Light Fantastic was Simply Fantastic!
"LIGHT FANTASTIC" WAS SIMPLY FANTASTIC!
The response from readers to the Editor’s request for comments on this Festival has been magnificent! What has been particularly interesting is that many correspondents have brought out different aspects to comment upon.
The enthusiasm expressed time and time again must surely convince the BBC that "Light Fantastic" in 2011 must not be a ‘one-off’ event!
One day we may look back on 2011 as the year when Light Music finally came out of the musical shadows. If we do, then "Light Fantastic" may deserve a large part of the credit for making music lovers aware in Britain that there is an enjoyable form of music between classical and popular that many people enjoy - if only the opportunities exist to hear it.
It's been a long struggle, but the origins of the present 'renaissance' (if that is what it proves to be) extend back to the early 1990s when record companies such as EMI, Grasmere, Hyperion, Marco Polo and Naxos were dipping their toes into the light music stream. They were soon joined by the likes of ASV, Vocalion, Epoch and Guild - the latter being one of the most adventurous with over 80 CDs now available in its "Golden Age of Light Music" series that is sold around the world.
If commercial record companies were noticing light music once again, it seemed that broadcasters remained unconvinced. After the act of cultural vandalism that destroyed the BBC Radio Orchestra, for a long time "Friday Night Is Music Night" has been the BBC's only token gesture to placate light music 'aficionados', with just a few occasional extra concerts. There were the "Legends of Light Music" programmes on Radio-2 around the turn of the century, but the opportunity was missed to make this a regular weekly series, which would have built up a loyal following. On Radio-3 Brian Kay's "Light programme" was like an oasis of melody to gladden the hearts; it lasted for several years, but sadly has been absent from the schedules for far too long.
Back to "Light Fantastic". It would have been nice to have seen some positive publicity from the BBC. The editor of Radio Times should be thoroughly ashamed of the scant coverage she allotted to it - especially as the previous week she had given the cover over to Radio-2 for their 'festival' which lasted for just 12 hours. Similarly BBC TV went overboard to publicise Radio-2, but completely ignored "Light Fantastic".
Fortunately the musical press was not so neglectful, with even national papers such as the Daily Telegraph running special features. The August issue of Classic fm Magazine made John Wilson its cover star, and included a long interview about his work. The June issue of Classical Music Magazine produced a timely feature ahead of the event, and gave good coverage to Gavin Sutherland, the other major light music conductor involved in the "Light Fantastic" festival. Both John and Gavin are 'heroes' as far as light music lovers are concerned. We have known them in RFS circles since they were both in their early twenties, and it has been a real joy to witness how their brilliant careers have developed. They both have a wonderful future ahead of them making glorious music for us all to enjoy.
But now it's time to let RFS members tell us what they thought about "Light Fantastic" - both from their differing viewpoints of either being present at the South Bank Centre, or joining the millions of listeners at home through radio or the internet.
Former BBC radio producer Anthony Wills begins our reviews of the BBC’s "Light Fantastic"
From time to time the BBC goes into overdrive, and many Radio 3 listeners must have viewed its Light Fantastic Festival with as much enthusiasm as I viewed 12 days of wall-to-wall Mozart at the beginning of the year. The rest of us, however, must have been in seventh heaven, even if the pudding was a little over-egged at times. And after all, if the "youf" can have its Glastonbury, why can’t us more mature licence fee payers get something to suit our musical palates for once?
The celebrations actually began over on Radio 4 on 18 June with one of its Saturday night archive programmes, in which the excellent Paul Morley examined the Light Music phenomenon and the BBC’s role in it. It was only right that Ernest Tomlinson should be prominently featured (as he was to be later) and Morley got to climb up the ladder in Tomlinson’s barn containing over 30,000 sets of orchestral parts that the BBC, in its wisdom, had decided to throw out in the 1980s. The Radio Times billing for this programme had suggested that Morley would be interviewing Eric Coates and Ronald Binge, a fascinating promise which unsurprisingly was not honoured!
Composer Of The Week, broadcast twice daily on Monday-Friday, featured Donald Macleod in conversation with Brian Kay, who had also selected the music. Brian covered the ground pretty well, though some of the recordings he chose seemed a little questionable: an over-indulgent Girl From Corsica for example and, astonishingly, Robert Farnon conducting Jumping Bean at such a pace that the orchestrastruggled to keep up. Brian injected nice touches of humour into his presentation, reminding us how deeply his weekly afternoon Light Programme series is still missed, as is Matinee Musicale.
London’s South Bank was the principal venue for most of the Festival performances, but on the Friday afternoon came a concert live from a factory at Irlam near Manchester, played by the BBC Philharmonic bedecked with high visibility jackets in a vast warehouse, performing to a rather bemused gaggle of workers. This was meant to replicate Music While You Work which it singularly failed to do as the material was totally wrong and there were frequent interjections from Suzy Klein. The orchestra however seemed to enjoy itself under the baton of Stephen Bell.
