RFS Meeting Report November 2010

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Brian Reynolds reports on the recent London Meeting of the Robert Farnon Society on 28th November 2010

I wondered whether I should head this report 'Winter Wonderland' in view of the bitterly cold weather which much of the country had been experiencing. Certainly our decision to move the dates of our future meetings was well and truly vindicated. Little did we know what was in store for us, weather-wise, in the coming weeks! At least we could look forward to the warm and cosy ambience of the Park Inn. However, we arrived at the hotel to find it completely changed, with warm reds and gold replaced by cold greys and mauve. There was a minimalist feel about the refurbishment which left the hotel looking marginally more welcoming than a morgue!

The elegant opulence of the hotel had certainly given way to "progress" and we even found ourselves in a different room, just until refurbishment is completed.

However, regardless of surroundings, one thing that will never change is the high quality of the music at our gatherings.

To our delight, David Ades, who had been unable to attend the previous two meetings, was back on the top table and proceedings got under way with Robert Farnon's Canadian Caravan played by Leslie Jones and his Orchestra of London, and this was followed by Bob's super march Colditz - very appropriate as the fine drama series for which it was written had recently been rebroadcast. From a 1976 session with Bob, we then heard Lena Horne sing Softly As I Leave You and this was followed byTear It Up, a piano novelty written by the recently deceased Derek Boulton, under the pen-name of Derek Nelson.

David Ades then handed over to yours truly for my customary "Radio Recollections". As there was a lot to fit in today's programme, I chose three short and lively pieces from yesterday's radio. To open, I played a fast and furious string number, wittily called Bow Jest, by its composer, Eric Jupp and played by pianist, Norman Whiteley and his Sextet. Next, a foot-tapping little opus by the well known conductor Norrie Paramor, Taverna played by Jack Salisbury and his orchestra, who were for many years resident at the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill. To conclude, we heard a samba by an old friend of the society, Cyril Watters, entitled Pancho From Peru. This was played by Anton and his orchestra, one of the best of the session music orchestras from the days of the Light Programme. I don't think any of these pieces have been commercially recorded. So many light pieces that were written primarily for radio never found their way on to disc and are now forgotten - a pity, as some are really good.

Next, David played Eddie Fishers' recording My Shining Hour - once again accompanied by Bob. This came from the 1995 sessions that have not, so far, been released.

It was then André Leon's turn to come to the top table - with a feature which he called "Big Screen, Little Screen." He began with the Newsnight theme by George Fenton (real name George Howe). We then heard a recording of the composer explaining how he came to write it. This was followed by theGandhi closing titles - apparently Fenton collaborated with Ravi Shanka). Next we heard the theme from The Blue Planet and the signature tune from the TV series Shoestring.

Some music by Geoffrey Burgon was then featured. Firstly, the title music from Brideshead Revisitedwith talkover by Jeremy Irons. This was followed by the Choir of Chichester Cathedral singing Nunc Dimitus, the music from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

Our meetings always try to reflect anniversaries and deaths in the months since we last met - and there were really quite a few to consider on this occasion but time is always our enemy and some had to be omitted. However, we could hardly ignore the 100th birthday of Edmundo Ros on the 6th December. So to celebrate this legendary bandleader's centenary we played one of his biggest hitsThe Coffee Song.

Time now for some new releases, beginning with Strike Up The Band from the RAF Concert Orchestra conducted by Sidney Torch (Guild). Next we heard the Phil Green orchestra playing She's My Lovelybelieved to feature the trumpet of Kenny Baker. This is from a new Vocalion CD called 'Moments In Mayfair'.

Back to Sidney Torch and the RAF Concert Orchestra for some film music arranged by Len Stevens - the title of which is unknown. We were lucky to have this as it was from a transcription disc discovered by Philip Farlow. Finally, in this section we listened to Philip Lane's London Salute.

This brought us to the end of part one and it was time for some refreshments.


Our special guest for the afternoon was former BBC Producer Anthony Wills and it was decided that the best way to present him was by way of an interview. Robert Habermann was the interviewer and the conversation was punctuated with pieces of music of Anthony's choice.

