Angela Morley was born at Leeds, Yorkshire on 10 March 1924. Her birth name was Walter (Wally) Stott, and she became well-known in Britain for her recordings and radio work - especially with the famous "Goon Show". Her high public profile meant that she attracted a lot of unwelcome publicity in 1972 when she decided to have a sex change operation, and for a while she put her musical career on hold. Happily for us, she soon overcame the difficulties in her personal life, and went on to produce many new compositions and arrangements that received wide praise.
Back in the 1920s her parents had a shop that sold jewellery, silver plate, watches and clocks. She said that her earliest musical memory was of sitting on the floor surrounded by records of the bands of Jack Payne and Henry Hall and playing them on the family's enormous wind up gramophone. Her father played the ukulele-banjo that he used to let her tune for him, using his pitch pipe, to either G-C-E-A or A-D-F#-B. Her mother had a contralto voice and sang: 'There is a Lady Passing By' and, her favourite, 'Big Lady Moon'.
When she was eight years old, Angela's father bought a brand new Challen upright piano that had pride of place in their over-the-shop Sunday sitting room, and sent her to an elderly lady a few streets away for piano lessons. Three months later, her father became ill and very unexpectedly died at the early age of thirty-nine. The piano lessons were immediately stopped and never recommenced. They are the only piano lessons that Angela ever had. A year later, her mother, who had no head for business, sold the shop and they went off to live with her parents at Swinton near Rotherham, Yorks.
At the age of ten, Angela remembers having had a month-long love affair with the violin but her grandfather, a prankster who didn't like the violin, smeared butter on her bow and very effectively brought her career as a violinist to an end. At eleven, she started to play the accordion, had lessons and won a couple of competitions. A judge from the BBC advised her mother that there was no future in the accordion, and that she should learn a band or orchestral instrument, for instance the clarinet or saxophone. Angela's mother bought her a clarinet at the local pawnbroker's for £1. It was built all in one piece; it was a simple system instrument that was 'high pitch' and had a broken mouthpiece. She had lessons on it and started to play in the school orchestra. Several months later, a kind mother bought her an alto saxophone that said 'Pennsylvania' across the bell. Many years later Angela learned that it was a cheap instrument made in Czechoslovakia. She started to play, unpaid of course, in the semi-pro band of Bert Clegg at the Empress Ballroom, Mexborough, Yorks.
Angela left high school at fifteen and went on tour with 'Archie's Juvenile Band' for ten shillings a week (50p). On joining 'Archie's' band, Angela was asked to name her favourite band. 'Ambrose' she replied, whereupon they all laughed themselves silly and queried, 'What, you've never heard of Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey'? She confessed that she hadn't, and her education was taken in hand that very moment as they all headed off to the nearest record shop. She started to take down arrangements from records about this time under the tutelage of the pianist, Eddie Taylor, who was an old hand at it.
World War II started and created a new dimension to her life that was anything but a hindrance. Suddenly, with all the bands starting to lose musicians who were drafted into the armed forces, a fifteen-year-old musician who could sight-read was eagerly sought by every bandleader in the UK. Before she was seventeen and a half, she had gone from band to band (Billy Smith at Croydon Palais, Billy Merrin & his Commanders at the Plaza Ballroom in Derby, Mrs. Wilf Hamer's Band at the Grafton Rooms in Liverpool, Nat Bookbinder & his Chapters, Reub Sunshine's Band in Nottingham, Bram Martin's Band on the North Pier in Blackpool) in quick succession until she found herself playing lead alto with Oscar Rabin's Band. Still touring (which she didn't enjoy), but broadcasting and making records too. It was during her two years with this band that she graduated from taking down records to writing arrangements for pay. Her very first recordings (on alto saxophone) were playing in the Oscar Rabin band for Rex Records (Decca) in London on 25 September 1941.
