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This page is dedicated to Bob Bain's website on the Glasgow Empire. The Glasgow Empire was Bob's passion. A copy of the website has now been transferred to our Society site. We have done this is to try and ensure that the information on Bob's site is never lost.a

GLASGOW EMPIRE - WELCOME TO MY SITE

A great many photographs of the Glasgow Empire and other Glasgow Theatres were taken by a photographer with the name of Len Factor.

Does anyone have an information on Len Factor?

Bob

About Bob Bain

Sadly on Monday 2nd December 2019, my father, Bob Bain passed away peacefully at the Marie Curie Hospice in Glasgow after a long battle with Lung Cancer.

The Glasgow Empire was his passion and I hope to keep this website going. I won't be pasting any new material or adding anything to it as I would like to keep it the way he had it.

Thank you

Barbara- Ellen

For a great many years now, I have been an ardent fan of variety theatre and in particular, the Glasgow Empire. This site is dedicated to the Glasgow Empire and all the wonderful artistes that appeared there over the years. Sadly the Glasgow Empire was demolished in 1963, but hopefully I can in some small way keep the memories alive.

I have a very large collection of variety theatre memorabilia, some of which is used on these web pages. My collection includes 333 Glasgow Empire programmes, photographs of many of the acts that played the Empire and cutting and articles on the Glasgow Empire.a

I also have 2600 variety theatre programmes from Scottish Theatres, 892 books on the subject of theatre, a great many cuttings and articles on Scottish variety theatre. I also have a great interest in the history of magic and illusion acts, quite a few of whom have appeared at the Glasgow Empire.

I am the Secretary for the Scottish Music Hall & Variety Theatre Society, a position I have held with great pleasure for some years now.

The Glasgow Empire Story

The Empire began life as the Gaiety theatre which opened in 1874. It started as a legitimate theatre but was never a great success and in 1883 it became a Music Hall. In 1896 the Gaiety was demolished to be replaced by the Frank Matcham designed

Empire Palace which opened in April 1897 with Vesta Tilley at the top of the bill. In 1930 it was closed for reconstruction internally and was extended to the corner of Renfield Street, seating 2,100 in comfort and topping the bill, Jack Payne and the BBC Dance Band. 

The last performance was on Sunday 31st March 1963 by an all star cast who all came to say goodbye to this famous variety theatre. The building was demolished and an office block raised in its place. Today only a small blue plaque on the wall of Pizza Hut is a reminder of this great theatre. Over the years many stars from the USA appeared at the Glasgow Empire.

Female Singers: Rosemary Clooney, Lena Horne, Betty Hutton, Judy Garland, Kitty Kallen, Ella Fitzgerald and Eartha Kitt.

Male Singers: Frankie Laine, Johnnie Ray, Hoagy Carmichael, Jerry Colonna, Mel Torme, Don Cornell and Frank Sinatra.

Comedians: Jack Benny, Abbot & Costello, Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis, Laurel & Hardy, Chico Marx, and Morey Amsterdam.

Home grown talent also appeared : Morcambe & Wise, Mike & Bernie Winters, Des O'Connor, Billy Dainty, Betty Driver, Jimmy Young, Marty Wilde, Max Bygraves, Harry Secombe, Cliff Richard, Billy Fury, the list could go on and on.

Let us not forget all the great support acts who helped to make the Empire the great variety theatre it was: Wilson,Keppel & Betty, Jimmy James & Co., Stan Stennett, The Cox Twins, Dick Henderson, Walter Jackson, Clarkson & Leslie, Saveen & Daisy May, Cardini, Robert Earl, Chan Canasta, Hal Monty and all the others, too numerous to mention, but not forgotten.

Stories from the Empire

Tales from the Glasgow Empire No 1. The day I died at the Glasgow Empire - Victor Seaforth.

The veteran comic impressionist VICTOR SEAFORTH recalls every performers nightmare, playing 'the comics' graveyard' for a week:

After fifty seven years in the business as a comic impressionist I have many memories to look back on. I am often asked if there is one particular one that stand out and I always reply "Yes, my fourth visit to the Glasgow Empire." I remember the previous three with pleasure when the top of the bills, respectively, were VIC OLIVER, LESTER FERGUSON and TONY DALLI. Then the fourth, the headliner was CHARLIE GRACE, the American Rock and Roll singer who had just topped the bill at the Hippodrome in London's Leicester Square over DOROTHY SQUIRES. Dot wasn't happy about that at all and there was a lot of publicity - so much so that when my agent, Joe Collins, told me that I was to appear with Gracie at Glasgow Empire I was really looking forward to it.

