George Grossmith was born into a theatrical family in Islington, London in 1847. Like his father (also called George), he spent time early in his career as a courtroom journalist. However, he made his early fame performing humorous recitals, where he would sing songs of both his own and his father’s composition. Father and son made their debut as a double act in 1873 at the Masonic Hall, Birmingham.
During his lifetime, George Grossmith had at least two major claims to fame – first, he created and performed the chief comedy parts in most of the Gilbert & Sullivan operas; – second, he was joint author with his brother Weedon, of the best-selling Victorian novel, The Diary of a Nobody. He was also author of two other books, eighteen operettas, 100 musical sketches, and 600 piano pieces!
However, it is his comic songs that we are concerned with here. The Divine Art Record Company, in association with the Sir Arthur Sullivan Society, has selected a range of songs from George Grossmith’s vast output for their latest release, The Grossmith Legacy. The material on this CD spans George Grossmith’s output from 1870 to 1895 with songs composed by George, some with his father, or in collaboration with others.
If you like Gilbert & Sullivan, then I am sure you will enjoy this CD (It also contains a few G & S numbers). The songs range from the lively and saucy, such as The Gay Photographer, to songs based on everyday events – I am so Volatile, for instance. There are the humorous, jolly and the very droll and innocent songs, for example, a railway worker in The Muddle-Puddle Porter doubles as a waiter, and consequently mixes up his station announcements. It is beyond the scope of this review to review all the songs that Leon Berger and Selwyn Tillett have recorded, but anyone with the slightest sense of humour will find much here to enjoy. Thanks to Leon Berger’s superb diction, every word comes across clearly and he does a wonderful job of infusing great personality into these songs. Selwyn Tillett accompanies on the piano with both sensitivity and virtuosity. The songs were recorded during 1995/6 at St Mary’s Rectory, Beddington, Surrey.
We don’t know what George Grossmith sounded like, but we may get an idea from the two vintage tracks included on this CD. Recorded by George Grossmith’s son (yes, you guessed it – also named George) in ca. 1909, they reveal a real sense of fun and energy. The songs are Bertie the Bounder and Yip-I-Addy-I-Ay from the show Our Miss Gibbs.
To me, these songs take you back to the Victorian world of gas lamps, hansom cabs, railway carriages and the homeliness of drawing rooms. Very nostalgic and enjoyable – go and buy this wonderful CD.
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