Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Roamin' in the Gloamin'

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!

In 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 ever produced.

We 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 week's jaunt!

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 concert-party.

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
"Thank 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 green fee.
"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 first tee!"

I 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 pillows.

Many and 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 very joy.

Now he 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 gone hence!


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus