Monday, October 19, 2015

I DO (not) LIKE TO BE BESIDE THE SEASIDE - Bitter End Singers, Lesley Duncan & Suicidal Mark Sheridan

We're approaching Halloween, which means a preoccupation with ghouls, zombies, death and ISIS. Oh, no no, that's TOO grim. Nobody's going to trick-or-treat as Jihadi John. Or suggest that the burqa is a ridiculous costume that shouldn't be worn at all. ("Let's have transparency," declared Julian Assange, looking at a kodachrome slide of Justin Bieber naked).

One of the grim things about this time of year, is that it's COLD out. Christmas greed is just around the corner. And all the seaside resorts from Coney Island to Blackpool are shuttered, or offering shuddery and pathetic off-season attractions at low prices ("Opening Night Offer - Two tickets to see a blobulent geezer who used to be in the rock band SWEET for the price of one. £6 to £8,Concessions £2.00 off!')

Over a hundred years ago, there was a popular song called "I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside."

Mark Sheridan first recorded it in 1909. The tongue-twister was resuscitated by Basil Rathbone when he impersonated a vaudeville singer during a light moment in "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes." (And yes, you can go to Blackpool's Grand Theatre and see a production of "Sherlock Holmes and the Ripper Murders" for a bargain price this time of year.)

The eccentric Mr. Sheridan, in top hat, with wacky bell-bottoms strapped to his knees, twirling an umbrella, toured the U.K. again and again yammering about loving to be beside the sea. But beside that, and secretly, he was depressed. At the age of 50, no doubt afraid of being replaced in the public's affections by Miley Marie Lloyd or somebody else, he began his rehearsals for retirement. He recorded only one single in 1912, nothing in 1913, one side in 1914, and just one more in 1915.

Taking the advice of a middle-aged music fan called Senior Mole (I think), he decided "to tour, and forget about making money from recordings." He drew the line at selling t-shirts. All seriousness aside, Sheridan did continue the uncomfortable and unpleasant life of the touring entertainer. He played a comical Napoleon in a show called "Gay Paree." The morning reviews from the Glasgow papers were negative, and Sheridan was positive there was no hope. You'd think that he would've gone to be beside the seaside, and take a rest. Well, he did take a rest. Permanently. He walked into Kevin Grove Park and shot himself.

It would've been more ironic if he drove to the seaside, walked into the waves to had a watery grave. But when you're suicidal you're usually not all that rational, or care about whether you're death will get good reviews and be considered memorably theatrical.

Reflecting the underlying grimness of Halloween, the still-sprightly "I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside" is contrasted here by downloads for utterly depressing seaside death songs from Lesley Duncan and Bitter End Singers.

Duncan's dry-eyed and morose "Walk in the Sea" (written by Alan Hull) starts with loner complaints and drifts into pessimism: "think I'll go walk in the sea. Nothing much better to do. No, nothing for me. Not even you."

The Bitter End Singers received liner note praise from Tony Bennett: "The Bitter End Singers absolutely gassed me." (Gee, Tony, I didn't even know you're Jewish.)

The group's album, tempting fate, was called "Discover the Bitter End Singers." The song, "A Song By the Seaside," is complex, and you'll need to acclimate. Frankly, it didn't get to me the first time around. Once the tangled, sea-weed murky melody line became familiar and I got used to the group's MOR-Mitch Miller approach, I began to get into the repulsive minor key discord that was intending to evoke turbulent seas, and I caught the dank spray of the lyric lines.

The seasick song is about a wife who misses her husband in the worst way: "One day when she cried all the tears she could cry, she ran from the house where the wild swallows fly. She walked to the ocean, she smiled at the foam. She walked in the ocean. She smiled at the foam..." guessed it.

The late (as of June, 2015) Will Holt wrote it. He's best known for "Lemon Tree," which seems like an old folk song but isn't. He also wrote that 60's variety show perennial called "One Of Those Songs." Will always had a kind of amused chagrin about that one. If someone said, "Oh, you're a songwriter, what did you write?" He'd say "Lemon Tree" and get an approving nod. Then he'd say, "I was the first one to record and adapt "The MTA Song" which became a hit for the Kingston Trio." Another nod. Then he'd say, "I also wrote 'One of Those Songs.'" That would get no reaction at all.

Will would then sing the opening line, ala Durante: "It's just one of those songs that you hear now and then..." Ohhhhhh! THAT song...

The Bitter End Singers were three men and three women) including two guys formerly in The Ivy League Trio, and the always provocative Nancy Priddy (mother to Christina Applegate, and already mentioned on this blog in regard to her solo album).

And now, the music.

Mark Sheridan Beside the Seaside

Bitter End Singers Song by the Seaside

Lesley Duncan Walk in the Sea

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