Gareth Bramley conducts an in-depth investigation into
THE FILM & TELEVISION MUSIC OF DAVID ROSE
The name David Rose may not mean much to the average TV viewer or cinema-goer but when you explore the wealth of material he composed and arranged in this medium you begin to appreciate the vast legacy of music that was left behind when he died in 1990. Hardly a day went by in the 1960s, 70s and 80s when a TV show bearing his trademark theme or background score wasn’t being shown somewhere in the world. In fact, by 1970 a survey showed that David Rose’s music was being used in twenty two shows in syndication and re-runs and that was just in the United States!
Sadly, a lot of David’s glorious music for these shows remains unreleased but it is here that we will now explore his output for film and TV, paying particular attention to the latter where most of his later work appeared. In addition Rose recorded hundreds of popular songs and tunes - not only composed by himself, but those written by others – firstly for RCA, then MGM and Capitol; before his final studio recordings for Polydor in the early 70s. One only has to check his discography to appreciate the full range of his talents and to discover that he arranged so many of the contemporary themes composed by his colleagues. These included many ‘epics’ such as ‘Ben Hur’, ‘Exodus’, ’Spartacus’, ‘10 Commandments’, ‘The Robe’ and ‘Cleopatra’ (to name only a few) and westerns such as ‘Cimarron’ and ‘The Alamo’ in addition to his own score for ‘Hombre’. He also recorded his own versions of the scores from ‘Butterfield 8’ and ‘The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm’. Add to this the hundreds of orchestral themes and songs he covered and you can well imagine the number of recordings he made.
I personally stumbled upon David’s music from watching episodes of ‘Bonanza’ and ‘Little House on the Prairie’ when they were repeated. But even before this I had bought those superb albums he had recorded in London for Polydor in the 1970s: The first was ‘Portrait’ (1972) – an album of twelve popular tunes from the time issued in January 1973 and later reissued in July ’76 as ‘In the Still of the Night’. The second was ‘The Very Thought of You’ (April 1974) with two of his own compositions ‘When You’re With Me’ and ‘King’s Road’; and finally ‘Melody Fair’, an album of 13 contemporary easy listening tunes, issued in September 1977.
His 1962 ‘Stripper’ LP - recorded for MGM - was re-released in November 1971. Some of his popular MGM material was also re-issued on ‘The Special Magic of David Rose’ (December ’74), including the self-composed: ‘Holiday for Strings’, ‘One More Time’, ‘Holiday for Trombones’ and ‘Dance of the Spanish Onion’; and ‘Great Orchestras of the World’ (May 1978) was a re-issue of some of the popular film themes he arranged and recorded for MGM in 1961.
David was actually born in London on 15 June 1910, and during his career he was an established composer, arranger, conductor, pianist, and orchestra and band leader. His work for TV alone earned him four Emmy awards. Having moved to Chicago at the age of four Rose entered the army during World War 2, and it was at this time that he met Red Skelton who asked him to be the conductor for his ‘Raleigh Cigarettes Programme’. He joined the cast in 1948 and then worked with Skelton on his TV show for over 20 years between 1951 and 1971. He even worked in radio with NBC and Mutual, where he had his own show (with orchestra) for which he wrote the tune ‘California Melodies’ after the title of the programme. He worked for MGM from 1949-1963, composing both for films and records – writing the scores for more than thirty-six of their films. Other radio show themes composed by Rose in the 1940s and 1950s included ‘Hallmark Theme’ for the radio series ‘Hallmark Playhouse’, and ‘Bold Venture’ for the radio and TV series of the same name.
Most people, however, remember David for his striking composition ‘The Stripper’ which was recorded in 1958 and reissued countless times on single, LP and CD - though when first issued in May1962 it was actually a B Side (of ‘Ebb Tide’ from the MGM film ‘The Sweet Bird of Youth’). This tune has since been used in many film and TV shows and topped the charts in the States in May 1962. It was actually adapted from a short piece originally created for the 1958 TV show ‘Burlesque’ for which he wrote the score, and had only come to light when MGM executives were looking for a B side for the ‘Ebb Tide’ single. ‘Stripper’ was re-issued by MGM in April 1971 - this time backed with another 1962 track called ‘Night Train’.
It was Rose’s ‘Holiday for Strings’ which was used as the theme for the aforementioned ‘Red Skelton’ TV show; recorded for an MGM LP in 1950 but not released till August 1955 (being a remake of his earlier 1942 RCA recording which reached No.2 in the US charts in 1944). A version was also released by HMV on an EP in 1955, the same year that an extended concert version was written for the MGM film ‘Unfinished Dance’ and issued on the ‘David Rose Plays David Rose’ LP. Rose also composed other themes for the show including his ‘clip-clop’ theme for the character Freddy the Freeloader (‘Lovable Clown’) which has recently been issued on the 2-CD set ‘King of Strings – The Hits and More’ by Jasmine. Others composed for the show were ‘Silent Spot’ (‘The Sad (Sad) Rockin’ Horse’) (1961) and ‘The Christmas Tree’ (1959) (both recorded on ‘David Rose Plays David Rose’) and ‘Our Waltz’ written as far back as 1942 winning him one of five Grammy awards.
Whilst composing for ‘Red Skelton Show’ and ‘Red Skelton Revue’ David was conductor and musical director on eight episodes of ‘It’s a Great Life’ (1954-55) and after acting as Musical Director on the Academy Awards show of 1956 was MD on two episodes of the TV series ’Showers of Stars’. The same year he composed and conducted the theme music for the popular US TV series ‘Highway Patrol’ which ran from 1955-1959. This piece was composed under his pseudonym Ray Llewellyn and versions by Ken Mackintosh and Cyril Stapleton were released in Britain. This main theme bore a resemblance to ‘march’ theme which was written for ‘Men into Space’. The name Llewellyn was used when he needed to score for TV shows when working outside union jurisdiction, especially for the low-budget series produced by ZIV-TV. Other shows scored under his pseudonym were ‘Martin Kane - Private Eye’ (1949-54), ‘I Led Three Lives’ (1953-56), ‘Meet Corliss Archer’ (1954), ‘Science Fiction Theatre’ (1955-57), ‘Dr. Christian’ (1956), ‘Sea Hunt’ (1958-61) and ‘King of Diamonds’ (1961).
More TV series followed with the themes for ‘Mr Adams & Eve’ (1957-58), ‘Bold Venture’ (1959), ‘The Jim Backus Show’- ‘Hot off the Wire’ (1960-1), and ‘Men into Space’ (1959-60). In between these he was musical director on two TV specials with Fred Astaire. He also wrote the themes for the series ‘The Case of the Dangerous Robin’ (1960-61) and the ‘The Monroes’ (1966-7). Rose also worked as musical director on ‘The Bob Hope Show’ and ‘Jack Benny Show’ - both of which began in the 50s.
By this time David was becoming more and more sought after by TV producers and in 1967 David Dortort asked him to score the music for the pilot for his then-new western series ’The High Chaparral’. This was to become one of the most popular westerns of all time – repeated by the BBC year after year until their rights lapsed in 1994. Aside from the ‘standout’ title theme (which had previously been used in an episode of ‘Bonanza’) he wrote various themes for characters in the pilot episode, including the main heroine ‘Victoria’, and John’s first wife ‘Annalee’. In 1968 David recorded the up-tempo 4th season version of his theme for a Capitol single in the States (backed with a track called ‘Merci Cherie’). In Germany the single appeared with the ‘Victoria’ theme as the B side – which was also featured on the 1968 Capitol LP (USA) called ‘Something Fresh’. Rose’s single of ‘High Chaparral’ appeared on the Bear Family collection ‘From Alamo to El Dorado’ released in June 1997.
Sadly, no original music was issued from this series but in March 1971 a lavishly-illustrated double LP set of ‘Music from Bonanza & High Chaparral’ was released, produced by lyricist Joe Lubin and David Cavanaugh of Capitol Records. This contained Rose’s theme for ‘The Big Bonanza’ (see later), ‘Jamie’ based on a regular character in the series, ‘The Big Man’ and the original series theme. From ‘The High Chaparral’ series were David’s theme ‘Victoria’ and a vocal based on the title theme entitled ‘All for You’ - with lyrics by creator David Dortort and Jay Lubin. Although the LP was credited to The Xanadu Pleasure Dome (where Xanadu was the production company behind the series), all the tracks were arranged and conducted by Sydney Dale and recorded at CTS Studios London under the auspices of John Richards. Sadly, in the UK the album was released as a single LP and ‘Jamie’, ‘Big Man’, and ‘All For You’ did not appear. No CD of any of these recordings has appeared, thus far.
Also in 1967 Rose composed another western theme for ‘Dundee and The Culhane’ which ran for only a mere thirteen episodes and ‘Bracken’s World’ (1969-70). The latter theme (all 57 seconds of it!) was included on his latest LP ‘Happy Heart’ released on Capitol.
Rose had scored some of the early ‘Bonanza’ episodes after it had begun in 1959 and creator David Dortort asked him to score further episodes of the ‘all-new’ ‘Bonanza’ for the 12th season in 1970. Rose called the new theme ‘The Big Bonanza’ which was a re-orchestration of the ‘Ponderosa’ theme he had composed in 1959. In 1972, after the death of Dan Blocker, one of its main characters, the opening titles were re-shot and the Livingston-Evans’ title theme was replaced with a tune which later became the theme to ‘Little House on the Prairie’.
His original music for the some of the early episodes was re-recorded – with his concert orchestra - and released on an MGM LP in the States. On the original LP sleeve notes David commented: "Making the right choice of basic material turned out to be a time-consuming job. I finally selected eleven themes I had composed for various ‘Bonanza’ television shows, plus the title song which was written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. I spent the better part of two months developing my own compositions, and then I got to work orchestrating all twelve completed tunes". For the actual soundtrack scores Rose used a 34-piece orchestra at the Scoring Stage at Paramount Studios for the first eleven series (1959-70) and Warner Brothers Studios for the last three (1970-72). A special cue (‘The Peacock’) was composed for the logo (NBC Living Colour Peacock) which was used to open the show when it was first shown in colour in 1961 (‘Bonanza’ was the first regular TV series to be filmed in colour). Other special and regular cues were the ‘sting’ for the ‘episode title’ (appearing directly after the main credits) which again was based on the theme (he wrote) called ‘The Ponderosa’ and the commercial break bumpers.
The ‘Bonanza’ album was recorded in December 1960 (with his Concert Orchestra) and released August the following year. The title theme and two others from the original album (‘Ponderosa’ and ‘Hoss’) appeared on the ‘Very Best of David Rose’ CD issued by Taragon in the USA in February 1996. The complete album was issued on CD by Harkit Records in March 2008 – though it was dubbed from LP. The 1960 MGM recording on the ‘Bonanza’ title theme was released by Bear Family on ‘Wand’rin’ Star’ in December 1999. The guitarist on the original TV version was Tommy Tedesco, who also played on ‘Batman’, ‘Green Acres’ and ‘M.A.S.H.’ and on hundreds of pop records in the 60s and 70s. The music for this theme was created entirely by Rose (and arranged for the show by Billy May) since Livingston & Evans merely gave producer Dortort a set of lyrics which neither he nor Rose liked. They were sung (by three of the cast) in the pilot episode but thankfully it was edited out before broadcast.
Star of ‘Bonanza’, Michael Landon, produced the memorable ‘Little House on the Prairie’ in 1974 which ran 205 episodes between 1974 and 1983 and David wrote some tremendous scores – it was so popular that he was nominated for four Emmy awards – winning two (see below). His theme was recorded, quite faithfully, under the title ‘When You’re With Me’ for his second Polydor album in 1974 ‘The Very Thought of You’, again produced by Wayne Bickerton and recorded at Abbey Road with Tony Clarke as engineer. Sadly, no other music from the show has materialised apart from the main title theme which appears in its original format on the CD ‘Television’s Greatest Hits Vol. 3 - 70s & 80s’. ‘Little House…’ was produced by Kent McCray who had worked on ‘Bonanza’ and ‘High Chaparral’.
Landon was also involved with the final two series Rose scored – ‘Father Murphy’ (running for 34 episodes between 1981 and 1983) and 110 episodes of ‘Highway to Heaven’ between 1984 and 1989. Collectors should note that ‘Television’s Greatest Hits Vol. 4’ contains the original theme (with opening narration) to ‘Highway Patrol’ but the themes from ‘The Red Skelton Show’ and ‘Highway to Heaven’ on Vols. 4 & 6 respectively are re-creations.
As detailed previously in JIM (Issue 190 – December 2011) Rose appeared at the 1971 Filmharmonic concert organised by Sidney Samuelson and the CTBF. Amongst others he conducted a rousing version of the theme to ‘Bonanza’ (which was credited to himself!) and three tunes from his early MGM films. His encore for the evening was the self-composed ‘The Stripper’. Whilst David had been commissioned to re-appear at the 1981 event – it was sadly cancelled due to financial constraints.
In the world of films David started as early as 1938 and scored ‘Winged Victory’ in 1944 for 20th Century Fox. In the late 40s he joined MGM Studios where he wrote the music for over thirty six films. He had been nominated for Academy Awards in 1945 and 1946 – for ‘The Princess & The Pirate’ and ‘Wonder Man’ respectively. Three of his films – ‘Holiday for Sinners’ (1952), ‘Great Diamond Robbery’ and ‘Rogue Cop’, both from 1954, used stock music which he had already composed for MGM. Another MGM film ‘Jupiter’s Darling’ followed in 1955. The theme for ‘Forbidden Planet’ (1956) was inspired by the movie. His original theme was written for the film but dropped from the score – it was recorded and released as a single in April 1956 and later appeared on his MGM LP ‘David Rose Plays the Theme from ’The Americanization of Emily’’.
Whilst he was working on many TV shows he wrote the score for ‘Quick Before It Melts’ in 1964. MGM released four themes from the film on an album with some of David’s other themes at the time of the film’s release. One of the four – which was also used in the film – was ‘The Stripper’! Co-producer, Douglas Laurence, suggested to Rose during a screening session that a particular sequence required music similar to Rose’s smash hit record (‘The Stripper’). Rose agreed and replied ‘Why not use ‘The Stripper’?! Another cue on the album was a reissue of ‘Hoss’, one of his themes from the ‘Bonanza’ show.
He then scored a TV movie called ‘Clown Alley’ (1966), appearing with his orchestra, and an excellent Western score for a film called ‘Hombre’ (1967). Just over 21 minutes of this score was released in September 2000 in the States by specialist film music label Film Score Monthly and limited to 3000 copies. With all the music he was turning out for TV scores, he had little time to accept any film invitations but did score a TV movie called ‘Make Mine Red, White & Blue’ in 1972.
His first Emmy award was for ‘An Evening with Fred Astaire’ in 1959 (one of three TV specials he did with him) and in 1966 he as nominated for his music for the TV series ‘Bonanza’. Five years later in 1971, he won the Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition Emmy for an episode of this series called ‘Love Child’. Another five years later he was nominated for a 1974 episode of ‘Little House on the Prairie’ (‘Remember Me –Parts 1 & 2’) and won the award in 1979 for ‘The Craftsman’ episode of the same series. The music for this series was so popular that a further nomination followed in 1981 (for ‘The Lost Ones – Part 1’) and he won the award again a year later for the episode ‘He Was Only Twelve – Part 2’. Although this was to be his last Emmy award, he picked up two further nominations: 1983 for the ‘Father Murphy’ episode ‘Sweet Sixteen’ and in 1985 for an episode of ‘Highway to Heaven’ called ‘Thoroughbreds’. This series was to be David’s last before his death in 1990. In addition he was awarded 22 Grammies; won six gold discs for his exquisite long-playing albums; and in 1997 was posthumously awarded the BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award.
This article first appeared in the June 2012 issue of ‘Journal Into Melody’.
THE IMMORTAL SONGS OF THE LAST CENTURY
A Survey by ENRIQUE RENARD
By the mid 1940s, Charles Trenet, the great French composer/chanteuse, received a call from a producer of a musical show. "Charles, we have this show now ready for the theatre, but we have a problem: we are lacking one song… The show is supposed to have eight songs, and we only have seven. Can you provide one? We need it as soon as possible… The show is being staged this week."
"My dear friend, making a song is not like making a shirt… It would take a little longer than the time you have in mind…"
"Charles, we have a real problem here… sometimes you composers have things not used yet… look, anything will do…coming from you it should be fine…"
The producer’s begging was so desperate that Trenet told him he would try to find something. He wasn’t very hopeful, but suddenly he remembered something he had written some time back, a song he disliked. Then he thought: "No, not that one…it’s just a bad one."
But then he also remembered that his friend had told him that it did not have to be something special. That "anything" would do. So he went into a drawer where he kept things to be eventually discarded and took out the score of the song. It was so bad, in his opinion, that he didn’t even give it a name. But he did have to name it before sending it, so he called it "La Mer" (The Sea). Why did he called it La Mer, he didn’t know. The title just popped up from his mind, and besides there wasn’t much time to ponder on a better title.
As it happened, the show ran its course and was quickly forgotten, but the song got to be one of the most heard and recorded hits around the world up to this very day! And Trenet, who recorded it quite nicely, made a bundle on the version with lyrics, written by him too. And it is difficult to find any of the Light Orchestral Music orchestras that did not arrange and record an instrumental version of La Mer.
Far away, in Brazil, a kid from a poor family was walking towards a neighbouring town. It was the late 1940s, summer, and a hot day at that, so Waldir Acevedo sat by the shade of a tree flanking the dirt country road in order to get some rest. Then, as he observed the blue sky, a melody started to resonate inside him. And apparently it kept resonating over and over, hence when he got back home he started to whistle it. Upon hearing, someone in his family asked him where he got that music from. He said "nowhere, I just invented it".
There are no precise indications on how Waldir managed to get his song to some musical producer in his country, but Delicado (Delicate) became a huge world hit, with the Percy Faith Orchestra selling in excess of a million records of it. Everybody recorded the nice little song. Azevedo went to write many other successful songs, of course, after he became properly trained in his art, and became a master of the Cavaquinho, a four string Brazilian guitar.
Both La Mer and Delicado represent songs rooted in popular music, and from a musicological standpoint they don’t have much to offer, neither in melody nor in lyrics.
The point is raised then by artists and producers as to something they find quite baffling: What is it that makes a song a hit? There are literally hundreds of lovely songs that get nowhere. And there are veritable horrors that become hits. And it isn’t a cultural matter either. It happens all over the world! Composers rate their own songs good or bad. To their endless surprise, they find that after a while, the songs they rated BAD become hits. And those they were proud of get nowhere. The amount of money they make on the "bad" ones keeps them quite happy though… and quite flabbergasted as well.
Then you have composers like George Gershwin and Richard Rodgers. They had several worldwide hits, magnificent songs that everyone sang and continue to sing, but that were not written to be hits, nor recorded. They were written because they were commissioned by musical show producers for their shows. Rodgers said that the fact that his songs became hits by themselves with the public, separate from the shows that featured them, never ceased to amaze him, but he considered that "a most welcome thing indeed, albeit an unexpected one".
George Gershwin said he wrote several bad songs that he put away, some of which, once discovered after his death were considered quite good. But the factors representing commercial success in a song would remain for everyone a mystery.
