Saturday, 31 March 2012

British Light Music on Regis

Charles Williams (1893-1978) Devil’s Galop (Dick Barton, Special Agent) Robert Farnon (1917-2005) Portrait of a Flirt (In Town Tonight) Ray Martin (1918-1988) Marching Strings (Top of the Form) Arthur Wood (1875-1953) Barwick Green (The Archers) Robert Farnon (1917-2005) Sunny Side Up (BBC Light Programme) Ron Goodwin (1925-2003) Red Cloak Sidney Torch (1908-1990) London Transport Suite:-‘The Hansom Cab’, ‘Rosie The Red Omnibus’, ‘5.52 from Victorloo’ Angela Morley (1924-2009) Starlight George Siravo (1916-2000) Bumps-A-Daisy Eric Coates (1886-1957) By the Sleepy Lagoon (Desert Island Discs) Television March , ‘Knightsbridge March’ from London Suite, The Merrymakers, Miniature Overture,  Calling All Workers (Music While You Work) ‘Oxford Street March’ from London Again Suite  Percy Grainger (1882-1961) Country Gardens, Shepherd’s Hey, Molly on the Shore, Londonderry Air
Regis has presented the listener with a perfect introduction to British (Australian!) Light Music. These historical recordings cover a diverse group of composers; however most of the tunes will be familiar, if not by title then by ‘sound’. Enthusiasts of this genre will probably have umpteen examples of each of these pieces in their CD or iPod libraries. However, for someone wishing to explore the field there could be no better place to begin.
There are many Light Music recordings these days: I recall some 30 years ago trying to track down a copy of Robert Farnon’s ‘Portrait of a Flirt’. I eventually found one on an obscure cassette tape! Nowadays there are seven versions listed on Arkiv and no doubt many more lurking in compilations.
Recordings of this type of musical work tend to come in two guises- one is ‘historical’ and the other is freshly minted. Ronald Corp’s adventures on Hyperion are a good example of the latter, whereas the massive cycle of Guild Light Music CDs reflects the huge interest in the former.
The present collection has been lightly ‘themed’. The first ‘part’ includes works by a number of composers, the second has six well-known pieces by Eric Coates and finally there are four tunes by the Australian composer, Percy Grainger.
Many light music pieces have been used in TV or Radio programmes as ‘signature’ tunes. Appropriately these have been noted in the liner notes. I confess that some are before my time! However many are still in use such as Coates’ ‘Sleepy Lagoon’ used for Desert Island Discs, and Arthur Wood’s ‘Barwick Green’ from The Archers. Special highlights on this CD include Robert Farnon’s rarely heard ‘swinging’ piece ‘Sunny-Side Up’. Another gem is the London Transport Suite by Sidney Torch. Here we can enjoy the escapades of travel in the Capital from an earlier day. ‘The Hansom Cab’ rattles down the Strand, ‘Rosie the Red Omnibus’ waits for passengers outside Harrods and the shoppers are on-board the ‘5.52 from Victorloo’! Intellectuals will enjoy Ray Martin’s ‘Marching Strings’ which was used in Top of the Form! Detective-novel enthusiasts will relish Charles Williams’ once ubiquitous ‘Devil’s Galop’ that featured in Dick Barton, Special Agent. I had not come across Ron Goodwin’s ‘Red Cloak’, with its lavish Iberian mood: it is an impressive little piece.  And finally, Angela Morley’s romantic ‘Starlight’ is the perfect complement to Farnon’s ‘Flirt.’

Eric Coates is well represented on this disc with extracts from his two fine London Suites – the ‘Knightsbridge March’ and the equally catchy, but less often heard ‘Oxford Street March’.  I particularly enjoyed the hard-to-find ‘Television March’ dating from 1946 – the early days of ‘telly’ indeed.  The ‘Merrymakers Overture’ is a little gem which really epitomises the genre, was composed as early as 1922. All the Coates pieces are recordings of the composer conducting the London Philharmonic or Symphony Orchestras. So they are in many ways definitive, although I do wonder if they were ‘paced’ to fit on one side of a 78rpm record.

It is a little unusual to include Percy Grainger in a compilation such as this –especially with four pieces. However these ‘favourites’ performed by Frederick Fennell and the Eastman-Rochester ‘Pop’s Orchestra will belay any concerns. Whatever genre they fall into these are four little masterpieces. And Grainger did spend time on London, so he could be perhaps he regarded as an ‘honorary’ Englishman’ – at least for the purposes of this CD! I especially enjoyed ‘Molly on the Shore’, although ‘Country Gardens’ and the ‘Londonderry Air’ are by far the best known pieces.

This CD is billed as ‘super budget’ and certainly at £5.50 is excellent value for money. The liner notes are helpful and the programme is broad. Finally the sound quality of these pieces is excellent, bearing in mind that they were ‘laid down’ between 1931 and 1960. 
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published

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