Mouth Harp Mimicry

17th March, 2019

Hello Riff Raffers,

A special free offer with today’s St. Patrick’s Day edition. Sláinte.

Mimicry: the action or skill of imitating someone or something especially in order to entertain or ridicule. (Oxford Living Dictionary)

The harmonica is well known for it’s imitation of the steam train, the hounds of the fox chase, sirens, chooks and babies crying for their Mama. Check Out Salty Holmes’ ‘Talking Harmonica’ here. Australia’s Mouth Organ Champion P C Spouse (1925, 1927, 1928 and 1935) was an exponent, he was reported as delighting his listeners with his warmth of feeling when playing ballads, classics and band waltzes” and also for his “clever imitation of other musical instruments and mimicry of vocalists,” (Macleay Argus, 23 July 1935). Many of the mouth organ contests of the day included a section for best mouth organ imitation. Musicians would emulate bagpipes, church organs, violins and gramophones to name a few. Another fine Australian Champion of yesteryear Stan Andrews (1926, 1930 and 1935) from Ballarat could execute a fabulous rendition of a military marching band. Hear here!

Rick Dempster, ex Autodrifters, Brunswick Blues Shooters and Moonee Valley Drifters, is an extremely underrated but amazing harmonica player. He imitates a steam train on a tune called Broad Gauge Beat‘. Rick a self confessed train buff had worked for the Victorian Railways and locally in the Dandenongs with tourist icon Puffing Billy. On the tune Rick’s percussive technique for the train travelling on the tracks is three in breaths followed by an out breath, which is not commonly used by train imitators. Dave, who he had worked with at the Victorian railyards, taught him this method. Rick even plays the sound of the wheels slipping on the wet tracks as it attempts to move. Another skill he possesses is whistling two notes simultaneously. Why is it so?img_1195-1What better way to do your mouth harp mimicry, but on a W F Coxon ‘Lyre Bird’ mouth organ. The Lyrebird is an Australian ground dwelling songbird that is noted for its ability to mimic sounds from their natural and sometimes unnatural environment. Their name derives from the male of the species, whose raised feathered tail plumage in the act of courtship (look at me) replicates an image of the ancient musical instrument, the Lyre. The Lyrebird is able to mime sounds due to the structure of their syrinx (vocal organ). They have been known to mimic Kookaburras, Koalas and Dingoes from their natural habitat and introduced sounds such as camera shutters (click and motorised), car alarms, sirens, chainsaws and even the human voice.

W F Coxon in 1898 operated out of two stores one at 745 George street (later expanding to 739 and 741), Haymarket (just opposite Christ Church) and 274 King street, Newtown. They were importers, merchants and furniture manufacturers. They prided themselves on doing business on the ‘terms system’ where people of small but steady incomes could secure items they normally couldn’t acquire. The business went from strength to strength with large profits on shares and they opened three more stores in 1899 at Newcastle, Bathurst and Lithgow.

img_1852-1In 1903 W F Coxon joined the ever increasing profitable mouth organ market. The Lyre Bird is Mr. W F Coxon’s invention and is the result of years of experiment, having been tested and found perfect.” (Sydney Sun 5th August,1903). It appears the filing of the reeds both vertically and horizontally gave it the perfect tone and tuning. I’m no expert and I wasn’t around to test one, but filing horizontally might be fraught with danger (don’t do this at home). It even received a special prize at the Agricultural Show in 1903. In 1904 a local championship was won by Thomas McHenry using a ‘Lyre Bird’ mouth organ. By 1909 they came in six models (originally four) from the most basic 1/- model to the ornamented plush lined case model for 7/6d. Each mouth organ was warranted for two years and fitted in various keys. In 1910 their business premises were being demolished for development and due to their outstanding liabilities they were put into receivership. It didn’t take long before German mouth organ manufacturer Seydel jumped on the opportunity of trademarking the name Lyre-Bird. They did so the following year, although I don’t believe they put any into production.

In 1913 A Macrow & Sons of Melbourne kept the mimicry theme to the forefront selling their brand of mouth organ, ‘The Magpie’. They advertised their brand as, Magpie Mouth Organs-Boys! They’re It! High grade mouth organs specially made for our Australian Customers-Superior European Manufacture. I know of four models which include a ‘Vamper’ and a ‘Tremolo’. The black and white Australian Magpie is another songbird (flying) so talented they can vary their pitch by four octaves and can mimic over thirty five species of birds, dogs, horses and human speech.

(Macrow & Sons, office and factory workers, 259 Collins Street, 1913)

I’m sure ‘Macrows’ had no interest in offering a ‘Crow’ mouth organ as they’re not the sweetest sounding bird and certainly not popular among the populous. Crows were considered vermin by sheep farmers and they could be trapped for a few pence. In their defence they are capable of making about eighty different call types and can mimic sounds. They also have the ability to count the beat. They can count up to six. Television host Graham Kennedy famously created awareness in 1975 on how exceptional they were as copiers of the most famous swear word in the world. I wonder if there was any consideration given to producing a ‘Cockatoo’ model on the market? Pretty Cocky. Polly want a cracker? Maybe their screeching was off putting. What about a ‘Galah’? We did, however have a ‘Kookaburra’ (the laughing jackass) on sale by Alberts. In North America a ‘Burrowing Owl’ mouth organ might be well received as they can do a mighty impression of a rattlesnake.

