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8.120601 - LYNN, Vera: The Early Years, Vol. 2 (1935-1942)

VERA LYNN "Yours Sincerely"

The Early Years, Vol.2: 1935-1942

There are certain artists in popular music history who are instantly recalled by particular songs … ("Swanee" conjures the image of Jolson, "Louise" reminds us of Chevalier and think of "The Blue Of The Night" and you are instantly reminded of the crooning Crosby, and so on). And although an artist with a list of hits to her credit far longer than even her fans probably realise, Vera Lynn’s first — and last — identifications in song will remain forever orientated to World War 2. Which explains why "Yours", "The White Cliffs Of Dover", "Wishing", "We’ll Meet Again" and It’s A Lovely Day Tomorrow are still among the most frequently requested songs made famous by a much-loved artist who, although now a hearty eighty-something, has never strictly "retired" from the public eye.

Born Vera Margaret Welch (her stage-name Lynn was actually her grandmother’s maiden-name) on 20th March, 1917, in East Ham in London’s East End, this most famous of wartime British vocalists was already singing in public from the age of seven. Her father and his family were active on the club circuit and there Vera’s youthful talent was honed and encouraged until 1928 when, aged eleven, she joined a juvenile dance troupe called Madame Harris’s Kracker Cabaret Kids. Vera remained with the troupe until 1932, when she took a job as vocalist with the local Howard Baker band. By 1934 already a well-known soloist in London circles, she secured a short-term contract with Billy Cotton and although her subsequent bid to join Henry Hall’s BBC Dance Orchestra proved unsuccessful, by 1935 she was broadcasting with Joe Loss (1909-1990) and had also made her first records (the very first anonymously, as an unnamed vocal refrainer) on Crown, a budget 9" diameter Crystallate subsidiary label on sale in Woolworth’s and Peacock’s stores. On some of her earliest solo recordings, including "When The Poppies Bloom Again" and No Regrets, Vera was accompanied on the organ by Arthur Young; on the novelty title The General’s Fast Asleep, she was backed by the band of Leamington Spa-born pianist Jay Wilbur (aka Wilbur Blinco, 1898-1969), dubbed ‘The Rhythm Rascals’.

In the late summer of 1935, by a fortuitous coincidence, an ad was placed for a female vocalist to broadcast with Charlie Kunz (1896-1958) and his Casani Club Orchestra and an apprehensive but eager Vera auditioned successfully for Santos Casani, the prestigious Regent Street club’s owner and his resident American bandleader. Vera broadcast with Kunz from the Casani and recorded a series of titles with the band on British Decca’s budget Rex label beginning, in October 1935, with "I’m In The Mood For Love" (the Fields & McHugh hit from the Paramount musical Every Night At Eight). She remained with Kunz until he temporarily disbanded in March 1937 and recorded several further sides, including When My Dream Boat Comes Home.

1937 also marked the start of Vera’s prolonged sojourn with Bert Ambrose (1897-1971), her first break with the band of the London-born violinist occurring on a Radio Luxembourg commercial for Lifebuoy Soap. After leaving Kunz she worked "live" and on records briefly during the year with other noted dance bands (one solitary December session for Maurice Winnick (1902-1962) produced only two titles - "So Many Memories", coupled with Roses In December, a Herb Magidson standard first aired in the RKO comedy Life Of The Party). However, from 1937 until 1941, her most frequent association on and off the records, apart from studio sessions with Arthur Young and his Novachord and small groups led by Annunzio Mantovani (1905-1980), was with the Ambrose orchestra. Indeed, it was through that organisation that she met, in 1939, Harry Lewis, the clarinettist and tenor-saxophonist who would become both her husband and manager.

In 1940 Vera Lynn made her West End debut in the wartime comedy Apple Sauce and, in respect of her sterling radio work during the blitz — and an extensive list of morale-boosting commercial recordings — was polled BBC/British Forces Expeditionary radio ‘Forces’ Sweetheart’. A stalwart performer for the troops, she later undertook tours under the auspices of ENSA, most notably to Burma, in 1944 and, albeit unversed either in acting or camera technique, she also made three more-than-passable flag-waving wartime films for Columbia British : We’ll Meet Again (1942 — inspired by her best-selling 1939 Ross Parker hit theme-tune, this included "All The World Sings A Lullaby" and the affecting I’m Yours Sincerely); Rhythm Serenade (1943) and One Exciting Night (1944).

Peter Dempsey, 2002


Digital transfers and restoration by Peter DempseY

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