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Welcome to the BRAND NEW addition to our website.
This extensive biography has been carefully researched and produced by site member Richard Ineson as part of Anthony Peabody's ongoing
"Works of Joe Morley" project.
I would like to thank Richard and he, in turn, would like to acknowledge all who have contributed to the work.
His full acknowledgement is found at the foot of the page.
The life of Joe Morley (1867-1937)
His early life.
Joe Morley (originally Joseph Caswell ) was born in Kinver in Staffordshire on the 3rd December 1867. His parents were George Morley (b. 1848 Mildenhall), and Lucy Caswell (b.1839 Stourbridge), previous writers have claimed erroneously that his mother's name was Maxwell. He had two brothers and three sisters, Delilah Sophia, also born in Kinver, in 1874, James, born in Keynsham, (spelled K.E.Y.N.S.H.A.M. later to be the home of Horace Batchelor and his famous 'Infra Draw' method) Bristol, Somerset, in 1875, Louise Elizabeth born in Westbury, Wiltshire in 1877, Sophia, also born in Westbury, Wiltshire, in 1878, and George Harry, born in Cardiff in 1882.
Kinver High Street c1900
Joe's father, George, was listed in the Census of 1871, as a bricklayer by trade, but was by 1891 listed as a musician; his daughters,( Joe Morley's sisters), Sophia and Louise ('Lulu') are listed as pianists in the Census of 1901 and Joe Morley's brother, James, is also listed as a musician in the Census of 1891. James later became a publican at 55, High Street, Stoke Newington (1911 Census) and also, at 198, Lewisham High Street.
George Morley seems to have been nomadic in his dwelling habits moving his location regularly, probably in connection with his work as a bricklayer. In 1861 he was living in North Street, Mildenhall. In 1871 he was in Prince's Street, Sudbury (the home of his sister Elizabeth and her husband, Thomas Smith). and in 1881 he was living in Roath, Glamorgan, and in 1891, Canton, Cardiff.
Joe Morley was living in High Steet, Kinver in 1871, in Helen Street, Roath in 1881, and Cradock Street, Canton, Cardiff in 1891. In that year, he moved to London and was lodging at 37, Rosaville Road, Fulham where his landlord was called William Townsend. Joe was later to rent two rooms at Burnthwaite Road from the same Townsend.
A recent photograph of 37, Rosaville Road, Fulham, where Joe Morley lodged in 1891.
The overall impression of Joe's early years is one of a very chaotic existence. His father was already married when he met Lucy Caswell, and she already had two children (Amy Alice Brown Caswell b. 1860, and Mary Jane Lewis Caswell b. 1865) out of wedlock. The constant moves, even more probably than those listed in the Census, indicate a very precarious way of life.
George, Joe's father, seems to have drifted in and out of Lucy's life ( he married her in 1873) and by 1901 she was living in Cunnington Square, Wisbech, with her daughters, Louise and Sophia, whilst George, her husband, is not mentioned.
Joe Morley and the banjo.
Joe's family obviously had some musical talent and it is said that his father George played the concertina and that Joe, from the age of five, used to go busking with him, Joe step dancing to his father's playing.
Joe said in an article in 'The Banjo World' magazine of January 1896, that he commenced playing the banjo at the age of twelve, he acquired his first banjo when his father bought a seven stringed, smooth arm, banjo, which had been left in one on the Inns which he frequented. Joe was soon plucking simple tunes on the instrument.
By the 1890s Joe Morley was associated with at least three Minstrel troupes, The Bijou Minstrels, The Royal Victoria Minstrels and the Royal Osborne Minstrels.
The Bijou Minstrels.
This Minstrel troupe consisted of Joe Morley, Bruce Wyatt, Ern Locke, Den Hussell, Mr. Brookland, and Master James Bowen. The following transcription from a newspaper cutting gives a flavour of the performances of the Bijou Minstrels:
Worcester County and City Lunatic Asylum.
On Tuesday evening last a very successful entertainment was given by the Bijou Minstrels in this asylum for the benefit of the patients, this being the second tome during the season that the company have appeared at Powick.
A very excellent programme was provided: the first part consisted of part songs rendered by the whole company, several solos and several pieces by the band. The second part was made up of a banjo solo by Mr Joe Morley, a descriptive clog dance, a new burlesque oration by Mr Bruce Wyatt and various other items, the whole concluding with a laughable sketch by the Bijou Burlesque Team.
All parts of the programme were much appreciated, and very hearty applause was given by the large audience that had assembled, composed of over 500 patients, a number of the staff, and a few visitors.
The efforts of Mr Ern Locke, Mr Brookland, Mr Bruce Wyatt,Mr Den Hussell and Master James Bowen may be mentioned as being particularly successful.
A further appearance of the Bijou Minstrels at the Public Hall (possibly in Worcester) is recorded in the following newspaper cutting:
"Genuine holiday fare was provided as the Public Hall on Monday, when the Bijou Minstrels appeared with one of their most attractive programmes before a large audience who had apparently a huge capacity for enjoying the many good things put before them by this excellent combination. The ballads of Master James Bowen and Mr. Harry Chair, the comic songs, the banjo playing of Mr. Joe Morley and the whimsicalities of Messrs. Ern Locke, Bruce Wyatt and Dan Hussell were as appreciated as ever. Master Bowen sang an 'Evening Hymn' written and composed by Mr. H."
The Bijou Minstrels seem to have still been active into the late 1890s, their generous offer to entertain the children in the Royal Albert Orphanage being rejected by the Management Committee in 1897,1898 and 1899 inclusively.
The Royal Osborne Minstrels
(They may have been named after the Royal Yacht Osborne, or Queen Victoria's residence on the Isle of Wight, Osborne House) were founded in 1879 by Donald Marshall 1848 -1919, who was born in Liverpool.
The members of the Royal Osborne Minstrels were Donald Marshall (whistle), Joe Morley (banjo), Alf Wentworth (concertina), Mr. Twinn (harp), Dave Pegg (tambourine) and Ted Scott (bones).
Donald and the Royal Osborne Minstrels had the honour of appearing before Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII)the Queen of Denmark, the Duke of Saxe- Coburg and many other members of the Royal Family at Osborne and on the Royal Yacht as well as many other leading Society people, both ashore and afloat, who were visiting Cowes for the yachting festival.
The Minstrels also visited Ryde for the yachting week, attended regatta shows and many other important events on the Island. During the summer months they often played at race meetings on the mainland, including Ascot and Goodwood.
I found a further reference to the Royal Osborne Minstrels in the archives of the former Tenby Urban District Council, who were making enquiries, in 1898, of Rhyl Urban Distict Council regarding the reputation of the Minstrels - 'were they known to the police?' as the Royal Osborne Minstrels had applied for a licence to perform at Tenby during 1898.
The Royal Yacht Osborne.
Joe Morley reminisced in 'The Radio Times' June 25th. 1936, about playing for the Duke of York (later Prince of Wales and later King George V) on the Royal Yacht at Sandown, Isle of Wight, when he was a member of the Royal Osborne Minstrels.
The Royal Victoria Minstrels
The name of this troupe may have been prompted by the prestigious Royal Victoria Yacht Club at Ryde, I.O.W., whose club house still overlooks the Solent from the western end of the esplanade at Ryde and was intended as a private yacht club for Queen Victoria because the Royal Yacht Squadron at Cowes would not accept female members/visitors, even those of Royal blood.
Completed in 1847, the building cost £4,500. Queen Victoria's death in 1901, however, brought about a change in emphasis and the yachting fraternity returned to their traditional clubs in Cowes.
Between the wars the fortunes of the Ryde based club declined and during the 1950s there was very little activity. Fortunately some farsighted members of the club sought a union between the RVYC and two dinghy clubs, Fishbourne Sailing Club and Wootton Creek Sailing Club. In the early 1960s the clubs relocated to their present premises at the mouth of Wootton Creek at Fishbourne.
The personnel involved with The Royal Victoria Minstrels were, Joe Morley, Walter Verner, Mr. W. Corrie, Mr. A.Ross, Mr. A. Lawrence, Mr. C. Sutton, Mr. S. Blackmore, Mr. F. Palmer, Mr. A. Crosbie and Mr. Ted Yates.
Surrey Mirror, of Saturday, 12th November, 1892.
Surrey Mirror, 19th November, 1892.
