Remembering George Shearing

SIR GEORGE ALBERT SHEARING, OBE, jazz pianist and composer, born Battersea, London, August 13, 1919; died New York City, February 14, 2011, aged 91. Like Glenn Miller in the previous decade, who searched for and found 'his sound', in forming his now legendary quintet in 1949, George Shearing achieved at a stroke his own unique sound signature. This allowed the group to achieve astounding record sales and fame across the globe soon after the quintet's formation, fame that would continue throughout Shearing's long and successful career. The world which he would inhabit in his professional life was another planet away from his humble, not to say, poor childhood background in what was then (in early 1920s) a not so salubrious part of south-west London. His father delivered coal and his mother had a night job, cleaning trains, after spending all day looking after her nine children. Although born blind, Shearing at an early age had the facility not only able to memorize a tune, but also would attempt to play it on the family's piano. Recognizing the talent, he was given piano lessons by a local teacher followed by formal education at a school for the blind, the Linden Lodge School, based in Wandsworth, which still today educates dual-sensory impaired/deafblind children. Such were Shearing's abilities he could have been the recipient of university scholarships to study music but the family's financial constraints prompted him to earn his keep and he opted initially, aged 16, for playing in local public houses in the Battersea and Lambeth areas, first, popular songs of the day, followed by ever-increasing excursions into the field of jazz. In 1937 he joined a stage orchestra as a pianist, and it was through that exposure that Shearing's name started to become noticed. Encouraged by friends he made in the orchestra, he immersed himself in jazz, to the extent that his playing style bore the influence of prominent exponents of the genre, like Fats Waller and Teddy Wilson. A year later he made his début on radio, following which he recorded regularly as a soloist or part of an ensemble or band, not least recording many times with the renowned jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli. The next decade saw Shearing rise to fame with breathless speed, to illustrate which a poll in the 'Melody Maker' magazine, voted him 'the tops' as a British pianist for 7 successive years. Then happened one of those serendipitous encounters of musicians, that unbeknown to them at the time, are destined to change for ever the public perception of jazz and popular music - an invitation from emigré-pianist, composer, and critic, Leonard Feather to visit New York. Shearing stayed for three months of 1946, recording for the Savoy label as part of a trio, but had been so taken with his experiences that he emigrated permanently in late 1947. After serving his "apprenticeship in a heaven that money couldn't buy" as he put it, accompanying singers such as Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, he had an opportunity in 1949 to join a quartet at the Clique Club with clarinettist Buddy De Franco. Due to contractual reasons De Franco had to opt out of recordings, so Leonard Feather suggested that perhaps a quintet might fit the bill, and so it was that to the usual piano, bass, and drums, a guitar (Chuck Wayne) and vibraphone (Margie Hyams) was added - the George Shearing Quintet was born - and with it one of the most distinctive musical sounds ever created. The formation of the ensemble was not the only happenstance. The Quintet was born into a world of music dominated by energetic Bebop, so when the soothing timbres created by Shearing's piano technique ('parallel chords' pioneered by American pianist and organist Milt Buckner) and the close harmony of the rest of the group including melodies doubled a couple of octaves apart, it struck a chord then (literally in this case) in the hearts of music-loving public that was to last for decades. Nothing like this had been heard in the jazz field before but it fulfilled an obvious need, and fame came with startling rapidity, not least in the sales of a recording made for MGM - September in the Rain - which sold in excess of 900,000 copies. The 'Shearing sound' soon became the epitome of 'mood music' for the romantic, 'low lights' atmosphere. Other huge successes for the quintet came in 1950 with Kern's Pick Yourself Up, and two years later, the music which resonated with the public and overshadowed the rest of Shearing oeuvre (some 300 songs) - Lullaby of Birdland. Such was the impact of this song that in the late 1990s when introducing it at a concert, Shearing was heard to quip (perhaps with not a little chagrin): "I have been credited with writing 300 songs. Two hundred and ninety-nine of them enjoyed a bumpy ride from relative obscurity to total oblivion - here is the other one!" A little later in the 50s, Shearing pursued an interest in what is now dubbed, Latin-inflected jazz, which resulted in another hit record, Mambo Inn, and in 1954 the issue of a very popular album with singer Peggy Lee, Beauty and the Beat. Departures from the received Shearing sound came in the 1960s in the form of leaner ensembles, duos and trios - or even the occasional solo concert - and in another direction his concerto performances with leading symphony orchestras. He had such facility that it was not unknown for him to improvise in styles as diverse as Bebop and Bach - sometimes in the same piece. Shearing formed a pivotal partnership with Mel Tormé that was to last for many years and was so successful that 'Grammies' were awarded in 1983 for An Evening with George Shearing and Mel Tormé, and in 1984, Top Drawer. In the 1970s, with some critics saying that the quintet had become predictable, Shearing gradually phased it out and disbanded it totally in 1978, although it was reformed for recordings made in 1994. A frequent visitor to his home country, he gave concerts with vocalists of no mean reputation in their own right, particularly Joe Williams (a Count Basie singer), and Carmen McRae. A duo that Shearing had formed with bassist Neil Swainson appeared with Mel Tormé and the BBC Big Band at a special eightieth birthday show in 1999. For many years Robert Farnon had been a close friend, and at the end of the 1970s they were finally able to realise a long held ambition to record together. The occasion was the album "On Target" for the German label MPS; the Shearing trio recorded their part on 18-21 September 1979 at the MPS studios in Villingen, with the orchestral backings added a year later at the CTS studios (then known as Music Centre Sound Studios) in Wembley, London, on 5 & 6 November. The liner notes were provided by the one and only Gene Lees, who finished: "Shearing with Farnon. What an inspired - and inspiring - combination". In 1992 the same artistic forces were reunited at CTS Wembley on 17-19 September for the Telarc CD "How Beautiful Is Night". For many years (especially the 1990s) the Shearings used to spend the summer months in the beautiful Cotswolds area of England, where they were visited by many special friends, including Alan Dell and Brian Kay. George was most touched, it is said, when in Battersea the 'George Shearing Centre' was opened to provide facilities for disabled people. He still performed into the early present century, and in 2003 was awarded the Ivor Novello Lifetime Achievement Award. In addition to his OBE awarded in 1996, he was knighted in 2007, noting later, "So the poor, blind kid from Battersea became Sir George Shearing - now that's a fairy tale come true." This was a 'fairy tale' that was followed by millions of fans throughout his long career, and will continue to attract admirers in generations yet to come through the portals of his recordings that are set to endure.

David Ades adds: I had the great pleasure of meeting George and his charming wife Eleanor at several Robert Farnon recording sessions. George loved to joke and tell tales. When he was honoured by the Queen he remarked that it was the second time that his family had visited Buckingham Palace; on the first occasion his father delivered the coal! At one time he was a member of an all-blind orchestra, and during a number one of the musicians shouted that one of his glass eyes had dropped out. The band immediately stopped playing, and all the musicians were on hands and knees trying to feel where the missing eye had gone. George also confessed that he wouldn't want to be able to see, if medical science made such a happening possible. He explained that it would be too difficult having to completely learn again how to live in a sighted world, after existing so happily as he was. This modest, charming and extremely talented man was one of the nicest people I have ever been fortunate to meet.

This tribute first appeared in 'Journal Into Melody', issue 188 dated June 2011

Submit to Facebook

JOHN BARRY (1933-2011) – HIGHLIGHTS & MEMORIES

John Barry Prendergast (John Barry), film composer: born York 3 November 1933; OBE 1999; died New York 30 January 2011 from a heart attack aged 77. One of John Barry's greatest admirers was RFS member Gareth Bramley, and he has contributed the following Obituary, which he calls "Highlights and Memories".

John Barry's love of film music began at an early age when his father introduced him to the world of films at the cinemas which he ran in the north of England. His earliest recollection was being carried into the York Rialto by his father and seeing a huge black and white mouse moving across a large white screen. Later, aged 14, John was able to run the projection booth alone and a year later left school to work for his father full time.

John had learnt piano from age nine - and later trumpet; and studied harmony and counterpoint under Dr. Francis Jackson, the Master of Music at York Minster just down the road from the family home in Fulford. He formed his own local jazz band, The Modernaires, playing trumpet. Three years later, in 1952, he was called up for National Service, joined the Green Howard's regiment (for three years) and used his spare time to practice and play trumpet. It was here he undertook a correspondence course (Composition and Orchestration for the Jazz Orchestra) with Bill Russo, former arranger with The Stan Kenton Orchestra.

Back in York he would send arrangements to Johnny Dankworth, Ted Heath and Jack Parnell and it was the latter who advised him to start his own rock and roll band - and in 1957 The John Barry Seven was formed with some friends and ex-army colleagues and they played the local circuit. Concerts, tours and TV appearances followed and a record deal with EMI; and their first single, a vocal, 'Zip Zip' / 'Three Little Fishes', was released in October 1957 - the same year the group made their professional debut at the York Rialto on March 17th. He appeared with the band on the TV shows '6-5 Special' (debuting 21/9/57), 'Oh Boy' (from 15/6/58) and later 'Drumbeat' (4/4/59); and it was because of the latter programme that he became associated with Adam Faith.
When Faith, as a result of his 'Drumbeat' success, co-starred in his first film 'Beat Girl' in 1959 – who better to compose the driving score than the man who had arranged all Faith's 'Drumbeat' material. Barry was recommended to the producer by Faith's manager Evelyn Taylor. He always said that it was his intention from an early age to get into scoring films and this was his chance.

Prior to the release of 'Beat Girl', Faith and Barry had their first record success when 'What Do You Want' made No. 1 in the charts in late 1959. One previous recording, 'Ah, Poor Little Baby', released a few months earlier, was a chart failure - their only one together.
Further assignments followed and Barry continued to tour and record instrumental material with the Seven and arrange material for other artists on the EMI roster (including Anita Harris, Peter Gordeno, Johnnie De Little, Denis Lotis, Marion Ryan, and Marty Wilde). In 1962 Noel Rogers (head of United Artists Music in London) approached him to arrange the theme for the first in a series of films about a super-hero called James Bond ('Dr. No').

The story of the 'James Bond Theme' has been documented many times, but it was evident that through this film alone Barry was able to go on and write the complete score for 11 more films in the series – culminating with 'The Living Daylights' in 1987 and including 'Goldfinger' in 1964 for which he won a Gold disc. During the 'boom' times of the 60s Barry would be offered film after film; and it wasn't long before the time-consuming touring with the Seven finished. He still continued to record for EMI but left in 1963 to take up a position as A & R manager with Jeff Kruger's Ember label. Some classy releases followed, to include solo recordings; film soundtracks such as 'Zulu', 'Four in the Morning' and the TV spectacular 'Elizabeth Taylor in London' (for Colpix); a couple of singles for pop duo Chad & Jeremy; and a critically-acclaimed jazz album with Annie Ross. However, sales failed to match the quality of the productions, apart from one Chad & Jeremy hit single, and it wasn't too long before his association with the label ended.

