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London Street Musicians Part 4
Posted on Jun 12, 2003 - 08:44 AM by Bill McCann

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 Campanologist, The Musical Glasses, The One Man Band and The Ballad Singer

The Street Campanologist
Perhaps the oldest, and least objectionable of the street musicians is the campanologist, or, as he styles himself, "The Royal Bell-Ringer." He makes a pitch in a quiet street or alley, and rigs up his ten bells on a tightened wire. With a short stick in each hand, he strikes his bells, and produces some pleasing melodies: the general favourites are "Home Sweet Home" and the "Blue Bells of Scotland"; and he generally concludes with a wedding peal. [Note 1]

Musical Glasses

Scarcely anyone can object to the performer on the musical glasses. His "instrument" is simple enough, consisting, as it does, of glass tumblers sufficient in number to represent about two octaves of notes. They are arranged on a light table in two rows, like a harmonicon. The pitch of the notes is regulated by the quantity of water put into each tumbler. One glass is reserved for lemon-juice and water, into which the performer now and then dips his fingers. The sound is produced by rubbing the wet fingers on the rim of the glasses, and some very pleasing music is the result. According to your nationality you can have "Home Sweet Home", "Ye Banks and Braes", "My Name's Edwards Morgan" or "The Banks of Allan Water".

London's famous One Man band
The "One Man band" is a well-known character. He began life with a Punch and Judy show, and then played the drum and pan-pipes. Being of an inventive turn of mind he added to his instruments the tambourine, triangle, and cymbals, which he played by leg movements. Then he added a concertina strapped to the left arm, a pair of clappers occupied his left hand, and with his right hand he played a hurdy-gurdy. The cap and jingling bells on his head completed "the band." All these instruments were carefully kept in tune with each other, and the performer produced some passable dance music of the country-fair type, while his boy took round the collecting shell. There are several similar performers about the country, but none with so many instruments.

Ballad Singer

The ballad singer seldom starts on his rounds before dusk, and he is careful to get a report whispered widely about that he is the "deputy leading tenor of the London Opera Company, and don't want to be seen by daylight, as it might injure his reputation." He is above being questioned, and tells you bluntly, "If you've got anything for the shell, why, shell it out; if not, shut up. I'll sing you your favourite song, but there's no time for gabbling." He has a powerful and fairly good voice, and knows how to use it. He occasionally says he has a cold and then he puts in an execrable deputy, which further exalts his own powers and himself in the opinion of his admirers. He sings the latest and most popular songs, and evidently pockets plenty of money, especially in the autumn at seaside places like Margate and Ramsgate.

1 [The theme song or leitmotiv from the opera Clari, The Maid of milan by Henry Bishop (1823). In 1829 he composed a sequel to Clari and called it Home Sweet Home . The tune is still very popular and both Nelli Melba and Joan Sutherland finished their farewell performances with it.] Back

The following looped links will allow you to scroll through the series.


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