The Earworm That is “Knightsbridge” Conducted by Its Composer Eric Coates and Then By My Bonny John Wilson

John recorded Eric Coates’s entire London Everyday suite back in January and Chandos just released the CD. “Knightsbridge”, the last movement, is well-known as the signature tune for BBC Radio’s In Town Tonight. It’s a sprightly march with a grandness that doesn’t sound deserved, which is why I can’t get it out of my head.

Here it is performed by the BBC Symphony for the program British Light Music at the 2900-seat Royal Festival Hall in London, 2011, with 39-year-old John conducting.

john-wilson-knightsbridge-1You really fought for that tympani, didn’t you? For heaven’s sake my bonny, this isn’t MGM.

And here’s John’s new (though not much changed) rendition with the BBC Philharmonic.

I’m crazy in love with John but I swear to God, I’ve compared this to the 1932 recording of Eric Coates conducting his own piece and Coates’s is far superior. It’s not meant to be grand at all! This is what the sound ought to be, less boomy-boom and more tra-la.

John, we have to talk. The more I hear your musical choices the more I long to get into your head.

An Evening of Eric Coates, Played by the BBC Philharmonic and Conducted by John Wilson, Salford, 8 January 2019

After he finishes his JWO At the Movies gig touring the isle with his eponymous orchestra, cracking waaay off-the-beam jokes between numbers about sexual mores in Now, Voyager (Glasgow’s The Herald deems his whippersnapper remarks “camp wit”!) and playing Fred Astaire’s ballet number from The Band Wagon in order to pay tribute to Gene Kelly(!), my bonny gets back to business in Salford performing and recording a program of Eric Coates: The Merrymakers Overture; The Jester at the Wedding Suite, “Dancing Night”; Ballad for Strings; “I Heard You Singing” from 2 Symphonic Rhapsodies; and for the last number, London Everyday Suite (and you know what that means! It means “Knightsbridge”!! That farkochta earworm I can’t get out of my head!!!) Now for goodness’ sakes John, just play the music and ditch the fatuous pronouncements and the wisecracking. You’re at your best when you’re a musician and not some cheap showman.

John Wilson Vaughan Williams 2nd
At his best: John conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in Vaughan Williams’s Symphony No. 2 (“London”), Birmingham, 2014.

Conductor John Wilson, Filipino Hero Jose Rizal, and the Coates Connection

Since at least the age of 25 my beloved John Wilson has been associated with the prolific, ubiquitous English composer Eric Coates (1886-1957). In Town Tonight…Desert Island Discs…Music While You Work…The Forsyte Saga…all these BBC programs’ familiar signature tunes were taken from original works by Coates; while his most famous film music score, The Dam Busters, is well-known, and not just to British concertgoers or aficionados of British WWII pictures.

Rizal by Austin Coates (Oxford, 1968)

In fact, John just conducted Eric Coates’s short orchestral piece “Dancing Nights” not too long ago. He’s also supposed to be somewhat of a collector of Coates memorabilia and Coates triviabut I’ll bet my beloved Tyneside lad had no idea that Coates’s son, Austin, was a government expert on Asian Affairs; that, like Mister Grumble, he worked for military intelligence; and that, in the 1960s, he wrote for Oxford University Press the definitive biography of physician, poet, novelist, Freemason, Jack the Ripper suspect (very briefly), and intellectual Jose Rizal, the martyred hero of my people, and probably the most fascinating, charismatic human being to walk the earth in the last one hundred and fifty years.

Will continue with this posting after I read Coates’s book, which might take some time, as I have to buy it first and it’s not cheap. But I want all of you to know more about Dr Rizal.

For my review of John’s just-released recording of Eric Coates’s “Knightsbridge”, click here.

My First Music: Friday Night Is Music Night with the BBC Concert Orchestra, Conducted by the Kissable John Wilson, August 2005

At around the same time of life the oh-so-kissable John Wilson was a wee bairn in Gateshead falling out of his high chair in excitement over the brand-new BBC news theme, I was in my crib in the living room of the old one-bedroom apartment in South Minneapolis jumping up and down in excitement to the theme of Captain Kangaroo on TV.

Now here we are with my darling lad on the podium in the first televised broadcast of this longtime radio fixture, and I get to find out the titles of all those excerpts and show themes I’ve heard on the Beeb for years.

