Chandos finally salutes a great British composer who was far more prolific than most of his admirers realise
The Film Music of CLIFTON PARKER
Chandos CHAN 10279 featuring music from Treasure Island, Western Approaches, The Sword and the Rose, Sea of Sand, The Blue Lagoon, Night of the Demon, Virgin Island – a Caribbean Rhapsody, Sink the Bismarck and Blue Pullman. BBC Concert Orchestra Conducted by Rumon Gamba
The excellent CD booklet notes by James Marshall give us some welcome biographical details of this slightly elusive composer, whose work seems to have been largely ignored by many reference books. He was born Edward John Clifton Parker on 5 February 1905 in London, the third and youngest son of bank manager Theophilus Parker.
The three boys were encouraged by their father to go into commerce, but Edward (who later dropped his first two names) studied music privately and composed his first recognised work Romance for violin and piano when aged sixteen. This was published, and led to Clifton Parker obtaining an ARCM diploma in piano teaching at the Royal Academy of Music in 1926. A little later, he abandoned his career in commerce, and became a music copyist.
By the mid-1930s he was achieving success with some of his classical pieces, and managed to get his work accepted for broadcasts on the BBC. He came to the attention of Muir Mathieson, one of the music pioneers of the British film industry. Like so many fellow composers at the time, his early contributions went uncredited (including the 1942 Noel Coward film "In Which We Serve"), but in 1944 his name finally attracted attention following his superb score for "Western Approaches". Muir Mathieson recorded the film’s main theme Seascape on a Decca 12" 78 (now reissued on Guild GLCD5109), and Stanley Black later conducted it in stereo.
In the world of Light Music, Clifton Parker’s Overture – The Glass Slipper has long been a favourite, although it was many years before it became available on a commercial recording. Originally it was performed by Charles Williams and the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra for the Chappell Recorded Music Library in 1945, and this is also on a recent Guild CD – GLCD5107.
RFS member Alan Willmott has assisted with the production of this new Chandos CD, and he was at the recording sessions in Walthamstow Town Hall last March. It is due to Alan’s influence that the final track is a suite from the British Transport Films 1960 production "Blue Pullman" – probably the finest of Parker’s scores for BTF documentaries. Some of these famous shorts have already appeared on video, and there are plans for further releases on DVD in the near future. As well as providing a fascinating glimpse of an era that now seems so distant, these films benefited from specially commissioned scores from leading composers of the day.
It is to be hoped that this new CD will stimulate fresh interest in the music of Clifton Parker, leading to more recordings of his compositions and film scores. He also composed over 100 songs, and wrote for a number of theatrical productions, so there must be a wealth of ‘undiscovered’ material available. Sadly his last years were spoilt by ill health, and he died on 2 September 1989 aged 84. David Ades
THE LONGINES SYMPHONETTE RECORDINGS Some Recollections by Angela Morley
Reuben Musiker has asked me to write about the work I did for the Longines Symphonette Society in the 1960s. His request to me was triggered by his rediscovery of some orchestral recordings, such as ‘Evening Serenade’, an album of standards which he felt to be of truly excellent quality.
I don’t have a single record from that series of recordings which I don’t really think was as good as the Reader’s Digest Series, which I described in an earlier issue of Journal into Melody. All I can remember about it is as follows.
Sometime in the middle 1960s, I received a letter from an old friend of Norman and Betty Luboff called Gene Lowell. When Norman was demobilized from the army after WWII ended, he headed for New York to find a job singing. There were at that time several big radio shows that had choirs. One was called the Rail Road Hour where the musical director was Lynn Murray who became much later a respected Hollywood film composer for writing scores like ‘The Bridges at TokoRi’, the Gary Grant and Grace Kelly film ‘To Catch a Thief’ and many others. Lynn Murray had an assistant called Gene Lowell and it was the latter who auditioned singers for Lynn. Norman Luboff turned up one day and sang for Gene who gave him the Rail Road Hour and some other shows. Anyway, I received Gene’s letter asking me if he could produce records for the Symphonette in London. I didn’t have time to read the letter because I was just leaving the house to take my car on a holiday to the continent with my son Bryan. The first time I had to write a reply was in Andorra.
Gene really liked hearing from Andorra of all places. When I got home again I ‘phoned Gene and the first recording happened soon after that. We did all the recordings at the old CTS Studios in Westbourne Grove with Eric Tomlinson and later John Richards as recording engineers. The first package was a Christmas album and I managed to do it all myself. After this, the work became so heavy that I couldn’t do.
From then on, there’s not much to remember. The work continued until about 1970. None of us were ever credited for either arranging or conducting, the name on the records was, I believe, just made up to look impressive. Maybe the lack of recognition was the reason why I didn’t rank it with Reader’s Digest. I’m afraid I do not know anything about ‘Evening Serenade’. Several arrangers could have done it, perhaps Peter Knight, Ken Thorne and quite a few others. Maybe I did some of it without knowing the title ‘Evening Serenade’. Gene Lowell passed away in the late 1980s. His dear wife, Helen, is still alive probably in her 90s. I’m certain that she would not be able to help you.
Angela Morley 2004
BOB FARNON: CANADIAN MUSICIANS STILL REMEMBER HIM AS A JOKER!
… as MURRAY GINSBERG recalls
Lew Lewis and I attended a wonderful birthday party at the home of Floyd and Bonny Roberts last June 11, in celebration of Floyd's 90th birthday. Floyd played 1st trombone with Bob Farnon's wartime orchestra in London. 88-year-old Lew Lewis played tenor saxophone in the Army Show Orchestra that toured Canada in 1943 but he didn't go overseas with the rest of us in December of that year. Lew knew Bob and brother Brian intimately. All three had played on various gigs in Toronto when they were kids.
As expected, a lot of musician friends were present along with about thirty civilian guests, which made for a memorable afternoon in Bonny and Floyd's garden on a sunny Sunday afternoon. And the stories were all entertaining, particularly those about Bob Farnon. A lot of the guests were of vintage years who remembered The Happy Gang with Bert Pearl as compere. And several fondly remembered some of the jokes members of the Gang told.
One of the features of the daily broadcast was Pearl announcing that it was time to reach into the Joke Box. "Whose turn is it today?" he would ask. And one of the members, Blain Mathe, Bob, or Eddie Allen, would pluck a joke from the imaginary box and ask a question, such as "Why does a chicken cross the street?" And Bert would reply, "I don't know Blain. Why does a chicken cross the street?" And Blain would say, "To get to the other side!" And everybody would roar with laughter and play a huge chord.
One day one of the members moved the studio clock forward ten minutes without telling Pearl. On a cue from the producer in the control booth Bert began the show "on time" by knocking three times on an imaginary door, and saying "Who's there?" and everybody shouted, "It's the Happy Gang!" and Bert said, "Well, come on in!" and group went into the opening theme song Smiles.
Then after a few words of welcome to the audience, Bert said, "It's time for someone to put his hand into the Joke Box. Who's turn is it today?" Bob replied, "It's my turn today, Bert. Why does the ocean roar?"
Bert answered: "I don't know Bob. Why does the ocean roar?"
"You'd roar too, if you had crabs on your bottom!" Bob replied.
Bert Pearl's face immediately drained of blood. He began to sputter and choke. He gesticulated toward Bob. "Why on earth did you say that terrible thing on the air?" he whispered. Of course, everybody broke up howling with laughter and rolling around on the floor. Poor Bert was beside himself. Then announcer Herb May got on a chair and turned the hands of the studio clock back to the correct time. But poor Bert had a dreadful time getting back to continue the show. For days he was in shock. He would never know for sure if those bastards were going to play another trick on him.
At the same party a musician who had been a member of the Toronto Symphony when it performed at the Royal Festival Hall during the Commonwealth Festival of the Arts in 1965, remembered a couple of British musicians visiting the Toronto players in the Performers' Lounge and asking Principal 2nd Violinist Clifford Evans whether the famous story about Bob Farnon and Bert Pearl had actually happened. Cliff, who had never met Bob, turned to me and asked if I knew the story. "Yes, it certainly did happen," I replied, amazed that anyone in Britain would have heard the story. I always thought it only to be a local Toronto musician's tale. When I queried the visitors how they had heard about it, their enthusiastic reply was "News like that travels fast. Everyone in the United Kingdom loves The Guv'nor and wants to know everything he does, whether true or false."
Another story told at Floyd Roberts' party:
In the early 1980s when Bob Farnon came to Canada to conduct the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, someone organized an Army Show reunion. Some twenty-five friends and colleagues from across the country including Floyd and myself met and dined in the lounge of the Arts Centre, then enjoyed the all-Bob Farnon music concert. Floyd Roberts and I shared a room at the Chateau Laurier, one of Ottawa's finest hotels.
Afterwards a number of us were driven to the home of a wealthy orchestra patron to meet old friends in the orchestra and enjoy an after-concert party. One of the guests we were happy to meet was His Excellency Edward Schreyer, Canada's first Canadian-born Governor-General. To our delighted surprise His Excellency displayed an amazing knowledge of Farnon's work and reputation, citing certain "highly intelligent" arrangements of songs Bob had recorded, such as A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square and I've Got You Under My Skin, as well as his particular voicing of strings, which the Governor-General understood to be a conundrum to most renowned American, Canadian and British arrangers.
At 2 am, after a full day, I returned to our hotel room and no sooner had gotten into into bed when the door opened and Floyd, followed by Bob carrying a large bottle of Chivas Regal were invited to sit down to share some of The Guv'nor's bottle. Did anyone sleep that night? Not on your life. Bob regaled us with wonderful stories of the world famous singers, movie stars and musicians he had worked with during a fabulous career.
The rest is history.
by Reg Otter
What is it with we Brits; in the midst of "wall-to-wall" pop cacophony from talentless artistes who in the 1930’s would have been treated to a few ripe sounding raspberries, and gormless looking youngsters who can just about twang a guitar string and who hold the instrument as a phallic symbol … we still continue to ignore the glamour, sheer enchantment and theatrical magic and musicality of one of the greatest composers of light music since the golden days of Franz Lehar?
A man whose name is still used fifty-three years after his death to promote an award for the most gifted composer of music today. (Erroneously in my humble opinion, in these sadly, noisy, pop infested times!) In fact it disgusted me recently to learn that the prize…. The Ivor Novello Award, had been given to some band which wouldn’t know the difference between Glamorous Night and Mairzy Doats! Even the Robert Farnon Society doesn’t seem to know much about my favourite composer so here is an attempt to recapture the "Dancing Years" of one of the most talented, gifted, popular and esteemed composers who ever graced the stage of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
David Ivor Davies was born in Cardiff on January 15th 1893; Ivor Novello was "born" (by deed poll) on January 15th 1927 and the great and wonderful Ivor succumbed to a heart attack, aged only 58 on March 6th 1951. Everyone who knew and loved his music will be familiar with the title of this article. I have always considered this lovely melody to be descriptive of attending one of Ivor’s musical shows. One would anticipate with pleasure the event, for weeks, no need to worry about critics’ impressions of a first night because if you were a "Novellian" you just knew you were going to hear beautiful music, see splendid sets and oft times experience shipwrecks, train crashes or a Hampstead Heath fairground!
Ivor was at the peak of his career and his life, just prior to and during the Second World War and that is why the words of the beautiful melody which inspired this article are so significant, even though they were written four years after the war finished ...and all my doubts and fears were borne away…. the music carried me to realms far above…… where I knew the meaning of love….. and that was the essence of this composer’s terrific popularity, for he gave us shows which raised our spirits like a Churchillian speech and eliminated, if only for a while, our doubts and fears.
