A medley from Michael Rooney’s Macaronic band
U 11.1228: But for example the chap that wallops the big drum. His vocation: Mickey Rooney's band. Wonder how it first struck him. Sitting at home after pig's cheek and cabbage nursing it in the armchair.
In “Sirens” Bloom makes play with the idea of “Mickey Rooney’s Band” The allusion can also be found in Finnegans Wake, where it appears as “Miccheroni's band” (406.33) and “Miccheruni’s band” (407.33).
Gifford is perplexed by the Ulysses allusion:1
There are similar Irish and Irish-American songs (“McNamara’s Band” for example), but the source of this one is unknown.
The puzzle was almost solved by the James Joyce Broadsheet of February 2008. The Broadsheet published the front cover and the sheet music for the 1913 song Mickey Rooney’s Ragtime Band, written and composed by C. W. Murphy and Worton David, and sung by Shaun Glenville. The chorus runs:
Mickey Rooney’s Ragtime Band, Have you heard it? Have you heard it?
It’s the rale ould Irish brand, And the pride of Paddy’s land.
Flynn, Flynn plays the violin, Root-toot! Fagan on the flute
Keeps time with Dooley on the drum, Tiddle-id-dle-um!
Never more will people praise Alexander Alexander,
For the latest, greatest craze Is the famous band that pla-ays
“By Killarney’s Lakes” so grand It’s a treat can’t be beat
Mickey Rooney’s Ragtime Band. Mickey Rooney’s Ragtime Band.
Mickey Rooney’s Ragtime Band was very popular in 1913 and 1914, and capitalised on the success of Irving Berlin’s Alexander’s Ragtime Band, to which it alludes. Was Joyce attuned to ragtime? How likely was he to pick up this popular song around the outbreak of World War One?
Joyce was not likely to have been influenced by the 1913 song, which was itself derivative. We need to return to the end of the 1870s to find the source of his allusion, and to look at the music-hall tradition from which he and his father (of Bloom’s generation) so often assimilated their material.
Since at least the early 1870s the Irish songster and comedian Patrick Feeney had been performing his selection of “Irish” tunes in the provincial English theatres and music-halls. He had built up a reputation as a “Hibernian Impersonator”, caricaturing stock Irish characters. By 1875 he had reached London, and was achieving acclaim singing “The Shaugraun” (written by Charles Merion, and with music by Walter Burnot), which exploited the runaway success of Dion Boucicault’s melodrama The Shaugraun (the “wanderer” or “vagabond”, who provides comic relief in Boucicault’s play of 1874).
Patrick Feeney in The Professional 18 May 1889
In early February 1878 Patrick Feeney was performing at the Marylebone Music Hall in the High Street, Marylebone. He was announced as “The Shaugraun” of the Music Halls, and prided himself on the “wonderful success of “Mrs Finnmigan v. Pawnshop” (by Tom Brown). As a Hibernian Impersonator his next production was announced to be a song called “The Chef de Orchestra of Mickey Rooney’s Band”, by emerging music-hall song-writer John F. Mitchell.2
Unfortunately, no sheet music for the song has yet been discovered, so we need to rely on newspaper clippings and other sources to develop an idea of the song.
The cumbersome title was soon clipped to “Mickey Rooney’s Band”, and it appears on the playlist of many amateur performers for the following thirty years. In 1880, two years after Feeney’s introduction of the song, the comic songster “Mr McHale sang ‘Mickey Rooney’s band’ in his own peculiar style” at the annual tea party and concert at St Gregory’s Catholic School, Bollington, in Cheshire.