Still, those with a modicum of good taste will be able to discern a quality song, both in music and lyrics, from one that is not. Generally, and especially in the days we live today, the worst songs represent the biggest hits. David Rose, in my view an extraordinary musician who wrote magnificent pieces for light orchestral music, is remembered by most of the general public only for a hoochi-coochi song he recorded in the early 1960s: The Stripper. The title suffices to describe the thing, which he composed and recorded as a lark and at the insistence of one of his producers, who chided him into doing something unusual for him and his style.
Rose, whom I personally met in Epcot Center, at Florida’s Disney World in 1985, had a keen sense of humour. He got intrigued, wrote an arrangement and recorded The Stripper more for fun than for anything else, since he had no intentions of publishing the song on one of his LPs. The orchestra was there at that moment, and they had the time for another recording. So, he went ahead, with the musicians looking at each other and laughing at what they were requested to record: striptease music!
Those were serious classically trained musicians, some of them from the Los Angeles Philharmonic. But it is reported that the orchestra got a kick out of it, because it was so removed from the usual Rose material, and everyone laughed at the end of the taping. But the producer, without telling Rose, slapped the recording on the B side of the single of another piece by Rose, and a disc jockey heard it and liked it. He liked it so much, he kept playing it, and the piece quickly soared to the top of the ratings and remained there for such a long time that later on Rose had to record two LPs with standards treated as striptease music that sold pretty well!
With stereo equipment and record players now at the financial reach of practically everyone, good taste became seriously threatened. The sad fact it that the great majority of ordinary people, who declare to like music, in fact lack musical sensitivity enough to distinguish garbage from good songs, or nice light orchestral pieces from vapid ones. If it sounds like a novelty and if it has a catchy beat, it’s enough for them, especially these days. Because, let’s face it, why would anyone with a minimal sense of musical taste like something like The Stripper! Simple: it has a sustained beat. That’s what does it.
The same people who are attracted to that beat would remain utterly indifferent to Rose’s string sound in one of his best arrangements: That of a song called And This Is My Beloved, a lyrical piece of work if there ever was one. It doesn’t touch them in the least. They may listen to it but they don’t hear it at all. I have every LP Rose ever made (a life time collecting his stuff), and of all the wondrous compositions and arrangements he did, that one tops everything. But it doesn’t have a beat, hence it won’t reach the ears of the majority, nor their sensibilities.
As everyone knows, popular tastes in music experienced a drastic change by the mid 50’s with the advent of rock-and-roll. But it wasn’t only rock-and-roll. It was also loudness. Fierce, brutal loudness, with an equally fierce beat. Young people are particularly vulnerable to music that encompasses a loud beat. Once producers and recording companies got a hold of it and saw its profit potential there was no stopping towards the complete degeneration of popular music. A survey done in the USA about 20 years back indicated than American teenagers in general had lost 30 to 40% of their hearing capabilities. The statistic becomes perfectly believable if one attends a rock concert. The potential of loud rock for awakening the worst animal tendencies in young people is enormous. It also ruins their hearing.
Speaking of rock songs, there was one the Rolling Stones played at their concerts which would start riots. One of those riots ended up with scores of seriously injured teens and some dead when a motorcycle gang went berserk during the song, took out knives and started knifing everyone in sight… The reaction of Mick Jagger, leader of the group, to the horror? "I have no idea why… but every time we play this song the same thing happens…" There was not a single word of regret or sympathy for the dead and the injured. And the Stones continued to play their song. Apparently such considerations are not a part of Mr. Jagger’s mental equipment. He is hailed as some kind of musical genius and a hero by the press and by rock-and-roll fans. To me, he is just an irresponsible goon, directly answerable for the animalistic reactions the music of his group can elicit. The name "Stones" appears particularly apt to describe the group. But, there are those making millions on this so-called music, and the show must go on.
During the 40’s and 50’s however, and with enormous jumps in technology by the phonographic industry with the eventual arrival of Hi-Fi and stereo listening equipment, Big Bands and light orchestral music dominated the market. The advent of singers such as Crosby, Sinatra, Bennett, Eddie Fischer, Perry Como, etc., displaced the Big Bands, but Percy Faith and Kostelanetz were selling millions of records worldwide, and so were David Rose, George Melachrino and Mantovani. Their material of course came from the great song writers of he 20th Century: the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Rodgers and Hart, Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer, Duke Ellington, etc… Interested in getting the American public acquainted with the sound of a symphonic orchestra, Kostelanetz used New York Philhamonic personnel with brilliant arrangements of beautiful songs from the aforementioned writers, featuring 80 or more musicians. The excellence in sound did the rest. Radio stations played that music continually, American ears becoming aware of it, and sales soared. But it was, above all, the quality of the songs and the respectful, sympathetic and tasteful way in which they were treated and sung, what made people want to buy the records.
Speaking with younger members of my family, I tried to establish a parallel between those songs of the 40’s and 50’s and contemporary material. My main objection to the latter was their inherent lack of musicality, the absence of melodic variations in them. I made the kids listen to songs lasting 4 minutes wherein only two notes were used by the composer. The rest was just noise. Today, everyone writes songs. The young go crazy about these songs. A few months later you ask them about the song and its author. They cannot remember. The songs written today, with very, very few exceptions, are quickly forgotten. They don’t have a remaining impact in the musical consciousness of those who hear them, and there’s no reason why there should be one. The majority of those songs are not musical at all. They are just loud stuff with a beat, noisily celebrated by a crowd sometimes quite high on drugs. Were there any drugs indulged in by the 40’s and 50’s? Sure there were. But they had nothing to do with music. It was just the music itself that got us high. A high elicited by the beauty and the poetry of the sound and the lyrics. It was a different world, clearly with different people in it.
When one comments the about songs now labeled as "things of yesteryear", it becomes impossible to name them all. There were so many of them, and so good! They were so good that some, composed during the 1920’s, are still being recorded today! Like classical music, they have endured, as expected from all good and classy expressions of the musical arts. And by mentioning a few, I’m afraid I’ll be accused of leaving out some which are too good to be left out. For that possibility, I submit my humble and anticipated apologies.
Few singers, with the exception of Sinatra, could deliver the feeling of a song, especially a sentimental one, as Nat King Cole did. Sinatra had serious limitations about repertoire due to a number of reasons, chief among them his personality. But Cole could sing anything better than anyone. He could sing folk, blues, Latin, jazz, romantic, swing, you name it. His appeal was universal, and so was his range of material. But if I’m made to choose, I’ll stay with his romance stuff. The owner of a voice he didn’t like, his tone touched the hearts of millions, even those who did not speak English (as was the case of my mother, for instance. She would sit and listen to Cole in a rapture, without understanding one word of the lyrics). When he sang, he invariably gave the impression that he had experienced personally that which he was singing about, and we all could identify with that. He wasn’t in the least overly sentimental or mushy. His feeling was straight and true. There was nothing phony about it. And, like Sinatra, he usually gave credit to the songs and their writers for his success. "Without them I’d be nowhere…", he used to say.
One song by him I fondly remember was Darling Je Vous Aime Beaucoup (Darling, I Love You Very Much) with those lyrics half in French, half in English. He had heard a Canadian singer do it at a nightclub, and fell in love with it. A nice arrangement by Nelson Riddle contributed to the charm of the piece. Cole worked also with Gordon Jenkins, doing several romantic albums with him. In one named "Where Did Everyone Go" (Capitol W1859) he sings a song called Say it Isn’t So, written by Irving Berlin. The song describes the anguish of a man who suspects his loved one has stopped loving him, and is asking her to please say this is not the case, hence the title. It was 1969, and a cousin of my wife was visiting us in New York. She was in another room when I started to play the record in the living room busy with something else, and as Cole went into the song I suddenly saw her coming into the living room with tears in her eyes! "What’s wrong?...", I asked, a bit alarmed. "Nothing…", she said, "it’s that …well, that song…it touched me so deeply… Is that Nat King Cole?..."
"Yes, he is…", I said, marveled at the way Cole could spontaneously awaken a sweet, intense emotion in a listener with his smooth, sincere delivery. Another song in the album is about unrequited love: If Love Ain’t There, from the pen of Johnny Burke,one of my favorites. Cole also did an album with George Shearing, for Capitol, regrettably the only one. The arrangement credits went to Ralph Carmichael, the last arranger Cole had before his untimely death at age 48, and a splendid one. In that album there is a little known song deleted from the original LP. Thankfully, it was restored into the CD version. It’s called Guess I’ll Go Back Home This Summer. The lyrics speak of the nostalgia of someone who hasn’t been back home in a long time, and in planning his return he anticipates what will happen when he gets there. It’s a sentimental song, with which most of us who left home decades ago can easily identify. That was Cole’s magic. Those lyrics, when sung by him, would become a part of our lives.
Sinatra was another master at that, as well. When still recording for Columbia he got romantically involved with Ava Gardner. Many affirm she was the only real love of his life, but their temperament and big egos made the relationship unsustainable, and eventually he lost her. It was then that he happened to record "I’m a Fool to Want You", written by J. Wolf, J.S. Herron and… Sinatra himself, as credited in the Columbia LP CS9372. Inevitably, the song had personal overtones for him and Gardner. As much as Sinatra detested tohave more than one take when filming, when recording it was the other way around, because he was a perfectionist. But this time he did the song in one take, turned around and left the studio in tears, according to some who witnessed the recording. Whether or not this is true, the fact is that the song has a deep emotional content. It is a veritable cry of despair, though without the hysterics. And it is profoundly touching. The arrangement was done by Axel Stordhal, his arranger at Columbia, and it employs voices added to the usual strings Axel was masterful with, although he rarely employed them. Sinatra re-recorded the song ten years later with Jenkins. A lovely arrangement too, but lacking the emotional, raw intensity of the Columbia recording prompted by his own emotional state at that time.
To my mind, one of Sinatra’s best torch song LPs was Point of No Return, arranged by Axel Stordahl, who at the time had developed a cancerous tumor in his brain and was terminal. Still, according to his wife, Stordhal was anxious to record the album with Sinatra, who barely spoke to him during the sessions. One ugly aspect of the Sinatra character was his rancor, stimulated by his own mother who once stated: "My son is like me. You cross him once, he never forgets…" This regrettable trait spoiled Sinatra’s relationship with many of his closest associates and personal friends. He was angry at Stordahl because the arranger stayed with Capitol arranging for other singers at the time Sinatra wanted out of the label. Stordhal was under contract with Capitol, and he couldn’t just turn around and leave to fit Sinatra’s whim. But Sinatra wouldn’t forgive him even knowing that Stordhal was dying. One tends to agree with some who knew the singer well and state that he was a great artist, but not a great human being, despite all his publicized charitable work. Still, very few could deliver a song with Sinatra’s feeling. His complexity as a man came probably from the fact that he was diagnosed as a manic-depressive, a mental condition.
I never listened much to the radio, but on one occasion I heard in WPAT New York a song sung by the great French actor Charles Boyer. Apparently, he was no singer, so he was in fact merely reciting the lyrics but with the sweet dramatic flair and the charming English with a French accent he was famous for, a gentle string sound in the background carrying the melody. The song was called "Once Upon a Time", a veritable hymn to nostalgic remembrance of one’s lost youth that goes:
Once Upon a time, a girl with moonlight in her eyes,
Put her hand in mine and said she loved me so…
But that was once upon a time, very long ago.
Once upon a hill we sat beneath a willow tree,
Counting all the stars, and waiting for the dawn…
But that was Once Upon a Time, now the tree is gone.
How the breeze ruffled through her hair,
How we always laughed as if tomorrow wasn’t there…
We were young, and didn’t have a care
Where, where did it go…
I guess I was at one of those moments in which the mind is unoccupied and hence intensely receptive. I was over 50 then, and found myself suddenly fighting back a tear or two… That song, written by Strouse and Adams, is a beautiful poem with music, and years later Sinatra recorded it with an exquisite arrangement by Gordon Jenkins in a Reprise LP Album (1014-2) issued in 1965: "September of my Years", with Sinatra singing the lyrics and the melody, of course. But I can still recall the profound emotional impact that spoken version of Charles Boyer had on me. A veritable poem it was. Listening to those words I was for a moment transported back to my 20s, when I too – as many others like me – had a girl with moonlight in her eyes telling me she loved me so… Can the reader imagine a moment like that one happening today?...
Frank Sinatra stated once that Tony Bennett was the best singer in the world. He had probably heard some of the recordings Bennett did with Robert Farnon. Something quite magical happened there with those two, and I’m told that they did several albums together which have not been transposed into CD format for issuance nobody knows why. Bennett has the copyright and refuses to release them. I managed to get from a friend a copy of two CDs, probably culled from those LPs, one of them entitled "The Good Things in Life", with a recording in it of a song with the same title. Farnon’s arrangement for it is one of the best he ever made, at least in my opinion, and that’s a lot to say about someone usually bordering on perfection. Probably because of such accompaniment, Bennett projects his voice fully, his normally throaty sound giving way to a powerfully lyrical expression which does full justice to that marvelous philosofico-nostalgic song: "The Good Things in Life".
I think it would be an impossible task to find a well known singer or orchestra that hasn’t recorded Night and Day, the Cole Porter standard. It is quite probably the most heard and recorded song of the 20th Century. Porter was an extraordinarily talented composer who, on top of everything, wrote his own lyrics. He wrote prolifically and splendidly, But Night and Day remains his anthem. The lyrics represent an insurmountable way of declaring our love to someone, and some of the recordings made of it merit comment. Kostelanetz recorded it twice, in 1942 and ten years later, in 1952, the latter pressing arranged by Carrol Huxley, a brilliant arranger who did Kostelanetz’ The Cole Porter Music album, among others. Some considered this one a model of light orchestral music arrangement that influenced many of Kostelanetz contemporary arrangers. Both versions are in my view excellent, the second one longer and favored by better sound technology. As far as singers are concerned, Sinatra recorded the song four times. Three in slow, mood arrangements, and one arranged by Nelson Riddle in a swing tempo. They are all wonderful, but as of late I came across a version that left me with my mouth opened: one by Johnny Desmond, great torch singer that came to fame under the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Orchestra. The song is included in an LP recorded in the late 50s. by Columbia, in stereo. For that project, Mitch Miller, Columbia’s chief producer, got in touch with Norman Leyden, one of Miller’s brilliant arrangers for AAF outfit, and they brought it together once again in order to re-record some of the Desmond hits with it.
Unfortunately, those were the days of Elvis Presley, and the LP, magnificently executed and impeccably sang and arranged, was not a commercial success. However, thirty years later, Columbia was persuaded to issue a CD version of the LP that included that astounding version of Night and Day, arranged in the style of the 40s and brilliantly recorded in stereo at a time when Desmond, who had a fine singing career, had reached a peak with his marvelous baritone. One of the best, if not the very best, versions of Night and Day, that I have ever heard.
Johnny Desmond died at the ridiculously young age of 65, in Sept. 1985, after a battle with cancer, but his version of Night and Day shall remain forever with those of us lucky enough to have heard it and own it.
Back in 59’, in my country, I once caught my sister listening attentively to the radio. Neither her nor I were radio addicts, I must admit, so I was a bit surprised at seeing her close to the receptor and listening attentively. Someone was singing a song called The Careless Years, written by Joe Lubin, and the voice had a slightly nasal tone plus a charming vibrato. My sister said she had heard it a couple of times; that she liked the singer but could not find out his name. So we waited to the end of the song in the hope to get it from the announcer. When we did, we looked at each other with surprise. It was Anthony Perkins, the actor. He had a peculiar voice, indeed, but a rather pleasant one, and for a while he had quite a following, recording a few nicely done LPs. Three of them are now in CD format by the RCA label, the aforementioned song in an LP recorded in NYC in 1959, with an exquisite string arrangement by a saxophone player: Al Cohn, obviously a great arranger as well. This is one of those marvelous songs that should remain with us but regrettably don’t, buried under the valueless avalanche of truly forgettable contemporary material.
I remember the Billy May Orchestra by the mid-fifties with a sound I detested. It was a novelty developed by Billy: the "slurping" saxophones, which consisted in a way of phrasing the saxes as if they were howling rather than playing. But Billy May was a musician that rated pretty close to Robert Farnon. He became, to my mind, the best American arranger, ever. To that, he added a fun personality who got along with everyone, among other things because he didn’t take himself very seriously. The slurping saxes were a kind of joke he wanted to pull on the producers and the public, but to his surprise the thing caught on and became quite popular for a while. I mention this, because it conditioned my opinion about Billy as a musician and arranger. I thought he was that sound, you see. I really knew nothing about him. In those days info about arrangers and musicians without physical charm was non existent. But as time went by and I started to hear his stuff, my opinion started to change. And that change became drastic when I heard an album by Sinatra called "Come Fly With Me".
Sinatra was entering then a recording phase with Capitol which was termed "conceptual". The concept albums idea probably came from Voyle Gilmore, one of his main producers at the label, and the arranging department was under Nelson Riddle with a swinging style that revived Sinatra’s sagging career. But for reasons that are not quite clear to me, two of those concept albums were arranged and conducted by Billy May: "Come Dance With Me" and "Come Fly With Me". Later on Billy did other LPs with Sinatra. But it was then that I realized May’s enormous talent! "Come Dance…" was straight swing, except for one lovely mood number at the end played at a slow tempo. But "Come Fly…" was quite another animal. The "concept" in this case was a tour around the world, songs that could be identified with different countries, hence the tempos varied considerably from song to song. In that album I realized that Billy’s versatility included writing for strings, and he did it masterly in three of the songs: Moonlight in Vermont, Autumn in New York and London by Night.
The three of course represent well known, lovely standards, but under Billy’s arranging and conducting they became sheer magic. He wrapped the sound around Sinatra’s classical feeling and grace with a song, a sound that became not only descriptive of the cities involved, but almost ethereal in their beauty. London by Night, especially, has a kind of subtle, dreamy quality in the interplay between the strings and the celesta, almost an ecstatic mood. Listening to Moonlight in Vermont while watching a sunset with a girl who almost became my girl (but not quite), became an experience which neither of the two of us ever forgot. In one of my vacation trips to my country 40 years later, I saw her again, and she said to me. "You probably will not remember, but I had one unforgettable moment with you one evening watching at a sunset from my apartment’s terrace… We were listening to Sinatra’s Moonlight in Vermont as we enjoyed the multicolored shadings of that glorious sun setting, and for that brief moment I was in love with you…"
I smiled at her, and I told her the feeling was mutual, and that that beautifully shared moment remained in my heart too. We were just good friends, and wondered about the impact the song had in both of us, and she said it was because it brought to us Vermont… We had never been in the USA, and didn’t know Vermont. But that evening a magical tune written in 1943 by two guys I never heard of before, John Blackburn and Karl Suessdorf, gave us an unforgettable portrait of one of the loveliest s US States, as I was able to ascertain personally years later.
This article could continue forever, and maybe in the future, in another piece, I can comment on some of the myriads of other wonderful songs 20th Century writers graced us with and which I haven’t commented upon in this occasion. Some of those songs have a charming story to them, some are beautiful but commercial failures, and some are valueless but commercially successful. And as long as money and profits are involved, this probably will continue to be the case. But there are songs with such universal value and appeal, their success will override any other consideration, and will stay alive with us forever.
"HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD"
John Wilson and his Orchestra at the BBC Proms
Yet again John Wilson has given us another magnificent Prom Concert with his recreation of the glory days of Hollywood Musicals on Monday 29 August. The Prom was sold out within four hours of the tickets going on sale, and the audience reaction heard via Radio-3 was astounding. It must have been so exhilarating if you were lucky enough to be among those enthusiastic ‘Prommers’.
Last year we were treated to the delights of Rodgers and Hammerstein, but this time John reverted back to the formula that made his MGM Prom such a resounding success in 2009. As well as MGM he featured music from the other major studios, so we also heard some of the best from the likes of Warner Bros, RKO and United Artists.
No doubt everyone will have had their favourite moments from this year’s wallow in musical movie nostalgia. High on my list were This Heart Of Mine from "Ziegfeld Follies" and Put On Your Sunday Clothes from Hello Dolly". Whoever described "Ziegfeld Follies" as Fred Astaire’s swansong must have suffered from a sudden mental block! He was on screen for many years thereafter, in both serious roles and musicals such as "Easter Parade" (1948) and his last outing with Ginger Rogers in "The Barkleys of Broadway" (1949) – to name just two.
But such minor ‘fluffs’ in no way detract from this glorious occasion. We have come to expect some extra treats from John, and after the ‘last’ piece in the programme the orchestra and singers suddenly launched into Hooray For Hollywood, quickly followed by There’s No Business Like Show Business (this arrangement was from the 1954 Twentieth Century-Fox film of the same name starring Ethel Merman, Dan Dailey, Donald O’Connor and Marilyn Monroe) . Rarely can such brilliant encores have been so ecstatically received!
The British press was similarly enthusiastic. In the Guardian, John L Walters wrote:
Without the tap dances, chorus girls and (often flimsy) plots, the music had to stand up for itself. Wilson, who has brought a passion for authentic performance to movie soundtracks, shone a glittering spotlight on arrangers such as Ray Heindorf, Conrad Salinger and Lloyd "Skip" Martin. They were Hollywood's invisible men, who toiled behind the tinsel to stretch three-minute ditties into extended suites (This Heart of Mine) or craft subtle tone poems that became huge hits (Secret Love, sung beautifully by Clare Teal).
A tag team of vocalists interpreted familiar songs from movies made between 1935 and 1969 – from(of Warner Bros cartoon fame).
A suite of Heindorf arrangements from the Judy Garland vehicleinterpreted two of the more classical tunes: Serenade (The Student Prince) and One Hand One Heart (West Side Story) with soprano Sarah Fox.
The Maida Vale Singers sang lustily on showstoppers such as Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat and Put On Your Sunday Clothes. But the stars of the evening were the (until now) unsung arrangers, whose work was reinvigorated by Wilson's scholarship – and the musicians, who performed the demanding scores with affection and exuberance.
Similar praise was heaped upon John Wilson by Ivan Hewitt in the Daily Telegraph:
John Wilson and his now famous orchestra made their first Proms appearance only two years ago. Yet, when Wilson swept on stage and the orchestra burst into his own specially composed overture – a cunningly constructed medley of great Hollywood musical tunes, giving a foretaste of what was to come – it felt as if we were welcoming back a much-loved Proms institution.
Lots of factors conspired in that comfortable feeling, one of which is the way Wilson embodies an old matinee-idol archetype. He’s just the right slender shape for tails, with a beat that’s as shapely as a chorus girl’s ankle. More than that, the orchestra resurrects something we all remember and love but haven’t heard in a long while, in all its pristine splendour: the sound of the great studio orchestras.
For this survey of the movie musical from the Thirties to the Sixties, the band seemed even more lavish than usual, with two harps and pianos adding their lustrous magic to the singing strings and muted brass.
Best of a very good bunch for me was Caroline O’Connor, who gave a tremendous performance of The Man That Got Away from Judy Garland’s comeback musical, A Star is Born.
If everything flowed in such an easy and irresistible way, it was because Wilson had given such care to even the tiniest detail. One example: in the final show-stopping number, Put on Your Sunday Clothes, from Hello, Dolly! – the movie musical’s swansong – everybody sang the words "All aboard". Just as they did, somebody somewhere in the orchestra blew a whistle that was a fair imitation of a train’s whistle.
It was over in less than a second, and it was almost lost in the brassy din. But, when you’re dealing in fantasy, half-heard things are as important as heard ones, something John Wilson understands very well.
Former BBC producer Anthony Wills has just a few reservations about this year’s offering from the amazing John Wilson.
John Wilson and his wonderful orchestra, together with the Maida Vale Singers, returned to the Royal Albert Hall on 29 August for what is now becoming a traditional (and much appreciated) appearance at the BBC Proms. This year’s concert covered nearly 40 years of movie musicals from 42nd Street to Hello Dolly!, and this time the doors were flung open to include the best of the output from Warner Brothers, RKO, Columbia and 20th Century Fox as well as (of course) MGM. Sadly, in my opinion, Hooray for Hollywood (composed by Richard Whiting with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, and performed here as an encore) is not one of the strongest songs around, though it certainly made for an arresting title.
Given that the purpose of these concerts is to recreate note for note the superb arrangements and orchestrations heard on the original soundtracks, it did seem slightly bizarre to begin with an overture made up of songs from a whole host of different pictures scored by different composers. The problem of course was that many of the songs were originally built around Busby Berkeley and Hermes Pan tap routines. An incomplete performance of the title number from 42nd Street was followed by another medley, this time from various Astaire/Rogers RKO pictures, that conflated the music of George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Harry Warren into a single suite. Of course Fred and Ginger could have had a whole concert devoted to their music, but if a choice had to be made I would have liked the complete (and magically arranged) song and dance sequences from Top Hat including the title song, Cheek To Cheek and The Piccolino – and if John Barrowman had been hired to perform them we could have had the taps as well! This would also have served as a trailer for the new stage adaptation of the film, which is currently touring the UK.
There followed a complete change of style as Charles Castronovo and Sarah Fox took us into the world of operetta as Nelson Eddy and Jeanette Macdonald, with Sigmund Romberg’s Will You Remember? A sequence entitled Hollywood Goes To War began with Strike Up The Band from the film of the same name (made in fact two years BEFORE America entered the war), stylishly performed by Caroline O’Connor. Annalene Beechey trilled prettily as Deanna Durbin in Kern & Yarburg’s title song from Can’t Help Singing, then we hopped forwards to 1949 with On The Town before returning to Harry Warren and Mack Gordon’s You’ll Never Know (introduced by Alice Faye in Hello Frisco Hello (1943) rather than Four Jills & A Jeep the following year as claimed). The non-chronological running order was presumably devised to allow all of the soloists to get their turn.
Leading up to the interval we heard the extended musical sequence This Heart Of Mine from Ziegfeld Follies. At the risk of being shot down in flames may I say that in my humble opinion this is one of Conrad Salinger’s worst arrangements, amounting to no fewer than 16 choruses of a rather mediocre tune in a plot-less movie. In any case it was most definitely NOT Fred Astaire’s "swansong" as stated by the presenters, since he continued to appear in musicals until Finian’s Rainbow in 1967, and thereafter in straight roles such as The Towering Inferno well into the ‘70s.
After this slightly shaky first half the concert really sprang to life after the interval, when we enjoyed a whole gamut of different composers, and it can fairly be said that the musical selections fitted the vocalists like a glove. Thus we heard Caroline O’Connor magical as Judy Garland in A Star Is Born, Doris Day sound-alike Clare Teal in Secret Love - the No. 1 hit from Calamity Jane - and the wondrous tenor of Charles Castronovo as Mario Lanza in the Serenade from The Student Prince and (with Sarah Fox) One Hand, One Heart from West Side Story. On the lighter side there was Annalene Beechey as Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins, Matthew Ford taking the place of Stubby Kaye in Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat and a trio of "babes in arms" in Triplets from The Band Wagon. The magnificent Overture from Gypsy – released in 1962 not 1964 as stated - was the icing on the cake.
A particular pleasure for me was the inclusion of lesser known numbers by Meredith Willson and Leslie Bricusse. I have long been a champion of Mr Bricusse’s music and lyrics, from Out Of Town onwards, and the extracts from his score for Dr Dolittle were a fitting tribute in his 80th year. Something In Your Smile is a real curiosity. It was cut from the movie (though can be heard in the overture) but was later recorded in London - as was the complete score - by Sammy Davis Jr., in a lush arrangement by Marty Paich.
John Wilson brought the show to a glorious climax with the tremendous Barbra Streisand production number Put On Your Sunday Best from Fox’s Hello Dolly! This was really the dying gasp of the great American movie musical, though the genre certainly went out in style, and its stable of stars, directors, designers, choreographers, arrangers and musical directors dispersed, retired or moved on to other things. In came movies such as Saturday Night Fever, Grease and Mamma Mia: huge box-office successes though not, perhaps, the kind of music John will want to spend a lot of time reinventing.
Once again the BBC, having mounted this spectacular concert, shot itself in the foot with regard to presentation. Apart from the errors noted above the Radio Times BBC2 billing was a nonsense, implying that Top Hat and Shall We Dance weren’t Astaire/Rogers movies. Astonishingly, the names of the six soloists weren’t listed in the Proms prospectus and, worst of all, there was no mention on air or in the programme notes of several of the lyric writers. Thus "Yip" Harburg, Howard Dietz and Paul Francis Webster never received a credit, even though they contributed to their songs’ immortality just as much as the composers. Why the Corporation cannot use experts in the field I cannot imagine: there are plenty in the Robert Farnon Society!
The television presentation of the concert on BBC2 was visually acceptable, though a number of my acquaintances have complained about the sound quality, some remarking that it was at times out of sync with the pictures. Be that as it may, viewers once again suffered the cutting of four songs. Would this happen with Beethoven, I ask? Hopefully they will be restored in the DVD.
May I add in conclusion that, despite the reservations mentioned above, the actual performances from players and singers were flawless and left the Proms audience screaming for more. I’m sure that John and his team are already working on next year’s extravaganza and I for one can’t wait! Meanwhile, a condensed version of this year’s Prom will be touring the UK in late November and early December.
The full contents:
Hooray For Hollywood Overture
42nd Street medley
Fred and Ginger at RKO
**Maytime – Jeanette Macdonald and Nelson Eddy
Strike Up The Band
Can’t Help Singing
**Main Street – from ‘On The Town’
You’ll Never Know – ‘Hello, Frisco, Hello’
This Heart Of Mine - ‘Ziegfeld Follies’
Judy’s Comeback – ‘A Star Is Born’
The Man Who Got Away
Secret Love – ‘Calamity Jane’
Serenade – ‘Student Prince’
Clap Yo’ Hands - ‘Funny Face’
One Hand, One Heart – ‘West Side Story’
**Being In Love - ‘The Music Man’
Triplets - ‘The Band Wagon’
**Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat – ‘Guys & Dolls’
Jolly Holiday - ‘Mary Poppins’
When I Look In Your Eyes – ‘Doctor Doolittle’
Put On Your Sunday Clothes - ‘Hello Dolly’
Hooray For Hollywood
There’s No Business Like Show Business
** omitted from the TV broadcast
This article appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ issue 190, December 2011.
Alan Bunting Explains The Implications Of This Latest EU Legislation
On September 9th 2011, the Council Of Ministers of The European Parliament voted in favour of the Amended Proposal for the extension of copyright in sound recordings from 50 to 70 years, thus making it a Directive. It almost marked the end of a long campaign by the record companies to retain the right to make yet more money from artists such as Cliff Richard, some of whose recordings are already out of copyright, and The Beatles whose first two singles will be 50 years old in 2012.
I say ‘almost’ because it does not become law until each member country of the EU passes their own legislation to implement it, and they have a maximum of 2 years in which to do it. This means that, in extremis, it may not become law in the UK until September 2013, although the record industry will doubtless apply enormous pressure on the government to make it happen sooner.
Media reports on the implications of the Directive have been confused and, in numerous cases, inaccurate. This is because many commentators have based their conclusions and opinions on the Original Proposal as published in 2008 rather than the Amended Proposal of 2009 which contained significant changes not widely publicised.
Not only the media failed to understand the implications of the amendments - so did many of the MEPs who voted in favour back in 2009 as well as artists, including Cliff Richard, who erroneously claimed that his recordings which were already out of copyright would come back into copyright. Even the European Commission’s own WEB site published a précis of the Directive which contained incorrect interpretations of parts of it (quickly amended the day after I pointed out the errors to the UK’s Intellectual Property Office).
There are still several aspects which remain far from clear - I will discuss these later, but first let me try to explain in plain English what the Directive will mean once implemented.
Recordings still in copyright (i.e. less than 50 years old) will have their copyright extended from 50 years (known as the “first term”) to 70 years. It does not revive copyright, so recordings already out of copyright will remain so. This means that if the Directive becomes law during 2012 recordings made up to December 31st 1961 are not affected because they are already out of copyright. If implemented during 2013, then recordings up to the end of 1962 remain Public Domain and freely available for anyone to re-issue. Some commentators have claimed, although I’m not clear why, that it could be 2014 before it actually becomes law, in which case the cut-off point would be December 1963.
So, if your interest is only in recordings made before the early 1960s you need read no further - record companies such as Avid, Guild, Jasmine, Retrospective, Sepia, Vocalion et al will be free to continue re-issuing them as they do now, although it must be made clear that only the recording and performance are Public Domain. The copyrights of the lyricist, composer and / or arranger remain in force for 70 years after their death and appropriate royalties must be paid via MCPS in the UK, or its equivalent in other countries, as they are at present.
That was the straight forward bit - things become more complicated when we discuss newer recordings, i.e. those still in copyright at the time the Directive becomes law. The original Proposal had a section, often referred to as “use it or lose it” which in effect said that if, at the end of the 50 year term, the recording was not available to the public, it automatically became Public Domain. Unfortunately, amendments to the Proposal changed much of this sensible concept, resulting in this part of the Directive being not only confusing but, in some aspects, possibly unworkable.
To unravel the ramifications of “use it or lose it” as it will be under the Directive one must understand that a sound recording (called a “phonogram” in the Directive) involves three different copyrights. First there is the copyright in the recording itself (“the fixation”). This copyright is the property of “the producer”, who for simplicity we will assume to be a record company. The second is the copyright in “the performance” which is the property of the artist or artists (“the performer”), unless they have assigned it to the record company, and the third is that of the lyricist, composer and/or arranger which, as I have already explained, is not affected by the new legislation.
The key paragraph in the Directive referring to performers’ rights says:
If, 50 years after the phonogram was lawfully published, or failing such publication, 50 years after it was lawfully communicated to the public, the phonogram producer does not offer copies of the phonogram for sale in sufficient quantity or does not make it available to the public, by wire or wireless means, in such a way that members of the public may access it from a place and at a time individually chosen by them, the performer may terminate the contract whereby he has transferred or assigned his rights in the fixation of his performance to a phonogram producer (hereinafter, a "contract on transfer or assignment"). The right to terminate the contract may be exercised if the producer, within a year from the notification by the performer of his intention to terminate the contract pursuant to the previous sentence, does not carry out both acts of exploitation mentioned in that sentence. This right to terminate may not be waived by the performer. Where a phonogram contains the fixation of the performances of a plurality of performers, they may terminate their contracts on transfer or assignment in accordance with the applicable national law. If the contract on transfer or assignment is terminated pursuant to this paragraph, the rights of the phonogram producer in the phonogram shall expire.
This means that if, at the end of the 50 year term, a recording is not in a record company’s catalogue and available to the consumer, the artist may request the transfer of their performers rights. If the record company subsequently does not make the recording available to the public within a year, the copyright in the performance transfers to the artist and the recording itself becomes Public Domain. Once this has happened, although the recording may be re-issued by a third party without the record company’s permission, anyone doing so, in addition to paying composer royalties as they do now, would also have to pay royalties to the performer. How the mechanics of this process will work has not yet been explained. Nor is it clear whether the right to re-issue the recording would be automatic provided the appropriate artist royalties are paid (as with composer royalties), or if the artist’s permission would be required.
If the record company does have the recording in its catalogue, or if not and their response to the artist’s request for transfer is to re-issue the recording, they retain the copyright. However, nothing in the Directive says they must then keep it in their catalogue for the full 70 year term. It should also be noted that “re-issue” and “making available” do not necessarily mean on a CD via record shops - it could be made available for listening or down-load by means of a low quality Internet connection.
There will be many cases where the artist has no interest in transferring their rights, and probably more where the artist is dead. If, for whatever reason, the artist doesn’t request transfer of their performer’s rights, the recording and performance remain the copyright of the record company, even if it isn't in their catalogue and, in many cases, may not have been for 40 years or more. Nor is there any obligation for them to make it available, resulting in access to thousands of recordings being denied to the consumer until the end of the 70 year term as other companies will not be able to re-issue them.
Anyone with the stamina to read the whole Directive will have noticed that, for the most part, it refers to “The Artist” and “The Performer”, thus giving the impression that the majority of recordings involve only one person. This, of course, is not so and I estimate that considerably less than 1% of all the recordings ever made meet this criterion. So what happens if we are dealing with a four person ‘pop’ group - do all four have to individually request the transfer of their performers’ rights? What if one of them is dead - the Directive makes no mention of the heirs or estates of performers? What if we are talking about the original cast recording of a stage musical - does the whole cast plus the orchestra and the musical director have to apply? None of these aspects are dealt with in the Directive except for one sentence in the paragraph already quoted above which says “Where a phonogram contains the fixation of the performances of a plurality of performers, they may terminate their contracts on transfer or assignment in accordance with the applicable national law.” I have attempted to find out what the UK’s “applicable national law” has to say about this but so far without success.
Much publicity has been given to the section that deals with the new arrangements for payments to session musicians and backing singers who usually received a one-off fee for their efforts and thus didn’t share in the success of a recording. Again, one has to question how these will work. I understand that the PPL repertoire database, which is currently used to decide what royalties are due to who, does not have any details of session musicians and singers for many of the recordings of the 1960s and 1970s. For example, I wonder if Sir Cliff could tell us the names of the 20 plus musicians and backing singers who helped him make “Summer Holiday” such a hit? And if we are talking about the kind of music of rather more interest to most JIM readers, finding out who played on Ron Goodwin’s 1964 album “633 Squadron” would be almost impossible, to say nothing of investigating if they are still alive, where they now live and then arranging payments. Furthermore, as Ron Goodwin is no longer with us, who exactly is “the artist” in terms of this section of the Directive?
If it is supposed to work the other way round and musicians and singers are expected to claim their payments, how are they going to find out if a recording from a session they did 50 years ago has or has not been re-issued and how can they prove that they were involved, assuming that they even remember? Despite all the claims that artists, backing musicians and singers will benefit, the truth is that very few will. Independent studies estimate that 80% of performers might receive between £5 and £50 a year - hardy the “pension” that has been trumpeted.
One aspect I haven’t mentioned is that the Directive makes no mention of how it will apply to recordings not made in Europe. What happens when an American recording reaches its 50th anniversary and isn’t in the catalogue either in Europe or the USA? If I manage to find the answer to this and all the other questions I will let you know!
