In September, 2004, a musical reunion took place in Southern California reports FORREST PATTEN. This event reunited a group of some of the most accomplished and talented composers, arrangers and players in the business. Organized by staunch RFS member composer-arranger Frank Comstock, "Frank’s summit," as we affectionately dubbed it, proved to be a marvellous opportunity for old friends to come together and to share memorable stories of the music business.
In order not to miss an opportunity like this, Nancy and I packed our bags and recording gear and headed to The Sportsmen’s Lodge, a venerable meeting establishment and resort located in Studio City. Our good friend and recent RFS member, Rob Keil, flew down for the day to join the festivities and to assist us in our quest: to obtain a series of exclusive interviews on behalf of the Robert Farnon Society. Starting with this issue of Journal Into Melody, we’d like to present the first of those interviews.
Van Alexander has had a wonderful musical life. He literally was responsible for the launch of Ella Fitzgerald’s career by co-writing and arranging her big hit "A Tisket A Tasket". He wrote a book on arranging and has counted Johnny Mandel as one of his students. He has provided numerous orchestral backings and arrangements for the likes of Gordon MacRae and a host of other Capitol Records recording artists. He has scored a number of memorable films and television shows, including Dean Martin’s long-time NBC variety series. He’s also released a series of popular recordings featuring his own orchestra. Here’s Van’s story.
Van, who will turn 90 this year, shows no sign of slowing down. He recently completed some big band charts on behalf of pianist Michael Feinstein for a Carnegie Hall concert. EMI in the UK has recently re-issued two of his popular Capitol albums on a single CD. He’s won numerous awards and is very grateful for all of the good that’s come his way. In Van’s own words: "It’s been a wonderful ride." I have a feeling that this ride is far from over. It’s like the best "E Ticket" ride at Disneyland!
Interviewed by FORREST PATTEN
Forrest Patten: Van Alexander, on behalf of the Robert Farnon Society, I’d like to thank you for joining us today for this very special interview. I think our readers would be interested in the story behind your tune "A Tisket A Tasket" for Ella Fitzgerald and Chick Webb’s band.
Van Alexander: It was the luckiest thing that happened in my career. Pure luck. I was arranging for Chick’s band. In 1938 they were playing at Levaggi’s Restaurant in Boston and were also on the air three or four times a week nationwide. Naturally, all of the music publishers were after Chick to play all the current hits. He was loading me up two or three weeks ahead of time with writing assignments. I was doing three arrangements a week plus the copying. Ella had recently joined the band and I was doing all of her early Decca arrangements. One day she said "Gee, I’ve got a great idea for a tune. Why don’t you try to work up something on the old nursery rhyme "A Tisket A Tasket." I said, "That’s a great idea, Ella. Let me think about it." But I didn’t have time the first week. When I came to Boston with my arrangements, she asked me if I had thought about the tune. I said, "Yeah I did, Ella. Maybe next week I’ll have something." Next week arrived and I still didn’t have anything. Now she got a little testy with me. She said, "If you don’t want to do it, just tell me and I’ll ask Edgar Sampson." He was the first saxophone player in the band and a wonderful arranger. So I said, "Hold the phone, Ella. Don’t ask Edgar. I’ll get to it." The song is an old nursery rhyme that was in the public domain. Anybody could have written an arrangement for it. What I did was to put it into a 32-bar song and added all of the novelty things. I took it to Boston. They rehearsed it that day and put it on the air that night. Robbins Music Publishing had a man in Boston named Leo Talent. He called Abe Olman (who was a big man at Robbins) and told him to "tape this thing off the air tonight and see what you think." Well, everybody raved about it. Two weeks later, they recorded it at Decca and it became #1 on the Lucky Strike Hit Parade show for 19 weeks. The real irony of the story is that in 1986 (almost 50 years later) because of that record, Ella, Chick and I were inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame. That’s the story. If I hadn’t have done it, Edgar Sampson (or somebody else) would have ended up doing it. It was Ella’s idea. She changed a lot of the lyrics. It was a happy marriage. It was really her entry into the business, as well as mine, too. Chick Webb was just starting to make it, but he didn’t last long enough. He was quite ill and was unable to really cash in on "A Tisket A Tasket."
FP: Let’s go back to your beginning on the East Coast. You were influenced by some of the great Black bands and Black musicians of the day. Tell us about that time in your life.
