Singalong melodies? Surely not… - The Open College of the Arts
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Singalong melodies? Surely not…

I was in Grange-over Sands the other weekend. In keeping with its somewhat old world charm, it has a bandstand where live music is performed on summer Sundays. It had to be relocated from a previous site near the railway station since ladies complained that their clothing was being ruined by soot from passing steam engines.

Flookburgh Band in May 2008 at the Bandstand in Grange-over-Sands

By coincidence, there was a festival on BBC Radio 3 at the same time, featuring light music – which also dates back to a previous age. To those with an ear for melody there was a great deal to enjoy. Many of the pieces were, and are, instantly recognisable, although not perhaps their title or composer. Barwick Green, for example, has achieved huge popularity through being the theme tune for the Archers; originally it was entitled Maypole Dance and was written in 1924 by the Yorkshire composer Arthur Wood. Dating from only a few years later is By The Sleepy Lagoon by the admirable Eric Coates; this is much better known as the theme from Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, albeit with seagulls added to the original orchestration.
In their heyday these tunes, alongside film scores, big bands, and salon music were the popular music of the time. And not only did people listen to the music – whether ‘live’ (including around seaside bandstands!), on the radio, or on records – they also played and/or sang along at home. Indeed, in the days before the Singles Charts, a song’s popularity was measured by sales of sheet music. The first record chart wasn’t published in the in the UK until the New Musical Express did so in 1952; and, in case you’re wondering, Al Martino’s ‘Here in My Heart’ was the first Number 1.
So why did it all disappear so quickly? Well, people cite the rise of a youth culture divergent from parental tastes, the rapid development of technology, and economics, among many other factors. Promoters could put on guitar groups at a fraction of the cost of staging a professional band or orchestra; and, frankly, Elvis Presley was just a little bit more exciting (not to say dangerous) than the Palm Court Orchestra. By the 1970s, discos had taken over from live bands for dances. Not that the term ‘light music’ helps. It implies a lack of seriousness, professionalism and intrinsic value which is both unfair and largely inaccurate.
However, all is not lost. Enthusiasts from the Light Music Society are ensuring this wonderful repertoire remains available and celebrated. The concert of show tunes performed by the John Wilson Orchestra at the 2009 Proms was a huge success and another extravaganza (‘Hooray for Hollywood’) will be top of the bill at the Proms on Monday 29th August 2011. But then maybe George Gershwin and Jerome Kern are closer descendants of Mozart than, say, Steve Reich or Brian Ferneyhough?

Posted by author: Andrew Fitzgibbon
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One thought on “Singalong melodies? Surely not…

  • As an ardent Radio3 listener I listened to quite a lot of the music played in the light fantastic week and while most of it is ‘very pleasant’ and was well performed, apart from the odd gem,I can understand why it has died a death!

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