David Ades recalls a Great British Orchestra
THE QUEEN'S HALL LIGHT ORCHESTRA
During the past two years Vocalion have released two CDs of recordings by this legendary light orchestra, and the latest has just reached the record stores. But what exactly was ‘The Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra’, and why is it still held in such high esteem by many light music aficionados?
The QHLO was the survivor of a musical tradition which began in the nineteenth century. For many years the orchestra was associated with the highest standards of 'traditional' light music, although it was also responsible for introducing to the public many new works by the post-war generation of composers.
The Queen's Hall (from which it takes its name) was built in 1893 on a site close to where the BBC’s Broadcasting House is now, at the top of Regents Street in London. It had a superb acoustic, and was the only major concert hall situated conveniently in London's West End. Sadly it was destroyed on the night of 10/11 May 1941 by enemy bombing during World War 2, and was not re-built.
The first Queen's Hall Orchestra was formed in 1895. It became the New Queen's Hall Orchestra in 1915, by which time the London publishers Chappells were lessees of the Queen's Hall. It gave its last concert in March 1927. Fearing they would lose too much money at the box office, Chappells decided to disband it, rather than allow it to broadcast. For a while the orchestra continued under the auspices of the BBC as 'Sir Henry J. Wood and his Symphony Orchestra'.
The New Queen's Hall Light Orchestra (proprietors: Chappell & Co. Ltd.) existed from around 1916 until 1927. It was conducted by Alick Maclean and performed mainly for the Chappell Ballad Concerts.
Fifteen years later the name 'Queen's Hall Light Orchestra' was still owned by Chappells. When they began to issue mood music recordings for films, newsreels and radio in 1942, the name QHLO appeared on the 78rpm discs, initially directed by Charles Williams. For their radio broadcasts and recordings, the orchestra consisted of some of the finest players in London, often from leading symphony orchestras. Although not a regular ensemble, it is clear that Chappells were careful to ensure that high standards were always maintained, both in terms of performance and repertoire.
The orchestra contributed to various radio series in the 1940s and 1950s, including Morning Music, Home to Music and in their own programme Musical Mirror (Reflections in Melody) in 1950. Occasionally the orchestra gave public performances, such as in 1947 when Sidney Torch conducted broadcasts of seaside concerts from resorts in the south east of England. Chappells continued to use the name for many of their orchestral recordings of mood (production) music well into the 1960s.
Within the famous Chappell music publishing group, the Chappell Recorded Music Library was set up in 1941 to provide mood music for professional users throughout the world and, as mentioned above, after months of preparation the first discs were actually issued a year later. Often copyright problems prevented the use of commercial records, and producers of films, newsreels, documentaries, radio and television programmes needed a source of music covering every possible mood, that would be free from such restrictions - and affordable. The British pioneers in this field included De Wolfe, Bosworth and Boosey & Hawkes, but it has to be acknowledged that Chappells quickly became the industry leaders, especially during the 1950s.
Teddy Holmes was appointed by Chappells as the first manager of their Recorded Music Library in 1941. He was well aware of the capabilities of the composers then working in the British film industry, notably Charles Williams, Clive Richardson and their colleagues who were employed (often anonymously) by Louis Levy.
Williams was chosen to conduct the first series of recordings, which took place at the EMI Studios, Abbey Road, London early in 1942. They were made by EMI’s Special Recordings Department, and the first single-sided 78s appeared with EMI’s standard label designs (at least three different versions). Chappells soon started designing their own labels, initially featuring the word 'Chappell' boldly shown against a black background with a red piano in silhouette. This was later changed to the more familiar red and white label, with black printing. Different labels were used for the same recordings when they were repressed at later dates.
During 1942 and 1943 Chappells continued to make their mood music recordings at EMI, Abbey Road, often on Saturday mornings when musicians were more freely available. Their venue changed to Levy's Sound Studios at 73 New Bond Street from 1944 until 1946; the following two years they were back at EMI. Towards the end of 1948, and during 1949 some recordings were made by Decca at the Kingsway Hall. Then a dispute with the Musicians' Union (involving all mood music publishers) forced them to switch their recording sessions to the continent of Europe, a situation which continued for many years.
By the mid-1940s the public was starting to notice the attractive light music in the Recorded Music Libraries of the various London publishers from its use on radio and particularly in cinema newsreels. These records were strictly not for sale to the general public, but eventually a few of the better-known works started to find their way onto commercial records.
When they were made, over 50 years ago, electrical sound recording had only been in existence for around 20 years, but the sound engineers had already become experts of their craft. Still in mono, they managed to recreate the subtle nuances intended by the composers and orchestrators with great success, despite the fact that often as few as only one or two microphones may have been employed in the studio. The mikes themselves were of an early vintage, adding to the atmosphere of these tracks; for example, the brass has a quality all of its own.
Maybe it was the acoustics, or those marvellous glowing valves. Certainly the musicians were familiar with this kind of music, and knew exactly how it should be interpreted. So many different elements combined to make the light music scene of the 1940s what it was, which is why compilations like these are providing such an important service in preserving our musical heritage.
When deciding upon the choice of material in these collections, I have tried to present many talented and important composers in the first versions of some of their best-known works.
Recognising that keen collectors will already possess recordings of much of the standard light music repertoire, the opportunity has also been taken to introduce a number of lesser-known pieces which are now appearing for the first time on commercial release.
Although most of the 78s featured in the first collection were taken from their Chappell sessions, I also included the QHLO playing four well-known compositions recorded by EMI for release on their Columbia label. It was necessary to include several works which would appeal to the casual buyer, because future CDs of light music depend upon existing ones selling in sufficient numbers to encourage record companies to spend their hard cash!
The latest CD (Volume 2) contains only Chappell 78s, and full tracklistings of both CDs appear on the next page. I have included several tracks which were requested by RFS members following the release of the first CD.
In total there are 57 scintillating performances by some of the finest composers of the 20th century, all conducted by the three ‘greats’ - Williams, Farnon and Torch.
Charles Williams (1893-1978) worked in cinema orchestras accompanying silent films, which provided an invaluable training in the technique of mood music. With the arrival of talkies he became one of a talented group of composers who set new standards in pre-war British films, and eventually the public began to notice his name on the credits. His Dream of Olwen (from the long-forgotten film "While I Live") was a massive seller, both in terms of records and sheet music. Another theme from the 1940s, Jealous Lover, was surprisingly chosen for the 1960 American film "The Apartment", providing Williams with a big international hit late in his career. One of BBC Radio’s most famous themes was Devil’s Galop (on the first CD) which introduced "Dick Barton - Special Agent". Williams attempted several sequels, possibly the best being They Ride By Night. It was extensively featured in a "Dad’s Army" episode, and perfectly accompanied the antics of Captain Mainwaring and his Home Guard platoon. Vocalion’s first QHLO collection opens with The Voice of London which became the signature tune of the orchestra. Rhythm on Rails and Trolley Bus are other ‘classic’ Williams titles on the CD. Charles Williams also excelled at ‘busy’ pieces, portraying everyday scenes from shopping to travel. Less specific than some, Exhilaration nevertheless conjures up a flurry of non-stop activity, reaching several climaxes but still maintaining a frantic momentum right to the end - providing a fitting finale to the second collection.
Robert Farnon (born 1917) is undoubtedly one of the major figures in quality British music from the second half of the 20th century. He excels as a conductor, composer and arranger, and the reissue by Vocalion on CD of many of his finest albums from the 1950s has revealed the timeless quality of his writing to a new and appreciative audience. His respect stretches across the Atlantic, and he has recorded with the likes of Frank Sinatra, George Shearing, Tony Bennett, Lena Horne, Sarah Vaughan and The Singers Unlimited, to name just some. These CDs spotlight Farnon working for Chappells, soon after he had been recruited by the Recorded Music Library’s founder, Teddy Holmes. In 1976 he reminisced: "I don’t think there has ever been a more star-studded orchestra than our Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra, and how they enjoyed playing under Robert Farnon’s baton the fantastic stream of wonderful and perfect orchestral pieces that came from his pen." Jumping Bean and Portrait of a Flirt are among the Farnon treats on the first CD. There are two fine examples on CD 2 - Proud Canvas and The Huckle-Buckle. They are far from being Farnon’s best known works (these can be found on Vocalion CDLK4104), but the sheer inventiveness of Farnon’s fertile talent shines through in every bar. When asked to arrange another composer’s work (such as Honey Child by Joyce Cochrane) it assumes an identity that proclaims its pedigree without question. Now well into his eighties, Farnon is still creating charming new works from his home on the idyllic island of Guernsey.
