Light music in Gt Britain was a popular genre especially during the late 1940,s and into the 1950,s and then during the 1960,s but as pop music as it was dubbed and also rock and roll began to take hold and generate interest amongst the younger and older generations, the enthusiasm for the medium of the instrumental track or tune did seem to wane a little, the record buying public preferring to spend their six shillings or so on songs by the fab four, rolling stones, kinks or even crooners such as Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and vintage rockers such as Buddy Holly, Bill Hayley and of course Elvis etc. Obviously the interest in what was to become known as or filed under easy listening music did not completely disappear and even to this day there is certainly a market for this type of music, in fact in my opinion there is not enough of it played on the numerous radio stations that frequent the airways in this highly technical age. Composers arrangers and conductors such as James Last, Ronnie Aldrich, Tony Hatch, Bert Kaempfert, Les Baxter, Frank Chacksfield, Mantovani etc etc are not heard enough and it seems that this genre of music or at least similar is left to the magnificent Andre Rieu and his orchestra to perform and bring to the public giving him something of a monopoly.
Composers such as Frank Cordell and Ron Goodwin in the UK started out as arrangers and also purveyors of light music, and in these two instances these composers moved into the scoring of movies as did others. Malcolm Lockyer for example and of course Stanley Black, others as in band leaders or conductors made contributions to the world of movie music albums Geoff Love for example with his excellent series of BIG themes LP,s on the wonderful MFP label and in his alias as Manuel and the music of the mountains, then there was the 101 strings and a number of other orchestras mainly made up of session players all of whom produced film music compilations and gave their own particular renditions of big screen blockbuster movie themes, some good some bad and some downright ugly. This of course was not restricted to the UK shores, in the States their was Hugo Montenegro who put his own particular stamp on certain film themes most notably the works of Ennio Morricone as well as writing original works for the silver screen of his own which included LADY IN CEMENT, THE MAN FROM UNCLE, THE WRECKING CREW and a very Elmer Bernstein sounding score for the John Wayne, Rock Hudson western THE UNDEFEATED. Montenegro was also responsible for releasing a number of easy listening albums which featured the work of the Moog synthesiser, these included tributes to popular artists such as THE BEACH BOYS, DUSTY SPRINGFIELD,STEVIE WONDER etc.
Leroy Holmes also produced a number of film music albums, bringing to the film music collector versions of film themes that were not at the time readily available for purchase on a recording. Leroy Holmes in my own opinion produced a handful of fairly entertaining albums, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, which contained versions of DAY OF ANGER, 100 RIFLES, A MAN A HORSE AND A GUN (which is probably one of the best versions of Cipriani,s infectious theme), THE STALKING MOON (again another quite faithful version but with an increased tempo), BANDOLERO, HEAVEN WITH A GUN, HANG EM HIGH and ARIZONA COLT.
Although the arrangements were a little pop orientated it was good for collectors to actually hear a version of these cues with the exception of his take on THE BIG GUNDOWN and ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST(which utilised an accordion in places) are both a little to Mike Samme’s or Ray Conniff for my own personal liking and probably better forgotten. What I liked about Holmes is the way in which he utilised choir, whistler and female solo voice to great effect within his arrangements giving them some authenticity where many other cover versions of the same tracks failed. Then there was his quite unique interpretation of Morricone’s DOLLAR scores a FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, the latter score being given the whole A side of the album that consisted of five cues that were essentially the principal themes fro the soundtrack, the opening theme was actually pretty faithful to the original version in tempo and fairly faithful as far as instrumentation goes, although not as powerful as Morricone’s. The album also featured A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS theme which opened the B side and also included ZORBA THE GREEK, TOPKAPI,VIVA MARIA,THE TRAIN and a particularly quirky and oddball arrangement of British composer John Addison’s TOM JONES theme. Holmes also recorded another compilation for UA records, CINEMA 69, this included THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE, A FLEA IN HER EAR, ROMEO AND JULIET, THE LION IN WINTER and a handful of other themes from movies that were popular in the mid to late 1960‘s. He also released an album of the music from THE DEVILS BRIGADE which was composed by Alex North, plus a number of other albums.
Henry Mancini was slightly different, he of course was an established film music composer, we all know just how many film scores he has been responsible for and also the amount of hit themes and songs the Hollywood music master has to his name, but Mancini was also very active in producing these compilation albums which not only brought to the general public his own music but also his quite unique re-workings of other movie music Maestros themes which he showcased in numerous albums on the RCA Victor label.
