Dateline December 2001
The 6th Robert Farnon CD from Vocalion finally restores two classic LPs to the catalogue
ROBERT FARNON AND HIS ORCHESTRA
Presenting Robert Farnon
1 Yes! We Have No Bananas (Silver, Cohn), 2 Always (Irving Berlin), 3 Blue Skies (Irving Berlin), 4 In The Blue Of The Evening (Alec Wilder), 5 When I Grow Too Old To Dream (Romberg, Hammerstein II), 6 Don’t Blame Me (McHugh, Fields), 7 To A Wild Rose (Edward MacDowell), 8 Dawn To Dusk (Alec Wilder), 9 Laura (Raksin, Mercer).
10 Would You Like To Take A Walk? (Warren, Dixon, Rose), 11 Reflections In The Water (Loeb, Webster), 12 It’s Always You (Heusen, Burke), 13 Two Little Girls In Blue (Graham), 14 Sweet And Lovely (Arnheim, Tobias, Lemare), 15 So Do I (Burke, Johnston), 16 Flirtation Walk (Dixon, Wrubel), 17 By A Waterfall (Kahal, Fain), 18 Can I Forget You (Hammerstein, Kern), 19 It’s Easy To Remember (Rodgers, Hart), 20 Flirtation Waltz (Heywood, Sarony), 21 Down By The River (Rodgers, Hart), 22 My Foolish Heart (Young, Washington), 23 I Love A Lassie (Lauder, Grafton).
"Presenting Robert Farnon" was originally on Decca LK4067, released in September 1953; "Flirtation Walk", Decca LK4083, was released in October 1954.
Now available on CD: Vocalion CDLK4118
The cover of this new CD is featured on the front page of the December 2001 issue of Journal Into Melody.
"Presenting Robert Farnon" was recorded in January and February 1950, but Decca did not release it as a complete album until September 1953. Although intentionally conceived as an LP (Robert Farnon confirmed this in a recent interview), it is interesting to recall that the sessions actually took place before Decca released the first long-playing records in Britain in June 1950. However these modern recording miracles had been launched in the USA some months earlier, so Decca had some clues as to their likely attraction to the general public.
But did they get cold feet? Why was there such a long delay? Perhaps wishing to recoup some of their costs, all of the tracks (except for the two longer Alec Wilder pieces) were put out on 78s in Britain and/or the USA, so they were familiar to Farnon’s admirers long before the vinyl eventually appeared. Were sales disappointing? 12" LPs were expensive in the 1950s, and a year later (in November 1954) seven of the tracks suddenly appeared on a 10" LP with the same title. This didn’t happen again to a Farnon album, although several of his LPs were issued in 4-track sections when 45 rpm Extended-Play records appeared on the scene.
The album was produced by Tutti (Toots) Camarata, the American musical director who was one of the founders of London Records in the USA. He first attracted attention in Britain when he was engaged for the expensive Technicolor musical "London Town" starring Sid Field and the Ted Heath Orchestra. The film flopped, but Camarata continued to work for a while in Britain, making LPs under his own name and also producing others, such as this Farnon album.
The two Alec Wilder works were Camarata’s choice, with the rest of the album featuring what might be termed Farnon’s standard repertoire at the time - the kind of top-quality popular music heard regularly in his BBC radio and, later, television programmes.
On 3 January 1950 the first sessions took place at London’s Kingsway Hall (both LPs on this CD were recorded in this famous venue), featuring the Robert Farnon Strings: Always, When I Grow Too Old To Dream, To A Wild Rose and Laura. Without exception they illustrate Farnon’s mastery of string writing. Farnon once confided that one of his early ambitions was to hear a large string orchestra play his arrangement of Laura.
The next sessions for the album took place on 27 January 1950, with the full orchestra assembled for the two Alec Wilder compositions. Farnon remembers that he used Wilder’s original scores, making only minor alterations to suit the special requirements of his orchestra. In The Blue Of The Evening featured Frank Reidy on clarinet. In later years Reidy performed on many Farnon sessions, and eventually became the ‘fixer’, hiring the other musicians for the orchestra.
In Dawn To Dusk (known in the USA as Rhapsody For Piano And Orchestra) Farnon chose fellow Canadian Denny Vaughan for the solo piano part. Vaughan was a talented musician who also possessed a fine singing voice. Like Farnon, he was brought from his homeland to Britain during the war, and appeared in numerous broadcasts. After the war he worked with Geraldo, before eventually returning to progress his career in radio and television in North America. (Readers are reminded that Murray Ginsberg’s fine tribute to Denny Vaughan appeared in our June 2001 issue).