Sidney Torch (1908-1990) began his professional career as pianist for the celebrated violinist Albert Sandler. Like Charles Williams, he also worked in cinema orchestras just before the silents were replaced by talkies, then during the 1930s he became one of Britain’s most accomplished theatre organists, appearing at the consoles of Christies and Wurlitzers in London and the Home Counties. After service in the Royal Air Force during World War 2, Torch decided on a career change which resulted in him becoming a familiar name conducting orchestras on radio and records. A prolific composer for Chappells, he also made numerous recordings for various transcription services (in the USA as well as Britain), and researchers are still making fresh discoveries which reveal the considerable extent of his non-BBC activities. But it was the BBC that kept him before the public, notably through the radio programme "Friday Night Is Music Night" which he helped to devise in 1953. Torch composed over 100 works for Chappells, and also arranged for some of their other writers (Alpine Pastures by Vivian Ellis is a famous example). His best-known compositions include Shooting Star and On a Spring Note (both on the first QHLO CD). Back in the 1950s he achieved some success with Meandering which is now available again after an absence of more than forty years. Amore Mio is another Torch cameo, full of charm and bearing the unmistakable hallmarks of its creator. Torch’s successful career was rewarded with an MBE in 1985, but sadly his last years do not appear to have been happy. He died at the age of 82, having taken an overdose shortly after the death of his wife, the former BBC producer Eva Elizabeth Tyson.
Space does not permit us to include biographies of all the composers featured on these CDs, but the following deserve special mention.
Jack Strachey (1894-1972) has ensured his musical immortality by composing These Foolish Things. In the world of light music he is also remembered as the composer of In Party Mood, the catchy number he wrote for Bosworths in 1944 which was later chosen for the long-running BBC Radio series "Housewives’ Choice". This is just one of a series of catchy instrumentals that have flowed from his pen, and the opening number in the second collection reveals his affinity with theatre and the entertainment scene. Another well-known piece in similar style is Theatreland. One could be forgiven for thinking that Top Of The Bill could almost have been written by one of Strachey’s contemporaries, the ‘Uncrowned King of British Light Music’ - namely Eric Coates. But the keen listener can identify sufficient touches which attach the work firmly to JS.
Vivian Ellis (1904-1996) will always be remembered for Coronation Scot which introduced the BBC Radio series "Paul Temple". Some years later he struck lucky again, when the producer of "My Word" chose his Alpine Pastures - perhaps a surprising choice, since it had previously appeared in cinema advertisements for Ovaltine! Ellis also had a distinguished career in the musical theatre, notably "Mr. Cinders" (1929) and "Bless The Bride" (1947); in his eighties he came to the public’s attention when Sting resurrected Spread A Little Happiness.
Haydn Wood (1882-1959) was a contemporary of Eric Coates (1886-1957), both of them enjoying similar successes - originally with ballads, then concentrating on full scale orchestral works and suites. Roses of Picardy has been in the repertoire of most singers of the 20th century (even Frank Sinatra!), and that alone could justify Haydn Wood’s place among the great popular composers. Recent recordings of his works have demonstrated the depth and wide scope of his composing abilities, especially in suites. This native Yorkshireman often dedicated such works to London, yet the suite on the second CD Snapshots of London seems to have escaped attention elsewhere for the past 50 years. The first QHLO CD includes the charming Prelude from Wood’s Moods Suite.
Peter Yorke (1902-1966) was pianist-arranger with the famous Jack Hylton Band, but the seeds of his enduring success were sown in 1936 when Louis Levy engaged him as chief arranger with his famous Gaumont-British Orchestra. The wonderful, rich sound that Yorke created for Levy was embellished in later years when Peter Yorke’s own Concert Orchestra made numerous recordings (some of them have recently appeared on a Naxos CD with the saxophone player Freddy Gardner - see ‘Keeping Track’ in this issue). Yorke was a household name in Britain 50 years ago, thanks to his numerous broadcasts and records. Happily more of his music is gradually reappearing on new CDs (there is also a fine collection on Vocalion CDEA6005), but little is known today of his many original compositions. Often Yorke’s scores can sometimes verge on the rumbustious, but in Quiet Countryside he reveals the peaceful, mellow side of his nature. This gentle, flowing melody has been unfairly ignored for far too long. The first QHLO CD includes the piece he selected to introduce so many of his programmes, his own Sapphires and Sables.
