Minstrels at Apollo Bay

PierrotBand Anzac Day c1920

Dressing Up in its many forms is this week’s theme for Sepia Saturday.  so here is a  group of minstrels from  the small community of Apollo Bay on the south-west coast of Victoria. They used to take part in the Anzac Day and Peace processions and perform in the town’s amateur concerts. To describe their costumes, well I would say they are undescribable.apart from the conductor, Charles Fricke Snr. who is in top hat and tails.

And for music, apart from their voices,   I can see two drums and two tambourines. but no banjo which were frequently used with a Minstrel group.  The man fourth from the left is possibly “playing the spoons” as a third percussion instrument.  It’s a long while since I’ve seen anyone do that.. All you need is two spoons out of the cutlery drawer held between adjacent fingers with the bowls back to back Here are a couple of experts demonstrating.

Aren’t they just great ! I’ve been giving it a try.  It would need a lot of practice to get that good.

Then of course there is the blackface. theatrical makeup.  It is recorded in Minstrel shows back in the 1840s in entertainments for a general audience and faded out with the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960′s.  I know how some people regard it but you know there is no praise like imitation.  And as a non-American looking back I can see it as a tribute to the beautiful singing voices and harmonies  which you hear when black Americans sing in groups.

One legacy of this Minstrel group in Apollo Bay is the handing down of one of the songs which they used to sing.  Perhaps it might be better to call it a Chinese Whisper as it hasn’t been written down, simply sung from generation to generation.  So the following version hopefully bears some resemblance to its origins.  The song originated in America and I have recently found other versions but at some stage this one has been Australianized.

I Itook my girl to a fancy do, it was a social hop.

We stayed until the dance was o’er and the music it had stopped.

I took her to a restaurant, the finest in the street

She said she wasn’t hung-er-y but this is what she ate.

A lobster’s claw and a crocodile jaw, some pickle and some toast

Some Irish Stew, potatoes too. corned beef and lamb roast

She said she wasn’t thirsty but  she had an awful tank

And after eating all these things this is what she drank

A gin cocktail, a glass of ale, and a great big glass of beer

Some ginger pop, some rum on top, she make me shake with fear.

She said she’d bring her family round some day and have some fun.

I gave the man the eighteen pence and this is what he done.

He broke my nose, he tore my clothes, he hit me a-side of the jaw,
He gave me a prize of a pair of black eyes and with me wiped the floor,
He caught me where my pants hung loose and tossed me o’er the fence,
“Take my advice, don’t try it twice when you’ve only got eighteen pence!”
And for more examples of family remebrances of Dressing Up go to the links listed on Sepia Saturday
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14 thoughts on “Minstrels at Apollo Bay

  1. Love the spoons clip! I have an Irish friend here in Melbourne who plays them, and have forwarded it on to her, just for fun. PC matters are a lot more of an issue in your post than in mine:-)

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  2. Your post reminded me of a TV programme I enjoyed watching with my parents c.1960 – “The Black and White Minstrel Show” with wonderful singing and dancing – real family entertainment then.

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    • Thanks for that. The original middle-ages minstrels would have been in the servant category. Also makes you think about the word minister too. You have to go to a decent dictionary these days to get the basic meanings of words.

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  3. The spoons are marvelous! The entertainers doing blackface meant no harm for the most part but I’m happy we’ve moved past all of that. Never heard the term Chinese Whisper before. Interesting.

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