January 2009

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Last October BBC Four screened a series of programmes with a railway theme, and from subsequent feedback we know that many RFS members in Britain found them most enjoyable. Prompted by the 40th anniversary of the fateful ‘Beeching Report’ which forced the closure of around one-third on the railway network, the programmes were rich in nostalgia – especially to steam enthusiasts. British Transport Films were featured on 23 October (with later repeats) and members who regularly attend our London meetings will have spotted Alan Willmott towards the end of the programme. Alan was with BTF for over 30 years, and he has presented selections of their vast film library (over 700 titles) at RFS meetings. Much of their appeal to us lies in the orchestral scores that were commissioned from leading composers. Sadly the programme did not mention this important aspect, but maybe this was due to only 40 minutes being allocated to what is a vast subject. Alan tells us that his part of the programme was filmed at the National Railway Museum last July, and it would be nice to think that – one day – another producer will give us a more satisfying study (perhaps lasting around two hours) of the work of the BTF. But as a taster Alan’s programme was most welcome and enjoyable, and several BTF films were screened in their original form while the ‘railway season’ was running. 

As we mentioned briefly in our last issue, Brian Reynolds has been providing a lot of interesting information about broadcasting orchestras for the Whirligig internet site – www.whirligig-tv.co.uk.. This started as long ago as 1999 by Terry Guntripp, who tells us that he had virtually stopped adding new information to his site because the supply of fresh material had virtually dried up – until Brian Reynolds took an interest! Details of vintage themes available on Guild ‘Golden Age of Light Music’ CDs have also been featured on a new page in the radio section – click on ‘Radio Days’ in the left hand column, and then ‘Audio Sources’ in the strip at the top of the new page. Because he has so much new material to add about broadcasting orchestras, Brian Reynolds has now been given his own website ‘Masters of Melody’: www.mastersofmelody.co.uk. 

The following report dated 13 October 2008 comes from The Canadian Press, Toronto: Tony Bennett says it was the genius of the late Toronto-born composer Robert Farnon that led to his long break from producing Christmas albums. Bennett's new record "A Swingin' Christmas", being released this week, is just his second holiday album. The first was 1968's "Snowfall: The Tony Bennett Christmas Album", and the iconic crooner says the 40-year gap is a result of Farnon's superb orchestrations on that disc. 'When I did ("Snowfall") it was such a work of art, as far as I was concerned, that when Columbia/Sony ... would say to me every year, 'You've got to do a Christmas album because that's our season to really sell an album,' I said, 'No, no ... that's the album,' you know, it was very complete,' Bennett, 82, said in a recent interview. He explained that Farnon was widely revered in music circles and nicknamed 'The Governor' by Frank Sinatra. Bennett changed his mind about doing a second festive album earlier this year after his son/manager, Danny, proposed doing one that 'isn't as serious or religious as the first "Snowfall" album.' 'He said, 'Just a swingin' album, let's do one for parties ... it's such a festive time of the year. Just do an album that just has a good beat to it,'' Bennett said in his raspy New York accent, dressed to the nines in a slick, navy-blue pinstripe suit. "A Swingin' Christmas", recorded onstage at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in New Jersey, comprises old favourites including Have Yourself a Merry Little ChristmasI'll Be Home for Christmasand Winter Wonderland. The album reunites Bennett with the Count Basie Orchestra, with whom he performed in the 1950s. Some of the orchestra members are the same ones Bennett recorded with back in the day, he said. 'I was the first white singer that ever sang (with them), when it was shocking to have a white artist with a black band,' said the balladeer, who has won 15 Grammy Awards. 'It was great, it worked right away, there wasn't any problem at all but the corporations always questioned it because the black music never really sold down south in bigoted areas of the States and they would discourage it. They wouldn't promote it because of sales.' 

On 29 October 2008 BBC Radio-3’s "Performance on 3" featured a concert of light music from the Colosseum in Watford. The BBC Concert Orchestra was conducted by Gavin Sutherland and they were certainly on top form. The varied programme included both modern and ‘classic’ pieces of light music, confirming that today’s composers are still attracted to the genre. Highlight for many people will have been the inclusion of Haydn Wood’s Violin Concerto brilliantly performed by Tasmin Little. The concert featured the following works: Joie de Vivre (David Lyon), Lakeside Idyll (Ernest Tomlinson), Violin Concerto (Haydn Wood), London Salute (Philip Lane), Kaleidoscope (Peter Hope),Summer Afternoon (Eric Coates), In The Moonlight (Albert Ketèlbey), The Night Has Eyes (Charles Williams), Jubilee Dances (Paul Patterson) – plus an encore Knightsbridge (Eric Coates). It was good to hear Gavin Sutherland interviewed during the concert and, although this was a radio concert, you were able to view it afterwards, on the BBC iPlayer for seven days via your computer … let’s hope the idea catches on! Unfortunately we were not advised of the concert until after our September magazine had gone to press, but we did include details in the Latest News section of our website, so we hope that some RFS members will have been alerted. 