I didn’t know Ivor Novello personally and in 1935 when his first musical show "Glamorous Night" came to Drury Lane, I was a mere 11year old schoolboy on the threshold of life, struggling with j’ai, tu as, il a, nous avon, vous avez, ils ont, but I was a trifle different from my schoolpals in that I enjoyed songs such as Shine Through My Dreams, whereas they were whistling and humming Lullaby of Broadway and Thanks a Million.
The world’s end, Chelsea, was my domain and I never ventured past Sloane Square, let alone Drury Lane Theatre where my idol was appearing; anyway where would I have got five shillings for a seat in the stalls? So it was listening to the concert orchestras of Harry Fryer, Richard Crean and Peter Yorke that I came to appreciate Ivor’s music, for his melodies were often played on the radio as the shows evolved …. "Glamorous Night", "Careless Rapture"and " Crest of the Wave".
It was during the war that my dream to actually see an Ivor show was realised and what better way to fulfil my fantasy than to see "The Dancing Years" at the Adelphi in the Strand. As soon as the nightwatchman appeared on stage at the very beginning of this wonderful show, I was lost in a theatrical world of enchantment and musical make believe; and when Ivor appeared to tumultuous applause and Mary Ellis sang Waltz of My Heart, I was hooked for the remainder of my life.
I have adored Ivor Novello’s music for seventy years, but it is really since 1943 when I first saw this show, that I experienced the magic, the wonder and charisma of being part of an Ivor audience. Even during the war, tea and biscuits were served at the intervals and as the trays were being returned, the orchestra would be playing softly the introductory music to the next act and, as in all of Ivor’s musicals I’ve seen since, the whole audience would be humming the lovely song which had flowed from his pen to the orchestra which was now playing it. It was such an uplifting experience to hear the quite obviously appreciative "choir" of people (much like the Humming Chorus in Puccini’s "Madam Butterfly") and many, although they had perhaps seen the show only once or twice, knew the lyrics, so it was nothing unusual to see or hear a matronly, dignified figure mouthing "Call and I shall be all you ask of me, music in spring, flowers for a king, all of these I bring to you."
One of my own personal regrets in life is that I never saw the early Theatre Royal, Drury Lane musicals, but towards the end of the 1940’s I wrote to Ivor at his flat in the Aldwych, Strand, telling him of my overwhelming appreciation and admiration of his life and work and requesting an autographed photo. One was returned promptly which I treasure to this very day; I also have one of Ivor’s first "Maria Ziegler", Mary Ellis, who lived to be 105.
I have often pondered about choosing my favourite Ivor Novello melody and I would have to return to a couple of years before I was born in 1924 to find what to me is one of the most charming and witty. It is of course And Her Mother Came Too! In these awfully tuneless, dreary days of "pop" culture, it is so very refreshing, occasionally, to listen to the silken, attractive voice of Jack Buchanan telling us of his visit to a golf course where his ubiquitous future Mother-in-Law was knocked out by a ball and at last…. he and his love were alone, but not for long – " for her Mother came too." Thinking of the only voices qualified to interpret Ivor’s music in the style he would have preferred, I cannot believe he could have foundanyone to excel Jack in the singing of this cute tune.
I have heard Glamorous Night sung by countless sopranos but none have surpassed the elegance, perfection and musicality of Mary Ellis. I have never heard Someday My Heart Will Awake and the title of my tribute sung more beautifully than by Vanessa Lee and who else could bring chills to the spine during the rendering of Highwayman Love other than Olive Gilbert? Mentioning this superb contralto who was a personal friend of Ivor’s, I can never forget her and Mary Ellis combining to give us the delightful Wings of Sleep in "The Dancing Years" where the applause lasted almost to the beginning of the next act!
However if, as I say, I had to choose one song which Ivor Novello composed which has to be his masterpiece, out of all the tuneful pleasurable melodies which flowed from the pianos at ‘Redroofs’, the country home at Maidenhead and 11 Aldwych (the flat in London) it would have to be Why is There Ever Goodbye? I consider the words (by Christopher Hassall) and the haunting music (by Ivor.who else) to be the lovliest they or anyone else ever wrote:
Brown leaves in the forest are falling again,
hungry thrushes are calling again….
out in the snow.Time flies….
And you part from your favourite friend,
even love seems to end,
when the winds blow.
Then just fifteen short years before he left us, Ivor posed the question we all ask when those we love die:
Why is There Ever Goodbye?
All the joy of today,
Though it seemed willing to stay,
Is tomorrow a dream that soon passes away,
Like the dew on a thorn,
When the dawn of the sun has begun?
Far on the crest of a star,
I can show you a light that continues to shine every night,
Filled with a fire unfading,
Why, if the stars never die…..
is there ever goodbye?
On that fateful March 6th in 1951, when Ivor suddenly died, I asked that question. Fifty three years after, I still have no answer.
from Journal Into Melody : September 2004
PHIL KELLY: "Bob Farnon has been my textbook for string writing"
The highly respected American composer and arranger, Phil Kelly, has recently been corresponding with Malcolm Frazer. In addition to more than 40 years as a composer-arranger for film, TV, and other media applications, Phil has written for bands like Bill Watrous' NY Wildlife Refuge, the Old Tonight show band, Doc Severinsen, Si Zentner, as well as functioning as arranger/ conductor / drummer for vocalists Buddy Greco, Julius LaRosa, Frank D'Rone, Sylvia Syms, John Gary, Jenny Smith, and Al 'TNT' Braggs among others.
Early on in his career, he also logged several years as a jazz drummer with artists such as Terry Gibbs, Red Garland, and Denny Zeitlin as well as years of work as a studio and recording drummer. In addition to his film and TV writing, Phil has written music for over 500 national commercials, ESPN, ABC Sports, NFL Films, and industrial films and shows for Cadillac, Chevrolet, Volkswagen, American Airlines and Zales Jewellers.
He also was the primary arranger for the Fort Worth (TX) Symphony Pops series for more than 25 years,and has been commissioned to provide custom pop symphonic scores for Doc Severinsen and Peter Nero. He has had arrangements played by the Houston, Dallas, Detroit, Cincinnati, and North Carolina Symphony orchestras.
Now semi-retired and residing in Bellingham WA, he still writes jazz and pop orchestra arrangements for publication and on commission, and is beginning an auxiliary career in the educational field as a clinician in film scoring and music for the media at various colleges around the USA, as well as a big band coach at the Bud Shank Centrum Jazz camp in Port Townsend WA for the past two years. His first big band jazz album under his own name, "Convergence Zone" has been recorded this summer for autumn release on Origin Records.
Phil recently told Malcolm Frazer that he regards Robert Farnon as being … "greatly responsible in many ways for turning me into a fairly competent orchestral / film / arranger-composer. Actually, Bob (through one of his many American disciples, Marion Evans) has been my textbook for string (and orchestral) writing since the early 1960s. I was one of the acolytes that hung out in Marion’s apartment across the street from Jim & Andys where I was introduced to the Farnon oeuvre."
Readers may recall that a photograph of a distinguished group of arrangers in Marion Evans’ apartment back in 1956 was included in JIM 151 – June 2002, page 6. Unfortunately Phil Kelly wasn’t present when this photo was taken. Phil has an attractive website – www.philkellymusic.com
from Journal Into Melody : September 2004
Robert Farnon as I see him, hear him and love him.
An affectionate tribute by MARC FORTIER
Intro : just a few bars … don’t be afraid …
I have been very fortunate to be raised listening to radio in my far North city of Jonquière, Province of Québec, Canada in the forties [Fortier..?) and fifties for I have listened to a lot of Robert Farnon’s compositions as themes of many CBC radio productions. At the time, I did not know the man behind the music and this revelation came decades later.
Gene Lees, the one and only Gene Lees, Jack of All Trades and Master of All, did ask me one day (years ago) "Do you know that tune?" He whistled it and I replied: "Of course!" He added a few others and the answer was always the same: I knew the music by heart. We were in Los Angeles, the weather was cool and the beer was cold at the Rodeo Bar in Beverly Hills. It was there that I met the man behind the music of Jumping Bean, Peanut Polka, Gateway to the West, Main Street and so many others.
Then came John Parry who shipped me, one day, a full box of LPs, documents and cassettes of various productions by the Guv. I was in awe! I think that he had understood from a previous conversation in Toronto that I was a fan and that I seriously needed to "finish my education …"
Thanks to both. Without them, maybe I would never have made the connection between the superb music and the superb man.
As I see him …
It is sufficient to see a photo of Mr Farnon and myself to get the message: he is a giant and I am ... who I am. At 5’6’’, I have been accustomed to deal with taller people (Mr Farnon, Gene Lees, Henry Mancini among others in the music field) and it never bothered me. The body size is not an issue here.
But the voice is!
Mr Farnon’s voice always fascinated me by its roundness, its solidity, its warmth and all the harmonics embellishing the primary tones. He always sounds like a 45 year old opera baritone at his best! Mozart would have chosen him for a role in many of his operas.
His profound and calm voice serves to show him as a man who has no fear, no regrets and no afterthoughts. He is a living example of the best philosophy a man can ever stick to: Live and let live !
And I think he does and always did.
After many years of correspondence by mail, fax and telephone, I first met Mr Farnon in Toronto on October 24th of 1997 at Manta Studio where many composers and arrangers gathered to see the man and listen to his teachings. I emceed the event with composer Victor Davies.
Besides him in front of that selected crowd of one hundred musicians, I felt smaller than ever, both physically and musically. We were all living a very special moment and we could feel the aura surrounding the Guv.
But, as soon as his voice filled the studio with its unique roundness and warmth, everyone felt as if he or she had known Robert Farnon for … let’s say … a year or two. This, of course, excluded old friends who had known him for decades like Pip Wedge and a few others.
As I hear him …
The Robert Farnon sound is a unique component of the universal symphonic world: it is pure, clean, new, fresh and always surprising as the man himsef.
Many a music analyst will scientifically conclude that Mr Farnon sounds a lot like Ravel or Delius and I dare say that it is all wrong: Robert Farnon sounds a lot like Robert Farnon.
More seriously, if I had to select a single composer of symphonic music to whom Robert Farnon compares in terms of style and perfection of orchestra writing, I would not hesitate: Antonin Dvorak !
Dvorak had inherited from Beethoven the strictness of the form and the luminosity of the colours. No fooling around, no detour, no fuzziness and no fill-ins: from the first bar to the last with the essentials, all the essentials and only the essentials. With no grey zone, no useless verbiage, no show-off and no disputable choices as far as harmony, counterpoint and instrumentation are concerned. Always the perfect balance.
At the Manta meeting in 1997, a student said that his teacher had told him this: Composing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. Mr Farnon did not hesitate and replied : Exactly the opposite, young man !
And that is exactly how I hear the music of Robert Farnon: like Beethoven, it flows from source in a uninterrupted wave of sound and one would think that it had been written forever. It is natural because it pours from strict inspiration without any sweat, any hard labour and any concession to rules, tricks or camouflage.
This is where the separation is made between the Mozarts and Salieris, between those who have it all and those who have some of it.
As I love him …
Everyone has been told one day or the other by some fellow who knows things we do not that: Good guys never win !
Well, I have news for them. I have personally known a few big winners who happen or happened to be very good guys. Artists who reached the top with their sole talent, who made friends everywhere they set foot and who commanded respect, admiration and affection without really trying … They are or were simply like that: good talented fellows! ‘Name dropping’ is not my cup of tea but here it can illustrate my point: Vladimir Golschmann (who gave me conducting lessons), Morton Gould with whom I travelled over the hemispheres (North and South America, Europe, Africa and Australia) and Henry Mancini with whom I had good talks and a very respectful rapport (among those who left us) have been most successful, wealthy and beloved by everyone around. GOOD WINNING GUYS !
