David Ades recalls a Great British Orchestra
THE QUEEN'S HALL LIGHT ORCHESTRA
During the past two years Vocalion have released two CDs of recordings
by this legendary light orchestra, and the latest has just reached
the record stores. But what exactly was ‘The Queen’s Hall Light
Orchestra’, and why is it still held in such high esteem by many
light music aficionados?
The QHLO was the survivor of a musical tradition which began in
the nineteenth century. For many years the orchestra was associated
with the highest standards of 'traditional' light music, although
it was also responsible for introducing to the public many new works
by the post-war generation of composers.
The Queen's Hall (from which it takes its name) was built in 1893
on a site close to where the BBC’s Broadcasting House is now, at
the top of Regents Street in London. It had a superb acoustic, and
was the only major concert hall situated conveniently in London's
West End. Sadly it was destroyed on the night of 10/11 May 1941
by enemy bombing during World War 2, and was not re-built.
The first Queen's Hall Orchestra was formed in 1895. It became the
New Queen's Hall Orchestra in 1915, by which time the London publishers
Chappells were lessees of the Queen's Hall. It gave its last concert
in March 1927. Fearing they would lose too much money at the box
office, Chappells decided to disband it, rather than allow it to
broadcast. For a while the orchestra continued under the auspices
of the BBC as 'Sir Henry J. Wood and his Symphony Orchestra'.
The New Queen's Hall Light Orchestra (proprietors: Chappell &
Co. Ltd.) existed from around 1916 until 1927. It was conducted
by Alick Maclean and performed mainly for the Chappell Ballad Concerts.
Fifteen years later the name 'Queen's Hall Light Orchestra' was
still owned by Chappells. When they began to issue mood music recordings
for films, newsreels and radio in 1942, the name QHLO appeared on
the 78rpm discs, initially directed by Charles Williams. For their
radio broadcasts and recordings, the orchestra consisted of some
of the finest players in London, often from leading symphony orchestras.
Although not a regular ensemble, it is clear that Chappells were
careful to ensure that high standards were always maintained, both
in terms of performance and repertoire.
The orchestra contributed to various radio series in the 1940s and
1950s, including Morning Music, Home to Music and in their own programme
Musical Mirror (Reflections in Melody) in 1950. Occasionally the
orchestra gave public performances, such as in 1947 when Sidney
Torch conducted broadcasts of seaside concerts from resorts in the
south east of England. Chappells continued to use the name for many
of their orchestral recordings of mood (production) music well into
Within the famous Chappell music publishing group, the Chappell
Recorded Music Library was set up in 1941 to provide mood music
for professional users throughout the world and, as mentioned above,
after months of preparation the first discs were actually issued
a year later. Often copyright problems prevented the use of commercial
records, and producers of films, newsreels, documentaries, radio
and television programmes needed a source of music covering every
possible mood, that would be free from such restrictions - and affordable.
The British pioneers in this field included De Wolfe, Bosworth and
Boosey & Hawkes, but it has to be acknowledged that Chappells
quickly became the industry leaders, especially during the 1950s.
Teddy Holmes was appointed by Chappells as the first manager of
their Recorded Music Library in 1941. He was well aware of the capabilities
of the composers then working in the British film industry, notably
Charles Williams, Clive Richardson and their colleagues who were
employed (often anonymously) by Louis Levy.
Williams was chosen to conduct the first series of recordings, which
took place at the EMI Studios, Abbey Road, London early in 1942.
They were made by EMI’s Special Recordings Department, and the first
single-sided 78s appeared with EMI’s standard label designs (at
least three different versions). Chappells soon started designing
their own labels, initially featuring the word 'Chappell' boldly
shown against a black background with a red piano in silhouette.
This was later changed to the more familiar red and white label,
with black printing. Different labels were used for the same recordings
when they were repressed at later dates.
