20 Oct

The Great British Mood Music Album

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By Robert Walton

I don’t know when the expression “The Great American Songbook” was coined and by whom, but a more suitable name for that magical era from about 1920 to 1960 was long overdue. Will Friedwald and Michael Feinstein both use the phrase freely. Before it entered the language, those evergreens, mainly from Broadway shows and Hollywood musicals, were usually described as “standards”. This is the term for tried and tested songs of outstanding quality and originality that have earned their place over the years for their sheer staying power and have become established in the repertoire. But the word “standard” isn’t exactly the most descriptive of names.

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By Robert Walton

I don’t know when the expression “The Great American Songbook” was coined and by whom, but a more suitable name for that magical era from about 1920 to 1960 was long overdue. Will Friedwald and Michael Feinstein both use the phrase freely. Before it entered the language, those evergreens, mainly from Broadway shows and Hollywood musicals, were usually described as “standards”. This is the term for tried and tested songs of outstanding quality and originality that have earned their place over the years for their sheer staying power and have become established in the repertoire. But the word “standard” isn’t exactly the most descriptive of names.

On the other hand, “The Great American Songbook” somehow perfectly sums up the entire period. Certainly there’s no denying the best and the bulk of the songs were written by Americans, especially the Big 5 (Berlin, Gershwin, Kern, Porter, and Rodgers), so the term is spot on. Although these songs were first associated with singers, a large part of their continued fame is due to non-vocal versions. So without the bonus of instrumentals “The Great American Songbook” wouldn’t have reached such a wide audience. The word “songbook” suggests a massive imaginary tome of vocal compositions each one containing two main ingredients (words and music). But tunes by themselves can be just as potent. Even in an instrumental, the lyrics can be “sung” subconsciously, especially by older listeners without being aware they’re doing it. Younger people will hopefully enjoy the melodies for their own sake.

Andre Kostelanetz may have been one of the first conductor/arrangers to elevate these songs to a new level of symphonic treatment, but it was Paul Weston who invented the mood album concept in 1944 with “Music for Dreaming”, consisting of four 78s. Using the framework of a big band and a string section (a forerunner of the Farnon format), Weston’s arrangements appealed more to those who had enjoyed the swing era. In the process he, and others, gave “The Great American Songbook” more publicity than it could have dreamed of. In fact this constant exposure of standards also acted like a permanent reference point for anyone on the lookout for material.

On the other side of the Atlantic in the early part of WW2, another kind of mood music was stirring, that of the Chappell Recorded Music Library. But this was “pure” mood music designed specifically as background music for films, newsreels, documentaries, television and radio that also generated many memorable signature tunes. Because of public demand, a number of these were released commercially. This particular Golden Era of works by the finest composers, conductors and arrangers has never been equaled. A world away from the light music of the 1930s, these compositions were totally fresh and modern unlike anything heard before.

And the main men responsible for this event were two of Russian descent and a Canadian. The latter, the prodigious Robert Farnon, created a whole new genre of music with his unique melodic and harmonic style. The two other light orchestral composers were Sidney Torch who wrote many original cameos of extraordinary quality, and Charles Williams, another prolific writer who conducted the first recordings in 1942. And proving to be the perfect interpreters of these gems was the legendary Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra. Other talented writers from the same stable included Jack Beaver, Robert Busby, Bruce Campbell, Eric Coates, Frederic Curzon, Trevor Duncan, Vivian Ellis, Philip Green, Geoffrey Henman, Byron Lloyd, Angela Morley, Clive Richardson, Colin Smith, Len Stevens, Jack Strachey, Edward White, Haydn Wood and Peter Yorke.

Many other publishers, composers and orchestras contributed to this vast library of subjects, situations and emotions that lasted well into the 1960s. This twenty-five year phenomenon is unlikely ever to be repeated. Inspired by the title “The Great American Songbook”, this most exclusive and original back catalogue of highly specialized music has more than earned its place as “The Great British Mood Music Album!”

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19 Oct

The next LLMMG meeting: May 7th 2017

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The next LLMMG meeting will take place at the Lancaster Hall Hotel on Sunday May 7th 2017 – All are welcome, please tell your friends!

An afternoon of Light Music

on Sunday May 7th. 2017
at The Lancaster Hall Hotel,
35 Craven Terrace, London W2 3EL

Doors open: 1.30pm, Programme: 2pm - 6pm

The event includes presentations using recordings
and will also feature guest presenter:

Sigmund Groven - World famous virtuoso Norwegian harmonica player

Admission fee: £12.00 - includes refreshments during the first interval

Nearest stations: Paddington(main line), Paddington & Lancaster Gate (underground)
On-street parking available and very limited spaces in
the hotel car park @ £8 per vehicle
See map below

Further details from Tony Clayden
email:
telephone: 020 8449 5559

© 2016 London Light Music Meetings Group
49 Alexandra Road, Well End, BOREHAMWOOD, Herts WD6 5PB

Everyone is welcome!