And, among those still here (and for a long time, I hope), how about Gene Lees, the man who really knows everything and who is one of the most lovable person I ever met. He also happens to be a superstar when time comes to write and talk about music and, knowing him for decades now, I know that he has won it all: fame, respect, affection, admiration and wealth!
How about that for Good guys who never win?
And now, the cherry on the sundae : Robert Farnon. Can anyone be, at the same time and for a whole life, a gentle giant simply loved by all those who have had the privilege to know him? Can there be a better example of fame and success in our field acquired through talent and goodness alone?
It must be quite a feeling to have achieved the greatest goals in one’s life and to have always been nice and easy with everyone… Ask Robert Farnon!
This article appeared in Journal Into Melody, Issue 159, June 2004.
Marc Fortier is well-known to music-lovers in Montreal. He has been responsible for keeping Robert Farnon’s name and music known in his native Canada for many years. Marc played a vital role in the 1997 celebrations in Ottawa, when Robert Farnon was honoured during his 80th year. As a result of Marc’s pressure (which involved copious amounts of correspondence and personal approaches), SOCAN and the Film Composers’ Guild also lent their support to this event, which Marc had been planning since 1991, hoping that the special concert could be staged at the time when Robert Farnon was celebrating his 75th birthday. Unfortunately this did not happen, but Marc’s persistence finally paid off with the memorable series of concerts which took place in Ottawa in October/November 1997, conducted by Victor Feldbrill.
revealed by FORREST PATTEN
Have you ever found yourself listening to a Robert Farnon recording and, upon hearing something out of the ordinary, shaking your head and asking "how did he do that?" My Dad and I used to do that a lot. In fact, I’m still doing that today. It’s an on-going process. Here’s an example. I’ve always loved Bob’s suite of Scottish pieces, From The Highlands. I will readily admit that I’ll find myself pulling out a handkerchief and wiping my eyes when listening to "Annie Laurie" (with that beautiful build and pay-off during the final bridge) and the melody to Robert Burns’ "My Love Is Like A Red, Red Rose." But one of the most fascinating aspects of that album has been at the very end where "I Love A Lassie" transitions into the reprise of "The Bluebells Of Scotland." For years, I believed that the two pieces had been recorded separately and only came together by an appropriate electronic segue created by a recording engineer in the final mix. It wasn’t until the early 1980’s when I attended a Robert Farnon concert in Vancouver, B.C. that I heard this work performed live and realized that Bob had magically been able to manipulate the two tempos to work together in tandem. For those of us who have tried to figure out the Robert Farnon methodology to writing and arranging, it becomes clear after a while that there is no methodology. Just as Joan Of Arc heard "divine voices," Bob is blessed by his own inward and abundant talent. In other words, if you ask him to explain how he does what he does, or what inspires him to write something in a particular way, Bob will likely look at you, smile, shrug his shoulders, and tell you something like "I’m not really sure. It’s just inside of me and I write what comes out." Well, after re-visiting From The Highlands while driving into work recently, I finally decided to swallow my pride and to call Bob and ask him the question that has haunted me for years: Musically, how was that flawless transition made between "I Love A Lassie" and "The Bluebells Of Scotland"? Revealed for the first time, here is his enlightening, educational and surprising answer. Essentially, Bob needed a device that would keep the pace of "Lassie" going while not slowing it down in tempo to accommodate the pacing of "Bluebells." Although both pieces are written in 4/4 time, because one is fast and the other slow, they could not fit on top of one another. While experimenting, Bob decided to add an additional beat to "Bluebells" (making it 5/4 rather than 4/4 time). This solved the problem and allowed the two pieces to be played simultaneously. With the Farnon magic at work, the listener never hears the difference. So finally the secret is out. It’s safe to say that when Robert Farnon writes and/or arranges a score, he never misses a beat! from Journal Into Melody : September 2004
The following article reflects the Editor’s personal opinions
Sound copyright: under threat yet again?
Every so often the ‘thorny’ subject of the length of copyright in sound recordings crops up in Britain. Just recently a pop group which enjoyed considerable success from the 1960s onwards has been reported as lobbying the European Union to force Britain to raise the protection of copyright on sound recordings from the present 50 to 70 years.
Copyright in all areas of the arts is a complicated and often misunderstood matter. And it is far from being a universal thing: with modern means of spreading knowledge and entertainment in so many forms worldwide, how on earth is it possible to ensure that all the billions in all the countries on our planet abide by the rules?
Rules … what rules? There are no rules which appear to apply everywhere with the same effect. And who is going to bother to enforce them anyway?
Britain is a soft target. Generally speaking when we sign up to the latest edicts from ‘on high’ (otherwise known as the unelected European Commission) we tend to abide by them; our neighbours in the EU adopt a far more sensible attitude – they sign up, but only obey what they consider is beneficial to them.
But I am starting to drift off the point. The important matter which I wish to bring to your urgent attention is that there is a real danger that Britain could be forced to change its sound copyright laws almost by default, unless we all wake up to the threat and realise what it would mean to us in practical terms as music lovers.
The case put by the artists who want to raise the sound copyright limit to 70 years is that they alone should be able to decide how their older recordings should be made available on new CDs or other means of sound reproduction. One can have some sympathy with this view, but this does raise the valid comment:
■ if their recordings are still of considerable value, surely they are already being issued by the original record company that made them, and consequently there would be little money to be earned by independent companies reissuing them yet again.
Sound copyright should not be confused with composer royalties. Many pop groups from the mid-1960s onwards used to record their own material, and the writers can happily count on receiving royalties collected by PRS during their lifetimes – and beyond. When the RFS made its own CD in 1997 – "Captain Robert Farnon and the Canadian Band of the AEF" – we used recordings that were long out of sound copyright in Britain, but we still paid over £230 in royalties to MCPS on the 500 copies we manufactured.
In the USA the term for sound copyright is currently 70 years. It varies in different European countries – sometimes 70 years but even as low as 25 years. What are the main arguments in favour of leaving the law as it stands in Britain?
1. We now have several well-respected independent record companies who have gained international reputations for the quality of their sound restorations of material over 50 years old.
2. Most of the recordings being restored and reissued have been ignored for years by the major companies that first recorded them. Some have even lost them.
3. The new releases are usually attractively packaged with comprehensive booklet notes. The careers of some artists have definitely been extended and even rekindled through the activities of the enthusiasts whose passions have resulted in the reissues.
4. As a judge in the USA commented a year or two ago, modern sound restorations do give an added value to old recordings, making them more attractive than previously. Such work is for the general benefit of music lovers, and it should not be stifled.
5. British readers who were young in the 1950s, at a time when home tape recording started to become affordable, will remember the dire consequences threatened by the BBC on anyone they discovered committing the terrible sin of actually recording their programmes. Today we know how badly they looked after their precious archives, and they now plead with these earlier ‘sinners’ to share their tapes with the BBC. There is a parallel with the fragile 78s issued during the last century: many collectors are no longer around to protect their treasured discs, and time is quickly running out for them to be preserved for posterity. Extending the sound copyright periods could seriously hamper such work, and deprive all future generations of valued examples of our musical heritage.
6. Finally it is a misconception to think that independent record companies are making a fortune from restoring old recordings. Although the actual CDs are becoming cheap to manufacture, the computer equipment to process the 78s or early LPs is expensive – not to mention the cost of actually locating the discs, paying someone to compile them and write the notes, print the booklets, etc. Most of the CDs enjoyed by readers of this magazine probably sell under 1,000 copies: hardly something that politicians should be wasting their time worrying about.
If the worst happens, and a change in the law is considered to be desirable, then I hope that it will not be made retrospective, and that there would be a period of several years before it came into force. Although I do not advocate it myself, I can imagine a situation where some people might feel that the improvements in sound recording which took place at the time might make it equitable to allow recordings from 1960 onwards to be subject to copyright protection for longer than 50 years, but to impose this before then would, in my humble opinion, be a most regrettable and retrograde step.
One final thought: some countries have a Freedom of Information Act, and the idea is spreading. Is this just flannel, or is it intended to mean something substantial? It does appear that there are many people who regard such liberal trends with great suspicion, and I submit that the extension of sound copyright would be a blatant example of going against the aforementioned aspirations.
I hardly need to state that I have a vested interest in this important matter, because my aim is to make available many recordings of light music that have been simply ‘lost’ or ‘forgotten’ by the companies that originally made them. It just so happens that a lot of these ‘treasures’ date from around 50 years ago, and to be prevented access to them would be a serious loss to music lovers around the world. For example, the Guild ‘Golden Age of Light Music’ series would never have been created.
My own vested interests pale in comparison with the vested interests of the parties who would like to change the law. One famous example is The Beatles, whose earliest recordings date from just after 1960. Probably money could still be made from attractive repackaging of their material, but should this be regarded as a strong enough reason to enforce a blanket ban on all the other recordings from that period which have been neglected by the record companies?
I would emphasise again that this article represents my personal view, and it must not be taken as the policy of the Robert Farnon Society. Nevertheless I strongly believe that the interests of our members are at risk, and I feel justified in using our magazine to bring it to your attention. I hope that some of you will join in this debate and let me have your own views, which I will be happy to print in a future magazine. If you disagree with me, please don’t hesitate to say so, and tell me why you think I am wrong to be concerned. However if you agree with me that this is a matter which should be of some concern to us all, then I urge you to make your feelings known to your local MP and especially your MEP (Member of the European Parliament). You can also alert the press, both national and local, and raise the subject if you enjoy taking part in radio talk shows.
I would like to think that our political masters have far more important problems to deal with at the present time, but experience has shown that this is just the kind of unfortunate legislation that can slip through ‘on the nod’ by a small group of tired people anxious to dispose of reams of paperwork without protracted arguments. The case to extend the period of sound copyright can seem fair to people unaware of the complete picture. Unless we ensure that a proper, reasoned debate takes place, we could all lose out on an area of the record business that is presently giving us a lot of pleasure.
from Journal Into Melody : September 2004
My article in our last issue has provoked many comments from RFS members, most of them along similar lines, saying … "we hope things stay as they are." Some members have kindly taken the trouble to expand their concerns more fully, and a representative selection appears below.
There are continuing press reports of individuals and organisations asking for the sound copyright period to be extended from 50 to 70 years in Britain, with most of them latching on to the fact that the earliest Elvis Presley recordings are now 50 years old. I suspect that these gripes will continue to rumble on for years, and gain fresh momentum when the Beatles' records attain their half-century soon after 2010. The media cannot be relied upon to give objective reporting: a Channel 4 News report in September failed to grasp the complexities of the subject.
The future of many Light Music compilations is at stake, but I am not going to repeat the arguments I put forward last time: all I would ask is that any readers who did not see my article in the last Journal Into Melody should try to read it if this subject is of some concern to them. It can also be viewed on our website. Now here are some of the letters that have come in.
from Mike Ellis:
I write to congratulate you on your erudite article concerning the above. I can only agree wholeheartedly with your remarks. Indeed, I would go further.
You mention the case put forward by artists who believe that they alone should be able to decide how their older recordings should be made available. Cynically, I suspect this is a ruse on the part of many of them to squeeze as much cash out of them as possible. The most obvious case is Steve Lawrence and Edyie Gorme, who own their Columbia and United Artists masters. They refuse to allow the original company to reissue their classic albums, but prefer to do it themselves on their own label. Although, as a purist, I would rather have the original company produce the reissue, I could live with this except the fact that this route leads to excessive prices and limited availability. It is virtually impossible to purchase these CDs in shops and the cost of each CD from the few shops that do carry them, or on the internet, is in excess of £25.00 each! Is this fair on the many collectors who have supported them over the years? Most of us are retired and on limited incomes, so this is a counterproductive move.
