"LIGHT FANTASTIC" WAS SIMPLY FANTASTIC!
The response from readers to the Editors request
for comments on this Festival has been magnificent! What
has been particularly interesting is that many correspondents
have brought out different aspects to comment upon.
The enthusiasm expressed time and time again must
surely convince the BBC that "Light Fantastic"
in 2011 must not be a one-off event!
One day we may look back on 2011 as the year when Light
Music finally came out of the musical shadows. If we do,
then "Light Fantastic" may deserve a large part of the
credit for making music lovers aware in Britain that there
is an enjoyable form of music between classical and popular
that many people enjoy - if only the opportunities exist
to hear it.
It's been a long struggle, but the origins of the present
'renaissance' (if that is what it proves to be) extend
back to the early 1990s when record companies such as
EMI, Grasmere, Hyperion, Marco Polo and Naxos were dipping
their toes into the light music stream. They were soon
joined by the likes of ASV, Vocalion, Epoch and Guild
- the latter being one of the most adventurous with over
80 CDs now available in its "Golden Age of Light Music"
series that is sold around the world.
If commercial record companies were noticing light music
once again, it seemed that broadcasters remained unconvinced.
After the act of cultural vandalism that destroyed the
BBC Radio Orchestra, for a long time "Friday Night Is
Music Night" has been the BBC's only token gesture to
placate light music 'aficionados', with just a few occasional
extra concerts. There were the "Legends of Light Music"
programmes on Radio-2 around the turn of the century,
but the opportunity was missed to make this a regular
weekly series, which would have built up a loyal following.
On Radio-3 Brian Kay's "Light programme" was like an oasis
of melody to gladden the hearts; it lasted for several
years, but sadly has been absent from the schedules for
far too long.
Back to "Light Fantastic". It would have been nice to
have seen some positive publicity from the BBC. The editor
of Radio Times should be thoroughly ashamed of
the scant coverage she allotted to it - especially as
the previous week she had given the cover over to Radio-2
for their 'festival' which lasted for just 12 hours. Similarly
BBC TV went overboard to publicise Radio-2, but completely
ignored "Light Fantastic".
Fortunately the musical press was not so neglectful,
with even national papers such as the Daily Telegraph
running special features. The August issue of Classic
fm Magazine made John Wilson its cover star,
and included a long interview about his work. The June
issue of Classical Music Magazine produced a timely
feature ahead of the event, and gave good coverage to
Gavin Sutherland, the other major light music conductor
involved in the "Light Fantastic" festival. Both John
and Gavin are 'heroes' as far as light music lovers are
concerned. We have known them in RFS circles since they
were both in their early twenties, and it has been a real
joy to witness how their brilliant careers have developed.
They both have a wonderful future ahead of them making
glorious music for us all to enjoy.
But now it's time to let RFS members tell us what they
thought about "Light Fantastic" - both from their differing
viewpoints of either being present at the South Bank Centre,
or joining the millions of listeners at home through radio
or the internet.
Former BBC radio producer Anthony Wills begins
our reviews of the BBCs "Light Fantastic"
From time to time the BBC goes into overdrive, and many
Radio 3 listeners must have viewed its Light Fantastic
Festival with as much enthusiasm as I viewed 12 days of
wall-to-wall Mozart at the beginning of the year. The
rest of us, however, must have been in seventh heaven,
even if the pudding was a little over-egged at times.
And after all, if the "youf" can have its Glastonbury,
why cant us more mature licence fee payers get something
to suit our musical palates for once?
The celebrations actually began over on Radio 4 on 18
June with one of its Saturday night archive programmes,
in which the excellent Paul Morley examined the Light
Music phenomenon and the BBCs role in it. It was
only right that Ernest Tomlinson should be prominently
featured (as he was to be later) and Morley got to climb
up the ladder in Tomlinsons barn containing over
30,000 sets of orchestral parts that the BBC, in its wisdom,
had decided to throw out in the 1980s. The Radio Times
billing for this programme had suggested that Morley would
be interviewing Eric Coates and Ronald Binge, a fascinating
promise which unsurprisingly was not honoured!
Composer Of The Week, broadcast twice daily on
Monday-Friday, featured Donald Macleod in conversation
with Brian Kay, who had also selected the music. Brian
covered the ground pretty well, though some of the recordings
he chose seemed a little questionable: an over-indulgent
Girl From Corsica for example and, astonishingly,
Robert Farnon conducting Jumping Bean at such a
pace that the orchestra struggled to keep up. Brian
injected nice touches of humour into his presentation,
reminding us how deeply his weekly afternoon Light
Programme series is still missed, as is Matinee
Londons South Bank was the principal venue for
most of the Festival performances, but on the Friday afternoon
came a concert live from a factory at Irlam near Manchester,
played by the BBC Philharmonic bedecked with high visibility
jackets in a vast warehouse, performing to a rather bemused
gaggle of workers. This was meant to replicate Music
While You Work which it singularly failed to do as
the material was totally wrong and there were frequent
interjections from Suzy Klein. The orchestra however seemed
to enjoy itself under the baton of Stephen Bell.
