The Strand Magazine was first published in 1891 and survived until after the Second World War. It published a mixture of fiction and factual studies of contemporary life. This series of five articles presents its summary of the musicians one might find on the streets of London in the 1890s. The additional notes are by Bill McCann.
The German Bands, The Petticoat Quartette and The Black and White Minstrels
A German Band - and Dogs
Our German friends, who have so considerately left their "Happy Fatherland" to test the English taste for music, are happily getting less numerous every year, but there are still a few left - some tolerable, some otherwise. They are brought over from the agricultural parts of Germany by an enterprising bandmaster, who gives them four shillings a week, pays their fares, provides instruments, uniforms, board and lodging, and teaches them to play some instrument. Their pay increases according to the progress they make. Fulham is their headquarters and Sunday their practice day. The novices begin playing in the northern and eastern suburbs of London and, as they improve, they are promoted to the south-west and west. A guide goes with them and he does the collecting. Denmark Hill being a favourite residential locality for well-to-do Germans the best bands generally work - or rather play -that way.
Dogs, especially singing dogs, take great delight in German bands, and may often be seen, with their noses skyward, lifting up their voices in grand chorus, and are no doubt supremely disgusted that their efforts to increase the harmony are not appreciated by the bandsmen.
Four "sisters" The Petticoat Quartette comprises four girls, supposed to be sisters. Bu they are none of them communicative, and the answer of the eldest one to our first question was somewhat startling: "Ask my Pa," said the lady, to the innocent question, "Are you all sisters?" Where they picked up their playing powers, what they earn, and other cognate inquiries were answered by the equivalent of "What's that to you?" They appear to have been pestered a good deal with proposals from trousered street musicians, to join their band; as the eldest said emphatically, "We don't want no professional help from nobody." This reply and an injunction from one of the crowd to "Let the gals alone," checked further inquiries.
With regard to the Black Minstrels there is nothing new to be said, and it has not yet been discovered why the singing of men with blackened hands and faces is liked, when the playing and singing of the same men with uncoloured skin would not be tolerated.[Note 1] Blacks - real Blacks - never could either sing or play, but our "Black Minstrels" can do both.
Some street musicians at this time of the year - happily only a few - make a little overtime as waits and keep us in mind of "The Mistletoe Bough".
Victorian Black and White Minstrels
The following looped links will allow you to scroll through the series.
NOTES:1 The original text uses a term here which modern readers may find offensive. It has been replaced by the word "Black".Back