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Reginald Pursglove (1902 -1982)
By Robert Walton

When violinists come up for discussion, we tend to think of great classical soloists like Benedetti, Bell, Chang, Heifetz, Menuhin, Oistrakh, Perlman and Vengerov. These top players in a class of their own have made their names in the glare of publicity playing the world’s most famous concertos.

But what about the thousands of fiddlers who occupy symphony orchestras and recording sessions who remain comparatively unknown? In many ways it was these musicians who were the lifeblood of the business. Without them, the industry would have collapsed. Lots of these players filled the need for specialization in which the instrument covered a much wider range of music. This is true today as it was then.

In the dance band world, strings became an integral part of their sound. Even just one violin proved effective in the hands of the right person. In the UK in the 1920s and 30s one of the most in demand soloists was Reginald Pursglove whose violin nestled comfortably in many of the bands which included Carroll Gibbons, Ray Starita and Ray Noble. Reg produced a vibrato so beautiful that it literally took your breath away. In addition he was a brilliant sight reader and a superb technician. Whenever there is a documentary or programme on television covering the years before World War 2, keep a sharp eye out for the leading band of the era, the great Bert Ambrose Orchestra. You might well spot Reginald Pursglove on the left adding his sound to the proceedings. But don’t hang about. You have to be quick!

When I came to Britain in the 1960s, Pursglove’s own group the Albany Strings played several of my tunes on the BBC Light Programme. Years later in the 1970s when I was conducting the London Pops Orchestra at Pye Studios, Reginald happened to be in the string section. What a reunion that was! Incidentally sitting next to him was Jack Rothstein.

Well, after my connections with Reg, it’s time to actually hear what he sounded like. 1944 was the year he recorded Raymond Scott’s In An 18th Century Drawing Room with his own orchestra. He certainly had a distinctive style.

As a young man he studied at the Guildhall School of Music after which he went straight into the music hall and brass band work. The brass work proved good preparation for the dance bands. With all that experience over the years he became one of the busiest session men in town.

Catch him on Google or Guild GLCD 5128 and you’ll see what I mean!

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Scenic Railway
(Roger Roger)
Analysed by Robert Walton

Until I heard the name Roger Roger pronounced properly in French (Ro-jay Ro-jay) (like the soft “j” in Taj Mahal), I had always assumed it was spoken just like the English first name Roger. I was corrected on a 1950s radio series “Paris Star Time” featuring his 35-piece orchestra.

I first met him on the day I joined Radio Caroline as a DJ in 1964. I was asked to interview him at their London offices in Mayfair. I remember absolutely nothing about it except he was a delightful man and was ready to answer any questions I put to him. It was definitely not the kind of music one might play on a “pirate” ship but I managed to slip the odd title in. Mind you, it hadn’t escaped my attention that such vessels like our “Mi Amigo” would have been flying the Jolly Roger flag! My overall impression of his music was the sheer uncluttered and methodical way he orchestrated his many catchy tunes. Never a wasted note or an unnecessary fill. Which brings me to his ScenicRailway of 1962.

There is an undeniable “Portrait of a Flirt” feeling about Scenic Railway, very melodic and beautifully recorded, presumably in a Paris studio. The clarity of it is superb. Warm syncopated pizzicato strings in harmony take the steam train’s strain heading for the heights in a most relaxed fashion. Woodwind drop in at the obvious moments. After the first 16 bars the strings immediately switch to arco for 10 delightful bars of contrasting fun with the woodwind. Returning to the main theme the flutes play a very short but difficult “same note” exercise against the pizzicato strings.

We are now heading straight for the middle section still in pizzicato mode but not for long as we return quickly back to the bows for a sweeping 8 bar tune sharing the load with the woodwind. The scoring is so detailed just like a locomotive’s components engineered to perfection. Finally we are back to the familiarity of the opening pizzicato section with all its twists and turns.