That evening saw the first ever simulcast on Radios 2
and 3 of Friday Night Is Music Night, featuring
the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Gavin Sutherland
and introduced by the urbane Petroc Trelawny. This was
a very hit and miss affair containing a lot of music that
should have been left on the shelves Addinsells
score for The Charlot Revue of 1926 and Alfred
Reynolds 1066 And All That being notable
examples. Charlotte Page sang sweetly but Lesley Garrett
came unstuck in Gilbert & Sullivans immortal
The Sun Whose Rays, while baritone Richard Suart
was cruelly under-used though his Model Of A Modern
Major General (sans chorus) was as splendid
as you might expect. The show only really came to life
with Iain Sutherlands fine arrangement of Me
& My Girl and Sidney Torchs Ivor Novello
medley (in which Suart was bizarrely given the soprano
number My Dearest Dear). Youd think
that for a gala FNIMN edition broadcast on two networks
the BBC could have afforded a chorus for once, but no,
as usual on this programme the orchestra filled in, and
boy did it show. Incidentally both Petrocs commentary
and the interval feature showed that Radio 3 has no idea
of how the Light Music element in radios longest-running
music series has diminished over recent years. The Concert
Orchestra also recorded a further programme at the Plymouth
Pavilions for broadcast on the Monday evening, including
works by Peter Hope, Gordon Langford and Paul Patterson,
all happily still with us.
Trelawny was back on Saturday anchoring an interesting
discussion on Music Matters with a studio panel
plus recorded contributions from Paul Gambaccini and Gillian
Reynolds. As elsewhere during the week came the incredible
story of the confidential audience report in 1963 in which
listeners expressed overwhelming enthusiasm for Light
Music, which was quietly buried by the then Third Programme
Controller (William Glock) and his producers, who had
no time for melody. In a further well researched programme
Matthew Sweet turned the spotlight on the use of library
music as signature tunes for radio and television series.
Earlier that morning, in Record Review, Adrian
Edwards conducted a scholarly review of recent CD releases
(and re-issues) of Light Music, of which there are apparently
On Saturday night the BBC Symphony Orchestra joined in
the fun under the baton of John Wilson for an enthralling
and well built selection of Light Music masterpieces.
I was in the Festival Hall audience for this one (which
was broadcast live and also filmed for future transmission)
and was able to admire at close hand Johns impeccable
stick technique and his ability to draw the very best
out of the players, who played superbly. The concert featured
several items unfamiliar to me including Edward Germans
Prelude To Romeo & Juliet and Haydn Woods
London Cameos suite. Eric Coates dominated the
evening and once again you had to sit back and marvel
at his total mastery of melody and orchestration. As John
Wilson put it, "He knew what he was good at and
stuck to it, so he didnt write any bad symphonies
or concertos like some composers"! There was
also of course time for Jumping Bean and Angela
Morleys wonderful tribute to Bob Farnon, A Canadian
In Mayfair. David Ades of the Robert Farnon Society
was interviewed during the interval. On exiting the hall
we found the BBC Big Band under Barry Forgie playing a
swinging tribute to the BBC Dance Band and other late
lamented staff orchestras in the Clore Ballroom (broadcast
on Sunday night).
Its impossible to do justice to the 15 hours of
Light Music-themed programmes broadcast on the Sunday.
The morning was devoted to salon music. Later came a beautifully
crafted and informative documentary on the last remaining
seaside orchestra at Scarborough (now just 10-strong but
sounding bigger). After a 15-minute spot for theatre organ
buffs Fiona Talkington introduced a selection of Light
Music listener requests played by the BBC National Orchestra
of Wales under Grant Llewellyn. This contained several
rarities including compositions by Norman ONeill
and Anthony Hedges, who was present in the hall; but who
on earth allowed David Owen Norris to play that well-known
"Light Music" piece Waltons Spitfire
Prelude & Fugue as a piano transcription?
Choral Evensong from the Queens Chapel added
its twopenny worth with anthems by Sullivan and Rutter
before we returned to the South Bank for a tea dance with
the John Wilson Orchestra, reminding us that this ensemble
had begun its life with residencies in hotels. John popped
up in yet another guise, giving a most lucid and interesting
analysis of the art and craft of Eric Coates in Discovering
Music with Catherine Bott and the BBC Scottish Symphony
Petroc Trelawny and Suzy Klein wrapped up the weekend
with a selection of excerpts from the weekends events,
including some amateur performances I had missed. If they
appeared at times too weary to read their scripts, spare
a thought for John Wilson who made yet another appearance
to sum up the Festival as Artistic Director. John had
also pre-recorded five programmes of Light Music with
the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra which aired during
the following week.
All in all, in spite of some twee presentation, the Festival
was an exhaustive and pretty comprehensive survey and
celebration of that oft-derided and misunderstood term
Light Music, which as was pointed out, also embraces works
by Mozart, Dvorak and Brahms, to name but a few, though
possibly NOT the National Anthem, which was performed
twice! There was however a notable absence of cross-trails
between Radio 3 and Radio 2, which after all still has
several ongoing Light Music series in its schedules*.
There seems to be a complete lack of communication between
these two networks. And surely there could have been some
coverage on BBC television? In any case, congratulations
are due to all the producers and editors, and above all
performers, for a splendid achievement. Please dont
put the scores away in the cupboard for another sixty
*On the same Sunday evening Alan Titchmarsh played
compositions by Haydn Wood, Joseph Horowitz and Ivor Novello
in his early evening Radio 2 programme. And Listen
To The Band and The Organist Entertains
still deliver music in the Light Music vein to their specialist
Terence Gilmore-James shared the enthusiasm of
many of us
What a WONDERFUL weekend of Light Music on Radio 3, and
continuing each afternoon. "Fantastic" indeed,
so, along with millions of others (we hope!), we are emailing
the BBC to congratulate and thank them, also to urge them
to make the Festival an annual event and consider putting
a Light Music feature back onto the weekly programme order
Radio 3 or Radio 2. The scale of support for the
events and the number of young people in the audiences
will surely persuade the powers that be that
a Light Music profile on radio (as on TV during the Proms
past and this year too) at least should be a serious
factor for regular broadcast consideration. We think you
will have received lots of messages already with the same
We know Gavin Sutherland fairly well: he has recorded
Mansel Thomass "Six Welsh Dances" and
"Breton Suite" with the Royal Ballet Sinfonia
and we await the issue of the CD hopefully this
autumn. John Wilson also deserves a BIG pat on the back!
