In 1957 he was invited to record Roll The Carpet Up as this was the signature tune for a very popular television show in the north of England. The show starred Leslie Randall and Joan Reynolds who were the flavour of the month for quite some time and went on to advertise Fairy Snow on commercial television for many years. As was the way many people wanted to hear more of the tune and Norman Newell tried to get Ken Morris to record it but when Norman rang him there was no reply and we all know that one Terry Stanford was asked to do it and the rest as they say is Light Entertainment history. I have no idea who recorded it for the television company.
It was written by Derek Nelson. His real name is Derek Boulton and many, many years
later became Russ’s Agent/Manager but Russ didn’t know that he was Derek Nelson.
Derek Boulton was also responsible for all the re-
Quite often I reflect upon the many times that Russ appeared on radio and television from 1957 or even earlier when he was not yet a solo artiste until his sad death. I am fortunate to have a collection of audio and video recordings of many of them and I get much pleasure from listening to and watching them. I wish it was legally possible to make them available to everybody but sadly that cannot be done.
When I look through all the recordings I compare the dates with other events in Russ’s life and start to think just how busy and creative he was. I have already written at length about ROYAL EVENT and it seems that there were other crossovers and time lapses on many other occasions.
Russ was still busy as accompanist Terry Stanford and he was writing songs with Norman Newell along with instrumental titles for Mills Music where he was called “one of our writers”. Some of these were later recorded while others had words added and were recorded by artistes of the day while others lay in drawers and only saw the light of day when Russ as he became was looking for new or fresh numbers to play. Many of these have since been published bearing the legend “as featured by Russ Conway” but sadly never recorded commercially. We would have seen Russ appear on television or heard him on what few programmes there were on the radio for popular music to plug any recordings he made and never given a thought to what might have taken place during the rest of that day. Russ had to earn a living. He was often asked to play for rehearsing artistes at a promotional performance or interview. He was an audition pianist for Norman Newell at EMI and had to play for anyone who thought they could sing and wanted to make a record. Adam Faith was one such hopeful and made it to vinyl at the end of 1959 by which time Russ was a massive star with the world demanding an appearance by him.
You only have to look back at press cuttings to see how busy Russ was. He once told me that there was a period when he was at Abbey Road every day and he was recording singles and LP tracks all the time.
In addition he would be preparing for radio and television shows. Now a contract would say that he would appear and perform as arranged with the producer. This could mean a spot at the start of the show with the rest of the company plus his own spot later when he might want to plug a new recording and perhaps sing with the host and then something in the finale. OR it might be a specific show that meant that the producer had decided in advance what he wanted and discussed it with the artistes who would then get arrangements written and turn up on the day ready to go. OR it could have been a series of programmes for radio or television where running orders and chat had to be planned in advance so that everything ran smoothly. There would be a run through, then a full rehearsal and then the actual show. Not much time left for anything else. But wait: there is a national tour coming up followed by a summer season with new recordings in between to make and promote. Where does the time go?
For the tour there is a new stage act to set with some new musical features, a song, a couple of jokes and “in between” chat. The summer season will involve participation in several scenes as well as his own spot. There will be personal appearances at events around the resort and there will be even more records to make and some radio and television spots to rehearse and record. Then there is that new project for the autumn and the words and music to write for the new musical that is to be presented next year.
Radio Luxembourg had asked Russ to record a series for next year, which can be done in a day but there is not a full day free so it will take a bit longer and he must know what he is going to record during the transmission period so that it gets a plug. The series is so popular another 13 editions are added, the recording of which with all the planning has to be fitted in to the already packed schedule.
While China Tea was riding high in both the Record and Sheet Music charts in the summer of 1959, Russ was busy in the studio recording titles for an LP to be called My Concerto For You, the title tune of which he had written earlier in the year. The LP would be released in early 1960 to coincide with a new television series for the BBC that would be recorded later in 1959 and early 1960. This was a major project and Russ did hope to combine the title track with other still unwritten pieces to become the Bristol Concerto as a tribute to his home town. The “You” in the title was Bristol and the sheet music describes it as the theme from the Bristol Concerto. The theme from this piece was used for the opening of the BBC series and it morphed into the slow majestic theme from Side Saddle as Russ made his weekly entrance. The show closed each week with “Look For The Silver Lining”.
He also had to record a Christmas single, which whatever you may have read, was a tune originally called Han’some Cabbie which Russ had featured on Radio and Television and then decided to resurrect for Christmas as Snowcoach. In one article Han’some Cabbie is referred to as the new composition. Obviously the information got mixed up along the way. In 1959 Russ had appeared on an 18 week Light Programme series that enabled him to play everything he had already written or recorded plus new recordings and some try out items that were recorded later. A few weeks after the series ended he was back with another shorter one, which enabled him to plug Lucky Five that was originally, titled Rosette. In both of theses series, Russ featured a tune called The Whistling Cat, which later became Meet the Wife for the BBC series of the same name. It starred Thora Hird and Freddie Frinton.
Then into 1960 and in June there was that memorable season “Stars in your Eyes” at the London Palladium during which he was recording many things including a series for Associated Redifussion to be transmitted weekly during the run of the Palladium Show. Passing Breeze, which Russ featured at the Palladium, was to be recorded and promotional performances elsewhere had to be recorded and fitted into the Palladium schedule.
Then a new series for ATV to be transmitted in early 1961 while he was out of the country. This series achieved the highest audience ever for a light entertainment show of 19,000,000 viewers.
Later the same year there were more new records and an appearance in Weekend With Lulu, the Coventry Spring Show, another summer season, this time in Brighton, an autumn tour, another television series and in 1962 after the Liverpool Spring Show with The Springfields, came Russ Conway’s Trad Party followed by Always You and Me, which became a landmark in Russ’s performing activities and he featured it right up to his death. In 1962 he also returned to the Billy Cotton Band Show.
