Friday, 7 February 2014

Master Tom Welch, Comedian: Sepia Saturday 214



 
 

The prompt for Sepia Saturday this week is of a couple around a piano. It is an upright piano and similar to the one owned by my grandfather. One of my fondest memories of summer holidays as a child was listening to him playing the piano. He lived near the seaside and when we were younger the entire family descended on him and my grandmother for two weeks, staying with them in their small bungalow. The upright piano was in the sitting room; the sitting room that smelled slightly of pipe tobacco, mints, polished wood and musty music. In the evenings we could sometimes persuade Tom to open the piano, take out his songbook and tinkle on the keys. We were enchanted as we watched him loose himself in the songs.

My grandmother told us that Tom could play anything, that he learned most songs by ear, and that often he would just sit and play for the sheer pleasure of doing so, and maybe for the memories.

When they were younger my grandparents used to take part in music hall. I wouldn't imagine this was the music hall of the grand old type, but rather smaller, local events put on for and by communities across London. In the days before cinema and television live entertainment was more commonplace.

Tom started early. Amongst his memorabilia I found the remains of this programme dated April
1913, from the Hemmingford St John football club annual concert and dance

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On the first page  just before the presentation of the swimming awards, you can see that the 'act' is Master Tom Welch, who was billed as a Comedian and was performing 'Yiddle on your fiddle' maybe sounding something like  this and 'I don't care what becomes of me'.  Tom would have been around 13 years old at the time of this performance.

Fifteen years later, at the age of 28,  Tom was still performing but this time he had a more sedate roll as the pianist at the 'Grand Smoking Concert' held after the final and semi finals of the Domino Championship, hosted by the ECDO sorters (the post office sorting department). (He worked for The Royal Mail for most of his life).




 

 
This time he was the opening act for both parts of the evening and the accompanist.

Tom also played the piano accordion, and my grandmother sang with him as a soprano. She once told me that she deeply regretted not following her desire to become a professional singer and have her voice properly trained.

In his later years Tom would occasionally play the piano at the local old folks home and day centres. When he died none of us had room in our small houses and apartments for the piano and my grandmother couldn't bear to look at it so she gave it to the church.

Tom and Dorothy


 

18 comments:

tilly said...

what a beautiful story, it sounds as though they had a lovely life together sharing the gift of music
Tilly

Wendy said...

What a cute couple. I imagine you had a grand time with them around the piano. (I can smell that bungalow!)

Postcardy said...

I'm sure it wasn't amusing at the time, but I find the combination of domino championship, smoking concert, mail sorters, and "God Save the Queen" both odd and amusing.

Lovely's Blot said...

So do I Postcardy, and I note that Act number 9 on the bill at the football club dance, was Winsome Willis, Female Impersonator. There would be uproar now if a transvestite appeared at the local football teams Christmas Party!

Lovely's Blot said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Deb Gould said...

What is a "smoking concert?" We Americans are in the fog over this!

La Nightingail said...

Some lovely memories. As the sign over a friend's piano says: "Music is the Language of the Soul" and happily so! I'm sorry your grandmother regretted never having formal voice training. I was lucky - having many different choral directors who took an interest in my voice - offering many tips and suggestions I took seriously & which amounted to formal voice training of a sort for which I am forever grateful. I once thought I wanted to sing professionally, but I've had more fun singing in local shows and concerts simply for the fun & friendly prestige of it.

Lovely's Blot said...

According to wiki a smoking concert was "Smoking concerts were live performances, usually of music, before an audience of men only; popular during the Victorian era. These social occasions were instrumental in introducing new musical forms to the public. At these functions men would smoke and speak of politics while listening to live music. These popular gatherings were sometimes held at hotels.

Although the concerts are now obsolete, the term continued and is used for student-organised variety performances, especially at Oxford and Cambridge. Annual Smoking Concerts were held at Imperial College London into the 1980s and continue at Glasgow University Union.

The saying "Booking for smoking concerts now" came into use at this time meaning that a person had recovered and was in the prime of health. This saying is used in the works of writer P.G. Wodehouse.

Jo Featherston said...

Music is wonderful for calming people down and bringing back failing memories, especially in the elderly. I wonder how many White Hart hotels or inns there are in the UK? I know we've seen plenty on our travels over there.

ScotSue said...

Lovely family memories and how lucky you are to have the old programmes

Jackie Mc Guinness said...

Love the name Winsome on the programme.

boundforoz said...

You mentioned a piano accordian. I haven't thought about one of them for a long while but this week a lady busker was playing one in the Mall and it was a very happy sound.

Bob Scotney said...

Great musical memories for them and now for us.

B. Rogers, Living in Black Mountain said...

Ah ha, I've learned about smoking concerts here. Thanks so much for great connections with your family!

Little Nell said...

That’s such a lovely story. It seems that playing ‘by ear’ was a gift in itself - who needs music anyway?

Boobook said...

Funny how a smell, or whatever, can trigger a memory from decades ago. How do our brains do that!!!!

Alan Burnett said...

Those programmes are wonderfully evocative historical documents. Great photo, great post, great history.

Mike Brubaker said...

A fine story. One can usually find a home for other instruments, but it's not so easy for a piano. It's size and need for tuning makes it an awkward thing to adopt.