18 Jul

"Music by John Barry" now online available from lulu.com

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Music by John Barry cover   Lulu 2022

 Our Redcliffe published book "Music by John Barry" sold out in four months, and there are currently no plans for a re-print. However, we have made available a print-on-demand version, which has identical internal content. The only difference between the two being the absence  of a dust-jacket for the print-on-demand version.

Details: The five-hundred page book, fully-illustrated (often with rarely seen images), consists of a chronological exploration of key landmarks underpinning John Barry's illustrious career. Written in the form of extensively researched essays concentrating on one specific score, over forty  are represented, from the first, Beat Girl, to the last, Enigma. Whether highly acclaimed or lower key films, each chapter sets out, clearly and accurately, the circumstances surrounding the inception and completion of the score under scrutiny and in doing so, provides  fresh insights into John Barry's remarkable legacy. Ordering information: The book can be ordered from the Lulu.com shop:

"Music by John Barry"

or search on the Lulu.com website for "Music by John Barry"

The cost of the book will vary depending on your location, but for guidance it is £35 for UK customers, € 37 for those in the EU, and $39 for US customers. Postage will be charged at a rate local for the country concerned.


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16 Jul

A Door Will Open

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A Door Will Open
(John Benson Brooks - Don George)
Analysed by Robert Walton

It constantly concerns me that one of the greatest periods in musical history could eventually be totally forgotten (it is “now” in some circles), in spite of the fact that millions of people were so devoted to it. Because of records, radio, stage and screen, it really was the soundtrack of their lives. One thing that’s often forgotten was the sale of sheet music which was an industry in itself.

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A Door Will Open
(John Benson Brooks - Don George)
Analysed by Robert Walton

It constantly concerns me that one of the greatest periods in musical history could eventually be totally forgotten (it is “now” in some circles), in spite of the fact that millions of people were so devoted to it. Because of records, radio, stage and screen, it really was the soundtrack of their lives. One thing that’s often forgotten was the sale of sheet music which was an industry in itself.

This unique era of invention occurred in the 20th century roughly between 1920 and 1960, and like some endangered species, is at real risk of becoming extinct and disappearing without trace. During those forty or so golden years of popular music and jazz, we were entertained by some of the finest singers, songs and greatest light orchestras of all time. Nowadays their presence in the media is virtually a non-event especially with the young. Some of them have never even heard it. It was initially called Tin Pan Alley but grew from that humble status into perhaps the most original music ever. After all, serious music was divided into periods: Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Early Romantic, Late Romantic and Post ‘Great War’ Years.

Vocalists were the main vehicle for spreading the tunes but even though Bing Crosby recorded A Door will Open in 1945, it almost got away. If it wasn’t for Robert Farnon we might never have heard it. In fact in many cases we relied upon orchestras to cover neglected melodies and keep them fresh. Anything he arranged was guaranteed to do that, and as well as demonstrating his creative process, Farnon brought a symphonic feel to popular music as no one else ever did.

Borrowing five notes from the opening of Lecuona’s The Breeze and I the oboe starts the introduction off, followed by the orchestra echoing the melody rising up like a sunrise into the ether to join his world. Soon, sighing soft strings sing their way through the song supported by a discreet rhythm section.The oboe returns to provide part of the “answering” service. Later when woodwind and strings eventually reach the second part of the melody it bursts into life, when miracle-worker Farnon inserts one of those classic flute interjections (guaranteed to produce goose pimples!) as heard in many of his own masterly miniatures.

At around this time it gradually dawns on the listener that this pretty average ditty has been transformed into a beautiful song. As we end the chorus a sudden pause occurs at the climax with an attractive descending scale-like passage. It’s oboe time again with a musical message that everything is about to wind down in readiness for a typical Farnon “sensitively controlled emotional flight of fancy”. It’s as if the players are given carte blanche. The orchestra goes back to tempo primo, gently making its way to the end with a pleasant little crescendo suggesting Sailing By before coming to rest. Finally we’re briefly reminded of that brilliant acrobatic flautist who performs another rapid woodwind wire-walk.

A thousand years from now one wonders how this unique music will be rediscovered or even remembered. Five top performers head this fruitful 40-year era all influenced in some way by jazz. Don’t forget J S Bach was finally recognized several centuries after his death. (Sounds like a quote from Jimmy Durante!) We can only hope the same could happen to Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Robert Farnon. One couldn’t possibly leave out the name Farnon. He was a direct musical descendant of Debussy and Ravel employing Impressionism quite naturally as the source of his arrangements and compositions. I’m sure this African-European blend from this super lineup will still stir the soul. However one must be reminded in universal terms, it all happened in the twinkling of an eye, or perhaps even a twinkling of a star!

From dreary Lieder, it blossomed into the full flowering of the most incredible variety of superior songs. Poets and talented tunesmiths came out of the woodwork to meet the demand. Besides jazz it was also folk, classical music and opera which influenced this all-too brief immortal treasure trove.

Incidentally, lyricist Don George also wrote the words of Yellow Rose of Texas, while John Benson Brooks composed the music for You Came a Long Way from St Louis.

A Door will Open is on “Two Cigarettes in the Dark” Vocalion CDLK 4112.

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22 Jun

CD Review – Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra Café Bonheur – 'In Memory of Ana Arnold'

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CD Review – Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra
Café Bonheur – 'In Memory of Ana Arnold'

This is the latest in a series of six CDs which date back to 1998. It had been planned to produce it a couple of years ago, however the recording session had to be postponed three times, due to the pandemic.

In February this year, however, the orchestra finally convened at Chateau Charly Studios in Cherbourg, North-Western France.

Tragically, Anastasia Arnold, the ensemble's flautist, met with a fatal road accident whilst travelling to the studio.

