Sleeve notes by Radio 2’s Malcolm Laycock
Most of the singers I talk to say, at some stage in the conversation, “Of course, I’d love to do an album with strings. Not just a quartet or a section, I mean a proper big string orchestra, the real deal. But that age seems to have passed, doesn’t it? Well, record companies think it has.” Or words and shoulder-shrugs to that effect. But here are the good times back again: a fine British singer lushly cocooned in big pillows of orchestral sound. It’s luxury, yes, but not decadence. The sound isn’t twee or over-sweet, it’s serious – music played to the best concert standards, in the service of songs that have proved their worth to the English-language culture all over the world.
Gary Williams qualifies for this ritzy treatment more often than most singers, because in an addition to the association with John Wilson immortalized here, he has also been a regular with the BBC Concert Orchestra on shows like Radio 2’s “Friday Night Is Music Night”. Till recently, the vocal tradition in that programme was largely one of bulbous overstatement – all chesty operetta and stout British baritones. But as Vienna fades, the American tradition comes through, and Gary’s conversational style has made its mark. He can do the rhetorical stuff all right, filling a hall with sound, as audiences for the touring “Rat Pack” show have heard for themselves. But as this record suggests, his forte is mezzoforte: letting the great songs speak, and they do speak, for themselves.
The Williams style is attractively confiding, and that’s no doubt emphasized in this collection by his partiality for the verses of songs, those scene-setting preambles that set up the main melody. Not every verse in the Great American Songbook is worth keeping – some of them are too far embedded in the plots of Broadway shows and the like. Others, almost too grippingly written, threaten to take on a independent identity of their own. Listening to the verse of “More Than You Know”, you could easily be persuaded that this was a quite different song called “I’m Growing Fonder Of You” (and of course, a song of that title did appear, a few years after the publication of “More Than You Know”). Some verses here are rarely heard, for example the brief traveller’s tale that ushers in “I Remember You” – though the actual ushering is done by the lovely trombone of Andy Wood. His work on these tracks recalls Ray Ellis’s backing for Billie Holiday’s “Lady In Satin” album, where Urbie Green and J.J. Johnson provided the trombone comments. As for “I Remember You”, the song has taken decades to recover from Frank Ifield’s yodelling version, but this recording may finally wipe that memory out for good.
The song-list here is quality throughout. British singers have often fought shy of “My Buddy”, I think, fearing its age (published 1922), its evident Americanness, its open sentimentality, and the suggestion in the title of two chaps communing. Gary’s recording proves there’s nothing to be wary of, and the elision between verse and chorus is expertly done (with a surprise built in) by arranger Andrew Cottee, as so often on the album. “Why Shouldn’t I?”, a fine song from Cole Porter’s “Jubilee”, has from time to time given notice that its days as a rarity are over, but then it slips away again into the shadows. It’s good to have it persuaded into the light once more, and to remember the Thirties era it came from, when the top songwriters had such confidence in the health of their competitive trade that they were able to throw compliments at one another within the lyrics of their hits, as Ira Gershwin compliments Irving Berlin in the verse to “They Can’t Take That Away From Me”.
And how do we account for the album’s lovingly desolate, or desolately loving, title-song? It’s a remarkable song, encompassing two almost incompatible moods. Schwartz and Dietz wrote it for a show in 1932, the pit of the Depression, and the “togetherness” is positive, yet desperate. The song everybody knows from “Flying Colors”, the show in question, is “A Shine On Your Shoes”, one of the happiest cheer-up songs in the book. “Alone Together”, its companion-piece, is unimaginably different, and Gary sings it here, very affectingly, as if to a suddenly empty universe.
It must be said that he has an ideal accomplice in John Wilson. This is a man who has never recovered from the shock of hearing that most of the manuscript scores of the great MGM musicals had been used as landfill for a golf course. Wilson has dedicated much of his life to rectifying such acts of stupendous vandalism, and in piecing together the old orchestral arrangements again from recorded evidence, he’s been known to take a whole day over two troublesome bars, when the instrumental voicings just didn’t sound quite right. He has also recruited his own orchestra, often waylaying young players on their way from the music schools into the wider world. They give him fresh, unclichéd playing, while he, in return, is able to impose his very definite ideas of what he wants on musical minds that are not yet set in their ways.
