"Chasing The Blues Away"
Report of RFS London meeting held at the Bonnington Hotel on Sunday 26 November 2006 by VERNON ANDERSON
While everyone was settling in we were treated to the sounds of Robert Farnon’s overture for Pia Zadora including many of the pieces Bob had arranged for her albums and concert tours back in the mid 1980’s.
With the strains of Robert Farnon’s "Proscenium" still ringing in our ears David opened the meeting with a warm welcome to everyone, especially having braved the storms encountered during the morning. Thankfully the weather had now settled and it was good to see so many attending, especially those people here for the first time. We were in for a real treat.
David then introduced the other presenters at the top table, Albert Killman and Robert Habermann. Albert then paid tribute to fellow member Brian Coleman who sadly died in May this year (obit. JIM 169 Oct, 2006). Brian joined the society back in the 1950’s and was a great lover of light music but especially Bob’s compositions. One of his favourite pieces was Bob’s "Concorde March", which Albert now played in Brian’s memory.
Albert introduced Robert Habermann for his tribute to Sir Malcolm Arnold who died in September (obit. JIM 170 Dec, 2006) which commenced with "Colonel Bogey March" from the film "Bridge over the River Kwai" (1957) which highlighted his own excellent march theme which he used as a counterpoint. This was followed by Sir Malcolm’s charming "Whistle down the wind" of 1961. Robert related many aspects of Sir Malcolm’s life, focussing on his composing for films and documentaries. In 1948 he had the opportunity to write a full score.
He composed hundreds of films scores but also many overtures and dances for orchestra. Robert’s third selection was Sir Malcolm’s "English Dance". He was a prolific composer; 9 symphonies, 2 operas, 17 concertos, 5 ballets and many notable pieces covering various genres and all of them memorable. However he did suffer some notable rejections. The MGM film "Invitation to the Dance" with Gene Kelly, for which he wrote a modern jazz sequence was not used in the score and this was one of several major disappointments (Robert Farnon’s contribution to the same film suffered a similar fate). However his output was rewarded with Honorary Doctorates from a number of music universities.
Robert’s last selection was the music from the "St Trinians" films, which highlighted Sir Arnold’s very keen sense of humour. Albert thanked Robert for a fitting tribute to a highly talented man, which was well received.
Albert then handed over to David for the first of his New Releases. David held aloft the new Epoch CD from Michael Dutton containing, among other well known and much loved Robert Farnon pieces, the World Premier Recordings of Bob’s symphony No.2 in B major (Ottawa) and the Scherzo from his symphony No.1 in D flat Major. David introduced us to the first movement of symphony No.2. This has a dramatic opening which (for this listener) reflected on a world threatened by war, but soon develops into a more patriotic or "homeland" style, perhaps the Canadian landscape and its indigenous people, city life in more care-free days and then like Bob, feeling the need to join the fight for freedom and the sacrifices that that might entail. The movement ends in tranquil mood. This piece was well received on this its first hearing in over 60 years. David confirmed that copies of the CD were available from the RFS Record Service at the meeting. He mentioned especially the brilliant playing of the BBC Concert Orchestra under the direction of John Wilson, recorded at The Colosseum (formerly know as Watford Town Hall) in June 2006. (A full page advert appears on page 4 of JIM issue No. 170, and a full description of the Sessions is to be found on page’s 48 to 51 including illustrations in JIM issue No. 169).
Albert picked up the theme of the last piece adding that he CD opened with a marvellous interpretation of Bob’s Suite from the 1951 film "Captain Horatio Hornblower RN." Albert went on to introduce the second piece from the Guild Series, presenting "The Golden Age of Light Music" all of which are on sale at today’s meeting. This comes from the CD with colourful themes "Beyond the Blue Horizon" and he highlighted Angela Morley’s 1954 arrangement of "Deep Purple", played by Wally Stott and his orchestra, in which she provides us with a lush string sound. After which David gave us the news that Angela is presently having treatment for cancer, and voiced the thought of all present in wishing her a speedy recovery.
David followed this with a request from fellow member Peter Burt, who with his wife Ellen had been unable to attend today’s meeting due to a flood in their house. David played piece No. 3 - Roland Shaw’s arrangement of Charlie Chaplin’s "The Toy Waltz" from his 1936 film "Modern Times", by the Mantovani Orchestra, from the "A Song for Christmas" Vocalion CD - the piece ends in the manner of a clock winding down.
No. 4 - David’s next selection was composed by fellow RFS member, Paul Lewis and titled "Rosa Mundi". Inspired by the loss of someone special, when he noticed on a single flower on his favourite rose; the only bloom this year was on "that bush". A calm reflective piece, played by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia conducted by Gavin Sutherland on the recent Naxos CD "English String Miniatures - Vol. 6".
No. 5 - David introduced another Guild CD this one titled "Light Music While You Work" and exclaimed that "Brian Reynolds would be interested in this one". Harry Fryer and his Orchestra recorded it for the Decca Label series of 78s ‘MWYW’ but it wasn’t released until 1951 on an early Decca LP. David mentioned the marvellous work which Alan Bunting has done in restoring these old recordings for transferring to C.D format. The composer was believed to be an American named William Wirges and he gave the piece the title "Fascinatin’ Manikin".