It wasn’t surprising, therefore, that Chappell & Co eventually offered Roger Roger an acceptable publishing deal for his brilliant compositions that took their place alongside the English giants of the genre. Like them he was fully equipped with all the right musical know-how of orchestration and style, as well as his ability to write tuneful melodies the listener could instantly hum.

From originally writing music for documentaries and films, including the well-known pantomime sequences in Marcel Carné’s 1944 “Les Enfants du Paradis”, the breadth and range of Roger Roger’s work made him a household name throughout the world. “Fiddles and Bows” Guild GLCD 5201

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Bird Charmer
(Robert Farnon)
Analysed by Robert Walton

It’s strange how some people seem to have a natural affinity with wild life and anything that moves, especially birds. As a toddler, Robert Farnon’s son David was very much into birds. They seemed to be attracted by his friendly and welcoming manner flying from of the garden eager to meet this young maestro of ornithological interest. Perhaps he caught the conducting bug in this setting! Even his mother came up with the comment, he could “charm the birds out of the trees”. Bob was in the process of finishing a new piece requiring a title, so hence the name came in handy. (Living in rural Ireland in the 21st century nothing much has changed. Robins, tits and finches are still first in the food queue).

The opening couldn’t be anything else but Robert Farnon describing an early morning atmosphere. I have a 78-rpm disc of an actual dawn chorus recorded in cellist Beatrice Harrison’s Surrey garden in 1924. Going forward, Bird Charmer sounds as if it was one of those 1940’s Farnon gems but in fact was as late as 1958. The magic was still there in leaps and bounds.

The flute heads the woodwind in customary Farnon fashion, flitting around in complete control but giving the impression of being as “free as a bird”. Then in perfect contrast, the strings escape from their cage with a typically beautiful sweeping tune from the Farnon canon with some nice changes, ending with a repeat of that catchy ditty.

We arrive at the bridge for yet another gorgeous melody this time with plenty of daring jumps played by the strings but highly hummable. Listen out for some subtle syncopation. Of course many classical composers took discordant risks like that but not quite as audacious. Come to think of it, there’s quite a bit of that going on in early piano concertos but the dissonance is resolved quicker.

Then echoing the beginning, a now slow oboe and flute with twittering background noise welcome you gradually back to the bustling “early” bird. We return to the familiar up-tempo tune followed again by that irresistable first melody. Then like an afterthought, a suggestion of Sidney Torch’s Comic Cuts, with the coda fitting like clockwork.

Vocalion CDLK 4174

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Ballet Egyptien (Alexandre Clément Léon Joseph Luigini)
Ronnie Munro And His Orchestra
Analysed by Robert Walton

Do you remember comedian Jimmy Durante at the piano, showing off his apparent familiarity with foreign names in music? It was during his recording of I’m The Guy Who Found The Lost Chord when he said he was playing Mozart’s Minuet, Have a Banana from “Carmen” and whistling the Sextet from the Luiginis, all at the same time! But it immediately alerted me to the composer Luigini, the French conductor, violinist and composer. He is remembered for just one composition Ballet Egyptien - and then only the Finale! And largely responsible for keeping Luigini’s music alive were the popular British music hall and vaudeville act in the middle of last century, Wilson, Keppel and Betty.

Wilson (born Manchester), Keppel (County Cork) and Betty Knox (Kansas). The highlight of their sand dance was a parody of postures from Egyptian tomb paintings and references to Arabic costume, following the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb. Audiences found their routine hilarious. You can still enjoy it on Google.

The quiet tense opening of Ballet Egyptian seems to be setting the scene for a waltz, more like building up to something dramatic. There is certainly a balletic feel to the music, which continues at some length with a pleasant melody keeping the listener guessing when the climax will hit town. Even when you expect it, Luigini craftily holds it back.

At last the sound of an oboe and violin hint that this lively dance associated with this talented trio is about to start. The famous tune suddenly kicks in, courtesy the lower strings, and we’re in a world of soft-shoe shuffle on sand. It’s a gentle rhythmic tune with controlled enthusiasm. It’s best to watch it with WK & B doing their stuff on a video. By the way there’s a slight Irish touch to the dance. This is followed by a little development when the melody speeds up to reach its conclusion.

