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26 Nov

Louisiana Hayride

By  Robert Walton
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(Arthur Schwartz)
Robert Farnon’s arrangement
Analysed by Robert Walton

These days we’re constantly bombarded with attractive specials from supermarkets and shops like “buy one and get one free”. In a Robert Farnon arrangement you get “three for the price of one”. The song comes first (often from the “Great American Songbook”) followed by the actual arrangement and then to top it all it’s full of elements of his own compositions both serious and light. There is no musician on earth who has the ability to mix and match with a sound that is completely unique. He re-invented the word taste. Wherever you happen to land on any of his recordings, even briefly, it’s unmistakably Robert Farnon and often all under 3 minutes. To hear Farnon is to hear an open-minded composer who has absorbed such an enormous amount of music, put it all together and created his own universe. In fact every time I listen to a Robert Farnon arrangement I can’t help feeling Hollywood lost out to his talents (similar to those of MGM’s Conrad Salinger). It’s understandable though because Farnon fell on his feet in so many ways when he came to England and stayed. Of course he was a remainer!

It’s unusual for a songwriter to praise a specific arrangement, but Arthur Schwartz did just that when he personally corresponded with Farnon, singling out Louisiana Hayride from the album “Something To Remember You By” as one of the finest orchestrations and performances he’d ever heard.

Starting straight but soon let loose into swing mode, the first thing I noticed about this brassy piece of big band/light orchestral music is that Farnon keeps the whole thing under control. It could have so easily descended into chaos under another conductor. Also there’s always a temptation with this kind of material to show off. The fact that he kept his cool and made it simple was the very reason that made it attractive.

After a chorus, things begin to warm up with a little Bach-ish like polyphony between the brass and saxes and snatches of the sort of tricky woodwind one might hear in a light orchestral Farnon score. And keeping things moving, a touch of the Ted Heath sound from the saxes. The strings enter for the last time before the drummer (remember Farnon in his youth was one?) keeps the orchestra under strict order with his sticks. There are some echoes of Pete Rugolo in this final section.

Robert Farnon has always been associated with strings but let’s not forget his brilliance with brass and wizardry with woodwind. In fact the whole orchestra is his world.

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