Originally, he learned to play trumpet, but this was to be abandoned at the age of 21, and he set out to learn keyboards, with the sole intention of learning orchestration. He was self taught in this art, and says he is happily, still learning.
His keyboard playing took him on strange adventures, and he spent some time playing with popular groups of the 1960's and 70's such as 'The Foundations' (Build me up Buttercup etc) and also as Musical Director for American hit band 'The Tymes' with lead singer George Williams. Greg later went on to play piano for around 3 years for British singer/impressionist Karen Kay - mother of Jamiriquoi singer Jason Kay.
In 1979 he moved to Germany and worked in various recording studios in Frankfurt, Hamburg and Dusseldorf, having whilst there, written some arrangements for Hessen Rundfunk Orchestra in Frankfurt. He returned late in 1980 and was immediately offered a job as arranger with London Orchestrations, arranging weekly popular tunes for big bands, and writing general 'dance band' arrangements. This led to an offer to become full time Staff Arranger for Mecca Organisation Ltd and for the next 6 years, he was based in the Oxford St London offices of Mecca, writing 3 arrangements a week for the 57 resident bands in the Mecca Dance Halls. During his time at Mecca, he began increasing his contribution to the Thames TV/Mecca 'Miss World' and 'Miss Uk' contests, writing arrangements for the 37 piece Miss World Orchestra which was directed by Phil Tate.
In 1981, he received a commission from the BBC Midland Radio Orchestra to write and conduct 20 arrangements, including 6 vocal arrangements to be sung by popular vocalist of the time, Geoff Taylor. It was at this point that he realised he was in dire need of conducting lessons and so, he went off to study under Leonard Davis, conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. This stood him in good stead for what was to come later. He went on over the succeeding years to arrange for, and conduct most of the BBC Orchestras - including the 84 piece BBC Radio Orchestra and the 'Strings of the Radio Orchestra'. He also transcribed, re-orchestrated and recorded over 300 tracks of Bert Kaempfert's music, with the BBC Langham Orchestra, for such popular shows as 'The Jimmy Young show' and 'The Ray Moore show'. He also arranged and recorded sessions for the BBC of 'Hooked on Classics' style music and famous Film themes with the 'Strings of the Radio Orchestra', and James Last style music with the BBC Radio 'Big Band'.
His worst nightmare he says, was a session of 'Songs from the Shows', which featured the full BBC orchestra, two singers, and 12 scores - which he did not see until half an hour before the recording, due to a mix up. He says 'many of the name conductors would not do this session - I was gullible at the time, and I didn't realise that better people than I had run out of the studio in tears '! However, despite the struggle through old scores which resembled the 'Dead Sea Scrolls', the session completed with just 20 seconds to spare !
During his 'time' at the BBC, Greg built up an enviable reputation for being able to write arrangements very quickly. In fact, they were usually last minute and written overnight.
In 1982, after a personal recommendation from a colleague, the British/German arranger/ composer Bernard Ebbinghouse, Greg received a further commission from the North German Radio Orchestra (NDR) to arrange film titles for the 84 piece Radio Orchestra in Hannover. This lead to more arranging work, initially arranging for NDR musical directors Alfred Hause (NDR Big Band) and Dieter Glawischnig (HRO) and eventually, to being asked to conduct his arrangements himself.
In 1983, he was approached by the head of music at Rediffusion, and commissioned to arrange and conduct 20 orchestral tracks a month. This was to include 5 original compositions each month, and it was an agreement which continued for the next 11 years. He composed in all, over 350 titles of original music - some of which was subsequently used by Thames Television, and he covered, arranging wise, almost every conceivable style of music.
By 1986 the BBC were disposing of their orchestras, and this lead to Greg deciding to form his own orchestra and perform a touring tribute to the great orchestras. This was to mostly centre around the music of German bandleader Bert Kaempfert who had died in 1980, and his (by then) colleague James Last, whom he had met and befriended during his work with the N.D.R. studio musicians in Hamburg. The orchestra performed on tour throughout the UK for the next 3 years, often working 4 or 5 nights a week, and providing much needed work for the redundant BBC musicians. Greg also performed the original tribute show to the music of Bert Kaempfert, with the help and encouragement of Bert's wife Hanne. This was to finish in 1989 when Hanne died, and the Kaempfert 'estate' took over. In the early 1990’s Greg recorded 70 instrumental covers of the music of James Last, for the German background music company Reditune-Thorsen.
In 1989, Greg was approached by (Lord) David Puttnam with regard to supplying an orchestra of young musicians to appear in his new movie 'Memphis Belle'. Greg also directed the orchestra himself on film, and so impressed was David Puttnam with the orchestra, that he asked them to perform at the Royal Premiere in London. This lead, with some encouragement from David Puttnam and Warner Films USA, to keeping the orchestra together, as a working memorial to the 8th AAF bands. Thus, the 'Memphis Belle Swing Orchestra' was born, and it continues to this day.
In 1995, Greg received a commission from Granada TV to do some arranging work for 'Stars in their Eyes'. He went on to accompany 2 of the participants in a touring show, featuring the music of Harry Connick Jr and Billie Holiday. He was also appointed as Musical Director and Arranger for the touring show of Stars in their Eyes compered by T.V. star Bradley Walsh.
In 1997, he received an urgent request from Hollywood film composer John Murphy (Lock Stock & 3 Barrels, Snatch etc) to orchestrate 4 full orchestra titles for a film recording. He transcribed the 4 'Sinatra' style tracks within 3 days, having re-scored them and copied the parts himself. His ability to turn around arrangements quickly, led to a plethora of work in Hollywood and the UK for Warner Bros and New Line Cinema. Greg continues to orchestrate film work, much of it recorded at the famous Parr St Studios in Liverpool. Greg was also asked to go to Hollywood urgently, to complete the music on a Jeff Goldblum film – whilst there, he got the once in a lifetime opportunity to play Trumpet and Fluegelhorn on the film.
