Sidney Torch Conducting The New Century Orchestra
Another superb Vintage Light Music CD from Vocalion
SIDNEY TORCH conducting
THE NEW CENTURY ORCHESTRA
1 LONDON PLAYHOUSE (Sidney Torch) FDH008
2 THE GALLOPING MAJOR (George Bastow, arr. Gordon Jacob)FDH012
3 MANNEQUIN (Jack Beaver) FDH005
4 PASTORALE (Ronald Hanmer) FDH023
5 METROPOLIS (Jack Brown) FDH037
6 THE PC 49 THEME from 'Changing Moods No. 2' (R. Hanmer)FDH026
7 MARDI GRAS (Ferde Grofe) FDH001
8 BARNACLE BILL (Ashworth Hope) FDH007
9 SPORTS ARENA (Len Stevens) FDH043
10 COLORADO SUNSET (Jack Brown) FDH050
11 GOLDEN ARROW (Jack Beaver) FDH045
12 FLYING SQUAD (Ronald Hanmer) FDH018
13 JOY RIDE (Jack Coles) FDH059
14 LOVE'S AWAKENING (Leslie Bridgewater) FDH013
15 BEATEN BY A HEAD (Bill Williamson) FDH011
16 CARIBBEAN CAPRICE (Len Stevens) FDH052
17 CHINCHILLA (Eric Winstone) FDH015
18 LOCOMOTION 'Running Off The Rails' (Clive Richardson) FDH028
19 RADIO THEATRE (Jack Beaver) FDH040
20 BREAKFAST BUSTLE (Len Stevens) FDH012
21 WORLD OF TOMORROW (Jack Beaver) FDH002
22 AUTUMN SCENE (Jack Brown) FDH046
23 GARDEN FACTORY (Len Stevens) FDH045
24 SONGE D'AUTOMNE (Archibald Joyce) FDH004
25 SILVER SPURS (Philip Green) FDH058
26 FASHION PARADE (Ronald Hanmer) FDH005
27 WATERSMEET (Conrad Leonard) FDH017
28 DANCE OF THE GHOSTS (Montague Ewing) FDH014
29 PRODUCTION DRIVE (Frank Cordell) FDH054
30 LONDON TOWN MARCH (Len Stevens) FDH029
FDH series Francis, Day & Hunter 10" 78s
Many readers of this magazine will already own some of the KPM Music CDs which feature vintage recordings by the New Century Orchestra conducted by Sidney Torch. Some of you may also be fortunate in having the original Francis, Day & Hunter 78s lurking on your shelves. The KPM CDs are specifically for use by professionals in the entertainment industry, and they are not available to the general public. Therefore this new Vocalion CD will offer many music lovers around the world their first opportunity to purchase a unique collection of top quality mood music from the late 1940s. Even RFS members who already have some of these tracks in their private collections should find something of interest on this new CD. For a start, some 78s have not previously been available on KPM CDs (Mardi Gras, London Town) and others were previously in shortened versions (The Galloping Major, Sports Arena).
Sidney Torch, MBE, distinguished himself in two musical spheres. In his early years he gained a reputation as a brilliant cinema organist, but in the second half of his career he switched to writing and conducting Light Music, with even greater success. As well as his conventional work for radio and commercial records, he became a master of composing, arranging and conducting Mood Music (now better known as Production Music). Some of his many recordings for the London publishers Francis, Day and Hunter are now made available again in this collection; most of these rare tracks are appearing for the first time on a commercially available CD.
He was born Sidney Torchinsky of Russian parents, at 27 Tottenham Court Road, London, on 5 June 1908. His father, an orchestral trombonist, decided to anglicise the family name, and it was he who introduced his son to the rudiments of music. Young Sidney studied piano at the Blackheath Conservatoire, where he soon displayed evidence of an unusually retentive memory. As he entered an examination room he discovered, to his horror, that he had left behind at his home in Maida Vale all the compulsory music. He had no alternative but to play from memory, and passed the exam with distinction. He shared the same professor for piano tuition as Gerald Bright, later to achieve fame in Britain as the band-leader Geraldo.
