Recorded in 1938 by Britain’s biggest stars, The Umbrella Man is a delicious slice of mournful nostalgia. Opening with a sense of peril and the sound of thunder, it soon shifts into something more flighty. Which lasts only for the few moments before Bud Flanagan’s warm and sad voice brings us the downbeat magic of a rainy day in the city.
Overall, it’s quite a strange little song. That urgent intro and the bulletin-like intonation of “Umbrellas. Umbrellas to mend”, Chesney Allen’s speaking/singing voice (“When there’s a lull…”), the failed attempts at jauntiness (e.g. the whistling bit) and the fact that the song has a grandeur to it even though its subject matter is a bloke who mends umbrellas. I like that: its celebration of the little man. If Ray Davies or Damon Albarn had written this you just know he’d be sneered at and portrayed as a sad, lonely loser.