Using a collection of over one thousand popular songs from the war years, as well as around 150 soldiers’ songs, John Mullen provides a fascinating insight into the world of popular entertainment during the First World War. Mullen considers the position of songs of this time within the history of popular music, and the needs, tastes and experiences of working-class audiences who loved this music. To do this, he dispels some of the nostalgic, rose-tinted myths about music hall. At a time when recording companies and record sales were marginal, the book shows the centrality of the live show and of the sale of sheet music to the economy of the entertainment industry. Mullen assesses the popularity and significance of the different genres of musical entertainment which were common in the war years and the previous decades, including music hall, revue, pantomime, musical comedy, blackface minstrelsy, army entertainment and amateur entertainment in prisoner of war camps. He also considers non-commercial songs, such as hymns, folk songs and soldiers’ songs and weaves them into a subtle and nuanced approach to the nature of popular song, the ways in which audiences related to the music and the effects of the competing pressures of commerce, propaganda, patriotism, social attitudes and the progress of the war.
John Mullen is senior lecturer at the University of Paris-East Créteil. He has published widely on the history of British popular music. Articles include a reflection on ’ethnic’ music festivals and immigrant identity (1960-2000), and a piece on racial stereotyping in music-hall songs from 1880 to 1920.
’This wide-ranging and sensitive book demonstrates a deep understanding of the byways of British wartime society and the complex but fascinating ways in which popular song and star performers were commoditized and enjoyed by millions.’ Paul Watt, Monash University, Australia