"ON A SPRING NOTE"
Report of RFS London Meeting held at the Bonnington Hotel on Sunday, 1 April, 2007
by VERNON ANDERSON
As soon as one enters through the double doors of the Derby Suite, our venue for the afternoon’s entertainment, the senses are immediately alerted by the strains of a familiar piece of light music and the welcoming smiles of our three ladies on "reception", where we sign in, attend to the usual formalities and may be drawn by what’s on offer in the Raffle. For those arriving between 1.30 pm and 2.00 pm there is the added attraction of the musical gems available from the RFS Record Service.
But it’s rapidly approaching 2.00 pm and already the air is buzzing with animated conversation as friends greet each other, discuss new releases and exchange pleasantries as the strains of our "settling in" music is heard. Today it’s the Overture In My Memoirs from "Mike Todd’s Broadway" and already our programme presenters are settled at the top table.
At 2.00 pm precisely, Robert Farnon’s "Proscenium" announces the opening of the afternoon’s proceedings and David sets the scene by welcoming everybody to this, The Robert Farnon Society’s 100th Meeting, a milestone in the society’s history, and introduces fellow presenters Albert Killman and Andre Leon who we will be hearing from a little later.
David sets the pace with a selection from a Robert Farnon film score of the 1950s which, as most of us remember, was the last of the "Road" Films. Albert back announces "The Road to Hong Kong" by the Robert Farnon Orchestra. The film starred Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour, with a young Joan Collins as the "love" interest and gave Robert Farnon just one word to "dubb in" as Bing and Joan went into that memorable embrace. (The Programme at this point has Albert remembering Don Lusher, but that is now held over to Part Three).
David now introduced Andre Leon who presented an Appreciation of Eric Coates who died 50 years ago this year (1886-1957).
Andre’s selection was taken from the following Eric Coates compositions/recordings available:-
(It was here that your reporter made his entrance as Andre’s presentation came to an end). However, Andre acknowledged what a privilege it was to present his selection at the 100th RFS Meeting. Albert thanked Andre for his presentation which received a warm appreciation from the audience. Albert then introduced a glowing tribute to Bob Farnon from Vera Lynn, who celebrates her 90th birthday this year. It included Bob’s arrangement of Arthur Schwartz’s lovely Something to Remember You By (Vocalion CDLK 4108) which this writer found particularly poignant.
Next we came to Latest Releases in which David and Albert play some of the new Light Music CDs currently available through the RFS Record Service. Number one on the "turntable" was Frank Chackfield’s Singing Strings playing the McCann/Bolesworth collaboration Pulling Strings from the Living Era CD "Frank Chacksfield in the Limelight" – introduced by David who then handed over to Albert. He selected a highlight from the new Jasmine CD – Robert Farnon Orchestra with Beryl Davies singing You Keep Coming Back Like A Song. A lovely arrangement typical of Bob.
Next David introduced a piece by Trevor Duncan, here as our special guest 3 years ago and sadly no longer with us. We heard his A Waltz for Terry – a lovely reflective piece which (for some) had "Farnonesque" undertones. This comes from the Boosey & Hawkes 3 CD Digipack of 1950s 78s on the Polygon label. Albert then played an arrangement by Laurie Johnson of the Song of the Pearl Fishers in "beguine" rhythm by his orchestra, with the accent on bass, which became one of his trademarks. This comes from the new Guild Light Music Series, Volume 4 – Cornflakes. David commented that the sound quality is very good for that piece considering its age and noted on reflection that Laurie celebrates his 80th birthday this year.
David followed this with a piece from the new Naxos CD whose theme is Vintage TV and Radio Classics – Cyril Watters’ Willow Waltz – a particular favourite.
Albert – "And at only £6.00 it’s excellent value". He then went on to introduce the CD of Lena Horne’s "Lena – A New Album" recorded in 1976 with Robert Farnon and His Orchestra. David Snell also makes a contribution on this album together with (amongst others), Phil Woods on saxophone, adding some special touches to Bob’s great charts. From this recording Albert selected My Funny Valentine. The CD becomes available thanks to Mike Dutton in negotiations with RCA who recorded the original album. The CD also features the original artwork. David remarked that Lena was superb on this album and noted that Bob and Lena were born within a few months of each other (1917) so she’ll soon be 90, which is remarkable. There was a well deserved spontaneous response of appreciation from the audience.
Next David played the opening track from a new Guild CD titled Continental Flavour – Cole Porter’s The Last Time I Saw Paris arranged and played by Ron Goodwin and His Orchestra.
Albert’s next selection came from David Rose and His Orchestra playing Harold Arlen’s classic Last Night When We Were Young. This features on another new Guild CD called Amor Amor in the Music for Romance vein. The original title of the collection was Cocktails for Two, which is the opening track played by the Robert Farnon Orchestra. But we couldn’t find a suitable picture for the CD cover, so the name had to be changed!
