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Noël Coward: Mad About the Boy (1932-1943)

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Album Review

Even as Noël Coward's plays are still staged on a regular basis, he is also remembered as an endearing vocalist and composer of pleasantly romantic songs and satirical ditties. Born in Teddington, Middlesex in December 1899, Coward cited Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, and Beatrix Potter as his primary influences; he also claimed to have been motivated at first by a youthful desire to improve upon the formal patterns of the traditional English nursery rhyme. Noël Coward's whimsicality and wit invite comparison with W.S. Gilbert and Oscar Wilde. At times his skill as a pop composer and lyricist nearly matched that of Cole Porter and Lorenz Hart; certain parallels could also be drawn with Dorothy Parker or even Ogden Nash. Coward's influence is clearly detectable in the works of Michael Flanders and Donald Swann; his lightning-quick wit and unflinching honesty also inspired the best of Joe Orton and Eric Idle. The opening measures of Coward's "Half-Caste Woman" even cropped up during "Nick Danger — Third Eye" on the Firesign Theatre's second album, How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere at All (1968). Since the early '90s, a sort of Cowardly renaissance has developed as various reissue labels brought out detailed retrospectives; if Angel/EMI's HMV Recordings was comprehensive, Naxos has delved even further by sifting through the historical evidence to unearth all sorts of obscure treasures. Issued in 2005, Mad About the Boy is Castle Pulse's triple-CD tribute album. Two discs are devoted to what could be regarded as emblematic Noël Coward performances; disc three adds another dimension by illustrating Coward's influence upon some of the most important British dance bands of the '30s, including Carroll Gibbons & the Savoy Orpheans, Ray Noble & His New Mayfair Orchestra, Ray Starita and his Ambassadors, and the orchestras of Bert Ambrose, Jack Payne and Jack Jackson. What begins as a survey of Noël Coward's best recordings of his own songs blossoms into a superb mini-anthology of historical performances that characterize the cultural environment where those songs first thrived and became popular.


Born: 16 December 1899 in Teddington, Middlesex, England

Genre: Vocal

Years Active: '10s, '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

A multi-talented Renaissance man of the 20th century, Noël Coward worked primarily as a playwright, actor, songwriter, and singer, but his creative activities also included the writing of fiction and poetry; producing and directing for the stage, film, and television; and nightclub entertaining and recording. Across a career spanning six decades, he was remarkably successful at these various pursuits, moving from one to the other with seeming ease, even when he was wearing several different hats...
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