Who: Leslie Sarony
What: Three Cheers For The Undertaker/ The K-Hissing Song
Where: Wood Street Market, Walthamstow, London
I don't own many 78rpm gramophone records, and I very seldom bother to try to convert the ones I do have to mp3 - this is for the simple reason that it's a messy and often unsuccessful process. What I have to do is record the record at the wrong speed from my modern deck which uses completely the wrong kind of stylus, convert it to the correct speed, and sit with fingers crossed as I attempt to reduce the overwhelming flood of background noise too. Neighbours have heard me cussing and swearing during this duty, I can tell you, sir.
This one was worth the fight, though, even if the end results are definitely imperfect. Leslie Sarony was a music hall performer in Great Britain from 1913 onwards, and issued a colossal number of 78rpm records of popular comedy songs and his own work. Among his triumphs are the vegetable rights ditty "Don't Be Cruel To A Vegetabuel", the observationally faultless "Why Build A Wall Around A Graveyard", and the utterly timeless "Don't Do That To The Poor Puss Cat". Sarony absolutely flooded the market with these discs to the extent that I haven't seen what I believe to be a truly accurate discography yet, and naturally when the Bonzo Dog Band went raiding junk shops for 78s, they found plenty of his and were inspired enough by "Jollity Farm" and "Hunting Tigers Out In Indi-ah" to cover both.
The A-side on offer here, "Three Cheers For The Undertaker", is a piece of pitch black humour which is (almost unbelievably) available on iTunes with much improved audio, so if the brief clip below arouses your curiosity you can always head that way to buy it. However the flip, "The K-Hissing Song", is so absurd that one friend of mine completely refused to believe it was a record from the thirties and instead insisted I was winding him up. In it, Sarony explains that ladies can be seduced with a clever combination of both kissing and hissing like a snake, and warns of the dangers of kissing women too vigorously who have used a lot of face cream (apparently this is liable to lead to a slide-slip into their ears). It's not difficult to understand how it didn't capture the public's imagination as much as "Don't Do That To The Poor Puss Cat" as it perhaps lacked that tune's mainstream accessibility, but top marks must be awarded to Sarony for coming up with such an off-the-wall comedic idea.
Sarony performed for most of his life, appearing during his later years in the Monty Python film "The Meaning of Life" as one of the elderly insurance clerks at "Crimson Permanent Assurance", as well as featuring in the sitcom "Nearest and Dearest". He died in 1985, but the impressive and bizarre back-catalogue of records he left behind isn't talked about enough for my liking, and nor is his obvious influence on British comedy.