Report on the spring gathering of the London Light Music Meetings Group on Sunday 6th May 2018

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Anthony Wills with Tim McDonald and Tony Clayden
Anthony Wills with Tim McDonald and Tony Clayden

It was a sunny and unseasonably warm day at the Lancaster Hall Hotel, as Light Music enthusiasts arrived for another feast of melodic music - now almost unobtainable on the BBC!

After opening - appropriately - with George Melachrino's Spring Morning, Tony Clayden welcomed the multitude, and read out a number of apologies for absence for those who were either unwell, or whose commitments during this Bank Holiday weekend rendered attendance impossible.

Tony then played Caernarvon Castle, a movement from the Royal Castles Suite, featured in a soon-to-be released CD of several of Haydn Wood's orchestral compositions. Tony has, in collaboration with Marjorie Cullerne, (Haydn Wood's great niece), liased with Gavin Sutherland, Neil Varley of the BBC Concert Orchestra, and Mike Dutton of Vocalion Records, to produce this very special CD. All the pieces are appearing on commercial recordings for the first time.

Tony then introduced Anthony Wills, who presented a tribute to the pianist, composer and arranger Robert Docker, whose centenary occurs on the 5th June. Anthony played us his Tabarinage, (French for 'Buffoonery'), a once much-played composition in the BBC 'Light Programme' days.

Having studied at the Royal Acadamy of music, where he played the viola, violin, harpsichord and piano, (which of course became his main instrument), Robert Docker made his radio debut in 1936, but it was not until after the war that he became a regular broadcaster, forming a two-piano partnership with Edward Rubach as well as arranging for, and accompanying, such noted singers as Moira Anderson and Cynthia Glover, sometimes working with the BBC Scottish Variety Orchestra in Glasgow.

Anthony then played us another well-known Docker composition - Legend featuring William Davies with the RTE Concert Orchestra conducted by Barry Knight. This has become one of his most famous compositions, and is a ‘homage’ to his great musical hero, Sergei Rachmanninov.

Bob often played for the Reg Leopold orchestra, doing most of their arrangements. He is also remembered for his 'Friday Night Is Music Night' appearances, as well as for the fine scores which he regularly prepared for the BBC Concert Orchestra especially for that programme.

Anthony concluded with one such arrangement - a selection (which he rescued from certain destruction) from the post-war Vivian Ellis / A.P. Herbert West End musical show Bless the Bride- performed by Vernon Midgley, Jacqueline Fugelle, the BBC Singers and the BBC Concert Orchestra under the direction of Iain Sutherland. It was taken from a broadcast in 1994, two years after Bob's death, and today was its first hearing since!

I, too, have happy memories of Robert Docker, having met him on a number of occasions. Particularly memorable were two sessions from the Robert Docker Sextet in the revived series of 'Music While You Work', in which I sat right behind the maestro!

Following Anthony's presentation, Tony played us a slightly syncopated jazz-waltztime version of Claude Debussy's Clair de Lune, featuring the piano of Derek Cox, the late husband of the well-known singer Sheila Southern, whose presence in the audience was most welcome.

It was now time for my usual 'Radio Recollections'. I commenced with an excerpt from a 1950s broadcast by Jack Coles and his Orchestre Moderne, playing a Cyril Stapleton composition Mexican Madness. This was followed by two items from the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra under Terence Lovett. Firstly, an Ernest Tomlinson arrangement of William Hill-Bowen's composition Chansonette, and then Leslie Bridgemont's delightful Moon Over Tahiti.

Ralph Elman and his Bohemian Players continued with Panatella by Ron Goodwin - whose own orchestra was led by Ralph ! I concluded with a performance by Les Perry and his players of Tommy Watt's paso doble entitled Conquistador.

This brought us to the first interval, during which time I played the piano to the assembled multitude (whether they wanted it or not!)

Part Two opened with Air de Ballet, apparently the earliest known orchestral work of Sir Edward Elgar, which has only very recently been re-discovered, recorded and now issued on another new Vocalion CD of 'Short Orchestral Works' by Elgar, performed once again by the BBC CO, this time under the direction of David Lloyd-Jones.

It was now time to introduce our special guest for the afternoon – former BBC Radio Two and Decca Records producer, Tim McDonald – and Anthony Wills returned to the platform to interview him about his career.

Tim McDonald was the producer of the four-part series about the career of Eric Coates, so it was appropriate that he should open with Knightsbridge in a recording conducted by the composer. He continued with Rosie The Red Omnibus from the London Transport Suite by Sidney Torch.

Tim spoke of his university days during which time he wrote the thesis for his degree on 'West Side Story', incurring more than a little amount of snobbish disapproval but, nevertheless, pointing out that Leonard Bernstein was an outstanding composer ! As an example, he played America from the aforementioned musical.

