“I’m very pleased to be back on the wireless with another selection of the finest vintage recordings. Tragically the music of my youth is rapidly moving towards the periphery of living memory, but these songs from my past and a few from the era preceding my birth are undeserving of oblivion. Throughout this four-part series, I hope to give the songs and melodies of the first half of the twentieth century a new audience, who I hope will listening to them with pleasure, wonder and astonishment. These tunes offer many important musical lessons for life. Personally, I find listening to them more beneficial than drinking a kale and wheatgrass smoothie or visiting any so-called therapist.”
This is the second series of ‘Barry’s Forgotten Musical Masterpieces’, the first was named by The Telegraph as one of the top cultural highlights of 2016. Also, Antonia Quirke in the New Statesman descried it as, “the best Radio 2 music series in the month or any for as long as I can remember.”
Barry says: “I wonder where Dame Edna is at the moment. Is she by any chance going to be listening to this series? To be sitting in some luxurious resort tapping her Jimi Choo to the music? I hope she’ll be listening”.
Programme 1 overview – TX 2nd January 2018 at 10pm, BBC Radio 2:
Through his unique commentary, Barry demonstrates the songs of the past are still relevant today and offer important musical lessons for life! Each track offers fascinating (and sometimes astounding!) snapshots of social history. Highlights include: ‘My Wife’s On a Diet’ performed by Jack Hylton and His Band with a vocal by Leslie Sarony and refers to Philip Snowden (who was Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1929 during the Wall Street Crash), Rudy Vallee’s atmospheric 1931 version of ‘Brother Can You Spare a Dime?’ is a moving tale of an American ex-solider down on his luck during the Depression, Beryl Davis with Geraldo and His Orchestra perform ‘I’m Old Fashioned’, Layton and Johnstone’s ‘I’m in the Market for You’ is packed-full of economic analogies and Dick Bentley’s song ‘Are You Having Fun?’ poses a question which is as important today as when it was written nearly 80 years ago! Also, the American Tenor Billy Murray’s 1920 recording of ‘I’ll See You in Cuba’ is a musical time capsule. In prohibition era America, it encouraged Americas to meet up in Cuba for an alcoholic drink…
Programme 2 overview – TX 9th January 2018 at 10pm, BBC Radio 2:
In this programme, Barry celebrates the age of the wireless and the birth of the Disc Jockey. Christopher Stone was the first British DJ and the job title was inspired by American gossip columnist Walter Winchell, who is name-checked in the legendary song ‘The Lady is a Tramp’. Barry also plays Noel Coward’s ground-breaking 1932 recording of ‘Mad About the Boy’, which was kept under-wraps until relatively recently because record producers were concerned it could provoke a moral backlash. Jack Hylton and His Band perform ‘Amy Wonderful Amy’ written in honour of aviatrix Amy Johnson’s record-breaking flight from Britain to Australia in 1930…
“The musicians, singers and comedians I heard every day performing on my parents’ radio gave me such a feeling of warmth that even today, when I’m in the most unwelcoming hotel rooms or dressing rooms, certain tunes can instantly restore my equilibrium and facilitate a kind of home away from home.”
“Christopher Stone’s relaxed, conversational style was exceptional at a time when most BBC presentation was extremely formal, although he still always wore a dinner jacket and bow tie whenever he was on the air.”
Programme 3 overview – TX 16th January at 10pm, BBC Radio 2.
In this third programme, Barry recalls his early trips to the cinema in Melbourne with his Aunty Irene and how as a child he hoped to grow up to be a magician one day.
“When I was a child growing up in Melbourne in the Australian State of Victoria in the 1930s and 40s, going to the cinema was a very special occasion. We used to go to matinees at the Riverly, Camberwell, which was our local cinema, or the Regal, Hartwell. They sound so English, don’t they? I loved it and I looked forward to these cinematic events with tremendous excitement. The curtains would rise and fall and close and open inexplicitly, and as I gazed upon the figures on the big screen, I had no idea then that I would one day also be an actor. Of course, not one of those magnificent black and white actors that I saw on the screen. Acting was not something anyway that I envisaged for myself as a potential future career. As a child, I hoped I’d become a magician. There’s a very early home movie of me performing some of my magic tricks in front of an enraptured group of my sister’s friends. All lovely girls and now lovelier old ladies. Of course, nothing I did worked. I was kind of really an early Tommy Cooper. I was a master of the failed trick. The egg that I made vanish turned up broken on the lawn. That sort of thing. There was a comic strip in the Woman’s Weekly called ‘Mandrake’. It was about a man in evening dress with a little moustache and he could make his enemies disappear and that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to have the ability to make people disappear and quite a few boys at my school – bullies – wondered why I was gesturing at them hypnotically. They did, I might add, refuse to vanish.”
Programme 4 overview – TX 23rd January at 10pm, BBC Radio 2:
In this final programme, Barry celebrates the music the Nazis said was bad. It includes details on the history of Barry’s favourite group ‘The Comedian Harmonists’. When the Nazis came to power the group was banned because it had three Jewish members and sang mostly American or American-influenced music. Those members who fled to Austria re-named the group ‘The Comedy Harmonists’ before being forced again to flee when Austria became part of the Third Reich. The non-Jewish members of the group stayed in Germany and became ‘Das Meistersextet’. Barry also plays ‘So Blue’ by the American vocal harmony group ‘The Revelers’ which inspired Harry Frommermann to form ‘The Comedian Harmonists’ in Berlin.
Another highlight of this final programme in Barry’s series of forgotten music for BBC Radio 2 is a radio performance by George Gershwin, one of Barry’s all-time favourite composers. George Gershwin died unexpectedly in July 1937, when he was just 38 years old of a brain tumour.