Film offers continued to increase – Bryan Forbes gave him 'Séance on Wet Afternoon' on the strength of two excellent jazz themes he had provided for his previous film 'The L-Shaped Room'. 'King Rat', 'The Whisperers', 'The Wrong Box' and 'Deadfall' followed. At the same time Barry scored other notable films and won Oscars for best score and song for 'Born Free' (1966) and best score for 'The Lion in Winter' (1968). He was also won a Grammy for 'best instrumental theme' for 'Midnight Cowboy' (1969). Many of John's scores thankfully materialised on record albums; but after leaving Ember he signed a deal with CBS in the UK and besides numerous soundtrack albums such as 'Ipcress File', 'The Chase', 'The Quiller Memorandum' and 'The Lion in Winter'; many compilation albums containing studio recordings of his film themes materialised - culminating in 1971 with an LP (and single) from a new TV series starring Roger Moore & Tony Curtis who received equal billing as 'The Persuaders!'.

This is where MY passion for John Barry started – a driving moog synthesiser riff accompanying lavish titles drove me to watch each and every ensuing episode. This record would end up being Barry's most successful single reaching No. 13 in the charts at the end of '71, and stayed there for 15 weeks.

I had been born the same year John had been commissioned to write his first film score (1959) and now, at the age 12, I was left wanting to hear more music by John Barry. In the mid-70s when I'd bought my first record player I was able to purchase a single of 'The Persuaders!' theme which was still in print. A couple of years later I bought the long playing album and found great satisfaction from the new themes on it – in particular some of those from the James Bond films which I already knew and loved. I was keen to hear more of this splendid music and found a copy of the 'James Bond Collection' which included the themes from 'Dr. No' to 'Diamonds Are Forever' (1971). Since this LP contained only 2 or 3 themes from each film, I attempted to search out the full scores which I eventually bought.

In 1972 Barry switched labels to Polydor and I found the album of the concert he did at the Royal Albert Hall in October 1972, recorded at Abbey Road Studios. If only I'd been older and appreciated the music of such a great composer earlier in life – I may have been in the audience that night when he was on stage alongside Michael Crawford (dressed as the white rabbit) and Fiona Fullerton (dressed as Alice) to conduct, amongst others, a suite from his then new film 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'. Barry was invited back to the Royal Albert Hall a year later, when he also conducted a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. He toured Japan in 1975 doing a series of 30 one-night stands, over some 5-6 weeks with an orchestra including accomplished trombonist Don Lusher.
Barry scored some memorable films in the early 70s – 'Walkabout', 'The Last Valley', 'Mary, Queen of Scots' – the Royal Film Performance for 1972 – receiving an Academy Award Nomination. He also worked on 'The Dove' and the stage musical 'Billy' (1974) which starred Michael Crawford and ran for two and half years in London. The same year Barry left London for Majorca; and a year later moved to the States to score a TV spectacular he'd been offered called 'Eleanor & Franklin – The White House Years'. In the same year he was offered 'Robin & Marian' (directed by Richard Lester) and stayed in Beverly Hills, marrying Laurie in 1978. Other notable films of that decade were 'The Day of the Locust', 'The Deep', 'King Kong' and 'Hanover Street', not forgetting three more in the James Bond series: 'Diamonds are Forever' (1971), 'The Man with the Golden Gun' (1974) and 'Moonraker' (1979). Unfortunately, he was unable to score 'Live & Let Die' in 1973 as he had already committed to working on 'Billy'. He also had to forgo scoring 'The Spy Who Loved Me' (1977) since he was unable to return to Britain because of tax problems. Shortly afterwards, in 1980, John and Laurie moved to Oyster Bay near New York.

It was at this time that my real love for John Barry started. I'd heard snippets of his music on Star Sound on BBC Radio 2 and attempted to search out more and more films scored by Barry using Halliwell's Film Guide. The snippets and requests – even my own - continued on Star Sound and I started to buy as many soundtrack albums and singles by Barry that I could find. I'd watch films two or three times – captivated by these wondrous scores – 'Raise the Titanic', 'Body Heat', 'Hammett' for example. This was the turn of the decade - Barry was still in huge demand and further films like 'Somewhere in Time', 'Frances', 'The Cotton Club' and 'Jagged Edge' followed and his final three Bond outings, 'Octopussy' (1983), 'A View to a Kill' (1985), and 'The Living Daylights' (1987), which was his Bond swan-song. Barry remained unable to return to the UK in 1981 to score 'For Your Eyes Only' and had decided that enough was enough after 'The Living Daylights', blaming lack of a proper fee and creative control of score and song, plus the fact that he thought the formula had now become repetitive.

Fortunately, the latter films had soundtrack albums but many films – like 'Svengali', a made-for-TV movie, and a few others such as 'Hammett', 'Mike's Murder', and 'Masquerade', did not - as the record market was in decline. However, compact discs of these scores were released by specialist labels some years after the films' release. To satisfy my own demand I collected every single piece of music commercially issued with the help of mail order outlets and record fairs; and I'd soon amassed every recording available. In 1984 we could hear film music on a new medium with the advent of CD and I continued to buy each and every release. Fortunately, film music now sounded much fresher.

Around about this time I became friends with Geoff Leonard and two years later Barry received his 4th Oscar for his score for 'Out of Africa' (1985).  In the late 80s Barry suffered a serious illness with a torn oesophagus brought on by a toxic health drink but came back with a score for 'Dances with Wolves' earning him his 5th Oscar in 1991. In 1993 he was nominated for 'Chaplin'.

In the 90s Geoff and I released several CDs with music by John – the first was 'Beat Girl' (1990) - his first film score from 1960, coupled with his first studio album 'Stringbeat' (1961). This was a big achievement at the time for an unknown company but the licensing manager at EMI, Norman Bates, had faith in us and gave us our start. It sold out very quickly and other releases followed – including John's work for Ember and some songs he wrote with his lyricist and friend Don Black. In 1993 EMI themselves released three separate volumes of all the recordings he had made with the label in the 60s.
In 1992 and 1995 respectively, Barry recorded two complete non-soundtrack albums for Sony – 'Moviola' and 'Moviola II – Action and Adventure' – which contained some of his best themes arranged in concert form and played by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
More film assignments followed in the 90s –'Indecent Proposal', 'My Life', 'Cry, the Beloved Country' and the IMAX film 'Across the Sea of Time'. Then suddenly out of the blue at the beginning of 1998 we heard of a forthcoming 'comeback' concert at the Royal Albert Hall ('The Man, The Movies, The Music') which was to take place in April of that year - to tie in with his new concept album 'The Beyondness of Things'.
Geoff and I were collaborating with Pete Walker on a biography of Barry and we had just found a publisher; but had decided to hold back on publishing in light of the concert so we could include an account and photos of the event.

I can't think of a word to describe the concert, but 'awesome' would perhaps suffice. A full 20-minute plus James Bond Suite; music from his 60s films 'The Knack' and 'The Ipcress File'; my favourite theme - 'The Persuaders!'; 'Dances With Wolves' and some of his latest themes including a World Premiere performance of his latest film score 'Amy Foster' ('Swept From The Sea') all played to perfection by the English Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Barry. Perhaps the most outstanding performances of the night were his themes from the 1964 epic 'Zulu' – truly amazing with kettle drums resonating from left to right and back again; and 'Space March' from 'You Only Live Twice'. Stupendous! The concert lasted around two and a half hours and Michael Caine presented an award to a humbled composer who received at least three standing ovations.
Geoff and I had been invited by Decca to the post-concert party and various luminaries were also in attendance including the late Basil Poledouris and director Michael Winner. When a suitable opportunity arose, Geoff and I exchanged a few words with John who duly obliged by signing our invitations. He was certainly in good spirits and it was clear that he had enjoyed himself earlier. The concert left me blown away and I didn't sleep a wink all night – reliving all those tremendous moments right down to him receiving the standing ovations and the bouquet of flowers presented to him by his son Jonpatrick (then 5 years old).

A few days after the concert Barry appeared for a 'signing session' at HMV, Oxford Street but the queue was huge when we arrived – it was almost as if 'Star Wars' was having its cinema premiere. Geoff and I decided to go to the IMAX cinema to watch 'Across the Sea of Time' but when we returned an hour or so later, everyone had gone and the session had, sadly, ended and we were told Barry had left.

After much delay and continual updating we finally went to press on the book and 'John Barry – A Life in Music' was published in November 1998, with the limited print run selling out within 18 months. We had interviewed many of John's former associates for the book - including John Barry Seven guitarist Vic Flick and Ember boss Jeff Kruger along with many others – and each and every one of them had praise for the composer.
Another concert, again with the English Chamber Orchestra ('Bond & Beyond') materialised a year later and John conducted some more of his themes including two from a new film called 'Playing by Heart' featuring Chris Botti on trumpet. The event was heavily over-subscribed from the word go as fans booked on the back of the 1998 concert; and an extra date was added to the schedule which also included a performance outside the capital at the Symphony Hall in Birmingham -  2 days before the Albert Hall. I recall John's wife, Laurie, and family sitting two rows behind us. At the end of the concert, Geoff, Pete and I were able to present Laurie with an especially leather-bound copy of the book for John.

Whilst new film assignments dwindled, a balance was achieved as specialist labels released previously unreleased scores, sometimes with extra music. Barry's great scores from the 60s/70s and 80s sounded even fresher – re-mastered onto CD for the first time. After two successive concerts it was always my hope that this would be an annual event but his participation diminished in later concerts. 'Elizabeth Taylor – A Celebration' in May 2000 was a variety performance and Barry was one of many acts. Introduced by Sir David Frost as 'The Dean of Film Music', he conducted a shortened version of the James Bond Suite and a splendid version of 'Body Heat.  'An Evening with John Barry featuring The Ten Tenors' (September 2006) saw Barry taking the baton only for a couple of numbers with Paul Bateman deputising for the rest of the evening. On 21st June 2007 he also conducted 'All the Time in the World' to accompany Jarvis Cocker at the latter's Meltdown concert. This was the last time I saw him perform live but fortunately took some pictures of the event.

Sadly, later concerts failed to materialise though it was clear that Barry – and his legion of fans - had enjoyed them. It's sad to think that his last film score was 'Enigma' in 2001 but modern age films were not to his liking and indeed directors were renowned for replacing music with songs at the last minute just for the sales of a soundtrack album. However, that year he did release a further concept album 'Eternal Echoes' which he described as 'An album of sounds, of places, and of objects that have always existed and always will exist. They are without beginning or end. They are infinite in our past and future.'

Barry's crossover into the classical genre with the 'Beyondness of Things' album (dedicated to his son Jonpatrick) was successful  - as, to a lesser degree, was 'Eternal Echoes' - but in his later days poor health got the better of him. Although he was receiving more and more recognition by way of awards, he was unable to attend some of these events.

