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When the Empire Calls
Gerard COBB (1838-1904)

To T.A (1892).[1.03]
Gunga Din [5.30]
Ford o’ Kabul River (1893) [4.11]
The Young British Soldier Op.24 No.1 [4.14]
Lichtenberg (1904) [4.49]
Snarleyow Op.29 No.6 [4.41]
J P MCCALL (1882-1961)

Boots (1928) [2.43]
Cells (1930) [3.21]
Route Marchin’ (1930) [3.36]
Fuzzy-Wuzzy Op.24 No.5 (1892) [2.52]
Belts Op.29 No.1 [4.22]
Oonts Op.29 No.5 [3.30]
W WARD-HIGGS (1866-1936)

Troopin’ (1906) [2.24]
The Widow’s Party (1906) [3.21]
Bill ‘Awkins (1906) [1.46]

The Widow at Windsor (1893) [3.14]
Maurice BELL

Follow me ‘Ome (1909) [4.12]
Walter DAMROSCH (1862-1950)

Danny Deever Op.2 No.7 (1897) [3.51]
Olly SPEAKS (1874-1948)

On The Road To Mandalay (1907) [4.57]

Tommy (1892) [4.10]
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)

Soldier, Soldier (1898) [3.11]

Good-bye Dolly Gray (1897) [1.42]
Alfred HILL (1870-1960)

When the Empire Calls 91900) [2.05]

Comrades (1887) [3.52]
Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900)

The Absent-Minded Beggar (1899) [3.26]
George F ROOT (1820-1895)

The Vacant Chair (1862) [4.19]
Arthur SOMERVELL (1863-1937)

The Handy Man (1900) [2.34]
Theodore MORSE (1873-1924)

Blue Bell (1904) [4.01]

Sons of the Southern Sea (1900) [3.55]
Charles K HARRIS (1867-1930)

Break the News to Mother (1891) [4.32]

Strathcona’s Horse; Regimental Song (1900) [3.12]

The Baby’s Name (1900) [2.12]
Theodore F MORSE

Two Little Boys (1903) [2.50]
Reginald DE KOVEN (1859-1920)

Recessional (1898) [4.36]

The Boer Prisoner’s Prayer (1900) [4.09]

Sons of Our Empire (1900) [3.38]
Paul DRESSER (1859-1906)

The Pardon Came Too Late (1898) [4.26]
Alfred H WEST

Mafekin’ Night (1900) [2.26]

Just Knock at the Door, and Ask for Us (1909) [2.01]

The Pretoria Dinner Party, or In Walked England (1900) [4.10]

Bravo! Dublin Fusiliers [2.25]

Good-Bye, Daddy [2.49]
Medley including Soldiers of the Queen, Sarie Marais, Ramp! Tramp! Tramp! Waltzing Matilda, Good-bye, Dolly Gray [5.39]
Michael Halliwell (baritone)
David Miller (piano)
Recorded Sydney Opera House Concert Hall, November 2000 and the Music Workshop of Sydney Conservatorium of Music, December 2002
ABC CLASSICS 476 8063 [76.02 + 76.51]

Kipling’s Barrack-Room Ballads form the first half of this programme; the second comprises popular songs of the Boer War. There were twenty-one poems in his 1892 collection and Michael Halliwell has collated fifteen settings of them, adding other poems from later collections. He’s exercised the practical and sensible right to cut such verses as seem too long, whilst managing to retain their narrative sense. Most of the composers are simply names, if that, though some shelter better-known musicians. J P McCall was actually Peter Dawson and his Boots is one of the most famous of the settings. Some may be surprised to see Walter Damrosch in this collection but his 1897 Danny Deever is probably the most dramatically effective of them all – a veritable maelstrom of a setting. There’s an early Grainger setting as well, of Soldier, Soldier, written when he was sixteen. The majority of the poems however were set by such as Gerard F Cobb, who was especially prolific, and by W Ward-Higgs.

These were smoking parlour or ballad settings and the majority have no affectations or pretensions to art song. It needs a capable and personable singer-actor to get them across, in all their various moods, of the martial, of pathos, of belligerence and of grudging respect – not forgetting the attitudes of the time, the political ramifications of Empire and much else. In Halliwell we have a spirited guide, strongly abetted by pianist David Miller.

Many of the ballads are famous even in these settings; Empire singers set them down on 78 and they entered the bloodstream of two generations in that fashion. So we know Dawson’s Boots as much as Cobb’s Gunga Din and we might know McCall’s Route Marchin’ and Ward-Higgs’ Bill ‘Awkins. But we may not know the latter’s nice and vampy Troopin’ or Gordon Sutherland’s The Widow at Windsor, with its No Place Like Home ending. Grainger’s setting is certainly not as hearty as these and whilst it’s not yet fully distinctive, harmonically it’s far more contemporary. The thing in these settings is to impersonate and inhabit with conviction; Halliwell doesn’t try for an especially expressive tone. He tries on the accents and drops the "aitches" and lops off the "g" wherever he’s asked to. Cockney or Australian, he covers the voices (though his Irish accent is not quite so convincing). The standout setting is Damrosch’s positively Schubertian setting of the (in these hands) narrative drama Danny Deever – truly overwhelming in its directness.

The second disc collates some songs of the Boer War. Amongst the composers you will find the Australian-born dean of New Zealand music Alfred Hill and you’ll also find Sullivan whose collaboration with Kipling produced The Absent-Minded Beggar, a cautionary setting not to overlook the soldier when he’s done his war duty. Arthur Somervell crops up as well with The Handy Man, a similar sort of song, though one a world away from his Housman settings. This disc contains many familiar songs, ones that resonate even to this day (at least they do at my bath time) – Good-bye Dolly Gray, Sons of the Southern Sea, Two Little Boys (yes, it’s true, the one Rolf Harris sang – written in 1903 by Edward Madden and set by Theodore F Morse) Sons of Our Empire, Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! and Waltzing Matilda. They derive from all parts of the Empire – South Africa as well as Australia and New Zealand; Canada as well as Ireland (albeit rather nervously in Home Rule agitation days). There’s chest beating, parlour bathos and pathos, stirring calls to national and Empire arms and noble and martial sentiment generally; poignant deaths, noble sacrifice, not much cricket.

I enjoyed it all but then I’m a fully paid up member of the Peter Dawson society. Halliwell and Miller are good guides. Halliwell may be rather inconsistent as to his Strine/Cockney (though I think he’s South African born) but no matter. There’s plenty of good stuff here to remind one of the days when a third of the globe was painted red and dreadnoughts were still in dry dock.

Jonathan Woolf


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