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Original mono recordings from 1925-1944 also featuring Noel Coward
Compiled by Peter Dempsey and Ray Crick
Transcribed from 78s by Peter Dempsey and David Lennick
Restoration by Martin Haskell
ASV LIVING ERA CD AJA 5265 [62.20]

Crotchet midprice

  1. From "Oh, Kay!" by George Gerswhin (1927)
    "Someone To Watch Over Me"
  2. "Do-Do-Do"
  3. "Maybe"

  4. From André Charlot’s New York Revue (1925)
  5. "A Cup of Coffee, a Sandwich and You"
  6. "Poor Little Rich Girl"
  7. "Russian Blues"

  8. From "Private Lives" by Noel Coward (1930)
  9. Love Scene, Act 1 – Introduction

  10. "Some Day I’ll Find You"
  11. Love Scene, Act 2 – Introduction

  12. "I Never Realised"
    "If You Were the Only Girl In The World"
    "Some Day I’ll Find You"
  13. "Limehouse Blues" (1931)
  14. "Parisian Pierrot" (1931)
  15. "Mad About The Boy" (1932)

  16. From "Nymph Errant" by Cole Porter (1933)
  17. "How Could We Be Wrong?"
  18. "It’s Bad For Me"
  19. "The Physician"
  20. "Experiment"

  21. From "Tonight at 8.30" by Noel Coward (1936)
  22. "Shadow Play" – Scene and "Play Orchestra Play"
  23. "Red Peppers" – "Has Anyone Seen Our Ship"

  24. From "Lady In The Dark" by Kurt Weill
  25. "My Ship" (1941)
  26. "The Saga of Jenny" (1941)
  27. "A Guy Named Joe" (1944)


Not a great deal is known of Gertrude Lawrence’s life before she became a child star, but it was a story of rags to riches. We know that from an early age the little girl had romanticised about one day becoming a famous actress. Perhaps from listening to her Mother’s largely frustrated theatrical aspirations and seeing the struggles of her Danish supporting artist Father. With encouragement from her mother and grandmother she made her debut in "Babes in the Wood" at Brixton in 1908. Then by 1911 was in the chorus of "The Miracle at the Olympic". From then on she worked her way up from the chorus line to understudying many famous names. Her tenacity paid off and subsequently she joined the London touring company run by the impresario Basil Dean. After the chorus in "Fifinella" in 1912 and then a 1913 revival of Hauptmann’s "Hannele" she was brought into contact for the first time with fellow Londoner Noel Coward. The story is that she told Noel some dirty stories and he fell instantly in love with her charm and personality. A whole generation has passed since Gertude Lawrence’s early death in 1952 yet there are many who will remember her name in connection with Coward’s especially after their appearance together in his play "Private Lives". Noel and Gertie were a team.

When I received this disc of Gertie singing solo and with some of her stage partners, I was really delighted. To listen again to voices of long ago, experience original artists singing songs from shows they created always carries a thrill. From 1926 and André Charot’s New York Revue we have Gertie with Jack Buchanan singing "A Cup of Coffee, a Sandwich and You" as well as "Poor little Rich Girl" and "Russian Blues", the latter two written by her beloved Noel. Gertie does full justice to all three songs, singing with her customary clarity and real feeling. In "Russian Blues" you can hear a little more of Robert Hood Bowers’s piano accompaniment but this in no way distracts from Gertie’s singing.

Even greater success came on Broadway in November 1926 with Gershwin’s show "Oh, Kay!" Indeed I think this really established Gertie’s name in America. Later "The Times" review of the 1927 London production of the show was rapturous mentioning Gertie’s looks, grace, humour, voice and many other accomplishments. With Tom Waring at the piano she recorded "Do-Do-Do" and sings it with such fervour as she does with the poignant "Maybe", a moving duet with Harold French. This is one of the gems of the disc. From the same show we also have the great "Someone To Watch Over Me" in which Gertie takes great care to make the words really mean something so you really do feel she needs someone to watch over her. The words are clear and the melody perfect. I love this song, it has always been a favourite of mine and I know many people.

