Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Ragged Ragtime Girls: Leila Waddell, Aleister Crowley and seven dancing violinists

I have been enjoying Phil Baker's 'City of the Beast: The London of Aleister Crowley' (Strange Attractor, 2022), which traces his life through places associated with him. In doing so he situates Crowley in a specific London bohemian world of cafes, salons, clubs and temples, populated by people often seen only as (mostly temporary) followers of his but who led interesting lives in their own right - and were probably much more pleasant/less abusive people to befriend.

One of the sites Baker mentions is the Tivoli Theatre which stood at 65-70 the Strand in London, a building 'demolished in 1914, replaced by the Tivoli cinema and the site is now a featureless modern office block'.  It was here that in 1913 a musical troupe called The Ragged Ragtime Girls (sometimes spelt Ragged Rag-Time Girls) played for seven weeks, an act consisting of 'seven pretty girls who play the violin and dance at the same time'. I hadn't heard of them previously so set of searching at the British Newspaper Archive and elsewhere to find out more.

A contemporary review describes them as 'a charming septette' sharing a bill with American songwriters Harry Williams and Nat Ayer, composers of 'Oh you beautiful doll' and the dancers Ida Crispi and Fred Farren. On another occasion they shared a bill at the Tivoli with comedian  George Formby sr., father of the later ukelele star (Sporting Life, 19 March 1913).

The connection with Crowley was that among the seven was Leila Waddell, Australian violinist and sometime 'Scarlet Woman' consort of Crowley. If Crowley is to be believed the group was his idea, arising from his suggestion that 'she should combine fiddling with dancing. My idea was, of course, to find a new art form. But of this she was not capable. She failed to understand my idea'. 

He goes on: 'I turned my thoughts to making a popular success for her. We collected six assistant fiddlers, strung together a jumble of jingles and set them to a riot of motion; dressed the septette in coloured rags, called them “The Ragged Ragtime Girls” and took London by storm. It was a sickening business [...] In the early part of 1913, my work had apparently settled down to a regular routine. Everything went very well but nothing startling occurred. On March 3rd, the “Ragged Ragtime Girls” opened at the Old Tivoli. It was an immediate success and relieved my mind of all preoccupations with worldly affairs'. Later that year Crowley was 'free to accompany the “Ragged Ragtime Girls” to Moscow, where they were engaged for the summer, at the Aquarium. They were badly in need of protection. Leila Waddell was the only one with a head on her shoulders. Of the other six, three were dipsomanics, four nymphomaniacs, two hysterically prudish, and all ineradicably convinced that outside England everyone was a robber, ravisher and assassin. They all carried revolvers, which they did not know how to use; though prepared to do so on the first person who spoke to them' (The Confessions of Aleister Crowley).

The group also seem to have played at other London venues including the Tottenham Palace (Stage 10 April 1913) and the East Ham Palace, as well as in Edinburgh, Glasgow and at the Manchester Hippodrome - this time advertised as 'Eight Ragged Rag-Time Girls' (The Era, 17 September 1913).

 Then there were a series of shows in the North East of England including the Sunderland Empire with Tiller girl dancers, Miss Louie Tracey, 'a male impersonator'  and the Great Barnetti who produced 'weird effects of a black magic character';  and the South Shields Empire Place as 'Seven Gipsy Ragged Ragtime Girls dancing fiddlers'. They also gave their services for free as part of a benefit concert for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution at the Empire Theatre, Newcastle (Newcastle Daily Chronicle, 29 May 1913).


I can find no reference to them playing after November 1913 but more may turn up. Crowley is sometimes described as their manager and producer but whatever his role they also had professional management.  In an interview with vaudeville producers Ellis Entertainments Ltd, director Anthony Ellis boasted that 'we were responsible for the appearance of the Ragged Rag-time Girls at the Tivol - an act which proved so popular that it is now, after a seven weeks run at the Tivolo, booked for a year ahead in the provinces, including a return visit to London at Christmas time' (The Era, 22 October 1913). 

It should also be remembered that Waddell was an accomplished professional musician - for instance she as described as 'The Queen of Australian Violinists'  while playing at West's Picture Palace, Shaftesbury Hall, Bournemouth (Bournemouth Daily Echo, 4 July 1910). Neither was she a passive muse for Crowley's spiritual work, among other things she played a key role in the Rites of Eleusis performed at Westminster's Caxton Hall in 1910, another site mentioned in Baker's book.

