ALMOST simultaneous with the improvement in my
repertoire which the songs I have just spoken of represented I began to
get more work than I could tackle and found myself actually compelled on
several occasions to refuse engagements. There were forty or fifty letters
waiting me when I came home after that first Moss and Thornton tour and
practically each one contained the offer of an engage ment. So I
determined to raise my fees. I would accept nothing less than a guinea and
a half and my rail fare! To my great delight many of the concert promoters
gladly agreed to my terms with the result that my income was sometimes as
high as five and six pounds a week.
Naturally some of the people I had been glad to sing for a year or two
earlier for five shillings and ten shillings a night were in high dudgeon
about Harry Lauder's "swollen heid" and didn't make any mistake about
telling me off for my greed and rapacity. The secretary of a football club
in Cambuslang with whom I had formerly been on friendly terms wrote me a
very snappy letter in which he demanded to know if I considered myself an
Adelina Patti, finishing his epistle by saying I would live to regret not
coming to Cam'slang and that he would tell everybody the dirty trick I had
played his club and its annual concert!
the autumn of 1896 I got an engagement for six weeks with Mr. Donald
Munro's North Concert Party and this started a friendship which has been
one of the great joys of my life. Donald is a big man in Aberdeenshire
today and is the Provost of Banchory, the lovely Deeside town which he has
always envied. At the Lime of which I write Donald was
in the timber trade—he is still one of the leading men in Britain in the
timber business—and had more than a local reputation as an elocutionist
and Scotch reciter. Having a long vacation every summer he hit upon the
idea of touring a concert party in August and September. He made many
tours before I joined him and long after I left him and I have a shrewd
suspicion that the canny Donal' made a good lot of siller out of his
concerts. In any case he was able to pay me five pounds a week and also to
employ artistes so well known as Jessie Maclachlan the Scottish prima
donna and Mackenzie Murdoch, the best violinist in my opinion our country
were a well-varied combination and scored a terrific series of successes
all over the northern and midland towns of Scotland. At the finish of the
tour Donald wanted to re-engage both Murdoch and myself on increased wages
but we laughed and told him that we had learned a trick worth two of
that—Mac and I had laid our heads together and resolved to become
impresarios on our own. But we had such a respect and sincere affection
for Munro that we assured him we would not touch his territory at all when
we started next summer.
"Besides," I added, "the train fares up here are awfu'
dear; we're goin' to stick around about Glasgow where the jumps won't be
so costly. In fact we may walk from place to place!"
Donald wished us all the luck in
the world and our brief relationship as master and man, ended there and
then. But our personal friendship has grown stronger with the years. I
wish you all knew Donald Munro! What a big, honest, grand man he is—as
straight as his own back-bone!
I had a very good winter after the Munro Tour finished.
For two weeks on end one busy period I played in a different town or
village every night. I put on several new songs but none of them so good
as "Tobermory," or "The Lass o' Killiecrankie." And I was getting as much
as two guineas for my services in the larger towns and cities—fairly on
the highway to fame and fortune, I proudly assured myself. No matter how
much money I earned Nance was a rare one to "save it up" and, to be
candid, I think I gave her encouragement in this laudable enterprise! The
result was that by the time spring came round and the dull season for
concerts arrived we found ourselves with a bank-book and over ;E150 to our
credit. In fact we went and had a full week's holiday a Rothesay—the first
full week we had ever had in our lives together. Just to break the
monotony I accepted an engagement while there—and earned the cost of the
Mackenzie Murdoch and I had several meetings during the early summer and
we planned out our first tour. We thought it expedient to stick to the
West Country where, we told ourselves, we were best known and where we
would be sure to pick up a lot of money. Joyfully we looked forward to the
adventure. We were on a dead cert, Mac told me and I told Mac; it was
going to be money for nothing. We counted what "Capacity" the halls would
hold and calculated the profits down to a shilling or two! "Easy Jack,','
as my American friends would say! Had we foreseen what our actual
experience was going to be we would never have "crawe sae crouse" to use
an old Scottish phrase meaning that pride goeth before a fall. When the
first proofs of the Lauder-Murdoch Concert Party bill came from the
printers we stood admiring them for hours at a time and we even got an old
woman to slip one into her window in the Garscube Road, Glasgow, just to
see how it looked in passing! Murdoch and I both agreed that it was a
"clinker" and that it would pull the people into the local halls until the
police would "summons" us for overcrowding.