During 1942 and 1943 Chappells continued to make their mood music
recordings at EMI, Abbey Road, often on Saturday mornings when musicians
were more freely available. Their venue changed to Levy's Sound
Studios at 73 New Bond Street from 1944 until 1946; the following
two years they were back at EMI. Towards the end of 1948, and during
1949 some recordings were made by Decca at the Kingsway Hall. Then
a dispute with the Musicians' Union (involving all mood music publishers)
forced them to switch their recording sessions to the continent
of Europe, a situation which continued for many years.
By the mid-1940s the public was starting to notice the attractive
light music in the Recorded Music Libraries of the various London
publishers from its use on radio and particularly in cinema newsreels.
These records were strictly not for sale to the general public,
but eventually a few of the better-known works started to find their
way onto commercial records.
When they were made, over 50 years ago, electrical sound recording
had only been in existence for around 20 years, but the sound engineers
had already become experts of their craft. Still in mono, they managed
to recreate the subtle nuances intended by the composers and orchestrators
with great success, despite the fact that often as few as only one
or two microphones may have been employed in the studio. The mikes
themselves were of an early vintage, adding to the atmosphere of
these tracks; for example, the brass has a quality all of its own.
Maybe it was the acoustics, or those marvellous glowing valves.
Certainly the musicians were familiar with this kind of music, and
knew exactly how it should be interpreted. So many different elements
combined to make the light music scene of the 1940s what it was,
which is why compilations like these are providing such an important
service in preserving our musical heritage.
When deciding upon the choice of material in these collections,
I have tried to present many talented and important composers in
the first versions of some of their best-known works.
Recognising that keen collectors will already possess recordings
of much of the standard light music repertoire, the opportunity
has also been taken to introduce a number of lesser-known pieces
which are now appearing for the first time on commercial release.
Although most of the 78s featured in the first collection were taken
from their Chappell sessions, I also included the QHLO playing four
well-known compositions recorded by EMI for release on their Columbia
label. It was necessary to include several works which would appeal
to the casual buyer, because future CDs of light music depend upon
existing ones selling in sufficient numbers to encourage record
companies to spend their hard cash!
The latest CD (Volume 2) contains only Chappell 78s, and full tracklistings
of both CDs appear on the next page. I have included several tracks
which were requested by RFS members following the release of the
In total there are 57 scintillating performances by some of the
finest composers of the 20th century, all conducted by the three
‘greats’ - Williams, Farnon and Torch.
Charles Williams (1893-1978) worked in cinema orchestras accompanying
silent films, which provided an invaluable training in the technique
of mood music. With the arrival of talkies he became one of a talented
group of composers who set new standards in pre-war British films,
and eventually the public began to notice his name on the credits.
His Dream of Olwen (from the long-forgotten film "While I Live")
was a massive seller, both in terms of records and sheet music.
Another theme from the 1940s, Jealous Lover, was surprisingly chosen
for the 1960 American film "The Apartment", providing
Williams with a big international hit late in his career. One of
BBC Radio’s most famous themes was Devil’s Galop (on the first CD)
which introduced "Dick Barton - Special Agent". Williams
attempted several sequels, possibly the best being They Ride By
Night. It was extensively featured in a "Dad’s Army" episode,
and perfectly accompanied the antics of Captain Mainwaring and his
Home Guard platoon. Vocalion’s first QHLO collection opens with
The Voice of London which became the signature tune of the orchestra.
Rhythm on Rails and Trolley Bus are other ‘classic’ Williams titles
on the CD. Charles Williams also excelled at ‘busy’ pieces, portraying
everyday scenes from shopping to travel. Less specific than some,
Exhilaration nevertheless conjures up a flurry of non-stop activity,
reaching several climaxes but still maintaining a frantic momentum
right to the end - providing a fitting finale to the second collection.
Robert Farnon (born 1917) is undoubtedly one of the major figures
in quality British music from the second half of the 20th century.