That evening saw the first ever simulcast on Radios 2 and 3 of Friday Night Is Music Night, featuring the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Gavin Sutherland and introduced by the urbane Petroc Trelawny. This was a very hit and miss affair containing a lot of music that should have been left on the shelves – Addinsell’s score for The Charlot Revue of 1926 and Alfred Reynolds’ 1066 And All That being notable examples. Charlotte Page sang sweetly but Lesley Garrett came unstuck in Gilbert & Sullivan’s immortal The Sun Whose Rays, while baritone Richard Suart was cruelly under-used though his Model Of A Modern Major General (sans chorus) was as splendid as you might expect. The show only really came to life with Iain Sutherland’s fine arrangement of Me & My Girl and Sidney Torch’s Ivor Novello medley (in which Suart was bizarrely given the soprano number My Dearest Dear). You’d think that for a gala FNIMN edition broadcast on two networks the BBC could have afforded a chorus for once, but no, as usual on this programme the orchestra filled in, and boy did it show. Incidentally both Petroc’s commentary and the interval feature showed that Radio 3 has no idea of how the Light Music element in radio’s longest-running music series has diminished over recent years. The Concert Orchestra also recorded a further programme at the Plymouth Pavilions for broadcast on the Monday evening, including works by Peter Hope, Gordon Langford and Paul Patterson, all happily still with us.
Trelawny was back on Saturday anchoring an interesting discussion on Music Matters with a studio panel plus recorded contributions from Paul Gambaccini and Gillian Reynolds. As elsewhere during the week came the incredible story of the confidential audience report in 1963 in which listeners expressed overwhelming enthusiasm for Light Music, which was quietly buried by the then Third Programme Controller (William Glock) and his producers, who had no time for melody. In a further well researched programme Matthew Sweet turned the spotlight on the use of library music as signature tunes for radio and television series. Earlier that morning, in Record Review, Adrian Edwards conducted a scholarly review of recent CD releases (and re-issues) of Light Music, of which there are apparently hundreds.
On Saturday night the BBC Symphony Orchestra joined in the fun under the baton of John Wilson for an enthralling and well built selection of Light Music masterpieces. I was in the Festival Hall audience for this one (which was broadcast live and also filmed for future transmission) and was able to admire at close hand John’s impeccable stick technique and his ability to draw the very best out of the players, who played superbly. The concert featured several items unfamiliar to me including Edward German’s Prelude To Romeo & Juliet and Haydn Wood’s London Cameos suite. Eric Coates dominated the evening and once again you had to sit back and marvel at his total mastery of melody and orchestration. As John Wilson put it, "He knew what he was good at and stuck to it, so he didn’t write any bad symphonies or concertos like some composers"! There was also of course time for Jumping Bean and Angela Morley’s wonderful tribute to Bob Farnon, A Canadian In Mayfair. David Ades of the Robert Farnon Society was interviewed during the interval. On exiting the hall we found the BBC Big Band under Barry Forgie playing a swinging tribute to the BBC Dance Band and other late lamented staff orchestras in the Clore Ballroom (broadcast on Sunday night).
It’s impossible to do justice to the 15 hours of Light Music-themed programmes broadcast on the Sunday. The morning was devoted to salon music. Later came a beautifully crafted and informative documentary on the last remaining seaside orchestra at Scarborough (now just 10-strong but sounding bigger). After a 15-minute spot for theatre organ buffs Fiona Talkington introduced a selection of Light Music listener requests played by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Grant Llewellyn. This contained several rarities including compositions by Norman O’Neill and Anthony Hedges, who was present in the hall; but who on earth allowed David Owen Norris to play that well-known "Light Music" piece Walton’s Spitfire Prelude & Fugue as a piano transcription?
Choral Evensong from the Queen’s Chapel added its twopenny worth with anthems by Sullivan and Rutter before we returned to the South Bank for a tea dance with the John Wilson Orchestra, reminding us that this ensemble had begun its life with residencies in hotels. John popped up in yet another guise, giving a most lucid and interesting analysis of the art and craft of Eric Coates in Discovering Music with Catherine Bott and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
Petroc Trelawny and Suzy Klein wrapped up the weekend with a selection of excerpts from the weekend’s events, including some amateur performances I had missed. If they appeared at times too weary to read their scripts, spare a thought for John Wilson who made yet another appearance to sum up the Festival as Artistic Director. John had also pre-recorded five programmes of Light Music with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra which aired during the following week.
All in all, in spite of some twee presentation, the Festival was an exhaustive and pretty comprehensive survey and celebration of that oft-derided and misunderstood term Light Music, which as was pointed out, also embraces works by Mozart, Dvorak and Brahms, to name but a few, though possibly NOT the National Anthem, which was performed twice! There was however a notable absence of cross-trails between Radio 3 and Radio 2, which after all still has several ongoing Light Music series in its schedules*. There seems to be a complete lack of communication between these two networks. And surely there could have been some coverage on BBC television? In any case, congratulations are due to all the producers and editors, and above all performers, for a splendid achievement. Please don’t put the scores away in the cupboard for another sixty years!
*On the same Sunday evening Alan Titchmarsh played compositions by Haydn Wood, Joseph Horowitz and Ivor Novello in his early evening Radio 2 programme. And ‘Listen To The Band’ and ‘The Organist Entertains’ still deliver music in the Light Music vein to their specialist audiences.
Terence Gilmore-James shared the enthusiasm of many of us
What a WONDERFUL weekend of Light Music on Radio 3, and continuing each afternoon. "Fantastic" indeed, so, along with millions of others (we hope!), we are emailing the BBC to congratulate and thank them, also to urge them to make the Festival an annual event and consider putting a Light Music feature back onto the weekly programme order – Radio 3 or Radio 2. The scale of support for the events and the number of young people in the audiences will surely persuade the ‘powers that be’ that a Light Music profile on radio (as on TV during the Proms – past and this year too) at least should be a serious factor for regular broadcast consideration. We think you will have received lots of messages already with the same sentiments.
