Saturday, 13 April 2013

All aboard the song train

The starting of a new job seems to have coincided with a bit of a downturn in vintage news (not to mention my third cold in as many months!) - hence I have been absent from the blogging circuit for nearly two weeks, for which I must continue to crave forgiveness!  I still haven't forgotten about you all though (I read all your posts of an evening, or at the weekend, as something very much to look forward to) nor this blog of mine.

Sitting on the train during the commute into work I often find myself thinking of potential subjects for this site and, while listening to my portable i-gramophone last week, it occurred to me that the very mode of transportation I was using - and the music I had playing - would make an excellent topic.



The railway train has always had an instantly recognisable rhythm and one that naturally lends itself to a musical beat.  There have been countless songs over the years featuring trains and rail travel to some extent or another but it is the half-a-dozen or so favourites in my music collection that I intend to focus on here.

The first song, Choo-Choo, neatly sums up the steam train in typical Thirties onomatopoeic style and is wonderfully redolent of period rail travel.  Written and recorded by American bandleader Frankie Trumbauer in 1930, it was almost immediately cut by a multitude of other bands on both sides of the Atlantic.  While the original Trumbauer recording is excellent, my favourite from the U.S. is Paul Whiteman's version, above, made in the same year.



In the U.K. the two Jacks - Jack Payne and Jack Hylton - both recorded versions of Choo-Choo a year later in 1931 and again, while Jack Payne's version is wonderful, Hylton's arrangement just shades it for me.



Arguably a more famous "Choo-Choo" is Glenn Miller's brilliant 1941 record - Chattanooga Choo-Choo, a song that instantly conjures up images of transcontinental railway journeys in the 1940s and '50s.



A year or two earlier Glenn Miller had had similar success, reaching number 1 on the U.S. Billboard chart with another train-themed number - Tuxedo Junction.  The song had actually been written in 1939 by American bandleader Erskine Hawkins and while his original version made it to number 7 in the charts it remains less well-known today than the classic Miller arrangement.



Another railway tune that has become inextricably linked to its [co-]composer - so much so that it is invariably called his "signature song" and found in every compilation of his music - is Duke Ellington's Take The 'A' Train.  It is a reputation that it thoroughly deserves, being one of the defining examples of 1940s big band music never mind rail-based songs.



One of my very favourite "songs of the track", though, is this one - Honky-Tonk Train Blues.  Although written and first recorded as long ago as 1927 by the noted early boogie-woogie pianist Meade Lux Lewis, this 1938 arrangement by Bob Crosby (Bing's brother) with Bob Zurke on the piano really rolls along splendidly.

For me all of these help rekindle some of the fun and romance that seems to have been lost from modern train travel, as I commute to and from work in a characterless and brightly-coloured plastic tube.  Sometimes I can even imagine seeing something steaming past the station platform, or pulling the far more luxurious carriage I picture myself travelling in... porter! My case please!

Monday, 1 April 2013

Retired detective starts club for fans of the bow tie

Retired detective starts club for fans of the bow tie

I was in two minds about posting this story when I first read it on a local news site a few months ago, partly because like so much regional journalism it was rather badly written (so people didn't wear bow ties before the 1960s, then, for example?!) and partly because it propagates the age-old cliché of painting anything or anyone who chooses to deviate even slightly from "society's norms" as odd and "eccentric".

Dr Who's Matt Smith gets Bow Tie Society invitation

But then just today the B.B.C. covered the same story (hopefully they don't think it's an April Fools' joke!) tying it in (no pun intended!), of course, with the latest Doctor Who who has - very welcomely, I might add - been acting as something of a "poster boy" for the resurgence of the bow tie in the public's consciousness (beyond its continued prevalence at formal dinner engagements) since his first appearance in 2010.  Bow ties are indeed very cool!  (Although I must point out that while in early outings of the current Doctor it appeared that he was utilising a proper self-tie bow, in later episodes it seemed quite evident that pre-tied versions were being used (!) - and if I'm not much mistaken most recently... one of a clip-on variety!  Still at least he is popularising them in one form or another, as well as braces - although there again ideally they would also be button-on rather than clips - plus to a lesser extent the noble fez.  Let's not forget that he has done wonders for the Harris Tweed market too.)

Anything that helps the cause of the bow tie is aces in my book, however, and I'm delighted to see a local group springing up to celebrate this often-overlooked item of neckwear.  Maybe when my collection numbers more than one or two I may  just look in to joining myself!

By far and away one of the best sources on the interweb for quality (i.e. self-tied, sensibly patterned, silk/cotton) bow ties at reasonable prices, Tom Sawyer Waistcoats will be my first port of call for when I can start filling out my bow tie drawer.  Two examples that have caught my eye include:



Navy with multicoloured squares self-tie silk bow tie,
£14.99 [+£4.25 p&p] @ Tom Sawyer Waistcoats

Blue paisley self-tie cotton bow tie,
£19.99 [+£4.25 UK p&p] @ Tom Sawyer Waistcoats

Elsewhere Charles Tyrwhitt do a particularly jolly gingham number, proving that that pattern is not just for the ladies(!):

Royal and white cotton gingham check bow tie,
£24.95 (reduced from £50) [+ £4.95 UK p&p] @ Charles Tyrwhitt

The articles rightly mention other famous bow tie wearers past and present, the latter of whom it is hoped will grace this new club with their membership.  To finish off this post, here are some more famous people both real and fictional who have sported bow ties:


Probably the most famous [fictional] bow tie-wearing detective, Hercule Poirot needs no introduction here!



While one half of Agatha Christie's sleuthing duo Tommy & Tuppence, Tommy Beresford is often seen (in the 1980s ITV series, at any rate) sporting a bow tie.


In that other master of mystery and suspense Alfred Hitchcock's seminal work The Lady Vanishes, male characters also wear that particular style of neckwear - often while fighting off evil foreign types.  Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) and Charters (Basil Radford) (the latter of whom, along with Caldicott - Naunton Wayne in the 1938 film - were criminally left out of the B.B.C.'s recent adaptation) in particular:



Noted British political broadcaster and commentator Robin Day was well known as much for his bow tie as for his strong interviewing style during the thirty-odd years that he was a television journalist from the 1950s to the 1980s:

Source: theredlist.fr via Livia on Pinterest


Finally, British racing driver Mike Hawthorn (below right) famously wore a bow tie even while racing in Grands Prix and at Le Mans in the 1950s earning him the nickname "Le Papillion" in the French press.  Flamboyant and fun-loving, he won the Formula One Championship in 1958 but was tragically killed less than a year later in a traffic accident.



These then are just some of the many champions of the bow tie who are known to me and I hope you've enjoyed reading a little about them.  Do you like to see a chap wearing this other type of necktie and who are your favourite bow tie wearers?

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