Dateline September 2011
Alan Willmott was delighted with the recent Dutton Epoch CD of film music by Doreen Carwithen (reviewed on page 59 of our last issue). She was the wife of William Alwyn and, although many of her film scores were for dramatic subjects, she also wrote the music for the British Transport Films travelogue "East Anglian Holiday" in 1954. Alan (who worked for British Transport Films) reckons that he must have screened it about 150 times, and it remains one of his particular favourites for its melodious score. Some years ago Alan mentioned this film to Philip Lane, who has reconstructed the score for this CD by the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Gavin Sutherland. Alan is still active in documentary film circles: The London Film School of the University College of London is making a documentary about his work with the British Rail Cinema Coaches, and later this year Alan is planning presentations about Hammer Films (1957-1972) with a tribute to the late Ingrid Pitt, who he had the pleasure of meeting at various times. Music composers James Bernard, Malcolm Williamson and Harry Robinson will also be featured.
Brian Reynolds visited the Chelsea Flower Show on 27 May - but not to admire the flowers! He tells us: "I went to the Chelsea Flower Show primarily to hear one of the daily concerts by the band of the Guards Association. You'll be pleased to know that they played Robert Farnon's Jumping Bean. They had apparently only bought it a couple of days ago and, despite sight reading it, gave a very good performance to an audience of hundreds! Some of the parts had been reduced to the point of being barely legible, to get the music on one page - and the principal clarinet came over to me, exclaiming ‘How am I expected to read this - it's so small!’ Light music was clearly alive and well in Chelsea as there were quite a few pieces of light music in the concert, such as Jack Strachey's In Party Mood, Jack Coles' Mexican Serenade and Frederic Curzon's Robin Hood Suite."
The jury is still out regarding the BBC TV documentary "The Joy of Easy Listening", screened on BBC Four in May. David Ades had chatted with the producer the previous February, and he had gained the impression that the programme makers were unsure how light music should be mentioned – if at all. Apparently the first version of the show did try to place light music as part of the general popular music scene of the post-war period, but this section was later consigned to the cutting room floor. The documentary did pick up on the fact that "easy listening" began in the 50s with light orchestral music but skated over this period. Nevertheless Percy Faith got a good screening even thought it compared his appearance to that of a bank manager! Of Robert Farnon there was no mention alas, although Portrait Of A Flirt was heard at one point, but not identified. As Colin Mackenzie commented to us: "what do you expect when you have a plonker like Joseph Lanza involved in the early part of it? I took him to task in my Mantovani book about a couple of serious Mantovani errors he had made in his less than classic 1994 volume ‘Elevator Music’, but here he was again, this time telling us that it was Paul Weston who was the catalyst for all the orchestral music of the 50s. It's news to me. It was an irritating, rather condescending programme which tried to cover too much ground in an hour and a half, but there was some quite good footage of some old favourites. Mantovani even made an all too brief cameo at the start and, curiously, Charmaine was played as background to a film of 1960s rioting!" A highly respected BBC radio producer told Journal Into Melody that he found himself frequently shouting "NO!" at the screen in response to some of the comments from so-called ‘experts’. It is good that the BBC is trying to make its audience aware of something other than the classics or rock’n’roll, but "The Joy of Easy Listening" was merely a frothy 90 minutes which was enjoyable to watch for much of the time, but lost its way when it tried to be factual. Let’s hope that someone will one day make a series of television documentaries about light music that concentrates on the real composers and conductors who were involved, and ignores the likes of Englebert Humperdinck, James Last and The Carpenters. The 2005 BBC production "A Little Light Music" (expertly narrated by Brian Kay) was a good example of how light music can be covered in a television documentary, in a highly enjoyable and factually accurate manner. But this is such a wide subject that one occasional programme can only scratch the surface.
A record label in Japan has bought 20 tracks from Reader’s Digest to produce a CD of recordings by Rosemary Squires. No doubt they will include some of the marvellous arrangements that Angela Morley (then working as Wally Stott) did for her. There are still many collectors in Japan who enjoy quality popular music from 40-odd years ago, and Rosie’s CD should sell very well.
BBC Radio 3’s "Live In Concert" on Friday 10 June treated listeners to a superb programme of film music played by the BBC Philharmonic from their new studio in the BBC’s growing Salford complex. Conductor Robert Ziegler concentrated mainly on films from the USA, with John Williams’ Star Wars, Korngold’s Adventures of Robin Hood, Herrmann’s Taxi Driver and Vertigo, Elfman’s Batman and Badalamenti’s Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks and Fire Walk With Me. From Italy we heard a suite based on Nino Rota’s memorable themes for La Strada. But can anyone at the BBC explain why such a concert was broadcast at the same time as "Friday Night Is Music Night" on Radio 2? Goodness knows there are few opportunities to enjoy music like this on the radio these days, so why cannot those in charge of the schedules ensure that clashes like this do not happen. But there was a bonus! As well as being available the following week on the usual ‘Listen Again’ facility via the BBC website, UK viewers with Freeview who happened to tune in to channel 301 during the following week were treated to TV pictures of excerpts from the concert, screened at various times from 6:00am in the morning and repeated until the evening. This isn’t the first time that a radio concert has appeared unannounced in a TV version, so it is always worth wondering what may be lurking when you press the red button!
