Reviews

GLCD 5111 – The Golden Age of Light Music: The 1950s Volume 2 – Midnight Matinee

Various

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Classical Net

This is another lovely collection of music coming from the vast archives of the British Light Music realm. Once again, Guild continues to put us in their debt with these wonderfully planned reissues full of the most wonderful pieces and with the splendid annotation by David Ades.

I have little to add to what other reviewers and my own writings have contributed to these oft recorded pieces. There are so many gems in these 76 minutes that one almost loses track of the individual items but begins hearing them as a palette of beautiful colours. Most notable amongst these pieces, one can single out Robert Farnon’s Midnight Matinee, Anthony Collins’ With Emma to Town and Trevor Duncan’s Panoramic Splendour.

The orchestras are also excellent with some of the finest names of the 50’s making their appearances. Amongst these we have Philip Green and the Cameo Players, Richard Hayman, Wally Stott and the legendary Hugo Winterhalter.

I’ve already mentioned the excellent notes by David Ades, which truly form an integral part of this wonderful series. At this price, this is definitely an essential recommendation to all lovers of light music.
Gerald Fenech


SOURCE UNKNOWN

Volume 2-Midnight Matinee. 26 tracks of pieces by various composers and orchestras/

conductors. Guild GLCD 5111. TT: 76:29. (Albany).

Alan Bunting continues his audio restoration and remastering of light music gems with these 2 CD’s featuring recordings from the 1950’s. The dates are based an release dates for the recordings, although some tracks could have actually been recorded earlier. David Ades provides superior notes.

There are many highlights and I can single out from Volume 1 Marching Strings by Marshall Ross played by Edmundo Ros and His Orchestra, Heart-O-London by Charles Williams played by the composer with his orchestra, Hey Presto! by Brett Willson and arr. by Trevor Duncan played by the New Concert orchestra conducted by Frederic Curzon, Spörtsmaster by Robert Busby played by the Danish State Radio Orchestra conducted by Robert Farnon, and many others. The CD closes with a medley of film hits played by Melachrino and his orchestra. This gives you some idea of the quality of what’s here. All of these orchestras were terrific. The sound an this CD is excellent.

Volume Two continues in the same vein, but somehow I thought the overall sound was a little brighter an this release. Nothing to really worry about, though. Midnight Matinee by Len Stevens and played by the Danish State Radio Orchestra under Robert Farnon gives the CD its title and opens the parade of hits. Hugo Winterhalter and His Orchestra offer Bahama Buggy Ride by Steggarda, a cute novelty number. Farnon’s Poodle Parade conducted by him again with the Danish forces, Panoramic Splendour by Trevor Duncan played by the New Concert Orchestra under R. de Porten, and finally Limelight-Theme and Incidental Music by Charles Chaplin and played by Wally Stott and His Orchestra are worth trying.

These and most of the pieces an the two CD’s were all new to me, but 1 enjoyed the lot. Very enter­taining. You’ll enjoy at all.


MusicWeb International

Another excellent CD in the Guild Light Music series. Full of evocations of an age that was simpler if not necessarily so affluent.
A pleasure indeed! …

This is a strangely difficult CD to listen to. Now this is not caused by the profundity or any incipient modernistic characteristics of the music. Anything but! Each and every piece on this recording is a pleasure to listen to. However there is a snag. I played a portion of this CD to a friend whose only comment was that it all sounded alike. There is a distinct tendency to concentrate on the first three tracks and then the rest is just a hazy mix of happy ’fifties memorabilia. And that is my problem. As an avid listener to Bach and Barber and Bridge (and The Grateful Dead!), I tend to select a work, put it, metaphorically, on the turntable and listen. When that piece is finished I think of something else to do. Each of the pieces on this disc is basically limited to one side of an old 78 rpm or perhaps 45 rpm disc. So one minute we are listening to Winifred Atwell and the next to Hugo Winterhalter and his Orchestra. It is very difficult to listen to objectively. The pieces all have somewhat picturesque titles and evoke varying responses in our mind: much of this music was written to be used with cinematic images or even early television programmes and interludes.  So how should we approach this CD? Well perhaps the best way is to make use of the stop and skip buttons.  My personal approach was to pick out the titles that appealed to me first. Then I chose the composers whom I recognised and finally the ‘rest.’ Perhaps this is not the ideal way of reviewing a CD. But somehow I had to a) keep up concentration and b) think of some objective comments.