What a rude awakening I had! On the opening night the audience was more suited to a cup final than a theatre. It was very distressing and the artistes found the noise quite frightening. All we could hear was "Bring on Charlie Grace! Where's Charlie Grace?" plus plenty of rude noises. It was so bad that the first half came down 13 minutes early. The Manager came round and apologised but said he couldn't do anything about it.

I felt physically sick knowing I had to go on in the second half and when it was time for my entrance all I could hear was "Bring on Charlie Gracie! " and the rude noises were even louder. I cut out my gags and just worked on my singing numbers but I broke into a cold sweat knowing that I had to finish on my impression of Charles Laughton as Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I tried to announce what my final impression was going to be but that was pointless as all I could hear was the endless "Bring on Charlie Gracie! ". I proceeded to get myself into the character, the lights went down to green spots, and there I was all twisted up going into the dialogue and all I could hear was "Bugger off. Bring on Charlie Gracie!". The rude noises got louder still and as I carried on towards the end of my study a really loud Scottish voice shouted out "Away hame you humpy backed old bastard! " There was a loud burst of laughter and I was lost how to make my exit so, still in my study as the Hunchback, I worked my way up to the mike as close as I could and as I looked up into the Circle I said, in my loudest voice, "Don't you recognise your father?" and with that I got myself off.

One thing is for sure - it was the longest week of my life and every performance was a nightmare.

By kind permission of Victor Seaforth, this article first appeared in Call Boy the journal of the British Music Hall Society.

The Empire Strikes Back

Marion Macleod insists that she enjoyed playing the famous Glasgow Empire.

I was interested in Victor Seaforth’s amusing letter in your last issue, and full of admiration for his heroic stand against the national sport of bashing English acts at the Glasgow Empire. I was reminded of happier times at the theatre, when in the Christmas period (1949-50) I joined the company of Tom Arnold’s “CRACKERJACK” starring the Scottish comedian Jack Radcliffe. Also in the show were Robert Wilson the popular tenor (best known perhaps for his much loved ‘Down in the Glen’) and George Elrick the diminutive ‘HOUSEWIFES CHOICE’ with his own inimitable style. Supporting acts included Delmondi the accordionist, Agnette & Sylvio, adagio dancers, the concert pianist Tammas Fisher, Helen Norman-Radcliffe’s feed, and The Eight Starlets of whom I was one.

Presiding over the whole show was director Louis Barber, in my opinion a creative genius. He devised the most wonderful magical production numbers week after week involving every member of the cast. We were fortunate to have lavish costumes and sets courtesy of Tom Arnold. We rehearsed every weekday from 10.a.m to 1p.m. and presented a different programme every week. Twice nightly 6.15 and 8.30. It was hard work but what better place to learn one’s craft!

One concession to the would be trouble makers on a First House Friday’ was made by our M.D. who was Polish. He had seen pretty tough fighting during the war, and always conducted the overture facing the audience, ready to repel boarders! Along at the King’s Theatre that Christmas was the musical “Wild Violets”. In the cast were Allen Christie, soon to become a Fol-De-Rol” favourite and David Croft who of course in his varied career co-wrote “Dad’s Army”.

Sadly the Empire like so many of its kind is no more. But its memories linger on.

Top of the Bill

1 OVERTURE

2 LONSDALLE SISTERS Rhythmic Dancers

3 LORRAINE Singing Cartoonist

4 WALTHON & DORRAINE Juggling on the Roller

5 DAISY MAY & SAVEEN The Captivating Starlet

6 CINGALEE & COMPANY Magic from the Orient

7 LONSDALE SISTERS Dance Time Again

8 JIMMY ELLIOT Animal Mimic

9 MACKENZIE REID & DOROTHY Scotland's Accordionists

10 STAN LAUREL & OLIVER HARDY

Laurel and Hardy on stage in "A Spot of Trouble"

__________

The Andrews Sisters 1951 Programme, for Week Commencing Monday 8th September 1952

