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BIG HEARTED ARTHUR ASKEY

"Hello Playmates"

Original mono recordings 1938-1949

Transfers by Peter Dempsey. Remastering by Martin Haskell

ASV LIVING ERA CD AJA 5444 [77.45]

 

 

Crotchet

  1. The Bee Song

  2. Chirrup!

  3. I Pulled Myself Together

  4. Ding Dong Bell

  5. The Cuckoo

  6. All To Specification

  7. The Worm

  8. Knitting

  9. Weíre Goanna Hang Out The Washing on the Siegfried Line

  10. How Ashamed I Was

  11. Kiss Me Goodnight Sergeant Major

  12. Big and Stinkerís Parlour Games

  13. The Seagull Song

  14. More Chestnut Corner

  15. Sarah! Sarah!

  16. She Was Very, Very Shy

  17. Early In The Morning

  18. The Channel Swimmer

  19. The Pixie

  20. Itís Spring Again

  21. I Want A Banana

  22. Evíry Little Piggyís Got a Curly Tail

  23. A Ballad

  24. Follow The White Line

Having seen many comedians come and go it's the ones that have gone I remember most. When I received this CD of Arthur Askey I relished the idea of having a really good chuckle at the little man in his prime once again and wasnít disappointed. He was born in 1900 but his big break came in 1938 when the BBC decided to launch a comedy show to go with the great dance band shows of the time, of which I was a great fan. Gordon Crier, one of the two suggested BBC producers, suggested as compere Richard Murdoch, a song and dance man and juvenile lead in revue. But it was the choice of resident comedian that caused problems. Crier and his co-producer Harry H. Pepper suggested Tommy Trinder or Arthur Askey. The latter had, since he was 24, toured the halls in concert and it was Arthur they chose in the end and so began the legend of "Big Hearted Arthur" with his radio friend Richard "Stinker" Murdoch in the show "Band Wagon" that made their names. Though this soon became the comedy show best remembered the first few episodes were poor and the programme almost cancelled after the third broadcast. During the time waiting for a replacement, Askey and Murdoch were able to do what they wanted with the time and their anarchic humour, based around the idea they were sharing a flat in Broadcasting House, caught on and "Band Wagon" was a hit.

Whatever Arthur lacked in height he made up for in energy in the way he told his silly jokes, sang his even sillier songs and danced even sillier dances, as would later be seen on the stage and screen in a blossoming career that would last decades. It wasn't until 1938 that I really became aware of Arthur. I suppose like many people in the early 1930's, not in the habit of visiting theatres or spending holidays at seaside resorts where Arthur might be performing for a summer season, I have no recall of him during that time. 1938 also saw Arthurís recordings, including "The Bee Song" in which he is accompanied on the piano by Kenneth Blain who wrote it. This is the song always associated with Arthur. Itís just plain silly and needs someone of Arthur's inimitable nature to capture the cleverness of it. The more you hear it the less chance you have of forgetting it. Which is the reason why it is still so well remembered now after all these years. When "The Bee Song" is mentioned people always remember Arthur Askey. In the same month he recorded "Chirrup". This time Arthur wishes he were a tiny bird, so clearly this is meant as a companion to "The Bee Song" yet I wonder how many will remember it today. Strange that one song survives and the other didnít. Arthurís idea of a tiny bird needs to be heard to be appreciated and I can promise you will love it as he introduces all manner of peculiar sounds. I can even see that funny little man prancing about as he sings, and just occasionally breaking in and making a whimiscal comment. Much the same applies to "The Seagull Song" too. But this was recorded "live" in front of an audience in 1940 and really gains from it. Here Arthur tells a tale of a Seagull and as he sings "Fly away Peter, fly away Paul", the reaction of the audience is enough to tell you of the capers he is performing. Kenneth Blain accompanies again and, as always, is to be admired in how he manages to keep up with Arthur who ends with his catch phrase "I thank you" which, of course, he delivers as "Aythangyou". Arthur clearly loved these bird songs and "sends them up" something chronic. In "The Cuckoo" this is particularly the case as he half sings and half narrates and it's real gem that, again, might have been forgotten had it not been for this release. The recording of "I Pulled Myself Together" quickly followed in the December and was written by Arthur himself. Arthur happily tells you how he needs to earn his daily bread as a handyman he tells us as he wanders down the street you hear him Tra, La, La-ing as he goes, at the same time describing in words of all the different jobs he tries but never succeeds in keeping any. Not a song to remember perhaps, but clever and bubbly as Arthurís songs always were.

