Miss May Darrell,worlds greatisit lady banjoist(?!) and her riley baker.

I recently purchased an all metal Riley Baker zither banjo.

Vic Godley,who i bought it from,aquired it in the 1970s from Tony,the grandson of the original owner,Miss May Darrell,of 224 Hanover st ,Sheffield.

There were some very poor photocopies of an old publicity broadsheet of the Darrells,showing May with her Riley-Baker,and exhalting her as "the worlds greatest lady banjoist"

Unfortunately,there is no other info,and i would love to find out more about this beautiful Edwardian lady and her banjo,the Riley Baker.

I have cleaned and restrung it with Clifford essex ZB strings and it sounds great,albeit different to what im used to.

Anyone know any more about the Darrells?


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Her banjo has a really interesting headstock... was it a custom job done for her?

It's often called a "balalaika style" headstock - Winder used the same idea...there may have been a link between Winder and Riley's, I can't remember.

Nothing known about the Darrells although they look to be fairly local to me. 

I was born in Sheffield and my family used to live on Hanover Street in the 1930s, the Darrells appear to have lived quite close to a public house (bar) called the 'Hanover House' which I used to frequent, this establishment used to sell Hewitt's Grimsby  Ales, - I could never understand why it was necessary to bring beer from Grimsby when there was a brewery (Ward's on Ecclesall Road) about 500 yards from the front door. Incidentally, this is not the only, or the most important thing which I have never been able to understand. This public house, now called The Hanover, is still standing and surprisingly, still trading.

Hanover Street had been quite genteel in the 19th C but went downhill in a big way after the 2nd World War, the buildings on it and around it, were mostly demolished in the 1960s, looking at my Sheffield Directory for 1944, the Darrells had moved on some time before the demise of this once leafy suburb. Although there were many musicians in my family who played in the pit orchestras of the Sheffield theatres and other venues, from 1907 onwards, I never heard them mention the Darrells. The Darrells must have been quite accomplished and well known, but have faded away as we all do eventually. 

heres Miss Mays banjo,still here,all thats left of "the worlds greatest lady banjoists"legacy

"My name is Ozymandius,king of kings,etc etc"

I met a Skip Sail from an Austral Land

who said: One vast and potless neck of banjo

stands in the Outback. Near it, on the sand,

Half sunk, a torn-up vellum lies, whose stain

And shattered hoop, and bezel of cold steel

Tell that its player well that pinky planted,

Which yet survives, stamped upon this lifeless thing

The hand that plunk'd them, o'er the tensioned head.

And on the resonator these words appear:

My name is Marydarrelas, queen of banjoists

Listen to my strains, ye mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains: round the decay

Of that musical wreck, stringless and bare

The lone and level bush stretches far away.

That was brilliant, but I thought line ten could be more like :

"My name is Mikemossbanjoist, king of satirists and poets .  .  ."

Nah, the more appropriate one would have been Aussie Mandias, king of banjo collectors ;-)

The Moving Finger plucks; and, having plucked,
 Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit,
Shall lure it back to pluck another crochet,
 Nor all thy Tears wash out a note of it.

skip sail said:

heres Miss Mays banjo,still here,all thats left of "the worlds greatest lady banjoists"legacy

"My name is Ozymandius,king of kings,etc etc"

Guys,this is sad ,beautiful,clever AND hilarious.

One of the reasons i love these old instruments is way they,in all their fragility,outlast their temporary owners,and their music. There truly are ghosts in every worn indentation on a fingerboard,in every scrap of ancient sheet music,every name scribbled on the underside of a torn banjo head.

Mike Moss,once again you have cracked me up. I am leaving you my collection of stringless banjo-mandolins(all windsors)in my will.


Mike Moss said:

Nah, the more appropriate one would have been Aussie Mandias, king of banjo collectors ;-)

Skip, you have an interesting banjo with substantial provenance, giving it character and personality that it otherwise would not have.

 Most older banjos have lost their past and we can only imagine, ghost-like as you say, who their previous owners were, their playing ability, repertoire, life circumstances and so on.

But enough poignancy. Add strings and a bridge to give it life and a new voice under your hands.

have done so,got some Clifford Essex ZB strings out from England. Sounds actually not too bad,a darn sight better than the awful ZB's one usually encounters out here. Compared to the cheaper windsor or Dallas ZBs Ive played ,it is more powerful and has an archaic 78 RPM kind of tone that I kinda like.

It wont replace my WL though!

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