His accolade of film music awards speaks for itself – five Oscars – a record for any British composer; four Grammys; a Golden Globe – to name only a few. In 1999 he received an OBE from her Majesty The Queen for services to music. This was the first in a series of prestigious awards, including Honorary Freeman of the City of York & Goldeneye Award in June 2002; BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award (February 2005); a special honour from the French Minister of Culture (Commandeur Dans L'Ordre National Des Arts Et Des Lettres) presented at the Festival International Musique et Cinema d'Auxerre in November 2007; Max Steiner Life Achievement Award in Vienna in October 2009 and finally a Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Soundtrack Academy in Belgium (October 2010). These are just a few of the numerous awards bestowed upon a man gifted with the art of film music composition.

The story of John Barry was brought up to date when our book was extensively updated and revised with new photographs in 2008 in 'John Barry – The Man with the Midas Touch'.
John Barry may have left us but his legacy of music lives on. He will be remembered by thousands as the musical genius that he was and his timeless scores will be played over and over again. To me he will be remembered as 'The Godfather of Film Music'. Gareth Bramley (Co-author of 'John Barry - The Man with the Midas Touch')

This tribute first appeared in 'Journal Into Melody', issue 188 dated June 2011

Submit to Facebook

The feature in our last issue about 'Jan Berenska' certainly intrigued several members, with letters, emails and telephone calls criss-crossing the country!

Ken Wilkins was certainly very interested, partly because he lives in Leamington Spa where Jan Berenska used to broadcast from the famous Pump Rooms. Ken writes:

I was interested in the article by John Smith trying to trace the life and times of Jan Berenska as he and I have been in contact by telephone and email on this very subject. Unfortunately he wrote his article before I'd managed to unearth a few facts about JB.

Most of the references John wrote about refer to Charles Bye when in fact Frederick Charles Bye was Jan Berenska and born in 1905. Here I must thank Peter Worsley of Evergreen and This England magazines for sending me a print of a page from a 1997 edition of Evergreen which included information and a photograph of Jan Berenska and was published in response to a reader's request as to what happened to him.

Considering the number of concerts and broadcasts he made from the Pump Rooms here in Leamington and elsewhere, there's not a lot of information available about him. So I turned to Google with not a lot of success, but three videos of one of his compositions being performed, Taps in Tempo, are available on YouTube and a very catchy number it is too. A xylophone solo with a brass band backing, two of the videos have young men, teenagers by the look of them, the first being accompanied by I think the Birmingham Schools Brass Band at an outdoor concert, possibly in Bruges. The second, also with a young man was taped in a theatre - again abroad I think - but the third is played by a young woman (not Evelyn Glennie, at least it doesn't look like her from the distance photographed) but the express speed which she played the piece, accompanied by Kingdom Brass, takes the breath away.

Still with Google, mention is made of a Jan Berenska broadcast concert as John points out from the Roxy Cinema, Ross-on-Wye on September the 26th 1943. But for the most unexpected reference I found I needed to click on to The Straits Times of Singapore of the 7th of May 1935, and there in the radio broadcast lists was a relay from the Pump Rooms, Leamington Spa at 10:35 to 11:20 (followed by a speech made by Rudyard Kipling). Amazing what a PC turns up.

After all this the trail seemed to be petering out, so I returned to our library where I had been before but this time I managed to speak to a local historian who worked there. For some time I'd had the nagging thought that Cubbington, a village now joined to Leamington by development, had something to do with JB and so it turned out. The lady library historian said, quite out of the blue, that he was buried there.

Without further ado I drove straight to Cubbington Church and after about twenty minutes' search I found the grave with the inscription "Frederick Charles Bye" and underneath his name Jan Berenska, passed away on 20th December 1968. He was 63. and had died in hospital.

Also interred with him was "his beloved wife Mary" who died in 1974 aged 53. Whether they had any children I don't know, but a cutting from the Leamington Courier of that time that the library historian obtained for me only mentions he left a widow and sadly the grave looks rather neglected.

One other thing I found out thanks to the library was a cutting from the Coventry Evening Telegraph dated the 28th of May 1947 which states that 'Mr Jan Berenska has issued a writ for slander and libel against Leamington Borough Council" and it mentions that the amount of money involved "is believed to be considerable". I've yet to find out what this libel action was about but the Council couldn't have held it against him because some years later a new road was named after him, Berenska Drive.

Harold Rich, pianist and conductor of the BBC Midland Light Orchestra, had a surprise when he read about Jan Berenska in Journal Into Melody. He tells us:

During the thirties, and the war years, I listened avidly on the radio (sorry, wireless!) to the orchestras of Harry Fell (Aston Hippodrome), William Pethers (Coventry Hippodrome) William Hand (Dudley Hippodrome) - the latter of course became a member of the BBC Midland Light Orchestra, and was my leader when I conducted the MLO in the series "Barry Kent Sings". Another musician I enjoyed was that wonderful musician and multi-instrumentalist. Jan Berenska. I believe he once made a recording, playing violin, cello and piano! He mainly broadcast from the Pump Rooms in Leamington Spa, a venue I grew to know very well over the years.

I only met Jan once, towards the end of his life, in rather unusual circumstances. I had taken a band engagement at a hotel in Birmingham (playing truant from the MLO!) and when I mentioned this to my good friend Norman Parker, he said that he was playing that evening for the Frank Carter band in a hotel on my way home, and as my gig finished an hour earlier, why didn't I call and meet Jan, who was deputizing for Fred Kelly.

This I did, and was promptly invited up on to the stage. However that wasn't all. Frank said "Why don't you and Jan play a duet for the next quickstep?" which we duly did, Jan insisting that I played "up the top"! But imagine my amazement when we had finished, and there was a lull before the next dance, when Jan turned to me and said "I like that arrangement of yours (Butterflies In The Rain) which I heard on the radio last week", then proceeded to play it, giving a commentary on my instrumentation .... "This part you gave to the brass, this to the woodwind" ... and so on. What a musician!

However, to conclude. What completely astonished me, on reading John Smith's article, was to learn that in all my years, and having been a friend of Freddie Bye (he was the librarian of the MLO when I joined, and for years after) I never ever knew that his brother became Jan Berenska.

Editor : from Harold's comments about his friend 'Freddie Bye', is it right to assume that both of the Bye brothers called themselves Freddie, although 'Jan Berenska' gave up being a 'Bye' very early on?

Sheila MacKellow also has fond memories of Jan Berenska. She writes:

This is such a familiar name to me! I remember listening to his orchestra on the radio as far back as the 1930s when he used to play a regular lunch-time concert from the Pump Rooms, Leamington Spa. I was only a child at the time, so he must have been one of the first orchestra conductors whose name I got to know. Later on, in the 1940s, he often played in "Music While You Work" – according to Brian Reynolds' book JB played 82 editions of the programme.

He had a pianist who used to play solos with the orchestra – Jack Wilson, who later became better known as "Jack Wilson and his Versatile Five"; I believe Jan Berenska himself played violin with the Five. There was also a soloist who played the xylophone – his name was Vernon Adcock, and he also later on had an orchestra of his own which used to play on an afternoon programme called "Thé Dansant" (Tea Dance). I always liked the xylophone, so I used to listen to that too!

Jan Berenska had a very fine light orchestra, not just a dance band, but I don't know if he ever made any records, as so many orchestras in those days did not do so.

This article first appeared in 'Journal Into Melody', issue 188 dated June 2011

Submit to Facebook

TREVOR DUNCAN

The Autobiography That Only Just Started

When Trevor Duncan died on 17 December 2005 aged 81, the world of Light Music lost a great composer, and we in the Robert Farnon Society mourned the passing of a true friend.

He liked to be known as 'Treb' and his birth name was Leonard Charles Trebilco. He adopted 'Trevor Duncan' when his music started to become popular, as it avoided problems with favouritism while he was still working at the BBC.

RFS Secretary David Ades first met Trevor at his home in Enmore, Somerset, in April 1994 when he was commissioned by Marco Polo to write the notes for a new CD of his music. This started a friendship that was to last for the rest of Trevor's life, and which resulted in him attending a summer meeting of our society in Somerset, culminating in his grand participation in a splendid London meeting in April 2004 when he was Guest of Honour in celebration of his 80th birthday year.

Soon afterwards Trevor told David that he wanted to write about those periods of his life which made the greatest impact upon his success as a composer. He did not envisage anything as grand as an autobiography, but he felt that some reminiscences might shed some light on the influences that would shape his future career. Later on he hoped that he could concentrate on the years when his gift of composition was at its peak, and how he hoped that he would be able to progress into other areas – such as a popular 'opera' which occupied him in his last years, but largely due to lack of interest from potential collaborators it failed to make any real progress. He was also disappointed that no one had ever commissioned him to write a ballet score.

Treb started making some pencil notes during 2004, and sent them to David. It was planned that a series would begin in Journal Into Melody when he had reached the time in his life, around 1950, when his career as a light music composer really began to take off.

Sadly the first set of notes was to be the last. Soon afterwards Trevor was taken ill, and after several months he died in Taunton hospital.

In fond memory of Trevor we feel that the time is now right to publish those notes, even though they are often fragmented and tend to concentrate on his Royal Air Force experiences during the Second World War. He never had the opportunity to revise what he had jotted down, but only minor editing has been applied, and it is hoped that the impressions Trevor wished to convey have been faithfully preserved.

This is Trevor Duncan's own story.

Born 1924 [the exact date was 27 February 1924]. Joined BBC straight from school in 1941 as Junior Programme Engineer, also called Studio Manager. JPEs played records (like seawash, thunder, engines etc and did 'spot' effects like door opening, telephone handset noises, horses hooves).

Did sound FX [effects] on ITMA (from Bangor, North Wales), Merry-go-round, Much Binding In The Marsh and others from BBC Studios in Lower Regent Street, London. Also worked below ground at 200 Oxford Street for the BBC Imperial Service. When playing Lili Bolero I never knew that it was followed by coded messages to the resistance workers in France.

1943: Joined the Royal Air Force as wireless operator, air crew. ITW (Initial Training Wing) then sent to No. 4 Radio School (Madely). Learned morse [code], and elementary servicing of 1154 and 1155 transmitter and receiver. First flying communication in D.H. Dominies, trying to hear signals through all the mush, and practising D.F. [direction finding] with loop aerials, taking turns with a few other students at the receiver.

In June/July did a gunnery course at No. 8 Gunnery School, Evanton near Inverness in Ansons.

August 1944: OAFU in Ansons WT cross country.

November: 81 OTU (Operational Training Unit) – map reading, cross country low flying, formatting in Whiteleys.

December: circuits and landings, glider lifts (Horsas).

1945 – February: Stirling IV. Heavy Conversion Unit. Crewed up, Circuits and landings. Day and night cross-country flying (find Rockall!).

