By Tony Clayden
An extensively re-furbished Lauderdale House, in North London’s Highgate Village, was the venue for the annual Spring Concert given by the Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra. This was their sixteenth consecutive Bank Holiday event, which was well supported by many faithful ‘regulars’ – including several from the London Light Music Meetings Group – and in addition, a number of ‘first timers’...
An extensively re-furbished Lauderdale House, in North London’s Highgate Village, was the venue for the annual Spring Concert given by the Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra. This was their sixteenth consecutive Bank Holiday event, which was well supported by many faithful ‘regulars’ – including several from the London Light Music Meetings Group – and in addition, a number of ‘first timers’.
Amongst the latter was Howard Del Monte, who had travelled from Hampshire to hear a spirited rendering of his father Sydney’s composition ‘ Bows and Bells ‘. This was a popular
favourite on BBC Radio around fifty years ago. Sydney Del Monte was a guitarist and banjo player, who was a regular member of The Banjoliers for many years.
We were treated once again to an afternoon of fine ‘Palm Court’ music in contrasting styles; a few ‘fast and jolly’ compositions, interspersed with some calmer pieces and garnished with some songs performed Liz Menezes and Camilla Cutts.
Nearly one hundred years of musical heritage was represented, ranging from ‘light classical’ to ‘jazzy’. The programme featured a line-up of works, which, with one or two exceptions, have not previously been performed by the orchestra. These included two selections with a definite gipsy influence, from the Russian composer Yascha Krein and G. S. Mathis [a pseudonym of Hungarian émigré Matyas Seiber].
Other composers featured included Charles Ancliffe, Sigmund Romberg, Gerhard Winkler and Albert Ketelbey, who made two appearances with pieces written specifically to accompany silent films. A later generation was represented by, amongst others, Horst Jankowski, Ray Martin and Leroy Anderson.
A welcome surprise was the original version of the famous ‘American Patrol’ by Fred Meacham, in a very different rendition from the familiar arrangement made popular by Glenn Miller and others.
Adam Bakker, who runs and directs the orchestra, has recently acquired the entire collection of sheet music previously owned by Ann Adams, who was the founder of – and for many years conducted – the Ladies Palm Court Orchestra. Four of the items on the programme came from this source. Speaking to Adam during the interval, it became apparent that he faces a mammoth task of sorting and archiving this vast inventory of compositions !
As always, the orchestra’s performance was of a very high standard, the players obviously relishing the opportunity to perform repertoire from a ‘threatened genre’ which, most regrettably, achieves very little exposure these days.
Very many thanks are therefore due to Adam Bakker and the Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra, for presenting another really enjoyable concert and especially for continuing to promote ‘Palm Court’ music.
About sixty people had made the journey to the Lancaster Hall Hotel in London to enjoy our bi-annual feast of light music.
Tony Clayden welcomed us to the meeting, ...
By Robert Walton
There was a school of thought that believed popular musicians with foreign sounding names had a commercial advantage over common or garden Anglo Saxon ones. Catchy names like Mantovani or Kostelanetz certainly had a ring to them but just because they looked or sounded more distinguished than say the Chacksfields or the Farnons of this world weren’t necessarily a guarantee of classier music. After all, most English born music directors had quite ordinary names, ...
By Robert Walton.
There was a school of thought that believed popular musicians with foreign sounding names had a commercial advantage over common or garden Anglo Saxon ones. Catchy names like Mantovani or Kostelanetz certainly had a ring to them but just because they looked or sounded more distinguished than say the Chacksfields or the Farnons of this world weren’t necessarily a guarantee of classier music. After all, most English born music directors had quite ordinary names, but unlike film stars and entertainers saw no reason to change them. Equally there were many serious composers like Harris and Bennett who didn’t find their names a problem. Nevertheless if you were born with an exotic name or had a nom de plume like Geraldo (Gerald Bright) or Roberto Inglez (Robert Inglis), there’s no doubt it added a touch of class to the image! Mind you, some musicians did exactly the opposite like John Gregori who anglicised his to Johnny Gregory. One English musician who was quite happy to keep his real name was George Melachrino, son of a Greek father and an English mother. Just as well he did because it certainly didn’t do his career any harm. It tripped off the tongue like any good solid homegrown name, and now after all these years seems as British as roast beef and Yorkshire pudding!
