Written by Lili la Scala

Arts

7 Wonders: The Great British Vintage Songbook

Lili La Scala has taken control of the Standard Issue playlist and she’s taking us back, way back.

George Formby entertains troops in the ruins of a village in Normandy during an ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association) tour, 30 July 1944.

George Formby entertains troops in Normandy in 1944.

I’ve loved vintage songs for as long as I can remember. It started with World War II and has sprawled from there, backwards through the 30s and 20s into the teens.

So, when asked to compile a list of my favourite songs, I absolutely panicked. How could I possibly choose? It’s like a labour of Hercules and I would hate to offend any of the songs I love so much by leaving them out. What if they storm out of my brain in a fit of pique and refuse to return, rendering me wordless next time I need to sing them?

So, I’ve settled on choosing some lesser-known gems with a broad spectrum of composers. Think of it as a vintage diving board, a leaping-off point into a world of unusual, and frankly excellent, old songs.

George Formby – Little Stick of Blackpool Rock

I have adored George for years. His songs are lyrically hilarious and utterly innuendo-laden. Even 70 years later, they don’t fail to make me chuckle.

His early act was a carbon copy of his late father’s but, in 1923, he made two career-changing decisions – he bought a uke, and married Beryl Ingham, under whose management his act was transformed into the smartly dressed, ukelele-wielding man we remember today.

It was so difficult to choose my favourite Formby song and I’m not entirely sure this is it; there were several vying for top spot. I also love The Lancashire Toreador.

Noel Coward – There are Bad Times Just Around the Corner

Never has a vintage song been so relevant, Noel Coward could have written this last week. Such a wordsmith we may never see again. Sharp-tongued and consonantly precise, Noel Coward is a delight. His sharp wit and almost exaggerated RP make his songs feel, in equal measure, old and new. It almost feels as though Coward is talking solely to you, a phone call from a different time, his style is so conversational and personal.

Ivor Novello – My Life Belongs to You

In the midst of a list of patter songs and laugh-a-minute oddities, I just had to include a song from my favourite composer of all time. Novello songs are like Disney songs to the max. He wrote glorious, luxurious, sweeping melodies absolutely ripe with 30s romanticism: think mellifluous strings and lyrical vocal lines.

For me, Novello is like eating all the cheese at Christmas. It’s rich and it’s indulgent but it’s the best thing in the world and you just can’t stop eating it up! To not mention his patter songs is to do him a disservice: And Her Mother Came Too is a delight.

Ivor Novello.

Ivor Novello.

Florence Desmond – The Deepest Shelter in Town

Who doesn’t love an innuendo-packed ditty? This is perfect, with some lovely WWII references all sung with panache by English comedian Florence Desmond. Smutty, sexy and vintage – it’s everything I love.

Noel Gay – I Took My Harp to a Party (sung by Gracie Fields)

The undisputed king of the music hall song, Gay wrote almost every song you think you know: Leaning on a Lamp-post, The Lambeth Walk, The Sun Has Got His Hat On. But this one is my favourite. It’s mainly my fave because it allows me to feasibly make this seven an eight!

Here it is sung by one of my favourite women of all time, Gracie Fields. She was a brilliant comedian and had a voice to match: her version of this song reaches almost tragicomedy levels of funny. Another of her songs that nearly made the list is Will You Love Me When I’m Mutton?, probably not one for those readers of a vegetarian disposition!

Al Bowlly – Guilty

Such an adorably elegant song and performer: Bowlly is widely recognised as the first ‘popstar’. His career was cut tragically short when he decided to return to London after a gig instead of staying in digs. As he entered his Duke Street flat he was hit by a German parachute mine. I could have picked any tune but I particularly love this one.

Harry Roy – My Girl’s Pussy

Finally for something that takes innuendo to delicious new heights. With delicious 30s swing and a set of lyrics to make your mum blush, this rather fabulous tune rounds out my seven top vintage tunes.

@lili_la_scala

 

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Written by Lili la Scala

Lili la Scala sings a bit, writes a bit and spends more time than is probably necessary discussing the toilet habits of her son. Bona fide vintage addict, though she is sure she sounds less tragic when described as a 'collector'.