All the examples I have spoke of were all really listed under easy listening although they could also be filed under popular films and shows. Okay they were arrangements but arrangements that gave the music a wider appeal and more importantly a bigger audience, taking them into the realms of instrumental or easy listening music and getting collectors of this genre of music interested in film music, but please do not sweep these versions to one side nowadays as the originals are so readily available as downloads, on CD or via many of the music streaming sites, these easy going arrangements were I think responsible for fuelling collectors insatiable taste for movie music and if these were not available many of these great scores and infectious themes would have probably been forgotten. So lets take a look into the backgrounds of some of these talented musicians, arrangers, composers and conductors.
Born Alvin Holmes on September 22nd 1913 in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. He was to become one of the principal conductors and arrangers for MGM and later in his career moving to United Artists. One of the musicians biggest hits was a version of Dimitri Toimkin’s THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY which contained a distinctly haunting whistle solo performance by Fred Lowery. He also achieved hit record status with his arrangement of the HANG EM HIGH theme composed by Dominic Frontiere. He studied at the North Western University and also at The Julliard school, after which he continued his studies under the tutelage of Ernest Toch.
He worked as an arranger for Vincent Lopez for a number of years and then during the early 1940,s started to work with Harry James. After the second world war Holmes relocated to Hollywood and was soon taken on by MGM as an arranger and musical director.
Whilst with MGM Holmes acted as musical director for numerous artists these included Judy Garland most notably on her hit record “I CRIED FOR YOU”. During the early 1960,s Holmes decided to leave MGM and start to work for United Artists, where he was given to record many albums which included his own particular take on famous movie themes, he also acted as musical director and arranger for Shirley Bassey and Gloria Lynne as well as recording a number of albums under the banner of Leroy Holmes and his orchestra putting his own unique musical thumbprint upon numerous evergreen themes and songs but saying this not everyone found the Holmes approach to their liking as composer Bernard Herrmann once said in interview to Royal S Brown. “ By the way you know this terrible record called the complete CITIZEN KANE on United Artists, that’s a fake, its none of my music. I think maybe its sixteen piece orchestra, I think its vulgar. This guy (conductor, arranger Leroy Holmes) never even approached me”. A case of not being able to please all of the people even some of the time it seems. Holmes worked on the TV series INTERNATIONAL DETECTIVE which ran from December 1959 through to June 1961 and also wrote the score for the John Huston movie A BRIDGE IN THE JUNGLE(1971) which was a sequel to THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE but it is his albums of film themes that he will be best remembered for. Leroy Holmes passed away on July 27th 1986 aged 72,in Los Angeles, California.
Born on September 2nd,1925 in New York City, New York. Hugo Mario Montenegro was a band leader/conductor who was primarily known for his unique interpretations of popular songs and film themes. His cover version of Ennio Morricone’s THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY theme being he most well known, reaching number two in the hot 100 in the United States and also being a number one record in the UK for four weeks earning him a gold disc. Montenegro was also a gifted composer, arranger and worked on a number of motion pictures. Scoring CHARRO which starred Elvis Presley in 1969.
He served in the United states navy for two years, where he acted as an arranger for The Newport Naval Band in Newport, Rhode Island.
After the second world war Montenegro, attended the Manhattan College where he studied music composition and at the same time formed his own band which played at school dances. During the 1950,s he began to act as an arranger and musical director for Eliot Glen and Irving Spice on their dragon and spice record labels. He also worked for Time records during this period and during the 1960,s relocated to Los Angeles where he started to work for RCA records producing a series of successful albums for the label which were soundtracks for both motion pictures and television. It was at this time he became involved with the popular television series THE MAN FROM UNCLE and also recorded an album of cover versions of themes entitled COME SPY WITH ME. Montenegro entered into the film music composing arena in 1964 when he was assigned to score ADVANCE TO THE REAR and was contracted to work for Columbia pictures where he worked on movies such as HURRY SUNDOWN,LADY IN CEMENT, two Matt helm films THE AMBUSHERS and THE WRECKING CREW, THE UNDEFEATED and VIVA MAX. During the early 1970,s Montenegro began to work outside of film scoring and produced numerous albums for RCA which were his own versions of popular songs of the time. His career was brought to a rather abrupt end when in the late 1970,s he was diagnosed with emphysema which he died from in 1981.
