Theatre where it played continuously until after the end of the war. All of them had much in common—a lush score played by an orchestra with an opulent string section, a heavily romantic plot and a setting which was usually in some Ruritanian kingdom, with the composer himself playing the monarch or prince as required. During this period he also somehow managed to find time to take the chief part in the staging, at His Majesty’s Theatre, of the musical version of Max Beerbohm’s “The Happy Hypocrite”—one of the most exquisite and tasteful productions seen in pre-war London, and in which he presented Vivien Leigh for the first time to a delighted public, while he himself played the role of Lord George Hell.

After the war, he transferred his activities to the Hippodrome (“Perchance to Dream”) and tO The Palace Theatre, where the equally successful “King’s Rhapsody” was produced in Septerliber 1949, while his last production was a light-hearted musical comedy, “Gay’s the Word”, which he wrote for his friend of many years’ standing Cicely Courtneidge, and which opened at the Saville in February 1951.

No appraisal of Ivor Novello would be complete without reference to his many additional successes both as an actor and an author of straight plays—he was truly a man of the Theatre. Among the most successful were those light comedies which starred the most accomplished actresses of the day—such as the delightful “Fresh Fields” in which Lillian Braithwaite and Ellis Jeffries demonstrated the role of the comedienne to perfection.

Ivor Novello was much respected in the world of the theatre, and was very loyal to the stars he made famous and to his company. One has only to think of Vanessa Lee, Roma Beaumont and Olive Gilbert, among others, whom he brought before the public.

His sudden death, after no illness, on March 6th, 1951, came as a great shock not only to the world of the theatre, but to the general public to whom his name had become a household word. Every star of the London theatre, as well as many thousands of the public, flocked to his funeral, for it was understandably felt that his death had removed much of the sparkle from the London scene.


Eric Johnson and his Orchestra - The Music of Ivor Novello Glamorous Nights

Label: Society SOC 965

1965 1960s Covers

Jackie Gleeson – Love……. Silk ‘n’ Brass

Sleeve Notes:

Among the many bestselling albums of music by Jackie Gleason, few have been more enduringly popular than “Velvet Brass” on Capitol. That collection of familiar melodies played by twin sections of trumpets and trombones was a smashing success when it was released eight years ago and has been a steady favourite with listeners ever since.

Now Jackie presents on WRC a superb companion album to stand beside it. Once again, twin orchestral sections, each consisting of four trumpets and four trombones, spread a warmly glowing sheen of brass over such beautiful melodies as “The Girl from Ipanema,” “If I Ruled the World,” “You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You”, and other delightful favourites. Four additional trombones, four French horns, euphonium, tuba, and rhythm section bring added warmth, brilliance, and mascularity to the overall sound.

The tempos range from softly lilting, to medium, to fast, the styles from bossa nova and jazz waltz through ballads with a beat. The arrangements are by George Williams, and the solo passages are by two first-rate horn men who have been featured in previous Gleason albums, Pee Wee Erwin on trumpet and Charlie Ventura on tenor sax.

Two songs in this collection will have special interest for Gleason fans. Matty Malneck and Robert Maxwell’s “Shangri-La” had a previous recording by Jackie in his album “Music, Martinis and Memories” on Capitol. There he interpreted it in a lush setting of romantic strings. In this album he gives the haunting melody a tangy, upbeat attack that is bursting with excitement. “It’s Such a Happy Day” is, of course, Jackie’s own composition. “If I Ruled the World” is, of course, from “Pickwick” written by WRC’s Cyril Omadel.

Jackie Gleeson - Love....... Silk 'n' Brass

Label: WRC ST 970
Design: Norman Batley
Photograph – Alan Willmoth

1965 1960s Covers

Tino Esteves and The Americanos – Latino!

Sleeve Notes

Music designed solely for dancing seldom makes absorbing listening. Usually it isn’t meant to: it’s just a pleasant sounding noise in a certain tempo to which couples can perform a certain arrangement of steps. But Latin American music is different.

People dance to it, of course, and in growing numbers, but perhaps one of the nicest things about it is that it gives so much more scope to artists, musicians and arrangers who want to provide the dancing public with something a little more interesting to listen to while they’re in the ballroom.

And interesting it certainly is, to put it mildly! Apart from the exotic rhythms associated with Latin American music we also have a chance to listen to some of the fascinating percussion instruments used to give the music its proper flavour.

