by Pip Wedge

Robert Farnon's loss is hard to accept, but the joy of his many talents will be with me for as long as I live, and forever in the panoply of his glorious music which is there for the world to enjoy. I was fifteen when Robert Farnon's name first impinged on my consciousness. Ever since, I have loved first his music and then the man for so many years.

In London in the autumn of 1944, doodlebugs were still roaring overhead, and soon our days were punctuated with even louder explosions as V2 rockets arrived without warning. The invasion of Europe had been pulled off successfully, but the war was far from over, and for my family, living in Forest Hill S.E. 23 at that time, just about all our entertainment came from the radio.

The presence of so many members of the Allied Forces in Britain during the build-up to D-Day had prompted the formation of the Allied Expeditionary Forces Programme on radio. This utilized the facilities of the BBC, and its programming included performances by both British and Allied performers and orchestras. Captain Robert Farnon came from Canada as the conductor and chief arranger for Canadian Band of the AEF; the Orchestra, and many small groups from the band, could be heard on-air several times a week and these programmes quickly became one of my favourite sources of entertainment.

When Bob stayed on in London after the war, his work as a staff arranger for Geraldo, and arranger for other British bands, kept him out of the public spotlight for a while. Yet, as he started writing and recording 'moodmusic' for Chappell’s, one could not help but be aware of his work, without knowing who had written it, as show after show in radio and television featured Farnon compositions.

The bell rang for me early in 1948, when I was acting with an amateur dramatic repertory company in a play called "Fly Away Peter" (written, coincidentally by one A.P. 'Pip' Dearsley). At each performance, before the curtain went up at the beginning of each act, the stage manager set the mood by playing what I thought was one of the most beautiful pieces of music I'd ever heard (and I still think so, 54 years later). At the end of the first performance, I checked the orange-and white-labelled 78rpm record on the turntable. It was "Portrait of a Flirt", and it was with no surprise that I recognized the composer's name.

As luck would have it, my subsequent move into the music business, first as business manager to Steve Race and later as Assistant Editor of the New Musical Express, led to my running the music department forAssociated-Rediffusion, Britain's first commercial TV station to go on the air. In that capacity, I set up a music and record library, and one of my jobs was helping producers find background and theme music for their programmes. So often it was a Farnon composition that did the job, and I counted myself very lucky to be paid for spending my working hours surrounded by so much wonderful music, which I could play whenever I liked.

As the years moved on, the Farnon name became more and more widely known, through his light music writing and arranging, his conducting, and his scoring of music for several films. In a life filled with music, mine was continually enriched by the distinctive string writing and harmonic and melodic creativity that hallmarked each new work that Bob wrote or arranged.

Teddy Holmes was running Chappell's in the early 1950s, and I have the vaguest of memories of meeting Bob in Teddy's office around that time, but our first real meeting did not happen until many years later. He came to Toronto in 1997, during a visit to Canada for the celebrations to mark his 80th birthday. I had had correspondence and phone conversations with him in the process of working with Glen Woodcock to get Fred Davis's tape of the Canadian AEF Band's Lost Recordings issued on CD, but it was a very special moment indeed when we shook hands in the studios of Manta Sound in the summer of 1997.

Subsequently, as the Canadian rep for the Robert Farnon Society, I've been proud to do what I could to try to get this exceptionally talented Canadian musician the kind of recognition in his native land that has for so long been accorded to him around the world.

Each time I would call or write him with news of another small victory — a radio program here, a newspaper or magazine article there - his gratitude was almost embarrassing. He never ceased to sound genuinely surprised that anyone cared that much about him, and that anyone would devote airtime or newsprint to him and his work.

Bob's talents were unique, and fully deserved the accolades he received over the years from his peers and from the public at large. He will be sadly missed, and so fondly remembered. It must however have been a source of much satisfaction to him, as it is to us, to know that his music will live on as his legacy to the world. Those of us who have been lucky enough to know him as a friend, will have the added joy of remembering the lovely warm man with the irrepressible sense of humour and the heart full of warmth.

Goodnight Bob, old friend. Sleep well. See you in the morning.

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by David Mardon

Robert Farnon in the concert hall was, sadly, something I never managed to see in the flesh as far as his own conducting was concerned. I have always regretted that on the only two occasions he conducted our own local BBC orchestra [then the Northern Symphony] was in 1977 at the Cheltenham Festival when I was away on holiday, although I now know several of the players who performed on those occasions and who were very impressed with his style.