1 OVERTURE The Empire Orchestra

2 THE BALMORAL FOUR Ballet a La Can-Can

3 THE FLYING CROMWELLS Thrills in the Air

4 JOYCE GOLDING Creating an Impression

5 OSSIE NOBLE The Clown Prince of Rhythm

6 JACK DALY Melody & Blarney

7 GALI GALI International Magician

8 THE BALMORAL FOUR A Breath of Heather

9 AMERICA'S QUEEN OF RHYTHM The Andrews Sisters - Patty, Maxene and Laverne.

__________

Abbot and Costello Programme, for Week Commencing Monday 3rd July 1950

1 OVERTURE The Empire Orchestra

2 DRAGE, VIVIENNE & IRENE Canadian Dance Team

3 SIRDANI Don't be Fright

4 KRISTA & KRISTEL Twin Trapezists

5 BOBBIE KIMBER It Speaks for Itself

6 JOSE MORENO Juggler on the Slack Wire

7 DRAGE, VIVIENNE & IRENE Dance Time Again

9 MEDLOCK & MARLOWE Fooling Around

8 & 10 BUD ABBOTT & LOU COSTELLO

_________

Frankie Laine Programme, for Week Commencing Monday 8th September 1952

1 OVERTURE The Empire Orchestra

2 THE VALETTOS Staircase Dancers

3 TATTERSAL Unusual Ventriloquist with Jerry & Co.

4 ROB MURRAY International Juggling Humorist

5 GEORGE DOONAN The life & Soul of the Party

6 TWO ALFREROS Balancers

7 THE VALETTOS Entertain Again

8 SUZIE Oh! What a Girl Assisted by Reg Russell

9 GEORGE & ANNE DOONAN A family Affair

10 FRANKIE LAINE Mr. Rhythm

Carl Fisher at the Piano

_________

Billy Daniels Programme, for Week Commencing Monday 18th May 1953

1 OVERTURE The Empire Orchestra

2 HERBERT DE VERE'S Pin-Up Girls

3 JOHNNY & SUMA LAMONTE Juggling Novelty

4 SYD & MAX HARRISON Just nuts

5 MARGO HENDERSON & SAM KEMP Essence of Versatility

6 VIC WISE Radio's Wicky Vise

7 THE FIVE FURRES Balancing Feats

8 HERBERT DE VERE'S Pin-Up Girls

9 SYD & MAX HARRISON More Fun

10 BILLY DANIELS With Benny Payne at the Piano

__________

Al Martino Programme, for Week Commencing Monday 3rd October 1955 

1 OVERTURE The Empire Orchestra

2 SYLVIA & RAY HOLLAND Dance Team

3 THE MATAANZAS Comedy Knockabout

4 CONNOR & DRAKE The Perfect Combination

5 TEDDY FOSTER & HIS ORCHESTRA Featuring Annette Klooger

6 SYLVIA & RAY HOLLAND

7 JOAN KANE America's Personality Dancer

8 CONNOR & DRAKE Knights of the Road

9 AL MARTINO

__________

Yana Programme, for week Commencing Monday 2nd July 1956

1 OVERTURE The Empire Orchestra

2 GRANGER BROTHERS Dynamic Dancers

3 FELIXIO Equilibrist

4 RAF & JULIAN Two Wrongs making a Riot

5 JOAN RHODES The Might Mannequin

6 GRANGER BROTHERS

7 DENNISON & NIBLOCK The Best of Enemies

8 CHERRY WAINER Rhythmic Organist

9 EDDIE ARNOLD Mr. Everybody

10 YANA Television's Exciting Singing Personality

__________

Slim Whitman Programme, for Week Commencing Monday 6th May 1957

1 OVERTURE The Empire Orchestra

2 NORMAN & NIKKI GRANT Youthful Dancers

3 ROY CASTLE Comedy Impressionist

4 ALLEN & THE ALBEE SISTERS Juggling Novelty

5 JIMMY JAMES & CO. The First Night

6 NORMAN & NIKKI GRANT

7 PETER QUINTON Cartoons & Ventriloquism

8 TONY & PAULINE DERREK Melody for Two

9 THE BBC DISCOVERY

The Discoverer Jimmy James

The Discovery Bretton Woods

The Interupter Roy Castle

10 SLIM WHITMAN AMERICA'S FAMOUS WESTERN SINGING COWBOY

__________

The Ink Spots Programme, for Week Commencing Monday 10th October 1949

1 OVERTURE

2 THE THREE ADAIRS Merrily We Dance

3 WHEELER & WILSON Radio's Sailor & Porter

4 THE ROSINAS Flirting with Danger

5 GEORGE DOONAN The Life and Soul of the Party

6 THE BOTUNDS Continental Acrobats

7 THE THREE ADAIRS Dance Time Again

8 PAT HATTON & PEGGY Magical Moments

9 JIMMY WHEELER The Breezy Comedian

10 America's Foremost Close Harmony Singers

THE INK SPOTS

11 ALAN KAY & GLORIA Mexican Cocktail

__________

Lena Horne Programme, for Week Commencing Monday 23rd June 1952 

1 OVERTURE

2 CLAYTON WARD Open the Show

3 EVY & EVERTO Continental Cyclists

4 MORCAMBE & WISE Fools Rush In

5 JACK PARNELL & HIS MUSIC MAKERS

Featuring Jimmy Watson & Ronnie Scott with The Song Pedlars

6 CLAYTON & WARD Steps in Tempo

7 PAULA COUTS Australian Juggler

8 MORCAMBE & WISE Entertain Again

9 Hollywood Star of Stage and Screen

LENA HORNE

__________

How Moss Empires Worked By Donald Auty