No. 6 - Albert introduced a new Eric Coates collection and noted that Eric’s son Austin had given his father’s watch to John Wilson, which John proudly wore during the session for the new Robert Farnon CD in June this year. This is a Living Era re-issue of the ballet suite "The Jester at the Wedding" of 1932, from which Albert played the fourth movement "Dance of the Orange Blossoms". All the pieces on this 2 CD set are conducted by Eric Coates.
No.7 - Albert then introduced us to a new Epoch release courtesy of Mike Dutton titled "Concertino for Celeste" by Roderick Elms, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Stephen Bell. Roderick Elms is playing Celeste on this recording. He wanted this instrument to be better appreciated, but it has achieved greater acclaim thanks to John Williams’ score for the Harry Potter films.
Albert highlighted a new Sinatra Album - "Sinatra Vegas", a 4 CD set and DVD containing all new material. This is on the Rhino Label and will be available from 27 November, 2006.
David’s "Parish Announcements" then bought our attention to the Petition which has been prepared re. the demise of Brian Kay’s BBC Radio 3 Programme, scheduled to be axed early in 2007. Several copies of the petition were displayed around the room and members were encouraged to add their name if they so wished. Alternatively they should write to Michael Grade at the BBC, to the address on the sheets. (Ironically Michael Grade has now resigned from the BBC).
David gave advance notice of the Society’s 100th meeting at which two gentlemen, Matthew Curtis and Adam Saunders, will be presenting music in April 2007 - two young composers who very much support the Light Music tradition. They were both well received at David’s introduction. We look forward to hearing from them at our next meeting.
David sent us off to the first interval for tea, coffee and biscuits, not forgetting the raffle draw, with Bob Farnon’s "Jockey on the Carousel".
Back to Seats Music - "Seventh Heaven" by Bob.With (practically) everyone returned to their seats, Albert introduced a popular regular presenter to the top table, Rodney Greenberg, who received a warm response from the floor. Rodney then introduced today’s special Guest of Honour, veteran BBC Radio and TV producer Trevor Hill to great applause.
The first point made was reference to the article in the Daily Telegraph on the Gowers Report. Result: "No reason to extend the 50 year ruling". This announcement was received with a round of applause.
Trevor then set the mood by putting his own "interference" on the mike to check the sound system, to much laughter from his audience.
This conversation went at a cracking pace and began with Trevor’s early BBC years with Margaret Potter at Manchester Piccadilly where Rodney first met Trevor. Trevor considered himself exceptionally lucky. While living at 21 Holmwood Grove, N7 he heard some piano music - a neighbour was playing, which got him interested in singing. He won a scholarship to St Paul’s Choir School under the direction of Dr. Field-Hyde where Trevor had to sight read a piece of music. It soon became evident that he required the removal of his tonsils and adenoids. He was keen to listen to the wireless and in particular national programmes of the BBC, through which he was introduced to a gentleman call Sid Walker. Following further exchanges Trevor referred to Rodney as "a walking (seated) encyclopaedia".
Trevor referred to the BBC’s "Band Wagon" programme with Arthur Askey and Richard Murdock which he attended at Mr Walker’s invitation. Trevor got a job at the BBC – one example ITMA door noises!
Music - "Marching On" by Walter Groer - composer/ musician who owned a printing press. Trevor involved with Radio Newsreel, from No. 200 Oxford Street (in the basement of a premier store). Broadcasting House was bombed in 1940.
We heard tape of Dunkirk Evacuation Day. The next day the AEFP was launched. From the BBC Record Library came the signature tune of Forces Favourites which became Two-way Family Favourites from Hamburg - Andre Kostelanetz’s "With a Song in My Heart". Cliff Michelmore, then squadron leader was interviewed; left message to Jean Metcalfe - her response "He’s quite a smoothy, your squadron Leader M!"
Margaret Potter produced her own version of Children’s ( Hour) Magazine, serials etc. Trevor played extracts from "Robin Hood", "Calling All children" 1947 Auditions. Playback of cast of Robin Hood which included many well known celebrities including Cliff Michelmore and Roger Moore etc. Colonel Warren was the first "Ovaltiney". Ivy Benson and her Band, who, following certain escapades with Roger Moore were known as Ivy Bunsen and Her Burners!
Trevor worked for a time with BBC West Region and was then posted North of England to Manchester, worked with Cpl (later Sgt) Ray Martin at base camp in Germany, involving Hamburg Symphony Orchestra. Hugh Garston-Green NWDR. Hamburg Philharmonic.
Other reminiscences included Violet Carson and a whistling postman. The BBC commissioned composer Ray Martin to score music for "Pied Piper" for which Margaret and Trevor wrote the script.
Many other memories followed with names such as Jimmy Edwards, David Hughes, Wilfred Pickles bringing smiles of recognition. Trevor worked with Harry Corbett and his famous glove puppet Sooty for 12 years, and we saw film of Roger Moffat introducing the BBC Northern Dance Orchestra. Other famous animals to rub shoulders with Trevor included Pinky and Perky.