Sadly, too, I cannot comment on the Wednesday evenings with Tony Bennett from Talk of the Town, which Thames TV put out earlier in the same decade, as these were denied to Granada and ATV Midland viewers on their initial transmission, although the afternoon repeats some years later were fully networked but I couldn't see these either, having to work in those days!

I first became aware of Robert Farnon's existence when the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra [QHLO] featured on record in the old Home Service music programme on Saturday mornings from 7.15am to 7.50am. There was also round about this time another Saturday morning slot on the Home Service with Bob presenting his favourite records [signature tune Melody Fair] and his reasons for choosing them. I believe my first acquaintance with Sammy Fain's Alice In Wonderland and Gershwin's American In Paris [severely truncated] was through this programme. I can also remember a Light Programme series on Sunday lunchtime with Bob's own orchestra, during which how to do the left- handed shuffle was explained.

Although I can remember numerous radio programmes featuring the QHLO under Sidney Torch and Charles Williams, I can only recall one that Bob conducted. It was on a Saturday afternoon in the early 1950s and consisted of Covent Garden [Eric Coates], September Song [Kurt Weill], Melody Fair and Bob's own arrangement of Daisy Bell, Going for A Ride [Sidney Torch], concluding with a selection from Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate.

During my Royal Air Force stint I managed to hear, on 21st January 1953, on the BBC North Regional Home Service from Manchester, the BBC Northern Variety Orchestra [before it became the Northern Dance Orchestra or NDO] conducted by Bob in a programme of his own works. The programme consisted of Proud Canvas, Jumping Bean, Three Impressions, Playtime, When I Grow Too Old To Dream [Romberg arranged Farnon], Peanut Polka, Portrait Of A Flirt, and Alcan Highway. Roger Moffat introduced and wrote the script, entitled "A Canadian in Mayfair", and interviewed Bob before the last two items.

By the time the Mardon family had got round to buying a TV set it was early 1956, by which time Bob's Sunday night series with his own orchestra was well under way. But I did manage to hear the first complete performance of Poodle Parade prior to purchasing the 'Melody Fair' LP later that year — my first new Farnon recording bought. I did get 'Canadian Impressions' before this but it was a second-hand copy.

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by Cab Smith

A few years ago I approached a very well-known bandleader and, during the course of our conversation, I proudly told him that I was a member of the Robert Farnon Society.

I was stunned and surprised when he replied: "Who is he?" I then explained to him the usual rundown on Bob. I'll mention no names, but I regret to say that this bandleader has passed on.

But as for Bob, we in the Society look upon him as one of the greatest writers and arrangers of Light Music in the world (of our time). That's why the Appreciation Society was formed in 1956 by Ken and Dot Head, succeeded so well by David and the committee to this present day.

Over the years I have corresponded with Bob many times, and I must say that he always replied without hesitation. I had the great pleasure of meeting him for the first time back in the 1950s at the Society's early recitals at the Bonnington Hotel. He had just returned from Capri (no doubt visiting Gracie Fields!), and I found him most charming.

Then there were the wonderful recording sessions. One evening in August 1972, at the CTS Studios in Bayswater, I had the great pleasure of meeting Tony Bennett, who was in London to record the LP "The Good Things in Life". This was the same studio where 'Ole Blue Eyes' recorded "Great Songs from Great Britain" with Bob back in June 1962.

Also I cannot forget the great times I had with our dear and late friend Don Furnell; what times they were to see and hear a full orchestra under Bob's command! And as for those glorious swinging arrangements including strings ... just great!

I have many happy memories of Bob Farnon. How lucky we have all been to know him. There will never be another quite like him.

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by Murray Ginsberg

When I think back over the number of years I've known Bob Farnon - almost sixty - and reminisce on the number of times I've gotten vicarious pleasure from his many successes, it's a shock to realize he is no longer with us. Bob was one of those rare individuals who made all of us who loved him feel good that he was always there, indestructible, within reach. It's a sad fact of life that no one on this planet lives forever, even a hero, and the inevitable must one day happen. But my God, now that he is gone he will be so sorely missed.

What an enormous legacy he left! My first visual encounter with Bob Farnon was in 1936 when I was 13 years old when my aunt took my cousin and myself to a radio broadcast of Percy Faith and his orchestra in Toronto's Baton Auditorium.

