Saturday, 17 August 2013

The Golden Age of Light Music- Here’s to Holidays  
For better or worse, I have always associated ‘light music’ with travel and holidays. The first piece I consciously became aware of was ‘Coronation Scot’ by Vivian Ellis. I can recall that even as a youngster, I could imagine one of Sir William Stanier’s powerful pacific locomotives pounding up Beattock Bank or Shap Summit. I could picture the passengers in the first-class dining car enjoying their lunch as the hills of the Lake District rolled past.  All this was before I got into philosophical arguments about ‘programme’ and ‘absolute’ music. However, the feeling has remained. I can easily settle into a holiday mood whilst listening to any number of ‘light music’ tunes – even if the title does not necessarily imply carefree days at the seaside.
Now, the present CD is a cornucopia of delight for me – and I guess for many others. To be sure, not all the pieces are evocative of a stroll along the prom at Morecambe or watching Punch and Judy at Fleetwood or going for a dip at Blackpool’s long departed and lamented Derby Baths. Nevertheless there is a lot tease the imagination in these tracks. 

The proceedings open with the first of the ‘transport’ numbers – ‘Skyways’. This is an impressive, gutsy piece by Wally Stott with a big, romantic tune complete with swirling harps and bells and whistles but then the mood changes to something a little more up tempo. It is power all the way. I am tempted to say that the first, in this case, is the best.  We are certainly well and truly airborne before our next mode of travel appears on the scene. Alain Nancey’s ‘En Bateau Mouche’ is not a quiet drift down the Seine: it more of a party.  Malcolm Lockyer has taken the concept of ‘holidays’ out of this world with a trip to ‘Venus and Back’ - even Sir Richard Branson is not currently offering that particular vacation. It is a great up-beat piece.  ‘Transcontinental’ is a real railway piece complete with whistles, the rhythms of the rails and the hiss of steam.  Robert Docker is obviously an enthusiast. Something, perhaps the ‘cowboy’ tune, tells me that this piece is inspired by railroads of the good ole’ US of A.  The song ‘The Only Way to Travel’ from the knockabout Crosby/Hope/Lamour film, The Road to Hong Kong is given a romantic turn of phrase by its arranger Robert Farnon.  Steve Race has produced a slightly more exotic feel with his ‘Camel Train’; I was reminded of Latin America rather than Libya with this tune’s rhythm.  I do not know if the purist would regard ‘Water Skiing’ as a mode of travel, but Toni Leutwiler has contributed a wonderful, skittish little tune in the best tradition of light music.  Mantovani has elected to go for a trip on a ‘Rickshaw’. This piece has all the clatter and bustle of Shanghai or Hong Kong.  Finally, on the travel front, Anthony Mawer has penned a lovely piece called ‘Holiday Highway’. It is exactly the kind of tune that I was referring to at the start of this review – I can see in my mind’s eye my father driving the old Hillman Minx down the A6 past (or hopefully stopping at) ‘The Jungle’ transport café on the way to Blackpool.