Good old radio! Still a prime source of sheer enjoyment,
education, stimulation and opportunity. Heres to
more of the same but EVERY WEEK!!!!!
Geoff Sheldon appreciate the coverage given to
As Chairman of the Eric Coates Society, I can honestly
say that I have for a number of years supported the view
that Light Music is emerging from the mists of its glorious
past, and this week end- June 24th 27th has
more than confirmed its rightful place in the Nations
Ears. (In our Society we have witnessed the growing public
affection, obviously because of Eric's place in the World
of Light Music, displayed at the Concerts that we have
The variety of programmes selected by the BBC were an
eclectic mix of national nostalgia, reminders of our younger
days when Light Music more than held its own. As David
Ades said in his 'Interval Interview' "There are many
CDs on the music market, offering thousands of pieces
of music, most of which is still available." Friday
Night is Music Night is still the BBC's flagship
programme for keeping alive Light Music's cause, but they
should recognise that the largest group of people, numerically
speaking, is the 60+ brigade and they should analyse how
little is programmed for them. John Wilson's Prom Concerts
and subsequent Tours of MGM Music reveal that audiences
are looking younger as a new generation of the population
recognise the delight and joy of Light Music.
Also, we are technically blessed with the many forms
of music presentation, and playback. No crackles or hisses,
no tracks to jump, no wow and flutter, no distortion.
clear highs and rumble free lows. And, what is left of
F.M. & D.A.B. All of which provides the very best
Listening pleasure, because listening was always a pleasure,
whether Charles Williams intro for "Dick Barton",
Eric Coates Sleepy Lagoon, Calling All
Workers and Knightsbridge, Vivian Ellis's Coronation
Scot for "Paul Temple", and so many more.
The orchestras, conductors, composers, technicians, venues
are ready and waiting, so are the Public!
Martin Cleave was one of many RFS members present
at the Royal Festival Hall
Congratulations must go to all concerned for making the
recent Light Fantastic Weekend at Londons
South Bank Centre such an enjoyable experience. While
it was lovely to hear examples of the theatrical contribution
made to light music on the Friday Night Is Music Night
broadcast, the highlight for me was the Great Masters
of Light Music concert given by the BBC Symphony Orchestra
the following evening.
Under John Wilsons enthusiastic baton the music
sounded as fresh and relevant as the day it was written.
In many cases this was a rare chance to hear these pieces
live with the full resources of a symphony orchestra,
which in turn gave us a greater insight into the orchestrations
(not always possible on recordings, particularly older
ones). For me, the sheer beauty brought to Springtime
in Angus from the Three Elizabeths Suite by Eric Coates
was particularly moving.
How ironic, that as an encore a BBC orchestra should
play Non Stop by John Malcolm, the onetime theme
tune to the ITV News. The story goes, I believe, that
it was chosen because Sir John Barbirolli said it could
either be followed by a report of a royal wedding, or
the start of World War Three, and be appropriate for both!
Unfortunately for us all it was time to make our way to
Such an enthusiastic reception from an audience of all
ages would seem to prove that, with its abundance of good
tunes, this is simply great music that deserves a regular
airing, rather than just dusted off occasionally like
an old photo album for a trip down memory lane.
David Daniels travelled down from Yorkshire, but
wished a few more had also made the effort to attend the
You wait ages for a bus then three come all at once.
That is the feeling after three days on the South Bank
in June - almost too much to take in! As one who has written
to the BBC as much as anyone I never expected to hear
almost two weeks of wall to wall light music an
embarrassment of riches!
I do hope that regular Radio 3 listeners enjoyed it as
much as us, for the whole weekend was so enjoyable and
grateful thanks are due to John Wilson and Gavin Sutherland
in particular though all the BBC performing groups played
a vital part
Sadly the weather spoiled what was for me the first event
Brass on the Bridges the fanfare by
Anne Dudley written especially for the event would have
sounded amazing out on the terrace but the heavens opened
so it had to he done indoors, but was nevertheless very
"Friday Night Is Music Night" was great though
personally I would have been happy to sacrifice Billy
Mayerl for the full set of dances by Montague Phillips
and baritone Richard Suarts wide vibrato was not
to my taste. However the singing of Charlotte Page and
Our Lesley was wonderful as, of course, was
the Concert Orchestra as ever showing how light music
should be played.
The following evening with John Wilson and the Symphony
Orchestra was quite brilliant though the Edward German
piece chosen was hardly light! As you would
expect all the music was in first class performances,
and it was especially nice to hear music by Ernest Tomlinson
who John Wilson himself pointed out in one of the many
talks on offer throughout the weekend has done more than
anyone to keep light music alive. This concert was recorded
for TV so we look forward to that.
The Central Band of the RAF gave an excellent concert
the same afternoon in the Queen Elizabeth Hall and I was
so happy to hear Gilbert Vinters Hunters Moon
so memorably recorded by Dennis Brain and the BBC Concert
Orchestra in the 1950s.
There was just one disappointment during the whole weekend,
for both Festival Hall concerts I had the balcony almost
to myself and even the FREE concert by the RAF Band was
only 2/3rds full. After all the complaining to the BBC
it appears we cannot muster enough support to fill an
average size hall where was everyone -- at Wimbledon or
Another RFS member, John White, shares his enthusiasm
I very much enjoyed the programmes and concerts in the
recent BBC Light Fantastic Weekend on Radio 3 and was
fortunate in being able to attend Friday Night Is Music
Night on 24 June 2011, Great Masters of Light Music on
the Saturday evening and the John Wilson Orchestra Tea
Dance on the Sunday afternoon, all at the Royal Festival
Hall in London.
