BILL McGUFFIE and his Piano and Strings "Strange Enchantment"


Vocalion CDLK4172

In the summer of 2000, Vocalion released "The Piano Artistry of Bill McGuffie with his Big Band" (CDLK4103) which was warmly received by Bill’s many friends and admirers (for full details see Journal Into Melody 144 – September 2000 – page 22). Very soon it became clear that a second collection of his music should be made available, and this time it was decided that the choice should centre upon Bill’s work with strings – although it was fully realised that whatever Bill performed he couldn’t completely escape from his first love of jazz.

Once again, Bill’s widow Rosemary gave her wholehearted support and encouragement, and the result is this mixture of the old and the new – popular favourites with some lesser-known, but equally enjoyable numbers – all given the polished treatment that was Bill McGuffie’s trademark.

Bill is still regarded with affection as one of Britain's finest pianists of the 20th century. Whether performing as a solo pianist, fronting a big band, or simply participating as a session musician in a large orchestra, he always displayed a supreme air of professionalism which endeared him to everyone who was privileged to know and work with him.

William McGuffie (his parents called him Billy, and he was also known to his friends as Wee Willie McGuffie) was born on 11 December 1927 at Carmyle, near Glasgow, Scotland. The third finger of his right hand was amputated in childhood following an accident, but he never allowed this to handicap his playing. At the age of 11 the Victoria College in Glasgow awarded him its Medal in recognition of his proficiency; a year later he made his first radio broadcast on Children's Hour.

Until he was 14 he was content to enjoy classical music. Then he heard some jazz, and asked his father to buy him some jazz records. McGuffie senior purchased six Charlie Kunz 78s. "His intentions were good!" recalled Bill some years later. While still aged 14 he began playing regularly with the BBC Scottish Variety Orchestra, and was proud to have accompanied two great Scottish artists of the Music Hall, Harry lauder and Will Fyffe.

Bill was also fascinated by the piano he heard in the Victor Silvester Orchestra on records and in radio broadcasts. "If only I could play all those notes" he thought. It was some while before he learned that Silvester actually employed two pianists at that time; with perseverance Bill managed to sound like them both.

Although music was his first love, initially he didn't consider it as a long-term career. He was a teenager during the Second World War, and began studying to become a naval architect. However he moved to Ayr to work with the Miff Hobson Orchestra, then in 1944 took the big step to try his luck in London, where his first engagement was with Teddy Foster at the Lyceum ballroom. Four years with Joe Loss followed, before joining the bands of Ambrose, Sidney Lipton and Maurice Winnick at the famous Ciro's club. Together with Carroll Gibbons, Bill played for staff parties at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.

This grounding in the bread-and-butter side of the music business was to stand Bill in good stead at the Mayfair Club, where he led his own ensemble. But his major breakthrough came in the early 1950s when he spent three years with Cyril Stapleton's BBC Show Band - the first broadcast was heard on Saturday 3 October 1952. This superb ensemble included some of Britain's finest musicians, and the talents of top arrangers were employed to establish this band as one of the finest of its kind in the world. It should have gone on much longer, but inevitably became a victim of the financial constraints which have ever since plagued radio, thanks to the insatiable demands of television.

Bill left the Show Band after three years to go to California, where he worked at MGM Studios with Andre Previn and Johnny Green on several films, including The Tender Trap and Kismet .

Back in Britain, happily Bill's talents remained in strong demand. In England he toured with Stoll Theatre and Moss Empires, topping the bill in Variety. He was a valued member of Kenny Baker's Dozen, and under the influence of Robert Farnon and Philip Green he developed his skills as an arranger and composer, especially for films. His cinema credits are numerous, including themes and sometimes full scores for Too Hot to Handle (1960), It Takes a Thief (1960), The Long Shadow (1961 ), The Boys (1961 ), The Leather Boys (1963), Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (1966), The Asphyx (1972) and The Small Miracle (1973). Back in 1955 he had worked with Robert Farnon on the film Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, starring Jane Russell, and can be seen on-screen in one sequence. In fact Bill made a brief appearance (a la Hitchcock) in virtually every film he worked on, sometimes as a cocktail pianist if the script called for it.

Another Farnon assignment was the last 'Road' movie, the British-made Road to Hong Kong (1962). Old-timers Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour were joined by Joan Collins, who actually sang one number. Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin made guest appearances, and the eagle-eyed can also spot Bill briefly in one sequence.

Bill McGuffie could be heard regularly, as soloist or with his own Group, on radio in programmes such as Kings of the Keyboard, Piano Playtime, Night Ride, Music Through Midnight, Roundabout, Band Parade and Week Ending. He played in the orchestra for Breakfast (and Bedtime) With Braden and Round the Horne. He arranged and conducted for television programmes starring Hermione Gingold, Jimmy Edwards and Ronnie Barker.

Apart from his regular session work, Bill was also in demand from record companies to appear on disc in his own name, both as solo pianist and also fronting small groups and big bands.

In the early 1970s he played with Benny Goodman's Band and American Sextet on their European tours, but a stroke in 1974 laid him low for a while. At the time he was working for BBC Radio on Week Ending and also recording fourteen numbers per session every two weeks for Night Ride. Five weeks later, he was back at work in the studio.

This collection showcases the McGuffie talent at its peak, near the end of his distinguished career. In earlier years he had tended to concentrate more on small group recordings, occasionally featuring his own numbers. Perhaps Bill's most famous original composition is Sweet September, for which he won an Ivor Novello Award in 1963. International recognition came through a recording by Bill Evans, in a Klaus Ogerman arrangement, and Pete Jolly and The Shadows made cover versions. It was also published in Spain, under the title Tu Recuerdo.

He wrote under two other names: Guido Miguel for Spanish compositions, and Raphael Maertek. This came about after a Scottish friend had said that Bill had 'maer' (more) technique than some!

In 1980 the British Academy of Composers Songwriters and Authors awarded Bill its coveted Gold Badge of Merit. In his more serious moments Bill appreciated the music of Ravel and Debussy. In the jazz world he was a great admirer of the Count Basie Band. It may surprise some of his admirers to learn that Bill never considered himself to be a jazz pianist. Respected broadcaster Steve Race once singled Bill out as "a pianist who generates his own beat".

Bill McGuffie died at Chertsey, Surrey, on 22 March 1987 aged 59. Fortunately for us, he has left a legacy of fine recordings which will continue to provide endless musical pleasure for generations to come.


David Ades

Submit to Facebook

Two Pye LPs from 1960 have been granted a new lease of life by Vocalion

Pro Arte Orchestra conducted by STANFORD ROBINSON   Tribute to Eric Coates


Bird Songs at Eventide; I Heard You Singing


Edwardian Favourites arranged by Stanford Robinson


Vocalion CDLK4183

The death of Eric Coates prompted Stanford Robinson to record this tribute with the Pro Arte Orchestra, a highly regarded ensemble drawn from many of London’s top orchestras for broadcasting, concerts and recordings. To provide the accompanying sleeve notes for the LP, the record company could have chosen none better than the composer’s only son, Austin Coates (1922-1997), from whose notes the following extracts are taken.

When Eric Coates died, on December 21st 1957, it was rightly said that perhaps no composer had ever provided music to suit the public taste so unerringly for such a long time. Just under fifty years lie between his first song success, in Edwardian times, and his last orchestral works, including the memorable March for the film The Dam Busters; and for a great part of this time Eric Coates was recognised as a unique figure - 'the uncrowned king of light music'.

Greatly influenced in his early years by Edward German, after 1920 Eric Coates developed his own distinctive style, the most significant feature of which was his understanding and use of the newly-introduced American syncopated idiom. He was the first European composer to treat modern syncopation as a serious contribution to orchestral music, and to introduce into symphonic writing the dance-band practice of treating each instrument of the brass section as a soloist. Much of the brilliance and vivacity of his orchestration is attributable to this.

For many years an orchestral musician himself (he was principal viola in Sir Henry J. Wood's Queen's Hall Orchestra from 1912 to 1919), Eric Coates, in the later days of his success as a composer-conductor, never forgot his old friends in the many orchestras he conducted, and had an understanding of orchestral musicians which enabled him to secure from them superb performances of his music in a way which, to many people, seemed effortless.

Happy throughout his life - in his youth, in his marriage, in his success as a writer -Iike many happy people, Eric Coates tended to live in (to use his own title) an enchanted garden of his own imagination. In the concert hall, to see his immaculate appearance, polished conducting, and unfailing modesty with audience and orchestra alike, it was difficult to realise what an unworldly person he was. His world was that of the invariable happy ending. When he wrote a fantasy he called it a phantasy; and a waltz was always a valse. Somehow in that way it belonged more to his world. An unusual quality about his music is that, despite this unworldliness, he expressed moods of the twentieth century as few others have succeeded in doing, with his curiously metallic brilliance of orchestration, his hectic zest and uncomplicated romanticism. Like Gershwin, he expresses something of this century that will evoke our time to future generations,

The ten years from 1929 to 1939 were the most prolific in Eric Coates' career, and marked his rise to international fame. On this record is a representative selection of his music written during this period, the gayest and most colourful English music produced in the past forty years.

The Enchanted Garden was originally written as a ballet, scored for twelve solo instruments, on the theme of Snowdrop and the Seven Dwarfs, first performed at the opening of the Cambridge Theatre, London, in 1928. It is particularly appropriate that this, the first recording of the work, should be conducted by Stanford Robinson, because it was he who first realised the possibilities of Snowdrop as a symphonic score, and consistently urged the composer to rewrite it for full orchestra. This Eric Coates finally did in 1938, renaming it The Enchanted Garden. In the same year he conducted first performances of it in the Scandinavian capitals and at Hilversum.

The theme is the conflict between good and evil influences in the garden. The Princess has been left alone while her Prince is away, and he has given an injunction (the commanding opening bars) to all the good spirits and friendly animals of the garden to look after her. At first all is gentleness and love, but after a time the restless, malevolent elements in the garden come sneering in. They cannot at once get the better of the Princess' protectors, but finally (in a vigorous tarantella and fugue) they are on the point of mastering the garden, when the Prince returns holding a flaming sword, and order is restored.

Unlike The Three Bears and Cinderella, in which a knowledge of the story is essential to the enjoyment of the music, The Enchanted Garden music speaks for itself, and needs no programme explanation. After the opening injunction there follow three themes, the second in slow syncopation, the third in quick tempo, which are developed in various ways throughout the ballet. The syncopated idiom, distinctive of Eric Coates' style, is here handled with the utmost delicacy. The climax of the work comes at the end of the tarantella, with the repetition fortissimo of the injunction, after which the main themes resolve themselves in a tranquil and simple statement of great beauty in the closing bars.

Cinderella, successor to The Selfish Giant and The Three Bears, is the third and last of the composer's "phantasies". It is based entirely on the word Cinderella, announced softly in the opening bars, where Cinderella sits alone by the fire, after her sisters have gone to the ball. Soon comes the gentle call of the Fairy Godmother, followed by the sudden and miraculous appearance of carriage and horses, beautiful clothes and the celebrated glass slippers. With the warning to be home by midnight, Cinderella drives off, the horses trotting gaily through the town. She enters the Prince's palace as a waltz is in full swing. After a moment the Prince sees her, inquires who she is, and invites her to dance. There follows the famous slow waltz, which gradually increases in speed and vigour, as more and more dancers join, culminating in the striking of midnight, and the instant evaporation of all Cinderella's happiness. Once more she is in rags by the fire, wondering now whether it was all a dream, yet hardly believing it could be, since she so clearly remembers the waltz music. Meanwhile, in the distance, trumpets are sounding; for the Prince has discovered the glass slipper Cinderella left behind, and troops are to be sent throughout the town to find the girl whose foot the slipper fits. The troops set forth (not a particularly fine body of men, one gathers) and draw near Cinderella's house, where after a moment of suspense it is found that Cinderella is the girl they are looking for, and she is driven off to the palace, where of course she marries and lives happily ever after. Cinderella was first performed at the Eastbourne Festival, 1929, and has since become one of Eric Coates' most widely played works.

