Saturday, 24 January 2015

Comedy and jazz from lost Melbourne: All Aboard! - Alan Rowe The One-Man Show (196?) and Graeme Bell & His Dixieland Jazz Band (1947)

Comedy is one of the most ephemeral art forms there is. What people find funny is very specific to a time and place and it dates almost immediately. While this can make comedy from only a couple of years ago seem stale and boring, that same effect can make comedy from decades or centuries ago incredibly illuminating in terms of understanding that culture and getting a feel for the real world of the bourgeoisie.

Alan Rowe was a very family-friendly comedian who did impressions, sang songs and performed bits about the suburban experience in Melbourne around the early sixties. His was an old-fashioned, one-man show in the vaudeville tradition. To a modern listener, this kind of performance can sound a bit Arthur Atkinson from The Fast Show, but there’s no question that Alan was a consummate performer with original material and a good rapport with his audience. One of my favourite bits, and one that illustrates the timelessness of certain Melbourne institutions, is the one where Alan calls the running of a train on the Frankston line in the style of a horse racing announcer. With a few minimal updates, you could probably perform this routine today and still get laughs in Melbourne. Rowe's songs Living In A Flat and Dad’s Lost Weekend likewise reflect an early celebration of Australian suburban-ness that is still recognisable today.

Rowe’s final bit relates a story of a booking for a show in which all the other acts cancel, leaving Alan to take their place via his impressions. He replicates a female soprano, a bass baritone (“Michael Row The Boat Ashore), a countrified harmonica (“Home On The Range”), a banjo-mandolin player and finally as Graeme Bell’s six-piece Dixieland Jazz Band. I was pleasantly surprised to see that at the time Graeme Bell was such a well-known fixture in Australian pop culture as to be an instantly familiar reference.

To round out this little sonic window into lost Melbourne, here’s a 10” 78RPM record by Graeme Bell & His Dixieland Jazz Band that I found in a Reservoir op-shop. Ever the skilled showman, even with only his voice and a piano Alan does a pretty good impression of the band.

No comments:

Post a Comment