The enclosed record gives you Latin American music at its very best – music which is very, very danceable and at the same time music to which it is a delight and pleasure to listen. If you’re a Latin American fan, then this is for you. If you want to become a Latin American fan, then start the right way and just listen to – LATINO!

Tino Esteves and The Americanos - Latino!

Label: Society ‎SOC 970

1965 1960s Covers

Elizabeth Larner, Barry Kent, Michael Sammes Singers – The King And I and Carousel

Featuring Micheal Sammes Singers who, in addition to their illustrious career singing smoothly during the sixties and beyond, are perhaps less famous for lending their mellifluous tones to the backing vocals on The Beatles’ “Goodnight” track from the “White Album”. Perhaps even less famous too for adding backing vocals to “I Am The Walrus”!

The King And I
Whistle A Happy Tune
Hello Young Lovers
Getting To Know You
We Kiss In The Shadows
I Have Dreamed
Shall We Dance?

The Carousel Waltz
Mister Snow
If I Loved You
June Is Bustin’ Out All Over
You’ll Never Walk Alone

Elizabeth Larner, Barry Kent, Michael Sammes Singers - The King And I and Carousel

Label: Wing WL1054

1965 1960s Covers

The 50 Guitars of Tommy Garrett – España

Sleeve Notes:

Spain. Or, as the Spanish say, España. Fabled in history and song. Sun-drenched land of wine, mountains, Moorish castles, gipsies, flamenco and the bull-fight. A land whose music accurately reflects its turbulence and hot-blooded emotions. A land where pride, passion, beauty and callousness are mingled and combined like nowhere else in the world. A land which has produced some of the proudest, bravest and most ruthless adventurers and soldiers through the ages.

Men who risked their fives journeying the immense distance to the New World, where they fought and conquered overwhelming odds to wrest fabulous fortunes from the enormous sub-continent which they colonised.

And Spain is the home of the guitar. That evocative, beautiful musical instrument that has been an integral part of popular music of all kinds since the Middle Ages, and which, in its natural, unamplified state, still towers invincibly above all the modem electronic devices and gimmicks which frequently seek to abuse it. As Spain is the home of the guitar, it was both natural and inevitable that Tommy “Snuff” Garrett and his 50 Guitars should pay their respects with an album entitled “España” and including some material with direct antecedence in Portugal, Spain’s neighbour on the Iberian peninsular and kindred coloniser in what is now Latin America.

The 50 Guitars started as an idea of Tommy Garrett, Liberty’s young pop artist-and-repertoire ace. The idea has grown into a colourful series of LPs making musical visits to Latin America, Hawaii and Italy. and winning a large number of enthusiasts in America and other countries of the world Music is a universal language, and the music of the guitar is readily understood and appreciated everywhere. Tommy Garrett has been assembling fifty of the world’s finest exponents of the instrument based in California on increasing occasions to keep pace with the appetite created around the world for LPs by the 50 Guitars, and often the recording sessions are nocturnal ones because this is usually the only way that he can ensure the simultaneous presence of the entire group in view of their many day-time commitments in the film and disc studios of Hollywood and Los Angeles. Many of the guitarists have Latin blood in their veins, and their LPs devoted to Latin music have an extra bonus of verve and colour as a consequence, as this present selection well demonstrates.

Lady of Spain seems more Spanish than many compositions of genuine origin, and it often surprises people when they learn that this perennial standard was actually written by a Welshman, Tolchard Evans. Ernie Freeman’s arrangement opens with some dramatic flamenco chords and the introduction played by Tom Tedesco before castanets herald the pasodoble tempo and the familiar melody. The relaxed beat of the bossa nova affords an appropriately subdued atmosphere for this notable rendition of Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars (Corcovado) by bossa nova pioneer Antonio Carlos Jobim and Gene Lees. Martial drums and imperious chords usher in Conquest with a haughty flourish suitable for the theme of “Captain From Castile”, and the bossa nova mood returns for another Jobim melody Meditation. La Violetera is a traditional piece which will be easily recognised by tune if not by title, and it is well suited for the massed guitar treatment. The first side closes with a decidedly Hispanic bolero arrangement of a popular Latin American evergreen Adios, Mariquita Linda.

