Meeting of the Robert Farnon Society at the Park Inn, London on 28th March 2010
reported by BRIAN REYNOLDS
Once again the months had rolled by, during which time we had experienced one of the coldest winters that many of us could remember - but it was now spring - but only by a week, as our meeting was taking place earlier to avoid Easter Sunday. As usual, an impressive number of people had decided that as there was nothing much on the telly, an afternoon wallowing in the glorious melodies of yesteryear would be worthwhile - and as usual, they were right!
We took our seats to Farnon Farrago played by the BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by Robert Farnon.
Albert Killman welcomed us to the show and informed us that, once again, David Ades was unable to attend, as his younger grandson had been rushed to hospital for an emergency operation. Happily, the operation was a success and the boy has now recovered. I know that David was particularly disappointed to have missed two consecutive meetings, having formerly had an unblemished attendance record since the society was formed.
The show opened with The Trolley Song arranged and conducted by Robert Farnon - a recently discovered excerpt from the AEF "Canada Show" featuring the Canadian Band of the AEF. This was followed by 'Oh! What Love has Done to me' by Gershwin played by the John Wilson Orchestra and taken from the much acclaimed MGM Prom and was in fact, the second finale from the show - the piece that the BBC didn't broadcast! Next we were treated to an arrangement of the Black Bottom played by the Robert Farnon Orchestra.
We continued with a tribute to Sir John Dankworth, who died earlier in the year. First, we heard his Widespread World, composed for Associated-Rediffusion Opening Music and played by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Gavin Sutherland. Then followed Further Experiments With Mice in which the London Symphony Orchestra play 'Three Blind Mice' in the style of classical composers. The Dankworth tribute concluded with part of the theme from the film Sapphire composed by Phil Green and played by the Pinewood Studio orchestra, and featuring the saxophone of Johnny Dankworth.
Readers will recall that our previous meeting had taken the form of a tribute to Angela Morley. However, time did not permit us to include some pieces which she had sent to Paul Clatworthy. After a spoken introduction from Angela Morley we heard Mary's Theme from Summer Girl, Diana and Hillary from Emerald Point and At the Beach from Summer Girl.
Now it was time to take a look at the new releases and Albert commented on the new Sinatra re-releases and played us The Gypsy from the sessions with Bob Farnon. Next came a piece called Cecilia from the Dennis Farnon Orchestra, which is featured on the Guild CD 'Orchestral Gems in Stereo'. This piece is, incidentally, also featured on a new Vocalion re-issue of two Dennis Farnon albums 'Enchanted Woods/Caution Men Swingin'.
Next came a Stanley Black arrangement of I Love Paris featuring the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Roderick Dunk. This comes from the recent Dutton Epoch CD 'Showtime', sponsored by the BBC Concert Orchestra Supporters Club to celebrate their 25th anniversary. This was followed by Let's Beguine written by Otto Cesana and played by his orchestra. This is a track from a new 'Guild' CD called 'Strings in Rhythm' - a good title for a CD, as indeed it was a good title for a 1950s orchestra under the direction of Henry Croudson! Our final new release was Passepartout from the Victor Young film score for Around the World in Eighty days. It takes the form of a medley of familiar tunes, and was recently released on 'Vocalion'
It was now coming up to teatime and Albert drew our attention to a light music programme to be broadcast on Good Friday on Three Counties Radio, and presented by former Radio Two announcer, Colin Berry. This was to be the fifth in a series of occasional light music specials which has compered.
We broke for tea to the accompaniment of John Dankworth's theme for Tomorrow's World.
We returned to our seats to Robert Farnon's The Big Night played by the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra.
It was now time to meet our special guest for the afternoon, Iain Kerr, a pianist and organist who first came to my attention in the sixties, when Iain Kerr and his Keyboards were sometimes featured on 'Music While You Work'. I had discovered his extensive website whilst 'surfing the net' some months earlier and as it was apparent that he had enjoyed a long and varied career in the world of entertainment and knew Robert Farnon personally, I decided that he would make an ideal guest and invited him to address us. We are most grateful to him for agreeing to share his experiences with us.
Having 'found' Iain, it was felt that I should interview him. I'm no Jeremy Paxman (not that I want to be) so I confined myself to simply guiding Iain into the areas which would be of interest. Iain kindly provided a cue sheet, suggesting aspects of his career to be covered.
Iain Kerr, (pianist, organist, conductor, composer, writer, comedian, radio and television personality) told us that whilst he was born in Edinburgh, much of his early life was spent in New Zealand. A child prodigy, his first broadcast - a fifteen minute programme of Schumann, was at the age of four!