It was the first such show we had ever seen and to our young ears the concert was a thrilling experience. Although we were just into our teens with little knowledge of who the top musicians in Toronto were, Percy Faith's name was well known across Canada because of the beautiful music he created. The players, elegant in their tuxedoes, sat on three levels on the stage, the strings on the first level, the saxophones and woodwinds on the second, and the brass on top.

The one hour show was broadcast over the local Canadian Radio Commission (CRC) station which was the forerunner of the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) as it is known today.

Amongst Faith's 40 top calibre musicians were violinists Sam Hershenhorn, Albert Pratz, Hyman Goodman, saxophonists Charley Green, Cliff MacKay, percussionist Harry Nicholson and trumpeters Morris London and 19 year-old Bob Farnon to name a few. For us that concert was an unforgettable experience.

Every morning after school began those of us who had been taking lessons on musical instruments would discuss the broadcasts we'd heard the night before, especially the shows our favourite musicians were on. One show we listened to enthusiastically was the Friday night Pond's Cold Cream Hour with Wally Armour's great band on Toronto's CFRB.

Another was a show conducted by Geoffrey Waddington, (who first began to use Bob in a dance orchestra he led at the Royal York Hotel's Imperial Room in 1933). Whatever show he was on, after some jazz solos, Bob Farnon's name was usually mentioned. It didn't take long before Farnon and a few other Toronto musicians became our heroes. When you were 14 years old and Bob Farnon was 20, he was light years away, beyond the reach of mortal man.

One of the shows we hardly ever heard because we were in school was the 'Happy Gang' which started as a two-week summer replacement in 1937. The Happy Gang went on the air immediately after the 1 pm CBC news, and had a spontaneity to it that made it an instant hit. The performers who made it a Canadian institution were pianist/ leader Bert Pearl, organist Kathleen Stokes, violinist Blaine Mathe, trumpeter Bob Farnon, singer/accordionist Eddie Allen, and a few others. The show included jokes, songs and ditties sung by Pearl and Allen, and instrumental numbers by Stokes, Mathe and Farnon.

The show would begin with three knocks on an imaginary door. Bert Pearl would ask, "Who's there?" and the members would shout, "It's the Happy Gang!" and Bert would reply, "Well, come on in!" and the group would go right into the opening theme, Smiles (". .. There are smiles that make you happy ...There are smiles that make you sad. ..1!). The Happy Gang was so popular (it ran for 22 years) that every Canadian housewife, it seems, intimately knew everything there was to know about the show members. What the housewives didn't know were some of the jokes Farnon and the others sometimes played on the very nervous compère Bert Pearl.

One of the show's features was Joke of the Day, where every day a different member would ask a riddle or tell a joke. One day in 1941 when it was Farnon's turn, Pearl, who always felt the show's spontaneity kept it popular and never wanted to know what the gag was before the show went to air, said "It's time to reach into the Joke Box. Whose turn is it today?"

Bob replied, "It's my turn Bert. Why does the ocean roar?"

"I don't know, Bob," Pearl replied. "Why does the ocean roar?"

"You'd roar too if you had crabs on your bottom!"

Bert Pearl's face immediately drained of blood. He went into deep shock. While he sputtered trying to say something intelligent on the air, everybody in the studio howled with laughter. Then he saw announcer Herb May get on a chair and move the hands of the studio clock back ten minutes. Then he realized it was another trick the Gang (and the producer in the control booth) played on him. Before he had arrived at the studio someone had moved the clock forward ten minutes making him think they only had five minutes to go before the show went on the air. How was the poor guy to know? He had great difficulty getting over that one.

When WWII broke out in 1939, Canada scrambled to get on a war footing which meant conscription of Canada’s young men. While thousands flocked to the recruiting centres, radio was going full blast, turning out every kind of show, many of them geared to the war effort. The Happy Gang was just what the country needed to keep morale high.

Long after Farnon left to join the Royal Canadian Army Show in 1943, the Happy Gang continued to entertain until the early 1960s. But Captain Robert Farnon in his new role began to create magnificent arrangements for a Canadian Army Show stage musical planned to tour the country in 1943. While he was working on the stage show in Toronto, the performers, chosen from the best talent in Canada, were stationed in Montreal where the Army Show had first assembled in December 1942 to do a weekly Sunday night radio show. Those broadcasts featured a male and female star singer, a mixed choir and writers Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster (who, after the war became Canada's reigning comics on radio and television, and ultimately were featured on 57 different occasions on Ed Sullivan's television show from New York). The members of the orchestra were drawn from army bands as well as new recruits who had played in the nation's best bands and symphony orchestras. Some prominent names were saxophonists Brian Farnon (one of the funniest guys we ever met), Lew Lewis, Hank Rosati, trumpeters Denny Farnon, Babe Newman, trombonist Teddy Roderman, pianist Denny Vaughan, violinists Bill Charles, Louis Sherman, Frank Fusco, bassist Peter Sinclair, and others. The orchestra was conducted by Captain Geoffrey Waddington.

