GREG FRANCIS : Conductor/Orchestrator and Music Director...

'The story so far' …


Greg was born in Cambridge on 6th January 1947. His father was a professional trumpet player and had played with the rising stars of the Cambridge music scene in the late 1940's ..Jack Parnell, Tony Osborne, Ken Thorne (film orchestrator and composer Superman etc). Greg was thus broughtup on the big bands and orchestras of the day. His 'hero' at the age of 7 or 8 was Frank Chacksfield,and this style of music left a deep impression on his later musical tastes.

Originally, he learned to play trumpet, but this was to be abandoned at the age of 21, after his father died following a long illness, and he set out to learn keyboards, with the sole intention of learning orchestration. He was self taught in this art, and says he is happily still learning.

His keyboard playing however, took him on strange adventures, and he spent some time playing with popular groups of the 1960's and 70's such as 'The Foundations' (Build me up Buttercup etc) and also as Musical Director for American hit band 'The Tymes' with lead singer George Williams. Greg later went on to play piano for around 3 years for British singer/impressionist Karen Kay - mother of Jamiriquoi singer Jason Kay. During his time as a working keyboard player, he also worked with very many of the top names in the cabaret circuit of the 1970's and 80's, including Bob Monkhouse, Jim Bowen, Charlie Williams, Bernard Manning, Roy Walker, Paul Daniels, Tom O'Connor, Bernie Clifton, the Nolan Sisters, and many more singers and comedians of Television fame. He also directed (musically) the very first Neighbours pantomime in the Uk with 'Shane and Daphney (1988) and Madge and Harold (1989).

In 1979 he moved to Germany and worked in various recording studios in Frankfurt, Hamburg and Dusseldorf, having whilst there, written some arrangements for Hessen Rundfunk Orchestra in Frankfurt. He returned late in 1980 and was immediately offered a job as arranger with London Orchestrations, arranging weekly pop tunes for big bands, and writing general 'dance band' arrangements. This led to an offer to become full time Staff Arranger for Mecca Organisation Ltd and he was based in the Oxford St London offices of Mecca, writing 3 arrangements a week for the 57 resident bands in the Mecca Dance Halls. During his time at Mecca, he began increasing his contribution to the Thames TV 'Miss World' and 'Miss Uk' contests, writing for the 37 piece orchestra which was directed by Phil Tate.

In 1981, he received a commission from the BBC Midland Radio Orchestra to write and conduct 20 arrangements, including 6 vocal arrangements to be sung by popular vocalist of the time, Geoff Taylor. It was at this point that he realised he was in dire need of conducting lessons and so he went off to study under Leonard Davis, conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. This stood him in good stead for what was to come later. He went on over the succeeding years to arrange for, and conduct most of the BBC Orchestras - including the 84 piece BBC Radio Orchestra and the 'Strings of the Radio Orchestra'. He also transcribed, re-orchestrated and recorded over 300 tracks of Bert Kaempfert's music, with the BBC Langham Orchestra, for such popular shows as 'The Jimmy Young show' and 'The Ray Moore show'. He also arranged and recorded sessions for the BBC of 'Hooked on Classics' style music and famous Film themes with the 'Strings of the Radio Orchestra', and what he fondly recalls as 'an outrageous' session with the BBC Radio 'Big Band'.
 
His worst nightmare he says, was a session of 'Songs from the Shows', which featured the full BBC orchestra, two singers, and 12 scores - which he did not see until half an hour before the recording, due to a mix up. He says 'many of the big 'name' conductors would not do this session - I was gullible at the time, and I didn't realise that better people than I had run out of the studio in tears '! However, despite the struggle through old scores which resembled the 'Dead Sea Scrolls',  the session completed with just 20 seconds to spare !

During his 'time' at the BBC, Greg built up an enviable reputation for being able to write arrangements very quickly. In fact, they were usually last minute and written overnight.

In 1982, after a personal recommendation from a colleague, the great  film arranger/ composer Bernard Ebbinghouse, Greg received a further commission from the North German Radio Orchestra (NDR) to arrange film titles for the 84 piece Radio Orchestra in Hannover. This lead to more arranging work, initially arranging for NDR musical directors Alfred Hause (NDR Big Band) and Dieter Glawischnig, and eventually, to being asked to conduct his arrangements himself.

In 1983, he was approached by the head of music at Rediffusion, and commissioned to arrange and conduct 20 orchestral tracks a month. This was to include 5 original compositions each month, and it was an agreement which continued for the next 11 years. He composed in all, over 350 titles of original music - some of which was subsequently used by Thames television, and he covered, arranging wise, almost every conceivable style of music.

