by Reg Otter
What is it with we Brits; in the midst of "wall-to-wall" pop cacophony from talentless artistes who in the 1930’s would have been treated to a few ripe sounding raspberries, and gormless looking youngsters who can just about twang a guitar string and who hold the instrument as a phallic symbol … we still continue to ignore the glamour, sheer enchantment and theatrical magic and musicality of one of the greatest composers of light music since the golden days of Franz Lehar?
A man whose name is still used fifty-three years after his death to promote an award for the most gifted composer of music today. (Erroneously in my humble opinion, in these sadly, noisy, pop infested times!) In fact it disgusted me recently to learn that the prize…. The Ivor Novello Award, had been given to some band which wouldn’t know the difference between Glamorous Night and Mairzy Doats! Even the Robert Farnon Society doesn’t seem to know much about my favourite composer so here is an attempt to recapture the "Dancing Years" of one of the most talented, gifted, popular and esteemed composers who ever graced the stage of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
David Ivor Davies was born in Cardiff on January 15th 1893; Ivor Novello was "born" (by deed poll) on January 15th 1927 and the great and wonderful Ivor succumbed to a heart attack, aged only 58 on March 6th 1951. Everyone who knew and loved his music will be familiar with the title of this article. I have always considered this lovely melody to be descriptive of attending one of Ivor’s musical shows. One would anticipate with pleasure the event, for weeks, no need to worry about critics’ impressions of a first night because if you were a "Novellian" you just knew you were going to hear beautiful music, see splendid sets and oft times experience shipwrecks, train crashes or a Hampstead Heath fairground!
Ivor was at the peak of his career and his life, just prior to and during the Second World War and that is why the words of the beautiful melody which inspired this article are so significant, even though they were written four years after the war finished ...and all my doubts and fears were borne away…. the music carried me to realms far above…… where I knew the meaning of love….. and that was the essence of this composer’s terrific popularity, for he gave us shows which raised our spirits like a Churchillian speech and eliminated, if only for a while, our doubts and fears.
I didn’t know Ivor Novello personally and in 1935 when his first musical show "Glamorous Night" came to Drury Lane, I was a mere 11year old schoolboy on the threshold of life, struggling with j’ai, tu as, il a, nous avon, vous avez, ils ont, but I was a trifle different from my schoolpals in that I enjoyed songs such as Shine Through My Dreams, whereas they were whistling and humming Lullaby of Broadway and Thanks a Million.
The world’s end, Chelsea, was my domain and I never ventured past Sloane Square, let alone Drury Lane Theatre where my idol was appearing; anyway where would I have got five shillings for a seat in the stalls? So it was listening to the concert orchestras of Harry Fryer, Richard Crean and Peter Yorke that I came to appreciate Ivor’s music, for his melodies were often played on the radio as the shows evolved …. "Glamorous Night", "Careless Rapture"and " Crest of the Wave".
It was during the war that my dream to actually see an Ivor show was realised and what better way to fulfil my fantasy than to see "The Dancing Years" at the Adelphi in the Strand. As soon as the nightwatchman appeared on stage at the very beginning of this wonderful show, I was lost in a theatrical world of enchantment and musical make believe; and when Ivor appeared to tumultuous applause and Mary Ellis sang Waltz of My Heart, I was hooked for the remainder of my life.
I have adored Ivor Novello’s music for seventy years, but it is really since 1943 when I first saw this show, that I experienced the magic, the wonder and charisma of being part of an Ivor audience. Even during the war, tea and biscuits were served at the intervals and as the trays were being returned, the orchestra would be playing softly the introductory music to the next act and, as in all of Ivor’s musicals I’ve seen since, the whole audience would be humming the lovely song which had flowed from his pen to the orchestra which was now playing it. It was such an uplifting experience to hear the quite obviously appreciative "choir" of people (much like the Humming Chorus in Puccini’s "Madam Butterfly") and many, although they had perhaps seen the show only once or twice, knew the lyrics, so it was nothing unusual to see or hear a matronly, dignified figure mouthing "Call and I shall be all you ask of me, music in spring, flowers for a king, all of these I bring to you."
One of my own personal regrets in life is that I never saw the early Theatre Royal, Drury Lane musicals, but towards the end of the 1940’s I wrote to Ivor at his flat in the Aldwych, Strand, telling him of my overwhelming appreciation and admiration of his life and work and requesting an autographed photo. One was returned promptly which I treasure to this very day; I also have one of Ivor’s first "Maria Ziegler", Mary Ellis, who lived to be 105.
I have often pondered about choosing my favourite Ivor Novello melody and I would have to return to a couple of years before I was born in 1924 to find what to me is one of the most charming and witty. It is of course And Her Mother Came Too! In these awfully tuneless, dreary days of "pop" culture, it is so very refreshing, occasionally, to listen to the silken, attractive voice of Jack Buchanan telling us of his visit to a golf course where his ubiquitous future Mother-in-Law was knocked out by a ball and at last…. he and his love were alone, but not for long – " for her Mother came too." Thinking of the only voices qualified to interpret Ivor’s music in the style he would have preferred, I cannot believe he could have foundanyone to excel Jack in the singing of this cute tune.
I have heard Glamorous Night sung by countless sopranos but none have surpassed the elegance, perfection and musicality of Mary Ellis. I have never heard Someday My Heart Will Awake and the title of my tribute sung more beautifully than by Vanessa Lee and who else could bring chills to the spine during the rendering of Highwayman Love other than Olive Gilbert? Mentioning this superb contralto who was a personal friend of Ivor’s, I can never forget her and Mary Ellis combining to give us the delightful Wings of Sleep in "The Dancing Years" where the applause lasted almost to the beginning of the next act!
However if, as I say, I had to choose one song which Ivor Novello composed which has to be his masterpiece, out of all the tuneful pleasurable melodies which flowed from the pianos at ‘Redroofs’, the country home at Maidenhead and 11 Aldwych (the flat in London) it would have to be Why is There Ever Goodbye? I consider the words (by Christopher Hassall) and the haunting music (by Ivor.who else) to be the lovliest they or anyone else ever wrote:
Brown leaves in the forest are falling again,
hungry thrushes are calling again….
out in the snow.Time flies….
And you part from your favourite friend,
even love seems to end,
when the winds blow.
Then just fifteen short years before he left us, Ivor posed the question we all ask when those we love die:
Why is There Ever Goodbye?
All the joy of today,
Though it seemed willing to stay,
Is tomorrow a dream that soon passes away,
Like the dew on a thorn,
When the dawn of the sun has begun?
Far on the crest of a star,
I can show you a light that continues to shine every night,
Filled with a fire unfading,
Why, if the stars never die…..
is there ever goodbye?
On that fateful March 6th in 1951, when Ivor suddenly died, I asked that question. Fifty three years after, I still have no answer.
from Journal Into Melody : September 2004
PHIL KELLY: "Bob Farnon has been my textbook for string writing"
The highly respected American composer and arranger, Phil Kelly, has recently been corresponding with Malcolm Frazer. In addition to more than 40 years as a composer-arranger for film, TV, and other media applications, Phil has written for bands like Bill Watrous' NY Wildlife Refuge, the Old Tonight show band, Doc Severinsen, Si Zentner, as well as functioning as arranger/ conductor / drummer for vocalists Buddy Greco, Julius LaRosa, Frank D'Rone, Sylvia Syms, John Gary, Jenny Smith, and Al 'TNT' Braggs among others.
Early on in his career, he also logged several years as a jazz drummer with artists such as Terry Gibbs, Red Garland, and Denny Zeitlin as well as years of work as a studio and recording drummer. In addition to his film and TV writing, Phil has written music for over 500 national commercials, ESPN, ABC Sports, NFL Films, and industrial films and shows for Cadillac, Chevrolet, Volkswagen, American Airlines and Zales Jewellers.
He also was the primary arranger for the Fort Worth (TX) Symphony Pops series for more than 25 years,and has been commissioned to provide custom pop symphonic scores for Doc Severinsen and Peter Nero. He has had arrangements played by the Houston, Dallas, Detroit, Cincinnati, and North Carolina Symphony orchestras.
Now semi-retired and residing in Bellingham WA, he still writes jazz and pop orchestra arrangements for publication and on commission, and is beginning an auxiliary career in the educational field as a clinician in film scoring and music for the media at various colleges around the USA, as well as a big band coach at the Bud Shank Centrum Jazz camp in Port Townsend WA for the past two years. His first big band jazz album under his own name, "Convergence Zone" has been recorded this summer for autumn release on Origin Records.
Phil recently told Malcolm Frazer that he regards Robert Farnon as being … "greatly responsible in many ways for turning me into a fairly competent orchestral / film / arranger-composer. Actually, Bob (through one of his many American disciples, Marion Evans) has been my textbook for string (and orchestral) writing since the early 1960s. I was one of the acolytes that hung out in Marion’s apartment across the street from Jim & Andys where I was introduced to the Farnon oeuvre."
Readers may recall that a photograph of a distinguished group of arrangers in Marion Evans’ apartment back in 1956 was included in JIM 151 – June 2002, page 6. Unfortunately Phil Kelly wasn’t present when this photo was taken. Phil has an attractive website – www.philkellymusic.com
from Journal Into Melody : September 2004
Robert Farnon as I see him, hear him and love him.
An affectionate tribute by MARC FORTIER
Intro : just a few bars … don’t be afraid …
I have been very fortunate to be raised listening to radio in my far North city of Jonquière, Province of Québec, Canada in the forties [Fortier..?) and fifties for I have listened to a lot of Robert Farnon’s compositions as themes of many CBC radio productions. At the time, I did not know the man behind the music and this revelation came decades later.
Gene Lees, the one and only Gene Lees, Jack of All Trades and Master of All, did ask me one day (years ago) "Do you know that tune?" He whistled it and I replied: "Of course!" He added a few others and the answer was always the same: I knew the music by heart. We were in Los Angeles, the weather was cool and the beer was cold at the Rodeo Bar in Beverly Hills. It was there that I met the man behind the music of Jumping Bean, Peanut Polka, Gateway to the West, Main Street and so many others.
Then came John Parry who shipped me, one day, a full box of LPs, documents and cassettes of various productions by the Guv. I was in awe! I think that he had understood from a previous conversation in Toronto that I was a fan and that I seriously needed to "finish my education …"
Thanks to both. Without them, maybe I would never have made the connection between the superb music and the superb man.
As I see him …
It is sufficient to see a photo of Mr Farnon and myself to get the message: he is a giant and I am ... who I am. At 5’6’’, I have been accustomed to deal with taller people (Mr Farnon, Gene Lees, Henry Mancini among others in the music field) and it never bothered me. The body size is not an issue here.
But the voice is!
Mr Farnon’s voice always fascinated me by its roundness, its solidity, its warmth and all the harmonics embellishing the primary tones. He always sounds like a 45 year old opera baritone at his best! Mozart would have chosen him for a role in many of his operas.
His profound and calm voice serves to show him as a man who has no fear, no regrets and no afterthoughts. He is a living example of the best philosophy a man can ever stick to: Live and let live !
And I think he does and always did.
After many years of correspondence by mail, fax and telephone, I first met Mr Farnon in Toronto on October 24th of 1997 at Manta Studio where many composers and arrangers gathered to see the man and listen to his teachings. I emceed the event with composer Victor Davies.
Besides him in front of that selected crowd of one hundred musicians, I felt smaller than ever, both physically and musically. We were all living a very special moment and we could feel the aura surrounding the Guv.
But, as soon as his voice filled the studio with its unique roundness and warmth, everyone felt as if he or she had known Robert Farnon for … let’s say … a year or two. This, of course, excluded old friends who had known him for decades like Pip Wedge and a few others.
As I hear him …
The Robert Farnon sound is a unique component of the universal symphonic world: it is pure, clean, new, fresh and always surprising as the man himsef.
Many a music analyst will scientifically conclude that Mr Farnon sounds a lot like Ravel or Delius and I dare say that it is all wrong: Robert Farnon sounds a lot like Robert Farnon.
More seriously, if I had to select a single composer of symphonic music to whom Robert Farnon compares in terms of style and perfection of orchestra writing, I would not hesitate: Antonin Dvorak !
Dvorak had inherited from Beethoven the strictness of the form and the luminosity of the colours. No fooling around, no detour, no fuzziness and no fill-ins: from the first bar to the last with the essentials, all the essentials and only the essentials. With no grey zone, no useless verbiage, no show-off and no disputable choices as far as harmony, counterpoint and instrumentation are concerned. Always the perfect balance.
At the Manta meeting in 1997, a student said that his teacher had told him this: Composing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. Mr Farnon did not hesitate and replied : Exactly the opposite, young man !
And that is exactly how I hear the music of Robert Farnon: like Beethoven, it flows from source in a uninterrupted wave of sound and one would think that it had been written forever. It is natural because it pours from strict inspiration without any sweat, any hard labour and any concession to rules, tricks or camouflage.
This is where the separation is made between the Mozarts and Salieris, between those who have it all and those who have some of it.
As I love him …
Everyone has been told one day or the other by some fellow who knows things we do not that: Good guys never win !
Well, I have news for them. I have personally known a few big winners who happen or happened to be very good guys. Artists who reached the top with their sole talent, who made friends everywhere they set foot and who commanded respect, admiration and affection without really trying … They are or were simply like that: good talented fellows! ‘Name dropping’ is not my cup of tea but here it can illustrate my point: Vladimir Golschmann (who gave me conducting lessons), Morton Gould with whom I travelled over the hemispheres (North and South America, Europe, Africa and Australia) and Henry Mancini with whom I had good talks and a very respectful rapport (among those who left us) have been most successful, wealthy and beloved by everyone around. GOOD WINNING GUYS !
And, among those still here (and for a long time, I hope), how about Gene Lees, the man who really knows everything and who is one of the most lovable person I ever met. He also happens to be a superstar when time comes to write and talk about music and, knowing him for decades now, I know that he has won it all: fame, respect, affection, admiration and wealth!
How about that for Good guys who never win?
And now, the cherry on the sundae : Robert Farnon. Can anyone be, at the same time and for a whole life, a gentle giant simply loved by all those who have had the privilege to know him? Can there be a better example of fame and success in our field acquired through talent and goodness alone?
It must be quite a feeling to have achieved the greatest goals in one’s life and to have always been nice and easy with everyone… Ask Robert Farnon!
This article appeared in Journal Into Melody, Issue 159, June 2004.
