Dateline September 2009
In 1967-1968 more than 300 of Britain’s biggest names in the entertainment world were interviewed by Bernard Braden for a proposed television series that never came to fruition. At the time Braden (one of our Society’s original Vice-Presidents) was a leading popular television presenter, and we have not (yet) been able to discover why the project was dropped. The good news is that the British Film Institute has been able to acquire this valuable resource, which is being made available for educational use – subject to the necessary rights clearances being obtained. Robert Farnon was one of the people interviewed, and thanks to David Farnon we now have a copy (unedited, and in pristine colour) in the RFS Archives.
On 11 May BBC-2 screened a concert from the Royal Albert Hall featuring the comedian Bill Bailey with the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Anne Dudley – "Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide To The Orchestra". The event actually took place last October, and somewhat surprisingly it has been announced that a DVD will be released on 23 November later this year. This will feature the entire concert, not just the excerpts screened by the BBC, although TV viewers did see (and hear) the BBC Concert Orchestra playing David Rose’s Holiday For Strings and John Malcolm’s Non Stop. Unfortunately the music was punctuated by Bailey’s ‘witticisms’, but some people may have been sufficiently attracted to want to explore further. Thanks to Roger Mellor for this report.
Thanks to the enthusiasm of his daughter Michele, there are many releases on CD and DVD featuring Matt Monro, and a recent package from Odeon Entertainment called "The Ultimate Performer" includes an extract from Tony Bennett’s Thames TV show on 18 October 1972 from London’s Talk Of The Town featuring Robert Farnon and his Orchestra. This was a series featuring many top singers with Tony Bennett (all featuring the Robert Farnon Orchestra) and as far as we know this is the first time that anything from this source has appeared on DVD (if you know differently, please tell us!)
Spotted for sale on the Amazon website in July - copies of the following deleted Robert Farnon CDs: Living Era "Portrait of Farnon" on offer at over £110; Vocalion "Two Cigarettes In The Dark" £100; "Out Of My Dreams" £145.73; "Hoagy Carmichael/Victor Schertzinger Suites" a staggering £214.50!
On 24 June the London Daily Telegraph featured an interview with RFS member John Wilson. In the newspaper it was headed: "Conductor who saw the light". On the Telegraph’s website the same article appeared as: "John Wilson’s plight for ‘light music’". The sub-heading was more explicit: "John Wilson is on a crusade to bring light music and classic film scores back to our concert halls". It seems that the interviewer Ivan Hewett was slightly confused in suggesting that "Workers’ Playtime" was once a home of light music on the radio (no doubt he meant "Music While You Work") but at least the article will have alerted some readers to the fact that light music is still alive and kicking, and all the indications are that it is gradually making a comeback. In a resumé of John’s impressive career to date, Hewett reported: At 16 he founded the Newcastle Symphony Orchestra; at 18 he went to the Royal College, where, as he puts it, "I could form a different orchestra every week." By the age of 22 he was out in the world arranging music for Radio 2’s ‘Friday Night Is Music Night’, and scouring libraries and archives for music for his newly formed John Wilson Orchestra. "I was determined to get that wonderful Fifties sound you hear on those great MGM musicals, so I booked the best players. It’s the same now. You wouldn’t believe how many section principals and orchestral leaders I’ve got in the string section!" he says proudly. "And we did top-quality repertoire – Gershwin, Cole Porter, all in fabulous arrangements." By 2002, the orchestra had its first Queen Elizabeth Hall concert, and in 2004 Wilson conducted his first MGM Live concert. Talking about this brings a crusading gleam to his eye. "I realised that an awful lot of this music had disappeared. It turned out that MGM threw out all the scores for their great musicals like ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ and ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’. They were used as landfill for a car park. So I had to track down the short scores and parts. It’s been a 10-year project." Getting the style right involved studying a man who, for Wilson, is a neglected master of 20th-century music. "Conrad Salinger was a house orchestrator for MGM, and he was really in the Ravel class. André Previn reckons he’s the greatest who ever lived. I’ve learned lots of tricks from him." Would he describe himself as a perfectionist? "Oh, it’s got to be right. I once spent a whole Sunday morning on just four bars from ‘The Wizard of Oz’." We’ve been talking about American film composers, but it’s only when I ask Wilson about future plans that the truth finally comes out. "People think I’m a film music nerd, but my real passion is English music. What I’d really like to do is conduct all the Vaughan Williams symphonies." What makes English music special for him? "Oh, I can’t explain it. It’s that wistfulness and longing and melancholy. Elgar’s symphonies I think are in the Beethoven class. I have fights with people in the pub about that." The idea of Wilson getting in a fight is wonderfully improbable; but then so is his charmed life-story, which is the stuff of a good musical itself.