I could go on about this flawed and unwelcome piece of legislation and how it might work but I will end by reminding readers that the two reviews commissioned by the UK Government (Gowers and Hargreaves) were both strongly against it. Indeed, Hargreaves said: Economic evidence is clear that the likely deadweight loss to the economy exceeds any additional incentivising effect which might result from the extension of copyright term beyond its present levels.Make no mistake, the likely outcome is that the UK economy will suffer, the record companies will get richer, most artists won’t, and our cultural heritage will be the poorer.
Journal Into Melody Editor David Ades adds his personal views ....
"Unneccessary and Unworkable"
Those two words sum up my feelings. "Unnecessary" because the professed desire of the record companies to provide pensions for musicians must be the most stinking red herring of all time; and "unworkable" because the record companies may well have landed themselves with an enormous administrative headache they will surely come to regret.
I could write pages to condemn the extension of sound copyright, but readers don't deserve to have to endure such a diatribe. Suffice it to say that record companies could easily reward musicians by granting them fair contracts and - most important of all - keeping their recordings available so that people will buy them and royalties accrue.
Every learned organisation that has been asked to investigate the subject of sound copyright has come down firmly against extending the period beyond 50 years - some have said it should be reduced, not increased. One of these was commissioned by the European Union itself. Why has it chosen to ignore the findings? One cannot escape coming to the conclusion that something underhand has taken place, and the public are the losers.
Recordings from the early 1960s onwards are likely to be locked away in record companies' vaults for an extra 20 years, depriving some music lovers of the chance to hear their favourite artists, unless they happen to be big sellers. The poor composers, who have lost the opportunity to earn royalties from reissues, appear to have been completely ignored.
Of course, the big unanswered question is: "what is the real future for sound copyright?" Anyone who has a computer will know that there are millions of pieces of music - not to mention videos - available at the click of a mouse, absolutely free of charge. The people who have uploaded these millions of items won't have bothered to approach the copyright owners and offer them fees.
The simple fact is that modern technology has made the enforcement of copyright virtually impossible. If the record companies had succeeded in getting this legislation enacted 20 or 30 years ago it might have had some meaning. But in the 21st century it is, in effect, an irrelevance, and one wonders why this fact has escaped the faceless EU officials who are wasting everyone's time and money forcing it through.
This article appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ issue 190, December 2011.
JOHN BARRY MEMORIAL CONCERT – ROYAL ALBERT HALL – MONDAY 20TH JUNE 2011
Report by GARETH BRAMLEY
Tickets for this concert had virtually sold out the day they went on sale apart from the odd seat; and from day one the guest list got longer and longer. With so many people being involved in Barry’s long and illustrious career it was great to see some of these coming forward to make their tributes on the night.
After a brief warm-up from the orchestra Sir Michael Parkinson came on stage to introduce us to the man he had known since he was a Granada TV presenter in Manchester in the early 60s - where the John Barry Seven were guests on his show. He said ‘his output was monumental both in quantity and in quality’ and described John as ‘a great man of music’ and someone who had ‘an intuitive understanding of how to create the perfect union of music and the moving image’.Many images of John were projected onto a large screen throughout the evening, interspersed with footage and interviews from the BBC Omnibus programme from 2000 (‘John Barry – Licence To Thrill’) and ‘Moviola’ a PBS TV Special from 1993. Michael introduced us to John’s son Jonpatrick who only had a few, but very charming, words to say: ‘Welcome to my father’s memorial. I’d like to introduce our conductor Nicholas Dodd. Have a wonderful night’. This was the first time I had seen Jonpatrick in person since the comeback concert in 1998 and I was amazed at how tall he now was.
Dodd, who had conducted Barry’s music for many of his later concerts, raised his baton for ‘Goldfinger’ – performed to perfection by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. ‘The Knack’ followed – a theme which we had first heard performed in concert at the 1998 event. This was another splendid performance followed by a video tribute from one of Barry’s earliest and best friends – Sir Michael Caine, who couldn’t attend in person due to work commitments. Naturally he recalled the time in the 60s when he was looking for somewhere to live short-term and John had invited him to stay at his flat. In the event Caine was kept awake with John playing on the piano all night. On questioning John the next morning he learnt that he had finished what was the score to Goldfinger. Caine said ‘I was the first person in the world *ever* to hear Goldfinger, and I heard it all night’. He described John as ‘one of the all-time greats’. He went onto say that Barry was ‘one of my closest and oldest friends and a nice guy’; and that he was important in his early career, writing the music for his early films ‘Zulu’ and ‘Ipcress File’ - and it was these two themes that followed Caine’s tribute. ‘Zulu’, in particular, was just as ‘stirring’ as was when John conducted back in 1998. He finished with a very moving statement saying that the last time he was at the RAH it was ‘in a concert tribute to John and his music, and I introduced him; and now I’m here in the same place; sort of saying goodbye’.
Sir Richard Attenborough featured amidst some clips and music from ‘Chaplin’ and some black and white stills of John with Dickie and Jonpatrick as a child. Sadly none of the music from the film- which received an Oscar nomination - was played on the night. Nicholas Dodd then conducted ‘Somewhere in Time’ and clips from ‘Lion in Winter’; and ‘Omnibus’ with Dr. Francis Jackson discussing this score with John followed.
Don Black OBE then came on stage to voice his comments about his long association with John which had started as early as 1965 when they collaborated on ‘Thunderball’. He recalled how he ‘remembered the lunches more than the songs’ and how John used to like ‘fish & chips with a little vinegar on the side’; and ‘swam every morning to Mahler’s 5th symphony’. It was great to hear him say, yet again, that John had always remained a Yorkshire man through and through despite living in America for almost forty years; and that he felt that ‘John always put the York in New York’. It was very poignant when he remarked: ‘Unfortunately, outside of the Bond world you only live once’. Nicholas Dodd then conducted their song ‘Born Free’ which won two Oscars in 1966.
‘Midnight Cowboy’ followed, with a delightful harmonica solo by Julian Jackson and the penultimate tune in the first half was ‘The John Dunbar Theme’ from another Oscar-winning score ‘Dances with Wolves’ – which followed some brief clips from the film and comments on the score and film from John. Dodd announced that John had handed him the baton a few years back before a concert of his music in Paris and to end the first half of the concert he introduced Rumer as ‘one of the country’s finest new talents’- who sang ‘We Have All the Time in the World’ to good applause; and the first half of the concert drew to a close. From the BBC Radio 2 ‘Friday Night Is Music Night’ broadcast in 1st July it was revealed by the singer herself that she was invited to sing at the concert because she was in the process of putting words to music John had written just before he died.
After the usual interval Michael Parkinson introduced the first two selections of the second half to highlight John’s influence in jazz. Firstly – one of my favourites – ‘Body Heat’ with the saxophone solo played by Nigel Hitchcock. Another fine performance of one of my favourite Barry themes previously heard in concert form. So too was the second theme ‘Remembering Chet’ from ‘Playing By Heart’ which first featured in his 1999 concert with Chris Botti on trumpet. On this occasion the trumpet solo was played by Derek Watkins who, as we later learnt from the Radio 2 broadcast, had played on all of the Bond scores and had worked with Barry since 1965.
One of my favourites on the night - splendidly played by the RPO was ‘Out of Africa’, followed by another standout track from 1998 and the title of his new album at that time ‘The Beyondness of Things’. The only non-Barry tune on the evening’s programme was ‘Ave Marie’. As Nicholas Dodd explained this was a personal favourite of John’s and the song was superbly sung by Wynne Evans deputising for Alfie Boe who was unable to attend. This selection was very popular with the audience.
The next item was a surprise – clips relating to Eternal Echoes (from the BBC ‘Omnibus’ special) followed by a reading of the ‘Blessing by John Donoghue’ by Bond actor Timothy Dalton. He explained that Laurie had asked him to read this as John had it permanently on his desk whilst he was working; and he described John as ‘a kind and generous man, warm and funny’. It would have been nice to hear a concert version of ‘The Living Daylights’ for the first time but, as expected, this was not to be.
Current Bond composer David Arnold was the next guest who – along with John’s widow Laurie – had organised the evening’s concert. David came on with his guitar with which I’d recently seen him backing Shirley Bassey. He said ‘I heard John Barry and I wanted to be a film composer’. He went onto say ‘it’s terribly difficult at saying goodbye to someone like John because he’s been such a huge part in everyone’s lives; but in a way he is here – he’s in the first violins, he’s in the horns, he’s in the trumpets and I think he’s definitely in the bar somewhere’. This raised a huge laugh and what followed was a real treat as David premiered a song which was the last song to be composed by John – ‘Tick the Days Off One By One’. Extremely well-sung, this was a great number and one wondered who and what it had been originally written for.
Before I could catch my breath the RPO began ‘The James Bond Suite’. I have to say that, although I have heard this many times before, as it was always included in Barry’s concerts, Dodd gave it his all and the RPO were superb and faultless; and this time the suite was far raunchier. Dodd enjoyed it as much as the crowd and proved this by holding up the score booklet during the rapturous applause at the end commenting ‘marvellous stuff!’
After what seemed like a never-ending applause Sir George Martin was then introduced. I’d half expected another video link but was pleased to see a somewhat frail looking Martin come onto stage to recall the early days of John and the John Barry Seven; and his technique of using the violins and pizzicato strings. He said ‘John Barry’s a pretty hard act to follow’ and ‘had an unerring instinct for what a film needed’. For instance, he would ask for twelve French horns, all playing the same phrase, and when told this was extravagant he replied’ ‘sure, but it’s a great sound’. Soon after the audience exploded into applause as George introduced Dame Shirley Bassey as ‘probably the greatest dramatic singer of all time’. What followed was simply the best version of ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ sung by Shirley that I’d ever heard and I think the rest of arena agreed.
But even better things followed when Shirley and her conductor launched into ‘Goldfinger’ which received a standing ovation; and bouquets of flowers and presents from members of the audience and John’s grand-daughters were presented to Shirley. A stupendous performance – surely the finest yet – from 74 year old Shirley. John would have been proud of her.
The final item was yet another surprise and this was a tremendous version of the James Bond Theme with Dodd conducting the RPO accompanied by David Arnold on guitar. Ok, he’s no Vic Flick but David can play superbly and his second tribute for the evening was accompanied by images of some of the Bond movies on the screen.
To end the evening’s concert Laurie Barry – John’s ‘driving force’ was introduced. She confirmed that the RPO had been ‘perfect’, and thanked everyone for ‘being here for John’. She went on to thank all the artists and deep inside I felt pleased, and relieved, that she didn’t just take a back seat as before but had made herself present. After all, it was Laurie – with help from David Arnold and Eon Productions who we have to thank for the concert which was in aid of The John Barry Scholarship for Film Composition recently set up at the Royal College of Music. She was soon joined by Jonpatrick who, if I remember correctly, entered with a bouquet of flowers. I’d only ever seen Laurie once in person and that was at the Symphony Hall in Birmingham where John performed in 1999 – she sat a few rows behind us and we later presented her with a leather bound copy of our 1998 book to pass onto John.
Having to dash off to ensure I was in good time for my last train I quickly left knowing that I had, without question, thoroughly enjoyed the evening. I would have loved to have dashed down to meet Laurie and thank her but trains do not wait! So I’d like to take this opportunity of thanking all concerned for arranging such a splendid tribute to my hero John Barry.
This Concert Review originally appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ September 2011
By DENIS O’BRIEN
Alan Dean’s eventful and crowded life would daunt a biographer because it collides so often with Names. It would be difficult to avoid the reflected glare from the gamma rays of the celebrities as they seem to rise into his narrative so often.
It is not that Alan is a name-dropper for effect, simply that he has encountered so many celebrated people in his life that his pleasant personality makes his mention of them seem essential.
He had a somewhat precocious start as an entertainer singing and playing the piano accordion as an 11-year-old in his father’s Bethnal Green pub during World War II. That led to a job with a small jazz group in London’s West End and from there he was offered work as a singer touring with the Oscar Rabin band. By then he had put his accordion aside and was studying orchestration. Two years later, tired of touring, he was back in London and working for bands such as Harry Roy, Stephan Grappelli, Ambrose and Frank Weir.
He met Johnny Johnston and together they answered a request by the BBC to form a vocal group as part of a new radio comedy series, "Take It From Here".
They recruited two female singers and, hey presto, the Keynotes were launched on a long life. Alan left the group after two years. "They were very popular but my work with the group was beginning to interfere with my desire to build on a solo career" he said. In 1949 Alan had been voted Most Popular Male Singer in Great Britain and the accolade was repeated in 1950 and 1951. Alan knew his career was now at a point when he needed to be careful of his next move. The memory of awards such as he had received from Melody Maker faded quickly from the public mind and it was essential he didn’t take the wrong turning.
He had noticed small indications of changing public tastes. The first stirrings of rock’n’roll had occurred in the USA and that was something which needed carefully watching. He recalled talking about his concerns with the pianist George Shearing when both were working with Frank Weir. Soon after that George had left England and had gone to the U.S. where he’d become very successful. And on a subsequent visit to London he advised Alan to consider a similar move: "I’m sure you’ll do well over there. Please come and prove me right." Alan’s manager Harold Davidson was equally in favour of Alan going to America. "There is nothing more I can do for you in England. You are now at the top here. I can’t get you more money, better billing, or the best hotel suite for a week at the Wigan Palace. I’m sure you’ll do very well in the States."
So at the end of 1951 Alan left England accompanied by his wife Muriel, and his publicist Ken Pitt. It would be six years before he returned on a visit but he would never make England his permanent home again.
The pace and pulse of New York was exhilarating. Alan felt energized and ready for work but since music wasn’t international in those days he was totally unknown in the U.S. But out of the blue he was offered a two-weeks engagement in a stylish nightclub in Washington D.C. which was called The Old New Orleans. Reviews of his performance in Washington papers and in the national showbiz paper Variety were amazing.
A few days later General Artists Corporation approached him and told him they wished to sign him up and when he returned to New York they introduced him to the MGM Record Company which offered him a three year contract. His first and second recordings were excellent sellers, especially "Luna Rosa". He then embarked on a long list of engagements throughout the east coast. He played in Pittsburgh, Boston, upstate New York and Washington.
After about six months of touring, Alan was feeling tired and with his wife Muriel went to Miami, Florida for a rest. While there he was looking at a bundle of maps one day and realised the vast expanse of America that was still to be conquered. They decided to buy a house in Miami and use it as a base from which he would now operate.
But in 1959 he received a cable from a television station in Australia — GTV Channel 9 in Melbourne, offering him a three month contract to appear in variety programmes on the station. The offer seemed amazingly generous. The money was good, a round trip air fare was included and Alan found it rather hard to believe. He cabled his acceptance yet remained puzzled as to why they had made the offer.
After arriving he found that he was already known in Australia from his appearances on "Take It From Here". It was still running on the ABC. It was his first visit to Australia and he was very impressed by the professionalism he found at GTV9. "They had a remarkably good five nights a week variety talk show called ‘In Melbourne Tonight’ headed by an exceptionally talented man named Graham Kennedy" he said. "The production standards were very high, the orchestra was conducted by musical director, Arthur Young who I remembered had fronted the Hatchette Swingettes in London." At the end of the three months’ enjoyable engagement Alan spent a few weeks in Sydney with his sister, Peggy and her husband Norman Burns, who was at that time the A and R man for PYE records in Sydney.
He returned to Miami but two years later received another offer from GTV9 Melbourne, and in accepting he mentioned that he was considering settling in Australia. While living in Miami he had begun writing, arranging and producing jingles and radio station promos for the local radio industry. "On my first visit to Australia, I sold a packet of radio promos to Melbourne and Sydney radio stations and I could see great opportunities there."
It would be some years before Alan’s life could be called leisurely. His permanent move to Sydney had opened up opportunities for him to develop his talents for providing radio stations with tapes for promoting programme identification, weather reports and promotional material. He formed a company called Deanote Productions which has proved successful. He also undertook engagements on television for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, ‘Bandstand’ a remarkably successful pop show and a number of programmes on Channel 7 where he worked with an accomplished musical director, Tommy Tycho.
Alan Dean has a gentle manner and a warm personality. At the end of a long talk together he told me quietly of a time when he was asked to undertake a singing engagement at short notice. When he arrived at the job the orchestra leader handed him a sheet of music and asked him "Can you read music?" Alan said he could, studied it for a few minutes and then said "I’m right now." The band started playing some rather difficult passages but Alan breezed through the song with no problems. Before he left the job a number of the musicians complimented him. "It’s very rare that singers can read music. Congratulations." Alan related that brief anecdote with a quiet sense of pride.
His first wife, Muriel died some years ago. He was divorced from his second wife, Diana but they are truly great friends. He is now happily married to Maralyn and they live in a comfortable home in Sydney’s leafy north shore, where he has often entertained a number of musical colleagues from his days in London. The combination of his singing career and the work he does for radio stations makes for a busy yet fulfilling life for a contented man of 86 years.
This article first appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ September 2011
In its March/April issue, the American music magazine 'Fanfare' included a survey on Guild Music.
David Ades was interviewed by the magazine's regular light music reviewer, Paul A. Snook, to discuss the story behind the "Golden Age of Light Music" series of CDs.
Light Music: A Reconsideration (An Interview With David Ades)
By Paul A. Snook
Over the past several years some 70-plus volumes titled Golden Age of Light Music have emanated from the unlikely source of the Swiss label Guild. Under the authoritative guidance of compiler David Ades, this series now represents the most comprehensive and diversified cross section of a kind of orchestral music that during the first 60 years of the last century appealed to a large and varied audience that has now unfortunately dwindled to a handful of dedicated enthusiasts.
This sorry state of affairs is no doubt due to the accelerated dumbing-down of the standards of so-called popular music over the past half-century, due to the unthinking canonization of adolescence and the resulting lemming-like embrace of Neanderthal - or perhaps more accurately Lumpenproletariat - culture by the educated elites, for whom the sound of even a Leroy Anderson miniature constitutes a form of "classical" music. Conversely the classical crowd for the most part harbours a reflexive contempt for any work whose primary aim is to entertain in a musically intelligent manner within a compressed two-to-three-minute framework.
Ades and his cohorts are making a brave - and perhaps foolhardy? - effort to reverse these lamentable trends, or at least to document an era when there was an unquestioned acceptance and appreciation of much more elevated levels of musical artistry than obtains today among the general populace.
Here is how David Ades perceives his role in this musical wasteland:
Q. Before we talk about the Golden Age series proper, perhaps you could fill in the background of your personal involvement with light music.
A: Growing up in Britain during the 1940s and 1950s I heard a lot of light music on the radio. Unless we were prepared to endure often awful reception from stations based in Europe (usually Radio Luxembourg), our radio entertainment came from the non-commercial BBC, and they employed a large number of musicians. There were orchestras based in all the main regions of the United Kingdom, and the schedules included a lot of live music - partly because the airtime allocated to playing records was restricted to avoid musicians losing their jobs. Things gradually changed during the 1960s, when many broadcasting ensembles were either reduced in size or simply disbanded. Partly this was due to the public's changing musical tastes, but BBC radio was also being starved of funds, which were increasingly diverted to its television channels. However, during the immediate post-war years radio reached its peak of popularity, and it produced an amazing array of all kinds of light-entertainment programs. Many of these had signature tunes selected from the recorded music libraries of major music publishers, and even today people still talk about the themes associated with their favourite shows. Public demand resulted in some of them being recorded commercially, which many people avidly collected. As a teenager I was curious to learn more about the composers and conductors whose work I admired, especially as I was starting to see them in their own television shows - notably Robert Farnon and Ray Martin. Through a friend I learned in 1956 that a Robert Farnon Appreciation Society was being formed by a group of enthusiasts based in London. A magazine was launched and the society made slow but steady progress in the following years. This allowed music lovers elsewhere to become involved, and the society gradually expanded to include all composers and musicians working in the light-music field. Today the scope of music the Robert Farnon Society (the word "appreciation" was dropped early on) covers is even wider, with members in all five continents. I was asked to become honorary secretary and treasurer in 1962, a commitment that continues to this day. For much of that time I have also edited the society's magazine, Journal Into Melody.