Similarly, the recordings of Don Cornell are owned by the artist's family and, again, they were issued on their own label and only available at his concerts or from them direct by mail order, requiring an International Money Order, incurring considerable additional expense. In both these cases, the original company would (if allowed) have been able to release them at mid-price and made them freely available.
In another instance, Tony Bennett has resolutely refused, for many years, to allow his early albums to be released on CD because, in his view, they do not gel with his current image. Only recently has he relented and allowed his first Columbia album to be transferred to CD. In a recent article, Sue Raney expressed regret that her first two Capitol albums had been released on CD, presumably because they do not (in her opinion) match what she is doing today.
In all these cases, I respect the views of the artists although I cannot agree with them. If it were left to them, many superb albums would never have seen the light of day and we would be the poorer for it.
There is also a related aspect. As many will know, CDs are more expensive in the UK than elsewhere. Many internet retailers redress this balance by offering US releases at lower prices than the UK version. The music industry became very upset by this and hit out at these retailers with legal threats. The result of this is that most of these retailers now only carry UK releases. It is not for me to comment on the allegations of 'rip-off" Britain, but an unfortunate side effect is that we no longer have access to those US CDs that have never had a UK release. My view is that the BPS action should only relate the CDs where there is a freely available UK release.
At the end of the day, the major labels are now less and less interested in releasing their back catalogue, and yet they make it very difficult for the independent labels to licence them, requiring quite unrealistic minimum orders. The fact is that we collectors are getting fewer and fewer each year and both artists and companies should be looking for ways to sell that back catalogue before it is too late.
from John Harmer:
The possibility of sound copyright being extended is a worry, as I am sure that there are many of us who are unable to have access to recordings from the Chappell library, other than on new CDs such as the Guild, Vocalion and Living Era releases.
from J.J. Olivier:
I fully agree with the Editor's comments about sound copyright. I hope that these negative ideas will not materialise. For me, personally, it would be the saddest of days if I were to be deprived of the CDs of the most beautiful music that I now have the privilege to own. I do hope that the people wanting to change the law will not succeed, and that I will continue to be able to enjoy the light music reissues.
from Nicholas Briggs:
The article on Sound Copyright makes very interesting, if disturbing, reading. It is probably best to buy up what one can now whilst things are still available!
from David Turner:
Just a note to say thanks for the excellent article on Copyright and PRS etc. You encapsulated a complex subject into 'easy read'... This type of explanation has been long overdue. I thoroughly agree with your observations. To deprive lovers of 'our music' would be unacceptable, especially if the original companies are not prepared to keep them in the catalogue.
Shortly after my article in our last issue had been sent to the printers, I was made aware of a report on the internet which hopefully indicates that the European Union are not, at present, likely to bow to pressure from certain sectors of the music business in Britain. I am repeating relevant parts of this report below, and feel that further comment at this stage is unnecessary - except to say that this is a matter which must continue to demand our attention, in case an absence of discussion should ever be taken as tacit agreement to an extension of the present sound copyright period. The report on the internet begins:
After the European Union had harmonized the copyright term of its Member States' copyright laws to 70 years post mortem auctoris, the United States enacted the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act in 1998. By this act, the general copyright term in the U.S. of 50 years p.m.a. was extended to 70 years p.m.a. as well. One of the main reasons for this extension was the argument that the U.S. had to catch up with the EU in order to ensure the competitiveness of the U.S. content industry worldwide.
For several kinds of sound recordings, the U.S. now even provides a copyright term of 95 years from the year of first publication. By contrast, the EU Copyright Term Directive only provides a protection of 50 years from the date the recording is made. It is no surprise that content owners have recently been pushing the EU to extend its protection for neighbouring rights such as sound recordings to 95 or at least 70 years as well. One of the main arguments for this extension is that the EU now has to catch up with the U.S. in order to ensure the competitiveness of the European music and recording industry worldwide (sounds somewhat familiar...).
A recent document by the European Commission indicates that the Commission does not intend to participate in this never-ending race towards longer copyright terms any more. In a staff working document which dates from July 19, 2004 and reviews the European acquis communitaire in the field of copyright law, the staff of the copyright unit of the Commission writes: "It is feared that an extended term of protection would only tend to diminish the choice of music on the market by enforcing the flow of revenues from few best-selling recordings, while at the same time not providing any real new incentives for creation of new recordings or motivating new investment. It has also been pointed out that practically all developed countries, with the exception of the USA, apply the term of protection of 50 years. As to the need to achieve parity between the EU and the USA, it has been argued that the same term of protection would not result in equal economic benefits for the right holders in these two territories. On the contrary, due to a different approach to which uses of phonograms are remunerated, US right holders already benefit from a better protection of their recordings in Europe, and the extension of the term would only aggravate this divide. [...] it seems that public opinion and political realities in the EU are such as not to support an extension in the term of protection. Some would even argue that the term should be reduced. At this stage, therefore, time does not appear to be ripe for a change, and developments in the market should be further monitored and studied."
At least in some cases, the voices of copyright critics seem to be heard.
David Ades : November 2004
MEMORIES OF LEVY’S SOUND STUDIOS 1955-1961
by BILL JOHNSON
Levy’s Sound Studios was one of very few recording studios outside the major record labels that were established in the thirties, a unique feature being their pressing factories they operated at Aston Clinton and Colnbrook. From these units they pressed their own labels Oriole and Embassy records, as well as taking in washing from an American label, Mercury, and also exporting discs to the far corners of the British Empire. They also owned a world-renowned record shop in Whitechapel. Alongside Star, Recorded Sound and Guy de Beir (subsequently renamed Advision), they pioneered an independent recording service for aspiring amateur and professional singers, solo musicians and orchestras.
I joined Levy’s in 1955 as a junior engineer and delivery boy (their being no couriers in those days). I was fifteen and had to get work due to my father’s earlier demise from cancer. He was an hotelier and ran Westminster Residential Service Suites at 59 Jermyn Street. Even though my mother took over the management when he died, it was clear that the post would not last forever.
I was always interested in photography, recording and my small bedroom in the hotel was littered with 8mm cine cameras, editing equipment, projectors, speakers, Scophony Baird tape recorder, sound mixer, grams and other paraphernalia. I decided a disc cutter would complete my equipment and my mother, being a generous soul and to make up for my father’s early death, decided to buy me one. They were not easy to find, but in one government surplus shop (a trade that abounded in those days) we found a pristine MSS mobile disc cutter with the magic letters BBC scorched into the heavy wooden carry case. It had been used by war correspondents in the field of battle. As you can imagine I was like a dog with two tails. Eventually I taught myself how to work it. This entailed a balancing act with the cutting head. Too little weight and the record would not play, too much and a sapphire cutting needle would grind itself through the lacquer surface into the aluminium base of the blank and be ruined. Also control of dynamic range and modulation of the cutter head ensured success or failure.
In Piccadilly Arcade, a stone’s throw from the hotel, was a modest recording outfit run by Guy Whetstone and Stephen Appleby, who later established Advision. They provided me with either relapped or new sapphire cutters as required. Both were long suffering and at 30 bob a sapphire (£1.50 in today’s money), extremely generous. We all became close friends as the years went by. As luck would have it this single bit of skill enabled me to begin my career in recording.
In my search for work I walked the length of Bond Street and finally, after much pacing outside, marched into Levy’s Sound Studios and asked to speak to the chief engineer. I was greeted by a bemused Jacques Levy who told me his chief engineer was busy but would he do. "Well", I said, "I need a job. I can make these", removing my best 78rpm acetate discs from my school satchel. "Would you be interested"? Mr Jacques, as he always liked to be addressed, got his linen tester out and looked at the groove formation and then played the records. Eventually he summoned forth chief recording engineer Ted Sibbick, a portly little man in a white coat who gave me the third degree. How had I come by these! Where did I find them and so forth. Finally after taking them both to my room in Jermyn Street they were convinced I had cut them myself and I got a job at £3.10s (£3.50) a week.
Ted Sibbick was an excellent teacher; a staunch Mason, he used to regale me with stories of when he was at the BBC during the war. "You know" he would say, "Our boys out there" – referring to MI6 – "were so efficient I used to get scripts of Hitler’s speeches six weeks ahead of a broadcast, and when they were relayed to me live from Caversham, the BBC monitoring Station, I had already worked out where the disc changes would be". On a less savoury note he mentioned finding, following a land mine attack on Broadcasting House, a policeman’s head complete with helmet on the window ledge of his dubbing room six stories up.
I began my apprenticeship with Levy’s, which was to last six years and ended up with my becoming their chief engineer. At first, of course, I did all the mundane stuff like make tea, deliver discs and sweep the studio floor. Mr Jacques liked a clean ship!
In the pre-war period as newsreels became popular, background libraries of specially recorded music emerged and Levy’s received its fair share of sessions mainly because they offered a unique advantage, a recording and pressing facility for 78rpm records. A one-stop shop so to speak.
Early background music labels like De Wolfe, Paxton, Chappell, Boosey & Hawkes and KPM all used Levy’s. Morris Levy, (Mr) Jacques’ elder brother, was then Studio Manager and the sole balance engineer. As I remember, re-mastering many of these catalogues over the years, there was a sort of rounded quality to his recordings which seemed to defy the laws of the technology of the day. Although not a trained musician, even I could appreciate the extremely well crafted balance of chord harmonies captured on his recordings right down to the double bass. Of course all studios have their own characteristics and these are shown up more if you wide mic or close mic. Much of the MGM scoring studio’s reputation was derived from using one microphone for the entire orchestra and an extremely sympathetic acoustic. Levy’s was a very live studio by today’s standards and separation was quite a challenge, so it took quite a degree of careful judgement to get the balance just right, as I was to learn later.
The recording equipment Morris used was really quite primitive and was still in use when I arrived in the fifties. There was a central 6-channel mixer, a big box of valves, without any equalisation, a secondary passive mixer that took the output of main mixer, and two Vortexion mixers purchased later. These were then fed into an equaliser with primitive top and bass controls connected to the mono tape recorder or disc cutter. Microphones consisted of BBC Marconi long ribbons and American and STD Cardoids. It was simple but the signal was clean and distortion free as a whistle.
Although I was not aware of it at the time but, a close friend throughout my life, Bernard Mattimore (a recording engineer with EMI), tells me there was no equalization at Abbey Road studios either. All equalisation was done in post production through a large box of Cooker Knobs known as a 'Curve Bender' which Abbey Road built. You sat in the Greenroom with the A&R man and perhaps the M.D. and you clicked away until they thought it sounded better! You had a sheet of paper designed to show all the knobs and their calibrations. You ticked off the settings and the sheet was put in the Master Tape Box and sent up for cutting. The cutting engineers all had 'Curve Benders'; having referred to the ticked-sheet, they set their 'box of knobs' likewise. At least they were supposed to, I knew some who didn't, and no one could tell after anyway!
All Classical lacquer masters were played before they went down to Hayes for processing. There appeared to be a constant war between the studio and the factory regarding quality, so this policy of 'It was all right when it left us', was adopted.
Levy’s never played lacquer masters for fear of the damage caused to the grooves by the application of steel needles to the soft lacquer. It only goes to show how the isolated islands of operation were interpreting by the emerging technology.
The Studio at 73 New Bond Street was built into what was once an art gallery. The room was roughly 40’x40’ and backed onto Dering Street. Below was a pub called the ‘Bunch of Grapes’ which became a haven for the recording community of the area in the late fifties. Bernard, who was now the manager of the HMV studio in Oxford Street, would join Stephen Appleby, Guy and Andy Whetstone from the newly formed Advision at 83, a few doors away in Bond Street. It was all very pleasant.
