De Montfort Hall, Leicester – Friday 24th March 2017
Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Dodd
Presenter: Henry Kelly
It had been the best part of a year since I had booked my tickets for this event – one of two concerts in the ‘Philharmonia at the Movies’ series with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Dodd. The second was to be held two days later at The Anvil in Basingstoke. I had not seen a concert of John Barry music since the Nottingham event in February 2014 so was thoroughly looking forward to it. On that occasion Dodd had conducted the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and, upon examination, the set list here was exactly the same, though two tracks in the first half had been reversed. This said, each performance always has something new to offer with a different orchestra involved and Dodd’s conducting was as immaculate as the orchestra’s playing. Compère for the evening was TV and radio presenter, and good friend of Barry, Henry Kelly – who had interviewed him at length for an issue of Classic FM in October 2001.
‘Goldfinger’ (1964) opened the proceedings and I was thrilled from my front row seat on the balcony to be able to see the whole of the orchestra, concentrating on certain sections where relevant. The rousing main title from ‘Zulu’- also from 1964 - followed and I recall this being played at a slighter faster pace than the soundtrack version. The timpanist Adrian Bending looked so confident and professional. The third title was another Bond theme – a charming instrumental version of ‘We Have all the Time in the World’ from ‘O.H.M.S.S.’ (1969), always a favourite of mine in its instrumental form.
Kelly reminded us that both of Barry’s parents had died a year or two before the 1980 film ‘Somewhere in Time’ and that these events had influenced his writing of the score. Also, that its co-star Jane Seymour – another good friend of Barry’s – had recommended him for the score. It’s certainly a very moving piece of music, especially when heard in its concert form.
Kelly also explained that the following selection was not from a film, though it was originally written for one. Not withstanding that, ‘Moviola’ (1991) was well received by the audience. After all, it is such a majestic theme, from beginning to end, and made a fine title for the album on which it appeared in 1995.
I couldn’t wait for the next selection – one that’s been a favourite of mine since I heard it played live at his comeback concert in 1998. ‘The Persuaders!’ (1971) is still one of my all-time favourite TV themes and programmes. I looked for the musician playing the keyboards but couldn’t see him - but realised later that he was slightly hidden behind his piano. Another great performance by the orchestra and solo pianist Ben Dawson. Many of the audience appreciated and remembered this theme.
‘Mary Queen of Scots’ (1971) was next, followed by the charming ‘Midnight Cowboy’ (1969) theme with a nice harmonica solo by Philip Achille. Side one ended with the usual cues from the Oscar-winning ‘Dances With Wolves’ (1991) – Kelly described this as being in ‘four movements.’ ‘The John Dunbar Theme’ gave us another opportunity to hear the fine playing of the harmonica player.
Some 20-25 minutes later the orchestra leader appeared, followed by the conductor; and programme two began with another Oscar-winning theme – ‘Born Free’ (1966). This has always been a firm favourite at John Barry concerts and one of the most-recorded themes ever. Presenter Kelly failed to refer to the next title by its correct name ‘All Time High’ but Barry’s main theme from ‘Octopussy’ (1983) has also been a regular feature in recent John Barry concerts, despite it not being that well-known. I’ve always liked the arrangement that hasn’t changed since I first heard it played in concert. Though it hadn’t got the energy of the vocal by Rita Coolidge, it still sounds great in concert form.
It was Oscar time again with the main theme from ‘Out of Africa’ (1986); followed by another personal favourite of mine ‘Body Heat’, which I recall seeing three times when it first appeared in 1981. This tune always brings forth a gorgeous alto sax solo and Nick Moss did a fantastic job with a slight variation on previous versions I’d heard.
I don’t dislike ‘Chaplin’ (1992) – it’s a great piece of music - but I’d much prefer to hear another incidental cue from this film, which is laden with some great music. Kelly reminded the audience that this film score had been nominated for an Oscar – looking back it is sad to think that both this and Jerry Goldsmith’s score to the hugely-popular ‘Basic Instinct’ lost out to Alan Menken’s ‘Aladdin’.
Another ‘blast from the past’ – with the emphasis on ‘blast’ - was up next. This was another of my favourite pieces of music that couldn’t have been more fitting to the sequence it accompanied in ‘You Only Live Twice’ (1967). ‘Space March’ was immaculate, but the ending seems to have been toned down somewhat since Barry blasted us in 1998! You can’t have a Barry concert without this title.
Barry had conducted ‘The Knack’ (1965) at his concerts in the early 70s. It’s a great theme but it never really gets going and it’s over all too quickly – a bit like ‘Wednesday’s Child’, which, sadly, wasn’t on the agenda. To me, it lacks the great organ solo played on the soundtrack and film by the late Alan Haven. Nevertheless it’s a nice laid-back theme, giving the audience time to catch their breath after the rousing ‘Space March’.