The Composers of the Week programmes with Donald Macleod,
on the five weekdays prior to the weekend, were also most
interesting. Brian Kay was (and is), undoubtedly, a very
well-informed and knowledgeable contributor. We must also
not forget the importance of the library of the Light
Music Society, which has made possible the marvellous
renewal of interest in light music resulting in many performances
over the last twenty years or so.
Photography in the RFH was not allowed but I was able
to take some pictures in The Clore Ballroom where the
BBC Big Band and the John Wilson Orchestra, respectively,
performed. My friend, Siobhan Murphy, and I were fortunate
to have our photograph taken with John Wilson. Siobhan
told me that the show tunes in FNIMN reminded her of her
days (some years ago, now) singing with the Cork Operatic
Society in the Cork Opera House, Co. Cork, Ireland. Mr
Wilson was most friendly and approachable. He told us
that he would be working in Dublin for two weeks during
August. I do hope the BBC will resume featuring light
music on a weekly basis in future.
Finally, a big "thank you" to everyone involved in the
planning, production and broadcast of the concerts and
of the numerous other events held at the Royal Festival
Hall over the Light Fantastic Weekend, and most especially
to John Wilson for being such an enthusiastic champion
of light music.
John E. Govier listened at home
Well, it has all come and gone as these things do, but
let us all hope that the BBC has at last received and
understood the message: that British Light Music is not
the preserve of a few reactionary fuddy-duddies and eccentrics,
but a living testament to native art, just as other forms
of classic music are.
There were so many things to rejoice in where the concerts
were concerned that it would take half the current issue
to cover them in detail; but one simply must mention the
BBC Symphony Orchestra show conducted by John Wilson -
it was pure joy from start to finish, and another hour
would have not been enough!
Regular Radio 3 programmes much appreciated for their
Light Music coverage: "CD review" (recommended Light Music
by Adrian Edwards) "Music Matters" (J.W. and Philip Lane
among the discussion panel) and for the previous five
days "Composer of the Week" was pluralized, with Brian
Kay as "tour guide".
Disappointments? Only one or two minor, and one major
one. On "FNIMN" the two "Merrie England" extracts were,
for me, inadequately sung and the baritone soloist was
frankly not up to scratch. (I've heard better amateur
renditions of "Yeomen of England" and I assure you I don't
exaggerate); but both Lesley Garrett and Charlotte Page
were fine in the other numbers - the former especially
so in the Noël Coward extract ("If Love Were All",
incidentally, not "I'll See You Again" as advertised).
More often than not, I enjoy the Sunday lunchtime programme
"Private Passions" but not this time: we were back with
patronising facetiousness in the shape of Dame Edna Everidge
- but then she/he/it is one of my blind spots - I do 'ave'
But it would be churlish to dwell on one or two shortcomings,
and I hope that all aficionados of the Palm Court style
tuned in to "Sunday Morning" (10.00 am to 12.00 noon)
and heard Shelley van Loen and the Palm Court Strings,
and the veteran but still virile tenor of Robert White
performing ballads in the manner of the Great John McCormack;
and later on the programme about the Spa Orchestra in
the northern outpost of Scarborough - worth it just for
this 10 piece band's version of "Devil's Galop", but all
great stuff, and delightfully presented.
The Tea Dance featuring the John Wilson Orchestra was
another Sunday afternoon treat; small wonder if not a
few of us were feeling spoiled by now!
Returning for a moment to the concerts (and the Friday
Composers of the Week with Brian Kay) how good it was
to hear so much splendid music by living composers, and
to learn that many of them were in the audience: one of
them, Anthony Hedges (80 this year, incidentally) introduced
his suite "Scenes from the Humber" during the concert
On the Monday evening after the Plymouth concert recording
(marvellous unhackneyed programme, but a little ironic
we were not given all the "Drake 400 Suite" since Ron
Goodwin was a local man), the edition of the regular discussion
programme. "Nightwaves" included Light Music as one of
its topics. As far as could be discerned by me, only one
of the panellists sneered - but after all, he did give
the impression of not being completely happy unless absolutely
Philip Scowcroft compares Light Fantastic
with earlier Light Music Festivals
The BBC has often been criticised for its neglect of
light music over the past forty years or so, though to
be fair, this has often reflected the snobbishness of
a proportion of its audience. However that may be the
Corporation made striking amends with its Light Fantastic
Festival over the weekend 24/27 June 2011, preceded by
"This Week's Composer" (20/24 June) which happily revived
Brian Kay's skills as a presenter of light music, and
followed by concerts in the "Afternoon on 3" in the week
The festival revived memories for me of the Royal Festival
Hall Festivals of the 1950s and 1960s and the (purely
studio) week-long Light Music Festival of March/April
1949, so important in the development of my music appreciation,
and not just "light music". The 1949 Festival was largely
made up of special editions of then regular BBC programmes
like "Music in the Air", "Album of Familiar Music" and
"Grand Hotel". To an extent Light Fantastic did the same,
with special editions of "The Choir", "Discovering Music"
and "Friday Night is Music Night", 58 years old and for
which Gavin Sutherland built a gorgeous programme devoted
to the British musical theatre. There was also an adapted
revival of the iconic "Music While You Work", in which
the BBC Philharmonic was taken into a work place (a factory
in Irlam, Greater Manchester) to play light music to an
audience of workers, and they seemed to love it.