Clearly Torch must have been a talented pianist, because his first professional engagement was as accompanist to the celebrated violinist Albert Sandler. He then moved into several cinema orchestras playing for silent films, starting at Stratford Broadway in East London, but the arrival of the talkies forced him to consider a musical change of direction. Full orchestras were no longer needed in cinemas, and even prestigious ensembles such as Emanuel Starkey's orchestra at the Regal, Marble Arch, (in which Torch also played piano) had to go. But every picture palace of note decided to install an organ and the Regal was no exception; a Christie was built in 1928 by the famous London firm of Hill, Norman and Beard. At the time it was the largest theatre organ outside the United States.
Torch became assistant organist to Quentin Maclean at the Regal, Marble Arch, taking over this famous Christie Organ (following a short residency by Reginald Foort) full time from 1932 to 1934. Despite the popularity of his jazzy arrangements with cinema-goers and buyers of his 78s, the BBC did not invite Torch to broadcast regularly until 1934. Microphones of the period had great difficulty coping with the wide dynamics and timbral range of modern organs. His signature tune became, appropriately, the popular song "I've Got To Sing A Torch Song" (from the Hollywood film "Gold Diggers of 1933") to which he added his own special lyrics. From Marble Arch Torch moved on to the Regal, Edmonton, leaving in 1936 to join Union Cinemas, opening many new organs and recording at their flagship theatre, the Regal Kingston. In 1937 he opened the magnificent Wurlitzer Organ at the Gaumont State, Kilburn, which was then the largest cinema organ in England.
Torch was a real 'star' of the cinema organ in those pre-World War 2 days. Through his many personal appearances, broadcasts and commercial recordings he had reached the very top of his profession. In 1940 he was called into the Royal Air Force, and initially was stationed near Blackpool, where he continued to record at the Opera House. He first trained as an air gunner in the RAF, but was subsequently commissioned and attained the rank of Squadron Leader. He became conductor of the RAF Concert Orchestra, which gave him the opportunity to study more closely the intricacies of orchestral scoring. This experience was to stand him in good stead when he returned to civilian life after the war. Astutely Torch realised that the days of the cinema organ as he knew it were numbered, so he turned to light orchestral composing, arranging and conducting, where he quickly established himself through his radio broadcasts and commercial recordings (in a period of less than ten years he conducted over 60 78s for EMI's Columbia and Parlophone labels). He wrote the catchy signature-tune for the famous BBC Radio series "Much Binding In The Marsh", and also discovered that his composing talents were ideally suited to the requirements of the production music (mood music) publishers, that were rapidly establishing libraries in London. Chappells had already started recording light music for the use of radio, film, newsreel and eventually television companies as far back as 1942, drawing mainly upon the talents of Charles Williams, who conducted the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra on those early 78s. From 1946 onwards Sidney Torch contributed many different works to the Chappell catalogue, both under his own name and also as Denis Rycoth (an anagram). He also conducted the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra on these special recordings, working alongside Williams, Robert Farnon, Peter Yorke, Wally Stott, Clive Richardson and many other luminaries of light music in the post-war years. Francis, Day & Hunter employed Torch to conduct their New Century Orchestra when their library was founded in 1947, and he remained with them for two years until a Musicians' Union ban halted all such work in Britain.
Although the BBC originated most of the material it broadcast on the radio in those days, London musicians were also employed by transcription services (Lang-Worth, Muzak etc.) and overseas broadcasting organisations such as Radio Luxembourg and IBC. Torch was closely associated with the Harry Alan Towers radio production company which supplied programmes to Radio Luxembourg and, occasionally, even to the BBC.