Also in 1997, Greg seized the opportunity to re-form the old Squadronaires Orchestra. Following the death of bandleader Harry Bence, he contacted Mary Aldrich, wife of the famous original leader of the Squadronaires, Ronnie Aldrich. Mary was 100% behind Greg's idea to re-form the orchestra as a tribute to the RAF Dance band, and for all the young musicians to be dressed in full RAF uniform. The orchestra continues to perform to this day, under the direction of singer Mark Porter.
In 2001, Greg was invited to supply a range of bands managed by his company (Uk Music Productions Ltd) at the world famous Blackpool Tower Ballroom. By this time, Greg’s company owned and managed the 'Glenn Miller Tribute Orchestra' the 'New Squadronaires Orchestra' 'The Memphis Belle Swing Orchestra' and he had re-formed the 'Blackpool Tower Orchestra'. All of the bands were to play at the Blackpool Tower ballroom for the following 4 years - 7 nights a week in rotation. During 2003, Greg produced another orchestra, to specifically accompany a new show he had devised 'The Kings of Swing'. Thus was formed 'The Kings of Swing Orchestra'. The show comprised of 4 singers, including Lynn Kennedy who is well known for her interpretation of the 'swinging standards' recorded by Doris Day. The music was all in the style of the 'Rat Pack' era, and this lead Greg into his new project - transcribing and re-orchestrating the arrangements of Nelson Riddle, Billy May etc. Meantime, Greg had also written a programme of music for a 50 date tour of a show entitled 'Stephen Triffitt celebrates Sinatra' and had recorded an album with a 38 piece orchestra with strings.
Following the great success of the 'Kings of Swing' show, his next project was the 'Bobby Darin Songbook', for which he enlisted the services of BBC award winning young arranger Phil Steel. Together, they have transcribed over 30 of the superb arrangements written for Darin by the likes of Billy May and Richard Wess. This show uses the 'Nelson Riddle Tribute Orchestra' which Greg directs, and he says he has never been so busy - at a time when most people are looking forward to retirement.
During 2007, Greg decided that he would like to realise a lifetime ambition – to assemble a Concert Orchestra, specifically to play 'Popular Light Music', particularly the music of his 'all time' favourite composer Leroy Anderson. Thus was formed 'The National Concert Orchestra of Great Britain’ which, Greg decided, would be based on a 30 piece line up - but expandable to 45 piece if required. The NCO's inaugural concert was performed in North Wales during December 2007 in a concert entitled 'A Festival for Christmas'. Over 2 hours of new music arrangements were written by Greg, including of course, Leroy Anderson's 'Sleigh Ride' and his well known masterpiece - a 10 minute medley entitled 'A Christmas Festival'.
Since that time, Greg was also busily reducing and re-orchestrating 25 of the most popular Leroy Anderson titles for a series of concerts of Leroy Anderson music – a Centennial Celebration, it being exactly 100 years since the birth of the composer (29th June 1908). The National Concert Orchestra of G.B. went on to be the only orchestra in Great Britain, to perform a live concert (in Liverpool at St George’s Hall) as a tribute to Leroy Anderson. As if to emphasise his determination to establish this new orchestra within the realms of light and popular music, Greg also accepted a tour of over 20 dates for April/May 2009, conducting a stage show 'Bat the Symphony' (originally performed with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra) having re-orchestrated the entire program of music for the concerts, which continued into the following year.
In 2009, Greg was commissioned to write and conduct 36 new arrangements of light and popular music for 18 solo singers – to appear with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (RLPO). The resultant concert was a ‘sell out’ and the concert was repeated at the opening of the new Pier Head in Liverpool the following year – to an attendance of over 10,000 people. Greg also went on to supply a number of light popular arrangements for the R.L.P.O.
During 2011/12 Greg became more involved in assisting his son (Hollywood based composer Paul E Francis) who has composed film music for Warner Films, Sky TV and other major film companies in the U.S.A. and ‘as ever was’ in a bid to beat the clock, he orchestrated 4 pieces in 4 days for the 114 piece ‘City of Prague Orchestra’.
He also orchestrated and re-orchestrated 14 scores of music for a concert with his orchestra and strings, featuring singers Russell Watson and Janet Monroe for a very special concert he conducted at Southport. Russell Watson said ‘I have never felt so comfortable with any other Conductor’. Greg has also conducted for many popular singers such as Alfie Boe and Maria Freedman.
Over the proceeding years, he has been invited to supply his orchestra and write arrangements by Granada TV director Peter Shaw (Coronation St) for annual live shows featuring the vocal talents of the ‘Corrie’ actors. Of Greg, director and producer Peter Shaw wrote : ‘I’ve never seen anyone work so hard as you. You are amazing !’
In 2012 he re-orchestrated 38 of the arrangements of popular German band-leader Bert Kaempfert and, having taken up Trumpet again after a 37 year break, he featured himself playing all of the Trumpet Solos in a 20 date concert tour of the UK.
Drawing into 2016, Greg has been busy with myriad musical activities. He transcribed and re-orchestrated the entire R.P.O. arrangements for the ‘Elvis Presley’ touring show with strings and, having set that on-going tour in motion, he is currently completing the re-writing of 45 orchestrations for a forthcoming ‘James Last Gala Concert’ tour which starts in November 2016 and features The Greg Francis Orchestra and Strings. A fitting tribute to his musical colleague and hero, who passed away in 2015.
© copyright Greg Francis, 2005
Revised July 2016