Mabel Wayne Articles

“Honey-Coloured Moon” (1935)

“Honey-Coloured Moon.”  Words by Desmond Carter, music by Mabel Wayne. Composed for the British film Music Hath Charms (1935). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment on November 29, 1935. Decca F. 5818 mx. GB7527-1.

Elsie Carlisle – "Honey-Coloured Moon" (1935)

Elsie Carlisle – “Honey-Coloured Moon” (1935)

“Honey-Coloured Moon” was introduced in the 1935 British film Music Hath Charms. This movie appears to have consisted primarily of vignettes loosely held together by the fact that the various characters all listen to the BBC Dance Orchestra. In one scene, a woman in a parlor room begins to sing “Honey-Coloured Moon,” but the action suddenly changes to a broadcast studio, where Henry Hall is directing his orchestra and American cabaret singer Hildegarde is doing the singing. There is a quick transition to a cruise ship as the band plays on, followed by a courtroom scene, where the judge, lawyers, and jury all seem to be taking a break from serious matters by listening to Hildegarde on the radio. When two people apparently opposed to one another in the lawsuit begin to spoon, the case is dismissed.

The words of “Honey-Coloured Moon” convey a recollection of the beginning of a romantic relationship with its attendant circumstances: sea and moonlight. Elsie Carlisle brings to this song a mellifluous vocal sweetness to match its entrancing lyrics. It is worth comparing this recording to other Mabel Wayne songs that Elsie recorded in 1934-1935 (“Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day”; “Who Made Little Boy Blue”; “His Majesty the Baby”). There is a similar sentimentality in all of these Wayne compositions that almost requires Elsie’s vocal style, insofar as she can deliver the tone of sincerity that makes listeners withhold judgment. With “Honey-Coloured Moon,” it is vital that the audience get honey and not treacle, and Elsie  delivers.

Other versions of “Honey-Coloured Moon” were recorded in Britain in 1935 by the BBC Dance Orchestra (under the musical direction of Henry Hall, with vocals by Hildegarde, in a Ben Frankel arrangement), Maurice Winnick and His Orchestra (with vocals by Sam Costa), Jay Wilbur and His Band (vocalist Gerry Fitzgerald), the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra (directed by Carroll Gibbons, with vocalist Brian Lawrance), Tommy Kinsman and His Band, Lou Preager and His Romano’s Restaurant Dance Orchestra (with singer Ronnie Hill), and Billy Cotton and His Band (with vocals by Alan Breeze).

“His Majesty the Baby” (two versions; 1935)

In his 1914 essay “On Narcissism,” Sigmund Freud wrote

The child shall have it better than his parents; he shall not be subject to the necessities that we have recognized as prevailing in life.  Sickness, death, renunciation of enjoyment, and restrictions on his own will shall not be valid for the child; the laws of nature, like those of society, shall come to a halt before him; he shall really be the center and heart of creation, His Majesty the Baby, as we once thought ourselves to be (emphasis mine).

Freud was writing in German, of course, but he wrote the expression “His Majesty the Baby” in English.  He appears to have been alluding to a late Victorian painting by Arthur Drummond in the Royal Academy:

"His Majesty the Baby" (1898)
“His Majesty the Baby” (1898)

One can see that, in Drummond’s painting, the whole world seems to wait upon the ermine-clad infant center-of-attention.  Of course, Freud uses the idea of “His Majesty the Baby” to refer to how the child sees things, not its parents — and he pulls in all sorts of notions about primary narcissism and auto-eroticism that need not concern us here.

In 1935, the phrase “His Majesty the Baby” resurfaces as the title of a slow foxtrot composed by American songwriters Neville Fleeson, Arthur Terker, and Mabel Wayne.  Elsie Carlisle sang other Mabel Wayne songs involving childhood themes; in 1934 she recorded two versions of “Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day” that were issued and two versions of “Who Made Little Boy Blue.”  “His Majesty the Baby” has lyrics describing a baby who seems regal, the object of constant awe.  It is clear that it is the feelings of the adults surrounding the child that are being discussed, however, and that the imperious attitudes attributed to him are a mere transference of his parents’ reverence for his cuteness.

“His Majesty the Baby.” Words by Neville Fleeson and Arthur Terker; music by Mabel Wayne (1935). Recorded by Ambrose and His Orchestra with vocals by Elsie Carlisle on January 11, 1935. Decca F. 5379.

Personnel: Bert Ambrose dir. Max Goldberg-t-mel / Harry Owen-t / Ted Heath-Tony Thorpe-tb / Danny Polo-Sid Phillips-Billy Amstell-reeds / Joe Jeannette-as / Ernie Lewis-Reg Pursglove-others?-vn / Bert Barnes-p / Joe Brannelly-g / Dick Ball-sb / Max Bacon-d

His Majesty The Baby. Ambrose & His Orchestra. 1935.

“His Majesty The Baby.” Ambrose & His Orchestra. 1935.