With piles of these same bills
Murdoch and I set out together to cover the towns embraced in the first
week of the tour, Kilmarnock, Irvine, Kilwinning, Saltcoats, Troon, and
Ayr. We must have personally distributed hundreds of the placards and seen
to the actual posting of hundreds more on the boardings and on country
fences and the walls of disused buildings.
The tour started on August Bank
Holiday, 1898. Our company consisted of Harry Lauder, Scotland's Pride (as
a little weekly paper had described me a few weeks previously), Mackenzie
Murdoch, the World's Greatest Fiddler, Scott Rae, Caledonia's Popular
Tenor, Flora Donaldson, Brilliant Soprano, and Howard, London's Star
Ventriloquist. And though I say it myself it was a jolly fine
Mac and I agreed to draw five pounds a week each out of the income and the
salaries of the other artistes amounted, all told, to less than eight
pounds a week. The tour was a ghastly failure. Night after night we played
to a mere handful of people—that is, if the free passes be excepted, for
there was always a good representation of dead-heads. At the end of the
first week Murdoch and I were in the blues. The second and third weeks
were a little better and the fourth showed a profit, encouraging me to
persevere. But the last two weeks were disastrous. One night we played to
thirteen grown-ups and fourteen children and of the twenty- seven in the
hail sixteen were there on "paper." But this wasn't the worst. At
Stenhousemuir, in Stiriingshire, there were exactly eleven people in the
hall and the drawings were one shilling and ninepence! I was so enraged
that after my second turn I delivered a speech, roundly rating the
inhabitants for not turning up in their hundreds to hear "the finest
concert-party that ever toured the British Isles." I finished up by saying
that my partner, the illustrious violinist Mackenzie Murdoch and myself,
Scotland's Pride, would never again set foot in that God-forsaken village.
I might have said a lot more had not the village bill-poster at that
moment wakened up in his free seat from a drunken slumber and shouted out,
"And a damned good job, too! My ac count's pey'd and ye can a' gang tae
hell!" That particular concert ended abruptly. On the afternoon of the
very last day of the tour, Murdoch and I went out for a stroll in the
village which we both felt was due to be the Waterloo of our careers as
concert-prompters. The place seemed dead and we were both moodily silent.
All at once Mac started to laugh.
"Look at this, Harry!" he said and pointed to a placard
which appeared to contain the following extraordinary announcement:
Only Appearance of
The Audience will join in singing the hymn
God from Whom All Blessings Flow."
At first, being a bit short-sighted, I thought that
this was the work of some enemy but closer investigation revealed the fact
that one of our posters had got mixed up with the announcement of a
religious service to be held in the village on the Sunday following our
concert. We both had a good laugh over the incident but behind our
merriment was the unspoken idea that the mixing up of the bills was an
omen full of evil for our future!
Altogether Murdoch and I lost a hundred pounds each on
the tour, returning to Glasgow sadder but wiser men. When I wrote and told
Donald Munro of our lamentable failure he replied with a very kindly
letter telling us not to be discouraged. He had had the same experience to
begin with but this year, even without the support of two great artistes
like Lauder and Murdoch, he had cleared quite a decent amount of money!
"Try, try, try again, Harry, my lad," he finished up.
As a matter of fact our next venture the
following summer, taking a different lot of towns and spending far more
money in advertising, got back all that we had lost on the first tour,
besides the five pounds a week we again credited ourselves with out of the
drawings. Both Mac and I were beginning to be much better known; at some
of the towns we visited we had full houses and these places were marked
down for concentrated attack the following year.
I have many delightful recollections of the
half-dozen tours carried out by the Lauder-Murdoch Concert parties. As I
have told you the second of these more than paid its way while the third
and fourth were what I should describe as "most gratifying" from a
financial standpoint. As a matter of fact I think our third and fourth
ventures must have earned for each of us something like six hundred
pounds. It was not at all unusual for us to pull forty, fifty, or sixty
pounds into the house at some of the larger centres, especially the more
popular seaside resorts, while in cities like Edinburgh, Dundee, and
Aberdeen I have known us draw over a hundred pounds at a performance.
Mackenzie, like myself, had known poverty and hard times and the gradual
crescendo of success was as great a joy to him as it certainly was to me.
I was secretary and treasurer in the first year or
two of our association. The first of these two posts did not give me a
great deal of worry but I carried out my duties as treasurer with
meticulous care! I was generally down at the hall very early in the
evening and gave the local "stewards," or checkers minute instructions as
to their duties and the importance of making sure that nobody got in for
nothing I They used to say in London long ago that Sir Henry Irving's
mannerism of nodding his head while declaiming his parts was actually his
method of counting up the number of people in the house. Sir Henry, so the
tale goes, could always tell to a flyer what the drawings ought to be
on any particular night. That's nothing! I became so proficient in
estimating the drawings at our concerts that I could tell to within a
shilling or two, immediately I went on the stage, what my own "rake-off"
was going to be after the salaries and expenses had been accounted for!