The acoustic engineers had built a soundproof shell within the gallery, all on a floating floor. Even the control room was within the shell. Above the control room was a void to the ceiling of the old art gallery. Here they had dumped old gear, redundant Brunswick recording lathes, several racks of transcription discs (16" x 33⅓ rpm records the wartime precursor of LP’s) and the like. Science Museum cry your eyes out!
Originally sessions were recorded direct onto disc live. And, although I only have this by hearsay, it was not until (Mr) Jacques returned from Germany at the end of hostilities clutching a Magnetophon tape machine, which seemed to have fallen off a panzer wagon, did they convert to pre-recording on tape. (He was always a bit hush-hush about what he did in the war - as he was in business.) The machine ran at 30 ips and made a dickens of a noise as I remember. It used open sided European platters of quarter inch tape 3,250ft long. Many of these revolutionary devices had been captured by the advancing expeditionary forces during the war and distributed to allied countries for evaluation. Bing Crosby got his hands on one, created Ampex and the rest is history. The one we had still retained the secret rotating scrambler head used to transmit secret messages to agents in the field, as well as normal linear heads.
Because of my talent for disc cutting I was confined to the dubbing suites for several months at 101 New Bond Street with Ted Sibbick, opposite the Studio at 73. My initial work consisted of making 78rpm lacquers from the output of the studio; masters for onward processing at Aston Clinton and Colnbrook (their pressing plants); and transferring to disc amateur tape recordings which were increasing month on month.
Levy’s, with its unique ability to record and press independently of the majors, meant it had a healthy trade in work from many of the countries left over from the "Empire" - not least India and Africa. The Sheherazade Label based in Delhi used to send lacquers by the dozen, which I converted to pressing masters. It provided me with a useful Saturday job and welcome overtime - 50 sides a morning was my record!
There was also Melodisc, a West African label who recorded in the Studio most times. The various bands, colourful Rastafarians, brought in ornate musical instruments like talking drums, odd battered trumpets, bugles and guitars. Unfortunately, they did have a tiresome habit of blessing the session by sprinkling thick Black John Rum over (Mr) Jacques’ shiny parquet studio floor. We managed to sponge it off without offending the artistes and before it ate into the veneer.
It was not for several months after being employed that was I allowed to go into the Holy of Holy’s – The Control Room. Although the Magnetophon was still in position, but just used for winding tape, it had been replaced by an EMI BTR2, an enormous green machine that weighed a ton and took a day to line up.
Sessions were booked in by Mrs Friend who kept the diary. Certain days were pencilled out for Oriole or Embassy sessions; the balance was the luck of the draw. As you can imagine we received our quota of musical émigrés from Eastern Europe after WW2, mainly Jewish. (Mr) Jacques did not find their presence something he could tolerate and retired, so it gave me ample opportunity to learn to balance sound. Some of these highly excitable people would arrive with band parts expecting to find a full orchestra, hanging around in the studio, to play their stuff. They were disappointed more often than not and most of the time was spent placating them and ringing Maestro Mario, a singing teacher who occupied the top floor of 101, to request help from his accompanist. Eventually the lady came over and did what she could and another demo was committed to a treasured lacquered disc.
Levy’s, being independent and struggling to survive in a world that was beginning to be controlled by technology, were really not equipped financially or willing to accept the argument for increased investment from a business point of view.
When the ‘LP’ was introduced, and with it an all-singing and dancing disc recording machine from Denmark, the Lyrec SV8, which retailed at some $275,000 they were slow to accept the need. This was 1956 and when you compare what can be done today with a PC and DVD reader/writer to record both pictures and sound on a small plastic disc, which everyone can own for a few hundred pounds, then the advances in technology over the next 48 years can really be appreciated.
At first we all looked in envy as we were shown the demo model at the IBC studios in Portland Place just north of Broadcasting House. (Mr) Jacques, Ted and I were in awe of the bright blinking lights and all the functions. You could dial in the duration of the recording; it would set the level automatically, and sort out variable groove depth and width, based on a judgement of recording time and average recording modulation. It was a fail-safe machine and was the first example of how technology would soon take the artistry out of virtually everything we do today. We all secretly wished it had not been invented and hoped it would grind its cutter on its first recording assignment. We all knew that Levy’s could not afford one and so we scratched our heads and said, "we can do that".
Within a month we had fitted new motors to our Neumann lathe to run at 33⅓ rpm. LP’s, unlike most of the 78’s produced hitherto, had two additional requirements - the groove had a variable depth to cope with the increased dynamic range of tape, and as a result the lead screw on the lathe had to run variably and independent of the turntable to accommodate the constantly changing groove width. This was to be compounded when stereo was introduced. With everything optimised you could then get up to 30 minutes per side on an LP.
If you do not have a locked-in calculator to sort this out then it needs to be done manually. So we loaded the front of the cutting head for the maximum depth and fixed a small coil spring to it with a piece of felt as a damper. The top of the spring was connected to a little screw which could be rotated to lessen the load on the cutter and set the minimum depth. So far so good! The variable drive for the lead screw was slightly less sophisticated. Ted found an old electric 78rpm gramophone motor and removed the turntable. We then fixed a 12" blank to the lead screw and let it rest on the motor’s hub. As there used to be a lever to adjust the gramophone motor’s speed we found that full speed equalled roughly a groove pitch of 50 microns and dead slow around 10 microns.
By setting two RGD tape playback machines side by side and running the tape though one machine as a pre listening device in advance of the head that was connected to the disc cutter’s amplifier, we got prior knowledge of when an orchestral piece was offering up a crescendo or pianissimo, so we could open up the groove width and increase depth. It was all a bit hairy - left hand on the depth control, right hand on the variable pitch device, but we were in business! And that simply is what we did at Levy’s for many years, producing countless LP’s for their own Oriole and Embassy labels as well as re-mastering background music libraries on LP. Copies of original 78 disc recordings were pressed in vinyl instead of shellac in order to minimise surface noise and dubbed onto tape then made up into albums and so on. Months were spent on dubbing background music catalogues to cope with the new technology. I even devised a method of turning mono into stereo by means of an 8-channel mixer with a panning control and the dextrous use of equalisation on each channel.
Eventually, I moved into programme production and tape editing for the shows they made for Radio Luxembourg, the main two being, "For you Madam" and "John Dark". Ex-BBC producer, Neil Tuson, directed both. The former was a magazine programme introduced by Peter West and included the live performances by Frank Chacksfield and his Orchestra.
One notable programme included an interview with a hero of mine. I used to listen to AFN out of Stuttgart in 1950 and there was one DJ called Sgt Frank Batters (I think that is how the name is spelt) who always ended his broadcast by playing, Caterina Valente’s The Breeze and I. Lo and behold, as I edited the broadcast tape there he was, but regrettably I never met him.
John Dark was a Dick Barton sound-alike. Neil had created and produced Dick Barton for the BBC and when it was axed to make way for the Archers he took the idea to Luxembourg who picked it up with open arms. The name had to be changed for legal reasons. We used to record five episodes every Sunday, two in the morning and three in the afternoon. Notable artists included Paul Whitson Jones, Mary Wimbush and Jack May (later to be Nelson Gabriel in the Archers). Sometimes I did the studio spot effects like slamming doors or creating ghastly grinding noises while Dark was being interrogated by some evil power. Other times I was on the grams with backgound FX like wind, rain, thunder and an effect which I had to create from scratch - thousands of rats scrabbling to devour John Dark in a sewer. He always got away!
A great deal of recording was done outside the studio. My first trip was to Eastbourne to record Max Jaffa’s Palm Court Orchestra, later to be an LP released on Oriole. My first solo mobile recording was made at the Commonwealth Institute in Northumberland Avenue just off Trafalgar Square. A strange science fiction writer by the name of L. Ron Hubbard was to give a series of 8 one-hour lectures in one day on the subject of Scientology. This so called religion became quite notorious in the late 50’s and apparently the tapes are still revered today as his gospels.
Other locations included the Conway Hall (where a lot of background music was recorded without the consent of the Musicians’ Union), Wigmore Hall (where I spent many days secretly recording international artists’ own samplers), and Walthamstow Town Hall which had exceptional acoustics. The World Record Club recorded many easy-listening records there. They also produced a version of the musical My Fair Lady way before it hit London.
I became a close friend of Norman Lonsdale WRC MD, and his wife Fiona Bentley, who with Lord Aberdair and Cyril Ornadel (MD for Sunday Night at the London Palladium), began making independent productions. It was her vision that gave me my first break into writing scripts and producing children’s records. Some 90 were made in all using the cream of writers, like David Croft, (BBC "Dad’s Army" and "Hello Hello" writer/producer), musical directors that included John Gregory, Ken Jones, Bernie Fenton, Cyril Ornadel, and famous stars too numerous to mention. They sold throughout the world. I got to direct Ferdi Mayne, Vivien Leigh, Donald Wolfit, Roger Livesey, Bernard Miles, Jack Hulbert, Cicely Courtneidge, Jean Metcalfe, and many other big stars. Not bad for a kid of 19 eh!.
There was always a bit of tension between the two Levy brothers, Morris and (Mr) Jacques. It was to come to a head when I began balancing their economy Woolworth records that went out on the Embassy label. The trick was to find what was going to be top of the hit parade in the coming weeks and then make an exact, or, as they called it in the trade, "Chinese Copy" using local singers and musicians. Then get them into Woolworth’s at half the price of the real thing. We got it down to a fine art, recording on a Thursday and in the stores by the following Monday.
But Morris was not pleased with many of the results. Either the level on the disc was not sufficient or interpretation was not close enough. The truth was that the studio was now totally under-funded and the gear had seen better days. So many advancements had been made elsewhere that it was becoming impossible to compete. I secretly borrowed a limiter/compressor from a rival studio and without telling (Mr) J connected it to the disc-cutting suite. As I recorded the master discs for the factory, the limiter compressed the dynamic range and created a "wall of sound" enabling at least 8db additional level on the disc, and gave the recording a totally different feel. Morris was overjoyed but (Mr) Jacques and I were never to be close colleagues again and the situation got so volatile I had to leave the company in 1961.
Eventually both brothers had to concede that the studio needed re-equipping. This was accomplished by my successor Jeff Frost. But soon CBS, who had much of their output for British consumption pressed at Oriole Records over the years, decided that a takeover of the group (comprising Oriole and Embassy Records, their factories at Aston Clinton and Colnbrook, as well as Levy’s Sound Studios), would prove a sound business move.
They took the catalogue, the premises and the factories; but the talent and dedication, of Levy’s pioneers, had long gone. But that is another story!
Editor: Bill Johnson left the recording business in about 1965 and, even though he worked at many other Studios like Olympic, Lansdowne (as Dennis Preston's assistant) and built his own studio Ryemuse, he decided to move into business theatre productions and staging large presentations for people like Capital Radio and the Shaklee Corporation of America under his own company Magic Lantern. For two good examples of the ‘different’ sound achieved in the Levy Studios, listen to ‘Festive Days’ and ‘Bandstand’ on the new Guild CD "An Introduction to The Golden Age of Light Music".
CARRY ON COMPOSING!
