Thursday, June 19, 2014

At the Music Hall: Mad Dogs and Englishmen, 1932

In tropical climes 
There are certain times 
Of day
When all the citizens retire
To take their clothes off and perspire.
It's one of those rules
That the greatest fools 
Because the sun is far too sultry
And one must avoid its ultry
Violet ray.

English playwright, composer, actor, singer and director Noel Coward was known for his wit and talent. His clever lyrics and complicated melodies charmed audiences throughout his entire career and his was responsible for composing some of the most culturally significant songs of the Twentieth Century.

His 1932 song, 
Mad Dogs and Englishman, quickly became a popular favorite. It’s humorous statement about the intrepidness of the English when visiting foreign lands was as comic as it was relevant and true. He wrote the song without aid of pen or piano while traveling in Hanoi. Working out the complex song in his head, he triumphantly recited it from memory to his companion and later noted, “I wrestled in my mind with the complicated rhythms and rhymes of the song until finally it was complete, without even the aid of pencil and paper. I sang it triumphantly and unaccompanied to my travelling companion on the verandah of a small jungle guest house. Not only Jeffrey [Amherst], but the gecko lizards and the tree frogs gave every vocal indication of enthusiasm.”Mad Dogs and Englishmen was featured in the show, Words and Music, but quickly developed a life of its own, being sung in music halls and pubs alike. Its humorous lyrics and rousing melody still delight audiences today. 

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