Incidentally you might be interested in that “lost chord” Durante was on about. Nothing to do with Sullivan’s The Lost Chord of 1877 which was considered as the archetypal Victorian drawing-room ballad.

Perhaps you might like to try and analyse it from Durante’s disc, which you’ll find on Google.

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(Hal Mooney)
Analysed by Robert Walton

I first encountered Hal Mooney’s Orchestra on an MGM 78 of Helen Forrest singing I Wish I didn’t Love You So. Strings and voice dominated this 1947 Frank Loesser song, spoilt slightly by the shrillness which was sometimes a problem with early MGM discs. Mooney was first noticed in the business by two of his swing tunes Swamp Fire and Rigmarole, which played the rounds of the dance bands in the mid-30s. Joining another Hal, (Kemp), Mooney became his arranger-pianist in 1937. After settling in California he scored for Bing Crosby, Haymes, Lee, Starr, Garland, Sinatra and Vaughan.

But to give you a more detailed idea of his ability for string writing, I strongly advise you to take a listen to Gemini. It’s one of the fastest light orchestral pieces I’ve ever heard, but more than that, it’s played with a perfection that only a group of the finest fiddlers could produce. No room for “dead wood” or hangers-on in this recording session! In fact it’s as if they were all chosen from the same symphony orchestra. Hence the outstanding result.

A brilliant solo flute with pizzicato strings introduces this attempt at “breaking” the world record. While muted brass interject, the strings immediately switch to arco in readiness for one of the greatest sprints in musical history. There’s no way any tortoises could violate the start but the rest all leave their blocks together! Woodwind and brass provide the necessary fills.

Then taking a leaf out of the David Rose format, suddenly and very sensibly, the orchestra takes a well-earned break. The brass play three solid chords before the strings resting on their laurels spin a gorgeous slow tune based on the frantic theme, interspersed with the oboe and flute.

We’re soon back up to speed with the main melody but this time the horn and brass echo what the strings have just been playing. It’s a staggering performance of a brilliant arrangement which I doubt could ever be achieved again. A sort of “one off” job you might say. Even the listeners are out of breath, let alone the players. It’s the kind of composition/orchestration that the British were famous for. Clearly the Americans had caught up!

Guild Light Music GLCD 5153. (Gemini is from the 1957 LP “Musical Horoscope”)

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Rose-Marie
(Friml,Harbach,Hammerstein II)
Billy May’s Orchestra
Analysed by Robert Walton

Right in the centre of a collage created by my wife of my personal and professional life, is a photograph of me holding a 10 inch 1950’s 78rpm disc of Billy May’s Rose-Marie. This was around the time the long playing disc first saw the light of day. It represented one of the first highly technical big band recordings on a 78, standing out as something really special. Capitol Record’s engineers had somehow managed to put all that brass and saxophones on to a simple 78, sounding a million miles from the 1940s. It was as if a brand new era had emerged. In fact it almost gave the impression of stereo on a 78. One wonders had the new 78 technology arrived earlier in the previous decade, would Stan Kenton have benefited?

When I was working in radio at Station 1ZB Auckland in 1955, there was a strict policy of the sort of music to be selected for the morning Breakfast Session. Nothing too noisy or jazzy was permitted. Music of a calm and cheerful mood was the order of the day, like Powder Your Face with Sunshine, Manhattan Playboy, or Dear Hearts and Gentle People. One morning (you’ve guessed it) a record planner had inexplicably included Rose-Marie in the mix. By the time the Head of Programmes and Station Manager arrived at the beautiful Art Deco building for work, they were absolutely apoplectic. The planner almost lost his job! That was the only time Billy made the Breakfast Session! Great dance music it certainly was but more suitable for late night consumption.