The Music of the ‘Carry On’ Films 1958-78
by PETER EDWARDS
This article is a shortened version of an undergraduate music dissertation written at Durham University in the Spring of 2002. The original paper is presented with a selection of audio and video examples, together with a bibliography and discography. For the purposes of this article, many of the examples and citations have been removed. In some places, however, I have referred to Gavin Sutherland’s CD, The Carry On Album (Sanctuary Group CDWHL 2119). Many readers will already own this disc; for those who don’t, my advice is to treat yourself to a copy! Peter Edwards
In 1958, Gerald Thomas and Peter Rogers made a low-budget film called Carry On Sergeant. Over the next twenty years they would produce 29 more films bearing the ‘Carry On’prefix, and representing the most successful series of comedy films in British cinema history. Like most aspects of popular culture, these films were not original; they wallowed in a collection of tried and tested comic ideals and stereotypes, owing something to nearly every genre of comedy which had gone before. And yet the ‘Carry On’ series quickly established itself as something rather special; something which was uniquely and affectionately British, and remains so to this day.
As Britain’s culture changed from the late 1950s to the late 70s, the Carry Ons adapted accordingly. The series soon diverted from the almost Ealing style launched by Carry On Sergeant; the actors, jokes and characters, however, stayed reassuringly the same. They represented comedy in its simplest form: low brow and unassuming but speaking directly to a mass audience. The films achieved this consistency through a talented team of comedians, notably Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Kenneth Connor, Hattie Jacques and Joan Sims. The screenplay writer, together with director and producer, was a major driving force. But in this article I will be discussing the work of the man who is most criminally forgotten: the composer.
It is through music that every structural aspect of the Carry On films is brought to life. Indeed, without the skill of the composer any film production would be sure to fall flat; this being the case more than ever in a comedy production. The rather cheeky, largely visual, naughty and yet innocent humour of the Carry Ons is directly and often graphically mirrored by their music. A good film score is an integral part of the production, as much as lighting, costumes sound effects and dialogue; it cannot be merely tagged on.
The massive amount of music included in twenty years of Carry Ons was written almost exclusively by two men. Bruce Montgomery composed the scores for the first six films from 1958-62 . His successor, Eric Rogers, scored the following twenty-three films until 1978. Interestingly the change in composer coincided with a change in screenplay writer: Talbot Rothwell replaced Norman Hudis. This brought about a marked change in style whilst continuing and enhancing the spirit of Carry On into and beyond the Swinging Sixties.
The roots of this kind of comedy could be described as the ‘spirit of Carry On’. Everything in the production, including the music, was to immerse itself in these roots in order to give the audience what it wanted. The earliest and perhaps most obvious of these roots is apparent in the British music-hall. These centres of popular entertainment offered shows of a decent quality, at an affordable price, to a largely working class audience. Their comics made light of embarrassing situations, spoofing the most cherished of our institutions. The early Carry Ons did precisely that, sending up the British Army in Carry On Sergeant (1958), the National Health Service in Carry On Nurse (1959), the Police Force in Carry On Constable (1960) and so on. Later the films would send up the more ‘serious’ films of the day: James Bond in Carry On Spying (1964), the Western in Carry On Cowboy (1965), and the historical costume drama in Carry On Don’t Lose Your Head (1966).
British audiences have always laughed at jokes about sex, or indeed about anything considered ‘naughty’ or ‘taboo’. Just as the music-halls pushed cultural boundaries in their time, the Carry Ons did the same in the 1950s, 60s and 70s – and always at the mercy of the censors. But jokes and innuendo, as written in a script, are not funny in their own right. The thought of anyone but Kenneth Williams crying "Stop messin’ about!" does not provoke so much as a smile. Music-hall songs were always associated with their particular performers; and the jokes of the Carry Ons were associated with the men and women on screen, established as the ‘Carry On Team’. Perhaps this is why the main acting figures in the films are famous, whilst the men behind the scenes – especially the composer – are largely forgotten. And yet the thought of a Carry On without its music is at least as dull as the thought of a music-hall without its orchestra.
The spirit of music-hall had to be presented, not just in the jokes of the songs, but in the music itself. In a similar way, the Carry Ons achieved light comedy through their light music. Every aspect of the comedy – the spoofs, the naughty situations, the larger-than-life characters and caricatures, the verbal and visual jokes – is presented by the composer in his score.
The theatre and its music continued to flourish in Britain when the music-hall was dying. By the 1950s the mainstream music-hall had been consigned to history, yet its very spirit had become transformed into comedy films, and its music into the variety theatre. Eric Rogers (the second of the Carry On composers) started his career in the theatre – as musical director at the London Palladium. Here he composed Startime, famous theme of the TV series Sunday Night at the London Palladium. He also arranged and orchestrated Lionel Bart’s musical Oliver!, (Bart could neither read nor write music himself). It was in the theatre that Rogers developed his own skill in composing film music. Just as the variety show stage was an important precedent for the humour of the Carry On films, the music of the theatre represented a solid grounding for the art of film composition. Above all, both mediums of entertainment were characterised, musically, by immaculately balanced scoring, impeccable timing to guarantee fast-moving continuity, and a particularly bright and colourful manner of orchestration which is displayed in the work of all great theatre and film composers.
An important difference between theatre and film, from the composer’s point of view, is the use of microphones. Film music may be scored at any level, since its volume can easily be adjusted when the score is mixed with dialogue and sound-effects. Furthermore, balance within the orchestra can be controlled through the use of several microphones; heavy brass, for example, can be softened whilst the quieter harp can be strengthened. This luxury does not exist in the theatre, since the audience hears the music directly from the pit. Theatre composers, therefore, must exercise particular skill in finely balanced orchestrations. Eric Rogers took his orchestral roots from the theatre into his film scores; this is evident in his consistently impeccable orchestration. The priority of finely balanced scoring was an underlying feature behind the success of the Carry On music.
Film music itself has its origins in the silent film. It is startling to consider that, within thirty or forty years, the solo pianist of the early 1900s cinema would be replaced by a fully synchronised recorded soundtrack, typically featuring a specially composed score for full orchestra. In the very early days, music was needed primarily as a means of drowning the clattering noise of the projector. When this noisy mechanism was eventually concealed in a soundproof box it became apparent that music was still required; not so much to satisfy an artistic urge, but to cover up the eerie silence which would otherwise dominate. Film critic Kurt London wrote:
‘We are not accustomed to apprehend movement as an artistic form without accompanying sounds. Every film must possess its individual rhythm which determines its form.’
This certain ‘necessity for music’ had the natural result of the use of inappropriate or superfluous music in films. This became more apparent when, as cinemas grew, the solo pianist was replaced by a full orchestra. Despite their versatility, these orchestras were unable to offer the same level of musical directness as could be improvised by a pianist or organist in front of the screen. It was not until the birth of the talking picture – famously The Jazz Singer (1927) – that producers began to consider the possibility of a specially commissioned score. Before then, cinema orchestras generally selected items from a library of mood music to compile a seemingly appropriate score for the film. But even the arrival of the soundtrack did not fuel an instant demand for film composition. Indeed, the primary novelty of the sound film was the human voice. The second interest was the addition of natural sound effects. The musical score would in fact take many years to establish itself as an indispensable element of film, as it had been in the silent days. It would also require substantial advances in recording and mixing technology for film music to be taken seriously.
A major breakthrough occurred in the late 1920s and early 30s with the advance of the Walt Disney group. Skeleton Dance (1929) was the first of the ‘Silly Symphonies’, in which animation was directly synchronised with music. Soon followed a healthy flow of animations, revelling in the most graphic and colourful orchestral scores. The advances in synchronising technology ironically brought about a full-circle return to the spirit of the silent film. This soon filtered through from animations to adult comedy, and it is this very tradition which is seen and heard in the Carry On films.
Soon, new standards took the lead in film music. As directors began to work more closely with composers, leading figures were employed to write scores: including Arthur Bliss (Things to Come, 1935), Benjamin Britten (Night Mail, 1936) and William Walton (As you like it, 1936). The serious composer of art music had entered the world of film. Bruce Montgomery and Eric Rogers, although not symphonists, were two such experts in film composition. With the technology to synchronise their scores to the nearest ⅓ second, they would transform the spirit of the turn-of-the-century silent film into the resources of a full orchestra. The Carry On music owes much to every historical aspect of cinema music, whilst having its own fresh voice as delivered by Montgomery and Rogers.
Having discussed the earliest roots of the spirit of Carry On, we may take a look at the more immediate musical influences. This is where the world of ‘light music’ comes in. The distinctive musical style of the Carry Ons was created from a great fusion of the various strands of light music, particularly those of Britain in the years between the wars through to the early 1960s. Pop music became increasingly influential from the mid 1960s to the final films of the late 1970s, but the Carry On style, as expressed through the orchestra, remained solidly consistent throughout the entire series. It is these various strands of music which contributed to the very British sound of the Carry On films. The light-hearted, often satirical though deeply rooted patriotism associated with the series is evident in the situations, the characters, the actors themselves and – most consistently – through the music.
British light music continued to thrive as the cinema and theatre orchestras declined. This was thanks to the advent of broadcasting. Radio programmes demanded a very fresh, instantly appealing style of music in order to captivate an audience. Interestingly, many of those given the task of writing this music were composers who had worked in the cinema and theatre. Sidney Torch and Ronald Binge were both virtuosos of the cinema organ, Charles Williams worked some time with the Gaumont British film company, and Eric Coates spent much of his early career in the theatre pit as a viola player.
This kind of music we love is characterised by its colourfulness, tunefulness and in particular by its directly accessible quality. But good tunes alone do not produce good music. Light music flourished because it was placed in the hands of composers who took it seriously; those who knew exactly how to write for the orchestra, how to create and arrange beautiful melodies, and whose music was the product of real craftsmanship. It is this approach to composition which forms the foundation of the music in the Carry On films.
Creating light music of high quality is one task; creating music of similar quality for film comedy takes the composer’s job a stage further. Light music is created to appeal directly to our sensibilities. Just as people could universally respond to the BBC’s generous offering of light music on radio and television, the cinema audiences of the 1950s, 60s and 70s could universally respond to the music in the Carry On films. Light music itself responded to the most cherished of musical genres – the marches of the parade ground, the waltzes and polkas of the ballroom, the intermezzos of the silent cinema and the virtuoso novelty numbers of the variety theatre – in the same way as the Carry Ons responded to just about every British institution of their time.
The BBC, besides broadcasting an unprecedented flow of light music in the post-war years, became an increasingly popular provider of radio comedy. Like most other broadcasts, comedy productions required music. The difference between these and other programmes was that comedies, besides needing a suitable title theme, demanded quirky musical interludes throughout the whole show. Between 1950 and 60 the BBC employed no less than eight full-time light orchestras for the purpose of broadcasting. Comedy shows usually had a live orchestra which would play an actively integrated role in the script. The need for bright, lively and finely balanced orchestrations was greater than ever before. The best example of these shows as a direct forerunner of the Carry On films, in terms of both music and comedy, is Hancock’s Half Hour. Starring three of the subsequent stars of most of the Carry On films – Sid James, Hattie Jacques and Kenneth Williams – Hancock represented the very spirit of radio comedy in the years immediately preceding Carry On Sergeant in 1958. It addressed day-to-day situations with down-to-earth characters playing themselves (Tony Hancock and Sid James) alongside slightly less down-to-earth caricatures (Bill Kerr as the dumb Australian) and a whole range of farcical characters (provided mainly by the varying tones of Kenneth Williams). Under a different scriptwriter the Carry Ons would work along similar lines with these actors only a few years later.
The music, composed by Angela Morley (then known as Wally Stott), had the comically quirky style which was to become so much a part of British comedy – on radio, television and film – for the next decade and beyond. The famous augmented 4ths of the opening theme on the tuba could be said to sum up the entire series. The interspersions of dialogue within the music – firstly from the BBC announcer, then from Tony Hancock himself – demonstrated a manner of musical timing which is so important in the planning of film music. In many ways Morley was showing her admiration for the work of Robert Farnon, who had composed Jumping Bean nearly ten years earlier in 1947. The rather cheeky opening bars of this piece have been used as a model for comic musical gestures ever since, both in the Carry On films and elsewhere.
