Friday, 15 November 2013

The Golden Age of Light Music: Non-Stop to Nowhere

Guild Records could have easily sold me this latest CD on the strength of the cover alone. The former London, Midland & Scottish Railway poster entitled ‘Scot passes Scot’ by the artist Bryan De Grineau is a definite bonus. For many years the named train ‘The Royal Scot' departed simultaneously from Glasgow Central and London Euston stations at 10am. The journey would have taken some seven hours. Just quite where the two trains passed I leave to railway enthusiasts, but I guess it must have been somewhere north of Crewe.
This present CD does have a few fine railway-inspired pieces included in the track listings, however the basic premise of this release is to include a pot-pourri of all kinds of ‘light’ music.
Beginning with the travel-themed pieces, the album’s title track refers to a bouncy number by Tony Hatch. Older listeners will readily associate his name with Petula Clark and Jackie Trent. Hatch has had a long successful career writing a wide variety of ‘popular’ and ‘light’ music, including a huge number of TV theme-tunes. His work as a producer included the ‘fab’ Merseyside group, The Searchers. ‘Non-Stop to Nowhere’ was written under the pseudonym of Mark Anthony. 
I enjoyed George Siravo’s musical picture of a taxi journey through the streets of New York or Chicago. ‘Hey Taxi’ makes use of motor horns and muted trumpets to give it that frenetic mood. We are back on the railways again with Ernest Tomlinson’s (Alan Perry) ‘Starlight Special’. Not too sure whether this train leaves from Crewe or Clapham Junction, but progress seems smooth and uninterrupted by red signals or leaves on the line. It is a classic piece of transport music. I must confess I expected something a little more romantic: Tomlinson has actually given us a jaunty dash along the tracks by night.
I am not sure if Arnold Steck’s (Leslie Statham) ‘Ten to One’ is meant to refer to a train time or good odds on a horse. In actual fact it is a worthy march tune. But as Major Statham was director of The Band of the Welsh Guards, it is safe bet that this tune certainly makes the running.
Alec Rowley is best known for his massive output of piano music, much of it designed for teaching purposes. But there is serious side to this composer. Listeners may be aware of his Piano Concerto released on Naxos a number of years ago. Then there is a fine corpus of organ music that warrants exploration. Included in his output are a number of orchestral suites and overtures. ‘Down Channel: Overture’ is a nautically inspired piece: it makes use of two or three shanties including ‘A-Roving’ and ‘Shenandoah’. This overture is an attractive work that cries out for a modern day recording. Certainly there are a number of other striking pieces in Alec Rowley’s repertoire that could form part of a ‘retrospective’ CD of orchestral music –these include the evocative sounding ‘From a Devon Headland’, ‘Miniatures in Porcelain’, and the ‘Nautical Suite’.