He excels as a conductor, composer and arranger, and the reissue
by Vocalion on CD of many of his finest albums from the 1950s has
revealed the timeless quality of his writing to a new and appreciative
audience. His respect stretches across the Atlantic, and he has
recorded with the likes of Frank Sinatra, George Shearing, Tony
Bennett, Lena Horne, Sarah Vaughan and The Singers Unlimited, to
name just some. These CDs spotlight Farnon working for Chappells,
soon after he had been recruited by the Recorded Music Library’s
founder, Teddy Holmes. In 1976 he reminisced: "I don’t think
there has ever been a more star-studded orchestra than our Queen’s
Hall Light Orchestra, and how they enjoyed playing under Robert
Farnon’s baton the fantastic stream of wonderful and perfect orchestral
pieces that came from his pen." Jumping Bean and Portrait of
a Flirt are among the Farnon treats on the first CD. There are two
fine examples on CD 2 - Proud Canvas and The Huckle-Buckle. They
are far from being Farnon’s best known works (these can be found
on Vocalion CDLK4104), but the sheer inventiveness of Farnon’s fertile
talent shines through in every bar. When asked to arrange another
composer’s work (such as Honey Child by Joyce Cochrane) it assumes
an identity that proclaims its pedigree without question. Now well
into his eighties, Farnon is still creating charming new works from
his home on the idyllic island of Guernsey.
Sidney Torch (1908-1990) began his professional career as pianist
for the celebrated violinist Albert Sandler. Like Charles Williams,
he also worked in cinema orchestras just before the silents were
replaced by talkies, then during the 1930s he became one of Britain’s
most accomplished theatre organists, appearing at the consoles of
Christies and Wurlitzers in London and the Home Counties. After
service in the Royal Air Force during World War 2, Torch decided
on a career change which resulted in him becoming a familiar name
conducting orchestras on radio and records. A prolific composer
for Chappells, he also made numerous recordings for various transcription
services (in the USA as well as Britain), and researchers are still
making fresh discoveries which reveal the considerable extent of
his non-BBC activities. But it was the BBC that kept him before
the public, notably through the radio programme "Friday Night
Is Music Night" which he helped to devise in 1953. Torch composed
over 100 works for Chappells, and also arranged for some of their
other writers (Alpine Pastures by Vivian Ellis is a famous example).
His best-known compositions include Shooting Star and On a Spring
Note (both on the first QHLO CD). Back in the 1950s he achieved
some success with Meandering which is now available again after
an absence of more than forty years. Amore Mio is another Torch
cameo, full of charm and bearing the unmistakable hallmarks of its
creator. Torch’s successful career was rewarded with an MBE in 1985,
but sadly his last years do not appear to have been happy. He died
at the age of 82, having taken an overdose shortly after the death
of his wife, the former BBC producer Eva Elizabeth Tyson.
Space does not permit us to include biographies of all the composers
featured on these CDs, but the following deserve special mention.
Jack Strachey (1894-1972) has ensured his musical immortality by
composing These Foolish Things. In the world of light music he is
also remembered as the composer of In Party Mood, the catchy number
he wrote for Bosworths in 1944 which was later chosen for the long-running
BBC Radio series "Housewives’ Choice". This is just one
of a series of catchy instrumentals that have flowed from his pen,
and the opening number in the second collection reveals his affinity
with theatre and the entertainment scene. Another well-known piece
in similar style is Theatreland. One could be forgiven for thinking
that Top Of The Bill could almost have been written by one of Strachey’s
contemporaries, the ‘Uncrowned King of British Light Music’ - namely
Eric Coates. But the keen listener can identify sufficient touches
which attach the work firmly to JS.
Vivian Ellis (1904-1996) will always be remembered for Coronation
Scot which introduced the BBC Radio series "Paul Temple".
Some years later he struck lucky again, when the producer of "My
Word" chose his Alpine Pastures - perhaps a surprising choice,
since it had previously appeared in cinema advertisements for Ovaltine!
Ellis also had a distinguished career in the musical theatre, notably
"Mr. Cinders" (1929) and "Bless The Bride" (1947);
in his eighties he came to the public’s attention when Sting resurrected
Spread A Little Happiness.