The demand continued and his popularity did not wane. Producers knew that an appearance by Russ on television would increase viewing figures dramatically.
Later on when Russ did make only rare appearances the letters received were always greater than for any other performer. Roads had to be closed when Russ opened a new record store, such was his draw.
Yet he always said that when he first became successful with Sidesaddle he was still only playing like he had done for the past ten years and could not understand the attraction and demand – but did appreciate and enjoy it.
Later……….later…………..later, the pressure built up and as the demand for new recordings and live appearances grew Russ began to feel the strain.
Russ was not a teenage idol. He was a man in his 30’s who had served his country in the war and had known hard times and illness but he had a wonderful talent and it had finally changed his life. He had topped the bill at The London Palladium and appeared at Buckingham Palace. He had appeared on all the top television shows plus his regular and happy spot on The Billy Cotton Band Show. The phone never stopped ringing. He was still in demand in the north of England where he had appeared for nearly a year in At Your Request and he was wanted for a tour in that region. Then there was a new LP and another single with the attendant promotion.
Toy Balloons and Lesson One were both launched on Sunday Night at the London Palladium
and gave him a return to the Charts after a time when it seemed his sales were falling.
Lesson One was a non-
He also ran his own fan club with a quarterly magazine plus all the letters. Where did all the time go?
He started to find that it was now becoming more difficult, almost a chore and no longer the pleasure it was. And there were other things he wanted to do. Decisions had to be made but his body made them for him and it was time to rest for a while.
Eventually the old urge came back and with the help of friends and some friendly
agents and producers who knew his appeal, Russ was able to resume his career albeit
with more control from himself and the pressure was eased. He appeared on the Rolf
Harris show to play Sidesaddle 10 years after it was first a hit. The welcome from
the audience must have been heart-
More radio and television came along plus live appearances with seasons at the London Palladium, and new records with several changes of label and we were able to enjoy his music and jollity for many more years to come.
He organised tours of Russ Conway and Friends where he now had command of the stage
and played for much longer at each performance. Television seemed to shun Light Entertainment
artistes but Russ made the occasional appearance on both radio and television. He
teamed up with organist Nicholas Martin for two memorable sell-
Sadly it wouldn’t happen today. Entertainment has changed and the theatres that presented the shows have gone or concentrate on staging musicals. Television is now full of supposed talent shows and reality shows and all day trivia that wastes money instead of producing quality programmes. The record industry is now all digital and downloadable and changes very quickly. Long term careers are not the norm. So we must be glad that we lived through an era that produced many a star both on stage and television with enjoyable records to listen to as well which we still have to enjoy.
Russ was one of them but he did have that extra something or rather those extra somethings that gave us all much enjoyment, a long time ago.
©Bill Murden 2012
Bill Murden Writes Again…………
MORE JOTTINGS ABOUT RUSS CONWAY
The first composition by Trevor H. Stanford was a piece sort of commissioned by the BBC and called Primera.
He wrote it at the behest of Choreographer Irving Davies for whom Russ worked as a rehearsal pianist. The BBC always had a large presence at the Earls Court Radio Show each year and mounted several live shows in the theatre there as well as transmitting many of their popular radio and television programmes from mocked up studios.
In 1955 while playing at the dance studio, BBC producer Ernest Maxim telephoned and asked Irving if he could produce an opening routine for one of the live spectaculars set to a new tune to be played by the Eric Robinson Orchestra.
Irving returned to the studio with the news and asked Russ to come up with the new tune. Russ told him that he had never composed anything and doubted that he could. Irving suggested otherwise and Russ went away to try. He returned in due course with his tune called Primera and in the fullness of time they all assembled at Earls Court.
As Russ had no knowledge of musical notation or arranging, the great arranger Arthur Wilkinson was engaged to listen to Russ playing it and transferred it to manuscript with an orchestral arrangement. Eric Robinson invited Russ to sit by him and asked about the tempo. Russ had no idea what this meant and sang the tune to the great man.
He understood and primed the orchestra and Primera was played.
After his rise to fame, Russ often referred to this moment in his life but it was not until 1961 that the tune was actually published and recorded. In an article in Record Mirror in January 1962 when Russ was preparing the world for Lesson One he spoke about another new recording called Primera that he said would be nothing like you might expect. In fact there was an earlier recording of Primera with Russ playing the honky tonk piano and recorded on the 25th October 1961 at the Toy Balloons session. There were lots of notes with Russ filling in all the in between accompaniments. Listen to it on the box set which is the only release it has had.
Russ recorded it again on the 8th December 1961 at the Concerto For Dreamers session. I would suspect that this version was the nearest to its original performance by The Eric Robinson Orchestra as we are likely to get. The honky tonk version is totally different and a lot more intricate than the orchestrally accompanied version.
At the time, Russ featured Primera on radio, television and stage with yet another arrangement almost combining the honky tonk version with an orchestral backing.
The single with Concerto For Dreamers on the other side was released in May 1962 a month after the Concerto For Dreamers L.P.
There are two other recordings of this Trevor Stanford composition. One is by Geoff Love under his Manuel and the Music of the Mountains guise and the other by Pepe Jaramillo. It all goes to show that both Mr Stanford and
Mr Conway were both very capable of coming up with the goods for many and all occasions, and the variety of compositions and performances will forever be appreciated by those that hear and play them.
Just a footnote. You will remember much of the banter that used to go on between Russ and Billy Cotton. Well, it was created for them by Terry Jones and Michael Palin who went onto Monty Python and other things…………
©Bill Murden 2013