Clive Richardson (1908-1998) composed many fine light music cameos, and he came to the forefront of the light music scene in the 1940s, following a distinguished pre-war career in theatre and films, scoring (uncredited) most of the Will Hay comedies. Two of his best pieces are Holiday Spirit and Melody On The Move both on the first CD. In the style of the former is Jamboree, no doubt demanded by his publishers as the obligatory sequel which often has to follow a successful number. It appears on the second QHLO collection, alongside Outward Bound, which proves that Richardson could also write in a more contemplative vein.
Montague Phillips (1885-1969) worked in the same areas as Eric Coates and Haydn Wood, except that his ballads possibly lacked something which would have made them popular to the masses, and thus they have tended to be forgotten. But Phillips did succeed in a musical genre that failed to survive the last century, the operetta: his "Rebel Maid" (1921) still gets occasional amateur performances, helped by its ‘hit’ song The Fishermen of England. Disliking the influences of jazz and syncopation in the 1920s, Phillips thereafter concentrated on ‘traditional’ orchestral music, much of it in lighter vein. Works such as his Surrey Suite deserve to be preserved in modern recordings, and the Waltz from his "Dance Revels" suite illustrates the kind of well constructed melodies he seemed to be able to compose at will.
Frederic Curzon (1899-1973) is represented on the first QHLO CD by his best-known work The Boulevardier. Also a one-time organist, he held an executive position at London publishers Boosey & Hawkes where he guided their Recorded Music Library through its formative years.
Clifton Parker (1905-1989) produced some fine film scores, notably "Western Approaches" and "Sink the Bismarck". He composed The Glass Slipper, a children’s operetta, in 1943; the Chappell recording (on the first QHLO CD) was used frequently in the early days of television, often when the dreaded words ‘Normal Service Will Be Resumed As Soon As Possible’ appeared on the screen.
All of the recordings on these CDs originate from the 1940s, a period which saw a remarkable outpouring of talent from a group of dedicated composers who were masters of their particular art. One could easily dismiss a three-minute work as a mere trifle, unworthy of serious consideration, but that would ignore the fact that such a brief time-scale obliged the composers to develop their ideas with a passion and intensity, and a brilliance of orchestration, that is thoroughly rewarding for the listener. There can never have been a period when so much high quality light orchestral music was being written by so many talented composers.
At the beginning of the 21st Century, music lovers have never had such a wonderful and varied choice of recorded music available to them. Long Playing records were superb (and still have many loyal fans), but it has to be acknowledged that the invention of the Compact Disc has resulted in an explosion of available music of every kind. Modern sound restoration techniques (especially the pioneering British CEDAR system) have encouraged the reissue of numerous recordings from the past, much to the delight of silver haired collectors who are now able to hear old friends sounding better than ever before. Happily this trend does not appear to have stifled new talent: in the world of Light Music many CDs of new performances have been released in the past ten years, proving that this particular style of music still has a lot of life left in it today!