Iain told us how, in 1958, he went to Australia, chalking up hundreds of radio and television performances. Returning to the UK in 1962, Iain played piano and organ at the Mayfair Hotel; he is a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists and a Batchelor of Music. During this period he met many famous people, including Bob Hope, Tony Hancock, Errol Garner and Margaret Rutherford. BBC executive, Kenneth Baynes heard him and invited him to do 'Music While You Work' as 'Iain Kerr and his Keyboards' which consisted simply of Iain, seated at the Hammond Organ, with a piano keyboard to his right, accompanied by a drummer. All of the broadcasts were performed from memory, without a sheet of music in sight!
Iain told us that he was commissioned to write a piece of music to celebrate the launching of a new tractor, produced by Massey Ferguson, and a recording of the work was provided to the workers in their Coventry factory. When Iain subsequently played the piece on 'Music While You Work' all the factory workers downed tools and cheered! The Managing Director commented to the effect that he thought MWYW was intended to boost production not to stop it! Excerpts from one of Iain's broadcasts were interspersed throughout the presentation, as well as a recording of Iain playing at the Mayfair Hotel.
Iain told us how he toured the world for ten years, with his comedy partner Roy Cowen, with a double act called Goldberg and Solomon in a show called 'Gilbert and Sullivan go Kosher', depicting how G and S songs might have sounded, had their composers been Jewish.
Iain then went to the piano and played Misty for us. He followed this by singing a hilarious parody of My Way - well it certainly was Iain's way!
Sadly, Roy Cowen died in 1978 and Iain returned to the Mayfair Hotel in London, where he continued to entertain the likes of Debbie Reynolds, Larry Adler, Marlon Brando, Woody Herman, Phyllis Diller and Robert Farnon - who took a particular interest in Iain's compositions.
Just over an hour was not enough to fully cover Iain's long and fascinating career, but everybody seemed to really enjoy his presentation. We are most grateful to him for giving up a Sunday afternoon to come and talk to us. Full details of his career can be found on his website http://www.kerroy.com/
Following the raffle, it was now time for our second interval and we heard the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra playing Robert Farnon's 'Holiday Flight '.
We returned to our seats to the accompaniment of Robert Farnon's 'Huckle Buckle' from the QHLO followed by a member's request - April in Paris from the John Wilson Orchestra.
It was now time for an old friend of the Society to come to the top table - John Fox, who then proceeded to tell us about his newly published autobiography, which I am sure will interest many of our members. He also played us his arrangement of Day by Day played by the BBC Radio Orchestra, under his direction. Finally, he played us 'Morning Air' from his 'Countryside Suite'
Next, we heard a piece called 'Twinkletoes' by Don Gillis and featuring the Sinfonia Varsova conducted by Ian Hobson. This was played as a special request for our own Malcolm Osman and it was followed by the first movement of 'An American Wind Symphony:The Gaels' by Robert Farnon and played by the Roxbury High School Honors Wind Symphony (performed on May 26th 2006 under their conductor Stanley Saunders).
It was now time for my 'Radio Recollections' spot. I say 'my' with reservation because, although I chose most of the music, I did not present it on this occasion. It was felt that as I had been at the top table, talking to Iain Kerr for over an hour, members would have had quite enough of my ugly mug so I suggested that the more photogenic (but not much) Tony Clayden should take my place on this occasion - well, what do you expect for nine quid, Adonis?
Tony commenced with a rather uptempo arrangement of Toytown Trumpeters by the brilliant organist and pianist, William Davies. It was played by the BBC Midland Light Orchestra under their conductor Jack Coles. We then turned to Fredric Cooper and his Tipica Orchestra (a very popular broadcasting orchestra from Light Programme days) for a piece that is usually played as a samba - Cascade of Stars by Oscar Moderna. This tango arrangement seemed to suit the piece admirably. The next item was chosen by Tony and was Caprice for Strings by Edward White (of Runaway Rocking Horse fame) and was played by the orchestra of the British Forces Network in Germany. Back to my selection for a piece which Tony and I regard as one of the best light music pieces ever written - Edelma by the little-known Torag Tucci. This was played by pianist Maurice Arnold and his Sextet. Maurice Arnold had taken over this string ensemble from Norman Whiteley when he retired in 1959. To conclude Radio Recollections, Tony played us a samba by Ronald Binge - The Red Sombrero performed by Bernard Monshin and his Rio Tango Band. This gave Tony the opportunity to tell us that his late mother used to go out with Bernard Monshin when she was young, and had things turned out differently, he might have been Bernard's son!
Tony commented that it was unusual to hear Bernard Monshin play anything other than a tango - not so! Bernard rarely played more than three tangos in a broadcast, the other items were boleros, rumbas, pasodobles - indeed everything Latin with perhaps the odd waltz or novelty number for contrast.
That brought our afternoon of melody to a close, and it just remained for Albert (who did a splendid job, holding everything together) to thank all of those who took part and to wish us well until we next meet up in November.