Moss Empires worked with military precision with a comparatively small staff. The headquarters were in Cranbourne Mansions in Leicester Square in London that is part of the London Hippodrome complex. The Company owned this theatre from the day it was opened until it closed and became the Talk of The town.

The company controlled over thirty theatres at one time and running this immense circuit on a weekly variety basis was no mean feat. At this time around 350 acts a week were employed and this meant a lot of contracts. Louis Benjiman who became the last managing director of the company started as an office boy in this department and delivered most of these contracts by hand to agents who were based around the West. These contracts had to be issued, collected after signing by the artistes and confirmation issued, that meant 750 separate tasks each week. He did not have a lot of spare time.

Running orders for each variety bill were sent out by Charles Henry the production chief. These laid down the time allotted to each act and the setting. This was extremely important and every artiste had to adhere to their time or woe betide them. The settings were also extremely important especially if artistes could finish or start in front of the number one running tabs if the presentation was going to be slick.

The advertising bills had to be printed each week for each theatre and the artistes position on the bill, size of type and bill matter were of extreme importance and were dealt with by the publicity department who sent out the copy. Most of the printing was done by the firm of Tribe in St Albans but one or two independent theatres that were booked by Moss had their own local printers.

There was also a financial department at Cranbourne Mansions a detailed summary of box office, bar, ice cream and programmes had to be sent there nightly from the theatres and the managers sent an overnight telegram that contained the box office summery every night. It was not an easy job controlling the cash flow of such a large organisation in these non high tech days.

The staff numbers were small for such a large organisation this worked because the theatre managers were given a great deal of autonomy. In fact there were more staff at Cranbourne Mansions in the eighties when the circuit controlled only a handful of provincial theatres plus their West End venues than when they were at their most powerful in the thirties.

Each manager was fully in control of his theatre and could make decisions that would be unheard of in present day circuits. Most of them were at least middle aged and some of them in their late fifties and early sixties and had spent a lifetime with Moss. Age went with experience in those days and they were extremely valuable assets to the company. Each one was a character and most of them tended to treat the theatres as though they were their personal possessions. They would stand immaculate in evening dress in the foyers of their theatres smoking a cigar greeting the public as they came in and departed at the beginning and end of each performance. They had one or two assistant managers under them depending on the size of the theatre and the number of bars it had. The assistant had to do all the cashing up. The manager at Nottingham was in charge of two theatres the Empire and the Theatre Royal that were adjoining.

Each theatre had a resident stage manager various stock cloths and an immense amount of drapes. The stage manager was expected to use these to the full and grids were packed most weeks, The Stage manager was responsible for the setting and running of the she but the theatre manager had overall control. It was not until the advent of the American star bill toppers that touring managers were employed with variety bills. Each theatre had its own orchestra numbering from eleven to fifteen again depending on the size of the theatre and the resident musical director was solely responsible for this and for hiring and firing until the early sixties when a circuit musical supervisor was employed. The orchestras were top notch and sounded terrific.