Many tend to think of "light music" (to use that expression
as a convenience rather than as a term of art) as restricted
to light orchestral works, rather as many think of music
generally in orchestral terms. This festival, rightly,
spread its net much more widely, with stage music on "Friday
Night", choral music on the Sunday evening "Choir" programme,
big band music, wind and brass bands, piano music, solo
songs, theatre organs and much else. The main Saturday
evening concert combined two past BBC Light Music festival
traditions, given as it was by the BBC Symphony Orchestra
(the 1949 Festival imported three major symphony orchestras
of the day to play light music and popular classics) but
in this 2011 concert in the Royal Festival Hall, scene
of the festivals of the 1950s and 1960s. And it was a
fine programme, too, embracing a century's music from
Yet, arguably, an even more interesting programme was
offered on the Monday night (actually recorded the night
before in Plymouth). None of the pieces heard were "first
performances", unless we count Paul Lewis English Overture
as a "first concert performance" (it had introduced a
radio station for years) and Holst's Songs of the West
as a "first modern performance" (it had not been heard
here for a century); yet the items by Matthew Curtis,
Philip Lane, Ernest Tomlinson, Paul Patterson and David
Lyon were all new to me. It was good, too, that the festival
came from so many different places - the West Country,
Wales, Scotland, Lancashire and Scarborough, last of the
one-time seaside orchestras - unlike the previous broadcast
light music festivals which were essentially London based.
The festival was a heady mix of the traditional and,
in broadcast terms, the novel. Some of the novel features
will, I hope be explored further in future. Bringing amateur
ensembles to record in the studios - all over the country
- paid tribute to the work amateurs had done to keep light
music alive during the leaner years. And the most fascinating
festival feature for me was a brilliant analysis by festival
director John Wilson (who got through a formidable amount
of work during the weekend) of two compositions by Eric
Coates, the Knightsbridge March and the Three
Men suite. Ironically, such analysis might seem to
run counter to the definition, adopted by myself and others,
of light music as "where the tune is more important than
what you do with it", as Coates clearly "did"
so much with his tunes; but at the same time John Wilson
showed that "light music" is not simply entertainment
(though it is that, of course) but repays study in depth,
just as Bach, Beethoven and Brahms do. This can only be
good for light music's future.
The future? Surely the BBC will not let Light Fantastic
be remembered as a one trick pony? Is it too much to hope
that it may end up as an annual event, exploring ever
wider and different aspects of that huge expanse of repertoire
which makes up "our sort of music"; a rich heritage and
one which still lives?
Tony Foster also enjoyed the Festival via the radio
A wonderful celebration and feast of Light Music, which
began in the days before the main weekend concerts with
Composer of the Week, devoted to light music.
The five one-hour programmes were presented by Donald
MacLeod and, making a welcome return for this series,
the much missed Brian Kay with his expert and friendly
manner. This made for a very rewarding listening experience.
In between the music Donald and Brian held a very informative
discussion about light music during each programme, which
had the added benefit of a daily repeat in the early evening.
We were treated to a superb selection each day from the
Masters of Light Music, from Clive Richardsons Melody
On The Move to Philip Lanes Pantomime.
Particular favourites were Ron Goodwins Those
Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines, Angela Morleys
Rotten Row and, of course, Robert Farnons
Westminster Waltz and Jumping Bean. Donald
and Brian also discussed what they thought light music
is, and where its future lies. CDs were also mentioned,
especially the wonderful Guild series.
The long running "Friday Night Is Music Night"
was, of course, dedicated to light music for the occasion,
with a wonderful performance from the BBC Concert Orchestra
conducted by Gavin Sutherland with guest artistes, presented
by Petroc Trelawny who made an excellent host.
The highlight of the Light Fantastic festival was the
concert on the Saturday evening, given by the BBC Symphony
Orchestra conducted by John Wilson. This was live
from the Royal Festival Hall, and featured in the interval
a chat with John Wilson and RFS secretary David Ades.
An archive interview with Eric Coates made this a real
bonus in addition to an enjoyable evening of orchestral
music. I particularly enjoyed Vivian Ellis Coronation
Scot, Angela Morleys A Canadian In Mayfair
in tribute to Robert Farnon, and Bobs Jumping
I kept my radio on for most of the day on the Sunday,
as there was so much happening, with discussions about
light music which made a nice change from the usual routine.
I did enjoy the evening concert with the BBC Scottish
Symphony, again conducted by John Wilson, in which he
also talked about Eric Coates style of composing
in between the music.
John Wilson as Artistic Director and conductor, Petroc
Trelawny and Radio 3 are to be congratulated for making
the Light Fantastic festival such a marvellous celebration
of a style of music which has been unfairly neglected
for far too long.
Lets hope that the BBC has been encouraged to feature
more light music in its schedules in future, as this festival
must have proved that there is a demand for the kind of
music we all love so much.
Finally David Ades shares his Personal Diary of the
Light Fantastic Weekend
My experiences of the weekend can be summed up in two
words: frustrating and exhilarating! Frustrating
because of my trying encounters with ticket machines
at Yeovil station and bus stops in London; and exhilarating
because I was uplifted by the wonderful music I heard
and the people I met.
The Light Fantastic festival was based at the South Bank
Centre, with most of the events taking place at the Royal
Festival Hall. I arrived at Waterloo at lunchtime on Friday
24th June, and after booking in at the hotel
I made my way to the RFH. I have been there before, but
it was a long time ago and my memories of the building
(other than the main concert hall) were vague.
In recent years it has had a lot of money spent on it
and in the 1980s the decision was taken to keep it open
every day from mid-morning, rather than open the doors
only when a concert was taking place. The result has been
that the building has become the venue for all kinds of
cultural activities, many of them taking place in what
is called The Clore Ballroom, a large sunken arena facing
the main bar in the foyer where most people tend to congregate.