VA: As a teenager, a lot of us were so-called "jitterbugs." We loved to do the "Lindy Hop" and so-forth. The place to do it and hear some great music at the same time was in Harlem at the Savoy Ballroom. We’d go there quite often and listen to some great bands and great arrangements (which I was always interested in). After going there as often as we did, I struck up a "nodding acquaintance" with Chick Webb. One night I got up a little nerve and said, "Chick, I have a couple of arrangements at home that I think would fit your band. Are you interested?" He said, "Sure, bring them down Friday night for the rehearsal." Well, I was bluffing. I didn’t have any arrangements. I went home and scratched out "Keepin’ Out Of Mischief Now" and the old Dixieland classic "That’s A Plenty." I brought them down to the rehearsal and, unbeknownst to me, the rehearsal started after the job. They’d finish the job at one o’clock, have some Muscatel Wine or something, and they’d start rehearsing about two o’clock in the morning. There were other arrangements in line before mine. Edgar Sampson would bring something in, as would Charlie Dixson (names I would never forget). Anyhow, they got to me about four o’clock in the morning. My mother was frantic. She called the police and told them that her son was out in Harlem. She wondered what he could be doing there at 4:30 in the morning!? I was just turning 19 at the time. Chick liked the arrangements and paid me $10 each for them. He really didn’t have the money so he took an advance on his salary from Charles Buchannan (who was the manager). There were other great bands at the Savoy. There was Teddy Hill, Willie Bryant and, through Chick, I got to write for all of these bands including Louis Armstrong (who had a big band in those days). I remember rehearsing Louis in a brownstone building up in Harlem and, later on, we did some TV shows together.
FP: Let’s talk about the formation of the Van Alexander Orchestra.
VA: The advent of my orchestra came about after "A Tisket A Tasket." There was a fellow by the name of Eli Oberstein who was the head of RCA Victor Records. He had formed what he called a stable of bandleaders/song writers. He signed Larry Clinton, Les Brown, and after "A Tisket," he thought he had another one! So he signed me. My band was fair. We did well for the first couple of years. Then the war came and we couldn’t get good musicians. It sort of petered out. I had an opportunity to come to California with Bob Crosby. The Capitol Theater in New York had been doing just picture shows during the war and since the war looked as if it was going to be over soon, they reinstated their big band policy. And the first one they booked was Bob Crosby. But Bob didn’t have a band! He had just gotten out of the service. So my manager at the time, a guy named Joe Glazer, cooked up a deal where it would be "Bob Crosby and the Van Alexander Orchestra." So we had a nice four weeks at the Capitol. Bob and I had a good relationship. He asked me if I’d like to come out to the West Coast. I told him I’d think about it. As I saw the handwriting on the wall where big bands were concerned, I took him up on the opportunity. And the story unfolds from there.
FP: Besides Ella Fitzgerald, you’ve arranged and conducted for a number of very talented artists, most notable at Capitol Records. The name Gordon MacRae comes to mind.
VA: Dear Gordon had one of the most glorious voices. When he did the "Soliloquy" from ‘Carousel,’ he made it sound as if it was a "real man" singing it. Gordon had just finished doing his two big pictures (Oklahoma and Carousel) and then there was a lull. Nothing was coming his way, partly because (in Hollywood) he was considered to be a kind of "Peck’s Bad Boy." He got a bit of a reputation in Hollywood and producers were a little bit afraid. He did one picture after those two blockbusters, ‘The Best Things In Life Are Free.’ He was going to go out on the road and make a little money based on the success of his two major musical pictures. He needed a conductor and arranger. A mutual friend, Marty Melcher (who was Gordon’s agent) and an old friend of mine who used to do publicity for my band got us together. It was the most wonderful relationship and turned out be very profitable because, through Gordon, I got my foot in the door at Capitol Records (where he was one of their artists). We did 12 or 13 albums together and, as a result, I became one of the in-house arrangers at Capitol. I got to record with other artists including Kay Starr and Dakota Staton. Gordon had four wonderful children and was married to the beautiful Sheila MacRae. Our kids sort of grew up together and I was on the road with Gordon for maybe 12 or 13 years, plus doing his records. When Sheila joined the act, she did so to sort of "solidify" Gordon and keep him on the straight road. They had the #1 nightclub act in the country and played all of the great spots. We had a wonderful time and got to meet an awful lot of people in the process. We even met Pablo Casals while playing Puerto Rico! I really miss Gordon. He sort of straightened out at the end of his life, but it was a little too late. He was a big gambler. In the beginning, he’d be making $25,000 a week in Las Vegas, but would lose it all at the tables. They’d have to pay tax on the money won and ended up owing the government over a million dollars. Sheila’s still around. I see and talk to her occasionally. But she’s having a bit of a financial struggle at this time in her life. It’s a sad story, considering all of the money they made.
