Percy and the publican, piano and pub

World famous musician, Percy Grainger (B.1882 – D.1961) was an Australian-born composer, arranger and pianist, who died in the United States of America.

In the course of a long and innovative career, he played a prominent role in the revival of interest in British folk music in the early years of the 20th century years.

During his world travels, this amusing little yarn was published about one of his performing tours back to Australia, and involves a publican, a piano and a pub:

eveleigh hotel piano fire place

The upright piano was a normal part of the furnishings of an Australian pub last century and earlier this century. This beautiful old upright sits in the lounge bar of the Eveleigh Hotel, Redfern, Sydney. Photo: Time Gents.



Percy Grainger

PERCY GRAINGER, pianist and composer, and an accepted world figure, reckons generally on a fee of 100 guineas for entertaining an audience at the piano; but at a bush pub in South Australia last month he was given the option of sleeping out in the mallee or thumping the ivories for the edification of Mrs. Publichouse. He chose to entertain the missus. And it came about in this way.

Rigging himself out as a sundowner of the approved type, he boarded the Melbourne express at Adelaide, and, detraining at Tailem Bend, set out on foot to conquer the 70-mile stretch of desert that lies between Tailem and Keith. It was a footsore and weary Percy who, on the evening of his third day out, dropped his swag at a little pub that was the only building within 20 miles.

When he asked to be put up for the night he didn’t at all appeal to the lady in charge as a dinkum sundowner.

“I’ve heard of detectives in disguise trying to get into hotels after hours,” she said, “but in any case we haven’t got a vacant bed left.”

Percy protested that he was not a sleuth, and finally revealed his identity. But madam wasn’t impressed. “I’ve never heard of Percy Grainger,” she told the dejected-looking tramp. It looked like another night in the mallee for the composer. Then he got an inspiration. “Have you got a piano in the place?” he asked. “Yes.” was the response.

“Well,” said the musician, imploringly, “let me go and play it, and I will convince you that I am not a detective.”

The missus was willing. Percy played, and Percy got his bed.

– “Cob.”

– Smith’s Weekly Saturday 9 August 1924.

More on pub pianos at the Time Gents story, HERE.


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