What does it sound like?:
Music Hall developed from the streets and pubs of London in the mid-19th Century. By the start of the 20th Century, Music Hall had taken up residence in a number of venues across the capital.
Attracting large audiences seeking a night out and entertainment, music hall delivered a mix of popular songs, comedy, speciality acts, and variety entertainment.
The songs, depicting everyday life in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, were often humorous or satirical, though some were sentimental or patriotic, and others dealt with darker themes such as jealousy and murder. Many were also blatantly sexual, though always expressed in clever euphemisms and double entendres.
Max Champion was one such performer treading the boards in the late 19th Century. Little is known about him, except that he was born in 1882 in London’s East End, and is thought to have been related to the great Victorian entertainer Harry Champion. As an up-and-coming performer he shared the stage with big stars such as Gus Ellen and Vesta Tilley, but his career (much like the Music Hall era itself) was cut short by the First World War, and his songs faded into obscurity.
That is, until 2014, when Max Champion sheet music started to surface: first in Malta, then in England, and, intriguingly, in Belgium, where Max probably met his end in the trenches. By 2019, enough songs had been recovered for Joe Jackson to resurrect them with a 12-piece orchestra.
As Joe himself states: “These were wonderful songs in their time, but they’re surprisingly modern, too. Sometimes it’s almost as if Max is speaking, from his London of the early 20th century, directly to us in the early 21st.”
Performed on piano front and centre, with a thick cockney accent in places, and supported by the orchestra, the songs deliver on the description above, and as stated do seem to have a modern feel (or maybe we as a nation just haven’t moved on that much?).
The album is done in 40 minutes, with ups and owns in tone but no let up in pace. My only real comparison for the Music Hall genre is old episodes of The Good Old Days, and the content of this album would not be out of place there.
(all that’s missing is Wilson Keppel and Betty’s Sand Dance)
Thing is, a variety of search terms in Google bring back no record of Max Champion. Whilst the 11 songs here certainly sound like they emerged in Music Hall, there are lyrical moments that potentially betray that provenance – “Health and Safety” for example, not sure it was very high on the agenda in the era.
Add to that a vaguely recognisable face in the photo of Max Champion supplied (see below), and one must conclude that Joe Jackson’s latest musical project has created the character to support the existence of these songs.
What does it all *mean*?
I doubt a Music Hall revival is on it’s way any time soon, so this album occupies a somewhat unique niche. But there is nothing wrong with that, and whilst it may not be kept on constant rotation, there is enough going on to make you want to return to it again.
According to Joe Jackson’s website, plans are underway to bring Max Champion on Tour. If that travelling show does happen, and arrives at a venue near me then I will definitely be seeking tickets.
Goes well with…
Searching for your washboard
24 November 2023
Might suit people who like…
Trying to be a bit different with a new album release