23 Jun

Dancer at the Fair

By  Robert Walton
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(John Fortis)
Charles Shadwell and his Orchestra
Analysed by Robert Walton

As well as developing and refining light orchestral music, Robert Farnon brought the genre to a whole new level. However we mustn’t forget it was actually David Rose who pioneered a totally original form of light music that even now in the 21st century remains unchanged and relevant. (It’s a similar situation to the standardization of the big band style in the 1950s that is still part of our culture).

The fast pizzicato opening and the slow sweeping arco middle section of Holiday for Strings stimulated a whole generation of post-WW2 composers and arrangers. And lovers of light music weren’t disappointed either. To prove it, a million of us purchased a copy of the 1944 hit record. But more than that, there’s plenty of evidence suggesting that even writers with an old-fashioned style couldn’t help but being influenced by the unique Rose format. In fact it’s no exaggeration to say that all light music written after that time was affected in some way. Here’s a good example.

Starting with the sound of rustling in the woodwind and pizzicato strings, immediately after two soft cymbal strokes (quite common in the early days of 78s), a solo flute emerges to play a bright exotic tune with a persistent rhythm over the tonic chord, like a muted Sabre Dance. But as well as that, there is a definite touch of the chords of the Latin-American tune The Breeze and I. Woodwind and strings are brought together to repeat the melody. A flute provides some decoration before the next section.

And taking a leaf out of Rose, we slip into the bridge for a little string lushness supported by the ever-faithful woodwind. As the brass enters, the Latin beat becomes evermore marked. In a way the influence of Bolero is heard. It’s strange but until I studied it more closely, Dancer at the Fair of 1947 had always sounded quite dated.

A distinct break then occurs after which we head ominously to the underworld, courtesy the cellos. The next sound could almost be the start of the 5th theme of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue but we’re soon back in the land of Rose. We’re in the final stretch now as the brass booms in, heralding a repeat of the first chorus ending with one soft cymbal stroke.

Charles Shadwell and his Orchestra made several 78s for HMV including Dancer at the Fair that was a very popular novelty number in the early years of the BBC Light Programme and has truly earned its place in the annals of light music. “Memories of the Light Programme” EMI 8 27260 2

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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 (www.imdb.com) 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.