Marc Fortier is well-known to music-lovers in Montreal. He has been responsible for keeping Robert Farnon’s name and music known in his native Canada for many years. Marc played a vital role in the 1997 celebrations in Ottawa, when Robert Farnon was honoured during his 80th year. As a result of Marc’s pressure (which involved copious amounts of correspondence and personal approaches), SOCAN and the Film Composers’ Guild also lent their support to this event, which Marc had been planning since 1991, hoping that the special concert could be staged at the time when Robert Farnon was celebrating his 75th birthday. Unfortunately this did not happen, but Marc’s persistence finally paid off with the memorable series of concerts which took place in Ottawa in October/November 1997, conducted by Victor Feldbrill.
revealed by FORREST PATTEN
Have you ever found yourself listening to a Robert Farnon recording and, upon hearing something out of the ordinary, shaking your head and asking "how did he do that?" My Dad and I used to do that a lot. In fact, I’m still doing that today. It’s an on-going process. Here’s an example. I’ve always loved Bob’s suite of Scottish pieces, From The Highlands. I will readily admit that I’ll find myself pulling out a handkerchief and wiping my eyes when listening to "Annie Laurie" (with that beautiful build and pay-off during the final bridge) and the melody to Robert Burns’ "My Love Is Like A Red, Red Rose." But one of the most fascinating aspects of that album has been at the very end where "I Love A Lassie" transitions into the reprise of "The Bluebells Of Scotland." For years, I believed that the two pieces had been recorded separately and only came together by an appropriate electronic segue created by a recording engineer in the final mix. It wasn’t until the early 1980’s when I attended a Robert Farnon concert in Vancouver, B.C. that I heard this work performed live and realized that Bob had magically been able to manipulate the two tempos to work together in tandem. For those of us who have tried to figure out the Robert Farnon methodology to writing and arranging, it becomes clear after a while that there is no methodology. Just as Joan Of Arc heard "divine voices," Bob is blessed by his own inward and abundant talent. In other words, if you ask him to explain how he does what he does, or what inspires him to write something in a particular way, Bob will likely look at you, smile, shrug his shoulders, and tell you something like "I’m not really sure. It’s just inside of me and I write what comes out." Well, after re-visiting From The Highlands while driving into work recently, I finally decided to swallow my pride and to call Bob and ask him the question that has haunted me for years: Musically, how was that flawless transition made between "I Love A Lassie" and "The Bluebells Of Scotland"? Revealed for the first time, here is his enlightening, educational and surprising answer. Essentially, Bob needed a device that would keep the pace of "Lassie" going while not slowing it down in tempo to accommodate the pacing of "Bluebells." Although both pieces are written in 4/4 time, because one is fast and the other slow, they could not fit on top of one another. While experimenting, Bob decided to add an additional beat to "Bluebells" (making it 5/4 rather than 4/4 time). This solved the problem and allowed the two pieces to be played simultaneously. With the Farnon magic at work, the listener never hears the difference. So finally the secret is out. It’s safe to say that when Robert Farnon writes and/or arranges a score, he never misses a beat! from Journal Into Melody : September 2004
The following article reflects the Editor’s personal opinions
Sound copyright: under threat yet again?
Every so often the ‘thorny’ subject of the length of copyright in sound recordings crops up in Britain. Just recently a pop group which enjoyed considerable success from the 1960s onwards has been reported as lobbying the European Union to force Britain to raise the protection of copyright on sound recordings from the present 50 to 70 years.
Copyright in all areas of the arts is a complicated and often misunderstood matter. And it is far from being a universal thing: with modern means of spreading knowledge and entertainment in so many forms worldwide, how on earth is it possible to ensure that all the billions in all the countries on our planet abide by the rules?
Rules … what rules? There are no rules which appear to apply everywhere with the same effect. And who is going to bother to enforce them anyway?
Britain is a soft target. Generally speaking when we sign up to the latest edicts from ‘on high’ (otherwise known as the unelected European Commission) we tend to abide by them; our neighbours in the EU adopt a far more sensible attitude – they sign up, but only obey what they consider is beneficial to them.
But I am starting to drift off the point. The important matter which I wish to bring to your urgent attention is that there is a real danger that Britain could be forced to change its sound copyright laws almost by default, unless we all wake up to the threat and realise what it would mean to us in practical terms as music lovers.
The case put by the artists who want to raise the sound copyright limit to 70 years is that they alone should be able to decide how their older recordings should be made available on new CDs or other means of sound reproduction. One can have some sympathy with this view, but this does raise the valid comment:
■ if their recordings are still of considerable value, surely they are already being issued by the original record company that made them, and consequently there would be little money to be earned by independent companies reissuing them yet again.
Sound copyright should not be confused with composer royalties. Many pop groups from the mid-1960s onwards used to record their own material, and the writers can happily count on receiving royalties collected by PRS during their lifetimes – and beyond. When the RFS made its own CD in 1997 – "Captain Robert Farnon and the Canadian Band of the AEF" – we used recordings that were long out of sound copyright in Britain, but we still paid over £230 in royalties to MCPS on the 500 copies we manufactured.
In the USA the term for sound copyright is currently 70 years. It varies in different European countries – sometimes 70 years but even as low as 25 years. What are the main arguments in favour of leaving the law as it stands in Britain?
1. We now have several well-respected independent record companies who have gained international reputations for the quality of their sound restorations of material over 50 years old.
2. Most of the recordings being restored and reissued have been ignored for years by the major companies that first recorded them. Some have even lost them.
3. The new releases are usually attractively packaged with comprehensive booklet notes. The careers of some artists have definitely been extended and even rekindled through the activities of the enthusiasts whose passions have resulted in the reissues.
4. As a judge in the USA commented a year or two ago, modern sound restorations do give an added value to old recordings, making them more attractive than previously. Such work is for the general benefit of music lovers, and it should not be stifled.
5. British readers who were young in the 1950s, at a time when home tape recording started to become affordable, will remember the dire consequences threatened by the BBC on anyone they discovered committing the terrible sin of actually recording their programmes. Today we know how badly they looked after their precious archives, and they now plead with these earlier ‘sinners’ to share their tapes with the BBC. There is a parallel with the fragile 78s issued during the last century: many collectors are no longer around to protect their treasured discs, and time is quickly running out for them to be preserved for posterity. Extending the sound copyright periods could seriously hamper such work, and deprive all future generations of valued examples of our musical heritage.
6. Finally it is a misconception to think that independent record companies are making a fortune from restoring old recordings. Although the actual CDs are becoming cheap to manufacture, the computer equipment to process the 78s or early LPs is expensive – not to mention the cost of actually locating the discs, paying someone to compile them and write the notes, print the booklets, etc. Most of the CDs enjoyed by readers of this magazine probably sell under 1,000 copies: hardly something that politicians should be wasting their time worrying about.
If the worst happens, and a change in the law is considered to be desirable, then I hope that it will not be made retrospective, and that there would be a period of several years before it came into force. Although I do not advocate it myself, I can imagine a situation where some people might feel that the improvements in sound recording which took place at the time might make it equitable to allow recordings from 1960 onwards to be subject to copyright protection for longer than 50 years, but to impose this before then would, in my humble opinion, be a most regrettable and retrograde step.
One final thought: some countries have a Freedom of Information Act, and the idea is spreading. Is this just flannel, or is it intended to mean something substantial? It does appear that there are many people who regard such liberal trends with great suspicion, and I submit that the extension of sound copyright would be a blatant example of going against the aforementioned aspirations.
I hardly need to state that I have a vested interest in this important matter, because my aim is to make available many recordings of light music that have been simply ‘lost’ or ‘forgotten’ by the companies that originally made them. It just so happens that a lot of these ‘treasures’ date from around 50 years ago, and to be prevented access to them would be a serious loss to music lovers around the world. For example, the Guild ‘Golden Age of Light Music’ series would never have been created.
My own vested interests pale in comparison with the vested interests of the parties who would like to change the law. One famous example is The Beatles, whose earliest recordings date from just after 1960. Probably money could still be made from attractive repackaging of their material, but should this be regarded as a strong enough reason to enforce a blanket ban on all the other recordings from that period which have been neglected by the record companies?
I would emphasise again that this article represents my personal view, and it must not be taken as the policy of the Robert Farnon Society. Nevertheless I strongly believe that the interests of our members are at risk, and I feel justified in using our magazine to bring it to your attention. I hope that some of you will join in this debate and let me have your own views, which I will be happy to print in a future magazine. If you disagree with me, please don’t hesitate to say so, and tell me why you think I am wrong to be concerned. However if you agree with me that this is a matter which should be of some concern to us all, then I urge you to make your feelings known to your local MP and especially your MEP (Member of the European Parliament). You can also alert the press, both national and local, and raise the subject if you enjoy taking part in radio talk shows.
I would like to think that our political masters have far more important problems to deal with at the present time, but experience has shown that this is just the kind of unfortunate legislation that can slip through ‘on the nod’ by a small group of tired people anxious to dispose of reams of paperwork without protracted arguments. The case to extend the period of sound copyright can seem fair to people unaware of the complete picture. Unless we ensure that a proper, reasoned debate takes place, we could all lose out on an area of the record business that is presently giving us a lot of pleasure.
from Journal Into Melody : September 2004
My article in our last issue has provoked many comments from RFS members, most of them along similar lines, saying … "we hope things stay as they are." Some members have kindly taken the trouble to expand their concerns more fully, and a representative selection appears below.
There are continuing press reports of individuals and organisations asking for the sound copyright period to be extended from 50 to 70 years in Britain, with most of them latching on to the fact that the earliest Elvis Presley recordings are now 50 years old. I suspect that these gripes will continue to rumble on for years, and gain fresh momentum when the Beatles' records attain their half-century soon after 2010. The media cannot be relied upon to give objective reporting: a Channel 4 News report in September failed to grasp the complexities of the subject.
The future of many Light Music compilations is at stake, but I am not going to repeat the arguments I put forward last time: all I would ask is that any readers who did not see my article in the last Journal Into Melody should try to read it if this subject is of some concern to them. It can also be viewed on our website. Now here are some of the letters that have come in.
from Mike Ellis:
I write to congratulate you on your erudite article concerning the above. I can only agree wholeheartedly with your remarks. Indeed, I would go further.
You mention the case put forward by artists who believe that they alone should be able to decide how their older recordings should be made available. Cynically, I suspect this is a ruse on the part of many of them to squeeze as much cash out of them as possible. The most obvious case is Steve Lawrence and Edyie Gorme, who own their Columbia and United Artists masters. They refuse to allow the original company to reissue their classic albums, but prefer to do it themselves on their own label. Although, as a purist, I would rather have the original company produce the reissue, I could live with this except the fact that this route leads to excessive prices and limited availability. It is virtually impossible to purchase these CDs in shops and the cost of each CD from the few shops that do carry them, or on the internet, is in excess of £25.00 each! Is this fair on the many collectors who have supported them over the years? Most of us are retired and on limited incomes, so this is a counterproductive move.
Similarly, the recordings of Don Cornell are owned by the artist's family and, again, they were issued on their own label and only available at his concerts or from them direct by mail order, requiring an International Money Order, incurring considerable additional expense. In both these cases, the original company would (if allowed) have been able to release them at mid-price and made them freely available.
In another instance, Tony Bennett has resolutely refused, for many years, to allow his early albums to be released on CD because, in his view, they do not gel with his current image. Only recently has he relented and allowed his first Columbia album to be transferred to CD. In a recent article, Sue Raney expressed regret that her first two Capitol albums had been released on CD, presumably because they do not (in her opinion) match what she is doing today.
In all these cases, I respect the views of the artists although I cannot agree with them. If it were left to them, many superb albums would never have seen the light of day and we would be the poorer for it.
There is also a related aspect. As many will know, CDs are more expensive in the UK than elsewhere. Many internet retailers redress this balance by offering US releases at lower prices than the UK version. The music industry became very upset by this and hit out at these retailers with legal threats. The result of this is that most of these retailers now only carry UK releases. It is not for me to comment on the allegations of 'rip-off" Britain, but an unfortunate side effect is that we no longer have access to those US CDs that have never had a UK release. My view is that the BPS action should only relate the CDs where there is a freely available UK release.
At the end of the day, the major labels are now less and less interested in releasing their back catalogue, and yet they make it very difficult for the independent labels to licence them, requiring quite unrealistic minimum orders. The fact is that we collectors are getting fewer and fewer each year and both artists and companies should be looking for ways to sell that back catalogue before it is too late.
from John Harmer:
The possibility of sound copyright being extended is a worry, as I am sure that there are many of us who are unable to have access to recordings from the Chappell library, other than on new CDs such as the Guild, Vocalion and Living Era releases.
from J.J. Olivier:
I fully agree with the Editor's comments about sound copyright. I hope that these negative ideas will not materialise. For me, personally, it would be the saddest of days if I were to be deprived of the CDs of the most beautiful music that I now have the privilege to own. I do hope that the people wanting to change the law will not succeed, and that I will continue to be able to enjoy the light music reissues.
from Nicholas Briggs:
The article on Sound Copyright makes very interesting, if disturbing, reading. It is probably best to buy up what one can now whilst things are still available!
from David Turner:
Just a note to say thanks for the excellent article on Copyright and PRS etc. You encapsulated a complex subject into 'easy read'... This type of explanation has been long overdue. I thoroughly agree with your observations. To deprive lovers of 'our music' would be unacceptable, especially if the original companies are not prepared to keep them in the catalogue.
Shortly after my article in our last issue had been sent to the printers, I was made aware of a report on the internet which hopefully indicates that the European Union are not, at present, likely to bow to pressure from certain sectors of the music business in Britain. I am repeating relevant parts of this report below, and feel that further comment at this stage is unnecessary - except to say that this is a matter which must continue to demand our attention, in case an absence of discussion should ever be taken as tacit agreement to an extension of the present sound copyright period. The report on the internet begins:
After the European Union had harmonized the copyright term of its Member States' copyright laws to 70 years post mortem auctoris, the United States enacted the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act in 1998. By this act, the general copyright term in the U.S. of 50 years p.m.a. was extended to 70 years p.m.a. as well. One of the main reasons for this extension was the argument that the U.S. had to catch up with the EU in order to ensure the competitiveness of the U.S. content industry worldwide.
For several kinds of sound recordings, the U.S. now even provides a copyright term of 95 years from the year of first publication. By contrast, the EU Copyright Term Directive only provides a protection of 50 years from the date the recording is made. It is no surprise that content owners have recently been pushing the EU to extend its protection for neighbouring rights such as sound recordings to 95 or at least 70 years as well. One of the main arguments for this extension is that the EU now has to catch up with the U.S. in order to ensure the competitiveness of the European music and recording industry worldwide (sounds somewhat familiar...).
A recent document by the European Commission indicates that the Commission does not intend to participate in this never-ending race towards longer copyright terms any more. In a staff working document which dates from July 19, 2004 and reviews the European acquis communitaire in the field of copyright law, the staff of the copyright unit of the Commission writes: "It is feared that an extended term of protection would only tend to diminish the choice of music on the market by enforcing the flow of revenues from few best-selling recordings, while at the same time not providing any real new incentives for creation of new recordings or motivating new investment. It has also been pointed out that practically all developed countries, with the exception of the USA, apply the term of protection of 50 years. As to the need to achieve parity between the EU and the USA, it has been argued that the same term of protection would not result in equal economic benefits for the right holders in these two territories. On the contrary, due to a different approach to which uses of phonograms are remunerated, US right holders already benefit from a better protection of their recordings in Europe, and the extension of the term would only aggravate this divide. [...] it seems that public opinion and political realities in the EU are such as not to support an extension in the term of protection. Some would even argue that the term should be reduced. At this stage, therefore, time does not appear to be ripe for a change, and developments in the market should be further monitored and studied."
At least in some cases, the voices of copyright critics seem to be heard.