Alec Wilder has been described as an urbane, well-read, intelligent and rather poetic individual. His work was highly regarded by his peers, and he wrote a book about popular music which is almost regarded as a ‘bible’ by many in the music business, while others strongly disagree with some of his findings. He came into contact with the young Frank Sinatra, who did him the honour of conducting several of his works in December 1945, which were released by Columbia Records in the USA. Wilder’s best-known tunes include I’ll Be Around and Who Can I Turn To.
The full orchestra returned to Kingsway Hall on 3 February 1950 for three numbers showcasing Farnon’s affinity with orchestral jazz: Yes! We Have No Bananas, Blue Skies and Don’t Blame Me. Each scintillating score includes a feature for Dave Goldberg, the legendary guitar player. He was a member of the Ted Heath Band in the early 1950s, and went with them on an American tour. His undoubted talent was recognised, and he decided to stay there for a while. For some reason he chose to use the surname ‘Gilbert’ (rather than Goldberg) and the US release of Don’t Blame Me credits ‘Dave Gilbert’ as the guitar soloist with the Robert Farnon Orchestra. Sadly this genius became disenchanted with the way in which the popular music business was going, and he died at an early age from a drugs overdose.
"Flirtation Walk" was recorded in April 1954 and released in Britain the following October. The titles nearly all come from American films and shows of the 1930s and 1940s, the ‘baby’ of the set being My Foolish Heart, first heard in 1950 in the Susan Hayward film of the same name. One other number stands out for its surprise inclusion on the LP: I Love A Lassie, co-composed by the Scottish comedian Sir Harry Lauder, who made it world-famous. It provides the perfect lesson for aspiring arrangers, showing the way in which Farnon can give a bright new treatment to a well-known piece which almost defies being scored for a ‘serious’ orchestra (the other obvious example on this CD is Yes! We Have No Bananas).
The title tune Flirtation Walk contains one of the maestro’s musical jokes, which he has only recently publicly admitted. It was actually noticed around ten years ago by American musician Jeff Sultanof while working on a reconstruction of the score for a possible performance. It is Farnon’s one and only brush with atonal music, and occurs at around 1 min 10 secs and lasts for just 15 seconds. It is a short bridge at the end of the first chorus, and sounds like a lapse into one of the extreme jazz styles that were emerging at that time. Farnon greatly admired (and had once met) Bela Bartók; when asked why this was his only example of atonal music he explained: "It is really a kind of mathematical music - not quite my scene. I prefer to leave such matters in the hands of the experts like Bartók."
As a young arranger, Farnon’s wicked sense of humour often delighted fellow musicians. There is a story of a new score he did for Geraldo, which contained a terrible chord - obviously unmusical and completely wrong. When the musicians protested that they couldn’t play it, Geraldo sternly told them: "If Bob Farnon’s written it, it must be right, and you must play it!" Fortunately he was let in on the joke before the work was actually broadcast.
The two albums featured on this CD are prime examples of Robert Farnon’s undoubted talent in being able to transform often simple tunes into minor light orchestral masterpieces. Each and every one of these melodies has been carefully crafted to provide a wealth of beautiful sounds, bringing fresh rewards for the attentive listener at each successive hearing.
The American releases of these albums were packaged in different LP covers, and these are reproduced in full colour on the back page of the CD booklet:
"Presenting Robert Farnon" London LL812; "Flirtation Walk" London LL1053.
Robert Farnon completed the first movement of "The Mountbatten Suite" earlier this year, and as the December issue of Journal Into Melody closed for press the first performance was scheduled to take place on 18 October in Portsmouth. RFS members who attended our London meetings in the early 1990’s may well have had the pleasure of speaking to Sir Vivian Dunn. This distinguished ‘Man of Military Music’ was also a great lover of light music, and his LPs conducting the Orchestra of the Light Music Society are still regarded as being the definitive performances of many of the works included on those fondly recalled EMI albums from 30 years ago.
Sir Vivian died on 3 April 1995 aged 86. At the time he had been working on a "Mountbatten Suite", and had already completed the second and third movements, which he called Broadlands and Man of Action. For some reason he decided that he would compose the first movement last - it was to be called Man of Destiny. Sadly he never finished his work.