Part of any holiday is visiting places – some new and some old favourites. Anyone who has been to Rome is always sad to leave: most will have thrown ‘three coins in the Trevi fountain’ but it eventually comes time to say ‘Arrivederci Roma’ and head out to the airport. It is a great song whether sung by Dean Martin or played here by Richard Hayman’s orchestra.  Many years ago the ambition of many British holiday makers was to leave the wet seaside resorts of Clacton and Cleethorpes and head for the ‘Costa Brava’. Philip Buchel has painted a somewhat sophisticated portrait of this long stretch of coast: it is full of atmosphere, only lacking castanets and flamenco guitar.  I am not sure how many people visit ‘Indiana’, but James Hanley and Ballard MacDonald have painted a cool image – complete with electric guitar and sweeping strings.  Heading further east we get into a sultry mood with Dolf Van Der Linden’s ‘Jamaica Road’. This is not to be confused with Jamaica Street in Bermondsey. It begins as a dark, moody work, but suddenly bursts into the light.  Still in the Caribbean, there is Joseph Kuhn’s image of ‘Haiti’. This is such a gorgeous, evocative picture of an island that has such a tragic history. So the message is a wee bit confused. Call it ‘Martinique’ and the imagery is perfect. I enjoyed the South Seas piece ‘Tiara Tahiti’ by Philip Green with all the composers tricks for creating the required mood. Sounds like the score of an Elvis Presley film. I did wonder if I would be bored by ‘The Olive Grove’ by Trevor Duncan: nothing much seems to happen in those sorts of places. This is a dishy little tune; it has a decided Mediterranean feel to it.  The same composer’s ‘The Wine Harvest’ is a number with zing –it has a melody that one seems to already know. It could be anywhere, but Spain seems the best bet: it is more to do with the celebrations rather than the actual harvest and ‘treading’ of the vintage.  The final ‘place’ tune is Werner Richard Heyman’s evocation of ‘Monte Carlo’. All the pizzazz is here: all the opportunities to spend money and dance or bet the nights away. And there is a touch of romance too. It is really a little tone poem. 

Holidays can mean other things than transport and places. It refers to anticipation, reflection and people met. Clifton Johns has given us a classic piece of light music called ‘Holiday Bound’ – it is the enthusiasm engendered in the days before your hols. It does not describe the queues at the airport, the traffic jams on the Brighton Road or the discovery that the tickets were left on top of the piano.  Ivor Slaney has written a short, but big in intention, piece for piano and orchestra – ‘Midsummer Madness’.  I guess that love is behind this tune. O how wonderful and how hurtful can a holiday romance be!  Maybe the cause of the lover’s grief was John Carmichael’s ‘French Flirt’ who no doubt leaves a trail of broken hearts behind.  This is a lovely, lively cheeky piece that lacks French colour – no accordions! Sidney Torch has also meditated on the Gallic mood with his ‘Oo La La’. In spite of this little bit of stereotyping this is full of fun and panache. Anyone would be sorry to have to leave all this gaiety behind. Or maybe the lover’s regret is because of some athletic ‘Beachboy’. Peter Dennis has painted a charming picture of a lively fella’ who is also a pure gentleman.
The classic tune ‘Volare’ (To Fly) by Domenico Modugno is given a fine reworking by William Hill Bowen.  This is a master-class in orchestration with beautiful brass and string passages. The main melody is important, but is surrounded by attractive subsidiary material.
The whole holiday enterprise can be summed up by Ian Sutherland’s ‘Here’s to Holidays’ which is the eponymous track of this CD. This is an exuberant tune that exudes all the excitement of holidays past and present.  Fortunately this composer is still alive –let us hope he is still knocking out tunes as good as this one.
I think, on this hot, sultry, sunny London day I will jump on a train to Eastbourne and have a walk along the pier, listen to the brass band and finish off with fish and chips (and mushy peas) on the prom…

I have raised this issue about Guild recordings before: I wish that they would provide all the composer dates in the track listings or a least in the liner notes. I believe that this is important, even on a ‘light music’ disc.
Like all the previous releases in this series that I have reviewed, I was impressed with the sound recording which is excellent. In spite of my comment about dates, the liner notes are fulsome and give many interesting details about the composers and the artists.
Needless to say, I enjoyed this wonderful selection of ‘holiday’ music. It brought back many happy memories and filled me with new enthusiasms as I picked my way through these tracks. I never listen to Guild CDs end to end, as I enjoy concentrating at least a little bit on each tune.  It is how I suggest that listeners approach this excellent and enjoyable disc. 
Guild Light Music GLCD5205 
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.


Paul Brownsey said...

"I enjoyed the South Seas piece ‘Tiara Tahiti’ by Philip Green with all the composers tricks for creating the required mood. Sounds like the score of an Elvis Presley film."
I'm not sure from this whether you realise the piece was from a film of the same name: James Mason and John Mills as two Englishmen resolving differences in the South Seas. I saw at at my local Odeon.
Details here:

John France said...

Thanks for that info Paul,
I did not realise this!!