Music Halls and Varieties – John Wallace  – 20th October 2014 

city-varietiesJohn Wallace gave Stumperlowe Probus Club a most interesting and entertaining talk, together with a medley of songs and jokes which would have graced the eras of Music Halls and Varieties.

The beginnings of music hall was thought to be around 1780 in the taverns of Lambeth where men drank and sang to entertain each other, quaintly called ‘Harmonic Meetings’  The better singers would go to other taverns to entertain. Whilst it was mainly a lower class pastime, it was important to attract a more upper class clientele and women.  Music halls progressively gravitated to the West End of London’

New purpose buildings were built accommodating as many as 1500 persons which catered for everybody.  By 1860, there were 320 music halls across the country.  They introduced comical singing (rather than staid/serious tunes) and expanded to include classical ballet and circus turns eg. jugglers, acrobats and animal acts.

In 1879, the Theatres Act was passed which introduced the concept of a stage and fire/safety curtains   As a result, many venues closed but there was still money to be  made in entertainment and entrepreneurs invested in the music halls.

By 1879, Variety had replaced music halls and were no longer male bastions.  Pay and working conditions of the performers improved and the audience were entertained in comfort.

Variety was very popular during WW1 and after, but the popularity of silent movies was growing.  By the 1920’s there were more cinemas than Varieties.   The end of WW2 saw theatres become increasingly popular with the public seeking escapism after the horrors of the war.   Today, theatres are still popular in the major cities with Varieties spread thinly throughout the country..

John Wallace played and sang the songs of Joseph Locke, George Formby and George Robey on his ukulele, banjo and mandola .  He told jokes in the accent and delivery of famous comedians , Rob Wilton, Albert Modley and Les Dawson, explaining their gift of ‘muddled humour’  He clearly is a talented performer in his own right and entertained us superbly.