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Family Business

On a closing note, you were talking the other night about how, because you sing these English traditional songs, people assume that's all you're interested in.

B.C. Yes, good Lord! I think really you just like music, don't you? Now, I'm feeling my way into classical music, Haydn, Beethoven, whatever. But I remember back in the '30s, on the radio, the occasional programme of "field recordings". I think some were by Lomax; I didn't think I'd meet Alan one day. There were these negroes singing music I'd never heard before. Then I came across a record of Sleepy John Estes in a second-hand shop, about '32 or '33 - Drop Down Mama and Married Woman Blues - I played it until it wore clean through. All my contemporaries just said "what's that bloody row, then?" Ron would be absolutely puzzled at what I could see in it.

And then there were the Mills Brothers. Oh, absolutely! I was working in Holborn when they came over in the '30s. They were at the Holborn Empire and I went every bloody night! It cost me one-and-six every night to go there. And before that when I was labouring on the sea defence and Louis Amstrong was over, about '33, I packed up early and went up all by myself on the train and saw him there - I was about the only white face there. I loved that stuff. The Mills Brothers arrangements were wonderful - I was a real fan and knew every one of their records backwards.

And then Billie Holiday with Teddy Wilson, and Crosby of course - I was right in early on Crosby.

Would you have ever included any of the songs in the family singarounds?

B.C. Well, I have the answer ready for you. My father used to hear my records being played on an old portable, and he incuded at least two in his songbook - That's My Home, which was Armstrong, and Old Rocking Chair's Got Me which was the Mills Brothers. He'd be out there in the woodshed singing "Ol' rockin' chair's got me..." He sang it like Jim Copper! But when Frank Collinson went down to see them, he quickly turned over all those!


This feature first appeared in issue 20 of The Southern Rag (the original title of fRoots) in April 1984.

 

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