The radio broadcasts from Montreal were designed to encourage recruitment, generate patriotism and raise the morale of Canadians from coast to coast while the Broadway- type variety show was being written. In early 1943 the Army Show company moved to Toronto and began rehearsing the stage show in the Victoria Theatre in downtown Toronto. Those rehearsals were a delight because Bob Farnon's ingenuity in his application of heart-stopping harmonies and exquisite orchestration among the woodwinds, strings and brass was too brilliant to believe.

One morning at a rehearsal the librarian distributed parts of a new arrangement of David Rose's Our Love for a ballet dream sequence which was going to be used in the second act. That arrangement was so breathtakingly beautiful because of Bob's symphonic scoring for flutes, clarinets and strings that after the musicians ran through the piece the first time, they all burst into spontaneous applause with cheers and shouts of "Bravo!" And with the wonderful arrangements and compositions that followed during that happy time, we realized Bob Farnon was in a class by himself, head and shoulders above many well-known American and Canadian arrangers. And to add to our amusement, Bob's priceless sense of humour drew many a laugh when he gave the arrangements odd, sometimes naughty titles.

Finally, after weeks of rehearsal, the curtains of the Victoria Theatre opened, audiences flocked to the box office, and the Canadian Army Show became a hit. The show played Toronto for a number of weeks, then went on the road. Since it travelled across Canada playing all the army camps and most cities, the cast and stage crew lived on a train which consisted of four sleeping cars, and ten cars loaded with scenery, music stands, instruments, kleig lights, yards of electrical cable and other equipment.

Whenever the train pulled into a railway sideyard for any length of time, the next morning and every morning, true to army tradition, the cast and crew had to be up and outside, washed, shaved, dressed in cleaned and pressed uniforms, and lined up, ready for inspection. When it was Captain Bob's turn to be Officer of the Day, he would lead the entourage. As army officers on inspection duty often do, a kindly major might stop to speak to one or two privates as they moved along the line. "Are you feeling better, Smith?" or "Have you heard from your mother, Jones?" But Captain Farnon, always with a mischievous twinkle in his eye was often heard to inquire, "Did you know your fly is open, Private Roderman, or are you trying to tell me something?" or "What time did you get out of Celia's bed last night, Private Newman?" Whenever that sort of questioning took place, it was assumed the colonel would speak to Captain Farnon. But we were never sure, except that if the colonel did say something to the good captain, the good captain, frankly didn't give a damn. It was clear to all of us that he had little patience for military intelligence which he considered an oxymoron. We learned early on, that Captain Farnon was always good for a lot of laughs when he was scheduled to be Officer of the Day.

Such was the life we led on the Army Show train. We travelled from coast to coast, indulged in a lot of merriment and saw much beautiful scenery, especially in the Rockies.

After the tour ended the writers and Captain Farnon began preparations for a new show. In November 1943, right in the middle of a rehearsal, Colonel Victor George came on stage, called for silence, and made an announcement. "I have just heard from Ottawa that the show is cancelled. The Army Show will be moving to England as soon as possible where the company will be broken up into five concert parties to entertain Canadian and British troops."

On December 15, 1943, the cast and crew boarded the liner Mauritania along with 10,000 other Allied troops in Halifax harbour, and after crossing the Atlantic on an uneventful zigzag course (to avoid German submarines), tied up in Liverpool on December 21. A waiting train took the Army Show contingent to Aldershot, Hampshire, where we settled down to rehearse our concert parties before taking off to entertain the troops.

Captain Farnon did not accompany us on that trip. He was required to remain in Toronto to organise an orchestra and choir which would eventually take the same trip to England to perform exclusively on the BBC's Armed Forces Network, along with Major Glenn Miller of the U.S. Allied Expeditionary Forces Orchestra, and Sergeant-Major George Melachrino of the British A.E.F. Band.

