RFS April Meeting Report April 2008

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Meeting of the Robert Farnon Society
Sunday 6th April 2008 at the Park Inn London
by Brian Reynolds

Once again the time had come for our annual Springfest and the usual collection of dropouts, screwballs and crackheads were in attendance - but enough about the committee! We really had to look at the calendar to remind ourselves that it was Spring, because after several hours of heavy snow and temperatures barely above freezing, it sure didn't feel like it!

Outside central London snow was two or three inches thick and this fact undoubtedly put off a few of the regulars, nevertheless there was a good, healthy attendance. Because of the fact that the name-change of the hotel was known too late to be mentioned in the latest journal, some of those attending, unable to find the Bonnington Hotel, thought that they had gone the wrong way and had to ask directions. I must say that the new name seems more than a little strange as the establishment is certainly not an "inn" and is nowhere near a park! I'm sure that it is only a matter of time before the graffiti merchants insert the word NO in front of the sign outside!

Those present took their seats to the accompaniment of Here Comes the Band. As David Ades had chosen to take a less prominent part on this occasion due to pressure of other commitments, Albert Killman opened proceedings with a Robert Farnon 'lollipop'- Manhattan Playboy - played by the John Wilson orchestra - It is felt by the London Committee who plan these events that Farnon originals need to be featured more frequently.

This was followed by a tribute to the legendary pianist Oscar Peterson who had died recently. This took the form of the soundtrack of part of a 1969 television interview in which Robert Farnon talked with Peterson. We then heard Bob’s composition The Pleasure of your Company in which Oscar Peterson was accompanied by the Robert Farnon Orchestra.

My Radio Recoll-ections spot came next. At the risk of seeming to be biased, I feel that this is an important part of the programme as it enables listeners to once again enjoy the music of the many orchestras that used to be featured regularly on radio forty or fifty years ago but rarely visited the recording studios, and consequently have tended to be forgotten, despite having given hundreds of broadcasts.

As 2008 marks the centenary of the birth of Leroy Anderson, I decided that his music should feature prominently in my selection. So my first item was a medley consisting of Forgotten Dreams, Belle of the Ball, Blue Tango and Fiddle Faddle played by Ronnie Munro and his Orchestra. In an extremely varied career, Munro had led a dance band during the twenties and thirties, becoming the first conductor of the BBC Scottish Variety Orchestra in 1940. After a further spell with a dance band he formed his light orchestra for radio in the fifties, concluding his BBC career with a sextet which he led between 1962 and 1967. When radio broadcasts dried up, he emigrated to South Africa, where he reformed his orchestra, subsequently becoming Head of Light Music for S.A.B.C.

Next I played (as a request) Reginald Tilsley's novelty Young Dandy played by The Sidney Sax Strings. I met Sidney on several occasions and found him quite charming. But apparently those who worked for him in his capacity of a "fixer" soon found that he demanded the highest standards and there are many stories of quite notable musicians being 'given the boot' by him for the most trivial of reasons.

My next item was Fiesta in Brazil, an exciting Spanish waltz, played by Anton and his orchestra. Anton (real name Arthur Sweeting) had broadcast and recorded with the Paramount Theatre Orchestra in the thirties and had formed a smaller orchestra for broadcasting in the forties. For the next twenty odd years he gave hundreds of broadcasts, but sadly made no more records. He was a reserve conductor to the BBC Staff Orchestras.

To conclude my 'spot' I returned to the Ronnie Munro orchestra for another Leroy Anderson medley, this time including Serenata, Sleigh Ride and Plink,Plank,Plunk.

Ronnie Munro's string orchestra featured William Davies on electronic organ and it was he that played the pizzicato in the final item, probably because the BBC discouraged the use of plucked strings onMusic While You Work (from which the recording came) as they were considered inaudible in the factories.

I was asked to give some 'parish notices' whilst on stage and I drew particular attention to a concert by Ann Adams and the Ladies' Palm Court Orchestra at London's Kensington Gardens bandstand on 29th June (2.00pm to 3.30pm). This 22 piece orchestra's programmes are the highlight of the year for me, as they include so many of the neglected light pieces that were so much a feature of the old Light Programme. I also mentioned a concert on 26th May in Lauderdale House, Highgate Hill by the Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra. Both orchestras usually attract some RFS members.

There then followed our customary look at the new releases which, on this occasion, might have been subtitled the 'Peter and Albert show' as Peter Burt alternated with Albert in presenting a selection of newly available recordings. From a new recording of the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by John Wilson, Albert played us Eric Coates' Sound and Vision, commissioned by ATV in 1955.

Peter then played Zip-a-dee-doo-dah from a new CD featuring Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra, entitled Stars and Stripes - An American Concert. Next followed some TV nostalgia as Albert played 'Scherzetto for Children' by Fred Hartley from the new Guild CD Childrens' Memories Vol 2. This item consisted of lots of traditional tunes such as Polly put the Kettle on, Tom Tom, the Piper's SonBobby Shaftoe etc - played by Eric Robinson and his Orchestra. Peter's next contribution wasMephistopheles Serenade from The Damnation of Faust by Berlioz, played by Frank Chacksfield and his Orchestra on a new Vocalion CD Immortal Serenades.

Albert then played some music by Laurie Johnson, now 81 years old - the popular theme from the cult TV show The Avengers which comes from a new 3-CD set. Then came something rather unusual on the Naxos label as Peter played a previously unrecorded work by Leroy Anderson - The GovernorBradford March recorded by The BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin. This came from the album Anderson Orchestral Music. Albert's next item was Robert Farnon's Scenic Grandeurplayed by the Danish State Radio Orchestra - again from a new Guild CD. Peter Burt's final contribution was Wunderbar from a Vocalion CD of Mantovani and his Orchestra entitled Song Hits of Theatreland.

