This article has been transcribed from a copy of the Cardiff Times in the online collection of scanned Welsh newspapers 1804-1919 in the National Library of Wales, with grateful recognition of the free access accorded to all readers. Where necessary paragraph breaks have been introduced for easier reading. — David Skilton

Samuel attends a ‘free and easy” (an informal gathering for singing or similar entertainment, with refreshments), also knownas ‘a tea fight’. He comments on the pieces performed at such gatherings including ‘The Maiden's Prayer’ (‘La prière d'une vierge’, 1856), a popular piano piece by Polish composer Tekla Bądarzewska-Baranowska (1834–1861). Derek Scott explains that this piano composition gained a bad reputation because it was so popular and yet contains some technically awkward sections. People must have dreaded having to listen to drawing-room performances littered with the wrong notes! Samuel also mentions traditional songs, such as ‘The Maid of the Mill’ and ‘A man's best friend is his mother’, as well as the broadside ballad ‘The Ghost of Benjamin Bills’. Other songs he mentions include ‘In the Gloaming’ (1877; listen to a performance) composed by Annie Fortescue Harrison with lyrics by Meta Orred, ‘The Bournemouth poet’ and ‘The Death of Nelson’: a notoriously long song by John Braham (1774-1856) to words by Samuel James Arnold (1774-1852). The caption to the illustration: ‘Hebe, fill the rosy bowl / Orpheus, tune the lyre’, from Thomas Blacklock, ‘The Wish Satisfied. An Irregular Ode’, ll. 37-8; in Poems By the Late Reverend Dr Thomas Blacklock, Edinburgh: 1793, Some lines of this work were set as a glee for four voices by Samuel Webbe (1740–1816).

The patent cold remedy mentioned is Chadwick's Compound Balsam of Linseed and Honey, marketed by G. N. Chadwick. Crown Point Printing Works, Leeds from the 1880s. On another occasion we find Samuel himself performing, with indifferent results. (See no. 31, 26 November 1887, ‘Samuel at a “Tea Fight”’) — David Skilton

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HE faultlessly dressed young men whose hair is so nicely parted, and who warble on the platforms of church and chapel schools, after tea fights and the usual few remarks (which generally occupy about an hour or so) of ‘the worthy pastor" -- as the Parish Magazine afterwards calls him — are by no means the only amateur nuisances we have in our midst. I might describe the members of this particular class as aggressive amateurs — young men who are determined to make a noise in the world — and do it. Nor are all amateurs of the ‘Maiden's Prayer," lessons-at-a-guinea-a-quarter and paralyse-all-the-visitors-to-the-house order. By no means. This was brought powerfully to my mind lately, when I, at the invitation of my worthy friend Polyglot Longlocks, attended one of the musical meetings of the Tune-up-and-Begin Society, the members of which assemble weekly and every week in a private room at the Icthyosaurus Hotel. I had previously been told of the astounding excellence of this society by a friend of mine, Dr. Dapper, but I never attended its meetings lest the musical medico in question should sing, for I knew that I could not hear him without emotion, but should probably break down and give way to my long pent-up feelings. However, Longlocks at length overcame my scruples by promising on his word of honour that no one, on the evening of my visit, should sing ‘The Maid of the Mill,’ ‘The Wolf,’ ‘Benjamin Binns,’ ‘In the Gloaming’ or ‘The Death of Nelson.’ Accordingly I went.

We reached the vicinity of the large and handsome room wherein the meetings are held shortly after the musical revels had begun, and at the door of the said room I was suddenly brought up sharp by my companion, who informed me that a distinguished warbler was at the present moment in the throes of vocalism, and by the etiquette of the society no one must enter the room till the termination of any given song. We were not the only waiters at the door; on the contrary, there was also at the said portal another waiter — a professional waiter, bearing a tray and innumerable glasses charged to the brim. The sight of this latter convinced me that the members of the Tune-up-and-Begin Club were at least harmoniously inclined, and that their strains were likely to be of a liquid kind. Wisdom dictated that the waiter should not enter the room during the progress of a song lest some such touching words, delivered by the vocalists, as ‘What do you ask, oh, loved one?" should be interrupted by cries of "Gin hot." It must be owned, even by the most crass of men, that when a chaunter of sentimentality musically cries, ‘Oh, how time has changed thee,” and someone shouts out ‘Old and bitter,’ the effect is distinctly disheartening so far as the singer is concerned. At length came to our listening ears a burst of applause, and we entered a spacious room, and through the smoke-clouds which had gathered therein I could discern a numerous gathering of eminently respect- able and presentable young fellows. The instrument upon which most of them seemed to be playing was the pipe, but at the piano sat a gentleman who, whilst operating very successfully on the cleaver and bones during the day time, rattles the ivory keys at night amid most just and discriminating applause; indeed, he is no child as a pianist.