Trevor also knew "Leonard Trebilco", young Bob Farnon and Ted Hockridge. Working on the AEF Programme of the BBC meant acting as sound engineer for Glenn Miller, who wanted individual microphones for each instrument. During a lunch break more were hastily found to satisfy his ego, but it was not possible to connect them to the mixer. Miller didn’t notice, but praised Trevor for the improved sound!
Trevor reflected on further memories from the early days, involving such well known people as Max (Maxwell) Davies - Master of the Queen’s Musik, Julie Andrews, C.S. Forrester and the "Hornblower" books, composer Johnny Pearson which brought the conversation to a close and a special appreciation and thanks from Rodney Greenburg followed by spontaneous applause from the audience.
Albert thanked Rodney and asked Trevor to draw the raffle. We then broke for the Second Interval and returned to the strains of "Sleigh Ride" arranged by (Wally Stott) Angela Morley.
Albert back announced the last piece and then reminded us that Ralph and Geoffrey had videod Trevor’s presentation for our archives. He then introduced our last guest speaker, Peter Worsley.
Peter told us he was formerly a Headmaster at a Secondary School, and now working for "This England" magazine. His first selection was Charles Williams’ "The Old Clockmaker" on the Grasmere label which introduced the BBC Children’s Programme "Jennings at School". Second selection from "London Fields Suite" by Phyllis Tate - "Rondo for Roundabouts". The suite also included "Hampstead Heath".
Peter has produced 3 volumes of TV and radio themes on sale at today’s meeting. He also edited This England’s "Book of British Dance Bands" (from the twenties to the fifties) and the "Second Book of British Bands" - (the Singers and smaller bands) and more recently "London Lights" - A History of West End Musicals.
Peter’s third selection was "Giocosso" by Issac Casabon and so "signed off". Albert thanked Peter for an interesting selection and recommended his books (on display) to us, with Christmas approaching.
Albert then introduced our regular presenter Brian Reynolds who proudly reported that his book "Music While You Work" has gone into reprint (interrupted by general applause). The book has bought family members of many of the artists to Brian, seeking more information.
Brian highlighted the music of Cecil Norman (1907-1988), selecting first "Whistling Cowboy" played by the Gilbert Vinter Orchestra (BBC Midland Light Orch); "Bubble and Squeak"; "Fancy Free" played by the Gerald Crossman Players -Brian confirmed that Gerald Crossman is still alive and well. Next followed "Out and About" with the composer and The Rhythm Players. Final number in recognition that Cecil Norman always used to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning - "Up with the Lark" by Harold Collins and his Orchestra. And a final note. In 1967 Cecil Norman ceased broadcasting - on his 70th birthday. Albert thanked Brian for his tribute to a warm reception.
Albert introduced Cab Smith who decided to present extracts from Robert Farnon’s "Canadian Impressions" Suite commencing with the opening piece "Gateway to the West" (the album was your reporter’s 1st LP bought while serving in Aden in 1956 and one of his treasured possessions!).
Next followed Bob’s impression of the main route through NW Canada - "Alcan Highway" and finally that great piece that forms the grand finale to the album - "Canadian Caravan". Cab’s selection was of course taken from Mike Dutton’s Vocalion CD which really brought out the atmosphere in the music. Sadly this has now been deleted.
Albert thanked Cab for a great selection and then asked David to present a short selection to close the meeting.
David chose a piece from the Hallmark album with Tony Bennett, a real seasonal number - "The Christmas Song" (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire). And we came to the end of a great afternoon of music and narrative with lots of humour for good measure.
David thanked all the presenters by name and especially our Guest of Honour Trevor Hill.
Then a word of thanks to the ladies at the front table and for arranging the raffle etc. And finally Tony for his great technical support.
David and Albert wished everyone a Happy Christmas/New Year, a safe journey home and looked forward to our next meeting, April 2007.
Closing music -"Melody Fair" (Robert Farnon), Manhattan Playboy (RF)
In November 2005 the Robert Farnon Society welcomed one of Britain’s foremost film and television composers to its London meeting. As Peter Burt reports, DEBBIE WISEMAN captivated everyone present!
For those of us visiting London and using its public transport for the first time since July 7th, there may have been some anxiety in travelling to the refurbished Derby Suite at the Bonnigton Hotel on November 27th. As we joined in a moment’s silence to remember the passing of Robert Farnon and two past stalwarts of the Society, Edna Foster and Peter Bunfield, I am sure our minds also turned to those whose lives had been so tragically cut short or been maimed in the atrocities.
Movingly, the lights were dimmed as we listened to Bob’s recording of Peacehaven. What happened in July may also have deterred some of us attending Bob’s Memorial Service, so it was good to have Albert introduce a video of short excerpts from the eulogies, including one by our indefatigable Secretary. David himself told us there was a CD of the eulogies available for sale. He then spoke briefly about the acclaimed BBC Four programme ‘Music for Everybody’ and introduced excerpts featuring Robert Farnon. Albert followed this by introducing extracts from two exclusive Society DVDs: recordings of recent visits to our meetings by Trevor Duncan and Ernest Tomlinson, both of whom we were sorry to hear were currently in poor health. [We have, of course, subsequently lost Trevor, as reported elsewhere in this issue]. These events had been expertly recorded and edited by Ralph Thompson with assistance from Geoffrey Richardson.
