RFS Meeting Report May 2011

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Meeting of the Robert Farnon Society – Sunday 8th May 2011
Reported by Brian Reynolds

The day was May 8th and time once again for all lovers of melodic music to enjoy what might be described as the antidote to pop music - quality light and popular music by Robert Farnon and his contemporaries. For us, our Spring meeting was a little late this year, as this was the first time that we were gathering in May and, as hoped, a warm sun shone on us as we entered what we still affectionately call 'The Bonnington'. Well, let's face it - 'DoubleTree by Hilton London West End Hotel' doesn't exactly roll off the tongue! Whoever thought that title up is probably sitting comfortably in his padded cell. Once again our meeting was in what David Ades called 'the corridor', but we have been assured that our usual room will be refurbished in time for the October meeting.

As usual, David gave the opening address before handing over to Albert Killman who introduced the fabulous John Wilson Orchestra (on video) in an excerpt from their stunning Christmas Day television show 'A Swinging Christmas'. The excerpt chosen was Andrew Cottee's arrangement of A Tribute to the Big Bands.

This was followed by the BBC Midland Radio Orchestra playing Douglas Gamley's Summer Festival Waltz. This featured their wonderful pianist Harold Rich, who we were very pleased to welcome to our meeting.

Then, as a tribute to the late Jane Russell, we enjoyed watching her on screen and hearing I've got Five Dollars from Gentlemen Marry Brunettes in which the voice of the male lead was dubbed by no less than Robert Farnon! Probably the nearest he got to being a screen lover!

It was then time for my 'Radio Recollections' spot and it occurred to me that as our special guest for the afternoon would be playing music from the BBC Midland RADIO orchestra, it would good to play a sequence from its predecessor the Midland LIGHT Orchestra. This orchestra had been one of my favourites in the sixties and was noted for its wide repertoire and the contrasting styles of its two conductors - Jack Coles and Gilbert Vinter.

I started with the orchestra's opening signature tune, Jack Coles' arrangement of Fred Hartley's Life is Nothing Without Music leading into their opening number (conducted by Gilbert Vinter) Alpine Ride by Malcolm Lockyer, whom many will remember for his work conducting the BBC Revue Orchestra and subsequently the Radio Orchestra. For the remainder of the sequence we turned to Jack Coles, conducting first, a favourite of David Ades - Coralita by James Warr (a pseudonym for MLO producer Peter Haysom Craddy). Funny how his compositions cropped up in so many MLO broadcasts! Under Jack Coles, the orchestra played a lot of rhythmic arrangements of popular songs and we heard one such arrangement in the shape of the old standard Peg o' My Heart. It's amazing that 'heart' is the chosen organ for so many song titles! You never hear You are my Spleen's delight or My Liver and I !!

I concluded my presentation with another James Warr composition, Safari Fiesta, an exciting number featuring the nimble fingers of virtuoso pianist Harold Rich, who also arranged the piece. He was rightly given a spontaneous ovation from the audience.

Next, we heard some jingles, written by Bob Farnon for the start of LBC radio. After this, Albert presented (on video) a montage of pictures representing fifty five years of the Society, to the accompaniment of 'The Way We Were'.

It was now time for our new releases, the first coming from a new Guild CD 'The Composer Conducts - Vol 2’. We listened to a recording of Philip Green conducting the Pinewood Studio Orchestra in his own march from the film 'League of Gentlemen'. This was followed by a Robert Farnon arrangement for his orchestra of One Night of Love by Victor Schertzinger. This was from the Guild CD 'Portrait of my Love'. We then listened to I'll See You in my Dreams from Ron Goodwin and his Orchestra, from a new Vocalion CD comprising Ron Goodwin's albums 'Gypsy' and 'Romance in Rhythm' We concluded the first part of our programme with the finale from Bob's Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra played by Raymond Cohen with the London Festival Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the composer. This is from the new RFS CD celebrating the 55th anniversary of our Society. It also served as a tribute to Raymond Cohen, who died in February.

Prior to our breaking for tea, David read out apologies for absence from David Farnon, also from Malcolm Powell, Cab Smith and John Fox, who were unwell.


Part two opened with Best Endeavours by Alan Hawkshaw. This tune is best known as the theme from Channel Four News.

It was now time to meet our special guest for the afternoon, distinguished oboist Paul Arden-Taylor.

Paul studied at the Royal Academy of Music and left with four diplomas (the police never caught him!) He was appointed principal oboe with Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet Orchestra, joining the BBC Midland Radio Orchestra in 1979, ironically just before the death of its conductor, Norrie Paramor. For his first musical excerpt by the MRO, Paul played Geoff Love's arrangement of Begin the Beguine.

As many members are aware, Paul has amassed a huge collection of recordings of the MRO which he is making available to our Society as well as to the Light Music Society membership. One of the reasons that there is only a limited amount of broadcast music in the BBC's Sound Archives was the Musicians' Union's requirement that all pre-recorded music broadcasts should be erased after transmission, to avoid the possibility of a rebroadcast for which musicians had not been paid! Never mind posterity! The sound engineers in Birmingham duly abided by this rule and erased the recordings - but not before they had made copies! Very enterprising!