One of the most remarkable things about the Carry On music is that it preserved its unashamed association with the world of light music, long after light music itself had begun to decline. As the 1960s progressed the BBC brought about a fashionable change to its image, resulting in significant developments on both the ‘popular’ and ‘serious’ sides of music, and leaving little or no concession to what lay in-between. The abolition of the Home Service and the Light Programme, in favour of generic broadcasting in 1967, was primarily responsible for the decline of light music on the radio. Listeners, it was argued, should be able to select any kind of music at any time. Since light music fell uneasily between the images of Radio 2 and Radio 3 it was choked out of circulation. By 1971 the BBC had disbanded all its light orchestras, leaving only the BBC Concert Orchestra – founded in 1953 and for many years closely associated with Sidney Torch – as a potential provider of lighter music for broadcasts such as Friday Night is Music Night. Meanwhile, somehow the Carry On industry was booming with a sound that had directly embraced the kind of music which was going out of fashion. It had an amazing ability to take on contemporary musical trends, between the late 1950s and late 70s, whilst retaining the solid orchestral style on which it was founded.
In Britain the 1950s saw the rise of swing, closely followed by Rock ‘n’ Roll. These popular styles were incorporated, indirectly, into the Carry On music. The earlier British dance bands of the 1920s and 30s had themselves embraced trends from the USA, whilst remaining distinctively British. Jack Hylton, a bandleader of the 1920s and 30s, put forward some of his ideas in an article entitled ‘The British Touch’:
‘I examine all the music [from the USA] in detail and have tried much of it live, but it has not appealed to the public. Before it can be played here it must be modified, given the British touch… In the dance halls or gramophone record alike it makes a subtle appeal to our British temperament; it is in fact becoming a truly national music.’
Although Hylton was not specific in defining the ‘British touch’, it is clear from his arrangements what he was talking about. The British bands were altogether more orchestral – less swingy, arguably more refined, making very significant use of string instruments. It is this refined British style of jazz which made its way into the post-war British bands, and into the Carry On scores of Bruce Montgomery in the late 1950s and early 60s.
From the mid 1960s Eric Rogers would acknowledge the styles of pop music which followed; music commonly associated with the ‘Swinging 60s’. But if the Carry Ons were supposedly modernising their scores to fit their fellow aspects of popular culture, they did it in a way which preserved everything that was good about orchestral film music. Whilst many films of the 1970s made use of a pop band score – this becoming increasingly common in low-budget releases – the Carry Ons kept their full orchestra. Eric Rogers in particular proved that he could swing his music just enough whilst retaining all the traditional elements of a descriptive comedy film score.
In taking something special from each of the strands of music mentioned above, the composers required a particular kind of orchestra. Since budget restrictions were tight, the composers had to select an ensemble which was flexible enough to cope with the varying styles of their scores. The standard budget for a Carry On orchestra was forty players. In 1975 producer Peter Rogers diminished this to thirty for Carry On Behind, forcing Eric Rogers to write a lighter textured score. Eric refused, however, to write for only twenty players in Carry On England (1976) – hence this film was scored by Max Harris. Forty was a viable number for a versatile film orchestra. Bruce Montgomery employed a fairly traditional scoring for the early films: usually double woodwind, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones and tuba, four percussionists, harp and strings. The woodwind players would increasingly be called to play saxophone as required.
Eric Rogers distributed his players differently, augmenting the brass section and lightening the traditional double woodwind in favour of a more consistent use of saxophones. The horn section was diminished in favour of four trumpets and trombones, the horn being used more as a solo instrument along with the woodwind section. One percussionist was stationed permanently on drum kit, whilst the other two were kept busy with the more traditional orchestral percussion, especially timpani, triangle, cymbals and xylophone, glockenspiel and vibraphone. Rather less traditional instruments included temple blocks, cow bell and swannee whistle – favourite Carry On sounds, although surprisingly few novelty instruments like this were required. The ‘rhythm section’ has been augmented, consistently to include electric guitar, bass guitar and piano, working alongside the harp. With this kind of ensemble Rogers had, at his disposal, a traditional orchestra with the additional feature of a pop band or dance orchestra embedded in the ensemble. Versatility was the key to a useful orchestra.
In a letter to Peter Rogers in 1962, composer Bruce Montgomery referred to his ‘Carry On bag of tricks’. By this he was talking about the extensive menu of musical devices from which he could choose, as required, to project the true spirit of the Carry On films. Eric Rogers would continue this trend, within his own style, when he succeeded Montgomery in 1963.
The ability of music, as an art form, to express the spirit of humour cannot be overstated. Music is arguably the most abstract and expressive of all the arts. Whilst a person’s eyes are actively selective in what they take in, the ears are fundamentally passive; this means that they are always open and (more or less) directed to any sound within their range. Music has the most powerful privilege of entering the ears whether the listener likes it or not. For this reason music, as an art, has always aimed to transform the potential laziness and dreaminess of the ear into concentrated effort and serious work. In film music the context is different, since the music is continuously matched to – or justified by – the images on the screen. Film music, unlike pure art music, does not necessarily transform the ear into ‘concentrated effort’ or ‘serious work’; but it is always there. For this reason the importance of good film music is paramount. Music in a comedy production – perhaps more than ever in a Carry On film – must express humour in such a direct way that its qualities cannot go unnoticed by the viewer.
Music of all kinds has traditionally been described as subjective; its effect always depends on its perception by a particular listener. Humour is also subjective, since identical events will always provoke different reactions from different people. Although music is a language (a means of communication) it is not a universal language. A verbal language may be universal amongst the people who speak and understand it; music is different because it is abstract. This is a good argument in the context of art music, although in the context of film, music has an altogether different function. The music of the Carry On films, in particular, could be described to a certain extent as objective. This is because its musical language, like the language of humour in the films, is understood universally. This does not mean that everybody appreciates it, or that everybody finds the films funny; rather, it means there is absolutely no doubt as to the connection between the comedy on the screen and the comedy in the music. Just as light music is written to appeal directly to our sensibilities, so do the Carry On films and their music. Cinema-goers, perhaps subconsciously, knew the style of the music in the same way that they knew the style of the films.
Prerequisites for humour, that is any kind of humour, rely firstly on the comical environment. In this there must be an element of surprise, without which none of the other components will have any effect. This works directly with the principle of comparison: the observer bases his expectations upon a specific context, which will be contrasted with something ridiculous – the circus clown being the classic example. A humorous situation often occurs at the expense of a victim; in the Carry On context this means spoofing British institutions. Also important for Carry On humour is the element of falsehood; humour is seldom completely truthful. The entire spirit of Carry On is based on something unreal. Through the many ups and downs of contemporary British life the Carry Ons would remain relentlessly cheerful – this is comedy about an England which never existed. The humour of the Carry On films, and their music, rests primarily on the overall elements of surprise and comparison between the familiar and the ridiculous.
Other prerequisites for humour concern the observer. First and foremost, the audience must be ‘in the mood’ if it is to appreciate humour. Without this ‘pleasurable state of being’ the most perfect situation and timing of a joke will be in vain. This is where the importance of music takes a real hold. A cinema audience, prior to receiving the main visual part of a film, is presented with the title music. The title themes to the Carry On films are the key to audience disposition. Typically only between 1½ and 2 minutes long, the theme music needed to sum up the spirit of the entire film, getting the audience into that ‘pleasurable state of being’ – in addition to presenting the credits. In the words of director Gerald Thomas, the theme would ‘bang the drum for the picture’.
The march Bruce Montgomery composed to introduce Carry On Sergeant in 1958 was to have a significance unknown to anyone at the time. It became the ‘Carry on Theme’, used in various shapes and forms to introduce the next five films. Its original version was recorded by the Band of the Coldstream Guards, and intended as a gentle parody of British military music. Montgomery then arranged this for full orchestra for Carry On Nurse (1959). [The Carry On Album,track 5]
The three contrasting sections are concisely joined in a traditional march structure, summing up the spirit of Carry On. The opening tune is the military parody; the second section is in cheeky ‘Carry On’ style – featuring the kind of jaunty xylophone writing which would become such an important part of the later Carry On music. The trio section represents warm British nostalgia – so much a part of these early Carry Ons.
After Carry On Nurse producer Peter Rogers suggested that the march be jazzed up for the next film (Carry On Teacher). This is where Eric Rogers entered the scene. Montgomery wrote a letter to Eric about his marching theme:
‘As you can see, it was intended to be the sort of thing a not-very-intelligent Army bandmaster might have written in about 1900… I feel if anyone can make a free symphonic pop version of it, you can.’
Rogers’ upbeat version of this theme became an instant hit, acknowledging the growing trends in 1950s popular music whilst referring back to the original which is so unashamedly and traditionally British. Despite its obvious big band connotations, Rogers’ treatment is largely orchestral – most notably by his important use of strings, featured in the melody of the trio section. [The Carry On Album, track 8]
The Carry On theme, as conceived by Montgomery and jazzed up by Rogers, is a classic example of what makes a good title to a film. In the spirit of British light music it consists of a good tune which is well constructed and orchestrated; at the same time it acknowledges swing, and the rather cheeky style of the films themselves.
From this point onwards the title themes became increasingly upbeat, culminating in the classic Rogers style of the 1970s. A good example of this is Carry On At Your Convenience (1971), whose story is centred on a toilet manufacturers. [The Carry On Album, track 15]. From studying the score, one immediately observes the remarkable clarity – and apparent simplicity – of orchestration. Strings are mainly in unison and octaves, providing rushing sequences (based on scales) to punctuate the beat along with the upper woodwind. The virtuosity of the string parts is strongly evident. The brass, too, appear to be in unison providing the main punctuation of the melody. The percussion writing is particularly crisp and bright – the xylophone was one of Rogers’ favourite instruments, and the drum kit was an important driving force in the orchestra, together with piano and electric guitar. The harp has the primary job of playing rushing glissandi, particularly at moments of key change. In the spirit of the fast-moving theatre show, Rogers revelled in key changes, typically up a semitone, for which he would employ rushing sequences or scales in octave strings, upper woodwind and xylophone. Incidentally, this particular theme features four key changes in the space of less than 1½ minutes, with an additional swift key change in the last two bars before the opening scene of the film is introduced [from 1:15]. This final key change is a classic Rogers device, providing a quirky ‘kick’ immediately before the first section of ‘incidental’ music.
The next section, heard in the opening scene of the film, depicts W.C. Boggs toilet factory. This is playfully mechanical music, suitable to the action taking place – as the workers busily go about their duties. The temple blocks, two triangles, xylophone and muted brass all contribute to the ‘working’ music. This is a similar style, not surprisingly, to the one heard in Rogers’ orchestration of Lionel Bart’s Oliver! about ten years earlier, in the opening workhouse scene. The ‘Carry On’ depiction of the boys marching into dinner is unmistakable.
Humour in music may be divided into two categories. ‘Referential humour’ is humour which has extra-musical connotations, whist ‘absolute humour’ is humour within the musical material itself. Although comedy film music can often be humorous in its own right, here we are concerned primarily with referential humour, since the music nearly always matches the images and dialogue on the screen. It is by this token that one may be justified in classifying the music as objective rather than subjective, since the link between music and visual or verbal comedy is unequivocal. One kind of referential humour is that of ‘satirical quoting’. In the Carry On films musical references to well-known genres are aplenty, in the same way as the content of the films is based on all kinds of cultural references.
