Greg was born in Cambridge on 6th January 1947. His
father was a professional trumpet player and had played with
the rising stars of the Cambridge music scene in the late
1940's ... Jack Parnell, Tony Osborne, Ken Thorne (film orchestrator
and composer Superman etc). Greg was thus brought up on the
big bands and orchestras of the day. His 'hero' at the age
of 7 or 8 was Frank Chacksfield, and this style of music left
a deep impression on his later musical tastes.
Originally, he learned to play trumpet, but this
was to be abandoned at the age of 21, and he set out to learn
keyboards, with the sole intention of learning orchestration.
He was self taught in this art, and says he is happily still
His keyboard playing took him on strange adventures,
and he spent some time playing with popular groups of the
1960's and 70's such as 'The Foundations' (Build me up Buttercup
etc) and also as Musical Director for American hit band 'The
Tymes' with lead singer George Williams. Greg later went on
to play piano for around 3 years for British singer/impressionist
Karen Kay - mother of Jamiriquoi singer Jason Kay.
In 1979 he moved to Germany and worked in various
recording studios in Frankfurt, Hamburg and Dusseldorf, having
whilst there, written some arrangements for Hessen Rundfunk
Orchestra in Frankfurt. He returned late in 1980 and was immediately
offered a job as arranger with London Orchestrations, arranging
weekly pop tunes for big bands, and writing general 'dance
band' arrangements. This led to an offer to become full time
Staff Arranger for Mecca Organisation Ltd and he was based
in the Oxford St London offices of Mecca, writing 3 arrangements
a week for the 57 resident bands in the Mecca Dance Halls.
During his time at Mecca, he began increasing his contribution
to the Thames TV/Mecca 'Miss World' and 'Miss Uk' contests,
writing for the 37 piece orchestra which was directed by Phil
In 1981, he received a commission from the BBC Midland
Radio Orchestra to write and conduct 20 arrangements, including
6 vocal arrangements to be sung by popular vocalist of the
time, Geoff Taylor. It was at this point that he realised
he was in dire need of conducting lessons and so he went off
to study under Leonard Davis, conductor of the Bournemouth
Symphony Orchestra. This stood him in good stead for what
was to come later. He went on over the succeeding years to
arrange for, and conduct most of the BBC Orchestras - including
the 84 piece BBC Radio Orchestra and the 'Strings of the Radio
Orchestra'. He also transcribed, re-orchestrated and recorded
over 300 tracks of Bert Kaempfert's music, with the BBC Langham
Orchestra, for such popular shows as 'The Jimmy Young show'
and 'The Ray Moore show'. He also arranged and recorded sessions
for the BBC of 'Hooked on Classics' style music and famous
Film themes with the 'Strings of the Radio Orchestra', and
what he fondly recalls as 'an outrageous' session with the
BBC Radio 'Big Band'.
His worst nightmare he says, was a session of 'Songs
from the Shows', which featured the full BBC orchestra, two
singers, and 12 scores - which he did not see until half an
hour before the recording, due to a mix up. He says 'many
of the name conductors would not do this session - I was gullible
at the time, and I didn't realise that better people than
I had run out of the studio in tears '! However, despite the
struggle through old scores which resembled the 'Dead Sea
Scrolls', one singer who was almost deaf and another, who
had never sung with an orchestra before, the session completed
with just 20 seconds to spare !
During his 'time' at the BBC, Greg built up an enviable
reputation for being able to write arrangements very quickly.
In fact, they were usually last minute and written overnight.
In 1982, after a personal recommendation from a colleague,
the great arranger/ composer Bernard Ebbinghouse, Greg received
a further commission from the North German Radio Orchestra
(NDR) to arrange film titles for the 84 piece Radio Orchestra
in Hannover. This lead to more arranging work, initially arranging
for NDR musical directors Alfred Hause (NDR Big Band) and
Dieter Glawischnig, and eventually, to being asked to conduct
his arrangements himself.
In 1983, he was approached by the head of music at
Rediffusion, and commissioned to arrange and conduct 20 orchestral
tracks a month. This was to include 5 original compositions
each month, and it was an agreement which continued for the
next 11 years. He composed in all, over 350 titles of original
music - some of which was subsequently used by Thames television,
and he covered, arranging wise, almost every conceivable style
By 1986 the BBC were getting rid of their orchestras
(29 were to go) and this lead to Greg deciding to form his
own orchestra and perform a touring tribute to the great orchestras.
This was to mostly centre around the music of German bandleader
Bert Kaempfert who had died in 1980, and the orchestra performed
on tour throughout the UK for the next 3 years, often working
4 or 5 nights a week, and providing much needed work for the
redundant BBC musicians. Greg performed the tribute to the
music of Bert Kaempfert, with the help and encouragement of
Bert's wife Hanne. This was to finish in 1989 when Hanne died,
and the Kaempfert 'estate' took over.
