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Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Leeds City Varieties

Music Hall is something so evocative of a bygone age - a time of ornate theatre boxes and seedy goings-on behind the scenes; the clashing of the world of performers like Vesta Tilly and Marie Lloyd, and that of the gentlemen 'Dr. Jeckyls' by day and 'Mr. Hydes' by night. I love Music Hall; love Marie Lloyd singing, "When I take my morning promenade" (which I have on a crackling CD and would love to hear on the original wax cylinder) and imagine the whole parade of performers with their Union Jacks behind them as they roused the young men in the audience to march off to some hopeless war. The power of it - the intimacy of it - the clashing, cacophonous beauty of it all...a kind of innocence that is long gone.

The City Varieties in Leeds, where I live, is an old Music Hall (the place where they filmed the 1970s series of "The Good Old Days"). I remember there being photos of so many of the great Music Hall stars and in every footstep to the seat you could feel the history of the place and wonder how many thousands of feet had walked into that place in another era, seeking escape, seeking laughter, seeking all the extremes of emotion, from the laughter of "The Laughing Policeman" and "Don't Have Anymore Mrs. Moor" to the heart-rending ballads of, "After the Ball" and "Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage". And beyond to, "Keep the Homes Fires Burning" and "Please Beak the News To Mother."

Music Halls speak of every possible emotion - from the heights to the depths. All those over-sentimental Victorian preaching songs about drunken/absent fathers (Yikes!! (Father's a Drunkard and Mother is Dead" and "Father, dear Father, Come Home to Us Now"), all the risqué songs like "Have Some Madeira, M'Dear" and all the really funny songs that Marie Lloyd sang. It's so interesting how music and the history of music speaks of social change and the different ages through which we have lived. Music Halls were of an era because it was the only era in which they would have 'fit'. It was the first time that so many people had been crammed together in one place, trying to make sense of so many different views and experiences all at once, and somehow in the 'varieties', they manages to capture it all.

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