The title themes provided the composer with the opportunity to make a strong musical reference if desired. Traditional tunes appear to be a major contributor. The theme to Carry On Camping (1969)is based on ‘One man went to mow’ [The Carry On Album, track 1], Carry On Loving (1970) on the two traditional wedding marches (by Wagner and Mendelssohn), Carry On Henry (1971) on ‘Greensleeves’, and Carry On Matron (1972, set in a maternity hospital) on ‘Rock a bye baby’. All four of these tunes are given the Rogers ‘Carry On’ swing treatment.
Often traditional tunes become an integrated part of the score. In Carry On Teacher (1959) Bruce Montgomery uses a disguised form of ‘Girls and Boys come out to play’ whenever the children go out into the playground. Quotations sometimes take on a more contemporary form, providing direct references to other films or television programmes In a scene from Carry On Spying, set in the dark streets of Vienna, Rogers directly quotes the well-known zither music of Anton Karas in The Third Man (the famous British spy thriller of 1949). This is interspersed with pizzicato strings to create comic tension. When a British agent (Bernard Cribbins) pokes his head around the corner, a tense motif based on ‘Rule Britannia’ is heard in the woodwind. A more up to date cultural reference can be heard in Carry On Screaming! (1966) in a scene where the detective (Harry H. Corbett) drives along the street in a cart before unwittingly committing a robbery – he has been turned into a monster. The television series Steptoe and Son – very popular at this time – classically featured the same actor driving a rag and bone cart. Appropriately, Rogers bows his head to Steptoe by quoting a fragment of the television theme. Familiar musical quotations such as this served as a comic reference point for contemporary cinema audiences.
Classical music quotations are also commonplace in Carry On films; these could be received and appreciated on a different level, probably only by a limited portion of the very wide audience. Carry On Cleo (1964) is set largely in Egypt; hence the title theme is based, loosely, on the grand procession from Verdi’s ‘Aida’ [The Carry On Album, track 9]. Rogers made extensive use of Haydn’s string music in Carry On Camping (1969). An arrangement of the serenade from his string quartet in F is used firstly to depict a quiet country boarding school for well-bred young ladies [track 2, from 3:15]. When it is revealed what the girls really get up to – in the company of trespassing young men – Rogers jazzes up the original in the spirit of the Swinging 60s. The versatility of the ensemble is fully displayed, as the five-part string sound gives way to a saxophone solo with piano, electric guitar and drums.
A different kind of satirical quoting is found in Carry On Nurse (1959). Here Bruce Montgomery uses his own original melody – the main tune from the Carry On theme – as a source of referential humour. The melody is heard on tuba and glissando timpani – used to represent the menacing Matron (Hattie Jacques) as she approaches the ward for her inspection – in conjunction with an affectionate portrayal of one of the patients (Charles Hawtrey) pretending to conduct an orchestra from his headphones. In the score the tuba line is marked molto pomposo. This is an example of Carry On humour where the instruments of the orchestra, besides mimicking visual comedy, become a source of comedy in their own right. The trombone, snare drum and triangle (as acted by Charles Hawtrey) become comic sounds. Similarly, Montgomery writes a satirical passage for the school orchestra in Carry On Teacher (1959). The music for the school play, supposedly written by the music master (Charles Hawtrey, who appears as conductor) is deliberately poorly scored and equally poorly played for comic effect. Again, Montgomery has exploited the content of the film by writing a score which demonstrates the funniness of music itself.
Another example of humour in music is that of tone painting. 18th century composers revelled in exoticisms, brought about by a fascination for Oriental themes: Mozart, for example, in his Turkish music. In many ways little has changed since then, particularly in the world of film music. Whenever the Carry On Team visited an exotic location (usually a disguised Pinewood Studios) the composer would be quick to oblige with appropriately exotic-sounding music. The scores always avoided absolute authenticity, remaining a purely Western and deliberately ethnocentric portrayal of the location; this is part of the humour. Carry On Up The Khyber (1968) includes some suitably exotic music to paint the atmosphere of an Indian palace, residency of the Khasi of Kalabar (Kenneth Williams) - [The Carry On Album, track 16, from 2:24]. This is a classic example of Rogers wearing his ‘world music’ hat, using a conventional Carry On orchestra. The percussion section plays an important role, with gong, Chinese bell tree, tambourine and finger cymbals (ironically many of these are not Indian instruments). The airy melody is played by divided violins, with muted banjo tremolos imitating the sitar.
For the costume-drama Carry Ons a different skill was required. Despite being low-budget, the Carry On productions always employed appropriate period music, alongside suitable costumes, sets and choreography. Carry On Don’t Lose Your Head (1966), set during the French Revolution, features some country dancing at an aristocrats’ ball. This kind of dance, in terms of rhythmic and melodic drive, may be readily compared to a Classical ‘Quadrille’ – a dance which came to the ballroom during the reign of Napoleon I. The choice of music is historically and culturally appropriate. The main achievement of the composer, however, is to treat this style in his own individual way; the orchestration is pure Eric Rogers, characterised by his jaunty use of off-beat snare drum, and woodwind with glockenspiel. These films used musical tone painting in a manner which reflects the period and setting whilst being unmistakably ‘Carry On’.
The Carry Ons are particularly famous for their verbal jokes, and yet so much of their humour is visual – visual, that is, with musical accompaniment. Imitations of non-musical sounds are a major ingredient of referential humour in music. The Carry On composers took this a stage further by imitating non-musical sounds in a deliberately unrealistic – often crude – way. The sound of a clumsy doctor bumping into the large Matron in Carry On Doctor (1967), for example, is accompanied aptly by a heavy thump from the percussion section. Bruce Montgomery tended to dress up a comic visual scene with a passage of grossly exaggerated music. Carry On Teacher (1959) features one such scene in which the PE teacher (Joan Sims) attempts to put on a pair of shorts which are too small for her – accompanied by a crudely Wagnerian brassy climax.
Like so many scenes from the films, the music here is not so much an imitation of a ‘non-musical sound’ as an imitation of a comic (and largely silent) gesture. Eric Rogers had some fun depicting a traditional British hand signal in Carry On Cabby (1963). In a brief example of 1960s road-rage near the start of the film, a car jams on its brakes to a timpani glissando – the taxi behind grinds to a halt, accompanied by a harp glissando and a twang from the electric guitar. The taxi driver, Sid James, calls out , "Can’t you give a hand signal?!". The other driver obliges with a rather crude ‘hand signal’, aptly accompanied by an upward glissando on the swannee whistle, culminating in a clang on the cowbell.
Musical accompaniment to screen gestures, in the context of Carry On, is not about realism or even caricature. The idea that music in film should be ‘realistic’ is nonsensical, since both music and film, by definition, are art forms and therefore unrealistic. The Carry On music succeeds because it has a certain objective relationship to the action, whilst simultaneously serving a purpose far beyond the demands of ‘realism’. Indeed, the music relies on its own unrealism for the desired comic effect.
Besides directly conveying humour, film music is equally important in conveying the human emotion. A good score is able to describe the emotional feeling of the film’s characters – perhaps in the same manner as a book, though without the luxury of written narrative. Spoken narrative in films is rare and only occasionally used (for special effect). For this reason the score is an indispensable narrative and emotional voice.
Emotional music serves an important role in the comedy of the Carry On films. Bruce Montgomery was particularly good at displaying gushing romantic emotions in his portrayal of characters. In Carry On Teacher (1959) a school inspector (Leslie Phillips) is bowled over at the sight of PE teacher, Miss Allcock (Joan Sims), accompanied by 15 seconds of music. This quick breath of musical romance, in itself, sums up his feelings. The inspector’s first sight of the lady is signalled by a bright chord on the vibraphone, closely followed by flutter-tongued flute (a classic Montgomery device) and slushy violins. A muted trumpet contributes to the sexy feel of the music. As Miss Allcock goes out of sight, the brief scene is abruptly ended by a clang on the tubular bell – this features as a musical pun on Leslie Phillips’ next line: "Ding Dong!".
In the later films, Eric Rogers’ portrayal of romantic emotions is rather swifter and cruder. In Carry On Cleo (1964), Mark Anthony (Sid James) goes to see Cleopatra (Amanda Barrie), and is instantly overcome by her dazzling beauty. His first reaction at seeing her submerged in the Egyptian bath is conveyed by an upward glissando on the timpani – an immortal ‘Carry On’ sound if ever there was one!
Bruce Montgomery and Eric Rogers had their own individual styles of composition, and yet they both equally match the spirit of Carry On in their music. Their music not only matches the rest of the film; it becomes a source of comedy in its own right.
The spirit of the Carry On films is founded in popular light entertainment. Whilst their underlying formula was highly unoriginal, their transformation and delivery of it was fresh and contemporary. The music, too, is rooted in all things light. It has a sound which affectionately embraces Britain’s musical past whilst acknowledging the ever-changing present; just as all good light music does. The films were consistently popular at the box office. Despite this – or even because of it – they have been heavily criticised. During one day of filming, a brash interviewer cornered producer Peter Rogers in Pinewood Studios:
"Still making the same old crap, Peter?" he asked.
"If you call money crap, then yes I am," Rogers replied.
It could be argued that commercial success and artistic quality are naturally in conflict with one another. This is because composers are continually forced into structural frameworks set by the mechanical and administrative frameworks of film-making. The Carry On composers were subjected, perhaps more than ever, to these restrictions. After viewing the fine cut with the director, the composer had no more than two weeks to write his score, and only two days in which to rehearse and record it. And yet these scores have not suffered musically; indeed, one could argue that the tight confinements of a Carry On budget production helped to ensure the kind of precision which is so evident in the music. The same was true for so many light music composers, who wrote such large amounts of high quality music in a very limited time.
The only way in which a film maker produces light comedy is through his being meticulous. Comedians do not perform light-hearted humour by light-hearted means; they are meticulous in planning their act. In the same way, light music is written by serious composers who are meticulous in their craft. The Carry On films have an unequivocally light image. All elements of the production, however, involved the height of precision and accuracy – the screenplay, the costumes, the lighting, the camerawork and the music. In being both light and meticulous the Carry Ons went beyond the norms of popular entertainment by taking on their own special quality. This quality may be at odds with the criteria traditionally used to define good film; but whatever the Carry Ons achieved, they achieved only through the most precise means.
The Carry On scores revel in leitmotifs, clichés, tonal colours and lyrical melodies – elements traditionally criticised as being at odds with true freedom of musical expression. Ironically the music succeeds for this very reason. It is the constant engagement with the listener’s expectations – the continuous delivery of something familiar – which helps enhance this popular style of comedy. Just as the content of the films relied primarily on British cultural stereotypes, the music worked along similar lines. So we have military music in Carry On Sergeant, nautical music in Carry On Cruising, wild west music in Carry On Cowboy, crude horror music in Carry On Screaming … and so on. The very essence of humour is grounded in comparison. In this context the audience is comparing familiar aspects of their culture to comic parodies, as presented by the films. That is why the Carry On films thrive on a very direct and objective relationship between music and action.
The Carry On films transformed their deep British roots into something fresh and contemporary. The music followed suit; Bruce Montgomery and Eric Rogers knew the style and delivered it in their own ways, whilst remaining ever-faithful to the original spirit of the series. The suggestion that the music of the films is ‘a remarkable match’ does not appear to go far enough. These two elements are inseparable. They are fully integrated, complementing one another and working together – and in the true spirit of Carry On.
To fully appreciate this article, you are strongly advised to listen to THE CARRY ON ALBUM – Sanctuary Group CDWHL 2119. This features the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Gavin Sutherland, performing many extracts from "Carry On" films composed by Bruce Montgomery and Eric Rogers.