The Lambeth Walk & Felix Nussbaum

The Lambeth Walk‘ by Noel Gay, Arthur Rose & Albert Gumble, published by Modern Screen Songs (Shanghai, sd) and illustrated by J. Zane.

The naive drawing for The Lambeth Walk is a unicum in our collection. It’s the only one of our sheet music to have been published in Shanghai, which illustrates the song’s worldwide success. In 1937 the cheerful cockney Lambeth Walk started as an instant hit in England and soon rocketed to planetary triumph.

‘Lambeth Walk’ by Noel Gay, Arthur Rose & Albert Gumble. Left published by Cinephonic Music Co. Ltd, (London,1937). Right: published by Francis-Day (Paris, 1938).

The Lambeth Walk was composed by Noel Gay for the musical Me and My Girl about a Cockney boy who in order to inherit a fortune must abandon his working-class ways. The musical was turned into a film in 1939. In the clip we see the leading character, played by Lupino Lane, telling all the snooty aristocrats: you should come to my working-class neighbourhood, and do this little dance we do. This dance starts with a strutting gait, thumbs cheerfully up in the air. Add to that some kicks, knee-slapping, risqué pelvis motion, turning around and shouting “Oi” all seemingly without end. Earworm alert: code red!

The strutting gait is the way London costermongers used to walk. Costermongers, or costers, were street sellers of fruit and vegetables for the labouring classes. They used melodic sales patter, poems and chants to attract attention. The distinctive culture of costers inspired many comedians and made them prime targets for songwriters.

‘The Coster’s Mansion or Yo’uve only got to stop just where you is!’, by George Le Brunn & Will Fieldhouse, published by Francis, Day & Hunter (London, 1899).

The Lambeth Walk takes its name from a street in central London, once notable for its street market and working class culture. An article in the 1938 Picture Post wrote about Lambeth Walk: “In spite of its severe poverty it has a racy and vigorous life of its own.”

Life in the Lambeth Walk‘, Picture Post, December 1938.

In 1942, Charles A. Ridley of the Ministry of Information manipulated parts from Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will  to ridicule Hitler and Nazi soldiers as if they were dancing the Lambeth Walk. The newsreel companies gave their own credits to the propaganda film. This copy is titled ‘Schichlegruber doing the Lambeth Walk’ referring to Adolf Hitler’s father who was born as Alois Schicklgruber.

Felix Nussbaum was a German Jewish painter who lived in hiding in Brussels during the war. His last known painting, Triumph of Death,  shows skeletal figures making music in an apocalyptic world. It reads as an anticipation of the painter’s own doom. We see the despair on the face of the organ grinder, a self-portrait of Nussbaum. A few weeks after finishing this work in 1944, Nussbaum was arrested and shipped to Auschwitz where he died one week later. He had been betrayed by a neighbour.

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Triumph of Death‘ by Felix Nussbaum, 1944.

In the left bottom of the painting, amid a pile of debris of the painter’s everyday life, lies a torn and crumpled piece of sheet music: it is the score from the Lambeth Walk. The detail tragically illustrates that for Nussbaum there was no more place for the simple tunes that can make people happy.

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Doin’ the Lambeth walk
Ev’rything free and easy
Do as you darn well pleasey

The Dancing Pig

La polka du cochon - PARTITION MUSICALE Faria
La Polka du Cochon‘ by Georges Hauser & René de St. Prest, published by Emile Gallet (Paris, sd) and illustrated by Faria.

The Dancing Pig was a French vaudeville act at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1907 Pathé released a 4-minute film based on this act. A pig tries to seduce a young girl but is humiliated when she rips off his tuxedo. Suddenly standing stark naked, the humanoid swine nevertheless starts dancing with her. It is rather boring but at the end (3:46) it gets really creepy with a close-up of the tuxedoed pig wagging its tongue between its pointed teeth.

From one of our other sheet music, published the same year (1907), we discovered more about the origins of the Dancing Pig.

‘La Blockette’ by Albert Pharey, published by Costallat (Paris, 1907) and illustrated by Georges Dola.

The man dancing in the Pathé film was Mr. Odeo, who had a dancing routine le Cochon Mondain. From 1906 until the early thirties, he toured the music-halls with this burlesque act.

Mr. Odeo as le Cochon Mondain, 1907.

La Blockette, the title of the sheet music and the name of the piggish polka dance, was also the artistic name of actress and singer Fanny Bloch (1863-1956). This is a bit confusing, as it is perhaps her older sister, comic singer Jeanne Bloch (1858-1916) who by her hefty looks inspired the name of the flabby polka.

Portrait of Jeanne Bloch on the cover of ‘La Noce des Nez’ by Léon Laroche & Emile Duhem, published by Georges Ondet (Paris, sd) and illustrated by Hyacinthe Royet.

Jeanne Bloch was known as la colossale chanteuse and it was said, not very nicely, that she measured 1.60 m in all directions.

Jeanne Bloch –  Fête des Caf’conc’ [stade Buffalo, le 24 août 1908], source BnF Gallica.
We have another cover of a dancing pig in our collection: Manasse dansar, the Swedish version of Cincinnati Dancing Pig, a hit for country singer Red Foley.

Manasse dansar by Guy Wood & Al Lewis. Swedish lyrics by Börje Larsson, published by Nils-Georgs Musikförlag (Stockholm, 1950).

It is a fifties tap-dance song, a rather awful ditty if you ask me: Riggedy, jiggedy, jiggedy, jiggedy jig-a-jig-jig! Oink Oink


More reading on Jeanne Bloch at the wonderful site of Du temps des cerises aux feuilles mortes.

The Mikiphone – The iPod of the Twenties

‘Miki’

    (La Chanson du Mikiphone) by Fred Pearly, Pierre Chagnon & Jacques-Charles, published by Lucien Brulé (Paris, 1926) and illustrated by Robert Laroche.

The cover for the ‘Miki’ song triggered my curiosity about the Mikiphone. The sheet music tells us that it is a pocket phonograph and that the Moulin Rouge and Mistinguett were contracted to market it in one of their famous revues.

Around 1917 two Hungarian brothers, Nicolas and Etienne Vadasz, began designing a small gramophone. After completing the development in 1924, they patented the appliance. A Swiss company did the mass production and in 1925 the Mikiphone went on sale. With a diameter of 11.5 cm, and only 5 cm thick when closed, the round tin box resembles an oversized pocket watch.

The Mikiphone. Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France, Gallica.bnf.fr
Publicity for the Mikiphone
Publicity for the Mikiphone by Miklos Vadasz (source unknown)

Imagine, in the roaring twenties, arriving at a party with the newest gadget, a Mikiphone, in your trouser pocket…Then you take it out and while all youngsters gather around you in anticipation, you start assembling the parts which all fit in the box. This takes time and quite some skill as you can witness on the video. But at last you put on a 10-inch fox-trot shellac disc, you crank the winding key with your hand and the dancing party can begin.

The Mikiphone. Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France, Gallica.bnf.fr

The sound membrane consisted of a mica sheet coupled to a bakelite sound resonator. Never mind it’s impracticality, it is a marvellous piece of design, praised by Le Corbusier. I love it!

Around 180.000 of these cute mini record players were sold. Alas, three years after the first production the Mikiphone sales stagnated, and its production was discontinued. A few decades later, the mini rage of the sixties had yet to begin…