Incidentally, I’ve always been in favour of full listings of orchestral players on popular-music sessions. Even if you’re not vitally interested in who played what, you can have wonderful fun name-spotting. Was the Edgar Lustgarten who played cello in the Hollywood studios any relation to the lugubrious geezer of the same name who used to present true-crime stories on British TV and film? Felix Slatkin, who played weepy violin for Sinatra, was certainly the father of conductor Leonard. And why do American harpists have lovely celestial names, like Helen Bliss Hutchison and Grace Paradise?
In this connection, posterity will note that the temporary celeste-player attached to these sessions for some, as yet unissued recordings, was one Richard Rodney Bennett. (Knighthoods are not worn at the celeste). RRB has a prodigious knowledge of songs, and what he doesn’t know he learns from that wonderful network of song-fans that populates New York. If you’re short of an obscure verse, he can get it for you, a service he’s performed more than once for Williams and Wilson, notably in their explorations of the Nat King Cole repertoire.
It’ll be obvious to you from the first bars of this album that it’s been made by people truly devoted to the material they work with, yet not overwhelmed by the responsibility of keeping these songs alive and fresh. “Every now and then in this job,“ Gary tells me, “I find myself singing at some special occasion, perhaps in a famous hall, and I’m so worried about getting through the gig that I forget to enjoy the experience. I’m so pleased that during the second session I was relaxed enough to enjoy the realisation of my ambition: recording some of my favourite songs in the famous Abbey Road studios (Studio No. 2) with such a wonderful orchestra.” They can’t take that away from him, and now you can share in his good fortune.
“A must for anyone interested in the art of vocal expression” Clive Fuller ‘In Tune’ Magazine
“Michael Buble is the not only singer keeping the Sinatra flame alive. Britain’s Gary Williams has, in fact, been working this side of the saloon for quite some time. His model this time is not so much the insouciant playboy of Songs for Swingin’ Lovers as the pure romantic of In the Wee Small Hours. Williams could not have asked for a better companion on the journey than the conductor John Wilson, the Geordie arranger responsible for the lush sound of Kevin Spacey’s film tribute to Bobby Darin. If Williams’s voice is a little on the light side, Wilson’s orchestra is always on hand to supply a velvet backdrop. Nelson Riddle and Gordon Jenkins would surely have approved.” Clive Davis, The Times
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
“A collection of gentle ballads from the great American songbook, stunningly sung by Gary and perfectly accompanied by John Wilson. The fresh arrangements by Andrew Cottee are simply beautiful. I’ll stick my neck out and say I think this is the finest vocal record of its kind to emerge from Britain since the days of Matt Monro. It is rare for me to be able to listen right through a whole CD without getting restless, but not so with this. Not only that, Mike Dutton’s sound engineering (recorded at EMI’s Abbey Road studios) reminds me of the halcyon days of Capitol Records. As I said on Radio 2, “Just when you thought that record companies were not making such records anymore, up pops Alone Together. A great team of young talents which bodes well for the future.” Malcolm Laycock, Big Band World Magazine
“This CD stands out as the best overall performance to date, of the talents of the best British performer of romantic standards exhibiting a range of talents that improves with every production.
No apology is necessary for Gary’s following in the footsteps of other greats of the genre. There is no attempt to imitate the talents of the “greats” because this is a stand-alone performance by a singer at the height of his powers as far as the romantic ballads are concerned. The roll call of composers and lyricists could not be bettered and the CD could well have been entitled “The Best of the Great American Songbook”.
Accompanied by the John Wilson orchestra, surely currently the musicians who can play to the strengths of the best voices available today. Always in sympathy with the singer and the mood of the song, the John Wilson orchestra captures completely the subtle overtones of the music and lyrics of the best writers there ever were. From Carmichael and Mercer to the words and music master, Porter, the selections of numbers deserves and demands the best performances from singers and musicians. Some years ago now this reviewer described Gary’s live appearance at the S.M.S. Birmingham Branch as “this 27 year old master inspired an almost 100% standing ovation”. This now 34-year-old inspires the same sentiments.” Perfectly Frank Magazine
“the finest vocal record of its kind to emerge from Britain since the days of Matt Monro” Malcolm Laycock
“Although not a household name Gary Williams has certainly paid his dues. He became the regular singer with th BBC Big Band and has also sung and recorded with the Syd Lawrence Orchestra. He has toured the UK with a number of shows including, The Magic of Bacharach, The Les Dennis Laughter Show, Swingin’ on Broadway and The Legend of Sinatra. He is currently playing the role of Frank Sinatra in The Rat Pack Live From Las Vegas which opened in the West End of London and is now touring with the show in Europe. He has a close working relationship with conductor and arranger John Wilson and he is with John Wilson on this album.