QUEEN’S HALL LIGHT ORCHESTRA - Volume 2
1. TOP OF THE BILL* (Jack Strachey) 2. ALPINE PASTURES* (Vivian Ellis) 3. HONEY CHILD (Joyce Cochrane)
4. LOOKING AROUND (Colin Smith) 5. CHAMPAGNE MARCH* (Geoffrey Henman) 6. PROUD CANVAS (Robert Farnon)
7. PALM BEACH PROMENADE (James Moody) 8. DRIFTING* (Richard Addinsell) 9. NEWS THEATRE* (Jack Beaver) Snapshots of London Suite (Haydn Wood)
10. SADLERS WELLS* 11. QUEEN MARY’S GARDEN, REGENTS PARK* 12. WELLINGTON BARRACKS*
13. SEASCAPE (Tony Lowry) 14. MEANDERING* (Sidney Torch) 15. QUIET COUNTRYSIDE* (Peter Yorke) 16. LUNA PARK* (Eric Siday) 17. ORCHID ROOM (Robert Busby) 18. THEY RIDE BY NIGHT* (Charles Williams) 19. THE HUCKLE-BUCKLE (Robert Farnon) 20. JAMBOREE (Clive Richardson) 21. AMORE MIO* (Sidney Torch) 22. PAN AMERICAN PANORAMA* (Philip Green) 23. OUTWARD BOUND* (Clive Richardson) 24. COLISEUM MARCH+ (Michael North)
25. PUNCHINELLO+ (John Holliday) 26. MOON LULLABY+ (Mark Lubbock) 27. WALTZ from ‘DANCE REVELS’+ Montague Phillips) 28. EXHILARATION+ (Charles Williams)
Conducted by ROBERT FARNON, except *SIDNEY TORCH and +CHARLES WILLIAMS
VOCALION CDEA 6061
The two other volumes in this series:
QUEEN’S HALL LIGHT ORCHESTRA Volume 1 - Vocalion CDEA 6021
conducted by Charles Williams, Robert Farnon and Sidney Torch
THE VOICE OF LONDON (Charles Williams); JUMPING BEAN (Robert Farnon); BOULEVARDIER (Frederic Curzon); SHOOTING STAR (Sidney Torch); HOLIDAY SPIRIT (Clive Richardson); DUSK (Cecil Armstrong Gibbs); PORTRAIT OF A FLIRT (Robert Farnon); DEVIL’S GALOP (Charles Williams); ON A SPRING NOTE (Sidney Torch); JAMAICAN RUMBA (Arthur Benjamin); PICTURES IN THE FIRE (Robert Farnon); RHYTHM ON RAILS (Charles Williams); EIGHTH ARMY MARCH (Eric Coates); THE GLASS SLIPPER - OVERTURE (Clifton Parker); HIGH STREET (Robert Farnon); CINEMA FOYER (Len Stevens); UP WITH THE LARK (Robert Busby); TAJ MAHAL (Robert Farnon); MELODY ON THE MOVE (Clive Richardson); DANCE OF THE BLUE MARIONETTES (Leslie Clair); WAGON LIT (Sidney Torch); HEY DIDDLE DIDDLE (Charles Williams); WILLIE THE WHISTLER (Robert Farnon); SAPPHIRES AND SABLES (Peter Yorke); TROLLEY BUS (Charles Williams); PRELUDE FROM ‘MOODS’ SUITE (Haydn Wood); BARBECUE (Sidney Torch); HURLY-BURLY (Len Stevens); RADIO ROMANTIC (Sidney Torch).
QUEEN’S HALL LIGHT ORCHESTRA - Volume 3
1 ALL SPORTS MARCH* (Robert Farnon) C339; 2 PADDLE BOAT (Joyce Cochrane) C358; 3 MELODY OF THE STARS (Peter Yorke) C366; 4 GOING FOR A RIDE (Sidney Torch) C314; 5 STATE OCCASION* (Robert Farnon) C294; 6 SOLILOQUY* (Haydn Wood) F9295; 7 VALSE D’AMOUR*** (Tony Lowry) C273; 8 ALL THE FUN OF THE FAIR** (Percy Fletcher) C127; 9 MUSIC IN THE AIR (Byron Lloyd) DB2436; 10 SUNSET AT SEA** (Charles Williams) C132; 11 WAIATA POI (Alfred Hill) C326; 12 COMIC CUTS (Sidney Torch) C378; 13 PALE MOON (Frederick Knight Logan) DB2564; 14 CUBANA** (Charles Williams) C199; 15 ECSTASY (Felton Rapley) C384; 16 GRAND PARADE** (Clive Richardson) C276; 17 SONG OF CAPRI (Mischa Spoliansky) DB2564; 18 SPRING SONG** (Haydn Wood) C214; 19 MY WALTZ FOR YOU (Sidney Torch) C291; 20 FIESTA* (Mark Lubbock) C311; 21 THE AWAKENING (Robert Busby) C334; 22 KINGS OF SPORT* (Jack Beaver) C295; 23 FIDDLER’S FOLLY (Len Stevens) C358; 24 CASANOVA MELODY* (Michael Sarsfield) C374; 25 GRANDSTAND* (Robert Farnon) C344