This week’s blog post is brought to you by Blackpool Museum Project’s Curator, Emma Heslewood. It celebrates the life of music entrepreneur Lawrence Wright and his contributions to Blackpool and the world of popular music.
Rediscovering Lawrence Wright
Lawrence Wright was one of my first discoveries when I started exploring Blackpool’s heritage collections in 2015. Contained within the Cyril Critchlow Collection is wealth of memorabilia, photographs and sheet music from Lawrence Wright. Together they evoke a Britain that was once in love with dancing, big band leaders and romantic ballads, but who exactly was Mr Lawrence Wright?
Lawrence Wright was a musician and showman who became one of the most important popular music composers and publishers in the first half of the 20th century. Born in Leicester on the 15 February 1888, Wright was taught the piano, violin, guitar, mandolin and banjo by his father, a music teacher and shopkeeper. He left school at 12 and worked for a printers, and as a musician, before opening a music stall in Leicester Market when he was only 18. He was also composing and in 1912 moved to London to promote his songs. Based at 8 Denmark Street and then 19 Denmark Street in Soho, Lawrence Wright became known as the Father of the UK’s Tin Pan Alley – Denmark Street -which became a thriving community of composers, music publishers and recording studios.
Lawrence Wright – The Melody Maker
Lawrence Wright composed music and wrote lyrics under several names including Horatio Nichols, Everett Lynton and Gene Williams. He also collaborated with many other composers, band leaders and songwriters including Edgar Leslie, Jack Hylton, Fred Godfrey and Hubert Worton David. His music and lyrics were also recorded by numerous stars under an agreement with The Gramophone Company (EMI) and as such many records also bear the Lawrence Wright Music Co logo. Wright’s Music Company also secured the British and Commonwealth Publishing rights for many other stars including Duke Ellington, Fats Waller and Hoagy Carmichael.
One of Lawrence Wright’s earliest hits was the First World War trench song Are we Downhearted – No! written with Hubert Worton David in their barracks when they were both serving in the Royal Naval Air Service. Popularised in the UK by the Queen of Music Hall Florrie Forde and recorded by the American singer Elizabeth Spencer for Edison, the song is still recognisable today.
Lawrence Wright was also a brilliant self-publicist. He was the founder of The Melody Maker magazine in 1926 which survived until 2000. In its early days the Melody Maker promoted Wright’s catalogue, big bands and jazz. The first issue featured himself as the ‘famous British composer’ Horatio Nicholls on the front cover. He also used daring publicity stunts to promote his music. He employed young women to ride camels in Piccadilly Circus to promote the song Sahara and Jack Hylton’s band to play Me and Jane on a Plane while flying over Blackpool, dropping sheet music onto the crowds below.
Lawrence Wright and Blackpool
In the 1920s Lawrence Wright was drawn to Blackpool which was Britain’s biggest seaside resort and the playground of the North. The size of Blackpool’s audiences encouraged him to pioneer a new type of music shop in Blackpool known as the song booth. Song booths encouraged passersby to come inside the shop and sing the latest song together. Each had a pianist who played Wright’s songs seven days a week and a compare to encourage people to sing along and buy the latest song books and sheet music. This format was a big success. Wright opened 20 song booths alone in Blackpool on the piers, along the prom and at the Pleasure Beach and also in other seaside resorts such as Scarborough.
Lawrence Wright went on to live in Blackpool until his death on 16 May 1964 and became a major figure in the town. From 1926 until 1956 he produced a summer season variety and music show at the Pavilion Theatre on Blackpool’s North Pier called ‘On with the Show’. Blackpool put Wright directly in touch with his audience and it inspired his music, in 1938 for example he created the Blackpool Walk similar to the famous Lambert Walk which was recorded by Al Bowlly and became a brief dance craze in Blackpool’s ballrooms and that Blackpool Museum Project revived in 2015.
Lawrence Wright’s legacy
In 1961 BBC radio broadcast Lawrence Wright’s life story under the title Among my Souvenirs looking back at his remarkable career in the music industry. In 1963 he also received an Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Services to British Popular and Light Music. After his death Northern Songs, owned by the Beatles bought the Lawrence Wright Music Catalogue for £812,500. Today it is owned by Warner/Chappell Music, part of Universal Music Group.
Amongst his music catalogue is the song Among my Souvenirs, written in 1927 which has been recorded by an illustrious list of stars including Bing Crosby, Vera Lynn, Connie Francis, Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland and is still available to record.
I keep wondering who might record it next?
If this blog has got you interested in Lawrence Wright why not visit our You-tube channel and enjoy our new Blackpool Museum playlist of Lawrence Wright Music from the 1920s to 1950s including the Blackpool Walk.