Valencia is another rousing Spanish favourite with exactly the right jaunty lilt for starting the second side, and In A Little Spanish Town, while written by non-Spaniards, is nevertheless in excellent accord with its subject as far as mood and sentiment are concerned. El Relicario brings back the vivid pageantry and dramatic excitement of the bull-ring and its ritual. The tango is as popular in Spain as in Argentina, the country of its birth in its present form, and Leroy Anderson’s example of the blue variety has a cunning trace of cha cha cha woven into this arrangement. Victor Schertzingera Marcheta must have had Spanish blood in her veins to sound as exotically attractive as this when depicted musically in waltz time, and Temptation can be as potent and piquant in Spain as anywhere else in the world, especially when the 50 Guitars are providing the musical background with such a torrid and insistent bolero beat.

Twelve more distinctive tracks from Tommy Garrett’s fifty instrumentalists with solos from Tom Tedesco, and neatly collated under the label of “ESPAÑA”. As before, there are no gimmicks or technical tricks on display. The 50 Guitars rely on nothing more than good material and good instruments played by good musicians, and once again the results reveal that nothing more is needed.

Nigel Hunter

The 50 Guitars of Tommy Garrett - España - Beautiful Record Covers from Cover Heaven

Label: Liberty Records LBL 83014
More about Tommy Garrett

1965 1960s Covers

Brendan Hogan’s Ballinakill Ceili Band – Favourite Irish Dances

Sleeve Notes:

Catch a leprechaun by the coat-tails, don’t let go, and he’ll have to give you his purse full of gold. Catch this record on a spindle and another kind of treasure will be yours—the lively sounds and melodies of the friendly Irish people having a fling in Dublin’s most typically Irish night-spot.

The renowned Irish Club at 41 Parnell Square in down-town Dublin is the favourite meeting-place for sons of Erin who want to dance to old-fashioned Irish music. Veterans of 1916 congregate to talk over old times, and young people come to absorb the old tunes and traditions now enjoying their greatest popularity in the current revival of Irish music. Brendan Hogan, the leader of the Ballinakill Ceili Band, is much in evidence with his concertina, calling out the dances and generally presiding over the fun. This recording, made on the spot at the height of the festivities, captures the sounds of the dancers and occasional impromptu singing.

Like the Irish people, Irish music is uninhibited and good-natured. If any music was made for sheer good fun it’s the swinging hornpipes, waltzes and jigs on this LP.

Brendan Hogan's Ballinakill Ceili Band - Favourite Irish Dances

Label: MFP 1058
Sleeve Photograph: British Travel Association
Sleeve Design: Patrick Coyle

1965 1960s Covers

The Knightsbridge Theatre Orchestra And Chorus – Hello Dolly!

Sleeve Notes:

Dolly RITA CAMERON Cornelius RAYMOND COOKE Mrs. Molloy PAT WHITMORE Horace FRED LUCAS Barnaby DAVID RUSSELL The Knightsbridge Theatre Chorus and Orchestra Choral direction by Cliff Adams Conducted by Len Stevens

THE last great American Musical, ‘My Fair Lady’ has at last found its successor – it’s ‘Hello, Dolly!’, a warm, colourful, rousing show which has been packing in the public on Broadway for two years and will most surely do the same in this country when it opens here, fortified by a production which is rumoured to be costing somewhere in the region of £100,000. As with ‘My Fair Lady’, which was adapted (somewhat loosely, it’s true!) from ‘Pygmalion’ by George Bernard Shaw, so ‘Hello, Dolly!’ can also be said to have originated in this country. In 1835 a play entitled ‘A Day Well Spent’ was produced in London. This was written by a fellow called John Oxenford and he soon had the pleasure of seeing his plot lifted and turned into a Viennese comedy. Einen Jux will es sich Machen’. This, in turn, was admired by Thornton Wilder who based his play ‘The Merchant of Yonkers’ upon it. The title of the play was changed to ‘The Matchmaker’ and it is upon that play that ‘Hello, Dolly!’ is based. John Oxenford won’t, presumably, get any royalties.

Hello, Dolly!’ is set in New ‘York City in the year 1898. It is summer and our heroine, Dolly Levi, widow of one Ephraim Levi, a dry-goods merchant, is on her way to arrange a second marriage for the well-known half-millionaire Mr. Horace Vandergelder. That’s what she is supposed to be doing, but in fact, she intends to marry the man herself—and we discover the true character of Dolly Levi as she sings ‘I Put My Hand In’.

