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International Al Jolson Society
Manchester Festival 2014

Northern Al Jolson UK Festival
Altrincham, Manchester 2014

Saturday 29th March was the first Al Jolson UK Festival in the North for many years. There have been frequent requests over the years for a Festival other than the annual one in Bromley so this one was arranged specifically for those who do not wish to travel down South. Surprisingly, many of those that had requested a Jolson Festival in the North didn't support the venture and attendance was not up to expectation. Although the Festival was supported by very few new attendees (new as in non Bromley attendees) those that came along seemed to enjoy the experience and they 'may' be joining us in October for our main Al Jolson UK Festival. So who supported the Northern Al Jolson UK Festival? Ironically the support came mainly from the usual attendees to the Bromley Festivals.

As this Festival was by way of an experiment, it was not possible to run a three day event to replicate the one in the South so instead it was decided to opt for a one day Jolson Festival combining a full daytime session of Jolson related items presented on screen followed by a meal and Cabaret in the evening.

With the format in place, the day's activities were set to include as many different aspects of Al Jolson's career as possible. It has long been accepted policy at the Bromley Festival that Sunday was reserved for Jolson and Jolson alone whereas the Saturday could be more relaxed and include Jolson related items. Therefore at Bromley Jolson purists can expect just Jolson on the Sunday without having to 'endure' non Jolson items. The Northern Festival was going to be different inasmuch as non Jolson items would be mixed into the blend. I had to keep my fingers crossed that this mix would work.

The Festival opened at 11am though attendees had been sneaking in earlier than that - just like they try to do at Bromley! A brief welcome to all was quickly followed by Al Jolson singing "The Night Boat To Albany" from the film MAMMY - I always like to get Jolson up on the screen as quickly as possible with no boring waffle taking place.

Now that 'Jolson' had officially welcomed the attendees to the Festival it was time to move on to the first of the days presentations and first up was a quick look at how a group of Brits had enjoyed themselves attending the International Al Jolson Society Festival in Palm Springs in May 2013. This short audio visual showed attendees from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England enjoying the delights of Palm Springs with Jolie singing appropriately "California Here I Come".

Staying with the Palm Springs theme the next presentation was the audio visual that I presented in America last year, "Al Jolson, The Man And His Music" which took a look at the career of Al Jolson making use of rare recordings and visuals. Following "Al Jolson - The Man And His Music" came the screening of the trailer for "Rose of Washington Square" which was to be the featured film later in the afternoon.

To round off the morning session we finished with specially edited highlights from "The Jolson Story" i.e. just the musical numbers. Watching all of the wonderful musical moments from this film sent people off to enjoy their lunch with the 1940's voice of Al Jolson ringing in their ears.

Lunch seemed to be of a liquid variety for many though I did notice that food was included for some people.

After lunch we reconvened the Festival with a couple of my latest audio visuals which I've posted to a select few on YouTube - "God's Country" and "Look For The Silver Lining". I've not made these readily available to YouTube users as they will feature in my presentations in the US and Bromley later in the year. This was followed by "Let Me Sing A Jolson Song" featuring artists performing the songs of Al Jolson. Dean Martin, Dai Francis, Bing Crosby, Des O'Connor and Max Bygraves were among the entertainers paying a musical tribute to the great Jolson.

"The Singing Fool" was of course one of Jolson's most famous and popular films and the next audio visual presentation told the story of the film and the many popular songs that were featured in the film including all three versions of the hit "Sonny Boy" that were performed in the film.

Jolieanna Davis
The attendees at last year's Festival in Bromley had been asked to vote on their favourite Jolson song so the next item up showed how the voting went. There were some surprising songs voted for including "My Mothers Rosary", "You Are Too Beautiful", "God's Country" and "Blue River" along with some more obvious choices. What song won the vote - by a small majority it was "Rockabye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody".

The feature film of the day was "Rose Of Washington Square" and to introduce it some of the Jolson outakes from the film were shown. Still hard to comprehend that 20th Century Fox would cut Jolson singing "April Showers" and "Avalon" but that is what they did!

Nearing the end of the daytime presentations the trailer for "Jolson Sings Again" was shown followed by the musical highlights from the film itself. A great way to finish off the daytime activities.

Following a short break to allow the hotel staff to set the room ready for the evening, we took our seats again for the evening meal at which we were joined by the local Rotary Club. Background music during the meal was of course Al Jolson music all the way with orchestral versions of Jolson standards and Jolson himself crooning non Jolson standards.

Jolieanna Davis and Bill Campbell
Cabaret time and popular Festival regular Mr Bill Campbell opened the evenings entertainment in his usual professional style with a skilled blend of singing, gentle patter and joke telling, quickly wining over the audience, many who were not Jolson fans. We were pleased to have the talented Jolieanna Davis with us and she certainly entertained us - especially the Rotary Club attendees! I don't think that they were expecting such professionals to be entertaining us. Joe Sharman also took to the microphone to perform for us finishing with his signature song - "Working Man". Joe does a lovely version of this song and although it is not a Jolson song it is certainly one that Jolson would have sounded great singing.

John Carter took his turn at this point and gave us his popular Al Jolson/Larry Parks reenactment to much applause. John just seems to get better every time he performs.

As the evening came towards its close, Bill Campbell came back to sing some more numbers and chat to the audience, eventually bringing the evening to an official close. All in all, I think it fair to say that we gave a good account of ourselves in the North and introduced the music and voice of Al Jolson to some people that knew nothing about the great Al Jolson.

submitted by David McCarthy

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