This article appeared originally in The Record Collector, under the editorship of James F. E. Dennis.
XXI, (11 & 12), pp. 283-286 (March 1974).
It is reproduced here with the kind permission of the authors and of Mrs. Pamela Russell, the former editor of the journal.

The Search for John O'Reilly - A Collectors' Mystery


John Ward, Alan Kelly, & John Perkins

One of the most fascinating aspects of discographical research is its unpredictability. The search for one answer may reveal another question. This is an account of one such question which came to our notice when investigating the G&T matrix series. The first hint of a mystery came whilst studying the April 1906 catalogue of the British Zonophone Company. The 'Tenor Selections' on page 17 contained the following entry:--

                          Mr. John O'Reilly

         X 42208   Believe me, if all those endearing charms.
                    (with violin obbligato)
         X 42209   The Minstrel Boy
         X 42210   Hath Sorrow thy young days faded (shaded?)
         X 42310   The Green Isle of Erin.

This seemed unimportant at first sight -- just four ten-inch Zonophones of Irish Songs by an unknown tenor. The records were considered in the light of possible G&T counterparts. Initially, it appeared that these recordings had only appeared on the Zonophone label: there was no trace of John O'Reilly offerings on G&T. But X 42208 had a familiar look about it. A G&T recording of 'Believe me ..." with violin obbligato had been issued in April 1905 under catalogue number 3-2217. The singer was none other than John McCormack.

The questions began. Had the McCormack G&T of "Believe me ..." been transferred to Zonophone under a pseudonymn? Were the other O"Reilly Zonophones also disguised McCormack's? Our curiosity had been aroused; we wanted to know more about Mr. O"Reilly.

The search began with an analysis of the G&T's. The McCormack discography by McDermott Roe listed eighteen titles with piano or violin and piano accompaniment. Bennett's 'Voices of the Past' confirmed the titles and added issue dates. All the records were issued between December 1904 and April 1905.

The McCormack biographies agree that the G&T's were made in London in the autumn of 1904. Brian Rust in a recent 'Collectors Corner' (The Gramophone, July 1972) suggest at least two sessions within a few days of each other. All eighteen recordings (Nine seven-inch and nine ten-inch discs) are listed below.

Seven-inch Discs
     Catalogue No.      Matrix No.         Title

        3-2513            6462a         Love thee dearest
        3-2514            6466          Killarney
        3-2515            6467a?        Norah, the Pride of Kildare
        3-2516            6468a         Come Back to Erin
        3-2519            646-a?        Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms
        3-2520            6464a         When Shall the Day Break in Ireland
        3-2521            6469a         Eileen Allanah
        3-2522            6471a         The Minstrel Boy
        3-2525            6470a         The Irish Emigrant

Ten-inch Discs

        3-2139            5947b         Kathleen Mavourneen
        3-2163              ?           Meeting of the Waters
        3-2164            5928b         Molly Bawn
        3-2168            5924b         Snowy Breasted Pearl
        3-2169            5933b         Killarney
        3-2170            5934b         Come Back to Erin
        3-2171            5944b         Foggy Dew
        3-2216            5930b         Killarney
        3-2217            5932b         Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms
The Pierre Key biography of McCormack yielded invaluable details of the G&T contract. McCormack undertook to record 25 songs [a total of 34 sides were actually recorded, -ed.] for a fee of 25 without any obligation to re-record masters which were found to be technically defective. This meant that if all his attempts were technically acceptable there must have been seven unpublished recordings as only eighteen G&Ts were issued. This confirmation of possible unpublished material was important as three of the Zonophone titles were not on G&T.

The G&T analysis had turned speculation into a hypothesis. John McCormack had recorded 25 songs in September 1904 and eighteen of them were issued on the G&T label within a few months. One G&T was transferred to Zonophone in 1906 together with three unpublished items left over from the 1904 sessions. The pseudonymn John O'Reilly was used for the Zonophone issue.

This led to a consideration of pseudonymns. Most collectors will know that this was a frequent practice in the early days. The catalogues were enhanced by lengthy lists of artists - even if many of them sounded suspiciously alike - and the name change enabled re-issues to be disguised as new recordings.