It was my father who introduced me to the music of George Melachrino - well to be exact, the Melachrino Strings. What attracted him was the unfussy style. He was very fond of light classics like Chanson de Matin, Estrellita, La Serenata, Mattinata, Poéme, Serenade (Schubert), Song of Paradise, and especially Bercuese de Jocelyn. Although there have been many different arrangements of these, no one ever improved upon the Melachrino format - unison violins often in their lower register bursting out into a rich tapestry of strings in close harmony. There was nothing corny, Palm Court-ish or syrupy and certainly not gimmicky. I could never understand why Classic FM didn’t feature any of these, especially as they were never over arranged and always faithful to the original. In some ways the Melachrino Strings were the light orchestral answer to the Boyd Neel String Orchestra. However, light classics represented only a part of the Melachrino Strings repertoire. Current songs, novelty instrumentals and the great standards all fitted into the style. In 1947 Melachrino made Masquerade, a lesser-known waltz of 1932 sound like his own composition. He would have been familiar with it from his dance band days. This tailor-made minor miracle written by Maharajah of Magador composer John Jacob Loeb was originally sung by Sam Browne with Ambrose. On the other hand, Melachrino’s own Vision d”Amour could easily have taken its place alongside those authentic classics.
But strings were only a part of Melachrino’s world. The full orchestra of fifty played an even bigger role, not least with those selections of film and show tunes. Again Melachrino cornered the market with those lush Hollywood style interpretations, but the arrangements and indeed recording quality had come a long way since Louis Levy’s Gaumont British Symphony. While the Melachrino Orchestra continued that tradition, no longer were singers part of the package. You either hummed along or sang the words to yourself, if you could remember them! In fact a policy of non-vocals extended into all his recordings, apart from rare occasions when he accompanied artists like the Luton Girls Choir, the Peter Knight Singers or Jean Sablon. You probably got more melodies for your money with a Melachrino medley, because despite the time constraints imposed by the 78rpm format, he cleverly interwove little extras into the kaleidoscope.
Melachrino never compromised his standards by churning out tune after tune. It was the long playing disc that put an end to all that by giving the arranger more freedom to be inventive, so you got better value on each individual song. When George arranged Broadway Melody from “Parade of the Film Hits” I wonder if he gave a thought to the other Broadway in Worcestershire where his mother came from? As well as the Orchestra and Strings, Melachrino had a lesser-known third group called the Masqueraders - a 16-piece light music combination.
Born in London in 1909, George Melachrino was probably the most versatile of all the light orchestral leaders. He was a conductor, arranger, composer, multi-instrumentalist, singer and occasional juggler and knockabout comedian! But these skills weren’t achieved overnight. Even as a youngster he must have been extremely focused, because from the age of four he knew that strings were to be his forte when he became the proud owner of a miniature violin. Apart from the piano and harp, he mastered every instrument of the orchestra. Although Melachrino had been classically trained as a teenager at Trinity, when it came to seeking employment he underwent a complete change of musical direction. It was his first BBC broadcast in 1927 that opened up a whole new world of dance music. His brilliant sight reading and natural ability on saxophones, clarinet, violin and viola made him in great demand for the bands of Jack Jackson, Van Phillips, Jay Wilbur, Harry Hudson (playing alongside Mantovani and Ted Heath), Ambrose and Carroll Gibbons. And being able to sing well was rare for an instrumentalist. By 1939 he had his own dance orchestra at the Café de Paris.