In 1953 the BBC decided that it needed a new programme whose brief was: "to help people relax after the week's hard work and put them in the right mood for a happy weekend". With Sidney Torch's full participation, the formula for "Friday Night Is Music Night" was devised - with such foresight that the programme survives to this very day. The BBC Concert Orchestra had been formed the previous year, and Torch conducted them for almost twenty years in this series, until his retirement in 1972.
During this period Torch became one of the most popular and respected conductors in Britain. His countless broadcasts included many celebrity concerts, often at London's Royal Festival Hall as part of the BBC's regular Light Music Festivals. He had a reputation as something of a martinet, according to the musicians and singers who performed under his baton. One described the crackle that emanated from his starched shirt-cuffs on some of his rapier-like downbeats. Singers dreaded 'the glare of the Torch' if they failed to please the maestro. But he was also remembered for various acts of kindness, seldom made public, but nevertheless appreciated by some of his musicians who needed temporary financial assistance. He demanded smartness in dress from his musicians, and always had in reserve an extra pair of gloves or black socks in case of need.
Following his retirement Sidney Torch seemed to lose interest in his previous musical activities. He rarely wanted to talk about his pre-war stardom as a cinema organist, and similarly dismissed most attempts to get him to recall his great moments in light music. In a rare radio interview in 1983 he admitted that he had been cruel to most of his producers, although he felt that most of them probably benefited from the experience. He was appointed MBE in 1985. He died from an overdose at his Eastbourne, Sussex home on 16th July 1990 at the age of 82, having been pre-deceased by his wife Elizabeth Tyson (a former BBC producer) the previous March. Sidney Torch's music is still remembered by the many admirers of the cinema organ and light music. "Friday Night Is Music Night" is regarded by many as 'his' programme, and his own compositions and arrangements are still regularly performed by 'his' BBC Concert Orchestra. Few musicians could have a better memorial to their talents.
This new CD presents a special selection of unique archive production music recordings made in London during the second half of the 1940s. When World War 2 was over, the famous music publishers Francis, Day & Hunter (FDH) decided to establish their own Recorded Music Library, and the first sessions took place at EMI's Abbey Road Studios during the early summer of 1946.
FDH made a wise choice in engaging Sidney Torch to conduct their recordings. He was highly regarded as a composer, arranger, conductor and performer, and he possessed a wide knowledge of this kind of music. The musicians in The New Century Orchestra were hand-picked (many from London's leading symphony orchestras), and they were familiar with the kind of repertoire they were required to perform. The combination of a demanding and knowledgeable conductor, plus an orchestra of accomplished players adept at sight-reading, ensured the quality of these recordings.
Although in mono (stereo was a decade away, and electrical recording itself was barely 20 years old), the sound achieved in the studios was outstanding. Very few microphones would have been used, making it all the more important that the conductor should be fully aware of the techniques involved. The sound engineers were familiar with recording light orchestras, and those glowing valves in the audio equipment also added to the period charm. In recent years modern composers have tried to recreate the sounds of this era, often with very creditable results. But it has to be acknowledged that the original studio ambience - plus the distinctive style of writing by the foremost composers in their field - is very hard to replicate with today's equipment.
When these recordings were made, synchronised sound films were rare, apart from feature films made for the commercial cinema. Sound effects were helpful, but music tended to be the preferred choice of directors needing something to enhance their visuals. Newsreels in particular demanded a large quantity of different moods to fulfil their insatiable requirements, and documentaries and 'B' movies also needed an affordable source of music. Radio and the fledgling television services around the world also wanted catchy themes and copious amounts of background music. Tape recording was not yet in general use. Editing was not possible: if a musician made a bad mistake, they simply had to start again with a fresh wax. Therefore the original 78s (from which all these transfers have been made) represent the genuine performances, the only concession to modern tastes being a minimal amount of filtering to remove any unwanted excess surface noise, and a judicious application of state-of-the-art sound restoration technology to achieve uniform sound quality.