Billy May was perhaps the most versatile arranger of them all. An early outstanding chart was Carnival by two Harrys: composer Warren and trumpeter James. Then there were those brilliant scores for the Sparky Children’s Series. But May is best remembered for his glissing unison saxes, reviving Jimmy Lunceford’s lightly swinging style. Sometimes May was more “Nelson Riddle” than Riddle with Autumn in New York and Moonlight in Vermont for Frank Sinatra. However, simple tunes like Friml’s 1924 Rose-Marie proved to be ideal for May’s style, in fact even in the 21st Century that style is still the standard sound for any big band.

The opening trumpets with some perfectly placed piano comping is as fresh today as it was then. The slurping saxes take a turn at the tune, but when the brass return for the finale the orchestra erupts into a virtual volcano. On the San Andreas Big Band Fault Line, May’s outburst will remain etched on the memory forever!

Billy May “Naughty Operetta” EMI 4 98836 2

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Sweet And Lovely
(Gus Arnheim, Harry Tobias and Jules Lemare)
Robert Farnon’s arrangement analysed by Robert Walton

Robert Farnon had the unique ability to bring out the best in a song by always treating it with the utmost respect in terms of its original style, by adding just the right amount of modernism and freshness. In other words he was guided intuitively by his byword: “taste”. At the same time he was constantly ahead of the game with his original and daring orchestrations. Even now in the 21st century they still sound advanced.

The utter simplicity of the start of Sweet and Lovely, like one of his own light orchestral miniatures, belies the fact that from thousands of musical ideas going around in his head, he only selected sounds that were totally appropriate for the current job in hand. In his own world he was a self-disciplinarian knowing instinctively how far to go. He was never tempted to stray too far into foreign territory. Despite that, Farnon constantly relished discovering new things to say in his “travels into tunes”. It was probably the unusual harmony that first attracted him to this early ballad.

This 1931 ditty was the “sweet and lovely” theme song of Gus Arnheim’s Orchestra. The first recording was by his orchestra featuring vocalist Donald Novis but it was Bing Crosby and Russ Columbo who brought it to a wider audience.

After that haunting introduction, lightly swinging woodwind go straight into Sweet and Lovely for a double whammy of song and arrangement providing a romantic slow foxtrot with some decorative glockenspiel. A harp heralds the first appearance of the famous Farnon fiddles (“Who would want a sweeter surprise”). Staying with the strings a gentle cutting oboe continues the tune.

Then a muted trumpet advises that the bridge is ready for crossing with the saxes making the first move towards a beautifully controlled orchestral climax.

Back to the tune as thin-sounding ethereal violins on the same note shoot up high with the help of harmonics to have a commanding view over the proceedings. Frolicking flutes make themselves felt in no uncertain terms. Then another reminder of that warm Farnon harmony. The brass is back with the strings making a typically gorgeous key change like no one else in the business. The saxes are heard again and gradually the orchestra returns with the brass.

By now it becomes all too clear that Farnon’s arrangement of Sweet and Lovely is an excellent example of a series of thrilling climaxes. The orchestra sounds completely relaxed as it tags along for the ride, enjoying the many “swells” which abound. Strings, oboe and a violin playing the title in atonal style are parachuted into the coda mix. Talking of keyless music, Robert Farnon’s charts are famous for teetering on the edge of atonality, like a high wire act. That’s why his arrangements have an air of mystery and “what’s he going to do next?” about them. In retrospect, these early popular standards have proved to be perfect vehicles for Farnon’s inventiveness.

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(Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein II)
Peggy Lee
Analysed by Robert Walton

Whenever I’m asked to name one of my favourite songs in that largely neglected period, the Golden Era of Popular Music between 1920 - 1960, without hesitation my reply is always The Folks Who Live on the Hill sung by Peggy Lee. But as you’ll find out there’s a heck of a lot more packed into just one short track. For some reason the location in my imagination has always been the Tauranga region of New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty - a truly rural spot a few miles inland from the mighty Pacific Ocean. What a setting and what a singer! So much so, I simply can’t wait to proceed with my analysis. Before that though I must tell you the song was composed in 1937 and first sung in the film “High, Wide and Handsome” by Irene Dunne. Twenty years later in 1957, Capitol Records revived it for surely what must be the definitive version, which is not surprising with all the talent involved.

