Billy Hill Articles

Billy Hill – Wikipedia. Sometimes used the pseudonym “George Brown.”

Billy Hill

“The Clouds Will Soon Roll By” (with Ambrose; 1932)

“The Clouds Will Soon Roll By.” Words and music by Harry Woods and Billy Hill (the latter using the pseudonym George Brown; 1932). Recorded by Ambrose and His Orchestra (with vocals by Elsie Carlisle) on July 13, 1932. HMV B6210 mx. OB3134-1.

Personnel: Bert Ambrose dir. Max Goldberg-Harry Owen-t / Ted Heath-tb / Joe Crossman-Billy Amstell-Joe Jeannete-reeds / Harry Hines-as / Ernie Lewis-Teddy Sinclair-Peter Rush-vn / Bert Read-p / Joe Brannelly-g / Don Stutely-sb / Max Bacon-d-vib

Ambrose & His Orchestra (w. Elsie Carlisle) – "The Clouds Will Soon Roll By" (1932)

Ambrose & His Orchestra (w. Elsie Carlisle) – “The Clouds Will Soon Roll By” (1932)

Eighty-two years ago today, Elsie Carlisle recorded with Ambrose and His Orchestra one of her two versions of “The Clouds Will Soon Roll By.” It has become fixed in popular memory as one of her most representative recordings, and especially as a perfect example of her ability to project a persona of touching vulnerability — in this case employing optimistic lyrics set to a powerful but somewhat melancholy arrangement. Meteorological metaphors encouraging an upbeat attitude seem to have been a staple of the popular music of the time. It was in the same year that Irving Berlin composed his “Let’s Have Another Cup of Coffee”:

Why worry when skies are gray
Why should we complain
Let’s laugh at the cloudy day
Let’s sing in the rain
Songwriters say the storm quickly passes
That’s their philosophy
They see the world through rose-colored glasses
Why shouldn’t we?
Trouble’s just a bubble
And the clouds will soon roll by
So let’s have another cup o’ coffee
And let’s have another piece o’ pie

Elsie would record another version on September 19 on Decca F. 3146, accompanied only by a piano and Len Fillis on the steel guitar. This solo version is subdued by comparison to the Ambrose recording with its powerful orchestral arrangement.

Representative American interpretations of “The Clouds Will Soon Roll By” from 1932 are those of Eddy Duchin and His Central Park Casino Orchestra (with vocal refrain by the Hamilton Sisters), Bob Causer and His Cornelians (Harold Van Emburgh on vocal), and Anson Weeks.

The song would see many other treatments in 1932 by the British dance bands: Henry Hall’s BBC Dance Orchestra (Val Rosing, vocalist), Ray Starita and His Ambassadors’ Band, Billy Cotton and His Band (Cyril Grantham, vocalist), Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (vocalist Pat O’Malley), Jack Payne and His Band (with vocalist Billy Scott-Coomber), Harry Hudson (as Tanzoni and His Dance Orchestra), Nat Star (as Andre Astan and His Orchestra, with Sam Browne singing). It also appeared in medleys by Lew Stone, Roy Fox, and the Debroy Somers Band. Organist Quentin M. McClean did an organ version of it with vocal refrain by Dan Donovan (a part of which can be heard here). Americans Layton and Johnstone, who operated out of London, recorded a piano duet of the song, and musical hall artists Bob and Alf Pearson appear in a 1932 Pathé film singing “The Clouds Will Soon Roll By.”

A high moment in Elsie Carlisle’s cultural Nachleben and perhaps the main reason that the Ambrose version of “The Clouds Will Soon Roll By” continues to be familiar to the general public is the opening scene of Dennis Potter’s 1978 television miniseries Pennies from Heaven, in which actor Bob Hoskins rather bizarrely mimes part of Elsie singing the Ambrose version of “The Clouds Will Soon Roll By.”

"The Clouds Will Soon Roll By" sheet music featuring Ambrose
“The Clouds Will Soon Roll By” sheet music featuring Ambrose

“Have You Ever Been Lonely?” (1933)

“Have You Ever Been Lonely?” Music by Peter De Rose, lyrics by Billy Hill (using the pseudonym George Brown; 1932). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle in London on February 14, 1933. Decca F. 3435 mx.  GB5586-1.