David Ades : November 2004
MEMORIES OF LEVY’S SOUND STUDIOS 1955-1961
by BILL JOHNSON
Levy’s Sound Studios was one of very few recording studios outside the major record labels that were established in the thirties, a unique feature being their pressing factories they operated at Aston Clinton and Colnbrook. From these units they pressed their own labels Oriole and Embassy records, as well as taking in washing from an American label, Mercury, and also exporting discs to the far corners of the British Empire. They also owned a world-renowned record shop in Whitechapel. Alongside Star, Recorded Sound and Guy de Beir (subsequently renamed Advision), they pioneered an independent recording service for aspiring amateur and professional singers, solo musicians and orchestras.
I joined Levy’s in 1955 as a junior engineer and delivery boy (their being no couriers in those days). I was fifteen and had to get work due to my father’s earlier demise from cancer. He was an hotelier and ran Westminster Residential Service Suites at 59 Jermyn Street. Even though my mother took over the management when he died, it was clear that the post would not last forever.
I was always interested in photography, recording and my small bedroom in the hotel was littered with 8mm cine cameras, editing equipment, projectors, speakers, Scophony Baird tape recorder, sound mixer, grams and other paraphernalia. I decided a disc cutter would complete my equipment and my mother, being a generous soul and to make up for my father’s early death, decided to buy me one. They were not easy to find, but in one government surplus shop (a trade that abounded in those days) we found a pristine MSS mobile disc cutter with the magic letters BBC scorched into the heavy wooden carry case. It had been used by war correspondents in the field of battle. As you can imagine I was like a dog with two tails. Eventually I taught myself how to work it. This entailed a balancing act with the cutting head. Too little weight and the record would not play, too much and a sapphire cutting needle would grind itself through the lacquer surface into the aluminium base of the blank and be ruined. Also control of dynamic range and modulation of the cutter head ensured success or failure.
In Piccadilly Arcade, a stone’s throw from the hotel, was a modest recording outfit run by Guy Whetstone and Stephen Appleby, who later established Advision. They provided me with either relapped or new sapphire cutters as required. Both were long suffering and at 30 bob a sapphire (£1.50 in today’s money), extremely generous. We all became close friends as the years went by. As luck would have it this single bit of skill enabled me to begin my career in recording.
In my search for work I walked the length of Bond Street and finally, after much pacing outside, marched into Levy’s Sound Studios and asked to speak to the chief engineer. I was greeted by a bemused Jacques Levy who told me his chief engineer was busy but would he do. "Well", I said, "I need a job. I can make these", removing my best 78rpm acetate discs from my school satchel. "Would you be interested"? Mr Jacques, as he always liked to be addressed, got his linen tester out and looked at the groove formation and then played the records. Eventually he summoned forth chief recording engineer Ted Sibbick, a portly little man in a white coat who gave me the third degree. How had I come by these! Where did I find them and so forth. Finally after taking them both to my room in Jermyn Street they were convinced I had cut them myself and I got a job at £3.10s (£3.50) a week.
Ted Sibbick was an excellent teacher; a staunch Mason, he used to regale me with stories of when he was at the BBC during the war. "You know" he would say, "Our boys out there" – referring to MI6 – "were so efficient I used to get scripts of Hitler’s speeches six weeks ahead of a broadcast, and when they were relayed to me live from Caversham, the BBC monitoring Station, I had already worked out where the disc changes would be". On a less savoury note he mentioned finding, following a land mine attack on Broadcasting House, a policeman’s head complete with helmet on the window ledge of his dubbing room six stories up.
I began my apprenticeship with Levy’s, which was to last six years and ended up with my becoming their chief engineer. At first, of course, I did all the mundane stuff like make tea, deliver discs and sweep the studio floor. Mr Jacques liked a clean ship!
In the pre-war period as newsreels became popular, background libraries of specially recorded music emerged and Levy’s received its fair share of sessions mainly because they offered a unique advantage, a recording and pressing facility for 78rpm records. A one-stop shop so to speak.
Early background music labels like De Wolfe, Paxton, Chappell, Boosey & Hawkes and KPM all used Levy’s. Morris Levy, (Mr) Jacques’ elder brother, was then Studio Manager and the sole balance engineer. As I remember, re-mastering many of these catalogues over the years, there was a sort of rounded quality to his recordings which seemed to defy the laws of the technology of the day. Although not a trained musician, even I could appreciate the extremely well crafted balance of chord harmonies captured on his recordings right down to the double bass. Of course all studios have their own characteristics and these are shown up more if you wide mic or close mic. Much of the MGM scoring studio’s reputation was derived from using one microphone for the entire orchestra and an extremely sympathetic acoustic. Levy’s was a very live studio by today’s standards and separation was quite a challenge, so it took quite a degree of careful judgement to get the balance just right, as I was to learn later.
The recording equipment Morris used was really quite primitive and was still in use when I arrived in the fifties. There was a central 6-channel mixer, a big box of valves, without any equalisation, a secondary passive mixer that took the output of main mixer, and two Vortexion mixers purchased later. These were then fed into an equaliser with primitive top and bass controls connected to the mono tape recorder or disc cutter. Microphones consisted of BBC Marconi long ribbons and American and STD Cardoids. It was simple but the signal was clean and distortion free as a whistle.
Although I was not aware of it at the time but, a close friend throughout my life, Bernard Mattimore (a recording engineer with EMI), tells me there was no equalization at Abbey Road studios either. All equalisation was done in post production through a large box of Cooker Knobs known as a 'Curve Bender' which Abbey Road built. You sat in the Greenroom with the A&R man and perhaps the M.D. and you clicked away until they thought it sounded better! You had a sheet of paper designed to show all the knobs and their calibrations. You ticked off the settings and the sheet was put in the Master Tape Box and sent up for cutting. The cutting engineers all had 'Curve Benders'; having referred to the ticked-sheet, they set their 'box of knobs' likewise. At least they were supposed to, I knew some who didn't, and no one could tell after anyway!
All Classical lacquer masters were played before they went down to Hayes for processing. There appeared to be a constant war between the studio and the factory regarding quality, so this policy of 'It was all right when it left us', was adopted.
Levy’s never played lacquer masters for fear of the damage caused to the grooves by the application of steel needles to the soft lacquer. It only goes to show how the isolated islands of operation were interpreting by the emerging technology.
The Studio at 73 New Bond Street was built into what was once an art gallery. The room was roughly 40’x40’ and backed onto Dering Street. Below was a pub called the ‘Bunch of Grapes’ which became a haven for the recording community of the area in the late fifties. Bernard, who was now the manager of the HMV studio in Oxford Street, would join Stephen Appleby, Guy and Andy Whetstone from the newly formed Advision at 83, a few doors away in Bond Street. It was all very pleasant.
The acoustic engineers had built a soundproof shell within the gallery, all on a floating floor. Even the control room was within the shell. Above the control room was a void to the ceiling of the old art gallery. Here they had dumped old gear, redundant Brunswick recording lathes, several racks of transcription discs (16" x 33⅓ rpm records the wartime precursor of LP’s) and the like. Science Museum cry your eyes out!
Originally sessions were recorded direct onto disc live. And, although I only have this by hearsay, it was not until (Mr) Jacques returned from Germany at the end of hostilities clutching a Magnetophon tape machine, which seemed to have fallen off a panzer wagon, did they convert to pre-recording on tape. (He was always a bit hush-hush about what he did in the war - as he was in business.) The machine ran at 30 ips and made a dickens of a noise as I remember. It used open sided European platters of quarter inch tape 3,250ft long. Many of these revolutionary devices had been captured by the advancing expeditionary forces during the war and distributed to allied countries for evaluation. Bing Crosby got his hands on one, created Ampex and the rest is history. The one we had still retained the secret rotating scrambler head used to transmit secret messages to agents in the field, as well as normal linear heads.
Because of my talent for disc cutting I was confined to the dubbing suites for several months at 101 New Bond Street with Ted Sibbick, opposite the Studio at 73. My initial work consisted of making 78rpm lacquers from the output of the studio; masters for onward processing at Aston Clinton and Colnbrook (their pressing plants); and transferring to disc amateur tape recordings which were increasing month on month.
Levy’s, with its unique ability to record and press independently of the majors, meant it had a healthy trade in work from many of the countries left over from the "Empire" - not least India and Africa. The Sheherazade Label based in Delhi used to send lacquers by the dozen, which I converted to pressing masters. It provided me with a useful Saturday job and welcome overtime - 50 sides a morning was my record!
There was also Melodisc, a West African label who recorded in the Studio most times. The various bands, colourful Rastafarians, brought in ornate musical instruments like talking drums, odd battered trumpets, bugles and guitars. Unfortunately, they did have a tiresome habit of blessing the session by sprinkling thick Black John Rum over (Mr) Jacques’ shiny parquet studio floor. We managed to sponge it off without offending the artistes and before it ate into the veneer.
It was not for several months after being employed that was I allowed to go into the Holy of Holy’s – The Control Room. Although the Magnetophon was still in position, but just used for winding tape, it had been replaced by an EMI BTR2, an enormous green machine that weighed a ton and took a day to line up.
Sessions were booked in by Mrs Friend who kept the diary. Certain days were pencilled out for Oriole or Embassy sessions; the balance was the luck of the draw. As you can imagine we received our quota of musical émigrés from Eastern Europe after WW2, mainly Jewish. (Mr) Jacques did not find their presence something he could tolerate and retired, so it gave me ample opportunity to learn to balance sound. Some of these highly excitable people would arrive with band parts expecting to find a full orchestra, hanging around in the studio, to play their stuff. They were disappointed more often than not and most of the time was spent placating them and ringing Maestro Mario, a singing teacher who occupied the top floor of 101, to request help from his accompanist. Eventually the lady came over and did what she could and another demo was committed to a treasured lacquered disc.
Levy’s, being independent and struggling to survive in a world that was beginning to be controlled by technology, were really not equipped financially or willing to accept the argument for increased investment from a business point of view.
When the ‘LP’ was introduced, and with it an all-singing and dancing disc recording machine from Denmark, the Lyrec SV8, which retailed at some $275,000 they were slow to accept the need. This was 1956 and when you compare what can be done today with a PC and DVD reader/writer to record both pictures and sound on a small plastic disc, which everyone can own for a few hundred pounds, then the advances in technology over the next 48 years can really be appreciated.
At first we all looked in envy as we were shown the demo model at the IBC studios in Portland Place just north of Broadcasting House. (Mr) Jacques, Ted and I were in awe of the bright blinking lights and all the functions. You could dial in the duration of the recording; it would set the level automatically, and sort out variable groove depth and width, based on a judgement of recording time and average recording modulation. It was a fail-safe machine and was the first example of how technology would soon take the artistry out of virtually everything we do today. We all secretly wished it had not been invented and hoped it would grind its cutter on its first recording assignment. We all knew that Levy’s could not afford one and so we scratched our heads and said, "we can do that".
Within a month we had fitted new motors to our Neumann lathe to run at 33⅓ rpm. LP’s, unlike most of the 78’s produced hitherto, had two additional requirements - the groove had a variable depth to cope with the increased dynamic range of tape, and as a result the lead screw on the lathe had to run variably and independent of the turntable to accommodate the constantly changing groove width. This was to be compounded when stereo was introduced. With everything optimised you could then get up to 30 minutes per side on an LP.
If you do not have a locked-in calculator to sort this out then it needs to be done manually. So we loaded the front of the cutting head for the maximum depth and fixed a small coil spring to it with a piece of felt as a damper. The top of the spring was connected to a little screw which could be rotated to lessen the load on the cutter and set the minimum depth. So far so good! The variable drive for the lead screw was slightly less sophisticated. Ted found an old electric 78rpm gramophone motor and removed the turntable. We then fixed a 12" blank to the lead screw and let it rest on the motor’s hub. As there used to be a lever to adjust the gramophone motor’s speed we found that full speed equalled roughly a groove pitch of 50 microns and dead slow around 10 microns.
By setting two RGD tape playback machines side by side and running the tape though one machine as a pre listening device in advance of the head that was connected to the disc cutter’s amplifier, we got prior knowledge of when an orchestral piece was offering up a crescendo or pianissimo, so we could open up the groove width and increase depth. It was all a bit hairy - left hand on the depth control, right hand on the variable pitch device, but we were in business! And that simply is what we did at Levy’s for many years, producing countless LP’s for their own Oriole and Embassy labels as well as re-mastering background music libraries on LP. Copies of original 78 disc recordings were pressed in vinyl instead of shellac in order to minimise surface noise and dubbed onto tape then made up into albums and so on. Months were spent on dubbing background music catalogues to cope with the new technology. I even devised a method of turning mono into stereo by means of an 8-channel mixer with a panning control and the dextrous use of equalisation on each channel.
Eventually, I moved into programme production and tape editing for the shows they made for Radio Luxembourg, the main two being, "For you Madam" and "John Dark". Ex-BBC producer, Neil Tuson, directed both. The former was a magazine programme introduced by Peter West and included the live performances by Frank Chacksfield and his Orchestra.
One notable programme included an interview with a hero of mine. I used to listen to AFN out of Stuttgart in 1950 and there was one DJ called Sgt Frank Batters (I think that is how the name is spelt) who always ended his broadcast by playing, Caterina Valente’s The Breeze and I. Lo and behold, as I edited the broadcast tape there he was, but regrettably I never met him.
John Dark was a Dick Barton sound-alike. Neil had created and produced Dick Barton for the BBC and when it was axed to make way for the Archers he took the idea to Luxembourg who picked it up with open arms. The name had to be changed for legal reasons. We used to record five episodes every Sunday, two in the morning and three in the afternoon. Notable artists included Paul Whitson Jones, Mary Wimbush and Jack May (later to be Nelson Gabriel in the Archers). Sometimes I did the studio spot effects like slamming doors or creating ghastly grinding noises while Dark was being interrogated by some evil power. Other times I was on the grams with backgound FX like wind, rain, thunder and an effect which I had to create from scratch - thousands of rats scrabbling to devour John Dark in a sewer. He always got away!
A great deal of recording was done outside the studio. My first trip was to Eastbourne to record Max Jaffa’s Palm Court Orchestra, later to be an LP released on Oriole. My first solo mobile recording was made at the Commonwealth Institute in Northumberland Avenue just off Trafalgar Square. A strange science fiction writer by the name of L. Ron Hubbard was to give a series of 8 one-hour lectures in one day on the subject of Scientology. This so called religion became quite notorious in the late 50’s and apparently the tapes are still revered today as his gospels.
Other locations included the Conway Hall (where a lot of background music was recorded without the consent of the Musicians’ Union), Wigmore Hall (where I spent many days secretly recording international artists’ own samplers), and Walthamstow Town Hall which had exceptional acoustics. The World Record Club recorded many easy-listening records there. They also produced a version of the musical My Fair Lady way before it hit London.
I became a close friend of Norman Lonsdale WRC MD, and his wife Fiona Bentley, who with Lord Aberdair and Cyril Ornadel (MD for Sunday Night at the London Palladium), began making independent productions. It was her vision that gave me my first break into writing scripts and producing children’s records. Some 90 were made in all using the cream of writers, like David Croft, (BBC "Dad’s Army" and "Hello Hello" writer/producer), musical directors that included John Gregory, Ken Jones, Bernie Fenton, Cyril Ornadel, and famous stars too numerous to mention. They sold throughout the world. I got to direct Ferdi Mayne, Vivien Leigh, Donald Wolfit, Roger Livesey, Bernard Miles, Jack Hulbert, Cicely Courtneidge, Jean Metcalfe, and many other big stars. Not bad for a kid of 19 eh!.
