MAYERL, Billy: Billy Mayerl, Vol. 2

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Original Recordings 1934-1946

In a broadcast he made during the 1930s, Sir Walford Daviesstated that his three favourite composers were:  Bach, Beethoven and Billy Mayerl.  That so eminent a composer and musician should say thisshows the high regard in which Mayerl was held at that period, undoubtedly themost successful of his career.  He was variously in demand as a pianist, composer, arranger andconductor of shows and the 1930s was the most prolifically productive decade ofhis life.

By 1939, the school of music which he had founded withGeoffrey Clayton in 1926 had a total staff of 117 in branches all over theworld and as Mayerl told the Radio Times in May of that year:  \We have taught over 30,000 people ofwhom 5,000 have become professionals". As a mark of his gratitude to the many thousands who had subscribed tohis correspondence course, in 1935 he dedicated to the members of his club oneof his most charming composi-tions, Mistletoe, which quotes a snatch of theseasonal Victorian ballad "The Mistletoe Bough".  My own copy of this piece was given to me by Jack Wilson(born 1907), a superb player of Mayerl and the much admired dedicatee ofNimble-Fingered Gentleman. The joke of this piece lies in the fact that Jackhates scale passages ... and it's full of them!  One of the Mayerl School's most thriving branches was inStockholm, which led to the composer visiting Sweden in February 1938, to meetmany of its members personally. From a broadcast made during this visit he announces and plays Ace OfHearts from the "Four Aces Suite" which, after "Marigold", were probably hisbest sellers. 

This second volume opens with a sketch from Mayerl'sfavourite among his own shows, Over She Goes.  Written in 1936 for Stanley Lupino (1893-1942) and LaddieCliff (1891-1937), this ran for 248 performances in London's West End and wasalso made into a film which still causes hilarity with the inspired clowning ofits two stars, of which Side By Side is an excellent example.  This is followed by Mayerl's own pianomedley which includes the show's hit-song I Breathe On Windows.  The following year Mayerl composedCrazy Days for the same duo, but sadly Laddie Cliff was taken ill just beforethis show opened for its try-out in Streatham and died shortly afterwards.  This was probably the reason for itsrelatively short run but nonetheless, as this piano selection shows, it had oneof his most tuneful scores.

It was during the run of Crazy Days that Mayerl recordedwith the Shaftesbury Theatre Orchestra his Aquarium Suite, surely one of thefinest of all his compositions. Mayerl had already broadcast the work on 20th July 1937 and such was thesubsequent demand for the sheet-music that his publishers Keith, Prowse &Co. brought forward its release date by a month!  Among Mayerl's other popular works, Bats In The Belfry,based on a theme by BBC broad-caster Austen Croom-Johnson (and recorded withhim as a piano-harpsichord duet) works rather well, bearing out Mayerl's claimthat the harpsichord was well suited to his brand of syncopation.

If certain Mayerl titles appear occasionally to be more apretext for their picturesque covers than a description of their actual musicalcontent, that certainly could not be said of Hop O' My Thumb, the second of his"Two Stepping Tones", the playing of which requires the pianist to do preciselywhat the title demands.  And from1938 comes another of his delightful vignettes, The Parade Of TheSandwich-Board Men, coupled on the original disc with Mayerl's whimsical and ingeniouslyoriginal transcription of Phil The Fluter's Ball, an old Irish ditty by PercyFrench, complete with a rhythmic vocal by Billy Scott-Coomber.  Also from 1938 comes Sweet William, oneof his most instantly likeable pieces, although this is his later, WW2recording of it made with his 'Forte Fingers', a rather neat gloss on the factthat he was backed by bass, drums and guitar.

The final show for which Mayerl wrote a complete score wasRunaway Love which, after a provincial tour, opened at the Saville Theatre on4th November 1939.  This time insteadof the standard theatre orchestra, in the pit was Billy himself on a Novachordand a Challen Multitone Piano and four young ladies (Mary McEwan, Irene Ashton,Christina Nelson and Christine Grosvenor) on four more Multi-tones, a HeathRobinson arrangement which one contempo-rary critic described as "a contraptionin which a kind of cinema organ presides over four other instruments of thepiano-cum-mouth organ persuasion, the whole linked together by a series ofharmonious plumbing"!  The resultscan be assessed on this selection featuring the original cast of the show whichwas a particular favourite of King George VI, who ordered a special Commandperformance of it at Windsor Castle early in 1940.

During 1940 Mayerl tried to enlist in the RAF but was rejectedon grounds of health and age. Instead, he devoted himself to a punishingschedule of entertainment work for the duration of the war and two of hisfinest transcriptions, Fools Rush In and All The Things You Are, date from thistime.  In 1942 and 1943 he made aseries of 'Forte Fingers' recordings for Decca's "Music While You Work" series,including one of his latest creations, Fireside Fusiliers, whose title wasdrawn from a speech by Winston Churchill (note the amusing quote from "Come ToThe Cookhouse Door") and an old novelty favourite which he had first recordedin 1929, Sweet Nothings, by the American pianist-composer Milton J. Rettenberg.

By July 1944, Mayerl's heavy workload, added to the strainof his having been in London during the worst of the air-raids, caused hisphysical collapse and nervous breakdown. To help him recuperate the Mayerls moved to Bournemouth and, by early1946, he had joined the BBC's pool of talent known as the London StudioPlayers, whose members were the elite of the musical profession and expected toplay anything at a moment's notice. It was in this year that he wrote his beautiful Resting, a song featuredand recorded by Richard Tauber (1891-1948).  Apart from a highly successful tour of Australia and NewZealand shared with Stanley Holloway during 1949-1950, Mayerl would remain withthe BBC until forced to retire, on health grounds, in 1956.

Billy Mayerl spent the last three years of his life writingmusic and fighting a valiant rearguard action against declining standards onthe musical scene.  He died aged 56years on 26March 1959 at his home 'Marigold Lodge', Pyebush Lane, Beaconsfield.

In a letter to Billy Mayerl dated January 1926, the virtuosoorganist and composer Quentin Maclean wrote:  "... I venture to suggest that the time is not far distantwhen that body of opinion which affects to despise the dance, kinema (sic), andother branches of 'applied music' will be compelled to reconsider their presentattitude, and to admit that, in the hands of capable exponents, these branchesare in every sense worthy offshoots of a noble art."  For over thirty years Billy Mayerl was, as these recordingstestify, one of the most capable exponents of that noble art, but perhaps onlynow, more than forty years after his death, is the fact more generallyappreciated.

Long may that appreciation continue.

Guy W.  Rowland,2002

Disc: 1
Fireside Fusiliers
1 Over She Goes: Side By Side
2 Intro-County Wedding-The Dance Goes On-I Breathe O
3 Four Aces Suite: Ace of Hearts
4 Bats in the Belfry
5 Nimble-Fingered Gentleman
6 Mistletoe
7 Intro-Stranger In A Teacup-Nice People-You're Not
8 Aquarium Suite: Willow Moss
9 Aquarium Suite: Moorish Idol
10 Aquarium Suite: Fantail
11 Aquarium Suite: Whirligig
12 Orange Blossom (A Syncopated Expression)
13 Parade of the Sandwich-Board Men
14 Phil the Fluter's Ball
15 Two Hearts in Harmony - We Can't Do the Things We
16 Stepping Tones Suite: Hop-O'-My-Thumb
17 Fools Rush In
18 All the Things You Are
19 Sweet Nothings
20 Sweet William
21 Resting
22 Fireside Fusiliers
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