A hint of Latin Lover

To most of the Anglophone world, the name Manuel evokes the harried Spanish waiter who had the misfortune to work at Fawlty Towers. But before John Cleese created Basil Fawlty, Manuel must have been a bit exotic, a name with a hint of the Latin Lover about it. How else to explain an act called “Manuel and the Music of the Mountains”? This Manuel was an extraordinarily successful band leader and orchestral arranger from the 1950s on.

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Wrong Manuel.

It is no surprise to learn that Manuel was actually a Yorkshire lad, born in Todmorden, a small town near Manchester. His real name? Geoff Love. And no, “Geoff and the Tunes of Todmorden” doesn’t have much of a ring to it. But here’s the thing: Geoff Love’s story was more interesting than “Manuel’s” could ever be.

He was born in 1917, the child of a black American father and his English wife. Think about that for a moment. Imagine growing up in Yorkshire as a mixed-race child in the 1920s.  Love left school at the age of 15, and worked as a mechanic – but he also played trombone, well enough that he become a professional musician, working the dance-hall circuit. After serving in the war, he studied orchestration and became a successful arranger working for major record labels. He arranged major works for Frankie Vaughn and Shirley Bassey, not to mention Laurie London’s version of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”, which topped the US charts in 1957.

geoff love

Geoff Love. Image: Todmorden News

Again, remember that this is a black guy, and this is the 1950s.

So, Geoff Love’s success is an amazing story. Under the moniker of Manuel and the Music of the Mountains, he pumped out dozens of records. Many of them sold in the millions: he had one platinum and fifteen gold records.

Obviously, a lot of people loved what he did.

I have to admit it. I am not one of them. I have listened, with open ears, and it just not my cup of decaf cinnamon chai-latte. There is something about the way the string section often takes up the melody line, filling the aural space usually occupied by a singer, which grates. But that is only me, and millions of people think otherwise. Here is Manuel’s take on the Latin jazz standard “Perfidia”. Just listen.

  • Artist: Manuel And The Music Of The Mountains,
  • Album: Ecstasy
  • Track: B1 Perfidia
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: World Record Club
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: S/5246
  • Year: 1972

Many of the records discussed on this blog, along with more than 1000 other titles, are for sale on Discogs.

Cow bells

Richard Strauss. Heard of him? Somehow, I got it into my head that there was a Strauss family, headed by Johann Strauss, he of “The Blue Danube” and many another waltz. And that Johann was the genius, and Richard the honest trier. A worthy but lesser Strauss, like Leopold Mozart, or Hank Williams Jr, or Julian Lennon. And so, I never paid Richard Strauss much attention.

Why I love Planet Vinyl is that my preconceptions are so often debunked. Richard Strauss was in no way related to the waltz-meister. Nor was his music anything remotely like the fine Hapsburg confections of Vienna’s golden era.

You probably know “Also sprach Zarathustra”, the building, booming trumpets and timpani which ushers in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey? Well, that was Richard Strauss. And he did so much else besides, including this challenging, haunting, alluring work: An Alpine Symphony.

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You can hear the cowbells. Image: The Telegraph

This monumental piece of music is not a symphony at all: rather it is a long series of impressionist tone poems. Taking about 50 minutes to perform, it tells the story of setting out into the mountains at dawn, climbing to the summit, and being caught by a fierce storm, before descending to safety as the sun sets. There are 22 sections, which all bleed into one another without a break. There are few dominant tunes, and the music ebbs and flows and different motifs (there are about 60) play over the top of each other. There is no way on God’s good earth that the whole sprawling thing should work. But it does!

I knew nothing about this piece when I randomly chose this record, and played it on headphones while reading a book. I soon put the book aside, and just listened to the whole thing, entranced.

Here is an excerpt. It is one of the more peaceful sections, in which the climber passes through a high meadow where cattle are grazing – you can hear the cow bells – and then gets lost in thick bushes before finding open air above the treeline. Unfortunately, An Alpine Symphony, is one of those large works for which an excerpt, to invert the usual formula, is less than a fraction of the whole. Try this out, but if you are interested in music, and its ability to wordlessly tell a story, please: find a full recording, close your eyes, and just listen.

