In 1946 Hugh Wade found himself with a hit on his hands. The tune was “Let It Be Soon (in the Sweet Bye and Bye)”. The music was Hugh’s and Dick Hurran provided the lyrics. Melody Maker ranked the tune as the 27th best-selling title of the year and it was on the charts for 14 weeks. As the song was only released in the latter half of the year this, in modern terms, means it was a top ten title and, possibly, at one point, the best-selling song of the week. Charts were relatively new and still (until 1950) based on sales of sheet music.
Increasingly though, records and airplay were becoming what mattered. Several leading acts of the day recorded versions. The earliest appears to be
Victor Silvester and his Ballroom Orchestra Aug-46 (Columbia FB3232)
This was, I presume, an instrumental version as there is no record that Silvester ever used vocalists. Silvester was the king of “strict-tempo” and in a very long career his instructional books (he had been a champion dancer in the 1920s) and phenomenal record sales (estimated at 75 million) pretty well shaped the whole “ballroom dancing” world. Although considered very “corny” by my generation, he used some of the best dance-band musicians and was in his own way a truly innovative figure. He used an unusual two-piano line up and “strict-tempo” is really the equivalent of BPM and hence, arguably, the original Disco sound – everything subsumed to the needs of the dancers. This, not unlike Disco, tended towards uniformity and eventually became somewhat anodyne and formulaic (“Slow, Slow Quick, Quick, Slow”). The public however could not get enough.
Then we get
Tessie O’Shea Sep-46 (Columbia DB2232)
Something of an “acquired” taste, O’Shea, who had begun as a Sophie Tucker copyist, was a top of the bill act in Blackpool and at the London Palladium and was later very successful in America. She was also a featured vocalist with Jack Hylton. She has some claim to be the last great “Music Hall” artist and certainly played up to that image on television and in the theatre. Americans thought of her as the epitome of Cockney cheerfulness – she was in fact born in Cardiff to Irish and Jewish/Italian parents.
It would appear that her take on”Let It Be Soon” is what would now be considered a B Side, but this distinction was rarely made in the 1940s. Of the disc, Gramophone had this to say,
“Tessie O’Shea, who has given us so many happy hours in the radio programme, “Music Hall,” has recorded The ‘Ampstead Way from the new film “London Town,” and from all appearances this number has all the makings of another “Lambeth Walk.” It only needs someone to devise a special dance to fit the tune and =this when we see the film, we shall find that this has, in fact, been done. The coupling, Let it be Soon, is sung in the style which she has made so popular over the air, that is to say, a couple of vocal choruses and then a banjolele solo backed up by the orchestra—all very pleasing (Columbia DB2232).”
The CD compilation “Britain’s First Number Ones” (taken from Radio Luxemburg’s charts) opts for this version, which is rather more to my taste,
The Skyrockets Dance Orchestra cond. Paul Fenoulhet ( vocals Doreen Lundy) Oct-46 (HMV BD5945)
This band was formed by Paul Fenhoulet when he was conductor of the Number One Balloon Barrage Centre Orchestra during the War. Wisely, a name change was shortly made and the Skyrockets became one of the two leading wartime outfits drawn from military personnel (the other was the Squadronaires). Doreen Lundy joined in 1944 and brought an Anne Shelton sound to the Skyrockets, whose repertoire consisted of uptempo swing numbers, novelty songs and sentimental ballads. Lundy is yet another forgotten name, but her style is very much of its historical moment and suitably evocative.
This brief profile of Doreen Lundy is from Don Wicks’ “The Ballad Years, a privately published discography that is much quoted on 50s music websites but seems a little hard to get hold of.