Now the first really positive thing to say is that this CD is packed with good tunes. Taken as individual moments of musical imagery they evoke a number of things – beautiful women (sorry for being sexist), happy days at the the seaside, nights in London or New York and other pleasures of life.  Some of the titles were presumably witty in their day, although I wonder if such gems as Poodle Parade, Bahama Buggy Ride and Palsy Walsy would appeal to the ‘Gameboy’ Generation.

Music of this era always seems to be immensely happy. I asked my father about this once and his argument was that after the war and the Atlee government (he, my father, was a staunch Tory) the public were so happy to be largely free of rationing and utility and ‘regimentation’ that they responded to the fantasies of these composers. It did not matter that they may not walk down ‘On Fifth Avenue’ or even dance the Boulevard Waltz or have any Panoramic Splendour[s]. The music was sentimental and played to their dreams and perhaps more importantly, their aspirations. And utility or not, all of them had affairs of the heart – they knew The Magic Touch, they had attended a Midnight Matinee and perhaps had ‘A Girl Called Linda or went With Emma into Town.  And who knows, perhaps they had played Postman’s Knock and won a kiss!

And then came Rock and Roll and much of this music was passé. The pirate radio stations and then Radio 1 swept away the many Nelson Riddles and their orchestras. Even the Light Programme became Radio 2 and gradually stopped playing much of this carefree music.  The demise of the pier head orchestras took their toll. However it is a general rule that any music that is popular or light is bound to create a vast number of forgotten names. We need only think of the ‘one hit wonders’ in the pop music scene of the ’sixties.

So what of the composers? Some are famous such as Robert Farnon, Trevor Duncan and Anthony Collins. Others seem to ring bells in the mind such as Jack Beaver and Laurie Johnson (Avengers music). There are a number of arrangements such as Chaplin’s ‘Limelight.’ However the vast number of these composers seems to be a bit lost in the mists of time. I had never heard of Bernie Wayne, Paul Dubois or Cyril Ornadel to name three. Yet a study of the CD liner notes reveals a number of interesting details. For example, Paul Dubois was in fact a pseudonym for Clive Richardson, whom I have heard of and surprise, surprise Eric Spear wrote the theme to Coronation Street!

The programme notes are extensive, and provide considerable insight to most of these composers and their work. In fact, David Ades modestly excuses himself from being even more prolific with his annotations by citing ‘space’ limits on the size of the CD booklet.

However these notes are essential. There is little enough information available on many of these musicians far less detailed studies. Of course Musicweb’s own British Light Music Index is a vital and far ranging piece of scholarship which commands huge respect.

Alan Bunting has done a fine job in restoring the sound quality of these works – so much so that I was hardly conscious of listening to anything but a ‘new release.’

All in all, this is a great CD. Do not be put off by the fact that some of the composers are unknown or that some of the works have somewhat dated titles. Every one of these works is a period piece and should be listened to in that context. There is no need to try to invest deep meaning in any of these works: they are quite simply written to be enjoyed. My only caveat is to pick and choose tracks. Do not fall into the trap of listening to all 76 minutes and 26 tunes in one sitting.

For the record my favourite piece is Ditto by Charles Strouse
John France


MusicWeb International

The latest brace of releases from Guild continues the varied work of previous issues. Once again some rarer labels have been scoured – it’s especially good to see Melodisc here – and we therefore have some Polygons, Chappells, Paxtons and Boosey and Hawkes alongside the bigger companies such as Parlophone, Decca, Brunswick and Philips. These recordings come from a concentrated period of two or three years between 1952 and 1954.