We next meet the fabulous Mr. Vandergelder himself, who is afflicted with two clerks, (who in turn are afflicted with Mr. Vandergelder) and his weeping niece, Ermengarde. Mr. Vandergelder, who is pretty certain that he is a genius in a world largely composed of fools, explains why he has decided to marry again in ‘It Takes A Woman’. Dolly arrives and decides to clear the field of all possible rivals (including a Mrs. Irene Molloy—a young widow she had herself presented to Mr. Vandergelder) by announcing the imminent arrival in New York of Ernestina Money, an heiress (and with a name like that, what else?) whom she will present to the lucky Vandergelder that very afternoon. Vandergelder jumps at the chance then goes off on a business errand into the City. His two clerks, Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker decide that it’s time they began to live a little, so Cornelius tells Barnaby about the wonders of the big city and they and Dolly try to persuade Ermengarde that it’s time for her to rebel, too.

Now we make the acquaintance of Mrs. Molloy, the attractive young widow who is in the running in the Vandergelder marriage stakes. She is a milliner who is finding fife a bit old hat and who wants some excitement—as she tells us in ‘Ribbons Down My Back’. Cornelius and Barnaby have been spotted by Vandergelder as they are attempting to live it up in the big city, and they’re forced to take refuge in Mrs. Molloy’s shop. Vandergelder enters in search of them, and, despite the efforts of Mrs. Molloy, Dolly and Minnie Fay—Mrs. Molloy’s assistant—he discovers that there are men in the shop and, although he doesn’t discover who they are, he is angry enough to break off relations with the milliner and inform Dolly that he will definitely meet her ‘heiress’ that same .evening. Mrs. Molloy is furious but Dolly manages to patch things up by suggesting that the two clerks, who reappear when Vandergelder goes, should escort Mrs. Molloy and Minnie Fay to dinner at the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant. Cornelius has three dollars in his pocket so protests that he couldn’t possibly go to the Harmonia Gardens because they have dancing there—and he can’t dance. So Dolly teaches first Cornelius, then Barnaby and finally everyone in the street as she sings ‘Dancing’.

Act Two begins with the impecunious Cornelius assisted by Barnaby explaining that the best way of reaching the Harmonia Gardens is by walking—that’s ‘Elegance’. And at the Restaurant all the talk is of Dolly Levi who is rumoured to be paying the restaurant a visit for the first time since the death of her husband. And, sure enough, when the excitement has reached fever-pitch the curtains at the main entrance part and Dolly, in a stunning red dress, comes sweeping regally down the stairs to the melody which is the hit of the show—’Hello, Dolly!’ Vandergelder is at the Harmonia Gardens, of course, and Dolly sets about getting him to propose to her by the typically feminine ruse of assuming that he does want to marry her and firmly refusing the offer that the poor man hasn’t quite got around to making. Having put our Mr. Vandergelder completely off balance, she then paints a morbid, dreary picture of what life will be like without her, and then points out that his well-ordered existence is not quite so immaculate as he thinks. This last remark is occasioned by Vandergelder’s discovery of his two clerks, and, horror of horrors, his delicate young niece actually in the show at the restaurant. He discharges Cornelius promptly, but that worthy doesn’t Care—he’s in love with young Mrs. Molloy, and he doesn’t mind telling them all that when a man like him falls in love ‘It Only Takes A Moment.’

Vandergelder we next discover in prison—creating a dis-turbance at the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant is the charge—and Dolly, who visits him, cheers him up immensely with her song of hope and encouragement—’So Long, Dewier But he is released eventually and back in his office without clerks, without niece and without Dolly, he realises that he, like everyone else at times, can be a bit of a fool. And he realises he’d be an even bigger fool if he didn’t get Dolly Levi to marry him. Whereupon Dolly enters, having miraculously expected this situation, he asks her to marry him, she accepts, and the curtain falls to the strains, once again, of ‘Hello, Dolly!’

This show, which has already won the New York Critic’s Circle award for a musical is indeed a ‘worthy successor to ‘My Fair Lady’. Society Records have assembled a cast and orchestra who do full justice to the colourful score and witty lyrics and if, by some chance, you can’t get a ticket for the show until April, 1969 (there were 10,000 applications for first night tickets alone!) then you will find this disc invaluable: for pretty soon everybody’s going to be humming the tunes from that most high-spirited musical to come out of the States (via John Oxenford, of course) since that country decided to show the world how a musical should be made. It looks as if it’s going to be a very big ‘Hello, Dolly!’

The Knightsbridge Theatre Orchestra And Chorus ‎– Hello Dolly!