In Concert

Get a flavour of the music collections of the Library of Birmingham – quirky, practical, historical, contemporary

Back to the (start of the) 80’s again — August 25, 2021

Back to the (start of the) 80’s again

A while back, we had a look at a random selection of song sheets from the early 1980s, Back to the (start of the) 80’s . In honour of Birmingham’s Gay Village and their ‘Back to the 80’s night’, here’s another, possibly even more random selection from the first half of the decade. Which songs do you know, or even remember from the first time around?

For all the Music Library mostly stopped buying single song sheets in the 1980’s, we still have an intriguing, though limited selection. Let’s start with this one:

Brian May & Queen  Save me  (publ. 1980)

Queen - Save me
Queen – Save me

The Game was Queen’s eighth studio album and is described either as ‘disco’ influenced, or when they turned towards pop rather than rock. The Wikipedia article quotes some responses to its original release. You’re left wondering whether they’re talking about the same music. Continue reading

Revisiting ‘King Kong’, the African jazz opera — June 2, 2021

Revisiting ‘King Kong’, the African jazz opera

A small, battered volume appeared on my desk one day with the title of King Kong – the  African jazz opera. As it was a title completely unknown to me, I went exploring. What I discovered is an eye-opening slice of South Africa’s cultural history.

King Kong the African jazz opera
Front cover of our volume

King Kong?

Not the gorilla of Hollywood fame, but rather a then well-known, Johannesburg African boxer of the 1950s, Ezekiel Dlamini, who liked to call himself ‘King Kong’. The volume we have is the text of the play used for a musical based on his life and times. There is a fascinating introductory essay by Harry Bloom , the author and an active journalist at the time. Part of his description of Dlamini pulls no punches:

He was a popular idol in the townships, yet he was a bully and a braggart who would thrash a man for giving an odd look or smiling at the wrong moment.

Continue reading

‘The Colliers’ Rant’ and other miners’ ballads — November 9, 2019

‘The Colliers’ Rant’ and other miners’ ballads

The nineteenth-century Industrial Revolution in the UK was fuelled by coal; lots of it. The work was hard, dangerous, required very long hours, and prior to 1842, could involve the whole family.  Health and safety was far from the minds of those demanding the constant production of coal: no safety equipment, hardly any light, little ventilation or heat regulation, and the ever-present danger from the build-up of gases.

[Images courtesy of the National Coal Mining Museum. Clicking on the images will enlarge them.]

Continue reading

Shopping for music at M&S — October 15, 2019

Shopping for music at M&S

Here in the UK, Marks and Spencer has been part of the high street for well over a hundred years. Institutions have to change to survive though. Nowadays M&S is associated with food, clothing, home wares, and financial services. Back at the start of the twentieth century, the M&S Original Penny Bazaars (both market stalls and shops) sold haberdashery (small scale sewing requirements) and household items. So no food or clothing at all, and everything was a penny (1d).

[Click on an image to enlarge it.]

Another item the original shops sold was sheet music. Continue reading

Back to the (start of the) 80’s — September 14, 2019

Back to the (start of the) 80’s

Over the next couple of months, I’ll be looking at the outer temporal extremes of our song sheet collection. This time, we’ll be quite modern; next, we’ll see what hit songs looked like in the early eighteenth century.

For reasons lost in the mists of time, we stopped collecting single song sheets early in the 1980’s. Maybe because the publishers went off producing them in favour of song albums. Anyway, following an entirely unscientific trawl through some of the boxes, here’s my selection. How many can you recognise or sing bits of from first time around?

It’s 1980 (or thereabouts) – the year of John Lennon’s death. The CND protest started at Greenham Common; Alton Towers opened. A record number of people in the UK were unemployed; Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister. The TV show Yes, Minister started broadcasting.

Continue reading

Summertime — June 27, 2019

Summertime

Yes, summer is here, although I couldn’t help wondering where it was hiding this morning when I came to work in torrential rain. Or maybe that’s an expected part of summer in the UK? Anyway, a quick trawl through our song sheet collections produced a slew of songs from the movies with ‘summer’ in the title.

Gershwin and Heyward  Summertime (from Porgy and Bess) (publ. 1959)

Summertime - front cover
The front cover – based on the film publicity poster

To me, Porgy and Bess is an opera. Yet looking around, I quickly learnt it was first a novel, then a stage play. Gershwin took it on as an opera, and finally there was a push to make it into a film. It had a troubled gestation. One unsuccessful bidder for the rights (Harry Cohn) wanted to perform it in blackface. The Gershwin estate was determined that the cast should be African-American but that too had its problems. The story line of drugs, sexual violence, prostitution, and murder set in early twentieth-century South Carolina was problematical. Continue reading

Is it that long? — April 4, 2019

Is it that long?

This blog is coming up to its second birthday! It doesn’t seem that long since I wrote our first anniversary post. While I’ve felt more relaxed about the topics featured, there have still been some distinct threads. Let’s have a look at some of the themes and popular posts over the past year.

Participation

all performers
All the performers (Jonathan Schoeps)

November saw a flurry of posts. Continue reading

A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening … — February 14, 2019

A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening …

This Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d spend some time at the movies. Nothing more recent than the 1940s though. Of course we’ll have more recent sheets concerning love, but this was a quick trawl through that small part of the collection where love leads the title.

Let’s start in the 1930s …

Youmans  Love is like a song (publ. 1930)

Love is like a song
A striking front cover

It’s easy to see who was expected to sell this song sheet, and it certainly wasn’t Vincent Youmans, the composer. Gloria Swanson’s character is shown striking various poses, giving the impression of an independent, sassy woman. What a widow, the film, is reportedly lost, with only a trailer and soundtrack now known. It’s described as a ‘pre-code’ movie. That intrigued me, so I went looking.

Continue reading

‘Get Along Little Dogies’ – the music of Cisco Houston — January 24, 2019

‘Get Along Little Dogies’ – the music of Cisco Houston

Once again, our folk collection here is the source of this post. This unassuming volume, 900 Miles – the ballads, blues and folksongs of Cisco Houston, is yet another Oak Publication.

houston 900 miles
The front cover

These earlier posts taken from other Oak Publications: The ‘House of the rising sun’ blues …Hard-hit People: Songs of the American Great Depression, and A Time of Trial: More Songs from the American Great Depression took me on fascinating journeys, and I expect this volume to do the same. Interestingly enough, this is the only obvious library copy in the UK, despite it still being on sale.

Continue reading

A Song and Dance Routine — October 18, 2018

A Song and Dance Routine

You might think a song can’t be a dance, and vice versa, but our song sheet collections show this to be wrong. So here, for your delight and delectation, are some tangos, together with the odd foxtrot and bolero, which are also happen to be songs.

Grosz & Kennedy  Tina – a tango-foxtrot ballad (publ. 1934)

Tina - front cover
The front cover

I’m not sure how a ballad can be both a tango and a foxtrot. The direction at the top of the music is ‘Tempo di tango’ and it certainly appears to be in a basic tango rhythm. The foxtrot was at the height of its popularity in the 1930s, so maybe it’s just there as a hook. The composer, Will (Wilhelm) Grosz fled his native Austria during the 1930s Nazi takeover. When he arrived in England, his avant-garde music didn’t garner much interest. Instead, he turned his hand to composing music for popular songs. His best known hits were Isle of Capri and Harbour Lights, with lyrics also written by Jimmy Kennedy.

Continue reading

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