Sadly, the concert was nearing a conclusion but, as always, the ‘James Bond Medley’ ended the proceedings. As Kelly explained, all the themes were from Connery’s Bond films except one and that explanation suited me fine. Dodd furiously conducted the orchestra, which was going full tilt right to the very end. Tremendous stuff.
It had been another immaculate performance from Nicholas Dodd and the Philharmonia Orchestra - no mention of ‘the other fella’ who played Bond or some guy who composed a certain Bond theme; and rapturous applause from the audience who had thoroughly enjoyed the evening. Only one thing remained – an encore – as always ‘The James Bond Theme’.
Thank you Nicholas Dodd for a great concert and for signing my flyer after the concert. Here’s to the next one – hopefully in Nottingham.
Zulu – Main Title
We Have All the Time in the World
Somewhere in Time
Mary, Queen of Scots
Dances with Wolves – Suite:
John Dunbar Theme / Journey to Fort Sedgewick / Two Socks-The Wolf Theme /
Farewell & Finale
Octopussy (All Time High)
Out of Africa
Space March (From ‘You Only Live Twice’)
James Bond Suite:
James Bond Theme / From Russia With Love / Thunderball / 007 /
You Only Live Twice / O.H.M.S.S. / Diamonds Are Forever
Encore: James Bond Theme
© Gareth Bramley – March 2017
CASCADES TO THE SEA
Analysed by Robert Walton
I first found the title Cascades to the Sea quite by chance while searching for information about Robert Farnon in K B Sandved’s superb 1954 encyclopedia “The World of Music”. It was then described as a tone poem. Also mentioned were Farnon’s first two symphonies, some études and several comedy symphonettes that at the time were all a complete mystery. However the aforementioned Cascades to the Sea (1944) from which came In a Calm, bears little resemblance to a later composition of the same name. In fact the two Cascades were composed more than half a century apart. The second completed in 1997 emerged as a piano concerto or to be exact, a tone poem concerto for piano and orchestra.
Before we take an in-depth look at Cascades to the Sea, allow me to provide you with Farnon’s description and inspiration for the work:
“The music begins at the spring above a mountain stream which makes its way downhill, gradually gathering in quantity and speed to the edge of a waterfall. From there it plunges down, giving the river its own rhythm and currents as it follows a route created millions of years ago. Carving its way through mountains, meadows, rapids and deltas, it finally arrives at the open sea joining forces with an outgoing tide, flowing to the tranquility of a distant horizon”.
So let’s make a closer examination of Cascades to the Sea. The opening spellbinding (“waiting for something to happen”) chord has Farnon’s DNA written all over it. Pianist Peter Breiner tickles the ivories with the harp and together they trace a tapestry of trickles in the treble from a subterranean source. Some solid brass chords reminiscent of Stan Kenton, quote the start of Debussy’s Nuages. Throughout the work, the piano’s constant presence never lets you forget who’s in charge. An oboe keeps things moving towards what sounds like the first chord of Laura.
Then after some exciting piano, from the depths of the earth the Farnon strings rise up majestically making their presence felt in no uncertain terms with all the controlled intensity they can muster. It’s a unique sound in music. For the first time in the work, Farnon has laid down his format. After more sparkling piano, the strings and brass again powerfully push upwards, supported by the horns. The piano plays a thrilling scale passage with a touch of classically trained Carmen Cavallaro. In fact right through Cascades to the Sea you’ll hear more showy embellishments in the Cavallaro manner.
Then suddenly the orchestra sounds an alarm warning the listener of possible trouble. Don’t worry, not a problem. I suspect we’ve just reached the edge of the waterfall. All part of the grand plan. Now it’s become calm again and displaying another facet in the Farnon firmament is the seductive flute. This is followed by the oboe accompanying the piano. The strings, horn and piano play a lovely joyous melody that we’re going to hear a lot more of.
After a distinct break, (mind the gap) the piano has a short solo passage. It’s all so beautifully pianistic but not surprising as Farnon’s ability for writing for any instrument is legendary, though this is the first time I’ve encountered such an extensive work of his for the keyboard. After two more pauses, the piano plays some Bach-ish runs. Just after the catchy tune receives its most prominent exposure from the orchestra, listen for a simply gorgeous symphonic moment. The soloist echoes some of Farnon’s early decorative devices before the composer with tongue in cheek deliberately cuts short some phrases. After all this activity we eventually arrive at a typically peaceful Farnon passage with the piano, strings and woodwind. It’s back to more Farnon tremors with a further quote from the now familiar melodic fragment followed by an exciting mix of brass and strings. The solo piano plays the merest suggestion of All the Way. Some Debussyian bell-like chords soon attract the attention of the strings.
