Last week our home town football club AA Gent crashed out of the quarter-finals of the EUFA Europa Conference League at the hands of West Ham United. The anthem of this London-based Premier League club is the American song Blowing Bubbles, originally written in 1918.
The music was co-authored by John Kellette and Jaan Kenbrovin, a collective pseudonym for James Kendis, James Brockman and Nat Vincent.
The song became a big hit in America and in the early 1920s made its way into European music halls where it was performed by major singers and bands.
If one would argue that graphical quality —or illustrative DNA— is very different for each country (or more simply said, that each region in the world has its own more or less unique illustration style) then the various covers shown here for the same song around the same period perfectly illustrate this point.
The official version of how West Ham fans came to adopt this song revolves around a schoolboy and a soap ad for Pears in the early 1920s. But this dubious claim cannot be proven as the first recording of West Ham fans singing Blowing Bubbles was not before 1940, when West Ham won the Football League War Cup Final.
In 1980 the English punk rock band Cockney Rejects reimagined the romantic Boston Waltz into a thuggish raw Oi!-version to celebrate their beloved club winning the FA Cup Final.
Their mimed performance for Top of the Pops with the lead singer clad in the West-Ham colours (claret and sky blue) ended with the teenagers running around the BBC building and causing mischief. Following this incident the BBC banned the group from performing, some calling it an unfair punishment.
The group was closely affiliated with the team’s notorious hooligan firm and they provoked violence wherever they performed. According to the Guardian a Cockney Rejects’ 1980 performance in Birmingham was “the most violent gig in British history“, which also meant the end of their career as a live band.
Anyway, I’m sure our Gent players, aka the Buffalos, were not happy to hear this song in the stadium… Oi, sorry mates!
I’m forever blowing bubbles, Pretty bubbles in the air, They fly so high, They reach the sky, And like my dreams they fade and die!
Isn’t it ironic? Composing a march to celebrate another form of locomotion, really! The lady reading a book in her automobile has no intention at all to set foot on the ground, let alone to walk. Her chauffeur seems to question her attitude. Thank you Léonce Burret for this quizzical image.
A marche that wasn’t composed to accompany a brisk walk or hike. We found this same kind of contradiction for ‘marches‘ that praise cycling,…
or cheer the enjoyment of gliding on ice…
or over snow.
We recognise a good old-fashioned march when we hear or see one. Something that encourages a fast pace in a military spirit, and that goes a long way, on foot of course! Here it is, the Marche du Matin strongly illustrated by Lucien Faure-Dujarric.
I mistakenly assumed that the Marche du Matin was composed to hearten the soldiers during their daily early morning exercise. No, the title of the march refers to Le Matin, one of the four big French newspapers before WWI.
On the 29th of May in 1904 Le Matin organised a promotional stunt: with the encouragement of the Minister of War and the cooperation of the Army top, each French regiment selected 10 of its men to participate in the big Marche de l’Armée. The walking contest started at the Place de la Concorde at 7 am, with the playing of a military march. Then the 2000 men in battle dress and heavy boots assembled in two long columns and charged up the Champs-Elysées to commence the 45 km (!) long itinerary that would bring them through Paris as far as St-Germain-en-Laye and back. Large crowds, cheers and flags accompanied the men.
France’s Bibliothèque nationale is a real treasure trove. After some digging we were lucky to find interesting pictures of this arduous march by the photographic agency Rol.
I won’t recount the whole day, nor the numerous incidents and accidents. After more than 5 hours the first contestant arrived at the finish. That day the weather was abnormally hot, and the men suffered. Many abandoned the march. Some soldiers were taken to hospital, at least one died. What should have been a festive day became a painful spectacle. The next day L’Humanité, the communist newspaper would report: “The sight of Gerard, the winner, had made the crowd cry out in pity. The unhappy boy could not even, at the end, lift his painful feet swollen with fatigue. The sight of the last groups deeply moved the spectators. The sturdy lads, who had left so happily in the morning, returned broken with fatigue, devastated, drenched in sweat, haggard eyes, clenched hands, clenched jaws, stumbling at every step, threatening continually to fall on the pavement.
A small marine infantry soldier, seized by a dizzy spell, takes two steps back. An officer holds him and shakes him. Another one shouts at him: “Hold on, no more than 25 meters left!”. Hardly recovered, the poor child, he is not yet twenty, continues on his way staggering. A hundred meters from the checkpoint, he stops again and brings his clenched hands to his throat. But an officer motions him forward, giving him a word of encouragement. He stiffens then, and feeling his strength completely abandon him, he rushes in a last effort towards the finish post near which he comes crashing down. And these sorrowful scenes went on and on …“
Hm… I think that white fatigue trousers will forever remind me of the deplorable scenes above.
The illustration for the piano music Youyou is not the most captivating one. But its dedication “Au commandant du ‘Camille’ Madame Camille Du Gast” caught my attention. A youyou is a small boat or a dinghy used to tender passengers between a ship and the shore. Here is a photograph of Mme Camille du Gast climbing from a youyou onto her motorboat, the Camille.