Q. What was the origin of the idea for this kind of series?
A: Guild Music is an independent record label that now operates from Switzerland. For many years it concentrated mainly on historical classical recordings (and it still does), building up a fine reputation internationally. The managing director is Kaikoo Lalkaka, and during 2003 he happened to mention to the company producing his CD booklets that he was thinking of expanding the range of his releases. It so happened that the same company was designing booklets for another record company that regularly employed me to compile their CDs of light music, including writing the booklet notes. They told Mr. Lalkaka what I was already doing elsewhere, and he approached me to ask if I thought there was a future in a series of light-music CDs. Initially I suggested that the market should be tested with just one compilation, but he said that it would make a better impact if we issued three at once. To be honest, I thought that might be all we would do, and I tended to include some of the very best pieces of light music in those first three CDs! But to my slight surprise and delight, the CDs sold sufficiently well to continue with the series and I was asked to prepare new compilations at a rate of two CDs every two months. I am now working on the 80th collection. This certainly is the "Golden Age of Light Music": there has never been a time when so much of it was available to the public on compact discs and Internet downloads.
Q. Why did you decide to use the concept of themes for each release instead of some other basis as an organizing principle?
A: As a lifelong collector myself, I am very much on the side of record buyers. I have always thought it unfair that so much music gets duplicated in new releases. I have a wide knowledge of what is available, so I think I have a good idea of what keen music lovers will already have. It should also be emphasized that there is no duplication of tracks within the series, although, of course, there are instances of more than one recording of the same piece as interpreted by different orchestras. The vast majority of other releases of light music are simply reissues of LPs. This means that a lot of other music (especially older 78s) is automatically excluded. By allowing each collection to contain music from many different sources it is possible to include a vast range of music and, hopefully, a lot of pleasant surprises. It is necessary to create different themes to give the collections a foundation for the repertoire chosen, although every so often I compile what I acknowledge is a haphazard selection to mop up some of the tracks that inevitably get excluded because they may not fit specific themes. I like to think that my deliberate policy of trying to include some rare pieces in most collections is helping to get certain composers far better known, and encourage people to seek out some of their other work.
Q. Why the decision to include instrumental pop standards instead of only actual light-music compositions?
A: The simple answer is to try and make the collections more attractive, especially to casual purchasers who may only come across them when browsing in record stores. Although there is a vast amount of what might be termed "pure" recorded light music available (much of it locked away in publishers' libraries, never previously available), the majority of it is probably unknown to all except the most serious students of the genre. People coming across unfamiliar titles by composers unknown to them are going to need some persuading before they will make a purchase, and I have little doubt that the Golden Age of Light Music series would probably have come to an end fairly quickly if I had adopted a narrow approach toward the repertoire. "Light music" (or concert music, easy listening, middle-of-the-road, etc.) covers a wide range that can embrace the traditional styles of light music (perhaps a bit prim and proper to some younger people) and lush orchestral arrangements of popular music, especially show tunes. If these CDs don't sell in sufficient quantities the series will come to an end. I have to make new CDs appealing to casual buyers as well as confirmed enthusiasts (an amazing number of people automatically buy each new release unheard), so from time to time I include a collection of general interest, such as the Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers CDs. With around 2,000 tracks now included in the series there should be something for everyone. Compared with pop music, one has to acknowledge that light music appeals to a relatively small number of people, and probably over 90 percent of the music reissued on the Guild CDs is no longer of any commercial interest to others. I should add that, as the series has progressed, we get an increasing number of contacts from regular purchasers asking for pieces of music to be included; most new collections now contain several tracks in response to specific requests.
Q. I imagine locating some of these long-out-of-print 78s, LPs, and single 45s must be quite a chore. What are your sources?
A: Initially the music came from my own collection with additional titles supplied by Alan Bunting, who handles the digital sound restoration and remastering. But very quickly collectors around the world sensed our mission to try and make available a whole range of recordings that had been neglected by other record companies, and I have been amazed at the generosity of fellow enthusiasts in many countries, such as the U.S.A., Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, and Portugal - as well as a large number in Britain. They have allowed us access to their precious recordings, and the result has been the creation of the foremost library of light orchestral music in the world. It would be nice to hope that future generations of music lovers will appreciate the importance of our work.
Q. In this connection, many of these older recordings probably require a good deal of tuning-up, right?
A: In some respects we have made a rod for our own backs in deciding that each CD would include music from a variety of different sources. Some collections feature music recorded well over 30 years apart, from a period when the techniques of sound recording went through many different stages. Collectors will know that contemporary recordings made today in different studios can have a distinct sound; when you add that to the advances made in microphones since electrical recording was introduced in 1925 - not to mention stereo - you can appreciate the challenge in trying to avoid too many harsh fluctuations in sound quality. I am very fortunate in having Alan Bunting as my colleague handling all the technical aspects. He shares my passion for light music and is widely recognized as a world leader in his field, going to great lengths to obtain the finest possible sound quality from the often less than perfect discs that come our way. We spend hours listening and refining the sound of each collection, with test CDs going back and forth several times before we are both satisfied with the results. Only very rarely do we allow something of historical importance to sway our judgment of what is acceptable. It is not unusual to use passages from more than one disc where there may have been needle damage, and I frequently experiment with different styli. Perhaps the greatest satisfaction comes from records made in the 1930s, which sound superb when processed with the latest state-of-the-art restoration tools. In one collection we even restored one of the very earliest stereo tests from 1934. Strangely some of the recordings that give us most problems are LPs from the 1950s, where there were often excessive amounts of treble (particularly from some U.S. labels), which made the strings sound distinctly harsh.
Q. How would you define "light music" in all its ramifications?
A: It would be difficult to find two people who agree on the exact definition of "light music." Music has been called the international language, and in its many guises it is probably as diverse as all the spoken tongues around the world. Individual styles constantly develop and change in response to various influences, and there is no doubt that our ancestors who listened to what we might term "their" light music in the 1800s would find the sounds of the 1950s too avant-garde for their ears. Light music is not alone in this; some of today's best-loved classical works were harshly criticized at their premieres. My own personal idea of light music is that it is essentially non-vocal and performed by an ensemble that can range in size from a quartet to the full forces of a symphony orchestra. But often it is a case of "less is better." An orchestra that is too large can struggle with the delicate nuances that are a feature of many of the finest light-music cameos. For many works, a concert orchestra of around 30 musicians is often ideal, with perhaps a few extra soloists as the composer (or arranger) demands. Tasteful orchestral arrangements of songs also impress me as light music, although I am aware that not everyone will agree with me.
Q. How do you perceive the role and place of light music in the wider context of music as a whole?
A: It is a pity that some musicologists find the need to pigeonhole different styles of music. They are often the losers, because their blinkered attitude prevents them from exploring a lot of the available repertoire. Many concerts of "serious" classical music could benefit from the inclusion of a lighter work as an opening number, or to fill a short gap between longer works. During its best years radio used to offer such a wide variety of music: you could tune in to one station early in the day and if you left it playing you would come across many different styles - often providing pleasant surprises. Today that doesn't happen, and broadcasters are to blame for fostering generations with a very shallow knowledge of music as a whole. I have heard critics say that pop music (especially in the 1950s and 1960s) was to blame for the demise of light music, but I believe that is a fallacy. Light music has always been squeezed between other music forms, and the main losers from the Presley and Beatles generation were the crooners and swing bands of the 1940s.
Q. What are the differences between the U.S., U.K., and the Continent in their awareness and appreciation of light music?
A: I think that the more traditional style of light music has a slightly stronger base in the U.K. and Europe, but the U.S. and Canada (don't forget that Robert Farnon and Percy Faith came from Canada) have had a major impact on the development of this genre. It is impossible to overstate the importance of people like André Kostelanetz, David Rose, Morton Gould, and the Boston Pops in keeping light music alive internationally.
Q. Do you envision any future hope for a wider audience for light music in any form?
A: In Britain there are several young conductors who are doing a good job in keeping light music going - John Wilson and Gavin Sutherland immediately spring to mind. They make the valid point that - unlike the older generation - it has nothing to do with nostalgia as far as they are concerned; it is simply well crafted and very enjoyable music. The problem is that radio stations tend to ignore it. Unless people are allowed to hear this music, they won't know it is out there. When young people (such as amateur youth orchestras) are exposed to it, the reaction is usually favourable. Light music won't go away, but it needs enthusiasts to keep giving it the kiss of life!
The above interview appeared in the March/April issue of the American music magazine "Fanfare", and is reproduced with due acknowledgments.
The interviewer, Paul A. Snook writes regularly for Fanfare, and he has been a member of The Robert Farnon Society for many years.
Paul was born in 1935 in the Bronx, and during his childhood years in the 1940s he was constantly exposed to radio broadcasts by the big bands and their vocalists doing mostly "Hit Parade" material. At the same time he responded instinctively to the sounds coming off the screen when his mother took him to the movies. After eight years of piano lessons, he had learned to read music, but his teacher told him he would never go beyond competency, whereas at playing the phonograph he was a virtuoso! So he naturally began to focus more on the music he heard over the air and on early television. At the age of 14 he took a survey course on the history of classical music, realizing that the harmonic and rhythmic characteristics of late Romantic and early 20th-century composers paralleled those of Ellington, Goodman, and Kenton, together with the Hollywood composers, all of whom he loved. With the advent of long-play records, he began to haunt Sam Goody's and other stores, to acquire the music he began to unearth from the Schwann catalogue - Debussy, Stravinsky, Ravel, Bartók, Prokofiev, Hindemith, Milhaud, Honegger, Sibelius, Rachmaninoff, as well as the American symphonists. Most of what he learned about this repertoire he absorbed by listening to the records and reading the liner notes.
After graduating from Princeton with a BA in English, Paul fulfilled his dream of moving to the Upper West Side of Manhattan to attend graduate school at Columbia. His record collection grew exponentially as he discovered the many composers in other countries who derived from his favourite modern masters, while at the same time rediscovering the great pop artists of his earlier years.
Eventually he amassed over 20,000 LPs - which he still plays and enjoys - plus some thousands of tapes and cassettes exchanged with fellow collectors throughout the world, which were ultimately donated and housed in a special archive located at Columbia University, to which Paul maintains lifetime access.
Meanwhile, to pay for all this, he held jobs in public relations (Queens College) and public information writing (United Nations), but his most musically significant posts were three years as classical music director for Riverside Radio (WRVR) and most of the 1970s working for his friend Will Lerner at his legendary record store, Music Masters. Now a grandfather, Paul says he plans to go on reviewing recordings of 20th-century music for 'Fanfare' until he is too weak to load the tray on his CD player!
This feature appeared in 'Journal Into Melody' - September 2011
"LIGHT FANTASTIC" WAS SIMPLY FANTASTIC!
The response from readers to the Editor’s request for comments on this Festival has been magnificent! What has been particularly interesting is that many correspondents have brought out different aspects to comment upon.
The enthusiasm expressed time and time again must surely convince the BBC that "Light Fantastic" in 2011 must not be a ‘one-off’ event!
One day we may look back on 2011 as the year when Light Music finally came out of the musical shadows. If we do, then "Light Fantastic" may deserve a large part of the credit for making music lovers aware in Britain that there is an enjoyable form of music between classical and popular that many people enjoy - if only the opportunities exist to hear it.
It's been a long struggle, but the origins of the present 'renaissance' (if that is what it proves to be) extend back to the early 1990s when record companies such as EMI, Grasmere, Hyperion, Marco Polo and Naxos were dipping their toes into the light music stream. They were soon joined by the likes of ASV, Vocalion, Epoch and Guild - the latter being one of the most adventurous with over 80 CDs now available in its "Golden Age of Light Music" series that is sold around the world.
If commercial record companies were noticing light music once again, it seemed that broadcasters remained unconvinced. After the act of cultural vandalism that destroyed the BBC Radio Orchestra, for a long time "Friday Night Is Music Night" has been the BBC's only token gesture to placate light music 'aficionados', with just a few occasional extra concerts. There were the "Legends of Light Music" programmes on Radio-2 around the turn of the century, but the opportunity was missed to make this a regular weekly series, which would have built up a loyal following. On Radio-3 Brian Kay's "Light programme" was like an oasis of melody to gladden the hearts; it lasted for several years, but sadly has been absent from the schedules for far too long.
Back to "Light Fantastic". It would have been nice to have seen some positive publicity from the BBC. The editor of Radio Times should be thoroughly ashamed of the scant coverage she allotted to it - especially as the previous week she had given the cover over to Radio-2 for their 'festival' which lasted for just 12 hours. Similarly BBC TV went overboard to publicise Radio-2, but completely ignored "Light Fantastic".
Fortunately the musical press was not so neglectful, with even national papers such as the Daily Telegraph running special features. The August issue of Classic fm Magazine made John Wilson its cover star, and included a long interview about his work. The June issue of Classical Music Magazine produced a timely feature ahead of the event, and gave good coverage to Gavin Sutherland, the other major light music conductor involved in the "Light Fantastic" festival. Both John and Gavin are 'heroes' as far as light music lovers are concerned. We have known them in RFS circles since they were both in their early twenties, and it has been a real joy to witness how their brilliant careers have developed. They both have a wonderful future ahead of them making glorious music for us all to enjoy.
But now it's time to let RFS members tell us what they thought about "Light Fantastic" - both from their differing viewpoints of either being present at the South Bank Centre, or joining the millions of listeners at home through radio or the internet.
Former BBC radio producer Anthony Wills begins our reviews of the BBC’s "Light Fantastic"
From time to time the BBC goes into overdrive, and many Radio 3 listeners must have viewed its Light Fantastic Festival with as much enthusiasm as I viewed 12 days of wall-to-wall Mozart at the beginning of the year. The rest of us, however, must have been in seventh heaven, even if the pudding was a little over-egged at times. And after all, if the "youf" can have its Glastonbury, why can’t us more mature licence fee payers get something to suit our musical palates for once?
The celebrations actually began over on Radio 4 on 18 June with one of its Saturday night archive programmes, in which the excellent Paul Morley examined the Light Music phenomenon and the BBC’s role in it. It was only right that Ernest Tomlinson should be prominently featured (as he was to be later) and Morley got to climb up the ladder in Tomlinson’s barn containing over 30,000 sets of orchestral parts that the BBC, in its wisdom, had decided to throw out in the 1980s. The Radio Times billing for this programme had suggested that Morley would be interviewing Eric Coates and Ronald Binge, a fascinating promise which unsurprisingly was not honoured!
Composer Of The Week, broadcast twice daily on Monday-Friday, featured Donald Macleod in conversation with Brian Kay, who had also selected the music. Brian covered the ground pretty well, though some of the recordings he chose seemed a little questionable: an over-indulgent Girl From Corsica for example and, astonishingly, Robert Farnon conducting Jumping Bean at such a pace that the orchestrastruggled to keep up. Brian injected nice touches of humour into his presentation, reminding us how deeply his weekly afternoon Light Programme series is still missed, as is Matinee Musicale.
London’s South Bank was the principal venue for most of the Festival performances, but on the Friday afternoon came a concert live from a factory at Irlam near Manchester, played by the BBC Philharmonic bedecked with high visibility jackets in a vast warehouse, performing to a rather bemused gaggle of workers. This was meant to replicate Music While You Work which it singularly failed to do as the material was totally wrong and there were frequent interjections from Suzy Klein. The orchestra however seemed to enjoy itself under the baton of Stephen Bell.
That evening saw the first ever simulcast on Radios 2 and 3 of Friday Night Is Music Night, featuring the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Gavin Sutherland and introduced by the urbane Petroc Trelawny. This was a very hit and miss affair containing a lot of music that should have been left on the shelves – Addinsell’s score for The Charlot Revue of 1926 and Alfred Reynolds’ 1066 And All That being notable examples. Charlotte Page sang sweetly but Lesley Garrett came unstuck in Gilbert & Sullivan’s immortal The Sun Whose Rays, while baritone Richard Suart was cruelly under-used though his Model Of A Modern Major General (sans chorus) was as splendid as you might expect. The show only really came to life with Iain Sutherland’s fine arrangement of Me & My Girl and Sidney Torch’s Ivor Novello medley (in which Suart was bizarrely given the soprano number My Dearest Dear). You’d think that for a gala FNIMN edition broadcast on two networks the BBC could have afforded a chorus for once, but no, as usual on this programme the orchestra filled in, and boy did it show. Incidentally both Petroc’s commentary and the interval feature showed that Radio 3 has no idea of how the Light Music element in radio’s longest-running music series has diminished over recent years. The Concert Orchestra also recorded a further programme at the Plymouth Pavilions for broadcast on the Monday evening, including works by Peter Hope, Gordon Langford and Paul Patterson, all happily still with us.
Trelawny was back on Saturday anchoring an interesting discussion on Music Matters with a studio panel plus recorded contributions from Paul Gambaccini and Gillian Reynolds. As elsewhere during the week came the incredible story of the confidential audience report in 1963 in which listeners expressed overwhelming enthusiasm for Light Music, which was quietly buried by the then Third Programme Controller (William Glock) and his producers, who had no time for melody. In a further well researched programme Matthew Sweet turned the spotlight on the use of library music as signature tunes for radio and television series. Earlier that morning, in Record Review, Adrian Edwards conducted a scholarly review of recent CD releases (and re-issues) of Light Music, of which there are apparently hundreds.
On Saturday night the BBC Symphony Orchestra joined in the fun under the baton of John Wilson for an enthralling and well built selection of Light Music masterpieces. I was in the Festival Hall audience for this one (which was broadcast live and also filmed for future transmission) and was able to admire at close hand John’s impeccable stick technique and his ability to draw the very best out of the players, who played superbly. The concert featured several items unfamiliar to me including Edward German’s Prelude To Romeo & Juliet and Haydn Wood’s London Cameos suite. Eric Coates dominated the evening and once again you had to sit back and marvel at his total mastery of melody and orchestration. As John Wilson put it, "He knew what he was good at and stuck to it, so he didn’t write any bad symphonies or concertos like some composers"! There was also of course time for Jumping Bean and Angela Morley’s wonderful tribute to Bob Farnon, A Canadian In Mayfair. David Ades of the Robert Farnon Society was interviewed during the interval. On exiting the hall we found the BBC Big Band under Barry Forgie playing a swinging tribute to the BBC Dance Band and other late lamented staff orchestras in the Clore Ballroom (broadcast on Sunday night).
