Nick’s Olly Oakley Record Review of the Month

Every month a review of an Olly Oakley recording which readers can download in MP3 format.

August 2003 HANDY JACK

Recording matrix number: 2911

Recording date: c. June 1920

Label: Imperial 893, Ariel 4614, Popular P-1058

Recorded in the summer of 1920 this session, which also included Canadians’ Parade, Bushrangers’ March and Queen of Diamonds, proved to be the last time we get to hear the great Oakley. In January 1923 he recorded eight pieces for HMV. They were well prepared and cleanly executed yet we perceive a certain loss of power, even a loss of zest. We may even feel that with the arrival of jazz and the dance bands these performances somehow quietly acknowledge the end of the golden age of the finger-style banjo.

Two and a half years earlier Oakley was still capable of the exuberance which was the trademark of his life’s work. Handy Jack is Cammeyer’s famous bass string solo composition. Oakley had recorded it six years earlier in 1914 as a duet with the composer, with Cammeyer playing the 2nd banjo to Oakley’s 1st. You can hear the opening of that recording by going to the home page of this website. In that duet performance Cammeyer ensured that Oakley played in a more-or-less legato style as well as insisting that the instrument Oakley played was a Cammeyer Vibrante. Back with his familiar Windsor hollow-neck zither banjo, Oakley’s 1920 rendition of Handy Jack is far more typical of his output. The bass string is more percussive and the general level of attack full of the indomitable Oakley spirit. Although not technically perfect this is a highly engaging performance and, indeed, if banjo music could ever sound heroic then it certainly does so here.

Incidentally, on the Imperial pressing of this recording Oakley’s first name is misspelled as Olley.


Click here to download Handy Jack in mp3 format 


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