In 1989, Greg was approached by (Lord) David Puttnam
with regard to supplying an orchestra of young musicians to
appear in his new movie 'Memphis Belle'. Greg also directed
the orchestra himself on film, and so impressed was David
Puttnam with the orchestra, that he asked them to perform
at the Royal Premiere in London. This lead, with some encouragement
from David Puttnam and Warner Films USA, to keeping the orchestra
together, as a working memorial to the 8th AAF bands. Thus,
the 'Memphis Belle Swing Orchestra' was born.
This was to continue until around 1995 when Greg
received a commission from Granada TV to do some arranging
work for 'Stars in their Eyes'. He went on to accompany 2
of the participants in a touring show, featuring the music
of Harry Connick Jr and Billie Holiday. He was also appointed
as Musical Director and Arranger for the touring show of Stars
in their Eyes compered by Bradley Walsh (singer/comedian and
star of Coronation St) for the John Mills Organisation.
In 1997, he received an urgent request from Hollywood
film composer John Murphy (Lock Stock & 3 barrels, Snatch
etc) to orchestrate 4 full orchestra titles for a film recording.
He transcribed the 4 'Sinatra' style tracks within 3 days,
having re-scored them and copied the parts himself. His ability
to turn around arrangements quickly, led to a plethora of
work in Hollywood and the UK for Warner Bros and New Line
Cinema. Greg continues to orchestrate film work, much of it
recorded at the famous Parr St Studios in Liverpool.
Also in 1997, Greg seized the opportunity to re-form
the old Squadronaires Orchestra. Following the death of bandleader
Harry Bence, he contacted Mary Aldrich, wife of the famous
original leader of the Squadronaires, Ronnie Aldrich. Mary
was 100% behind Greg's idea to re-form the orchestra as a
tribute to the RAF Dance band, and for all the young musicians
to be dressed in full RAF uniform. The orchestra continues
to perform 8 years later, though now under the direction of
singer Mark Porter.
In 2000, Greg was invited to supply a range of bands
managed by his company (USO Productions) at the world famous
Blackpool Tower Ballroom. By this time, Greg owned and managed
the 'Glenn Miller Tribute Orchestra' the 'New Squadronaires
Orchestra' 'The Memphis Belle Swing Orchestra' and he had
re-formed the 'Blackpool Tower Big Band'. All of the bands
were to play at the Blackpool Tower ballroom for the following
4 years - 7 nights a week. During 2003, Greg produced another
orchestra, to specifically accompany a new show he had devised
'The Kings of Swing'. Thus was formed 'The Kings of Swing
Orchestra'. The show comprised 4 singers, including Lynn Kennedy
who is well known for her interpretation of the 'swinging
standards' recorded by Doris Day. The music was all in the
style of the 'Rat Pack' era, and this lead Greg into his new
project - transcribing and re-orchestrating the arrangements
of Nelson Riddle, Billy May etc. Meantime, Greg had also written
a programme of music for a 50 date tour of a show entitled
'Stephen Triffitt celebrates Sinatra' and had recorded an
album with a full orchestra with strings.
Following the great success of the 'Kings of Swing'
show, Greg has since 2004 been Musical Director of the show
on tour, which now features the 'Nelson Riddle Tribute Orchestra'.
His latest project has been the 'Bobby Darin Songbook', for
which he enlisted the services of BBC award winning young
arranger Phil Steel. Together, they have transcribed over
30 of the superb arrangements written for Darin by the likes
of Billy May and Richard Wess. This show also uses the 'Nelson
Riddle Tribute Orchestra' which Greg directs, and he says
he has never been so busy - at a time when most people are
looking forward to retirement.
During 2007, Greg decided that he would like to realise
a lifetime ambition – to assemble an orchestra specifically
to play 'Popular Light Music', particularly the music of his
'all time' favourite composer Leroy Anderson. Thus was formed
'The National Concert Orchestra of Great Britain which, Greg
decided, would be based on a 30 piece line up - but expandable
to 45 piece if required. The NCO's inaugural concert was performed
in North Wales during December 2007 in a concert entitled
'A Festival for Christmas'. Over 2 hours of new music arrangements
were written by Greg, including of course, Leroy Anderson's
'Sleigh Ride' and his well known masterpiece - a 10 minute
medley entitled 'A Christmas Festival'.
Since that time, Greg has been busily reducing and
re-orchestrating 25 of the most popular Leroy Anderson titles
for a series of concerts of Leroy Anderson music – a Centennial
Celebration, it being exactly 100 years since the birth of
the composer (29th June 1908). As if to emphasise his determination
to establish this new orchestra within the realms of light
and popular music, Greg has also accepted a tour of over 20
dates for April/May 2009, backing a stage show 'Bat the Symphony'
(originally performed with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra)
and his next mission, on completing the Leroy Anderson program
of music, is to re-orchestrate the music for this 2009 project.
Greg also has to mention his favourite 'young' musician
- John Wilson, who he admires greatly.
© copyright Greg Francis, 2005
Revised March 2008