The Ragged Ragtime Girls

Leila Waddell in the Rites of Eleusis

Monday, August 15, 2022

'Riot in Whitehall': London Miners Strike Demo 1985

In February 1985 the miners strike in Britain was in its last few weeks. A highly organised state sponsored strike breaking operation was having an effect, and more than 150 miners had been jailed for their activities during the strike. 

It's surprizing that nearly a year after the strike started there had not been a major demonstration in London in support of the miners (other than a lobby of parliament in June 1984), but one was called by the South East region of the Trades Union Congress, along with the Liaison Committee for the Defence of the Trade Unions, on Sunday February 24th 1985. 

Notice of demo in Socialist Worker

As usual estimates of the crowd varied - the organisers said more than 50,000, the police only 15,000 which was a ludicrously low number. The demo went from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square, and scuffles broke out as the police arrested a couple of miners in Whitehall and a section of the crowd refused to move on demanding their release. A cordon of police blocked the top of Whitehall to try and stop people from the main body of the demo in Trafalgar Square joining this, before mounted police charged in to clear the area.

If it was a riot it was a fairly one sided one. Some missiles were thrown at police but mostly ineffectual  sticks, plastic bottles and empty cans which were no match for charging horses and swinging batons. My main memory is of panic and chaos as horses charged and police on foot piled into the crowd to try and make arrests. Some people were crushed and I remember demonstrators climbing on to police lorries loaded with metal crowd control barriers and pushing the barriers into the street to try and block the police advance. More than 100 people were arrested.

The photos I took on the day aren't great but hopefully they do convey some of that chaos. 

Police in Hyde Park at start of demo

Red and black flags on demo

Crowd and police outside Whitehall Theatre of War (this was an exhibition of WW2 memorabilia)

Here comes the police horses...

A demonstrator is comforted after police charge 

Demonstrator makes ironic nazi salute at police as horses move into crowd

'Riot in Whitehall' - Black Flag, 18 March 1985

'On February 24th a huge march of 80,000 miners and their supporters was held in London, in a festive atmosphere. The feeling of solidarity was destroyed when plain clothes police and uniformed police arrested 2 Notts miners as their part of the March neared the Theatre of War in Whitehall. Police and miners were quick to respond, with skirmishes breaking out as police snatch squads went for people only to have them snatched back by the crowd, as sticks and bottles rained down on the police lines which had halted the demo.

TV cameramen were pushed aside as they zoomed in for sensation, as a steward with a loudhailer told everyone to go to Trafalgar Square. Abused, and asked whose side he was on, he accused "outside agitators" of causing trouble which he later changed to "anarchists" and "students".

Meanwhile the march was staying put, determined not to move until the Notts miners were released. The police withdrew, while a large crowd gathered outside 10 Downing Street (chants of "Maggie, we want you...DEAD! echoed and bands played the catchy tune 'Here We Go, Here We Go!) and people milled around in Whitehall which was clear of traffic.

Then in a new tactic and with new cops the police moved in again about 100 strong making arrests only to find themselves surrounded and given a good kicking. A Superintendant's hat was thrown up in the air, to cheers. During the pushing and shoving, an elderly man was seen hitting the backs of cops legs with his walking stick! A cry of 'Horses' went up, and the helmets of the mounted police could be seen over the heads of the police lines.

Then a crushing line of police moved forward, in a pincer style strategy to break up the crowd, forcing people into side streets off Whitehall. Children who were placed in safety on ledges, behind
fences, were dragged out by the cops, some people were viciously beaten as they were chased, jumped on and dragged to vans and into Whitehall buildings. One woman lost consciousness as her head was bashed on the pavement by the five cops arresting her. Stacks of crowd barriers were thrown off nearby trucks.

About 30 mounted police cleared Whitehall crushing people against railings and then charging into groups of marchers without warning. Some people arrested were taken into the Horseguards area, and beaten up. There was a shortage of missiles to throw at the police at one stage a pile of Socialist Workers (the papers not the individual Trots) got thrown at a police line, and someone said "best use for them yet!!"

While being arrested a man got his leg trapped under a parked car - the police yanked him so violently that his leg broke. He is still in hospital. Ministry of Defence windows were smashed, and a police motorbike overturned, as crowds withdrew to Embankment, police in pursuit trying to give the impression that everything was under control.

