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The Shellwood Series

PETER DICKINSON shares his enthusiasm for a new record label based on historical popular music

CD Review

<< Continued from yesterday 

Postman's Knock contains more Mayerl classics, such as Three Syncopated Rambles with its expansive middle piece called 'Printer's Devil', probably named after the London pub. This is one of a number of Mayerl pieces where he starts with a formal melody and later on swings it in his own way. Parkin's pacing in all these textures is precise in every detail (track 16). There are eleven more song-transcriptions on this CD, following Parkin's three CDs of them on Priory, and - as a novelty - thirteen of Mayerl's eighteen Studies. These were written for teaching purposes but once again Parkin leads the way and reveals them as the equivalent for syncopated piano of Bartok's Mikrokosmos. And he finishes with a swift 'Marigold' in authentic style.

Pastoral Sketches is the title of the collection with Peter Jacobs, another dedicated Mayerl peformer. It refers to a set of three pieces by Mayerl, which were published by Boosey and Hawkes in 1928. This was not his usual publisher, Keith Prowse, and the unsyncopated style is what Mayerl used for what he regarded as his more serious works. This is English pastoral with roots in Cyril Scott, Roger Quilter and John Ireland, the basis of a distinguished British light music tradition exemplified by Eric Coates. Rarities here are Mayerl's only two pieces for violin and piano - Blue Shadows and Caprinella - charmingly played by Philip Sanderson (tracks 7 and 11). Less impressive are piano versions of Mayerl's two most substantial orchestral pieces, Sennen Cove and The Forgotten Forest, which simply sound like transcriptions. There are more easy teaching pieces here too.

Step Lightly is the title of an anthology by Shirley van Loen and the Palm Court Strings, an ensemble keeping the period style alive and popular. The remaining Shellwood CDs are historical releases very well engineered from old 78s. The contribution of women to syncopated piano is at a high level with Raie da Costa and Patricia Rossborough. Both were classically trained, and it shows, but then - what a difference - Da Costa died at 29 after only six years of fame and Rossborough at 92 following a long retirement. Da Costa delivers popular songs, like Cole Porter's 'Night and Day' (track 7), defining her personality with tricky flourishes. She even sings, most charmingly, with Ray Noble and the New Mayfair Orchestra in 'True' (track 13).

Rossborough is just as polished but had much more time to become an established pesonality through music halls, broadcasts, films and over a hundred records. Both players lack the firm, rhythmic left hand which Mayerl insisted upon and derived so effectively from the ragtime tradition. Rossborough can turn a nifty 'Kitten on the Keys' (track 21), which everyone had to do; but is a bit too heavy in Bargy's 'Pianoflage'; and partners H. Robinson Cleaver (electronic organ) in some saccharine duets. Jack Wilson, the last of these authentic recordings, is actually still alive at nearly 92. He's represented entirely by medleys recorded from 1933-40, some played by the extremely popular Jack Wilson and his Versatile Five, which came top as the best light music ensemble in a 1938 Daily Express national poll. You can see why in their hectic treatment of Twelfth Street Rag (track 17). Wilson had a number of connections with Billy Mayerl, who wrote 'The Nimble Fingered Gentleman' for him, and he repays the compliment here by playing two medleys of Mayerl Melodies and two selections from one of his musicals, 'Over She Goes'.

All told it is fascinating to have these period recordings which have their own charm, and they throw Mayerl himself into sharper relief. He could play faster and lighter, invariably used less pedal to get a cleaner sound, and he played his own music inimitably. The Shellwood enterprise has already made a special contribution by reviving British music of this period in
outstandingly good transfers from 78s made by Philip Legg: long may it prosper.

Copyright © Peter Dickinson, September 5th 1999



A new record label based on historical popular music

Billy Mayerl Rediscoveries Vol.1. Alex Hassan (piano) 72'28" SWCD1
Mayerl transcriptions; Mayerl songs arr.Hassan; Carroll Gibbons medley; Lothar Perl piano syncopations.

Razor Blades. Erles Jones (piano) 62'10" SWCD2
Songs; Annie-Medley; Mayerl piano pieces.

Robots. Eric Parkin (piano) 71'48" SWCD3
Billy Mayerl : Six Pianolettes, Three Contrasts, In My Garden (Springtime and Wintertime), etc. Eric Parkin: Mayerl Shots Set 4.

Pastoral Sketches. Peter Jacobs (piano), Philip Sanderson (violin) 73'20" SWCD4
Billy Mayerl solos; Blue Shadows, Caprinella (violin &
piano); Six Miniatures; Pastoral Sketches etc.

Step Lightly. Shelley van Loen and the Palm Court Strings. 67'25" SWCD5

Billy Mayerl Rediscoveries Vol.2. Alex Hassan (piano) 71'06" SWCD6
Burton Lane Fantasy; Little Rascals Medley; Ivor Novello Medley; The London
Revue (Mayerl); Mayerl songs arr.Hassan.

Raie da Costa: the Parlophone Girl. Raie da Costa (piano and vocal),
Ray Noble and New Mayfair Orchestra etc. 71'42" SWCD8.


Billy Mayerl: Postman's Knock. Eric Parkin (piano) 68'20" SWCD9
Three Syncopated Rambles, 13 Studies, 11 transcriptions etc.


Jack Wilson: After all those Years. Jack Wilson (piano),
Jack Wilson and his Versatile Five. 71'12" SWCD14
Medleys including Mayerl Melodies, Over She Goes (Mayerl), 12th Street Rag, Dizzy Fingers Dizzy Keys etc.

To obtain details of the Billy Mayerl Society
or buy these CDs (£10.50 each inc.p.&p.) contact:

Shellwood Productions where music samples can be heard.

Shellwood Productions
Shellwood, St.Leonards Road,
Thames Ditton, Surrey, KT7 ORN
Telephone/Fax: +44 (0)208-873-1280.

Look out for new book:
Marigold: the Music of Billy Mayerl
(with a 65-minute CD of his playing) by
Peter Dickinson, Oxford University Press, out by November.

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