March: ORTU. Glider flights, exercises cross-country and sea, and some operations including towing Horsas over the Rhine (Operation Varsity 24.3.45).

April: 196 Squadron, B Flight, Shepherds Grove. Glider lifts cross-country. Transporting prisoners, petrol, etc.

May: Transporting troops, prisoners, petrol to Norway.

June: Group exercises with gliders. Ferrying Stirlings to Maghdaberry (Ireland).

July: Transporting petrol to Norway.

August & September: Transporting Czechs from Prague, men, women and children. RAF personnel from Copenhagen.

October: To India 1588 Heavy Freight Flight. In Stirling V (IV converted to civil transport).

1946: St Mawgan, Castilo Benito, Lydda, Shaibah, Karachi, Santa Cruz. Flew back to England and to India a few times. Based at Santa Cruz, near Bombay, India. Moved freight all around Middle East, Madras, Calcutta (Dum Dum), Pegu (Burma), Butterworth (Malaya), Phapham, Bamrauli, Chakeri, Palan, Delhi, Allahabad, Kollang, Mingaladon, Hmawbi, Mauripur.

20 May 1946 Stirling V withdrawn (the Dakota was more efficient).

June: Posted to Dum Dum airfield (Calcutta). Did ground jobs. Receiving signals – mostly for met. Mapping, also worked on 'approach control' – ETAs and number of dinners required, etc. Later did signal briefing for aircraft crews, radio beacon information etc…

1947: Demobbed. Came home by ship on the Arundel Castle with large bunch of bananas.

Rejoined the BBC.

There was an examination waiting. To the amazement (and probably annoyance) of my colleagues, I took it right away.

It was a test of everything I knew and had learned from curiosity; and was indeed what every balance engineer should know.

Musical instruments and their transpositions, acoustics (frequencies, absorbtion, echo and reverberation). Simple circuits such as oscillators and rectification, microphones, loudspeakers etc.

I took the exam, passed and was put straight away on to balance and control of orchestras – Light Music Department.

This was when I first met Ernest Tomlinson! I balanced all those lovely little bands for which Ernest arranged Leroy Anderson's compositions.

[At this point Trevor jumps ahead to 1954, but we know from other sources that he continued to work as a balance engineer at the BBC during this period. He has credited Ray Martin as being the conductor who encouraged him to compose, resulting in his first big success High Heels as the 1950s dawned.]

1954: I applied for the job of music producer in the Variety Department. I got the job because I didn't really want it! I loved the balancing job... I loved it very much, but the salary and status of producer was higher. I had begun composing and had a few pieces published. The future looked promising, so I resigned. I shall never forget the reaction of my boss Jim Davidson. He was horrified! 'What are you going to do?'

Compose.'

But it's hell outside.'

He did not know about my work, but 'Trevor Duncan' was already marked as 'staff' and his compositions were being denied performances on the radio, so I went.

Editor: no doubt 'Treb' was planning to embellish these notes before publication, and it would have been nice to learn more about the years between 1947 and 1954 since they were so important in establishing his credentials as a leading composer of production music. I hope readers with knowledge that I lack will forgive any spelling mistakes in the list of places that Trevor visited during his RAF service.

This article first appeared in 'Journal Into Melody' issue 188, June 2011

Submit to Facebook

When you appreciate a composer’s work, it is always disappointing to discover that your admiration is not always shared by members of his or her family.

There have been many instances in recent years where we have been contacted by grandchildren (and even a great-grandchild in one case) who suddenly discovered that they had a famous ancestor in music circles. Quite why their parents hadn’t told them often remains a mystery.

Happily this is not the case with David Rose, one of the greatest Light Music composers and conductors of the last century. We were delighted to learn recently that celebrations are planned throughout his centenary year, and the following information has been kindly supplied to us by Barry Smith, of SWPR Group, Studio City, California.

In honour of the late David Rose’s 100th birthday on June 15, 2010, David Rose Publishing Company has launched a year-long salute to the award-winning composer and his works.

This centennial year will focus on a variety of projects, including the recording of a series of previously unexploited works, the first-time release of new tracks of Rose’s more popular themes and the continued promotion of his works for licensing and performances.

While the music of David Rose was created decades ago, it remains popular today in film and television and with orchestras of all sizes.

"Even 20 years after my father passed away, it’s great that his music is still requested and performed. We are regularly licensing his music and renting his scores," says Angela Rose White, chief operating officer of David Rose Publishing, and daughter of David Rose. "As part of his Centennial celebration, it’s also really exciting to take his music into the digital age. I think he would be thrilled that we are opening up his music to even more generations who can enjoy and be inspired by it."

Through digital distributor BFM Digital, David Rose Publishing’s year-long birthday celebration kicked off with the release of a new recreated master of Rose’s television theme "Little House on the Prairie" (1974). BFM also will distribute an EP digital release showcasing four separate tracks of Rose’s original television show theme "Highway to Heaven" (1984), including long and short instrumental versions and vocal recordings featuring lyrics by Hal David.

The centennial coincides with the first commercial recording of Rose’s composition "Le Papillon," written in 1980 especially for the expertise of one of the most widely heard classical flutists, Louise DiTullio. She has performed the piece live on very limited occasions during the past 30 years, and has now recorded it for the first time as part of her new CD, "The Hollywood Flute of Louise DiTullio," released in 2010 by Cambria and distributed by Naxos.

According to White, plans during the Centennial year celebration include the promotion of the David Rose rental catalogue to orchestras Rose guest-conducted during his 60-year career, and those that have rented his scores over the last two decades. Additionally, the company is working with ASCAP to launch a tribute in recognition of Rose during his Centennial year celebration.

Rose (1910-1990) helped establish the golden age of American instrumental pop and few artists have managed to equal his output in terms of innovation, diversity and volume. Dubbed "The King of Strings," Rose created his signature employment of pizzicato strings and melodic octave doubling over block chords which is clearly audible in his most popular works.

Rose is best known for his massive hits "The Stripper" (1958) and "Holiday for Strings" (1942), the latter serving as the theme song for Red Skelton’s long-running television show. Rose had a lucrative 23-year association with Skelton, writing numerous leitmotifs of Skelton’s many characters, including the clip-clop theme for Freddy the Freeloader that Rose titled "Lovable Clown."

In addition to Skelton, Rose enjoyed a long-term relationship with Michael Landon, working on three of Landon’s popular television series ("Little House on the Prairie," "Father Murphy" and "Highway to Heaven") and two Landon films. Rose’s scores for "Bonanza," "Little House on the Prairie" and "The High Chaparral" series have been regarded as some of the finest in television history and serve as a benchmark for all contemporary Western themes.

Composing music until his death on August 23, 1990, the British-born composer recorded over 5,000 hours of music and 50 albums, scored 36 films and composed the background music and themes for 24 television shows. In addition, he received four Emmy Awards and nine nominations, three Grammy Award nominations and two Academy Award nominations, as well as one gold record, two bronze records and several recognitions of repeated performances from ASCAP. He was also honoured as one of the original 1500 on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and "Holiday for Strings" also was inducted into the NARAS Hall of Fame in 2004.

To this day, Rose's music is at the forefront of Hollywood's consciousness as evidenced by its most recent use in TV shows such as "Two and a Half Men" (2009), "Ugly Betty" (2010) and "Scrubs" (2003), and films such as "Hot Tub Time Machine" (2010) and "The Full Monty" (1997) and among countless others. His legacy lives on not only through his brilliant compositions, but also through his innovation in the field of sound recording as he pioneered the use of the echo chamber and 21 channel separation in orchestral recording.

The Robert Farnon Society was proud to count David Rose as one of its members towards the end of his life. Today his music continues to appear on new CDs, especially in the Guild "Golden Age of Light Music" series where the following recordings are currently available:

DAVID ROSE AND HIS ORCHESTRA

American In Paris, An (George Gershwin) (GLCD5120)
Bad And The Beautiful, The (Raksin) (GLCD5105)
Bewitched (From "Pal Joey") (Richard Rodgers / Lorenz Hart) (GLCD5123)
Bordeaux (David Rose) (GLCD5146)
Butterfly And The Alligator, The (David Rose) (GLCD5174)
Christmas Tree, The (David Rose) (GLCD5169)
Come Rain Or Come Shine (from the musical "St Louis Woman") (Harold Arlen) (GLCD5158)
Concerto (David Rose) + Don Ferris (Piano) (GLCD5173)
Dance Of Fury (Nacio Herb Brown) (GLCD5142)
Dance Of The Spanish Onion (David Rose) (GLCD5101)
Deserted City (David Rose) (GLCD5112)
Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead (from "The Wizard Of Oz") (Harold Arlen; E.Y. Harburg) (GLCD5174)
Falling In Love With Love (From "The Boys From Syracuse") (Richard Rodgers / Lorenz Hart) (GLCD5123)
Fiesta In Seville (David Rose) (GLCD5161)
Firebird Ballet : Dance Of The Princesses; Dance Of Kastchei; Berceuse & Finale (Stravinsky, arr. Rose) (GLCD5172)
Flying Horse, The (David Rose) (GLCD5114)
Holiday For Trombones (David Rose) (GLCD5154)
How High The Moon (Hamilton, Lewis) (GLCD5156)
Humoresque (Antonin Dvorak) (GLCD5171)
I Get A Kick Out Of You (From "Anything Goes") (Cole Porter) (GLCD5127)
I’ll Take Romance (Ben Oakland / Oscar Hammerstein II) (GLCD5170)
Intermezzo From "Escape To Happiness" (Souvenir de Vienne) (Provost) (GLCD5124)
It’s Only A Paper Moon (from the film "Take A Chance" 1933) (Harold Arlen) (GLCD5152)
Last Night When We Were Young (Harold Arlen) (GLCD5133)
Laura (From the film "Laura") (Johnny Mercer / David Raksin) (GLCD5114)
Liza (I & G Gershwin / Kahn) (GLCD5103)
Majorca (David Rose) (GLCD5165)
Manhattan Square Dance (David Rose) (GLCD5102)
March Of The Pretzels (David Rose) (GLCD5162)
Moon Of Manakoora (Alfred Newman / Frank Loesser) (GLCD5151)
October Mist (Fiorito / Webster) (GLCD5145)
One Love (David Rose) (GLCD5136)
Pam Pam (David Rose) (GLCD5177)
Peppertree Lane (from "Hollywood Bowl Suite") (David Rose) (GLCD5174)
Roman Holiday (David Rose) (GLCD5161)
Satan And The Polar Bear (David Rose) (GLCD5105)
Stars Shine In Your Eyes (from "La Strada") (Nino Rota) (GLCD5160)
Sweet Sue (Will Harris / Victor Young) (GLCD5133)
That Old Black Magic (Harold Arlen) (GLCD5119)
Waltz Of The Bubbles (David Rose) (GLCD5103)
What’s Good About Goodbye? (From the film "Casbah") (Leo Robin / Harold Arlen) (GLCD5114)
Why Do You Pass Me By (Hess / Misraki / Carter) (GLCD5155)
Why Was I Born (Jerome Kern) (GLCD5148)

MANTOVANI AND HIS ORCHESTRA
Dance of the Spanish Onion (David Rose) (GLCD5139)

MORTON GOULD AND HIS ORCHESTRA
Holiday For Strings (David Rose) (GLCD5120)

VICTOR YOUNG AND HIS ORCHESTRA
My Dog Has Fleas (David Rose) (GLCD5143)

CHARLES WILLIAMS AND HIS CONCERT ORCHESTRA
Parade of the Clowns ((David Rose) (GLCD5104)

PHILIP GREEN AND HIS ORCHESTRA
Stringopation (David Rose) (GLCD5135)

DAVID ROSE AND HIS ORCHESTRA on Vocalion
Autumn Leaves; Music from "Gigi" (Vocalion CDNJT5206)

This feature originally appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’, December 2010

Submit to Facebook

JOHN WILSON’s RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN PROM CONCERT IN 2010
Special Reports by Hamish Maclean and Tony Clayden

This was another resounding success for the John Wilson Orchestra.