Elsie Carlisle – "Have You Ever Been Lonely?" (1933)

Elsie Carlisle – “Have You Ever Been Lonely?” (1933)

In the 1933 song “Have You Ever Been Lonely?” one can detect the musical sensibilities of composer Peter De Rose, who would write “Deep Purple” to great acclaim the following year. The lyricist deserves attention, too; it was Billy Hill who collaborated with Harry Woods to produce “The Clouds Will Soon Roll By,” which Elsie Carlisle recorded twice in 1932, and which for modern listeners might be her trademark song, in no small part due to Dennis Potter’s Pennies from Heaven television series. “The Clouds Will Soon Roll By,” however, seems very much bound to the era of its composition and has inspired few interpretations by artists since the 1930s, whereas “Have You Ever Been Lonely?” has been recorded frequently and qualifies as a standard. Perhaps it is the latter song’s simple, timeless theme which makes it so attractive to different musical treatments.

Elsie Carlisle brings to this comparatively light torch song her talent for evoking pathos with a voice that quavers selectively and whose timbre (especially around the high notes) suggests an attractive vulnerability. Her delivery is dramatic but precise: when at 2:20 she asks “How can I go on living / Now that we’re apart?” there is the faintest hint of a mournful gulp when she pronounces the word “how.” The languid pace of the recording suits her melancholy interpretation (one might compare the excellent Ray Noble/Al Bowlly version for an example of a faster-paced, generally more upbeat rendition of the tune).

“Have You Ever Been Lonely was recorded in America in 1933 by Ted Lewis and His Band, Adrian Rollini and His Orchestra (with vocals by Dick Robertson), and Chick Bullock and His Orchestra. The song was more prolifically recorded by British bands, including Maurice Winnick and His Band (with vocalist Louis Spiro), Ray Noble and His Orchestra (with Al Bowlly), Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (with Pat O’Malley as vocalist, in a Billy Ternent arrangement), Henry Hall’s B.B.C. Dance Orchestra (with a vocal trio including Sam Browne, in a Sid Phillips arrangement), Sam Browne and Billie Lockwood (as “Jack and Jill”), Harry Roy and His Orchestra (Ivor Moreton, vocalist), Syd Roy and His R.K. Olians (with vocals by Sam Browne), Jack Payne and His Band (with a vocal trio of Billy Scott-Coomber, Bob Busby, and Bob Manning), and Jay Wilbur and His Band (with vocalist Val Rosing). “Have You Ever Been Lonely?” also appeared in medleys by Phil Green’s Studio Orchestra, Jimmy Campbell and His Paramount Band, and Ray Noble and His Orchestra (on a Daily Herald Contest Record).

“The Clouds Will Soon Roll By” (Decca F. 3146 – 1932)

“The Clouds Will Soon Roll By.” Written and composed by Harry Woods and Billy Hill (using the pseudonym George Brown) in 1932. Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with piano accompaniment and with Len Fillis on the steel guitar on September 19, 1932 in Chelsea Town Hall, London.  Decca F. 3146 mx. GB4844-4.

Elsie Carlisle – "The Clouds Will Soon Roll By" (Decca F. 3146)

Elsie Carlisle – “The Clouds Will Soon Roll By” (Decca F. 3146)

“The Clouds Will Soon Roll By” is one of Elsie Carlisle’s best-known songs, but it is her recording of it with Ambrose and His Orchestra (in a remarkable arrangement by Ronnie Munro) that is most recognizable and most often cited in popular culture. I have written about that version in another article, where I provide other examples of 1932 recordings of the song.

The Ambrose recording is from July 1932, but in September of that year Elsie would record another version that contrasts greatly with the earlier one. Here, instead of a large band using an elaborate orchestration, we have a single pianist and Len Fillis on the steel guitar. The arrangement is basically that of the original sheet music, with the omission of the second verse and the addition of Elsie dreamily humming part of the melody and then proceeding to engage momentarily in what might almost be considered scat singing. As seems so often to be the case with meteorologically optimistic songs, the lyrics are upbeat but the rendering of the music is purely melancholy (compare some versions of “Blue Skies,” especially Al Bowlly’s 1927 version). Elsie’s subtle vocal flourishes make the recording a particularly touching part of her catalogue.

"The Clouds Will Soon Roll By" sheet music
“The Clouds Will Soon Roll By” sheet music

Photograph of “Grey clouds over Marwell Zoo” by Uli Harder.

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