Then the penultimate Farnon surge with brass, strings and an ominous oboe while the piano continues to exercise its authority. The orchestra very gradually builds up to an absolutely thrilling ending with a difference - more an afterthought really. With single notes, the piano gently leads you to a totally unexpected experience. It’s the last thing you’d expect at the end of a piano concerto - a violin solo! The most moving moment in the entire work. In Farnon’s world that means one thing - a sublime weepy affair. It succeeds admirably and depicts a consummate convergence with the sea, where fresh meets salt. Also it’s probably one of the longest codas ever heard in a Farnon composition.
From a lowly spring to the mighty ocean, we have completed our fourteen minute journey with our guide, the piano. I hope the various signposts along the way have been helpful in identifying approximately where you are in the music at any given moment.
When I first heard Cascades to the Sea I must admit I found the piano part a bit hard to assimilate, but now after repeated playings, I have completely changed my mind. It has grown on me so much that it is unquestionably one of Robert Farnon’s finest creations and one of the most unusual piano concertos in the repertoire.
Finally, I must congratulate the Slovak pianist Peter Breiner on his brilliant interpretation of a very demanding work. And equal praise must go to the composer’s son David, who did a magnificent job conducting the Bratislava Radio Symphony Orchestra and keeping the whole thing flowing. Cascades to the Sea deserves to be heard and performed much more!
Cascades to the Sea from
“The Wide World of Robert Farnon”
Vocalion (CDLK 4146) Also on Google.
Jan Stoeckart (November 1927 – January 2017) was a Dutch composer, conductor and radio producer, who often worked under various pseudonyms, including Willy Faust, Peter Milray, Julius Steffaro and Jack Trombey. Graduating from the Amsterdam Conservatory in 1950, he began his career as a trombone and double bass player, and as a music producer for various radio shows. He composed and arranged for Dutch films and brass bands, and worked with the Metropole Orchestra and the Dutch Promenade Orchestra.
In the early 1960s, the conductor Hugo de Groot introduced Stoeckart to the de Wolfe music publishing house in London, and he obtained a contract to compose library music for that company. He wrote in excess of 1200 works; his biggest success was with Eye Level, the theme tune to the British TV series Van der Valk in the early 1970s, penned under the name of Jack Trombey.
The piece became a big hit with viewers and record buyers, and the recording – made by the Simon Park Orchestra – reached no. 1 in the UK singles charts in 1973.
As Julius Steffaro, Stoeckart composed theme and music for the famous Dutch TV series "Floris", 1969, starring Rutger Hauer and directed by Paul Verhoeven.
A cold, wet, and windy Sunday February 26th saw a second concert of British Light Music performed by the Mark Fitz-Gerald Orchestra. The venue was once again the British Home and Hospital in Streatham, South-West London. The event followed-on from the success of the first concert in 2016, and was held in aid of funds for the Home.
The programme, which was devised – as before – by Ian Finn, included a number of well-known Light Music compositions, together with some lesser-known works.
After the introductory piece, Theatreland by Jack Strachey, (which has now become the orchestra’s signature tune !), we heard Robert Farnon’s Westminster Waltz, followed by The Three Bears – A Phantasy by ‘The Uncrowned King Of Light Music’, Eric Coates.
This work has an interesting history. Originally composed in 1926, Coates made a new recording for Decca in London’s Kingsway Hall in 1949, featuring a revision of the foxtrot section [sub-titled ‘The Three Bears make the best of it and return home in the best of humour’]. The brass accompaniment is re-scored to become ’jazzier’ than the original, complete with the use of swing rhythms. It appears that Coates approached Robert Farnon, saying ‘I can’t write jazz, would you mind rewriting this for me? ‘ Bob duly obliged, although he was un-credited on the record and Coates never mentioned his assistance; apparently, it was kept a secret between the two men for many years!
Mark Fitz-Gerald was anxious to use this revised version, and although several enquiries were made, no trace was found of the sheet music. Mark therefore resorted to listening to Coates’ recording and transcribing it for performance at this concert; he told me afterwards that he believes he has achieved a pretty accurate replication of Bob Farnon’s arrangement.
We were treated to two solo piano interludes by Stephen Dickinson, featuring compositions by Billy Mayerl. In the first of these, we heard the famous Marigold – and Autumn Crocus. Later on in the programme, Stephen played Shallow Waters and Evening Primrose. A very keen gardener, Mayerl named many of his compositions after plants and flowers!
The orchestra continued with a very interesting, although little-known, work by the London-born Herman Fink – ( he of In The Shadows fame) – entitled The Last Dance Of Summer ; this was followed by the March from Trevor Duncan’s Little Suite, very familiar due to its use as the signature tune for the television series Dr. Finlay’s Casebook.