Francis, Day & Hunter employed many fine writers who knew exactly what was required of them. The work of three composers stands out: Jack Beaver, Ronald Hanmer and Len Stevens. None of them ever sought the limelight, yet each was brilliant at being able to capture a specific mood within seconds. They were masters of their craft, but never guilty of giving short change.
Jack Beaver was born in Clapham, London in 1900, and died on 10 September 1963, aged 63. In the 1930s and 1940s he was part of Louis Levy's 'team' of composers, providing scores for countless feature films and documentaries. He was also much in demand for scoring theatrical productions, and undertook a punishing workload which eventually contributed towards his early death. His ability to create music to cover almost any mood was second to none, and his most famous composition was 'Picture Parade', which used to introduce the BBC Television series of the same name. (You can read more about Jack Beaver in articles published in JIMs 133 & 134).
In some respects the career of Len Stevens was similar to Jack Beaver. In every sense a 'backroom boy' of the music business, he learned his craft in the dance bands of pre-war years. Many London publishers were keen to employ him, both for his own original works, and also to orchestrate new pieces by other writers, who were too busy (or not sufficiently capable!) of doing a good job themselves. Only rarely did he make commercial recordings, but his music was heard by millions around the world. He died on 13 May 1989.
Ronald Hanmer was born in Reigate, Surrey on 2 February 1917, and it was his proud boast that he had worked in the music business since the day he left school. Like Torch, he served his 'apprenticeship' as a cinema organist, and soon developed his talent for composing and arranging. Many of his comic creations enlivened wartime ITMA broadcasts, and eventually over 700 of his compositions were published in various background music libraries. He was also in demand as an orchestrator of well-known works for Amateur Societies, and the brass band world was very familiar with his scores. In 1975 he emigrated to Australia, where he was delighted to discover that his melody Pastorale was famous throughout the land as the theme for the long-running radio serial 'Blue Hills'. He died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Brisbane, Australia, on 23 May 1994, aged 77. (See also articles about Ronald Hanmer in JIMs 109, 115 & 117). All of the other composers represented on this CD equally deserve to be remembered for their valuable contributions to Light Music.
Jack Brown became better known as the organist 'Jackie Brown', whose life ended tragically following an accident. Ferde Grofe was the American who orchestrated Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue for its first performance by Paul Whiteman; later he achieved fame though his Grand Canyon and other suites (Mardi Gras comes from his 'Mississippi Suite', and became a popular song Daybreak).
Ashworth Hope's Barnacle Bill is instantly recognisable as the original BBC TV 'Blue Peter' theme.
Jack Coles composed regularly, but later became better known in Britain as one of the conductors of the BBC Midland Light Orchestra.
Eric Winstone was a popular bandleader and broadcaster, and Archibald Joyce enjoyed respect as a composer of the 'traditional' school of light music.
Clive Richardson was definitely in the 'first division' of light music composers, and his tribute to our capital city in wartime - London Fantasia - is still well remembered today. One of his popular works was called 'Running Off The Rails', but it was originally known as Locomotion when he composed it for the FDH background music library.
Philip Green was credited as having composed more music than any of his contemporaries, although in later years he concentrated on religious themes.
Montague Ewing was also a busy writer, under his own name and also using a dozen pseudonyms, notably Sherman Myers. Frank Cordell had a glittering career as an arranger and composer, eventually achieving international recognition for his work in films.
Keen collectors of light music will already be familiar with some of the works in this collection, and many are likely to rekindle half-forgotten memories from long ago. As an example, World of Tomorrow will be familiar to American ears through its association with early 'Superman' episodes on black and white television.
In Britain, record collectors around 50 years ago looked in vain for a copy of the theme music for the popular radio series 'The Adventures of P.C. 49'. And if you happened to be serving in the British Forces in Germany during the 1950s you may have heard Fashion Parade introducing the British Forces Network equivalent of 'Housewives Choice'.
Such is the power of music to burrow into your subconscious, only to burst to the surface decades later when you least expect it. As you listen to this CD, be prepared for some pleasant surprises!