Video by 85scampi (YouTube)

The version of “His  Majesty the Baby” that Elsie Carlisle recorded with Ambrose and His Orchestra begins with a substantial instrumental introduction that seems stately enough.  Elsie’s concise delivery of the lyrics leaves no doubt that the worship being demanded for the infant child is somewhat tongue-in-cheek; the song plays on the attitude of fawning obedience that people adopt when around a beloved baby.

Several days later Elsie would record (again for Decca) a solo version of “His Majesty the Baby”:

“His Majesty the Baby.” Words by Neville Fleeson and Arthur Terker; music by Mabel Wayne (1935). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment on January 14, 1935. Decca F. 5380 mx. GB6876-2.

Elsie Carlisle – "His Majesty the Baby" (1935)

Elsie Carlisle – “His Majesty the Baby” (1935)

This second interpretation of the song has a competent orchestral accompaniment, but it is Elsie’s voice that is the focus through the entire song, and one must admit that the piece suffers, not so much from “baby talk,” but from an exaggerated dramatization of infant bedtime.

Other notable British recordings of “His Majesty the Baby” were made in January 1935 by Billy Merrin and His Commanders (with vocals by Billy Merrin), the BBC Dance Orchestra under Henry Hall (with vocalist Kitty Masters), the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra under Percival Mackey (Jack Plant, vocalist), Harry Roy and His Orchestra (with vocals by Ivor Moreton), twice by Jay Wilbur and His Band with Eve Becke, and by Lou Preager and His Romanos Restaurant Dance Orchestra (with vocalist Pat Hyde).  Phyllis Robins made a solo recording of the song that year.  The notable American recording is from July 1935 and is by Rudy Vallée and His Connecticut Yankees.

“Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day” (1934)

“Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day.”  Words by Maurice Sigler and Al Hoffman, music by Mabel Wayne.  Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment on May 18, 1934.  Decca F. 3990.

Elsie Carlisle – "Little Man, You've Had a Busy Day" (1934)

Elsie Carlisle – “Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day” (1934)

“Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day,” a 1934 hit that has seen revivals in every subsequent decade, is a lullaby both in theme and in mood and hence runs the risk of being hopelessly saccharine.  In spite of that basic handicap, the song met with truly excellent interpretations in its first year, no doubt because the tune is fundamentally quite beautiful and the lyrics pleasantly mesmerizing, as those of a lullaby should be.

Elsie Carlisle’s “solo” version of “Little Man” is quite complete in its lyrics and even includes some bedside chatter.  The version she was to do a month later with the Ambrose Orchestra (in which the band not surprisingly plays almost as sweetly as Elsie sings) is naturally more abbreviated and leaves open the possibility that she is cooing to a husband, but the earlier version really does seem directed to a child.  One might ask what the attraction of such a song would be to an adult audience, but admittedly there is something inherently attractive about the idea of being tucked into bed by Elsie Carlisle.  Out of a great many British versions of “Little Man” recorded in the middle of 1934, it would appear that Elsie’s versions were particularly successful.  A good indicator of that success would be the fact that it reappears in the 1937 “Carlisle Medley” (HMV BD 476), a sort of “best hits” compilation.

In America that year, “Little Man” was made popular by the Pickens Sisters, Isham Jones and His Orchestra (with vocals by Eddie Stone),  Connee Boswell, and Paul Robeson.  Interpretations by British orchestras include those by Roy Fox and His Band (with vocals by Denny Dennis, in a Jack Nathan arrangement; they would revisit the song later in the year in a “Fox Favourites” medley), Billy Cotton and His Band (with vocalist Alan Breeze), Ray Noble and His Orchestra (with Al Bowlly), Jack Payne and His Band (with Jack Payne providing the vocals), The Casani Club Orchestra (directed by Charlie Kunz, with vocalist Dawn Davis), Ambrose and His Orchestra (with Elsie Carlisle), The BBC Danc Orchestra (directed by Henry Hall, with vocals by Kitty Masters, in a Phil Cardew arrangement), Harry Leader and His Band (with Dawn Davis), and Eddie Wood and His Band.  Other British vocalists who recorded “Little Man” that year include Phyllis Robins, Gracie Fields, and Donald Peers.

Her Majesty the Baby

On April 15, 1896, Elsie Carlisle was baptized in the parish of St. James’, Collyhurst, in Greater Manchester. The parish registry gives the date of the baptism and lists her birth as having occurred earlier in the same year, on January 28. Her parents’ names were James and Mary Ellen. They lived at 7 Whitehead St., and her father was described as a greengrocer.

The baptismal font in use in St. James', Collyhurst in 1971
The baptismal font in use in St. James’, Collyhurst in 1971

And now, for a semi-topical musical interlude:

“His Majesty the Baby.” Music by Mabel Wayne, words by Neville Fleeson and Arthur Terker (1935). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with Ambrose and His Orchestra on January 11, 1935. Decca F. 5379.

His Majesty The Baby. Ambrose & His Orchestra. 1935.

His Majesty The Baby. Ambrose & His Orchestra. 1935.

Video by 85scampi (YouTube)

Elsie recorded the song again the next day without Ambrose. Other versions made the very same month were by Henry Hall, Billy Merrin, the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra, Lou Preager, Harry Roy, Jay Wilbur, and Eddie Wood.

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

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