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In 1914, Music hall was by far the most popular form of popular song. It was listened to and sung along to in theatres which were getting ever larger (three thousand seaters were not uncommon)and in which the musical acts were gradually dominating all other acts (animal imitators, acrobats, human freaks, conjurors etc.) The industry was more and more dominated by chains of theatres like Moss, and my music publishers, since selling sheet music was very profitable indeed - a real hit could sell over a million copies.
The seats at the music hall could be very cheap, and attracted a largely working class audience, for whom a gramophone would generally too expensive. Although many ordinary people had heard gramophones in seaside resorts or in park concerts organized by local councils, many more would discover the gramophone while in the army, since gramophone manufacturers produced large numbers of portable gramophones "for our soldiers in France".
The repertoire of songs was dominated by the jauntily comic. The domineering wife or Mother in Law, the bourgeois, the foreigner, the Black man and the Jew were cheerfully mocked in an atmosphere where objections to sexism or racism in songs were practically unknown. Many more songs were made up of tonguetwisters or other comic elements. Sentimental love songs and dreams of an ideal land (Ireland or Dixie in particular) made up another major category. Practically all the songs of the era are unknown today - several thousand music hall songs were published in the UK during the war years.
The singers moved from town to town, many scraping a living togethe, but a few making a lot of money. The key stars at the time were people like Marie Lloyd, Vesta Tilley, George Formby senior, Harry Lauder, Gertie Gitana and Harry Champion.
Enthusiasm for the war
At the outbreak of war, many songs were produced which called for young men to join up. Examples included "We don't want to lose you, but we think you ought to go", "Now you've got the khaki on" or "Kitcheners' boys". After a few months of war and rising numbers of deaths, the recruitment songs all but disappeared, and the 1915 "Greatest hits" collection published by Francis and Day contains no recruitment songs at all. The music hall songs which mentioned the war (about a third of the total produced) were more and more dreams about the end of the war; "When the boys come home" and "Keep the Home Fires Burning" are two well-known exemples.
It was almost impossible to sing anti-war songs on the music-hall stage. The managers of the music-hall would be worried about their licence, and the singalong nature of music hall songs meantthat one needed to sing songs which had the support of the vast majority of the audience. In the music hall, dissent about the war drive was therefore limited to sarcastic songs such as "Oh it's a lovely war" or bitter complaints about the stupidity of conscription tribunals (for example "The Military Representative"). When the anti-war movement had, for a few months, a mass audience, in 1916, anti-war music hall songs from the United States, such as "I didn't raise my boy to be a soldier" were sung at anti-war meetings, but not on the music hall stage.
| This article uses material from the Wikipedia article UK popular song in world war I, that was deleted or is being discussed for deletion, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.