Next-up was a composition by ‘our own’ Brian Reynolds – Elizabethan Tapestry, in a arrangement made for Brian by the late Cyril Watters. We were then treated to a lesser-known but lively composition by Derby-born Percy Eastman Fletcher, from his suite of Three Light Pieces, entitled Lubbly Lulu, after which the members of the audience were encouraged to join-in with singing the lyrics of John Bratton’s world-famous Teddy Bears’ Picnic – which they did, lustily!
From the set of Nell Gwyn Dances by Edward German we heard the Pastoral Dance, following which a member of the string section, the soprano Tessa Crilly, stepped forward for a lovely rendition of I Could Have Danced All Night from the musical show My Fair Lady, by Lerner and Lowe.
The next item was by a ‘local boy’ – Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, who spent much of his tragically short life in nearby Croydon. From his well-known Petite Suite de Concert, we heard Sonnet d’Amour.
Stephen Dickinson then joined the ensemble for a performance of Percy Grainger’s ‘clog dance’ Handel In The Strand. Although scored for full orchestra, the piece was notable for not including the double basses!
The final ‘billed’ item was another Eric Coates masterpiece – in fact probably one of his most famous and frequently-played tunes – the march Knightsbridge from his London Suite.
After a rousing response from the audience demanding an encore, Mark Fitz-Gerald and his orchestra brought the proceedings to their final conclusion with the well-known Jamaican Rhumba by the Australian composer Arthur Benjamin.
It was great to be present at this most enjoyable afternoon, presented by an such an enthusiastic musical director – and champion of Light Music – and his excellent orchestra, and it is hoped that they will return once again in 2018.
Very many thanks to Mark Fitz-Gerald, to Ian Finn, and to the British Home and Hospital at Streatham.
© Tony Clayden
Analysed by Robert Walton
For many years I have been meaning to analyse Walter Mourant’s Ecstasy but somehow I never got around to it. I can’t believe I left it so long, because it’s one of the few openings that made such a lasting impression.
The first time I heard it was in 1958 when I was an announcer in Whangarei, New Zealand, at 1XN Radio Northland. Those were the days before sealed airtight cubicles when there was an open window in the studio overlooking an attractive garden and heavily wooded hills. Very civilized! Incidentally four years before, sitting in that very same announcer’s chair was Corbet Woodall later to work for BBC Television in London as a newsreader. We were both learning the ropes of broadcasting on live radio. I met him only once in 1976 at his Marble Arch delicatessan in London.
The 78rpm Brunswick disc (05153) in question featured clarinetist Reginald Kell with Camarata’s Orchestra. As I placed it on the turntable and cued it ready to go on air, it was just another recording.
After a few seconds of introduction, mysterious high strings carried me off to another world. I was hooked. Harmonically it kept wandering off into Debussyian byways as well as quite a bit of diving down, but always returning to the home chord on a major 9 like Poinciana. And speaking of Poinciana, occasionally you’ll hear the David Rose string sound. Some of the chords reminded me of Tony Lowry’s Seascape. I wasn’t a bit surprised that Tutti Camarata was in charge as every aspect of the recording indicated quality.
Then taking over this meandering tune, Kell makes his first appearance with the orchestra and is soon joined by a violin, with which he produces an atonal moment. After going totally solo for a few bars, the clarinet is once more partnered by the orchestra. Note Kell’s distinctive vibrato for which he was famous. From here right until the end it’s the mournful clarinet of ‘roving’ Reginald playing the melody supported by those now familiar harmonies.
At this juncture it might help to give you a brief bio of the comparatively unknown American Walter Mourant (1911-1995) who began his career in jazz. One of his best-known works was Swing Low Sweet Clarinet performed by Woody Herman and Pete Fountain. Clearly Mourant loved writing for the clarinet. Also his chamber music and orchestral compositions are well worth Googling. Various assignments included arranging for the Raymond Scott Orchestra at CBS and composing a March of Time theme for NBC.
Ecstasy is that the somewhat dreary second half of the arrangement does not fulfill the initial promise of the ecstatic opening. In spite of that, I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand but still recommend you to give it a listen and enjoy.
By Robert Walton
During the 1990s while living in Bath, my wife and I regularly attended the winter series of symphony concerts at the Colston Hall in Bristol. We always sat in the same seats in the choir stalls behind the orchestra facing the conductor. To all intents and purposes we were part of the percussion. In fact a certain timpanist was constantly tuning up. We were so close we could follow the music on his stand. We saw many of the world’s famous orchestras and conductors. Some Russian and East European orchestras were clearly struggling financially because their music was obviously well worn, not to mention their threadbare dinner jackets, but it didn’t affect their performances in the slightest.