Haydn Wood (1882-1959) was a contemporary of Eric Coates (1886-1957),
both of them enjoying similar successes - originally with ballads,
then concentrating on full scale orchestral works and suites. Roses
of Picardy has been in the repertoire of most singers of the 20th
century (even Frank Sinatra!), and that alone could justify Haydn
Wood’s place among the great popular composers. Recent recordings
of his works have demonstrated the depth and wide scope of his composing
abilities, especially in suites. This native Yorkshireman often
dedicated such works to London, yet the suite on the second CD Snapshots
of London seems to have escaped attention elsewhere for the past
50 years. The first QHLO CD includes the charming Prelude from Wood’s
Peter Yorke (1902-1966) was pianist-arranger with the famous Jack
Hylton Band, but the seeds of his enduring success were sown in
1936 when Louis Levy engaged him as chief arranger with his famous
Gaumont-British Orchestra. The wonderful, rich sound that Yorke
created for Levy was embellished in later years when Peter Yorke’s
own Concert Orchestra made numerous recordings (some of them have
recently appeared on a Naxos CD with the saxophone player Freddy
Gardner - see ‘Keeping Track’ in this issue). Yorke was a household
name in Britain 50 years ago, thanks to his numerous broadcasts
and records. Happily more of his music is gradually reappearing
on new CDs (there is also a fine collection on Vocalion CDEA6005),
but little is known today of his many original compositions. Often
Yorke’s scores can sometimes verge on the rumbustious, but in Quiet
Countryside he reveals the peaceful, mellow side of his nature.
This gentle, flowing melody has been unfairly ignored for far too
long. The first QHLO CD includes the piece he selected to introduce
so many of his programmes, his own Sapphires and Sables.
Clive Richardson (1908-1998) composed many fine light music cameos,
and he came to the forefront of the light music scene in the 1940s,
following a distinguished pre-war career in theatre and films, scoring
(uncredited) most of the Will Hay comedies. Two of his best pieces
are Holiday Spirit and Melody On The Move both on the first CD.
In the style of the former is Jamboree, no doubt demanded by his
publishers as the obligatory sequel which often has to follow a
successful number. It appears on the second QHLO collection, alongside
Outward Bound, which proves that Richardson could also write in
a more contemplative vein.
Montague Phillips (1885-1969) worked in the same areas as Eric
Coates and Haydn Wood, except that his ballads possibly lacked something
which would have made them popular to the masses, and thus they
have tended to be forgotten. But Phillips did succeed in a musical
genre that failed to survive the last century, the operetta: his
"Rebel Maid" (1921) still gets occasional amateur performances,
helped by its ‘hit’ song The Fishermen of England. Disliking the
influences of jazz and syncopation in the 1920s, Phillips thereafter
concentrated on ‘traditional’ orchestral music, much of it in lighter
vein. Works such as his Surrey Suite deserve to be preserved in
modern recordings, and the Waltz from his "Dance Revels"
suite illustrates the kind of well constructed melodies he seemed
to be able to compose at will.
Frederic Curzon (1899-1973) is represented on the first QHLO CD
by his best-known work The Boulevardier. Also a one-time organist,
he held an executive position at London publishers Boosey &
Hawkes where he guided their Recorded Music Library through its
Clifton Parker (1905-1989) produced some fine film scores, notably
"Western Approaches" and "Sink the Bismarck".
He composed The Glass Slipper, a children’s operetta, in 1943; the
Chappell recording (on the first QHLO CD) was used frequently in
the early days of television, often when the dreaded words ‘Normal
Service Will Be Resumed As Soon As Possible’ appeared on the screen.
All of the recordings on these CDs originate from the 1940s, a
period which saw a remarkable outpouring of talent from a group
of dedicated composers who were masters of their particular art.
One could easily dismiss a three-minute work as a mere trifle, unworthy
of serious consideration, but that would ignore the fact that such
a brief time-scale obliged the composers to develop their ideas
with a passion and intensity, and a brilliance of orchestration,
that is thoroughly rewarding for the listener. There can never have
been a period when so much high quality light orchestral music was
being written by so many talented composers.
At the beginning of the 21st Century, music lovers have never had
such a wonderful and varied choice of recorded music available to
them. Long Playing records were superb (and still have many loyal
fans), but it has to be acknowledged that the invention of the Compact
Disc has resulted in an explosion of available music of every kind.