It seems that music is being created at all times of the
day, by both professional and amateur musicians, in this
area which tends to be a magnet for people simply wanting
to relax and watch others performing. The ballroom is
surrounded by terraces and seating on three sides, so
there is plenty of room for everyone at least most
of the time!
The first sounds to greet me upon my arrival were amateur
brass bands about five of them! They were rehearsing
a new work by Anne Dudley which was due to be performed
by 250 brass players on Hungerford Bridge (adjacent to
the RFH) at around 7:30 pm. This was to be recorded and
broadcast in one of the many Radio 3 programmes that were
coming from the South Bank Centre that weekend.
But the weather gods decided otherwise. The heavens opened
and the performance had to take place around the bar and
ballroom. So I found myself literally in the middle of
six brass bands (the five amateurs were joined by the
brass of the BBC Symphony) and I have never before seen
one piece of music conducted at the same time by five
BBC producer Andrew Smillie had been in touch with me
for several weeks before the festival, and we arranged
to meet after he had recorded the band. "Look for
someone holding a big microphone" he said, and it
worked! We briefly discussed the arrangements to meet
the following afternoon during the rehearsals for John
Wilsons concert with the BBC Symphony, which they
kindly allowed me to attend.
I lost count of how many Robert Farnon Society members
I bumped into over the weekend, and I am not going to
list them all for fear of leaving someone out. But within
an hour or so of my arrival we were holding a mini RFS
meeting in the bar, and while relaxing before the evening
concert in the "Friday Night Is Music Night"
series I suddenly discovered that David Daniels was sitting
next to me. He had travelled down from Doncaster to support
the BBC Concert Orchestra - like me he is an enthusiastic
member of their club.
The Royal Festival Hall is well served with toilet facilities
I should imagine at least 15 or 20 throughout the
building. So the chances of meeting someone you know in
such a place must surely be statistically remote. But
just as I was leaving one I met Philip Farlow who was
coming in! Im sure we would have found each other
eventually, but this close encounter meant
that we could tell each other what we had learned about
the various events, and we spent much of the Friday evening
and the Saturday roaming around from event to event
usually accompanied by other RFS members. Several times
I heard someone call out "David!" as I was wandering
around, and it was a pleasure to greet yet another RFS
As already mentioned, the concert on Friday evening featured
the BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by Gavin Sutherland
with singers Lesley Garrett, Charlotte Page and Richard
Suart. I have to admit that I do not always enjoy the
vocal interludes when listening to FNIMN at home, but
being in the concert hall is an entirely different experience.
Richard Suart in particular had the audience in the palm
of his hand, although the eye candy was supplied by Lesley
Garrett who treated us (at least the men in the audience)
to two stunning creations from her wardrobe.
I didnt get a chance to chat with Gavin, because
he had to dash off afterwards to travel to Plymouth where
he was conducting another concert on the Sunday evening.
But I did renew an acquaintance with senior BBC producer
Neil Varley, who was deeply involved with the festival.
I first met him when Brian Kay kindly invited me to be
a guest on his "Light Programme" back in 2004.
I learned that Neil was responsible for the invitation
I had received to participate in the interval feature
during John Wilsons concert on the next evening.
Like everyone else that evening I got soaked by the rain
on the way back to the hotel, but happily it had stopped
when I drew back the curtains the next morning. It was
still cloudy, but the weather forecasters had told us
that it was going to get very warm over the next two or
three days, and they were certainly right for once! The
hottest day for five years happened that weekend!
I arrived at the RFH around 10:15 and decided to look
around the free Exhibition on the ground floor about the
original Festival of Britain 60 years ago in 1951. The
Royal Festival Hall is the only surviving building from
that ambitious project, and the models inside reminded
me of the Dome of Discovery (the inspiration for the Millennium
Dome?), the TeleKinema (where I saw 3-D films for the
first time they are not new, as some youngsters
might believe), and the famous Skylon looking like a massive
cigar with points at both ends aiming at the stars. Like
thousands of other schoolchildren I stood right below
the point of the Skylon and looked upwards it required
a certain amount of courage! I was saddened that it had
to be scrapped for the steel to be recycled but, like
today, those were hard times and money could not be wasted.
One of the exhibits was a film about the Festival with
music by Clifton Parker. Unfortunately it was a poor copy,
and the music sounded distorted most of the time.
It was then time to have a coffee in the bar on the ground
floor looking out across the riverside terrace to the
Thames. There are plenty of places for refreshments on
the South Bank site, with many tables outside just
like you find in Mediterranean countries. This is becoming
more common in Britain these days, but the reason is probably
the ban on smoking inside buildings, rather than a sudden
improvement in the weather!
I found a spare table and settled down to enjoy my coffee,
and started looking through some of the leaflets I had
picked up with details of the festival events. A few minutes
later I casually looked around and discovered to my surprise
that Petroc Trelawny was sitting at the next table with
a gentleman I assumed to be a BBC producer. They were
obviously working on a forthcoming programme, so I waited
until they got up from the table before introducing myself
as the person Petroc would be interviewing during the
concert interval that evening. I received a warm welcome,
but quickly left because he was obviously busy and there
would be plenty of time during the afternoon to discuss
my interval chat.
Back in the main bar area (adjacent to the ballroom)
I soon met up with Philip. We checked the various events
that were taking place and decided that it would be nice
to join the audience for "Music Matters", broadcast
live on Radio 3 from 12:15 to 1:00pm. The subject under
discussion was What Happened to British Light Music?
Petroc Trelawny chaired a panel consisting of John Wilson,
Philip Lane, Anne Dudley, Stephen Banfield and Richard
Witts the last two being music historians.