Clifford Essex meets Joe Morley
It was during this time with these various Minstrel troupes that Joe Morley first made contact with Clifford Essex. Here is what Essex had to say about this meeting in the B.M.G. magazine in 1937.
"It was the first year of my Pierrot Banjo Team,(1891) and after having performed at Henley, Cowes and Ryde Regattas, I was advised to try Sandown, in the Isle of Wight. It was not long after arriving there before I heard of a wonderful banjo player who was performing in a local nigger troupe known as the Royal Victoria Minstrels, In those days the nigger troupe was the principal form of outdoor entertainment at most seaside places.
I very soon took the opportunity of hearing their show, and heard Joe Morley play for the first time, and wondered at his wonderful dexterity. His great number at that time was Meyer Lutz's well known 'Pas de Quatre' from the Gaiety Theatre which everyone was humming or playing on their pianos. I was surprised to see that Joe was playing on a smooth arm seven stringed banjo, but the way that his hand raced up and down that handle was wonderful ( no position playing).
Even then I did not know his name, but I soon made it my business to make his acquaintance, and he told me that most of the things which he played were his own compositions. I offered to buy some of them from him for publication, pointing out to him that his name would get widely known, and he would become a 'personality' instead of just 'one of the niggers'.
Joe at once fell in with the idea but nothing materialised for three years when, by that time, the popularity of my Pierrots had proved the undoing of the Victoria Minstrels and, incidentally, sounded the death knell of nigger troupes throughout the country. Then Joe came along and said, "Oh Cliff, I can let you have some of those compositions of mine, if you like," just as if I had only made the proposition the day before. "Right you are," I said, "bring them along," and I mentioned several of the numbers I should like to have.
I felt sorry that the success of my Pierrots should have been the means of closing down Joe's show, and as he was the only one I could be of any help to. I suggested that he should come to London in the winter and I would put him up at my big concert when all of the banjo fraternity would have the opportunity of hearing him, and I should be able to keep him going until it was time for him to rejoin the Victoria Minstrels, who were going to try their luck at Colwyn Bay, in Wales, for the next summer season.
But I explained to him that I could not possibly put him up before a London banjo audience with a seven string, smooth arm, banjo. Joe protested that he could not cope with a five string instrument so we compromised by my having a six string fretted banjo made for him by Weaver and this I gave him with my best wishes.
Joe Morley's London Debut
My concert took place at St. Martin's Town Hall and Joe's reception was most enthusiastic, as I knew would be the case. I was sitting with a pupil of mine, Mr. Brodrick Cloete (whose brother won the Derby with Paradox), ( Essex might have been confused about the name of the owner of Paradox, who was a William Broderick Cloete, a rather controversial figure, in horse racing circles) and he was so struck with Joe's playing that he asked me whether he could be engaged to play at his house in Berkeley Square after dinner one night, and if so, for me to make the arrangements and to engage my Pierrette, Miss Dewhurst, to come and play Joe's accompaniments, which I did.
This was Joe's first private engagement and I got him many more, such as the National Sporting Club, Artist's Volunteers, London Scottish, Officer's Mess at Knightsbridge and many others which I cannot now remember and rounded things off by placing him at Moore and Burgess Minstrels, St.James' Hall, Piccadilly with a three months' contract (Morley's first performance with the Moore & Burgess Minstrels took place on Easter Monday 1894) which saw him through until it was time for him for him to rejoin his troupe at Colwyn Bay.
Joe Morley recalled 'blacking up' for the only time in his life whilst performing with the Moore and Burgess Minstrels, he mentioned other members of these famous minstrels as being, Jimmy Carrol, Johnny Morton, Tom Birchmore, and Willie Frear.
The Moore and Burgess Minstrels played their last performance at the St.James's Hall in 1900 and then the Mohawk Minstrels took over the lease of the hall. The Mohawks last performance was in 1904 when the hall was demolished to make way for the Piccadilly Hotel.
( Harry and Dick Pepper revived the minstrel show at the London Palladium in 1912 with a 'sit round' of a hundred artists with thirty six banjoists, under the charge of Joe Morley, who composed 'The Palladium March' especially for the occasion.)
By 1894 Joe Morley was playing on the same bill as Alfred Cammeyer and also with Miss Francine Dewhurst, a member of the Pierrot Banjo Team/Clifford Essex' Pierrots as the following newspaper cutting from the Sunderland Daily Echo, March 20th, 1894, shows:
By 1896 Joe Morley was well established in the London banjo scene. The following article appeared in Essex & Cammeyer's magazine, 'The Banjo World", in January of that year. For some reason the date of his birth is glossed over and his birthplace is given as being Worcester but the photograph of him seems to indicate that he is prospering in the company of Essex and Cammeyer.
Clifford Essex had been in partnership with Alfred Cammeyer at No. 59, Piccadilly, where they had had a very successful banjo studio, since 1892; this is the address from which they published the first Morley banjo solos and those of other composers and the monthly banjo magazine, 'The Banjo World'. They imported banjos, made by established makers such as Cole, from the U.S.A. and they also had banjos made for them by English makers, Richard Spencer and Alfred Weaver amongst others, before establishing their own workshops..
Alfred Cammeyer came to England, with his zither banjo, from the U.S.A. in 1888 and quickly established himself as a 'society' entertainer, so much so that he was engaged as part of the entertainment arranged for the birthday of the Duke of Clarence at Sandringham in January, 1891.
The Essex & Cammeyer partnership was dissolved in 1900 apparently because of some disagreement about copyright. This was reported in the Morning Post, Saturday 14th July 1900.
Alfred Cammeyer moved to premises in fashionable Jermyn Street, initially at number 14, (his wife, Annie Vaughan Hughes, who was a widow when Cammeyer met her, lived on Jermyn Street, her father was a jeweller and had his premises there), but moving eventually to number 97A (printed on the Cammeyer publications was the direction, 'entrance in York Street' ) this is actually Duke of York Street,
... which is off Jermyn Street) before settling, in 1903, at 3 Swallow Street, in premises which had previously been occupied by Herbert J. Ellis, the banjoist and prolific composer of music for the fretted instruments, who died in that year. Cammeyer later moved to number 6, Swallow Street.
Clifford Essex, under the terms of the dissolution of the partnership, apparently could not establish a similar business or publish a magazine for a period of three years from the date of the dissolution; but the restriction may, in the case of the publishing of banjo music, have been circumvented in the case of the compositions of Joe Morley, by using the pretence that Joe Morley was publishing the compositions himself.
This seems to explain the existence of the mysterious seven banjo compositions, bearing the photograph of a young Joe Morley and his address, which were published at this time.
Interestingly, Charlie Rogers, ' The wonder boy banjoist' and his parents lived at No. 15 Burnthwaite Road in 1901, at which time Joe Morley was living on Neville Street, Fulham but he had moved to 11, Burnthwaite Road by 1903 when these seven banjo solos were apparently published by him.
When Clifford Essex was able to establish his own business in 1903 he took the upper floors of 15a Grafton Street, which had previously been the home, until 1899, of Sir Henry Irving the great Victorian actor.
Joe Morley's association with Clifford Essex and his Pierrot troupe.
There has been much controversy, amongst banjo historians, about the names of the Pierrot troupes associated with Clifford Essex.
Here are my personal thoughts on the matter:
The first Pierrots (in connection with the banjo) were in fact, Clifford Essex, his anonymous stockbroker friend "H.S." - a "banjo fiend" and Kate Sampey, known in those days as 'the lady banjoist' (Kate Sampey had been playing the banjo, with Essex and Arthur Corbett since at least 1889). This troupe was known as "The Pierrot Banjo Team" and had no Royal connection until August 1891.
Jimmie Blakely joined the 'Pierrot Banjo Team' in 1892, Francine Dewhurst at the end of the 1892 season and Will Pepper joined them in 1893.
Will Pepper was not, as has been sometimes stated, the original banjo player with the Clifford Essex Pierrot Banjo Team, all three members of which played the banjo.
'The Pierrot Banjo Team' were not known as the 'Royal Pierrots' or the 'Royal Pierrot Banjo Team' at the time of the 1891 Henley Regatta because, at that time, July 1891, they had not appeared before any member of the Royal Family and could not therefore claim the Royal connection. Their first appearance before the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward V11) was at Cowes, on the Royal Yacht, in August 1891.
