If you ask me where I live, I will answer ‘Norfolk’. However, ask me where I am from, and the answer will always be ‘London’. Lots of places have songs or music written about them, and I have mentioned some on other posts on this blog. But it is the songs about my home town that have the biggest impact on me. Often corny, sometimes coarse, these songs have followed me through my life so far, and will continue to do so. Here are just some of them.
London Pride. Written by Noel Coward in 1941, this song was designed to inspire Londoners during the Blitz, and remains as one of the most evocative songs ever written about London, and the Londoners who lived there at the time, and since. This version is actually sung by Coward, in his distinctive upper-class lisp. A piece of history on the page, courtesy of You Tube.
Maybe It’s Because I’m A Londoner. Again written during the war years, this time in 1943, by Hubert Gregg. This is the song us Londoners all sing when we have had too much to drink, or we are in the company of non-Londoners. It is the anthem of the ‘old’ Londoners, and in its day, was the equivalent of ‘New York, New York’. This hackneyed, sentimental old tune runs through my head whenever I think of my city. To me, it is priceless. This version is performed by Flanagan and Allen, a music hall act who made many wartime songs famous.
A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square. Just before the outbreak of the second world war, this song was written by Eric Mashwitz, and released in 1940. It has been recorded by many famous artists, but perhaps the best-known version, at least here in England, was by Dame Vera Lynn. Here she is, singing the song live on TV, in 1969, thirty years after it was published.
The Lambeth Walk. I was born in Lambeth Hospital, so I have something of an emotional attachment to this song. Lambeth was a small area of South London, bordering the Thames, on the opposite bank of the river to the Houses of Parliament. It is now an enormous London Borough, and as such, has lost much of its original identity. Lambeth Walk, once a street market, still exists. This song, from the 1937 musical, ‘Me and My Girl’, also has an accompanying dance, that I have attempted more times than I care to remember. This clip, from the 1939 film of the show, not only demonstrates the old song, but also the dance that went with it. It resembles the earliest form of Line-Dancing. Just fabulous!
Wotcher!Knocked Em In The Old Kent Road. Composed in 1891, by the Chevalier Brothers, famous music hall performers, this old song also has a personal involvement for me. The Old Kent Road is a famously long road in South London, once the way of pilgrimage to Canterbury, and as the name suggests, the main route from London, to the county of Kent. I lived near it, went to school just off of it, and shopped along it, until as recently as 2011. The shop fronts have changed, but the essence of the place remains the same to this day. ‘Wotcher’, for the benefit of non-Londoners, is a greeting, possibly an abbreviation of ‘Watch You’. It was very common in my youth, and is still heard, though less used by younger people. In 1939, in the Hollywood film, ‘The Little Princess’, Shirley Temple sang a version of this song, alongside English character actor, Arthur Treacher. This is a short clip of that performance.
A Foggy Day In London Town. Written by George and Ira Gershwin, this song, from 1937, was intended for Fred Astaire, in the film ‘A Damsel In Distress’. It has been recorded countless times since, by most of the greatest singers ever known. It continues the long connection of London with Fog, made famous in so many films. The best version is probably that recorded by Frank Sinatra, but I cannot resist the original version, so here is the grainy old film clip.
Waterloo Sunset. London group, The Kinks, released this tribute to London’s sights and sounds in 1967. It has a timeless quality about it, and is rightly regarded as a tribute to the great city, despite its melancholy love-song feel, and the story that Ray Davies originally titled the song ‘Liverpool Sunset’. The view from Waterloo Bridge is one of the best anywhere in London, taking in all the iconic riverside buildings, as well as many of the other bridges. Here they are, performing the song live, in black and white.
London Calling. In 1979, punk band The Clash released an album of this name, including this track, issued as a single. It is a political record, about many things, as well as London. However, it has since been widely associated with the city, and is often used to represent it, in film clips, and advertisements. It has undeniable power.
There are many more songs relating to London, either directly, or by association. This is a varied sample, and I hope that you enjoy them. You can be an honorary Londoner, for the short time it takes to listen to them.