The opinions of the panel were interspersed with recorded
segments from Daily Telegraph radio critic Gillian Reynolds
and Paul Gambaccini. I was particularly pleased that a
number of recordings I had sent to Andrew Smillie were
used in the programme. He had told me a couple of weeks
earlier that he couldnt find any openings or endings
of light orchestral programmes in the BBC archives. I
supplied him with several, so listeners heard brief intros
from "Farnon in Concert", "Music All the
Way" (Farnon) and "String Sound". Other
dubs I provided turned up elsewhere, including Eric Coates
talking about his "Knightsbridge March" during
an interval chat with John Wilson later that evening.
I was prepared to be disappointed with the programme.
So often discussions about Light Music tend to get rather
stuffy and highbrow and drift into areas not really relevant.
But this time I was pleasantly surprised by what I heard;
Paul Gambaccini, in particular, had a good depth of knowledge
and he clearly explained how the BBC had decided it didnt
want light music any more, even though the public clearly
I knew that several RFS members had joined Philip and
myself in the audience (Brian Reynolds and André
Leon to name just two), but it came as a complete
and very pleasant surprise as we were leaving after
the programme to discover that Marjorie Cullerne and Gilles
Gouset were with us. Marjorie is a great niece of Haydn
Wood, and UK members will recall the entertainment she
and Gilles provided at our London meeting in April 2009.
Our paths were to cross several times during the weekend.
As the audience melted away we suddenly realised that
several RFS members had stayed behind to chat, so we had
another mini-meeting of the society!
Mention should be made of the Function Room in which
the broadcast took place. It is situated on the fifth
floor, and the audience sits facing the outside wall of
the building which is entirely glass. The view is breathtaking:
the nearest large object is the London Eye still
going strong 11 years after it was constructed for the
millennium. A little further away, and somewhat older,
are the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, alongside the
River Thames. It is a vista to cherish, and many people
remarked on it.
Although there is a welcoming bar in the main meeting
area of the RFH, someone in authority made the very sensible
decision to make copious amounts of water freely available.
At each end of the bar there were four or five water jugs,
regularly replenished, with plenty of plastic cups. We
all made full use of this facility, because it was getting
very warm although the air conditioning seemed to be coping
During Saturday afternoon I was privileged to sit in
on the rehearsals by the BBC Symphony for the "Great
Masters of Light Music" concert to be broadcast on
Radio 3 in the evening. Television cameras were also present
to record the concert for transmission later on BBC Four.
The leader of the BBC Symphony is Andrew Haveron, a long
time friend of John Wilson who I met several years ago
for the Angela Morley recordings at Abbey Road in 2003,
reported in JIM 156. The orchestra responded magnificently
to the challenge of playing what, for them, is slightly
unusual repertoire. I mentioned this to a lady violinist
during the break, and she assured me that they all loved
it, but added "its hard to play!"
John was perfectly at ease throughout the rehearsals,
and he received superb support from the musicians. Not
every piece was played in its entirety; professional musicians
of this calibre are expert sight readers, and it was often
only necessary to confirm the tempo and deal with any
special nuances that John wanted to bring out. During
Scrub Brother Scrub John asked if I thought he
had got the tempo right. "Yes
I told him, to which he replied "I think Ill
take it quicker" which he did! I felt around
eighty pairs of eyes looking towards me wondering what
on earth that elderly gentleman was doing sitting alone
in the audience, advising John on a particular tempo!
During the afternoon I chatted briefly with producer
Andrew Smillie and presenter Petroc Trelawny to decide
on the format for the interval feature. There was no question
of using a script that would have sounded too contrived.
So we decided that I would busk it, confident
that Petroc would keep everything under control.
The rehearsals were over by 6:00pm and I met up with
Philip, his wife Edwina (who had arrived for the concert)
and some other members in the bar. But I was still replying
upon copious amounts of that free water: the secretary
of the Robert Farnon Society sounding drunk on air would
not have done much for our image!
Barry Forgie and the BBC Big Band were rehearsing in
the ballroom for their concert due to be recorded later
that evening for broadcast late on Sunday. The indefatigable
John Wilson had agreed to do a pre-concert talk at 6:45
so we made another visit to the Function Room with its
magnificent view. Once again, many RFS members were present
to hear John chatting in a relaxed manner about his career.
Half an hour later he had to leave us to get dressed for
the evening concert which commenced at 8:00.
Unlike the previous evening, the concert was entirely
orchestral. The full programme is printed elsewhere in
this feature, from which it will be noted that the first
part concentrated on three major composers,
while the second part featured some lighter works. Knightsbridge
was supposed to be the final piece, but John treated us
to an encore with Non Stop by John Malcolm, the
famous ITN signature tune.
I was sitting in the BBCs box during the concert,
where the technical equipment for interviews was installed.
This is situated above stage right, and immediately below
me was the telescopic TV camera which zoomed over the
orchestra and sometimes came so close that I could have
almost jumped on!
At the end of the first part, as John Wilson left the
stage to enthusiastic applause, he was grabbed by Petroc
for an interview. When asked, John said that his favourite
composer was Eric Coates, and this was the cue for an
interview with Coates played with Knightsbridge
in the background. This allowed enough time for Petroc
to dash off the stage and run through the maze of corridors
at the rear, then come up two flights of stairs and join
me in the box for the live interview. "Dont
worry", the producer had told me. "He timed
it earlier today and he managed it with six seconds to
Petroc asked me about Robert Farnon and the society,
then Anthony Bath, the 93 year old son of Hubert Bath
talked in a recorded interview about his famous father.
I chatted again, mostly about the music in the second
half (especially Haydn Wood and Angela Morley) then it
was all over. The final recorded segment featured a new
brass fanfare composed by Anne Dudley especially for Light
Fantastic, then John was back on stage for the second
The producer had asked me to call round afterwards to
meet him at the two outside broadcast vans parked next
to the Queen Elizabeth Hall. He seemed happy with the
way it had gone, then said: "I didnt like to
tell you before, but you were my first live interview!"