No Eric Coates programme would be complete without one of his inimitable marches, and one of the quick waltzes of which he may be called the originator. For this record Stanford Robinson has selected London Bridge (1934) and Footlights (1939), both of which he did much to popularize in the days when he was conductor of the BBC Theatre Orchestra. By the Sleepy Lagoon (1930) needs no intro- duction, neither do the songs I Heard You Singing and Bird Songs at Eventide, though they may be less familiar in this orchestral version, which comes from Two Symphonic Rhapsodies, written in 1933.

Stanford Robinson was responsible for arranging the four selections which made up the second album to be featured on this CD, Edwardian Favourites. He was born in Leeds on 5 July 1904. During his early musical career he played the piano in hotel orchestras, until attending the Royal College of Music in London, where he studied conducting under Sir Adrian Boult. From 1924 to 1966 he was on the staff of the BBC, originally as organiser of the BBC’s London Wireless Chorus in 1924. He conducted the BBC Theatre Orchestra from 1932 to 1946, and was also director of music productions (including opera and operetta) from 1936 to 1946.

From 1946 to 1949 he was opera director and associate conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and he served as conductor of the BBC Opera Orchestra as an opera organiser from 1949 until 1952. Thereafter he served in various capacities (including numerous broadcasts) until his official retirement in 1966, when he went to the southern hemisphere and conducted various orchestras in Australia and New Zealand during the remainder of 1966 and 1967. In 1968 he was appointed chief conductor of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra.

Stanford Robinson’s brother Eric achieved even greater public recognition, through his work conducting his orchestra in many early BBC Television programmes, such as Music For You.

David Ades

Submit to Facebook

Fifty years ago Light Music was a regular feature on the new release lists from record companies. Many treasured 78s are now falling out of copyright, so we can all enjoy them again on CDs, sounding better than ever before.

"Pink Champagne"

A Collection of Superb Vintage Light Music

1 CURTAIN TIME (Bob Haymes)

2 LOVELY DAY (Tom Wyler)


4 CHIMING STRINGS (Clive Richardson)

5 VANESSA (Bernie Wayne)



8 SEVENTH HEAVEN (Robert Farnon)

9 GIN-FIZZ (Bolesworth)

10 VENDETTA (Jones, Armstrong)

11 CROSS ROADS (Richard Telford)


13 PULLING STRINGS (McCann, Bolesworth)

14 TINKERBELL (King Palmer)

15 TOMBOY (Trevor Duncan)

16 PLAYTIME (Robert Farnon)

17 THE FALCONS (Charles Williams)

18 SPEAKEASY (Lewis Gensler)



21 MURIELLA (Ray Martin)

22 HAPPY TIME (Tom Wyler)


24 VERADERO (Bernie Wayne)

25 WINDY CORNER (Bruce Campbell)

26 BAA BAA BLACK SHEEP (Trad. arr. Peter Yorke)

27 DANCING TAMBOURINE (Polla, arr. Morton Gould)

Living Era CD AJA 5470

Light Music is currently enjoying a welcome, and long-overdue revival. Once again collectors are being given the opportunity to acquire CDs of the kind of music which used to be so familiar around fifty years ago. Generations of radio listeners grew up knowing the names of the famous orchestra leaders that regularly filled their homes with pleasant sounds. Today radio ignores them, but thankfully record companies do not. Following the warm reaction to "Twilight Memories" (CD AJA 5419) in 2002, Living Era is releasing another collection of old favourites, plus hopefully a few pleasant surprises.

Readers of this magazine will recognise many familiar orchestras on the above list, and hopefully they will be glad to be able to acquire pristine new recordings of several old favourites. But there are also some tracks which will not already be in private collections, making this a valuable addition to the catalogue of readily available Light Music.

The American conductor Nicholas Acquaviva did not make a lot of records, but he became known in the USA through his involvement with the Symphony of the Air orchestra, and as organiser and conductor of the New York ‘Pops’ Symphony Orchestra. Bob Haymes (who had a famous brother, the singer Dick Haymes) was also an American actor who appeared in around 20 films in the 1930s and 40s. He dabbled in songwriting (That’s All was his biggest success), but his exciting Curtain Time in this superb version by Acquaviva has become a minor light music classic.

The name ‘Tom Wyler’ hides the true identity of Toni Leutwiler, a Swiss violinist and conductor who was at the forefront of the light music scene in Switzerland during the 1950s. A prolific composer, two of his best-known works, Lovely Day and Happy Time, are heard on this CD; he described them as "joyful and technically demanding compositions which every violinist could not fail to appreciate had been written by a fellow violinist." Here they are performed by Frank Chacksfield and his Singing Strings, in recordings made just a year before he moved to Decca and gained international success with Limelight and Ebb Tide.

In 1950 BBC radio produced a programme called "Rivers of the North of England".Lambert Williamson was commissioned to write some incidental music, and the result was so outstanding that it became familiar for decades afterwards as the theme for a long-running monthly series "The Countryside In …". Despite its enduring popularity with light music lovers, it has never previously been available on a commercial recording. For years collectors have searched in vain for this music, and it has occasionally been featured at London meetings of the Robert Farnon Society. At last an important piece of Light Music is now readily available for enjoying at home.

Clive Richardson was the composer responsible for such gems as Melody on the Move, Holiday Spirit, Shadow Waltz and London Fantasia. He contributed regularly to London publishers’ mood music libraries, and Chiming Strings was heard often in the background of newsreels of the 1950s. Clive was a talented pianist, and was one half of the ‘Four Hands in Harmony’ act with Tony Lowry. Towards the end of his long life he became a member of the Robert Farnon Society, and he made welcome appearances at our London meetings.

When American songwriter Bernie Wayne died in April 1993, it made national news in the USA, because he composed the pop standard Blue Velvet and music for the ‘Miss America’ pageant. But he also wrote a string of catchy instrumentals that were recorded by many light orchestras in the 1950s. Two of his best are featured on this CD: Vanessa by the George Melachrino Strings (with William Hill-Bowen on Harpsichord), and Veradero with the American Salvatore (‘Tutti’) Camarata conducting a fine orchestra of British musicians, probably in London’s Kingsway Hall.

Cedric King Palmer excelled at producing numerous pieces of mood music for various publishers, but he was also highly regarded as an author of musical textbooks. The Film Opens was probably one of his most successful works, due to it being chosen as the theme for "The Eleventh Hour", a popular television series in the USA. Tinkerbell reveals the lighter side of his nature, and both works come from the Paxton library.

Wilfred Burns was also a prolific composer, and he was in demand to score many British films in the 1950s and 60s. Although it originated in the Harmonic Music Library, we have chosen the commercial recording of Melody in Moccasins by Philip Green and his Orchestra for this collection, simply because it is such a sparkling performance.

Robert Farnon hardly needs any introduction to light music admirers (and especially readers of this magazine!). He is widely regarded as one of the finest composers of the last century, and has been responsible for numerous LPs which are now finding appreciative new audiences through their reissue on CD. His famous light music compositions include Jumping Bean, Portrait of a Flirt, Journey Into Melody, Westminster Waltz and The Colditz March. This new CD features two of his works which, although lesser known, possess all the charm of his very best. Seventh Heaven conjures up images of glamorous Hollywood premieres, while Playtime was composed at the piano with his young son Paul on his knees.

It is not uncommon for composers to adopt pseudonyms, and names against tune titles on record labels often only mention surnames. From time to time researchers draw a blank when trying to identify the writers responsible for some attractive pieces, and inevitably there are some in this collection. The two remaining Frank Chacksfield numbers – Gin-Fizz and Pulling Strings – are by Bolesworth (the latter also co-composed by McCann). Chacksfield himself used many different names for his own compositions, but to assume they are his would be pure speculation. One thing is certain: they were both composed by a talented writer. Maybe a reader can tell us more about the mysterious ‘Bolesworth’? If so, we’ll share the information in a future issue.

Ray Martin was one of the leading lights behind EMI’s Columbia label successes in the mid-1950s, and he also had a distinguished career as a composer / arranger / conductor in his own right. His big hit was Marching Strings, but there were many others as well. Before he was signed by EMI, he made a few sides for Decca and Polygon, and two tracks have been selected for this CD. Vendetta is an exciting number from his own pen (he used the pseudonym ‘Chris Armstrong’), but he freely admitted to having been responsible for the tender Muriella. He seems to have only recorded one 78 for Decca, and shortly after Vendetta was issued he moved to EMI’s Columbia label with spectacular results – as can be heard on the two Vocalion collections of his singles (In the Ray Martin Manner CDLK4105 & CDLK4119).

Cross Roads is a bright and breezy number, typical of the kind of mood music that was demanded by films and television in the 1950s. It comes from the London publishers Bosworth, but little seems known about the composer Richard Telford; is this another pseudonym? (If you know the answer, please get in touch!).

It is not always appreciated today that dance bands were responsible for introducing occasional pieces of light music to their audiences. Jack Hylton played the works of Eric Coates and Edward German, but he is in lighter mood with Laughing Marionette, a novelty by Walter Collins, conductor of the London Promenade Orchestra on two tracks on this CD. In 1928 the Jack Hylton Orchestra was undertaking a successful tour of Germany, at the same time that Walter Collins was similarly engaged with his own orchestra. Legend has it that they met in Berlin in November, when this number was recorded. David Ades included this number in one of the "Legends of Light Music" programmes on BBC Radio-2, and the favourable reaction encouraged him to feature it on this new CD. The sound quality for a 1928 78 is quite amazing.

Leonard Trebilco adopted the pseudonym ‘Trevor Duncan’, to avoid a conflict of interest while he was working at the BBC. His first big success had been High Heels, but this was soon followed by a string of other catchy instrumentals, Tomboy being one of the best. This recording was made in Switzerland, under the baton of Cedric Dumont, for many years the leading light music conductor in that country. Leonard Trebilco later achieved public recognition through melodies such as The Girl From Corsica and the theme music for BBC Television’s Dr. Finlay’s Casebook. He is a very prolific composer, and there are many fine examples of his talent waiting to be rediscovered.

Charles Williams has secured his place of honour among British light music composers. His list of superb works include Devil’s Galop (the ‘Dick Barton’ theme), Girls in Grey, The Dream of Olwen, Rhythm on Rails, and literally hundreds of other pieces. He scored many British films – especially during the 1940s – and was responsible for conducting almost the entire Chappell Recorded Music Library during its formative years. Only occasionally did he submit work to other publishers, but one example is his exciting piece The Falcons, which he recorded with his own orchestra for Columbia.

Although composers of light music tended to specialise in the genre, there are many instances where songwriters have also contributed the occasional piece of orchestral music that has caught the public’s attention. The American Lewis E. Gensler was responsible for several popular songs in the 1930s, perhaps the best-known being Love Is Just Around The Corner. Prohibition must have provided some useful inspiration (maybe first-hand knowledge?) because his pulsating Speakeasy seemed a natural for the Sidney Torch treatment.

Rufus Isaacs was a busy composer for various mood music publishers, using a variety of different pseudonyms. He usually chose ‘Kenneth Essex’ when writing bright, cheerful pieces, of which Dance Of The Hailstones is a prime example. Louis Voss made this fine recording for the Bosworth library, not previously available commercially.

We’re back with the songwriters – in this case Robert Wright and George Forrest, probably best-known for their adaptation of Borodin for "Kismet". Bubble, Bubble, Bubble was very popular 50 years ago; it also went under the title Pink Champagne and had a catchy vocal version. But it works extremely well as a purely instrumental number, played here by Henri René and his Orchestra (despite his French sounding name, he hails from New York).

