Music Hall evolved from sing-songs in pubs, probably as the karaoke of its day. In the 1830s landlords set aside back rooms in their pubs for what were termed 'saloon concerts'. However by the 1850s many inns had their own halls for simple theatre and concerts; and this trend continued to increase in the 1860s and 1870s.
Folk songs were popular at first but what the workers really wanted were humorous or satirical songs; although Irish folk songs remained in demand with north-western audiences which often included many Irish navvies who built the roads, railways and canal systems for transport of goods to and from the textile mills. Songs from the millscapes reflected the conditions textile workers were forced to endure and their desperate longing for escape from the dark satanic mills.
From the 1870s onwards performers began to turn professional and songs were written specially for them to which they held the public performing rights. One of the best known music hall performers was Marie Lloyd and one her best known songs was 'Don't Dilly Dally on the Way (My Old Man)' which illustrated the social evils of poverty and drink.
After the 1870s music hall became more formalised and took place in variety theatres where the performer was on a stage and the audience confined to rows of seating. Music and dancing licences were now required for public performance and few variety theatres held a drinks licence. The Variety Artists Federation was formed to protect performers against exploitation by unscrupulous theatre managers. The Federation organised the first music hall strike in 1907. Music hall had longed been frowned upon for its supposed incitement to immorality but most critics were finally silenced in 1912 when the music hall gave its first royal command performance.
With the advent of cinema, radio, and, after World War II, television, music hall died out. A brief televised revival by BBC Television took place in the 1960s. It was called 'The Good Old Days' . The show was in music hall style, with emphasis on singing and dancing, and was compered by Leonard Sachs. In pubs and clubs 'canned' music and discos became the rage; but history is cyclical and the late 20th century fashion for karaoke is a kind of revival for the old original music hall of yesteryear.
Popular entertainment played an important role in providing cotton workers with a little hard-earned relaxation. Theatres abounded in Manchester from the 18th Century onwards, although early players were run out of the City, condemned by City Elders as "Rogues and Vagabonds." In the 18th century, it was illegal for theatres not possessing a royal charter to put on serious dramatic productions (hence "Theatre Royal") but many proprietors were able to get around this limitation by putting on "Bowdlerised" plays and turning serious dramatic works into little more than pantomime. Entertainment varied, but typical early 19th century audiences might enjoy a night out at the Olympic Theatre in Stevenson Square, Manchester where acts such as James Carter, "The Lion King" put on extravaganzas. In Carter's case, one of his lions escaped and caused a riot, but other acts persisted, although many theatres had mesh placed across the front of the stage to prevent injury from dissatisfied audience members throwing rotten fruit and other items!
In the late 19th century and early 20th century, Manchester's theatreland on Peter Street provided rather better entertainment to cotton workers and the quality and scale of productions grew. After the First World War, cinema made its appearance and the theatre's popularity dwindled as the flickering screen's appeal grew. As train travel to the seaside became more popular, Blackpool grew as a centre of entertainment and leisure, and the Winter Gardens and other venues put on ever more popular shows alongside other attractions.
With the coming of the television in the 1950s, cinema fell victim to the same pattern of decline as theatre had before it, but in recent years, both cinema and theatre have made a come back, in Manchester, Liverpool and other North West towns such as Bolton (Octagon) and Oldham (Coliseum).
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