Comedy, novelty acts and musical performance had been a feature of the saloons, taverns and fairgrounds of Britain
since medieval times, and playhouses had been established at Drury Lane and Dorset Garden in London for this
kind of entertainment as far back as the 17th century. But in 1843 an attempt was made to regulate an all-too-often
riotous mixture of alcohol and not-so-innocent amusement in the form of the Theatre Act, which stated that licences
would only be granted if such establisments were run primarily as a theatre.
This set the scene for the rise of the Music Hall tradition, and in 1852 the first purpose-built Music Hall was built
at the Canterbury Tavern in Lambeth. By 1875 there were 375 Music Halls in London and it's suburbs.
Early Music Hall songs were drawn largely from the folk tradition, but as the movement grew rapidly in popularity,
particularly with the working classes, the demand was for catchier melodies - often with bawdy lyrics - which
the audience could easily singing along with. Perhaps the first Music Hall song to achieve nationwide popularity
was "Champagne Charlie"
in 1854, a song probably written to promote the alcoholic wares of the owner of the hall in which
it was originally sung.
As polite Victorian society began to take more of an interest the entertainers were forced to clean up their act,
although one of the great early performers, Marie Lloyd
, remained fairly risque, as in "Oh! Mr.Porter"
On the other hand her other really big success, "The Boy I Love Is Up In The Gallery"
, is innocence itself.
One important aspect of the Music Hall era is that for the first time songs became associated with performers -
the "signature tune" . And such was the demand for new songs that it gave rise to the first professional songwriters,
often with exclusive contracts to write for particular performers.
Music Hall continued to grow in popularity throughout the second half of the 19th century and by 1900 it was in it's heyday.
It's stars, people like Harry Champion, Albert Chevalier, Florrie Ford, George Robey, Vesta Tilley, Vesta Victoria
and Harry Lauder
were entertainers of national standing, and the songs they sang were popular songs in the truest sense.
Many music hall songs formed the backdrop to the trench warfare of the Western Front. Songs like "Pack Up Your Troubles",
and Harry Lauder's "Keep Right On To The End Of The Road"
did much to maintain the morale of the
Tommy soldier in that terrible war.
After 1918, as it grew in respectability in Edwardian England, Music Hall became more akin to variety, a drink-free
version held in an auditorium rather than a theatre, and began to feel the competition from an increasingly popular
and an emerging film
In fact many future film stars had a grounding in Music Hall, among them Stan Laurel
and Charlie Chaplin
The advent of television and rock & roll
after the Second World War
effectively saw the end of Music Hall as entertainment for the masses, and by 1960, with the virtual closure of the
Moss Empires chain, the tradition was dead.