Percy Faith was one of the leading popular orchestral conductors in the USA, although he actually hailed from Canada where a young Robert Farnon played trumpet in his CBC Orchestra. Numerous Faith LPs have been reissued on CD in recent years, but his recording output was so prolific that it is inevitable that some gems remain undiscovered. One such number is Waltz in Swingtime which Jerome Kern composed for the Astaire-Rogers 1937 film musical "Swing Time". It is best-known as a purely instrumental number, and this arrangement by Percy Faith is sparkling – to say the least. It has never before been issued in Britain, and has not made it on to CD anywhere in the world – until now. Alan Bunting assures us that it will be welcomed by keen Faith collectors.

Bruce Campbell is one of several composers who benefited from encouragement, and indeed positive help, from Robert Farnon in their early composing careers for the London publishers Chappells. Windy Corner was one of Bruce’s first pieces, and the Farnon touches are there for all to hear. The two Canadians had worked together since the mid-1940s, with Campbell assisting Robert Farnon on many broadcasts and recording projects. Bruce Campbell went on to compose a vast quantity of mood music, which was much in demand from various publishers.

Few arrangers have managed to resist the temptation to work on traditional melodies, and the 1940s British radio show "I.T.M.A." used to make a weekly feature of such numbers. Peter Yorke was just one of many leading musicians who contributed witty scores, which were played in the programme by the BBC Variety Orchestra conducted by Charles Shadwell. They made few commercial records, so we are lucky that Baa Baa Black Sheep was preserved on shellac for posterity. In the 1930s Peter Yorke had been closely associated with the full, rich orchestral sound of the Louis Levy Orchestra, and he developed this successfully with his own Concert Orchestra for numerous recordings and radio broadcasts in the post-war years. (Some of Peter Yorke’s work for Louis Levy can be heard on the Living Era CD "Music from the Movies – the 1930s" – CD AJA 5445).

This exercise in mining the rich musical seam known as ‘Light Music’ reaches a worthy conclusion with a much sought-after number by a giant of American music – Morton Gould. He arranged a 1927 novelty number called Dancing Tambourine by W.C. Polla for the symphony size Robin Hood Dell Orchestra, thereby transforming a relatively minor work into an enduring light orchestral favourite. Gould was an extremely versatile musician, who had made his name with the public through American radio in the 1930s. He seemed equally at home with classical and popular music, and was particularly supportive of American composers.

Whether you call it Light Music, Concert Music, Easy Listening or Mood Music, the kind of music featured on this CD is gaining in popularity all the time. It provides a refreshing change from the usual output of radio stations, and offers a haven of peace and tranquillity far removed from the outside world. The good news is that there is so much of it waiting to be rediscovered for the 21st Century.

David Ades

This CD has been compiled by David Ades, with audio restoration and remastering by Alan Bunting. It is available from record stores in many countries, and can also be purchased from the RFS Record Service for £8 [US $16].

Submit to Facebook

His Symphony No. 5½ has been popular for years, but he also wrote a lot more hugely enjoyable works. Music lovers are in for some very pleasant surprises ….



Conducted by DON GILLIS

SYMPHONY NO. 5½ [A Symphony For Fun]

a] Perpetual Emotion
b] Spiritual?
c] Scherzofrenia
d] Conclusion!



a] The Vision
b] The People
c] The Dedication
d] The Fulfilment


a] Chamber of Commerce
b] Where the West Begins
c] Ranch House Party
d] Prairie Sunset
e] Main Street - Saturday Night



Vocalion CDLK4163

Anyone who can compose a piece of music called "Symphony No. 5½" is almost demanding not to be taken too seriously, yet for half a century the privileged music lovers who discovered this vibrant work in the early days of the long-playing record have wondered what other treasures remain undiscovered.

Don Gillis himself conducted this work in 1950 for Decca at London’s Kingsway Hall, thereby bringing him to the attention of British admirers of bright, modern orchestral sounds. In his native USA, Gillis was already known through his work on radio, notably with Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony. The fact that his talents were subsequently largely ignored by the record industry is more an indictment of blinkered attitudes towards new works, with their uncertain sales potential, rather than an objective criticism of his composing abilities.

Don E. Gillis was born in Cameron, Missouri on 16 June 1912. As a boy he studied both trumpet and trombone, and his enthusiasm and expertise gained him acceptance into his local Rotary Club band and, naturally, his school orchestra. While still at school he formed a jazz band, playing his own arrangements as well as original works he composed himself.

When Don was 17 his basic schooling was complete, and the Gillis family moved to Forth Worth, Texas. In 1931 he enrolled in Texas Christian University as a scholarship trombone player, and studied composition with Keith Mixson. He appears to have made an immediate impact, becoming student director of the University’s popular Horned Frog Band during his junior year. Four years later he graduated with both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, before going on to advanced studies in composition and orchestration with Roy T. Wills and Wilfred Bain at North Texas State University in Denton.

For two years he worked as staff arranger and producer for a local Fort Worth radio station WBAP, then moved on to Chicago to become a member of the production team for NBC’s affiliate. Presumably his radio work allowed him some spare time, because he continued his association with Texas Christian University where he taught trombone and became the University’s band director, a post he held from 1935 until 1942. The academic life must have attracted him: in 1944 he graduated from North Texas State University with another Master’s degree, and he also studied at Louisiana State and Columbia Universities. In 1948 the degree of Doctor of Music was conferred upon him by Texas Christian University.

Don Gillis had also been bitten by the composing bug, and around 1937 the first of his numerous works (over 200 in total) began to appear and, more importantly, get published and performed. One of the first, The Crucifixion – a cantata for narrator, soloists, chorus and orchestra reflected the Christian influence of his years at university. But soon he became noticed for the wit and American humour in many of his works, early examples being The Woolyworm (for narrator and orchestra), and Thoughts Provoked on Becoming a Prospective Papa. Clearly catchy titles also appealed to him, such as his January February March – a delightful concert piece, vibrant with energy, with the theme passing several times between the brass and the woodwinds; it appears briefly in The Man Who Invented Music.

Asked about his early influences, he recalled that in his youth "the band, the square dance, the hymn tune and early jazz were very much part of my environment … I am fundamentally a melodist … I have not embraced any particular school of writing but have been influenced orchestrally by R. Strauss, Sibelius, and Debussy … My greatest enjoyment in composition is writing for the stage."

His work at NBC in Chicago had been noticed, and in 1944 they brought him to New York to serve as chief producer and writer for the prestigious NBC Symphony Orchestra concerts. He was also required to play trombone, compose, arrange and provide scripts for music and drama programmes originating from New York City. This involved working with the legendary Arturo Toscanini, with whom he developed a close personal friendship. Gillis remained in this capacity until NBC disbanded the orchestra in 1954.

But the musicians were unhappy with NBC’s actions. They wanted to keep the orchestra alive, and Don Gillis headed a musicians’ committee which re-organised the orchestra which eventually reappeared as the Symphony of the Air. Unable to attract a permanent musical director, the orchestra finally disappeared from the musical scene in 1962.

Possibly due to his academic background, during his later years Don Gillis became involved in various administrative positions in the music world, thus allowing him to pursue his strong interest in music education in mixed media. From 1958 to 1961 he served as vice-president of the Interlochen Music Camp in Michigan, which at that time was still being managed by its founder Joseph Maddy. He became chairman of the music department at Southern Methodist University in 1967/68, then he accepted a similar post heading the fine arts department at Dallas Baptist College from 1968 to 1972.

In 1973 he was appointed Director of the Center for Media Arts Studies and composer-in-residence at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, remaining in this post until his sudden death from a heart attack on 10 January 1978, at the age of 65.

Don Gillis once wrote: "I think it is unimportant for a composer to wonder about what posterity thinks of him. It is more important that he be faithful to his own beliefs in music. He must be the final critic, and he must write what is his own, regardless of current trends or popularity. If his music reflects folk quality, it must be because it is a natural thing, not a contrived use of folk material merely to be ‘American’. Honesty, above all things, is the important ingredient a composer needs."

Undoubtedly the music of Don Gillis exhibits the vitality so often associated with the growth of the great nation into which he was born. Stuart Triff described him accurately as a person who "wrote ‘feel good’ music to make people happy. For this uniquely American composer, every night was a Saturday night hoedown!"

Following his death, Don Gillis’s widow Barbara made a major donation of his archives and memorabilia to the North Texas Music Library. Researchers can now study his manuscripts and copies of his works, an unpublished autobiography, pictures and scrapbooks. The archive also includes a complete set of tapes from the radio series Toscanini: The Man Behind the Legend, a sincere tribute to the ‘Maestro’ which Gillis compiled in 1967.

Apart from the works included on this CD, the compositions of Don Gillis represent a major contribution to the musical culture of his country. It is to be hoped that, one day, some more of his symphonies (he wrote twelve, although two were unnumbered) will attract new performers, who may also be drawn to other orchestral works such as The Panhandle Suite (1937), Intermission – 10 minutes (1940), Prairie Poem (1943), Short Overture to an Unwritten Opera (1944), To an Unknown Soldier (1945), Rhapsody for Harp and Orchestra (1946), Tulsa – a Symphonic Portrait in Oil (1950), Dude Ranch (1967) and maybe his two piano concertos. There are also several operas, pieces for bands, chamber music and a vast body of choral works.

Symphony No. 5½ [A Symphony For Fun]

When asked why this work had such an unusual title, Gillis simply replied that he wrote it between his Symphony No. 5 and Symphony No. 6! This folksy humour is certainly borne out in this entertaining work, which must have surprised many listeners on first hearing, who normally associate the word ’symphony’ with something much more serious, and usually far less accessible. You only need to hear the first movement Perpetual Emotion once, to be convinced that music can, indeed, be fun! Gillis composed this, his best-known work in 1946, and it received its premiere performance by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops the following May. It reached a much wider audience through its first radio broadcast on 21 September 1947 by the NBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Arturo Toscanini. It is reported that the great conductor could be heard chuckling or saying "Bravo" during the performance, and even the audience could not resist from tiny bursts of applause between the movements. That performance was recorded on a V-Disc for the Armed Forces Radio Service, but never released commercially. Three years later the composer himself was brought to London to conduct this work (and others on this CD) at the acoustically excellent Kingsway Hall, with the New Symphony Orchestra of London, an ensemble used regularly by Decca at that time, comprising many of the top players drawn from the capital’s leading symphony orchestras. When asked to describe this work, the composer explained that it was "… based on idiomatic devices found in jazz and other folk sources indigenous to the American musical scene." The result is music in rare good humour which, through its brilliant orchestration and subtle rhythms, has danced its way into amazing popularity.

The Alamo

This evocative tone poem was composed in 1947, and is part of a trilogy on symbols of American freedom. The serene opening soon suggests the dramatic events that were to follow at this fort in Texas, with the melodious pastoral sounds lapsing into darker passages hinting that all is not well. The tension gradually builds, eventually erupting into the full scale conflict between the whites and the Native Americans that has become a part of American history. The composer has cleverly interwoven ‘traditional cowboy music’ with tender passages sometimes reflecting the European composers he admits have influenced him. But such images are quickly dispelled by folksy themes among the turmoil of the battle, with impressive writing for both strings and brass. The tragic aftermath of the battle is finally tempered by a brief return to a ‘western’ theme from the opening, suggesting that good will eventually triumph over evil, but in this instance at a terrible price. Apparently Gillis himself did not intend this to be a descriptive work in the sense of gunfire and battlefield. He said: "It is rather an attempt to portray musically the deep feelings of emotion that arise in the contemplation of the heroism and courage expressed by the defenders of the Alamo as they gave their lives in the defence of freedom." It received its first performance in Texas by the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Dr. Max Reiter.