A Little Light MusicI will never understand the English tradition of drag. Now, the American tradition of drag, like future husband Mister Grumble doing his Twiggy impersonation at a gay revue in Dallas back in 1964—THAT’s hot.

The program: “The Devil’s Galop” (Dick Barton Special Agent, Monty Python) / Charles Williams; “Portrait of a Flirt” / Robert Farnon; “The Lion and Albert” (comic verse) / Marriott Edgar; March from “Little Suite” (Dr Finlay’s Casebook) / Trevor Duncan; “Barwick Green” (The Archers) / Arthur Wood; “The Typewriter” (The News Quiz) / Leroy Anderson; “Roses of Picardy” / Haydn Wood; “Calling All Workers” (Music While You Work) / Eric Coates; “By the Sleepy Lagoon” (Desert Island Discs) / Eric Coates; “A Canadian in Mayfair” / Angela Morley; “In a Party Mood” / Jack Strachey; “Sailing By” (The Shipping Forecast) / Ronald Binge; “Charmaine” (Monty Python) / Erno Rapee; “Puffin’ Billy” (Captain Kangaroo!!!) at 47:00 / Edward White; “Birdsongs at Eventide” / Eric Coates; “The Dam Busters” March (from the 1954 film) / Eric Coates. Janis Kelly, soprano. Roy Hudd, host.

End of the Year 2018 While I Still Have John Wilson, Conductor in My Head

I’m still finding it mighty strange that my bonny has a birthday landing on exactly the same day as my father’s—the 25th of May, which would make him a Gemini—but somehow it starts to make sense: There’s John of the BBC Orchestra and Eric Coates and Vaughan Williams and the tra-la-boomy-boom that makes up English music; and then there’s John of the big-shouldered swaggering sweating bombastic vibrant American tune book. One (when he plays it well) makes me want to cook him a nice lamb stew with pearl onions swimming in the rich gravy; the other (again, when he plays it well, which is almost always) makes me want to—well, I was in the business, you know, use your imagination.

John Wilson 2.jpeg
Local Low Fell Lad Makes Good

Only don’t be too sure which is which. Like I said, John almost always plays the music of his own country and heritage well, with a deep feeling that’s irresistible; whereas when he works out the great American tunes it turns out more often to be hit-and-miss, with many many many more misses than hits.

But oh! When he does hit!

When bonny John and his orchestra play “Get Happy” or “The Trolley Song” or “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over” or the MGM Jubilee Overture—or the absolute best of the lot, “Slaughter On Tenth Avenue“—it’s freakin heaven, and I’m not the only one to say this. Subtlety is not this lad’s forte when it comes to the American popular repertoire. But when John goes big, bright, busy and loud when the number actually calls for it, screams out for it, it’s so damn satisfying when he does it and does it brilliantly that I want to—how can I put this?—do something for my darling in gratitude…make him a nice meal…fatten him up a little(Ess, kind, ess!)

For right now, though, I’ll settle for a natter on a quiet afternoon, which is why I thought of the Metropole before karaoke time. You know, John, when you get up to Gateshead again. I’d like to see The Angel of the North.

 

John Wilson with Top Tips for Becoming a Conductor (I Swear, That’s the Title of This Vid)

This interview with my bonny lad was put out into cyberland on the BBC Scottish Symphony Facebook page about a year ago, for which reasons I know not. Still, I couldn’t resist the temptation to transcribe it verbatim, in its entirety:

John: “I think a lo’ of the successful relationships between the conductor and orchestra are founded on mutual need, so find a group that really needs you, whatever level that is, whether it be a community orchestra, a community choir, an amateur orchestra, a brass band, a musical theater group, and bring what professional skills you have to them so that you can feed off each other. And all that time, never stop studying scores. You know, that’s the single most useful piece of advice to give to any conductor, is learn your scores. Practice your technique and learn your scores. Learning to read a score is really crucial, learning all the transpositions and being able to look at a score and immediately know what that’s meant to sound like, so that when things aren’t right, your ear picks them up and you can correct things quickly and efficiently. Which is another useful skill for a conductor to have, your ears sharpened to the extent that, that you’re able to solve problems. Your early years should be spent learning, you know, learning what it is that you need to do as a conductor… Get in as much practical experience as you can. I did, sort of, at least a decade’s worth of conducting before I dared to stand in front of a professional orchestra, which was the single most terrifying experience of my life.

