Dateline December 2009

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Our last issue was just closing for press when we learned that our good friend Malcolm Laycock had decided to quit his Sunday evening show on BBC Radio-2. The news was mentioned briefly in our Stop Press feature, ‘And Finally’ (JIM181, page 97). Little did we imagine at the time that Malcolm’s departure would cause such a furore. The BBC attempted to pretend that his decision was a big shock and they had tried to persuade him to stay. But journalists on several national papers ensured that the real reasons would be disclosed, and the resultant publicity certainly made many people wonder exactly what goes on at the BBC. Some other music magazines have been quite vitriolic in their condemnation of the Corporation, reinforcing the widely held belief among many of the older generation that the BBC is no longer interested in providing them with the kind of entertainment they would really like to enjoy on radio. Sooner or later this anti-BBC feeling will have to result in changes being made to their music policy, otherwise a groundswell of public opinion could well result in far more serious consequences. How many more times do we have to remind the BBC that we all pay a licence fee in the expectation that they will provide a service for all the population, not just under 40s and vociferous minorities? They are removed from the pressures of advertisers wanting large audiences, and can concentrate on quality, rather than dumbing-down to try to compete with the competition. But to return to Malcolm Laycock: it is now clear to many of us that the BBC had been making life intolerable for him, in many subtle and underhand ways, because they no longer wanted his show on Radio-2. It didn’t fit in with the soft-rock image fostered in recent years, even though similar fare is already available from countless other radio stations. David Jacobs, Desmond Carrington and Russell Davies should be very worried. As technology progresses there will be an increasing number of ways in which to listen to one’s favourite music – if you need further proof read Brian Stringer’s feature on page 46 of this issue. If the BBC doesn’t do the decent thing, and bring Malcolm back without any strings as to what music he can play, surely another enterprising broadcaster will be glad of the services of a friendly and experienced broadcaster with a large, loyal following. Sadly this report had already been printed, and the December 2009 issue of ‘Journal Into Melody’ was being distributed, when the news of Malcolm Laycock’s sudden death on Sunday 8 November shocked all his many friends and admirers.

However it is only fair that praise should be given when it is due, and the BBC deserves a massive pat on the back for the John Wilson MGM Prom. We won’t repeat what is in our report on page 50, but if you missed it please keep a watch on radio and TV listings during the coming weeks because we understand that it is likely to be repeated over the festive season.

It is always a particular pleasure to pass on news of RFS members’ music making, and we are glad to learn that Greg Francis (Musical Director of the National Concert Orchestra of Great Britain) continues to wave the baton for light music. In a recent letter he reports: "I thought I might send an update on a couple of Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra popular music concerts I’ve conducted recently. Last year, we managed to get a commission from the Liverpool Culture Company to find as many good local singers as possible, the idea being that they perform live on stage with the RLPO. The concert went ahead last November (2008); it played to a full house and the local press reported that the bar had taken more money than ever before in the history of the Philharmonic Hall. This was interesting to learn, because it perhaps indicates that there is a wide market out there of people who will attend an orchestral concert of light and popular music, but who might never perhaps consider going to sit through a classical performance. So successful was the venture, that Liverpool Council asked us to present the same concert again, which features 18 singers (of the widest styles imaginable) plus the superb Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and a small group of my own players to add a popular feel. And so, the latest concert was duly performed on July 31st in a spectacular marquee along the new pier head at Liverpool dock. The concert was attended by about 8,000 people, which speaks volumes for the popularity of both the orchestra and the musical content! Fortunately, having written the 36 new scores for the concerts, I was also invited to conduct the orchestra on both occasions, and I have to say that the RLPO orchestra musicians are an outstanding example of the versatility and professionalism of British musicians. It is now being discussed that we might perhaps take the orchestra, the singers and the concert to New York next year as a cultural exchange project. There are of course strong links between Liverpool and New York. So, all in all, we seem to have proven that there is a very wide market for light and popular music played by a professional orchestra of the high calibre of the RLPO. Wouldn’t it be nice if other regional orchestras would consider widening their repertoire a little? I really believe it is essential that we keep the barriers down between classical and light popular music. Other good news is, that the ‘Bat – the Symphony’ tours I conducted this year, with the National Concert Orchestra of Great Britain, were a resounding success. The Orchestra has been re-booked for a 20 date tour of the UK again next year, plus a 12 date tour of Scandinavia. Although this definitely doesn’t fall into the ‘popular light music’ category, the orchestra was the main attraction for a lot of people. Not only did it elicit many requests for recordings by the orchestra, but it gave me the opportunity to debut live some of the music written by my 26 year old son (Paul E. Francis) for Sky TV movies, and also those he wrote last year which were recorded by the City of Prague Orchestra. Anyone who wished to hear some of his music, can visit his website at"

Like many RFS members, Kevin Stapylton from Lithgow, NSW, Australia, is involved with community radio and he tells us that during the week of Robert Farnon’s birthday, 24 July, he presented a daily feature where in each case the orchestra backing each vocalist was under Bob's direction. He had no listener response but – as he says: "at least I had the personal satisfaction of paying tribute to a great friend and one of the world's finest composers of all time."

One of our Australian members, Graham Miles, has sent the following information which will be of interest to brass band fans. Those of you who appreciate brass band music may like to know there is a website radio station streaming non-stop brass music. To be found at , it is the brainchild of Dr. Jim Fox who set it up several years ago. He says content of nearly 400 CDs, with more being added all the time, play randomly 24 hours a day. Although based in the USA, All Brass Radio plays many British recordings including those by The Corey Band, Foden's, Black Dyke and many others. Worth a listen if this genre appeals. Dr. Fox also welcomes comments and suggestions by email to ."

It has been almost eighteen months since the Edinburgh Light Orchestra performed a programme of Light Music in Scotland's beautiful capital city. The reason for the absence has been the illness of its conductor James Beyer, for many years a member of the RFS. The good news is that James is now recovering well, and he was back on the podium at the Queen's Hall, Edinburgh, on Saturday 7 November. As well as the usual varied selection of top composers (Robert Farnon, Richard Rodgers, John Williams, Eric Coates, Haydn Wood and Ivor Novello - to name just a few) there was a special Tribute to Angela Morley, who died last January. The news of the concert came too late for inclusion in our September magazine, but we hope that many members will have discovered the details well in advance in the Latest News section of our website.

"Nostalgic Journey" (for small orchestra), the piece written by David Barton for the 50th anniversary of the Robert Farnon Society is now ‘in print’ and available to order from the publisher’s website at and costs $40.00 (approximately £24.00) for the score and set of parts. It was recently included in a preview of new works at the Texas Orchestra Directors Association (TODA) Convention in San Antonio.

Paul Clatworthy mentioned the Robert Farnon Society in a letter published in the October issue of Jazz Journal. He explained that he reviews jazz CDs for JIM, and went on to praise the Metropole Orchestra. It is always helpful when our society gets a mention anywhere, because it tells those interested that we are still alive and kicking!


Judging by the messages received by the Secretary, many RFS members spotted in Radio Times that BBC Radio 3 included Bob’s Symphony No. 2 in their ‘Afternoon on 3’ programme on Friday 25 September. A few days before the broadcast producer Neil Varley invited David Ades to say a few words about the symphony, and a telephone interview took place on the Thursday. This was edited to a little over two minutes and was placed immediately before the music was heard. The recording was taken from the Dutton Epoch CD (CDLX 7173) with John Wilson conducting the BBC Concert Orchestra. Happily there was time at the end of the programme for a short encore, so listeners were also treated to Seventh Heaven from the same album.

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