Saga of a Prairie School (Symphony No. 7)

This work was first performed in May 1948 with the composer conducting the Symphony Orchestra of the School of Fine Arts, Texas Christian University. It had been written to celebrate the University’s diamond jubilee anniversary, and is dedicated to the spirit that originally created it. The four movements are played without pause, and follow a spiritual rather than historical approach. The music of The Vision opens with a pastoral theme, reflecting the land … the prayerful willingness of the founding fathers to devote their lives to a cause … their determination and zeal is evidenced in the militant spirit in which they work and play. From the spiritual theme, the entire symphony is built. In the second movement, The People, the music portrays the open heartedness and friendly hospitality of southwestern folk. The Dedication offers a prayer for guidance and strength … of the reason for being … and of the steadfastness of the ideals of the men who make the school. Finally The Fulfilment provides a prayerful tribute to the present glory and future power of the university, incorporating its Alma Mater Hymn. It is not uncommon for parents or friends of pupils to compose special works in recognition of academic institutions. Sometimes the results can be self-indulgent, downright boring or simply painful to endure. But it would be hard to imagine that the Texas Christian University could have been other than delighted with this truly magnificent paean of praise in its honour.

Portrait of a Frontier Town

The ‘town’ in this musical portrait is Fort Worth, Texas. The first movement, Chamber of Commerce, offers a tour of the town (known by its affectionate nickname ‘Cowtown’). But by the mid-20th Century cattle no longer provide the town’s main wealth, with modern industries, skyscrapers, colleges and universities alongside the stockyards and sites of its military history. It is also the home of WBAP, the radio station known throughout the southwest through its familiar cowbell. The people have also changed, with the latest fashions rubbing shoulders with oilmen and ranchers. The second movement is called Where the West begins – the slogan of the city indicating the point where the Eastern USA leaves off and the West commences. Gillis portrays the feel of the wide open spaces, and the prairie lands peacefully existing in a mood of nostalgic contentment. Ranch House Partyreveals the locals in party mood, enjoying traditional square dancing. Don Gillis occasionally interrupts the fiddles with snatches of what he regarded as ‘rhythms of today’, but don’t forget that he composed this work before the nation’s youth adopted rock’n’roll! The fourth movement Prairie Sunset captures that magical time of day when the sky assumes rapidly changing colours of pink, gold and purple, before darkness finally descends. Gillis completes his musical portrait of Fort Worth with Main Street – Saturday Night, but the revels in Cowtown are really no different from any other place on earth where locals like to let their hair down at the end of a long working week.

The Man Who Invented Music

This work for narrator and orchestra was scripted by Claris Ross and Don Gillis, especially for the U.S. Steel NBC Summer Symphony series on radio, and it received its first performance on 22 August 1949 conducted by Antal Dorati. It is based on an original idea by the composer, in which a Grandfather tells a very ‘tall story’ about how he invented music, in order to persuade his young grandchild Wendy to go to sleep. On this recording the narrator is Jack Kilty who, at the time, was a young American musical comedy star who was making a name for himself in the USA in Broadway shows such as "Oklahoma" and "Make Mine Manhattan".

It is perhaps surprising that it was a British record company, Decca (known as London in North America), that offered the American composer Don Gillis the opportunity to conduct definitive recordings of some of his major works. He came to London in mid-career, when his considerable talents had already been recognised, although we now know that he still had a lot of wonderful music to offer the world. These rare recordings are of great historical interest, but more importantly they also provide the listener with some hugely enjoyable music.

Readers who would like to explore more of the music of Don Gillis, are advised of the following CD released in the USA:

DON GILLIS – Music inspired by the American Southwest: Symphony X [The Big D]; Shindig; Encore Concerto; Symphony No. 5½. – Albany Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Alan Miller. Albany TROY391.

David Ades

Submit to Facebook

Around fifty years ago collectors eagerly awaited the latest Melachrino HMV 78 of show tunes. That great songwriting era is recaptured again on a new Living Era CD


Conducted by George Melachrino


The Classic HMV Selections

1 "CALL ME MADAM" (Irving Berlin)
Washington Square Dance; You’re Just In Love; Marrying For Love; The Best Thing For You; They Like Ike; Once Upon A Time Today; It’s A Lovely Day Today; The Ocarina; You’re Just In Love.

2 "KISS ME KATE" (Cole Porter)
Another Op’nin’ Another Show; So In Love; Too Darn Hot; Why Can’t You Behave?; Wunderbar; Bianca; Were Thine That Special Face; Always True To You In My Fashion; So In Love.

3 "SHOW BOAT" (Jerome Kern)
Cotton Blossom; Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man; Why Do I Love You; Make Believe; Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man; Bill; You Are Love; Make Believe; Ol’ Man River.

4 "CAROUSEL" (Richard Rodgers)
Carousel Waltz; If I Loved You; What’s The Use Of Wond’rin’; A Real Nice Clambake; Mister Snow; You’ll Never Walk Alone; June Is Bustin’ Out All Over.

5 "THE DANCING YEARS" (Ivor Novello)
Uniform; I Can Give You The Starlight; Wings Of Sleep; My Life Belongs To You; Waltz Of My Heart; Leap Year Waltz.

6 "THREE LITTLE WORDS" (Kalmar, Ruby)
I Love You So Much; Nevertheless; Who’s Sorry Now (Kalmar, Ruby, Snyder); Come On Papa; Thinking Of You; So Long! Oo Long; My Sunny Tennessee; All Alone Monday; Three Little Words.

Varsity Drag (De Sylva, Brown, Henderson); I May Be Wrong (Ruskin, Sullivan); On The Good Ship Lollipop (Clare, Whiting); Ain’t She Sweet Yellen, Ager); You’re My Everything (Dixon, Young, Warren); The Charleston (Mack, Johnson); Would You Like To Take A Walk (Dixon, Rose, Warren); California Here I Come (Jolson, De Sylva, Meyer).

Just One Of Those Things; What Is This Thing Called Love; You Do Something To Me; Easy To Love; Night And Day; Anything Goes.

9 GERSHWIN FANTASY (George Gershwin)
The Man I Love; Fascinating Rhythm; Embraceable You; Lisa; Summertime; Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off; Love Walked In; Rhapsody In Blue; I Got Rhythm. (Chappell, NCB, BIEM)

Living Era CD AJA 5469

In the years immediately following the end of the Second World War, and before long-playing records eventually found their way into most music lovers’ homes, 78 rpm discs were still being purchased in large quantities by keen record collectors. They offered a wide range of music but, because they were relatively expensive (and highly taxed as luxuries), they were bought mainly by people now regarded as ‘the older generation’. Teenagers had yet to bring their overwhelming influence to bear on the singles market, so the majority of the popular records that were issued featured what might be termed ‘straight’ singers and light orchestras and dance bands.

Music from the latest films and shows always attracted attention, and record companies were quick to bring out their own versions of the biggest hits. The Melachrino Orchestra produced a steady stream of 78s featuring tunes from the major shows, tastefully arranged and usually lasting over eight minutes – the playing time then available using both sides of a 12" disc. This collection features some of the best from that period, which produced melodies of such charm and quality that many of them are still remembered today, over half a century later. In the case of American musicals, there was often an embargo on their music being played in Britain until the show eventually opened in London’s West End, which explains why some of George Melachrino’s selections were recorded a year or two after the shows first appeared on Broadway.

"Call Me Madam" was just one of many successes by the prolific Irving Berlin. The show first opened at Broadway’s Imperial Theatre in New York on 12 October 1950, where it ran for 644 performances. In London it opened at the Coliseum in March 1952 and lasted for 14 months. It told the story of Sally Adams, ‘the hostess with the mostest’, who became the US Ambassador to the tiny Grand Duchy of Lichtenburg, captivating the handsome Prime Minister, and encouraging the romance of her aide with an enchanting young Princess. Tunes such as It’s a Lovely Day Today and You’re Just in Love soon became very popular. The war hero General Eisenhower, who eventually became President of the USA, is remembered in the number They Like Ike.

"Kiss Me Kate" boasted words and music by Cole Porter, and it contains some of his most memorable melodies. The story revolves around the performance in Baltimore of a musical version of Shakespeare’s "Taming of the Shrew", with some of the characters in the play closely mirrored by the players. It was first seen at the New Century Theatre on Broadway on 30 December 1948 (1077 performances) but didn’t reach London’s Coliseum Theatre until 8 March 1951, where it notched up 501 performances; it has since enjoyed several successful revivals. The show’s big show-stopper is Brush Up Your Shakespeare which, for some reason, Melachrino omitted from his selection. But all the other hits are here, notably Wunderbar (a sarcastic ‘dig’ at middle-European operetta) and that great opening number Another Op’nin’, Another Show. When filmed by MGM in 1953 it was produced in 3-D, although the majority of audiences will have only seen the flat version. When 3-D television eventually arrives (surely it should have been invented by now?) the special effects will finally be appreciated by the millions for whom they were intended.

"Show Boat" was Jerome Kern’s masterpiece, with the story centred on one of the many American riverboats in the 1880s that featured travelling shows. It was packed with hits including Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man, Why Do I Love You and Ol’ Man River. The original novel by Edna Ferber was ahead of its time, dealing with racial prejudice in the southern states of the USA. The show opened at Broadway’s Ziegfeld Theatre on 27 December 1927, and ran for 575 performances. It soon reached London’s Drury Lane Theatre, lasting 350 performances after its opening on 3 May 1928. George Melachrino’s recording was made in response to the 1951 MGM Technicolor film starring Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel and Ava Gardner.

"Carousel" provided the team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II with one of their biggest successes, although it took a while to gain its big reputation internationally, thanks to the 1956 film version by 20th Century-Fox starring Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones. World War 2 was still in its dying throes when the show opened at New York’s Majestic Theatre on 19 April 1945, enjoying 890 performances. It did not reach London until June 1950, but had a good run of 566 shows.

"The Dancing Years" is the one British musical in this collection, written and composed by Ivor Novello, who (together with Noel Coward and Vivian Ellis) ensured that the pre-war theatre scene in Britain was not dominated by overseas productions. Unfortunately World War 2 was approaching when the show opened at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, on 23 March 1939, resulting in its early closure after 187 performances. It was set in Vienna at the start of the century, and its frothy storyline was, perhaps, out of keeping with the times. But the music was captivating, and it gained a new lease of life when the show was filmed in 1949.

When the supply of Broadway shows occasionally dried up, Hollywood was quick to fill their shooting schedules with their own ‘biopics’ featuring popular composers. The storylines did not worry too much about factual accuracy, but the concocted plots usually allowed for the subject’s ‘biggest hits’ to be performed by the studio’s current stars (if they couldn’t sing, they were dubbed). "Three Little Words" featured Fred Astaire and Red Skelton in MGM’s 1950 story of the songwriting partnership of Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. "Bert… and Harry who …?" asked cinemagoers; they didn’t know the names, but certainly recognised the tunes. BBC Television used Melachrino’s version of the title song as the signature tune for its quiz show "Down You Go". Apparently this 78 is now quite rare, so its inclusion on this CD should please keen Melachrino collectors.

"You’re My Everything" was filmed by 20th Century-Fox in 1949. Recalling those days, its star Dan Dailey said: "Musicals were probably one of the biggest grossing things they had at Fox, but they always did the Gay Nineties musicals and they always wanted you to do the same dance in every picture. You could change the wardrobe and the music, but that’s about all you could change." Dailey’s co-star in this film was Anne Baxter, and the music was selected from many different writers, all representative of the period covered by the unlikely tale of a Boston socialite who marries a dancer and becomes a movie star.