Later my brother-in-law Tom Vallance joined up with us as general manager
and ultimately relieved me of the treasureship but before his advent
either Mac or myself carried all the money to our lodgings. Here we
counted it over and over again, putting the paper money in one heap, the
half-crowns in another, the two-shilling pieces in another and so on down
to the threepenny bits. That to me, let me be perfectly honest about it,
was the finest part of the evening's work! The first time we took twenty
pounds in an evening Murdoch and I sat up the greater part of the night;
we were so excited that neither of us could sleep. Gaspard, the miser, had
nothing on us that night. We would, singly or together, certainly have
murdered any person who attempted to rob us before we had time to get the
money safely in the bank next morning.
Writing of this sort of thing
reminds me of an amusing incident which happened one evening in Glasgow.
We had given a concert in a village some miles on the north side of that
city and had time, the other members of the company included, to catch the
train for Glasgow soon after the show. We seldom got home even for a night
after the tours started and we were all glad of the opportunity to do so
seeing we were playing so near our homes. Nance and I by this time had
removed from Hamilton and were living in a fiat in Dundas Street on the
south side of Glasgow.
Arrived at Buchanan Street Station we all said
goodnight and I made for the nearest cab-rank: I had the money taken at
the doors of the concert in a little leather bag and it behooved me to
take no risks in getting the cash safely home. I must have fallen asleep
because the first thing I remember was the old horse "cabbie" opening the
door of the vehicle and announcing "Dundas Street, sir!" Out I jumped,
paid the fare, and ran upstairs. Nance had not expected me, and was in
bed, so I just pulled off my clothes and was on the point of turning out
the kitchen gas when I remembered I had left the leather bag in the cab.
I gasped. I recollected that
there was nearly twelve pounds in the bag. I went all shaky and cold
sweaty! But in money matters I have always had the reputation of being a
man of action. In any event I was that night. Seizing my trousers I made
for the door, not even pausing to answer my wife's agonized query as to
"what ailed me." At the foot of the stone stairs I pulled on my trousers
and dashed off in the direction at which I had hired the cab. A few
pedestrians abroad—it was now about one in the morning— thought I was mad.
And two policemen tried to stop me. But I "juked" them both and never
stopped until I arrived at Buchanan Street. There, alone in the rank,
stood the very cab which had driven me home and there, on the dicky seat
was the driver, now fast asleep.
"You're the man!" I yelled as I jumped up on the dicky
beside him. Thus suddenly awakened from his slumbers and seeing a strange
apparition in a state of wild undress appear from nowhere, the cabman let
out an ear-splitting yell—and promptly fell off the cab on the other side.
I was after him in an instant and we rolled all over the stance, the
unfortunate cabman, thinking he was dealing with a lunatic, hoarsely
roaring "Help! Murder! Police!"
By and by a couple of policemen came running up.
Explanations followed. The upshot was that one of the officers of the law
opened the cab door—and brought out the missing bag intact with the
precious drawings. I had to give the aggrieved cabman five shillings for
assaulting him and the "coppers" a shilling each for a drink. Next day I
narrated my midnight adventures to Murdoch and suggested that the
"expenses" should come off the firm as a whole. This he stoutly objected
to, insisting that I was solely to blame for my criminally culpable
handling of the money. I had to bear the brunt myself. But the incident
was a lesson to me; from that day to this I have never left a bagful of
money anywhere—not even a threepenny bit!
During these concert tours we
covered practically every large village and town in Scotland from the
Solway Firth to John o' Groats, with occasional excursions into the north
of England. We had many amusing experiences but if I were going to recount
the complete history of the Lauder- Murdoch concert companies it would
require a book to itself and would, after all, only interest Scottish
people. But one or two stories occur to me as worth telling. My first
visit to St. Andrews is brought vividly back to my mind as I write because
I have just been reading about Bobby Jones's astounding triumph in the
British Open Golf Championship. Surely Bobby must be the greatest player
that ever hit a golf ball plumb up the centre! The next time I am in
Atlantic City I am going to give him a signed post-card of myself! And
perhaps he'll give me a golf club in exchange!