Many present day organisations would profit by making some research on how Moss Empires worked and profit from the results.

__________

Inside The Empire

Plan of the Empire, Glasgow

The Auditorium

They all played the Empire 

Alf Ellsworth, Glasgow Confectioner with the Stars

Speciality Acts

Backstage at the Empire

All photographs on this page are the copyright of Bob McLeod

Artistes Biographies

Billy Daniels

William Boone "Billy" Daniels

September 12 1915 - October 7 1988

Billy Daniels is probably best remembered for his hit recording of Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen's standard "That Old Black Magic." He was also the host of his own television show during the early '50s and a very popular nightclub performer who worked all over the world. 

He also appeared in a few films, mostly during the '40s and early '50s.

He got his start in 1933 while working as a singing waiter in New York. 

The Final Curtain

Cast and Staff in the Final Curtain Call on Sunday 31st March 1963

The Artistes that appeared in the final show

Alexander Brothers, Johnny Beattie, Charlie Cairoli, Iain Cuthbertson, Albert Finney, Rikki Fulton, Dixie Ingram, Calum Kennedy, Kool Katz, Fay Lenore, Pete Martin, Jack Milroy, John Mulvaney, Max Moxon Ladies, Eric V Marsh, Duncan Macrae, Bobby McLeod, Jimmy Neil, Master Joe Oeterson, Ian Powrie, George Penman, Jack Radcliffe, Jimmy Reid, Andy Stewart, Will Starr, Billy Wyner, Robert Wilson and the White Heather Dancers. 

Albert Finney striking the first blow on the stage if the Empire Theatre, Glasgow

Last Night of the Empire with Burnett Rigg and Ian Christie

Nearly Gone

Where the Empire stood on Sauchiehall Street, as it is today

An Usherette Remembers

I moonlighted as an usherette from early 1957 to late 1959. My favourite act was Wilson, Keppel and Betty who were on the programme supporting Billy Eckstine.

Terry Dene was booked to do the Moss Empire Circuit after his marriage to Edna Savage. Due to ill health his booking was cancelled and a young man named Marty Wilde stepped into the slot.

Dave King topped the bill one week and lost his cool due to technical difficulties on the first house Monday. Lonnie Donegan was king of skiffle but the audience he attracted were less than kind to Mikki and Griff who appeared at No 9 on the bill and they were booed off. Glasgow was not ready for the topless show which was staged around 1958 and they had to close the theatre midway through the show when the audience started throwing ice cream onto the stage and the main dancer nearly slipped on it. Bobby the maestro in the orchestra pit was hit on the head with a coin thrown from the audience. The show was re-staged the following evening Harry Secombe was topping the bill one week. On the Friday he went down with laryngitis. Ticket holders were given the choice of having their money returned or seeing the replacement artiste - Chic Murray. Most patrons opted to see Chic instead.

I also remember Leslie Randall being in the No 9 spot. The audience catcalled and didn't give him a chance. Leslie stood looking at his watch, counting off the allotted time for his appearance. When his time was up he turned his back to the audience and bowed, bottoms up, before walking off the stage. Harry Worth was a favourite. He was also an accomplished ventriloquist. When I started at the Empire Jack Radcliffe, Alec Finlay were in pantomime and Denny Willis did his hilarious Huntsman act.

I saw lots of bill toppers - Mitchell Torok, Marvin Rainwater, Charlie Gracie. Shirley Bassey was obviously a star at the age of 20 when she first played the Empire. Al Hibbler, the original Unchained man, had a lovely voice but no personality - he was led onto the stage in the dark and sang his repertoire. I was afraid he would hear the seats tipping up as a lot of patrons left before his performance was finished.

Alma Cogan was reputed to have an extensive stage wardrobe but each time she appeared, she wore the same dress for the 12 performances. In another panto season, Larry Marshall, his then fiancée Kay Rose and Charlie Sim were major players. The Marino Marini Quartet brought in a lot of Italian ex pats and gallons of gin and It were sold in the bars at the intervals.