David then introduced us to the latest release from Jasmine Records of Robert Farnon’s Orchestral and Film Music – They Wanted His Big Hits, so this CD, the first of two, includes four film sound tracks including Maytime in Mayfair which closes the album. And so we launched into that lovely Dream Dance sequence and closing titles music. A real joy to hear again. As this piece was playing we were graced by the arrival of harpist David Snell, who quietly found a seat and settled in to enjoy the rest of the programme.
The second CD in the collection includes Robert Farnon and his Orchestra accompanying singers on UK Decca. (A full list of the pieces on both these CDs appears in the review on pages 78 and 79 of JIM 171, March, 2007).
In giving the Parish Notices, David made an appeal to anyone who felt they would like to take over the responsibility of Magazine Editor as he felt, after many years in this capacity, he would like to stand down. Could they see him during the next interval.
Next came the matter of the increasing costs for the hire of the hotel room for our meetings. David asked for a show of hands for an agreement in principle to a minimal increase in members’/visitors’ contribution in the future, to enable us to continue our meetings at the Bonnington Hotel. This was greeted with almost total support for which David offered his special thanks to the meeting.
And last, (but by no means least) David announced that a special DVD would soon be available of Bob’s 1971 concert at the Royal Festival Hall. Derek Boulton has been the prime mover in obtaining the video recording in colour of Bob Farnon conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra in a concert of his orchestral music and so is quite unique.
David also highlighted the special souvenir 2 DVD set celebrating the Society’s first 50 years, produced by Geoffrey Richardson (which every member should have in their collection). (These new DVDs were subsequently reviewed in JIM 172 June 2007).
David passed on a message received from fellow members Malcolm and Iris Frazer who are due to be grandparents again. And at this point David sent us off for a welcome Tea Break to the Thomson Holidays theme music.
During the interval the writer noted yet another celebrity quietly reading the latest copy of JIM, pianist/composer Eric Parkin, who amongst his other attributes has transcribed many of Bob’s pieces for pianoforte in his own inimitable style.
And so we were called back to our seats for the 3.30 pm kick-off for PART TWO with Albert at the helm (if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphors).
Albert back announced the Thomson Holiday Music which was a "35 second download", and set the ball rolling with Bob Farnon and the George Mitchell Glee Club’s rendition of The Village Fair (from Music in the Air).
Albert then handed over to fellow presenter Tony Clayden (who had left the control desk in the capable hands of Andre Leon) who now introduced our special guest of the afternoon, Matthew Curtis.
He began by noting that it was indeed a privilege to be a guest on the occasion of the 100th Meeting of the Robert Farnon Society. Unlike the Bank of England, who have elected to remove Edward Elgar from the £20.00 note in time for the 150th Anniversary of his birth (1857-1934). Matthew’s first piece was Tarantella (from the Little Dance Suite) played by the London Symphonia conducted by Gavin Sutherland, (Cameo 2035).
Matthew praised the society for supporting the work of living composers and noted that "Nostalgia" plays into the hands of those people who would destroy this "style of music". His next piece was called At Twilight for strings and harp and is his latest recording (on Cameo 2055). A very evocative and atmospheric piece (certainly for this writer). Matthew continued:- "An occasion like this presents a good cue for a reliable rant; and to define exactly what light music is. The key is that a lot of composers not here today would be able to show examples in many of their pieces – the likes of Shostakovich wrote some good examples, as did Franz Lehar. Programme makers on BBC Radio 2 and Radio 4 seemed to have subconscious prejudices as to choice of music, as does Classic FM". Matthew also cited Eric Coates’ and US composer Jessie Knight’s definitions of light music and orchestration.
His next selection was a miniature overture, composed for small orchestra titled On the Move (again from Cameo 2055). "The xylophone is painfully sharp, as the recording was made on a very hot day, but it can’t be helped". "One is always aware that one’s selection of pieces may be shorter than the booked time, which is tantamount to paying for the musicians to go home early".
Next followed Irish Lullaby. "This was played in New Zealand about 2 weeks ago for St. Patrick’s Day". (Cameo 2035). "Charity Butler (clarinet) is featured on these recordings, and is married to Gavin Sutherland".
Matthew’s next selection was Divertimento Concertante in three movements. We heard the last movement. (Cameo 2055). Matthew’s latest recording project is Cameo 2060 which he said "sounds like a brand of Mexican Lipstick". "It has Gavin Sutherland at Piano with vocal by Maria Vacsiliou (soprano). It’s a setting of poems by Ann Harriett, a friend of Matthew’s mother, who died about 20 years ago". The piece is titled Distant Memory and is very reflective and beautifully sung – "a glorious voice" (overheard). "And so it’s back to where it all started, with acknowledgements to Alan Langford and the BBC".
On introducing his last selection, Matthew said "this one was not commissioned – titled Festive March from a private recording of 1983 with Ashley Lawrence conducting the BBC Concert Orchestra". Tony confirmed that this is not available on CD at the moment.