By way of an introduction we listened to a 1989 performance of I Hear Music played by the BBC Radio Orchestra conducted (appropriately, in view of his recent death) by Neil Richardson. Anthony had considerable dealings with the Radio Orchestra over the years and went on to tell us of the various constituent parts of the orchestra. It was often broken down into smaller ensembles (the Radio Big-Band being the best known), but over the years other combinations such as The Radio Players and other, often short-lived titles such as the Saturday Showband and the Swinging Strings were utilised. The Radio Orchestra was of course formed in 1964 by combining the BBC Variety Orchestra and Revue Orchestra and at its peak had 75 players.

We listened to the Geoff Love Orchestra playing Leslie Julian Jones's Postman's Knock and to Sarah Vaughan singing Robert Farnon's How Beautiful is Night.

Many will associate Anthony Wills with 'Friday Night is Music Night' but during his long career he also produced 'Marching And Waltzing', 'Glamorous Nights' and the John Dunn, Gloria Hunniford, and Brian Matthew shows. His association with 'Listen To The Band' came about when he was approached with the line "You like jazz, don't you - how about producing 'Listen to the Band!' - This was, of course,NOT a jazz show but a feature for brass and military bands. Anthony told us that whilst Charlie Chester presented the show, the script was actually written by Brian Matthew as 'Cheerful Charlie' was not an authority on brass and military bands. He was however, an accomplished composer and a fine artist.

We then listened to Rosemary Squires with the Eric Winstone Orchestra playing Sea Breeze.

Anthony then told us about a music series which he produced, called 'The Golden Days Of Radio' which ran for about six months. He also made documentary programmes on David Whitfield, Michael Holliday, Fred Astaire and Ethel Merman. We then listened to a comedy song from Ronald Frankau.

Anthony told us of his involvement with the BBC's Religious Broadcasting Department, when he produced some editions of 'Songs of Praise'. He also produced a series called 'The World Dances' and we heard a medley of tunes from that series, which included The Charleston, I Wonder Where my Baby is Tonight, Black Bottom, in a recording conducted by Stanley Black. (Perhaps that's why he included Black Bottom!)

Anthony told us of his work with Alan Dell on various shows, including 'Sounds Easy', which he illustrated with the concluding item of a selection from Stella by Starlight, followed by the closing signature tune of the programme. From 'Steve Race Presents...' we heard Salena Jones with Neil Richardson and the Radio Orchestra. Anthony, who also produced 'The David Jacobs Show' concluded his presentation with a selection from 'Oklahoma' featuring the Steven Hill Singers with the BBC Radio Orchestra conducted by Stanley Black.

After the raffle, it was now time for another interval.


The third part of our extravaganza opened with the ever-enthusiastic Paul Barrett giving us a Mantovani tribute. Paul's concerts with the new Mantovani orchestra have had an enthusiastic reaction and we were also pleased to welcome his producer, Franck Leprince (who was in the audience.) With the aid of video, Paul played us excerpts from the third concert, which included The Count of Luxembourg Waltz, Delilah and Around the World (featuring the trumpet of Mike Lovett).

Next to come to the top table was an old friend of the Society, Tony Foster, whose theme today was the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain. Tony commenced with Spitfire Prelude (Walton) played by the Central Band of the Royal Air Force conducted by Barry Hingley, their Director of Music who, I think, held the rank of Wing Commander at the time. This was followed by Ron Goodwin's Luftwaffe March (sometimes known as Aces High) and lastly the Battle of Britain Theme (Goodwin) - the end title music.

David Ades then played the final section of a fourteen minute work by David Rose - Le Papillon. This was one of Rose's last compositions.

To conclude, in more serious style, David played us Robert Farnon's American Wind Symphony (The Gaels) conducted by Dr. Stanley Saunders.

That brought to an end a very full programme (so full that we had to leave many scheduled pieces of music out). Earlier in the programme, David read apologies for absences from David Farnon, Peter and Ellen Burt, Peter and Silvia Rix and conveyed the good wishes of Alan Bunting in Scotland (wouldn't it be nice if he could come and talk to us one day?). It just remained for David to thank everybody who taken part and we went on our way to Bob's Melody Fair.

This report first appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ issue 187, March 2011.

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