On the staff side, things were operated very fairly. The usherettes were rotated to work a week in the stalls, a week in the gods, a week in the circle and a week in the gods to give them all an even chance of tips. I remember only one week selling confectionery in the foyer - that was a goldmine for tips. After some months' service usherettes were drafted in to work in the bars at the intervals. Max Bygraves brought in generous tippers, as did Frankie Vaughan (his personality really shone in a live performance), Ken Dodd could fill the place. The Olsen and Johnson Crazy Gang put on an outrageous performance (Doctor Crock and his Crackpots included a wee skit on it in the Greens Playhouse).

I once had to show A E Pickard to his seat in the front row and he paid for his programme with 6 ha'pennies (that was after farthings were legal tender).Another time I had to usher Prince Monolulu, the racing tipster to his seat and was rewarded with a tip of threepence.

Hope I haven't bored you.

LIZ O'NEIL

Having somehow been drawn into surfing the net in the wee sma' hours, I happened upon your fascinating site apropos the Empire Theatre where most of Glasgow's serious courting couples used to attend on Saturday evenings.

My small claim to fame, as it were, was being entered into the Miss Annie Laurie competition by my Mother who, because I was a professional dancer, knew I would simply adore the chance to actually tread the boards of the great Empire Theatre. And since I was recovering from a bout of bronchitis, she knew the chance of meeting Carol Levis would be a great incentive to getting me up and about again. The amazing thing was, the judging was entirely by the audience and my Mother had bought me a gorgeous blue evening gown for the first heat. I won. But only because my Mother reckoned correctly, it would be a Rangers audience. I won the final heat, too. This time in a lilac dress and the most thrilling part of the entire event was feeling the warmth and magic which came over the footlights as we all basked in the applause of the packed theatre.

My prize? A trip to New York to appear on TV - a very big deal back in the 1950's. Carol Levis was a perfect gentleman, involved at that time with the gorgeous Violet Pretty who became a film star. But I had to fly over there, aged seventeen, all alone. Luckily the British Travel Association provided a chaperone and I appeared on American TV with Eddie Fisher, Tex and Jynx Falkenberg, and on radio with Guy Lombardo and also the fabulous Dorsey Brothers.

I feel sad that the Empire is no longer there, each time I return to Glasgow. But in my imagination, it always will be there. Why, my late Mother actually went on stage to conduct a famous big band (a brave member of the audience was invited up on stage). The tune? Unforgettable. And that, Bob Bain has what you have made this site.

Photograph - Eddie Fisher

By Beryl Beattie

Empire Memories - A Winners Tale

Ghostly Goings On

In June of 1960 I left Colston School in Bishopbriggs and began a signwriting apprenticeship with David Mars and Co. of Bishopbriggs. The Empire was the first assignment I had under my trainer. In August of 1960 we were gold-leafing the pilasters on the upper balcony when I happened to turn and look down at the stage. There was a feeling of electricity in the air and a faint apparition of what looked to be Nuns singing on the stage. The lead singer was a very strong soprano and powerful women. I could faintly hear the music which was the Easter Hymn from Cavalaria Rusticana. I am very familiar with the classical music genre. Anyway at that point for some reason the name Marion came to mind. I do not know why... My trainer heard and saw what I saw. He told me that we were supposed to be the only people in the theater. He went downstairs to investigate and I sat down to vie this spectacle which lasted about 3 minutes. My trainer came back and said that we must have imagined it but I knew otherwise. At home I recounted the happening to my Mother who at that point told me that the singers name was Marion... I forget the last name. She was part of the Charlie Chester show and was introduced as the Golden voice of...I wonder if anyone remembers that particular Charlie Chester show where this number was performed.

About a week later I and my trainer were up on the stage working with the fire-curtain which was down. I had just finished lettering an advertisement when my trainer turned to me and said, "Did you stamp your feet on the floor?" I said no! Just then we could feel the boards move on our side and on the other side of the curtain as if someone were dancing rather forcibly. This time I said to my trainer that I would go to the other side to check it out. On the other side there was nothing visible but I could still hear the boards move. I checked the surrounding areas. I was just by the scene door when I heard some music. It sounded foreign to me but I could not quite place the type of music. I was some two years in the USA before I found out that the Red Army Choir and Dancers were featured at the Empire. I bought one of the records in the U.S. It was only then that I realised that the music I heard was a Balalika. Were the dancers moving the boards? It still gives me a shudder when I think of It!

Daniel Fernie

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