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Jack Judge (1872-1938)

Jack Judge (1872-1938)


As the curtains parted in Dublin’s Tivoli Theatre on the evening of 27th August 1914, the audience must have craning their necks to get a better view of Jack Judge.[i] The Great War had been on for just under a month but the word was already out that the 42-year-old comedy-singer had written the smash hit of the summer, ‘It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary’.

Two weeks earlier, the British Expeditionary Force had disembarked in the French town of Boulogne, en route to the Western Front. Daily Mail correspondent George Curnock watched the Connaught Rangers belting out a song called ‘It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary’ as they marched.[ii] By the time his report was published three days later, the song had spread like wildfire through the rank and file. By 27th August, the New York Times was hailing ‘Tipperary’ as the marching song of the British Army; the newspaper also printed all the verses and chorus. [iii]

The song was particularly striking as unlike most which soldiers sang as they marched to war, this did not talk of the great and glorious havoc they were about to wreak upon their enemy but instead reflected a rather more touching yearning for home.

By the close of 1914, ‘Tipperary’ had sold 1.5 million records in the UK and sales were fast approaching the 3 million mark across the Atlantic in the neutral USA. And picking up a very handsome royalties payment at the end of it all was Jack Judge, the son of an iron-worker from Co. Mayo, and his wheelchair-bound neighbour Harry Williams.

Jack Judge’s great-grandfather Gilbert Judge was a carpenter from Carrowbeg near Ballyhaunis in Co. Mayo. [iv] The area suffered greatly during the Great Famine and many emigrated to the factories and mines of the English Midlands. In 1870, Gilbert’s son and grandson, both called John, moved to West Bromwich, near Birmingham, where they found work at the Bromford Iron Works.

The following year, John junior married 18-year-old Mary McGuire whose parents had also emigrated from Ireland.[v] The couple moved into the McGuire family home in Oldbury, a few miles south of West Bromwich.[vi]

The music hall legend Jack Judge, the eldest of John and Mary’s eight children, was born in Oldbury in 1872.[vii] His childhood was tough. In 1877, his father was laid off by the ironworks, forcing the family into six years of wandering in pursuit of whatever jobs they could find.[viii] When the ironworks reopened in 1883, both John and Jack, now a strapping 12-year-old, were employed by the company.

In 1885, John Judge took a bold step, acquired a loan and opened a fishmonger’s stall in Oldbury.[ix] Three years later, tragedy struck when the Mayo man succumbed to tuberculosis aged 38.

Desperate to avoid the workhouse, his widow and children took over the stall. Jack, then aged 16, was still working in the ironworks at the time. He purchased a barrow which he would fill with shellfish from the Birmingham market every morning. In the evenings, he and his sister Jane Anne headed out to sell the shellfish to those gathered in the pubs and music halls of Oldbury.

Jack and Jane Ann could both sing and often competed in the talent shows staged at the town’s music halls.[x] Jack specialized in humorous songs, most of which he wrote himself, and became a master at dismissing hecklers. By the mid-1890s, the sturdy, big-shouldered redhead was already an Oldbury legend.

In June 1895, he married Jinny Carroll, a shy, diminutive Irish girl who worked as a laundress for the Judge family. For the next ten years they focused on the family fish business and raised three sons and a daughter.[xi] The darkness was never faraway. A measles epidemic killed two of Jack’s siblings in 1891, while tuberculosis also accounted for his sister Nellie in 1897.

In 1903, twirly moustached song-writer Harry Williams became the Judge’s next-door neighbour.[xii] For Jack this was a Godsend because, despite all the sings he had written, he did not know how to read or write music notes.

The two became friends and the Harry started writing Jack’s songs down, occasionally adding his own harmonies and arrangements. In gratitude, Jack vouched that if he ever had any songs published, he would ensure Harry’s name was included as his co-author.

In 1910, Jack had a major breakthrough when, clad in a bright check suit with a striped waistcoat, he came third with his song ‘How are Yer?’ at the Encore Variety Show in London.[xiii] While the audience appeared to be cold as his fish when he started, he had them all roaring out the chorus by the end.

His name appeared in the papers and suddenly the invites were coming in from bosses of music halls and theatres all over Britain. The 38-year-old took the plunge, delegating his fish business to his wife, and set off on a tour of England, performing the songs he had been working on since his teenage years.

He also crossed the Irish Sea to his parents’ homeland, performing at both the Tivoli and Queen’s Theatre in Dublin.[xiv] It is said that he sang ‘Tippeary’ at the Queen’s in 1912 and that the crowd included a number of the Connaught Rangers who duly adopted the song as their anthem.