To complete this reminder of Melachrino’s great selections, we dip again into the works of the great Cole Porter, and then remember perhaps the most gifted songwriter of them all, George Gershwin. Cole Porter Fantasy emphasises the quality of Porter’s writing, when you note that all of the six main tunes featured have become standards. But there is far more in this selection than that; the arranger (it was probably William Hill-Bowen) has included snatches of many other Porter classics, some lasting only a second or two. The opening and closing moments are Begin the Beguine; linking Just One Of Those Things and What Is This Thing Called Love you’ll spot It’s D’Lovely; and just before You Do Something To Me there are snatches of Let’s Do It and Rosalie … and so on. Such gems can be spotted by alert listeners throughout this CD – perhaps a parlour game for music lovers?

Gershwin Fantasy only scratches the surface of the great body of work left behind by this musical genius, who died on 11 July 1937 aged

38. George Gershwin had been at the forefront of American shows and films for less than two decades, but his influence lasted long after he left us, in movies such as "An American In Paris" (1951). One wonders what he would have achieved, had he been allowed a normal life span.

The man behind all these vibrant selections was George Melachrino. Born in London in 1909, he became a professional musician, competent on clarinet, alto and tenor saxophone, violin and viola, and he worked with many British dance bands in the 1930s. He was also in demand as a singer, and can be heard on recordings with Carroll Gibbons and others. During World War 2 he became Musical Director of the Army Radio Unit, and his 50-piece ‘Orchestra in Khaki’ toured with the ‘Stars in Battledress’. When the Allied Expeditionary Forces Programme of the BBC began broadcasting to Allied troops on 7 June 1944 (one day after D-Day), George Melachrino was featured conducting the British Band of the AEF; his colleagues were Glenn Miller and Robert Farnon, fronting the American and Canadian Bands.

After the war Melachrino built on his service band to form the magnificent orchestra that went on to achieve worldwide fame, mainly through its superb long-playing record albums which sold in millions. His busy schedule of composing and film work meant that he needed the assistance of a fine team of arrangers, and most of the selections on this CD were probably created by his right-hand man William Hill-Bowen; Arthur Wilkinson is another likely candidate. There are also touches of the maestro himself, and Hill-Bowen (who later went on to international fame with his own orchestra) is the featured pianist on many numbers.

George Melachrino died in his bath on 18 June 1965 at the early age of 56. He has left behind a superb legacy of recorded music, which is gradually being rediscovered in this new century.

 David Ades

A more complete biography of George Melachrino appears in JIM 148 (September 2001). This new CD has been compiled by David Ades from his own collection, and the excellent digital audio restoration and remastering has been in the capable hands of Alan Bunting. The CD can be obtained from all good record shops, and you can also purchase copies from the RFS Record Service for £8 [US $16].

Submit to Facebook

Two magnificent Decca LPs are finally restored to the catalogue, through this generous new 2-CD set from Vocalion


"Mediterranean Moonlight" CD 1

1 EL RELICARIO (Padilla); 2 APRIL IN PORTUGAL (Ferrao); 3 FAREWELL TO NAPOLI Cottrau, arr. Leon Young); 4 LADY OF SPAIN (Evans, Reaves, Damerell); 5 MAKE IT SOON (Salvador, Pon); 6 TINA (Grosz, Kennedy); 7 VALENCIA (Padilla); 8 BLUE VENETIAN WATERS (Kaper, Surmann, Kahn); 9 ISLE OF CAPRI (Kennedy, Grosz); 10 THE STORY OF TINA (Katrivanou, Hassall); 11 ARRIVEDERCI DARLING (Rascel); 12 TESORO MIO (Becucci, arr. Leon Young); 13 MAJORCA (Gaste, Bonnett); 14 CARNIVAL OF VENICE (Frosini)

"Lovely Lady" CD 2

The Music of Jimmy McHugh

1 I’M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (McHugh, Fields); 2 LOVELY LADY (McHugh, Koehler); 3 ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET (McHugh, Fields); 4 DON’T BLAME ME (McHugh, Fields); 5 I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE; (McHugh, Fields); 6 BLUE AGAIN (McHugh, Fields); 7 I’M SHOOTING HIGH (McHugh, Koehler); 8 A LOVELY WAY TO SPEND AN EVENING (McHugh, Adamson); 9 CUBAN LOVE SONG (McHugh, Fields, Stothart); 10 EXACTLY LIKE YOU (McHugh, Fields); 11 I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME (McHugh , Gaskill); 12 GOOD-BYE BLUES (McHugh, Fields, Johnson); 13 I COULDN’T SLEEP A WINK LAST NIGHT (McHugh, Adamson); 14 DINNER AT EIGHT (McHugh, Fields)

Vocalion CDLK4162 [2 CDs for the price of 1]

When these Long-Playing records were first released by Decca early in 1957, Frank Chacksfield had already achieved considerable success and recognition internationally. The idea of a ‘concept album’ had, by now, been generally accepted by record companies, allowing conductors such as Chacksfield the freedom to choose certain areas and styles of music which they considered would appeal to their fans across the world. This was a notable improvement on the sometimes haphazard collection of singles which had been a feature of many LPs in the early days of this new phenomenon of the music business. As the 1950s dawned post-war austerity was still an unhappy fact of life, but fortunately things gradually improved as the decade progressed. Chacksfield’s choice of music associated with the Mediterranean struck a familiar chord with the pioneers of the package holiday boom that was just around the corner.

Mediterranean Moonlight is a tribute to that beautiful inland sea that borders so many countries associated with what has become known as the cradle of civilisation. It is practically tideless (contrary to the erroneous lyrics of Isle of Capri) and struggles to keep a balance between the conflicting demands of tourism, and the necessity for the locals living on its shores to be able to sustain a living from fishing and generally going about their business in deep waters.

Composers have long found it to be an inspiration, but few conductors have assembled such a wonderful collection of arrangements in honour of this beautiful part of the world.

Lovely Lady is a tribute to a talented songwriter who never quite achieved the fame of his contemporaries such as Berlin, Gershwin and Porter, but nevertheless entertained millions with his charming and catchy melodies. Jimmy McHugh was born on 10 July 1894, and after a short spell as an office boy at Boston’s Opera House he moved on to the local offices of Irving Berlin’s publishing company. In those early days of the 20th century music publishers employed numerous song-pluggers, who would take the latest sheet music to cinemas, theatres and music stores, and perform songs to encourage people to buy the scores. A really popular song could sell hundreds of thousands of copies, but with radio and talking pictures some years ahead in the future, the potential customers needed to hear what they would be buying.

Young Jimmy soon decided that he wanted to write songs, and in 1921 Emaline was the first one that was accepted by a publisher. This encouraged him to move to New York, where he concentrated on writing scores for the Cotton Club revues in Harlem. He was partly responsible for bringing an unknown pianist named Duke Ellington before a wider public.

Like most composers, McHugh preferred to let others put words to his melodies, and many of his biggest successes resulted from his collaboration with Dorothy Fields, a New York schoolteacher (and the daughter of a comedian) he met in 1927. Other lyric writers included Clarence Gaskill and Harold Adamson.

Jimmy McHugh died in Beverly Hills, California, on 23 May 1969 aged 74. In his later life he enjoyed the French paintings and antique silver that his massive earnings had allowed him to accumulate. "How do I write a song?" he once said. "Well, I get titles and write them down on a piece of paper. Sooner or later I may write them up – when I feel that fresh feeling coming on. Maybe one day you’re walking along the street and you start humming". Many of his melodies were composed on the upright piano which George Gershwin once owned.

Frank Chacksfield was born Francis Charles Chacksfield in Battle, Sussex, on 9 May 1914; he died on 9 June 1995 aged 81 in Kent, having suffered for several years from Parkinson’s Disease. During his long recording career with Decca alone, it is estimated that his albums sold more than 20 million copies. In total he made more than 150 long-playing albums which were released in many countries, especially in Europe, Japan and Australia as well as Britain and America.

After serving an ‘apprenticeship’ accompanying singers, the first Frank Chacksfield singles in his own right were released in 1951 with several sides for Polygon, Columbia, Parlophone and Oriole. Although they were enjoyable, these early recordings were not big sellers, and Chacksfield had to negotiate a new record contract. Decca already had star names such as Mantovani, Robert Farnon and Stanley Black making successful albums, and this probably encouraged them to seek another light orchestra to add to the list. Frank Chacksfield was duly signed up, and in 1953 he formed a 40-piece orchestra with a large string section.

His very first 78 recorded for Decca in April - Charlie Chaplin’s themes for his film "Limelight" - won him a Gold Disc through its big success in the USA. In Britain it earned him the New Musical Express ‘Record of the Year’ award. His second 78 "Ebb Tide" became the first-ever British non-vocal disc to reach No. 1 in the American charts, providing a second Gold Disc. American juke-box operators, in a nation-wide poll, voted Chacksfield the most promising new orchestra of the year. Rarely can a record company have experienced such great success with the first two releases by a new signing. [These numbers, and many of his other early Decca 78s, can be found on the Vocalion CD "Dinner at Eight-Thirty" – CDLK4109].

Following his great success with his Decca recordings, in August 1954 the BBC invited Frank Chacksfield to present his orchestra on television, and these shows continued, on and off, until 1964 when he conducted several half-hour programmes in the "Best of Both Worlds" series on the newly-launched BBC-2 channel, which were sold to some other countries. He also became an almost permanent fixture on BBC Radio in "Limelight", "Melody Hour" etc. As a child he had suffered from a slight stutter, but the friendly manner in which he conquered this affliction somehow added to his charm when he introduced his own programmes.

But it was his steady flow of long-playing records which ensured Chacksfield’s continuing popularity and high public profile. Some of his best remembered include: "Evening in Paris", "Music of Noel Coward", "Evening in Rome", "Broadway Melody", "South Sea Island Magic", "In the Mystic East", "Film Festival", collections of Academy Award-winning songs, and the two fine albums included on this 2-CD collection. "Mediterranean Moonlight", in particular, is enhanced by some exceptional lush scores from the pen of Frank Chacksfield’s long-time associate, the talented arranger Leon Young.

David Ades November 2002

Submit to Facebook

After years of neglect, many of Cyril Stapleton’s finest singles from the 1950s are available once more on a new Vocalion CD


1 HIGHWAY PATROL (Llewellyn) F10793 1956; 2 ELEPHANTS' TANGO (Bernard Landes) F10488 1955; 3 THE MAIDS OF MADRID (Hamilton) F10793 1956; 4 GABRIELLE (Hayward Morris) F10488 1955; 5 THE ITALIAN THEME (Giacomazzi) F10703 1956; 6 DOLL DANCE (Brown) F11257# 1960; 7 TEENAGE LULLABY (Stevens, Hamilton) F11013 1958; 8 THE RED BALLOON (Earley, Hamilton) F10850 1957; 9 STRINGS ON PARADE (Ray Martin) F10322* 1954; 10 FOR ALWAYS (Valente, Tagliaferri, Parsons) F10322* 1954; 11 CARNAVALITO (Linda, Zaldiver) F10208* 1953; 12 COME NEXT SPRING (Steiner, Adelson) F10703 1956; 13 THE MAN WHO PLAYS THE MANDOLINO (GUAGLIONE); (Fanciulla, Bergman, Keith) F10850 1957; 14 AVA (Salvador) F10359* 1954; 15 ELEANORA (Arendo) F10359* 1954; 16 'THE MAN BETWEEN' –THEME (John Addison) F10208* 1953; 17 MEET MR. CALLAGHAN (Eric Spear) F9974* 1952; 18 FIDDLE-DELPHIA (Hamilton) F11013 1958; 19 HAVANA MERRY-GO-ROUND (Lenard) ; F11257# 1960; 20 BLUE STAR (THE 'MEDIC' THEME) (Heyman, Young) F10559 1955; 21 MEXICAN MADNESS (Hamilton, Earley) F10456 1955; 22 FANFARE BOOGIE (Fahey, Kaye) F10470 1955; 23 FORGOTTEN DREAMS (Leroy Anderson) F10912 1957; 24 WHICH END BITES F11049 1958; 25 'NORTH WEST FRONTIER' F11180 1959; 26 VOLARE (Domenico Modugno) F11049 1958; 27 TANGO MAMBO F10456 1955; 28 THE HAPPY WHISTLER F10735 1956; 29 MAGIC FINGERS F10686 1956; 30 GUADALCANAL MARCH (Richard Rodgers) F10308* 1954; Decca singles * F series 78 rpm 10 inch discs only; # F issued as 45-F on 45 rpm 7 inch discs only; all other tracks issued as both F & 45-F series , 78 & 45 rpm discs

Vocalion CDLK4154

During the 1950s and 1960s, Cyril Stapleton was a well-known orchestra leader in Britain and overseas, thanks to his regular BBC broadcasts and his many recordings. Like his fellow bandleaders, he regularly made ‘singles’ to appeal to the record buying public who wanted to take home the latest catchy melody. As the 1950s progressed, the familiar 10" 78 rpm record gradually gave way to the smaller 7" 45 rpm record, and "45s" were to remain highly collectable until well into the 1980s, when the compact disc took over.