It is debatable whether or not, even in these circumstances, that 'The Pierrot Banjo Team' could claim Royal patronage or endorsement because they had not been commanded to appear before the various Royal personages present on the Royal Yacht. Essex had merely had his troupe rowed out to the vessel and they, as it were, 'gate crashed' the Royal party. They were lucky to have been given permission to board the vessel.
It is not clear when Clifford Essex adopted the description 'The Royal Pierrot Banjo Team' or 'The Clifford Essex Royal Pierrots' or when the word 'Royal' was first used in any way in connection with Clifford Essex and his Pierrot troupes but the use of the word 'Royal' seems to only appear, in connection with Essex' Pierrots, towards the end of the 1890s, when, as the picture shows, the personnel of the 'Clifford Essex' Royal Pierrots', were, Essex, Blakeley, Morley and Dewhurst.
The banjo solos 'Heel and Toe' polka by Joe Morley, No. 45 in the Essex & Cammeyer lists and 'In the Moonlight', also by Joe Morley and No.23 in the Essex & Cammeyer lists, both bear the words 'PLAYED WITH THE GREATEST SUCCESS BY THE PIERROT BANJO TEAM'.
Both of these solos were amongst those ordered from Joe Morley by Clifford Essex in 1891 and published from 1893 onwards. This seems to indicate that Essex had not adopted the term 'Royal' to describe his Pierrot troupe at this date, 1893, two years after the Cowes performance on the Royal Yacht.
I have a copy of the sheet music for the song, "Say 'Au Revoir' But Not Goodbye" written by Harry Kennedy and copyrighted in 1893 which bears the words 'with banjo arrangement by Clifford Essex of the Pierrot Banjo Team' no mention of any Royal association here, and this two years after the Royal Yacht performance at Cowes.
Another song, 'The Belle of Honolulu' written by Lee Johnson and copyright 1898, has printed on the front cover, "sung by The Royal Pierrot Banjo Team" (Clifford Essex is credited with having arranged the song for the banjo).
Another popular song of the time, "I Want To Go To Morrow" written by Lew Sully and also copyrighted in 1898 has the words "Sung with immense success by the Pierrot Banjo Team" again no mention of an 'Royal' connection. Incidentally, my copy of this song has a footnote written on the score by J. MacNaghten (McNaughton) - "By 1898,'The Pierrot Banjo Team' had presumably become "Clifford Essex' Royal Pierrots", J. MacNaghten, a well respected banjo historian and former editor of the B.M.G. magazine, was obviously also unclear about this matter.
The famous tune "Whistling Rufus" arranged and published for banjo by Clifford Essex and copyrighted in 1898, bears the words, "As played with the greatest success by Clifford Essex' Pierrots", again no 'Royal' connection.
The front cover of the Parke Hunter composition, 'Pensacola', No.242. in the Dallas' Artistic Banjoist list, bears the words "Played with the greatest success by the ROYAL PIERROT BANJO TEAM (Clifford Essex)". Morton Parke Hunter arrived in England in 1897, when presumably the publication of his compositions, by English publishers, commenced so this seems to be another indication, together with the other evidence, that the Essex' Pierrots were known as the 'Royal Pierrots' only after this date.
The facts which are clear are that the description 'Royal' used in connection with Essex' Pierrots was used inconsistently and, where it is used, it seems to have been used only circa 1898 and afterwards.
In the 'Derby Mercury ' November 14th 1900, it is stated that Clifford Essex and his Pierrots had appeared before Royalty on at least five occasions. Enough appearances, it would seem to me, to justify, without fear of contradiction, the appellation 'Royal' to the Pierrot Banjo Team.
Further, as regards the inconsistent use of the word 'Royal', the B.M.G. magazine Issue No. 2, Vol. 1, November 1903, has an advertisement, on the inner back cover, for the Autumn tour of the "Clifford Essex' Pierrots" no 'Royal' connection here, but on the front cover, the 'Clifford Essex' Royal Pierrots' (amongst others) are advertised to appear at the Kensington Town Hall on the 11th December 1903.
This inconsistency is surprising bearing in mind that a claim to 'Royal' patronage and endorsement, in the early years of the 20th century, a time when the Royal family was held in the highest esteem by the general public, would have carried with it a very valuable commercial advantage suggesting high quality, respectability and indeed a Royal connection.
Of course, there may well be evidence to show that Essex used the title, 'The Clifford Essex Royal Pierrot Banjo Team' to describe his troupe immediately after their Royal performance at Cowes in August 1891, but I have not seen it.
It is also clear that Clifford Essex ran at least two Pierrot troupes; in the B.M.G. June, 1913, the editor, Emile Grimshaw, writes, "For some weeks past, a second company of the Clifford Essex Royal Pierrots has been appearing before enthusiastic audiences at a very fashionable watering place in France, (this was Le Touquet). This company includes Miss Katie Moss, ( composer of the famous song, 'The Floral Dance') who has had many years' experience with the Pierrots".
Perhaps the 'Clifford Essex' Royal Pierrots' was the troupe in which Essex appeared personally and the 'Clifford Essex Pierrots', or the 'Pierrot Banjo Team', was another troupe with which he did not appear.
Joe Morley joins the Clifford Essex Pierrots
Joe Morley had seemingly formed a close relationship with Clifford Essex by 1894, and was already performing with Francine Dewhurst and Alfred Cammeyer, (Cammeyer was still, at that time, in partnership with Clifford Essex at 59 Piccadilly). Morley joined the Clifford Essex Pierrots as the featured banjo soloist when Will Pepper left the C.E.Pierrots, (Essex claimed that there had been some dispute involving Jimmy Blakely, who needed regular, year round, work, and Pepper not wanting to play with the CE Pierrots in the provincial theatres during the winter months) but to form his own troupe, 'The White Coons' which was, according to Harry Pepper the son of Will Pepper, the founder of the White Coons, (Radio Times February 5th 1937) in 1896. (Bill Brewer in his excellent series, 'The Banjo in Britain' published in the B.M.G. magazine in the mid 1950s, claimed that the year was 1895.)
This is what Clifford Essex said about this in the B.M.G. November 1937, in an article entitled 'Poor Old Joe'.
"When Will Pepper left my show to form his 'White Coons' on similar lines to my Royal Pierrots, I sent Joe a wire to Colwyn Bay offering him the post, which he at once accepted and opened for a week's engagement, I had booked at Folkestone Pier in the afternoon and Town Hall at night.
This put Joe on 'easy street' at once and he remained in my show for about thirteen years performing with us at all the smartest watering places on the South, East and West coasts and the Channel Islands, beside innumerable private engagements and suburban concerts.
He made himself a great favourite with the public. His wonderful playing coupled with his perfectly stolid way of presenting it, appealed greatly to his audiences.
How we came to part I never quite understood; some sinister influence got to work and four B.M.G. concerts were organised within a fortnight surrounding my December date, and all of the artistes engaged were barred from mine.
The following year, (according to Essex, the four B.M.G.concerts organised around his own event which led to him deciding not to hold a banjo festival took place in 1911, which seems to indicate that JM and FD joined the White Coons in 1912, a date which does not seem to tie in with those given by either him or Joe Morley in other accounts) Joe Morley and Miss Dewhurst joined the 'White Coons' at a very different salary to what they had been accustomed to in the Royal Pierrots. Sid Turner of Cheltenham, took Joe's place and the change made no difference in the business done".
There is some confusion about the date that Joe Morley joined the CE Pierrots, but based on the evidence of Harry Pepper who seems to be the most reliable source, Will Pepper left the Clifford Essex Pierrots in1896.
Essex also commented about this, in the May, 1930 issue of B.M.G.
"Later on, as I had to make a change in my Royal Banjo Team (Will Pepper had departed) I knew the one man for the job was Joe Morley. I sent him a wire offering him the post, which he at once accepted, and in a week he had assimilated the repertoire of the past three years. (This would mean that Morley joined the Pierrots in 1894, as they gave their first public performance at Henley Regatta in 1891)
For thirteen years he held the job................."
Essex' memory must have been at fault here (he was writing over thirty years after the event) as an advertisement in the Morning Post of 3rd December 1895 shows that Will Pepper was still performing with the Clifford Essex Banjo Team at that time.
Morley was certainly performing with the Pierrot Banjo Team in 1897:
Hampshire Advertiser May 22nd, 1897.
During his time with the Clifford Essex Royal Pierrots, Morley played banjo duets with Essex.