“I had a friend who was organizing concerts in London and had a concert series and I was invited to conduct… And I worked with the BBC, actually with the Concert Orchestra, as an arranger, and they asked me to conduct one of their recording sessions, a couple of CDs [John’s first 2 recordings, both of Eric Coates, which were released when he was 25 and 26], and so they showed faith in me, and I was grateful for the opportunity… And I guess I was interested in areas of music that didn’t have many champions, so I got a bit of a head start on that front… Um, and happily I’ve never stopped working since. Now the only challenge (laughs) is to keep on working (word fades).

John Wilson RTE

“But there are lots of different routes into becoming a conductor. As Barbirolli said, ‘Conductors are born and not made.’ So if you want to do it badly enough I think you’ll get through.”

Conductor John Wilson’s First Appearance in the Royal Albert Hall, British Film Music, BBC Proms, 2007

My beloved John Wilson’s very first time on the podium in the Royal Albert was not with his eponymous orchestrathat was in 2009but, at age 35, conducting the 50-piece BBC Concert Orchestra in their program, “British Film Music“. First up is Sir William Walton’s score from the unseemly gorgeous 1969 war picture Battle of Britain. Battle in the Air (at 1:30)” is spirited, ravishing and very dramatic. I saw the film first-run in Minneapolis, then again in London and then again in, of all places, Patras, Greece, but it’s the music I remember most.

John Wilson Battle.jpegYes love, that overtone did seem to go on forever, didn’t it?

Here’s the program:

  • “Battle In the Air” from Battle of Britain (1969) / William Walton
  • Suite from Anna Karenina (1948) / Constant Lambert
  • Prelude from The 49th Parallel (1941) / Ralph Vaughan Williams
  • Waltz from Genevieve (1953) / Larry Adler
  • Theme from Lawrence of Arabia (1962) / Maurice Jarre
  • Suite from The Red Shoes (1948) / Brian Easdale
  • March from The Bridge On the River Kwai (1957) / Malcolm Arnold
  • Love Theme from Yanks (1979) / Richard Rodney Bennett
  • Medley from the Carry On film series (1958-1992) / Eric Rogers (arr Sutherland)
  • Overture from Much Ado About Nothing (1993) / Patrick Doyle
  • “Shakespeare In Love” from the film (1998) / Stephen Warbeck
  • Suite from Wilde (1997) / Debbie Wiseman
  • “Chicken Run” from the film (2000) / John Powell, Harry Gregson-Williams
  • “Shadowlands” from the film (1993) / George Fenton
  • “A Bridge Too Far” from the film (1977) / John Addison
  • “Harry’s Wondrous World” from the Harry Potter film series (2001-2011) / John Williams
  • March from The Dam Busters (1955) / Eric Coates

Cynthia Fleming, leader. Philip Achille, Cynthia Millar, soloists. Maida Vale Singers, chorus. Richard E Grant, host. Appearance by Sir Richard Attenborough.

Fanfares, an Album by Onyx Brass, Conducted by John Wilson

Release date 8 March 2018 from Chandos. After having creditably conducted a brass-heavy, atonal new Turnage piece with the LSO and a circus in Berlin for New Year’s (Circus Roncalli, named after Cardinal Roncalli, His Holiness Pope John XXIII) I suppose my bonny lad was ready for a new challenge. Knowing nothing about the brass tradition in England maybe this isn’t the right album for me to be assessing musically. Still, I will follow (almost) anywhere my beloved leads me, so here we are.

John Wilson & Onyx Brass 2

The only fanfares I know at present are Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” (here performed and riffed on by Emerson, Lake and Palmer) and—like any red-blooded American—the fanfare that begins Alexander Courage’s “Star Trek Theme” (repeated here); but I also remember from my girlhood a stirring, very English fanfare that provided the theme for the 1967 BBC series The Forsyte Saga, which I found out only recently is the beginning of the first movement entitled “Halcyon Days” from the suite The Three Elizabeths written by Eric Coates.

Said MusicWeb International of Fanfares: “John Wilson proves himself to be a deft and intelligent interpreter of this music which he allows to push on in flamboyant display or swagger with burnished grandeur as the mood demands. The playing of the expanded Onyx brass is of exactly the right kind of easy virtuosity and blazing brilliance.”

