11 Jun

Seventh Heaven

Written by

(Robert Farnon)
Analysed by Robert Walton

The 1940s and 1950s were unquestionably the Golden Era of Light Music. The 1940s was especially an exciting time for the genre because the greatest mood music orchestra of all time was conceived by Chappells of London. This was in response to an unprecedented demand for specialized production music for use on radio, television, films and particularly for cinema newsreels.....The Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra reigned supreme.

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(Robert Farnon)
Analysed by Robert Walton

The 1940s and 1950s were unquestionably the Golden Era of Light Music. The 1940s was especially an exciting time for the genre because the greatest mood music orchestra of all time was conceived by Chappells of London. This was in response to an unprecedented demand for specialized production music for use on radio, television, films and particularly for cinema newsreels.....The Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra reigned supreme.

The earlier New Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra existed from around 1916 until 1927 for the performance of Chappell Ballad Concerts. But in 1942 a new aggregation on the block was born, comprising many players from London’s symphony orchestras. All it needed now were conductors and composers but there was no shortage of them. Charles Williams took care of the first batch of 78rpm discs and later Sidney Torch and Robert Farnon added their considerable talents. The results of this teamwork became legendary and almost overnight modern state-of-the-art light music in its finest form came like a bolt from the blue into the 20th century. Like big band music of the time it never really dated. The sounds it produced were out of this world. The old-fashioned compositions of the 1930s and before were now just a memory.

But sadly this state of affairs was not to last. A dispute with the Musicians’ Union in the late 40s forced publishers to switch their recording sessions to the continent. This unfortunately had its downside as European orchestras weren’t capable of interpreting light music in quite the same way. Hence the “electricity”, “feel” and indeed expertise established by the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra was simply not replicated by the new orchestras. And it showed. But before we examine Seventh Heaven, let’s find out the origins of the title.

Being in seventh heaven is a state of ecstasy or perfect bliss. The term occurs in Sir Walter Scott’s novel “Heart of Midlothian” Chap.33 (1818) - ‘You may go to the Seventh Heaven’. It may also have been popularized as “Seventh Heaven”, the title of a Janet Gaynor/Charles Farrell silent movie (US 1927). But the concept of a seventh heaven is an ancient one. In the Jewish and Muslim religions there are seven of them. The Jews also call it ‘the heaven of heavens’ where God and the most exalted angels live. The division probably derives from an ancient Babylonian theory of astronomy in which the seventh ring of stars was the highest, and represented supreme bliss.

Going straight in, the main melody acting as an introduction, sets the scene for a glamorous Hollywood premiere, pageant or show. Then the strings effectively play two muted “fanfares” over which descending broken chords prepare for the official tune. This typical Farnon surge in a very danceable tempo like Melody Fair is propelled along by the rhythm section. It’s as if Seventh Heaven has just been unleashed and found a new freedom. There’s also a feeling that “everything in the garden’s lovely”. In other words ‘all is well’ with the world.

The tune literally sparkles under Farnon’s floodlights and then a beautiful key change tells us we’re well and truly on our way in one of his famous “travels into tunes”. Then, unusual for this type of majestic piece, the melody loosens up with three staccato string notes repeated after another key change. A climax takes us into an exclusive universe where we are free to wallow in the world of Robert Farnon. The horns join in for yet another chance to hear this gorgeous tune gradually slowing down and working towards a fabulous finish but not before the strings show who’s really boss!

It may not have been the pre-1950s magical Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra, but I have to admit the performance was very good. Perhaps it had something to do with the presence of the composer himself conducting at the recording session, because the Danish State Radio Orchestra played so well!

Seventh Heaven
“Pink Champagne”
Living Era
CD AJA 5470

Following this article, William Zucker was induced to provide further notes and impressions on it in a follow-up article "Some Further Notes on Robert Farnon's "Seventh Heaven"". His article can be read here.

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10 Jun

Stephen Hough's Dream Album

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Hyperion CDA68176 (80:03)

Cheshire-born Stephen Hough is high in the crowded international pantheon of outstanding concert pianists. His latest album is a real winner: - no fewer than 27 tracks of personal favourites, including his own transcriptions and variations on well-known classics...