We know Gavin Sutherland fairly well: he has recorded Mansel Thomas’s "Six Welsh Dances" and "Breton Suite" with the Royal Ballet Sinfonia and we await the issue of the CD – hopefully this autumn. John Wilson also deserves a BIG pat on the back!
Good old radio! Still a prime source of sheer enjoyment, education, stimulation and opportunity. Here’s to more of the same – but EVERY WEEK!!!!!
Geoff Sheldon appreciate the coverage given to Eric Coates
As Chairman of the Eric Coates Society, I can honestly say that I have for a number of years supported the view that Light Music is emerging from the mists of its glorious past, and this week end- June 24th 27th has more than confirmed its rightful place in the Nations Ears. (In our Society we have witnessed the growing public affection, obviously because of Eric's place in the World of Light Music, displayed at the Concerts that we have held locally.)
The variety of programmes selected by the BBC were an eclectic mix of national nostalgia, reminders of our younger days when Light Music more than held its own. As David Ades said in his 'Interval Interview' "There are many CDs on the music market, offering thousands of pieces of music, most of which is still available." ‘Friday Night is Music Night’ is still the BBC's flagship programme for keeping alive Light Music's cause, but they should recognise that the largest group of people, numerically speaking, is the 60+ brigade and they should analyse how little is programmed for them. John Wilson's Prom Concerts and subsequent Tours of MGM Music reveal that audiences are looking younger as a new generation of the population recognise the delight and joy of Light Music.
Also, we are technically blessed with the many forms of music presentation, and playback. No crackles or hisses, no tracks to jump, no wow and flutter, no distortion. clear highs and rumble free lows. And, what is left of F.M. & D.A.B. All of which provides the very best Listening pleasure, because listening was always a pleasure, whether Charles Williams’ intro for "Dick Barton", Eric Coates’ Sleepy Lagoon, Calling All Workers and Knightsbridge, Vivian Ellis's Coronation Scot for "Paul Temple", and so many more. The orchestras, conductors, composers, technicians, venues are ready and waiting, so are the Public!
Martin Cleave was one of many RFS members present at the Royal Festival Hall
Congratulations must go to all concerned for making the recent Light Fantastic Weekend at London’s South Bank Centre such an enjoyable experience. While it was lovely to hear examples of the theatrical contribution made to light music on the Friday Night Is Music Night broadcast, the highlight for me was the Great Masters of Light Music concert given by the BBC Symphony Orchestra the following evening.
Under John Wilson’s enthusiastic baton the music sounded as fresh and relevant as the day it was written. In many cases this was a rare chance to hear these pieces live with the full resources of a symphony orchestra, which in turn gave us a greater insight into the orchestrations (not always possible on recordings, particularly older ones). For me, the sheer beauty brought to Springtime in Angus from the Three Elizabeths Suite by Eric Coates was particularly moving.
How ironic, that as an encore a BBC orchestra should play Non Stop by John Malcolm, the onetime theme tune to the ITV News. The story goes, I believe, that it was chosen because Sir John Barbirolli said it could either be followed by a report of a royal wedding, or the start of World War Three, and be appropriate for both! Unfortunately for us all it was time to make our way to the exit.
Such an enthusiastic reception from an audience of all ages would seem to prove that, with its abundance of good tunes, this is simply great music that deserves a regular airing, rather than just dusted off occasionally like an old photo album for a trip down memory lane.
David Daniels travelled down from Yorkshire, but wished a few more had also made the effort to attend the concerts
You wait ages for a bus then three come all at once. That is the feeling after three days on the South Bank in June - almost too much to take in! As one who has written to the BBC as much as anyone I never expected to hear almost two weeks of wall to wall light music — an embarrassment of riches!
I do hope that regular Radio 3 listeners enjoyed it as much as us, for the whole weekend was so enjoyable and grateful thanks are due to John Wilson and Gavin Sutherland in particular though all the BBC performing groups played a vital part
Sadly the weather spoiled what was for me the first event – ‘Brass on the Bridges’ the fanfare by Anne Dudley written especially for the event would have sounded amazing out on the terrace but the heavens opened so it had to he done indoors, but was nevertheless very impressive.
"Friday Night Is Music Night" was great though personally I would have been happy to sacrifice Billy Mayerl for the full set of dances by Montague Phillips and baritone Richard Suart’s wide vibrato was not to my taste. However the singing of Charlotte Page and ‘Our Lesley’ was wonderful as, of course, was the Concert Orchestra as ever showing how light music should be played.
The following evening with John Wilson and the Symphony Orchestra was quite brilliant though the Edward German piece chosen was hardly ‘light’! As you would expect all the music was in first class performances, and it was especially nice to hear music by Ernest Tomlinson who John Wilson himself pointed out in one of the many talks on offer throughout the weekend has done more than anyone to keep light music alive. This concert was recorded for TV so we look forward to that.
The Central Band of the RAF gave an excellent concert the same afternoon in the Queen Elizabeth Hall and I was so happy to hear Gilbert Vinter’s Hunters Moon so memorably recorded by Dennis Brain and the BBC Concert Orchestra in the 1950s.
There was just one disappointment during the whole weekend, for both Festival Hall concerts I had the balcony almost to myself and even the FREE concert by the RAF Band was only 2/3rds full. After all the complaining to the BBC it appears we cannot muster enough support to fill an average size hall where was everyone -- at Wimbledon or Glastonbury???
Another RFS member, John White, shares his enthusiasm with us
I very much enjoyed the programmes and concerts in the recent BBC Light Fantastic Weekend on Radio 3 and was fortunate in being able to attend Friday Night Is Music Night on 24 June 2011, Great Masters of Light Music on the Saturday evening and the John Wilson Orchestra Tea Dance on the Sunday afternoon, all at the Royal Festival Hall in London.
