Flanders & Swann
I dearly, dearly, dearly love Michael Flanders & Donald Swann, and have since a wee kidling when I first heard the album of their two-man West End and Broadway "after-dinner farrago," At the Drop of a Hat. I've posted a few videos of them performing their songs, but it's very few -- far too few. The videos come from a 1967 CBS TV special they did of their second show, At the Drop of Another Hat, but for some reason only a very little has been posted online from that broadcast.
I did just find a longer clip from it than most. This runs almost 10 minutes. It's not their most quintessential or best material, but some of it is, and it's all a treat.
It begins with a song that isn't typical of their work, since it's basically parody lyrics based on the song "This Old Man" about Charles DeGaulle. And the second song is a very short, intentionally silly ditty that Donald Swann sings from the piano. (Most of the conversation and singing is done by lyricist Michael Flanders from his wheelchair -- he had polio -- but they always had Swann sing a couple of solo numbers.) You also get a a hint of their running suggestion that the bookish Swann --- who was actually a Russian and Greek scholar -- had a bit of a mad side.
But what the video does have, which most clips of them don't, is extensive material of Flanders just talking to the audience, and he's so erudite and witty, that it's a joy. And fascinating to see the high-level of material they presented. (And it's remarkable to consider that it was a time when network television put this whole show on in what was probably a two-hour time slot.) And then it leads into a wonderful and very typical song of them, one of their "animal" songs, of which they were known. (They have a fun studio album of just their animal songs called, The Bestiary of Flanders & Swann.) This one is about an armadillo.
By the way, one of the treats of having video of Flanders going on with a monologue is that you get to watch Donald Swann in the background. On all their albums, you can hear him laughing throughout the shows. He had this uncanny ability to look riveted listening to Flanders as if he was hearing the material for the very first time and so amazed and enthralled by the joy of it. In reality, it's probably the 1,500th performance they'd given, and it's just masterful bit of artistry. Hey, for all I know he did appreciate it so much at each performance. But that's how good he is, that there's even a hint of uncertainty. Even at the piano, playing and singing his music, it's like he's excited to perform it for the first time for the audience. So, keep an occasional eye on him.
And then there's Michael Flanders, who is just masterful.
All in all, it's so wonderful to have this long an excerpt of the two fellows. Here's hoping more shows up.
(Around the 8-minute mark, the audio drops precipitously, though you can still hear okay, but it clears up in about 20 seconds.)
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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