In conclusion, Matthew said he was not involved with library music and prefers concert performances of his works. Of the composers who have influenced his music he exclaimed "You tell me", but in all conscience he acknowledged the works of Rossini, Eric Coates and last, but not least, Ron Goodwin, and thanked everyone for listening.
Albert thanked Matthew for a thought provoking and entertaining presentation which received a very warm appreciation from the audience.
Albert now introduced Tony Clayden for a review of recent reissues of note. Tony said he felt like the dust cart after the Lord Mayor’s Show and began with a:
Albert thanked Tony and then asked Matthew and Tony to engage in the "lucky dip" for the Raffle Draw. Then Come on In by Sid Dale Orchestra (John Dunn’s signature tune) took us into the next interval.
PART THREE: Back to seats music (not noted) and with everyone comfortably settled Albert paid tribute to the much regarded jazz trombonist Don Lusher who sadly died last year. Don is well remembered for his great playing with the Ted Heath Band which he later took over to much acclaim. He could also be found among the top session men on many of Robert Farnon’s recordings. To celebrate that association, Albert played Carlos Jobim’s Wave with Don soloing with the Robert Farnon Orchestra, conducted by Bob, which was much appreciated by the audience.
To present the selections for the last part of the Programme, Albert had been joined by Cab Smith and Brian Reynolds. And he now introduced Cab for his "Swing Session" which this time began with Bob’s From the Highlands suite; from which we heard Charlie is my Darling. (Sadly this was cut short due to a ‘technical hitch’) so we went straight into Globe Trotting, which Bob recorded in Hamburg in 1975. Cab closed his session with Hoagy Carmichael’s My Resistance is Low which Bob Farnon recorded at Kingsway Hall in May 1952 – Orchestra with the Johnston Singers. This one comes from the new Jasmine CD 2 (15).
Albert thanked Cab, to a round of applause and then handed over to Brian Reynolds and, in so doing, made an announcement concerning the BBC Trust (formerly the BBC Board of Governors) regarding consultation documents on the website. This is an opportunity to submit our views. Public consultations end on 10 April, 2007. Brian then introduced his first number in his "Radio Recollection" spot:
Albert thanked Brian for his contribution which was much appreciated.
Albert then drew our attention to the honour bestowed on George Shearing (the "Boy from Battersea") whose services to the field of jazz has now been recognised with a knighthood. Albert mentioned his long association with Bob Farnon and, as a tribute to Sir George, played a piece from their collaboration on the "How Beautiful is Night" album, recorded at CTS Wembley (9/92), George Gershwin’s Oh Lady be Good in a lilting waltz tempo, and ending with George’s little figure from Bob’s Portrait of a Flirt which brought a few appreciative smiles and a well deserved round of applause from the assembled company.
During the playing of this piece Cab and Brian left the top table and Albert was joined by David for the next presentation, who having been introduced by Albert led us into his final selection of music beginning with a Special Request from Norman Grant, for Clive Richardson’s Melody on the Move with the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra conducted by Charles Williams. This comes from the Guild Light Music Series on which 1,000 pieces of music is now available (and increasing). David then made mention of John Fox’s latest composition with the title A Surrey Rhapsody which David allows Brian Kay to introduce (from his BBC3 Radio Programme). The piece opens with the rich sound of birdsong, a dawn chorus which leads into a reflective pastoral scene, played by the Royal Ballet Symphonia. As the composer was present with us today David invited him to stand for the ovation, especially as he is celebrating his 83rd birthday this month. John graciously acknowledged the warm response. David then introduced a gem from the past – Robert Farnon introducing his Mid Ocean arranged and played by Douglas Gamley (piano) and orchestra conducted by Bob, from the "Best of Both Worlds" Series on BBC2. Recorded at BBC Television Centre on 18 October, 1964, and transmitted on 20 December that year.
David’s closing piece was Pia Zadora with the London Philharmonic Orchestra arranged and conducted by Robert Farnon in End of a Love Affair/How about Me from the unreleased 3rd album (13-15/11/90, CTS Studios, Wembley) – from the RFS Archive.
And on that note David brought the Society’s 100th Meeting to a close, with thanks to our Guest of Honour, Matthew Curtis, to the Presenters, Andre Leon, Tony Clayden, Cab Smith and Brian Reynolds; all the helpers on reception and for arranging the Raffle. Everyone helping with the RFS Record Service and special thanks to Tony Clayden for all his technical support facilities. But, most important, the appreciative audience who came to today’s special meeting. "Wishing everyone a great summer and looking forward to seeing you in November".
Closing music – Robert Farnon’s evergreen Melody Fair etc.
In completing this Report I acknowledge with thanks the assistance I received from Malcolm Powell who kindly provided me with notes and additional material clarifying some aspects of the presentations but, more especially, the early part of the meeting, missed because I was unavoidably delayed.
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