This photo reminds me of a story brought to my attention a few years ago by Michael Dolby. It is rather a sweet late night tale.
In 1939, the American jazz pianist and singer, Fats Waller, played his first European concerts with a tour of the Moss Empire’s theatre circuit. One of those dates included a performance at Sheffield’s Empire Theatre on Charles Street.
“I will never forget how on a tour of the English provinces we were playing the Empire Theatre, in Sheffield,” Fats once wrote. “After theatre is our usual time for relaxation and following dinner, I roamed restlessly through the beautiful park there. At dawn the birds awakened, and out of their lively chirpings one short strain stood out. I went back to the hotel, and by ten o’clock that morning, with the aid of some delicious Amontillado sherry, we had finished ‘Honey Hush.’ You see, it’s fifty percent inspiration and fifty percent perspiration.”
The song was co-written by Ed Kirkeby and recorded in New York later that year.
Legend says that the ‘beautiful’ park was the Peace Gardens, laid the year before, in 1938, but known then as St Paul’s Gardens, in recognition of St Paul’s Church that had been demolished.
But there are also suggestions that the park might have been the Botanical Gardens.
I can confirm that Waller played the Sheffield Empire that year, and that he stayed at the Grand Hotel on Leopold Street. Therefore, it seems more than likely that the park was indeed the Peace Gardens, at least that’s what I’d like to believe.
And so, in the middle of the night, when the Peace Gardens are deserted, sit down, listen carefully, and remember this story.
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