The Wags

Charles Dibdin | The Wags

The most successful of Dibdin’s celebrated ‘Table Entertainments’, including fifteen of his finest songs.

£15.95

SKU: RO008 Category:

“Butteriss is simply magnificent throughout – zesty, wry, witty, naughty – but even he can’t sing and play the 1801 Broadwood piano at the same time… Stephen Higgins does the honours in immaculate style and helps to ensure the success of this engaging slice of late eighteenth-century entertainment.

This is a class act.”

Jonathan Woolf | Music Web International

“The songs have considerable variety and are sung with panache by Simon Butteriss on this Retrospect Opera CD…accompanied on an 1801 fortepiano by Steven Higgins, who gets as much variety as is possible out of this instrument. A most recommendable recording of one of the byways of English music, and in fact Retrospect’s third volume of Dibdin’s work.”

John Groves | Operetta Research Center

“Pianist Stephen Higgins performs on an 1801 Broadwood piano built just 11 years after The Wags was created by Dibdin. With its leather-bound hammers, it produces a sound somewhere in between a piano and a harpsichord taking us right back to the genuine ambiance of Dibdin’s original performances, where music, drama and comedy made him uniquely popular throughout England.”

Alan Cooper | British Music Society

Having revived the Dibdin ‘Table Entertainment’ – an idiosyncratic kind of one-man show with piano – with our Christmas Gambols album, we were eager to explore further the possibilities of recreating this sort of intimate theatrical experience, designed more for the ear than the eye. Dibdin’s fourth work in the genre, The Wags of 1790, proved much the most successful of these shows in his lifetime, and one of the great triumphs of his extraordinary, 50-year career. Like all his Table Entertainments, it was assumed to be largely lost, the published songs apart, but this is fortunately not the case: a huge amount of Wags material exists in manuscript form in the British Library, all written out in Dibdin’s distinctive, hard-to-read handwriting, which he himself called ‘a most villainous hand’. From this, David Chandler was able to reconstruct most of the show as it was first presented in 1790 (as he went on performing it, Dibdin would have made alterations from time to time). David then obtained a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (C) from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science to make a recording of this important work. The recording reunited our Dibdin specialists, Simon Butteriss and Stephen Higgins, both of whom were delighted to return to the Richard Burnett Heritage Collection in Royal Tunbridge Wells, where we had previously recorded The Jubilee album. This again seemed the perfect place to make the recording, not just because of the gorgeous 1801 Broadwood grand we could use, but because Richard and Katrina Burnett are both huge Dibdin fans.

The essence of a Dibdin Table Entertainment was his ability to impersonate a range of characters and sing songs in character. The shows brilliantly combined his unique range of talents as a writer, composer, actor, singer, and even impresario, and are an important part of the history of British comedy, as well as music and theatre. The Wags is an exemplary example: we are invited to an imaginary ‘Camp of Pleasure’ outside London where a collection of glorious British eccentrics sing such classic Dibdin songs as ‘The Soldier’s Adieu’, ‘Irish Italian Song’, ‘Sound Argument’ and ‘The Auctioneer’. These songs achieved a wide cultural diffusion, and it is noteworthy that of the eight Dibdin songs in Jane Austen’s music collection, four are from The Wags. In all, our album includes 15 Dibdin songs, presented with the accompanying dialogue as they would have been heard in 1790.

For anyone new to Dibdin, The Wags is now the obvious place to begin. And if you’ve enjoyed The Wags, you should of course go on to explore Christmas Gambols and The Jubilee too!

The Wags

Having revived the Dibdin ‘Table Entertainment’ – an idiosyncratic kind of one-man show with piano – with our Christmas Gambols album, we were eager to explore further the possibilities of recreating this sort of intimate theatrical experience, designed more for the ear than the eye. Dibdin’s fourth work in the genre, The Wags of 1790, proved much the most successful of these shows in his lifetime, and one of the great triumphs of his extraordinary, 50-year career. Like all his Table Entertainments, it was assumed to be largely lost, the published songs apart, but this is fortunately not the case: a huge amount of Wags material exists in manuscript form in the British Library, all written out in Dibdin’s distinctive, hard-to-read handwriting, which he himself called ‘a most villainous hand’. From this, David Chandler was able to reconstruct most of the show as it was first presented in 1790 (as he went on performing it, Dibdin would have made alterations from time to time). David then obtained a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (C) from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science to make a recording of this important work. The recording reunited our Dibdin specialists, Simon Butteriss and Stephen Higgins, both of whom were delighted to return to the Richard Burnett Heritage Collection in Royal Tunbridge Wells, where we had previously recorded The Jubilee album. This again seemed the perfect place to make the recording, not just because of the gorgeous 1801 Broadwood grand we could use, but because Richard and Katrina Burnett are both huge Dibdin fans.