In 1939 Arthur recorded "The Worm" with Ronnie Monro and here he tells us he is going to sing a song to something nearer the ground than he is. This is another song that made me reach for the tissues to wipe my eyes. The orchestra is brilliant, by the way, as he tells the story of this wriggly specimen crawling about and I loved it. Very clever too is "The Knitter" recorded the same year. Then in the November, with the war now on, Arthur recorded two songs with a real relevance to the times. First is "We're Gonna Hang Out The Washing On The Siegfried Line". I remember this song so well and itís as familiar now as when I first heard it. This was "The Phoney War" and most people had no idea what lay ahead that I think is reflected by the light-hearted nature of this song. "Kiss me Goodnight Sergeant Major" followed in that same month. How quickly that caught the publicís imagination too, though I have to say it was the type of song that often had its words changed into something the BBC would never have broadcast. I know this because my husband, a wartime variety artiste himself, sang a version that would have made a Sergeant Major blush.

Arthur was clearly busy in the studio that month because he also made "How Ashamed I Was" a really funny song and, for the time, rather naughty. Itís not so much the words, but how Arthur delivers them. The Orchestra follows him brilliantly too. Ronnie Munro was a genius for knowing when to expect an outburst of some kind from Arthur. "Sarah! Sarah!" is from 1940 also. This is another comic song and Arthur even starts it by telling you this is the other side of the record. Then in "Early In The Morning" notice again the references to people spending time in the air raid shelters. The war influences so many of these songs. Finally from November 1940 we have "She Was Very, Very Shy", a simple, funny little song about Arthur being in love with a girl who is so tall he has to climb a ladder to get to her face.

War was raging all over Europe by the time Arthur recorded the lovely song "Its Spring Again" in February 1942. A simple song, but the best ones so often are and Arthur sings it beautifully perhaps reflecting the fact that by then people needed a little more escapism. However, in the same month comes "I Want A Banana". You must remember that bananas were unknown in Britain throughout the war and so represented something symbolic of peace and plenty among the war and want.

I do feel the two recordings on this disc from 1949 are somewhat out of place they were recorded when the war was over but Arthur is still being. "The Christening" tells of him going to this family occasion with all the family there. Needless to say, many comic things happen which Arthur tells you in his inimitable way. At the same time he recorded as B side "Ev'ry Little Piggy's Got A Curly Tail". Again a typical Arthur Askey song that he sings so well and is so able to break into a song and chat to someone without losing the melody.

Not to be missed on this CD are three non-musical tracks. First is "Big and Stinker's Parlour Games" recorded in 1939. Itís Christmas and Arthur (or "Big" to his friends) and Richard "Stinker" Murdoch are singing a carol and deciding that with it being Christmas they will have a game. Their attempts to find one they haven't played produces a sparkling dialogue typical of their comedy, though they do suffer from not having an audience present. Less than a year later they can be heard in another routine but this time in front of their "Band Wagon" audience at the BBC. This is "More Chestnut Corner" after a much-loved spot in the show and should tell you the kind of thing to expect. By the wild applause the audience clearly had a ball and the chit- chat between the two is fast and snappy. In fact as you listen, you may wonder how they managed to get a breath in. The timing is excellent, the jokes endearingly corny, though this was 1940 and people needed a good laugh. In July of the next year Arthur gives us a Monologue typical of the day called "The Channel Swimmer". This is another "rib-tickler" as Arthur tells of his offer to swim the English Channel to push the Nazis back in return for two Christmas puddings. How innocent we were. The reference to two BBC announcers (Alvar Liddell and Bruce Belfrage) will probably miss people under a certain age.

Arthur Askey was born a comedian. That small, bespectacled, funny little man with his cry of "Hello playmates" and "Aythangyou" was a confirmed workaholic. In between recordings and radio he worked with ENSA entertaining the troops. Later he starred with many well-known names on stage and made a number of films into the 1950s and 1960s. Some of these were more successful than others. Perhaps the most successful was "The Ghost Train" which he made during the war. I never fail to watch the repeats on TV of that great old movie. Arthur's career gradually wound down as he became older although he managed to appear in pantomime as a very popular dame and do TV right to the end of his life. I don't think he or his songs will quickly be forgotten and this CD, which I warmly recommend to all his fans, will make sure of that. So well done ASV for bringing these old recordings from the 1930s and 40s to such vivid life. The transfers are all excellent and I can say that having, in the distant past, heard some of them on their original 78s.

Joan Duggan