Meeting of the Robert Farnon Society
Sunday 30th November 2008
at the Park Inn, London
by Brian Reynolds

Well, it was that time of year again. The leaves had fallen and a chilly autumn was about to give way to an even chillier Winter.

It was damp and miserable outside but warm and cheerful inside as light music lovers gathered together for another feast of melody.

We took our seats to the accompaniment of They Called the Wind Maria. Well, call it what you like, it was better than snow - remember last April ?

At two o'clock Albert Killman opened the meeting with the World Traveller March, written by Robert Farnon and Tim Wills and performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Iain Sutherland - our special guest of the afternoon. David Ades then welcomed other visitors, including Richard Tay from Sepia Records. It was then time for Albert, joined by Peter Burt to present a selection of new releases.

The opening two items were from the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin, the first being Lazy Moon (from Goldilocks) and that was followed by Little Children (from Suite of Cards for woodwind). Next, a track from the new CD 'Mel Torme meets the British' - A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square. This was followed by a Laurie Johnson arrangement for the Ambrose orchestra entitled Vuelve, after which we heard The Embassy Waltz from ' My Fair Lady' - played by Percy Faith and his Orchestra. Peter Burt then turned to a new CD entitled 'Mantovani Memories' and played usThe Trolley Song.

Some real nostalgia came next, with the BBC Television Orchestra conducted by Eric Robinson playing the Test Card music which used to precede the opening of TV programmes in the fifties; this took the form of a selection of traditional tunes arranged by Max Saunders, under the title Fantasy on National Airs. There then followed two pieces from a recent Guild CD, 'Going Places' - firstlyRendevous by Bernie Wayne and then The Girl with the Spanish Drawl from the Percy Faith orchestra.

Next, we heard Ring Round the Moon by Richard Addinsell, performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra under the baton of Roderick Dunk. This came from an album in the series 'British Light Music Premieres'. We then turned to a Vocalion CD 'Soft Lights and Sweet Music' to listen to the George Melachrino Orchestra play The Sword and the Rose (Spielman). After this, the Emile Deltour Orchestra played Spring Fever by Rene Costy and Rene Heylbroeck. This is the title track of the 50th light music CD from Guild - a truly remarkable achievement in less than five years, with no sign of an end in sight!

Haydn Wood's popular march Montmartre was next and it gave Albert the opportunity to mention that, as 2009 is the 50th anniversary of Wood's death, our next meeting in April will feature his music prominently. We shall be honoured with the presence of his Great-niece, who will also be playing live music with the Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra, directed by Dr. Adam Bakker. Adam was present in the audience and our appreciation was conveyed to him for kindly agreeing to provide his ensemble.

Albert then reminded us of the recent death of Neil Hefti by playing his incidental sountrack music from Barefoot in the Park. This brought to an end an unusually long, but very enjoyable 'new releases' section of our programme.

It was then time for some 'Parish Notices'. Albert drew our attention to a new book on the life and career of John Barry. He also kindly mentioned my book Music While You Work - An Era in Broadcasting, the rights of which have now returned to me. I brought some copies with me which attracted a few buyers. Albert also told us of the formation of a new society for those who appreciate the music of Eric Coates. No doubt we shall hear more details of this in due course. We were also told the quite shocking news that the BBC have put another nail in the coffin of quality light and popular music by banning from Radio Two any music over fifty years old - which is a very high percentage of worthwhile material. Albert suggested that rather than send a petition (which the BBC would ignore), individuals should write and complain, telling the Society what sort of response they get. From personal experience, I have to say that I doubt if it will be positive, as the self-righteous BBC have always given me the impression that they don't give a damn what the listener thinks.

The final section of the first part of the programme was my Radio Recollections spot in which I play recordings from the days when the BBC really did care. As part of the 'choreography' of these meetings, it is required that a presenter comes to the top table well in advance of his or her presentation (thus avoiding distracting those listening). So I was able to observe that some people had fallen asleep during the playing of the new releases. I know from personal experience how relaxing music can easily send you to the 'land of nod'. Indeed I can recall an occasion when I fell asleep in the front row of a concert by one of my favourite military bands and my 'friends' took a photo of me and presented it to the conductor! Anyway, back to the present - I was fervently hoping that the 'sleepers' would wake up in time for my presentation. They didn't - so they will just have to read about what they missed!

My first item was from the BBC West of England Light Orchestra - conductor Frank Cantell, the well-known Majorca (L. Gaste) in an arrangement by Ernest Tomlinson. Next came Raymond Agoult and his Players in a tongue-in-cheek arrangement of The Clanger March from the comedy film 'The Night we dropped a Clanger'.

I then turned to a 1967 'Music While You Work' broadcast by the BBC Scottish Radio Orchestra - conductor Iain Sutherland, for an Ernest Tomlinson original - The Merry Go Round Waltz. To conclude my section - at the same time giving our guest a big build up - I played Iain's excellent marchEdinburgh Castle. This came from a 1983 broadcast which I actually attended. During the interval that followed, a selection of Iain's recordings (which he had kindly provided) were played.

