Novello: Songs

Keep the Home Fires Burning (1914)

We’ll Gather Lilacs (1945)

Ivor Novello was born in Cardiff in 1893 to musical parents, who christened him David Ivor Davies. He used his second name on stage and took his mother Clara’s second name Novello as the second part of this stage name.

As a boy he sang in national Eisteddfods. This skill helped earn him a scholarship to Magdalen College School, Oxford, where he sang in the college choir as a treble. At this stage he was already composing songs and his first was published at the age of only 15.

After school he taught piano in Cardiff before moving to London with his mother. In the capital he was supported by Edward Marsh, private secretary to Winston Churchill and a leading patron of the arts.
His first big hit as a songwriter was “Keep the Home Fires Burning”, which was written and first performed six years later in 1914 at the start of the Great War. Its patriotic tone made it immensely popular throughout the four-year conflict The lyrics (below), reflecting how families were split apart by the war, were written by an American, Lena Guilbert Ford. Novello himself joined up in June 1916, being assigned work in the Air Ministry after a brief spell in the Royal Naval Air Service.

After the war Novello concentrated on acting in both films and on the stage, appearing in the highly popular musicals he himself produced in the West End during the 1930s and 1940s. One of these was “Perchance to Dream”, which was put on in 1945 at the end of the Second World War.

It ran for three years at the Hippodrome and one of the top tunes from this was “We’ll Gather Lilacs”. As the chorus shows, it caught the tone at the end of the war when couples longed to meet up again for good, safe from the tough times endured in the last year of the war from D-Day onwards.

We’ll gather lilacs in the spring again And walk together down an English lane
Until our hearts have learnt to sing again When you come home once more.

While he experienced great professional success with his musicals during the Second World War, his reputation was sullied by a scandal concerning the misuse of petrol coupons, for which he served four weeks in prison. Novello died in 1951 aged 58 and “We’ll Gather Lilacs” was sung at his cremation. The arrangements you will hear tonight are by Trevor Denyer.

Chris Spink, Violin 1

Pack Up Your Troubles to Tipperary

Felix Powell (1878-1942), Jack Judge (1872-1938)
and Harry Williams (1878-1942)

“Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag, and Smile, Smile, Smile” is a marching song, published in London in 1915. The words were written by Welsh songwriter George Henry Powell under the pseudonym of George Asaf, and was set to music by his brother, Felix Powell. Although Felix Powell was a Staff Sergeant in the army, George Powell was a convinced pacifist and when conscription was introduced in 1916 he became a conscientious objector. The song became very popular, being one of a number of music hall songs used for maintaining morale and recruiting forces. “Smile, Smile, Smile” was used by Wilfred Owen as the title for his anti-war poem of 1918.

Similar in musical structure to “Pack Up Your Troubles”, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” is a music hall song written by Henry James “Harry” Williams and Jack Judge. Allegedly written for a bet in Stalybridge in 1912, it is remembered for being a popular song of World War 1. Jack Judge’s parents were from County Mayo and his grandparents were from Tipperary. The writing partnership went on to write 32 music hall songs. The song is atypical of its time in that it is not a jingoistic song inciting soldiers to glorious deeds, but it concentrates on the longing for home. The Daily Mail journalist George Curnock saw the song being sung by the Connaught Rangers as they marched through Boulogne on 13 August 1914, and it quickly became popular with the British Army, being recorded in November 1914 by John McCormack, which led to its worldwide popularity. A bronze statue of Judge now stands in Stalybridge. The arrangement of these songs which you will hear tonight is by Trevor Denyer.

Hilary Mortimer, Violin 2