When Captain Farnon's musicians arrived in England in July 1944, they were first sent to the Army Show headquarters in Farnborough before moving to London. On a sunny Saturday afternoon about 20 musicians burst into our barracks room to greet us. Everybody leaped to their feet to embrace trombonists Floyd Roberts, Ron Hughes, trumpeters Fred Davis, Jimmy Ford, saxophonists Jack Wachter, George Naylor, bassist Howard Barnes, guitarist George Arthur and others whom we hadn't seen since leaving Canada. After Captain Farnon and his orchestra were settled in London, they began to make history on the BBC's Armed Forces Network. On occasion some of us in Unit A were called to perform with Captain Bob's orchestra in London. I remember the many times during rehearsals how we chuckled when a new arrangement was handed out. Ever the joker, Bob's titles would include such risqué pseudonyms as Piccadilly Commando, Lambeth Tart, or Hammersmith Scrubber (which ultimately were recorded under more legitimate titles as Willie the Whistler, Portrait of a Flirt, Peanut Polka and others.

With the end of WWII Bob Farnon's career blossomed so much so, that over the past sixty years he has been held in high esteem by world renowned arrangers, composers, singers and musicians from all walks of life. Almost from the first album release of Bob's prolific record output Andre Previn called Bob "the world's greatest string writer." Rob McConnell of Boss Brass fame and no slouch himself as an arranger, said, "Bob Farnon is the greatest arranger in the world." A Boss Brass album of Christmas music (pop songs and carols) under the Concord label released years ago shows Bob Farnon's unmistakable influence in so many of McConnell's charts, particularly the serene interludes and gentle modulations where he displays the Christmas Peace on Earth motif.

Bob Farnon is the recipient of a number of Ivor Novello awards, several Grammys, and in 1997 he was awarded (finally!) the Order of Canada, which is the centrepiece of the country's national honours system. The Order is a fraternity that recognizes significant achievement in important fields of human endeavour.

In the early 1970s Bob Farnon returned to Canada to conduct the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa. Charles Dojack, a former cellist with the Army Show Orchestra, and a resident of Ottawa, organised an Army Show reunion in honour of Bob Farnon. About 25 veteran entertainers from across Canada attended the event, which included a lavish banquet in one of the Arts Centre's dining salons, and choice seats in the concert hall. After the excellent concert we then attended an after-concert party in the home of one of the orchestra's patrons. His Excellency, Governor-General Edward Schreyer and Mrs. Schreyer were present at the party where both revealed an astonishing knowledge of music and a great interest in Bob's arranging skills.

At about 1:30 am several of us who had had a full day excused ourselves and took a cab back to the Chateau Laurier, the hotel we had booked for the night, where trombonist Floyd Roberts and I shared a room. I had no sooner gotten into bed when the door opened and in walked Floyd, followed by Bob who carried a 40 ouncer of Chivas Regal.

Did anyone get to sleep? Not on your life. Bob, Floyd and I sat up until the wee hours of the morning during which time Bob regaled us with dozens of stories about his career. At 5:30 the great man finally got up to leave, but not before we had killed the 40 ouncer. Robert Farnon will be sorely missed.

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by RFS Secretary David Ades

I was still a teenager the first time I met Robert Farnon. It was in 1956 at the Bonnington Hotel in London's Southampton Row, and the Robert Farnon Appreciation Society had recently been formed by Kenneth and Dorothy Head and John Costin. I'm not sure if I plucked up the courage to actually speak to Bob on that first occasion; what I can remember was that I was completely in awe of him.

Here I was in the presence of a man whose music I idolised. I listened to him on the radio, and watched his programmes on television. I owned a few of his records, but in those far off days my meagre earnings wouldn't allow me to purchase them all — especially the LPs which seemed incredibly expensive to a young lad.

For the first time in my life I saw a Chappell 78 bearing those magical words: `Queen's Hall Light Orchestra Conducted by Robert Farnon'. It would be many years before I managed to acquire one for myself.

Through the Society's meetings I gradually came to know Bob, and in 1962 he did me the great honour of allowing me to take over the running of the RFAS from Ken and Dot. In the following years the membership steadily increased, although we were all becoming aware that the public's awareness of Light Music was in decline, due to changing musical trends and tastes. Happily Robert Farnon's career continued to thrive, with his composing, arranging and conducting talents being increasingly in demand from some of the biggest international stars.

I believe that Bob was proud of the RFS. After all, it was his society. Without him it would never have existed. His willing co-operation in our activities enabled us to build up today's large membership, and everything we do is in honour of his life's work.

Although he was undoubtedly one of the great composers of his generation, healways retained the charm and modesty that endeared him to us all. The word ‘approachable’ might have been invented for Robert Farnon — ask any member who has met him at our meetings.