The Prom was given to commemorate the death of Oscar Hammerstein 11 who died 50 years ago on the 23rd August 1960. London’s Royal Albert Hall was absolutely packed and to give you an idea how difficult it was to get tickets I went on the website just after 8:00am when booking opened, and I was in a queue of just under 4,000. I cannot say whether they were all after the Rodgers and Hammerstein Prom, but when I finally got through all I was offered was the quite poor seats in the upper circle. I have since heard all seats were sold by 12:00pm

Last year it was MGM; this year it was the turn of 20th Century Fox who produced nearly all the Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals for the silver screen – in many cases the huge screen of the Todd-AO process using 70 mm film.

The spotlight was firmly on the 20th Century Fox Music Department and their director, the legendary Alfred Newman. Apart from ‘Oklahoma’ and ‘The Sound of Music’ the musical scores were adapted by him and a team of brilliant orchestrators – Edward B. Powell, Gus Levene, Pete King, Herbert Spencer and Bernard Mayers.

‘Oklahoma’ was adapted by another legendary figure, Robert Russell Bennett who wrote the original orchestrations for the Broadway pit orchestra and then was asked to expand them for a full Symphony Orchestra for the 1955 film. For ‘The Sound of Music’ Irwin Kostal wrote brand new arrangements, with the approval of Richard Rodgers, for the 1965 film directed by Robert Wise.

The Prom started with selections from ‘Oklahoma’ and concluded with the ‘The Sound of Music’. In between we had further selections from ‘Carousel’, ‘South Pacific’, ‘The King and I’ and ‘Flower Drum Song’.

The superb singers were Kim Criswell, Anna-Jane Casey, Sierra Boggess, Julian Ovenden and Rod Gilfry who all gave outstanding performances.

A special mention must be made of the Maida Vale Singers. They provided excellent soloists for June is Bustin’ Out All Over, I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Outa My Hair, There is Nothing Like a Dame and Grant Avenue and their choral singing in Bali Ha’I and The Sound of Music’ was out of this world.

What can I say about the John Wilson Orchestra? Superlatives fail me but I am pretty sure of one thing: this Orchestra must be amongst - if not the best - in the world at playing this type of music. A friend who was with me at the concert could not believe the commitment they had to give of their very best - a point picked up by several press reviewers who commented several major international orchestras this season have failed to muster half the energy and commitment John drew from his players. The strings at one point I thought were going to take off along with the woodwind and the Big Band break in Grant Avenue made my hair stand on end.

The concert took place on Sunday afternoon, 22 August 2010 and it was broadcast ‘live’ on BBC Radio 3. For the TV transmission the following Saturday evening the BBC cut two wonderful songs from the programme – This Nearly Was Mine from ‘South Pacific’ and You Are Beautiful from ‘Flower Drum Song’ both sung by Rod Gilfry. I would be pretty furious if I was him, for he sung them beautifully and with such feeling. And why were they cut from the concert? Believe it or not they were removed to make way for another of the endless repeats of ‘Dad’s Army’. You couldn’t make it up.

The BBC should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves, but I do have suggestions to make that would go some way to making amends. Offer The John Wilson Orchestra and singers their own series on TV and Radio so that we could all hear a lot more from this world beating ensemble and PLEASE release a DVD of this Prom before the end of the year. OK!

 

Tony Clayden was also present in the Royal Albert Hall:

People are still talking enthusiastically about John Wilson’s 2009 Prom concert, (reputedly the most popular of the whole season!), when he presented a programme of music from the MGM musicals. Most of that material had to be painstakingly transcribed by John by listening to the film soundtracks.

After a great clamour, the BBC have finally bowed to public pressure and released a DVD of the concert, as reported in JIM 185.

It came as no surprise, therefore, that this year’s JW Prom concert was sold out within a couple of days of the tickets becoming available. My partner, Lyn, and I had ruled out any possibility of being there, but we had an amazing stroke of luck; Lyn won a prize in a local charity raffle! The prize in question was offered by a family who have a permanent box at the Royal Albert Hall, and we could select a concert of our choice - provided that the family didn’t wish to use their box on that particular day. The lady donor thought it was strange that we wanted to go to "an afternoon performance of Film Music", but yes, it was available and we ‘grabbed it with both hands’ before she changed her mind!

So it was that the afternoon of July 22nd found Lyn and I, together with David and Lillian Snell, and John Thompson, (who helps me set up the technical facilities at our London meetings), in a rather cramped box, bang in the middle of the hall, diametrically opposite the organ! The view of the orchestra was tremendous; the downside was that it became rather hot as the afternoon wore on. Still, we were much more fortunate than the poor Prommers who had to stand for a full two hours – there was no interval!

There was hardly an empty seat anywhere, (the only vacant spaces being a couple of unoccupied boxes), as John Wilson took to the podium, accompanied by a rousing cheer from the audience. This time, the programme was assembled mostly from scores which still exist – (these didn’t get binned, unlike the MGM music). The concert was planned to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the death of Oscar Hammerstein, and celebrated his partnership with Richard Rodgers, which lasted from the 1940s until Hammerstein died in 1960.

John’s aim was to present his favourite hits from the film versions of the R&H musicals; his hand-picked studio orchestra, led by Andrew Haveron, is modelled on the Hollywood Studio orchestras, which John considers to have employed the best players in the world. He chose the film - rather than the stage – versions, because he says they are more ‘opulent’ – some reviewers have commented that perhaps the sound is a bit too opulent!

The six shows featured were presented in chronological order.

The proceedings commenced with the Overture to Oklahoma! followed by Oh What A Beautiful Morning and People Will Say We’re In Love. This was then followed by three items from Carousel, which was reputedly R&H’s favourite. Following the famous Waltz, we were treated to If I Loved You and June is Bustin’ Out All Over and finally Soliloquy.

Next up were some numbers from South Pacific, which was 1958’s highest grossing film – it was also marked the first time that R&H became their own producers. The titles were I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair, Bali H’ai, There Is Nothing Like A Dame, Unspoken Thoughts and finally Some Enchanted Evening.

We then heard the Overture from The King And I. This show posed new challenges for R&H, because it was their first production containing no American characters.

The next two items were from Flower Drum Song and I believe that in this case John had to transcribe the music by ear, as the scores were not available. The 1961 film was totally overshadowed by West Side Story and this may be one of the reasons why it is much less well-known than its predecessors. The two numbers were I Enjoy Being A Girl and Grant Avenue.

The sixth and final selection was from their great enduring success, The Sound Of Music. The Main Title music segued into The Nuns’ Chorus and this was followed by two numbers which were written especially for the film version after Hammerstein’s death and for which Rodgers provided the lyrics – I Have Confidence In Me and I Must Have Done Something Good. The finale was Climb Ev’ry Mountain.

John then brought the proceedings to a rousing finish with his encore – the finale to Oklahoma!

The whole concert went extremely well, aided no doubt by the excellence of the solo performers, Sierra Boggess, Anna- Jane Casey, Julian Ovenden, Roger Gilfry and Kim Criswell, (although, in my opinion, was sometimes slightly outside her comfort zone). They were well supported by the Maida Vale Singers with some excellent ‘step-out’ soloists, including Sharon Eckman, who really deserves to be a full soloist in a concert of this kind.

Judging by the terrific response of the audience, and the many favourable comments overheard as we were leaving , this production was every bit as successful as the 2009 concert - I can do no better than quote from the Daily Telegraph, whose reporter described it as "An Enchanting Evening at the Proms with Rodgers and Hammerstein".

Let’s hope the BBC will be a little quicker off the mark this time and will release a DVD soon and let’s also hope that John Wilson will be asked back again for the 2011 Prom Season!

 

These reports originally appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’, December 2010

Submit to Facebook

THE ROBERT FARNON CD THAT NEVER WAS

By David Ades

On 30 & 31 October 1995, Robert Farnon was once again at the CTS Studios in Wembley, London, recording the orchestral backings for a new CD with the great American popular singer Eddie Fisher.

In a feature in JIM 125 (February 1996) it was hoped that this would be one of the most exciting new CD releases of standard repertoire that year. Eddie Fisher was reported to be full of eager anticipation for this project, which was expected to relaunch his career in a big way!

The JIM article continued: Eddie is now managed by Tino Barzie, who readers will recall recently guided the career of Pia Zadora, resulting in several superb albums which made sceptical critics eat their words.

It is hardly a similar situation with Eddie Fisher, who has been a big star for over 40 years. However he would probably agree that he has not exactly pushed himself to the forefront of the entertainment scene in recent years, but this new album is likely to do just that!

Vincent Falcone, previously Sinatra’s MD, is working closely with Eddie, and his great experience, plus Fisher’s undoubted talent, makes a combination hard to beat. Add Farnon’s brilliant scores, plus four swinging charts by Sammy Nestico, and you have a winning formula that can hardly fail.

Eddie Fisher was at the CTS Studios to listen in and guide the orchestral backings. As each score appeared on the music stands his enthusiasm grew, and the rich, warm Fisher tones could be heard soaring above the magnificent orchestra. The vocal tracks are being added in Los Angeles.

The basis of the Robert Farnon Orchestra this time is the London Philharmonic, leader Duncan Riddell ... 14 violins, 4 violas, 4 cellos, 2 French horns and harp. Added to that are the cream of London session players: Kenny Baker, Guy Barker, Steve Sidwell and Simon Gardner on trumpets; Don Lusher, Gordon Campbell, Bill Geldard, Mark Nightingale* and Cohn Sheen* on trombones; Roy Willox, Peter Hughes, Tommy Whittle, Duncan Lamont, Denis Walton* and Eddie Mordue* on saxes and woodwinds; Jim Lawless on percussion; Louis Stewart on guitar; Chris Lawrence on bass; and Jack Parnell on drums. Vincent Falcone was on electric piano. (*These players were not present on every session.)