At the age of twenty in 1944, Angela joined the Geraldo Orchestra, arguably the best band in the UK at the time. The Geraldo Band practically lived at the BBC doing several radio programmes a week. The great bonus for a developing arranger was that the band might be a swing band on Monday and then augmented to symphonic size on Tuesday, while on other days perhaps various combinations in-between, and on occasion even adding a choir. Since she got to arrange for all these combinations, was there ever a better arranging academy? When talking about those days Angela said that she doubted that anything like that exists today. At this time Angela's work was under the name 'Wally Stott'.
Self-taught so far, it was during this period that she started to study harmony, counterpoint and composition with a Hungarian composer, resident in London, Matyas Seiber. She also was an enthusiastic participant in a conducting course taught by the German born conductor, Walter Goehr. Both Robert Farnon and Tommy Dorsey arranger Bill Finegan had written many of the arrangements in Geraldo's repertoire, and Angela fell under the spell of both of these great talents and she says that she remains, to this day, greatly indebted to them.
At age twenty-six she decided to give up playing to concentrate on writing. She was busy from the start and three years later, aged twenty-nine, a lot of good things started to happen. In 1953 she became musical director of the newly launched Philips Records (UK), arranging and conducting every week for all the contract artistes and occasionally for American ones like Rosemary Clooney and Mel Tormé as well as recording several instrumental albums of her own. These included selections of music by Jerome Kern, George Gershwin and Irving Berlin, and a popular collection of Christmas music. Other popular singers whose work was enhanced by her arrangements include Helen Forrest, Marlene Dietrich, Noel Coward,, Petula Clark, Rosemary Squires, Julie Andrews, Diana Dors, Shirley Bassey, Frankie Vaughan, Anne Shelton, Dusty Springfield, Scott Walker and Ronnie Carroll - with whom she also appeared on stage in Luxembourg conducting his entry 'Ring-A-Ding Girl' in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1962.
By this time the London music publishers Chappells had placed Angela under contract to compose (and occasionally conduct) for their Recorded Music Library. Originally encouraged by Robert Farnon (her first published work for Chappells 'A Canadian in Mayfair' was dedicated to him), she quickly established her own distinctive style which found great favour with lovers of light music. Among her vast output, particular favourites included 'Rotten Row', 'Mock Turtles', 'Quiz', 'Travelling Along', 'Miss Universe', 'Flight by Jet', 'Casbah', 'Commonwealth March', 'Practice Makes Perfect', 'China', 'India', 'Focus on Fashion', and 'Skyways'.
Angela started to score films under her own name (she had 'ghost'-written two scores the previous year) and was writing all the cues for a top BBC comedy show: 'Hancock's Half Hour' and doing the same, plus conducting, for 'The Goon Show' which was probably the most successful BBC radio comedy show of the 1950s. The same year, 1953, she started to score films for Associated British Picture Corporation at Boreham Wood Studios where Louis Levy was Music Director.
Among the impressive list of early films with Angela's participation (not always credited) are: 'Dance Hall' featuring the Geraldo Orchestra (1950), 'Happy Go Lovely' (1951), 'Hindle Wakes' (1952), 'Will Any Gentleman' (1953), 'For Better For Worse' (1954), 'Gentlemen Marry Brunettes' orchestrating for Robert Farnon (1955), 'It's Never Too Late' (1956), 'Charley Moon' (1956), 'Let's Be Happy' (1957), 'The Heart of a Man' (1959) and 'The Lady Is A Square' (1959).
The 1950s was a very exciting time to be recording, because not only had tape taken over from direct to disc recording and advanced German microphones were in every studio, but towards the end of the decade stereo had magically added a new dimension to sound. However, these advances had not found their way into film studios and Angela confessed that to go to a cinema to hear one's latest score was absolute torture. She was so depressed by these experiences that by the time she was thirty-six (1960), she started to turn down any offers to score films.