It is perhaps a well-worn phrase to say that we will never see his like again, but in his case it is simply true. Life just won't seem the same without Bob. I still cannot believe that I won't hear that friendly voice at the other end of the telephone any more.

But what I will continue to hear is his wonderful gift for melody. Those happy and sad, triumphant and scenic sounds that he managed to conjure up from notes on a musical manuscript will continue to enrich my life in fond memory of a true friend.

In our moment of sorrow, we must be grateful that he continued to spoil us with so many wonderful new musical creations right up to the end of his long life.

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02 May

Strauss in St Petersburg

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Estonian National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Neeme Järvi
Chandos CHAN 10937 (82:49)

This is a double-anniversary disc, offering a collection of mostly the composer’s lesser known works to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the orchestra as well as the 80th birthday of its principal conductor, Neeme Järvi, who is head of a musical dynasty and no stranger to these reviews.

Read review here...


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There are two vital elements you need to ensure the success of any venture or undertaking - talent and timing. That can be anything from inventions to mountain climbing. And it's no different in music. When a true original emerges, it's a fair bet these two components have played a major part. For instance, notwithstanding their undeniable gifts, Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms probably would never have scaled the heights in their field, had not the musical climate been ideal.

But let's not forget those Cinderellas of music, the miniaturists. For some reason they were often unfairly perceived as the poor relation and unfortunately most of them never ranked beside the supreme masters. One miniaturist who did, and wrote almost exclusively for the piano was Chopin whose music will live forever. We might not have thought of him as a miniaturist, but he was just as important as any of the great symphonists.

Chopin and Farnon had much in common. For a start they were both incurable romantics, albeit in different centuries, who composed hauntingly beautiful melodies with unusual harmonies and colours, but because their compositions were "purpose built" they did not translate well to other settings. In fact so perfect were they in their original state there was no need to! One notable exception, however, was Farnon's arrangement of Chopin's Fantaisie Impromptu in C Sharp Minor in which he somehow managed to successfully transcribe one of the piano's most popular pieces into a perfect orchestral showcase. A unique meeting of two great minds! They both relished writing challenging parts; Chopin with his etudes designed to improve piano technique like the fiendishly difficult Black Keys Study, and Farnon with his demanding scores, culminating in the ultimate test for strings and woodwind, Main Street.

Another thing Chopin and Farnon shared was the love of their respective homelands, Poland and Canada, reflected in their music. One big difference though between the two composers was their choice of titles. Chopin preferred abstract ones referring to musical forms like nocturnes, preludes, impromptus and mazurkas, whilst Farnon's were clearly representational. Mind you Farnon's hands were tied to some extent by publishers' requirements.

His "instrument" of course was the orchestra, and even though he wrote a number of extended works, he will always be remembered for his unique contribution to the Lilliputians of music. Farnon may not have been a miniaturist in the classically accepted sense like Debussy, Grieg and Mompou, but his work remains a towering landmark. Most of Farnon's pieces were around the two and a half minute mark, but despite their brevity were not the shallow products of a throwaway society like pop music. In Farnon's hands the mighty miniature was a small but perfectly formed work of art, and in its own way every bit as intricate and sophisticated as a symphony.

Once these anonymous work horses for radio, films and television, had escaped the confines of background music, they took on a life of their own becoming an accepted part of the fabric of popular music. Because of their originality, there's no way they would have remained undiscovered.

After World War 2 everyone was upbeat and optimistic. There had never been a moment in musical history quite like it. The conditions were perfect. Light orchestral music was about to be changed forever. Just as Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong revealed the recipe for jazz in the film "High Society" with Now You Has Jazz, so master chef Robert Farnon giving away his secrets, took a little light music, added some French impressionism and seasoned it with jazz. "Now You Has Farnon!" By cleverly synthesising these three disciplines into one distinct idiom, they emerged as pure Farnon.

Although this new style of music was daring at times, it never jarred, but sort of seeped into our subconscious as if it had been around forever. But even with his preoccupation with fresh harmonies and novel orchestral effects, Farnon neverforgot the importance of that most vital element, melody. In a world where it had become unfashionable, he proved it was very much alive and well. You can always identify a Farnon tune because of its sheer Ravel like radiance often showcased by the strings.

The mood music miniature has a lot in common with the pop song. If the composer doesn't grab the listener's attention in the first few seconds he will probably lose them. Farnon was an expert at keeping his audience and as an instant scene setter he had an uncanny knack of being spot on with whatever subject he was trying to depict.

