Frederick J. Firth
"Quite the best boy whose records I've yet heard, if only because he is practically free from priggish affectation, and from real vices and cheapness. Though he doesn't slop over with insincere sentiment, there are some who will say he is not sweet." Gramophone January, 1929
"The boy with the Golden Voice (of B.B.C. fame)" was the description given to Master Freddy Firth, as he topped the bill at the Baths Assembly Hall, Coventry on Thursday, 15th November, 1928.
Freddy Firth was trained by his uncle, and had a remarkable career as a boy soprano. His success followed the huge interest in boys' voices created by Ernest Lough's famous recording. In fact, Lough was still principal soloist at the Temple Church when Freddy made his last record.
This Lancashire boy came to prominence through the Morecambe and Blackpool Music Festivals, which were at that time two of the main festivals in the country. It was at Morecambe that he came to the attention of Sir Edward Elgar. One of his first public appearances was at the age of twelve-and-a-half, when he sang the anthem Jesu my Lord by Haddock at S. Barnabas's Church, Morecambe.
In July 1927, the B.B.C. suggested he should audition at their Manchester Station. The following year, John MacDonell at Savoy Hill wrote:
"Everything is O.K. for Fred to sing on Friday from Birmingham. Regarding records:
Brunswick offer two records (four titles) £45, no royalty....Quite a fair start I think. Joseph Lewis (Director of Birmingham Orchestra) thinks we can make a big feature on Friday - it is the first time we have repeated anyone - a big compliment to Fred."
At this broadcast, Fred was asked to sing There is a Greenhill, Where 'er you walk, and 0 for the wings of a dove with full orchestra.
Following this 'Surprise Item' broadcast, Fred was booked to sing Come to the Fair and other items in the Manchester Station's Children's Hour Programme - fee one guinea; and on 3rd September, 1928 he was offered fifty pounds by Brunswick to record four titles in St. George's Hannover Square.
The broadcast was a great success and much appreciated by the public and "thoroughly justified our repetition of Fred's voice...Please tell Fred that the break in the G, although noticed, (in 0 for the wings, I presume) has not drawn forth any criticism whatsoever from the public. Everyone realised that he had had a heavy day, and that to sing Mendelssohn at 11p.m. was a tremendous effort. Mr. Stanford Robinson, our Chorus Master, wants me to tell Fred how much he enjoyed it"
More broadcasts followed, and more offers from record companies, but Fred remained with the Brunswick label.
On Saturday, 20th October, 1928 the Northern Daily Telegraph reported that Freddy had carried off two trophies in the finals of the solo-singing classes at the previous night's session of the Blackpool Music Festival. "A very fine performance, and one which must have been appreciated by everyone in the audience". His rendering of A Piper in the open class for boys under 16 was described as very good by Dr. Tysoe, and for sight reading, he was awarded 101 out of 100 by Mr. Geoffrey Shaw. Other reviews and festival reports spoke of his 'beautiful tone and excellent breath control' and of his singing being an example to adult competitors.
In December 1928, Freddy sang at the Tower Ballroom, Blackpool, and in Coventry a reviewer wrote: "the Lancashire boy with the golden voice (opened) his selection with Where 'er you walk and quickly won the hearts by his simplicity of manner and ease of delivery. Hark, Hark, the Lark, sung as an encore, displayed even more clearly the pure tone and quality of voice." Freddy received six guineas for the performance.
Also in December, Freddy was offered the role of soprano soloist in the Messiah in Bingley, and was also offered engagements at the Palladium, Morecambe, throughout the Christmas season.
Sadly, Freddy had to turn down many engagements. His mother wrote "he is still at school, and cannot take many engagements on that account."
Freddy Firth made his first two records There is a green hill, and Liddle's Abide with me at the age of fourteen. His last records, made at the age of fifteen-and-a-half, were described in the Brunswick Musical Express as "gems in every respect and I would urge all readers to make a point of asking their dealer to play over this disc for them. My Heart ever Faithful and 0 Lord whose Mercies are well chosen titles." Both these items are included on this CD, the latter from an unpublished test-pressing with piano accompaniment instead of the published disc with organ. A Columbia test-pressing of Schubert's Serenade is also featured.
Frederick Firth became music advisor to the Norfolk Education Authority, and he now lives in retirement with his wife in Norwich.
Additional notes from "The Better Land - Volume IV"
The records of Freddy Firth are featured extensively on volume one together with his full story. Sadly, since publication, we have to report the death of our elder statesman. The reissue of Freddy’s records after seventy years gave him a great deal of pleasure in his final year and it is a fitting tribute that one of his discs was played at his funeral.
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