Happy Mimicry Raffers.

Ch SD

PS: As a result of the research we have a free bonus supplement article for you this St. Patrick’s day on Albert Owen Macrow (pictured above) and family members. Perhaps my Irish immigrant grandfather Paddy’ may have visited Albert’s store and even blew a ‘Magpie’ mouth organ.

Mr Albert Macrow was born in London in 1837 and emigrated to Australia in 1853. He married Colina Fairbairn in 1856 and they had five sons and six daughters. Sadly Thomas died tragically at the age of fifteen. He was operating a lift at Paterson & Co in Flinders Lane. It was disclosed that on the 5th May, 1891, Thomas Albert Macrow who had very little experience of the lift, endeavored to take up a passenger. He landed his passenger on the third floor and followed him along the corridor. The lad then ran back, but as he had not stopped the lift, instead of running on to the lift floor he stepped into space and fell to the bottom of the well, a distance of about 40 feet. He was picked up and taken to the Melbourne hospital where he remained for some time. He was then taken to the home of his parents at Auburn, but subsequently died from the effects of the injuries he had sustained.” (The Age, 6 June, 1891). At the Coronial Inquiry Dr. William Warren testified that he died from a fractured spine. He had also suffered a broken leg and arm. Mr. Macrow asked the Inquiry on whose authority was his son working the lift as he had not given his consent? A witness replied he had no authority, but he did it for his own pleasure, as boys do. The jury found he had met his death by accident, but added that a mechanical device needs to be attached to the cages and fixed to the landings when the person in charge leaves them.

Albert’s first business ventures were at Bendigo, Ballarat and Bullarook. In 1897 Albert commenced business as a wholesale jeweller and piano importer in Flinders street and subsequently established businesses in many regional areas of Victoria and interstate. Sydney and Newcastle (New South Wales), Adelaide and Gawler (South Australia), Perth and Kalgoorlie (Western Australia), Hobart and Launceston (Tasmania) and Brisbane in Queensland. In 1905 the business traded as A Macrow & Sons with Albert, William and Francis Macrow named as the proprietors. Colina passed away at their Auburn residence in 1911 aged seventy one. Albert would venture into marriage once more and tied the knot with a younger girl, sixty seven year old Charlotte Mary Morgan on the ninth of August 1920. Retiring in 1922 he handed over the reins to his son William, but still retaining an interest in the firm until his tragic death in 1927 aged ninety. With head down, crossing Elizabeth street against the traffic, he was hit by a Collins street tram. Albert had enjoyed good health. He walked a couple of miles each morning but at the time of his demise was being treated for a weakness of the heart. Albert’s eye sight was excellent, however his hearing wasn’t and in fact he was nearly stone deaf, which may have contributed to his death.

In 1910 Ethel Colina ‘Dolly’ Macrow (William’s eldest daughter) married celebrated Australian Test Cricketer Vernon Ransford. William’s only son William Reginald Macrow, at one time a cadet at Camberwell Grammar, would enlist in the Australian Army with the outbreak of war in 1914 at the age of twenty five as a driver for the 1st Divisional Train. He was promoted to Lieutenant and received the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty whilst engaged on pack transport work in forward areas during operations. He carried on his work day after day in spite of heavy shelling and most difficult weather conditions and the fact that the ground which he had to cross was at times a sea of mud. On one occasion, when his convoy was caught in an enemy barrage and several casualties were caused, he arranged for the removal of the wounded, reorganized his convoy, and delivered his stores. He proved himself a most capable and fearless leader, and kept his men in fine spirits by his disregard of danger and coolness under fire.’ (National Archives Of Australia). William, however was in some trouble for wearing medals on Armistice day processions that he wasn’t entitled to. One of these medals was the Sultan of Egypt’s Sudan Medal. William was a handy cricketer, a fast bowler for the Richmond Cricket Club and he represented his state on five occasions, one of which was against a touring England.

An unfortunate note to end on is William Macrow (Senior), who passed away in 1946 aged eighty six, did not leave one of his daughters, Frances, a brass razoo out of his £146,546 estate even though the rest of his children and several organisations would benefit. The Gordon Institute for Boys, Salvation Army (Victoria) Property Trust, Prince Henry’s Hospital, Austin Hospital, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Hospital, Royal Children’s Hospital, Queen Victoria Hospital for Women and Children, and Mount Royal were all entitled to a share of £3,200. The court rectified Frances Elizabeth Macrow’s absence from the will by awarding an income of £1100 a year. The judges decision had taken into consideration that Frances aged forty four wasn’t given the opportunity to support herself and her father by discouraging male visitors had caused Frances to be a spinster. William was found guilty of a breach of the moral duty that a wise and just father owed his child.

The end! (I think)

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