The popular New Releases spot was next with an interesting Ron Goodwin arrangement of The Stripper [Vocalion]; Silverheels by the Palm Court Orchestra conducted by Charles Job [Canada]; Castles in the Air - Celebrity Symphony Orchestra [Guild]; First Meeting from John Fox’s "The Love of Joy" -Royal Ballet Sinfonia [Campion], and What Kind of Fool Am I? sung by Lance Ellington with the John Wilson Orchestra [Vocalion]. David was hugely enthusiastic about the last disc but this listener would have preferred Andrew Cottee’s arrangement without the vocal! Wearing my CD seller’s hat, I still think that with so many noteworthy new releases it is pity room can only be found for four tracks. Stanley Black’s closing theme from ‘The Naked Truth’ sent us to the first interval and a welcome cuppa.
We resumed our seats for what was without any doubt whatsoever the highlight of the meeting. This was an extended interview conducted by Rodney Greenberg with our Guest of Honour, Debbie Wiseman MBE. Debbie is one of our finest composers whose work has been widely praised by critics and music lovers. She discussed her career with Rodney and gave us a fascinating insight into writing and recording music for television and movies. Her words were enhanced by video clips from ‘Arsène Lupin’, ‘Freeze Frame’, ‘Tom’s Midnight Garden’ and ‘Wilde’. Albert voiced the appreciation of all present for a "most delightful hour".
Debbie drew the raffle and we broke again for another interval and a further opportunity to gladden Ellen, Paul, and myself [not forgetting the Treasurer] by buying more CDs.
Bob’s Trumpet Talk brought us back to our seats for Cab Smith, eschewing his usual Swing Session, to play three more Farnon compositions all connected with transport: En Route, Main Street, and Rush Hour. Paul Clatworthy was then welcomed to the platform and brought us Con Alma played by Dizzy Gillespie accompanied by Mr Farnon and his Orchestra. Back, then, to Albert who introduced two selections from Canadian radio programmes marking Bob’s death.
Firstly from Robert Harris’s CBC Radio 2 programme ‘I Hear Music’, an hour long tribute to Bob, came I Got Rhythm with Bob and the AEF Band. Interestingly Robert’s father had worked with Bob when he first came to this country. Secondly from a weekly radio show presented by RFS member Glenn Woodcock on Jazz FM [Toronto], which devoted the whole of its 5-hour time slot to Bob, we heard the closing music from the AEF ‘Canadian Caravan’ show that Bob later re-orchestrated for Canadian Impressions.
DVD excerpts had been a feature of the afternoon and David appropriately brought proceedings to a close by introducing two more from TV: the thought to have been long lost ‘The Best of Two Worlds’ presenting Robert Farnon and his Orchestra with Douglas Gamley and Petula Clark; and the more recent BBC4 showing of a ‘Friday Night Is Music Night’ with John Wilson conducting the BBC Concert Orchestra in Portrait of a Flirt, March from A Little Suite, and A Canadian in Mayfair.
David’s customary closing thanks all round included the welcoming ladies who take our money for admission and the raffle, and the tireless Tony Clayden who not only supplies and operates the technical facilities but leads the team responsible for devising the meeting. On Advent Sunday it was a shame there was no seasonal music, but it had been an afternoon reassuring us that some things are still right with our world.
ONE OF THE MOST ENJOYABLE Peter Burt reports on the latest London meeting at the Bonnington Hotel on Sunday 28th November 2004
As usual some glorious Farnon sounds regaled the ears of members and friends as they took their seats for our 95th London meeting. The choice as our overture this time was Robert Farnon's Hollywood Stars played by the Bratislava Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Peter Breiner, on the Vocalion CD "The Wide World of Robert Farnon".
Instead of occupying the co-compere's chair, we were sorry to hear that Albert Killman was languishing in a hospital bed in deepest, darkest Essex. We wished him well as we welcomed his replacement at the music players, André Leon, "literally off the plane from South Africa". The meeting had begun with a few moments of silence in memory of that lovely lady, Joy Fox, who had died in August - and the first music we heard was of her singing Send In The Clowns, accompanied by husband John at the piano. There was to be more of John later.
The programme proper kicked off with Hey There, the title track from the new CD featuring Bob's sensitive settings of familiar compositions and arrangements, especially for Jane Pickles on flute, with Jack Parnell conducting the Royal Philharmonic Strings. This was followed by the opening titles from Bob's music for the film 'Maytime in Mayfair', which David Ades told us had never actually been put out on record.
And so to John Fox. It was a pleasure to be celebrating his 80th birthday and he [very bravely, I thought] shared with us some of his memories and choose some of the music Joy loved. He was introduced with his familiar theme for the BBC Radio Orchestra series 'String Sound': String Magic. He said how his life in music had been a marvellous time playing, composing and arranging the music he loved.
After more String Magic, John told us that he loved fairy tales and played Beautiful Princess and Gallant Prince [two of his 'Characters from The Fairy Tales'], from the CD 'British Light Music Premieres Vol.1' on Dutton Epoch. We then heard Love Walked In, his own favourite of all the songs sung by his beloved wife, who sang professionally as 'Joy Devon'. This was followed by another of his own compositions, Strings in 3/4 [also on the above CD], which caused him to say: "It is a composer's glory to hear his music played just like that. It makes you feel good".