Speaking about his involvement with the early 'Phase 4' Stereo records, Tim played us a movement from what he described as the 'notorious' Yellow River Concerto, which was used in the 'cultural revolution' imposed upon the Chinese people during the mid-1960s. Although this was very much disapproved-of by the Decca management, it became a very profitable money-spinner for the company, selling a huge number of LPs. This was followed by an Edmundo Ros recording on the 'Phase Four ' label of Cumano.

Tim then turned to his later work as a BBC producer, firstly explaining how he had landed the job. His duties included taking charge of a considerable number of broadcasts with the much-missed and widely respected Ray Moore. We then heard Ray introducing an edition of 'Stringsound' with Leon Young who played a Frank Chacksfield composition Rosella.

This was followed by Long Ago And Far Away in a Robert Farnon arrangement, featuring Elaine Delmar with the BBC Radio Orchestra conducted by (Tim believes) Gordon Rose. He then demonstrated the versatility of the Radio Orchestra as they played Heigh Ho by Donald Churchill.

Finally, Tim spoke of his long association with 'Sing Something Simple' - a programme that you either liked or you didn't - but it had a huge postbag and ran for 42 years ! Personally, I found it very melodic - particularly enjoying the accordion accompaniment of Jack Emblow. We heard part of the signature tune, performed by the sixteen-piece Cliff Adams Singers.

This brought to an end a very interesting presentation by Tim McDonald - which was peppered with some less-than-reverent observations about some of the BBC's more quirky attitudes!

After the raffle, Tony played us into the second interval with Portrait of a Flirt by Robert Farnon - a track from a brand -new double CD of historic off-air performances by the BBC Scottish Variety Orchestra and BBC Scottish Radio Orchestra conducted by Ronnie Munro, Jack Leon, Iain Sutherland and Brian Fahey, amongst others. It was put together by Ian Reed, much of the material, (on disc one), coming from my collection of vintage recordings. The double CD costs £14.99 and the copies which were on sale were quickly snapped up.

Following the second break, the 'back to seats' music was Mountain Ramble by harmonica virtuoso Sigmund Groven – a most welcome regular supporter of our group – who had once again travelled all the way from Oslo to be with us. This piece was composed in 2000 for a 27-episode Norwegian TV documentary about a wildlife park; the programme has since been shown in many countries around the world.

Stephen Wills, (who can always be relied upon for a good presentation), then played us some music with a continental flavour. He opened with Carlos' Theme by Ivor Slaney; this was the theme to the TV series 'Sentimental Agent' and was played by the NDR Dance and Entertainment Orchestra.

This was followed by Paysage Ecossais -the English translation of which is 'Scottish Landscape'. It was played by Paul Bonneau and his orchestra.

Stephen continued with Antigua from the Hilversum Radio Orchestra and Sweet and Swinging from the Jurgen Herman Orchestra. He concluded with The Bear from Berne played by Cedric Dumont and his orchestra.

Tony then played one of my own compositions Elizabethan Tapestry, which was originally composed - for military band – for the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977, for use in investitures at Windsor Castle. This, however, was a new arrangement for brass band in a performance by the Championship Section band – Regent Brass – at Westminster Abbey Gardens last year.

Andre Leon, (whose 75th birthday it was), then came to the table to recall his time with the South African Broadcasting Corporaton. His first item was The World is Waiting for the Sunrise from Werner Muller's orchestra. Andre explained that he had composed a jingle (in the style of John Williams) which he demonstrated on the piano, before playing the actual SABC version.

Andre continued with Mona Lisa sung by the contemporary vocalist Seal. Any resemblance to Nat King Cole was purely intentional !
Apologising for his presentation being somewhat self-indulgent, (after all, it WAS his birthday!), Andre continued with a piano recording of his mother playing Eric Coates's By the Sleepy Lagoon which then morphed into the orchestral version from Eric Johnson's orchestra.

He concluded with With A Song In My Heart from the Norman Candler Orchestra.

As a tribute to Sheila Southern, Tony played her performance of Trains and Boats and Planes, accompanied by Paul Fenoulhet's orchestra. He then asked "Would the lady who sang that please stand up?" Sheila obliged, to great applause, of course !

The final item in the programme was another track from the BBC Concert Orchestra's forthcoming Haydn Wood CD - his Festival March, written to a commission from the BBC for the First Light Music Festival in 1948. It is hoped that the disc will be released by the end of the summer, with copies being available for purchase at our next meeting.

Tony then thanked all involved in the afternoon's entertainment and invited us to do it all again in October when we shall be welcoming the Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra as our special guests.

The audience departed to the strains of Robert Farnon's arrangement of Waltzing with Richard Rodgers.

Brian Reynolds
May 2018

Tony Clayden adds: Special thanks to those volunteers who assisted with taking door receipts, selling raffle tickets and looking after CD sales.

The next LLMMG meeting will take place at the Lancaster Hall Hotel on Sunday October 7th 2018 – All are welcome, please tell your friends!

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