Jumping Bean was particularly apt, as was Melody Fair, Playtime, Journey into Melody, Peanut Polka, In a Calm, Portrait of a Flirt, How Beautiful is Night, Manhattan Playboy, Westminster Waltz and Proud Canvas.

Two of Farnon's favourite moods were the dramatic (for example Gateway to the West) when he demonstrated an innate sense of grandeur, and the mysterious (like Lake of the Woods) showing he was a master of mesmerising. Farnon's penchant for dramatic climaxes became one of his best known trademarks. But he made his name with those brilliant light cameos heard all over the world. The tunes with their scintillating orchestrations are now part of our culture and have become as familiar as mainstream pop and classical music, though very few people can name them.

While Farnon's music was clearly a 20th century creation, there is an undeniable timelessness permeating it. From the primitive pentatonic scale (in the aforementioned Main Street) dating back to 2000 BC, heard in the cultures of China, Japan, India, Africa, Scotland and the American Indians, through the simplicity of Gregorian chant, to the highly complex chord sequences of bebop, Robert Farnon's compositions represent a microcosm of musical history. If ever a volume is published of his works, it might well be named "Miniatures Ancient and Modern!"

Although Robert Farnon was generally regarded as the greatest arranger of his generation, he surely must also be a strong contender for the title "Greatest Miniaturist of the 20th century." Just as Bach's 48 Preludes and Fugues, each lasting only a few minutes, is an entire world of music in miniature, so too are Farnon's light orchestral masterpieces. Unfortunately because of his association with background music and particularly signature tunes, he never received the serious recognition he deserved. Only when his music is completely divorced from its original purpose and treated independently on its own merits, will it be properly appreciated. It may take a little time, but make no mistake that day will come.

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30 Apr

Obituary - Gordon Langford (1930 – 2017)

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Born in Edgware, Middlesex, as Gordon Maris Colman, he graduated from London’s Royal Academy of Music, where his piano teacher, Moran Demuth, suggested that he write under a pseudonym; he therefore adopted the professional name of Gordon Colman Langford.

He became a highly respected composer of light orchestral music and was famous within the Brass Band world for his compositions and arrangements for that genre. His experience as a trombonist must have enormously assisted him in this respect. He wrote a Trombone Concerto for Don Lusher, and a Sinfonietta for Brass Band, which became the signature tune for the BBC tv series Best of Brass. He acted as an adjudicator for a number of major brass band events.

Gordon Langford’s compositions were regularly featured to accompany BBC Television ‘Test Card’ transmissions, whilst he also arranged many of the songs performed by the Kings Singers. In 1971, he won an Ivor Novello award for his ‘March from the Colour Suite’. 

As a performer, he often appeared on BBC Radio broadcasts, sometimes with his own trio / quartet on Morning Music and Breakfast Special. He was the regular pianist with Lew Stone and his band, Eddie Strevens and his quartet and Ken Beaumont and his sextet. He played for Lou Whiteson and his Southern Serenaders and undertook most of the arrangements for that ensemble from the 60s onwards. In 1983, Gordon Langford directed his own sextet in the ‘revival’ of Music While You Work.

He was a long-standing member of the Light Music Society, attending many of their monthly London meetings during the 60s.

I had the good fortune to meet Gordon twice. The first time was sometime in the late 60s / early 70s, when at a private party held at a house in North London, he, along with a couple of friends, formed animpromptu trio and had all the guests enthralled with his piano playing. As a jazz performer, he was very much in the Dudley Moore mould, and was absolutely brilliant at ‘quoting’, i.e weaving fragments of totally different tunes into the piece upon which he was doing the jazz improvisations.

The second occasion was at a luncheon of the ‘Coda Club’, when Bob Farnon was honoured with an award for his services to music and a number of members of Robert Farnon Society were invited along to cheer-on the ‘Guv’nor’ . I found myself sitting next to Gordon and reminded him of that party all those years previously. He was affable, courteous, a real gentleman and very modest about his own achievements. It was a real pleasure to have re- made his acquaintance.

He had by then moved from London to East Devon, where he very much enjoyed being involved with the preserved Seaton Tramway. During the last few years, failing health precluded his hitherto  regular forays back to the capital. In 2011, Gordon Langford was nominated for a Fellowship of the Royal Academy of Music (FRAM) by the Governing Body of the Academy.