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11 Jun

CD Review – John Ireland Sinfonia Of London John Wilson

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CD Review – John Ireland
Sinfonia Of London John Wilson
Chandos CHSA 5293 [67:16]

These days John Wilson and his superlative Sinfonia of London orchestra seem they can play no wrong, with critical plaudits and awards being gathered by each new release. They have all been reviewed on these pages, but I realise that the heavier fare on some albums may not always appeal to those readers who admire John for his earlier work as a conductor of light music. This latest should not be among them.

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03 Jun

CD Review – Trevor Duncan – 20th Century Express / Little Suite / Children in the Park

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CD Review – Trevor Duncan
20th Century Express / Little Suite / Children in the Park
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra / Andrew Penny
Naxos 8.555192 [68:27]

Trevor Duncan – real name Leonard Charles Trebilcock – was a Londoner born in 1924 and lost to us in 2005. He will be best known, especially to oldies like me, for the March from his Little Suite – the signature tune for the 1962-71 TV series of A J Cronin's 'Dr Finlay’s Casebook' – also The Girl from Corsica and Enchanted April, the title tune of another TV programme.

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25 May

Ol’ Man River

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Ol’ Man River
(Words Oscar Hammerstein II, music Jerome Kern)
Analysed by Robert Walton

Why does the song Ol’ Man River sound so ancient? It’s much more than just Hammerstein’s brilliant lyrics, although they obviously help.

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Ol’ Man River
(Words Oscar Hammerstein II, music Jerome Kern)
Analysed by Robert Walton

Why does the song Ol’ Man River sound so ancient? It’s much more than just Hammerstein’s brilliant lyrics, although they obviously help. The simple answer is because of the primitive pentatonic scale (black notes of the piano) which occurs in most of the early music cultures, e.g. in China around 2000 BC. It’s sometimes called the Scottish scale because the bagpipes have a similar tuning - C, D, E, G and A. (Like my ringing chimes). It’s the main chorus of Ol’ Man River that is purely pentatonic using the 5 note scale. Hence the prehistoric atmosphere it creates. It couldn’t be a better setting for such a magnificent tune. Note the built-in syncopation on the word “River” and every third note of each bar in the chorus.

So from China, let’s follow a possible musical journey. First to Africa for the rhythm, America for syncopation, developed by Stephen Foster, a touch of jazz and finally to Jerome Kern who couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate format. If you speed up Kern’s melody, it could be one of the first of the extended “fanfares” before 20th Century Fox got in on the act! But there’s also an extra special tenderness in the main tune at bar 5. In the key of C on the word “JUST keeps rollin’” (Dm9, 11) the effect is overwhelming if you freeze “just”. Play, sing, hum, whistle or just listen to this grand tune. It’s a most all-encompassing experience.

The bridge starts “You and me we sweat and strain”. Like all bridges it begins as the perfect contrast, but when it rejoins the main melody it slips back in, just like from a verse. So in fact there are two verses.

But who first sang this comparatively simple 32 bar popular song? Jules Bledsoe introduced it in the 1927 musical “Showboat” and also the first film version in 1929. However the best-known singer of it was Paul Robeson in the second film version of 1936. The popular third film version of “Showboat” was in 1951 featuring William Warfield. In the film “Till the Clouds Roll By”, Frank Sinatra gave the song an entirely new feeling and freedom, getting away from the predictable basso profondo performances.

My favourite version of Ol’ Man River has got to be the most versatile artist of them all, Gordon MacRae, a legitimate baritone/crooner who sings a very gimmick-less arrangement with the Carmen Dragon Orchestra. (NZ Maori baritone Inia Te Wiata made a fine job of it too). And only recently I came across an outstanding traditional version of the song, sung, but “not crooned” by Dick Haymes. Big bands considered it too sluggish, hence their tendency to play it presto like Ted Heath, when it’s asking to be a medium swing.

Ol’ Man River is unquestionably one of the most moving songs ever written - a colossus in its category! A natural waterway even today carries the vital ingredients of life itself - work, play, family, culture, faith and love. The Mississippi River brilliantly describes the backdrop of the long-suffering African-Americans. Bringing the River Jordan into the mix was a clever move. In answer to Tennyson’s “The Brook” (“Men may come, men may go but I go on forever”), Hammerstein came up with “he just keeps rollin’ along”. Quoting from St. Augustine’s Confessions being “tired of life and afraid of dying” is a clear sign that life was a struggle. In spite of all this, it’s a universal message of hope and optimism.

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22 May

CD Review – Musa Italiana – Riccardo Chailly – Filarmonica Della Scala

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musa italiano chaillyCD Review – Musa Italiana
Riccardo Chailly
Filarmonica Della Scala
Decca 485 2944 [64:00]

Regular readers will be aware of my enthusiasm for the top Italian conductor and his first-rate pit band, as four of their discs have already been reviewed here. The latest recording, from 2021 – socially distanced with a new floor created over the seats of the Teatro alla Scala's Golden Auditorium stalls to accommodate the opera house orchestra – features Felix Mendelssohn's (1809-47) deservedly popular 'Italian' Symphony (No.4 in A).

Read the review here...

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22 May

CD Review – Musa Italiana – Riccardo Chailly – Filarmonica Della Scala

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CD Review – Musa Italiana
Riccardo Chailly
Filarmonica Della Scala
Decca 485 2944 [64:00]

Regular readers will be aware of my enthusiasm for the top Italian conductor and his first-rate pit band, as four of their discs have already been reviewed here. The latest recording, from 2021 – socially distanced with a new floor created over the seats of the Teatro alla Scala's Golden Auditorium stalls to accommodate the opera house orchestra – features Felix Mendelssohn's (1809-47) deservedly popular 'Italian' Symphony (No.4 in A).

Read the review here...

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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.