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Billy Cotton and his Band – Wakey Wakey!

Recorded 1930-54



Crotchet Budget price

Somebody Stole My Gal
Smile, Darn Ya, Smile
A Bungalow, A Piccolo and You
I’ve Gone And Lost my Little Yo Yo
The Clouds Will Soon Roll By
She Was Only Somebody’s Daughter
Ooh, That Kiss!
I’m Just Wild About Harry
Leave The Pretty Girls Alone
I Was In The Mood
The Third Tiger
I Took My harp To A Party
St Louis Blues
Nobody Loves A Fairy When She’s Forty
Mammy Bong
Shoe Shine Boy
The Fleet’s In Port Again
Poor Robinson Crusoe
I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts
Ever So Slightly Late!
The Petite Waltz
Forty Fahsend Fevvers On A Frush
Friends And Neighbours
Billy Cotton and his Band

I knew Billy Cotton had been in the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War but I couldn’t have been paying attention when I skim-read his autobiography because I’d forgotten he’d also been a motorcycle rider, bugler, drummer and – last but not least – bus conductor (remember them?). After a tough succession of band jobs Cotton took over the Savannah Band, a prestige outfit that included future bandleaders Nat Gonella and Sidney Lipton in its ranks. From then on his rise to the top of the show band tree was inexorable. This was a robust organisation that didn’t boast the kind of finesse heard from Roy Fox, Lew Stone or Ambrose or other dance bands. It was a different kettle of fish, a sort of variety-cum-comic-turn-cum-show-band that took in the kind of thing you would have heard from Carroll Gibbons but also from Billy Bennett. It certainly cast its net wide.

In a band such as this there wasn’t such a call for star vocalists – no Al Bowlly – and when they did turn up, as did Sam Browne, they tended to hit a comic seam seldom encountered elsewhere. Their romantic songs, let’s take The Clouds Will Soon Roll By, could be hamstrung by a tuba bass line that rather weighed things down but the more ebullient side of the repertoire fared better. Aficionados of BBC banning orders will recognise I’ve Gone And Lost My Little Yo Yo recorded shortly after Chuck Berry was born and a ditty that makes the scatological rock ’n’ roller’s song about his ding-a-ling sound positively prim. Talking of humour the Western Brothers chip in with some in She Was Only Somebody’s Daughter not all of which lyrics are entirely clean either but they’re far more on-the-ball than the band’s various attempts at Louis Armstrong impersonations, of which there are two. Armstrong had caused a sensation at the Palladium in the early thirties and his influence was huge; St Louis Blues here is a vocal and trumpet homage to the great man. One in-joke probably lost to most contemporary armchair listeners comes in Shoe Shine Boy when the trumpet soloist actually goes so far as to quote Armstrong’s solo on Shine, a neat piece of verbal by-play.

Variety is here in profusion – larky songs, band vocals of dubious standard, cockney songs, a touch of Calypso, and the kind of things that tend to linger on without one being quite sure where they started (I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts and Forty Fahsend Fevvers On A Frush for example). The transfers are good, those Regal Zonophones sounding in fine estate, and there’s an entertaining run-down of Billy Cotton’s life story in the notes.

Jonathan Woolf


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