In part 33 of this series, Eugene Dunphy links a clog dancer to an evergreen ballad
The Museum of London currently houses an enormous panoramic painting, 13ft x 5ft 6ins, depicting 231 music hall stars standing outside the Old Vic, London. Titled Popularity, it was painted between 1901 and 1903 by Walter Hibbert Lambert (1868-1950), an exceptional artist who once strutted the stage as female impersonator ‘Lydia Dreams’.
Lambert had the foresight to include an explanatory ‘key’ to his artwork, which listed the names of all the entertainers depicted therein. Near the centre-back of this vast canvas, dressed in a bowler hat, green bow-tie and smart brown jacket, stands J. P. Dane, writer of ‘The Stone Outside Dan Murphy’s Door’.
No doubt, those who are reasonably familiar with this jaunting ballad will now be tut-tutting and saying, ‘I’m afraid you got that wrong … sure everybody knows it was written by Johnny Patterson, the circus performer from Kilbarron, near Feakle, County Clare’. Alas, not so. Definitely not so. Both words and music were composed by the clog-dancer, singer, comedian, pantomime actor, and writer of comic songs, John (‘Johnny’) P. Dane.
Probably born of Irish parentage in Lancashire, Dane began his working life as an employee of the Liverpool Printing Company, a vast concern owned by McCorquodale & Co. Underpaid and unfulfilled, he left the job to become a singer and dancer, and toured the northwest of England with various troupes of minstrels, one of his first engagements being in early April 1882, at St. James’s Hall, Liverpool.
In January 1888, he appeared at the Theatre Royal, Waterford, playing the part of ‘Michael Mulcahy’ in J. T. West’s farce, Muldoon’s Picnic, and on the 13th of October of that year, he placed an ad in the London-based entertainment gazette, The Era, declaring that he had just secured a residency spot at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Birkenhead, and that he intended to sing ‘The Stone Outside Dan Murphy’s Door’. This, he said confidently, ‘is my own composition’.
Audiences in Birmingham, Leeds, Derby, Portsmouth, London and Cardiff thrilled at watching Dane doing his manic clog dances, his face sometimes plastered in paint to accentuate his grin.