|Letter dated 22 March 1913 from Fred Godfrey assigning
a share of the royalties of Hey! Ho! Can’t You Hear The Steamer? (among numerous other songs) to Billy Williams (The Man In The Velvet Suit). That Billy never recorded it is a bit of a puzzle, as the song became a great hit for others. Note that there is no mention of Harry Gifford, further complicating the intellectual property rights picture. |
National Library of Australia,
Words by Harry Gifford, music by Fred Godfrey; Star Music “Popsy
Wopsy Lancers” sheet music also credits Ella Retford — London:
Star Music; Bert Feldman, 1913; Melboune: Dinsdales’, 1913.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
An extremely popular number in what passed in England for “ragtime” style, which was all the rage just before the war. Ella Retford introduced it. In June 1913, The Era gushed:
There can be no doubt as to the wonderful hold on the affections of Alhambra Theatre habituées possessed by magnetic Miss Ella Retford. The irresistable charm of her methods and the polished artistry of her entire performance in “Eight Pence A Mile” endear this bewitching young artiste to occupants of boxes and gallery alike. Nothing finer in the way of song has Miss Retford ever accomplished than her matchless delivery of the premier song of the production, “Hey, ho, can’t you hear the steamer?” by Fred Godfrey and Harry Gifford, and the applause with which this favourite number is nightly greeted must be grateful and comforting to a degree to the ears of the fair singer.1
Later the same year, The Era had more to report about this huge hit:
“Hey, ho, can’t you hear the steamer?”...the number with which Miss Ella Retford made such a sensational success...and for which she was managerially billed as “the steamboat girl” on buses and trams throughout the metropolis [oh, for picture of that ad!], looks like being the biggest of the big production numbers in this year’s annuals, and already close on a century of principal boys have voted solid for this fascinating number as their principal pantomime offering.2.
Hey! Ho! Can’t You Hear The Steamer? certainly got around, as the following excerpt from a letter home by a soldier on the Western Front attests:
Private Arthur Flemming,...who is in the machine-gun section of the Coldstream Guards, says: We were just behind the firing line, in support, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day , but on the night of Christmas Day we went to the front trenches and we are close to the German trenches, and can hear them singing quite plainly.They were singing up to the early hours of Boxing morning, and playing a mouth-organ too, and yesterday we could hear some of them singing English rag-time songs, i.e., “Hey! Ho! Can’t You Hear The Steamer?”....But woe betide anyone who allowed himself to show his head over the parapet; he would have got shot.3
Jack Charman (Pathé 8777, 1913); as “Arthur Boynton” (Jumbo A605, 1913)
Bert Courtney (Cinch 5136, 1913)
Harry Cove (Marathon 304, 1913)
——— & Jack Charman as “Ted Yorke” (The
Winner 2396, 1913)
Alexander Johnson (Albion 1437, 1913)
Stanley Kirkby (Columbia-Rena 2178, 1913; Canadian HMV 120177, ca. 1915;
Zonophone Twin 1085, 1913)
W. Raymond (Clarion 850, 1913) [cylinder]
Daisy Taylor (Edison Blue Amberol 23213, 1913?) [cylinder]
Fred Marsden (Coliseum 506, 1914)
Ella Retford, in “Ella Retford Songs Medley” (Regal Zonophone MR-205, 1930); reissued on LP “The Greatest Music Hall Bill Ever Assembled” (Music For Pleasure, MFP-1146, ca. early 1960s); reissued on CD “Top Of The Bill” (Pearl PAST CD 9753, 1992)
Sung by Ella Retford in Eight Pence A Mile, Alhambra Theatre, London (June 1913); by Cissie Thompson in pantomime Goody Two Shoes, Her Majesty’s Theatre, Dundee (December 1913); by Ruby Louis in pantomime Jack Horner, Theatre Royal, Nottingham (December 1913); by Dorothy Millar in pantomime Aladdin, Theatre Royal, Bristol (December 1913–January 1914); by Maude Mortimer in pantomime Peter Wilkins, Palace Theatre, Dundee (February 1914); by Lottie Holland in pantomime Cinderella, Hippodrome, Huddersfield (February 1914); and by Dorothy Firmin in pantomime Forty Thieves (Sydney, Australia, 1913).
1 “Ella ‘Comes To Stay,’” The Era, 14 June 1913, p. 21.
2 “The ‘Wonder Song’ Of The Year,” The Era, 8 October 1913, p. 24.
3 “Coventry soldier missing; Germans sing ragtime,” Coventry Herald, 15 January 1915, p. 2.