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FLANAGAN AND ALLEN
Underneath the Arches; Their 27 finest, 1932-1944
RETROSPECTIVE RTR 4366 [78:36]

Underneath The Arches

Dreaming

Wanderer

Can’t We Meet Again?

Hometown

Down and Out Blues

Music, Maestro, Please!

The Umbrella Man

Run, Rabbit Run!

We’re Gonna Hang Out The Washing On The Siegfried Line

F.D.R. Jones

If A Grey-Haired Lady Says How’s Your Father?

On The Outside Looking In

Are You Havin’ Any Fun?

I’m Nobody’s Bay

Yesterday’s Dream

Let’s Be Buddies

Round the Back of the Arches

Down Forget-Me-Not Lane

Rose O’Day (The Filla-Ga-Dusha Song)

What More Can I Say?

I Don’t Want To Walk Without You

Miss You

We’ll Smile Again

Why Don’t You Fall in Love With Me?

Two Very Ordinary People

Shine On, Harvest Moon

Bud Flanagan and Chesney Allen formed their double act in 1924 and worked in revues until a variety debut in 1931. Underneath the Arches immortalised them, nationally at least, (Flanagan had written it in 1927) and they were bill toppers from the early thirties onwards, either as a duo or with The Crazy Gang, reaching a zenith of popularity during the war years when they made several films. Flanagan was the song writer, Allen the straight man, and together they offered a rather down at heel English version of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello – not least in physiognomy; the two Buds short and stout, Allen and Costello slim and taller - though the English duo began performing together rather earlier.

It was their songs, rather than Abbott and Costello’s quick-fire patter, that distinguished them. Flanagan’s croaking Spitalfields singing and Allen’s strangulated vocalising should never have worked but it reflected their post-Depression personae perfectly; two very different blokes underneath the arches dreaming of Sunnyside Lane.

In the academic world doubtless a PhD is to be had for analysing tropes of Industrial-Pastoral wish fulfilment in their songs. Because of the nature of their voices, and their inevitable limitations, the songs’ tempos mirrored the singers’ unhurried gait. There is a predictable loping element, a tried and tested modus operandi. Flanagan threw out the occasional ‘bod-ee-oh-doh’ in his singing, as if enacting the ways of a varsity crooner – a very self-aware device from an East End immigrant born Reuben Weintrop (by rights, Brighton-born Allen should have taken that quasi-varsity role but its reversal was thus the more poignant and the more clever).

Their careworn but hopeful vagabonding carried with it the spirit of Robert Louis Stevenson; they were down and out (though Allen’s relative sartorial elegance seldom wavered) but never defeated; their songs proclaimed the limitless romance of hope. Singing Sam Mayo’s Down and Out Blues in 1938 they make it a kind of anthem of defiance and when they take on Music, Maestro, Please! – which was recorded so memorably and effortlessly by Al Bowlly at around the same time – the chasm between the divine vision of the girl of their dreams and the faded astrakhan of their realities both subverts and elevates the genre of conventionally romantic dance band singing.

Their brand of luckless humility irradiated wartime morale boosters such as We’re Gonna Hang Out the Washing on the Siegfried Line though they were less successful with straightforward band numbers, such as Why Don’t You Fall in Love with Me? – the question itself sounds too unlikely and cloying for Flanagan and Allen. Some of the best records were made with Harry Bidgood and his Orchestra – Shine on Harvest Moon, Run, Rabbit, Run among them - though they invariably had luxury backing, notably from Ambrose and from Henry Hall.

Well transferred from Columbia and Decca 78s made between 1932 and 1944, these tracks are all very familiar and the compilation reflects others that have similarly sourced the duo’s discs. But it’s entertainingly and sympathetically put together and preserves a classic body of music from two men who evoked on the stage those polar opposites of raffish South Coast charm and mock-weary chutzpah.

Jonathan Woolf