The first three-hour session began at 2:30pm on Monday 30 October, and featured Robert Farnon conducting his arrangements of It Never Entered My Mind, April Showers, Oh my Papa and Love You Didn’t Do Right By Me. The evening session started with another run-through of Love You Didn’t Do Right By Me, followed by The Very Thought 0f You, My Shining Hour (this may well be the title track of the album), and My Funny Valentine. On the Tuesday afternoon Bob conducted My Foolish Heart, Love’s Been Good To Me and What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life? The rest of the Tuesday sessions were taken up with Vincent Falcone conducting the Sammy Nestico arrangements: Crazy On A Slow Boat to China, I Remember You and a medley comprising Wish You Were Here and Any Time.

……………………..

Fifteen years later we are still waiting for the CD to be issued. At the time we heard rumours that the producers were delaying its release until Eddie Fisher was available to undertake a tour of radio and television stations in the USA to promote the album, but it seems he was unwilling to commit to it.

Now that he has passed on (his obituary appears on page xx of this issue) is it possible that the CD may finally reach the record stores? It is well known that the death of an artist seems to result in an upsurge in interest of their work. The producers must have invested a lot of money in the original sessions – perhaps they may now be considering recouping it.

When he heard the test results (after Fisher’s vocals had been added in the USA) Robert Farnon confided to us that he was a little unhappy with the way in which some choral passages intruded on his original arrangements. Also it has to be said that Fisher’s voice had passed its prime.

The results could have damaged his reputation, which possibly was the real reason why these sessions produced "The CD That Never Was".

This article originally appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’, December 2010

Submit to Facebook

BBC ACKNOWLEDGES THAT IT HAS FAILED TO MAINTAIN ITS APPEAL TO MANY OLDER LISTENERS

Last February BBC Radio 2 was told to do more to appeal to older listeners - particularly over-65s.

In a major review of the station, the BBC Trust said Britain's biggest network should find a "more varied and challenging selection of programmes" - even if this meant losing some of its audience. The review, which began nine months earlier, said Radio 2 needed to be more "distinctive" and more ambitious in its "non-music" programmes in peak-time. The station targets over 35s with 82% of its audience within that age range with the average audience member of 50. But it said Radio 2 must do "more to target those over 65 years of age". The Trust concluded that Radio 2 was highly regarded by audiences but should use its scale to be more distinctive.

Other recommendations today included: Providing peak-time audiences with more content they could not hear elsewhere, refreshing comedy and arts programmes; Reaching more ethnic minority groups. BBC Trustee David Liddiment, who led the review, said: "Radio 2 has a large audience who clearly love its output, but the review showed it must break out of the routine with its programming, in particular to be more distinctive during peak time. We're aware of concerns about Radio 2 targeting a younger audience. The current average audience age of 50 is well within the station's target audience, but the Trust is clear that this must not fall any further, and we would like to see Radio 2 work on its appeal to over 65 year olds."

For years the Robert Farnon Society has criticised the music output of Radio 2. Although there are a few notable exceptions (such as "Friday Night Is Music Night" and shows presented by Russell Davies, David Jacobs and Desmond Carrington), the music played in most Radio 2 programmes can be heard elsewhere on countless radio stations, both local and national commercial. Older listeners who enjoy light music and the kind of repertoire generally classified as 'popular' (rather than 'pop') are poorly served. Even if a change of music policy results in Radio 2 losing some of its younger listeners, it could well find that the older generation will start listening in once again. Programmes appealing to more mature listeners should be broadcast during the daytime when they are at home to listen; it does not seem sensible to target daytime programmes towards a younger audience which is either at school or at work, as seems to be the case now.

First evidence of a possible change occurred in mid-April when Desmond Carrington’s weekly show was moved to 7:00 pm on Friday evenings, immediately before "Friday Night Is Music Night" which now occupies the 8:00 to 10:00pm slot. There is also talk of a ‘special’ in the summer bringing back "Legends of Light Music" – if this happens it will be announced on the Latest News page of the RFS website. This seems to be the best opportunity in years for those of us who would like to see a more enjoyable mix of music on Radio 2 to make our feelings clear. Every letter helps, and is more seriously considered than petitions by the powers-that-be.

BBC Trust publishes review of BBC Radio 2 and 6 Music

15 February 2010

A BBC Trust review published today concluded that Radio 2 was highly regarded by audiences but should use its scale to be more distinctive, while 6 Music was distinctive and well-liked by its listeners, but needed to reach a bigger audience.

The review looked at the performance of Radio 2 and 6 Music - including usage, quality, distinctiveness and value for money.

BBC Trustee David Liddiment, who led the review, said:

"Radio 2 has a large audience who clearly love its output, but the review showed it must break out of the routine with its programming, in particular to be more distinctive during peak time. In contrast, 6 Music has a distinctive approach, but the review concluded that it needed to grow its audience base without losing its USP.

"We're aware of concerns about Radio 2 targeting a younger audience. The current average audience age of 50 is well within the station's target audience, but the Trust is clear that this must not fall any further, and we would like to see Radio 2 work on its appeal to over 65 year olds."

Key findings and recommendations

Radio 2

The Trust's review found that Radio 2 was popular with listeners, who believed the station was distinctive - eight out of ten felt that Radio 2 offered something that could not be easily found elsewhere. This finding was supported by analysis of Radio 2's output which found that, in a typical week, most tracks played were unique to the station. The Trust's review welcomed the lack of music overlap between Radio 2, Radio 1, 6 Music, and comparable commercial radio stations. It concluded, however, that the station should become more distinctive by adopting a more ambitious approach to non-music content in peak time.

Radio 2's remit is to appeal to all ages over 35. Its under 35 audience has grown significantly over the last 10 years, albeit from a low base, but since 2004 this growth has stabilised. Today some 82 per cent of Radio 2's listeners are over 35, and the average audience age is 50. The review concluded that Radio 2 should maintain this stability but also protect the interests of its older audiences - specifically doing more to target those over 65 years of age.

Radio 2's listeners are loyal to the station, with nearly five million listening to no other BBC radio, and around two million listening to no other radio at all. The review concluded that Radio 2 should use this scale and popularity to make a greater contribution to the BBC's public purposes. The review's key recommendations were as follows:

    • Radio 2 should provide the peak time audience with more content that the licence fee payer couldn't hear anywhere else. This meant, for example, refreshing comedy and arts programming and using some of this material in peak time

    • As an entertainment station, Radio 2 should aim to preserve the aspects of the station which made it popular but we accept the risk that some loss of audience may be a consequence of a more varied and challenging selection of programmes

    • It should also seek to address variances in reach between audience groups - for example the Trust's research showed that ethnic minorities in particular were less likely to listen

    • The station should seek to promote the benefits of new technology so that hard to reach groups, such as the over 65s, did not get left behind.

Submit to Facebook
Gene Lees
Gene Lees

Gene Lees, Jazz Critic and Great Supporter of Robert Farnon, has died aged 82

Eugene Frederick John Lees, born on 8 February 1928, in Hamilton, Ontario, the eldest of four children of an expatriate British couple, Harold Lees and the former Dorothy Flatman. He died at his home in Ojai, California on 22 April 2010, After dropping out of the Ontario College of Art, he worked as a newspaper reporter in Canada before moving to Kentucky to become music editor of The Louisville Times in 1955. He was the editor of Downbeat magazine from 1959 to 1961 and went on to write about music for The New York Times and other publications.

Gene Lees was a prolific jazz critic and historian who approached his subject with a journalist’s rigour and an insider’s understanding. The author of numerous books, Gene was not just an observer of the music scene, he was also a participant. The Robert Farnon Society was proud to count him as a valued member for almost fifty years, and he regularly kept in touch with news of his latest assignments.

He was also an accomplished lyricist whose credits included Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars, the English-language lyric for Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Corcovado, which was recorded by Frank Sinatra, Astrud Gilberto and many others. He was also a vocalist, with several albums to his credit.

That experience, and the friendships he built over the years with musicians, singers and songwriters, informed the project that had been his primary focus since 1981: publishing (monthly at first, later at irregular intervals) the subscription-only Gene Lees Jazzletter, mostly as an outlet for his own biographical and historical essays.

"The beauty of this thing," Gene said of his journal in an interview in The New York Times in 1987, "is that it has permitted me to write what I want to write, not what editors want me to write. And the beauty of it for the other contributors is that they’ve got total freedom. No money, but total freedom."

The Jazzletter, published out of his own home, carried no advertising, and its circulation was small, although it included readers whose names any jazz fan would recognize. He initially financed it with income from his book "The Modern Rhyming Dictionary" (Cherry Lane, 1981), and his book and songwriting income helped keep it going. It was reported after his death that his wife of 38 years, the former Janet Suttle, planned to continue publishing it.

Gene was steadfast in his contempt for rock music, calling it "junk" produced by "illiterates."

Mr. Lees supported his strong opinions with strong research. At times that research took him far afield of his ostensible subject. The first chapter of another essay collection, "Singers and the Song" (Oxford, 1987), for example, was a history of the English language from the 10th century to the present.

In addition to seven collections of Jazzletter essays, Mr. Lees’s books include biographies of Woody Herman, Oscar Peterson, Johnny Mercer and the songwriting team Lerner and Loewe. He was also a co-writer of the composer Henry Mancini‘s autobiography and author of two novels. At the time of his death he was working on a biography of Artie Shaw.

Editor: while Gene was editing the US ‘Downbeat’ magazine, in 1961 he published an article on Bob Farnon which caused quite a stir. I make no excuse for repeating it once more, partly for the benefit of newer RFS members, but also to remind us all of the importance of Robert Farnon in the development of decent popular music during the second half of the last century.

Afterthoughts – by Gene Lees

From Downbeat Magazine, 16 February 1961

This issue is more or less devoted to arrangers and composers, particularly Gil Evans.

Evans, you'll note, was born in Toronto, Canada.

Now it happens that Toronto produced another remarkable arranger and composer about the same time, a man named Robert Farnon. Evans left Canada (during his late adolescence) for the United States; Farnon went to England. (Famous two brothers, Dennis and Bryan, came to the U.S. Bryan is now a television music director and Dennis is a well-known west coast arranger.)

If you're a hippie, you've probably never heard of Farnon. He's not the type that the esotericists write about; probably they don't even deign to listen to him. But if your tastes are not insular, and you have any insight at all into the art of orchestration, chances are very good that you're a member of that small group of devotees that I've dubbed the Robert Farnon Irregulars. For they are certainly as zealous a breed as the members of the Baker Street Irregulars, those Arthur Conan Doyle fans who know the Sherlock Holmes novels inside out. Farnon Irregulars are that way about Farnon's charts.

