About this Recording
8.120654 - MAYERL, Billy: Billy Mayerl, Vol. 2 (1934-1946)


Original Recordings 1934-1946

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

By 1939, the school of music which he had founded with Geoffrey Clayton in 1926 had a total staff of 117 in branches all over the world and as Mayerl told the Radio Times in May of that year:  “We have taught over 30,000 people of whom 5,000 have become professionals”.  As a mark of his gratitude to the many thousands who had subscribed to his correspondence course, in 1935 he dedicated to the members of his club one of his most charming composi-tions, Mistletoe, which quotes a snatch of the seasonal 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 of Nimble-Fingered Gentleman. The joke of this piece lies in the fact that Jack hates scale passages … and it’s full of them!  One of the Mayerl School’s most thriving branches was in Stockholm, which led to the composer visiting Sweden in February 1938, to meet many of its members personally.  From a broadcast made during this visit he announces and plays Ace Of Hearts from the “Four Aces Suite” which, after “Marigold”, were probably his best sellers. 

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

It was during the run of Crazy Days that Mayerl recorded with the Shaftesbury Theatre Orchestra his Aquarium Suite, surely one of the finest of all his compositions.  Mayerl had already broadcast the work on 20th July 1937 and such was the subsequent 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 with him as a piano-harpsichord duet) works rather well, bearing out Mayerl’s claim that the harpsichord was well suited to his brand of syncopation.

If certain Mayerl titles appear occasionally to be more a pretext for their picturesque covers than a description of their actual musical content, 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 precisely what the title demands.  And from 1938 comes another of his delightful vignettes, The Parade Of The Sandwich-Board Men, coupled on the original disc with Mayerl’s whimsical and ingeniously original transcription of Phil The Fluter’s Ball, an old Irish ditty by Percy French, complete with a rhythmic vocal by Billy Scott-Coomber.  Also from 1938 comes Sweet William, one of his most instantly likeable pieces, although this is his later, WW2 recording of it made with his ‘Forte Fingers’, a rather neat gloss on the fact that he was backed by bass, drums and guitar.

The final show for which Mayerl wrote a complete score was Runaway Love which, after a provincial tour, opened at the Saville Theatre on 4th November 1939.  This time instead of the standard theatre orchestra, in the pit was Billy himself on a Novachord and a Challen Multitone Piano and four young ladies (Mary McEwan, Irene Ashton, Christina Nelson and Christine Grosvenor) on four more Multi-tones, a Heath Robinson arrangement which one contempo-rary critic described as “a contraption in which a kind of cinema organ presides over four other instruments of the piano-cum-mouth organ persuasion, the whole linked together by a series of harmonious plumbing”!  The results can be assessed on this selection featuring the original cast of the show which was a particular favourite of King George VI, who ordered a special Command performance of it at Windsor Castle early in 1940.

During 1940 Mayerl tried to enlist in the RAF but was rejected on grounds of health and age. Instead, he devoted himself to a punishing schedule of entertainment work for the duration of the war and two of his finest transcriptions, Fools Rush In and All The Things You Are, date from this time.  In 1942 and 1943 he made a series of ‘Forte Fingers’ recordings for Decca’s “Music While You Work” series, including one of his latest creations, Fireside Fusiliers, whose title was drawn from a speech by Winston Churchill (note the amusing quote from “Come To The Cookhouse Door”) and an old novelty favourite which he had first recorded in 1929, Sweet Nothings, by the American pianist-composer Milton J. Rettenberg.

By July 1944, Mayerl’s heavy workload, added to the strain of his having been in London during the worst of the air-raids, caused his physical collapse and nervous breakdown.  To help him recuperate the Mayerls moved to Bournemouth and, by early 1946, he had joined the BBC’s pool of talent known as the London Studio Players, whose members were the elite of the musical profession and expected to play anything at a moment’s notice.  It was in this year that he wrote his beautiful Resting, a song featured and recorded by Richard Tauber (1891-1948).  Apart from a highly successful tour of Australia and New Zealand shared with Stanley Holloway during 1949-1950, Mayerl would remain with the BBC until forced to retire, on health grounds, in 1956.

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

In a letter to Billy Mayerl dated January 1926, the virtuoso organist and composer Quentin Maclean wrote:  “… I venture to suggest that the time is not far distant when that body of opinion which affects to despise the dance, kinema (sic), and other branches of ‘applied music’ will be compelled to reconsider their present attitude, and to admit that, in the hands of capable exponents, these branches are in every sense worthy offshoots of a noble art.”  For over thirty years Billy Mayerl was, as these recordings testify, one of the most capable exponents of that noble art, but perhaps only now, more than forty years after his death, is the fact more generally appreciated.

Long may that appreciation continue.

Guy W.  Rowland, 2002

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