Hastings and St. Leonard's Observer, Saturday 17th September 1898
Later, in 1901, he was joined by the 'Boy Wonder' Charlie Rogers, who remained with the Pierrots until c1904. It was probably at this time that Joe Morley collaborated with Charlie Rogers on arrangements of banjo solos such as 'Nigger in a Fit'
Francine Dewhurst left the Royal Pierrots in 1900 and was replaced by Margaret Cooper. Essex claimed that Miss Dewhurst left him to join the 'White Coons' at the same time as Morley (1909) but this is obviously not correct.
This is what Essex said about the departure of Miss Dewhurst:
"The next trouble I had was when Miss Dewhurst left us after having been eight years in the team. A great calamity this was and many thought and some, I think, hoped it would prove a knock out blow for the Pierrots. Personally I don't think we ever quite found her equal, taking everything into consideration; but her successor was someone who, although at that time practically unknown, has since become very famous - namely, Miss Margaret Cooper.
Miss Margaret Cooper
Her performance with us was always most artistic. In those days she never attempted such a light frivolous style as 'Waltz me Round Again Willie' , 'Hullo To Tou' etc. That came after, when she created such a furore at the Palace Theatre".
Margaret Cooper was succeeded by Ethel Negretti.
In 1904 the members of the Pierrots were Clifford Essex, Joe Morley, Algernon Newark, Walter Walters, Ella Barkley (better known as Katie Moss) and Frances Roscoria.
Katie Moss (Kate Emily Barkley Moss 1881-1947) is probably the the best remembered Pierrete to have performed with the Royal Pierrots, mainly because she was the composer of the eternally popular song, 'The Floral Dance' which she wrote in 1911 and which was recorded by Peter Dawson in 1912.
Another well known singer who appeared with the Pierrots was Ivy St.Helier (Ivy Janet Aitchison 1886 -1971) who appeared in the original cast of Noel Coward's 'Bitter Sweet' and in several films including 'London Belongs to Me'.
Other Pierettes were Haidee Hamilton and Doris Walthew.
Essex took the Pierrots 'off the road' in 1915 because of the World War.
During the early 1900s Morley featured solos by other composers as well as his own compositions, 'Cupid's Arrow' by Eno, 'Hiawatha' by Moret, 'Coloured Band Patrol', by Eno, amongst them.
Clifford Essex also tried to encourage him to take part in other parts of the Pierrot performance but without success. Joe seems to have been quite shy and it is known that he spoke in a quiet voice.
Joe left the Clifford Essex Pierrot troupe in 1909 (Essex and Morley agreed in their separate reminiscences that Joe Morley was with Essex for thirteen years) and had been replaced by Sid Turner by 1910, as this advertisement from the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette dated 2nd September, 1910, shows:
Joe Morley and the 'White Coons'
It is almost certain that Joe Morley joined Will Pepper's 'White Coons' in the year 1909. In an interview in the Radio times of June 25th 1936, Joe claimed that he joined the 'White Coons' two years after they had been founded but this is not possible as they were founded in 1896 which was when Will Pepper left Essex to form the 'White Coons' concert party.
Essex said that Joe Morley was with him for thirteen years following Pepper's departure, which takes us to 1909. It must be borne in mind that Joe was an old man at the time of the 'Radio Times' interview and he was obviously mistaken.
This photograph of the 'White Coons' dated 1905 does not show Joe Morley:
And this photograph which does show him, is unfortunately undated:
It would seem that Joe Morley joined the Clifford Essex Royal Pierrots in 1896, and, as Essex claimed that Morley was with him for thirteen years, this establishes the date of his departure as being in 1909 when Sid Turner replaced him. Sid Turner played with the CE Pierrots until 1912 when he was replaced by Vero Berrie, who like Morley, left to join the 'White Coons' and he was replaced in turn by Doris Walthew.
Here is another rare photograph of Joe Morley whilst he was appearing with the 'White Coons'
The photograph of the 'White Coons' below, shows Allan Thomas and Alf Wood using Cammeyer banjos.
In the Radio Times interview Morley said that The White Coons had toured Ireland prior to him joining them, and had played at the Viceregal Lodge, in Dublin.
Here is a picture of the White Coons performing on the Esplanade at Bray, which was at one time the largest seaside resort in Ireland.
Report of a performance of the 'White Coons' which was published in the 'Banjo World in 1907. (Before Morley joined them.)
Although Morley was not a member of the 'White Coons' at this time, this report is interesting in that it demonstrates the typical format and repertoire of the 'White Coons' Concert Party at the time.
It is not known for how long Joe Morley was with the 'White Coons', but it does not seem to have been for much more than two years; the 1st World War intervened and, perhaps the White Coons, like the Clifford Essex Pierrots, were taken off the road for the duration of the war.
Playing with the White Coons was also probably a seasonal job and Joe would have had to seize his opportunities, when the 'White Coons' were 'resting', for earning his living by playing the banjo whenever any such opportunities arose. As he aged he probably also sought a more routine and settled way of living.
The Palladium Minstrels
In the B.M.G. magazine, December 1912, the following announcement appeared :
"At the London Palladium on Boxing Day there will be a revival of the old time nigger troupe, a feature of the production being a banjo band of forty players".
The banjo band was led by Joe Morley. George Morris, who was a member of this banjo band (incidentally, he thought that there were 34 banjoists in the band) some years later recalled some of those who were also members: Bert Bassett, Will Blanche (who was arrested in 1916 for failing to enrol in His Majesty's armed forces), Vero Berrie, Jim Bertolle, Bob Thomas, Charles Page, Charles Stainer, Chris Webb, Dave Roberts, George Hewitt, Ted Casselli, Will Mitchell, Alban Booth, Jim Hawken, Mr.Cole, Dick Spence, Bert Goodall, Horace Wencker, Mr. Turmean, Charles Read, H.Strickland, Ted George, Jimmy Wells, Horace Somerton, Ernie Colgate, and J. B. Crocker O' Brien.
A Song sheet featuring a photograph of the Palladium Minstrels
The January 1913 edition of B.M.G mentioned the performance of the Palladium Minstrels as follows:
"The banjo never had a finer advertisement than it is having at present in the new Christmas production at the London Palladium, although the introduction of thirty four banjoists on the stage at one time cannot by any means be considered a strikingly original idea".
"From start to close the banjo seems to dominate the entire production".
"Mr. Joe Morley played a solo of his own composition entitled 'Chrysanthemum'. This was rendered in his usual excellent style, the exquisite runs being played with marvellous facility. The tone of his banjo (N.B. not of Clifford Essex manufacture) was, however, far too weak for a huge building like the Palladium"
"In the two selections by the banjo band, the greatest charm was in the spectacular effect; in neither instance were the players keeping perfect time".
"Some sustained plectral effects would have been one means of improvement in order to relieve the continuous staccato tone of the banjos".
"We understand that plectrum playing is forbidden, this is surely a mistaken policy".
"However, as presented there is much in the banjo turns to attract and delight the immense audiences who are at present patronising this place of entertainment".
The phrase, 'damning with faint praise' comes to mind.
Clifford Essex had his revenge, for in the June 1913 B.M.G. appears a short item in the 'Jottings' column -
"The Palladium Banjo Band has lost some of its best players including Mr.Bert Bassett, George Morris, Vero Berrie, and E.J. Manicom. The latter is now rehearsing in Glasgow with the Moss Empire's new minstrel production, particulars of which will be found elsewhere in this issue".
It was quite a feature of the rivalry between the various banjo companies in those days, when invited to concerts etc. arranged by a competitor, to hint that everything was not as good as it might have been, as with this scathing comment:
"Unfortunately we are not able to comment on the quality of the performances as the view of the stage, from the seats which had been allocated to us, was obscured by a large pillar and, as we were seated adjacent to the refreshment facilities, we had great difficulty in hearing anything above the noise of boisterous chatter and the clattering of crockery and cutlery".
This is typical of those made by the representatives of the various opposing banjo factions.
The Palladium Minstrels appeared again at Christmas 1913 and again Essex' mastery of withering understatement is well to the fore, in his review of the performance in the January 1914, B.M.G.
"In many ways the performance is better than that presented last year. The choruses are better harmonised, the orchestra assists instead of dominating, some of the jokes are not so ancient and an effort has been made (although not entirely successful) to make some use of modern ideas in banjo orchestration".
