|This is my contribution to Round Eleven of ABC Wednesday and again I am focusing on people, some famous, some infamous and some half-forgotten.|
But first some background, French was born in 1854, the son of a protestant landlord in Roscommon and educated Foyle’s College, Derry.
He wrote his first successful song while studying at Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduated as a civil engineer.
This might have been his career, but the Board of Works in County Cavan where he was employed reduced its staff in 1887 and French left to try his hand at journalism as the editor of The Jarvey, a weekly comic paper.
He also wrote ‘Are Ye Right There Michael’ which poked fun at the poor state of the railway in County Clare. The railway company took out a libel action against him and French arrived late for the hearing.
When the judge asked him why, he said: ‘Your honour, I travelled by the West Clare Railway,’ which explained everything and the case was thrown out.
But French’s most famous creation as far as I am concerned is Abdul Abulbul Amir which he wrote in 1877 at the start of the Russo-Turkish War. It tells the story of the titanic battle between the Russian cossack, Ivan Skavinsky Skavar, and one of the Sultan’s mamelukes, Abdul Abulbul Amir.
French sold the song for £5 to an unscrupulous publisher and it was claimed by other writers after it became hugely popular.
My own memory of it comes from the MGM cartoon version of the song that would appear on tv from time to time during my childhood. It was produced in 1941 by Fred Quimby (who I’ve written about before) and featured caricatures of Groucho Marx and Lou Costello.
I felt certain I would be able to find it on YouTube or elsewhere, but I couldn’t, at least not in English.
Otherwise here is an abbreviated version of the song recorded by Frank Crumit in 1927.