The adventurous Mme du Gast took part in the 1905 Algiers to Toulon race organised by the Paris newspaper Le Matin. Sadly, it would be the last time she boarded the Camille.
To ensure the safety of the seven competing motorboats, each one was accompanied by a torpedo boat destroyer. Moreover, two cruisers followed the race. Sixteen hours after leaving Algiers the Camille arrived in second place at Port Mahon, a harbour on the Spanish island Minorca.
In the second part of the race the participants tried to reach Toulon, but this ended in disaster. All competitors and their crew had to be saved from the fury of a storm-swept Mediterranean. The Camille was engulfed by the violent sea. In a perilous operation led by the cruiser Kléber, the crew of the Camille was pulled aboard. But not before an exhausted Mme du Gast fell into the sea and was heroically rescued by a sailor. The Camille was left to the mercy of the waves.
Two months later, Mme du Gast was declared the winner of the Algiers to Toulon race having come closest to finishing before sinking.
The 1905 Algier-Toulon race was not Mme du Gast’s first valiant exploit: she loved fencing, tobogganing, skiing, rifle and pistol shooting, ballooning, parachuting and horse training. She rode her first automobile around 1900 and participated in glamorous capital-to-capital car races, such as Paris-Berlin in 1901, Paris-Vienne in 1902 and Paris-Madrid in 1903.
Mme du Gast’s sobriquet, the Valkyrie of motorsports, elegantly expressed her buxom figure, as seen on these photographs.
It is said that she had a very upright position when driving her motorised vehicles because of her corset. Looking at the picture with her at the rudder of her ‘canot‘, I find her silhouette mesmerizingly disturbing. I then imagine that she just donned a corset for official pictures, and immediately tucked the hindering girdle into a corner when going for action.
Disappointingly, it seems that du Gast’s perfect hourglass shape is but the result of photographic retouching. Look at the telltale pencil corrections around her waist, belly and hips on these magnifications.
The composer of Youyou was Carlos de Mesquita, a Brazilian-born concert pianist and composer. In 1877, aged 13, he left Brazil to study piano and organ at the Conservatoire de Paris where he took lessons with Jules Massenet and César Franck. In the 1880s and 1890s he would introduce their work in Brazil, together with those of Delibes, Bizet, Gustave Charpentier and Saint-Saëns. Through his Concertos Populares, de Mesquita not only introduced a new repertoire in Brazil. He also tried to musically educate and appeal to a growing middle class. His noble intention was undoubtedly inspired by his colleague Gustave Charpentier, who founded in 1902 the Conservatoire Populaire Mimi Pinson for the musical schooling of working girls.
We found another Carlos de Mesquita’s sheet music in our Images Musicales collection. It is also dedicated to Camille du Gast and portrays her profile in a tangled Art nouveau floral design. A sign of respect, or was there also un peu d’amour..?
To prove her more artistic accomplishments, Mme du Gast who was a talented singer and piano player, gave charity recitals accompanied by Carlos de Mesquita. The newspaper La Presse describes one of her performances: “When Madame du Gast appeared, a flattering murmur ran through the audience. One was curious to hear Mme Du Gast, who yesterday was an intrepid automobile driver, who will be an aeronaut tomorrow, and who was revealed to us this evening as an excellent musician. Accompanied by M. Carlos de Mesquita, she has performed two pieces of this delicate composer. We celebrated both of them.”
The mondaine Camille du Gast got entangled in a scandal following the trial against her brother and father whom she had accused of embezzlement. Maître Barboux acting for her relatives, hit below the belt when he showed the court a picture of a painting of a naked lady. Barboux claimed that the lady, only clad in a mask, was Mme du Gast (as he had been told by Mme du Gast’s father and brother). Oh my god!
Mme du Gast’s libel action against Maître Barboux caused a sensation in Paris. Both the artist Henri Gervex and the girl who had stood model for the painting, Marie Renard, corroborated du Gast’s case. Still they were not given a hearing. Maître Barboux refused to apologise and moreover won the case on a legal technicality.
It is said that Madame du Gast who was present in the courtroom, had hidden a horsewhip in her parasol with the intention of administering correction to Maître Barboux. However, he prudently chose to leave the Palais de Justice by a private way, as he knew that Madame du Gast and her friends were in a very excited state after the decision of the Court.
But that is not the end of the story, as the prince de Sagan, a friend and admirer of Mme du Gast, followed the lawyer to his house with the firm determination to avenge the honour of Mme du Gast. He slapped Maître Barboux in the face calling him an insulter of women. An hour later, following impeccable manners, the prince sent his card to Barboux’s house. The Australian West Gippsland Gazette (september 1902) further reports: “Maître Barboux, as already noted, is no longer a young man, although very active, and he has, in any case, passed the fighting age, so he prefers the legal way of obtaining satisfaction.“ Another lawsuit followed. Although the court accepted that the prince had acted in good fate, he was condemned to pay a 500 francs fine.
Each sheet music tells its own story. But we also found another truth: one Youyou may conceal another…