"The four bass banjos (N.B. not of Clifford Essex manufacture) gave added interest to the picturesque setting, but that was about all. It is a regrettable fact that, strain our ears as we might, not the faintest sound was to be heard that could in any way be attributed to the bass banjos".
"We hope that this production will have a long run".
This picture of Joe Morley with fellow banjoist Ernest Jones, was published in the B.M.G. magazine in December 1959.
Other work which came Joe's way was performing in the still popular banjo concerts, as this John Alvey Turner promotion in November 1913, shows :
Joe Morley and World War 1.
Joe Morley lived in Salisbury during at least some of the years of the 1st World War, (1914 -18). Perhaps Joe moved from London after the Zeppelin bombing raids commenced in 1915 as did Alfred Cammeyer and his wife?..
Joe Morley c 1915.
Joe made the following recordings, in May and August 1914, with Olly Oakley and an unknown pianist.
London circa May 1914
35527 Palladium March. Beka 876, Favorite 744, 35527, Scala 576, Coliseum 623
35528 A Darkie Chuckle. Coliseum 986, Scala 934, Silvertone 174
35529 Banjo Capers. Coliseum 986, Scala 934, Silvertone 174
35530 Peach Blossoms. Beka unissued
35531 The Drum Major. Beka 876, Favorite 744, 35531, Scala 576, Coliseum 623
With Olly Oakley and an unknown pianist.
London circa November 1914
93498 The Palladium March. Pathe 8962, 5119, 332,30362,35071
93499 The Drum Major. Pathe 8961, 5118, 331, 20261, Diamond 0268
93500 Banjo Capers. Pathe 8962,5119,332,20262,35071 Diamond 0269
93502 A Banjo Oddity. Pathe 8961,5118,331,20261, Diamond 0269
93503 A Darkie Chuckle. Pathe 8963,333,1209,20263, Diamond 0268
935504 Peach Blossoms. Pathe 8963,55617,333,20263
Tarrant Bailey Snr. reminisced about visiting Joe in Salisbury, at this time, in the B.M.G. magazine of September 1956:
W. M. Brewer, the banjo historian, wrote in the B. M. G. magazine of December1955,
"When the 'Palladium Minstrels disbanded, Joe joined Alec Hurley's concert party, 'The Jesters' which toured Ireland during the early part of the 1914-18 war".
In an article about Joe, in the Radio Times, June 25th 1936, the interviewer writes,
"He has memories of playing Rummy one night after the show with a pitched battle going on outside. Curfew in Dublin, after that and the show cancelled.... memories of crossing Bantry Bay on a drifter to play on an American battleship lying in Berehaven, 'They wanted us to stay on, we couldn't, or I might have gone down with the Leinster.' (The R.M.S. Leinster was torpedoed by the Germans off Dun Laoghaire (then called Kingstown) in October 1918 with the loss of over five hundred lives.)
Joe Morley at Salisbury army camp c1916
As a soloist, Joe Morley played for the troops at Aldershot and Salisbury. These photographs show Joe at Salisbury; on this occasion, after the concert. Joe is looking rather 'washed out' in these photographs probably due to the fact that Alf Wood had kept him from his bed all night playing banjo duets:
Joe also played at the, now demolished, Palace Theatre in Salisbury during the war years.
This theatre is probably better remembered as the site of the auction of Stonehenge, on September 21st 1915, to its last private owner, Cecil Chubb, for £6,600.
The 1st World War brought the virtual closure of many seaside resorts as large hotels were taken over for the housing of troops and also the Zeppelin raids and German bombardments of holiday resorts such as Scarborough and important ports such as Hull, made the public nervous of travelling into what were seen as danger zones. Clifford Essex took his Pierrot troupe off the road in 1915 and, doubtless, many others followed suit.
After the Armistice in November 1918, Morley travelled to France and played for the army of occupation in Cologne and Coblenz.
The Ragtime/Jazz Era
After the war regular work for banjo players of the old school must have been hard to find. Jazz and ragtime were now the rage, banjo players were now required to play with the banjo with a plectrum and the banjolin, tuned in fifths, was developed to allow violin players to play the banjo, but Joe Morley would not change his ways. He said to Clifford Essex, "Cliff, if I hadn't soles to my shoes, I would not put a pick on a banjo".
Essex remarked, "He remained true to his principles to the last, thereby missing a lot of easy money".
The following article, "The Corner House Ragtime Quintette" from the B.M.G. magazine, February 1919, gives a flavour of how the banjo had developed during the 1st World War.
The 'White Coons' continued to play in Felixstowe until 1922, but I have not been able to discover whether or not Morley played with them at this time.
Joe continued to compose music for the banjo. 'Niggertown' one of his most popular banjo solos was published by Turner in 1919, (Niggertown was an area of Cardiff, a town in which Joe Morley lived at one time, it was inhabited by people of various nationalities and there were some serious riots in this area in 1919. This may have been the source of the title for this banjo composition). There were a further 26 pieces or so, up to 1933 when 'Desert Trail' seems to have marked the end of Morley's publishing career with John Alvey Turner.
Essex continued to publish Morley's compositions after the war, 'Crackerjack', 'Monkitrix', 'Freckles', 'Blush Rose', were amongst more than twenty new compositions, altogether.
This advertisement appeared in the B.M.G. in March 1932:
Other publishers such as John Alvey Turner, Dallas, and Larking also published banjo solos by Morley at this time.
This advertisement appeared in the B.M.G. in March 1933:
Morley also made his one solo recording of 'The Donkey Laugh' backed by 'The Jovial Huntsman', for the Homochord Company on December 15th 1925.
Here is a Joe Morley recording anecdote related by Tarrant Bailey Jnr. in an article in the Fretwire magazine, September 1979:
At this time Morley still undertook musical engagements and continued teaching the banjo. Some concert work was still available as these advertisements for the 29th Annual concert of the Aston Banjo club, which was held in 1926, and the John Alvey Turner concert held in February1935 show, but overall, his financial circumstances must have been difficult.
The Banjo Tutor
Joe Morley's banjo tutor was published by John Alvey Turner in 1929. The book was, it is said, co-written by Joe Morley and John P. Cunninghame.
Here is an interesting article about Morley's method of right hand fingering which appeared in the B.M.G. December 1931.
The Later Years.
The Joe Morley Testimonial Fund
Through the 1920s Britain's economy was struggling to pay for the effects of World War One. Then, in 1929, the American Stock Market crashed, world trade slumped, prices fell, credit was no longer available. The value of British exports halved plunging many industrial areas of the UK into poverty. By the end of 1930 unemployment reached 20%. Finally the pound was devalued by 25% which stimulated exports but unemployment blighted large areas the UK for some years afterwards.
Public spending was cut and taxes raised. This had the effect of depressing the economy even further. The North of England in particular was devastated by unemployment, resulting in the protest march known as the 'Jarrow Crusade' which took place in October 1936 which was intended to draw attention to the unemployment and poverty suffered in the northeast Tyneside town of Jarrow during the 1930s. Around 200 men marched from Jarrow to London, over 26 days, carrying a petition to the British government requesting the re-establishment of industry in the town following the closure in 1934 of its main employer, Palmer's Shipyard. The petition was received by the House of Commons but not debated, and the march produced few results.
This economic disaster must have affected the demand for entertainers of all kinds and especially for musicians such as Joe Morley who had not moved with the times.
Even Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Elizabeth (wife of King George V1 and mother of our present Queen Elizabeth II) ...
... was not unaffected by the economic turmoil in these years, in a letter to her mother in law, Queen Mary (wife of George V) dated 16th September,1931, she says:
"My father is thinking of shutting up Glamis, which would be very sad, but I feel that the new super tax makes it almost inevitable. I feel rather worried about everything Mama. The world is in such a bad way, and we seem to be going from bad to worse here too. Everybody is hard hit by the new taxation, and everybody is feeling very unhappy!"
Desperate times indeed! Little wonder that by 1930 it must have become very clear that Joe Morley was struggling financially and Clifford Essex, to his credit, decided to organise a fund to get Joe Morley back on his feet. This fund was commenced in March 1930 and by July 1930, the sum of £138/7/6 had been raised. Clifford Essex had agreed to equal the highest amount sent in by any individual during the course of the fund and, at this time, this stood at £16/19/6, raised by Tarrant Bailey Snr.