 

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19 Oct

London Light Music Meetings Group - Sunday 9th October 2016

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It was time once again for Light Music lovers to come together at the Lancaster Hall hotel, for our twice-yearly feast of light music. The BBC may think that light music is dead, but we say 'not while we're alive!'

Tony Clayden welcomed us to the meeting, opening the proceedings with Eric Coates' Television March, which was specially composed (apparently, at very short notice) for the re-opening of the BBC Television Service in 1946, and was used daily for several years thereafter. This was to commemorate, in November, the 80th anniversary of the start of regular high-definition television broadcasting in Britain, which was also a world 'first'.


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13 Oct

Peter Yorke's "In the Country" - Some Notes

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It is wonderful to note that much music of worth formerly inaccessible to us save through radio broadcast or as background or signature use on television programs or documentaries may now be fully accessed by interested listeners thanks to the internet with postings on YouTube; much of this material though not all of it originating in those recently released series of Guild recordings of light music.

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It is wonderful to note that much music of worth formerly inaccessible to us save through radio broadcast or as background or signature use on television programs or documentaries may now be fully accessed by interested listeners thanks to the internet with postings on YouTube; much of this material though not all of it originating in those recently released series of Guild recordings of light music.

One selection I have discovered as a result of my explorations in this area is Peter Yorke's "In the Country," and having found it sufficiently engaging of my attention and interest, I have decided to share a few personal responses to it, as many light music enthusiasts, though familiar with the name of Peter Yorke, might not be familiar with this piece.

I find this to be an absolutely exquisite piece, offering the best to be had in light music, by virtue of its very straightforward manner, in both harmonic language and structure.  It is in fact so straightforward that I have found no need to write any sort of analysis of its workings nor include any suggestions to any would-be conductor who delves in this sort of light music as to how to interpret it as it speaks to us so simply and directly that I would hardly imagine that any problems would arise in its presentation.  I would hope at this point that there really are some light music conductors who would turn their attention to this piece and others of this nature.

Peter Yorke has been cited for showing many traits of classical music in his original work, in that a number of his selections bring to mind various works from the serious repertoire, although he does not appear to have consciously borrowed some of these traits that would cause myself at least to note such resemblances.

"In the Country" for me brings to mind one of Frederick Delius' best pieces from his earliest period, entitled "Summer Evening," especially in regard to its main idea.  Of course the two pieces are very different in scale and different in purpose, but there nevertheless appears to be some resemblance in the sense that I at least seem to receive the same images from them.

The title of the piece does not reflect my reception of the piece, which as I stated, is closer to the "Summer Evening" aspect of the Delius piece.  Moreover, I do not at all sense a rusticized country-like atmosphere, but on the contrary an urban environment well peopled, perhaps in an outlying residential area of a large city, on a summer evening to be sure, with people sitting on their porches or standing in the streets and chatting.  It was an environment I remember vividly from my childhood back in the wartime and post-war years where urban neighborhoods were like small towns where everyone knew everyone else, and in a sense looked after everyone else, without this anonymity of contact that is more typical in today's society.  This music as I listen to it, with both pieces in fact, directly conveys to me the picture I am attempting to describe.

The lesson to be learned from this is that despite a composer having an image in mind upon writing a piece, and advising us what may have inspired him/her to write such, we will always receive it in our own manner, with our own faculties, and form our own mental images, however subconsciously or subliminally.  These images are our own; in a sense they are what introduced us to a piece to begin with, and any additional aspects and insights that are later given to us, even if having originated with the composer, may be taken by some to be intrusive and quite frankly, unwelcome.  What I am essentially saying is that in regarding a piece of music, we should not become a slave to the composer's description of it, either by listening or by interpretation. Such description may or may not work for us, but in any event, we can only determine such by direct acquaintance with the piece in question.

This piece may be heard as part of an album entitled "Moonfleet," consisting of other selections by Peter Yorke, in all probability performed by Mr. Yorke himself with his own orchestra.

William Zucker

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20 Sep

Melody of the Stars

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(Peter Yorke)
Analysed by Robert Walton

One of the most underrated light orchestral composers, arrangers and conductors of the 20th century was unquestionably Peter Yorke. He successfully introduced the element of surprise into his work and in some ways was even more symphonic than George Melachrino. Yorke was a master of the dramatic gesture. A typical example of what I mean is in “Till The Clouds Roll By” selection. Listen to the connecting passage between Who and Ol’ Man River. Talk about putting an instant stamp on your music. No one slept during a Yorke performance, especially live!

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(Peter Yorke)
Analysed by Robert Walton

One of the most underrated light orchestral composers, arrangers and conductors of the 20th century was unquestionably Peter Yorke. He successfully introduced the element of surprise into his work and in some ways was even more symphonic than George Melachrino. Yorke was a master of the dramatic gesture. A typical example of what I mean is in “Till The Clouds Roll By” selection. Listen to the connecting passage between Who and Ol’ Man River. Talk about putting an instant stamp on your music. No one slept during a Yorke performance, especially live!