British members will be familiar with the magazine ‘Evergreen’. Anthony Wills writes to say that the summer edition has a feature on the popular vocal group The Stargazers, founded by Dick James in 1949, who in addition to a prolific career on radio became the first British group to top the British record charts in April 1953 with Broken Wings. There are also brief mentions of The Keynotes, The Johnston Brothers and The Cliff Adams Singers. A CD (C135) containing tracks recorded by The Keynotes and The Stargazers can obtained from Evergreen, PO Box 52, Cheltenham, GL50 1YQ for £9.95 inc. p & p (telephone 01242 515156 for credit card purchases). Evergreen is rather a good read. It is the size of the old Reader’s Digest magazine and comes out 4 times a year, price £3.75 (UK).
The letter from Sidney Torch reproduced in our last issue prompted American organist Lew Williams to send us a cutting from the Daily Mirror which reported that Torch had suffered an accident at the end of a performance in 1940 at the Gaumont State Theatre, Kilburn. Under a banner headline TRAPPED BY ORGAN – PLAYED ON the report stated that Sidney had trapped his foot between the steel-plated stage and his half-ton organ as it rose so that he could take a bow. This was at the end of his recital, but he simply bowed to the audience as usual and pressed a button to lower the organ which released his crushed foot. He then collapsed, saying "Look what I’ve done" and was taken to Willesden General Hospital, where it was discovered that he had broken a big toe and others were crushed. He was unable to play again for several weeks, and told the newspaper: "To think I’ve been going up and down on that organ for two and a half years and now this happens. I should have been used to it by now!" Lew says that it was the only organ he played regularly that had a turntable lift. The space allotted for the console lift was very small; indeed, the console had to be built to very narrow specifications. It sat on the turntable, and there wasn't space for a proper organ bench. A "Howard Seat" (two oblong pads to sit on, supported by a steel pipe anchored into an iron plate which slid under the backside of the pedal board) had to suffice. Lew used to think that the story might have been apocryphal, as it was long a part of cinema organ legend: "Oh, Sid caught his foot, that's why he stopped playing, etc." Torch himself never spoke of this event to anyone, as far as Lew knows. He tells us: "I myself played Kilburn in 1987, but by then, the console had been repositioned from the far right side of the pit to just under the chamber openings. One heard it much more clearly in that spot. Perhaps you know that Torch had a small speaker installed in the centre of the music rack. A feed from a microphone placed in front of the chambers enabled him to hear the organ more clearly, despite the considerable distance from the chambers across the auditorium." Lew Williams was a friend of Angela Morley when she was living in Scottsdale, and she used to visit to hear him play. He says: "Fortunately, the crowds keep coming to Organ Stop where I play, so the downturn in the economy hasn't really affected us at all. I guess it's a blessing to be able to work in Light Music in times such as these."
In the booklet notes with the recent Guild CD "Bright and Breezy", mention is made of the few discrete passages in "South Of The Alps" where an organ is heard. This is usually absent in later recordings, where woodwinds often take over the organ passages. Ralph Harvey has confirmed to us that the organist on these 1937 German HMV 78s is actually the composer of the suite, Ernst Fischer. He used the pseudonym ‘Marcel Palotti’ for his organ recordings, many of which were once available in Britain on Parlophone.
Debbie Wiseman MBE will be conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in a special festive concert in aid of the Breast Cancer Campaign – "The Magic of Christmas". This takes place on Sunday 4 December at London’s Cadogan Hall, commencing at 3:30 pm. Debbie will be joined by presenter Simon Bates, and special guests Nigel Havers, Cherie Lunghi, George Layton, James Loynes, Gary Lineker and Sir Bobby Charlton. The magical programme will be suitable for all the family, with Christmas favourites such as The Nutcracker Suite, Sleigh Ride and White Christmas alongside Debbie Wiseman’s own lyrical setting of Oscar Wilde’s fairy story The Selfish Giant. Telephone bookings - 020 7730 4500; online bookings – www.cadoganhall.com
We continue to receive comments from readers in praise of Angel Radio, which is based in the south of England. If you are on the south coast roughly between West Sussex and East Dorset you may be able to receive it on your digital radio, but if you have internet access visit www.angelradio.co.uk. It was the first community radio station to be honoured with the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. Many hospital radios also benefit from tireless volunteers, and our committee member Chris Money is involved with Radio St Helier, at the St Helier Hospital in Carshalton, Surrey. In the past Chris has interviewed John Fox on his regular Light Music programme.