The essence of a Dibdin Table Entertainment was his ability to impersonate a range of characters and sing songs in character. The shows brilliantly combined his unique range of talents as a writer, composer, actor, singer, and even impresario, and are an important part of the history of British comedy, as well as music and theatre. The Wags is an exemplary example: we are invited to an imaginary ‘Camp of Pleasure’ outside London where a collection of glorious British eccentrics sing such classic Dibdin songs as ‘The Soldier’s Adieu’, ‘Irish Italian Song’, ‘Sound Argument’ and ‘The Auctioneer’. These songs achieved a wide cultural diffusion, and it is noteworthy that of the eight Dibdin songs in Jane Austen’s music collection, four are from The Wags. In all, our album includes 15 Dibdin songs, presented with the accompanying dialogue as they would have been heard in 1790.

For anyone new to Dibdin, The Wags is now the obvious place to begin. And if you’ve enjoyed The Wags, you should of course go on to explore Christmas Gambols and The Jubilee too!

(c) 2021, David Chandler

Charles Dibdin

Charles Dibdin (1745-1814) is a gigantic figure in the history of English song, probably the most important composer of English comic operas in the late 1700s, and, in addition, he was the most versatile entertainer of his age.

Dibdin sprang to fame at the age of nineteen, playing the part of Ralph in Samuel Arnold’s opera, The Maid of the Mill(1765). Three years later he established his reputation as a composer with The Padlock (1768), an opera in which he stole the show himself, playing the black servant, Mungo. James Boaden recalled: ‘Dibdin, by his music, and still more by his acting in a comic opera, called the Padlock, produced that degree of sensation in the public which is called a rage.’ His fame secured, in the 1770s Dibdin began writing his own librettos, producing both words and music for the two most enduringly successful operas of the decade, The Waterman (1774) and The Quaker (1775), both of them still being revived a century later. Despite all his success in the London theatres, though, Dibdin was touchy and quarrelsome, finding it increasingly hard to work in co-operative environments. Recognising this, in 1787 he staged the first of his one-man musical shows, or ‘Table Entertainments’ as he called them, Readings and Music. Back in 1767, Dibdin had been the first musician in Britain to perform on a piano in public. His interest in the instrument had continued, and in his Table Entertainments he stood, or sat, at a piano, telling dramatized stories and playing and singing songs. This format allowed him to display all his talents and became Dibdin’s principal means of engaging with his public. He opened his own little London theatre, called Sans Souci, in 1791, and continued to perform until 1809. During these decades, Dibdin wrote hundreds of songs, most of them introduced in his Table Entertainments, including the most famous of all, ‘Tom Bowling,’ originally part of The Oddities (1789). Dozens of these songs were still regularly sung decades later: no other eighteenth-century composer contributed more to the nineteenth-century English song repertoire.

(c) 2016, David Chandler

The Wags

Charles Dibdin (1745-1814)

Baritone | Simon Butteriss
Fortepiano | Stephen Higgins

1 | Overture
2 | Exordium
3 | The Camp of Pleasure
4 | The commanding officer …
5 | Death or Victory
6 | Mr O’Gig was a true …
7 | The Joys of the Country
8 | I shall next introduce …
9 | Jack in his Element
10 | And now said the Brigadier …
11 | Indian Death Song
12 | Mr Pry was no inconsiderable member …
13 | Celia
14 | Here the Brigadier …
15 | Having again entered the Apartment …
16 | The Watchman
17 | Mr Gusto was a musical amateur …
18 | Irish Italian Song
19 | O’Gig having been called …
20 | Swizzy
21 | This subject introduced …
22 | The Soldier’s Adieu
23 | And now, said the Brigadier …
24 | The Virtue of Drunkenness
25 | Well now, said O’Gig …
26 | The Pleasures of the Chace
27 | After Mr O’Gig’s description …
28 | Having again arrived …
29 | Sound Argument
30 | I shall follow up Mr Gloomy …
31 | Happy Jerry
32 | Here a servant delivered a letter …
33 | The Auctioneer
34 | The Auctioneer’s song being ended …

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The recording of The Wags was supported by a generous grant from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.

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by Retrospect Opera | Work In Progress