There was always a bit of tension between the two Levy brothers, Morris and (Mr) Jacques. It was to come to a head when I began balancing their economy Woolworth records that went out on the Embassy label. The trick was to find what was going to be top of the hit parade in the coming weeks and then make an exact, or, as they called it in the trade, "Chinese Copy" using local singers and musicians. Then get them into Woolworth’s at half the price of the real thing. We got it down to a fine art, recording on a Thursday and in the stores by the following Monday.
But Morris was not pleased with many of the results. Either the level on the disc was not sufficient or interpretation was not close enough. The truth was that the studio was now totally under-funded and the gear had seen better days. So many advancements had been made elsewhere that it was becoming impossible to compete. I secretly borrowed a limiter/compressor from a rival studio and without telling (Mr) J connected it to the disc-cutting suite. As I recorded the master discs for the factory, the limiter compressed the dynamic range and created a "wall of sound" enabling at least 8db additional level on the disc, and gave the recording a totally different feel. Morris was overjoyed but (Mr) Jacques and I were never to be close colleagues again and the situation got so volatile I had to leave the company in 1961.
Eventually both brothers had to concede that the studio needed re-equipping. This was accomplished by my successor Jeff Frost. But soon CBS, who had much of their output for British consumption pressed at Oriole Records over the years, decided that a takeover of the group (comprising Oriole and Embassy Records, their factories at Aston Clinton and Colnbrook, as well as Levy’s Sound Studios), would prove a sound business move.
They took the catalogue, the premises and the factories; but the talent and dedication, of Levy’s pioneers, had long gone. But that is another story!
Editor: Bill Johnson left the recording business in about 1965 and, even though he worked at many other Studios like Olympic, Lansdowne (as Dennis Preston's assistant) and built his own studio Ryemuse, he decided to move into business theatre productions and staging large presentations for people like Capital Radio and the Shaklee Corporation of America under his own company Magic Lantern. For two good examples of the ‘different’ sound achieved in the Levy Studios, listen to ‘Festive Days’ and ‘Bandstand’ on the new Guild CD "An Introduction to The Golden Age of Light Music".
CARRY ON COMPOSING!
The Music of the ‘Carry On’ Films 1958-78
by PETER EDWARDS
This article is a shortened version of an undergraduate music dissertation written at Durham University in the Spring of 2002. The original paper is presented with a selection of audio and video examples, together with a bibliography and discography. For the purposes of this article, many of the examples and citations have been removed. In some places, however, I have referred to Gavin Sutherland’s CD, The Carry On Album (Sanctuary Group CDWHL 2119). Many readers will already own this disc; for those who don’t, my advice is to treat yourself to a copy! Peter Edwards
In 1958, Gerald Thomas and Peter Rogers made a low-budget film called Carry On Sergeant. Over the next twenty years they would produce 29 more films bearing the ‘Carry On’prefix, and representing the most successful series of comedy films in British cinema history. Like most aspects of popular culture, these films were not original; they wallowed in a collection of tried and tested comic ideals and stereotypes, owing something to nearly every genre of comedy which had gone before. And yet the ‘Carry On’ series quickly established itself as something rather special; something which was uniquely and affectionately British, and remains so to this day.
As Britain’s culture changed from the late 1950s to the late 70s, the Carry Ons adapted accordingly. The series soon diverted from the almost Ealing style launched by Carry On Sergeant; the actors, jokes and characters, however, stayed reassuringly the same. They represented comedy in its simplest form: low brow and unassuming but speaking directly to a mass audience. The films achieved this consistency through a talented team of comedians, notably Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Kenneth Connor, Hattie Jacques and Joan Sims. The screenplay writer, together with director and producer, was a major driving force. But in this article I will be discussing the work of the man who is most criminally forgotten: the composer.
It is through music that every structural aspect of the Carry On films is brought to life. Indeed, without the skill of the composer any film production would be sure to fall flat; this being the case more than ever in a comedy production. The rather cheeky, largely visual, naughty and yet innocent humour of the Carry Ons is directly and often graphically mirrored by their music. A good film score is an integral part of the production, as much as lighting, costumes sound effects and dialogue; it cannot be merely tagged on.
The massive amount of music included in twenty years of Carry Ons was written almost exclusively by two men. Bruce Montgomery composed the scores for the first six films from 1958-62 . His successor, Eric Rogers, scored the following twenty-three films until 1978. Interestingly the change in composer coincided with a change in screenplay writer: Talbot Rothwell replaced Norman Hudis. This brought about a marked change in style whilst continuing and enhancing the spirit of Carry On into and beyond the Swinging Sixties.
The roots of this kind of comedy could be described as the ‘spirit of Carry On’. Everything in the production, including the music, was to immerse itself in these roots in order to give the audience what it wanted. The earliest and perhaps most obvious of these roots is apparent in the British music-hall. These centres of popular entertainment offered shows of a decent quality, at an affordable price, to a largely working class audience. Their comics made light of embarrassing situations, spoofing the most cherished of our institutions. The early Carry Ons did precisely that, sending up the British Army in Carry On Sergeant (1958), the National Health Service in Carry On Nurse (1959), the Police Force in Carry On Constable (1960) and so on. Later the films would send up the more ‘serious’ films of the day: James Bond in Carry On Spying (1964), the Western in Carry On Cowboy (1965), and the historical costume drama in Carry On Don’t Lose Your Head (1966).
British audiences have always laughed at jokes about sex, or indeed about anything considered ‘naughty’ or ‘taboo’. Just as the music-halls pushed cultural boundaries in their time, the Carry Ons did the same in the 1950s, 60s and 70s – and always at the mercy of the censors. But jokes and innuendo, as written in a script, are not funny in their own right. The thought of anyone but Kenneth Williams crying "Stop messin’ about!" does not provoke so much as a smile. Music-hall songs were always associated with their particular performers; and the jokes of the Carry Ons were associated with the men and women on screen, established as the ‘Carry On Team’. Perhaps this is why the main acting figures in the films are famous, whilst the men behind the scenes – especially the composer – are largely forgotten. And yet the thought of a Carry On without its music is at least as dull as the thought of a music-hall without its orchestra.
The spirit of music-hall had to be presented, not just in the jokes of the songs, but in the music itself. In a similar way, the Carry Ons achieved light comedy through their light music. Every aspect of the comedy – the spoofs, the naughty situations, the larger-than-life characters and caricatures, the verbal and visual jokes – is presented by the composer in his score.
The theatre and its music continued to flourish in Britain when the music-hall was dying. By the 1950s the mainstream music-hall had been consigned to history, yet its very spirit had become transformed into comedy films, and its music into the variety theatre. Eric Rogers (the second of the Carry On composers) started his career in the theatre – as musical director at the London Palladium. Here he composed Startime, famous theme of the TV series Sunday Night at the London Palladium. He also arranged and orchestrated Lionel Bart’s musical Oliver!, (Bart could neither read nor write music himself). It was in the theatre that Rogers developed his own skill in composing film music. Just as the variety show stage was an important precedent for the humour of the Carry On films, the music of the theatre represented a solid grounding for the art of film composition. Above all, both mediums of entertainment were characterised, musically, by immaculately balanced scoring, impeccable timing to guarantee fast-moving continuity, and a particularly bright and colourful manner of orchestration which is displayed in the work of all great theatre and film composers.
An important difference between theatre and film, from the composer’s point of view, is the use of microphones. Film music may be scored at any level, since its volume can easily be adjusted when the score is mixed with dialogue and sound-effects. Furthermore, balance within the orchestra can be controlled through the use of several microphones; heavy brass, for example, can be softened whilst the quieter harp can be strengthened. This luxury does not exist in the theatre, since the audience hears the music directly from the pit. Theatre composers, therefore, must exercise particular skill in finely balanced orchestrations. Eric Rogers took his orchestral roots from the theatre into his film scores; this is evident in his consistently impeccable orchestration. The priority of finely balanced scoring was an underlying feature behind the success of the Carry On music.
Film music itself has its origins in the silent film. It is startling to consider that, within thirty or forty years, the solo pianist of the early 1900s cinema would be replaced by a fully synchronised recorded soundtrack, typically featuring a specially composed score for full orchestra. In the very early days, music was needed primarily as a means of drowning the clattering noise of the projector. When this noisy mechanism was eventually concealed in a soundproof box it became apparent that music was still required; not so much to satisfy an artistic urge, but to cover up the eerie silence which would otherwise dominate. Film critic Kurt London wrote:
‘We are not accustomed to apprehend movement as an artistic form without accompanying sounds. Every film must possess its individual rhythm which determines its form.’
This certain ‘necessity for music’ had the natural result of the use of inappropriate or superfluous music in films. This became more apparent when, as cinemas grew, the solo pianist was replaced by a full orchestra. Despite their versatility, these orchestras were unable to offer the same level of musical directness as could be improvised by a pianist or organist in front of the screen. It was not until the birth of the talking picture – famously The Jazz Singer (1927) – that producers began to consider the possibility of a specially commissioned score. Before then, cinema orchestras generally selected items from a library of mood music to compile a seemingly appropriate score for the film. But even the arrival of the soundtrack did not fuel an instant demand for film composition. Indeed, the primary novelty of the sound film was the human voice. The second interest was the addition of natural sound effects. The musical score would in fact take many years to establish itself as an indispensable element of film, as it had been in the silent days. It would also require substantial advances in recording and mixing technology for film music to be taken seriously.
A major breakthrough occurred in the late 1920s and early 30s with the advance of the Walt Disney group. Skeleton Dance (1929) was the first of the ‘Silly Symphonies’, in which animation was directly synchronised with music. Soon followed a healthy flow of animations, revelling in the most graphic and colourful orchestral scores. The advances in synchronising technology ironically brought about a full-circle return to the spirit of the silent film. This soon filtered through from animations to adult comedy, and it is this very tradition which is seen and heard in the Carry On films.
Soon, new standards took the lead in film music. As directors began to work more closely with composers, leading figures were employed to write scores: including Arthur Bliss (Things to Come, 1935), Benjamin Britten (Night Mail, 1936) and William Walton (As you like it, 1936). The serious composer of art music had entered the world of film. Bruce Montgomery and Eric Rogers, although not symphonists, were two such experts in film composition. With the technology to synchronise their scores to the nearest ⅓ second, they would transform the spirit of the turn-of-the-century silent film into the resources of a full orchestra. The Carry On music owes much to every historical aspect of cinema music, whilst having its own fresh voice as delivered by Montgomery and Rogers.
Having discussed the earliest roots of the spirit of Carry On, we may take a look at the more immediate musical influences. This is where the world of ‘light music’ comes in. The distinctive musical style of the Carry Ons was created from a great fusion of the various strands of light music, particularly those of Britain in the years between the wars through to the early 1960s. Pop music became increasingly influential from the mid 1960s to the final films of the late 1970s, but the Carry On style, as expressed through the orchestra, remained solidly consistent throughout the entire series. It is these various strands of music which contributed to the very British sound of the Carry On films. The light-hearted, often satirical though deeply rooted patriotism associated with the series is evident in the situations, the characters, the actors themselves and – most consistently – through the music.
British light music continued to thrive as the cinema and theatre orchestras declined. This was thanks to the advent of broadcasting. Radio programmes demanded a very fresh, instantly appealing style of music in order to captivate an audience. Interestingly, many of those given the task of writing this music were composers who had worked in the cinema and theatre. Sidney Torch and Ronald Binge were both virtuosos of the cinema organ, Charles Williams worked some time with the Gaumont British film company, and Eric Coates spent much of his early career in the theatre pit as a viola player.
This kind of music we love is characterised by its colourfulness, tunefulness and in particular by its directly accessible quality. But good tunes alone do not produce good music. Light music flourished because it was placed in the hands of composers who took it seriously; those who knew exactly how to write for the orchestra, how to create and arrange beautiful melodies, and whose music was the product of real craftsmanship. It is this approach to composition which forms the foundation of the music in the Carry On films.
Creating light music of high quality is one task; creating music of similar quality for film comedy takes the composer’s job a stage further. Light music is created to appeal directly to our sensibilities. Just as people could universally respond to the BBC’s generous offering of light music on radio and television, the cinema audiences of the 1950s, 60s and 70s could universally respond to the music in the Carry On films. Light music itself responded to the most cherished of musical genres – the marches of the parade ground, the waltzes and polkas of the ballroom, the intermezzos of the silent cinema and the virtuoso novelty numbers of the variety theatre – in the same way as the Carry Ons responded to just about every British institution of their time.
The BBC, besides broadcasting an unprecedented flow of light music in the post-war years, became an increasingly popular provider of radio comedy. Like most other broadcasts, comedy productions required music. The difference between these and other programmes was that comedies, besides needing a suitable title theme, demanded quirky musical interludes throughout the whole show. Between 1950 and 60 the BBC employed no less than eight full-time light orchestras for the purpose of broadcasting. Comedy shows usually had a live orchestra which would play an actively integrated role in the script. The need for bright, lively and finely balanced orchestrations was greater than ever before. The best example of these shows as a direct forerunner of the Carry On films, in terms of both music and comedy, is Hancock’s Half Hour. Starring three of the subsequent stars of most of the Carry On films – Sid James, Hattie Jacques and Kenneth Williams – Hancock represented the very spirit of radio comedy in the years immediately preceding Carry On Sergeant in 1958. It addressed day-to-day situations with down-to-earth characters playing themselves (Tony Hancock and Sid James) alongside slightly less down-to-earth caricatures (Bill Kerr as the dumb Australian) and a whole range of farcical characters (provided mainly by the varying tones of Kenneth Williams). Under a different scriptwriter the Carry Ons would work along similar lines with these actors only a few years later.
The music, composed by Angela Morley (then known as Wally Stott), had the comically quirky style which was to become so much a part of British comedy – on radio, television and film – for the next decade and beyond. The famous augmented 4ths of the opening theme on the tuba could be said to sum up the entire series. The interspersions of dialogue within the music – firstly from the BBC announcer, then from Tony Hancock himself – demonstrated a manner of musical timing which is so important in the planning of film music. In many ways Morley was showing her admiration for the work of Robert Farnon, who had composed Jumping Bean nearly ten years earlier in 1947. The rather cheeky opening bars of this piece have been used as a model for comic musical gestures ever since, both in the Carry On films and elsewhere.
One of the most remarkable things about the Carry On music is that it preserved its unashamed association with the world of light music, long after light music itself had begun to decline. As the 1960s progressed the BBC brought about a fashionable change to its image, resulting in significant developments on both the ‘popular’ and ‘serious’ sides of music, and leaving little or no concession to what lay in-between. The abolition of the Home Service and the Light Programme, in favour of generic broadcasting in 1967, was primarily responsible for the decline of light music on the radio. Listeners, it was argued, should be able to select any kind of music at any time. Since light music fell uneasily between the images of Radio 2 and Radio 3 it was choked out of circulation. By 1971 the BBC had disbanded all its light orchestras, leaving only the BBC Concert Orchestra – founded in 1953 and for many years closely associated with Sidney Torch – as a potential provider of lighter music for broadcasts such as Friday Night is Music Night. Meanwhile, somehow the Carry On industry was booming with a sound that had directly embraced the kind of music which was going out of fashion. It had an amazing ability to take on contemporary musical trends, between the late 1950s and late 70s, whilst retaining the solid orchestral style on which it was founded.