When, in 1973, the Midland Radio Orchestra was formed, it replaced the Midland Light Orchestra. The idea was to have a modern style orchestra which would make a speciality of contemporary music. The change involved boosting the string section and dispensing with the brass - which could always be added when required by engaging session players. As the MRO was officially disbanded in 1981, Paul only had a couple of years with them, broadcasting under that name. However, the musicians in the various disbanded orchestras of which the MRO was just one, were given five year contracts giving them regular work under a variety of identities. You might hear them as the John Fox orchestra, the Iain Sutherland orchestra, and many other identities, sometimes augmented with brass, when required.

An example of this was Paul's next item, which was from 'Music While You Work' - a quickstep medley of popular tunes played by 'Pianorama' a two-piano team comprising Harold Rich and Colin Campbell, accompanied by musicians from the former MRO.

This was followed by Little Miss Molly by Robert Farnon and then Paul played Misty for us, the orchestra being conducted by John Fox and featuring Paul, himself - not on oboe, but on recorder! The recently deceased Johnny Pearson was featured next in I wish I knew (from television's 'Film 87'). After this we heard an arrangement of I Feel Pretty conducted by Jack Peberdy with featured flautist Colin Crabb-Smith and Betty Smith, forsaking her saxophone to sing! Incidentally, Betty (wife of Jack Peberdy) died recently, having sadly been ill for twenty-five years!

Next we heard My Father by Judy Collins in an arrangement by Pete Moore and featuring Peggy Lee with the MRO. Bernard Herrman (long associated with the Northern Dance Orchestra) was the soloist in Saint-Saens' 'Dance Macabre' and this was followed by Neil Richardson conducting his arrangement of Summertime by George Gershwin. Then the MRO rhythm section was heard in The Entertainer(Scott Joplin). The vibraphone soloist was Alan Randall, who is perhaps better remembered as a George Formby impersonator.

Next, a very enjoyable arrangement of Teddy Bears Picnic, performed by Paul on some unusual early instruments. To conclude his presentation, Paul played us a Reg Tilsley arrangement of Night and Dayplayed by the BBC Midland Radio Orchestra, conducted by Iain Sutherland.

Paul Arden-Taylor's articulate and amiable presentation was well-received by all present, and we hope that he will visit us again. As this is a report not a review, I won't attempt to polish his ego, but it was apparent, that in common with most really talented people, that he hasn't even got one!


Suitably refreshed we returned to 'the corridor' for part three of our extravaganza and to a presentation by our good friend Vernon Anderson on Sir George Shearing, who had recently left us at the age of 91!

Naturally, we were treated to 'Lullaby of Birdland', surely Sir George's most famous recording, featuring the Quintet, followed by an arrangement of ‘Autumn Leaves' - again played by the quintet, but with the addition of Dennis Farnon and the orchestra.

Next, from the album 'A Vintage Year', we heard The Way you Look Tonight featuring Mel Torme. The Quintet were then joined by the Robert Farnon Orchestra for an unusual arrangement in waltztime of the classic 'Lady Be Good'. Vernon concluded with Robert Farnon's In a Calm played by Sir George on his album 'Favourite Things'.

Next we heard the galop from The Little French Suite by Alan Langford (better known as BBC producer Alan Owen) who had recently died. This was played by Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Gavin Sutherland.

Some more video of the John Wilson Orchestra followed, this time with Seth Macfarlane singing A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square (the beautiful arrangement by Robert Farnon for his 1962 LP with Frank Sinatra) after which we heard Roger Roger's Paris Pullman performed by the Paris Studio Orchestra conducted by Phillipe Pares. This served as a centenary tribute to Roger Roger.

After this, David and Albert shared some reminiscences of the early years of the Society and told us about the next meeting, in which we shall be welcoming the ever-youthful and delightful Rosemary Squires who will be singing for us. This was followed by the Robert Farnon Orchestra with En Routewhich was a gift to members back in 1957 – the first of eleven RFAS 78s, the last being in November 1968.

We try to observe as many anniversaries as possible during our programmes and also to play music associated with artists who have recently died, of which there have been all too many, of late. Both John Barry and Elizabeth Taylor have passed away in recent months so, in tribute to both of them we played John Barry's music for an Amercian TV special entitled 'Elizabeth Taylor in London.' This was performed by Johnny Spence and his Orchestra.

It was hoped to conclude with some more of the John Wilson Orchestra, on video. However, due to a technical hitch this was not possible. So David Ades wound up the show with Robert Farnon's Melody Fair and after thanking all who had taken part, not forgetting the indefatigable Tony Clayden whose electrical wizardry contributes so much to the success of our shows. We played out with a medley from Rosemary Squires with the Wally Stott orchestra, by way of a reminder to everyone to come back in October.

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