John then reminded us that he was deeply fond of the English countryside and played his A Pastoral Reflection from 'British Light Music Discoveries Vol.5' [ASV White Line]. John's last choice was a real showstopper that brought a smile to our faces: his terrific arrangement of London Pride, a medley of tunes taken from a radio broadcast introduced by Steve Race. John finished by telling us that he was working on an orchestral suite to be called 'The Love Of Joy'. Thank you, John; we hope to see you at our meetings for many more years to come.
The recent CDs section of the programme was a bit short considering the number of new titles on sale. We heard Robert Farnon's Mauve from Vocalion's 'Colours' album featuring Vic Lewis and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Gary Williams singing You're Sensational from his sensational new album with the John Wilson Orchestra, 'Alone Together', on full-price Vocalion; and Dancing In The Dark, a track from Guild's 'Light Music From The Silver Screen', with the MGM Studio Orchestra conducted by Adolph Deutsch. This conjured up the memorable scene from 'The Band Wagon' of Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse in New York's Central Park - what Denis Norden has described as "one to steam up your bi-focals".
As we came to the first interval and a welcome "cuppa", we learnt that we had in our audience Matthew Curtis [with a new CD out], Eric Parkin, Philip Lane and David Snell. It was David Snell playing the harp on Robert Farnon's Walkin' Happy which accompanied us to the refreshments, anticipating his starring appearance at our next meeting in April 2005.
Our "back to seats" music of segments from Fairy Coach, Concert Jig, Dick's Maggot and Waltz For A Princess gave us the clue that the next presentation was to be another celebration of an octogenarian: the engaging Ernest Tomlinson.
Recalling his appearance at one of our meetings two years ago, Ernest said that this time he wanted to introduce us to some of the lesser-known aspects of his output. So we heard Fantasia On North Country Tunes, commissioned by the Hallé Orchestra in 1978; I'm Late and a vocal version of Little Serenade, from broadcasts in 1959 by the Ernest Tomlinson Music Makers; Cornet Concerto, Concerto For Five [saxophones] and his own favourite self-penned composition, Pastorella from 'The King and the Mermaid'.
Each piece was prefaced by stories of how and why they came to be written. Ernest also talked at some length about Library or Mood music. He told us how it was unpopular with performers because they were only paid for it once, how for 25-30 years the Musicians Union insisted that all recordings of it must be made abroad, and how even such a luminary as Frederic Curzon was blacklisted for conducting it abroad.
From Ernest's own extensive catalogue of Library music we heard Gay And Vivacious and a selection from 'Cartoon Capers': Trickie Quickie, Flitting Along, Enter Villain, Pride And Fall, Cccrash, Quick Ending, Fast Asleep, Flickering Flames and Busy Chatter.
David asked about Ernest's recent broadcast interview with Brian Kay, which prompted him to tell us about how in 1962 he had won prize money of one million liras for writing Symphonica 1962. Ernest admitted that he did not like listening to other music very much as he found that what he heard influenced his own music too much.
One of his many stories was of the lady who, on seeing his name under "Music Arrangers" in the local Yellow Pages, had phoned him to ask whether he could arrange to sell her deceased husband's double bass that she had in the attic. It had been a wonderful hour or so of entertainment from a man whose many styles of music we could only marvel at.
After another interval, and opportunities to investigate the many tempting offers on the RFS Record stall, we were welcomed back to our seats with Robert Farnon's lush arrangement of Do I Hear a Waltz - one of the titles he recorded around 40 years ago for Reader's Digest, which have gradually reappeared piecemeal on various compilations over the years. It would be nice to have all of them on just one CD, supplemented, of course, with some similar material to fill the disc.
Brian Reynolds, is invariably good value for money with his "Radio Recollections" and this time he brought us an Ernest Tomlinson arrangement of a Leroy Anderson Potpourri played in 1958 by Joseph Muscant and his Orchestra; James Warr's Little Lisa played by the BBC Midland Light Orchestra in a Harold Rich [with us in the audience] arrangement conducted by Sverre Bruland, taken from an early morning programme 'Bright and Early' complete with mid-music time check; George Scott Wood and his Music playing Don Roberto by accordionist Albert Delroy; and Pretty Trix written by jazz violinist Joe Venuti and played by the Sidney Sax Strings.
It was good to have the Request Spot again as this used to be a regular feature of our meetings. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, a Farnon arrangement sung by Tony Bennett, was played for Norman Grant. Peter Luck's choice was Oranges and Lemons, arranged by Spike Hughes for the BBC Light Orchestra conducted by Vilem Tausky, and used around 50 years ago at the start of broadcasting on the BBC Light Programme. This came from Tony Clayden's impressive collection of early radio and television memorabilia, into which he has promised to delve deeper for one of our future meetings.
Another highlight of the afternoon - [not!] - was yours truly playing tracks from three releases possibly in the running for "CD Of the Year 2004": Love's Dream After The Ball - Mantovani [Guild], Deep River - Frank Chacksfield [from 'Beyond the Sea'] [Vocalion] and Serenade To A Lemonade - David Rose [Living Era].
