Saturday, July 25, 2009

Gramophone Societies in South London

Back in the early days of recorded music, gramophone societies sprang up around the country where people would gather to listen to records. Looking through the online archive of Gramophone magazine it is evident that there were several such groups locally - there was a South London Gramophone Society, a Brixton Gramophone Society (reported in April 1925 to be meeting at New Morris Hall, Bedford Road, Clapham) and a South East London Recorded Music Society covering the Lewisham/Brockley/New Cross/Peckham area.

The secretary of the latter in 1923 was Ernest Barer of 42, Chalsey Road, Brockley; in 1924, Edward C. Coxall of 128 Erlanger Road, New Cross; and in December 1932, R. J. Skan, 70 Chudleigh Road, Brockley, S.E.4.

In 1923 they were apparently holding concerts in Peckham Central Hall (43 Peckham High Street). They then seemed to have moved to Clock Tower Chambers, 73 High Street, Lewisham starting from January 1925 (see report here)

The music played at the South East London Recorded Music Society was mostly classical, with evenings devoted to, for instance, Wagner's ring, Vaughan Williams and Elgar. Sometimes though they let their hair down a bit, as shown in a report of their Christmas 1924 evening which mentioned 'amusing items... ra'ther undignified from the Society's point of view, but they were excusable because the members had gathered together on this one occasion of the year to be simply and easily entertained. They became for an hour or so very, very low-brows and enjoyed it. All of which goes to prove that those who can revel in and fully appreciate the masterpieces in symphony, the great world of chamber music and the music-dramas of Wagner can also descend through cheap, sugary Italian opera to the ballad and burlesque'.

As well as the records, the Society was also of course interested in the latest gramophone developments. A December 1924 report mentions a demonstration of a new model: 'It is not within our province to express any opinion on the new machine, and no doubt everyone at all interested will form or will have formed his own opinion. Let us just say that a full house was extremely interested, and everyone felt very grateful to Mr. Yeomans for coming such a long way on a horrible night to give us this demonstration—the first Society in the country to have such a demonstration. The Society is also indebted to Messrs. Robert Morley and Co., of 108, High Street, Lewisham, for so kindly lending the gramophone'. The Society also maintained its own record library.

There is also mention of an appearance at the New Cross Empire by Layton and Johnstone, an African American piano/singing double act who were popular in London in the 1920s. Gramophone reported in October 1928 that 'A Lewisham reader... states that a Deptford dealer made a display of Layton and Johnstone records when those artists were appearing at the New Cross Empire near by. "This rather shows that some gramophone dealers are waking up," he adds'.

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