By 1986 the BBC were getting rid of their orchestras (29 were to go) and this lead to Greg deciding to form his own orchestra and perform a touring tribute to the great orchestras. This was to mostly centre around the music of German bandleader Bert Kaempfert who had died in 1980, and the orchestra performed on tour throughout the UK for the next 3 years, often working 4 or 5 nights a week, and providing much needed work for the redundant BBC musicians. Greg performed the tribute to the music of Bert Kaempfert, with the help and encouragement of Bert's wife Hanne. This was to finish in 1989 when Hanne died, and the Kaempfert 'estate' took over.

In 1989, Greg was approached by (Lord) David Puttnam with regard to supplying an orchestra of young musicians to appear in his new movie 'Memphis Belle'. Greg also directed the orchestra himself on film, and so impressed was David Puttnam with the orchestra, that he asked them to perform at the Royal Premiere in London. This lead, with some encouragement from David Puttnam and Warner Films USA, to keeping the orchestra together, as a working memorial to the 8th AAF bands. Thus, the 'Memphis Belle Swing Orchestra' was born.

 This was to continue until around 1995 when Greg received a commission from Granada TV to do some arranging work for 'Stars in their Eyes'. He went on to accompany 2 of the participants in a touring show, featuring the music of Harry Connick Jr and Billie Holiday. He was also appointed as Musical Director and Arranger for the touring show of Stars in their Eyes compered by Bradley Walsh (singer/comedian and star of Coronation St) for the John Mills Organisation.     

During 1996, Greg became Musical Director for upcoming singer of show songs and Arias  Mark Rattray. Together, they appeared on tour of the Uk theatres, and made a notable appearance on BBC Pebble Mill at One.
 
In 1997, he received an urgent request from Hollywood film composer John Murphy (Lock Stock & 3 barrels, Snatch etc) to orchestrate 4 full orchestra titles for a film recording. He transcribed the 4 'Sinatra' style tracks within 3 days, having re-scored them and copied the parts himself. His ability to turn around arrangements quickly, led to a plethora of work in Hollywood and the UK for Warner Bros and New Line Cinema. Greg continues to orchestrate film work, much of it recorded at the famous Parr St Studios in Liverpool.

 Also in 1997, Greg seized the opportunity to re-form the old Squadronaires Orchestra. Following the death of bandleader Harry Bence, he contacted Mary Aldrich, wife of the famous original leader of the Squadronaires, Ronnie Aldrich. Mary was 100% behind Greg's idea to re-form the orchestra as a tribute to the RAF Dance band, and for all the young musicians to be dressed in full RAF uniform. The orchestra continues to perform 14 years later, though now under the direction of singer Mark Porter.
 
In 2000, Greg was invited to supply a range of bands managed by his company, at the world famous Blackpool Tower Ballroom. By this time, Greg owned and managed the 'Glenn Miller Tribute Orchestra' the 'New Squadronaires Orchestra' 'The Memphis Belle Swing Orchestra' and he had re-formed the 'Blackpool Tower Orchestra'. All of the bands were to play at the Blackpool Tower ballroom for the following 4 years - 7 nights a week. During 2003, Greg produced another orchestra, to specifically accompany a new show he had devised 'The Kings of Swing'. Thus was formed 'The Kings of Swing Orchestra'. The show comprised 4 singers, including Lynn Kennedy who is well known for her interpretation of the 'swinging standards' recorded by Doris Day. The music was all in the style of the 'Rat Pack' era, and this lead Greg into his new project - transcribing and re-orchestrating the arrangements of Nelson Riddle, Billy May etc. Meantime, Greg had also written a programme of music for a 50 date tour of a show entitled 'Stephen Triffitt celebrates Sinatra' and had recorded an album with a full orchestra with strings.

 Following the great success of the 'Kings of Swing' show, Greg has since 2004 been Musical Director of the show on tour. His next project was to be the 'Bobby Darin Songbook', which  features the 'Nelson Riddle Tribute Orchestra', and for which he enlisted the services of BBC award winning young arranger Phil Steel. Together, they transcribed over 30 of the superb arrangements written for Darin by the likes of Billy May and Richard Wess. Greg says, at this time, he has never been so busy - at a time when most people are looking forward to retirement.

During 2007, Greg decided that he would like to realise a lifetime ambition – to assemble an orchestra specifically to play 'Popular Light Music', particularly the music of his 'all time' favourite composer Leroy Anderson. Thus was formed The National Concert Orchestra of Great Britain which, Greg decided, would be based on a 30 piece line up - but expandable to 45 piece if required. The NCO's inaugural concert was performed in North Wales during December 2007 in a concert entitled 'A Festival for Christmas'. Over 2 hours of new music arrangements were written by Greg, including of course, Leroy Anderson's 'Sleigh Ride' and his well known masterpiece - a 10 minute medley entitled 'A Christmas Festival'.

As if to emphasise his determination to establish this new orchestra within the realms of light and popular music, Greg also accepted a tour of over 20 dates for April/May 2009, backing a stage show 'Bat the Symphony' (originally performed with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra) and on completing the Leroy Anderson program of music, he began the task of re-orchestrating the music for this 2009 project.