And talking of Russian music, a member of the audience who sat right up at the back behind us looked the image of Tchaikovsky! And he never missed a concert but I’m sure he had no idea he looked like the great composer.
Which brings me to the noted popular 20th century composer-arranger-conductor from Webster Groves, Missouri, Gordon Jenkins who certainly didn’t look like him. His music though clearly caught the essence of Tchaikovsky. Jenkins’ detractors often unkindly placed his name at the top of the schmaltz lists. He might have been a 20th century clone of Tchaikovsky but cleverly incorporated the Russian’s style into his own compositions and orchestrations in his own individual way. In fact he could be said to have kept romance alive and well.
Jenkins’ Green from “Tone Poems of Colour” conducted by Frank Sinatra was inspired by a poem of Norman Sickel, a one-time radio scriptwriter for Sinatra. This 1956 recording session with a symphonic- sized orchestra celebrated the opening of Capitol’s new pancake-shaped skyscraper in Los Angeles known as Capitol Records Tower.
At the opening and closing of this tone poem, some Jenkins one-finger piano was required, but the man himself wasn’t available. So Sinatra’s pianist Bill Miller brilliantly simulated Jenkins’ so-called hunt-and-peck piano style (like a hen searching for food, the finger creeps along the keyboard ready to ‘pounce’ on the next note). When sad strings enter I dare you not to be moved. This is followed by the heavenly oboe and flute. You may hardly notice the French horn playing a legato counter-melody but without its contribution it would seem incomplete.
When the strings get even more aroused, the emotion generated is conspicuously overwhelming by its presence. So moving in fact, it’s beyond words and tears! This is what music is all about. We have been elevated to a higher plain in much the same way as Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony does.In fact Green could be described as that work in miniature. The horn continues to decorate, adding its own special hue to the mix. The essential Jenkins has now come to life with this sublime songlike strain. I know Pyotr Ilyich would have approved. Listen out for a bit of Borodin (Stranger in Paradise)in slow motion borrowed from ”Prince Igor’s” Polovtsian Dances.
And with a definite pause, the second part of the melody doesn’t disappoint, continuing its dramatic journey downhill played by unison violins at the bottom of their range. We assume the orchestra is preparing itself for a big ending. “But no!” as Danny Kaye might have insisted. After numerous comings and goings with the said woodwind, strings and horn, stand by for two more thrilling string flourishes. The horn and flute finally bring Green to a gloriously peaceful close. But not quite. Bill Miller’s single note piano has the last say but not in its normal middle register. This time it’s uncharacteristically higher than usual.
If you’ve never heard any Tchaikovsky or indeed the 6th Symphony (ThePathétique) I can’t recommend Green highly enough as the perfect Tchaikovsky taster. If you like this, you’ll adore the real thing!
Green, originally from “Tone Poems of Colour”
Capitol (CDP 7 99647 2)
Also on “Scenic Grandeur” from Guild’s Golden Age of Light Music (GLCD 5145)
Columbia Light Symphony Orchestra conducted by
Charles Williams featuring Clive Richardson, piano.
Analysed by Robert Walton
It was in 1990 that Carlin Music asked me to write a “Theatrical Overture” for their library. On the day of the session, imagine my surprise when one of my idols of music Clive Richardson casually strolled into CTS studios at Wembley. I had already met him at a Robert Farnon Appreciation Society recital but this you can understand was something else. His contribution to the session were two new compositions of his called Shopping Around and Mantovani Strings. While he was very generous in praising my work, I was totally immersed in that famous ‘Richardson’ sound. For many years it had been my intention to analyse his London Fantasia for JIM. So why not now?
Richard Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto was undoubtedly the first of its kind and proved to be the most popular of the genre, but I have always maintained the Richardson composition deserved far more recognition because of its highly descriptive musical narrative. It was originally called The Coventry Concerto but the more he worked on the score, Richardson felt London Fantasia was a more appropriate title. In essence it’s a nine minute microcosm of WW2.
An instant attention grabber, the opening section of timpani, brass and strings immediately creates a threatening and uneasy atmosphere, reminding one of the evils and pointlessness of war. But suddenly the music becomes becalmed by a radiant string tune perhaps looking back to those halcyon days of a once peaceful prewar period. Maybe we hoped there was still an outside chance of averting conflict.
But that was all swept away by the first sound of the ‘boots on the ground’ of young men marching off to unknown destinations to fight for King and country. Note a single sustained string note continues right through from the tranquil tune into this dramatic sector. Then a troop-carrying train is brought into the picture. And yet again that calming optimistic tune reappears to even greater effect. After a suggestion of Londoners at work and children at play, there’s a touch of Carriage And Pair from which emerges the bells of old London. Conductor Charles Williams would have related to that, as there was a lot of ‘London’ in his music.