In part two, Tony Clayden introduced Iain Sutherland and invited him to talk to us about various aspects of his career. He told us that, as a boy chorister he had won a contest and that, as part of the prize, he got to appear on 'Children's Hour'. He later took up the violin, won another contest and again got to perform on the aforesaid programme. After studying in London with the famous Sasha Lasserson, he did three years of freelancing and played with the Grenadier Guards for two years. He joined the Philharmonia, playing for such eminent names as Boult, Sargent, Groves and Solti.

Responding to questions from Tony, Iain told us that he first became attracted to light music through film music sessions. Having expressed a wish to conduct light music, Iain told us that he was given a test date, by the BBC, with an orchestra of quite distinguished session musicians in ' Music While You Work'. (I think that Iain will find that it was actually the BBC Scottish Variety Orchestra - I've got the broadcast on tape. He did some recordings with London session men for 'Breakfast Special' a few months later in 1966.)

Iain went on to become Musical Director of the London production of 'The Music Man' starring Van Johnson and after several more dates with the SVO, he was appointed conductor of that orchestra, following the retirement of Jack Leon. It would have been good to have heard more from Iain concerning his work with that orchestra, which, at his suggestion, was renamed the BBC Scottish Radio Orchestra but time was marching on and we needed to hear about other things. The interview was punctuated with musical items, all conducted by Iain. Anthony Collins' Vanity Fair was, in Iain's view, a perfect example of a piece which generates its own rhythm, without the need for drums and guitar. We also heard the Galop from Masquerade, and Kurt Weil's September Song, this being a cue for Norwegian broadcaster and producer Jan Eriksen to join Tony and Iain at the presenter's table, to talk to us about his associations with Bob Farnon and, indeed Iain Sutherland.

We then listened to Say it with Music and Seventy-six Trombones (arr.Farnon) from a broadcast by the Norwegian Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Iain Sutherland, deputising for Bob who, we are told, was unable to fly (talented as Bob was, he could no more fly than the rest of us!). Iain spoke of his many encounters with Bob Farnon who had every intention of conducting his third symphony, but ill health had overtaken him and the rehearsal was conducted by Iain but with Bob at the other end of the telephone, advising where necessary! We then heard one final item, especially requested by Iain - a part of From the Highlands by Robert Farnon. Tony then thanked Iain Sutherland for his contribution to the programme and asked him to draw the raffle.

Iain Sutherland proved to be one of our most popular guests to date - a truly eloquent and articulate speaker, with a much longer story to tell than time permitted and many felt, as I did, that he should be invited back as soon as possible. During the interval, Iain talked with members of the audience and signed copies of a new CD of his, featuring Scottish music.

Part three of the afternoon's entertainment opened with Paul Barrett publicising his next Mantovani concert in Poole on 31st January. As an illustration we heard Give my regards to Broadway. It was then the turn of Tony Foster to take the stand, presenting three of his favourite recordings. First came the Syd Lawrence Orchestra with (appropriately) My Favourite Things (arr. Roland Shaw); then the Robert Farnon Orchestra played The Sophistication Waltz from the 'Pictures in the Fire' CD. Finally we heard Tony Bennett sing Christmasland by Brian Farnon (arranged by Bob).

We then welcomed Mr. UK Light Radio himself to the stand, in the person of André Leon, with a new feature entitled 'The Farnon Connection' - a tribute to the Farnon Family - although the twist was that not all of the pieces were by who he said they were! In other words, there was a deliberate mistake! In addition to an excerpt from the radio serial No place to hide we heard Robert Farnon's Outer Space, Dennis Farnon's Coast Road North and Bob's Newsreel March and his Horatio Hornblowermusic.

The final part of the programme was, as usual, presented by David Ades. He commenced with an excerpt from 'Canadian Caravan' in which Bob conducted the Canadian Band of the AEF. The music was I Got Rhythm and then the band was joined by Paul Carpenter for I Wish I Knew. This broadcast was an ORBS production for Britain's forces. Next came Bob's arrangement of the overture to The Girl in Pink Tights (Romberg) from the original cast recording 'discovered' by the late Don Furnell, from the short period in which Bob lived and worked in the States. David then went on to play the berceuse from Alliance Variations, played by the BBC Concert Orchestra during the BBC Light Music Festival on 6th June 1959.

The Light Music Society (whose meetings were held at the Alliance Hall in London, hence the title) held a competition for an original amateur work to be orchestrated by eleven leading composer/arrangers, namely Anthony Collins, Ronald Binge, Robert Farnon, Ronald Hanmer, Trevor Duncan, Gilbert Vinter, Harry Dexter, Ernest Tomlinson, Clive Richardson, Billy Mayerl, and Lt.Col. Douglas A. Pope (at that time Director of Music of the Coldstream Guards band). Next we heard Bob's arrangement of Lucky in the Rain from the Everest LP 'Mike Todd's Broadway' - one of the tracks from the new Guild CD ' Strings and Things Go Stereo. Finally, David played us Maybe this Time (arr. Robert Farnon) and sung by Tony Bennett with the Robert Farnon Orchestra - one of our late member Neal Hefti’s favourite Farnon arrangements.

It just remained for thanks to be conveyed to all involved - Peter Burt, Tony Foster, André Leon and Tony Clayden for his interview with Iain Sutherland. Tony then came to the microphone to convey his appreciation for the assistance of the London Meetings Committee and to remind members of the Haydn Wood 'special' in April.

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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 ( 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.