Tuesday, June 12, 2012

It's Not Just A Banjo - It's A Really BIG Banjo

Another odd bit of musical obscurity...I've been using this pic for a background for a while:



not really knowing what that large, strange stringed musical instument was.  But thanks to valuable info submitted to us by Outaspaceman, I can tell you that it's a bass banjo, and that there used to be groups like Raymond and His Famous Banjo Band, a seven-banjo (!) British combo featured in this video of a 1937 performance:



 HERE's another video of the group that, to my surprise, did not play bluegrass, but rather, some peppy marches. The banjo was a black American instrument, based on African stringed things like the kora, and was adopted by white hillbilly musicians. I had no idea that, at some point, it made it's way over to the UK and joined the music-hall scene, being utilized in ways utterly apart from American traditions.  Learn something new every day, eh, what?


(Thanks, outaspaceman!)

10 comments:

Outa-Spaceman said...

http://boneymountainmamas.files.wordpress.com/2007/05/farside_banjo2.jpg

and...

http://boneymountainmamas.files.wordpress.com/2007/05/farside_banjo1.jpg

RadioWizard said...

That is simply frickin' great! Thanks for posting the video.
Jack

http://sportsfunia.com said...

very nice video

Anonymous said...

I watched an episode of JEEVES & WOOSTER with Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. A banjo band/orchestra all playing in UK blackface. One of those BBC episodes.

Windbag

Mr Fab said...

re: those 'Far Side' cartoons- is the banjo as ridiculed as the accordion?

Windbag, that sounds awesome, must look for that one. Great show, what episodes I saw of it.

jim smith said...

My late grandfather was a banjo player in a dance band in the 1930s here in the UK. He explained its role to me: basically, dances took place in large echo-y rooms and people moved around the room in a circle as they danced. Near the stage you could hear the band (this is kind of pre amplification), but as you moved away things got muted by the acoustics of the room and the absorbing qualities of 100s of people wearing heavy wool. The banjo was the only non-percussion instrument that could project all the way to the back of the hall, so all he had to do was hit roughly the right chord on the 1 and 3 and his job was done.

Mr Fab said...

jim smith - Thanks muchly for that info, that's great. Wonder if there were any recordings of these types of bands? Perhaps it was a British phenomenon- I'm fairly familiar (tho I'm no expert) with early American recordings and vaudville history and had never heard of a big banjo band before.

jim smith said...

Mr Fab, now that is worthy of some research. I suspect the bands the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band are in that space. I'll have a look.

Anonymous said...

There is also a long history of Ukelele bands here in the UK.
Have a look on youtube for the current masters of the genre, The Ukelele Orchestra Of Great Britain.

Mr Fab said...

I know the Uke Orch (Didnt they do a version of Smells Like teen Spirit or some such?) but didnt know there was a tradition of these kinds of uke groups. Another fascinating little corner of the music world that I'll have to investigate...