The Librarian DJ

(Sorry it’s taken me so long to do this entry. I wanted to get the links and credits right. This one is all-singing and all-dancing…)

Quick alert: Today is Buy Nothing Day in the UK, which I’m observing. I love how it throws up all kinds of questions, and how it dares people to prove they can go without shopping on a Saturday close to Christmas but not too close. Wish I’d posted this with a bit more notice, but anyway.


Friday November 20th: I DJ at the British Library in St Pancras. At 6pm, the last readers are thrown out, the reading rooms are closed, and a conference-style stage rig with shiny new PA and lights, plus ultra-professional crew,  is set up along one side of the entrance hall. On the opposite wall are trestle tables with caterers manning a bar.

The event is called Victorian Values, arranged to coincide with the Library’s current exhibition on Victorian photography. It’s co-promoted by the Ministry of Burlesque and is billed as a 19th-century themed evening of music, tableaux vivant, skits, can-can dancers, and inspired burlesque disrobing – including an opium-induced vision of a Burlesque Britannia. The MC is Des O’Connor  and the acts include Vicky Butterfly (who brings her own wooden theatre booth, hand painted with figures by Lawrence Gullo), Joe Black, Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer, and Oompah Brass, who perform covers of latter-day pop hits in the vintage brass style (tuba, french horn, trombone, trumpets), while decked out in full lederhosen. It’s a lot of fun, frankly.

The oldest recording I play is ‘I’m Following In Father’s Footsteps’ by Vesta Tilley, one of the many male impersonators of the music hall era.

Vesta Tilley

It was released in 1906 on Edison Gold Moulded Records, the world’s first record label. I found it at this website, the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project, University of California.

I love how ‘Edison Records’ first meant wax cylinders; actual discs were still some years off. The song itself was also featured in the BBC TV adaptation of Ms Waters’s Tipping The Velvet.

The newest track I play is ‘What Have You Done To Your Face?’ by Marcella & The Forget-Me-Nots, from 2009. A track so new it has yet to be released in any downloadable or physical form. It’s currently available only as a streaming track at the band’s MySpace page, or via this striking video directed by Alex De Campi, which is the way I discovered it. I didn’t realise at first that the singer & songwriter was the same Marcella from the Puppini Sisters – it’s such a different musical style. Which I guess was the whole point of her starting a separate band. Consider me first in the queue for their debut album.

Just before heading to the Library, I read this story on the BBC news site about Linn Products becoming the first hi-fi company to cease manufacture of CD players, in favour of digital streaming and downloading. It’s a milestone in the history of recorded sound, and a firm step towards the end of the CD age.

So while DJing, I think about the various formats the tracks were originally created for: wax cylinder, vinyl disc, CD, celluloid, video, MP3, online streaming, and how I’m playing them together on the same format (specially made CDRs, compiled from MP3s), in a building built for the very act of archiving. It’s the DJ as librarian.


This event is packed out, with people lining not just the area in front of the stage but every staircase and balcony in the entrance hall. Rows of faces look down upon the stage (at the side of which are the DJ decks), like a crowd scene in some exotic city square. Emma Jackson is there, and remarks that the audience is noticeably mixed: alongside the young-ish cabaret and burlesque fans are lots of older Ladies Who Gallery. Good, I say.  A library is the place to mix worlds.

Judging by the roars of approval – particularly for Mr B – the event is a success. I have one Lady Who Galleries approaching me afterwards. She says she was ‘pleasantly surprised’ that the British Library would put on such an evening, and affirms she had a nice time. And who, she asks, did that  song I played about the ‘coin operated boy’, the one the younger ladies present seemed to know all the words to?

Well, here’s the playlist.

I’m playing with time zones somewhat, as music hall songs were written as late as the 1940s, but it is all in the same style.

Ella Shields – Burlington Bertie From Bow
Frank H Fox – Drop Me In Piccadilly (as suggested by Kevin Pearce, taken from his excellent blog on London songs)
Hetty King – Piccadilly (thanks to Mr Pearce again)
Gus Elen – The ‘Ouses In Between
Florrie Forde – Down At The Old Bull And Bush
Marie Lloyd – A Little Of What You Fancy Does You Good
Mark Sheridan – I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside (thanks to Ms Crimson Skye)
Vesta Tilley – I’m Following In Father’s Footsteps
Stanley Holloway – Where Did You Get That Hat (thanks to Billy Reeves)
The Andrews Sisters – Beer Barrel Polka
The Beverley Sisters – Roll Out The Barrel
Shaun Parkes – The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo. Taken from the film Marie Lloyd: Queen Of The Music Hall. Soundtrack unavailable, so I made an MP3 from the DVD.