His formula probably had its roots in his 1930’s soundtrack work for British films and especially as chief arranger for Louis Levy’s Gaumont British Film Orchestra. The opening of “Blue Skies” (1946) has a suggestion of “James Bond”, showing that Yorke was clearly ahead of his time. Everything he wrote contained constant references to serious music, and how effective it was. Yorke was also an enthusiast and expert of the big finish. Above all he was a ‘mood’ writer in its purest form.

And for those of you familiar with his film selections, you’ll know, unlike Eric Coates for example, he had a natural feel for jazz, having appeared as pianist/arranger with many British dance bands. His brilliant string writing was full of imagination and humour, but the sound most associated with Yorke, (a total antidote to all the drama) were his shimmering, simmering saxophones. Unlike Wilbur Schwartz’s clarinet lead for Glenn Miller’s reed section, Yorke opted for a pure saxes-only subdivision. Lead by golden-toned soprano saxist Freddy Gardner, there’s never been a blend to equal it in all music. Reverberating around the world, it was one of the most unique sounds in the light orchestral firmament.

From a personal point of view, I owe a lot to Peter Yorke’s film selections, because that’s exactly where I first heard some of the great standards which have remained with me ever since. He had a knack of somehow getting under the skin of a tune and treating it with genuine respect. Also his medley format probably acted as a model for both Wally Stott’s selections for Sidney Torch and his symphonic suites for Stanley Black’s Kingsway Promenade Orchestra.

There’s quite a bit of drama too in the real life story of Yorke. I call it a “Tragedy in Triplicate”. Firstly the maestro himself died at the relatively young age of 63. His soloist, alto sax supremo Freddy Gardner passed away at 39, whilst Yorke’s stylish singer Steve Conway with a similar timbre to Al Bowlly, was taken from us far too early at the age of 31. Thank goodness so much wonderful material had already been committed to wax by the talented trio. Gardner’s alto sax solo classic was I Only Have Eyes For You while Conway’s Souvenir de Paris somehow captured the atmosphere of the French capital as never before.

Away from his film selection commitments, Yorke also arranged for other popular singers of the time. One of his best string backings was For You for Donald Peers. I once spoke to Peers in New Zealand about that arrangement and he totally agreed.

After all that background information, let’s take a close look now at that very English sounding tune, Melody Of The Stars, but be prepared for a slight shock at the start, especially if your volume control happens to be a little too high. Yes, Yorke’s at it again! Just as we’re beginning to settle down to this lovely gentle tune, two musical “clunks” remind us that Peter is lurking. The first chorus gathering up a bit of steam comes to a typically positive end that only Yorke could dream up.

Then an even lovelier lighter section takes over, but don’t be fooled by its apparent Yorke-ish charm. Be prepared for a series of menacing warning shots creating tension before returning to the main tune. As Melody Of The Stars gradually builds for the last time, listen out for Yorke’s unique melodic style at the closing moments of this stirring piece. Briefly leaving the light orchestral world behind, we enter what could almost be the triumphant finale of a Mahler symphony.

Compared with an earlier elegant and dainty age of 1930s light music, Peter Yorke introduced more daring features into his “Roaring 40’s” orchestrations, while at the same time composing some of the most beautiful melodies of our time.

Revisiting the work of Peter Yorke after all these years has been a total revelation and joy, finally recognizing his amazing talent and true worth in the world of popular music and particularly light orchestral music. In this genre, Yorke had no rivals!

Melody Of The Stars is available on

“The Show Goes On” Guild Light Music

(GLCD 5149)

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19 Sep

Sound of Music 'Liesl' actress Charmian Carr dies

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The American actress Charmian Carr, who played Liesl in The Sound of Music, has died aged 73. She was the daughter of musician Brian Farnon, and the niece of Robert Farnon.

http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-37403372

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charmian_Carr

http://charmiancarr.com/

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17 Sep

Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra on Radio

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Adam Bakker writes:

Dear All,

Tomorrow afternoon, Saturday 17 Sep 2016, Kingston Hospital Radio is doing a feature on the Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra from 3:15 to 5pm.

They get people from all over the world listening to this programme.

You can tune in too with the link below:

http://tunein.com/radio/Kingston-Hospital-Radio-s248346/

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About Geoff 123
Geoff Leonard was born in Bristol. He spent much of his working career in banking but became an independent record producer in the early nineties, specialising in the works of John Barry and British TV theme compilations.
He also wrote liner notes for many soundtrack albums, including those by John Barry, Roy Budd, Ron Grainer, Maurice Jarre and Johnny Harris. He co-wrote two biographies of John Barry in 1998 and 2008, and is currently working on a biography of singer, actor, producer Adam Faith.
He joined the Internet Movie Data-base (www.imdb.com) as a data-manager in 2001 and looked after biographies, composers and the music-department, amongst other tasks. He retired after nine years loyal service in order to continue writing.