Early in 2000, Sir Vivian’s son Paddy (also a welcome visitor to our London meetings) decided to try and see if his father’s suite could be completed, and he asked Robert Farnon if he would be willing to compose the first movement.
Bob and Sir Vivian had known each other during World War II (both had conducted orchestras for the entertainment of the armed forces), and had remained friends ever since. Indeed the strength of Sir Vivian’s admiration for his work was such that Robert Farnon’s music became firmly established in the repertoire of the Royal Yacht orchestra during most state and private occasions during the post war years of Vivian Dunn’s appointment as Director of Music until 1954 and, it is understood, that tradition continued uninterrupted until HMY Britannia was de-commissioned some 45 years later. One of the light music works conducted by Sir Vivian for EMI was Robert Farnon’s A La Claire Fontaine.
In the biography of Sir Vivian Dunn Fiddler on the March, there are several references to Bob and their long friendship. On page 238 Bob completes a warm tribute by saying: "It was a special privilege to have known such a great man who became, not only a personal friend, but a great hero." The book also contains a summary of the relevance and importance of the "Mountbatten Suite".
Paddy had first sought the approval of Countess Mountbatten, who was delighted at the thought of Bob being approached. Her husband, Lord Brabourne, apparently knew Robert Farnon’s wife Patricia very well, from their days in films together.
Bob agreed to the commission in July 2000, and his completed score was delivered to Paddy Dunn in May - the delay mainly due to the move from ‘La Falaise’. (Bob jokingly told Paddy that he could have finished the work sooner, but he had mislaid his copy of his treasured Lloyd Webber chord chart during the house move!)
The Principal Director of Music, Royal Marines, Lt. Col. Richard Waterer, has been arranging to have the complete score and parts copied and printed, and as we went to press we learned that Man of Destiny’s first public performance would occur in Portsmouth on 18 October at St. Mary’s Church, Fratton, played by the orchestra of the Royal Band - the new title, by Royal Command, of what was the Royal Yacht Band. The reason for this somewhat strange location is that is where the Royal Marines School of Music currently holds its monthly winter concerts, a tradition introduced by Sir Vivian when the School was located at Deal. It is also hoped that the work will be recorded for commercial release, possibly by a symphony orchestra.
Both Robert Farnon and Paddy Dunn are keen that RFS members should have the opportunity to see Bob’s original pencil sketches for the first movement, Man of Destiny, and these are reproduced in the December 2001 issue of Journal Into Melody.
Robert Farnon will be featured on a new CD in the Naxos Historical ‘British Light Music’ series. This will include both Decca and Chappell recordings, and the titles selected are: Jumping Bean, A Star Is Born, Portrait of a Flirt, Journey Into Melody, Willie the Whistler, Melody Fair, Canadian Caravan, Ottawa Heights, Mountain Grandeur, Gateway to the West, Huckle-Buckle, How Beautiful is Night, State Occasion, Taj Mahal, High Street, Sophistication Waltz, Manhattan Playboy, String Time, In a Calm, Peanut Polka. Readers will recognise that all of these tracks are available on other CDs, but Naxos is widely distributed around the world so it is good that Bob’s music will now receive strong exposure. The CD is expected in January 2002, and the catalogue number will be Naxos 8110849.
Richard Jenkinson was formerly principal cellist with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. He has recently recorded a new CD of British works for the cello, and one of the tracks is Song of Scandia by Robert Farnon. In our March issue of Journal Into Melody we hope to have further information regarding the release of this CD. We understand that Richard has expressed the wish to continue the association with Robert Farnon, and Bob may compose a piece specially for him. In fact he has recently re-scored Pictures In The Fire for cello and piano, and Bob feels that it works wonderfully for this combination of instruments.
As we have reported previously, in recent months Robert Farnon has been working on a collection of new arrangements and compositions, concentrating on strings, harp and flute. As we go to press (early in October), Bob is just putting the finishing touches to the last of them, and the CD was scheduled to be recorded on 8 November at the Angel Studios, Islington, with the Royal Philharmonic Strings conducted by Jack Parnell.The titles are: Romancing the Phoenix, Little Did I Know, Coeur Brisé, For Eileen, Lady Barbara, She is Fair to be Uncompared, *En Bateau, *Laura, How Beautiful is Night, Peacehaven, For "C.K.", A Violin Miniature, Intermezzo for Harp, Occasion to Reminisce, *The Touch of your Lips and To a Young Lady. All are Robert Farnon compositions, except titles marked*.