If, like me, you were around in the 50’s you’ll recall how a new Frank Sinatra LP was a great event. You played them over and over, not just for Frank’s flawless singing but to marvel at those wonderful arrangements of rhythmic invention penned by Nelson Riddle and Billy May etc. Did American Popular Music ever get any better than this? On the 15th June at Manchester’s splendid Bridgewater Hall a minor miracle happened, yet again performed by the one and only John Wilson who was conducting the Hallé Orchestra in an evening of Sinatra classic arrangements. As John told the capacity audience, many people think you can just go into a music store and buy the arrangements. They only exist on recordings, and it is a long tedious G-awful job recreating the orchestral parts for performance. John and Andrew Cottee, who also played keyboards, did all the transcriptions. I don’t know what the audience expected of the evening: would the Hallé understand the music?; would they be stiff?; would they swing? All these fears fell away at the end of the first number, Billy May’s punchy arrangement of “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” when the audience’s applause and cheers exploded in realisation of what a treat we were all in for.
Twenty-one songs followed and included “Swinging Down The Lane”, “Nancy”, “I’ve Got The World on a String”, “From this Moment on”, “You Make Me feel so Young”, “Lady is a Tramp”, “Cheek to Cheek”, “I Have Dreamed” etc …simply the best Nelson Riddle and Billy May charts. For me (and enough to make any society member green with envy), the highlight of the evening had to be the four numbers arranged by Bob Farnon – “London by Night”, “A Garden in the Rain”, “I’ll Follow my Secret Heart”, and “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”. Hearing them “live” brings it home to you just how beautiful they are. What a treat.
The vocalist, stepping into Sinatra’s shoes for the evening, was Gary Williams. He made no attempt at impersonation but followed Frank’s vocal line with perfection and phrasing; even Ol’ Blue Eyes would have been pleased with him!
One other treat that evening was the inclusion of five orchestral pieces. The brass section got a thorough work-out on Billy May’s “Brassman’s Holiday” (John was seen to cross himself before the start of this piece), “Solving the Riddle” and Bronislau Kaper’s “Invitation”. The full orchestra played the “High Society-Overture”, “Mind if I Make Love to You”, and “You’re Sensational” with Conrad Salinger contributing to all the arrangements.
This was a wonderful evening of music I thought I’d never hear live. A big ‘thank you’ must again go to John Wilson for making this happen. So much time and effort obviously has gone into bringing this music to life, and it is to be hoped that other concerts will follow in the South (what a nice position for us northerners to be in, for a change!). Reviewed by Malcolm Frazer - Journey Into Melody Magazine