Music for the People: Popular Music and Dance in Interwar Britain

Music for the People: Popular Music and Dance in Interwar Britain

Music for the People: Popular Music and Dance in Interwar Britain

Music for the People: Popular Music and Dance in Interwar Britain

Synopsis

Popular music was a powerful and persistent influence in the daily life of millions in interwar Britain, yet these crucial years in the development of the popular music industry have rarely been the subject of detailed investigation. For the first time, here is a comprehensive survey of the British popular music industry and its audience. The book examines the changes to popular music and the industry and their impact on British society and culture from 1918 to 1939. It looks at the businesses involved in the supply of popular music, how the industry organised itself, and who controlled it. It attempts to establish the size of the audience for popular music and to determine who this audience was. Finally, it considers popular music itself - how the music changed, which music was the most popular, and how certain genres were made available to the public.

Excerpt

The enjoyment of music and music making has been a constant theme in history but during the interwar period it reached new levels of popularity, becoming available to a wider audience than at any time hitherto. Music was more popular than ever before. As one music critic noted in 1935:

Never probably in the whole course of the world’s history has music played so important a part in the life of the community as it plays today. It may truly be said that for the majority of civilised mankind, music has ceased to be a luxury: it is no longer the monopoly of a rich and privileged few, but has been brought within the reach of all sorts and conditions of men. in the home, in the theatre, in the street, in (and on) the air, music now figures so prominently as a means of entertainment that it would be impossible to contemplate a world in which it no longer provided such a constant source of popular enjoyment.

The sales of certain products of the popular music industry give testament to this popularity. in 1919, for example, the song ‘That Old Fashioned Mother of Mine’ sold more sheet music copies than there were members of the Churches of England, Wales, and Scotland combined. Similarly, the value of the musical instruments trade in 1924 was equivalent to one-third of government expenditure on the Royal Air Force. in 1930 there were over three times as many gramophones sold as the number of houses built that year and there was more than one record sold for every single person in Britain. Popular music was thus a powerful

Anon., Radio and the Composer: the Economics of Modern Music (1935), 1.

Sheet music sales of the song were over 3 million (see Chapter 4 below). Combined membership of these Churches in 1919 was 2,455,000 (see R. Currie, A. Gilbert, and

L. Horsely, Churches and Churchgoers (1977), 134–5).

the value of the musical instruments trade in 1924 was £5 million (see Chapter 4 below). Expenditure on the raf in 1924/5 was £14 million (see Board of Trade, Statistical Abstract for the United Kingdom, 70 (1927), 110–11).

in 1930, 778,492 gramophones were sold in Britain (see Table 1). From 1928 to 1932, the annual average number of houses built was 200,900 (see B. R. Mitchell, British Historical Statistics (1988), 390, 394).

in 1930 nearly 60 million records were sold (see Table 3). the population of Britain in 1929 was 45,685,000 (see Statistical Abstract, 80 (1937), 4–5).

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