The Aged P

…just toasting and ruminating….

22 November
Comments Off on Anyone Remember Phil Harris And That Tree?

Anyone Remember Phil Harris And That Tree?

Always loved this 1947 Phil Harris record – when I was a kid it was regularly being played on BBC radio…the henpecked husband being chased by an angry wife wielding a rolling pin was a staple figure of comedy in the 30s, 40s and 50s…hence the plaintive plea to the woodman.

What is less well known was that the song had originally been a massive hit in the early 1900s for Bert Williams, long forgotten now but a hundred years ago one of the most popular vaudeville stars in America. Williams was the first black artist to break out of the “coon” stereotype and appeal to all audiences and “Woodman” was one of his most popular songs, sung in a “talking blues” style that Harris also copied. It proved to be the big hit of the Ziegfeld Follies Of 1911.

Yet the distinction of the song’s pedigree is not limited to Williams – for it was composed by Vincent Bryan and the former singing waiter Irving Berlin in the same year that “Alexanders Ragtime Band” became a smash hit not just in America but throughout the world and propelled the previously unknown Berlin overnight from obscurity to international fame.

But it’s roots go even deeper for Berlin adapted the lyrics from a poem, “The Oak”, written by the American poet George Pope Morris in 1837. The English musician Henry Russell wrote a score for it later that year and, under the more familiar title, the sentimental ballad became a staple of concerts and musical evenings for the rest of the 19th century. In 1911 Berlin introduced the comedic elements to the story and altered Russell’s score. So, what initially appears to be a classic 1940’s piece of Phil Harris musical humour has a very distinguished provenance.

Sadly both Harris and Williams and that whole genre of comedy songs are rarely heard today – mores the pity…

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26 September
Comments Off on The Soldier’s Humour – 1915 & 2010

The Soldier’s Humour – 1915 & 2010

Throughout history I would guess the soldier’s response to the dark terror of war has been a sense of humour, often even in the grimmest of situations. One of the most famous cartoons ever drawn was created by Bruce Bairnsfather, a British artist who fought in the trenches on the Western Front. As an antidote to the “patriotic” sketches made by the staff artists in the London magazines, who had no experience of war, Bairnsfather’s observations of everyday life in the trenches became very popular with the soldiers themselves and this one, with it’s grim humour became the stuff of legend.

The descendants of those WW1 “old sweats” are now British squaddies serving in Afghanistan with the ever present shadow of the hidden bomb and the silent sniper. So, to blunt the edge of concern about what the next hours might bring, they use humour to alleviate the daily routine.

BTW the soldiers in the vid are ordinary squaddies, despite the youtube title. Although no doubt the SAS have their own outbursts of dark humour these, like their military activities, would be shrouded in secrecy – so, these men are not SAS..but, of course, they could well be…

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17 September
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Allan Sherman’s Mexican Hat Dance – Humour From A Bygone Age…

Not certain if Warner would dare release something like this nowadays in our PC world for fear of being dealt the race card. Indeed, since Allan Sherman was Jewish it would almost certainly be tagged as a Zionist plot.

But what the hell – Sherman specialised in parodying well known songs and the wordplay in this pastiche of the famous Mexican dance is absolutely spot on. It was on his second album “My Son The Celebrity” which hit #1 in the album charts in March 1963.

Not vulgar, no swear words, just good natured fun…..echoes of an age long gone, I fancy…

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