The following article appeared in the B.M.G. in May 1930:
Joe Morley continued to appear at various banjo events, including the meetings of the London based B.M.G. clubs. His performance at the B.M.G. All-England Finals, held at the Central Hall, Westminster, on the 9th January, 1932, was reported in the 'Rhythm' magazine of February 1932, as follows:
"Joe Morley, who exhibited all his old artistry in 'Monkitrix' and 'Diana' and also with his ensemble in 'Sports Parade' and 'Japanese Patrol'. He was also featured in a photograph together with Pascale Troise".
The following article appeared in the B.M.G. magazine in July, 1932:
My collection of the B.M.G. magazine is not complete, but I have several of the issues relevant to the Joe Morley Testimonial Fund which show the various amounts given by individual donors and the running total of contributions received.
In August 1932, £21/14/5 was raised, in September, 1932, £20/18/0, in November, 1932, £4/3/2, in December, 1932, £4/5/9, in March,1933, £0/15/6, after which subscriptions to the fund seem to have fizzled out.
A photograph of Joe Morley taken at around this time (1933):
Radio and Television
In the late 1920s Val Gielgud was responsible for staging the first variety programmes on BBC radio. He brought a young producer from Belfast called John Watt who was put in charge of the new revue section in 1930, and it was he who collaborated with Gordon McConnel and Doris Arnold who were joined by Harry Pepper (Doris Arnold married Harry Pepper in 1943) and they decided to revive Will C.Pepper's 'White Coons' for broadcasting, with Joe Morley as the banjo player, in August 1932.
The financial security provided to Joe Morley by working with the 'White Coons' on this radio show may have been the reason that the Joe Morley appeal fund, started by Clifford Essex, seems to have been wound up.
Photograph of the 'White Coons' Doris Arnold at the piano, Harry Pepper to her right, and Joe Morley with banjo, and the W.C. chorus.
Doris Arnold (1904- 1969) was a BBC broadcaster in her own right. She had joined the BBC as a typist in 1929 and became the first female 'disc jockey' with her programme of light classical music. 'These You Have Loved'.
That first 'White Coons' concert party broadcast was followed in January 1933 by the 'Kentucky Minstrels. Only Doris Arnold and Harry Pepper had any confidence in the idea behind the new show - that of reviving a real old time 'sit round' show, as in the days of Moore and Burgess, but their confidence was soon justified. Pepper wrote the signature tune and also the hit song of 1934, 'Carry me Back to Green, Green Pastures'.
The 'Kentucky Minstrels' were broadcast until 1950; various banjo players were featured in the show over the years, Edward Fairs and Bernard Sheaff amongst others.
The three main characters were played, for many years, by African Americans, Isaac 'Ike' Hatch (c1891 -1961) Harry Scott (1879 - 1947) and Eddie Whaley (1886 - 1961) Hatch was a vocalist and songwriter who had been a member of the W.C.Handy orchestra - he came to England in 1925. Scott and Whaley had worked together in the U.S.A. and came to England in 1909, they were featured in a film directed by John Baxter and written by Harry Pepper and C. Denier Warren (also American), also called 'Kentucky Minstrels' in 1934.
Joe Morley reminisced about his early days with the banjo in the 'Radio Times' of June 25th 1936. His memory is at fault on several points, but it is still interesting reading; remarkably, there is no mention of Clifford Essex and Morley's thirteen years with the C.E. Pierrot Banjo Team/Royal Pierrots.
Tarrant Bailey Jnr. Joe Morley and Dick Pepper, were engaged as the 'Kentucky Banjo Team:
Tarrant Bailey Jnr. reminisced about the 'Kentucky Minstrels' in the April 1975, B.M.G.
The White Coons were transferred to the new medium of television in January 1937, here is the synopsis of the programme.
Arranged by Harry S. Pepper and Doris Arnold
Today, viewers are to have the opportunity of seeing the first concert party on the television screen - the famous White Coons, to be introduced by Harry S. Pepper, son of Will C. Pepper, who founded them away back in the 'nineties. When Harry joined his father, between eight and ten companies were showing at different seaside resorts. On August 31, 1932, the first White Coons show was broadcast, and it was little guessed that the originally planned series of four a year was to grow in popularity until the White Coons became a regular feature once a month.
The party is formed of Wynne Ajello, soprano; Jane Carr, who gives clever monologues which she writes herself; Paul England; Denier Warren, who writes the book and is 'the naughty boy'; that grand old man Joe Morley ('Lightning Joe Morley'), who appeared with the original company and composes a new banjo solo for every show; Tommy Handley, who succeeded Stanley Holloway, as the schoolmaster; and last but not least, Harry Pepper and Doris Arnold at two pianos.
Arranged by: Harry S. Pepper
Arranged by: Doris Arnold
Soprano: Wynne Ajello
Performer: Jane Carr
Performer: Denier Warren
Performer: Joe Morley
Schoolmaster: Tommy Handley
Pianist: Harry Pepper
Pianist: Doris Arnold
Joe Morley died in Lambeth Hospital, on the 16th September 1937, the cause of death was given as 'Carcinoma of Larynx'.
The death of Joe Morley was reported to the Lambeth Registrar by his nephew, James H. Morley, and he was buried in Streatham Park Cemetery on the 20th September 1937.
Joe Morley – Locating his grave and organising a subscription fund to purchase his Headstone.
In 2000 Pat Doyle, Secretary of The International Banjo Circle and producer of “The Banjo”, undertook the hunt for the location of Joe Morley’s grave. A search through innumerable cemetery ledgers revealed the burial location as grave 34010 square 20 in Streatham Park Cemetery, Rowen Road, Streatham South London.
Via the 60th edition of “The Banjo”, a subscription fund was set up to remedy the fact that Joe’s grave had no marker and to purchase a white marble headstone, designed by Pat, illustrating a Weaver Banjo with suitable inscription.
On September 15th 2001 during a poignant gathering of banjo enthusiasts beside Joe Morley’s resting place, then a blank lawned area, the late Sally Murrell unveiled Joe’s headstone. Following several moving addresses Morley compositions were played. This historic occasion was suitably photographed and, later, Mike Redman produced a Joe Morley Memorial Day brochure.
The assembled party adjourned to a convivial lunch reflecting on Joe Morley’s unique and lasting contribution to banjo and having finally remedied the omission of his suitable headstone.
Streatham is relatively close to Wandsworth and Joe's last address, Engadine Street. This cemetery is also appropriate as a last resting place for this illustrious banjoist as it contains the graves of over three hundred former 'stars' of the Music Hall from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Tributes and Reminiscences
G.A Keeler wrote this tribute to Joe Morley which was published in the 'Pickings' magazine November 1944.
MY MEMORIES OF MORLEY.
By G. A. KEELER
I first heard Joe Morley play in the early 1890s at St. Martin’s Town Hall, the occasion being a concert promoted by my old and esteemed friend Clifford Essex. It was about the period when Pat Shortis was appearing with his plain finger-board banjo at the old Alhambra and the Moore and Burgess Minstrels at St. James’ Hall, Piccadilly, W. Needless to say, Joe at the “old Town Hall,” was a great success, and practically from that time on, and for a long period, he was known as “the lightning player”; in fact, one of his early compositions which caused him to be dubbed thus, was entitled The Hailstorm Jig. Another solo of about the same period was called The Cannon Jig. Both compositions, it will be noticed, imply speed.
From that particular concert I went to others where Joe was billed to play, in order of course to hear him. To me, as to many others, he was wonderful on his six-string banjo. I believe it was a long time really before he changed to the five string, often called the American banjo.
The Clifford Essex Pierrots (Royal Pierrot Team) were then exceedingly popular and I well remember dining in the West End on one occasion with Mr.Essex and Miss Francine Dewhurst (the Pierrette of the troupe). Joe, however, did not turn up; neither did Jimmie Blakely.
Miss Dewhurst backed up Joe’s banjo solos with remarkably sympathetic pianoforte
A popular item in the programmes of the troupe was the Banjo Duet regularly featured by Messrs. Morley and Essex, Joe most often playing the lead. He was with the Pierrots for more than twelve years and I can vividly recall the Pierrots visit to Leytonstone in the 1890s, where I was then residing, and on going to see Joe in the artists’ room during the concert interval, being witness to a certain amount of excitement caused when Joe had hurriedly to protect his banjo (or rather banjos, as he kept two at that time in a double case) from some over-enthusiastic amateur’s interference.