Born Francis Charles Chacksfield in the town of Battle East Sussex UK,which is close to Hastings on the south coast of England. At an early age Frank began to take an interest in piano and organ and started to learn how to play both instruments as a child. By the time he entered his teens he was already performing at local music festivals and became deputy church organist Salehurst. His working career began in a solicitors office but he soon came to the conclusion that it was music that he wanted to pursue as a career. By the 1930,s he had formed a small band which would perform in and around Tonbridge in the county of Kent in the UK. When World War 2 started he was assigned to the Royal corps of signals, but following a radio broadcast in which he performed piano, Chacksfield was sent to join ENSA where he became an arranger for STARS IN BATTLEDRESS. It was whilst here that he met the famous British comedian Charlie Chester and after the war continued to work with Chester on the radio for the BBC. This led to him becoming musical director for Geraldo and Henry Hall. In 1951 he started to record under his own name as FRANK CHACKSFIELDS TUNESMITHS.
It was two years later that he scored his first hit single on the Parlophone label with LITTLE RED MONKEY which featured clavia and was said to be the first recording to feature an electronic instrument to feature on the British hit parade. After the success of this single he was signed to DECCA records and formed a 40 piece orchestra that was dominated by a large string section which was dubbed THE SINGING STRINGS. Chacksfields first release for the DECCA label was his own take on LIMELIGHT which garnered Chacksfield a gold disc. His next release EBB TIDE became the first ever British instrumental record to reach number 1 in the United States. This earned him a second gold disc and he was also voted most promising new orchestra of the year in the States. Chacksfield became one of England’s best known orchestra leaders and has sold over 20 million albums world wide. His style can I suppose be likened to that of Mantovani, the composer conductor including ballets and popular songs amongst his repertoire. He released his last album THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES (ACADEMY AWARD WINNERS 1934-1955) in 1991. He died in Kent UK in 1995 after suffering for many years from Parkinson’s disease.
Born Annunzio Paolo Mantovani on November 15th 1905 in Venice Italy. He was the son of a violinist who performed at the world famous LA SCALA. Mantovani was always surrounded by music as a child, and was given lessons in musical theory and piano from a very early age. In 1912 his Father was appointed conductor at the Covent Garden theatre in London he moved with his family to England where he remained until his death. At the age of fourteen Mantovani decided to take up the violin and follow in his Fathers footsteps but still using the piano for composing. Aged just sixteen years of age he made his professional debut as a violinist and after touring with an orchestra became the featured soloist. In 1925 he was appointed the conductor of the Metropole Hotel Orchestra, and three years later began to make recordings with the ensemble. In the early 1930,s he established himself as a renowned virtuoso violinist. During this period of his career he formed the Tipica Orchestra who made live radio broadcasts from a famous London restaurant and also toured with the orchestra all over England. They would also record for various labels but settled upon Columbia records in 1936. Mantovani,s reputation spread across the pond to the United States with hit records such as RED SAILS IN THE SUNSET and SERENADE TO THE NIGHT and it was after the success Stateside that Columbia changed the name on the label to MANTOVANI AND HIS ORCHESTRA.
In 1940, Mantovani switched labels and signed for DECCA where he remained for some thirty three years. After the war Mantovani moved away from live performances and concentrated more upon recording working with arranger Ronald Binge, who had been an accordion player in the Tipica orchestra. Mantovani became well know for his lush and romantic sound or CASCADING STRINGS, establishing the core sound of what was to become easy listening music or light orchestral music and a style that would be employed in film and television music for many years to come. Between 1955 and 1972 Mantovani released more than forty albums all of which entered the U.S. chart. FILM ENCORES reaching the top of the charts in 1957 and MANTOVANI PLAYS THE MUSIC FROM EXODUS reaching number 2 in 1961 and selling over one million copies. When DECCA records was dissolved and was swallowed up by MCA in the early 1970,s Mantovani,s career came to an end. Since the early 1950,s he had recorded over fifty albums. He died on March 30th in Tunbridge Wells Kent. He was 74 years of age.