And then something absolutely magical happens - the music slows right down to a virtual standstill, creating one of the most moving moments in music. The piano enters with two lots of nine gentle chords. Never have minor chords sounded so effective. The simplicity after all the drama is mesmerizing. It may not seem obvious but the piece has finally come to life baring its soul.
After a definite break, the strings lead in to Richardson’s glorious theme played by the solo piano supported by a cello, later joined by the rest of the orchestra. Notice his fondness for triplets in the tune like David Rose. Twice the oboe is at the forefront of building up the momentum as we head towards a cadenza or flourish, featuring the frantic fingers of Richardson, demonstrating his dazzling technique and particularly sensitive touch. His use of single notes is far more powerful than any complicated writing. Back briefly to the theme before some more piano pyrotechnics.
Then, as children in the far off Empire, the moment we all used to wait for was an air raid siren brilliantly imitated by the strings, warning that heavy bombers were approaching. The Battle of Britain had begun. Richardson throws everything he can orchestrally at this musical canvas with particular emphasis on the percussion. He didn’t forget the rescue services either rushing along with their bells to where they were needed. Eventually the all-clear sounds, and life returns to some sort of normality.
So what does Richardson do after that first raid? He calls upon the services of the instrument that has the range and capacity to provide a complete coverage of emotions, the violin. Great sadness descends across the nation, echoed from the darkest depths of the violin’s recesses. As it heads to the heights for the brighter top of its range, a major chord expresses a message of peace and hope for the future, now in tandem with the piano.
London Fantasia, Richardson’s magnum opus, gradually builds up to one of the most thrilling endings of any composition for piano and orchestra I know. If ever a piece told its own story then this is it. A tale of courage, endurance and above all humanity. No other composer has written a work of such power, originality and eloquence about such a momentous event. The general public thought so too in their millions.
Finally, with all the excitement and pleasure of meeting Clive Richardson, I almost forgot to mention another musician who happened to be playing on the Carlin session. My all-time favourite jazz drummer and long term member of the great Ted Heath Orchestra - Ronnie Verrell! My cup was overflowing that day!
“London Fantasia” available on Guild Light Music
“The Hall Of Fame” Volume 1 (GLCD 5120)
According to Robert Walton
Goose bumps, goose flesh, goose pimples, chill bumps or the medical term cutis anserina, are the swelling on the skin at the base of body hairs which may occur when a person is cold, scared or in awe of something. Basically it’s a rush of adrenalin. To be stimulated or overwhelmed is a very individual thing, depending of course what turns you on. It might be a structure, a view, a painting, a book, a person, a voice, or in my case, music.
The first time I ever experienced a serious attack of goose “bumples”, was when I was laid up with a far worse problem, a digestive disorder sometimes called the dreaded lurgy. But I completely forgot the pain when from my bedside radio I happened to hear the signature tune of New Zealand’s version of the BBC’s “Down Your Way” called “South Pacific Flight”. It was Robert Farnon’s Canadian impression Gateway to the West, once described as the thinking man’s Tara’s Theme from “Gone With The Wind”. It’s difficult to explain why Gateway to the West had such an effect on me but I suspect somewhere in my being was a dormant chemical reaction waiting to happen. I became totally absorbed in the music. In this completely random event, I was instantly caught up in its spell, and as a tsunami of emotion swept over me, it changed my life forever. A profusion of pimples broke out accompanied by an uncontrollable stream of tears. Who knows what triggers such reactions? Maybe it’s in the genes. In the case of Gateway to the West, it was the entire package of melody, harmony and orchestration. I guess it simply struck a chord! Trouble was, it took ages before I discovered the title and name of its composer. Once known, it opened the floodgates to Farnon’s music from which I never quite recovered. Strangely enough I had unknowingly heard his Jumping Bean that at the time meant absolutely nothing.
Not long after that memorable moment, another unexpected incident presented itself. I was on my own at a cinema when a trailer for the 195O film “Teresa” came up showing Pier Angeli in a corn field. Just the sight of her was enough to produce a similar reaction to Gateway to the West. It was her stunning natural beauty that caught my eye and left a permanent black and white imprint on my psyche.
It was in another movie “An American in Paris”, that I first heard the Gershwin composition that inspired the title. Just the opening, a revelation, was enough to send me into paroxysms of delight as the tune clashed with the bass line in a way that went right through me like an electric shock. It was a kind of pain caused by the dissonance.