It’s impossible to do justice to the 15 hours of Light Music-themed programmes broadcast on the Sunday. The morning was devoted to salon music. Later came a beautifully crafted and informative documentary on the last remaining seaside orchestra at Scarborough (now just 10-strong but sounding bigger). After a 15-minute spot for theatre organ buffs Fiona Talkington introduced a selection of Light Music listener requests played by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Grant Llewellyn. This contained several rarities including compositions by Norman O’Neill and Anthony Hedges, who was present in the hall; but who on earth allowed David Owen Norris to play that well-known "Light Music" piece Walton’s Spitfire Prelude & Fugue as a piano transcription?
Choral Evensong from the Queen’s Chapel added its twopenny worth with anthems by Sullivan and Rutter before we returned to the South Bank for a tea dance with the John Wilson Orchestra, reminding us that this ensemble had begun its life with residencies in hotels. John popped up in yet another guise, giving a most lucid and interesting analysis of the art and craft of Eric Coates in Discovering Music with Catherine Bott and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
Petroc Trelawny and Suzy Klein wrapped up the weekend with a selection of excerpts from the weekend’s events, including some amateur performances I had missed. If they appeared at times too weary to read their scripts, spare a thought for John Wilson who made yet another appearance to sum up the Festival as Artistic Director. John had also pre-recorded five programmes of Light Music with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra which aired during the following week.
All in all, in spite of some twee presentation, the Festival was an exhaustive and pretty comprehensive survey and celebration of that oft-derided and misunderstood term Light Music, which as was pointed out, also embraces works by Mozart, Dvorak and Brahms, to name but a few, though possibly NOT the National Anthem, which was performed twice! There was however a notable absence of cross-trails between Radio 3 and Radio 2, which after all still has several ongoing Light Music series in its schedules*. There seems to be a complete lack of communication between these two networks. And surely there could have been some coverage on BBC television? In any case, congratulations are due to all the producers and editors, and above all performers, for a splendid achievement. Please don’t put the scores away in the cupboard for another sixty years!
*On the same Sunday evening Alan Titchmarsh played compositions by Haydn Wood, Joseph Horowitz and Ivor Novello in his early evening Radio 2 programme. And ‘Listen To The Band’ and ‘The Organist Entertains’ still deliver music in the Light Music vein to their specialist audiences.
Terence Gilmore-James shared the enthusiasm of many of us
What a WONDERFUL weekend of Light Music on Radio 3, and continuing each afternoon. "Fantastic" indeed, so, along with millions of others (we hope!), we are emailing the BBC to congratulate and thank them, also to urge them to make the Festival an annual event and consider putting a Light Music feature back onto the weekly programme order – Radio 3 or Radio 2. The scale of support for the events and the number of young people in the audiences will surely persuade the ‘powers that be’ that a Light Music profile on radio (as on TV during the Proms – past and this year too) at least should be a serious factor for regular broadcast consideration. We think you will have received lots of messages already with the same sentiments.
We know Gavin Sutherland fairly well: he has recorded Mansel Thomas’s "Six Welsh Dances" and "Breton Suite" with the Royal Ballet Sinfonia and we await the issue of the CD – hopefully this autumn. John Wilson also deserves a BIG pat on the back!
Good old radio! Still a prime source of sheer enjoyment, education, stimulation and opportunity. Here’s to more of the same – but EVERY WEEK!!!!!
Geoff Sheldon appreciate the coverage given to Eric Coates
As Chairman of the Eric Coates Society, I can honestly say that I have for a number of years supported the view that Light Music is emerging from the mists of its glorious past, and this week end- June 24th 27th has more than confirmed its rightful place in the Nations Ears. (In our Society we have witnessed the growing public affection, obviously because of Eric's place in the World of Light Music, displayed at the Concerts that we have held locally.)
The variety of programmes selected by the BBC were an eclectic mix of national nostalgia, reminders of our younger days when Light Music more than held its own. As David Ades said in his 'Interval Interview' "There are many CDs on the music market, offering thousands of pieces of music, most of which is still available." ‘Friday Night is Music Night’ is still the BBC's flagship programme for keeping alive Light Music's cause, but they should recognise that the largest group of people, numerically speaking, is the 60+ brigade and they should analyse how little is programmed for them. John Wilson's Prom Concerts and subsequent Tours of MGM Music reveal that audiences are looking younger as a new generation of the population recognise the delight and joy of Light Music.
Also, we are technically blessed with the many forms of music presentation, and playback. No crackles or hisses, no tracks to jump, no wow and flutter, no distortion. clear highs and rumble free lows. And, what is left of F.M. & D.A.B. All of which provides the very best Listening pleasure, because listening was always a pleasure, whether Charles Williams’ intro for "Dick Barton", Eric Coates’ Sleepy Lagoon, Calling All Workers and Knightsbridge, Vivian Ellis's Coronation Scot for "Paul Temple", and so many more. The orchestras, conductors, composers, technicians, venues are ready and waiting, so are the Public!
Martin Cleave was one of many RFS members present at the Royal Festival Hall
Congratulations must go to all concerned for making the recent Light Fantastic Weekend at London’s South Bank Centre such an enjoyable experience. While it was lovely to hear examples of the theatrical contribution made to light music on the Friday Night Is Music Night broadcast, the highlight for me was the Great Masters of Light Music concert given by the BBC Symphony Orchestra the following evening.
Under John Wilson’s enthusiastic baton the music sounded as fresh and relevant as the day it was written. In many cases this was a rare chance to hear these pieces live with the full resources of a symphony orchestra, which in turn gave us a greater insight into the orchestrations (not always possible on recordings, particularly older ones). For me, the sheer beauty brought to Springtime in Angus from the Three Elizabeths Suite by Eric Coates was particularly moving.
How ironic, that as an encore a BBC orchestra should play Non Stop by John Malcolm, the onetime theme tune to the ITV News. The story goes, I believe, that it was chosen because Sir John Barbirolli said it could either be followed by a report of a royal wedding, or the start of World War Three, and be appropriate for both! Unfortunately for us all it was time to make our way to the exit.
Such an enthusiastic reception from an audience of all ages would seem to prove that, with its abundance of good tunes, this is simply great music that deserves a regular airing, rather than just dusted off occasionally like an old photo album for a trip down memory lane.
David Daniels travelled down from Yorkshire, but wished a few more had also made the effort to attend the concerts
You wait ages for a bus then three come all at once. That is the feeling after three days on the South Bank in June - almost too much to take in! As one who has written to the BBC as much as anyone I never expected to hear almost two weeks of wall to wall light music — an embarrassment of riches!
I do hope that regular Radio 3 listeners enjoyed it as much as us, for the whole weekend was so enjoyable and grateful thanks are due to John Wilson and Gavin Sutherland in particular though all the BBC performing groups played a vital part
Sadly the weather spoiled what was for me the first event – ‘Brass on the Bridges’ the fanfare by Anne Dudley written especially for the event would have sounded amazing out on the terrace but the heavens opened so it had to he done indoors, but was nevertheless very impressive.
"Friday Night Is Music Night" was great though personally I would have been happy to sacrifice Billy Mayerl for the full set of dances by Montague Phillips and baritone Richard Suart’s wide vibrato was not to my taste. However the singing of Charlotte Page and ‘Our Lesley’ was wonderful as, of course, was the Concert Orchestra as ever showing how light music should be played.
The following evening with John Wilson and the Symphony Orchestra was quite brilliant though the Edward German piece chosen was hardly ‘light’! As you would expect all the music was in first class performances, and it was especially nice to hear music by Ernest Tomlinson who John Wilson himself pointed out in one of the many talks on offer throughout the weekend has done more than anyone to keep light music alive. This concert was recorded for TV so we look forward to that.
The Central Band of the RAF gave an excellent concert the same afternoon in the Queen Elizabeth Hall and I was so happy to hear Gilbert Vinter’s Hunters Moon so memorably recorded by Dennis Brain and the BBC Concert Orchestra in the 1950s.
There was just one disappointment during the whole weekend, for both Festival Hall concerts I had the balcony almost to myself and even the FREE concert by the RAF Band was only 2/3rds full. After all the complaining to the BBC it appears we cannot muster enough support to fill an average size hall where was everyone -- at Wimbledon or Glastonbury???
Another RFS member, John White, shares his enthusiasm with us
I very much enjoyed the programmes and concerts in the recent BBC Light Fantastic Weekend on Radio 3 and was fortunate in being able to attend Friday Night Is Music Night on 24 June 2011, Great Masters of Light Music on the Saturday evening and the John Wilson Orchestra Tea Dance on the Sunday afternoon, all at the Royal Festival Hall in London.
The Composers of the Week programmes with Donald Macleod, on the five weekdays prior to the weekend, were also most interesting. Brian Kay was (and is), undoubtedly, a very well-informed and knowledgeable contributor. We must also not forget the importance of the library of the Light Music Society, which has made possible the marvellous renewal of interest in light music resulting in many performances over the last twenty years or so.
Photography in the RFH was not allowed but I was able to take some pictures in The Clore Ballroom where the BBC Big Band and the John Wilson Orchestra, respectively, performed. My friend, Siobhan Murphy, and I were fortunate to have our photograph taken with John Wilson. Siobhan told me that the show tunes in FNIMN reminded her of her days (some years ago, now) singing with the Cork Operatic Society in the Cork Opera House, Co. Cork, Ireland. Mr Wilson was most friendly and approachable. He told us that he would be working in Dublin for two weeks during August. I do hope the BBC will resume featuring light music on a weekly basis in future.
Finally, a big "thank you" to everyone involved in the planning, production and broadcast of the concerts and of the numerous other events held at the Royal Festival Hall over the Light Fantastic Weekend, and most especially to John Wilson for being such an enthusiastic champion of light music.
John E. Govier listened at home
Well, it has all come and gone as these things do, but let us all hope that the BBC has at last received and understood the message: that British Light Music is not the preserve of a few reactionary fuddy-duddies and eccentrics, but a living testament to native art, just as other forms of classic music are.
There were so many things to rejoice in where the concerts were concerned that it would take half the current issue to cover them in detail; but one simply must mention the BBC Symphony Orchestra show conducted by John Wilson - it was pure joy from start to finish, and another hour would have not been enough!
Regular Radio 3 programmes much appreciated for their Light Music coverage: "CD review" (recommended Light Music by Adrian Edwards) "Music Matters" (J.W. and Philip Lane among the discussion panel) and for the previous five days "Composer of the Week" was pluralized, with Brian Kay as "tour guide".
Disappointments? Only one or two minor, and one major one. On "FNIMN" the two "Merrie England" extracts were, for me, inadequately sung and the baritone soloist was frankly not up to scratch. (I've heard better amateur renditions of "Yeomen of England" and I assure you I don't exaggerate); but both Lesley Garrett and Charlotte Page were fine in the other numbers - the former especially so in the Noël Coward extract ("If Love Were All", incidentally, not "I'll See You Again" as advertised). More often than not, I enjoy the Sunday lunchtime programme "Private Passions" but not this time: we were back with patronising facetiousness in the shape of Dame Edna Everidge - but then she/he/it is one of my blind spots - I do 'ave' 'em!
But it would be churlish to dwell on one or two shortcomings, and I hope that all aficionados of the Palm Court style tuned in to "Sunday Morning" (10.00 am to 12.00 noon) and heard Shelley van Loen and the Palm Court Strings, and the veteran but still virile tenor of Robert White performing ballads in the manner of the Great John McCormack; and later on the programme about the Spa Orchestra in the northern outpost of Scarborough - worth it just for this 10 piece band's version of "Devil's Galop", but all great stuff, and delightfully presented.
The Tea Dance featuring the John Wilson Orchestra was another Sunday afternoon treat; small wonder if not a few of us were feeling spoiled by now!
Returning for a moment to the concerts (and the Friday Composers of the Week with Brian Kay) how good it was to hear so much splendid music by living composers, and to learn that many of them were in the audience: one of them, Anthony Hedges (80 this year, incidentally) introduced his suite "Scenes from the Humber" during the concert from Cardiff.
On the Monday evening after the Plymouth concert recording (marvellous unhackneyed programme, but a little ironic we were not given all the "Drake 400 Suite" since Ron Goodwin was a local man), the edition of the regular discussion programme. "Nightwaves" included Light Music as one of its topics. As far as could be discerned by me, only one of the panellists sneered - but after all, he did give the impression of not being completely happy unless absolutely miserable!
Philip Scowcroft compares ‘Light Fantastic’ with earlier Light Music Festivals
The BBC has often been criticised for its neglect of light music over the past forty years or so, though to be fair, this has often reflected the snobbishness of a proportion of its audience. However that may be the Corporation made striking amends with its Light Fantastic Festival over the weekend 24/27 June 2011, preceded by "This Week's Composer" (20/24 June) which happily revived Brian Kay's skills as a presenter of light music, and followed by concerts in the "Afternoon on 3" in the week 27 June/1July.
The festival revived memories for me of the Royal Festival Hall Festivals of the 1950s and 1960s and the (purely studio) week-long Light Music Festival of March/April 1949, so important in the development of my music appreciation, and not just "light music". The 1949 Festival was largely made up of special editions of then regular BBC programmes like "Music in the Air", "Album of Familiar Music" and "Grand Hotel". To an extent Light Fantastic did the same, with special editions of "The Choir", "Discovering Music" and "Friday Night is Music Night", 58 years old and for which Gavin Sutherland built a gorgeous programme devoted to the British musical theatre. There was also an adapted revival of the iconic "Music While You Work", in which the BBC Philharmonic was taken into a work place (a factory in Irlam, Greater Manchester) to play light music to an audience of workers, and they seemed to love it.
Many tend to think of "light music" (to use that expression as a convenience rather than as a term of art) as restricted to light orchestral works, rather as many think of music generally in orchestral terms. This festival, rightly, spread its net much more widely, with stage music on "Friday Night", choral music on the Sunday evening "Choir" programme, big band music, wind and brass bands, piano music, solo songs, theatre organs and much else. The main Saturday evening concert combined two past BBC Light Music festival traditions, given as it was by the BBC Symphony Orchestra (the 1949 Festival imported three major symphony orchestras of the day to play light music and popular classics) but in this 2011 concert in the Royal Festival Hall, scene of the festivals of the 1950s and 1960s. And it was a fine programme, too, embracing a century's music from Sullivan onwards.
Yet, arguably, an even more interesting programme was offered on the Monday night (actually recorded the night before in Plymouth). None of the pieces heard were "first performances", unless we count Paul Lewis English Overture as a "first concert performance" (it had introduced a radio station for years) and Holst's Songs of the West as a "first modern performance" (it had not been heard here for a century); yet the items by Matthew Curtis, Philip Lane, Ernest Tomlinson, Paul Patterson and David Lyon were all new to me. It was good, too, that the festival came from so many different places - the West Country, Wales, Scotland, Lancashire and Scarborough, last of the one-time seaside orchestras - unlike the previous broadcast light music festivals which were essentially London based.
The festival was a heady mix of the traditional and, in broadcast terms, the novel. Some of the novel features will, I hope be explored further in future. Bringing amateur ensembles to record in the studios - all over the country - paid tribute to the work amateurs had done to keep light music alive during the leaner years. And the most fascinating festival feature for me was a brilliant analysis by festival director John Wilson (who got through a formidable amount of work during the weekend) of two compositions by Eric Coates, the Knightsbridge March and the Three Men suite. Ironically, such analysis might seem to run counter to the definition, adopted by myself and others, of light music as "where the tune is more important than what you do with it", as Coates clearly "did" so much with his tunes; but at the same time John Wilson showed that "light music" is not simply entertainment (though it is that, of course) but repays study in depth, just as Bach, Beethoven and Brahms do. This can only be good for light music's future.
The future? Surely the BBC will not let Light Fantastic be remembered as a one trick pony? Is it too much to hope that it may end up as an annual event, exploring ever wider and different aspects of that huge expanse of repertoire which makes up "our sort of music"; a rich heritage and one which still lives?
Tony Foster also enjoyed the Festival via the radio at home
A wonderful celebration and feast of Light Music, which began in the days before the main weekend concerts with ‘Composer of the Week’, devoted to light music. The five one-hour programmes were presented by Donald MacLeod and, making a welcome return for this series, the much missed Brian Kay with his expert and friendly manner. This made for a very rewarding listening experience. In between the music Donald and Brian held a very informative discussion about light music during each programme, which had the added benefit of a daily repeat in the early evening.
We were treated to a superb selection each day from the Masters of Light Music, from Clive Richardson’s Melody On The Move to Philip Lane’s Pantomime. Particular favourites were Ron Goodwin’s Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines, Angela Morley’s Rotten Row and, of course, Robert Farnon’s Westminster Waltz and Jumping Bean. Donald and Brian also discussed what they thought light music is, and where its future lies. CDs were also mentioned, especially the wonderful Guild series.
The long running "Friday Night Is Music Night" was, of course, dedicated to light music for the occasion, with a wonderful performance from the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Gavin Sutherland with guest artistes, presented by Petroc Trelawny who made an excellent host.
The highlight of the Light Fantastic festival was the concert on the Saturday evening, given by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by John Wilson. This was ‘live’ from the Royal Festival Hall, and featured in the interval a chat with John Wilson and RFS secretary David Ades. An archive interview with Eric Coates made this a real bonus in addition to an enjoyable evening of orchestral music. I particularly enjoyed Vivian Ellis’ Coronation Scot, Angela Morley’s A Canadian In Mayfair in tribute to Robert Farnon, and Bob’s Jumping Bean.
I kept my radio on for most of the day on the Sunday, as there was so much happening, with discussions about light music which made a nice change from the usual routine. I did enjoy the evening concert with the BBC Scottish Symphony, again conducted by John Wilson, in which he also talked about Eric Coates’ style of composing in between the music.
John Wilson as Artistic Director and conductor, Petroc Trelawny and Radio 3 are to be congratulated for making the Light Fantastic festival such a marvellous celebration of a style of music which has been unfairly neglected for far too long.
Let’s hope that the BBC has been encouraged to feature more light music in its schedules in future, as this festival must have proved that there is a demand for the kind of music we all love so much.
Finally David Ades shares his Personal Diary of the Light Fantastic Weekend
My experiences of the weekend can be summed up in two words: frustrating and exhilarating! ‘Frustrating’ because of my trying encounters with ticket machines – at Yeovil station and bus stops in London; and ‘exhilarating’ because I was uplifted by the wonderful music I heard and the people I met.
The Light Fantastic festival was based at the South Bank Centre, with most of the events taking place at the Royal Festival Hall. I arrived at Waterloo at lunchtime on Friday 24th June, and after booking in at the hotel I made my way to the RFH. I have been there before, but it was a long time ago and my memories of the building (other than the main concert hall) were vague.
In recent years it has had a lot of money spent on it and in the 1980s the decision was taken to keep it open every day from mid-morning, rather than open the doors only when a concert was taking place. The result has been that the building has become the venue for all kinds of cultural activities, many of them taking place in what is called The Clore Ballroom, a large sunken arena facing the main bar in the foyer where most people tend to congregate. It seems that music is being created at all times of the day, by both professional and amateur musicians, in this area which tends to be a magnet for people simply wanting to relax and watch others performing. The ballroom is surrounded by terraces and seating on three sides, so there is plenty of room for everyone – at least most of the time!
The first sounds to greet me upon my arrival were amateur brass bands – about five of them! They were rehearsing a new work by Anne Dudley which was due to be performed by 250 brass players on Hungerford Bridge (adjacent to the RFH) at around 7:30 pm. This was to be recorded and broadcast in one of the many Radio 3 programmes that were coming from the South Bank Centre that weekend.