  • Composer: Richard Strauss
  • Performers: Rudolf Kempe, conducting the Dresden State Orchestra
  • Album title: The Orchestral Music Of Richard Strauss, Volume 4
  • Track: Extract from “Alpine Symphony, Opus 64”.
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: World Record Club
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: S/5626
  • Year: 1974
  • First performed: 1915
  • This recording: 1971

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

The lady vanishes

On a Cathay Pacific flight bound for Hong Kong, some years ago, I idly flicked through the entertainment channels on the small television in front of me. Among the options was an animated cartoon of Winnie the Pooh, familiar except that Pooh, Piglet and the rest were all speaking Cantonese.

Winnie the Pooh, created by English writer and humourist A.A. Milne in the 1920s, has become truly global. So much so that it is now risky to refer to Pooh, or to share an image of him, on social media in China. It could be taken as a slight against Premier Xi, you see, who is said to resemble Pooh.

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Image: ABC News

Milne also wrote several collections of verse for children. These were hugely popular in their day, but time has not been as kind. Listening to this EP, I can see why. Many of the poems, especially those about Christopher Robin, have a slightly-off sweetness. Others are, well, a bit creepy.

when wwvy

Image: Discogs

“Disobedience” tells of a possessive three-year old boy who demands that his mother never leave the house without him. One day, Mother does go out alone, and vanishes. Despite desultory efforts to learn what has happened, Mother is never seen or heard of again. The end.

As we say in Australia: bloody hell! Can’t see that getting published now. Mind, I had this record as a boy, and loved the poem, thought it clever and funny – nothing more. Maybe we overthink these things.

  • Artist: Poems by A.A. Milne, performed by David Tomlinson
  • EP Title: When We Were Very Young
  • Track: B2 “Disobedience”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, mono
  • Label: Children’s Record Guild Of Australia
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: R 53
  • Year: 1966 (first issued 1957)

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

 

Mozart had a dad

Mozart had a dad.

Of course he did, we all do. It is one of the few certainties in this life, that we each have a father. The experience we have of him varies just a tad: from a loving, patient kind man who is always there, via various stages of impatience, occasional anger, neglect, indifference and abuse, through to the man who conceives and leaves, a presence known only by his absence.

But always, regardless, there is a father out there who is yours.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, maybe the finest composer of music ever, had one too.

2204 coverLeopold Mozart (1719-1787) was a successful and respected musician in his day. Music historiography has not been kind to Leopold. One critic writes he “failed to make his mark as a composer”. I am not completely sure what that means, but I suspect it amounts to “not a patch on his son”. 

It is hard to know how Leopold would feel about being so utterly eclipsed in memory by the short but transcendent career of his son. Wolfgang and his sister Maria Anna were the only two of seven Mozart children to survive infancy. Leopold recognised musical talent in both, and devoted his later years to teaching them the skills of playing and composing.

As a father and a teacher, I love nothing more than seeing talent bloom. My children are already better at music than I am, though that is not saying much. They are also better at sport than I ever was, which is saying even less. I hold the edge in terrible jokes. But to see them grow and thrive is my greatest joy.

I think Mozart senior would have felt the same way. Maybe concealed under the stern patriarchal manners of the time, but even so.

As for Leopold’s music? Well, it ain’t Mozart (I warned you about the jokes). But it is good, enjoyable. This piece comes from what you might call a baroque concept album. In it, the work of some lesser-known composers is grouped together, around the theme of hunting. This piece is the first movement of Leopold Mozart’s “Sinfonia da Caccia” (Symphony of the Hunters), and is written for four horns a string section, and a “fowling piece”. That is what we would call a shotgun.

In this version, there is a percussive effect imitating shots which for mine is a bit tinny: more like a whip-crack than a Winchester. It lets down an otherwise exuberant and delightful piece of music, which really does bring to mind mounted huntsmen on the move. Perhaps it was a bit difficult to fire off real shotguns, in time to the music and inside a recording studio.

  • Artist: Orchestre De Chambre Jean-François Paillard
  • Composer: Leopold Mozart
  • LP Title: Royal Hunts At The Château Of Chantilly 
  • Side 2, Track 2: “Sinfonia Di Caccia: Allegro”
  • Format: 12” 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: World Record Club S/6191
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1968

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs