Recorded June 12/13/14
1962: C.T.S. Studios Bayswater, London
Arranged and Conducted by Robert Farnon
Recording Engineer: Eric Tomlinson
Supervising Producer: Alan Freeman, (Pye Records)
|Composers & Lyricists
|1: The Very Thought of You
|2: We'll Gather Lilacs in the Spring
|3: If I Had You
|Jimmy Campbell/Reg Connelly/Ted Shapiro
|4: Now Is The Hour
|Maewa Kaihan/Clement Scott/Dorothy Stewart
|5: The Gypsy
|6: A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square
|Manning Sherwin/Eric Maschwitz
|7: A Garden In The Rain
|Carroll Gibbons/James Dyrenforth
|8: London By Night
|9: We'll Meet Again
|Hughie Charles/Ross Parker
|10: I'll Follow My Secret Heart
|Additional restored track for CD version
|11: Roses of Picardy
|Fred Weatherley/Haydn Wood
Album Production: Following his European tour with the Bill Miller sextet, began a unique album recording session in the Sinatra catalogue with arrangements courtesy of the Canadian born - though long resident in Britain - Robert Farnon. Recording dates were arranged over three consecutive days in the CTS Bayswater studios, in arrangement with Pye Records - the British associate of Reprise. An orchestra of 42 (mainly British musicians, together with Bill Miller) was reduced to 38 for days 2 and 3. The songs to be recorded were a series of the best British ballad classics (though strictly 'Now is the Hour' has New Zealand antecedents). Farnon - one of the world's best 'string' arrangers (who incidentally had been the musical director on 'Road to Hong Kong' shot in Britain the year before and which Sinatra had made a cameo) , had worked on the orchestrations since the final selection of songs had been wired from the States by Sinatra earlier in the year.
Personal Review: The album, unique in its recording outside the US, was in fact only available there as the CD re-release in the 90s, this was partly explained by Sinatra's belief his voice was 'tired' after his long World charity tour which immediately preceded the sessions. Although this has been given some credence by other critical opinion, I find little to complain about the high vocal standards maintained throughout. Much of the success of the recording must also lay with the sumptuous arrangements produced by Robert Farnon. As noted in the CD sleeve notes, the introductions are particularly noteworthy in setting the mood.
The original LP release omitted 'Roses of Picardy' possibly because of Sinatra's unhappiness at attempting the 'range' of the music, its re-instatement first in a Japanese release in the 80s and then on the CD is very welcome. The verse particularly is very challenging vocally but I feel is mastered beautifully by Sinatra. Of the remaining 10 tracks, perhaps the Maori influenced 'Now Is the Hour' is a tad perfunctory and 'We'll Gather Lilacs....' may not have been a good choice - the juxtaposition of Sinatra with the tone of the lyric not really ringing true! 'The Gypsy' by Billy Reid is not my favourite Reid song but there is little to fault here and many might (especially in the UK) feel any performance of 'We'll Meet Again' other than by Dame Vera Lynn is hard to accept - I would disagree, the well crafted piece is a strong Sinatra recording and indeed several other US performers have taken to it in more recent times, including Rosemary Clooney and Andrea Marcovicci.
The remaining tracks are all superb. 'The Very Thought of You' remains Ray Noble's most celebrated piece, and although Frank had recorded other Noble songs previously, surprisingly this was the first for this standard. Britain's other acclaimed songwriter (and playwright and more) Noel Coward provided his most eloquent waltz in 'I'll Follow My Secret Heart' which Sinatra makes an outstanding album closer. 'A Garden In the Rain' also the first recording by Sinatra positively sparkles in the orchestration and was included in a Reprise compilation of Frank's work for the label, along with the celebrated 'A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square' perhaps one of the most recorded of the British standards. (As an aside for up-tempo versions of both 'Picardy' and 'Nightingale' check out the recordings by Bobby Darin at Capitol).
The two final songs on the album were both the third time Sinatra had recorded them, in each case previously for both Columbia and Capitol Records, 'London By Night' and one of the best of all the tracks 'If I Had You'. Both the Billy May arrangement for the former and the Nelson Riddle arrangement for the latter were fine pieces, however the Farnon orchestrations here are perhaps the definitive ones - see what you think. The CD overall is indeed unique and highly recommended ... check out your local music emporium or try an online music store.
CD: Great Songs From Great Britain (Reprise 45219-2 USA Apr 1993)
Original LP: Great Songs From Great Britain (Reprise R910006 UK Nov 1962)
Studio sessions, outakes and alternate takes included
on 2-CD set:
Artisan 605-2, Italy 1995
Havelock Records HR006, Canada Sep 1999
A detailed article 'There Was Magic Abroad In The Air' by Bernhard Vogel which includes the background to the record and details of the complete studio sessions was published in Issue 280 of Perfectly Frank: The Journal of the Sinatra Music Society June/July 2000.
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