Monday, 7 July 2014

Naughty (but very nice) -.Marie Lloyd - Queen of Vaudeville


It was November nineteen seventy eight when my Salvationist Mother came to call. My wife and I were living, in those days, in a two bedroom flat. The living room was painted in funky shades of brown and had a Pink Floydesque ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ design hand painted on the wall. I had recently purchased Ian Dury and the Blockheads ‘New Boots and Panties’ which, having finished the first side of my vinyl Long Player, I flipped over to listen to the second side and the now notorious ‘Plaistow Patricia.’ It was, and still is, a foul mouthed song about a foul mouthed woman who really did live in Plaistow. The opening lines gave me, my wife and my Mum a start: “Arseholes, bastards, fucking cunts and pricks.” My Mothers face could have curdled milk. I leaped from the sofa like a scalded cat pulling the needle clean across the disc. Of course, the point I am making is not purely one of my acute embarrassment but rather to highlight how that splendid fellow Ian Dury was influenced by an earlier age; that of the music hall.

The music hall played a vital part in entertaining Londoner's. Not only was it a good night spent listening to your favourite bawdy songs but you could get a half decent meal at the same time. Unlike the theatre which primarily existed then, as it does today, over in the West End, the musical hall was a more robust, rounded and working persons venu with halls scattered throughout the East End and beyond. It was a knees up and no mistake but it was much more than just that. It was a form of early variety the pre-dated that particular style long before it was seen on television  

It was a form of entertainment that would find little favour today. The bawdy nature of the songs sung by the likes of Marie Lloyd and the near the knuckle humour of Dan Leno would seem crude and unsophisticated to a modern audience but then again some sheep bleat louder than others. 

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In his novel, ‘Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem,’ Peter Ackroyd uses the name of a famed music hall artist, Dan Leno., one of many greats from that age. For me though it is Marie Lloyd who rings all the right bells.

Matilda Alice Victoria Wood was born in Hoxton, London on the 12th February eighteen seventy. Her dad, John Wood, was an artificial flower arranger (an odd profession to be sure) but also a part time waiter Marie's mum, Matilda Mary Caroline, was a dress and costume designer. The couple were fairly well to do with a large family of nine. Marie was the eldest and, one suspects, the jewel of her parents eye.  Her musical education came via her Fathers connection with the local public house, The Royal Eagle Tavern, and her mother's drive to see her eldest offspring achieve the fame and fortune she hadn't.. With her sisters she formed a vocal group called The Fairy Bell Minstrels. It was with the song “The Boy I Love is Up In the Gallery” that brought her success but it is her lewd, ribald songs and, by the standards of that era, shocking lyrics that people now remember her by.



Success came but slowly and when it arrived it was after a great deal of hard work.

In 1894, now aged twenty four, Marie hit the big time in America. Burlesque was at a high point and American working class people loved the saucy girl from London whose songs and act transferred well across the Atlantic. Such ribald entertainment was very much of a universal appeal even if accents and geographical differences existed when it came to  things risqué folks both sides of the pond were united in favour of them.

Today her songs seem tame but during the Edwardian period they were naughty, scandalous even and sent ripples of outrage throughout polite society. Marie never cared much for polite society so when castigated by the authorities simply used her nods and theatrical winks to good effect. The most famous, and my personal favourite, of her songs is: “She Sits Among the Cabbages and Peas.”

“Oh, she sits among the cabbages and peas

With her little dress away above her knees.

All the boys that pass her way

Stand and stare and wish that they

Were that pretty little peapot 'tween her knees.”


Her life, as so often is the case with the famous and talented, was anything but charmed. Her marriages and relationships were at best tempestuous, sometimes downright ill advised. She married three times and divorced twice. The men she chose to fall in love with often fell short of her expectations. Two of her husbands physically abused her. In some respects she seemed to tread a path that Norma Jean, Marilyn Munroe would later follow. There often seems a tragic link between successful women, love and the bad ass men they fall in love with.

A career such as Marie's didn't really allow for family and that may have played a part in her fractious relationships although she did give birth in 1888 to a baby girl, Marie Lloyd junior who lived until 1967.

Marie turned to drink toward the end of her career and it became increasingly difficult to get her to arrive on stage on time. She died on 4th October nineteen twenty two and was buried in Hampstead three days later. The fact her influence is still felt is testament enough to her legacy.

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Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

1 comment:

Vanessa V Kilmer said...

I love innuendo. I'm sure I would have liked her.