Read the review here...

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31 May

Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra May Concert 2018

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Another twelve months have sped by, and it was time for the 2018 May Bank Holiday concert performed by the Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra...

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Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra  May Concert 2018
Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra May Concert 2018

Another twelve months have sped by, and it was time for the 2018 May Bank Holiday concert performed by the Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra, which took place once again in the Gallery of Lauderdale House, Highgate Hill, in North London. This house has a long history; it dates from 1582 and was briefly the home of King Charles II's mistress, the famous (infamous?) Nell Gwyn, whose ghost is reputed to haunt the building even unto this day!

Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra  May Concert 2018
Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra May Concert 2018

Uncharacteristically glorious weather encouraged an excellent turnout, including several from the LLMMG (and their guests) and an unexpectedly large number of most welcome 'first-timers', in addition to many loyal 'regulars' – some of whom have supported every single one of these concerts during the last sixteen years.

As one of woefully few contemporary exponents of the Palm Court genre, the orchestra always manages to surprise and delight its audiences with new material, which is continually being added to an already extensive repertoire. This year's programme was no exception, and much of the music was totally new to the players!

Their mission is to feature compositions which have been totally forgotten or ignored, alongside more familiar favourites, and these can range from 'the highlights of the Palm Court era to the delightful but obscure', to quote from their concert programme.

Amongst the roll-call of 'more familiar' composers were to be found the names of Jack Strachey, Vittorio Monti (of Czardas fame), George Gershwin (his opus 1, Rialto Ripples) , Albert Ketelbey, Matyas Seiber, Oscar Straus, Haydn Wood, (who lived for some years in Highgate, quite close to the venue), Gerhard Winkler and Cole Porter.

In addition to the purely instrumental pieces, the proceedings were - as always - enlivened and garnished with some songs from Liz Menezes (who also plays second violin) and Camilla Cutts.

Liz Menezes and Camilla Cutts
Liz Menezes and Camilla Cutts

As has been remarked upon in the past, the members of the ensemble perform with great competence and enthusiasm, and the Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra can arguably be regarded as one of the very best of its type.

Congratulations and very many thanks are therefore due to Adam Bakker and his players for another splendid and extremely enjoyable afternoon of wonderful music.

© Tony Clayden 2018

Pictures courtesy of Brian Luck

Footnote – The ADRO will be our guests at the next LLMMG event in October, at our usual venue in Central London - click here for full details.

As part of the Camden Fringe Festival, they are also giving two concerts at Burgh House, Hampstead, North West London, on Sunday 19th August, at 2.30 pm and 7.00 pm - click here for full details.

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21 May

Laramie

Written by

(Cyril Mockridge)
Al Caiola’s Orchestra
Analysed by Robert Walton

Of all movie music there’s nothing so instantly recognizable as a western theme. This is because many of the best stories of the Wild West captured the ultimate desire and desperation of the human spirit to journey into the unknown in search of a better life. This was the dream of millions of Americans.

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(Cyril Mockridge)
Al Caiola’s Orchestra
Analysed by Robert Walton

Of all movie music there’s nothing so instantly recognizable as a western theme. This is because many of the best stories of the Wild West captured the ultimate desire and desperation of the human spirit to journey into the unknown in search of a better life. This was the dream of millions of Americans. Still is perhaps. According to the Marx Brothers, “Go West” is where the sun always shines and the fun never sets! But in reality it was nothing like that. Anyone determined enough would take the “plunge”. And there were not only mighty rivers to cross, but also plains and deserts to traverse and mountains to climb. And with that hope came an almost religious fervour calling upon God to give them guidance in their quest and bring them safely to their destination. So hence good western themes have an almost hymn-like or folkish quality with the immigrant’s blind faith in their future prospects. All this positivity produced good vibes and hopefully a happy ending. So let’s focus on one such theme.