The Composers of the Week programmes with Donald Macleod, on the five weekdays prior to the weekend, were also most interesting. Brian Kay was (and is), undoubtedly, a very well-informed and knowledgeable contributor. We must also not forget the importance of the library of the Light Music Society, which has made possible the marvellous renewal of interest in light music resulting in many performances over the last twenty years or so.
Photography in the RFH was not allowed but I was able to take some pictures in The Clore Ballroom where the BBC Big Band and the John Wilson Orchestra, respectively, performed. My friend, Siobhan Murphy, and I were fortunate to have our photograph taken with John Wilson. Siobhan told me that the show tunes in FNIMN reminded her of her days (some years ago, now) singing with the Cork Operatic Society in the Cork Opera House, Co. Cork, Ireland. Mr Wilson was most friendly and approachable. He told us that he would be working in Dublin for two weeks during August. I do hope the BBC will resume featuring light music on a weekly basis in future.
Finally, a big "thank you" to everyone involved in the planning, production and broadcast of the concerts and of the numerous other events held at the Royal Festival Hall over the Light Fantastic Weekend, and most especially to John Wilson for being such an enthusiastic champion of light music.
John E. Govier listened at home
Well, it has all come and gone as these things do, but let us all hope that the BBC has at last received and understood the message: that British Light Music is not the preserve of a few reactionary fuddy-duddies and eccentrics, but a living testament to native art, just as other forms of classic music are.
There were so many things to rejoice in where the concerts were concerned that it would take half the current issue to cover them in detail; but one simply must mention the BBC Symphony Orchestra show conducted by John Wilson - it was pure joy from start to finish, and another hour would have not been enough!
Regular Radio 3 programmes much appreciated for their Light Music coverage: "CD review" (recommended Light Music by Adrian Edwards) "Music Matters" (J.W. and Philip Lane among the discussion panel) and for the previous five days "Composer of the Week" was pluralized, with Brian Kay as "tour guide".
Disappointments? Only one or two minor, and one major one. On "FNIMN" the two "Merrie England" extracts were, for me, inadequately sung and the baritone soloist was frankly not up to scratch. (I've heard better amateur renditions of "Yeomen of England" and I assure you I don't exaggerate); but both Lesley Garrett and Charlotte Page were fine in the other numbers - the former especially so in the Noël Coward extract ("If Love Were All", incidentally, not "I'll See You Again" as advertised). More often than not, I enjoy the Sunday lunchtime programme "Private Passions" but not this time: we were back with patronising facetiousness in the shape of Dame Edna Everidge - but then she/he/it is one of my blind spots - I do 'ave' 'em!
But it would be churlish to dwell on one or two shortcomings, and I hope that all aficionados of the Palm Court style tuned in to "Sunday Morning" (10.00 am to 12.00 noon) and heard Shelley van Loen and the Palm Court Strings, and the veteran but still virile tenor of Robert White performing ballads in the manner of the Great John McCormack; and later on the programme about the Spa Orchestra in the northern outpost of Scarborough - worth it just for this 10 piece band's version of "Devil's Galop", but all great stuff, and delightfully presented.
The Tea Dance featuring the John Wilson Orchestra was another Sunday afternoon treat; small wonder if not a few of us were feeling spoiled by now!
Returning for a moment to the concerts (and the Friday Composers of the Week with Brian Kay) how good it was to hear so much splendid music by living composers, and to learn that many of them were in the audience: one of them, Anthony Hedges (80 this year, incidentally) introduced his suite "Scenes from the Humber" during the concert from Cardiff.
On the Monday evening after the Plymouth concert recording (marvellous unhackneyed programme, but a little ironic we were not given all the "Drake 400 Suite" since Ron Goodwin was a local man), the edition of the regular discussion programme. "Nightwaves" included Light Music as one of its topics. As far as could be discerned by me, only one of the panellists sneered - but after all, he did give the impression of not being completely happy unless absolutely miserable!
Philip Scowcroft compares ‘Light Fantastic’ with earlier Light Music Festivals
The BBC has often been criticised for its neglect of light music over the past forty years or so, though to be fair, this has often reflected the snobbishness of a proportion of its audience. However that may be the Corporation made striking amends with its Light Fantastic Festival over the weekend 24/27 June 2011, preceded by "This Week's Composer" (20/24 June) which happily revived Brian Kay's skills as a presenter of light music, and followed by concerts in the "Afternoon on 3" in the week 27 June/1July.
The festival revived memories for me of the Royal Festival Hall Festivals of the 1950s and 1960s and the (purely studio) week-long Light Music Festival of March/April 1949, so important in the development of my music appreciation, and not just "light music". The 1949 Festival was largely made up of special editions of then regular BBC programmes like "Music in the Air", "Album of Familiar Music" and "Grand Hotel". To an extent Light Fantastic did the same, with special editions of "The Choir", "Discovering Music" and "Friday Night is Music Night", 58 years old and for which Gavin Sutherland built a gorgeous programme devoted to the British musical theatre. There was also an adapted revival of the iconic "Music While You Work", in which the BBC Philharmonic was taken into a work place (a factory in Irlam, Greater Manchester) to play light music to an audience of workers, and they seemed to love it.
