Street-Music in Manchester: ‘Spy Fever’, the First World War and the Decline of the ‘Peripatetic Professors of High Art’
Dr Stephen Etheridge: Follow me on Twitter @DrGtrombone
The Victorian city was a noisy place. It has been argued that it was the London professional person that suffered the most. Charles Dickens, and others, such as clergy, doctors, academics, artists and writers, felt that they were unable to work or concentrate in the city due to the constant noise. As John M. Picker’s seminal work, Victorian Soundscapes, highlights, Londoners were accosted by the sounds of ‘clanging bells, cracking whips, clattering carriages, clamouring hawkers and cabmen, roaring crowds and barking dogs.’ Nevertheless, according to Dickens –whose view was supported by volumes of hostile commentary in the press – the worst offenders were ‘those brazen performers on those brazen instruments , beaters of drums, grinders of organs, bangers of banjos, clashers of cymbals, worriers of fiddles and bellowers of ballads.’
Yet street-music had existed in the provinces, in one form or another, since medieval times, so several questions emerge from this commentary. Did Manchester residents suffer in the same way as the middle class in London, and, if so, how did the outbreak of the First World War influence this kind of music-making? Moreover, were the Manchester press as hostile to itinerant musicians as the London press?