It’s a sad fact of history that wars can often tragically cut short promising careers, but equally they can offer undreamed of opportunities for entertainers and musicians. In WW2 while serving as a military policeman, Melachrino suffered a back injury that proved to be his lucky break. He became musical director of the Army Radio Unit and toured with ‘Stars in Battledress’. This allowed him to work with a 50-piece orchestra. When the British Band of the Allied Expeditionary Forces was formed he was the obvious choice for conductor alongside Glenn Miller and Robert Farnon who directed the American and Canadian Bands - the most amazing triumvirate of talent ever assembled in Britain.
Now Melachrino was given an incredible 80 players, virtually a full-sized symphony orchestra, and in retrospect a heaven sent opportunity for his civilian style to be developed. One of his early arrangements was Pennsylvania Polka, a song originally introduced by the Andrews Sisters, whose father was also Greek! Being part of that exciting environment must have been a tremendous learning curve. As well as the usual dance band lineup of saxophones and brass, each orchestra had its own string section, so it must have been an unprecedented opportunity to compare notes. It was during this period that Melachrino acquired a lot of his string ideas, not necessarily from strings, but saxophones. After all, arranger Melachrino being no stranger to playing tenor sax and clarinet, could relate to reeds. He might not have been aware of it but even when he was playing in dance bands he was serving an apprenticeship for string writing. I believe the Melachrino Strings were firmly rooted in the Glenn Miller sound (clarinet, 2 altos and 2 tenors). In string terms that would be something like distributing a 5 note chord between the violins (3 notes), and the violas and cellos one each. And yet Melachrino sounds a million miles away from Miller. Listen to Moonlight Serenade played by the Strings. Even a simple four note close harmony chord (E,G,A,C) has the Melachrino sound written all over it.
A vital element for any successful composer/arranger is a right hand man. Robert Farnon had Bruce Campbell, Nelson Riddle had Gilbert Grau and George Melachrino had William Hill-Bowen. He was a brilliant arranger, composer and pianist and a great asset to the Melachrino Organization. Three well known compositions of his were Paris Promenade and Paris Metro recorded by the Orchestra, and Park Avenue Waltz recorded by the Strings. In Robert Docker’s Legend, William Hill-Bowen showed what a superb soloist he was.
Melachrino might not have been as prolific as Farnon or Torch but nevertheless he wrote some beautiful miniatures, starting at the age of 4 with Up the Mountains, the notation of which resembled a mountain range. Most of them exuded a certain Englishness, just as Coates’s music had. There’s never a dull moment in one of Melachrino’s most interesting instrumentals, the playful Les Jeux living up top its name (Playing) with its teasing time signature changes. Violins in the Night obviously has a lyric because the title fits so perfectly with the opening strain. I half expected to hear George himself singing it with the strings. And talking of vocal numbers, in the hands of arranger Melachrino, Robert Farnon’s My Song of Spring was truly transformed into a Sophistication Waltz! Busybodies was in the Shooting Star mould and the Vaughan Wiliams-like Woodland Revel again reveals Melachrino’s facility for strings. Copper Concerto possibly inspired by Melachrino’s experiences in the military police, contains quotes from If You Want to Know the Time Ask a Policeman, Policeman’s Holiday and his own Winter Sunshine. Starlight Roof Waltz has to be one of the most exhilarating waltzes of all time. In Portrait of a Lady there’s a passing resemblance to Don’t Cry for Me Argentina and one of the most untypical Melachrino tunes was the Danse d’Extase from the film “No Orchids for Miss Blandish”. But the undisputed Melachrino masterpiece is Winter Sunshine with its slightly sinister Slaughter on Tenth Avenue-like opening and its absolutely thrilling build-up to a colossal climax, followed by one of the most peaceful passages in all music.