Well, Mac and I, having a few
hours to spare at St. Andrews decided that we must have a game of golf. We
each borrowed a couple of rusty old clubs from the son of the landlady and
as I had found a handful of old gutta balls in a drawer in my room we
deemed our equipment complete. So down we strolled to the first tee. There
were several couples waiting to go off. As each successive pair hit their
balls resounding whacks Murdoch turned to me and said, "This game looks
dead easy, Harry—just wasting a good walk!" When our turn came I went
forward to the teeing-ground, took two or three handfuls of sand out of
the box and proceeded to make a mound like a pyramid on the top of which I
carefully placed a very dirty and debauched gutta ball. The man in the
starter's box watched my operatons with a cold, threatening eye and just
as I went up for my first stroke he demanded to know if I had paid my
"What's that?" I asked. I had never heard of green fees. "A
shilling each," was the snappy reply. "And you can't start off unless
you've got a ticket!"
This information immediately cooled our ardour for golf
but we decided to go through with it even at this colossal expense. I
didn't have a shilling on me. Twopence was all I could muster but Mac had
some money and paid for the two of us. So up again I went to my pyramid.
Taking the biggest of the two clubs with which I was armed I "waggled" it
as I had seen the other golfers do at the same time trying to recall the
precepts I had imbibed when I was myself a caddie on Miisselburgh links
many years before. But again a stern voice exclaimed:
"You canna play an iron aff the
thought the man in the box was having a joke with me so I winked at him
and said, "Oh, yes, I can—just you watch this!" With that I swiped at the
ball. There was a sudden sandstorm and my ball whizzed past the starter's
head right into his box. There were yells of laughter from a group of
caddies hanging around and even old Greig himself—starter at St. Andrews
for countless years and a famous character the world over—could not
refrain from joining in the merriment. But he was adamant against our
playing irons off the first tee. So he came out of his box— evidently the
most dangerous place with me in the vicinity —pitched my ball fifty yards
down the course and ordered us off the teeing ground, adding,
"Ye've paid yer green-fees an' I
canna stop ye frae the use o' the coorse (much as I wad like tae) but ye
can sciaff awa' frae doon-by there." He pointed to where he had flung my
ball. Mac and I decided to accept his advice. But we only played one hole.
Less than that, as a matter of fact, for I put my fifteenth shot into the
Swilcan Burn and fell headlong into the mud in a vain effort to retrieve
it. That was enough for me; we went home to the "digs" firm in our
conviction that the game was completely overrated besides being far too
dear! (I would like to add that I have improved considerably since then,
that I carry my clubs with me all over the globe and that nothing on this
terrestrial sphere gives me half so much genuine pleasure as an occasional
"bogey" and a still more occasional "birdie"!)
My fiddler partner and I always
tried to find rooms together wherever we went. Apart from being good
friends we thoroughly enjoyed, as I have already hinted, the sen sation of
counting up the "takings" after each concert. But occasionally
circumstances compelled us to be separated. Once at Forfar I found
solitary accommodation with a widow-woman who was the most superstitious
person I had ever met in my life. She was worse than my own mother who,
after all, simply believed in second sight, signs, portents, and the like.
But this landlady in Forfar went further. She believed in ghosts,
supernatural happenings, visitations from evil spirits, death warnings,
and all the other adjuncts of the mysterious beyond. I hadn't been in her
house ten minutes when she had me quite "goosey" by her tales, weird and
impossible as they were. On my return from the Reid Hall after the
performance she started again something after this fashion:
"Ye ken, Maister Lauder, I'm
daein' wrang by haein' Ye in this hoose an' I shouldna wonder if something
dreadfu' happens either tae you or tae me! The last time I had a coupla
actors livin' wi' me we had a visit frae the Bad Anes. Declare tae God!
An' when the folks o' the plaicie (Forfar is known far and near as "the
plaicie") winna believe what I tell them I jist bring them into this verra
room and ask them tae look up at the ceilin'. There, dae ye se onything
yerseif ?" I looked up and sure enough I could detect strange black
markings which had only been partially obliterated by a new coating of
white-wash. "They look to me like feet-marks," said I trying to laugh the
thing off. But the landlady's swift and entire agreement with my diagnosis
completely upset me and gave me a cold feeling down the spine. "Feetmarks,
says you"—and she was off again full tilt—"Aye, an' naething else but! Hoo
did they come there? Fleas can walk on a ceilin' but nae livin' body can
dae it. But the deid can walk upside doon an' them marks yer lookin' at
this meenit were made by an ill speerit.
"I'll tell ye the story," she
continued. "Twa or three months ago I took in as lodgers a Glesca man
caa'd Wee Jakie an' his chum. They were traevellin' wi' a concert party
jist as ye are yersel' and they had this identical room for three nichts.
