“Just a Dancing Sweetheart” (1931)

“Just a Dancing Sweetheart.” Words by Charles Tobias, music by Peter De Rose (1931). Recorded in Chelsea, London on September 4, 1931 by Spike Hughes and His Dance Orchestra (as Arthur Lally and the Million-Airs) with vocals by Elsie Carlisle. Decca F-2510 mx. GB-3182-1.

Personnel: Spike Hughes-sb ldr. Jimmy McCaffer-1 other-t / Lew Davis-tb / Billy Amstell-cl-as / Arthur Lally-cl-as-bar / Buddy Featherstonehaugh-ts / Boris Penker-vn / Claude Ivy-p / Alan Ferguson-g

Spike Hughes and His Dance Orchestra (v. Elsie Carlisle) – “Just a Dancing Sweetheart” (1931)

Successful Tin Pan Alley songwriters Charles Tobias and Peter De Rose are well represented among Elsie Carlisle’s recordings. Tobias, for example, co-wrote “Rose O’Day (The Filla-Ga-Dusha Song)”; De Rose collaborated on “Have You Ever Been Lonely?”; and together they wrote “One More Kiss, Then Goodnight.” Their 1931 “Just a Dancing Sweetheart” is a waltz, still a flourishing genre in popular music at the time. Elsie Carlisle’s version is a dance band arrangement, and because of that format, the instrumentals are long and the vocal refrain brief (at forty-six seconds) — but it does make a powerful impression.

The song is a reflection on the gap between how a person is perceived functionally as part of a social set vs. that person’s inner mental life. The singer describes herself as being perceived merely as a “dancing sweetheart,” and she is the recipient of loving attention that seems more like song lyrics than “real romance.” What is conveyed is less sadness than it is longing for a more authentic relationship. There is a slight paradox in the fact that these ideas take the form of a dance song.

Elsie Carlisle seems the ideal singer to deliver this brief complaint, insofar as she is so good at using the very little time allotted to her to make us feel as if we have encountered a real person who matters. Her voice conveys sincerity, and its appeal stands in for her character’s attractiveness to her dancing partners. Her strong emotion is expressed through a sort of subtle vocal quavering that is such a mark of her singing technique — perfect for the torch songs, but well suited also to this harder-to-categorize waltz.

It might appear that there is some confusion about the identity of the band. The label of the record says “Arthur Lally and the Million-Airs,” one of Decca’s studio bands. Rust and Forbes list the songs recorded at the September 4, 1931 session under Arthur Lally, but Richard J. Johnson, in his 1994 Elsie Carlisle discography, chose to describe the band as Spike Hughes’s band masquerading as Arthur Lally’s, and in fact, not only is Spike Hughes on the personnel list that day, but the other instrumentalists match his usual lineup very closely.1

Some noteworthy American recordings of “Just a Dancing Sweetheart” in 1931 were by Dick Robertson, Johnny Hamp and His Orchestra (v. Carl Graub), and Fred Rich and His Orchestra (v. Smith Ballew; on Columbia and on Hit of the Week).

British dance bands who recorded “Just a Dancing Sweetheart” in 1931 were Jack Payne and His BBC Dance Orchestra (v. Jack Payne), Harry Hudson’s Melody Men (v. Harry Hudson), the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra (v. Al Bowlly), Maurice Winnick and His Band (v. Harry Bentley), and Jay Wilbur and His Band (v. Betty Bolton). There were also solo recordings by Gracie Fields and Betty Bolton.

Notes:

  1. Brian Rust and Sandy Forbes, British Dance Bands on Record, 1911 to 1945, and Supplement (Bungay, Suffolk: Richard Clay, Ltd., 1989), 551; Richard J. Johnson, Elsie Carlisle: A Discography (Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire: Richard J. Johnson, 1994), 13.

“Hyde Park Corner” (1933)

“Hyde Park Corner.” Composed by Stanley J. Damerell, Tolchard Evans, and Robert Hargreaves (1933). Recorded in London on April 7, 1933 by Ambrose and His Orchestra, with vocals by Sam Browne and chorus and with Elsie Carlisle and Max Bacon in speaking roles. Brunswick 1495 mx. GB-5737-1.

Personnel: Bert Ambrose dir. Max Goldberg-Harry Owen-t / Ted Heath-tb / Danny Polo-cl-as-bar / Joe Jeanette-cl-as / Harry Hayes-as / Billy Amstell-cl-ts / Bert Read-p / Joe Branelly-g / Don Stutely-sb / Max Bacon-d

Ambrose and His Orchestra – “Hyde Park Corner” (1933)

Stanley Damerell, Tolchard Evans, and Robert Hargreaves were prolific songwriting collaborators, and as co-founders of the Cecil Lennox Ltd. label, they were an impressive force in twentieth-century music, not just in Britain but worldwide. In Elsie Carlisle’s catalogue of songs we find quite a few that were written by two or even all three of these men: “On a Dreamy Afternoon,” “Hyde Park Corner,” “Da-Dar-Da-Dar,” “Let’s Make Love,” “The Whistling Lover’s Waltz,” and “Little Chap with Big Ideas.”