I first learnt about George Melachrino’s untimely death on June 18 1965 on a newspaper display board outside Earl’s Court tube station in London. It hit me particularly hard because only the day before I had met up with a member of the Melachrino team, a Mr Jones. As well as a fixer for Melachrino recording dates he was also looking for background material for America and asked me to write some. He played several Melachrino tapes but what really impressed me was seeing at first hand George’s original score of I Remember the Cornfields.
If Paul Weston was the pioneer of mood music albums, then Melachrino was the undisputed master on this side of the Atlantic. Of all British light orchestras, Melachrino’s stood alone as the truly “symphonic” aggregation even if it wasn’t quite as modern or light as some of the others. In spite of the mighty Melachrino Orchestra’s international reputation, George Melachrino will be remembered, not for those powerful cinematic images, but something far more subtle and understated - that sublime string sound which he made his own.
ELGAR Complete Works for Wind Quintet, Chandos CHAN 241-33 Athena Ensemble. Don’t be put off by the title because this is one of the most charming and delightful double CDs you will ever encounter. Light and jolly salon music of the very highest quality it comes at a bargain price of around just £10 and you won’t find better value anywhere. Before Elgar became famous he wrote several light tuneful pieces for a youthful wind quintet in which he played the bassoon. The members amused themselves privately but with an occasional public performance, including a local mental hospital. It is quite possible you may recognise some of the pieces from radio and television themes, and after you have played them you will definitely want to hear them again. You will also find the tunes buzzing around in your head for the rest of your life which, just for the record, are as follows: Harmony Music No. 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5; Five Intermezzos; Six Promenades; Four Dances; Evesham Andante; Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup. Originally released as a double LP it makes a wonderful double CD, deal for the car or background music at home. Beware, though, the tunes are addictive and you will find yourself humming them incessantly! Why? Try Harmony Music No. 4 which is subtitled The Farmyard!
24th July 2017 is the centenary of Robert Farnon's birth. Robert sadly died in 2005, but in his memory we are reproducing several tributes originally published in a Journal into Melody (JIM) special in May of that year.
Or through the Menu item "Robert Farnon" above to access the individual articles.
by Philip Brady
I always thought Robert Farnon was indestructible. His melodies filled my childhood with wonder and joy. For me he was the latter day Puccini. Listen to the soaring string arrangements on Jack Parnell's "Lovers Love London". Be stirred by rousing marches like Derby Day. My father bought the David Rose record Portrait of a Flirt before I was in long pants. ABC Australia's Maurie Lockie on radio was using Journey into Melody as a theme to "Yours For the Asking" (request show) when I started riding a bike to school.
By the time television began Down Under in 1956, Robert's music was coming thick and fast to introduce every program from the MelbourneOlympic Games to Royal visits in Oz.
By 1958 I was an established broadcaster and TV host myself so I used every opportunity to dress up my shows with a Farnon fanfare or two.
You can just picture my delight when David Ades invited me to interview Robert at an April meeting of our Society in 1993. Imagine the thrill when my silver haired hero strolled into the Bonnington and greeted all of us present with the warmest of smiles and a friendly hand shake. I was in awe. I had a total eclipse of the heart - to quote a Bonnie Tyler song.
My love affair with Robert's music, mini symphonies to me, has endured,nurtured by the recent releases of so much material on Vocalion and other enterprising labels.
That April day so long ago renews my spirit. Robert's anecdotes over dinner, the long chats we enjoyed between drinks, the photo sessions and taped interviews, the video I shot, the maestro was so generous with his time and affection. He made every member feel so special, so important.
The icing on the cake for me was also being in the company of other musical giants that day like Sir Vivian Dunn, Clive Richardson and Ron Goodwin. I thought I had died and gone to Heaven. Thank you David Ades for giving me the keys to the Kingdom!
Our friendship endured. On one of Robert's milestones I recorded a special piece Life Begins At 80. I always phoned him on his birthday and we exchanged Christmas cards every year.
In the words of another celebrated composer, Irving Berlin, the song isended but the melody lingers on.
Goodbye my cherished friend.