On the last nicht, aboot five o'clock in the mornin', they let oot sic
yells an' skins that I was waukened frae ma sleep an' cam' tae see fat a'
the stushie was aboot. Wad ye credit it, Maister Lauder, but they swore
somebody was walkin' on the ceiin' upside doon. 'Are ye drunk or daft,'
says I to them, gey sharp-like, but by this time they had lichtit a caunle
an' were starin' up at the roof wi' their e'en stickin' oot o' their heids
like bools. Fan I followed their example an' keekit up I was knockit a'
ditthirie for I declare tae God the ceilin' was covered owen wi' feet
marks. At aince I kent what it meant.—.-it was a veesitation for haein'
play-actors under ma roof. So I ordered them tae the door there an' then,
no stoppin' even tae chairge for their bed and board. I only hope tae God
that naething like that happens this nicht." And she left me.
Did I pass a peaceful evening in
that room? I did not. I lay awake most of the night and when I did "dover
ower" it was generally to jump up in bed with a violent start and listen
for the slightest sound above me. I was up very early, paid my bill and
cleared out of the haunted house. In the train going to Brechin an hour or
two later, I recounted my experience to Murdoch. He started to laugh.
"Oh," said he, "that's an old trick of the travelling acrobats in Scotland
for getting free lodgings." He went on to explain that one of a couple
living in the same room together blackens his feet at the fireplace, gets
on his chum's shoulders upside down and so covers the ceiling with
foot-prints. Then, after a good sleep, they scream the house down and in
the consternation and excitement which follows they make their escape
without paying, leaving the poor land-lady overcome with horror and dismay
at the thought that her domicile has been marked down by the Evil One! All
the company had a fine laugh at my expense. But no one can say that I have
ever objected to anybody having that at my expense!
We once struck Kilmarnock during
the week of an agricultural show and we had the utmost difficulty in
getting accommodation. Murdoch and I went all over the town asking for a
double bed, or even a shake-down. "I've slept with a dog before now, Mac,"
I told my companion, "but I wouldn't be surprised if I had to sleep wi' a
coo or a pig tonight!" However, just as we were giving up hope a lady
householder promised to put us up somehow. She would think over the
problem and be ready for us when we returned late in the evening.
Right enough, when we came home
from the concert she ushered us into a small room with a bed made up in
the corner. By the uncertain light of a tallow candle we undressed and
slipped into bed and as we were both very tired we soon fell asleep. By
and by I was awakened by a persistent drip of water falling on my neck.
Mac also wakened and complained that the roof was letting the rain in.
Jumping up in bed with the intention of getting out and investigating, my
head came in contact with a loose something swinging about. Without
pausing to consider I gave the thing a pull whereupon both of us were
drenched through and through with a downpour of water which seemed to come
from the roof right above our heads. The landlady had made us up a bed on
the bath and the cord I pulled controlled the spray four feet above the
many a happy hour Mackenzie Murdoch and I spent together on our Scottish
tours, After the first year or two we were established successes and as
Torn Valiance had relieved us of all the routine work we had lots of time
to improve our golf, to learn to fish, shoot, and sail, all of which we
did together. For my part, too, I had time to concentrate on new numbers
and whenever I hit upon an idea Mac was always willing to set my tunes to
proper music. He "took down" the melodies of many of the songs I am still
singing and he orchestrated quite a number of them. He was a great
violinist and a fine musician. Compared with men like Kreisler and Heifitz
a girl like Erica Morini, I suppose he would not have ranked highly but he
had the soul of Scottish fiddle music in him and I have never yet heard a
violinist who could compare with him in his interpretation of our haunting
national airs. If I was sad Mac and his fiddle could always make me glad;
if I was cheery and blythesome Mac and his fiddle could make me dance for
is dead. When the news of his passing reached me several years ago in New
Zealand I had to lie down on my bed in the hotel and "Greet ma e'en oot."
Murdoch never quite forgave me for parting company with him in our
Scottish tours but the fault was not mine—my English engagements became so
numerous and, speaking for that time, so profitable, that I simply had to
resign from the Lauder.- Murdoch combination. Poor Mackenzie could not get
any- body to take my place and for many years afterwards had difficulty in
earning the income to which his great talents entitled him. If there is a
celestial orchestra in the Happy Land I have no doubt my old friend
Murdoch is drawing golden melody from his fiddle-strings and thus cheering
the hearts and putting "mettle in the heels" of all true Scots who have