But it was still known as Patrick Feeney’s song, and he performed it to acclaim at Gatti’s Music Hall in central London in 1881: “A merry morsel is that known as “Mickey Rooney’s Band”, in which Mr. Feeney is seen to great advantage.”3 It was popular at military concerts; in 1882 the Jersey Independent reports that Private Cloasey in his inimitable style performed “Mikey Rooney’s Band” at the inaugural concert of the Amateur Dramatic Society of the 2nd Battalion Suffolk Regiment.4
According to the regional newspapers the song was widely performed in Britain and Ireland throughout the 1880s, 1890s, and 1900s. Here, for example, is another instance, from Yorkshire in 1887, where “Mr. Noonan caused great amusement by his songs in character, entitled “Micky Rooney’s Band” and “A Tipperary Christening”, which evoked unanimous encores”.5 It was a popular song, often accompanied by “great laughter”, and encores were the order of the day wherever it was performed.
The format of the song
The absence of sheet music makes it difficult to reconstruct the format of the song. However, its original title, “The Chef de Orchestra of Mickey Rooney’s Band”, and the fact that it was a piece sung by an individual performer, suggests that the singer was the leader of a band, who used the song to introduce individual band members, who would be encouraged to present their instruments. This is also suggested by lyrics of the secondary version “Mickey Rooney’s Ragtime Band”, where the band-leader does just this:
Flynn, Flynn plays the violin, Root-toot! Fagan on the flute
Keeps time with Dooley on the drum, Tiddle-id-dle-um!
This is reinforced by newspaper references. In the Sligo Champion of 27 January 1894 “Mr Meldon, amid great laughter and applause, gave a comic song, “Mickey Rooney’s Band”, to which he played his own accompaniment”, which was typically on the guitar or banjo. Similarly, the Tyrone Constitution of 13 January 1899 records that “Mr E Jordan (Omagh) … sang in character “Micky Rooney’s Band”.
Occasionally we find more explanation, for example in the Quorn Mercury, a South Australia newspaper, of 6 December 1901:
“Not to be outdone Mr. McCard followed with a song entitled “Mickey Rooney’s Band”; this song relates to a family named “Rooney” possessed of remarkable genius, who play pieces on 16 flats and 20 sharps with wonderful effect, their instruments include the cornet, trombone, vegetable marrow, nicknacks &c &c, they play every evening, and as the song says “you’re welcome every evening to Mickey Rooney’s band.”
The comic effect is clearly produced by the performer singing the lyrics and accompanying himself on a series of real and makeshift musical instruments, played discordantly.
The popularly of the song led to variations. Joyce builds on this atmosphere, freewheeling through “Rehearsing his band part. Pom. Pompedy. Jolly for the wife. Asses’s skins. Welt them through life, then wallop after death. Pom. Wallop.
The variations were present in the late nineteenth century, as the song developed. The writer of the words, John Mitchell, had moved to America in 1884, and died himself in New York in 1888.6 Music-writer and performer Paddy Feeney died in London in 1889, and was no longer available to represent the authoritative form. In the absence of the song’s originators, and also driven by opportunities the song itself suggested, variations of the song’s name soon appeared on the music-hall circuit. The title “Mickey (or Micky) Rooney’s Band” was mimicked as “Andy Rooney’s Band”, “Paddy Rooney’s Band” (1889), “Michael (and Mike) Rooney’s Band”, “Mr B. Rooney’s Band” (1890), plain “Rooney’s Band” (1890), and even “Mike O’Rooney’s Band”. In addition, it became common for amateur performers to use the opportunity to present a full band, and not simply an individual performer, and this was particularly frequent in school and other local performances, where everyone could have a go at producing the sound of the instruments without needing to adhere strictly to the tune.
By the early 1890s “Mickey Rooney’s Band” could be a real band, a party turn for several performers. In 1894 the Linlithgowshire Gazette of 10 March reported that “the most ludicrous feature of the evening was decidedly Mickey Rooney’s band in character, where the elegance of attire of those representing the female characters was something never to be forgotten”. In 1896 “’Mickey Rooney’s Band’, represented by Mr. Nelson, as an Irish bandmaster, and his irregular squad of eleven scions, amused the company as they from a discordant collection of instruments played the greatest medley imaginable”, according to the Clarence and Richmond Examiner from Grafton, New South Wales. By 1903 it could be the name of a dance band: “The proceedings were enlivened by songs, recitations and dances by Mickey Rooney’s band” (Todmorden and District News), as the meaning of the expression drifted yet further away from its original.