Most sensible singers make it a practice to do a thorough sound and familiarization check before performing on stage, especially one that’s new to them. Vera Lynn was no exception and lucky enough to have the expertise of her fastidious husband Harry Lewis who always made sure that everything was just perfect. I was her pianist on a tour in the mid-1960s when the three of us entered the Stoke-on-Trent venue to give it the once over. As we walked in, the public address system was playing what I can only describe as “music from heaven”. I immediately went into a kind of trance. Vera and Harry couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about, but I was in another world transfixed to the spot. After making inquiries, the engineer in the control room informed me it was the title track of George Shearing’s album “Touch me Softly” - a Shearing arrangement. Near the end of the piece, the ravishing strings go into overdrive in what I call “tone apart” harmony. Let me explain. On the piano, the right hand plays the chord of say G, while an octave below, the left hand plays the chord of F. Play them together and the dissonance it creates is absolutely sublime, especially if you move them up and down in tones.
By then I thought I’d heard it all, but I had to wait another thirty years before the next big musical discovery. It was as a member of the City of Bath Bach Choir I discovered Mahler. Not just any old Mahler mind you, but his 2nd Symphony (“The Resurrection”). Back in the 1950s Mahler’s music was almost unheard of, but a jazz pianist friend of mine, Crombie Murdoch, was even then extolling the virtues of it. At the first rehearsal I sensed this was going to be one of the biggest weepies of my life. That was entirely confirmed when we performed the work with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra at Portsmouth, Bournemouth and the Royal Albert Hall. It might have been only the last ten minutes of the symphony but what an unforgettable ten minutes! These were some of music’s most moving moments with shades of Malotte’s Lord’s Prayer, itself probably inspired by Mahler. As it gradually builds, I became so overwhelmed with emotion I found it impossible to sing. The only way to participate was to become totally detached. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do!
I have read Bob Walton's article with interest, and although I have already left a comment, I indicated that I might wish to expand on it once having looked at the article in closer detail.
I gather from his comments that he gives the palm of outstanding song writing and quality songs to American song writers while on the other hand that of quality instrumental mood music composers to those in the UK.
I had indicated something along those lines in an article that was published in the JIM magazine several years ago, implying that relative strong points in the genre of light music received different respective emphasis in the USA and UK, although I was thinking of purely instrumental selections, citing the pre-eminence of outstanding arrangements of popular standards by American arrangers and a more advanced tradition of light music compositions within the UK. This is the common assumption, although in both cases, I would venture to say that the opposite is definitely true as well - put a little more directly, I would say that here in the USA we have our Leroy Anderson, Morton Gould, Camarata, David Rose, Victor Young and Percy Faith, etc., as regards original work, all figures whose work shows considerable individuality, while in the UK there are arrangements of popular standards by such men as Robert Farnon, Mantovani, George Melachrino, and Stanley Black which are viable as well. Thus there is really no monopoly on either aspect of light music despite the fact that different emphasis has been applied in different areas in the two countries.
Now, as far as popular standards go; yes, many of these have certainly made their way in the sense that they have caught on with the general public who can unthinkingly sing or hum them, with or without the lyrics. Different people may have different preferences in this area as is always the case, but as far as what may be considered greater or rather more popular with a larger percent of the general public, exactly as in serious music, I like to think of this phenomenon as a certain greater versatility of contact. Please note that this does not take into account inherent quality which again comes from how a listener of some experience receives the song or selection in question.
It should be borne in mind that a song writer is a very different sort of musician from a serious composer or arranger. Very often, his work is totally dependent on a skilled arranger to make its way - something that those who unthinkingly sing or hum it to themselves might not be aware of. A song writer can be a musician of considerable substance, as was the case with the likes of Victor Herbert, Rudolf Friml and Sigmund Romberg (in the UK there are Eric Coates and Haydn Wood as examples), or they may be someone who simply hacks out melodies which are catchy in themselves but otherwise lacks basic musical skills - some of these, such as was Irving Berlin, do not even have the ability to read music. Still others, like Richard Rodgers, may fall somewhere between the two extremes but still whose work is best left to top notch arrangers. The point I am making here is that the two aspects in song writing - constructing a melody that immediately catches on with the public and the musicianship required in providing a suitable setting for these melodies are totally separate and do not necessarily go hand in hand together. This is something many of us tend to forget, and as a result are guilty of this sort of erroneous thinking.
The best example of this distinction that I can provide is with Richard Rodgers, who as I just stated, falls somewhere in between the extremes of substantial composer song writers and melody hacks. In the case of Rodgers, we can listen to the magnificent settings by such as Robert Russell Bennett, Andre Kostelanetz and Morton Gould, and later with Leroy Anderson, and contrast these with recordings made by Richard Rodgers himself performing some of his songs at the piano with an orchestra. This latter may be an interesting historical document, but from a musical standpoint, many who relish the well crafted arrangements by the figures I just named might be turned off by the excessive blandness of Rodgers' presentations, oftentimes bordering on insipidity.