In Britain the 1950s saw the rise of swing, closely followed by Rock ‘n’ Roll. These popular styles were incorporated, indirectly, into the Carry On music. The earlier British dance bands of the 1920s and 30s had themselves embraced trends from the USA, whilst remaining distinctively British. Jack Hylton, a bandleader of the 1920s and 30s, put forward some of his ideas in an article entitled ‘The British Touch’:
‘I examine all the music [from the USA] in detail and have tried much of it live, but it has not appealed to the public. Before it can be played here it must be modified, given the British touch… In the dance halls or gramophone record alike it makes a subtle appeal to our British temperament; it is in fact becoming a truly national music.’
Although Hylton was not specific in defining the ‘British touch’, it is clear from his arrangements what he was talking about. The British bands were altogether more orchestral – less swingy, arguably more refined, making very significant use of string instruments. It is this refined British style of jazz which made its way into the post-war British bands, and into the Carry On scores of Bruce Montgomery in the late 1950s and early 60s.
From the mid 1960s Eric Rogers would acknowledge the styles of pop music which followed; music commonly associated with the ‘Swinging 60s’. But if the Carry Ons were supposedly modernising their scores to fit their fellow aspects of popular culture, they did it in a way which preserved everything that was good about orchestral film music. Whilst many films of the 1970s made use of a pop band score – this becoming increasingly common in low-budget releases – the Carry Ons kept their full orchestra. Eric Rogers in particular proved that he could swing his music just enough whilst retaining all the traditional elements of a descriptive comedy film score.
In taking something special from each of the strands of music mentioned above, the composers required a particular kind of orchestra. Since budget restrictions were tight, the composers had to select an ensemble which was flexible enough to cope with the varying styles of their scores. The standard budget for a Carry On orchestra was forty players. In 1975 producer Peter Rogers diminished this to thirty for Carry On Behind, forcing Eric Rogers to write a lighter textured score. Eric refused, however, to write for only twenty players in Carry On England (1976) – hence this film was scored by Max Harris. Forty was a viable number for a versatile film orchestra. Bruce Montgomery employed a fairly traditional scoring for the early films: usually double woodwind, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones and tuba, four percussionists, harp and strings. The woodwind players would increasingly be called to play saxophone as required.
Eric Rogers distributed his players differently, augmenting the brass section and lightening the traditional double woodwind in favour of a more consistent use of saxophones. The horn section was diminished in favour of four trumpets and trombones, the horn being used more as a solo instrument along with the woodwind section. One percussionist was stationed permanently on drum kit, whilst the other two were kept busy with the more traditional orchestral percussion, especially timpani, triangle, cymbals and xylophone, glockenspiel and vibraphone. Rather less traditional instruments included temple blocks, cow bell and swannee whistle – favourite Carry On sounds, although surprisingly few novelty instruments like this were required. The ‘rhythm section’ has been augmented, consistently to include electric guitar, bass guitar and piano, working alongside the harp. With this kind of ensemble Rogers had, at his disposal, a traditional orchestra with the additional feature of a pop band or dance orchestra embedded in the ensemble. Versatility was the key to a useful orchestra.
In a letter to Peter Rogers in 1962, composer Bruce Montgomery referred to his ‘Carry On bag of tricks’. By this he was talking about the extensive menu of musical devices from which he could choose, as required, to project the true spirit of the Carry On films. Eric Rogers would continue this trend, within his own style, when he succeeded Montgomery in 1963.
The ability of music, as an art form, to express the spirit of humour cannot be overstated. Music is arguably the most abstract and expressive of all the arts. Whilst a person’s eyes are actively selective in what they take in, the ears are fundamentally passive; this means that they are always open and (more or less) directed to any sound within their range. Music has the most powerful privilege of entering the ears whether the listener likes it or not. For this reason music, as an art, has always aimed to transform the potential laziness and dreaminess of the ear into concentrated effort and serious work. In film music the context is different, since the music is continuously matched to – or justified by – the images on the screen. Film music, unlike pure art music, does not necessarily transform the ear into ‘concentrated effort’ or ‘serious work’; but it is always there. For this reason the importance of good film music is paramount. Music in a comedy production – perhaps more than ever in a Carry On film – must express humour in such a direct way that its qualities cannot go unnoticed by the viewer.
Music of all kinds has traditionally been described as subjective; its effect always depends on its perception by a particular listener. Humour is also subjective, since identical events will always provoke different reactions from different people. Although music is a language (a means of communication) it is not a universal language. A verbal language may be universal amongst the people who speak and understand it; music is different because it is abstract. This is a good argument in the context of art music, although in the context of film, music has an altogether different function. The music of the Carry On films, in particular, could be described to a certain extent as objective. This is because its musical language, like the language of humour in the films, is understood universally. This does not mean that everybody appreciates it, or that everybody finds the films funny; rather, it means there is absolutely no doubt as to the connection between the comedy on the screen and the comedy in the music. Just as light music is written to appeal directly to our sensibilities, so do the Carry On films and their music. Cinema-goers, perhaps subconsciously, knew the style of the music in the same way that they knew the style of the films.
Prerequisites for humour, that is any kind of humour, rely firstly on the comical environment. In this there must be an element of surprise, without which none of the other components will have any effect. This works directly with the principle of comparison: the observer bases his expectations upon a specific context, which will be contrasted with something ridiculous – the circus clown being the classic example. A humorous situation often occurs at the expense of a victim; in the Carry On context this means spoofing British institutions. Also important for Carry On humour is the element of falsehood; humour is seldom completely truthful. The entire spirit of Carry On is based on something unreal. Through the many ups and downs of contemporary British life the Carry Ons would remain relentlessly cheerful – this is comedy about an England which never existed. The humour of the Carry On films, and their music, rests primarily on the overall elements of surprise and comparison between the familiar and the ridiculous.
Other prerequisites for humour concern the observer. First and foremost, the audience must be ‘in the mood’ if it is to appreciate humour. Without this ‘pleasurable state of being’ the most perfect situation and timing of a joke will be in vain. This is where the importance of music takes a real hold. A cinema audience, prior to receiving the main visual part of a film, is presented with the title music. The title themes to the Carry On films are the key to audience disposition. Typically only between 1½ and 2 minutes long, the theme music needed to sum up the spirit of the entire film, getting the audience into that ‘pleasurable state of being’ – in addition to presenting the credits. In the words of director Gerald Thomas, the theme would ‘bang the drum for the picture’.
The march Bruce Montgomery composed to introduce Carry On Sergeant in 1958 was to have a significance unknown to anyone at the time. It became the ‘Carry on Theme’, used in various shapes and forms to introduce the next five films. Its original version was recorded by the Band of the Coldstream Guards, and intended as a gentle parody of British military music. Montgomery then arranged this for full orchestra for Carry On Nurse (1959). [The Carry On Album,track 5]
The three contrasting sections are concisely joined in a traditional march structure, summing up the spirit of Carry On. The opening tune is the military parody; the second section is in cheeky ‘Carry On’ style – featuring the kind of jaunty xylophone writing which would become such an important part of the later Carry On music. The trio section represents warm British nostalgia – so much a part of these early Carry Ons.
After Carry On Nurse producer Peter Rogers suggested that the march be jazzed up for the next film (Carry On Teacher). This is where Eric Rogers entered the scene. Montgomery wrote a letter to Eric about his marching theme:
‘As you can see, it was intended to be the sort of thing a not-very-intelligent Army bandmaster might have written in about 1900… I feel if anyone can make a free symphonic pop version of it, you can.’
Rogers’ upbeat version of this theme became an instant hit, acknowledging the growing trends in 1950s popular music whilst referring back to the original which is so unashamedly and traditionally British. Despite its obvious big band connotations, Rogers’ treatment is largely orchestral – most notably by his important use of strings, featured in the melody of the trio section. [The Carry On Album, track 8]
The Carry On theme, as conceived by Montgomery and jazzed up by Rogers, is a classic example of what makes a good title to a film. In the spirit of British light music it consists of a good tune which is well constructed and orchestrated; at the same time it acknowledges swing, and the rather cheeky style of the films themselves.
From this point onwards the title themes became increasingly upbeat, culminating in the classic Rogers style of the 1970s. A good example of this is Carry On At Your Convenience (1971), whose story is centred on a toilet manufacturers. [The Carry On Album, track 15]. From studying the score, one immediately observes the remarkable clarity – and apparent simplicity – of orchestration. Strings are mainly in unison and octaves, providing rushing sequences (based on scales) to punctuate the beat along with the upper woodwind. The virtuosity of the string parts is strongly evident. The brass, too, appear to be in unison providing the main punctuation of the melody. The percussion writing is particularly crisp and bright – the xylophone was one of Rogers’ favourite instruments, and the drum kit was an important driving force in the orchestra, together with piano and electric guitar. The harp has the primary job of playing rushing glissandi, particularly at moments of key change. In the spirit of the fast-moving theatre show, Rogers revelled in key changes, typically up a semitone, for which he would employ rushing sequences or scales in octave strings, upper woodwind and xylophone. Incidentally, this particular theme features four key changes in the space of less than 1½ minutes, with an additional swift key change in the last two bars before the opening scene of the film is introduced [from 1:15]. This final key change is a classic Rogers device, providing a quirky ‘kick’ immediately before the first section of ‘incidental’ music.
The next section, heard in the opening scene of the film, depicts W.C. Boggs toilet factory. This is playfully mechanical music, suitable to the action taking place – as the workers busily go about their duties. The temple blocks, two triangles, xylophone and muted brass all contribute to the ‘working’ music. This is a similar style, not surprisingly, to the one heard in Rogers’ orchestration of Lionel Bart’s Oliver! about ten years earlier, in the opening workhouse scene. The ‘Carry On’ depiction of the boys marching into dinner is unmistakable.
Humour in music may be divided into two categories. ‘Referential humour’ is humour which has extra-musical connotations, whist ‘absolute humour’ is humour within the musical material itself. Although comedy film music can often be humorous in its own right, here we are concerned primarily with referential humour, since the music nearly always matches the images and dialogue on the screen. It is by this token that one may be justified in classifying the music as objective rather than subjective, since the link between music and visual or verbal comedy is unequivocal. One kind of referential humour is that of ‘satirical quoting’. In the Carry On films musical references to well-known genres are aplenty, in the same way as the content of the films is based on all kinds of cultural references.
The title themes provided the composer with the opportunity to make a strong musical reference if desired. Traditional tunes appear to be a major contributor. The theme to Carry On Camping (1969)is based on ‘One man went to mow’ [The Carry On Album, track 1], Carry On Loving (1970) on the two traditional wedding marches (by Wagner and Mendelssohn), Carry On Henry (1971) on ‘Greensleeves’, and Carry On Matron (1972, set in a maternity hospital) on ‘Rock a bye baby’. All four of these tunes are given the Rogers ‘Carry On’ swing treatment.
Often traditional tunes become an integrated part of the score. In Carry On Teacher (1959) Bruce Montgomery uses a disguised form of ‘Girls and Boys come out to play’ whenever the children go out into the playground. Quotations sometimes take on a more contemporary form, providing direct references to other films or television programmes In a scene from Carry On Spying, set in the dark streets of Vienna, Rogers directly quotes the well-known zither music of Anton Karas in The Third Man (the famous British spy thriller of 1949). This is interspersed with pizzicato strings to create comic tension. When a British agent (Bernard Cribbins) pokes his head around the corner, a tense motif based on ‘Rule Britannia’ is heard in the woodwind. A more up to date cultural reference can be heard in Carry On Screaming! (1966) in a scene where the detective (Harry H. Corbett) drives along the street in a cart before unwittingly committing a robbery – he has been turned into a monster. The television series Steptoe and Son – very popular at this time – classically featured the same actor driving a rag and bone cart. Appropriately, Rogers bows his head to Steptoe by quoting a fragment of the television theme. Familiar musical quotations such as this served as a comic reference point for contemporary cinema audiences.
Classical music quotations are also commonplace in Carry On films; these could be received and appreciated on a different level, probably only by a limited portion of the very wide audience. Carry On Cleo (1964) is set largely in Egypt; hence the title theme is based, loosely, on the grand procession from Verdi’s ‘Aida’ [The Carry On Album, track 9]. Rogers made extensive use of Haydn’s string music in Carry On Camping (1969). An arrangement of the serenade from his string quartet in F is used firstly to depict a quiet country boarding school for well-bred young ladies [track 2, from 3:15]. When it is revealed what the girls really get up to – in the company of trespassing young men – Rogers jazzes up the original in the spirit of the Swinging 60s. The versatility of the ensemble is fully displayed, as the five-part string sound gives way to a saxophone solo with piano, electric guitar and drums.
A different kind of satirical quoting is found in Carry On Nurse (1959). Here Bruce Montgomery uses his own original melody – the main tune from the Carry On theme – as a source of referential humour. The melody is heard on tuba and glissando timpani – used to represent the menacing Matron (Hattie Jacques) as she approaches the ward for her inspection – in conjunction with an affectionate portrayal of one of the patients (Charles Hawtrey) pretending to conduct an orchestra from his headphones. In the score the tuba line is marked molto pomposo. This is an example of Carry On humour where the instruments of the orchestra, besides mimicking visual comedy, become a source of comedy in their own right. The trombone, snare drum and triangle (as acted by Charles Hawtrey) become comic sounds. Similarly, Montgomery writes a satirical passage for the school orchestra in Carry On Teacher (1959). The music for the school play, supposedly written by the music master (Charles Hawtrey, who appears as conductor) is deliberately poorly scored and equally poorly played for comic effect. Again, Montgomery has exploited the content of the film by writing a score which demonstrates the funniness of music itself.
Another example of humour in music is that of tone painting. 18th century composers revelled in exoticisms, brought about by a fascination for Oriental themes: Mozart, for example, in his Turkish music. In many ways little has changed since then, particularly in the world of film music. Whenever the Carry On Team visited an exotic location (usually a disguised Pinewood Studios) the composer would be quick to oblige with appropriately exotic-sounding music. The scores always avoided absolute authenticity, remaining a purely Western and deliberately ethnocentric portrayal of the location; this is part of the humour. Carry On Up The Khyber (1968) includes some suitably exotic music to paint the atmosphere of an Indian palace, residency of the Khasi of Kalabar (Kenneth Williams) - [The Carry On Album, track 16, from 2:24]. This is a classic example of Rogers wearing his ‘world music’ hat, using a conventional Carry On orchestra. The percussion section plays an important role, with gong, Chinese bell tree, tambourine and finger cymbals (ironically many of these are not Indian instruments). The airy melody is played by divided violins, with muted banjo tremolos imitating the sitar.