Joe, it will be noted, was not only a Pierrot for many years, but also a nigger minstrel (sic), and besides playing for the Moore and Burgess troupe was with the Palladium Minstrels of after years as well as the “Kentucky Minstrels” of B.B.C. fame.
Joe was a prolific composer, his (published) compositions dating from the year 1894 (more probably 1893). The question has been asked did Joe Morley ever play anything not his own composition? Well, so far as I can remember them.
Here is a list of pieces that Joe either played strictly solo or in combination with Mr. Essex: Bonnie Scotland, Dickey Dance, Coon’s Parade, Coloured Band Patrol, Cupid’s Arrow, Hiawatha (arrangement), Highland Dance, Marche Humoresque, Plantation Echoes, Salome (arrangement), Sorella (arrangement), The Lobster's Promenade, Honolulu Cake Walk, Wheelmen’s March, and very many others.
To come now to a consideration of Morley’s own compositions it is, in my opinion, a question of registering contrasts rather than making a study of an orderly historical progress. When I say “contrasts,” the contrasting items in Joe’s repertoire were due largely to his long-continued experimentation in obtaining, evolving or perfecting out of- the-way banjo effects. Joe was an indefatigable experimenter. One of his early compositions clearly exemplified this tendency in his written work. For example, take the third movement in his Kentucky Parade (published before 1896). This third movement is an eight-bar phrase, the third and fourth bars of which each consists of four quavers. The first and third quavers in each bar are single notes, and the second and fourth are the same notes repeated with harmony. The single notes are picked in the usual manner, but the chords should be struck with the nail of the first finger. The effect of the first-finger strokes played after each of the main notes of the melody was, to my mind, highly captivating.
As a distinct contrast to the Kentucky Parade one can name, amongst his earlier compositions, Patricia — a rondo, the only rondo Joe ever wrote, a composition altogether different in style from any of his then published solos. I could go on pointing out many deft touches in his compositions in after years by way of experimentation; in fact, they were written as diversions from the style of contemporaneous composers. Joe himself, recognising this feature in his compositions, actually named one of his solos A Banjo Diversion; indeed, a fair proportion of his compositions were really diversions.
There was also a humorous streak in Joe’s psychological make-up. Without this .he could never have written Donkey Laugh, Banjo Oddity, Sprig of Shillelagh, A Banjo Frolic, etc., which all incorporate what I consider musical humour. Witness again that quaint item in his Banjo Tutor where, on p. 69, he tells us: “This piece, The Dancing Bear, comes to my mind as many years ago I used to see a man with a performing bear in the streets. The man used to play a tune similar to this on a reed instrument and the bear used to dance. The bear would lie down where the ‘rallentantos’ are marked, and commence dancing again where ‘a tempo’ is marked, and then pretend to die at the end of the piece.” Morley’s humour was spontaneously expressed from time to time in his solos, and another of his compositions reflecting this trait was called Merriment.
When residing at Burnthwaite Road, Fulham, in South-West London, Joe published, among other solos, his long-famous Slip Along Polka, which he played with the Clifford Essex Pierrots. It was about this time that he considerably modified his right hand fingering (mostly double and triple fingering on the first string).
Morley’s latest compositions, largely expressions of mood, except when on occasion of necessity, he wrote a “pot boiler” to earn ready cash, were always eagerly looked forward to by his admirers. The generality of his compositions are greatly favoured even today and I notice that out of the twenty banjo solos played at the concert of the National Banjo Society on the 27th May (1944), fourteen were by Morley.
When commencing to write these “passing notes” about a real banjo genius I looked up the Minute Book of the London Banjo Club. I found that during the year ending September 1937 Morley played seventeen of his compositions, nine of which are published, the titles being Shuffle Along, Banjo Frolic, Sprig of Shillelagh, Peppercorn, Niggertown, Banjo Oddity, Water Nymphs, Jovial Huntsman, and Zarana. I also noticed the title Mister Punch. I mention this number particularly because Joe had a habit of altering his MS work right up to the moment of passing it for publication and even the title sometimes so that it was hazardous to venture playing one of his manuscripts without enquiring immediately beforehand if there were any departures from the script. The alterations and additions Joe made were not due to inconsistency or wilfulness but always on account of an incessant process of polishing and improving.
I had the privilege, I regarded it then as I do now as a privilege, of occasionally playing duets with Joe, as at the London Club and the Ilford Club at which latter we played, in unison, The Gunners’ March, and at the London Club Zarana and Mister Punch.When I say in unison it was not only note for note but “vibration for vibration,” as when playing a duet with him, Morley preferred to tune both instruments himself. He had quite remarkably acuity of ear.
The last time I heard Morley on his banjo was on 13th September, 1937 at the London Banjo Club when he played an unnamed composition, I call it Morley’s Last Melody. I do this with every confidence for, on visiting him in hospital shortly afterwards and bearing in mind the dispute there was in former days as to what Stephen C. Foster’s last song was, I asked Joe what was his last work. He had difficulty in explaining it as his voice was failing but I had the manuscript of the piece at home and was able to whistle softly the first few bars when Joe confirmed that it was his last composition. (We are no wiser as to the name of this tune)
Joe’s originality in musical composition speaks for itself in the numerous solos written and played by him. His memory, imagination and emotion were all good. His humour I have already singled out, whilst he always arrived at securing balance throughout his compositions, bar occasional snags for the inexpert, and the plan and aptness of the majority of his works also speak for themselves.
As is the case with other musicians, Morley’s compositions in many instances dated themselves. Thus we find, to mention only a few; Jersey Schottische, London Club Parade, Shanklin Schottische, Sandown Schottische, Cowes Schottische and Royal Osborne Gavotte. These numbers not only date themselves largely by the fact that the Clifford Essex Royal Pierrots, in the old days, visited the Isle of Wight, but also indicate the place of their origin or conception. - I remember Joe telling me that Senegambian Revels, for instance, was written because of the rhythm suggested by a chain dangling loosely and banging against the end of a railway carriage on a journey from Leamington to London.
Of course, there are other factors to be taken into consideration in naming a banjo composition and I believe not a few of his manuscripts were actually named, by his publishers. I could never ascertain, why Joe named his famous solo Zarana, but bearing in mind that Joe was “fond of the gee-gees” and also bearing in mind that there was at one time a racehorse named “Zarane,” it strongly suggests itself to me that here we have a clue, as the name “Zarane” was probably pronounced by the uninitiated as Zaraner.
At Poland Street Joe ran a banjo class for some time which with some dozen others I regularly attended. His method when teaching was more by actual example than by authoritative precept.
In animated discourse or composition vivacity is often promoted by the use of figures of speech in which words or phrases are used in a sense different from that generally assigned to Them. Their object is to make one idea throw light upon another by bringing into view some previously hidden quality of the things of which we are speaking.
This happened similarly with Morley and his music and I need only instance his unusual use of the second, third, and fourth strings in such solos as Donkey Laugh and Mauna Loa, which latter, Spoonerised by some facetious players, became Launer Mower. This unorthodox use of certain strings certainly brought to light hidden qualities or effects, sometimes comic, as in Donkey Laugh etc."
At a meeting of the Ilford B.M.G. Club and the London BMG Club on the 6th October, 1930, as Vice-President of the Ilford Club in welcoming Morley and the other members of the London Club I said, amongst much else:
"Whether you have known Mr. Morley for a few minutes or whether you have had the privilege of his acquaintance for a few years, I am sure you will all agree with me that he is worthy of all honour from the Seven Ages of Banjoists. In Joe’s banjo compositions will be found delicate morsels of music, such as Popcorn, suitable for the tender mental digestion of banjo babes. The schoolboy has been catered for in Merriment and various rags. For the sighing lover he has written Cupid’s Serenade and Bright Eyes. For the soldier he has written numerous marches, parades and patrols. To the justice in fair round belly with good capon lined he has provided Mixed Grill and Nuts and Wine, whilst for the lean and slippered pantaloon, who figures with the clowns in the harlequinade, we have Danse Arlequin, Circus Parade, and The Ringmaster. For the last scene of all when the banjoist is sans teeth, and sans everything, has not Joe written Kingdom Comin’ ?
