Sunday, 14 February 2016

My gran meets Steve Buscemi. It's the roaring 20s

I brought my girl an apple; she let me hold her hand.
I brought my girl an orange; we kissed beneath the band.
I brought my girl bananas; she let me squeeze her tight.
I'm going to bring a watermelon to my girl tonight.

My grandmother in c 1926, aged about 20

Lyrics to a Bonzo Dog song from 1966. But it was originally recorded in 1924 by the risque Billy Jones and Ernest Hare. It's the sort of thing that might have been found on my grandmother's gramophone record player.
What the Bonzos did in the 60s was to scour the flea markets, find old 78 rpm records, and re-record them. And then, about 15 years later, in the early 80s, I started listening to them. And still do. So, the recordings live on. 

Steve Buscemi as Nucky Johnson in Boardwalk Empire 
And here we are talking about something that happened in the 1920s and those records give us a direct link back in time. But there's more. I mentioned to a colleague that I'd just started watching the box set of Boardwalk Empire (which starts in 1920) and we concluded that the roaring twenties were a great time for music; with the idea of lots of people being able to listen to recorded music in their own homes for the first time. And that included my maternal grandmother.

A '78' player, like my grandmother's (similar to the one on the left) was made between about 1898 and the late 1950s & played at a speed around 78 revolutions per minute
I remember Nana's wind-up 78 gramophone record player in her flat in Chislehurst. When she died, in 1991, it was still in pristine condition. That's because I reckon it was only me and my sister that ever played with it. Sadly, in 1991 it was sold on to a collector. I say 'sadly' because actually, in reality, what would we do with it? It was about three foot tall. So a bit impractical to have hanging around. But it was beautiful. 

Music and scenes from Boardwalk Empire 

So perhaps there's a direct link between me, my grandmother and Nucky Johnson, the character depicted in Boardwalk Empire by Steve Buscemi. And that link is those 78 records that define the era. 

Suggested listening

Boardwalk Empire soundtracks vols I, II & III

The Bonzo Dog Band - Cornology (Best of) 

Songs the Bonzos taught us 

Woody Allen - Wild man blues 


  1. Vince Giordano & The Nighthawks were doing this 20's music since the 1970's & won a grammy for their work in "Boardwalk"...

  2. Many thanks I'll have a listen...

  3. My gran had a huge 78 player (Adjustable between 70 and 88 rpm if I recall). The horn was gigantic. I don't know what happened to it after she died. I doubt if any of us had room for it, which is a shame, I still remember patiently playing 7 12" sides to get the whole of Ravel's Bolero.