The first step when searching for any information is to try Google. Songs are often available online, sometimes downloadable without charge. Although, be aware that sometimes the information is not always accurate and some song lyrics can differ from the original lyrics. A good example of this is the 1944 film Champagne Charlie where the lyrics to the eponymous title song sung by Tommy Trinder are not the same as those sung in the original version by George Leybourne. However, Google is a good place to start and can often reveal some surprises.
There are a range of places and websites (as well as commercial sheet music sellers) that might be able to help you locate that song that perhaps you remember from your childhood or an ancestor may have sung. Here are a few suggestions:
The Society has a wide range of sheet music in our archive covering the Music Hall and Variety eras. The cost of research is free to members (although this depends on the project and how many items are requested). For non-members there is a minimum donation of £10 (payable in advance) although again this depends on the project and the number of items requested. There will be a charge for any items posted.
For more information please e-mail email@example.com
Check the online catalogue to see if your song title is listed and you can request delivery to the Reading Rooms at either at St Pancras, London or Boston Spa, Yorkshire. Pre-registration as a Reader is required. Details are available on their website.
There is also a service providing digital copies if you are unable to travel to the Reading Rooms, there is a charge for this.
As well as sheet music, the British Library also has 3 million sound recordings via their Sound and Moving Image Catalogue and music hall recordings are held there. Some are available online.
The Bodleian Library in Oxford has an outstanding collection of Music Hall songs. These can be searched on the online catalogue (https://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/) which contains detailed descriptions including first lines and first lines of choruses.
You can apply for a Bodleian Reader Card (see https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/join-the-libraries/apply) to view the songs in person. It is usually permissible to take digital photographs for private use, subject to copyright and conservation considerations.
You can also ask for digital scans or paper copies to be sent to you. There is a charge for this service.
For more information please contact the Music Section on firstname.lastname@example.org or 01865 277062.
The online home of the sheet music collections found in the Ward Irish Music Archives located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A good collection of songs with covers illustrated by Arthur Concanen.
This collection is particularly useful for song lyrics and has been put together by a group of friends and music hall enthusiasts. The lyrics of many songs popular between the years 1860-1920 can be found here. Sheet music for 100 song titles is free to download as a PDF file.
GAMMOND, PETER, The Oxford Companion to Popular Music, c 1991 1993 (Oxford University Press)
KILGARRIFF, MICHAEL, Sing Us One of the Old Songs: A Guide to Popular Song, 1998 (Oxford University Press)
If you would like the British Music Hall Society Historians/Archive to research a song on your behalf please e-mail email@example.com
The cost of research is free to members (within reason) and for non- members there is a minimum donation of £10 (payable in advance).