It was also a first for me, because all my previous appearances
on national radio have been recorded. What a risk the
BBC took, letting me loose with a live microphone!
When I got back inside the Royal Festival Hall I was
greeted by Philip who told me, somewhat excitedly, that
he had just heard the BBC Big Band play a rare Robert
Farnon arrangement called Monseigneur which he
had done for Lew Stone. The band would be continuing until
near midnight, so understandably no one seemed to want
to leave. Soon we saw John mingling with the crowds; goodness
knows where he gets his energy, having been on the
go since mid-morning onwards.
I decided that I deserved my first G&T of the day,
so I waited patiently at the bar. Looking in the mirror
behind the bar I noticed that Petroc had joined me, so
I offered him a drink. He politely declined, explaining
that he was buying for his family who had attended the
concert. A young schoolgirl, who he introduced as his
niece, was with him and he said she had enjoyed the concert.
"What did you like most", I asked her. "Jumping
Bean" she replied with a lovely smile!
I stayed to enjoy the BBC Big Band until after 11:00
and then decided to make my way back to my hotel. Outside
on the South Bank it was still pleasantly warm, and all
the bars and outdoor cafes were still very busy. It was
a lovely atmosphere, which perfectly matched the day which
was just ending.
Around 10:30 next morning I was back in the foyer of
the Royal Festival Hall where the sound of an amateur
choir learning to sing Noel Cowards Play Orchestra
Play greeted me. Absolutely charming. Then I met André
Leon. We had only been chatting for a couple of minutes
when we were joined by Marjorie Cullerne and Gilles Gouset,
and decided that it was time for coffee. We sat outside
on the riverside terrace and spent a most pleasant half
hour chatting about music.
One of the many events that had been organised for the
weekend was a busk of the Archers signature
tune. Some amateur musicians were starting to congregate
nearby and Marjorie (who had her violin with her) decided
to join them. Soon around fifteen assorted instrumentalists
launched into Barwick Green and the result was
absolutely hilarious. Petroc was with a BBC sound engineer
recording the performance and I told him that
one of the violins was played by the great niece of Haydn
Wood. He was impressed!
In the foyer of the Queen Elizabeth Hall next door Radio
3s "Sunday Morning" with Suzy Klein was
already in full swing, and we made our way there to enjoy
Shelley Van Loen and the Palm Court Strings. Brian Reynolds
was already in his element, but before I took my seat
Petroc asked me to confirm the Barwick Green details,
because he introduced an excerpt from the busk
in the programme. We also heard the tenor Robert White
sing a beautiful version of Eric Coates Bird
Songs At Eventide with Stephen Hough on piano.
At 12 noon André and I decided it was time for
lunch, and a cup of tea and a generously filled ham sandwich
fitted the bill admirably. I was so fortunate to have
André with me because, not only is he fascinating
company, he also knows the area like the back of his hand.
I had my own personal guide! After lunch we strolled along
to the National Film Theatre, taking care not to get too
close to a fountain where it seemed like hundreds of children
were having the times of their lives using it to keep
cool. The snack bar of the NFT was packed, but Andrés
experience turned up trumps, because he took me through
the building to a bar at the rear which was not only pleasantly
cool, but almost empty.
We looked around the NFT then decided to return to the
Royal Festival Hall where we found a quiet area on one
of the upper floors overlooking the Thames so that André
could interview me for a future UK Light Radio broadcast.
He is still working very hard to get this exciting project
up and running, and if persistence has its own reward
he will surely succeed. When we made our way down to the
foyer we found that John Wilson and his Orchestra were
starting to rehearse for their Tea Dance due to be broadcast
from 5:00 until 6:30. They sounded marvellous, and John
had clearly taken a lot of trouble in his choice of material.
We were sitting at the side of the dance area near the
band, and halfway through I Concentrate On You John
came across to me and asked if I recognised it. Of course
I knew the tune (it happens to be one of my favourites
by the great Cole Porter), but the arrangement was new.
"Its by Bob Farnon!" said John, with a
big grin on his face. He must have discovered it in the
library of maybe Ted Heath or Geraldo - no doubt well
find out one day.
The rehearsals continued all afternoon, and were a real
joy to hear. But the place was starting to get busy, and
people were arriving all dressed up for the dancing that
was to follow. We had to vacate our ringside seats, and
wander off to the side areas.
It was soon apparent that the BBC and Royal Festival
Hall had failed to anticipate the excitement that Johns
Tea Dance would create. The place was getting packed,
and people were wandering around trying to find seats.
I suspect that nearby bars and cafes were being raided,
because I observed people coming in from outside carrying
piles of seats with them!
No doubt the dancers and onlookers enjoyed themselves
for long into the evening, because a Disco followed the
Tea Dance. But André had to get back home for another
commitment, and I decided that an evening meal in the
calm of the hotel would be the perfect end to the day.
The coincidences that had been such a feature of my own
Light Fantastic weekend continued on the Monday.
While waiting at Waterloo station for my train to be advertised
on the departures screens the gentlemen standing next
to me said hello. It was Peter Simpson (chairman
of the Harry Roy Appreciation Society and a member of
the RFS since the early days) who was waiting for the
same train! He and his wife Beryl were going to Honiton
station en route to a weeks holiday in Sidmouth,
which happens to be a favourite spot for Moira and I to
relax as often as we can. So I had the pleasure of their
company all the way to Yeovil, which made the journey
pass so much quicker than it usually does.
It was the perfect end to a magical three days, which
was made all the more enjoyable by the many wonderful
people I met.
This feature appeared in Journal Into Melody