Once again David had only time to play two of his own choices: Max Geldray, who had died in October, playing Crazy Rhythm with the Wally Stott Orchestra; and extracts from the forthcoming Guild issue '1950s Volume 2' - Midnight Matinee [Len Stephens], Postman's Knock [Angela Morley], The Magic Touch [Hugo Winterhalter] and Moonlight Fiesta [Winifred Atwell with the Cyril Ornadel Orchestra] with its wonderful horn whoop at the end.
The Leslie Jones Orchestra of London's recording of Melody Fair brought to an end a meeting that, in my opinion, was one of the most enjoyable of recent times. All credit to David and especially André for handling the controls so efficiently, and to Tony Clayden, sound technician extraordinaire, and the London committee.
For most of the second half of the 20th century, Canadian-born Robert Farnon was generally regarded as the greatest living composer of Light Orchestral music in the world. Farnon was also revered as an arranger of quality popular songs, having influenced most of the top writers on both sides of the Atlantic during the second half of this century. He has also produced some memorable film scores, and could have earned considerable fame and fortune had he decided to settle in Hollywood. But it is our good fortune in Britain that he chose to make his home with us.
He was born on 24 July 1917 in Toronto, Ontario, the third of four children. The eldest was his sister Norah; the other three were boys who all made their careers in music. Older brother Brian (born 27 November 1911) has enjoyed a glittering career on the US West Coast - at one time with Spike Jones and more recently at resorts such as Lake Tahoe. Younger brother Dennis (13 August 1923) achieved universal fame through his quirky scores for the "Mr. Magoo" cartoons. He also wrote a great deal of music in later years for London publishers’ background music libraries.
While still in his teens, Bob Farnon became a household name through his many programmes on radio, especially the long-running "Happy Gang". He occupied the lead trumpet chair in Percy Faith’s Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Orchestra, also contributing vocal arrangements for the show. In 1940 Faith decided to leave for greener pastures in the USA, and Farnon was invited to take over the baton. This provided a wonderful opportunity to develop his arranging skills, bringing him to the attention of Paul Whiteman and Andre Kostelanetz.
Like so many young writers, he yearned to create more serious works, and by 1942 he had composed two symphonies which were performed by leading orchestras in North America. He tended to be somewhat dismissive of these works (to the disappointment of his admirers), and all suggestions that they should be polished for new performances were politely, but firmly, declined. Perhaps his reluctance was due to the fact that he has "borrowed" some of the themes from both symphonies for his later works.
As conductor of the Canadian Band of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, Farnon came to Britain in September 1944, working alongside Glenn Miller and George Melachrino, who fronted the American and British bands.
At the end of the war Farnon took his discharge in Britain, finding the musical scene more suited to his talents, so that he could work in films, radio and the recording industry. In Britain he had discovered an area of music previously little known to him. We call it Light Music (not an entirely satisfactory title for a musical form which can embrace many different styles). In North America it tends to be labelled "Concert Music", but during Farnon’s adolescence it rarely entered into his musical ambit.
But that is not to say that he was ignorant of its possibilities. He had been working on a series of "symphonettes" which were later to form the basis of compositions such as "Willie The Whistler" and "Jumping Bean". One valuable musical aspect of World War II was that musicians conscripted into the forces were no longer subjected to commercial pressures, so they could develop their ideas to test public reaction, without having to worry about the financial consequences of any failures. Farnon revelled in the freedom that this offered, but he need not have worried about disappointing his public: they were delighted with each and every one of his innovative ideas.
Which brings us neatly back to the British musical scene, as discovered by Captain Robert Farnon. For the first time he heard the music of Eric Coates, Haydn Wood, Charles Williams and the other exponents of Light Music ... and he realised just how closely his own ideas had, unknowingly, been moving in their direction. Of course, he brought a virile, north American freshness and approach which might have seemed to be at variance with the slightly more "genteel" British style. In truth, the work of Farnon and his young contemporaries breathed new life into a musical form which could well have faded away during the 1950s.
Farnon did not confine himself to Light Music. After all, he had been brought up in an atmosphere of big bands and show music. While living in Toronto he made frequent visits to New York, where he would call in at Minton’s, generally regarded as the birthplace of "bebop". It was not rare for him to be asked to join a jam session. His close friends at this time included Dizzy Gillespie and Oscar Peterson; those friendships were to endure throughout their lives.
Despite a very demanding schedule of broadcasts for the Allied Expeditionary Forces Programme of the BBC, Farnon managed to do some "moonlighting". His colleagues remember how he used to listen to American broadcasts on short wave radio, writing down the notes of the latest hits as they were being performed. During his spell in Faith’s orchestra he had learned how to "switch off" from his surroundings and work on a score -- something that did not always endear him to Faith!