Many tend to think of "light music" (to use that expression as a convenience rather than as a term of art) as restricted to light orchestral works, rather as many think of music generally in orchestral terms. This festival, rightly, spread its net much more widely, with stage music on "Friday Night", choral music on the Sunday evening "Choir" programme, big band music, wind and brass bands, piano music, solo songs, theatre organs and much else. The main Saturday evening concert combined two past BBC Light Music festival traditions, given as it was by the BBC Symphony Orchestra (the 1949 Festival imported three major symphony orchestras of the day to play light music and popular classics) but in this 2011 concert in the Royal Festival Hall, scene of the festivals of the 1950s and 1960s. And it was a fine programme, too, embracing a century's music from Sullivan onwards.
Yet, arguably, an even more interesting programme was offered on the Monday night (actually recorded the night before in Plymouth). None of the pieces heard were "first performances", unless we count Paul Lewis English Overture as a "first concert performance" (it had introduced a radio station for years) and Holst's Songs of the West as a "first modern performance" (it had not been heard here for a century); yet the items by Matthew Curtis, Philip Lane, Ernest Tomlinson, Paul Patterson and David Lyon were all new to me. It was good, too, that the festival came from so many different places - the West Country, Wales, Scotland, Lancashire and Scarborough, last of the one-time seaside orchestras - unlike the previous broadcast light music festivals which were essentially London based.
The festival was a heady mix of the traditional and, in broadcast terms, the novel. Some of the novel features will, I hope be explored further in future. Bringing amateur ensembles to record in the studios - all over the country - paid tribute to the work amateurs had done to keep light music alive during the leaner years. And the most fascinating festival feature for me was a brilliant analysis by festival director John Wilson (who got through a formidable amount of work during the weekend) of two compositions by Eric Coates, the Knightsbridge March and the Three Men suite. Ironically, such analysis might seem to run counter to the definition, adopted by myself and others, of light music as "where the tune is more important than what you do with it", as Coates clearly "did" so much with his tunes; but at the same time John Wilson showed that "light music" is not simply entertainment (though it is that, of course) but repays study in depth, just as Bach, Beethoven and Brahms do. This can only be good for light music's future.
The future? Surely the BBC will not let Light Fantastic be remembered as a one trick pony? Is it too much to hope that it may end up as an annual event, exploring ever wider and different aspects of that huge expanse of repertoire which makes up "our sort of music"; a rich heritage and one which still lives?
Tony Foster also enjoyed the Festival via the radio at home
A wonderful celebration and feast of Light Music, which began in the days before the main weekend concerts with ‘Composer of the Week’, devoted to light music. The five one-hour programmes were presented by Donald MacLeod and, making a welcome return for this series, the much missed Brian Kay with his expert and friendly manner. This made for a very rewarding listening experience. In between the music Donald and Brian held a very informative discussion about light music during each programme, which had the added benefit of a daily repeat in the early evening.
We were treated to a superb selection each day from the Masters of Light Music, from Clive Richardson’s Melody On The Move to Philip Lane’s Pantomime. Particular favourites were Ron Goodwin’s Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines, Angela Morley’s Rotten Row and, of course, Robert Farnon’s Westminster Waltz and Jumping Bean. Donald and Brian also discussed what they thought light music is, and where its future lies. CDs were also mentioned, especially the wonderful Guild series.
The long running "Friday Night Is Music Night" was, of course, dedicated to light music for the occasion, with a wonderful performance from the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Gavin Sutherland with guest artistes, presented by Petroc Trelawny who made an excellent host.
The highlight of the Light Fantastic festival was the concert on the Saturday evening, given by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by John Wilson. This was ‘live’ from the Royal Festival Hall, and featured in the interval a chat with John Wilson and RFS secretary David Ades. An archive interview with Eric Coates made this a real bonus in addition to an enjoyable evening of orchestral music. I particularly enjoyed Vivian Ellis’ Coronation Scot, Angela Morley’s A Canadian In Mayfair in tribute to Robert Farnon, and Bob’s Jumping Bean.
I kept my radio on for most of the day on the Sunday, as there was so much happening, with discussions about light music which made a nice change from the usual routine. I did enjoy the evening concert with the BBC Scottish Symphony, again conducted by John Wilson, in which he also talked about Eric Coates’ style of composing in between the music.
John Wilson as Artistic Director and conductor, Petroc Trelawny and Radio 3 are to be congratulated for making the Light Fantastic festival such a marvellous celebration of a style of music which has been unfairly neglected for far too long.
Let’s hope that the BBC has been encouraged to feature more light music in its schedules in future, as this festival must have proved that there is a demand for the kind of music we all love so much.
Finally David Ades shares his Personal Diary of the Light Fantastic Weekend
My experiences of the weekend can be summed up in two words: frustrating and exhilarating! ‘Frustrating’ because of my trying encounters with ticket machines – at Yeovil station and bus stops in London; and ‘exhilarating’ because I was uplifted by the wonderful music I heard and the people I met.
The Light Fantastic festival was based at the South Bank Centre, with most of the events taking place at the Royal Festival Hall. I arrived at Waterloo at lunchtime on Friday 24th June, and after booking in at the hotel I made my way to the RFH. I have been there before, but it was a long time ago and my memories of the building (other than the main concert hall) were vague.
In recent years it has had a lot of money spent on it and in the 1980s the decision was taken to keep it open every day from mid-morning, rather than open the doors only when a concert was taking place. The result has been that the building has become the venue for all kinds of cultural activities, many of them taking place in what is called The Clore Ballroom, a large sunken arena facing the main bar in the foyer where most people tend to congregate. It seems that music is being created at all times of the day, by both professional and amateur musicians, in this area which tends to be a magnet for people simply wanting to relax and watch others performing. The ballroom is surrounded by terraces and seating on three sides, so there is plenty of room for everyone – at least most of the time!
