Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Harry Weldon

Lowry refers to Harry Weldon in his novel Ultramarine; "My missus’s tightly bound, she’s all tightly bound. Harry Weldon in 1925 singing that at the Derby Castle, Douglas, his audience bringing him back for his curtain over and over again." (Pg. 116).

The above song is an unidentified one performed by Harry Weldon at the Derby Castle theatre in Douglas on the Isle of Man. This reference probably relates to a Lowry family holiday made in 1923 to the island.

Harry Weldon was a big star in music hall and variety, and first appeared in London in 1900, coining the catchphrase ‘S’No Use!’ and creating a popular song from it. Weldon initially rose to fame as a member of Fred Karno’s company when he played opposite Charlie Chaplin in the sketch ‘The Football Match’. Weldon then used the character of Stiffy, the goalkeeper, as the mainstay of his solo act, and developed other characters, including his boxing skit ‘The White Hope’ Apparently he cut a very strange figure with his centre-parted wig, eccentric clothes, eyes that always seemed to be shut and a voice of whistling sibilance. He had a unique style, and frequently used the conductor of the orchestra as an extra part in his performance. Harry Weldon’s conversational style and his use of the absurd may have appealed to the young Lowry. He worked until he died in 1930 aged 49. Read more

Lowry’s early letters have several references to music hall stars such as Stanley Lupino and Milton Hayes. We can only presume from the detail of the letters that Lowry was aware of these stars because he had seen them either on trips to local theatres or when he was on holiday on the Isle of Man or in Devon. He mentions in his works several local theatres with music hall traditions, including the Argyle and Hippodrome theatres in Birkenhead and the Olympia in Liverpool.

The use of these popular musical references demonstrates Lowry’s awareness of the music hall tradition. He uses them to underpin the authenticity of the ‘working-class’ roots of the sailors’ language in the Ultramarine, though they are often based on his own experiences. Commentators on Lowry have often overstated his middle-class origins, forgetting that his parents’ and brothers’ tastes were ‘lowbrow’, an indication of the family’s working-class roots on Merseyside. Lowry may have been an ‘outsider’ on board the Pyrrhus, undergoing an awkward transition from public schoolboy to university student. However, on his nights out with Janet to the cinema and the theatre he had enjoyed the same forms of popular entertainment familiar to the rest of the crew.

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