FP: In listening to all of the recordings that you’ve done over the years, I’m overwhelmed by the variety of styles that you’ve been able to achieve. You can go from some of the most swinging arrangements from your early roots to an album of hymns featuring a solo organ with chorus. And, of course, there were the operetta albums featuring Dorothy Kirsten and Gordon MacRae. Stylistically, you were like a chameleon where you could blend from one setting to the next.
VA: That’s nice to hear. Someone once called me a "journeyman" arranger. I feel like I’ve done it all. I’ve done 22 feature pictures and hundreds of segments for different television shows that are still being shown.
FP: Let’s talk about some of the television shows and movies.
VA: I did many segments of Bewitched, The Donna Reed Show, I Dream Of Jeannie and Dennis The Menace. I had a deal with Screen Gems Television. The main show that I scored was Hazel starring Shirley Booth. Those early shows would use a twelve or a thirteen-piece orchestra. Today, most shows use a piano or guitar for a play-out! Through Screen Gems, I got a deal at Columbia Pictures. The first picture I scored there was a thing with Joan Crawford called ‘Straight Jacket.’ It was a horror picture. They seemed to like it so I got to do a second picture with Joan. I had one disaster over there, though. I had done four or five successful pictures. They had a Western film with Glenn Ford and Inger Stevens. They had changed directors in the middle of it, as well as writers. The picture was really in trouble. Following those four or five independent projects for Columbia, they said, "Why don’t we give Van a chance? Maybe he can save the picture." They gave me a very good price and I had plenty of time to do it. I was given an office at the studio. I did the score in about six or seven weeks. I had a big orchestra and they were all there at the scoring session (Mike Frankovich and the head of the music department, Joni Taps). They raved about the music and said, "My God. You’ve saved the picture!" I was on cloud nine. So now they had what they called a "preview" of the picture. This is where they show it to the public and try to get some feedback. With my wife and two daughters, we all went to a theatre out here in the San Fernando Valley for the showing. Well, it was a disaster. People were laughing in the serious parts and were hissing the villain. I wanted to crawl under the table. I thought that I had written a pretty good score and everyone at the scoring stage had approved. And now the Columbia brass sees the result in the theatre! Two days later, Mike Frankovitch calls and tells me that he doesn’t think that the music is right for the picture! I asked him if they wanted to change anything and he said, "No, I think that we’re going to throw it all out and re-score it with 10 guitars and make it a real Western." So they hired Mundell Lowe who is a great guitar player. He brought in 10 guitars, but that didn’t help the picture either. It never played in a theatre, but was on television about three weeks later. That made me feel a little better, but I felt as if I’d never do another picture! But I remember what film composer David Raksin once said: "You’re not a full-fledged screen composer until you’ve had a score thrown out of a picture." Many times, things that look like a disaster turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Right at that time, I got a call from my dear friend Les Brown who had the band on The Dean Martin Show. He asked me if I’d like to come over and do some arrangements for the show. They had a couple of other guys doing arrangements at the same time. I said sure and went to work for Les and Dean. During the war in Vietnam, Les would travel with Bob Hope overseas. In his absence, I got to conduct the shows. Greg Garrison, the producer, seemed to like me and gave me many other shows to do. Those included Emmy Awards broadcasts, Gene Kelly specials, and a series featuring the singing group The Gold Diggers. In fact, I got a couple of Emmy nominations but no wins. That was quite a period.
FP: Tell us more about your work on The Dean Martin Show. You actually put out an album with a number of the familiar cues from that show.
VA: We did that at the request of the producer, Greg Garrison. In retrospect, it wasn’t very good for us because he used a lot of those cues on Dean’s Celebrity Roasts programs where he didn’t hire a band. But, the guys wanted to do it as a record date. Dean Martin was a pussycat. He never wanted to rehearse, of course. He thought that the spontaneity of not rehearsing would benefit the show. On the other hand, someone like Perry Como would rehearse for three weeks for a one-hour program. If Dean was doing a duet with somebody like Peggy Lee, we’d make a cassette of a man and a woman singing the particular arrangement, and he’d learn it while driving to or from the golf course. If he loused it up in any way, everybody would laugh and they would do it over again. They just loved Dean. He couldn’t do anything wrong. I wouldn’t say that he was the most dedicated performer in the world, but he got away with it. He’d tell the director, "Point the Italian where you want him."