Jack maintained that he wrote ‘Tipperary’ one night in January 1912, while staying in Stalybridge, Cheshire, just east of Manchester, and that he performed it in the town’s Grand Theatre the following night.[xv] It was written, he said, in response to a 5-shilling bet wagered by Jack Newbury and Arthur Peel, trainers of performing seals, who reckoned he couldn’t write a new song overnight. Jack replied: “Well, if I head for my digs I might have time to knock something up for tomorrow”.

Jack was something of a scoundrel on this front, frequently pretending to have just written songs which he had long had on his repertoire. Indeed, many inhabitants of Oldbury, his own family included, claimed they had heard ‘Tipperary’ before January 1912. Another theory is that he simply reworked a ballad his mother taught him called ‘”It’s a Long Way to Connemara”

In any case, when he performed ‘Tipperary’ at Stalybridge’s Grand Theatre on 31st January 1912, it went down a storm with the artistes, cleaners, handymen, bill posters and animal trainers who comprised his audience.

The buzz caught the ear of London-based music publisher Bert Feldman who approached Jack about turning it into a gramophone record.[xvi] Jack agreed, insisting Harry was co-author, and Feldman signed a royalty deal with the two men, as well as an upfront payment of £5.

By Christmas 1912, the song was available as a record, sung in a resonant baritone by Ted Yorke.[xvii] The following year, Miss Florrie Forde, one of Britain’s best-loved music hall performers, sang it on the Isle of Man in 1913, propelling the song to best-selling status.

Jack was performing at the Tivoli in Dublin when word came back from the Western Front that it had become the army’s most popular song.[xviii] In November 1914, John McCormack recorded the song and the following month, the London correspondent of The Irish Times astutely predicted that the original manuscript upon which the words were written ‘may some day finds its way into a museum as a relic of the great war.’[xix]

Jack’s eldest son Jackie and two of his brothers were amongst those fighting on the Western Front. Despite his Irish ancestry, Jack considered himself a loyal British subject. He would have gone to war himself except the government correctly deemed that his foremost skill would be boosting morale back home with his music.

As co-author of the most popular song, Jack was by now a wealthy man. He sold another seventeen songs to Feldman and concentrated on the war effort.[xx] He became a regular performer at recruiting offices and events organized to raise money for the wounded, the war widows and the poor working class families whose husbands had enlisted.

He also did his bit to spur the Irish to join up, recording two songs in 1915, namely ‘Michael O’Leary, V.C.’, about the first Irishman to win the Victoria Cross in the war, and ‘Paddy Maloney’s Aeroplane’, about a magical plane.[xxi] A whopping 80,000 copies of the latter record were dispatched to the army and navy free of charge.

Tragedy struck in February 1917 when Jackie, a private in Royal Welsh Fusiliers, was killed by Turkish shells and machine guns in Mesopotamia (Iraq).[xxii] Before he died, the 20-year-old sent his father a song of his own composition, ‘Everybody’s Proud of Their Own’, which Jack later published.[xxiii]

The tuberculosis that killed Jack’s father came back with a vengeance in 1921, taking his wife Jinny, his mother Mary, his second son Thomas and his writing partner Harry Williams within less than a year.[xxiv] His third son Jimmy was also destined to die of the same illness, while his only daughter Cissie died from heart complications after giving birth to what would be his only grandson.

Devastated by all these deaths, Jack ceased touring and settled back to life as a fishmonger in Oldbury.[xxv] There was some respite when, in April 1922, seven months after Jinny’s death, he married Ria Oliver, a war widow, with whom he started a new family and had three more daughters.

Diagnosed with cancer in 1930, Jack continued recording for the next three years. His football song ‘Down Old Wembley Way’ certainly helped his team West Bromwich Albion win the 1931 FA Cup Final. In 1933, ‘Snooze the Blues Away’, his final song, was recorded by the same Florrie Forde who sang ‘Tipperary’ two decades earlier.

The 65-year-old songwriter died in a West Bromwich hospital on 25th July 1938 and was buried in Oldbury. George VI sent a telegram to express his regrets. The New York Times applauded the man “Famed for the Ballad to Which Doughboys and Tommies Marched Off to War”, while The Times reckoned ‘Tipperary’ was a song which could ‘still recall more immediately than anything else the spirit and excitement of the early days of the War’.[xxvi]

There is a bronze statue of Jack Judge in Stalybridge while the library in Oldbury also bears his name. ‘Tipperary’ regularly pops up in war movies and we can expect to hear it quite a lot in the coming years as the centenary of the First World War approaches.