I consider myself one of the ranking members of the group. Dizzy Gillespie, who is another Farnon wig remembers that Bob used to be "a hell of a trumpet player." (Farnon says he gave up trumpet after hearing Gillespie.) But I claim to outrank even Dizzy: when I was a kid, I used to listen to Farnon playing on an otherwise dismal broadcast from Toronto called The Happy Gang. So there, Birks!

André Previn is a Farnon fan, and once said he considered Farnon "the best living string writer." Barney Kessel in turn proudly claims to have introduced Previn to Farnon's music. Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, and Quincy Jones are Farnon fans. And arranger Marion Evans is not only a Farnon admirer, but has synthesized the Farnon sound better than anyone I've heard. In fact, there is a whole group of New York arrangers who are in love with Farnon's writing, and have been influenced by it. They constitute a special subchapter of the Irregulars, and are known as the Disciples. (They, in turn, refer to Farnon as "the Guv'nor.") I suspect, from listening to his charts, that Nelson Riddle is also a member of the Irregulars.

Chicago bassist Johnny Pate turned out to be a Farnon Irregular. I was very smug about having two Farnon EPs he didn't have - until I found he had three that I didn’t have. We're negotiating.

Al Cohn is a Farnon fan too and Donald Byrd just walked off with two miniature scores of Farnon compositions that I got from the Guv'nor's Own Hand in England a couple of years ago. (Note to Al; hit Byrd for them. Then I WANT THEM BACK!)

Farnon’s reputation in America rests largely on a series of mood music albums he did for English Decca, and some light classical originals, including Canadian Impressions. (Note to other Irregulars; that falling woodwind figure in Lake of the Woods is a simulation of the cry of a loon. And the angular lines in Alcan Highway are meant to be evocative of the Rockies of British Columbia.) All these albums were released in the U.S. by London, with four now available on the subsidiary Richmond label. I urge that you listen to them, particularly Canadian Impressions and Pictures in the Fire.

After you've listened to the "conventional" writing of Farnon for a while, you find that he is an incredibly subtle orchestrator with a rich imagination and superb skill with voicings. There's so much happening in his charts.

For an example, during a passage of fill in the bridge of a pop tone in one of the mood albums, Farnon leaps the orchestra up into another key, then modulates back gracefully to the original key with a lovely figure, leaving you a little breathless; it is as if you had just seen a gust of wind lift autumn leaves, swirl them around in a dancing vortex, and then let them tall gently to earth. And that’s just one bar of fill!

Farnon gave up writing music of that kind a couple of years ago. Having earned a good bit of money doing movie scores for both British and U.S. movies (he also scored a Broadway show, but didn't dig the gig and went back to England), he moved to Guernsey in the Channel Islands and is now writing strictly classical music. Efforts by several jazz musicians to get him to write albums for them has been fruitless - until now.

For in March of this year, Farnon Irregular Gillespie is going to Europe to record the Guv’nor’s nearly-completed Suite for Trumpet and Orchestra, probably with a German symphony orchestra. Farnon is writing it specially for Dizzy. At the same time, Oscar Peterson will record another Farnon work, with Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen integrated into the symphony orchestra. The two works are to be released by Verve on one LP.

Watch for this album. I hope it turns out to be all that Farnon and Peterson and Dizzy want it to be.

Then maybe the Farnon Irregulars will net a batch of new members.

Chords and Discords - Downbeat Magazine, 30 March, 1961

Fair Farnon Fanfare

Add another Farnon fan to your list. I think he is largely responsible for bringing the fresh air of enlightenment to the BBC in London during the late 1940s and early '50s. I thank you for informing me that Bob is appreciated by so many people in jazz. Ridgewood, N. J / Ron Eyre

Funny you should mention Bob Farnon. My girl and I are great English-movie goers, and in many a good picture there seeps through some good jazz band backing. Even the B English pictures have some fine charts. The vast majority have been by Farnon. I'm sorry to say that as a "Farnon Irregular" I've been quite irregular; I haven't a single LP. That will be corrected. Brooklyn, N. Y. / A. J. Smith

Footnote from Gene Lees: It's getting rather hard to be a Farnon Irregular. London Records has never recognized the value of the property they have in the Farnon discs, and they are hard to get. Several have been turned indifferently over to London's secondary line, Richmond, and no attempt has been made to make the public aware of their existence.

Editor: as RFS members will know, the special projects mentioned by Gene (especially with Dizzy Gillespie) never materialized, and happily for us Bob did not turn his back on composing and arranging light music in favour of ‘strictly classical music’.

Submit to Facebook

Twenty years ago "Journal Into Melody" celebrated its 100th issue – increased in size to 56 pages for the special occasion! The September 1990 issue was actually number 100, and in his editorial the Editor (guess who it was) wondered if we might reach issue 200 in 2015. It could actually happen in June 2014, but we won’t cross our bridges just yet.

Among the special features back in 1990 was a detailed report on the Robert Farnon sessions at CTS, Wembley, when Bob accompanied Eileen Farrell in the first of three CDs they made together. The album was called "This Time It’s Love" and it was released on Reference Recordings RR-42CD in 1991. The orchestral recordings took place at CTS on 30 April and 1 & 2 May 1990. Eileen sang with the orchestra on four of the tracks, but for the remainder her vocals were dubbed later back in the USA.

Twenty years on we are pleased to let you see many photos from the sessions, never previously included in JIM, together with the reports that appeared in our magazine:

EILEEN FARRELL & ROBERT FARNON

SPRING 1990 SESSIONS AT CTS WEMBLEY

The omens were good. Monday 30 April, according to the weather forecasters, was likely to be one of the warmest April days on record in England. It was. It also proved to be a day on which some of the finest Robert Farnon sounds ever were to he heard at the CTS Studios in Wembley.

Eileen Farrell
Eileen Farrell

After originally being scheduled for San Francisco, then switched to New York - the eagerly awaited Farnon sessions with Eileen Farrell finally transferred to London’s CTS Studios on 30 April and 1 & 2 May 1990. The results delighted every one concerned - performers, producers and privileged onlookers, including those members of the Robert Farnon Society who were able to get along to the Studios.

To kick-off our reports on the Wembley sessions, we’ll hear from our first man on the pitch ... VERNON ANDERSON:

On a beautiful late Spring morning I made my way to the CTS Studios, for what was to be my second visit there both to see and hear Robert Farnon in action before a large orchestra. Today he would be recording with Miss Eileen Farrell, well-known in the United States of America for her operatic singing, but more recently venturing into the realms of popular music with some fine recordings of a selection of favourite "standards" in the jazz idiom.

The day’s session was not due to begin until 1 pm, but I arrived early so that I could experience all the work that precedes an occasion such as this. This decision proved well worth the effort. I made myself known to the Receptionist, who just happened to be talking to Miss Farrell’s Production Manager for the sessions. I was greeted warmly and made to feel very much at home. Studio No. I was the venue for today, so I made my way downstairs to see how the preparations were going, drawn by the sound of some not unfamiliar phrases being worked out on a piano. On reaching the doorway I had quite a surprise. I recalled that on the occasion of my last visit in May 1986 the studio had been partitioned off into small compartments, each containing different sections of the orchestra. Now, all this had gone, so as to provide one large space. The orchestra’s chairs were set out in a large semi-circle facing towards the right-hand wall and centred on the conductor’s rostrum, which was a raised platform ensuring that all would see him and he could see everyone else. Suspended above were the microphones and lights, with some floor standing microphones suitably placed around, The rostrum also housed a control panel with an audio link to the main control room upstairs, whose large soundproofed tinted glass window overlooked the studio.

The recording engineers were busying themselves, monitoring the piano to get the right sound balance in audio link from the control room to the pianist, with various instructions and comments passing between them and these beautiful musical phrases rippling around the studio. I just stood and listened, trying to take it all in.

I made my way up to the control room and there was introduced to other members of the production team and the recording engineers. Lastly to Miss Farrell, who proved to be a delightfully down to earth lady, who proceeded to tell me about her journey over from the States the previous day, her hotel etc., but most of all how much she was looking forward to meeting and making this recording with Robert Farnon, a man whose music she much admired. I asked her what her favourite piece of Farnon music was and immediately she recalled the "On Target" album which Bob recorded with jazz pianist George Shearing. In particular she loved his rendition of "Song Bird", a piece composed by her accompanist Loonis McGlohon, the gentleman I had seen in the studio. He joined us in the control room and I was delighted to be introduced to him. A very modest man, quietly spoken, who was also much looking forward to working with Robert Farnon. He, too, was delighted with Bob’s arrangement of "Song Bird".

So with a sense of anticipation, we made our way down to the studio, Miss Farrell wanting to get the feel of the place and see where she was to be positioned, etc... The recording booth was immediately to the left as one entered the studio, with glass fronted partition, but open each side, complete with chair, music stand, headphones and microphone.

Eileen Farrell & RFS Secretary David Ades
Eileen Farrell & RFS Secretary David Ades

While all this was going on, I heard a familiar voice followed by first the feet and then the familiar figure of the man himself, as he came down the stairs to the studio. Robert Farnon greeted me warmly and asked whether David Ades had arrived. I assured him that David was on his way and I hoped he would be joining us for lunch. Bob asked if I would be writing an article on the sessions for the magazine, and I said I would. He was then introduced to Miss Farrell, who was immediately at ease with him, and they talked about the day’s programme. Then Bob met Mr. McGlohon. They discussed the schedule, which was to include another piece composed by him called "Everything I Love". Bob also met the recording engineers who discussed the layout and sound balance with him. Anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting Robert Farnon will know that he has this marvellous reassuring nature, is very unassuming and has a great sense of humour. These qualities revealed themselves as the day’s programme progressed. But it was now time for lunch, so I made my way upstairs to the restaurant on the second floor. This has a bar, and a long balcony with views west to the Conference Centre and beyond. The weather was fine, sunny and unusually hot for the time of year. I met Derek Boulton, Bob’s agent and manager, who generously treated me to a lunch. He asked me to join him at a table with Miss Farrell and Mr. McGiohon but I declined, saying that I thought Bob would want to discuss arrangements with them, so I sat at a table adjacent to them and started my meal. Bob Farnon came over with his lunch and said "I don’t like to see you eating by yourself, mind if I join you?" That is typical of the man, and that gesture made my day. We were joined by Bob’s son David, who would be assisting in the production and also playing with the orchestra in several pieces. Altogether a very enjoyable meal.

The lunch over, we made our way first to the control room, where we were joined by David Ades and then to the studio where the musicians were assembling ready for the afternoon session.

In true Farnon fashion, the rehearsal began at 1 pm sharp, the first piece on the stands "My Romance" with Eileen Farrell ‘singing in’ with the music. A lovely arrangement by Bob, and what a joy to hear the full orchestra playing it live. David Ades and I were standing just inside the doorway adjacent to Eileen’s booth, catching every note and colour. The stuff that dreams are made of.

