Harry Lauder was born in 1870 to a working-class family. He went to work in a factory at the age of 12.
He was the first British artiste to sell one million gramophone records writing his own songs which was rare at the time. He came from a strict Presbyterian background and avoided suggestive content and any reference to ‘immoral’ activities. His songs were often part recited and part sung interrupted by a loud laugh which sounds false today. His on-stage character was a stereotypical down to earth canny and miserly Scot. He wore a kilt and carried an unlikely walking stick.
His songs covered many different topics, love songs, nostalgic songs about the landscape of the Scottish Highlands, comic songs and Scottish traditional pieces. Over the length of his career he sang more than 100 songs. He was a major star not only in Britain but also in the USA (22 tours), South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. He was indeed the first international star. In 1911 he commanded $1,000 a show, that’s the equivalent of $20,000 dollars today.
Harry Lauder threw his heart and soul into the war drive. He formed a military band which toured the country appealing for recruits. He often spoke at rallies himself urging men to do their patriotic duty. One speech was described as ‘… a challenge for every free young man to get into khaki’ by one bystander. His autobiography is full of anecdotes of men who later thanked him for persuading them to enlist and he retained many personal links with men who had gone to the front.
This newspaper account tells of one visit of the ‘Harry Lauder Pipe Band’ to Falkirk. It was followed by a large crowd as it paraded around the main streets which were lined by large numbers of spectators. They were dressed in Highland costume. They were met by a company of the 6th Scottish Rifles who accompanied them in the march. In the evening they appeared at the Electric Theatre and were given an enthusiastic reception.
It shows how the war drive was enthusiastically welcomed and how Harry Lauder lent his name to this activity.
In 1915 he sang ‘While the British Bulldog’s Watching at the Door’.
After being too old to be sent to the trenches himself, Harry Lauder suggested that he should sing to the boys in the trenches. At first his idea was scorned but later he was given permission to sing to the Scottish troops wherever they were. In 1916 he made a tour of the Western Front and gave hundreds of concerts, some of them impromptu. They were held very close to the Front Line.
Back at home Harry Lauder launched a collection which aimed to raise millions of pounds to provide for wounded soldiers, who were given little support by the Government at the time.
Captain Lauder was killed during the war towards the end of the battle of the Somme in 1916.
After this very sad event, Harry Lauder sang ‘Keep Right on to the end of the Road’. It was aimed at boosting the flagging enthusiasm for the war among the British people.
In his autobiography, Harry Lauder said:
‘I had enough experience in camps by now to know what soldiers like best, and I had no doubt that it was just songs, and the old songs of Scotland – tender, crooning melodies, that would help carry them back, in memory, to their homes and, if they had them to the the lassies of their dreams. It was no sad, lugubrious songs they wanted, but a note of wistful tenderness they liked’.
After the Armistice he sang a new song. It was called ‘Don’t lets us sign about the war anymore, just let us sing of love.’
Harry Lauder continued to perform until 1935 but he came out of retirement to entertain the troops during WWII.
He died aged 79 in 1950.