Joe Morley always spoke softly, and he was not a great talker at any time. Some of the words he spoke of consequence may perhaps have passed unwittingly from one’s recollections, but his banjo music to his many admirers still surely vibrates in their memories. As the poet Shelley wrote: 'Music when soft voices die, vibrates in the memory'."
Bernard Sheaff published his memories of Joe Morley in the October and November 1948 issues of B.M.G.
Emile Grimshaw wrote the following tribute in the pages of the 'Pickings' magazine, Oct/Nov 1937:
We regret to announce the death of Joe Morley which occurred at the age of 76 (this is obviously a mistake, Morley was aged 69, b.1867 d.1937) in a London hospital on September 16th.
Morley was undoubtedly the best known British banjoist: it would indeed be difficult to imagine any player of the instrument not having heard of Morley, because the player must surely have featured one or more of his innumerable compositions, and listened to Morley's characteristic and faultless playing of original banjo solos in those popular B.B.C. productions, "The Kentucky Minstrels" and the "White Coons"
To know Morley personally was to find him a an extremely likeable fellow. He was Joe to everybody, Fee or no fee, he would turn up at any club meeting and please everybody by rattling off two or three of his latest compositions. Although quiet, unassuming, and inoffensive, he had his own definite ideas about the banjo and how it should be played, and he saw no good reason why he should change or endeavour to improve his early methods.
Although the advantages of having a resonator back attached to the banjo are recognised by almost all players to such an extent that all manufacturers now include it as an integral part of the instrument, Joe would never use one. In pieces such as the "Donkey Laugh" he would mute his banjo with a cork placed between the perch pole and that part of the vellum supporting the bridge; he continued to support his banjo with a sling; plectrum playing, to Joe was a desecration; and although he made frequent appearances before a big public, few of whom were banjoists, he would insist on playing only his own compositions, many of them unpublished manuscripts.
If ever an instrument called loudly for the playing of a few up to date popular tunes, it was Morley's happy go lucky banjo. what opportunities he missed! What greater appreciation and revenue he must have sacrificed!
In the writer's opinion, Morley's greatest composition is "Darktown Dandies" the reason being that the piece exactly suits the banjo: it is original in style; the melody is tuneful and inspired; the three movements are perfectly related to each other; the whole piece means something and is as fresh and appealing to day as it was on the day it was written.
There is insufficient space here for a description of Morley's many other compositions that turned out to be best sellers of their day.
The best seller of all, it' s interesting to note, happens to be a solo that the composer cared very little about. To Joe, it was trivial, the sort of thing he did not care for his name to be associated with.
Clifford Essex had asked him to try his hand at a very easy solo for beginners and the result was a little gem that was called "Gold Diggers". How many young banjoists must have been encouraged by playing that easy yet effective tune?
All Morley's B.B.C. engagements were good publicity for the banjo; millions of listeners were given opportunities to hear the instrument well played, and all those who already played had readily available, an acknowledged high standard of finger style banjo playing by which they could compare their own attainments.
Some months ago in an issue of a wireless paper, (Radio Times, June 25th 1936) there appeared an article on the subject of Joe Morley's banjo activities during his early public appearances on the Isle of Wight and elsewhere. This article did not mention Clifford Essex. I conclude by saying that no biography of Joe Morley could be half complete without reference being made to to his association with Clifford Essex, who gave him his first big opportunity in the Royal Pierrots; published his first compositions and helped in other ways which meant a lot at the time.
Joe Morley in his later years
The final word on Joe Morley from Tarrant Bailey Jnr.
I was encouraged to write this biography of Joe Morley by Anthony Peabody as part of his project for this Classic Banjo website. Anthony is in the process of transferring/transcribing Joe Morley's compositions into Midi files so that anyone can listen to a particular piece of music written by Joe Morley before attempting to play it.
Anthony suggested to me that a biography of Joe Morley would be a very useful addition to this project, I agreed and thought that it would also be an opportunity to attempt to get the facts surrounding the life of Joe Morley written down for the benefit of anyone who may be interested in this remarkable musician now and in the future.
Most of what I have written in this biography of Joe Morley will have to be taken on trust by the reader, I could not see the purpose in overloading this account of his life and times with detailed references to the sources of the various quotations or other signs of erudition but I have scanned and inserted in the text, a number of articles and other references to Joe Morley, these hopefully, give a flavour of the times in which Joe Morley lived and perhaps illustrate the difficulties in finding any references which might have filled out more than the bare facts of his life and so given us some idea of his character.
Nowadays, every last detail of the life of any minor celebrity is available for public inspection, this was not the case in the years in which Joe Morley lived.
The sources for my account of the life of Joe Morley are firstly the many banjo players whom I have known over the years, some, such as Bill Ball actually met Joe Morley, others such as Alf Brimble, Charlie Bramley, Alan Middleton recounted tales to me which they had been told by old banjo players of their acquaintance, who knew Joe Morley and other notable members of the banjo world in the hey day of the banjo in the UK.
I have spent some time reading many old banjo magazines hoping to find contemporary references to Joe Morley, amongst these magazines were firstly, 'The Banjo World' and then B.M.G. both of which were prime sources for much of the account of Morley's first appearances in London and then his time with the Clifford Essex Pierrots, both Royal, and otherwise, and the 'White Coons'.
Much of the material relating to the C.E. Pierrots was written by Clifford Essex himself, in the series of articles published in the B.M.G. entitled "How I Started".
The B.M.G. was also the source of W. M. Brewer's interesting biography of Joe Morley which was published in the December, 1955, issue and which provided much useful information.
At this point, I must thank Mike Redman for making available to me his collection of scarce B.M.G. magazines from the period 1911 -1919 which contain a great deal of information about Joe Morley, the Pierrot Banjo Team, the Clifford Essex Pierrots and the Clifford Essex Royal Pierrots.
I also found items of interest in the John Alvey Turner magazine "Keynotes" and the Dallas magazine 'Rhythm'.
The 'Fretwire' magazine also contained some important references to Joe Morley, one very interesting item in particular, which was written by Tarrant Bailey Jnr. and which I have included in the biography, relates to his recording activities.
Emile Grimshaw's magazine 'Pickings' was also a source of important information.
The quotation from the correspondence of the Her Most Gracious Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, is taken from "Counting One's Blessings" the selected letters of same, by William Shawcross, published by Macmillan in 2012.
There is no doubt further information about Joe Morley, may be available in magazines such as 'The 'Jo' and 'The Troubadour' etc. but these magazines are rare, and I have been unable to trace any copies of them, if anyone has copies of these magazines which contain references to Joe Morley I would be pleased if they would make them available for inclusion in the biography.
The 'Radio Times' provided some of Morley's personal reminiscences relating to his musical career and in particular, his time with the 'White Coons' although surprisingly, there was no mention of his thirteen years with Clifford Essex and his Pierrots in this magazine.
The material relating to the 'White Coons' also came from the 'Radio Times'.
I purchased the photographs of Joe Morley taken at the army camp in Salisbury c1916, from Pat Doyle, some years ago, other photographs are from my collection or obtained from the internet and other sources.
A great debt is owed to Anthony Peabody who spent much time and effort tracking down the elusive newspaper cuttings relating to Joe Morley's early musical career before he met Clifford Essex; these throw new light on his musical activities at this period.
Anthony also painstakingly researched the genealogy of the Morley family, this was particularly difficult in view of the colourful lives led by both of Morley's parents.
Inevitably, I will have inadvertently forgotten someone who has made material available to me, I apologise in advance if this is the case, I will also have made some mistakes, probably in the chronology department, again I apologise and welcome any additional information which will help to correct any omissions or mistakes which come to light.
There are also some items which I would have liked to include in the biography but which I was unable to trace, the October, 1937, edition of the B.M.G. magazine which gave an account of the passing of Joe Morley, is one such item. This magazine went missing from my collection some years ago and I have not seen a copy in recent times.
I would also have liked to have included a picture of Kate Moss but was surprisingly, unable to find one, I would be grateful if anyone who has copies of these two items could make them, available for inclusion here.
Thanks are also due to Dave Wade who provided me with the details of the Joe Morley recordings.
Finally I would like to thank Joe Morley himself for the many hours of pleasure that his banjo compositions have given me and many thousands of other people, both in the playing and the listening. It is quite remarkable that he could have written so many tunes in so many different styles for the banjo and that he is still regarded, by banjo players worldwide seventy nine years after his death, as a major contributor to the repertoire of the banjo.