“She was born in Ireland on 4 November 1925 – came to England with her mother when she was eleven and settled in Pinner, Middlesex. She grew up to become an attractive 5’3″ blue eyed brunette, and during the war she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. Without any previous singing experience she persuaded, Paul Fenoulhet, the leader of the RAF Dance Band (aka The Skyrockets), to let her sing with the band. Favourable audience response ensured a permanent place on the bandstand, and subsequently romance developed between Doreen and Paul – and they married on 28 March 1949. Meanwhile she had been broadcasting and recording with the band regularly for HMV (in 1945, her first recording had been ‘Sentimental Journey’). A couple of singles followed on the MGM label, and then in 1948 she joined Geraldo where further recordings were issued on Parlophone. By 1949 she was freelancing, including a long residency at Ciro’s Club with Max Jaffa’s Band. Recording, however tailed off. One single with Peter Yorke on Columbia, one with Eddie Calvert on Melodisc, and finally a brief return in 1955 with a 78 on Oriole. By the late 1950s, Doreen had scaled down her workload but still played the occasional week in variety, but thereafter the trail goes cold – so one assumes that she retired at that point”
Note the Geraldo connection and the residency at Ciro’s.
The 1946 line-up of the Skyrockets was as following
Saxophones: IZZY DUMAN, BILL APPS, PAT SMUTS, NORMAN IMPEY, MAX PHILLIPS.
Trombones: GEORGE ROWE, DON McCAFFER, ARTHUR VERREY, FRANK OSBORNE.
Trumpets: CHICK SMITH, LES LAMBERT, RON PRIEST, BILLY RIDDICK.
Violins: LEW WHITESON, JACK SMALLMAN, SID WILLIAMS, MARK SHANE, SID MARKS, BILLY SHULMAN, LEN LEE.
Piano: PAT DODD.
Bass: JOCK REID.
Harp: ARTHUR RAWSON.
Drums: GEORGE FIERSTONE.
( this is taken from April 1946 programme for “Hightime” – a show which featured Tessie O’Shea singing a Dick Hurran lyric)
Most of these musicians were veterans of the pre-War, West End danceband scene and would have been well-known to Hugh. Impey had played with Hutch, others with Debroy Somers and Tommy Kinsman, whose paths we have crossed before. George Fierstone, another with a long career, was an important tutor to several Modern Jazz drummers, including Martin Drew.Fenhoulet himself was a multi-instrumentalist (trombone, trumpet, French horn) and arranger who had worked with Jack Hylton and then Carroll Gibbons throughout the 1930s. These characters were the engine-room of British popular music, mostly starting off as 1920s jazz enthusiasts but working mainly in “Light Entertainment” as that was where a living could be made. The Skyrockets became the “house band” at the London Palladium while Fenhoulet ended up leading the BBC Radio Orchestra.
The comedian, club-owner and “radio personality” Charlie Chester added his effort to the list.
‘Cheerful’ Charlie Chester and his Gang Nov-46 (Decca F8701)
The “Stand Easy” orchestra is a reference to Charlie Chester’s radio programme, one of the most popular of the period and which became, with only minor adaptations, one of the first post-war television programmes to have a real impact on the public, running, as “The Charlie Chester Show”, from 1949 to 1961. It introduced the public to Derek Guyler, for which I am grateful, and the cash-prize quiz, about which I am more ambivalent.
The acts so far mentioned, illustrate the extent to which Hugh Wade was operating very much within the mainstream of English popular culture, as a composer at least. Hugh’s world may have been a mixture of Soho and Chelsea, but it was the Soho of Denman Street music publishers and Archer Street musicians that dominated his professional life. To me this makes him a more substantial (and complex) person than the best-known accounts might suggest.
The next recording of “Let It Be Soon” is in many ways the most interesting, as it both harks back to an earlier era but takes us forward to the next generation.
Ted Heath and his Music (vocals Paul Carpenter) Jan-47 (Decca F8717)
Ted Heath/Paul Carpenter
Ted Heath, who had served his apprenticeship with the likes of Bert Firman, Jack Hylton and Ambrose (Elvira would have heard him at the Mayfair Hotel) , led the most successful of the post-war big bands. As a trombonist he was one of the more technically gifted of British dance-band soloists, learning much off visiting American musicians. From Bert Ambrose he learnt how to be a band leader – basically, employ the best ( jazz oriented) musicians but cater to the audience’s taste. As a result he dominated British popular music from the end of the War to the arrival of Rock and Roll.
