WHEN I was a young lad at the time when eggs were sixpence a dozen and farmer’s butter a shilling a pound, a singer who did not sing through his nose was regarded as a very poor excuse for a singer indeed. Also there was little thought of a singer whose voice lacked the strength to penetrate walls and travel great distances. I used to often hear it said of a certain late lamented public-house singer that his voice was so strong it could be heard at the bottom of Johnny Connor’s wood. The public house in which he sang was situated an approximate mile from the bottom of the wood in question so that the description was somewhat exaggerated. Nevertheless if it was wished to convey the fact that the singer in question had a stronger voice than most it was was clearly understood.
However, as the politician said, we are not here today to talk about that. We are here to discuss the influence of crooning on the Irish countryside . It is a fortunate thing for the dear reader that I was around at just about the time when crooning was first heard in the countryside. Notice I say “heard” and not “seen”.
No, because it was some years afterwards that the first crooner appeared. The way was prepared for him by gramophone. Up until this time only men with really powerful voices were to be heard on gramophones. Many of these sang through their noses in belief that it added class and distinction to the voice and mothers would encourage their children to use the nose as much as possible when singing. Nowadays there is nothing thought of a man who sings through his nose. In fact, unless I am greatly mistaken it is frowned upon altogether. But be that as it may, I was present in a country house owned by relations of mine when the voice of the first crooner was heard by all of those present. Beforehand they looked forward keenly to hearing the crooning so that there was no previous prejudice. The record was inserted and the handle of the gramophone was turned. There came the voice of the crooner. He was allowed to go on for a verse or two before the first interruption came. The song involved was “One of these days you’re gonna miss me Honey”. After a minute or so the oldest member of the household moved uneasily in his chair.
“Turn him off,” he said, “don’t he sicken me.”
Others present insisted that the crooner deserved jail and all expressed surprise that anybody would pay good money for such a record. I was the only young person present and I thought that the singing was enjoyable. I made the mistake of saying so.
“That’s not singing at all,” the oldest member shouted. I was silenced but it is only fair to add that the old man was doing no more than echoing the sentiments of all those over the age of thirty at the time. Older country people just detested crooning and crooners.
Then shortly before the invasion of Poland the first crooner together with a jazz band came to the local hall. There was a huge crowd but they were all young people. The crooner was made to sing again and again and everybody thought he was marvellous. Older folk who came as far as the door to listen shook their heads in astonishment.
“There’s no accounting,” they said, “for the fads of the young people today.”
This would be followed by the most often repeated observation in the history of mankind: “I don’t know what the youth of today are coming to.”
Time wore on and crooners came and went. Some were good and some were bad and others were indifferent but the crooning stayed on and almost everybody worth his salt was able to sing a few snatches from the current hits. The truth is that almost anybody can croon but you need to be a singer to sing. The common man, if there is such a creature, was able to identify himself with the crooning stars of the time. Neither could sing but they had made a fortune because they could croon. It, therefore, followed that any man could make a fortune. Gone was the conventional type of singer who had to study for years and who had to have a first-class knowledge of music.
The crooner represented a new era of equal opportunity. Men who were once terrified of pianos now couldn’t care less about them and those who couldn’t read music considered themselves as good as those who could. The age of the stuffed shirt was gone, at least for the present, and it was felt that if men could rise to the top through crooning they might one day do the same through humming.