This Mahler-inspired hymn-like miniature miracle begins with strings and harp creeping in to create one of the most beautiful feelgood atmospheres ever heard. The whole thing is cradled by Nelson Riddle’s brilliant score. And as if that isn’t enough, a solo trumpet pops up proclaiming something of great importance is about to be announced. Then a haunting oboe continues this short introduction via more trumpet with an added horn bringing the section to a close. (It reminds one of Western movie music).

Husky-voiced Peggy Lee now delivers Hammerstein’s glorious lyric making a very ordinary scenario quite special, with Kern’s equally gorgeous melody. Plan A, building a home on a hill has overtones of the TV series “Grand Designs”. The 43 bar tune including a bridge of 6 bars might be unusual but the overwhelming message is one of complete normality. Peggy sings about two people falling in love, bringing up kids and refers to many things families experience during one’s life. Every time she mentions the title, that trumpet joins her and goose pimples magically appear. And she insists on being called “folks”. No problem. We will oblige. It’s more like a prayer of thanks and hope for the future.

Oh yes, I almost forgot one small detail. Frank Sinatra waved the baton over the whole affair! At this difficult time of Covid and Climate Change, it was like a breath of fresh air!

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Sarah Vaughan
By Robert Walton

It may seem obvious but the best test for a voice, first and foremost, is the sound it produces. Nothing else. If you love the resonance a vocalist can produce, a load of gobbledygook will tell you more about the artist than all the phrasing and lyrics a wordsmith can conjure up.

In the case of Sarah Vaughan just imagine a thorough free range wallow on the instrument she was born with (Newark, New Jersey 1924) and you have the nearest thing to an opera singer in jazz. To an outsider her basic style, like Frank Sinatra’s, might be misinterpreted as overdoing the sentimental bit, like suffering. The older generation totally rejected that 1940s tendency of sounding miserable. This might have been slight exaggeration but there’s an element of truth in it. Of course “anything goes” is the byword when studying a voice of Vaughan’s calibre. The possibilities are endless. Scales, arpeggios, ducking and diving, improvising, in fact everything. And Vaughan who was more than capable of exercising the vocal chords just like a trapeze artist took risks, never missing a trick.

And talking of her own personal technology like Italian singers and the general public of that country, she ends words, especially the high long ones, with a clear cut-off point echoing the sheer power generated just to get the note airborne. She may have been a mistress of jazz but she sang some of the old fashioned ballads like a trooper. Because, one of my Lanza favourites, is given a fabulous treatment and has the listener guessing, will she go for the final high note? She does and it comes off magnificently. And keeping us aware of Climate Change, Oscar Rasbach’s ballad Trees showing off her contralto ability is the best female version I know. I only wish she had tried some Puccini. On the other hand she could swing like mad and her pitch was absolutely perfect. Wrap your Troubles in Dreams is an excellent example of relaxed swing with a Dave Pell-like small group. A good up-tempo standard with a conventional big band is This Can’t be Love. She really was the complete all rounder. I don’t think even the great Jo Stafford had the richness and control.

And while we’re on the subject of Stafford, her duets with Gordon MacRae are legendary and noted for their soft-hued matching. Sarah Vaughan’s partner was Billy Eckstine who again blended perfectly with her.

When she was 7, Sarah Lois began having piano and organ lessons useful for the local church, but she soon realized singing was her major passion. Her big break came in a 1942 amateur talent contest at the Apollo Theatre with the prize of a week’s employment on the bill with none other than Ella Fitzgerald. For a jazz singer this was the ultimate dream. Earl Hines saw her, hired her and suddenly she was singing with Charlie Parker, Eckstine and Dizzy Gillespie which brought her to bebop.