In 1930 Noel Coward wrote his legendary success "Private Lives". So much has been written about this play in which Gertie and Noel played the starring roles (and in which Laurence Olivier was a supporting player) but it’s still worth remembering that they set the West End and Broadway on fire. The opening scene is sometimes said to be the second most famous balcony scene after "Romeo and Juliet". There is no doubt that the bittersweet love-scenes between Amanda and Eliot will always be remembered as a theatre classic. The play tells of two ex-lovers married to other people who meet again while honeymooning at the same hotel. The balcony scene is where you see Amanda gazing at the view and having a strong feeling of déjà vu. She then starts to sing "Someday I’ll Find You" at which point Eliot enters and, seeing her, joins in. In these recordings of extracts we hear a certain amount of dialogue while at the same time Eliot tells her how he has always loved and wanted her. Act 2 finds them again on the balcony and Elliot is singing "I Never Realised". They have a loving conversation as Amanda softly sings "If You Were The Only Girl In The World" then drifts into "Someday I’ll Find You" again. The only comment I would add on hearing all these extracts from what is effectively the original production is whether, after all these years, that unique voice of Noel Coward’s would be just as popular now as it was then.

While on tour in André Charlot’s London’s Review of 1924 Gertie introduced the Philip Braham hit "Limehouse Blues," originally a duet with Jack Buchanan. It would be 1931 before she recorded it, though, accompanied here by the Chenil Orchestra. Not surprisingly it’s a song about Chinatown and I’m sure many of you have heard it. Gertie sings it as I think it should be song with a deeper pitch to the voice, again proving what a versatile performer she was. That same year she recorded Coward’s "Parisian Pierrot" from "London Calling" again with The Chenil Orchestra who are quite brilliant here. In fact I enjoyed listening to them play as much as I did Gertie sing, perhaps rather more after nearly giving up trying to make out the lyrics which are not all that clear. The following year Gertie recorded Coward’s decadent "Mad About The Boy" from his "Words and Music". Again the wonderful Chenil Orchestra are in attendance together with the sound of Albert Harris’s guitar, Bert Amstell’s trumpet and Claude Ivy’s piano who all come through loud and clear and how cleverly they accompany her.

When in 1933 Cole Porter’s "Nymph Errant" played at the Adelphi in London it appealed to the romantic and risqué of the day with "How could we be wrong?" Sang here as only Gertie can it is delightful but I really couldn’t now understand what it was that was so wrong. The next number from the show recorded at the same time was "Its Bad For Me". I liked this but I liked "The Physician" even more. Here Gertie sings about various parts of her anatomy being attended to by her Physician, describes her ailments by name and the fact she is attracted to him, though not he to her. A clever song clearly sung. The last number from the show on this CD is "Experiment". A good number but not one that has lasted well, I feel. Here I must pay tribute to the great Ray Noble and his Orchestra who accompany with Harry Jacobson at the piano. Their contribution is worth listening to in itself.

"Tonight At 8.30" was a series of nine one-act plays by Noel Coward, all presented at Phoenix Theatre in London from January 1936. Musically the best remembered is "Shadow Play" which includes "Then Play, Orchestra, Play" and "You Were There". Delightful songs sung here by both Coward and Lawrence, merging both dialogue and song numbers and recorded during the run, like so much else on this disc. And you certainly can hear a different aspect to the Coward/Lawrence partnership in the Cockney parody "Has anybody seen our Ship" from another of these plays "Red Peppers". This is funny and clever and it illustrates that with Gertie and Noel you had two very talented people who could do just about anything. They were a perfect partnership. Marvellous souvenirs from a marvellous production.

There are two songs here from Kurt Weill’s "Lady in the Dark". We have "My Ship" and "The Saga of Jenny". The first is a melody that Gertie sings as it was surely meant in a haunting and lingering way and the second much more cheerful song. Both were recorded in New York in 1941 and are more gems.

In was in 1952 that Gertrude Lawrence made her final appearance on Broadway. It was in Rogers and Hammerstein’s "The King and I". The timeless story of the English Governess at the court of the shrewd and charming Siamese King played by Yul Brynner. Tragically she was taken ill during a performance and subsequently died from undetected cancer. We remember this great show from the film version where Deborah Kerr plays the part of Anna. But never let it be forgotten that Getrude Lawrence created the part and, but for the death, maybe she would have immortalised the part on film for us. Alas, nothing from her appearance in that show was recorded leaving a real gap in her repertoire. But let us be grateful for what there is of this great artiste who will always be remembered while there are labels like Living Era who can take songs and transfer them so accurately.

I do recommend this CD to all fans of both Gertie and her era. It is a delight for the thrill of hearing the special voices of both Gertrude Lawrence and Noel Coward too, as they were meant to be all those years ago.

Joan Duggan