Check back for my comments after I’ve heard in entirety every one of these 58 freakin cuts.

 

The Death Star and The Dam Busters Played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Conducted by John Wilson

A grand movie score by the prolific Eric Coates, very inspiring and very English. This is the kind of piece that cues you to proudly fly the Union Jack, which predictably some chap did, right in the middle of the Royal Albert Hall. I’m guessing this is some sort of tradition. The 2007 BBC Proms included the famous climactic shots from The Dam Busters—you know, the movie George Lucas ripped off when he did Star Wars. Not the Death Star down there, though, it’s the Eder Dam in the heart of Nazi Germany.

Starts at 6:05 and listen for the Grand Organ. It’s really stirring.

johh-wilson-2007-1.jpegI thoroughly enjoy watching John conduct the works of Eric Coates as he seems to have taken a personal delight in this particular composer—note his endearing look of satisfaction unclouded by thought at 9:10.

The Story So Far; Or, Conductor John Wilson—His Limits

Anyroad, like a good Dr Watson I have compiled a list:

JOHN WILSON – HIS LIMITS

john-wilson-rosza-2-copy.jpeg

Knowledge of/affinity for/talent with:

  • English Light Music – Affinity natural; knowledge vast; repopularized Angela Morley, Malcolm Arnold, Edward Elgar, Edward German, Eric Coates, Robert Farnon, etc etc etc; recorded over a dozen albums of English light music with Naxos, Chandos etc; wrote arrangement of Fantasia on British Sea Songs for Last Night At the Proms, 2003
  • English Light Music, Gilbert & Sullivan Division – Creditably conducted Yeoman of the Guard at the Royal Festival Hall in 2009 and Ruddigore in 2010 (my favorite G&S, as “Basingstoke” was the safeword my boyfriend and I used during bondage games); creditably (I’m sure) conducted a concert performance of Trial by Jury with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, spring 2019
  • Classical Repertoire – Special affinity for Rachmaninoff. Has recorded so far 3 albums in a set of Copland, which doesn’t interest me right now. Creditably conducted Beethoven’s Pastoral as well as Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez with the RTE Orchestra in Dublin. But Mahler. Yeh, I’d like John to eventually work up to Mahler’s 2nd (which TONALLY is up his alley). Only by the time he does get to it years and years from now I’ll probably be dead…
  • Classical Repertoire, English Romantics Division – Creditably conducted Walton, Delius, Britten; deep affinity for Ralph Vaughan Williams (it’s that Sehnsucht, baby)
  • Opera – Creditably conducted Madame Butterfly for the 2016 Glyndebourne tour; creditably conducted Porgy and Bess fall 2018 at the English National Opera; creditably conducted Massenet’s Cendrillon at Glyndebourne, summer 2019
  • Film Music – Creditably conducted “British Film Music” for the 2007 Proms; transcribed by ear complete MGM “lost” movie musical scores including The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me In St Louis and Singin’ In the Rain, resulting in 350+ (John’s count as of 2016, although his count confusingly goes up or down with each interview) pieces of programmable material (for the Proms, for example)—many of which are now of course part of The John Wilson Orchestra repertoire—while the complete scores are now available to orchestras worldwide for symphonic and live-to-screen concerts
  • Big Band/Big Swing – In his early 20s John cut his teeth on this type of music, starting with his stints conducting his Royal College (he’s a 1994 alumnus)/Royal Academy colleagues in the afternoon tea dance at London’s famed-for-its-tea-dances hotels, the Grosvenor House and Royal Park (Times music critic Clive Davis gave the young students a “golden”—John’s word—review) plus The Boatyard, a trendy restaurant in Essex; recorded 8 dance/swing albums for Vocalion; nominated for Grammy 2005 for the soundtrack of the biopic Beyond the Sea (which is really the first time I heard The JWO but didn’t know it)
  • Jazz – John has absolutely no idea what jazz is, yet recorded a thoroughly awful and dishonest album entitled Orchestral Jazz
  • Broadway and the Great American Songbook – DON’T get me started here. I’m blogging about this below.

All the rest is just Cantara trying to sort out where bonny John fits into her inner life. Which as it turns out is in every nook, every cranny

Part 1 “Dopamine” here or above.