The uniquely glamorous sound and the daredevil skill of the John Wilson Orchestra playing Hollywood and Broadway’s most scintillating scores has made them one of the UK’s most beloved group of musicians. Their annual sell-out Prom concerts and national tours – and their first three releases for Warner Classics – have enchanted listeners and won them fans around the world.
Their new album Cole Porter in Hollywood basks in the big-screen glow of the hits Porter wrote for the movies and is a continuation of John Wilson’s work of restoring lost film soundtracks to their original glory for music fans.
“We try to get the style absolutely just so,” John recently told Andy Howells, “That’s what you have to do, whether it be a Beethoven symphony or Cole Porter number, you have to get the style right. So we made a conscious effort to get as close as you can to that periods style.”
The 15 songs on the album feature world premieres of newly-reconstructed orchestrations from original movie soundtracks, nearly all of which had been lost. The album is a glorious return to the resplendent sound that cushioned and encouraged Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Bing Crosby in films such as Can-Can, The Pirate and High Society. The energy, dynamism and detail of the playing is captured in the ideal acoustic of London’s famed Abbey Road studios. “A lot of this material was destroyed in the 1960s,” says John, “when people didn’t realise the value of it. I guess it had been used for the movies and they thought,”well we’ve made the movie nobody’s going to want these bits of yellow paper.””
With the enormity of taking on such a task, does John face a dilemma when selecting material for the albums? “There things I’d have loved to have been on the album, but we didn’t have space for them, because of the constraints of recording time and the amount of available time on a CD its like choosing your favourite children, its difficult. I wanted to represent all of Cole Porter’s different styles and give all the singers a good chance. To put all those factors together at the end of the day, I suppose it all comes down to personal choice but a lot of thought goes into it.”
The John Wilson Orchestra will be touring Cole Porter in Hollywood in November with a nationwide 13 date UK tour which brings them to both Bristol and Cardiff. A hand-picked ensemble of leading instrumentalists from Europe’s finest orchestras, these virtuoso players will be joined by guest singers Anna-Jane Casey, Kim Criswell, Matthew Ford, Sarah Fox and Richard Morrison, their trademark mix of sparkling authenticity and knock-‘em-dead gusto has been described as “Technicolor for the ears.”
“The stuff we didn’t have time to put down on the album we’ll perform live on the tour,” says John, “big hits like Night and Day, I’ve Got You Under My Skin and more numbers from High Society.”
John is keen to point out that the live experience will be very different to that captured on the album. “You get something completely different, more raw excitement. Not that we play it safe in the studio. When we are on the road, we really get stuck in, everyone gives their best night after night.”
Are there any particular performances John is looking forward to presenting? “Obviously the ones when they are instrumental, when there aren’t many singers in there, ” he responds, “That’s our moment to go to town. A lot of the numbers with the singers have got extended dance routines. Obviously we don’t have any dancing because its a concert but they were written for the likes of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly so you get these moments where the orchestra can let themselves go.”
- The Cole Porter in Hollywood National Tour visits Cardiff’s St David’s Hall on November 14.
- For further details on The John Wilson Orchestra visit the official website
- A version of this interview by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on October 24, 2014.