Composer Frank Cordell was born in Kingston on Thames on June 1st 1918. At the age of just seventeen Cordell won a melody maker poll for the most promising jazz pianist of 1935. He was to become one of the leading names in the world of British light music and also work extensively scoring television, film and radio projects. His skills as an arranger and conductor however were gained whilst he was in the RAF from 1940 to 1946, whilst serving in the air force Cordell was appointed musical director of forces radio. After being de-mobbed from the forces in 1947 he married Magda Lustigova and also in the same year began to work for the BBC scoring predominately radio programmes and plays but on occasion working in television on projects such as the TV movie FRANKIE AND JOHNNY in 1950 his most notable work for radio being THE GAY GALLIARD in 1951. His film music career also began during the early 1950,s and at this time he also provided music for various advertisements for television. He gained a reputation for being a talented conductor and arranger and after leaving the BBC became musical director at HMV/EMI in 1955 where remained until 1962. It is probably true to say that the composer was at his busiest during the 1960,s as far as film scores were concerned although he also managed to remain gainfully employed throughout the 1970,s. In the 1950,s through to the end of the sixties the composer worked on a number of movies, these included, THE VOICE OF MERRILL, THE STEEL KEY, THE CAPTAINS TABLE, FLIGHT FROM ASHIYA, but most notably THE REBEL which starred the enigmatic Tony Hancock and also THE BARGEE which was an early success for actor Harry H Corbett. Both of these movies are now regarded as British comedy classics, with Cordell’s musical scores lending much to the overall fabric and atmosphere of each of the movies. He also contributed compositions to early British movies such as COSH BOY (which had a main score by Phil Martell). His music for the historical epic KHARTOUM is also considered to be a classic British film score, the composer infusing a sense of pomp and ceremony into the proceedings with his proud and lavish sounding central theme. Cordell also worked on movies such as TUNES OF GLORY and produced a suitably emotive and English sounding soundtrack to accompany the antics of the playful Otter Mij in RING OF BRIGHT WATER, this soundtrack also yielded a hit song which was performed by Val Doonican a popular Irish artist during the 1960,s, the single entering the British charts in 1969.
As the decade of the 1970,s dawned the composer remained fairly busy and was assigned to movies such as MOSQUITO SQUADRON and HELL BOATS both of which contained rousing themes. But his crowning glory in my opinion was his score for the 1970 movie CROMWELL which starred Alec Guinness and Richard Harris and although at the time of the films release many critics were unimpressed with the composers efforts on the picture it has since become one of Cordell’s most popular works receiving a full score release a few years ago on Intrada records. As well as his film scores Cordell scored the eight episode serial for the CFF entitled PROJECT Z in 1968. He also contributed many works for concert hall performance including concerto for cello, concerto for horn and a wind quartet entitled INTERPLAY. Cordell also scored two documentaries before his death these were TIGER TIGER in 1977 and FATHERS OF POP in 1979 and recorded number of albums that contained light music for EMI, these included, THE MELODY LINGERS ON(1958), SWEET AND DRY,(1960), HEAR THIS,(1963) as well as 10inch albums, extended play discs and singles. Cordell acted as musical director for numerous recording artists Alma Cogan, Ronnie Hilton, Malcolm Vaughn, Max Bygraves as well as collaborating with Semprini, Mike Sammes singers and others. Frank Cordell passed away in Hastings in on July 6th, 1980 aged just 62.
Probably best known for being a pianist, Ronnie Aldrich was born Ronald Frank Aldrich in Erith Kent, England on February 15th 1916. He studied at The Guildhall of music in London and performed as well as arranging music for The RAF band during the second world war. After the war Aldrich remained with members of the band as the squadronaires, eventually Aldrich becoming band leader and continuing to be a popular act until 1964 when the band split up. Aldrich also acted as musical director for Thames Television working on shows such as THE BENNY HILL SHOW, but it is his albums featuring his twin pianos that he is best remembered for, these recordings for the phase 4 label were popular but at times quite predictable, Aldrich including standard favourites alongside his own arrangements of popular film themes, in other words very easy on the ear, his versions of THE AIRPORT LOVE THEME and LOVE STORY standing out.
The composer/conductor/performer recorded some thirty albums in his career. Aldrich began to play piano at the age of three, he was educated at the Harvey Grammar school in Folkestone and took lessons in violin whilst at the Guildhall school of music and Drama. In the 1980,s he formed his own record label SEAWARD which was licensed to EMI and also would broadcast regularly on the BBC with his own orchestra or the BBC Radio orchestra. Many of his original LP releases have been given a new lease of life by Vocalion records on the compact disc format. He died of prostate cancer in the Isle of man on September 30th 1993 aged 77.
More biogs will be added in the coming weeks,