G&T frequently used pseudonymns. Burt Shephard was Charles Foster, Peter Dawson was Hector Grant, john Harrison was Harold Johnson, to name only a few. The Hector Grant and Harold Johnson aliases seem to have been confined to the Zonophone label. A recent article by Leonard Petts in the Talking Machine Review listed a 1907 transfer of 66 recordings from Zonophone to G&T with pseudonymns used for every record. The famous Florrie Forde became May Rivers, Albert Whelan became Syney Parks and the already mentioned Hector Grant, really Peter Dawson with a Scots accent, became colourless Victor Graham. This did not identify John O"Reilly. But it did establish that G&T used pseudonymns and that the practice was sometimes linked with transfers from Zonophone to G&T or vice versa. There would have been nothing unusual in creating Mr. O'Reilly from Mr. McCormack.

The next stage should ideally have been an opportunity to to listen to at least one of the O'Reilly Zonophones: a vocal comparison with a McCormack G&T together with a Zono matrix number would have been invaluable. Unfortunately no O'Reilly recordings could be located - they must be very rare - and it seemed that our search had come to an abortive end. Then came a stroke of good fortune. Whilst perusing material at the British Institute of Recorded Sound we discovered a reference to the O'Reilly Zonos which quoted matrix numbers. Zono X42208 was 5931b, X42209 was 5945b, X42210 was 5940b and X42310 was 5927b. In addition two further O'Reilly recordings were revealed: -

X-42258        5923b       Avourneen
X-42318        5938b       Eileen Allanah

Listing the ten-inch discs in matrix number order shows the relationship.

   Matrix No.        Catalogue No.       Artist

     5923b              X-42258         O'Reilly
     5924b              3-2168          McCormack
     5927b              X-42310         O'Reilly
     5928b              3-2164          McCormack
     5930b              3-2216          McCormack
     5931b              X-42208         O'Reilly
     5932b              3-2217          McCormack
     5933b              3-2169          McCormack
     5934b              3-2170          McCormack
     5938b              X-42318         O'Reilly
     5940b              X-42210         O'Reilly
     5944b              3-2171          McCormack
     5945b              X-42209         O'Reilly
     5947b              3-2139          McCormack

Here at last was solid evidence that O'Reilly and McCormack were one. The only alternative was to believe that two tenors with a similar repertoire recorded in the G&T studio at the same time on the same day. And that was too much of a coincidence. The search for John O'Reilly ended, for us at any rate, with John McCormack.

The denouement was not without a touch of irony. The starting point of our quest had been the similarity between G&T 3-2217 and Zono X42208; they were both versions of "Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms" with violin accompaniment and we had assumed one recording. They were in fact different recordings with consecutive matrix numbers. There were no recordings common to both G&T and Zonophone.

The writers would appreciate information from anyone who owns or has seen or heard an O'Reilly Zonophone. This would confirm that published pressings do actually exist.

We wish to end this collectors detective story by thanking those who provided the clues and those who assisted towards the solution. Amongst the latter we esecially wish to thank Mr. Patrick Saul and his staff at the British Institute of Recorded Sound.


Copyright, John Ward, Alan Kelly, 1974

Reproduced with the permission of John Ward
and Ms. Pamela Russell (Former Editor, The Record Collector)

[Editorial Note: The publication of this article led directly to the recognition of the six Zonophone sides, as McCormack recordings. As such, they were completely new to the McCormack discography, unknown until 1974 even as unpublished recordings. The appearance of this article catalyzed a search for the six O'Reilly sides, resulting in the discovery of four of them, which have now been reissued on compact disc. Alan Kelly's continuing research on the early recording logs of the Gramophone Company has clarified many uncertainties about matrix numbers and dates. His research revealed that McCormack in fact recorded no less than 34 sides in four days in September 1904 for the Gramophone and Typewriter Company. Ten of these sides remained unpublished and are not thought to have survived. All of the McCormack G&T's and the four extant Zonophones have been reissued on Opal CDS 9847.]

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