Before his final item in this section, Albert conveyed to the congregation the good wishes of RFS President David Farnon and Alan Bunting. He then went on to play The Cat from Coos Bay which, I must confess, was a new one to me, but I am assured that it was a big hit in its day. It came from a recent Vocalion CD of the singles of Wally Stott.

It was now time for the first interval and we went to our refreshments to the accompaniment of Eric Coates' march Sound and Vision.


It was now time to meet our special guest for the afternoon and Robert Habermann introduced composer Nigel Hess. So as to remind the audience of his work our attention was directed to the video screen for a selection of opening titles from a host of television series for which he wrote the music. Many were astounded at his versatility, as a succession of pieces were played which we knew so well but had perhaps been unaware of their composer! Let's face it - most title sequences are confined to a quarter of the screen with a continuity announcer chattering about something totally irrelevant!

Featured were the following:


During his conversation with Robert, Nigel Hess revealed a fact that was probably not known to many present - that the famous Dame Myra Hess was his great aunt. Nigel recounted to us that he took up the piano at the age of two and a half and that his first favourite piece of music as a child was The Dambusters March.

As a professional musician one of his first engagements was as Musical Director for the Lloyd Webber musical Jesus Christ Superstar. Subsequently he wrote the title music for Let's be Friends. He was also asked to write a piece of music for an up and coming comedy duo on the lines of Morecambe and Wise's Bring me Sunshine. These hitherto unknown entertainers were Cannon and Ball. Nigel Hess has written much music for Shakespearean plays and, as an example, he played music from the Coronation Scene from Henry VIII. Nigel has always had an interest in music for Concert Band - or Wind Band as it is called in America, which he illustrated with a movement from his East Coast Pictures.

We then turned to the big screen to see a clip from Ladies in Lavender, and the presentation was brought to a conclusion with part of a Concerto - a movement entitled The Love. In view of its regal connections this work involved discussions at Clarence House with Prince Charles no less!

Before thanking Nigel Hess for a very interesting presentation which, incidentally was very well received, Robert Habermann asked him who were his biggest influences. Perhaps not surprisingly he said: Korngold, Steiner and John Williams.

Following the raffle, the meeting paused for the second interval.


We returned to our seats to the accompaniment of Chopin's Les Sylphides. Albert opened proceedings with a tribute to the late Gene Puerling, who we heard in conversation with Robert Farnon, to the accompaniment of The More I See You.

It was then time for ‘Cab's Swing Session’. Cab Smith started with a Robert Farnon original: Johnny's Dive. His second item (also by the maestro) was a jazz piano feature from Bill McGuffie - Poodle Parade. It's amazing how this light orchestral piece adapts so easily to jazz piano! Cab concluded with Robert Farnon conducting his own arrangement of Sunny Side Up which also happens to be the title tune of a recent 'Guild' CD.

Albert then played us Happy Go Lively by Laurie Johnson.

At long last it was time to welcome David Ades to the top table. As mentioned earlier, David had chosen to adopt a lower profile on this occasion. For his first item, David played us David Rose'sDance of the Spanish Onion from a 1967 Columbia 'Studio Two' LP. This was included at the special request of Norman Grant. Then, from a Thames TV series recorded at the 'Talk of the Town' in 1972, we heard the opening titles and Tony Bennett with the Robert Farnon Orchestra in Baby Dream your Dream.

David then introduced us to something rather special and certainly unique. Alan Bunting, who is responsible for the excellent sound restorations for the 'Guild' recordings, had obtained (at considerable cost to himself) a film of a studio session by Percy Faith and his orchestra, performed supposedly in front of a small audience - they actually sounded like a huge audience, but in reality there was no audience and the applause was dubbed!

The video was all the more special because it featured Faith's recording orchestra rather than the session musicians which he used for most television shows. I gather from David that the musicians for his Best of Both Worlds shows for the BBC in the 1960s were largely drawn from the Robert Farnon Orchestra. Percy Faith was born 7th April 1908 and died 9th February 1976 aged 67 We then watched and listened to the following items: Mucho Gusto: Moulin Rouge: There's a boat that's leaving for New York: Tenderly:a samba La Mattchiche (Nazareth) and, finally, The Sound of Music.

This brought the meeting to a close and Albert conveyed his appreciation to Alan Bunting for making the Percy Faith material available to us; he also thanked all who had participated in the meeting - not forgetting Tony Clayden who brings a considerable amount of equipment with him and twiddles the knobs to ensure that we get the best sound. Albert also told us that next April we shall be having a Haydn Wood special, involving Wood's grand niece. It will also include some live performances of his works.

The next meeting is on November 30th when we shall be honoured with the presence of Iain Sutherland, one of the few remaining links with the 'Light Programme' who many of us remember for his conductorship of the BBC Scottish Radio Orchestra as well as many programmes with the Concert Orchestra and Radio Orchestra. It was Iain, incidentally, that said: "Light music isn't dead - the BBC are in the process of burying it alive!" The meeting closed with Robert Farnon's Melody Fair.

As the audience slowly dispersed we were serenaded with some Farnon arrangements played by the BBC Radio Orchestra.... Waltzing with Richard Rodgers; Dream Theme; As Time Goes By and from the George Mitchell Glee Club with the Robert Farnon Orchestra Love is Such a Cheat (Decca F9655).

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