The second piece - "Alone Together’ by Arthur Schwartz opened with a trombone solo from top session musician (and bandleader in his own right) Don Lusher, with a reference at beginning and ending to Bob’s orchestral score on the "Something To Remember You By" album of the 1950s.

No. 3 - "More Than You Know" by Vincent Youmans. This time a vocal intro, with the verse played by orchestra and solo from Don Lusher. The closing bars made reference to Bob’s "Prairie Sunset" (also known as "Almost A Lullaby").

No. 4 - "Everything I Love" by Loonis McGlohon: a new piece, with an intro, by Bob reflecting "Something to remember ..." and closing with a reference to ‘Pictures In The Fire". A beautiful arrangement.

At 2:45 No. 5 - "My Foolish Heart" was on the stands, with the intro, reflecting Bob’s earlier orchestral arrangement and closing passage from "Lake Of The Woods" with flute solo, followed by

No. 6 - "The Nearness Of You" by Ray Noble. Bob made an orchestral recording of this one back in the 1950s and later with vocalists Ray Ellington and Sheila Southern. Today we were treated to a new arrangement of this ‘standard’ which was very beautiful.No. 7 - "Easy To Love" with a hint of Bob’s ‘Hits Of Sinatra’ album’s "Second

Time Around". An up-tempo number with the great Lenny Bush on rhythm bass and Martin Taylor on guitar.

The time 3:40 and No. 8 — "The More I See You" was on the music stands. A marvellous up-tempo arrangement by Bob which had Eileen Farrell swinging along, showing how well she can sing in the jazz idiom. I particularly enjoyed her phrasing on this one.

3:49 - and it was time to start recording. So with take 1 Bob swung the orchestra and Eileen into "The More I See You" again. I noted a particularly fine tenor solo from Tommy Whittle. By the time everyone was satisfied, it was time for tea in the restaurant, where David Ades and I were joined by Bob and son David. Bob seemed quite pleased with the way the sessions were going. There was even time to enjoy the afternoon sun on the balcony.

At 5:00 pm the sessions resumed with "My Romance’. The fourth take commencing at 5:30 was fine and, as the expression goes, ‘in the bag’. At this point I’ll hand over to David Ades to tell you about the remaining magical moments of the evening session. VERNON ANDERSON

Vernon’s report above graphically conveys the atmosphere at the studios, and the business-like way in which the sessions proceeded. My overwhelming impression of that first afternoon was the sheer joy of hearing that magnificent orchestra (all hand-picked session musicians) glide almost effortlessly through no less than eight stunning new Farnon arrangements within three short hours. There is very little I can add to Vernon’s comments, except to tell you that I detected Bob’s First Symphony briefly appearing in "The Nearness Of You"; he also used the same theme in his "New Horizons".

Although there were a few changes on the final day, on most numbers the orchestra comprised: 10 first violins (leader, Raymond Cohen); 8 second violins; 6 violas; 3 bass; 3 french horns; 2 trombones; 4 woodwind; harp; piano; bass and guitar.

Now to return to the evening session on the Monday. Following "My Romance", at 5:32 the orchestra played "Alone Together". Certain instrumentalists need their own headphones so that they can hear the singer, and ensure that their own solos or accompaniments fit in neatly with the rest of the orchestra. During this number certain problems arose in this respect for the harp, and Martin Taylor’s guitar passage at the end. But in typical Farnon fashion all such matters were quietly resolved with good humour, and by 6:00 the orchestra were ready for the next tea-break.

By 6:35 the orchestra were gently swinging "Easy To Love", much to everyone’s enjoyment. Bob suggested that they should up the tempo a little, which made the arrangement really sparkle. But while the increased tempo sounded fine from the orchestra, it didn’t really suit the singer; it was decided that this number should proceed at a more leisurely pace, and the final result was much to every one’s satisfaction.

Soon after 7:00 they went back to "Alone Together" because it was felt that they could still improve on earlier efforts. Not infrequently the crew think that a number sounds fine - until Bob declares that this and that were not quite right, and invariably he is proved correct. By 7:22 they were happier with the results, and Bob then turned his attention to the new Loonis McGlohon number "Everything I Love". Given the necessary exposure, this lovely melody could well become a modern standard. This performance was given added poignancy by the composer’s participation at the piano. By 8 pm everyone agreed that the long day had been a great success; in particular Eileen Farrell and her American companions seemed knocked out by Bob’s arrangements.

Loonis McGlohon & Robert Farnon
Loonis McGlohon & Robert Farnon

May Day dawned, with more temperature records being broken. Fortunately minor problems with the air conditioning were quickly corrected! And some new faces appeared at the studios. On the Monday, Frances Carder had looked in during the afternoon, and Tuesday saw the arrival of Beryl Antony, Don Furnell and Cab Smith joining the RFS ranks. Cab has reported on the remaining sessions for us (below) so I’ll close my own remarks with just a few observations. We were a little surprised at first on finding that the orchestra did not include any trumpets or percussion. Bob decided that they were not essential, and "Easy To Love" in particular illustrates that an orchestra can swing without them - at least, in Bob’s hands. On the technical side, the sound engineers used only a small part of the elaborate facilities available to them in the CTS Studios. Remember, these are the same studios where John Williams and many other leading film composers have recorded their soundtrack scores, needing state-of-the-art technology. But the experts at Reference Recordings like to use their own equipment, which even extends to employing different circuitry for CDs and vinyl, to match the differing requirements of digital and analogue sound. The intention was that Eileen Farrell would sing each number in the studio with the orchestra, rather than weeks or months later in a remote studio elsewhere. Unfortunately her booth caused relationship problems between herself and the orchestra which her headphones could not adequately remedy. It is likely that she will dub in a few of her vocals which did not satisfy her high standards. "My Foolish Heart" was one number where Eileen was particularly unhappy with the results being achieved. DAVID ADES

Now let’s read CAB SMITH’s impressions on his two days at Wembley:

Once again I had the great pleasure of attending another of Bob’s recording sessions, which took place at C.T.S. Wembley over three days from Monday 30 April - although we rounded off at 12:30 on the Wednesday.

The event was a series of popular songs from the past, sung by a charming lady from the States who sang with a most pleasing voice which came over most clearly on all of her songs. If I recall correctly, she sang in a similar style to Kate Smith, who I used to hear on some of her radio shows aired on A.F.N. in Germany back in the late l940s. Eileen did admit that she had been around singing after the war, so you can gather from that she has covered a great number of songs in her time.

Unfortunately I could not attend the Day 1 sessions, but I could not wait for Day 2 (Tuesday 1 May) to arrive. So after travelling for an hour and three-quarters, on a journey that usually takes about forty minutes, I finally made it - NOT the fault of my Lada, as some people may have thought!

I arrived at 10:15 am and made my may to the control room, where I was greeted by David and Don Furnell and, of course, the Guv’nor himself looking very well. It was also good to meet David Farnon again, who had his hands full keeping tabs on the cue sheets, etc... I just arrived as they were listening to the playback of a song from the 1930s "More Than You Know". It was originally featured in the film "Hit The Deck" with Jack Oakie, with a remake in 1955 by MGM. After three takes everyone seemed happy with the result, Then on to the next number "The Nearness Of You" by Ned Washington and Hoagy Carmichael, from the 1938 picture ‘Romance In The Dark". Again, this was very nicely sung.

 

David Farnon and Robert Farnon checking
David Farnon and Robert Farnon checking

The following piece was entirely new to me , "What Is There To Say" ... once more, a beautiful performance by Miss Farrell after three takes.

Song No. 4 "Love Panic", I must admit, was completely new to me as well. But again it was nicely put over by Eileen. Throughout the session, at times Don, David and myself would go down on the studio floor and sit at the rear of the orchestra. What a treat, being among the cream of the orchestral world Raymond Cohen, first violin; Don Lusher, trombone; Lennie Bush, bass; Roy Willox, Tommy Whittle, reeds; Martin Taylor, guitar; along with around 50 session personnel. This is where the real atmosphere of the orchestra was! And I mustn’t forget Bob, out in front conducting his wonderful arrangements which clearly appealed to the musicians on that enjoyable session.

Then the lunch break arrived, so most of us trooped off to the studio restaurant, to enjoy a first class meal, at their price!

Two o’clock arrived, and we returned to the control room to await the next ballad to be rehearsed. It was a number that became a big hit way back in 1949 "My Foolish Heart", composed bv Victor Young with words by Ned Washington. This took a little longer to rehearse, as by now Eileen Farrell’s voice was starting to get tired, so she decided to sing it again the following day. She tried out the next number on the schedule, which she seemed to handle better - "His Is The Music That Makes Me Dance". Eileen performed this with great feeling and after four takes this led us up to 4:55pm. Everyone seemed to be happy with what had taken place, so after our farewells to all concerned my next move was to head the Lada for home.

Wednesday 2 May: Day 3. I arrived a little late for the final session, and greeting me as I entered the control room was Bob’s arrangement of "The More I See You" with Eileen handling the lyric with ease. This number was written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren for the Billy Rose film "Diamond Horseshoe" starring Dick Haymes and Betty Grable in 1945. By 10:30 the song was in the can, as you might say, and then came a lovely ballad which Frank Sinatra used to sign off his radio show back in the 1940s. "Put Your Dreams Away", again very nicely put over, and after a few takes everyone was satisfied.

Break time came for twenty minutes, giving us a chance to check the weather outside which was still outstanding for the time of the year. Then back to the control room to hear another run-through of "My Foolish Heart", postponed from the previous day. After another take it was decided to record an orchestral track only, so that Eileen could add her voice later if she wished.

About 12:15 the session came to an end, For me it was a most enjoyable two days listening to a great lady of song, whose diction is so clear that every words of the lyrics comes through. As for today’s vocalists ... you often wonder just what they are singing! My thanks to Bob and David Farnon for letting us sit in at the sessions, and let’s not forget Bob’s manager Derek Boulton for helping to make it all possible.

An afterthought: looking through my ‘Hollywood Musicals’ book I see that, in 1955 MGM produced a film called "Interrupted Melody". It was the biography of Marjorie Lawrence, a well-known opera singer played on screen by Eleanor Parker co-starring Glen Ford. The entry states that Eileen Farrell dubbed the songs for Eleanor Parker, and from reports she was rated very highly for her valuable contribution towards the film’s success.

CAB SMITH

The photographs in this feature were taken on 1 May 1990.

Submit to Facebook
Page 57 of 65

Login Form RFS

Hi to post comments, please login, or create an account first.
We cannot be too careful with a world full of spammers. Apologies for the inconvenience caused.

Keep in Touch on Facebook!    

 If you have any comments or questions about the content of our website or Light Music in general, please join the Robert Farnon Society Facebook page.
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.