FP: Talking about television music, what’s happened to the idea of a memorable theme?
VA: You mean what’s happened to melody. Dean’s identification theme was wonderful ("Everybody Loves Somebody Sometimes") written by Ken Lane. An incident happened on the show that benefited me, but I’m still rather chagrined about it to this day. The producer, Mr. Garrison said, "Why don’t we have our own theme for the show?" People kind of shook their heads and wondered how they could replace Ken Lane’s song that had already established such a strong identification with Dean. They asked me to write a new theme where they could own the publishing. It could be very valuable based on performances. I went to Ken Lane and told him he’d have to go to Dean and tell him what’s happening because he (Dean) was rather oblivious to what was going on. Ken asked me if I knew what Dean would say if he’d go to him with a complaint? Dean would throw up his hands and say, "Aw, what’s the difference? Forget about it." As it turned out, I wrote a closing theme that they used for the last year of the show. It was great for me because I got ASCAP performances. But I felt terrible for my dear friend Ken Lane (who passed away a few years ago).
FP: There was another tune from that same album that I remember playing on the air during my early days in radio. In addition to your recording, Ernie Heckscher also covered it on one of his albums. What’s the story behind "The Bar-rump Bump"?
VA:That was an original composition that I wrote for a Dom Deluise special. Following a joke, Greg Garrison would always say "bar-rump bump." He asked me if I could come up with a song using that title. I wrote it and they liked it. Ernie Heckscher recorded it. I actually did five or six albums with Ernie (two of which he actually paid for himself to record). Columbia released a couple of them.
FP: Van, a couple of years ago, ASCAP presented you with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Tell us about that.
VA: They said I was deserving of it because of my multi-faceted career. I’ve been in ASCAP since 1941 (right after "A Tisket"). Coupled with the pictures and television shows that I did, Marilyn Bergman called and said that they had had a board meeting and decided that they had wanted to honour me. I told them that I didn’t know whether or not I was really deserving of a Lifetime Achievement Award, but I was highly honoured. It was a nice evening. I was proud that my whole family was there along with a lot of friends. It’s a nice "notch in the belt," as they say.
FP: Let’s touch upon your three Capitol albums: THE HOME OF HAPPY FEET, SWING! STAGED FOR SOUND and LET’S DANCE THE LAST DANCE.
VA: THE HOME OF HAPPY FEET was actually the pseudo-name for the Savoy Ballroom. But nobody knew what "the home of happy feet" was. So Capitol withdrew that and re-issued that album as THE SAVOY STOMP. Consequently, it sold like hot cakes. I wish it had sold like records! It was an artistic success and it had a lot of great players on it. I know that Uan Rasey played on the dates, as did Barney Kessel. Bob Bain was there on the Swing! Staged For Sound sessions. The Savoy album was a re-creation of, as far as my memory was concerned, tunes that were associated with bands that played at the Savoy. We did Andy Kirk’s "Until The Real Thing Comes Along," (which was his theme); and Chick Webb’s theme "Let’s Get Together." There was Lucky Millinder’s "Ride, Red, Ride" that featured a vocal by Joe Howard and some great trumpet work by Shorty Sherock. The other album, Swing! Staged For Sound was a series of duets accompanied by a big band. We had three drummers (Shelly Manne, Milt Holland and Irv Cottler) and two trombones (Milt Bernhart and Dick Kenney). We had Plas Johnson and Babe Russin on tenor sax. And Henri Rose and Bobby Stevenson were featured on two pianos. It was a good album.
FP: I was blown away by the two pianos on "I Won’t Dance."
VA: That’s where we interpolated Chopin’s "Revolutionary Etude" and tied it into the final arrangement.
FP: Who were your early musical inspirations? I know that your mother was a concert pianist.
VA: Growing up, I loved listening to Andre Kostelanetz and all the things that he did. As I got a little older and started listening to the big bands, there were the Dorseys, Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra, and Benny Goodman. I never dreamed that someday I would have a chance to write for some of them. My all-time favourite was Billy May. I also like Pete Rugolo. There were so many. And there are so many great writers today.
FP: Do you have a personal message that you’d like to send to Robert Farnon?
VA: Well, how does he do it? He’s had a marvellous career and he’s still going; exploring new frontiers all the time. I’d love to meet him personally someday.
FP: Van, we want to thank you very much. You’ve had a wonderful career and are, indeed, a true legend in the music world.
VA: Thank you.
Forrest Patten conducted this interview with Van Alexander on 8 September 2004.
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".