During the 1960s, although she had a very busy and interesting musical life (including doing a lot of recording for Reader's Digest Records), writing arrangements for Benny Goodman, Nelson Riddle, arranging and conducting some Mel Tormé TV Specials and scoring some documentary films about art for television, she regretted having turned her back on feature film scoring and tried her best to get back into it. Finally, starting in 1969, she scored 'The Looking Glass War' (from a John Le Carré spy novel featuring a very young Anthony Hopkins), 'When Eight Bells Toll' (another Anthony Hopkins movie) and 'Captain Nemo and the Underwater City'. This led to her writing adaptation scores for 'The Little Prince' (collaborating with songwriters Lerner & Loewe) and 'The Slipper and the Rose' (collaborating with Robert & Richard Sherman).
In 1977, she scored almost all of 'Watership Down'. Angela was officially credited as the composer of this score but she had taken over the commission from indisposed composer Malcolm Williamson, who had written six minutes of very high quality music (that is the first six minutes of music in the film), and who was given the not very satisfactory credit: Additional Music by Malcolm Williamson! In between scoring films Angela was also a regular conductor of the now, alas, defunct BBC Radio Orchestra and, from time to time, helped John Williams with the orchestration of his scores for 'Star Wars', 'Superman' and 'The Empire Strikes Back'.
She had been nominated for an Academy Award for 'The Little Prince' and 'The Slipper and the Rose', and went to California on both occasions to attend the 'Oscar' ceremonies. The wonderfully warm and generous way that she was made to feel at home there by her American colleagues and friends resulted in her being rather seduced by the California life style and she soon returned with the intention of staying, if not forever, at least for some time. She rented an apartment in Brentwood and set about getting permission to work. With this, she was soon scoring television at Warner Bros.
By 1980, Angela had bought a house and became further involved with American TV. In the years from 1979 to 1990, she scored several TV films and many episodes of TV series like Dallas, Dynasty, Hotel, Falcon Crest, Cagney & Lacey, Emerald Point, Madame X, The Colbys, Summer Girl, Two Marriages, Threesome, Wonder Woman, Island Son, Blue Skies and McClain's Law. She conducted at most of the Hollywood studios such as Warner Bros., Paramount, M.G.M., Universal and 20th Century-Fox. During the summer, she used to write many arrangements for the Boston 'Pops' Orchestra during the fourteen years that John Williams was that orchestra's conductor, in addition to helping him with his scores for 'E.T.', 'Hook', 'Home Alone' I & II and 'Schindler's List'. She was nominated six times for an Emmy Award for TV composing and won three Emmy Awards for arranging. In addition, she wrote many arrangements for Julie Andrews and Mel Tormé and occasionally some for opera stars like Frederica von Stade, Barbara Hendricks and Placido Domingo.
Angela later admitted that she never really tried very hard to find feature film commissions. In Hollywood one's recent track record is all-important, and, in her case, on her arrival from England, what had it been? A film about 'a little prince'; one about 'Cinderella' and an animated one (animated films were, at this time, something that children watched on Saturday morning TV) about 'some rabbits'! No sex, violence, explosions! There had been lots of those things in her earlier films but they had not been recent or high profile enough to count. In short, she couldn't 'get arrested' as they say. In addition to a lot of scoring for TV, she worked on many feature films for some very good composers like John Williams, Richard Rodney Bennett, John Mandel, Miklos Rosza, David Raksin, Alex North, Bill Conti, William Kraft, André Previn, Sol Kaplan, Pat Williams, David Shire, Lyn Murray, John Morris & Ernest Gold.
Big changes were taking place in film music. 20th Century-Fox was the only remaining studio that had a music department head, Lionel Newman, who regularly conducted music scoring sessions. This was a far cry from the 'golden years' of Hollywood when brilliant musicians like Victor Young, Alfred Newman, John Green, Ray Heindorf etc. ran the music departments at all the studios. They had great power on the studio lot and used it to promote and to protect composers in their charge. Angela experienced this with Lionel Newman.