Farnon’s inventive ideas were soon noticed by our own bandleaders. Lew Stone, Ambrose and Ted Heath were not slow to add Farnon scores to their libraries, and soon after taking his discharge Farnon joined the Geraldo Organisation as an arranger. When Geraldo travelled to the USA in 1947, for a while Farnon took over the Band for its broadcasts and recordings. It is perhaps surprising (as well as disappointing) that more Farnon scores from this period did not find their way on to commercial recordings - after all, the afore-mentioned bandleaders all had good recording contracts. Just recently researchers cataloguing the Geraldo library have been amazed at the amount of Farnon material it contains.
The Robert Farnon Orchestra began to broadcast regularly on BBC radio and television, both in its own programmes and also supporting big stars such as Vera Lynn and Gracie Fields. Decca signed Farnon as a ‘house conductor and arranger’, and his name appeared on numerous 78s providing backings for the likes of Vera Lynn, Gracie Fields, Denny Dennis, Paul Carpenter, Beryl Davis, Reggie Goff, Dick James, The Johnston Brothers, Scotty McHarg, Donald Peers, Ronnie Ronalde, Norman Wisdom, Anne Shelton .. and even the Ilford Girls Choir. Vera Lynn’s first big US hit - "You Can’t Be True Dear" - also featured the Farnon Orchestra.
Naturally he was anxious to bring his own music to the public’s attention. Thanks to his radio broadcasts, British listeners were starting to notice the bright, fresh Farnon sound, and towards the end of 1948 Decca released one of the finest Light Music 78s ever recorded - "Jumping Bean" coupled with "Portrait Of A Flirt". These two Farnon originals have become part of the folk lore of British Light Music, and they undoubtedly influenced a generation of composers in this genre.
Although it has to be said that he never received the promotional support he deserved from his record company, his contract with Decca produced many fine albums which became models of orchestration, often copied by leading arrangers on both sides of the Atlantic. Andre Previn called Farnon: "The greatest living writer for strings". John Williams (writer of "Star Wars" and many of Hollywood’s best scores during the past 30 years) happily acknowledges his debt to Farnon, as did the late Henry Mancini. Other top writers who are not ashamed at being labelled "Farnon sound-alikes" include Johnny Mandel, Patrick Williams, Don Costa, Patrick Williams, Angela Morley, Marty Paich ... the list is almost endless.
Over 40 films have benefited from a Farnon score, notably "Spring In Park Lane", "Maytime in Mayfair" and "Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N.".
From the 1940s onwards Farnon has produced a steady stream of Light Music cameos, which have been used regularly by radio and television stations around the world - often as signature tunes (eg. "Colditz", "The Secret Army"). Pieces such as "Jumping Bean", "Portrait Of A Flirt", Journey Into Melody, "A Star Is Born" and "Westminster Waltz" have become standards, instantly recognisable, even if the title may sometimes elude the listener. His more serious works have included "A La Claire Fontaine", "Lake Of The Woods", "Rhapsody For Violin and Orchestra" and "Cascades To The Sea".
By the end of the 1940s he had established himself as a "name" in Britain. For the next 20 years he composed hundreds of pieces of Light Music, mostly for Chappell’s Recorded Music Library. During this period he also arranged countless popular songs for broadcasts and recordings, conducted his orchestra in numerous radio and television programmes and made a series of LPs that have become prized collectors’ items. His concert tours took him to many parts of Europe and Canada; he worked briefly in the USA and was always in demand for film scores. Commissions flowed in from the BBC and others. Notable works in this area included "The Frontiersmen", "Rhapsody For Violin and Orchestra", "Prelude and Dance for Harmonica and Orchestra" (for harmonica virtuoso Tommy Reilly), and "Saxophone Tripartite", commissioned by the Musicians’ Union for another Canadian musician, Bob Burns.
In other words, Farnon was a busy working conductor / composer / arranger who was fortunate to be around at a time when radio stations, in particular, were still actively supporting live music. This helped to gain him the public recognition which made many of his other activities possible.
Inevitably nothing stays the same, and as the end of the 1960s approached many of Farnon’s colleagues found that broadcasters and recording companies no longer needed so many of them. But Farnon’s international reputation ensured that his career would take a new -- and perhaps even more illustrious -- direction.
In 1962 Farnon was musical director on "The Road To Hong Kong" with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour and Joan Collins. ("They blamed me for killing off the series!" he joked recently. "It was the last ‘Road’ film they ever made!")
Then in June of that year, Farnon arranged and conducted Frank Sinatra’s one and only British album "Great Songs From Great Britain". It had a mixed reception at the time, partly due to Sinatra’s voice sounding a little tired - not surprising, because he was just completing a world tour when the sessions (in the middle of the night) took place. In fact Sinatra refused to let one track "Roses of Picardy" be included, and it was many years before the album was released in the USA, although it had been available in the rest of the world. A few years ago the CD issue included "Roses of Picardy", and contemporary criticisms now seem harsh. Even if Sinatra does struggle occasionally to hit the top notes, the Farnon scores stand out.
The next year Farnon was in Copenhagen recording an album for Sarah Vaughan - "Vaughan With Voices" which also featured the Danish Svend Saaby Choir. Clearly he had secured his place among the elite of top arrangers for the biggest stars.
Farnon’s long and fruitful association with Tony Bennett began in 1968. Together they made several classic albums, a television series and appeared in many concerts, notably a charmed occasion on 31 January 1971 when Farnon conducted the London Philharmonic for Bennett at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the building’s 100th anniversary celebrations.
