Andrew Ford

This collection of short pieces by fifty writers is about long players in more than one sense. Not only are they discussing LPs, but also albums that have been long played.

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Chapter 148 of Craig Brown’s engrossing book is speculative fiction. Gerry and the Pacemakers are ‘the most successful pop group of the twentieth century’, their 1963 recording of ‘How Do You Do It?’, which the Beatles turned down, having launched their career. ‘To this day,’ Brown writes, ‘they remain the only artists to have achieved the number one slot with each of their first three singles.’ The last bit is almost true: they held that record for two decades.

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At the end of 1910, Irving Berlin took a winter holiday in Florida. James Kaplan writes, ‘Here we must pause for a moment to consider the miracle of a twenty-two-year-old who in recent memory had sung for pennies in dives and slept in flophouses becoming a prosperous-enough business man to vacation in Palm Beach.’

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In 1973, aged six, I heard the song ‘Rock On’ by David Essex. I was obsessed by its sound. While I couldn’t have put it into words, I half understood that the song was made sonically exciting not just through its inventive arrangement (a song about rock and roll with no guitars!) but also its production techniques, especially the use of reverb and delay to ‘stage’ the vocal and instrumental performances.

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The idea that reviewing books, concerts, theatre, and the visual arts was part of the function of a journal of record has practically gone. Now if you’re reviewed at all, you’re lucky to get a paragraph. The flip side is the blogger, with no constraints on length, who writes thousands of ill-disciplined words. Obviously, magazines such as ABR have taken up some of the slack, but there’s only so much they can do. When it comes to charting and evaluating daily arts practice, our newspapers have abnegated their duty.

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‘Rather like a consummate storyteller, Mozart knows how to keep us close to the edge of our seats,’ says Andrew Ford, composer, broadcaster, andauthor of this collection of illuminating essays on musical themes assembled from his talks, articles, and scripts for the radio series Music and Fashion. Like Mozart, two of Ford’s strengths are his compelling voice and his capacity to keep the reader enthralled. The down-to-earth title signposts something different, something digestible and fun to read.

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The four years prior to the period covered by this new volume of Britten’s letters had been difficult for the composer, with the first real setbacks in a hitherto charmed career. In 1954, his opera Gloriana celebrated the dawn of a new Elizabethan age by looking back to the final, troubled years of the first Elizabeth’s reign, in particular her private life. Not only did the opera fail to please the first-night toffs, it was also the subject of questions in the House of Commons, the Establishment having hoped for something more like Merrie England in the coronation year. Then, in 1956, Britten’s only ballet score, The Prince of the Pagodas, caused him unprecedented difficulty: this most fluent and professional of composers was encountering something like writer’s block.

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Claudia Gorbman, in her ground-breaking and much-admired book Unheard Melodies: Narrative Film Music (1987), invites us to imagine an alternative cinematic universe, one in which music has never played a part. Imagine if this were the norm, and imagine, after years of being accustomed to films in which music was absent altogether, attending a film such as the 1940s weepie Mildred Pierce and hearing the ebb and flow of Max Steiner’s luscious orchestral score. ‘What sheer artifice this would appear to the viewer! What a pseudo-operatic fantasy world! What excess: every mood and action rendered hyperexplicit by a Wagnerian rush of tonality and rhythm! What curious music, as well – robbed of its properly musical structure, it modulates and changes color, chameleonlike, in moment-to-moment deference to the narrative’s images.’ Of course, film music does not always defer to the narrative’s images, but Gorbman makes a good point: our willingness to admit music – music which emanates from a source external to the action on screen – as a perfectly normal constituent of film. It is surprising that we don’t find music in film surprising.

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In his opening sentence, Andrew Ford explains that, ‘The seventy-something pieces in this volume were written over fifteen years for a range of publications and occasions’. Indeed, in the sixty-eight titles that constitute Undue Noise, forty-four of which began life in the ABC organ 24 Hours, Ford confronts us as critical theorist, copious reviewer of music, text and film, diarist, sleeve note writer, radio commentator and university lecturer.

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