Looking back today, it may be surprising to discover some of the tunes which were issued by record companies around 50 years ago. Things are so different in the 21st century, with ‘single’ CDs concentrating on repertoire that caters almost exclusively for young people with tastes in music that reflect their individual lifestyles. Once upon a time gramophone records could be enjoyed by all the family; today we all have our own preferences, but thankfully the invention of the compact disc has resulted in more music than ever before becoming available.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that, if you don’t enjoy today’s latest sounds, there are many CDs on the market to remind you of how things used to be.

Television was making great strides in the 1950s, and several tracks played by the Cyril Stapleton Orchestra attracted attention through their use as regular signature tunes. "Highway Patrol" (1955-59) was an early American police series, with a great theme credited to ‘Ray Llewellyn’, although this is widely believed to be a pseudonym for David Rose (of Holiday for Strings and The Stripper fame).

But perhaps the most famous piece of television music on this CD is the number which closes this collection – Richard Rodgers’ Guadalcanal March from that landmark NBC television series "Victory At Sea" (1952-53).

Light music is renowned for the many composers who use pseudonyms. Several catchy numbers on this CD include the name ‘Hamilton’; this surname has been chosen by some important people such as the Dorsey Brothers in the USA, and pianist Monia Liter in England. But ‘Clyde Hamilton’ is definitely Cyril Stapleton, so it can be safely assumed that titles such as The Maids of Madrid, Teenage Lullaby, The Red Balloon and Mexican Madness are being conducted in a manner that the composer would entirely approve. The co-composer of some of these works is ‘Robert Earley’, who is better known as the conductor Bob Sharples; but ‘Bob Sharples’ is also a pseudonym used by Robert Frederick Standish.

The remaining numbers in this collection provide an entertaining snapshot of the light and popular music scene in the 1950s, before rock’n’roll changed everything, although its effects can be heard in Nacio Herb Brown’s 1920s fox trot Doll Dance, given a 1960 spruce-up. Many novelties will probably sound familiar, even if their names have long been forgotten. Cyril Stapleton wasn’t recognised for a particular style (in the same way as Mantovani with his cascading strings), but he always provided something that had a special touch, thereby distinguishing it from his peers. So when you hear his versions of popular numbers such as Elephant Tango or Carnavalito you know that you will not be hearing carbon copies of other records. And there can be few other conductors who offered their fans such varied sounds and styles, as this fascinating collection undoubtedly confirms.

Cyril Stapleton was born on 31 December 1914 at Mapperley, Nottingham, in the east midlands of England. He enlisted in the Royal Air Force during World War II where he served for five years, initially as an air gunner.

During his last year in the RAF he was stationed in Uxbridge where he became a member of the RAF Symphony Orchestra. This rekindled an earlier interest in symphonic music, and back in civilian life he decided to concentrate on this area of music. At one particular time he was a member of three orchestras: the London Symphony, the National Symphony and the Philharmonia Orchestra.

But having to keep playing the same old classical repertoire started to pall, and in 1947 he was back in London’s West End with his own band. With added strings in 1948, the Stapleton band attracted a wider audience, helped by appearances on radio shows such as "Hit Parade" and "Golden Slipper".

His fame was assured in 1952, when the BBC Dance Orchestra was changed to the BBC Show Band, and Cyril Stapleton was appointed as its conductor. This was the BBC’s prestige outfit for the playing of popular music, employing the finest musicians and arrangers, and the first programme went out on the Light Programme on 2 October 1952. Not only did the band attract the top British singers, but American entertainers such as Frank Sinatra and Nat ‘King’ Cole were also happy to appear as guests.

The Show Band was broadcasting three times a week (in various forms) but all this came to an end on 28 June 1957, to the dismay of its many fans. Despite much criticism, the BBC refused to reverse its decision to ‘kill’ the band. Cyril kept busy touring with his own orchestra, making records and broadcasting, and appearing around the country in theatres and dance halls. This continued until the mid-1960s, when he was appointed an Artists and Repertoire Manager at Pye Records.

Sadly he died aged only 59 on 25 February 1974, but he has left us with a fine collection of recordings, and his singles rediscovered for this CD prove what a thoroughly competent and versatile musician he was.

For a more complete biography of Cyril Stapleton, please see ‘Journal Into Melody’ issue 149 [December 2001].

David Ades November 2002

Submit to Facebook

Here is a brand new Mantovani CD, compiled by two of his ardent admirers, that is guaranteed to fill gaps in many collections. This is the first time since Mantovani's last LP in 1976, that any 'new' material has appeared.

The Collector's Mantovani - Volume 1

1. Toyshop Ballet; 2. When The Lilac Blooms Again; 3. Swedish Rhapsody; 4. American Gypsy; 5. The Heart of Budapest; 6. The Theme From Moulin Rouge; 7. Vola Colomba; 8. Jamaican Rumba; 9. Valse Campestre; 10. Call Of The West; 11. Dream Dust; 12. I May Never Pass This Way Again (linked with Swinging Shepherd Blues by Ted Heath and His Orchestra and Who's Sorry Now by Edmundo Ros and his Orchestra); 13. Love Song From Houseboat (Almost In Your Arms) 14. Temple Of Dreams; 15. Around The World; 16. The Road To Ballingarry; 17. Mandolin Serenade; 18. Souvenir d'Italie; 19. Theme From The Sundowners; 20. To My Love; 21. A Certain Smile; 22. The Valiant Years; 23. The Canary; 24. Evening In Capri; 25. The Spring Song; 26. Flamenco Love; 27. Theme From The Last Rhapsody. Vocalion CDLK4152.

Annnunzio Paolo Mantovani (1905-80) was such a prolific album artist in the 1950s and 1960s that you might be forgiven for assuming that all of his recordings had been given album exposure at one time or another. Not so. A first search of the Decca vaults has revealed a variety of pieces which have been overlooked and neglected and may be unfamiliar to those of us interested in Mantovani's music.
The majority of these recordings are presented here for the first time in many years; indeed, some of them have never even been heard outside the Decca studios. Furthermore, several of the tunes were released only on obscure 45 rpm singles or extended play discs; in one case a song even appeared in a unique format on a charity record. The common thread in this Vocalion issue is, however, that none of the tunes has surfaced on a Mantovani compact disc until now. Indeed, just four of them were issued on long playing albums.
Vocalion's presentation encompasses what Mantovani was all about in his best selling years: lush waltzes, film themes, sumptuous Italian melodies, the occasional novelty item, his own captivating compositions and downright good tunes. You'll still come across the occasional carping critic complaining about an overload of cascading strings, but such nonsense ignores the rich musical tapestry Mantovani created, his inherent feeling for a good melody, the care he took over his recordings and the variety of choice he offered.
Mantovani's own compositions were invariably melodious, one of the more successful ones being "Toyshop Ballet" which provides for a lively opening.
Mantovani's "The Road To Ballingarry" with its lilting Irish theme is a showcase for that wonderful Welsh flautist Lionel Solomon who worked with Mantovani for nearly thirty years.
The small screen is not entirely ignored in this compilation for the stirring signature of the BBC TV series "The Valiant Years" from 1961 makes a rare appearance. Based on the memoirs of Winston Churchill, it highlighted Richard Burton as the voice of Churchill.
Mantovani's ear for a good tune is demonstrated by his 1956 version of the Continental favourite "When The Lilac Blooms Again" which he had recorded on an earlier occasion in a much slower tempo. The finale is a splendid mini-concerto from 1953, the "Theme From The Last Rhapsody", with Stanley Black on piano.

This new CD has been sponsored by two RFS members, Nicholas Briggs and Scott Raeburn. Mantovani collectors owe them a great debt of gratitude, for making so many rare items available on CD for the first time.

November 2002                  


ASV Living Era presents the big Orchestral Sounds of the 1930s once again




In the middle years of the 20th century the name ‘Louis Levy’ would have been familiar to millions of cinemagoers around the world. He was listed as Musical Director on countless British films, and he led a team of fine composers and arrangers that helped to establish film scoring as an important craft in its own right. As head of a music department servicing both Gaumont British and Gainsborough films, Levy was one of the most influential figures in British film music in the 1930s and 1940s. He was more prolific than his contemporary Muir Mathieson, although it has to be said that the latter enjoyed greater critical acclaim. Levy’s success in films resulted in major record contracts for HMV and Columbia, and he became a regular broadcaster.

Louis Levy (1893-18 August 1957) began his famous long-running BBC radio series "Music From The Movies" on 6th January 1936. His aim was to allow listeners at home to enjoy the same lush orchestral sounds they were now accustomed to hearing in the cinema. He further extended this ideal to his commercial recordings, and the excellent results he achieved can be heard in this collection. The rich sounds emanating from his large orchestra are all the more impressive when one realises that electrical sound recording was barely ten years old when some of these 78s were made.

Through the sheer necessity of having to produce so much music, Levy wisely employed several talented arrangers who helped to establish his style, among them Peter Yorke (who adapted the powerful Levy sound for his own successful post-war concert orchestra), and Bretton Byrd (who was Levy’s chief music editor at Gaumont British).

His roster of vocalists included several who were much in demand during the 1930s. The many British dance bands of the period rarely treated their singers with much respect (the possible main exception being Al Bowlly), and on their commercial 78s they often hired whoever happened to be available on the day. Sam Browne appeared on even more sides than the seemingly ubiquitous Bowlly, perhaps surprising when one learns that Browne apparently couldn’t read music, but could pick up a new tune after only one play through. Others familiar on Levy’s 78s included: Edward Molloy, who became a big hit in post-war seaside concert parties, and eventually found his deserved fame in London’s West End; Robert Ashley, a tenor who was killed in World War II; Janet Lind, from Melbourne, Australia, who died there in 1986, aged 81; Gerry Fitzgerald who arrived in Britain from Toronto in 1934, and returned to Canada after war service in the RAF, but died young; and Eve Becke, originally a pianist who sang with many of the top British bands.

Although it is generally accepted that Louis Levy was a figure-head, rather than an active participant in the creation of the music he conducted, there is no denying that he composed one of the most famous marches from the early British film industry – Music From The Movies. He used it as his signature tune on the radio, and snatches of it opened and closed several of his 78s. The regular Gaumont British cinema newsreel (with the town crier waving a bell) was distinguished by its use as the opening fanfare.