There were 121 arrests, in all, including some DAM [Direct Action Movement] members. Many people had to have hospital treatment, and 13 people were held overnight. Police were also hospitalised. The general feeling was of amazement that a day for celebration of solidarity had been turned around so viciously by the police. And, on the other side, the police had learnt that these marchers weren't going to take attacks on them lying down'.

'Gay in thick of Whitehall battle' - Capital Gay, 1 March 1985

'The day began peacefully in Hyde Park, and there was loud applause for the Lesbian and Gay Support the Miners banner as it left the park. But while the march was still filing into Trafalgar Square police blocked off both ends of Whitehall and arrested two miners. Soon afterwards all other exits from Whitehall were sealed off. Detachments of mounted police in riot gear formed in Parliament Square and Horse Guards and charged into the crowded street. The large and conspicuous lesbian and gay contingent found itself in the centre of the charge and found it impossible to make their escape from the horses surrounding them. Observers told Capital Gay "The police drew night sticks and struck out indiscriminately at the marchers"' (Capital Gay, 1 March 1985)

'Pit Violence Comes to Whitehall' - Daily Mail, 25 February 1985

'Pit strike demonstrators battled with police in Whitehall yesterday. In scenes reminiscent of picket line violence, a surging mob hurled stones, chunks of wood and plastic beer bottles at officers. Close to the Houses of Parliament, mounted police rode in to disperse the crowd...

The first fighting started outside Whitehall's Theatre of War with the black and red flag of the International Anarchists Movement at the thick of it. As Mr Arthur Scargill, miners' union president, Mr Anthony Wedgwood Benn and others spoke to the massed crowd in Trafalgar Square, skirmishes started again. 

[...] Among other groups which took part in the march were the Communist Party, the Socialist Workers Party and some lesser-known pressure groups such as the Orient Supporters Against Pit Closures, London Gays for the Miners and the the Iranians Popular Organisations for the Miners'.

'100 held as police tackle miners' - Guardian, 25 February 198

'One group of demonstrators, including women and children, were pressed against railings as police horses moved in on both sides of them. Children were lifted over railings to comparative safety but some fell under the police horses'.  The picture shows demonstrators climbing on to a statue of Charles I.

Update - some additional photos from the day provided by downlander

(thanks to LGSMPride who posted the Capital Gay clipping recently)


Friday, August 12, 2022

Discothèque dancing - 'you don't need a band' (1964)

'you Frug, Surf and Watusi and you don't need a band - Discotheque Dancing.  As of last night, the smart dances to do were the Frug, Wash Wash, Surf, Hitchhiker and Watusi. But so rapidly are dances invented and discarded nowadays that they may be outmoded tonight - along with the Saint, in which dancers wave hands as if they were marching in. It is being danced below in a new kind of nightclub called a discotheque - this one is New Jimmy's in Paris but they are popping up everywhere in Europe and the US. At a discotheque recorded music is played' (Life magazine, 22 May 1964). 

The full article includes photos of people dancing in Paris, London and Los Angeles.

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Defend the Atlanta Forest

'Defend the Atlanta Forest' is a movement opposing the destruction of woodland in Atlanta to build a police training facility that would include a mock city (perhaps similar to the Metropolitan Police's riot training 'town' in Kent). The campaign has included protest camps  tree dwelling and lots of music and creativity, including a music festival there last month.

Some nice lines in this flyer distributed there:

 'This is not a Music Festival... Because we are not here as consumers or as mere spectators. This is not another photo-op, another 'networking opportunity'. We are here because our need for a free forest, culture, and existence can't be crushed by the police, nor can it be sold back to us as an image in an uninspired Hollywood rip-off. 

In a cave called Divje Babe, located in present-day Slovenia, archeologists have recently discovered a 60,000 year old flute. The human need for music has been with us since the very beginning. We
are here to affirm that this deep and timeless desire, which has survived an Ice Age, the rise of empires and states, the advent of borders; slavery, war, famine and Holocausts, is an important part of the current struggle...

Our communities will not be held together by their ability to kill and maim enemies or heretics. They will be held together by music, and the ability to generate common luxuries. So let's not say 'Oh they don't really care about the struggle, they are only here for the party' or, 'this is not about music and festivals and all of this crap, this is about serious politics and organising." Instead let's say the truth:
this is only a glimpse of what we could give one another if we manage to outlive the oil-based economics of the current world system. The emancipation of the senses, the free development of the imagination and the passions: this is precisely what we are fighting for'

(images from Defend the Atlanta Forest twitter feed)