Topsy-Turvy film cast – So please you sir with much regret (mp3 link). The piano rehearsal version which plays under the opening credits: just text on a black background, so the audience has to focus on the song. There is a soundtrack CD, but this track isn’t on it. Cue more DVD to MP3 recording. I love just how this song kicks off the rich, colourful world of Topsy-Turvy before we get to see any visuals. It’s just Sullivan saying, ‘One… two… TWO… two!’ then the song in its purest piano form, with impeccable harmonies by Shirley Henderson and co. Instantly we’re transported.

Topsy-Turvy soundtrack – Paris Galop from The Grand Duke (instrumental)

Linda Ronstadt – Poor Wandering One. From the 1983 film The Pirates Of Penzance. Not released on CD or DVD, so I had to teach myself how to make MP3s from YouTube. Just for this gig. I am the very model of a modern DJ.

Kevin Kline et al – With Catlike Tread. From the same film. YouTube again. Can’t beat a gang of sexy singing pirates.

The Hot Mikado stage cast – Three Little Maids. 1940s jazz style.

Frankie Howerd – The Flowers That Bloom In The Spring. From The Cool Mikado.
The Cool Mikado
soundtrack – The Sun’s Hooray (instrumental). The tune of ‘The Sun Whose Rays Are All Ablaze’ covered in a cha-cha-cha style.
The John Barry Seven – Tit Willow Twist (instrumental). Also from The Cool Mikado. Twangy guitar, Shadows style.

The Cool Mikado is a 1962 film by Michael Winner, which sets the G&S operetta in a swinging 60s pop world. It stars Frankie Howerd, Tommy Cooper, Stubby Kaye, Lionel Blair, Dennis Price, the John Barry Seven, and Mike and Bernie Winters (whose character names are ‘Mike & Bernie’). I’ve seen it on video… and it’s absolutely bloody awful. But the soundtrack, released on El Records, is a hoot.

Various Victorian Musical Box instrumentals – Funiculi Funicula, Behold The Lord High Executioner, Valse Des Fées. From Sublime Harmonie: recordings of rare Victorian cylinder and disc musical boxes from The Roy Mickleburgh Collection, Bristol.

Various Player Piano instrumentals – Burlington Bertie From Bow, Nellie Dean, Hold Your Hand Out Naughty Boy, The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo. From Mechanical Music Hall: Street Penny & Player Pianos, Musical Boxes & Other Victorian Automata.

Wendy Carlos – William Tell Overture from A Clockwork Orange soundtrack.
London Philharmonic Orchestra – Can-Can (Offenbach).
Moulin Rouge film cast – Spectacular Spectacular, Sparking Diamonds
Michael Nyman – Angelfish Decay
Tipping The Velvet cast – It’s Only Human Nature After All. From the closing credits. Own MP3 recorded from DVD.
The Dresden Dolls – Coin Operated Boy
Momus – Sinister Themes (thanks to Michelle Mishka)
The Divine Comedy – The Booklovers
The Tiger Lillies – The Story Of The Man Who Went Out Shooting. From the Shock Headed Peter stage soundtrack.
Marcella & The Forget-Me-Nots – What Have You Done To Your Face? DJ promo MP3, as kindly provided by the artist.
Peggy Lee – Fever
Marilyn Monroe – Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend (Swing Cats Remix)

Also procured, but not played due to time:

Scarlet’s Well – Mr Mystery’s Mother
Electrelane – Eight Steps
Shockheaded Peters – I Bloodbrother Be
King of Luxembourg – Picture Of Dorian Gray (the TV Personalities’ song, also covered by The Futureheads. This is the most effete version.)
Ciceley Courtneidge – There’s Something About A Soldier
Jessie Wallace – When I Take My Morning Promenade. From the film Marie Lloyd: Queen of the Music Hall.

Jessie Wallace being the actress who plays Kat Slater in Eastenders. Was rather looking forward to playing her (rather good) version of this Marie Lloyd song, particularly alongside Momus et al. However, one of the stage acts covered the song on the night, so I thought it my duty as a Gentleman DJ to omit it. May as well upload it here:

Jessie Wallace – When I Take My Morning Promenade

I don’t think I’ve ever spent so long putting together a single DJ set. But I loved every minute of it.

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