The Waterford Standard of 16 December 1903 has Mickey Rooney’s band play the song, and provides a description: “The programme opened with a selection by the band entitled ‘Mickey Rooney’s Band’, from which the orchestra took its name. The band, the members of which were dressed as pierrots, was led by Captain Fowler, and consisted of a rather varied assortment of what appeared to be cardboard instruments, and the wonder was that harmonious sounds could be produced in them, yet in this, and various other selections the performance elicited laughter and applause”.
Sheffield, in particular, took to the music, and for several years their “Rooney’s Band” would turn out to enliven processions and other entertainments. At a sports carnival Hillsborough Football Ground, in 1917, the band of the 2/5 Norfolk Regiment was “in attendance”, and “Rooney’s band in fancy dress” provided “plenty of fun”.7
Even as late as 1935 people remembered the band: it was remembered as much for the band as for the song. The Offaly Independent of 5 January reported that “the return of ‘Mickey Rooney’s Band’ was an event which brought cheers from all parts of the house. The band, which consists of pupils of St. Brigid’s Boys Schools, played some entertaining items, on a variety of instruments.”
Not everyone approved of the chaotic music, for, as noted in New South Wales’s Manilla Express of 18 January 1911, “music can only soothe and not betray, and a town or hamlet without a band – not a Micky Rooney band – was very much behind the times.”
The publication and performance of Mickey Rooney’s Ragtime Band in 1913 appears in context as something of a distraction on the historical trajectory of the song. Like the original song, it was very popular, principally for a two-year span into 1914, but with references trailing off into the early 1920s. At a St Patrick’s Day “Hibernian Concert” in aid of St Francis’ School in Chester, held in March 1913, the schoolchildren’s Irish reel was followed by Mr. A. Ouzman singing “Mickey Rooney’s Rag-time Band”.8
When Bloom played on the idea of “Mickey Rooney’s Band” in “Sirens” he is unlikely to have been referring to the 1913 song Mickey Rooney’s Ragtime Band, notwithstanding his memories of the anachronistic Has Anyone Here Seen Kelly (1908). The words and music for the original song, entitled simply Mickey Rooney’s Band was written by John F. Mitchell and first performed, in London, in 1878 by the Irish music-star performer Patrick Feeney. Sheet music for this first version of the song has not yet been found.
In the song, performed initially by a single performer, it appears that the band-leader introduces his band, who respond by playing short bursts of their instruments. Some of these instruments are regular band instruments, and some are more informal. The discordant and inept performances by the band members presumably contribute strongly to the “comic” nature of the song, which was extremely popular in music halls in Britain, Ireland, and elsewhere in the English-speaking world.
As a result of its popularity, the song evolved. After a few years, bands called “Mickey Rooney’s Band” began to play at local events, especially at schools and fetes. It seems that different performers may have adapted the song to suit their particular needs. Variations in the song’s title was rife, lending credence to the idea that the song grew to take various forms.
A major issue is which version of the song Joyce/Bloom refers to. He particularly concentrates on “the chap that wallops the big drum”. While it may be easiest to consider that Joyce or his father assimilated the song in its earliest form, Joyce may well have been aware of its evolution, and have drawn on various aspects of its (pre-ragtime) versions, and in particular the use of “Mickey Rooney’s Band” for the name of a band as much as of a song.
1 Don Gifford and Robert J. Seidman Ulysses Annotated (2nd edition: 2008), p. 310/1.
2 The Era, 3 February 1878, p. 20, col. 3.
3 London and Provincial Entr’acte, 12 February 1881, p. 5 ,col. 2.
4 Jersey Independent, 27 May 1882, p. 5, col. 2.
5 Yorkshire Evening Press19 December 1890.
6 Frederic Boase, Modern English Biography (1897), vol. 2, p. 903/2.
7 Sheffield Daily Telegraph 26 May 1917, p. 6.
8 Cheshire Observer 22 March 1913, p. 7, col. 6.