The Summer edition of The Light Music Society Newsletter includes Ernest Tomlinson’s last Chairman’s Letter at the helm. He explains that health considerations have forced him to come to terms with the fact that the time is right to hand over to a younger person. This year the LMS Annual Concert and AGM has moved from Ernest’s home at Lancaster Farm, and is taking place in Cheltenham with Gavin Sutherland waving the baton. The date is Sunday 30th August, and a new Chairman will be elected. As we go to press nominations are being received, and we will announce the name of the new chairman in our December issue. Ernest has been a splendid ambassador for light music. His involvement with the Light Music Society goes back to the mid-1950s when it was supported by the BBC; Ernest became Chairman in 1966. Soon afterwards the BBC’s interest in light music faded, and for many years the LMS became a dormant non-membership organisation. The Library of Light Orchestral Music was established in the 1980s when Ernest became aware of the large amounts of manuscripts that were being destroyed. The LMS was re-launched, and it became fully operational once again in 1996 when the Newsletters were reintroduced. Ernest’s successor will have a hard act to follow, but ET promises to remain active in the background to give advice when needed!
Several members have written to tell us that it is now possible to view a rare film containing music by Robert Farnon on the internet. The title is "This Is London" and it was made to encourage foreign visitors to London during the 1950s. Rex Harrison narrated, and Robert Farnon contributed the score. It is all new music – not a rehash of existing compositions. Courtesy of Alan Willmott we have screen this film at our London meetings many years ago, but if you have internet access we strongly recommend that you spend an enjoyable 20 minutes or so viewing it. You need to input:www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=78588 While on the site take time to look at some other shorts from the same period – you’ll recognise a lot of the music!
On Sunday 8 November Debbie Wiseman will be conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at London’s Cadogan Hall in a Concert of music, poetry and song in aid of the Breast Cancer Campaign. The programme includes Debbie’s own scores for My Uncle Silas, Wilde and Tom & Viv, plus works by Bach, Borodin, Britten, Tchaikovsky and Holst. Telephone bookings: 020 7730 4500. Online bookings: www.cadoganhall.com
2009 is the centenary of the birth of Mansel Thomas (1909-1986), one of the foremost Welsh composers of the last century. He was a well-known conductor, and became Head of Music at the BBC in Wales. His vocal and instrumental music is performed worldwide by choirs and artists, including Bryn Terfel and the BBC National Chorus and Orchestra of Wales, and is featured regularly on radio and television. Awarded the OBE, he composed Rhapsody For A Prince for the Investiture of The Prince of Wales in 1969, and this is one of his many works currently available in print. For more information please contact the Mansel Thomas Trust at: Ty Cerbyd, Station Road, Ponthir, Newport, Wales, NP18 1GQ – website: www.manselthomas.org.uk
Another notable centenary this year is De Wolfe Music, which was founded in 1909 by Meyer De Wolfe at premises in 20 Noel Street, Great Marlborough Street, London, W1. In a special centenary publication called "Nitrate/Bit-Rate" the company makes the proud boast that it has the longest running, and most important film and television music library resource in the world. Originally the music was provided in the form of sheet music, but as each new advance in sound recording has come along it has been fully embraced. Some readers of this magazine will have De Wolfe 78s, LPs and CDs; but even these are now being consigned to history, with computer technology now the norm. Happily the business is still controlled by the family: James de Wolfe is Chairman, and his son Warren de Wolfe is Managing Director. The Robert Farnon Society has enjoyed a very friendly relationship with De Wolfe for over fifty years, and we are delighted to send our very best wishes to them in celebrating this milestone. For a fuller report on this enterprising music publisher (which also owns the famous Angel Recording Studios) please refer to the article in Journal Into Melody issue 140, September 1999.
Malcolm Powell is well-known to RFS members through our London meetings and his splendid photos which have regularly appeared in our magazines for more years than we care to admit! But he is also a familiar voice to listeners of Meridian FM where he presents a regular programme "Looking For Yesterday". Why not join him by visiting www.meridianfm.com
A Canadian note from Pip Wedge
BOSS BRASS BOWS OUT
Seven months after Rob McConnell’s famed Boss Brass had made a welcome return to the Toronto music scene with three sold-out concerts at Toronto’s Old Mill in December 2008, Rob and the group made what was announced as positively the band’s final appearance on Canada Day, July 1st, with a lunchtime performance at the Toronto Jazz Festival’s Mainstage in Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square.
Apart from Rob himself, the only Boss Brass veterans who appeared on the final gig were Don Thompson (vibes, piano), Steve Wallace (bass) and Bob McDougall (trombone). Yet so strong is the pool of musicians available to draw on in Toronto, that Rob’s distinctive award –winning charts sounded every bit as crisp and exciting as when we first heard them, from the Strike Up the Band opener to the All The Things You Are closer, with Rob’s unique version of Oh Canada appropriately bringing the set to a close - and ensuring a standing ovation!
Bob made some comments about having a bonfire of all his charts, but no-one took him seriously. There are many universities around the city – and the country – that would be delighted to house them.
In JIM 169 in September 2006, reporting on Rob’s appearance with his Tentet at this same Toronto festival, I noted that Rob had been having health problems, and expressed the hope that his choice for their final number, For All We Know (We May Never Meet Again) was in no way prophetic. What a difference three years have made, thank goodness!