Filmharmonic 2009 takes place at London’s Royal Albert Hall on Friday 8 May commencing at 7:30pm. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will be conducted by Paul Bateman, and the concert includes music from Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Rings, Gladiator, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Superman and Jurassic Park. There will also be a special tribute to great TV Themes Dallas, Dynasty, Cagney and Lacey and L.A. Law. Tickets £50 - £10. Telephone bookings on 020 7589 8212; online bookings: www.royalalberthall.com. 

World premiere Sept. 13, 2009
Legendary arranger/composer Robert Farnon dedicated his final composition of a jazz-oriented bassoon concerto to Daniel Smith.

Titled ‘Romancing the Phoenix’, this ground-breaking concerto, with improvisation included throughout the three movements, calls for enlarged wind sections as well as a jazz rhythm section on stage alongside the orchestra.

The World premiere will take place Sept. 13, 2009 at the Forum Theatre in Malvern, England, with the Chandos Symphony Orchestra, Michael Lloyd conducing. Warner Chappell has published the score and parts with Robert Farnon’s dedication to Daniel Smith on the title page. 

The note in our last issue (page 74) about the last time Tony Bennett and Robert Farnon were together in the recording studios prompted calls from Fred Wadsworth and Mark Fox. Christmas in Herald Square was included as a final ‘hidden’ track on the Bennett CD "The Playground" – US Columbia CK69380. Sixteen tracks (mainly to appeal to children) were listed on the album, but when you continued playing the CD at the end a seventeenth track appeared. This was a gimmick used on a number of CDs released around this time – the late 1990s. Maybe readers are aware of other examples? 

There are now many internet sites which could be of interest to readers, and one recently brought to our attention is that operated by the British music magazine Gramophone. It now contains a massive amount of information, including reviews going back decades, and those of you with access to the internet should take a look at: www.gramophone.net One word of warning: once you start surfing this site you won’t want to stop! 

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra have taken over the management of the BBC Big Band. The connection here is that the RPO's MD, Ian Maclay, was formerly General Manager of the BBC Concert Orchestra and the Big Band. Hopefully this will do nothing but good in ensuring the survival of the Big Band, which currently only gets 25 minutes a week on Radio 2 plus the odd Radio 3 broadcast. It should get more outside concerts for a start. 

Anne Shelton’s niece, Kelly Richards, is promoting a special concert on the 15th year (to the day) of her death on Friday 31 July. It is in aid of Anne’s favourite charity, the Not Forgotten Association, and will take place at The Winter Garden Theatre, Eastbourne, commencing at 7:30pm. Tickets cost £15 - £17; box office telephone 01323 412000. The New Squadronaires will be performing many wartime favourites, and they will be accompanying many singers who are adding their support. 

The newly-formed Eric Coates Society (appropriately launched in the composer’s birthplace) is now up and running, and we wish it every success. Many people regard Coates as the finest English composer of Light Music during the first half of the last century, and this tribute to his memory is long overdue. In the Robert Farnon Society we will continue to keep our members aware of his great achievements, and all new recordings of his music will be publicised. Many of our loyal members also belong to other music societies, and we are sure that some of you will also want to be associated with the efforts being made to keep the music of Eric Coates alive in the 21st century. The person to contact is the Secretary, Peter Butler, 47 Farleys Lane, Hucknall, Nottingham, NG15 6DT, England. The subscription is £10 and cheques should be payable to ‘The Eric Coates Society’. 

When Sanctuary Group was taken over by Universal in 2007 the Living Era label was a casualty. Under Ray Crick’s guidance it had become one of the UK’s leading nostalgia catalogues, and by carefully choosing the repertoire it had also achieved success in the USA. Some of the artists were little known in Europe, but their popularity in the USA ensured healthy sales. Ray also commissioned several collections of light music, including Robert Farnon, David Rose, Sidney Torch, George Melachrino, Peter Yorke, Percy Faith and Louis Levy.

After various new projects failed to materialise, Ray Crick launched the Retrospective label last October. Some of the best Living Era collections have been reprogrammed and subjected to fresh digital restoration by Alan Bunting, and the result is an exciting series that is quickly gaining a reputation for quality. Peter Dempsey (who compiled many collections and wrote numerous sleeve notes for Living Era) is also on board, and the initial releases included 2 CD sets by George Formby, Fred Astaire, Humphrey Lyttelton, Nat King Cole, Paul Robeson and Tony Martin, and single discs by Alma Cogan, André Previn, Eartha Kitt, Louis Armstrong, Perez Prado and Sammy Davis Jr. From January plans are for the label to release ten discs per month covering both Nostalgia and Vintage Jazz.

Ray Crick says: "I am delighted to be involved with RETROSPECTIVE because it gives me the chance to create CD programmes that will bring alive the finest recordings by those wonderful vintage entertainers of yesteryear, both popular and jazz, for people to enjoy here and now. The first 25 sets out our stall, with music stretching from the music hall to jugbands to rock ‘n’ roll! We anticipate that the entire project will total more than 400 releases, each with a smart series design, making for a highly collectable range."

RETROSPECTIVE is a joint venture between Wyastone Estate Limited and Retrospective Recordings Limited. All sets will be manufactured in the UK and the USA using the Nimbus disc and print 'on demand' production services and distributed world-wide by Wyastone Estate Limited. The in-house production facility ensures that titles are never overstocked or out of stock and that they can respond immediately to market demand. Website: www.retrospective-records.co.uk

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