With the Tour de France about to sweep through Cambridge I’ve been musing about bicycles in the music collections here at the UL. One item that always appears whenever there’s a tour of the department is Charley the bicycle pet. Composed around 1878 by Thomas Gregory, the cover is one of the earliest colour illustrations of a penny-farthing bicycle in the UK.
Shortly afterwards in 1892 Harry Dacre, a British composer newly arrived in America, composed what is probably the most famous song ever written about cycling, Daisy Bell (A1892.2407). A romantic song about the delights of “a bicycle made for two”, as well as showing the pleasures of riding a tandem Daisy Bell also advertised cycling as an activity suitable for both sexes; the feminist Susan B. Anthony stated in 1896 that she believed that cycling had “done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.” For more on the fascinating subject of the popularity of cycling and its effect on the emancipation of women see here.
Dacre’s success with Daisy Bell continued with further cycling related songs all benefiting from an American craze for cycling. Fare you well, Daisy Bell (A1894.335) proved to be less popular, probably rather unsurprisingly, as it revealed that Daisy Bell was now embarrassed by her beau’s tandem, prompting him to have crafted a bicycle made for one.
By the 1890s Europe and America had gone cycling crazy. There was concern about the perils of cycling, with speedy cyclists earning the nickname of “Scorchers”. Music often reflected the concerns of the period, as represented by A.R. Marshall’s comic song I won the bicycle which showed both the eagerness to get in on the cycling craze and the perils of riding a penny-farthing.
Major Walter Wingfield, who was also a pioneer of lawn tennis wrote a delightful volume Bicycle gymkhana and musical rides. Wingfield designed a set of dressage events for cyclists, ranging from the relatively simple – a single cyclist, to complex cross-over events with a number of cyclists involved. The volume gives advice on the type of bike to use, how to dress for the event, and even where to perform – ball rooms and croquet grounds are apparently ideal, although one does wonder how you’re supposed to transport a piano to the site. Some music – Suppé’s Washington post march is also included.
In 1903 the world’s most famous cycle race the Tour de France was founded. This year the Tour will visit Cambridge for the first time in its history. The Tour has visited the UK twice before. The first occasion was in 1974, a period when Britain was going cycle crazy – as is evident in the popularity of this 1970’s song. Although recorded by an Australian group, and becoming popular across the world, it seemed to have a special place on British variety shows in the 1970s –
The 1974 Tour wasn’t entirely successful with cyclists complaining about the length of time spent at border controls trying to leave the UK. A further visit to London followed in 2007, this was more successful leading to the extended opening to the Tour in Yorkshire, and through East Anglia to London this year.
Le Tour has always attracted musical interest. Google “Tour de France” and “music”, and a number of websites will spring up; all revealing music integrally related to the Tour. You can even buy commemorative music cds of the Tour. Perhaps the most famous musical item connected with the event is the German group Kraftwerk‘s album, Tour de France, which was recorded for the 2003 centenary.
For further information on what’s happening on July 7th (the date the Tour passes through Cambridge) see Le Tour, Cambridge, while if you feel inspired to follow the route yourself, there’s a helpful, and inspiring, article in The Telegraph.