The first sounds to greet me upon my arrival were amateur brass bands – about five of them! They were rehearsing a new work by Anne Dudley which was due to be performed by 250 brass players on Hungerford Bridge (adjacent to the RFH) at around 7:30 pm. This was to be recorded and broadcast in one of the many Radio 3 programmes that were coming from the South Bank Centre that weekend.
But the weather gods decided otherwise. The heavens opened and the performance had to take place around the bar and ballroom. So I found myself literally in the middle of six brass bands (the five amateurs were joined by the brass of the BBC Symphony) and I have never before seen one piece of music conducted at the same time by five conductors!
BBC producer Andrew Smillie had been in touch with me for several weeks before the festival, and we arranged to meet after he had recorded the band. "Look for someone holding a big microphone" he said, and it worked! We briefly discussed the arrangements to meet the following afternoon during the rehearsals for John Wilson’s concert with the BBC Symphony, which they kindly allowed me to attend.
I lost count of how many Robert Farnon Society members I bumped into over the weekend, and I am not going to list them all for fear of leaving someone out. But within an hour or so of my arrival we were holding a mini RFS meeting in the bar, and while relaxing before the evening concert in the "Friday Night Is Music Night" series I suddenly discovered that David Daniels was sitting next to me. He had travelled down from Doncaster to support the BBC Concert Orchestra - like me he is an enthusiastic member of their club.
The Royal Festival Hall is well served with toilet facilities – I should imagine at least 15 or 20 throughout the building. So the chances of meeting someone you know in such a place must surely be statistically remote. But just as I was leaving one I met Philip Farlow who was coming in! I’m sure we would have found each other eventually, but this ‘close encounter’ meant that we could tell each other what we had learned about the various events, and we spent much of the Friday evening and the Saturday roaming around from event to event – usually accompanied by other RFS members. Several times I heard someone call out "David!" as I was wandering around, and it was a pleasure to greet yet another RFS member!
As already mentioned, the concert on Friday evening featured the BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by Gavin Sutherland with singers Lesley Garrett, Charlotte Page and Richard Suart. I have to admit that I do not always enjoy the vocal interludes when listening to FNIMN at home, but being in the concert hall is an entirely different experience. Richard Suart in particular had the audience in the palm of his hand, although the eye candy was supplied by Lesley Garrett who treated us (at least the men in the audience) to two stunning creations from her wardrobe.
I didn’t get a chance to chat with Gavin, because he had to dash off afterwards to travel to Plymouth where he was conducting another concert on the Sunday evening. But I did renew an acquaintance with senior BBC producer Neil Varley, who was deeply involved with the festival. I first met him when Brian Kay kindly invited me to be a guest on his "Light Programme" back in 2004. I learned that Neil was responsible for the invitation I had received to participate in the interval feature during John Wilson’s concert on the next evening.
Like everyone else that evening I got soaked by the rain on the way back to the hotel, but happily it had stopped when I drew back the curtains the next morning. It was still cloudy, but the weather forecasters had told us that it was going to get very warm over the next two or three days, and they were certainly right for once! The hottest day for five years happened that weekend!
I arrived at the RFH around 10:15 and decided to look around the free Exhibition on the ground floor about the original Festival of Britain 60 years ago in 1951. The Royal Festival Hall is the only surviving building from that ambitious project, and the models inside reminded me of the Dome of Discovery (the inspiration for the Millennium Dome?), the TeleKinema (where I saw 3-D films for the first time – they are not new, as some youngsters might believe), and the famous Skylon looking like a massive cigar with points at both ends aiming at the stars. Like thousands of other schoolchildren I stood right below the point of the Skylon and looked upwards – it required a certain amount of courage! I was saddened that it had to be scrapped for the steel to be recycled but, like today, those were hard times and money could not be wasted. One of the exhibits was a film about the Festival with music by Clifton Parker. Unfortunately it was a poor copy, and the music sounded distorted most of the time.
It was then time to have a coffee in the bar on the ground floor looking out across the riverside terrace to the Thames. There are plenty of places for refreshments on the South Bank site, with many tables outside – just like you find in Mediterranean countries. This is becoming more common in Britain these days, but the reason is probably the ban on smoking inside buildings, rather than a sudden improvement in the weather!
I found a spare table and settled down to enjoy my coffee, and started looking through some of the leaflets I had picked up with details of the festival events. A few minutes later I casually looked around and discovered to my surprise that Petroc Trelawny was sitting at the next table with a gentleman I assumed to be a BBC producer. They were obviously working on a forthcoming programme, so I waited until they got up from the table before introducing myself as the person Petroc would be interviewing during the concert interval that evening. I received a warm welcome, but quickly left because he was obviously busy and there would be plenty of time during the afternoon to discuss my interval chat.
Back in the main bar area (adjacent to the ballroom) I soon met up with Philip. We checked the various events that were taking place and decided that it would be nice to join the audience for "Music Matters", broadcast live on Radio 3 from 12:15 to 1:00pm. The subject under discussion was ‘What Happened to British Light Music?’ Petroc Trelawny chaired a panel consisting of John Wilson, Philip Lane, Anne Dudley, Stephen Banfield and Richard Witts – the last two being music historians.