Arguably the most poignant version is that played by the carillon of St. Nicholas’ Church in Mesen, Belgium, close to the Messines Ridge battlefield where the Irish and the Ulster Volunteers fought alongside one another for the first time in 1917. It stands as a sobering memorial to the singing voices of the Connaught Rangers, 2,500 members of whom were killed during the five brutal years of war with Germany.

‘Jack Judge, the Tipperary Man’, Verna Hale Gibbons.

Jack Judge – His Life and Music – follow this link.

[i] Jack was touring Ireland with a group called the London Comedy Four, co-starring the dancers Doris Hunter, Syd Sydney Pop Carson, Mabel & Malfer and the Three Charringtons. The Irish Times, 27th August 1914.

[ii] Daily Mail, 18 August 1914.

[iii] ‘It is not widely known in this country’ they added, printing the verses and chorus accordingly. The New York Times, August 27 1914.

[iv] Griffith’s recorded three Gilbert Judges, all in Annagh parish, at Carrow Beg, Corraun and Derrylea.

[v] Thomas Maguire, a bricklayer, and his wife Jane McGuire are sometimes said to have been from Tipperary but this is, as yet, unproven. They arrived in Oldbury from Ireland in the early 1850s. John Judge Jnr married their eldest daughter Mary at Oldbury’s St Francis Xavier Catholic Church on Pinfold Street. The McGuires lived in Low Town, near to Oldbury’s Malt Shovel public house. In 1875, John Judge’s younger brother, James, married Mary McGuire’s younger sister, Ann.

[vi] 4% of Oldbury’s population, or 500 people, were registered as Irish in the 1851 census.

[vii] John Thomas Judge, known as Jack, was born on 3rd December 1872. One of his earliest memories was of falling into the Birmingham Canal which ran near their home as a four-year-old; an older boy dived in and plucked him out.

[viii] These were difficult times for the Judges who now had two daughters as well, Jane Ann and Mary. In 1877, John Jr. was laid off by Bromford Iron Works and found himself on the hunt for work. He duly moved his family to Wolverhampton, and then to Moseley in Birmingham. Most of Jack’s education took place at St Patrick’s School, Wolverhampton, and St Anne’s School, Moseley.

[ix] The stall was located at Oldbury’s unofficial market in ‘Wrexham’, the common name for the Junction Vaults.

[x] The ‘Gaiety’ stood at the top of Birmingham Street opposite the Bulls Head. The ‘Old White Swan Museum and Concert Hall’ was in Church Street, next to the Big House. The Concert Hall was known as the ‘Bird Show’ because of all the stuffed birds on its wall.

[xi] The four children were John (‘Jackie’) in 1897, Jane Anne (‘Cissie’) in 1900, Thomas in 1902, and James Patrick (‘Jimmy’) in 1905.

[xii] In 1903, Harry Williams and his brother Ben took over the Matt Shovel Inn which was bang next door to the Judge family home in Low Town.

[xiii] The variety competition organised by the stage magazine ‘Encore’ in London.

[xiv] As part of H. C. Lovell’s company, he performed in a “musical comedy phantasy” called ‘The Queen of Sheba’ at the Tivoli Theatre in Dublin in January 1911, alongside Haley’s Juveniles (‘a talented band of children’) and piano forte maestro Brizlee The Irish Times (p. 7) of 24th January 1911 applauded Jack’s performance as ‘very amusing’.

[xv] ‘The song was actually written at the New Market Inn, Corporation Street, [Stalybridge] and I sang it at the Grand Theatre, there, the same evening’. Quoted by G. .L Whittaker in a souvenir programme published in connexion with the Tipperary Day Commemoration, held at Stalybridge on January 31. 1953. This came from a letter to The Times, dated 1 March 1972.