Louis Levy has left us with a fine legacy of film music which portrays so vividly the time when it was created. Some of the vocals may now sound dated, but that is not to deny their period charm. Many recording artists today would envy the large budgets which Levy was allowed by HMV and Columbia. For some reason they sometimes dropped the ‘Gaumont British Symphony’ title from his orchestra, but on most of his recordings it really was a symphony orchestra, often comprising some 65 players. The primitive microphones of the 1930s struggled to capture the performances in the studio on wax, but today’s sound restoration techniques have extracted more of the music from those coarse grooves that would have seemed impossible just a few years ago. RFS member Alan Bunting has done a superb job with his magical CEDAR equipment!

David Ades

Submit to Facebook

Another superb Vintage Light Music CD from Vocalion

SIDNEY TORCH conducting

1 LONDON PLAYHOUSE (Sidney Torch) FDH008
2 THE GALLOPING MAJOR (George Bastow, arr. Gordon Jacob)FDH012
3 MANNEQUIN (Jack Beaver) FDH005
4 PASTORALE (Ronald Hanmer) FDH023
5 METROPOLIS (Jack Brown) FDH037
6 THE PC 49 THEME from 'Changing Moods No. 2' (R. Hanmer)FDH026
7 MARDI GRAS (Ferde Grofe) FDH001
8 BARNACLE BILL (Ashworth Hope) FDH007
9 SPORTS ARENA (Len Stevens) FDH043
10 COLORADO SUNSET (Jack Brown) FDH050
11 GOLDEN ARROW (Jack Beaver) FDH045
12 FLYING SQUAD (Ronald Hanmer) FDH018
13 JOY RIDE (Jack Coles) FDH059
14 LOVE'S AWAKENING (Leslie Bridgewater) FDH013
15 BEATEN BY A HEAD (Bill Williamson) FDH011
17 CHINCHILLA (Eric Winstone) FDH015
18 LOCOMOTION 'Running Off The Rails' (Clive Richardson) FDH028
19 RADIO THEATRE (Jack Beaver) FDH040
20 BREAKFAST BUSTLE (Len Stevens) FDH012
21 WORLD OF TOMORROW (Jack Beaver) FDH002
22 AUTUMN SCENE (Jack Brown) FDH046
23 GARDEN FACTORY (Len Stevens) FDH045
24 SONGE D'AUTOMNE (Archibald Joyce) FDH004
25 SILVER SPURS (Philip Green) FDH058
26 FASHION PARADE (Ronald Hanmer) FDH005
27 WATERSMEET (Conrad Leonard) FDH017
28 DANCE OF THE GHOSTS (Montague Ewing) FDH014
29 PRODUCTION DRIVE (Frank Cordell) FDH054
30 LONDON TOWN MARCH (Len Stevens) FDH029

FDH series Francis, Day & Hunter 10" 78s

Vocalion CDEA6080

Many readers of this magazine will already own some of the KPM Music CDs which feature vintage recordings by the New Century Orchestra conducted by Sidney Torch. Some of you may also be fortunate in having the original Francis, Day & Hunter 78s lurking on your shelves. The KPM CDs are specifically for use by professionals in the entertainment industry, and they are not available to the general public. Therefore this new Vocalion CD will offer many music lovers around the world their first opportunity to purchase a unique collection of top quality mood music from the late 1940s. Even RFS members who already have some of these tracks in their private collections should find something of interest on this new CD. For a start, some 78s have not previously been available on KPM CDs (Mardi Gras, London Town) and others were previously in shortened versions (The Galloping Major, Sports Arena).
Sidney Torch, MBE, distinguished himself in two musical spheres. In his early years he gained a reputation as a brilliant cinema organist, but in the second half of his career he switched to writing and conducting Light Music, with even greater success. As well as his conventional work for radio and commercial records, he became a master of composing, arranging and conducting Mood Music (now better known as Production Music). Some of his many recordings for the London publishers Francis, Day and Hunter are now made available again in this collection; most of these rare tracks are appearing for the first time on a commercially available CD.
He was born Sidney Torchinsky of Russian parents, at 27 Tottenham Court Road, London, on 5 June 1908. His father, an orchestral trombonist, decided to anglicise the family name, and it was he who introduced his son to the rudiments of music. Young Sidney studied piano at the Blackheath Conservatoire, where he soon displayed evidence of an unusually retentive memory. As he entered an examination room he discovered, to his horror, that he had left behind at his home in Maida Vale all the compulsory music. He had no alternative but to play from memory, and passed the exam with distinction. He shared the same professor for piano tuition as Gerald Bright, later to achieve fame in Britain as the band-leader Geraldo.
Clearly Torch must have been a talented pianist, because his first professional engagement was as accompanist to the celebrated violinist Albert Sandler. He then moved into several cinema orchestras playing for silent films, starting at Stratford Broadway in East London, but the arrival of the talkies forced him to consider a musical change of direction. Full orchestras were no longer needed in cinemas, and even prestigious ensembles such as Emanuel Starkey's orchestra at the Regal, Marble Arch, (in which Torch also played piano) had to go. But every picture palace of note decided to install an organ and the Regal was no exception; a Christie was built in 1928 by the famous London firm of Hill, Norman and Beard. At the time it was the largest theatre organ outside the United States.
Torch became assistant organist to Quentin Maclean at the Regal, Marble Arch, taking over this famous Christie Organ (following a short residency by Reginald Foort) full time from 1932 to 1934. Despite the popularity of his jazzy arrangements with cinema-goers and buyers of his 78s, the BBC did not invite Torch to broadcast regularly until 1934. Microphones of the period had great difficulty coping with the wide dynamics and timbral range of modern organs. His signature tune became, appropriately, the popular song "I've Got To Sing A Torch Song" (from the Hollywood film "Gold Diggers of 1933") to which he added his own special lyrics. From Marble Arch Torch moved on to the Regal, Edmonton, leaving in 1936 to join Union Cinemas, opening many new organs and recording at their flagship theatre, the Regal Kingston. In 1937 he opened the magnificent Wurlitzer Organ at the Gaumont State, Kilburn, which was then the largest cinema organ in England.
Torch was a real 'star' of the cinema organ in those pre-World War 2 days. Through his many personal appearances, broadcasts and commercial recordings he had reached the very top of his profession. In 1940 he was called into the Royal Air Force, and initially was stationed near Blackpool, where he continued to record at the Opera House. He first trained as an air gunner in the RAF, but was subsequently commissioned and attained the rank of Squadron Leader. He became conductor of the RAF Concert Orchestra, which gave him the opportunity to study more closely the intricacies of orchestral scoring. This experience was to stand him in good stead when he returned to civilian life after the war. Astutely Torch realised that the days of the cinema organ as he knew it were numbered, so he turned to light orchestral composing, arranging and conducting, where he quickly established himself through his radio broadcasts and commercial recordings (in a period of less than ten years he conducted over 60 78s for EMI's Columbia and Parlophone labels). He wrote the catchy signature-tune for the famous BBC Radio series "Much Binding In The Marsh", and also discovered that his composing talents were ideally suited to the requirements of the production music (mood music) publishers, that were rapidly establishing libraries in London. Chappells had already started recording light music for the use of radio, film, newsreel and eventually television companies as far back as 1942, drawing mainly upon the talents of Charles Williams, who conducted the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra on those early 78s. From 1946 onwards Sidney Torch contributed many different works to the Chappell catalogue, both under his own name and also as Denis Rycoth (an anagram). He also conducted the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra on these special recordings, working alongside Williams, Robert Farnon, Peter Yorke, Wally Stott, Clive Richardson and many other luminaries of light music in the post-war years. Francis, Day & Hunter employed Torch to conduct their New Century Orchestra when their library was founded in 1947, and he remained with them for two years until a Musicians' Union ban halted all such work in Britain.
Although the BBC originated most of the material it broadcast on the radio in those days, London musicians were also employed by transcription services (Lang-Worth, Muzak etc.) and overseas broadcasting organisations such as Radio Luxembourg and IBC. Torch was closely associated with the Harry Alan Towers radio production company which supplied programmes to Radio Luxembourg and, occasionally, even to the BBC.
In 1953 the BBC decided that it needed a new programme whose brief was: "to help people relax after the week's hard work and put them in the right mood for a happy weekend". With Sidney Torch's full participation, the formula for "Friday Night Is Music Night" was devised - with such foresight that the programme survives to this very day. The BBC Concert Orchestra had been formed the previous year, and Torch conducted them for almost twenty years in this series, until his retirement in 1972.
During this period Torch became one of the most popular and respected conductors in Britain. His countless broadcasts included many celebrity concerts, often at London's Royal Festival Hall as part of the BBC's regular Light Music Festivals. He had a reputation as something of a martinet, according to the musicians and singers who performed under his baton. One described the crackle that emanated from his starched shirt-cuffs on some of his rapier-like downbeats. Singers dreaded 'the glare of the Torch' if they failed to please the maestro. But he was also remembered for various acts of kindness, seldom made public, but nevertheless appreciated by some of his musicians who needed temporary financial assistance. He demanded smartness in dress from his musicians, and always had in reserve an extra pair of gloves or black socks in case of need.
Following his retirement Sidney Torch seemed to lose interest in his previous musical activities. He rarely wanted to talk about his pre-war stardom as a cinema organist, and similarly dismissed most attempts to get him to recall his great moments in light music. In a rare radio interview in 1983 he admitted that he had been cruel to most of his producers, although he felt that most of them probably benefited from the experience. He was appointed MBE in 1985. He died from an overdose at his Eastbourne, Sussex home on 16th July 1990 at the age of 82, having been pre-deceased by his wife Elizabeth Tyson (a former BBC producer) the previous March. Sidney Torch's music is still remembered by the many admirers of the cinema organ and light music. "Friday Night Is Music Night" is regarded by many as 'his' programme, and his own compositions and arrangements are still regularly performed by 'his' BBC Concert Orchestra. Few musicians could have a better memorial to their talents.
This new CD presents a special selection of unique archive production music recordings made in London during the second half of the 1940s. When World War 2 was over, the famous music publishers Francis, Day & Hunter (FDH) decided to establish their own Recorded Music Library, and the first sessions took place at EMI's Abbey Road Studios during the early summer of 1946.
FDH made a wise choice in engaging Sidney Torch to conduct their recordings. He was highly regarded as a composer, arranger, conductor and performer, and he possessed a wide knowledge of this kind of music. The musicians in The New Century Orchestra were hand-picked (many from London's leading symphony orchestras), and they were familiar with the kind of repertoire they were required to perform. The combination of a demanding and knowledgeable conductor, plus an orchestra of accomplished players adept at sight-reading, ensured the quality of these recordings.
Although in mono (stereo was a decade away, and electrical recording itself was barely 20 years old), the sound achieved in the studios was outstanding. Very few microphones would have been used, making it all the more important that the conductor should be fully aware of the techniques involved. The sound engineers were familiar with recording light orchestras, and those glowing valves in the audio equipment also added to the period charm. In recent years modern composers have tried to recreate the sounds of this era, often with very creditable results. But it has to be acknowledged that the original studio ambience - plus the distinctive style of writing by the foremost composers in their field - is very hard to replicate with today's equipment.
When these recordings were made, synchronised sound films were rare, apart from feature films made for the commercial cinema. Sound effects were helpful, but music tended to be the preferred choice of directors needing something to enhance their visuals. Newsreels in particular demanded a large quantity of different moods to fulfil their insatiable requirements, and documentaries and 'B' movies also needed an affordable source of music. Radio and the fledgling television services around the world also wanted catchy themes and copious amounts of background music. Tape recording was not yet in general use. Editing was not possible: if a musician made a bad mistake, they simply had to start again with a fresh wax. Therefore the original 78s (from which all these transfers have been made) represent the genuine performances, the only concession to modern tastes being a minimal amount of filtering to remove any unwanted excess surface noise, and a judicious application of state-of-the-art sound restoration technology to achieve uniform sound quality.
Francis, Day & Hunter employed many fine writers who knew exactly what was required of them. The work of three composers stands out: Jack Beaver, Ronald Hanmer and Len Stevens. None of them ever sought the limelight, yet each was brilliant at being able to capture a specific mood within seconds. They were masters of their craft, but never guilty of giving short change.
Jack Beaver was born in Clapham, London in 1900, and died on 10 September 1963, aged 63. In the 1930s and 1940s he was part of Louis Levy's 'team' of composers, providing scores for countless feature films and documentaries. He was also much in demand for scoring theatrical productions, and undertook a punishing workload which eventually contributed towards his early death. His ability to create music to cover almost any mood was second to none, and his most famous composition was 'Picture Parade', which used to introduce the BBC Television series of the same name. (You can read more about Jack Beaver in articles published in JIMs 133 & 134).
In some respects the career of Len Stevens was similar to Jack Beaver. In every sense a 'backroom boy' of the music business, he learned his craft in the dance bands of pre-war years. Many London publishers were keen to employ him, both for his own original works, and also to orchestrate new pieces by other writers, who were too busy (or not sufficiently capable!) of doing a good job themselves. Only rarely did he make commercial recordings, but his music was heard by millions around the world. He died on 13 May 1989.
Ronald Hanmer was born in Reigate, Surrey on 2 February 1917, and it was his proud boast that he had worked in the music business since the day he left school. Like Torch, he served his 'apprenticeship' as a cinema organist, and soon developed his talent for composing and arranging. Many of his comic creations enlivened wartime ITMA broadcasts, and eventually over 700 of his compositions were published in various background music libraries. He was also in demand as an orchestrator of well-known works for Amateur Societies, and the brass band world was very familiar with his scores. In 1975 he emigrated to Australia, where he was delighted to discover that his melody Pastorale was famous throughout the land as the theme for the long-running radio serial 'Blue Hills'. He died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Brisbane, Australia, on 23 May 1994, aged 77. (See also articles about Ronald Hanmer in JIMs 109, 115 & 117). All of the other composers represented on this CD equally deserve to be remembered for their valuable contributions to Light Music.
Jack Brown became better known as the organist 'Jackie Brown', whose life ended tragically following an accident. Ferde Grofe was the American who orchestrated Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue for its first performance by Paul Whiteman; later he achieved fame though his Grand Canyon and other suites (Mardi Gras comes from his 'Mississippi Suite', and became a popular song Daybreak).
Ashworth Hope's Barnacle Bill is instantly recognisable as the original BBC TV 'Blue Peter' theme.
Jack Coles composed regularly, but later became better known in Britain as one of the conductors of the BBC Midland Light Orchestra.
Eric Winstone was a popular bandleader and broadcaster, and Archibald Joyce enjoyed respect as a composer of the 'traditional' school of light music.
Clive Richardson was definitely in the 'first division' of light music composers, and his tribute to our capital city in wartime - London Fantasia - is still well remembered today. One of his popular works was called 'Running Off The Rails', but it was originally known as Locomotion when he composed it for the FDH background music library.
Philip Green was credited as having composed more music than any of his contemporaries, although in later years he concentrated on religious themes.
Montague Ewing was also a busy writer, under his own name and also using a dozen pseudonyms, notably Sherman Myers. Frank Cordell had a glittering career as an arranger and composer, eventually achieving international recognition for his work in films.
Keen collectors of light music will already be familiar with some of the works in this collection, and many are likely to rekindle half-forgotten memories from long ago. As an example, World of Tomorrow will be familiar to American ears through its association with early 'Superman' episodes on black and white television.
In Britain, record collectors around 50 years ago looked in vain for a copy of the theme music for the popular radio series 'The Adventures of P.C. 49'. And if you happened to be serving in the British Forces in Germany during the 1950s you may have heard Fashion Parade introducing the British Forces Network equivalent of 'Housewives Choice'.
Such is the power of music to burrow into your subconscious, only to burst to the surface decades later when you least expect it. As you listen to this CD, be prepared for some pleasant surprises!