The opinions of the panel were interspersed with recorded segments from Daily Telegraph radio critic Gillian Reynolds and Paul Gambaccini. I was particularly pleased that a number of recordings I had sent to Andrew Smillie were used in the programme. He had told me a couple of weeks earlier that he couldn’t find any openings or endings of light orchestral programmes in the BBC archives. I supplied him with several, so listeners heard brief intros from "Farnon in Concert", "Music All the Way" (Farnon) and "String Sound". Other dubs I provided turned up elsewhere, including Eric Coates talking about his "Knightsbridge March" during an interval chat with John Wilson later that evening.
I was prepared to be disappointed with the programme. So often discussions about Light Music tend to get rather stuffy and highbrow and drift into areas not really relevant. But this time I was pleasantly surprised by what I heard; Paul Gambaccini, in particular, had a good depth of knowledge and he clearly explained how the BBC had decided it didn’t want light music any more, even though the public clearly enjoyed it.
I knew that several RFS members had joined Philip and myself in the audience (Brian Reynolds and André Leon to name just two), but it came as a complete – and very pleasant – surprise as we were leaving after the programme to discover that Marjorie Cullerne and Gilles Gouset were with us. Marjorie is a great niece of Haydn Wood, and UK members will recall the entertainment she and Gilles provided at our London meeting in April 2009. Our paths were to cross several times during the weekend. As the audience melted away we suddenly realised that several RFS members had stayed behind to chat, so we had another mini-meeting of the society!
Mention should be made of the Function Room in which the broadcast took place. It is situated on the fifth floor, and the audience sits facing the outside wall of the building which is entirely glass. The view is breathtaking: the nearest large object is the London Eye – still going strong 11 years after it was constructed for the millennium. A little further away, and somewhat older, are the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, alongside the River Thames. It is a vista to cherish, and many people remarked on it.
Although there is a welcoming bar in the main meeting area of the RFH, someone in authority made the very sensible decision to make copious amounts of water freely available. At each end of the bar there were four or five water jugs, regularly replenished, with plenty of plastic cups. We all made full use of this facility, because it was getting very warm although the air conditioning seemed to be coping quite well.
During Saturday afternoon I was privileged to sit in on the rehearsals by the BBC Symphony for the "Great Masters of Light Music" concert to be broadcast on Radio 3 in the evening. Television cameras were also present to record the concert for transmission later on BBC Four.
The leader of the BBC Symphony is Andrew Haveron, a long time friend of John Wilson who I met several years ago for the Angela Morley recordings at Abbey Road in 2003, reported in JIM 156. The orchestra responded magnificently to the challenge of playing what, for them, is slightly unusual repertoire. I mentioned this to a lady violinist during the break, and she assured me that they all loved it, but added "it’s hard to play!"
John was perfectly at ease throughout the rehearsals, and he received superb support from the musicians. Not every piece was played in its entirety; professional musicians of this calibre are expert sight readers, and it was often only necessary to confirm the tempo and deal with any special nuances that John wanted to bring out. During Scrub Brother Scrub John asked if I thought he had got the tempo right. "Yes …spot on" I told him, to which he replied "I think I’ll take it quicker" – which he did! I felt around eighty pairs of eyes looking towards me wondering what on earth that elderly gentleman was doing sitting alone in the audience, advising John on a particular tempo!
During the afternoon I chatted briefly with producer Andrew Smillie and presenter Petroc Trelawny to decide on the format for the interval feature. There was no question of using a script – that would have sounded too contrived. So we decided that I would ‘busk’ it, confident that Petroc would keep everything under control.
The rehearsals were over by 6:00pm and I met up with Philip, his wife Edwina (who had arrived for the concert) and some other members in the bar. But I was still replying upon copious amounts of that free water: the secretary of the Robert Farnon Society sounding drunk on air would not have done much for our image!
Barry Forgie and the BBC Big Band were rehearsing in the ballroom for their concert due to be recorded later that evening for broadcast late on Sunday. The indefatigable John Wilson had agreed to do a pre-concert talk at 6:45 so we made another visit to the Function Room with its magnificent view. Once again, many RFS members were present to hear John chatting in a relaxed manner about his career. Half an hour later he had to leave us to get dressed for the evening concert which commenced at 8:00.
Unlike the previous evening, the concert was entirely orchestral. The full programme is printed elsewhere in this feature, from which it will be noted that the first part concentrated on three ‘major’ composers, while the second part featured some lighter works. Knightsbridge was supposed to be the final piece, but John treated us to an encore with Non Stop by John Malcolm, the famous ITN signature tune.
I was sitting in the BBC’s box during the concert, where the technical equipment for interviews was installed. This is situated above stage right, and immediately below me was the telescopic TV camera which zoomed over the orchestra and sometimes came so close that I could have almost jumped on!
At the end of the first part, as John Wilson left the stage to enthusiastic applause, he was grabbed by Petroc for an interview. When asked, John said that his favourite composer was Eric Coates, and this was the cue for an interview with Coates played with Knightsbridge in the background. This allowed enough time for Petroc to dash off the stage and run through the maze of corridors at the rear, then come up two flights of stairs and join me in the box for the live interview. "Don’t worry", the producer had told me. "He timed it earlier today and he managed it with six seconds to spare!"
Petroc asked me about Robert Farnon and the society, then Anthony Bath, the 93 year old son of Hubert Bath talked in a recorded interview about his famous father. I chatted again, mostly about the music in the second half (especially Haydn Wood and Angela Morley) then it was all over. The final recorded segment featured a new brass fanfare composed by Anne Dudley especially for Light Fantastic, then John was back on stage for the second half.