The opening track on this CD is a big romantic piece that reflects what it is like to be ‘On the Side of the Angels’. I have not heard of Sheldon Harnick (and the other co-composers) however this American is quite capable of writing great film music. Alas, this is what this piece never was. Made up from cuttings from a projected movie score it makes use of orchestral and big band pyrotechnics.
Another American is the well loved Andre Previn who presents the darkly named 'The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.’ It is not quite as dramatic as the title suggests. A good, well written piece that is just a little different to most of the works on this CD.
The CD contains a good clutch of breezy, jolly tunes that largely epitomise the world of light music in the 1950s and 60s.  Peter Dennis’ (Dennis Arthur Berry) ‘Candy Floss’ most likely describes a vivacious lady at the Opera House in Blackpool rather than the delicious spun sugar served along the Golden Mile. This mood is repeated in Van Phillips’ ‘Twinkle Toes’. This certainly does not refer to my attempts at the foxtrot or the tango on the floor of the Tower Ballroom. Yet there is something warm and comforting about this carefree music.  In the same vein is Onslow Boyden Waldo Warner’s (quite a mouthful and better ‘kent’ as Ken) ‘Poppet’. She is very definitely a classic example of a late ‘fifties miss.
Florian ZaBach hailed from the good ole’ US of A and gave the world considerable pleasure with his fiddle playing. He had a million selling hit in 1951 with ‘The Hot Canary’. The present ‘Harum Scarum’ defies analysis – it is just a good romp with a superbly challenging violin part.
‘Frantic Fiddles’ by Johnny Gregory is exactly what is written ‘on the tin’ – there is a definite touch of Leroy Anderson here; I am not quite sure if they are Scottish or bluegrass fiddles.  Cyril Watters is a name that crops up quite frequently in the annals of light music and ‘Folies Parade’ is typical of his ‘bright and breezy’ compositional style. ‘Folies’ I guess refer to theatrical ‘types’ specialising in variety – I think of Caitlin’s Folies in Llandudno. Not convinced that there is a Parisian connection here…
‘Badinage’ means playful of frivolous repartee or banter. Roger Roger’s piece fits the bill. Lots of twittering woodwinds, good string tunes and the occasion blue-note gives the piece pizzazz. I enjoyed the Netherlands composer Dolf Van Der Linden’s ‘Pennsylvania Dutch’ – this is lovely hoe-down music that crosses the ‘herring pond’ in its mood and is certainly appealing. Equally diverse is Ray Martin’s ‘Piccadilly Hoe-Down’ which balances the American exemplar with a lush romantic tune more appropriate to the West-End by night. Look out for ‘Oranges and Lemons’ and ‘London Bridge is Burning Down’.  A great piece. Still in The Smoke (I assume) is Roger Barsotti’s ‘Metropolitan March’. This is hardly ‘pomp and circumstance’ but a good tune that could have been used as a TV Sports theme. In fact it was used in the BBC series ‘Blott on the Landscape’.

Novelty pieces include the anthropomorphic ‘Poor Butterfly’ by Raymond Hubbell and John Golden. This is lovely romantic little number with sweeping strings and electric guitar obligato.  Herbert W. Spencer’s ‘Grasshopper’ is a skittish little number. I have never really studied the habits of grasshoppers but I guess this is probably the kind of music they will party to.
A couple of Latin American inspired pieces include the fine ‘The Awakening of Pedro’ by Mitchell Ayres – sounding a bit like Henry Mancini’s voluptuous strings and comes complete with choral backing. Jacques La Rue takes the listener down to the Dutch ‘Antilles’ in the Caribbean with a catchy little number. Still on the briny is Joe Reisman’s ‘Ballad of the Sea’: it is a little bit of a mixed bag. Nothing to do with nautical types, Bantockian seascapes or ‘jack the lad’. This is mermaids singing in a summer night somewhere quite unspecified. ‘Desiree’ by James Kriegsmann is just a pen portrait of a lovely lady that composer must have met. Pleasant music.
Clive Richardson is well-known to light music fans. Best recalled for his ‘London Fantasia’ depicting the war-torn Capital, the present ‘Jamboree’ seems to have little to do with boy scouting. More likely a trip to the seaside with a lot of fun, fish and chips and fresh air.  It certainly zips along at a fair pace.
Gilbert Vinter is best recalled for his contributions to the world of brass bands. His early ‘Salute to Youth’ and ‘Fancy’s Knell’ are still played. From his orchestral works his ‘Waltzing with (Arthur) Sullivan’ is one of my favourites. ‘Toward Adventure’ is a big powerful number. What the adventure is, I am not sure, but it is definitely some ‘Boy’s Own’ type of heroics.
The final number on this CD is Percy Fletcher’s ‘All the Fun of the Fair’ from his ‘Rustic Revel’s Suite’. It is a cheerful piece that gloriously lives up to its title.
It seems superfluous to say that I enjoyed every bar and every moment of this CD. All the pieces are designed to give pleasure, raise the spirits and make the listener feel optimistic, if sometimes just a little sentimental for past times. The quality of the sound is superb. I hardly realised that I was listening to a so-called historical recordings. The liner notes are outstanding and give all the information that the listener requires.  Once again Guild, the recording engineer Alan Bunting and producer David Ades have dipped into the vast treasure store of light music, In fact, it is more a cornucopia: it never shows any sign of drying up – thank goodness! 
With thanks to MusicWeb Internatioal where this review first appeared

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