For the costume-drama Carry Ons a different skill was required. Despite being low-budget, the Carry On productions always employed appropriate period music, alongside suitable costumes, sets and choreography. Carry On Don’t Lose Your Head (1966), set during the French Revolution, features some country dancing at an aristocrats’ ball. This kind of dance, in terms of rhythmic and melodic drive, may be readily compared to a Classical ‘Quadrille’ – a dance which came to the ballroom during the reign of Napoleon I. The choice of music is historically and culturally appropriate. The main achievement of the composer, however, is to treat this style in his own individual way; the orchestration is pure Eric Rogers, characterised by his jaunty use of off-beat snare drum, and woodwind with glockenspiel. These films used musical tone painting in a manner which reflects the period and setting whilst being unmistakably ‘Carry On’.
The Carry Ons are particularly famous for their verbal jokes, and yet so much of their humour is visual – visual, that is, with musical accompaniment. Imitations of non-musical sounds are a major ingredient of referential humour in music. The Carry On composers took this a stage further by imitating non-musical sounds in a deliberately unrealistic – often crude – way. The sound of a clumsy doctor bumping into the large Matron in Carry On Doctor (1967), for example, is accompanied aptly by a heavy thump from the percussion section. Bruce Montgomery tended to dress up a comic visual scene with a passage of grossly exaggerated music. Carry On Teacher (1959) features one such scene in which the PE teacher (Joan Sims) attempts to put on a pair of shorts which are too small for her – accompanied by a crudely Wagnerian brassy climax.
Like so many scenes from the films, the music here is not so much an imitation of a ‘non-musical sound’ as an imitation of a comic (and largely silent) gesture. Eric Rogers had some fun depicting a traditional British hand signal in Carry On Cabby (1963). In a brief example of 1960s road-rage near the start of the film, a car jams on its brakes to a timpani glissando – the taxi behind grinds to a halt, accompanied by a harp glissando and a twang from the electric guitar. The taxi driver, Sid James, calls out , "Can’t you give a hand signal?!". The other driver obliges with a rather crude ‘hand signal’, aptly accompanied by an upward glissando on the swannee whistle, culminating in a clang on the cowbell.
Musical accompaniment to screen gestures, in the context of Carry On, is not about realism or even caricature. The idea that music in film should be ‘realistic’ is nonsensical, since both music and film, by definition, are art forms and therefore unrealistic. The Carry On music succeeds because it has a certain objective relationship to the action, whilst simultaneously serving a purpose far beyond the demands of ‘realism’. Indeed, the music relies on its own unrealism for the desired comic effect.
Besides directly conveying humour, film music is equally important in conveying the human emotion. A good score is able to describe the emotional feeling of the film’s characters – perhaps in the same manner as a book, though without the luxury of written narrative. Spoken narrative in films is rare and only occasionally used (for special effect). For this reason the score is an indispensable narrative and emotional voice.
Emotional music serves an important role in the comedy of the Carry On films. Bruce Montgomery was particularly good at displaying gushing romantic emotions in his portrayal of characters. In Carry On Teacher (1959) a school inspector (Leslie Phillips) is bowled over at the sight of PE teacher, Miss Allcock (Joan Sims), accompanied by 15 seconds of music. This quick breath of musical romance, in itself, sums up his feelings. The inspector’s first sight of the lady is signalled by a bright chord on the vibraphone, closely followed by flutter-tongued flute (a classic Montgomery device) and slushy violins. A muted trumpet contributes to the sexy feel of the music. As Miss Allcock goes out of sight, the brief scene is abruptly ended by a clang on the tubular bell – this features as a musical pun on Leslie Phillips’ next line: "Ding Dong!".
In the later films, Eric Rogers’ portrayal of romantic emotions is rather swifter and cruder. In Carry On Cleo (1964), Mark Anthony (Sid James) goes to see Cleopatra (Amanda Barrie), and is instantly overcome by her dazzling beauty. His first reaction at seeing her submerged in the Egyptian bath is conveyed by an upward glissando on the timpani – an immortal ‘Carry On’ sound if ever there was one!
Bruce Montgomery and Eric Rogers had their own individual styles of composition, and yet they both equally match the spirit of Carry On in their music. Their music not only matches the rest of the film; it becomes a source of comedy in its own right.
The spirit of the Carry On films is founded in popular light entertainment. Whilst their underlying formula was highly unoriginal, their transformation and delivery of it was fresh and contemporary. The music, too, is rooted in all things light. It has a sound which affectionately embraces Britain’s musical past whilst acknowledging the ever-changing present; just as all good light music does. The films were consistently popular at the box office. Despite this – or even because of it – they have been heavily criticised. During one day of filming, a brash interviewer cornered producer Peter Rogers in Pinewood Studios:
"Still making the same old crap, Peter?" he asked.
"If you call money crap, then yes I am," Rogers replied.
It could be argued that commercial success and artistic quality are naturally in conflict with one another. This is because composers are continually forced into structural frameworks set by the mechanical and administrative frameworks of film-making. The Carry On composers were subjected, perhaps more than ever, to these restrictions. After viewing the fine cut with the director, the composer had no more than two weeks to write his score, and only two days in which to rehearse and record it. And yet these scores have not suffered musically; indeed, one could argue that the tight confinements of a Carry On budget production helped to ensure the kind of precision which is so evident in the music. The same was true for so many light music composers, who wrote such large amounts of high quality music in a very limited time.
The only way in which a film maker produces light comedy is through his being meticulous. Comedians do not perform light-hearted humour by light-hearted means; they are meticulous in planning their act. In the same way, light music is written by serious composers who are meticulous in their craft. The Carry On films have an unequivocally light image. All elements of the production, however, involved the height of precision and accuracy – the screenplay, the costumes, the lighting, the camerawork and the music. In being both light and meticulous the Carry Ons went beyond the norms of popular entertainment by taking on their own special quality. This quality may be at odds with the criteria traditionally used to define good film; but whatever the Carry Ons achieved, they achieved only through the most precise means.
The Carry On scores revel in leitmotifs, clichés, tonal colours and lyrical melodies – elements traditionally criticised as being at odds with true freedom of musical expression. Ironically the music succeeds for this very reason. It is the constant engagement with the listener’s expectations – the continuous delivery of something familiar – which helps enhance this popular style of comedy. Just as the content of the films relied primarily on British cultural stereotypes, the music worked along similar lines. So we have military music in Carry On Sergeant, nautical music in Carry On Cruising, wild west music in Carry On Cowboy, crude horror music in Carry On Screaming … and so on. The very essence of humour is grounded in comparison. In this context the audience is comparing familiar aspects of their culture to comic parodies, as presented by the films. That is why the Carry On films thrive on a very direct and objective relationship between music and action.
The Carry On films transformed their deep British roots into something fresh and contemporary. The music followed suit; Bruce Montgomery and Eric Rogers knew the style and delivered it in their own ways, whilst remaining ever-faithful to the original spirit of the series. The suggestion that the music of the films is ‘a remarkable match’ does not appear to go far enough. These two elements are inseparable. They are fully integrated, complementing one another and working together – and in the true spirit of Carry On.
To fully appreciate this article, you are strongly advised to listen to THE CARRY ON ALBUM – Sanctuary Group CDWHL 2119. This features the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Gavin Sutherland, performing many extracts from "Carry On" films composed by Bruce Montgomery and Eric Rogers.
Announcing an important new series of Light Music CDs in March 2004
Guild Light Music
David Ades explains the aims of these new releases
Guild Records already produce a varied selection of classical historical recordings, and they also specialise in church and choral music - their catalogue even contains a few jazz releases. To view a complete list, please visit www.guildmusic.com
Last November I was contacted by their Managing Director, Kaikoo Lalkaka, who informed me that he was considering a new venture in the field of Light Music. Although Guild is well established in its existing markets, he was looking for a new challenge, and had decided that there is still a big demand for older vintage Light Music recordings that is not fully satisfied by other record companies.
After many e-mails and telephone conversations, it was agreed that I would suggest an initial selection of music for three CDs, and that Alan Bunting would handle the digital sound restoration. If the first releases did well, Guild would consider issuing further CDs on a regular basis.
Because they are already known for their restoration of historical sound recordings, Guild wished to concentrate on Light Music that is now out of copyright in Britain (over 50 years old), with special emphasis on the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. They would be distributed in several countries, so had to be attractive to an international record buying public.
Happily there are already a large number of Light Music CDs already available from various companies, but Guild would need to try and be a little different in order to be recognised as an important player in this particular area of the music scene. This raised some problems, but also posed some exciting challenges.
First of all it is important to identify Guild’s target market. Existing collectors of Light Music will hopefully wish to purchase each CD that comes along, but also it is necessary to offer collections which are likely to appeal to casual purchasers, who may be browsing in their local record store. To attract the latter, you must include at least a few well-known titles and familiar names among the orchestras. This could mean that keen collectors would have to put up with the occasional duplication, but we are trying to minimise this by including different versions of some well-known compositions that may not have been available on CD previously. For example I have not selected the famous Columbia 78 of Edward White’s Runaway Rocking Horse, but the rarer recording by the Orchestre Raymonde on Decca. Also the Grosvenor Concert Orchestra version of Ray Martin’s Dancing Bells which is delightfully different from the composer’s own recording.
You’ll have to forgive me for not including Eric Coates’ own recording of his London Bridge March, but the 1935 recording by the New Light Symphony Orchestra under Joseph Lewis has such a wonderful early Abbey Road sound about it. Arthur Benjamin’s Jamaican Rhumba by the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra on Columbia is very familiar, so the scintillating arrangement by Percy Faith should come as a pleasant surprise to those who have not heard it before.
The first CD – to quote its title – is intended as ‘An Introduction to The Golden Age of Light Music’, with examples of the many varied styles that will hopefully appear in future releases. The next two CDs concentrate on the 1940s and 1950s – again emphasising the wide variety of tuneful sounds that fall within the general scope of Light Music.
Looking further ahead, future CDs will probably concentrate on more specific areas of Light Music, and we expect to be able to give additional information about our plans in the June magazine. The important thing from the start is to get people interested in these new CDs, so that they will want to investigate each new release that comes along.
On the subject of quality, Alan and I have both decided that any sound restorations which do not reach our high standards will be replaced with something else, until better copies of the original records can be located. The CD booklets will contain detailed notes about the recordings and the composers/ arrangers, and future compilations will concentrate on the inclusion of a greater number of tracks that have not previously been available on commercial CDs. On top of all this, the price of the CDs will be fixed at a level which is competitive with other products on the market. It is hoped that once collectors have purchased one of the CDs in the series, they will want to own them all, gradually building up an impressive library of Light Music.
So far almost all of the tracks have been dubbed from my own collection, although a few have been provided by Alan and members of the Robert Farnon Society. If this new series proves to be as successful as we all hope, then we are going to have to rely upon recordings from other people, so this is a golden opportunity for RFS members to hear some of their own prized 78s (or even early LPs) digitally restored to a pristine condition, and reissued on CD. If there is something very special that you would like us to consider, please write to me first and let me know what you have available (at this stage please don’t send the actual recordings). Naturally a free copy of the CD will be given in return for any records that are used.
Even if you cannot offer any recordings of your own, I’d still like to hear from you if you have any particular requests. Just remember that the recordings must be at least 50 years old, which means that anything issued up to 1953 can be included on CDs released in Britain during 2004.
We hope that all RFS members will share our enthusiasm for this exciting new project. Future releases will depend upon healthy sales; should you already own a few of the tracks on the first issues, I hope that this will not deter you from adding them to your collection, thus ensuring that more will follow soon! And – as mentioned above – you have a real chance to influence what is included later on.
An Introduction to The Golden Age of Light Music
1 Gateway To The West (Robert Farnon)
QUEEN’S HALL LIGHT ORCHESTRA Conducted by ROBERT FARNON
2 Going For A Ride (Sidney Torch)
SIDNEY TORCH AND HIS ORCHESTRA
3 With A Song In My Heart (Rodgers, Hart)
ANDRE KOSTELANETZ AND HIS ORCHESTRA
4 Heykens’ Serenade (Jonny Heykens, arr. Ron Goodwin)
RON GOODWIN AND HIS ORCHESTRA
5 Martinique (Warren)
RAY MARTIN AND HIS ORCHESTRA
6 Skyscraper Fantasy (Donald Phillips)
CHARLES WILLIAMS AND HIS CONCERT ORCHESTRA
7 Dance Of The Spanish Onion (David Rose)
DAVID ROSE AND HIS ORCHESTRA
8 Out Of This World – theme from the film (Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer)
MANTOVANI AND HIS ORCHESTRA
9 Paris To Piccadilly (Robert Busby, Eddie Hurran)
L’ORCHESTRE DEVEREAUX Conducted by GEORGES DEVEREAUX
10 Festive Days (Charles Ancliffe)
LONDON PROMENADE ORCHESTRA Conducted by WALTER COLLINS
11 Ha’penny Breeze - theme from the film (Philip Green)
PHILIP GREEN AND HIS ORCHESTRA
12 Tropical (Morton Gould)
MORTON GOULD AND HIS ORCHESTRA
13 Puffin’ Billy (Edward White)
DANISH STATE RADIO ORCHESTRA Conducted by HUBERT CLIFFORD
14 First Rhapsody (George Melachrino)
MELACHRINO ORCHESTRA Conducted by GEORGE MELACHRINO
15 Fantasie Impromptu in C Sharp Minor (Chopin, arr. Robert Farnon)
KINGSWAY SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA Conducted by CAMARATA
featuring Arthur Gleghorn, flute and Reginald Kell, clarinet
16 London Bridge March (Eric Coates)
NEW LIGHT SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA conducted by JOSEPH LEWIS
17 Mock Turtles (Angela Morley)
QUEEN’S HALL LIGHT ORCHESTRA Conducted by ROBERT FARNON
18 To A Wild Rose (Edward MacDowell, arr. Peter Yorke)
PETER YORKE AND HIS CONCERT ORCHESTRA
19 Plink, Plank, Plunk! (Leroy Anderson)
LEROY ANDERSON AND HIS ‘POPS’ CONCERT ORCHESTRA
20 Jamaican Rhumba (Arthur Benjamin, arr. Percy Faith)
PERCY FAITH AND HIS ORCHESTRA
21 Vision in Velvet (Trevor Duncan)
NEW CONCERT ORCHESTRA Conducted by JACK LEON
22 Grand Canyon (Dolf van der Linden)
DOLF VAN DER LINDEN AND HIS METROPOLE ORCHESTRA
23 Dancing Princess (Hart, Layman, arr. Leon Young)
FRANK CHACKSFIELD AND HIS ORCHESTRA
24 Dainty Lady (Leo Peter)
REGINALD KING AND HIS LIGHT ORCHESTRA
25 Bandstand (‘Frescoes’ Suite) (Haydn Wood)
NEW CONCERT ORCHESTRA Conducted by SERGE KRISH
GUILD GLCD 5100
The Golden Age of Light Music : the 1940s
1 Music In The Air (Byron Lloyd, arr. Sidney Torch))
QUEEN’S HALL LIGHT ORCHESTRA Conducted by SIDNEY TORCH
2 Just One Of Those Things (Cole Porter)
BILLY TERNENT AND HIS ORCHESTRA
3 Melody On The Move (Clive Richardson)
QUEEN’S HALL LIGHT ORCHESTRA Conducted by CHARLES WILLIAMS
4 Out Of My Dreams (Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II)
THE GERALDO STRING ORCHESTRA
5 Linda Chilena (A. Orefiche, R. Connelly)
THE STANLEY BLACK ORCHESTRA
6 Laura (David Raksin)
MORTON GOULD AND HIS ORCHESTRA Solo Violin: Max Pollikoff
7 Golliwog’s Cakewalk (Debussy, arr. Douglas)
MAYFAIR ORCHESTRA Conducted by WALTER GOEHR
8 Manhattan Square Dance (David Rose)
DAVID ROSE AND HIS ORCHESTRA
9 Runaway Rocking Horse (Edward White)
ORCHESTRE RAYMONDE Conducted by ROBERT PRESTON
10 Woodland Revel (George Melachrino)
MELACHRINO ORCHESTRA Conducted by GEORGE MELACHRINO
11 Music for Romance (Manning Sherwin, Eric Maschwitz)
ALBERT SANDLER AND HIS PALM COURT ORCHESTRA
12 Canadian Caravan (Robert Farnon)
QUEEN’S HALL LIGHT ORCHESTRA Conducted by CHARLES WILLIAMS
13 Waltz from "TheThree Bears" (Eric Coates)
QUEEN’S HALL LIGHT ORCHESTRA Conducted by ERIC COATES
14 Metropolis (Jack Brown)
NEW CENTURY ORCHESTRA Conducted by SIDNEY TORCH
15 Gorgeous Hussy (Allan Gray)
THE HARMONIC ORCHESTRA Conducted by HANS MAY
16 Ascot Enclosure (Peter Yorke)
QUEEN’S HALL LIGHT ORCHESTRA Conducted by CHARLES WILLIAMS
17 Ten Green Bottles (Trad. arr. Ronald Hanmer)
BBC VARIETY ORCHESTRA Conducted by CHARLES SHADWELL
18 Wagon Lit (Sidney Torch)
QUEEN’S HALL LIGHT ORCHESTRA Conducted by SIDNEY TORCH
19 Roving Fancies (Haydn Wood)
THE REGENT CLASSIC ORCHESTRA
20 "The Way To The Stars" – Film Themes (Nicholas Brodszky)
TWO CITIES SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA Conducted by CHARLES WILLIAMS
21 Theatreland (Jack Strachey)
NEW CONCERT ORCHESTRA Conducted by JAY WILBUR
22 Dancing Tambourine (Polla, arr. Morton Gould)
ROBIN HOOD DELL ORCHESTRA Conducted by MORTON GOULD
23 "Blue Skies" – Selection (Irving Berlin)
Blue Skies, Always, Heat Wave, Getting Nowhere, A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody, You Keep Coming Back Like A Song, Blue Skies.