The producer had asked me to call round afterwards to meet him at the two outside broadcast vans parked next to the Queen Elizabeth Hall. He seemed happy with the way it had gone, then said: "I didn’t like to tell you before, but you were my first live interview!" It was also a first for me, because all my previous appearances on national radio have been recorded. What a risk the BBC took, letting me loose with a live microphone!
When I got back inside the Royal Festival Hall I was greeted by Philip who told me, somewhat excitedly, that he had just heard the BBC Big Band play a rare Robert Farnon arrangement called Monseigneur which he had done for Lew Stone. The band would be continuing until near midnight, so understandably no one seemed to want to leave. Soon we saw John mingling with the crowds; goodness knows where he gets his energy, having been ‘on the go’ since mid-morning onwards.
I decided that I deserved my first G&T of the day, so I waited patiently at the bar. Looking in the mirror behind the bar I noticed that Petroc had joined me, so I offered him a drink. He politely declined, explaining that he was buying for his family who had attended the concert. A young schoolgirl, who he introduced as his niece, was with him and he said she had enjoyed the concert. "What did you like most", I asked her. "Jumping Bean" she replied with a lovely smile!
I stayed to enjoy the BBC Big Band until after 11:00 and then decided to make my way back to my hotel. Outside on the South Bank it was still pleasantly warm, and all the bars and outdoor cafes were still very busy. It was a lovely atmosphere, which perfectly matched the day which was just ending.
Around 10:30 next morning I was back in the foyer of the Royal Festival Hall where the sound of an amateur choir learning to sing Noel Coward’s Play Orchestra Play greeted me. Absolutely charming. Then I met André Leon. We had only been chatting for a couple of minutes when we were joined by Marjorie Cullerne and Gilles Gouset, and decided that it was time for coffee. We sat outside on the riverside terrace and spent a most pleasant half hour chatting about music.
One of the many events that had been organised for the weekend was a ‘busk’ of the Archers’ signature tune. Some amateur musicians were starting to congregate nearby and Marjorie (who had her violin with her) decided to join them. Soon around fifteen assorted instrumentalists launched into Barwick Green and the result was absolutely hilarious. Petroc was with a BBC sound engineer recording the ‘performance’ and I told him that one of the violins was played by the great niece of Haydn Wood. He was impressed!
In the foyer of the Queen Elizabeth Hall next door Radio 3’s "Sunday Morning" with Suzy Klein was already in full swing, and we made our way there to enjoy Shelley Van Loen and the Palm Court Strings. Brian Reynolds was already in his element, but before I took my seat Petroc asked me to confirm the Barwick Green details, because he introduced an excerpt from the ‘busk’ in the programme. We also heard the tenor Robert White sing a beautiful version of Eric Coates’ Bird Songs At Eventide with Stephen Hough on piano.
At 12 noon André and I decided it was time for lunch, and a cup of tea and a generously filled ham sandwich fitted the bill admirably. I was so fortunate to have André with me because, not only is he fascinating company, he also knows the area like the back of his hand. I had my own personal guide! After lunch we strolled along to the National Film Theatre, taking care not to get too close to a fountain where it seemed like hundreds of children were having the times of their lives using it to keep cool. The snack bar of the NFT was packed, but André’s experience turned up trumps, because he took me through the building to a bar at the rear which was not only pleasantly cool, but almost empty.
We looked around the NFT then decided to return to the Royal Festival Hall where we found a quiet area on one of the upper floors overlooking the Thames so that André could interview me for a future UK Light Radio broadcast. He is still working very hard to get this exciting project up and running, and if persistence has its own reward he will surely succeed. When we made our way down to the foyer we found that John Wilson and his Orchestra were starting to rehearse for their Tea Dance due to be broadcast from 5:00 until 6:30. They sounded marvellous, and John had clearly taken a lot of trouble in his choice of material. We were sitting at the side of the dance area near the band, and halfway through I Concentrate On You John came across to me and asked if I recognised it. Of course I knew the tune (it happens to be one of my favourites by the great Cole Porter), but the arrangement was new. "It’s by Bob Farnon!" said John, with a big grin on his face. He must have discovered it in the library of maybe Ted Heath or Geraldo - no doubt we’ll find out one day.
The rehearsals continued all afternoon, and were a real joy to hear. But the place was starting to get busy, and people were arriving all dressed up for the dancing that was to follow. We had to vacate our ringside seats, and wander off to the side areas.
It was soon apparent that the BBC and Royal Festival Hall had failed to anticipate the excitement that John’s Tea Dance would create. The place was getting packed, and people were wandering around trying to find seats. I suspect that nearby bars and cafes were being ‘raided’, because I observed people coming in from outside carrying piles of seats with them!
No doubt the dancers and onlookers enjoyed themselves for long into the evening, because a Disco followed the Tea Dance. But André had to get back home for another commitment, and I decided that an evening meal in the calm of the hotel would be the perfect end to the day.
The coincidences that had been such a feature of my own ‘Light Fantastic’ weekend continued on the Monday. While waiting at Waterloo station for my train to be advertised on the departures screens the gentlemen standing next to me said ‘hello’. It was Peter Simpson (chairman of the Harry Roy Appreciation Society and a member of the RFS since the early days) who was waiting for the same train! He and his wife Beryl were going to Honiton station en route to a week’s holiday in Sidmouth, which happens to be a favourite spot for Moira and I to relax as often as we can. So I had the pleasure of their company all the way to Yeovil, which made the journey pass so much quicker than it usually does.
It was the perfect end to a magical three days, which was made all the more enjoyable by the many wonderful people I met.
This feature appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ – September 2011