Modern sound restoration techniques (especially the pioneering British
CEDAR system) have encouraged the reissue of numerous recordings
from the past, much to the delight of silver haired collectors who
are now able to hear old friends sounding better than ever before.
Happily this trend does not appear to have stifled new talent: in
the world of Light Music many CDs of new performances have been
released in the past ten years, proving that this particular style
of music still has a lot of life left in it today!
QUEEN’S HALL LIGHT ORCHESTRA - Volume 2
1. TOP OF THE BILL* (Jack Strachey) 2. ALPINE PASTURES* (Vivian
Ellis) 3. HONEY CHILD (Joyce Cochrane)
4. LOOKING AROUND (Colin Smith) 5. CHAMPAGNE MARCH* (Geoffrey Henman)
6. PROUD CANVAS (Robert Farnon)
7. PALM BEACH PROMENADE (James Moody) 8. DRIFTING* (Richard Addinsell)
9. NEWS THEATRE* (Jack Beaver)
Snapshots of London Suite (Haydn Wood)
10. SADLERS WELLS* 11. QUEEN MARY’S GARDEN, REGENTS PARK* 12. WELLINGTON
13. SEASCAPE (Tony Lowry) 14. MEANDERING* (Sidney Torch) 15. QUIET
COUNTRYSIDE* (Peter Yorke) 16. LUNA PARK* (Eric Siday) 17. ORCHID
ROOM (Robert Busby) 18. THEY RIDE BY NIGHT* (Charles Williams) 19.
THE HUCKLE-BUCKLE (Robert Farnon) 20. JAMBOREE (Clive Richardson)
21. AMORE MIO* (Sidney Torch) 22. PAN AMERICAN PANORAMA* (Philip
Green) 23. OUTWARD BOUND* (Clive Richardson) 24. COLISEUM MARCH+
25. PUNCHINELLO+ (John Holliday) 26. MOON LULLABY+ (Mark Lubbock)
27. WALTZ from ‘DANCE REVELS’+ Montague Phillips) 28. EXHILARATION+
Conducted by ROBERT FARNON, except *SIDNEY TORCH and +CHARLES WILLIAMS
VOCALION CDEA 6061
Issued in 1999 - Still Available
QUEEN’S HALL LIGHT ORCHESTRA Volume 1 - Vocalion CDEA 6021
conducted by Charles Williams, Robert Farnon and Sidney Torch
THE VOICE OF LONDON (Charles Williams); JUMPING BEAN (Robert Farnon);
BOULEVARDIER (Frederic Curzon); SHOOTING STAR (Sidney Torch); HOLIDAY
SPIRIT (Clive Richardson); DUSK (Cecil Armstrong Gibbs); PORTRAIT
OF A FLIRT (Robert Farnon); DEVIL’S GALOP (Charles Williams); ON
A SPRING NOTE (Sidney Torch); JAMAICAN RUMBA (Arthur Benjamin);
PICTURES IN THE FIRE (Robert Farnon); RHYTHM ON RAILS (Charles Williams);
EIGHTH ARMY MARCH (Eric Coates); THE GLASS SLIPPER - OVERTURE (Clifton
Parker); HIGH STREET (Robert Farnon); CINEMA FOYER (Len Stevens);
UP WITH THE LARK (Robert Busby); TAJ MAHAL (Robert Farnon); MELODY
ON THE MOVE (Clive Richardson); DANCE OF THE BLUE MARIONETTES (Leslie
Clair); WAGON LIT (Sidney Torch); HEY DIDDLE DIDDLE (Charles Williams);
WILLIE THE WHISTLER (Robert Farnon); SAPPHIRES AND SABLES (Peter
Yorke); TROLLEY BUS (Charles Williams); PRELUDE FROM ‘MOODS’ SUITE
(Haydn Wood); BARBECUE (Sidney Torch); HURLY-BURLY (Len Stevens);
RADIO ROMANTIC (Sidney Torch).