London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


Street Glee-Singers.


AN experienced street vocalist of the better kind, upon whose statements I satisfied myself that every reliance might be placed, described to me the present condition of his calling. He was accompanied by his wife.

I have been in the profession of a vocalist," he said, "for twenty-five years. Before that I was a concert-singer. I was not brought up to the profession; I was a shipping agent, but I married a concert-singer, and then followed the profession. I was young, and a little stagestruck,"—("Rather," said his wife, smiling, "he was struck with those who were on the stage")—and so I abandoned the ship-agency. I have tried my fortune on the stage as a singer, and can"t say but what I have succeeded. In fact, my wife and I have taken more than any two singers that have ever appeared in the humble way. We have been street vocalists for twenty-five years. We sing solos, duets, and glees, and only at night. When we started, the class of songs was very different to what it is now. We were styled "the Royal Glee-singers." "Cherry ripe," "Meet me by moonlight," "Sweet home," were popular then. Haynes Bailey"s ballads were popular, and much of Bishop"s music; as, indeed, it is still. Barnett"s or Lee"s music, however, is now more approved in the concert-rooms than Bishop"s. Our plan was, and is, to inquire at gentlemen"s houses if they wish to hear glee or solo singing, and to sing in the street or in the halls, as well as at parties. When we first commenced we have made 3l. and 3l. 10s. in a night this way; but that was on extraordinary occasions; and 3l. a-week might be the average earnings, take the year through. These earnings continued eight or ten years, and then fell off. Other amusements attracted attention. Now, my wife, my daughter, and I may make 25s. a-week by open-air singing. Concert-singing is extra, and the best payment is a crown per head a night for low-priced concerts. The inferior vocalists get 4s., 3s., 2s. 6d., and some as low as 2s. Very many who sing at concerts have received a high musical education; but the profession is so overstocked, that excellent singers are compelled to take poor engagements." The better sort of cheap concert-singers, the man and wife both agreed in stating, were a well-conducted body of people, often struggling for a very poor maintenance, the women rarely being improper characters. "But now," said the husband, "John Bull"s taste is inclined to the brutal and filthy. Some of the "character songs," such as "Sam Hall," "Jack Sheppard," and others, are so indelicate that a respectable man ought not to take his wife and daughters to see them. The men who sing character songs are the worst class of singers, both as regards character and skill; they are generally loose fellows; some are what is called "fancy men," persons supported wholly or partly by women of the town. I attempted once to give concerts without these low-character singings; but it did not succeed, for I was alone in the attempt. I believe there are not more than half-a-dozen street vocalists of the same class as ourselves. They are respectable persons; and certainly open-air singing, as we practise it, is more respectable than popular concertsinging as now carried on. No one would be allowed to sing such songs in the streets. The "character" concerts are attended generally by mechanics and their families; there are more males than females among the audiences.

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 Title Page
Chapter I: The Destroyers of Vermin
Our Street Folk - Street Exhibitors
Chapter III: - Street Musicians
Chapter IV: - Street Vocalists
Chapter V: - Street Artists
Chapter VI: - Exhibitors of Trained Animals
Chapter VII: Skilled and Unskilled Labour - Garret-Masters
Chapter VIII: - The Coal-Heavers
Chapter IX: - Ballast-Men
Chapter X: - Lumpers
Chapter XI: Account of the Casual Labourers
 Chapter XII: Cheap Lodging-Houses
Chapter XIII: On the Transit of Great Britain and the Metropolis
Chapter XIV: London Watermen, Lightermen, and Steamboat-Men
Chapter XV: London Omnibus Drivers and Conductors
Chapter XVI: Character of Cabdrivers
Chapter XVII: Carmen and Porters
Chapter XVIII: London Vagrants
 Chapter XIX: Meeting of Ticket-of-Leave Men