But the weather gods decided otherwise. The heavens opened and the performance had to take place around the bar and ballroom. So I found myself literally in the middle of six brass bands (the five amateurs were joined by the brass of the BBC Symphony) and I have never before seen one piece of music conducted at the same time by five conductors!
BBC producer Andrew Smillie had been in touch with me for several weeks before the festival, and we arranged to meet after he had recorded the band. "Look for someone holding a big microphone" he said, and it worked! We briefly discussed the arrangements to meet the following afternoon during the rehearsals for John Wilson’s concert with the BBC Symphony, which they kindly allowed me to attend.
I lost count of how many Robert Farnon Society members I bumped into over the weekend, and I am not going to list them all for fear of leaving someone out. But within an hour or so of my arrival we were holding a mini RFS meeting in the bar, and while relaxing before the evening concert in the "Friday Night Is Music Night" series I suddenly discovered that David Daniels was sitting next to me. He had travelled down from Doncaster to support the BBC Concert Orchestra - like me he is an enthusiastic member of their club.
The Royal Festival Hall is well served with toilet facilities – I should imagine at least 15 or 20 throughout the building. So the chances of meeting someone you know in such a place must surely be statistically remote. But just as I was leaving one I met Philip Farlow who was coming in! I’m sure we would have found each other eventually, but this ‘close encounter’ meant that we could tell each other what we had learned about the various events, and we spent much of the Friday evening and the Saturday roaming around from event to event – usually accompanied by other RFS members. Several times I heard someone call out "David!" as I was wandering around, and it was a pleasure to greet yet another RFS member!
As already mentioned, the concert on Friday evening featured the BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by Gavin Sutherland with singers Lesley Garrett, Charlotte Page and Richard Suart. I have to admit that I do not always enjoy the vocal interludes when listening to FNIMN at home, but being in the concert hall is an entirely different experience. Richard Suart in particular had the audience in the palm of his hand, although the eye candy was supplied by Lesley Garrett who treated us (at least the men in the audience) to two stunning creations from her wardrobe.
I didn’t get a chance to chat with Gavin, because he had to dash off afterwards to travel to Plymouth where he was conducting another concert on the Sunday evening. But I did renew an acquaintance with senior BBC producer Neil Varley, who was deeply involved with the festival. I first met him when Brian Kay kindly invited me to be a guest on his "Light Programme" back in 2004. I learned that Neil was responsible for the invitation I had received to participate in the interval feature during John Wilson’s concert on the next evening.
Like everyone else that evening I got soaked by the rain on the way back to the hotel, but happily it had stopped when I drew back the curtains the next morning. It was still cloudy, but the weather forecasters had told us that it was going to get very warm over the next two or three days, and they were certainly right for once! The hottest day for five years happened that weekend!
I arrived at the RFH around 10:15 and decided to look around the free Exhibition on the ground floor about the original Festival of Britain 60 years ago in 1951. The Royal Festival Hall is the only surviving building from that ambitious project, and the models inside reminded me of the Dome of Discovery (the inspiration for the Millennium Dome?), the TeleKinema (where I saw 3-D films for the first time – they are not new, as some youngsters might believe), and the famous Skylon looking like a massive cigar with points at both ends aiming at the stars. Like thousands of other schoolchildren I stood right below the point of the Skylon and looked upwards – it required a certain amount of courage! I was saddened that it had to be scrapped for the steel to be recycled but, like today, those were hard times and money could not be wasted. One of the exhibits was a film about the Festival with music by Clifton Parker. Unfortunately it was a poor copy, and the music sounded distorted most of the time.
It was then time to have a coffee in the bar on the ground floor looking out across the riverside terrace to the Thames. There are plenty of places for refreshments on the South Bank site, with many tables outside – just like you find in Mediterranean countries. This is becoming more common in Britain these days, but the reason is probably the ban on smoking inside buildings, rather than a sudden improvement in the weather!
I found a spare table and settled down to enjoy my coffee, and started looking through some of the leaflets I had picked up with details of the festival events. A few minutes later I casually looked around and discovered to my surprise that Petroc Trelawny was sitting at the next table with a gentleman I assumed to be a BBC producer. They were obviously working on a forthcoming programme, so I waited until they got up from the table before introducing myself as the person Petroc would be interviewing during the concert interval that evening. I received a warm welcome, but quickly left because he was obviously busy and there would be plenty of time during the afternoon to discuss my interval chat.
Back in the main bar area (adjacent to the ballroom) I soon met up with Philip. We checked the various events that were taking place and decided that it would be nice to join the audience for "Music Matters", broadcast live on Radio 3 from 12:15 to 1:00pm. The subject under discussion was ‘What Happened to British Light Music?’ Petroc Trelawny chaired a panel consisting of John Wilson, Philip Lane, Anne Dudley, Stephen Banfield and Richard Witts – the last two being music historians.
The opinions of the panel were interspersed with recorded segments from Daily Telegraph radio critic Gillian Reynolds and Paul Gambaccini. I was particularly pleased that a number of recordings I had sent to Andrew Smillie were used in the programme. He had told me a couple of weeks earlier that he couldn’t find any openings or endings of light orchestral programmes in the BBC archives. I supplied him with several, so listeners heard brief intros from "Farnon in Concert", "Music All the Way" (Farnon) and "String Sound". Other dubs I provided turned up elsewhere, including Eric Coates talking about his "Knightsbridge March" during an interval chat with John Wilson later that evening.
I was prepared to be disappointed with the programme. So often discussions about Light Music tend to get rather stuffy and highbrow and drift into areas not really relevant. But this time I was pleasantly surprised by what I heard; Paul Gambaccini, in particular, had a good depth of knowledge and he clearly explained how the BBC had decided it didn’t want light music any more, even though the public clearly enjoyed it.
I knew that several RFS members had joined Philip and myself in the audience (Brian Reynolds and André Leon to name just two), but it came as a complete – and very pleasant – surprise as we were leaving after the programme to discover that Marjorie Cullerne and Gilles Gouset were with us. Marjorie is a great niece of Haydn Wood, and UK members will recall the entertainment she and Gilles provided at our London meeting in April 2009. Our paths were to cross several times during the weekend. As the audience melted away we suddenly realised that several RFS members had stayed behind to chat, so we had another mini-meeting of the society!
Mention should be made of the Function Room in which the broadcast took place. It is situated on the fifth floor, and the audience sits facing the outside wall of the building which is entirely glass. The view is breathtaking: the nearest large object is the London Eye – still going strong 11 years after it was constructed for the millennium. A little further away, and somewhat older, are the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, alongside the River Thames. It is a vista to cherish, and many people remarked on it.
Although there is a welcoming bar in the main meeting area of the RFH, someone in authority made the very sensible decision to make copious amounts of water freely available. At each end of the bar there were four or five water jugs, regularly replenished, with plenty of plastic cups. We all made full use of this facility, because it was getting very warm although the air conditioning seemed to be coping quite well.
During Saturday afternoon I was privileged to sit in on the rehearsals by the BBC Symphony for the "Great Masters of Light Music" concert to be broadcast on Radio 3 in the evening. Television cameras were also present to record the concert for transmission later on BBC Four.
The leader of the BBC Symphony is Andrew Haveron, a long time friend of John Wilson who I met several years ago for the Angela Morley recordings at Abbey Road in 2003, reported in JIM 156. The orchestra responded magnificently to the challenge of playing what, for them, is slightly unusual repertoire. I mentioned this to a lady violinist during the break, and she assured me that they all loved it, but added "it’s hard to play!"
John was perfectly at ease throughout the rehearsals, and he received superb support from the musicians. Not every piece was played in its entirety; professional musicians of this calibre are expert sight readers, and it was often only necessary to confirm the tempo and deal with any special nuances that John wanted to bring out. During Scrub Brother Scrub John asked if I thought he had got the tempo right. "Yes …spot on" I told him, to which he replied "I think I’ll take it quicker" – which he did! I felt around eighty pairs of eyes looking towards me wondering what on earth that elderly gentleman was doing sitting alone in the audience, advising John on a particular tempo!
During the afternoon I chatted briefly with producer Andrew Smillie and presenter Petroc Trelawny to decide on the format for the interval feature. There was no question of using a script – that would have sounded too contrived. So we decided that I would ‘busk’ it, confident that Petroc would keep everything under control.
The rehearsals were over by 6:00pm and I met up with Philip, his wife Edwina (who had arrived for the concert) and some other members in the bar. But I was still replying upon copious amounts of that free water: the secretary of the Robert Farnon Society sounding drunk on air would not have done much for our image!
Barry Forgie and the BBC Big Band were rehearsing in the ballroom for their concert due to be recorded later that evening for broadcast late on Sunday. The indefatigable John Wilson had agreed to do a pre-concert talk at 6:45 so we made another visit to the Function Room with its magnificent view. Once again, many RFS members were present to hear John chatting in a relaxed manner about his career. Half an hour later he had to leave us to get dressed for the evening concert which commenced at 8:00.
Unlike the previous evening, the concert was entirely orchestral. The full programme is printed elsewhere in this feature, from which it will be noted that the first part concentrated on three ‘major’ composers, while the second part featured some lighter works. Knightsbridge was supposed to be the final piece, but John treated us to an encore with Non Stop by John Malcolm, the famous ITN signature tune.
I was sitting in the BBC’s box during the concert, where the technical equipment for interviews was installed. This is situated above stage right, and immediately below me was the telescopic TV camera which zoomed over the orchestra and sometimes came so close that I could have almost jumped on!
At the end of the first part, as John Wilson left the stage to enthusiastic applause, he was grabbed by Petroc for an interview. When asked, John said that his favourite composer was Eric Coates, and this was the cue for an interview with Coates played with Knightsbridge in the background. This allowed enough time for Petroc to dash off the stage and run through the maze of corridors at the rear, then come up two flights of stairs and join me in the box for the live interview. "Don’t worry", the producer had told me. "He timed it earlier today and he managed it with six seconds to spare!"
Petroc asked me about Robert Farnon and the society, then Anthony Bath, the 93 year old son of Hubert Bath talked in a recorded interview about his famous father. I chatted again, mostly about the music in the second half (especially Haydn Wood and Angela Morley) then it was all over. The final recorded segment featured a new brass fanfare composed by Anne Dudley especially for Light Fantastic, then John was back on stage for the second half.
The producer had asked me to call round afterwards to meet him at the two outside broadcast vans parked next to the Queen Elizabeth Hall. He seemed happy with the way it had gone, then said: "I didn’t like to tell you before, but you were my first live interview!" It was also a first for me, because all my previous appearances on national radio have been recorded. What a risk the BBC took, letting me loose with a live microphone!
When I got back inside the Royal Festival Hall I was greeted by Philip who told me, somewhat excitedly, that he had just heard the BBC Big Band play a rare Robert Farnon arrangement called Monseigneur which he had done for Lew Stone. The band would be continuing until near midnight, so understandably no one seemed to want to leave. Soon we saw John mingling with the crowds; goodness knows where he gets his energy, having been ‘on the go’ since mid-morning onwards.
I decided that I deserved my first G&T of the day, so I waited patiently at the bar. Looking in the mirror behind the bar I noticed that Petroc had joined me, so I offered him a drink. He politely declined, explaining that he was buying for his family who had attended the concert. A young schoolgirl, who he introduced as his niece, was with him and he said she had enjoyed the concert. "What did you like most", I asked her. "Jumping Bean" she replied with a lovely smile!
I stayed to enjoy the BBC Big Band until after 11:00 and then decided to make my way back to my hotel. Outside on the South Bank it was still pleasantly warm, and all the bars and outdoor cafes were still very busy. It was a lovely atmosphere, which perfectly matched the day which was just ending.
Around 10:30 next morning I was back in the foyer of the Royal Festival Hall where the sound of an amateur choir learning to sing Noel Coward’s Play Orchestra Play greeted me. Absolutely charming. Then I met André Leon. We had only been chatting for a couple of minutes when we were joined by Marjorie Cullerne and Gilles Gouset, and decided that it was time for coffee. We sat outside on the riverside terrace and spent a most pleasant half hour chatting about music.
One of the many events that had been organised for the weekend was a ‘busk’ of the Archers’ signature tune. Some amateur musicians were starting to congregate nearby and Marjorie (who had her violin with her) decided to join them. Soon around fifteen assorted instrumentalists launched into Barwick Green and the result was absolutely hilarious. Petroc was with a BBC sound engineer recording the ‘performance’ and I told him that one of the violins was played by the great niece of Haydn Wood. He was impressed!
In the foyer of the Queen Elizabeth Hall next door Radio 3’s "Sunday Morning" with Suzy Klein was already in full swing, and we made our way there to enjoy Shelley Van Loen and the Palm Court Strings. Brian Reynolds was already in his element, but before I took my seat Petroc asked me to confirm the Barwick Green details, because he introduced an excerpt from the ‘busk’ in the programme. We also heard the tenor Robert White sing a beautiful version of Eric Coates’ Bird Songs At Eventide with Stephen Hough on piano.
At 12 noon André and I decided it was time for lunch, and a cup of tea and a generously filled ham sandwich fitted the bill admirably. I was so fortunate to have André with me because, not only is he fascinating company, he also knows the area like the back of his hand. I had my own personal guide! After lunch we strolled along to the National Film Theatre, taking care not to get too close to a fountain where it seemed like hundreds of children were having the times of their lives using it to keep cool. The snack bar of the NFT was packed, but André’s experience turned up trumps, because he took me through the building to a bar at the rear which was not only pleasantly cool, but almost empty.
We looked around the NFT then decided to return to the Royal Festival Hall where we found a quiet area on one of the upper floors overlooking the Thames so that André could interview me for a future UK Light Radio broadcast. He is still working very hard to get this exciting project up and running, and if persistence has its own reward he will surely succeed. When we made our way down to the foyer we found that John Wilson and his Orchestra were starting to rehearse for their Tea Dance due to be broadcast from 5:00 until 6:30. They sounded marvellous, and John had clearly taken a lot of trouble in his choice of material. We were sitting at the side of the dance area near the band, and halfway through I Concentrate On You John came across to me and asked if I recognised it. Of course I knew the tune (it happens to be one of my favourites by the great Cole Porter), but the arrangement was new. "It’s by Bob Farnon!" said John, with a big grin on his face. He must have discovered it in the library of maybe Ted Heath or Geraldo - no doubt we’ll find out one day.
The rehearsals continued all afternoon, and were a real joy to hear. But the place was starting to get busy, and people were arriving all dressed up for the dancing that was to follow. We had to vacate our ringside seats, and wander off to the side areas.
It was soon apparent that the BBC and Royal Festival Hall had failed to anticipate the excitement that John’s Tea Dance would create. The place was getting packed, and people were wandering around trying to find seats. I suspect that nearby bars and cafes were being ‘raided’, because I observed people coming in from outside carrying piles of seats with them!
No doubt the dancers and onlookers enjoyed themselves for long into the evening, because a Disco followed the Tea Dance. But André had to get back home for another commitment, and I decided that an evening meal in the calm of the hotel would be the perfect end to the day.
The coincidences that had been such a feature of my own ‘Light Fantastic’ weekend continued on the Monday. While waiting at Waterloo station for my train to be advertised on the departures screens the gentlemen standing next to me said ‘hello’. It was Peter Simpson (chairman of the Harry Roy Appreciation Society and a member of the RFS since the early days) who was waiting for the same train! He and his wife Beryl were going to Honiton station en route to a week’s holiday in Sidmouth, which happens to be a favourite spot for Moira and I to relax as often as we can. So I had the pleasure of their company all the way to Yeovil, which made the journey pass so much quicker than it usually does.
It was the perfect end to a magical three days, which was made all the more enjoyable by the many wonderful people I met.
This feature appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ – September 2011
Remembering George Shearing
SIR GEORGE ALBERT SHEARING, OBE, jazz pianist and composer, born Battersea, London, August 13, 1919; died New York City, February 14, 2011, aged 91. Like Glenn Miller in the previous decade, who searched for and found 'his sound', in forming his now legendary quintet in 1949, George Shearing achieved at a stroke his own unique sound signature. This allowed the group to achieve astounding record sales and fame across the globe soon after the quintet's formation, fame that would continue throughout Shearing's long and successful career. The world which he would inhabit in his professional life was another planet away from his humble, not to say, poor childhood background in what was then (in early 1920s) a not so salubrious part of south-west London. His father delivered coal and his mother had a night job, cleaning trains, after spending all day looking after her nine children. Although born blind, Shearing at an early age had the facility not only able to memorize a tune, but also would attempt to play it on the family's piano. Recognizing the talent, he was given piano lessons by a local teacher followed by formal education at a school for the blind, the Linden Lodge School, based in Wandsworth, which still today educates dual-sensory impaired/deafblind children. Such were Shearing's abilities he could have been the recipient of university scholarships to study music but the family's financial constraints prompted him to earn his keep and he opted initially, aged 16, for playing in local public houses in the Battersea and Lambeth areas, first, popular songs of the day, followed by ever-increasing excursions into the field of jazz. In 1937 he joined a stage orchestra as a pianist, and it was through that exposure that Shearing's name started to become noticed. Encouraged by friends he made in the orchestra, he immersed himself in jazz, to the extent that his playing style bore the influence of prominent exponents of the genre, like Fats Waller and Teddy Wilson. A year later he made his début on radio, following which he recorded regularly as a soloist or part of an ensemble or band, not least recording many times with the renowned jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli. The next decade saw Shearing rise to fame with breathless speed, to illustrate which a poll in the 'Melody Maker' magazine, voted him 'the tops' as a British pianist for 7 successive years. Then happened one of those serendipitous encounters of musicians, that unbeknown to them at the time, are destined to change for ever the public perception of jazz and popular music - an invitation from emigré-pianist, composer, and critic, Leonard Feather to visit New York. Shearing stayed for three months of 1946, recording for the Savoy label as part of a trio, but had been so taken with his experiences that he emigrated permanently in late 1947. After serving his "apprenticeship in a heaven that money couldn't buy" as he put it, accompanying singers such as Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, he had an opportunity in 1949 to join a quartet at the Clique Club with clarinettist Buddy De Franco. Due to contractual reasons De Franco had to opt out of recordings, so Leonard Feather suggested that perhaps a quintet might fit the bill, and so it was that to the usual piano, bass, and drums, a guitar (Chuck Wayne) and vibraphone (Margie Hyams) was added - the George Shearing Quintet was born - and with it one of the most distinctive musical sounds ever created. The formation of the ensemble was not the only happenstance. The Quintet was born into a world of music dominated by energetic Bebop, so when the soothing timbres created by Shearing's piano technique ('parallel chords' pioneered by American pianist and organist Milt Buckner) and the close harmony of the rest of the group including melodies doubled a couple of octaves apart, it struck a chord then (literally in this case) in the hearts of music-loving public that was to last for decades. Nothing like this had been heard in the jazz field before but it fulfilled an obvious need, and fame came with startling rapidity, not least in the sales of a recording made for MGM - September in the Rain - which sold in excess of 900,000 copies. The 'Shearing sound' soon became the epitome of 'mood music' for the romantic, 'low lights' atmosphere. Other huge successes for the quintet came in 1950 with Kern's Pick Yourself Up, and two years later, the music which resonated with the public and overshadowed the rest of Shearing oeuvre (some 300 songs) - Lullaby of Birdland. Such was the impact of this song that in the late 1990s when introducing it at a concert, Shearing was heard to quip (perhaps with not a little chagrin): "I have been credited with writing 300 songs. Two hundred and ninety-nine of them enjoyed a bumpy ride from relative obscurity to total oblivion - here is the other one!" A little later in the 50s, Shearing pursued an interest in what is now dubbed, Latin-inflected jazz, which resulted in another hit record, Mambo Inn, and in 1954 the issue of a very popular album with singer Peggy Lee, Beauty and the Beat. Departures from the received Shearing sound came in the 1960s in the form of leaner ensembles, duos and trios - or even the occasional solo concert - and in another direction his concerto performances with leading symphony orchestras. He had such facility that it was not unknown for him to improvise in styles as diverse as Bebop and Bach - sometimes in the same piece. Shearing formed a pivotal partnership with Mel Tormé that was to last for many years and was so successful that 'Grammies' were awarded in 1983 for An Evening with George Shearing and Mel Tormé, and in 1984, Top Drawer. In the 1970s, with some critics saying that the quintet had become predictable, Shearing gradually phased it out and disbanded it totally in 1978, although it was reformed for recordings made in 1994. A frequent visitor to his home country, he gave concerts with vocalists of no mean reputation in their own right, particularly Joe Williams (a Count Basie singer), and Carmen McRae. A duo that Shearing had formed with bassist Neil Swainson appeared with Mel Tormé and the BBC Big Band at a special eightieth birthday show in 1999. For many years Robert Farnon had been a close friend, and at the end of the 1970s they were finally able to realise a long held ambition to record together. The occasion was the album "On Target" for the German label MPS; the Shearing trio recorded their part on 18-21 September 1979 at the MPS studios in Villingen, with the orchestral backings added a year later at the CTS studios (then known as Music Centre Sound Studios) in Wembley, London, on 5 & 6 November. The liner notes were provided by the one and only Gene Lees, who finished: "Shearing with Farnon. What an inspired - and inspiring - combination". In 1992 the same artistic forces were reunited at CTS Wembley on 17-19 September for the Telarc CD "How Beautiful Is Night". For many years (especially the 1990s) the Shearings used to spend the summer months in the beautiful Cotswolds area of England, where they were visited by many special friends, including Alan Dell and Brian Kay. George was most touched, it is said, when in Battersea the 'George Shearing Centre' was opened to provide facilities for disabled people. He still performed into the early present century, and in 2003 was awarded the Ivor Novello Lifetime Achievement Award. In addition to his OBE awarded in 1996, he was knighted in 2007, noting later, "So the poor, blind kid from Battersea became Sir George Shearing - now that's a fairy tale come true." This was a 'fairy tale' that was followed by millions of fans throughout his long career, and will continue to attract admirers in generations yet to come through the portals of his recordings that are set to endure.