Most of the sides are British originals but there are some Capitols as well as the Hamburg recordings overseen by the talented Harry Hermann and examples of Robert Farnon’s Danish recordings for Chappell in 1954. The mix is a good, entertaining one therefore, right from the off where a newsreel opener from Len Stevens sees us on our way. One of the things Guild compilers clearly enjoy is juxtaposing contrasting styles. And this release sees no let up. A big screen introduction is followed by the witty Postman’s Knock which in its turn is succeeded by the pizzicati laced The Magic Touch, a Bernie Wayne tune the middle section of which has an electric guitar solo and a hint of a studio band crypto-jazz back beat. Then there’s Winifred Atwell pounding nobly in Moonlight Fiesta whilst suffering the slings and arrows of a bongo, whooping trombones and string slurry attack courtesy of Cyril Ornadel (and he should know; he wrote it). Hermann’s Tales of Munich is a delight though it sounds rather treble starved in this transfer. Similarly Clive Richardson’s Shadow Waltz (credited to his pseudonym Paul Dubois on the record label) is an insinuating charmer – lush orchestration with a slightly ominous veil hanging over it all; it shows how much a creative composer can pack into even a three-minute genre piece of this kind.

Still those Guild compilers don’t let us sleep; it’s off to Veradero with some shaking-it-on-down stuff from Geoff Love – strong on the maracas and the ambre solaire. And then Ronnie Pleydell (and orchestra) nabs a few bars from An American in Paris for his own On Fifth Avenue, a punchy and jaunty piece that has the considerable merit of not being over orchestrated. The geographical theme continues throughout the rest of the disc; we have Cornish waves lashing into the coastline of Frenchman’s Creek and the exotic sounding Ecstasy comes courtesy, unusually, of the full Edmundo Ros Concert Band with a complement of strings, saxes and tango-leading paraphernalia. There’s a fair amount of corn ball – it was very much the spirit of the time – in which category the Bahama Buggy Ride can hold it head high but the immediately succeeding track, Farnon’s Poodle Parade shows how a master can handle even the cornier stuff – superbly orchestrated and with a witty poodle bark integrated into the musical fabric – and a lovely B section.

Novelty reappears (with guitar once more) with the excruciatingly titled Palsy Walsy but there’s a more modish up-to-dateness from Eric Spear, who wrote the theme tune for the long running British soap Coronation Street, in his Midnight Blue. He’d clearly been lending an ear to alto sax and bluesy back beat combos of the time and it opens a little vista on the directions to be taken – and refined – by future composers in the field. We end with a couple of classics; Sibelian and Elgarian and erstwhile violist Anthony Collins turns up on a Decca and Wally Stott does well by Chaplin’s Limelight music.

So another success in the formidable collection of Light Music from Guild. The notes are always good, the selection entertainingly eclectic, the transfers tend to smoothness and noise reduction rather than opening out at the top. Good fun, as well.
Jonathan Woolf


In Tune International – May 2005

PICK OF THE MONTH

I am running out of superlatives to praise this wonderful series of compact discs. The quality of the production is outstanding, the selection of the music is inspired and attention and care shown by the Guild team earns my ongoing thanks for making such memorable light music available.

A second volume devoted to light orchestras of the 1950s is truly a joy to behold. As the copyright restrictions steadily fall away to enable the release of material by such greats as Angela Morley, Laurie Johnson and DoIf Van Der Linden, my listening pleasure is significantly enriched. The music, in a variety of tempos and moods, exudes good taste with the quality of the string playing (the core sound of light orchestral music) consistently compelling. This series is building a magnificent library and I am sure that as time unfolds more treasures will emerge.
Brian Belton