As I stated above, UK composers of light music Eric Coates and Haydn Wood have notably written songs of their own, some of which have even caught on, although I couldn't say whether in the composers' own settings. In any event, I personally choose to deal with these two figures as full fledged composers of pieces of some substance of which they have shown their full capabilities.
"The Great British Mood Music Album" deals with composers who have contributed to the Chappell Library of Mood Music performed by the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra. Bob has mentioned a number of these composers whose contributions have considerable value, but I feel that other composers not forming a part of this group should be mentioned as offering works of equal substance and value, at least in my opinion.
Of those that came out of this Chappell group I have already mentioned Felton Rapley, one of my own personal favorites, and in this connection, Joyce Cochrane should also be mentioned, as one who was an actual composer of substance as well as a melodist.
Of those who did not work out of this group, we have Ronald Binge and Richard Addinsell, although I should also point out that both George Melachrino and Mantovani, far better known as conductors, were actually in addition composers whose work show considerable skill and insight. Ronald Hanmer (nee Bernard Landes) is another figure who deserves recognition along those lines, though not part of the Chappell group. Lesser lights might include figures such as Ray Martin and Malcolm Lockyer.
Bob's article I felt was well thought out and I found nothing whatever to criticize within it, but I felt that certain points made called for an expansion and further explanation of some of these points.
By Robert Walton
I don’t know when the expression “The Great American Songbook” was coined and by whom, but a more suitable name for that magical era from about 1920 to 1960 was long overdue. Will Friedwald and Michael Feinstein both use the phrase freely. Before it entered the language, those evergreens, mainly from Broadway shows and Hollywood musicals, were usually described as “standards”. This is the term for tried and tested songs of outstanding quality and originality that have earned their place over the years for their sheer staying power and have become established in the repertoire. But the word “standard” isn’t exactly the most descriptive of names.
On the other hand, “The Great American Songbook” somehow perfectly sums up the entire period. Certainly there’s no denying the best and the bulk of the songs were written by Americans, especially the Big 5 (Berlin, Gershwin, Kern, Porter, and Rodgers), so the term is spot on. Although these songs were first associated with singers, a large part of their continued fame is due to non-vocal versions. So without the bonus of instrumentals “The Great American Songbook” wouldn’t have reached such a wide audience. The word “songbook” suggests a massive imaginary tome of vocal compositions each one containing two main ingredients (words and music). But tunes by themselves can be just as potent. Even in an instrumental, the lyrics can be “sung” subconsciously, especially by older listeners without being aware they’re doing it. Younger people will hopefully enjoy the melodies for their own sake.
Andre Kostelanetz may have been one of the first conductor/arrangers to elevate these songs to a new level of symphonic treatment, but it was Paul Weston who invented the mood album concept in 1944 with “Music for Dreaming”, consisting of four 78s. Using the framework of a big band and a string section (a forerunner of the Farnon format), Weston’s arrangements appealed more to those who had enjoyed the swing era. In the process he, and others, gave “The Great American Songbook” more publicity than it could have dreamed of. In fact this constant exposure of standards also acted like a permanent reference point for anyone on the lookout for material.
On the other side of the Atlantic in the early part of WW2, another kind of mood music was stirring, that of the Chappell Recorded Music Library. But this was “pure” mood music designed specifically as background music for films, newsreels, documentaries, television and radio that also generated many memorable signature tunes. Because of public demand, a number of these were released commercially. This particular Golden Era of works by the finest composers, conductors and arrangers has never been equaled. A world away from the light music of the 1930s, these compositions were totally fresh and modern unlike anything heard before.
And the main men responsible for this event were two of Russian descent and a Canadian. The latter, the prodigious Robert Farnon, created a whole new genre of music with his unique melodic and harmonic style. The two other light orchestral composers were Sidney Torch who wrote many original cameos of extraordinary quality, and Charles Williams, another prolific writer who conducted the first recordings in 1942. And proving to be the perfect interpreters of these gems was the legendary Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra. Other talented writers from the same stable included Jack Beaver, Robert Busby, Bruce Campbell, Eric Coates, Frederic Curzon, Trevor Duncan, Vivian Ellis, Philip Green, Geoffrey Henman, Byron Lloyd, Angela Morley, Clive Richardson, Colin Smith, Len Stevens, Jack Strachey, Edward White, Haydn Wood and Peter Yorke.
Many other publishers, composers and orchestras contributed to this vast library of subjects, situations and emotions that lasted well into the 1960s. This twenty-five year phenomenon is unlikely ever to be repeated. Inspired by the title “The Great American Songbook”, this most exclusive and original back catalogue of highly specialized music has more than earned its place as “The Great British Mood Music Album!”