Ted Heath Band 1945
The band for the “Let It Be Soon” session was, in all likelihood, “Kenny Baker, Stan Roderick, Harry Letham, Alan Franks (tp), Harry Roche, Lad Busby, Jack Bentley, Jimmy Coombes (tb), Les Gilbert, Reg Owen, (as), Johnny Gray, Ronnie Scott (ts), Dave Shand (bs), Norman Stenfalt (p), Dave Goldberg (g), Charlie Short (b), Jack Parnell (d), Paul Carpenter (vcl).”
Some names stand out here. Kenny Baker is generally considered the best British jazz trumpeter of his era (and beyond); fans of 60s cinematic and “Lounge” music will affectionately recallHarry Roche (“Constellation”); Jack Parnell (nephew of Palladium legend,Val) was the most versatile and in-demand of drummers but is best-remembered as 1960s ATV musical director (think Golden Shot or The Benny Hill Show); and then there is Ronnie Scott, the godfather of British jazz modernism. It’s a classy line-up.
The vocalist, the Canadian Paul Carpenter, was the nearest thing to the sound of Frank Sinatra that late 40s English audiences could hear live. As such, he was very popular, with the young female audience particularly. He turned his attention to TV and cinema in the 1950s and appears in the so bad it’s good “Fire Maidens from Outer Space”, along with some more worthy (but never more than workman-like) productions. There are some strange rumours about him – something of a hell-raiser apparently – and if anyone knows more, do let me know. He died in 1964, aged only 42.
The lyrics to “Let It Be Soon” were by Dick (Dickie) Hurran, who worked closely with people such as Bernard Delfont and Val Parnell as a production manager, as well as doing the odd bit of song-writing. An archetypal “showbiz” figure he helped launch Norman Wisdom’s career in the revue “Paris to Piccadilly” – a very “naughty” show in its day( see Paris to Piccadilly ). In the 1960s he was the main promoter of variety packages in Blackpool and in the 70s he was a judge on “New Faces”. It’s a long road from Chelsea parties to the Chuckle Brothers, but there you go.
OK – so much for the trawl around the highways and byways of the music business, what about the song itself? As with all Hugh Wade compositions, the melodic line is strong and the mood appropriate. Stylistically, everything is as it should but there is little in the way of experimentation. Hugh’s compositions were tailored very much for the target audience, he had plenty of scope to express his individualism and keyboard virtuosity in his night-club act.
The lyrics are sentimental, bordering in places on the morbid, and could be dismissed as trite (Hurran was no Cole Porter) if not for the historical context. The latter end of the War and the immediate post-war period saw a great demand for songs that expressed regret and loss as well as a hope for a new start. “In the Land of Beginning Again” or”Sentimental Journey” are good examples. The tone is melancholy, maudlin by modern standards, but it tapped into the psyche of a generation that had either lost its loved ones or had undergone long periods of enforced separation. There is a fair amount of what we might now call “intertextuality” – “don’t know where, don’t know when, let it be soon”, “In the Sweet Bye and Bye” etc. – and the whole composition exudes the atmosphere of late 1940s England.
It is for these reasons that the Imperial War Museum keeps a copy of the sheet music in its archives. That, in itself, is something not to be sneered at. If they were to hold a recorded version I would suggest the Doreen Lundy one as the most apt.
What Hugh Wade thought of it, we don’t know. At the very least , it reconnected him to a pre-war bunch of musicians he would have respected. I suspect he was quite pleased at its success and not a little proud to be making music that resonated with a public, most of whom would have had no inkling of the ups-and-downs of folk like Elizabeth Ponsonby or Elvira Barney.