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A THIRTEENTH GARLAND OF BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC COMPOSERS

Composers of light music are legion and it is not difficult to confuse them. I confess that in the past I have mixed up Johnny Pearson, composer of the well-loved TV title music for All Creatures Great and Small and Owen M.D., and Johnny Douglas, also a TV composer but known too for his work in stage musicals and for the large screen in films like Bikini Paradise, Circus of Fear, Kid Rodelo and most notably the heart-warming success The Railway Children.

Douglas - and Pearson - are still with us in 1997. Philip Green (1911-82), composer and conductor, goes further back, his floreat period being the decades immediately after the last war. He, too, worked in films, producing music for Tiara Tahiti, The March Hare, Shopping Centre, Horse Feathers and Song of Soho (a total of seventy film scores); his stage music included some for a children's musical, Noddy in Toyland, a revue, Fancy Free and the ice show Wildfire. Songs like Let's Go To The Pictures and Love Is Like An April Shower were popular in their day (which was around 1950), but his orchestral music was arguably the most highly regarded. This included several titles in Latin-American mood like the Cuban Suite, plus others published under the pseudonym Don Felipe, also the suite Cocktail Hat, and the single movements Shopping Centre, Horse Feathers, White Orchids and A Romance On A Theme Of Paganini.

Active around the same time was Francis Chagrin (1905-72), born in Romania (his real name was Alexander Paucker) and musically partly trained in France but who settled in London from 1936. During the Second World War he worked for the BBC's French service, which may account for the large number of settings of French traditional songs among his output. His tally of works includes two symphonies, a Piano Concerto and some chamber music and he was long associated with what became the S.P.N.M., but much of his output was "light": incidental music for radio productions and for over two hundred films (e.g. An Inspector Calls, Colditz Story, The Clue of the Twisted Candle), brass fanfares, recorder music, Four Lyric Interludes, the Five Aquarelles, an Elegy and Lamento Appassionato, all for strings, and Alpine Holiday, the Spanish dance Castellana, Helter-Skelter (an example of the British comedy overture), Promenade, Renaissance Suite, Concert Rumba and the Romanian Fantasy (which had a harmonica solo). Clockwork Revels, Divertimento for brass, Tussle and the Tango Mirage were all published for smaller ensembles or for piano solo.

Returning to TV composers, Richard G. Mitchell recently made something of a name for himself with his eclectic background music for the adaptation of Anne Bronte's novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1997), while this Garlands' series would hardly be complete without mention of the Australian Barrington Pheloung, born in Sydney in 1954 and so bound up with music for the long running Inspector Morse detective series that one might be forgiven for wondering if he had written anything else. In truth he is a prolific composer. His work as musical adviser/conductor to the London Contemporary Dance Theatre doubtless inspired many of his 50-odd ballet scores, although A Midsummer Night's Dream was written for Scottish Ballet. His scores for feature films include Nostradamus, The Mangler and The St Exupéry Story, his other television ventures Days of Majesty, The Tall Ships, Portrait Of A Marriage, Treasure Island and The Politician's Wife. Among more serious works have been concertos for guitar, two guitars, (guitar and bass are instruments he plays himself) and cello.

A composer active in the generation after the Second World War is Donald Phillips, whose best known piece is Concerto in Jazz for piano and orchestra, a kind of up-tempo Warsaw Concerto or Cornish Rhapsody. Other descriptive orchestra titles by him include Cuban Holiday (1948), Soho Waltzes, Street of a Thousand Memories, Tap Dancer, Melody from the Sea (1958), October Rhapsody (1958), Park Lane, Toni's Tune (1960), Skyscraper Fantasy, Opening Night, Israeli Carnival, Swinging Sleigh Bells and The Olympics. Most of these titles were issued as piano solos and owed their full orchestral versions to professional orchestrators like Ronald Hanmer and Robert Docker. A solo for cornet (or trumpet), Trumpet Fiesta achieved considerable popularity and his output also included songs like Pantomime. Among latter-day "mood music" composers may be mentioned Bruce Campbell, for his popular Cloudland (he also published a Medley for Ocarinas!) and Heinz Herschmann, who arrived in Britain long ago as a refugee from the Nazis and who has pursued a career in music publishing; his Cradle Serenade and The Galleon are most appealing orchestral numbers.

Happily still with us is William Davies, born in 1921, organist (and pianist) on the BBC for many years and indeed elsewhere; in recent years he has been several times to Doncaster where his skill and amiable personality make him a popular visitor. He has the ability to improvise popular medleys at the drop of a hat - written-down compositions include Organists on the March, Oranges and Lemons, Duo for Caroline and the title music for BBC radio's Just William (from memory this goes back to the 1940s): nothing to do with Richmal Crompton - the William is/was Davies himself.

Alan Bullard, born in London in 1947, and for many years a Colchester resident, is not easy to type-cast, but much of his educational music is light-hearted in character. One may cite as examples, the Recipes for solo recorder, the Galloway Sketches for recorder and piano or guitar which are a tribute to Walter Carroll, Colnford Suite for trombone and piano, Three Picasso Portraits for saxophone quartet, the Colchester Suite for orchestra, dating from 1982, Lyric Overture (1976), Cyprian Dances and the more recent (1993) Heritage for symphonic wind orchestra premiered in Leeds. A fuller study of Bullard has now appeared in BMS News.

And so to my by now customary indulgence of "puffing" the light music composers of my home town, Doncaster. The Schools Music Service has produced several in recent years: Ray Woodfield and Peter Sumner, both now retired, are two who have achieved mentions in a past Garland. Of present employees one may mention Kevin Edwards, percussion tutor, and one of the finest percussionists in the North of England; he has produced many arrangements for percussion and his most recent composition is the up-tempo Hop-Scotch for his student concert band and, premiered in April 1997. The service's guitar tutors need, more than most, to have their pens at the ready as music for guitar ensemble is indifferently catered for by the standard music publishers. Particularly popular in recent student concert has been Steve Merrett's Appleby Rag, a catchy essay in the style of Scott Joplin (and called after the William Appleby Music Centre which is the service's headquarters). Most prolific, though, is Martin Nockalls (born 1954), trained at the Huddersfield School of Music (as it was then called) who estimates he has produced over two hundred original written works for guitar solo or guitar ensemble, all more or less to be reckoned as light music, and roughly the same number of arrangements. Of all his works Martin rates most highly his Romance Collection, in effect a three movement suite with the individual movements called Adagio, Samba and Appassionata.

© Philip L. Scowcroft.

 

 

 

Enquiries to Philip at

8 Rowan Mount

DONCASTER

S YORKS DN2 5PJ

Philip's book 'British Light Music Composers' (ISBN 0903413 88 4) is currently out of print.

E-mail enquiries (but NOT orders) can be directed to Rob Barnett at rob.barnett1@btinternet.com


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