Another big change had been the coming of synthesizers. Producers long, and understandably, frustrated by their inability to look into what the composer was up to and having to wait until the scoring session to find out what the music was going to sound like, discovered that the composer could make a synthesizer demo and play it with the picture. Today, composers are given far less time to write their scores than has been the practice in the past, and Angela said that to be distracted by the constant requirement to make demos of everything must be a giant headache.
During her last six or so years while in Los Angeles, life had become less and less appealing. As soon as the Cold War came to an end, they had a bad recession in L.A.'s biggest industry, aerospace. Then they had race riots followed by fires, then floods and great demographic changes caused by immigration. Finally, on Jan. 17th 1994, there was a big, very scary earthquake centred only six miles from her house. She decided that she simply had to go and live somewhere else. The 'somewhere else' had to be out of California because there are earthquake faults all over the state. She took a look at Scottsdale, Arizona (only one hour's flight time to L.A.) where there has been no history of earthquakes, and loved what she saw. Several months later, Angela bought a house there.
This almost completes her biography. She was delighted that John Williams still seemed to like her arrangements: she wrote three for a CD that he recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra in London called 'Hollywood Sound' and three more that he recorded conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony with Itzhak Perlman playing the violin solos on a CD called 'Cinema Serenade'. She wrote five more scores for Itzhak Perlman a year later for a sequel to 'Cinema Serenade' called 'Cinema Serenade II', and she also continued to write occasional scores for the Boston 'Pops' under their new conductor Keith Lockhart. In March of 2001, Angela was asked to arrange a medley of the five nominated film scores for Itzhak Perlman & Yo Yo Ma to play at the Academy Awards ceremony.
In 1998, she founded, in Scottsdale, the Chorale of the Alliance Française of Greater Phoenix.
Angela returned to Britain and Europe on regular occasions, and in 2001 she was at EMI's Abbey Road Studios in London where the John Wilson Orchestra recorded on CD sixteen of her older arrangements entitled 'Soft Lights and Sweet Music' for Vocalion Records. The success of this venture prompted a second album, recorded in May 2003, this time concentrating on Angela's own compositions for films and television, plus a few of her charming orchestral cameos; 'The Film and Television Music of Angela Morley' was released in November 2003. A growing number of her early compositions have also appeared on CDs in the Guild 'Golden Age of Light Music' series. In 2005 Angela was the guest on Brian Kay's Light Programme - the leading BBC Radio-3 weekly show which championed the very best in Light Music.
Angela Morley's musical career has given immense pleasure to millions around the world. Like so many of her contemporaries, her early years were spent as a 'jobbing musician' in the dance bands that were so popular at the time, gradually becoming respected for her superior arrangements and compositions. During her mid- and later career she has produced some film scores of sheer beauty, that deserve to be heard in their own right - not merely as background behind dialogue and sound effects. Fortunately for her legion of admirers, these are now starting to emerge on commercial recordings, and one can only hope that a lot more of her music will appear on CD and in the concert hall in the future. She received three Emmy awards and two Oscar nominations.
Her last four compositions were called 'Reverie', 'Valse Bleue', 'Harlequin' and 'The Liaison'. She arranged for them to be privately recorded, but they have not yet been released commercially.
In recent years Angela had bravely fought a long battle against cancer. On Boxing Day 2008 she suffered a fall in the bathroom at her home in Scottsdale which broke her hip. Prompt surgery satisfactorily dealt with this injury, but sadly complications soon set in. On 14 January 2009 she passed away peacefully in a hospice with her beloved partner Chris and other family members at her side.
David Ades (January 2009)
This biography is largely based on Angela Morley’s own autobiography on her website:www.angelamorley.com
Reports on the July 2001 and May 2003 sessions at Abbey Road can be found via the ‘Journal Into Melody’ pages in this website.
For details of Vocalion recordings, visit the Dutton Laboratories (Vocalion) website via our ‘Links’ page.