David Ades

September 2002

Submit to Facebook

Frank Chacksfield's Rediffusion recordings are rediscovered by Vocalion

Frank Chacksfield
conducting The Windsor Strings


Vocalion CDLK4144

Frank Chacksfield is still remembered by many music lovers and record collectors for his numerous albums and appearances on radio and television during the era following the second world war. It was a time when the public liked its musical entertainment to feature melody, rather than mediocrity, and experience and talent were still the essential ingredients for success.
From the 1950s onwards, Chacksfield was one of Britain's most famous orchestra leaders, and his fame spread far beyond the shores of our green and pleasant land. Early in his career he was fortunate to have several big sellers in the USA, which firmly established his reputation world-wide.
He was born Francis Charles Chacksfield in Battle, Sussex, on 9 May 1914; he died on 9 June 1995 aged 81 in Kent, having suffered for several years from Parkinson's Disease. During his long recording career with Decca alone, it is estimated that his albums sold more than 20 million copies. In total he made more than 150 long-playing albums which were released in many countries, especially in Europe, Japan and Australia as well as Britain and America.
As a boy, he started piano lessons at the age of seven, and also learned the organ, passing the Trinity College examinations. He took a particular interest in the theory of music, appearing at Hastings Music Festivals by the time he was 14. A year later he became deputy church organist at Salehurst Parish Church near Robertsbridge, Sussex, and formed his first dance band. His parents were against a musical career, so Frank went to work in a solicitor's office. Finding the law boring, he decided that his future would have to be in music, and he formed a band in 1936 which held a resident engagement at Hilden Manor Road House at Tonbridge, Kent for three years. In 1939 a summer season at Jersey was terminated upon the outbreak of World War 2, and Frank volunteered for the Army.
He was about to be sent overseas with the Royal Signals when he was taken ill. While convalescing, he made his first broadcast from the BBC's Glasgow Studios, singing 'original songs at the piano'.
He was posted to the Royal Army Service Corp's Southern Command Entertainment's Section at Salisbury, Wiltshire, and later became staff arranger for "Stars In Battledress" at the War Office in London under George Black, with the rank of corporal. He shared an office with Sergeant Charlie Chester, who had already established a pre-war career as a comedian. They were both demobbed on the same day, leading to a job with the stage version of Chester's popular radio show "Stand Easy" at Blackpool, with Frank conducting the orchestra.
They became close friends, and Chester was best man at Chacksfield's marriage to Jeanne Lehmann in 1946. They collaborated on the song "Down Sweetheart Lane", with Chacksfield supplying the melody to Chester's lyrics. He soon became involved with various BBC Radio shows as arranger, composer and conductor, including Jon Pertwee's "Puffney's Post Office", the "Frankie Howerd Show" and "Up The Pole" staring Jimmy Jewel and Ben Warris. From 1948 onwards his name started appearing on 78s backing various singers (the first was Frederick Ferrari from Chester's radio show), and for a while he also worked as musical director of the Henry Hall and Geraldo orchestras. The first Frank Chacksfield singles in his own right were released in 1951 with several sides for Polygon, Columbia, Parlophone and Oriole. Some were labelled 'Singing Strings', with others called 'Frank Chacksfield's Tunesmiths'. Although they were enjoyable, these early recordings were not big sellers, and Chacksfield had to negotiate a new record contract. Decca already had big names such as Mantovani, Robert Farnon and Stanley Black making successful albums, and this probably encouraged them to seek another light orchestra to add to the list. Frank Chacksfield was duly signed up, and in 1953 he formed a 40-piece orchestra with a large string section.
His very first 78 recorded for Decca in April - Charlie Chaplin's themes for his film "Limelight" - won him a Gold Disc through its big success in the USA. In Britain it earned him the New Musical Express Record of the Year award. His second 78 "Ebb Tide" became the first-ever British non-vocal disc to reach No. 1 in the American charts, providing a second Gold Disc. American juke-box operators, in a nation-wide poll, voted Chacksfield the most promising new orchestra of the year. Rarely can a record company have experienced such great success with the first two releases by a new signing. [These numbers, and many of his other early Decca 78s, can be found on the Vocalion CD "Dinner at Eight-Thirty" - CDLK4109].
Following his great success with his Decca recordings, in August 1954 the BBC invited Frank Chacksfield to present his orchestra on television, and these shows continued, on and off, until 1964 when he conducted several half-hour programmes in the "Best of Both Worlds" series on the newly-launched BBC-2 channel, which were sold to some other countries. He also became an almost permanent fixture on BBC Radio in "Limelight", "Melody Hour" etc. As a child he had suffered from a slight stutter, but the friendly manner in which he conquered this affliction somehow added to his charm when he introduced his own programmes.
Chacksfield was also a very good composer with a large number of titles to his credit, sometimes using pseudonyms such as Martino Paticano and Roger Senicourt. Among his better-known pieces are: "Firecracker", "Cuban Boy", "Candid Snap", "Summer Serenade", "Innishannon Serenade", "Bossa For Bess", "Autumn Island", "Rosella", "Medway Magic" (commissioned by the BBC), "Hop Scotch Hop", "Blue Train" and many more.
Radio and television commitments frequently found him in Eire during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1965/66 he co-hosted a series with French conductor Roger Roger, each playing their own (and other artists') discs. During 1972 Frank took a 40-piece orchestra to Japan, performing no less than 15 shows in 12 cities in 16 days - in addition to a television recording and two radio shows.
Over the years he was a popular guest on radio and television in the USA, and demands for personal appearances came in from all corners of the globe. Hundreds of concerts were played to enthusiastic and receptive audiences, which kept him in the front rank of the 'easy listening' conductors.
But it was his steady flow of long-playing records which ensured Chacksfield's continuing popularity and high public profile. Some of his best remembered include: "Evening in Paris", "Music of Noel Coward", "Evening in Rome", "Broadway Melody", "Mediterranean Moonlight", "Lovely Lady", "South Sea Island Magic", "In the Mystic East", "Film Festival" and collections of Academy Award-winning songs.
In his later years he became an astute businessman, with various interests in publishing and companies supplying 'canned' music. In response to current prevailing economic conditions, and changes in public tastes, he gradually moved on to smaller ensembles often playing music more rhythmic in nature, but always displaying the good taste that had become his trademark.
This new Vocalion CD finds Frank Chacksfield conducting an orchestra he called 'The Windsor Strings' in a series of recordings made for Rediffusion, primarily to be heard in locations wherever 'background music' was required. From the 1950s onwards there was an increasing demand for this kind of music, and many well-known musicians were involved in this capacity. Rediffusion always employed first-rate musicians, thus ensuring that these special recordings deserved a much better fate than simply being relegated to hotel lounges and similar locations. The Americans have coined the term 'Elevator Music', but its somewhat derogatory overtones certainly do not apply to the Rediffusion tapes. The company also ran an enterprising record label, and issued numerous commercial LPs. The fact that the same music often appeared on their LPs and their 'background music tapes' (for want of a better phrase), meant that standards were high, and the quality of music that Rediffusion supplied for background music purposes was noticeably superior to its competitors. Only a few years ago there was a danger that this considerable archive of recordings could have been lost forever, but thanks to the enterprise of Michael Dutton the best is now being made available again on compact discs. (Vocalion have already reissued Rediffusion recordings by Robert Farnon, Bill McGuffie, Ronald Binge, Sid Phillips and Tony Osborne - and there are more to follow).
It all adds up to a varied and interesting collection that confirms, yet again, why Frank Chacksfield was one of the most popular light music conductors of his generation. CDs such as this, will ensure that he continues to entertain us all for many years to come.

David Ades September 2002 

Submit to Facebook
Page 2 of 3

Login Form RFS

Hi to post comments, please login, or create an account first.
We cannot be too careful with a world full of spammers. Apologies for the inconvenience caused.

Keep in Touch on Facebook!    

 If you have any comments or questions about the content of our website or Light Music in general, please join the Robert Farnon Society Facebook page.
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 ( 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.