“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)
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”:
“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)
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).
“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)
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.
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.