In Ambrose’s “Hyde Park Corner,” Elsie does not sing, except perhaps as part of the ensemble that occasionally belts out “Hyde Park Corner!” The song begins with instrumental imitations of busy London traffic. Sam Browne provides the vocal refrain, introducing the idea of Hyde Park as the perfect place for a Sunday walk. He then encounters Elsie and begins to flirt with her. She, in turn, interprets his approach as entirely too forward, and they bicker, as is their wont in so many songs from this period:

“Have you got anything on tonight?”

“What do you mean, ‘Have I got anything on?’ Who do you take me for, Lady Godiva?”

Even when she is not serving as a vocalist, Elsie manages to stand out as an amusing and feisty comic presence.

The song continues with Elsie abruptly changing her attitude, warming up to Sam, and joining him on his walk. He describes the offbeat characters who make use of the park’s famous Speaker’s Corner, and we encounter one of them, played by Ambrose Orchestra percussionist Max Bacon. He impersonates a stuttering eccentric giving a remarkably inept speech while another man (perhaps Sam Browne again?) repeatedly shouts out, à propos of nothing, “What about the working man?” Eventually Sam and Elsie give up on listening to Bacon. They must be getting near the bandstand, as Elsie suddenly gets excited about the music, and the recording ends with band music.

Other British dance bands who recorded “Hyde Park Corner” in 1933 were Jay Wilbur and His Band (v. Sam Browne and Billie Lockwood), Oscar Rabin and His Romany Band (v. Sam Browne and Fred Douglas), Jack Jackson and His Orchestra (v. Jack Jackson and George Melachrino, along with Chappie d’Amato in a speaking role), Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (v. Pat O’Malley, with speaking by O’Malley and George Baker), Billy Cotton and His Band (v. Sam Browne, with speaking by Fred Douglas and George Buck), Syd Roy and His R.K.O.lians (v. chorus, with Bill Currie and Ivor Moreton as speakers), and Jack Payne and His Band (v. Jack Payne, with speaking by Payne and Billy Scott-Coomber). It is worth comparing these various recordings, as while they share the same music, the comic scripts employed would appear to be entirely different from one another.

Elsie Carlisle’s 125th Birthday

Elizabeth Carlisle was born on January 28, 18961 in Manchester, England to James Carlisle and Mary Ellen Carlisle (née Cottingham). Elsie was not the only member of her family to show a knack for show business; her brothers James (“Jim”) and Albert (“Tim”) were both singers who worked with the great composer, publisher, and impresario Lawrence Wright. By her own account, Elsie was encouraged to learn singing by her mother, who paid for her to have lessons when she was only a small girl.2 It was her brother Jim who got her her first theatrical role at the age of 12,3 and by the time of her marriage in 1914 she could be described as a “musical hall artiste” on the wedding certificate. By 1919 she was appearing in the West End in a show whose cast included Betty Bolton, and the next year she merited her own show, entitled Elsie Carlisle – With a Different Style, in which she performed as a solo vocalist.

How “different” her style was would quickly be made known to larger and larger audiences. Her stage career grew, only to be eclipsed, starting in 1926, by her broadcasting and recording efforts. Elsie’s recordings made with Ambrose and His Orchestra between 1932 and 1935 are among the best remembered, but one should remember that she recorded at least 332 record sides between 1926 and 1942 — a prolific output. The British public would have known her better still from her broadcasts on the BBC and Radio Luxembourg. She was often billed as the “Idol of the Radio,” a well-earned epithet. By the mid-1930s she was ranked amongst the top vocalists who could be heard on the British airwaves, and she had film and television credits to her name as well. Her dulcet delivery of themes both comic and plaintive continues to attract listeners well over a century after her first performance in a Manchester music hall, and the world is much richer for her having lived in it.

Notes:

  1. January 28, 1896 is the date that Elsie Carlisle’s mother provided when she registered her daughter’s birth on March 3, 1896. The same birthday appears on Elsie’s baptismal certificate, which is dated April 15, 1896, so the date “21 January 1897” found on Elsie’s death certificate must be erroneous. People are not generally baptized before they are born, and one would assume that Elsie’s mother was a better source of information regarding her own daughter’s birth than Elsie’s son Wilfred, the informant for the death certificate.
  2. Ralph Graves. “Radio Sweetheart No. 1.” Radio Pictorial 251 (November 4, 1938): 8.
  3. According to Richard J. Johnson in “Elsie Carlisle (with a different style).” Memory Lane 174 (2012): 25.

"The Idol of the Radio." British dance band singer of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.