LOUIS LEVY AND HIS MUSIC FROM THE MOVIES
GUILD GLCD 5101
The Golden Age of Light Music : the 1950s
1 Liza (Ira & George Gershwin, Sammy Kahn)
DAVID ROSE AND HIS ORCHESTRA
2 Caravan (Duke Ellington)
PHILIP GREEN AND HIS ORCHESTRA
3 Marching Strings (Marshall Ross)
EDMUNDO ROS AND HIS ORCHESTRA
4 Fandango (Frank Perkins, Bradford)
HUGO WINTERHALTER AND HIS ORCHESTRA
5 Heart-O-London (Charles Williams)
CHARLES WILLIAMS AND HIS CONCERT ORCHESTRA
6 Hey Presto! (Brett Wilson, arr. Trevor Duncan)
NEW CONCERT ORCHESTRA Conducted by Frederic Curzon
7 The Melody Maker (Noel Gay)
ROBERTO INGLEZ AND HIS ORCHESTRA
8 Proud Canvas (Robert Farnon)
QUEEN’S HALL LIGHT ORCHESTRA Conducted by ROBERT FARNON
9 Festival (Richard Addinsell)
MANTOVANI AND HIS ORCHESTRA
10 Blue Moon (Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart)
PAUL WESTON AND HIS ORCHESTRA
11 Dancing Bells (Ray Martin)
GROSVENOR CONCERT ORCHESTRA Conducted by PEDER VAN ZUIDER
12 Granada (Augustin Lara)
MONTY KELLY AND HIS ORCHESTRA
13 Petite Waltz (Joe Heyne)
BILLY COTTON AND HIS BAND - piano, Clem Bernard
14 Shortcake Walk (Sidney Torch)
SIDNEY TORCH AND HIS ORCHESTRA
15 Flirtation Waltz (R. Heywood)
FRANK CHACKSFIELD AND HIS ORCHESTRA - solo guitar, Roy Plummer
16 Angel Cake (Angela Morley)
DOLF VAN DER LINDEN AND HIS ORCHESTRA
17 Waltz Of The Bubbles (David Rose)
DAVID ROSE AND HIS ORCHESTRA
18 Sportsmaster (Robert Busby)
DANISH STATE RADIO ORCHESTRA Conducted by ROBERT FARNON
19 Paris Interlude (Edward White)
MUSIC BY CAMARATA
20 At Last, At Last (Charles Trenet)
RAY MARTIN AND HIS ORCHESTRA
21 Roller Coaster (Busch, Delugg)
HENRI RENE AND HIS ORCHESTRA
22 The Moon Was Yellow (Ahlert)
STANLEY BLACK, HIS PIANO AND HIS ORCHESTRA
23 Piccadilly Spree (Cyril Watters)
NEW CONCERT ORCHESTRA Conducted by R. de PORTEN
24 Champagne March (Geoffrey Henman)
QUEEN’S HALL LIGHT ORCHESTRA Conducted by ROBERT FARNON
25 Jungle Fantasy (Esy Morales)
PERCY FAITH AND HIS ORCHESTRA
26 Parade of the Film Hits
Broadway Melody, Laura, Wedding Of The Painted Doll, Please, Over The Rainbow, A Fine Romance, Be My Love, La Ronde, The Trolley Song
MELACHRINO ORCHESTRA Conducted by GEORGE MELACHRINO
GUILD GLCD 5102
by Murray Ginsberg
When Bloom Rose Houtman married pianist Alan Clare in 1947, she had no idea how much her life would soon change. Through Alan, a London cocktail pianist, she would beintroduced to a whole new world of famous people, recording artists and world class musicians. But in 1944, three years before the 15-year-old beauty met the musician, ironically her fate changed dramatically when the Houtman home was destroyed by a Luftwaffe bomb. The catastrophe forced the family to move to Leicester, at that time a small town about a hundred miles from London.The family remained in Leicester when the war ended, and in 1947 when she was 18, she went dancing to De Montfort Hall where Sid Millward and the Nitwits were playing. The Nitwits were a comedy band, with a large following. During the evening friends who had accompanied her told Alan that Bloom was a talented singer who came from a musical family. Why not give her a crack at a song? The pianist invited her to come up and sing one number.
Feeling less than confident, she went up on stage and sat on a stool next to the pianist. "What would you like to sing?" he asked. "I'll Be Loving You Always," she replied. Alan said, "Let's try the key of 'F'." He put her at ease by saying, 'Don't worry, you'll do fine. Just use your adrenalin not to be nervous and sing well."
Bloom said her song went well, because Sid Millward booked her to do a Sunday concert with them the following week. A week later after she had finished her performance, the young lady was pleased with the applause and the large number of compliments she received. She was on her way.
"It helped to be accompanied by such competent musicians," she said, "especially Alan who I thought was the best one in the group. He could play anything."
It didn't take long for a relationship to develop. "Alan was so kind to me, he felt like family and I fell for him right away. When we got married on November 3, 1947, I ceased being Bloom Houtman and became Bloom Clare." The Leicester newspaper was quick to issue an announcement: "Local girl marries Nitwit."
As the years progressed Alan's reputation as a fine pianist caught the attention of many top London personalities. In the 1950s and ‘60s, he fronted a trio in the Studio Club, a popular West End night spot which attracted everyone who was anyone in show business, as well as politicians, government officials and royalty. There she met not only Stephane Grappelli, the celebrated French jazz violinist, but others, including members of Britain's top rated 1950s Goon Show - the famous Peter Sellers/Spike Milligan/Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine quartet with whom she became close personal friends.
"Stephane got us the flat we moved into in Holland Park," she said. "Whenever they rehearsed together Stephane was either at our place or Alan would walk to the bottom of the road where Stephane lived and rehearse with him there. They were always together." (The 70-ish lady still lives at the same address with current husband Henry Chantry.)
"Stephane used to tell us stories about Django Reinhardt, his Gypsy guitarist when they were the Hot Club of France. Although Django was a magnificent jazz artist, Stephane was always impatient with him because he could never be convinced that the moon he saw in the sky over England was the same moon he’d seen in France. He thought there was a different moon in every country."
Stephane too, was not without his idiosyncrasies. "Once when he drove home to Troy Court in west London and parked his car in his parking place, he slammed the car door too loudly. Someone shouted out of a window, ‘Damn yobo, make less noise!’ Stephane quickly retaliated with ‘I’ve got more money than you!’ Alan said Stephane’s booming voice could be heard blocks away.
I met Bloom Clare in 1995 at a recital in Wigmore Hall where my partner, Myra Davis and I had been invited by pianist Gene DiNovi who was touring England with clarinetist Jim Campbell. Bloom and Myra and I became close friends from the start, a friendship that has lasted to this day.
Over the weeks and months that followed Bloom (now widowed from her pianist husband) regaled us with dozens of stories about the Goons. "Peter and Spike were real characters," she recalled. "They always enjoyed playing tricks on one another. For example, one morning at 3 am Milligan, who lived opposite Sellers was roused from a deep sleep by a knock on his door. When he opened it he found Sellers standing there naked except for a Bowler hat, socks and shoes.
‘Good morning! Do you know a good tailor?’ Peter asked.
Milligan said he got his own back by sending him a telegram the next day saying, "Ignore first telegram."
Another from Bloom: "Spike often told us he would sleep on the floor at Peter’s house on a pneumatic mattress which he would blow up only to find by morning it had a leak and he was sleeping on the stone cold floor."
From 1951 to 1960 the Goons created such havoc on BBC radio, that they acquired a cult following and turned Sellers, Milligan, Bentine and Secombe into household names.
How did it all start? According to Milligan, after the war both became close friends when each realised they shared the same zany sense of humour. In racking their brains for ideas that might be considered funny to a radio audience they tried all sorts of gimmicks. One of their tricks was to record their voices at slow speed on Peter's tape recorder and then play them back fast. Each was a master of odd dialects which they perfected for radio.
In a 1950s magazine article, Milligan said that Sellers introduced him to BBC producer Pat Dixon, who asked him to write a trial script for a show they had in mind. As part of the script Sellers suggested recording some voices which included Bentine’s and singer Harry Secombe’s. The voices were so bizarre that the novelty delighted Dixon into launching a comedy series. That was the start of the Goon Show.
The first broadcast on May 28, 1951, was a smash hit which soon developed into a celebrated series that catapulted Sellers, Secombe, Bentine and Milligan to the top of the BBC’s list of radio stars. Milligan was soon regarded as Britain's top comedy writer:
"I went to my doctor for an examination. The doctor said, 'Take off all your clothes.' "Shouldn't you be taking me out to dinner first?"
For years Bloom and Alan entertained dozens of showbiz personalities in their flat in Holland Park. Their music room which contained a piano and a cot was always a mess, she said, with music and papers lying all over the place and "DO NOT TOUCH" signs posted everywhere. The piano was used for rehearsals, the cot for sleeping. "Spike Milligan slept there many times," Bloom said. "The bed was also used when a guest had had too much to drink."
At one time Sellers bought them a Mellotron, a large piano-like instrument with an electronic keyboard programmed to produce sounds of orchestral instruments. "My husband was a piano freak," she said. "There was never a piano that suited him. It was either too hard to play, the action was too soft, it was out of tune, or there was one note out of tune which would put him off completely. Alan didn’t like the Mellotron. We finally got rid of it which Peter immediately replaced with a magnificent grand piano."
Bloom remembers her husband taking her to the Carribean Club in the West End, where she met black people for the first time. When the man who owned the club asked the beautiful young lady to dance, she looked at her husband to ask whether it would be OK. Alan of course encouraged her to do so. "He was a charming man," Bloom said.
She was also thrilled to meet Lena Horne who was appearing at the club at the time. "She was the most beautiful lady I'd ever seen. That was in 1948 when Lena was in her prime."
Another close friend was American singer Adelaide Hall, who had sung with the Duke Ellington orchestra. "Addy was a wonderful singer who sang many songs, particularly a spectacular counter melody to the Duke’s Creole Love Song. She'd moved to England and married Bert Hicks who was from the Carribean. He talked her into buying her own club, which became a successful London night spot."
Bloom remembers meeting Duke Ellington in early 1948 when he and his orchestra appeared in Leicester at De Montfort Hall. Heavily pregnant at the time, she went backstage and introduced herself, telling him that she and Adelaide were very good friends. Twenty years later she and Adelaide both attended another Duke Ellington concert at the Hammersmith Odeon in London, after which both went backstage to see the Duke. But Bloom was apprehensive. She wasn’t sure he would remember her since the last time she spoke with him was twenty years earlier in Leicester. But the Duke, renowned for his "love-you-madly" charm, said, "Of course I remember you vividly. You were pregnant at the time, and besides, I always remember a beautiful woman. Love you madly."
Bloom said their flat was like a hotel, with everybody coming and going to and from rehearsals all the time. "Whenever American bands toured England people like Cab Calloway and some of his musicians used to come to our place and play in the music room. So did Zoot Sims and that great pianist Teddy Wilson. There were so many of them. I remember Zoot got so drunk once he collapsed on the cot and didn’t wake up until the next afternoon. And when he did wake up he didn’t know where he was."
"When Allan was playing at the Studio Club he met Lord Snowdon, Princess Margaret and Peter Sellers who would often dine there. That’s when Alan and Sellers struck up a close friendship, that would lead to recording sessions, broadcasts and the odd stage appearance.
Alan and Bloom were often guests at Peter’s house. "He was such a lovely man, always very charming. We became good friends. He came to our place for dinner a number of times after he married Miranda Quarry in 1970.
During his lifetime Peter Sellers married four beautiful women: Ann Levy, an actress from South Africa, Britt Ekland, the Swedish movie star, Miranda Quarry, a politician’s daughter, and actress Lynne Frederick.
"Peter was always very generous. The piano he bought us must have cost a thousand pounds," she said. "He sent it to us by post. I remember him phoning to see if it had arrived. When I picked up the phone and asked where he was calling from - he could have been next door, or in another country, we never knew - he said, 'I'm cruising off the Greek Islands.'
"Peter bought the yacht because he didn't want to be surrounded by people when he was on a beach," she explained, "he wanted privacy. But when he had his privacy he wanted people around him."
Ann Levy who bore him two children, a son Michael and a daughter Sarah, was Sellers’ first wife. According to Milligan (and almost everyone else in London) Peter was obsessed with beautiful women and always having affairs with new girl friends, one of whom was Italian film star Sophia Loren. He would sometimes actually discuss these affairs with his wife. When Ann Levy could tolerate his liaisons no longer, she moved out. "When she left him he couldn't get over it because she had the cheek to leave him," Bloom said.