In her heyday she regularly topped all the jazz charts like Downbeat Magazine and was generally considered the best in her field. Consequently she was imitated by many other vocalists, but very few equaled her. Just to hear that unique vibrato was one of life’s musical treats.

So far in this article, Vaughan’s tracks have been taken from an EMI Music for Pleasure album titled “20 Jazz Classics” MFP 6160. But there is still one aspect of her singing we haven’t yet tackled......sensitivity. There really is only one album in her repertoire, which concentrates on that aspect. That’s the 12 track LP she made with Robert Farnon and the Svend Saaby Danish Choir in Copenhagen in 1963, “Vaughan with Voices”. (Mercury 20014 MCL) The way she warmed to Farnon’s beautiful arrangements is now history. One of them happened to be the arranger’s own composition How Beautiful is Night. Vaughan, Farnon and the Choir merged in a perfect threesome giving the tune a definitive outing never again achieved on disc.

So effectively two famous ladies were in town at the same time. The first, the permanent fixture of “The Little Mermaid” bronze statue displayed nearby on a rock by the Copenhagen waterside, and a visiting giant of jazz, coloratura soprano Sarah Vaughan.

Proving yet again Sarah Vaughan could easily switch from one genre to another, her finest recording was the unlikely light orchestral composition Serenata by Leroy Anderson. In the key of F, listen to the lovely chord of Fmaj 9 sung each time on the word “stand”. Only “The Divine One” could capture it quite so dramatically. Crossover artist extraordinaire!

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Isle Of Innisfree
(Richard Farrelly)
Analysed by Robert Walton

Most folk songs are the work of unknown composers or instrumentalists but because they are part of our ancient heritage many names which existed are now long forgotten. Perhaps its got something to do with having been passed on orally from generation to generation unaccompanied. They originally had a rural background before reaching towns and cities via a ‘musical’ landline.

Occasionally along comes a new song which has all the qualities of the real McCoy. Inspired by Yeats’ poem The Lake Isle of Innisfree, Richard Farrelly wrote the words and music of a beautifully spiritual song called The Isle of Innisfree which even though it was 1950, automatically entered the hallowed halls of the folk-song world. If ever a song deserved such an upgrade it was The Isle of Innisfree. The director of “The Quiet Man” John Ford liked it so much he included it in the opening of the film, but unbelievably neglected to mention Farrelly by name on the screen credits. At least Victor Young redressed the situation with a brilliant orchestration for the soundtrack as well as arranging Bing Crosby’s independent recording. That certainly helped with the advertising! I’m sure the ghost-like Londonderry Air hovered somewhere in the ether as Farrelly skillfully sculptured his little piece of pure magic. He got the idea for The Isle of Innisfree on a bus journey from his native Kells, County Meath to Dublin where he was a policeman.

Let’s take a closer look at the music and find out what makes this song so special. It’s important to note that never before have words and music gelled together quite so tightly. Farrelly had hit upon the perfect match. Essentially it’s a simple song in G, but the harmony has elements of ‘frozen’ dissonance at times like White Christmas. In the third bar on the first part of the word “dream(er”) there’s a momentary clash of F sharp against C but in reality the F sharp is only a passing melodic note leading on to the “er” of “dream”. The repetitive 4 quaver notation might weaken some songs, but in the case of The Isle of Innisfree was absolutely vital. Have you noticed the ditty has a very small range? It never leaves the treble clef. No big leaps to create a climax. It just doesn’t need it. One of the most natural songs ever composed, as if it wrote itself. It was ideal for Vera Lynn who recorded it, because her range was limited to an octave.

Irish songwriter, policeman and poet Richard Farrelly wrote over 200 songs and poems. No composer/lyricist (serious or light) ever came up with such a sublime song of hymnal simplicity and the irresistible call of home. Genius!

Robert Walton

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