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.

Click here to download the sheet music for Oakleigh Quickstep page 1 as a gif file

Click here to download the sheet music for Oakleigh Quickstep page 2 as a gif file


Recording matrix number: 60623

Recording date: 22nd June 1913

Label: Homophon 1245

(Also issued on: Homochord 4411, Homochord H-154,

Gamage G-584, Rondophone 1245)

This month we present two recordings of Oakley’s own composition, his more or less eponymous Oakleigh Quickstep. In the one recording we find Oakley at his best, in the other he seems beset with problems. The purpose of this comparison is to draw attention to the conundrum as to why a musician capable of great things would produce on occasions such a poor performance as this one and, moreover, why he would allow it to be released. That the piece was one of his own compositions merely adds to the mystery.

In April 1913 Oakley recorded a memorable session for Regal (including Drum Major March - see July 2003 review). As to what happened between then and June 22nd, there were no intervening recordings and the scrapbook provides no clues. From A.P. Sharpe’s biography we note that he would have been fully occupied with his concert party "The Humoresks" which were fully booked throughout the summer holiday season. Perhaps this interfered with his practice of solo pieces. Or perhaps here is an example of one of those legendary anecdotes telling of how Oakley would be dragged out of one of London’s City Road hostelries without prior notification and asked to perform irrespective of his being in a less than ideal condition to do so.

Whatever the background, the 1913 recording of Oakleigh Quickstep is one of his poorest ever discs. His usual sense rhythm is handicapped by numerous technical problems. The hammer on and snap on the first string (D – E – D) in the main section is unconvincing throughout and on several of these occasions he even fails to pluck the correct string with his right hand. In the eighth bar, the half way point of this first section, he plays a G major chord instead of the required D major, the worst possible harmonic offence at this point. The main beat at the start of the bass string melody (i.e. second section) is marked by a totally missed note and later on in the same section further bass notes fail to appear on time. The Trio section is reasonably executed but at the end of it we again detect Oakley’s indifference to the harmonic sense of the piece, i.e. in his perfect cadence in A minor he substitutes the required G sharp by a G natural quite clearly played on the fifth string. Had he decided on the spur of the moment on an exciting new modal solution or was he just too lazy to finger G sharp on the first string? The circumstantial evidence points to the latter. To give credit when it is due, the da Capo play through of the first two sections is an improvement on the first attempt although the same problem with bass string solo notes recurs and other wrong notes are also hit.

The technical errors in this recording seem almost designed to create a caricature of poor musicianship and it is unfortunate that Oakley’s envious critics are provided with this kind of ammunition. Like Oakley, most other top banjo players (notably Ossman and Van Epps) suffered a decline in technical facility in their later recording days but no other player to my knowledge displayed such rapid fluctuation in quality during their heyday as did Oakley. To remind ourselves of Oakley’s true intentions regarding his Quickstep, we can do no better than to listen to the definitive performance recorded six years earlier for the Gramophone and Typewriter Co. The details of this recording are as follows.

Recording matrix number: 9825b

Recording date: 21st January 1907

Label: Gramophone GC-6468

(Also issued on: HMV B-138, Zonophone X-46265,

Zonophone Twin 445, Regal-Zonophone T-445)

Oakley recorded Oakleigh Quickstep on four other occasions. These comprised cylinder recordings for Edison Bell in 1906 and Clarion in 1912, and two discs, the first a 1912 recording released on the Jumbo, Ariel and Odeon labels, and the second dating from 1914 and appearing on Beka, Coliseum and Scala.


Click here to download the1913 Homochord recording of Oakleigh Quickstep in mp3 format 






























Click here to download the1907 Gramophone Co. recording of Oakleigh Quickstep in mp3 format 




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