Television arrived in New Zealand as late as 1960. One of the first series I remember was “Laramie” in back and white. But even more than the storylines, what truly struck a chord was the gorgeous theme by Cyril Mockridge. British-born Mockridge, arranger, pianist and composer emigrated to America in 1922 and was staff composer for 20th Century Fox from 1935 until 1961. Although he wrote the soundtracks for many well known films including “River of No Return”, “The Man who Shot Liberty Valance” and “Cheaper by the Dozen” his name never meant much to the general public. Perhaps it was because he often orchestrated scores for some of the big names and didn’t always get the credit. Incidentally his surname has Devonian origins.

Al Caiola, a highly respected studio guitarist, who played for Percy Faith and André Kostelanetz, takes care of the opening chorus. Then what we’ve all been waiting for, the strings enter in clippity clop-trot tempo with that unforgettably strong tune supported by the horns. From here to the end, the guitar and strings take it in turns to play. It’s the strings that eventually win out declaring their total dominance of the situation. Listen to the way the melody climaxes before coming down to earth.

Hear it on 100 Greatest American Light Orchestras - 2
Golden Age of Light Music, Guild Records (GLCD 5231)

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20 May

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

Written by

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

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

Read the report here...

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13 May

Piccadilly Playboy

Written by

(George Elliott)
Analysed by Robert Walton

In the 1970s when British commercial radio became legal, George Elliott was Head of Productions at LBC (the London Broadcasting Company off Fleet Street). We first met in that capacity when I was a voice over artist. He was also a commentator but I had no idea he was a composer as well. Clearly a man of many talents.

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(George Elliott)
Analysed by Robert Walton

In the 1970s when British commercial radio became legal, George Elliott was Head of Productions at LBC (the London Broadcasting Company off Fleet Street). We first met in that capacity when I was a voice over artist. He was also a commentator but I had no idea he was a composer as well. Clearly a man of many talents.

His Piccadilly Playboy was along the lines of Robert Farnon’s ManhattanPlayboy but eminently less frantic with a more basic orchestration. Strangely enough before Bob moved to Guernsey, the Farnons and Elliotts were neighbours in Gerrard’s Cross. Perhaps George caught the musical bug in Buckinghamshire. He remembered the occasion Bob wrote Bird Charmer for his son David. The inspiration for the title actually came from David’s mother Pat who said that “he could charm the birds out of the trees!”

But this is George Elliott’s Piccadilly Playboy written in 1958 and played by the Symphonia Orchestra conducted by Curt Andersen. It starts with 4 bars of busy woodwind and muted brass straight into the arms of waiting unison strings for a lesson in the art of smooth legato phrasing. At the appropriate moments decorative woodwind slot in to this pleasant 1940’s-type mood music melody.

There’s a noticeable moment’s silence before the bridge begins. Normally this would be filled with orchestral activity but the arranger decided on this occasion to have a deliberate pause. The rhythm section you’ll observe is barely audible. The brass takes the lead while arco strings steadily climb up for decorative duties changing to pizzicato. Another silence.

Back to the main strain as the strings now in harmony keep things moving. Yet another silence. Unison strings play another section, effectively a bonus bridge. After much coming and going we eventually find ourselves back at the official bridge.

Before you can say “George Elliott” the opening is repeated and we go headlong towards the close. Piccadilly Playboy builds up to a satisfactory conclusion with a positive brass assisted finish. It all sounds so effortless.

The English playboy mightn’t be quite as hurried as the American but predictably is more formal and laid back.

Can be heard on
“Light and Lively”
Golden Age of Light Music
Guild Records (GLCD 5160)

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About Geoff 123
Geoff Leonard was born in Bristol. He spent much of his working career in banking but became an independent record producer in the early nineties, specialising in the works of John Barry and British TV theme compilations.
He also wrote liner notes for many soundtrack albums, including those by John Barry, Roy Budd, Ron Grainer, Maurice Jarre and Johnny Harris. He co-wrote two biographies of John Barry in 1998 and 2008, and is currently working on a biography of singer, actor, producer Adam Faith.
He joined the Internet Movie Data-base (www.imdb.com) as a data-manager in 2001 and looked after biographies, composers and the music-department, amongst other tasks. He retired after nine years loyal service in order to continue writing.