During 2008, Greg was invited to conduct the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and this entailed writing 36 new scores. The show featured 18 singers, and each one had to have 2 songs orchestrated especially for the RLPO – in the popular idiom. The subsequent concert was a 'sell out' (and happily, the bar reported the highest bar sales ever!).

In 2009, Greg was once again invited to conduct the RLPO for the opening of the new Pier Head in Liverpool. He also got he opportunity during the year, to work with singer Alfie Boe, in a concert in their mutual home town of Blackpool, and orchestrated a full program of music for a Chrsitmas concert at the o2 Arena in London with his orchestra, and singers including Marty Webb and Steven Gately. He has also written several orchestrations of music composed by his son Paul for Sky TV, which have been recorded by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. (see below). Additionally, Greg was approached by singer Jason Isaacs to provide his orchestra to accompany some theatre shows. Jason went on to win the title of 'Crooner of the Year' on the Alan Titschmarsh show on TV.  Greg wrote new musical arrangements for Jason's show, and a tour of the Uk theatres, is now scheduled for 2011.

Also, during 2009, Greg was asked to provide the music scores and orchestra, to accompany the Granada TV 'Coronation St' show 'When You Wish Upon a Star'. This featured many of the actors from Coronation St, including Kym Marsh, who brought their singing talents to a charitable event, which raised over £230,000:00 for children's charity.

In 2010, Greg decided that he would like to present a series of concerts of the music of Johann Strauss Jr.  Thus, a new show entitled 'The Vienna Proms' was established, and once again, the arduous task of writing a complete program of scores especially for The National Concert Orchestra of Great Britain – the orchestra of which Greg is now Conductor and Musical Director. The Vienna Proms was indeed a resounding success, due perhaps, to it's current popularity.
During this year, a further tour of 'Bat – the Symphony' took place. This was a 20 date tour with the National Concert Orchestra.

At the same time that Greg was busily setting up the Vienna Proms concerts, he was approached by the owners of a new venue in Blackpool – The Sands Venue, and asked if he would supply his own orchestra for 2 nights a week. The Sands is a very high class establishment, and the work required writing music on a weekly basis, for the 'TV celebrity stars' who appear there. At the latter end of the year, Greg took his Orchestra out of the Sands Venue, and went straight aboard the Thompson 'Destiny' cruise ship, for 2 weeks of good old fashioned ballroom and sequence dancing. They are booked to return aboard for 3 weeks in April and May 2011.

Plans for 2011 include an expanded tour schedule of the 'Vienna Proms' during June, August and September, several Last Night of the Proms outdoor events (for which Greg has enlisted the unrecognised singing talents of his close friend of 34 years standing – Bernie Clifton) and also a further tour of 'Bat – the Symphony'. The other 'swing' bands are still busy – in fact, the New Squadronaires begins a 40 date tour in 2011, although Greg has handed over the reigns to singer Mark Porter. Also scheduled for 2011, are 2 further concerts in June and October with the stars of Coronation Street, and a further tour with TV award winning singer Jason Isaacs.

All of the bands which Greg has formed 'from scratch' have provided literally, millions of pounds worth of work to young musicians over the past 20 years – in fact, almost a million pounds in a year. It is a legacy of which, Greg is immensely proud, although he says 'It's a sad fact that the musicians of today, seem to believe that 'loyalty' is something you get on a card from the supermarket or garage. Most unfortunately, the old team spirit engendered by the truly great musicians of the 1940's to 1970's has gone, and  the music business is nowadays like any other business – self interest comes first.'

Although Greg has faced the audiences over the years, he describes himself as a 'backroom boy' –  but nevertheless, enjoying every minute at the front of the band or orchestra on stage. 'Whatever the style of music doesn't matter to me' he says, provided it is played well, and enjoyed by the listeners or dancers. Greg has been married for 28 years, to singer Lynn Kennedy. They have one son, Paul aged 27.

Paul has somewhat taken over the composing side of things. In the past 2 years, Paul has composed the music for two Terry Pratchet films – The Hogfather, and The Colour of Magic. Both films were made by Sky TV, and featured actor David Jason. Paul has written a number of pieces for Sky TV – recorded by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He has composed music for a plethora of  T.V. Adverts, including the new 'Blackberry' advert for Sky Atlantic, and has recently returned from living in Hollywood, where he spent several  months composing music for films. In between composing, Paul also plays Piano with various of the orchestras, time permitting, and has taken over as Musical Director of the 'Kings of Swing' show.  Paul's latest project is composing the music for a new major T.V. series for worldwide distribution.

© copyright Greg Francis, 2005 (Revised December 2011)
This document may be reproduced freely, provided no amendments or additions are made without the written permission of Greg Francis.  Thank you.   

Email : Greg@UkMusicProductions.co.uk