There was a chairman, sir, as there should be at all well regulated gatherings. This said chairman is, usually, a maker of most mellifluous music, as I am given to understand, but on the evening in question he was suffering from a cold -- a real genuine cold, and not the usual vocalist's catarrh, and I was therefore but little surprised when he addressed the meeting thusly - ‘Geddie-bed, Bister (sneeze) Baddighab (evidently meant for ‘Manningham') will next oblige.’ I subsequently earned the undying gratitude of that chairman by recommending him to try Chadwick's Compound Balsam of Linseed and Honey,[i] which, under similar circumstances, invariably has a magical effect on myself - even though my voice resembles the cheering music of a sawpit - and which I will warrant to cure the cold even of a man who has, with no other garment on than his pantaloons, sat for a week on an iceberg. Should you lose your voice, sir, do not advertise for it in the evening papers, as though it were a bull-pup, but try Chadwick's remedy. You can get it anywhere - that is, nearly anywhere; of course, you mustn't go to a blacksmith's or a pork butcher's for it; you must use reason in the matter.

Now, sir, let me tell you about the vocalists. First of all let me say that none of them, happily, warbled the opinion that "A man's best friend is his mother;” no, none of them were handy enough for that. I dissent from the opinion expressed in that song, sir; it often greatly depends upon whether your mother marries again or not. I am surprised that the poet whilst penning his sentiments regarding friendship did not asseverate that a man's best friend is his ‘banker’ or his ‘uncle.’ I noticed about the vocalists that nearly all the little, slim men had voices of enormous power, whilst all the huge, burly men piped in a shrill key. One of the latter indeed had a voice of such light and liquid quality that it sounded like the noise produced by dropping clods of mud into a pond. Longlocks obliged with a song; it was in a foreign language; opinions varied in the room as to whether it was in French, German, or Italian. However, it was greatly applauded, therefore am I not at liberty to presume that the sentiment of it was thoroughly appreciated — whatever the sentiment might be. Squeaker, the alto, followed. He is an excellent singer, but, as someone said, you can see the holes in his stockings, so wide does be open his month. So penetrating are his top notes that it is asserted that on one occasion when he was singing near a railway station in a room with the window open all the parties in the said station thought an engine was whistling. Of course all the gentlemen present were not practically or technically musical; and some who actually could claim this distinction were not called upon to exercise their skill. You could almost pick these latter out; an expression of settled gloom, allied with a burning thirst for vengeance (and hot liquids), marked their visages. There were also one or two dejected-looking gentlemen whose only songs had evidently been sung by someone else, and there were men whose abstracted air and the silent movement of whose lips led me to believe that they were, in anticipation of being asked to oblige, rehearsing the words of their songs to themselves.

Need I say that the assumedly comic man was not left out, but unfortunately he forgot the words of his most excruciating song in the very middle of the latter, and an awkward pause ensued. However, he ‘barked back[’] being loudly requested to do so — and sang the first madly-comic verse all over again. It did not seem quite so comic the second time of repeating as it did the first, but as the man of humour forgot the last verse entirely, it compensated in the matter of quantity for the stanzas which were missing. Let me not be understood to venture the opinion that all the music provided was of an inferior quality; on the contrary, at least one-half of it was marked by striking excellence both as to choice and ‘rendition,’ as some critics have it. Enthusiastic, too, were the auditors, especially as the fleeting moments began to creep to the mystic hour of eleven. So enthusiastically recalled were certain of the voiceful ones that they literally sung themselves hoarse. Your Samuel, sir, was requested to tune up and begin, but he declined, he not being in voice — indeed, he never is in voice, and there is very little of voice in him. He never sings except in the privacy of his own apartments, and even then his efforts not unfrequently cause alarm amongst those who do not comprehend whence the terrifying and horrific sounds proceed. The Tune-up-and-Begin Society, sir, has many merits, and I trust that its members may go on singing gleefully for many years to come; indeed, till the roaring basses of robust manhood become the piping trebles of old age.

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Last modified 23 October 2021