© Tony Clayden
April 2017


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25 Apr

Always Busy

Written by

(Tony Tamburello)
Analysed by Robert Walton

When Tony Tamburello died in 1992 at the age of 72, a brief obituary in the New York Times described him as a jazz pianist and vocal coach of the famous. His pupils included Tony Bennett (whom he once managed), Judy Garland, Juliet Prowse, Jerry Vale and Tommy Leonetti. The story goes he had a van permanently parked in a New York street for the purpose of teaching. The only recorded evidence I have that he played piano, was on a 10” LP of selections from Oklahoma and South Pacific by the Tony Burrello Trio, spelt you’ll notice with two r’s. When questioned about the identity of the pianist he immediately denied it. But his real love was composing, especially of the lighter kind but like songwriters Vivian Ellis and Jack Stachey who often strayed into the world of light music he couldn’t orchestrate, so it was necessary to seek the services of an arranger.

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(Tony Tamburello)
Analysed by Robert Walton

When Tony Tamburello died in 1992 at the age of 72, a brief obituary in the New York Times described him as a jazz pianist and vocal coach of the famous. His pupils included Tony Bennett (whom he once managed), Judy Garland, Juliet Prowse, Jerry Vale and Tommy Leonetti. The story goes he had a van permanently parked in a New York street for the purpose of teaching. The only recorded evidence I have that he played piano, was on a 10” LP of selections from Oklahoma and South Pacific by the Tony Burrello Trio, spelt you’ll notice with two r’s. When questioned about the identity of the pianist he immediately denied it. But his real love was composing, especially of the lighter kind but like songwriters Vivian Ellis and Jack Stachey who often strayed into the world of light music he couldn’t orchestrate, so it was necessary to seek the services of an arranger.

I only met him once but what a get together that proved to be. It was in London and I was showing him a few of my songs for Tony Bennett. It wasn’t long before the subject of light music came up, and just a mention of a certain Canadian soon revealed Tamburello was Farnon crazy. But when I casually threw in the title Melody Fair to get his reaction, Tony said “Now you’re talking, it might be only two and a half minutes but that’s my favourite piece of music of all time!” Clearly Farnon was his God! I had never met anyone who was quite so besotted.

There’s no doubt that ‘busy’ music if played well can be very exciting especially if it’s imaginatively arranged. Bach was one of the first composers to test musicians’ technique to the limit with lots of quick notes and if it came off the result could be thrilling.

In the field of light orchestral music the effect can be just as exciting. In the mid-1940s one of the first such British successes to appeal to the public was RunawayRocking Horse. Sidney Torch’s Shooting Star was another classic proactive piece. If you want to experience an exceptional roller coaster of a ride in a classical vein, have a listen to the opening bars of Glinka’s overture to Ruslan andLyudmila then you’ll understand what exceeding the speed limit means!

However when it comes to Tony Tamburello’s Always Busy it’s comparatively relaxed, not too fast but a very listenable composition. That’s because it has a good tune unlike many soundalikes of the period that were just thrown together with corny backings.

The flute is basically in charge of the introduction with a touch of the Scotch Snap - a rhythmic device in which a dotted note is preceded by a note of shorter value. And then it’s all systems go as this exciting string exercise gets underway, reminding us of the work ethic or someone who simply can’t relax. It’s a beautifully logical tune that you might find yourself humming. As soon as it’s finished we’re into Angela Morley country with a lovely contrasting jazz-influenced bridge, a sort of staycation for strings. And talking of string breaks, the David Rose influence is loud and clear. Right on cue the energetic strings return with another vigorous rendition.

What follows is an expansion of the previous ‘Morley’ section starting with the flute and then strings. Before leading back to the intro, the sound of another intro, that of RadioRomantic takes us back to AlwaysBusy for what effectively is a repeat from the top. More bustling strings of which I honestly can’t get enough. Then more ‘Morley’ but in elegant waltz time before the lively strings complete the workout. Radio Romantic is brought back to finish the job with the woodwind having the last staccato say.

Always Busy is a good example of a musical ‘baton’ being passed down from one composer to another. Robert Farnon gave it to Angela Morley while she handed it on to Tony Tamburello. Whatever Tony wrote was always of a very high standard indicating a real understanding of this unique genre with its refreshingly modern tunes, harmonies and implied decoration. I’m only guessing but I suspect the arrangement was by Bruce Campbell. I’m already looking forward to analysing more Tamburello, so watch this space.

Always Busy is played by The Telecast Orchestra on a Chappell 78rpm disc C598.

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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.