When I heard that The Victory Arms were to play Romford Folk Club, I was keen to go along and see them…firstly because I hadn’t seen them before; secondly because I haven’t yet written anything on their genre of music (which the band describe as ‘1940s Pub Singing’); and thirdly because I’ve recently written a couple of silly Cockney songs that I thought may be appropriate for the evening and I wanted to try them out at the RFC’s Open Floor spot prior to the gig – on which more later.
The Victory Arms are a married couple consisting of Chris (vocals and miming); and husband Martin (ukelele and guitar). Some years ago they worked as a duet in Folk clubs, but Chris gave it up to bring up their children; whilst Martin continued to perform. But now they are working together again on this new project. Chris has a great interest in the Second World War; and it was whilst visiting relevant history shows that she realised that all the musical acts at these events were American in substance. The couple decided that this wasn’t good enough, and decided to put things right – and quite right too! ‘The golden rule of the act is that we’re not allowed to do any songs from after 1941’ explained Martin (ie, before the US involvement in the conflict). The result was The Victory Arms. (They do however break their rule for gigs such as this, and would do so tonight as we’ll see)
I’ll let them describe their act for themselves (from their Facebook page)….
‘A 1940’s Entertainment set in a fictional London pub during the blitz. Join landlady Joaney & her potman Albert in a right old East End ding dong! Picture the scene. It’s the East end of London, 1940. Last night’s bombing has left everyone’s favourite local “The Victory Arms” a little bruised, but relatively unscathed. Joaney, the landlady is getting ready to call last orders whilst the general dogs body and pot man Albert is collecting glasses and chatting to the regulars. To cheer things up before everybody has to head off into the black out, somebody calls for a song.
Join Joaney and Albert in a right old East End ding dong as they lead their regulars (that’s you!) through the music and stories of the times. Armed only with a Guitar, a Ukulele and an Accordion they pay tribute to the wartime spirit of the people of the United Kingdom and their allies. Without whom, none of this would have been possible.’
So ‘The Victory Arms’ is more of a show than a gig. Its an interesting concept – and maybe unique. We were to see a two-part set. The couple began Part One appropriately with air raid sirens and a snippet from Churchill’s Battle Of Britain Speech, and the content was strictly pre-1941. The second half was a mixture of the act; other wartime songs; and some of their own composition.
In some ways I got what I expected (and that is in no way a criticism); but there were many things that made it a bit different; and therefore more entertaining and amusing. It was obvious that Martin and Chris had put a lot of thought into the details of their performance, The props; Chris’s landlady Joaney’s actions and miming; the well-led audience participation; and the charming scripted dialogue between the characters, for example, were very good indeed, and enhanced the act no end. A few interesting facts were thrown in too; such as the sobering observation that on this very night in 1941, 63 people were killed in air raids on Romford and the surrounding area!
A variety of early Second World War songs were sung (+ a few others outside the main act in Part Two). Some from the earlier Great War too, such as ‘Pack Up Your Troubles’ and ‘Long Way To Tipperary’. Numbers that you’d expect like ‘When I’m Cleaning Windows’; ‘Kiss Me Goodnight Sergeant-Major’; and ‘Keep The Home Fires Burning’ were very well represented. Best of all I thought were a cover of the It Ain’t Half Hot Mum version of The Ink Spots’ ‘Whispering Grass’ (including a good impersonation of Windsor Davies as the Sergeant Major by Martin!); a beautifully sung and well-played cover of Vera Lynn’s ‘A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square’; and a fine impersonation by Chris, of Gracie Fields singing and miming the ‘The Thing-ummy-bob’.
The show ended with a rousing rendition of the patriotic ‘There’ll Always be An England’; and a well deserved encore of their own composition ‘Standing On The Home Front Line’.
Each part of The Victory Arms set was preceded by an Open Floor spot of course. There was only time for those of us that wanted to perform, to do one song each – with the exception of Bill Farrow who was allowed two. (Bill will be headlining at the club later in the year). As is usual with these Open Floor spots, there was a huge variety of genre, instrumentation and quality present – each admirable in their way. Many of the club’s regulars were present – some I hadn’t seen before (although I must admit shamefully that I don’t get down there very much!) Best among the many good turns I thought, were Bill, of course, who played two of his own inimitable songs: ‘You Can’t Take It With You’ and ‘Ain’t It Good?’; Steve O’Driscoll who played his London themed song ‘The Bow Bells Bride’; and Rod Standen who played ‘Voices Of The Night’ off his debut album Poetic Force. (He later gave me a copy to review). And finally, I played one of my silly songs: ‘Nan’s Bread Pudd’n’; which got a few laughs and some compliments afterwards I’m proud to say – but I offer no critique on the subject!
Thanks to Garry Walker and the team (Chris; Mick; Nora; and Eve at the door) for organising and running the evening. A great night… me dear old Mum would’ve loved it too! PTMQ
Here is a link to The Victory Arms’ Facebook page
Here is a link to Romford Folk Club’s Facebook page
For some details about the Romford Folk Club and its venue The Sun, see my article #59