Much to his consternation, the authorship of ‘Tipperary’ was to be one of the most convoluted parts of Jack’s life. In 1917, a Miss Alice Smyth Burton Jay took the songs publishers Chapell & Co. all the way to the US Supreme Court, suing them for $100, 000 damages. She alleged that she had written original tune in 1908 as “The Yakima Booster Chorus” while staying in Hot Springs, Washington. The following year, Innes’s Band had played the pieces at the Alaska–Yukon–Pacific Exposition, promoting the Washington apple industry, where Miss Jay was in charge of the sheet music booth. She said she then showed the score to Harry Williams who admired its rousing chorus. She claimed her score was stolen that very night and the next time she heard it was in Honolulu in 1915 when the chorus popped up in a song attributed to Harry Williams. It was, she said, “practically identical with her composition, both as to theme and harmony, note for note”. (The New York Times, September 20, 1917). The case dragged on until 1920 when Supreme Court Justice Goff called upon the prolific Dublin-born Broadway operatta composer Victor Herbert to lend his expertise as referee. Herbert testified that he did not feel the two songs were sufficiently similar for this to be piracy. Mr. Herbert said the use of a violin at the trial to show the likeness between the two compositions did not furnish the best evidence because no harmony could be obtained from a violin. (The New York Times, May 13, 1920.) The case was dismissed in 1920 on the basis that neither Jack nor Harry had ever been to Seattle. However, barely had this case been thrown out when another claimant emerged in the form of Herr Franz Lehar, who composed the ‘Merry Widow’ and several other light operas. He claimed it was based upon a waltz he wrote in Vienna

[xvi] Bert actually saw an advertisement by Jack in the stage press stating that his song was up for sale. The deal was signed on 18th September 1912, and included another of Jack’s compositions ‘Mona from Barcelona’.

[xvii] It first appeared on a gramophone record bearing the label of “The Winner” (no manufacturer’s name given) British Patent 1912 in which Ted Yorke gives the song in a resonant baritone, very much as an old-fashioned music hall ballad. The verse is sung in near-Irish accents but the chorus breaks into unmistakable cockney.

[xviii] He performed at the Tivoli on 27th August 1914 as part of the ‘London Comedy Four’ tour, along with comedian and dancers Doris Hunter and Syd Sydney, Pop Carson, Mabel & Malfer and the Three Charringtons.

[xix] The Irish Times estimated that between 2-3 million copies of the record had sold by early December 1914. (Our London Letter, Weekly Irish Times, Saturday, December 12, 1914, p. 4.) By 26th December, the same paper estimated that while sales in England has passed the 1.5 million mark, the infectious marching song was close to notching up an incredible 3 million sales in the neutral USA. (Our London Letter, Weekly Irish Times, Saturday, December 26, 1914, p. 6.) It wasn’t long before the soldiers had conjured up a rather more bawdy version of the song which went like this:

That’s the wrong way to tickle Mary,

That’s the wrong way to kiss.

Don’t you know that over here, lad

They like it best like this.

Hooray pour Les Français

Farewell Angleterre.

We didn’t know how to tickle Mary,

But we learnt how over there.

[xx] Our London Letter, Weekly Irish Times, Saturday, December 26, 1914, p. 6. Feldman bought six songs from Jack in 1913 and eleven in 1914. In each instance, Harry Williams was named as co-author. It was a massive coup for Feldman who, sensing an appetite for Irish songs, followed it up by releasing other popular melodies such as ‘When Irish Eyes Are Smiling’ and ‘It Takes an Irish Heart to Sing an Irish Song’, all of which fed into the growing sense of patriotism amongst Irish émigrés and their descendents in Britain and America.

[xxi] Jack also recorded ‘The Place Where I Was Born’ in 1915, written before the war, which focused on the mutual compassion of working class families during hard times.

[xxii] He was involved in the capture of Dahra Bend.

[xxiii] In 1920 he performed a song called ‘Where is Peaceland?’, expressing his anger that the ‘returning heroes’ of the war still had no jobs or pay in peacetime. Feldman deemed it too controversial to publish, focusing instead on other sings like ‘It’s a Long Way no Longer’ and ‘Its no use Worrying over Yesterday’.

[xxiv] Harry Williams later settled in California and was well known for other lyrics such as ‘In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree’, ‘Chyenne’ and ‘I’m afraid to go Home in the Dark’. In May 1922, he was taken seriously ill with tuberculosis and died in a hospital in Oakland. (The New York Times, May 16, 1922, May 17 1922.) Feldman reputedly gave him a weekly pension of £1 during his latter years.

[xxv] His brother Ted now made his living by singing Jack’s songs.

[xxvi] “He must have made a fortune out of a tune which, though it cannot be described like the ” Marseillaise ” and ” John Brown’s Body ” as a tune that made history, is certainly a tune that has achieved historical fame … the refrain of ” Tipperary ” can still recall more immediately than anything else the spirit and excitement of the early days of the War” (The Times, July 29, 1938, p. 12).