David Ades adds: I had the great pleasure of meeting George and his charming wife Eleanor at several Robert Farnon recording sessions. George loved to joke and tell tales. When he was honoured by the Queen he remarked that it was the second time that his family had visited Buckingham Palace; on the first occasion his father delivered the coal! At one time he was a member of an all-blind orchestra, and during a number one of the musicians shouted that one of his glass eyes had dropped out. The band immediately stopped playing, and all the musicians were on hands and knees trying to feel where the missing eye had gone. George also confessed that he wouldn't want to be able to see, if medical science made such a happening possible. He explained that it would be too difficult having to completely learn again how to live in a sighted world, after existing so happily as he was. This modest, charming and extremely talented man was one of the nicest people I have ever been fortunate to meet.
This tribute first appeared in 'Journal Into Melody', issue 188 dated June 2011
JOHN BARRY (1933-2011) – HIGHLIGHTS & MEMORIES
John Barry Prendergast (John Barry), film composer: born York 3 November 1933; OBE 1999; died New York 30 January 2011 from a heart attack aged 77. One of John Barry's greatest admirers was RFS member Gareth Bramley, and he has contributed the following Obituary, which he calls "Highlights and Memories".
John Barry's love of film music began at an early age when his father introduced him to the world of films at the cinemas which he ran in the north of England. His earliest recollection was being carried into the York Rialto by his father and seeing a huge black and white mouse moving across a large white screen. Later, aged 14, John was able to run the projection booth alone and a year later left school to work for his father full time.
John had learnt piano from age nine - and later trumpet; and studied harmony and counterpoint under Dr. Francis Jackson, the Master of Music at York Minster just down the road from the family home in Fulford. He formed his own local jazz band, The Modernaires, playing trumpet. Three years later, in 1952, he was called up for National Service, joined the Green Howard's regiment (for three years) and used his spare time to practice and play trumpet. It was here he undertook a correspondence course (Composition and Orchestration for the Jazz Orchestra) with Bill Russo, former arranger with The Stan Kenton Orchestra.
Back in York he would send arrangements to Johnny Dankworth, Ted Heath and Jack Parnell and it was the latter who advised him to start his own rock and roll band - and in 1957 The John Barry Seven was formed with some friends and ex-army colleagues and they played the local circuit. Concerts, tours and TV appearances followed and a record deal with EMI; and their first single, a vocal, 'Zip Zip' / 'Three Little Fishes', was released in October 1957 - the same year the group made their professional debut at the York Rialto on March 17th. He appeared with the band on the TV shows '6-5 Special' (debuting 21/9/57), 'Oh Boy' (from 15/6/58) and later 'Drumbeat' (4/4/59); and it was because of the latter programme that he became associated with Adam Faith.
When Faith, as a result of his 'Drumbeat' success, co-starred in his first film 'Beat Girl' in 1959 – who better to compose the driving score than the man who had arranged all Faith's 'Drumbeat' material. Barry was recommended to the producer by Faith's manager Evelyn Taylor. He always said that it was his intention from an early age to get into scoring films and this was his chance.
Prior to the release of 'Beat Girl', Faith and Barry had their first record success when 'What Do You Want' made No. 1 in the charts in late 1959. One previous recording, 'Ah, Poor Little Baby', released a few months earlier, was a chart failure - their only one together.
Further assignments followed and Barry continued to tour and record instrumental material with the Seven and arrange material for other artists on the EMI roster (including Anita Harris, Peter Gordeno, Johnnie De Little, Denis Lotis, Marion Ryan, and Marty Wilde). In 1962 Noel Rogers (head of United Artists Music in London) approached him to arrange the theme for the first in a series of films about a super-hero called James Bond ('Dr. No').
The story of the 'James Bond Theme' has been documented many times, but it was evident that through this film alone Barry was able to go on and write the complete score for 11 more films in the series – culminating with 'The Living Daylights' in 1987 and including 'Goldfinger' in 1964 for which he won a Gold disc. During the 'boom' times of the 60s Barry would be offered film after film; and it wasn't long before the time-consuming touring with the Seven finished. He still continued to record for EMI but left in 1963 to take up a position as A & R manager with Jeff Kruger's Ember label. Some classy releases followed, to include solo recordings; film soundtracks such as 'Zulu', 'Four in the Morning' and the TV spectacular 'Elizabeth Taylor in London' (for Colpix); a couple of singles for pop duo Chad & Jeremy; and a critically-acclaimed jazz album with Annie Ross. However, sales failed to match the quality of the productions, apart from one Chad & Jeremy hit single, and it wasn't too long before his association with the label ended.
Film offers continued to increase – Bryan Forbes gave him 'Séance on Wet Afternoon' on the strength of two excellent jazz themes he had provided for his previous film 'The L-Shaped Room'. 'King Rat', 'The Whisperers', 'The Wrong Box' and 'Deadfall' followed. At the same time Barry scored other notable films and won Oscars for best score and song for 'Born Free' (1966) and best score for 'The Lion in Winter' (1968). He was also won a Grammy for 'best instrumental theme' for 'Midnight Cowboy' (1969). Many of John's scores thankfully materialised on record albums; but after leaving Ember he signed a deal with CBS in the UK and besides numerous soundtrack albums such as 'Ipcress File', 'The Chase', 'The Quiller Memorandum' and 'The Lion in Winter'; many compilation albums containing studio recordings of his film themes materialised - culminating in 1971 with an LP (and single) from a new TV series starring Roger Moore & Tony Curtis who received equal billing as 'The Persuaders!'.
This is where MY passion for John Barry started – a driving moog synthesiser riff accompanying lavish titles drove me to watch each and every ensuing episode. This record would end up being Barry's most successful single reaching No. 13 in the charts at the end of '71, and stayed there for 15 weeks.
I had been born the same year John had been commissioned to write his first film score (1959) and now, at the age 12, I was left wanting to hear more music by John Barry. In the mid-70s when I'd bought my first record player I was able to purchase a single of 'The Persuaders!' theme which was still in print. A couple of years later I bought the long playing album and found great satisfaction from the new themes on it – in particular some of those from the James Bond films which I already knew and loved. I was keen to hear more of this splendid music and found a copy of the 'James Bond Collection' which included the themes from 'Dr. No' to 'Diamonds Are Forever' (1971). Since this LP contained only 2 or 3 themes from each film, I attempted to search out the full scores which I eventually bought.
In 1972 Barry switched labels to Polydor and I found the album of the concert he did at the Royal Albert Hall in October 1972, recorded at Abbey Road Studios. If only I'd been older and appreciated the music of such a great composer earlier in life – I may have been in the audience that night when he was on stage alongside Michael Crawford (dressed as the white rabbit) and Fiona Fullerton (dressed as Alice) to conduct, amongst others, a suite from his then new film 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'. Barry was invited back to the Royal Albert Hall a year later, when he also conducted a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. He toured Japan in 1975 doing a series of 30 one-night stands, over some 5-6 weeks with an orchestra including accomplished trombonist Don Lusher.
Barry scored some memorable films in the early 70s – 'Walkabout', 'The Last Valley', 'Mary, Queen of Scots' – the Royal Film Performance for 1972 – receiving an Academy Award Nomination. He also worked on 'The Dove' and the stage musical 'Billy' (1974) which starred Michael Crawford and ran for two and half years in London. The same year Barry left London for Majorca; and a year later moved to the States to score a TV spectacular he'd been offered called 'Eleanor & Franklin – The White House Years'. In the same year he was offered 'Robin & Marian' (directed by Richard Lester) and stayed in Beverly Hills, marrying Laurie in 1978. Other notable films of that decade were 'The Day of the Locust', 'The Deep', 'King Kong' and 'Hanover Street', not forgetting three more in the James Bond series: 'Diamonds are Forever' (1971), 'The Man with the Golden Gun' (1974) and 'Moonraker' (1979). Unfortunately, he was unable to score 'Live & Let Die' in 1973 as he had already committed to working on 'Billy'. He also had to forgo scoring 'The Spy Who Loved Me' (1977) since he was unable to return to Britain because of tax problems. Shortly afterwards, in 1980, John and Laurie moved to Oyster Bay near New York.
It was at this time that my real love for John Barry started. I'd heard snippets of his music on Star Sound on BBC Radio 2 and attempted to search out more and more films scored by Barry using Halliwell's Film Guide. The snippets and requests – even my own - continued on Star Sound and I started to buy as many soundtrack albums and singles by Barry that I could find. I'd watch films two or three times – captivated by these wondrous scores – 'Raise the Titanic', 'Body Heat', 'Hammett' for example. This was the turn of the decade - Barry was still in huge demand and further films like 'Somewhere in Time', 'Frances', 'The Cotton Club' and 'Jagged Edge' followed and his final three Bond outings, 'Octopussy' (1983), 'A View to a Kill' (1985), and 'The Living Daylights' (1987), which was his Bond swan-song. Barry remained unable to return to the UK in 1981 to score 'For Your Eyes Only' and had decided that enough was enough after 'The Living Daylights', blaming lack of a proper fee and creative control of score and song, plus the fact that he thought the formula had now become repetitive.
Fortunately, the latter films had soundtrack albums but many films – like 'Svengali', a made-for-TV movie, and a few others such as 'Hammett', 'Mike's Murder', and 'Masquerade', did not - as the record market was in decline. However, compact discs of these scores were released by specialist labels some years after the films' release. To satisfy my own demand I collected every single piece of music commercially issued with the help of mail order outlets and record fairs; and I'd soon amassed every recording available. In 1984 we could hear film music on a new medium with the advent of CD and I continued to buy each and every release. Fortunately, film music now sounded much fresher.
Around about this time I became friends with Geoff Leonard and two years later Barry received his 4th Oscar for his score for 'Out of Africa' (1985). In the late 80s Barry suffered a serious illness with a torn oesophagus brought on by a toxic health drink but came back with a score for 'Dances with Wolves' earning him his 5th Oscar in 1991. In 1993 he was nominated for 'Chaplin'.
In the 90s Geoff and I released several CDs with music by John – the first was 'Beat Girl' (1990) - his first film score from 1960, coupled with his first studio album 'Stringbeat' (1961). This was a big achievement at the time for an unknown company but the licensing manager at EMI, Norman Bates, had faith in us and gave us our start. It sold out very quickly and other releases followed – including John's work for Ember and some songs he wrote with his lyricist and friend Don Black. In 1993 EMI themselves released three separate volumes of all the recordings he had made with the label in the 60s.
In 1992 and 1995 respectively, Barry recorded two complete non-soundtrack albums for Sony – 'Moviola' and 'Moviola II – Action and Adventure' – which contained some of his best themes arranged in concert form and played by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
More film assignments followed in the 90s –'Indecent Proposal', 'My Life', 'Cry, the Beloved Country' and the IMAX film 'Across the Sea of Time'. Then suddenly out of the blue at the beginning of 1998 we heard of a forthcoming 'comeback' concert at the Royal Albert Hall ('The Man, The Movies, The Music') which was to take place in April of that year - to tie in with his new concept album 'The Beyondness of Things'.
Geoff and I were collaborating with Pete Walker on a biography of Barry and we had just found a publisher; but had decided to hold back on publishing in light of the concert so we could include an account and photos of the event.
I can't think of a word to describe the concert, but 'awesome' would perhaps suffice. A full 20-minute plus James Bond Suite; music from his 60s films 'The Knack' and 'The Ipcress File'; my favourite theme - 'The Persuaders!'; 'Dances With Wolves' and some of his latest themes including a World Premiere performance of his latest film score 'Amy Foster' ('Swept From The Sea') all played to perfection by the English Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Barry. Perhaps the most outstanding performances of the night were his themes from the 1964 epic 'Zulu' – truly amazing with kettle drums resonating from left to right and back again; and 'Space March' from 'You Only Live Twice'. Stupendous! The concert lasted around two and a half hours and Michael Caine presented an award to a humbled composer who received at least three standing ovations.
Geoff and I had been invited by Decca to the post-concert party and various luminaries were also in attendance including the late Basil Poledouris and director Michael Winner. When a suitable opportunity arose, Geoff and I exchanged a few words with John who duly obliged by signing our invitations. He was certainly in good spirits and it was clear that he had enjoyed himself earlier. The concert left me blown away and I didn't sleep a wink all night – reliving all those tremendous moments right down to him receiving the standing ovations and the bouquet of flowers presented to him by his son Jonpatrick (then 5 years old).
A few days after the concert Barry appeared for a 'signing session' at HMV, Oxford Street but the queue was huge when we arrived – it was almost as if 'Star Wars' was having its cinema premiere. Geoff and I decided to go to the IMAX cinema to watch 'Across the Sea of Time' but when we returned an hour or so later, everyone had gone and the session had, sadly, ended and we were told Barry had left.
After much delay and continual updating we finally went to press on the book and 'John Barry – A Life in Music' was published in November 1998, with the limited print run selling out within 18 months. We had interviewed many of John's former associates for the book - including John Barry Seven guitarist Vic Flick and Ember boss Jeff Kruger along with many others – and each and every one of them had praise for the composer.
Another concert, again with the English Chamber Orchestra ('Bond & Beyond') materialised a year later and John conducted some more of his themes including two from a new film called 'Playing by Heart' featuring Chris Botti on trumpet. The event was heavily over-subscribed from the word go as fans booked on the back of the 1998 concert; and an extra date was added to the schedule which also included a performance outside the capital at the Symphony Hall in Birmingham - 2 days before the Albert Hall. I recall John's wife, Laurie, and family sitting two rows behind us. At the end of the concert, Geoff, Pete and I were able to present Laurie with an especially leather-bound copy of the book for John.
Whilst new film assignments dwindled, a balance was achieved as specialist labels released previously unreleased scores, sometimes with extra music. Barry's great scores from the 60s/70s and 80s sounded even fresher – re-mastered onto CD for the first time. After two successive concerts it was always my hope that this would be an annual event but his participation diminished in later concerts. 'Elizabeth Taylor – A Celebration' in May 2000 was a variety performance and Barry was one of many acts. Introduced by Sir David Frost as 'The Dean of Film Music', he conducted a shortened version of the James Bond Suite and a splendid version of 'Body Heat. 'An Evening with John Barry featuring The Ten Tenors' (September 2006) saw Barry taking the baton only for a couple of numbers with Paul Bateman deputising for the rest of the evening. On 21st June 2007 he also conducted 'All the Time in the World' to accompany Jarvis Cocker at the latter's Meltdown concert. This was the last time I saw him perform live but fortunately took some pictures of the event.
Sadly, later concerts failed to materialise though it was clear that Barry – and his legion of fans - had enjoyed them. It's sad to think that his last film score was 'Enigma' in 2001 but modern age films were not to his liking and indeed directors were renowned for replacing music with songs at the last minute just for the sales of a soundtrack album. However, that year he did release a further concept album 'Eternal Echoes' which he described as 'An album of sounds, of places, and of objects that have always existed and always will exist. They are without beginning or end. They are infinite in our past and future.'
Barry's crossover into the classical genre with the 'Beyondness of Things' album (dedicated to his son Jonpatrick) was successful - as, to a lesser degree, was 'Eternal Echoes' - but in his later days poor health got the better of him. Although he was receiving more and more recognition by way of awards, he was unable to attend some of these events.
His accolade of film music awards speaks for itself – five Oscars – a record for any British composer; four Grammys; a Golden Globe – to name only a few. In 1999 he received an OBE from her Majesty The Queen for services to music. This was the first in a series of prestigious awards, including Honorary Freeman of the City of York & Goldeneye Award in June 2002; BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award (February 2005); a special honour from the French Minister of Culture (Commandeur Dans L'Ordre National Des Arts Et Des Lettres) presented at the Festival International Musique et Cinema d'Auxerre in November 2007; Max Steiner Life Achievement Award in Vienna in October 2009 and finally a Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Soundtrack Academy in Belgium (October 2010). These are just a few of the numerous awards bestowed upon a man gifted with the art of film music composition.
The story of John Barry was brought up to date when our book was extensively updated and revised with new photographs in 2008 in 'John Barry – The Man with the Midas Touch'.
John Barry may have left us but his legacy of music lives on. He will be remembered by thousands as the musical genius that he was and his timeless scores will be played over and over again. To me he will be remembered as 'The Godfather of Film Music'. Gareth Bramley (Co-author of 'John Barry - The Man with the Midas Touch')
This tribute first appeared in 'Journal Into Melody', issue 188 dated June 2011