You’ve heard this piece a lot if you, like me, have regularly tuned in to the BBC over the years. (It was the signature song for the twice-a-day radio program Music While You Work during World War 2: my mother’s time.) This is a sprightly “march” with a grand ending that doesn’t sound deserved—which is why I can’t get it out of my head—unless you know that this is actually the final movement of an entire 17-minute suite.
Performed by the BBC Symphony for the program British Light Music at the 2500-seat Royal Festival Hall in London, 2011.
I thoroughly enjoy watching John conduct the works of Eric Coates as he seems to have taken a personal delight in this particular composer—check out the very grand “Dambusters” below (starting at 6:05; endearing look of satisfaction unclouded by thought at 9:10).
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 Dambusters—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 (6:05).
This quiet little tune, recorded by the 50-member BBC Concert Orchestra in 2014, was just on KUSC, the classical music station of Southern California. Oh, I can’t stay annoyed at the man I’m in love with for very long. I’ll forgive you for West Side Story, John, if you vow to get out of the Proms and go back to doing what you do best.
At around the same time of life baby John was home 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.
I think I was always aware that this thing called music existed—my mother continually had the “light music” station tuned in on the tabletop radio, and I remember, before I could walk, hearing again and again orchestral standards like Leroy Anderson’s “Serenata”, Morton Gould’s “Pavanne”, Trevor Duncan’s “Lady in Love” etc etc, and my absolute favorite, the ubiquitous (because Minneapolis) “Swedish Rhapsody” by Hugo Alfen, jauntily rendered by Percy Faith.
But the Captain Kangaroo theme is the first piece of music I remember being able to grasp entirely, except for that stop-time somewhere in the middle, but then I was only 1 or 2, and I didn’t learn about stop-time until music school. Never even knew the piece had a name besides “The Captain Kangaroo Theme”. Then just last month I landed on this vid of an entire BBC2 program from 2008 dedicated to light music pieces used for BBC shows. Went there to rip the Dick Barton, Special Agent! theme, a Monty Python favorite, for my library—it’s called “The Devil’s Galop” by Charles Williams, by the way—and came away with “Barwick Green” from The Archers, “March from Little Suite” from Dr Finlay’s Casebook etc etc etc. And then like a bolt from the blue at 47:55 was “Puffin’ Billy” which, with a crazy thrill, I recognized from the first four notes, who wouldn’t? And there—and there!—at 36 looking 12—my darling lad on the podium.
Didn’t realize it but I’ve actually had this album (recorded in 2011) for a couple of years now; bought it for Ralph Vaughan Williams’s exquisite “The Lark Ascending”, back when John Wilson was just one of those English names to me. This piece though—what absolutely delicious music. I can’t describe what an almost erotic thrill this wedding cake of an overture gives me, especially knowing who’s at the baton.
“Country Gardens” is one of the few piano pieces I could play all the way through (clumsily, not like the fine player in this clip) so I have a special affection for Grainger’s arrangements and compositions, as well as an admiration for his drive to create a truly “English” school of music. (The drive, not the goal.) I also liked that he married his wife at the Hollywood Bowl after conducting a concert there in 1928.
But ever since music school I’ve also known about Grainger’s unusual sexual drive—his taste for Nordic blondes and being flagellated—plus the fact that in his twenties he was kept as a semi-willing love slave by a fortyish society dame (shades of Joan Crawford!)—and I can’t deny it: The fantasy of pleasuring, of possessing a boy like this, talented and handsome, is delicious.