During the past 25 years many other top singers and instrumentalists have expressed the wish to have Farnon arrange and conduct for them. Clashing commitments and problems over contracts have prevented some from proceeding, the most disappointing being on-off projects with both Dizzy Gillespie and Oscar Peterson. Although they’ve performed in concerts and on television, Farnon never managed to achieve his ambition to record with either of these long-standing friends.
But the following list of some collaborations which have taken place is impressive: Tony Coe, saxophone (recorded 1969); Singers Unlimited ("Sentimental Journey" in 1974, and "Eventide" in 1976); Lena Horne (for "Lena - A New Album" in 1976); Ray Ellington (1978); George Shearing ("On Target" 1979/1980 and "How Beautiful Is Night" 1992); Jose Carreras (1983); Pia Zadora ("Pia and Phil" 1984, "I Am What I Am" 1985); Sheila Southern (1986); Eileen Farrell ("This Time It’s Love" 1990/1991, "It’s Over" 1991, "Here" 1992/1993, "Love Is Letting Go" 1994/1995); Joe Williams "Here’s To Life" (1993); J.J. Johnson ("Tangence" 1994); Eddie Fisher in 1995 - yet to be released; and with Carol Kidd in 1998.
Farnon’s work has often been recognised by his peers. In Britain the foremost awards for the music (as opposed to the entertainment) industry are the Ivor Novello Awards. Farnon’s tally: "Westminster Waltz" in 1956; "Sea Shore" 1960; "Colditz March" 1973; and "Outstanding Services to British Music" in 1991. Across the Atlantic Farnon received Grammy nominations for arrangements in 1976 for "Sentimental Journey" (on a Singers Unlimited album) and in 1992 "Lush Life" (sung by Eileen Farrell). He finally reached the top for Best Instrumental Arrangement of 1995 - "Lament" on the J.J. Johnson album "Tangence".
For 46 years Farnon lived on the Channel Island of Guernsey, where he continued to compose and arrange until the end of his life. During his 80th year several concerts of his music took place, both in Britain and in Canada, and BBC Radio-2 broadcast a special Tribute to him in its Arts Programme just a few days after his birthday - on Sunday 27th July 1997 at 11.00 pm. Earlier on the same day Bob was in London at the Bonnington Hotel for an afternoon and evening of celebrations (including a Dinner) arranged by the Robert Farnon Society, at which many of his friends and colleagues from the music business were present.
Perhaps the most memorable celebrations for Robert Farnon’s 80th year took place in his own homeland. In October 1997 he was invited to Toronto, where he met many fellow writers at a special gathering organised jointly by the Guild of Canadian Film Composers and the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada. He then went on to Ottawa, to attend three concerts at the National Arts Centre on 30, 31 October and 1 November. The National Arts Centre Orchestra was conducted by Victor Feldbrill in a splendid programme of original compositions and arrangements by Robert Farnon, one of the notable highlights being a performance of his "Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra". During this visit Farnon was the centre of attention from the local media, with many reports of his visit appearing on radio and television programmes, and in the local and national press.
During his Canadian visit, Farnon was commissioned to compose a major work for piano and orchestra. The result is his ‘Concerto for Piano and Orchestra - Cascades to the Sea’ (1998), which has already been broadcast in Britain and the USA. It was issued on a commercial CD by Vocalion in 2002.
The general resurgence of interest in Light Music has meant that Robert Farnon’s true genius as one of the major composers of the 20th Century is now being fully recognised. His importance was finally acknowledged by his homeland: he was awarded the Order of Canada early in 1998.
In the Spring of 2003, the British record company Vocalion, in association with the Robert Farnon Society, completed a major project to reissue Robert Farnon's Decca albums from the 1950s on new CDs. His music is also appearing on other labels, mainly thanks to the efforts of The Robert Farnon Society.
Early in 2004 Robert Farnon completed a new Symphony – his third – which he dedicated to Edinburgh, having been captivated by the city on a visit to the Edinburgh Festival. Appropriately the first performance of this importance work was programmed at the Usher Hall on 14 May 2005, with the National Symphony Orchestra of Scotland conducted by Iain Sutherland.
Sadly Robert Farnon died in Guernsey on Saturday 23 April 2005, just three weeks before the premiere of his symphony. He was 87, and incredibly was still working on new compositions. His last major work was a Bassoon Concerto, which Farnon composed especially for the American virtuoso Daniel Smith. Entitled "Romancing the Phoenix", Robert had been discussing the finer points of the score at the beginning of April.
With his passing the world of Light Music has lost one of the greatest composers and arrangers of the last century.
Copyright: David Ades, 24 April 2005
The incredibly successful series of "Golden Age of Light Music" CDs produced by Guild Music has already passed the magical figure of 100, but the series still continues. These are the latest releases:
- GLCD5217 My Special Request : Percy Faith and Robert Farnon
- GLCD5218 Contrasts : From the 1960s Back to the 1920s - Volume 1
Guild Light Music CDs are sold by all good retailers, and they are distributed in many countries of the world. If you have difficulty in finding them, they are readily available from the major internet mail order sites such as Amazon.