Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Kerr Cousins- a tangible entertainment legacy! (Music Hall Story Part 4)

The McBride cousins were from  my paternal Great Grandmothers side. My direct line- the Kerrs had a minor involvement in the Music Hall scene. My Dad’s cousins Ann and Mary Kerr,  own  a 1926 theatre poster advertising the  Palace Theatre in Lawn St Paisley. Great Uncle Frank Kerr was billed  in a variety act  under the stage name of "Frank E Rayner" (E Rayner being the  name of an  Australian relative). He was one of the many who performed as a Hebrew impersonator at the time. I can’t help thinking he would be run out of town in these politically correct times.

He was billed along side  acts such as King and Bentley, a natural conversationalist, “clever comedian” Nicholas Rimsky , and the Gordon Brothers Acrobatics Act. The mind boggles at the concept of a “funny acrobatic Chinese act “ and a Hebrew impersonator  being played in the 1920s in Glasgow. Frank went on to become a Cinema/ Theatre manager. In the early days of motion pictures the films were promoted by personal appearances by the stars.
Dame Anna Neagle's personal appearance promoting her movie  "Sixty Glorious Years" (Frank to her left)

Frank Kerr on stage with Herbert Wilcox (l) and Anton Walbrook (r) on the Bedford stage

 Sadly he met an early death on Christmas Day 1953 as a result of an accident at the Cinema.

 James Kerr (my Grandfather) top left in a Scottish Minstrel band c1920s

My grandfather James Kerr, is  pictured here playing in a Scottish minstrel band before he left Scotland for Sydney. One assumes this was a weekend job or he was part of an amateur performance band.  A letter written to my Nanny, Lavinia Kerr nee Strelley who was still back in Glasgow at the time, tells of a young James newly arrived in Sydney looking for employment and of his frustration at missing out on one job because they needed him for singing and dancing!

I'm told that music and singing is the "Scottish way". The Sydney Kerrs became audiences not performers. My uncle, Billy Kerr, recalls the family regularly visiting the Burns Club in Sydney to enjoy the entertainment and friendship. He  remembers  the ruckus of the Scottish New Year celebrations when he was growing up. He remembers the visitors staying over because they had sung and drunk whiskey all night. I think his words were “passed out all over the lounge room”.

James singing a Scottish tune during his retirement cruise to his homeland in Scotland. This was to be a catch up with remaining McBride relatives  (1960s)

There was an old piano in James and Lavinia’s house at 35 Park Ave Neutral Bay. It was supposedly purchased because my Dad had a hankering to play and he had short lived lessons as a child. I had never seen him show any interest when it was moved to our house after James' death. The banjo from the minstrel band found its way to the family home too where they lay abandoned and forgotten until my father's death.

No-one ever learnt  to play my grandfather’s piano. I think most of my clan were standing well behind the stage door when the creative arts were given out. Some of James’ Great Grandaughters enjoyed amateur performances of various musicals during their school days.  In the end, even though the great grandkids were fighting over who would have it, the old and neglected piano would never get played by anyone related to the surname Kerr. We sold it with the house. 

And what of my grandfather’s banjo that hadn’t seen the light of day for 40 years? Well that’s the good news story. An expert in the field told us it was hand built and would fetch $20,000 (£10,000) if we had it restored. Now that’s an entertainment legacy!!

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