Bloom may have found Sellers generous and lots of fun to be with, but in an August 25, 2002, Sunday Times article by Danny Danzinger, Peter’s 48-year-old son, Michael Sellers recalled how he and his sister Sarah, were distanced from their father by his obsessional outbursts of jealousy:
"Because of his business Dad was away a lot. If he was in a play he was away all day and not back until I was in bed. If he was shooting a movie he’d be away for months on end, which seemed forever to a little child."
"When he was home he had a mercurial, irrational temper, you could upset him with a look, a word. For example, if you were what he felt was unenthusiastic about greeting him, he’d be angry and disappointed. He was very insecure about things like that. But by the time I was eight, I’d learned to humour him.
"One of my earliest memories is of my parents arguing. My bedroom backed onto theirs and I’d hear them shout and scream. As far as I’m aware, he never hit Mum but paintings and mirrors used to be ripped off the wall, objects mangled, doors torn off their hinges. Later, during an argument with his third wife, Miranda, he drove his Rolls Royce into the back of one car, backed it into the one behind, then drove it into the first car again, just to make a point."
"My parents separated when I was around eight and after some time we lived with my mother and stepfather - who was a wonderful man, far more of a father than my father was. For the holidays we went to wherever my father happened to be: Rome, Monte Carlo, New York or Hollywood. One holiday he was off to Los Angeles. It was April and I didn’t want to go - April’s my birthday. I was going to be 10, I wanted to have a party with my friends. We had a row, and that escalated into him saying: "You don’t love me, you don’t care about me. . ." My little sister Sarah and I were in tears at this, but he wouldn’t stop. "Right," he said, "who do you love the most, your mother or me?"
"I love you both equally," Sarah eventually replied - which I sort of knew was the right answer. But I’d had enough and said: "Mum."
"Okay, that’s it," he screamed, and we were sent back to Mum’s, where almost immediately this truck arrived, packed with all our possessions from his home, and a note: "I never want to see you again. I disown you."
"Whenever a friend came to our flat I never bothered to ask who the latest girl friend was," Bloom remarked. "I just took people as they were. If Spike came in with a girl friend, I never enquired. He would introduce us but we never knew whether it was the latest romance or just a thing for the night."
On the other hand, Bloom said Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine were normal. Loved throughout England as a comedian and singer Secombe also proved himself to be a writer of considerable wit with several best-selling novels to his credit. "After he was knighted I phoned his wife Myra and asked, 'How does it feel to be Lady Secombe?' Myra replied, 'I'm still doing the washing up and taking out the rubbish,' which was typical of Myra."
And saxophonist Lew Lewis who played in Toronto's O’Keefe Centre Orchestra in the 1960s and 70s tells a story about Michael Bentine when he appeared at the O’Keefe Centre in the 1970s. "Michael and I hit it off," he said, "and we became close friends during his three or four annual visits to Toronto with the British touring Paladium Show. A very intelligent man with an enormous sense of humour, Michael amazed me when he said he was born in Peru, South America, where he was descended from the Inca Indians, which he told me was one of the lost tribes of Israel. He always referred to himself as a Peruvian Inca Jew, which astonished me." The Toronto saxophonist also quoted Bentine’s story of his family’s close friendship with Albert Einstein, the word-famous physicist. "Whenever Albert Einstein came to England he stayed with the Bentines. Michael told me ‘the old man used to bounce me on his knee when I was three years old.’"
Peter Sellers became world famous when he went into movies where he showed he could be not only a very funny comedian, but an excellent actor as well. He was applauded for his appearances as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther series,as well as Dr. Strangelove, The Mouse That Roared, The Secret Life of Henry Orient and Being There with actors Shirley MacLean and Melvyn Douglas. In Being There Sellers is brilliant as Chauncey Gardner who is mistaken as an authority on world affairs, when he is actually Chance the uneducated, ignorant gardener of another rich man’s estate.
In the autumn of 1979 Sellers began work on what was to be his final film, The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu, in which he played both the evil Fu and his Scotland Yard adversary, Nayland Smith. But Sellers' friends were alarmed at how frail he had suddenly become. A weak heart appeared to be taking its toll.
On July 22, 1980, shortly after 2 pm Sellers suffered a massive heart attack and collapsed into an armchair in his suite at London's Dorchester Hotel. He was rushed to the Middlesex Hospital where he died two days later.
According to Milligan, Sellers said that he wanted to be remembered above all as a Goon and ironically his fatal heart attack occurred on the day he was due to enjoy a dinner reunion with Milligan and Secombe, the first such get-together for eight years.
And no, Peter Sellers never brought Sophia Loren to Bloom’s flat.
David Ades reports on two memorable Vocalion sessions
Studio 2 at EMI’s Abbey Road studios in North London is probably the most famous recording studio in the world, thanks to its association with The Beatles. But it was producing hit records long before that, and it also gave its name to the much respected Studio Two Stereo series on EMI’s Columbia label which was launched in the mid-1960s.
Although smaller than the famous Studio 1, it is nevertheless very suitable for concert orchestras, including the 50 musicians (many from the leading London symphony orchestras) assembled on Tuesday 13 May for the first of the Angela Morley recordings.
During the morning session (11.00am – 2.00pm) John Wilson conducted some of Angela’s scores for the films "The Slipper and the Rose", "Watership Down" (with John Harle taking the saxophone solo in Kehaar’s Theme) and "Captain Nemo and the Underwater City".
Angela herself had travelled over from her home in Scottsdale, Arizona, to supervise and assist as necessary, and it was clear that John greatly appreciated her involvement and great enthusiasm for the project. Sometimes she would be standing at John’s left hand while he rehearsed his fine orchestra (led by Andrew Haveron), and on other occasions she would be sitting alongside Michael Dutton in the control room listening intently to the magic sounds being captured on tape (large reels, 2 inches wide, costing £2 per minute!). Also on hand was Michael Ponder, keeping a watchful eye on the scores, and making copious notes to assist with the mixing and editing, which would be undertaken over the following weekend.
The afternoon session from 3.00–6.00pm (with the same symphony size orchestra) began with Angela’s superb "A Canadian in Mayfair", which she composed as a tribute to Robert Farnon, virtually launching her international career as one of the finest light music and film composers of the last century. The original manuscript had been lost (probably in that disastrous fire in 1964 at Chappell’s Bond Street premises), so Angela had painstakingly reconstructed her score by listening to the original recording. Like all great artists, when offered the opportunity to revisit earlier work, she could not resist the temptation to make some subtle changes here and there, which will provide added interest for her many admirers. They will be reassured to know that she has retained all the vibrancy and sheer ebullience of this light music classic.
The film music from "When Eight Bells Toll" was followed by another work for the Chappell library – "Snow Ride". This is the first time it has been recorded commercially, and it is a bight, bouncy number that perfectly captures the festive season. Through the Woods from "Watership Down" was soon ‘in the can’, to be followed by more film music – from "The Looking Glass War". This dates from 1969, which was a busy period when Angela decided to concentrate more on writing for the big screen, and film producers were more than happy to employ her talents.
After she settled in California, the local TV studios soon realised that they had a major film composer in their midst. Unfortunately television music seems to have a very short shelf life, and it can often pass unrecognised. Happily this new CD allows us to hear excerpts from several of Angela’s television scores, and White Wing (from "Hotel") is an indication of how much good music may be slipping away.
This very productive session continued with "Rotten Row", which very nearly didn’t get recorded. It was around 5.00pm when John Wilson suddenly realised that the scores weren’t where they should have been. This Chappell composition (probably Angela’s best-known work) is happily still available on hire, and the company responsible had sent it by special delivery the previous day. Unfortunately, the Post Office had failed to deliver to the Abbey Road studios on time, so frantic telephone calls were made to try and retrieve the situation. It would have been a tragedy if this charming work had been omitted from the CD, but it had to be recorded that afternoon, because the smaller orchestra on the following day would not comprise of the right mix of musicians. To cut a long story short, the manuscript was faxed to the Abbey Road studios in 30 parts, which were then hastily photocopied by the writer of this article, and eventually distributed to the waiting musicians. There was little time for rehearsal, but London musicians are renowned for their sight-reading, and "Rotten Row" posed no problems. In fact John Wilson took it at a gallop, rather than the usual gentle canter, so listeners will find it interesting to compare with other recorded versions. Angela appeared a little shocked at first, but she soon seemed to approve of the new interpretation! Somewhat amazingly, there was still a little time left, during which "My Autumn Love" was successfully recorded.
The final three-hour session began at 10.00 the following morning, with a smaller orchestra – mainly strings and woodwinds. The first two numbers had television origins: firstly "Madame X", then (from that memorable series "Dynasty") Angela’s haunting Blues for Alexis vividly conjuring up mental images of Joan Collins. Missing parts again posed problems, so the tea break was taken at this point, allowing Angela to write some extra phrases for cor anglais and clarinet in the next number, Venturing Forth from "Watership Down". This left just one final number – the delicious "A Tender Mood" which many radio listeners will recall from the 1980s when Angela was often invited as guest conductor of the sorely-missed BBC Radio Orchestra.
The following afternoon Angela and John supervised some overdubbing on two numbers. Guitar and bass clarinet were added to "The Looking Glass War" and guitar was dubbed into "My Autumn Love". Then Tony Fisher arrived with his flugelhorn to add solos to both numbers, thus completing the magical sessions for this new CD.
Angela Morley seemed very happy with the way in which everything had gone, and she was clearly looking forward to mixing the results at the weekend. Her enthusiasm is an example to us all, and her energy is phenomenal; after the sessions she was planning extensive tours of England and Europe, before eventually returning home to the USA around seven weeks later at the beginning of July. Her only acknowledgement of the passing years was her confessed revulsion at the thought that she will celebrate her 80th birthday on 10 March in 2004. It will simply be yet another milestone that she will take in her stride, and we look forward to her future visits to record more of her wonderful music for posterity.
Paul Weston charts
As soon as John Wilson had packed away the final Angela Morley scores at 1.00pm on Wednesday 14 May, he had to turn his attention to the afternoon’s session, recreating some of the marvellous scores penned by Paul Weston – many over 50 years ago. During the 2-hour break the studio was rearranged to accommodate an 18-piece big band, with 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, 6 saxes plus piano (Andy Vinter, ex-BBC Big Band), double bass, drums and guitar.
At 3.00pm promptly, the first run-through of Just You, Just Me began, with John beaming all over his face in response to the great sound – often just sitting on his chair without conducting, leaving the band to take control of the melody. Thereafter one standard followed another as the band got to grips with Talk of the Town, At Sundown, Judy, I’m Confessing and finally Memories of You with an outstanding trumpet solo from Mike Lovatt.
It was good to meet up with Paul Weston’s son Tim (accompanied by his charming wife Shelby), who had come to London especially for these sessions. He seemed very impressed with the band, and with the wall of sound that engulfed us in the control room. Tim wasn’t even a glint in his parents’ eyes when some of these charts were written (his mother is, of course, the legendary Jo Stafford), but he could remember seeing his father working at home on scores, sitting at the piano with a pencil in his mouth. At the time the family was living in Beverly Hills, where they had moved in 1957, and like all busy musicians, Paul was frequently facing deadlines. In the days before faxes and photocopying this meant rushing scores by car to his copyists (Clyde Balsley and Jack Collins) in Hollywood. In 1980 the Westons sold their home and settled in Century City, a suburb of Los Angeles.
On the podium Paul could be a hard taskmaster, expecting high standards from his musicians. He would clap his hands when it was necessary to bring them to order. Away from work he was quite different – relaxed and good company. When constructing his scores he would always take special care with his introductions, and the links between the reprise of the main theme. Occasionally it is possible to detect a pattern in his arrangements for full orchestra, with the theme first being given to the strings and woodwinds, before the brass are allowed to grab the melody firmly and fully, creating a blast of sound that must have caused some problems for early sound engineers.
The next morning at 10.00am the band was augmented with vibes, for six more great numbers – Breezing Along With The Breeze, It’s a Lovely Day Today, You Turned The Tables On Me, Keeping Out Of Mischief, What Can I Say and All Of Me.
As already mentioned, during the afternoon some Angela Morley tracks were over-dubbed, so the remaining two Paul Weston sessions were scheduled for Friday the 16th, commencing at 10.00am when 22 strings plus harp were added. The trumpets and trombones were reduced to three each, but there was still a strong sax contingent of six players, doubling on various other instruments as usual. Radio-2’s Malcolm Laycock also made a welcome appearance, and in the afternoon singer Gary Williams (fresh from his triumph at the Royal Festival Hall film music concert in March) called to see his friend John Wilson.
The opening number Moonlight Becomes You had everyone in the control room gasping with delight when the full brass section opened up half-way through. The same glorious effects were soon repeated in other numbers, including Time After Time, East Of The Sun, Time On My Hands, You Go To My Head and This Can’t Be Love.
The string sound coming from the John Wilson Orchestra was noticeably fuller than used to be heard on Paul Weston’s own recordings. Was he restricted by his record company bosses, or did he decide for himself that a massive string section was not required? Maybe the microphones and/or studios in the USA produced a different sound? Tim Weston discussed this with his mother upon his return home; Jo Stafford said that the small string section reflected the fact that Paul himself was paying for the sessions! Jo was one of the few artists who, by virtue of her big sales, could specify/’command’ that the company ‘ate’ the costs of recording.
Paul’s own instrument was the piano, although his particular favourites were saxes and clarinets. As a very young man he had decided to study arranging after an horrific train accident had almost killed him, because he had to find something to occupy him whilst undergoing a long convalescence. It proved to be the turning point in his career, especially as he had previously failed an audition to join a dance band as a clarinet player. (Later he joined the same band on piano – The Green Serenaders at Dartmouth – and toured South America and the Caribbean playing with them on a cruise ship).
After an hour’s break for lunch, the final three-hour session began at 2.00pm, with another run-though of This Can’t Be Love, hoping to improve on the pre-lunch play-through. The usual pattern is for each number to be rehearsed once, then a ‘take’ is recorded. Sometimes this is very good with very few ‘fluffs’ or wrong notes, but either the conductor or the sound engineer usually spot something that is not quite right. A second ‘take’ is often sufficient, and if necessary parts of the two can be edited to make one satisfactory performance. Sometimes a short passage is repeated (a ‘patch’) which can easily be inserted, which avoids too much time being spent re-recording something that has been satisfactorily achieved previously. Very rarely a certain number might keep causing problems, requiring even four or five ‘takes’ but by this time the musicians are starting to get a bit jaded, and the performance can begin to suffer.
Things went well during the afternoon, with Sleepy Time Gal, When Your Lover Has Gone, Through, But Not For Me, Poor Butterfly and April In Paris successfully taped. Time was available just before 5.00pm, so it was decided to do a re-take of Time On My Hands which had not entirely pleased John during the morning.
And then it was all over. Everyone was still on a high, reliving some of the highlights of the past four days. New friends had been made, and old friends warmly greeted once more. RFS members Stan and Pat Coates had been at John’s side in the studio, checking through all the scores and collecting and distributing them at each change of title.
It takes so many people to bring an enterprise such as this to a successful conclusion, and one can only hope that the wonderful sounds heard in the studio can be faithfully recreated at home when these two CDs are eventually released. In the safe hands of Michael Dutton, this is a guaranteed certainty!
David Ades (August 2003)
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