For this album Gary Wilson has chosen a programme of quality standards but apart from “My Buddy” and “The End of a Love Affair” nothing too adventurous but he does tend to include the verses to the songs. He has a very pleasant singing voice but doesn’t appear to have any personal characteristics to distinguish him from many other singers. The orchestra and arrangements by John Wilson are first rate and provide a very nice setting.
It has taken me many years to be able to listen to “I Remember You” without hearing the awful Frank Ifield version in the background, but this reading by Gary Williams certainly helps, complete with verse and some lovely trombone by Andy Wood. I liked the slowed down version of “If I Had You” which has Gary Williams voice floating on a bed of strings plus some moody tenor playing by Luke Annesley. John Wilson’s arrangement for Cole Porter’s “You’re Sensational” is inspired full of strings and woodwinds and provides the perfect accompaniment for Gary Williams’ pleasant vocal. Gary’s reading of Alec Wilder’s “I’ll Be Around” is probably the best I have heard since Sinatra’s version on his “Wee Small Hours” album and the beautiful alto playing is the icing on the cake. Gary Williams’ reading of the verse of “The End of a Love Affair” really sets the song up and he sings it at just the right tempo. The album closes with the title track by Howard Dietz and Arthur Sshwartz, “Alone Together” which builds to a dramatic conclusion.
The more I play this album the more I appreciate it, Gary Williams’ singing has a quality which makes you feel relaxed and some of John Wilson’s arrangements are nothing short of brilliant. If you enjoy quality singing and good arrangements this may well be the album for you, it will save you buying those relaxation tapes.” Jazz Views
“Mention of British singer Gary Williams was made on the list a few months back. His new CD, “Alone Together,” is now out and I just received my copy from amazon.uk. On this disc, Gary sings with the John Wilson Orchestra, with orchestrations by Andrew Cottee. This is a beautiful recording, lush and warm and sensuous. Gary has a gorgeous, unaffected, natural voice and delivers the lyrics of each song with great sensitivity and depth. Although the selection of tunes may be a bit pedestrian for the informed Songbirders among us, I think Gary breaths new life into some of these old standards. His renditions of “I Get Along Without You Very Well” and “Why Shouldn’t I?” are knockouts. Highly recommended.” Songbirds
“Gary has a gorgeous, unaffected, natural voice and delivers the lyrics of each song with great sensitivity and depth.”
“Gary Williams wasn’t really born in down-at-heal Grimsby three decades ago. In a parallel universe, the crooner was born in sun-kissed Monterey in a golden era of smart suits, fast cars, beautiful women and rat packs. Williams is a great interpreter of the American songbook and has the ring of authenticity. Alone Together is an unashamed throwback to the halcyon days of swing.” Shropshire Weekend Post
“In his liner note for the album Gary says “ I want to record an album of great songs with the best arranger, best producer and the best orchestra possible” I have to agree with him when he says “This CD is that ambition realised…” I cannot think of any other recent album of great songs that has sent a shiver up my spine not once but several times during listening. The last time this happened to me was when I first heard Dick Haymes sing ‘Where or When’ on his now classic 1955 LP ‘Rain or Shine’ and here we have Gary singing that very same song. To achieve the happy marriage that occurs on this CD song after song must tell the listener something good. I hate comparisons and always try to avoid them but this album brought back the atmosphere created at many a Capitol session. The combination of the John Wilson orchestra, his superb soloists and Gary is a winning formula and one, which has been built through working together for many concerts. The sheer size and excellence of the orchestra assembled explains how and why so magical a sound has been created.
Gary Williams should now be well known to every music lover in the country for it is his interpretation and ability to sing ballads and up-tempo songs combined with faultless orchestrations and playing that creates this magic. It is refreshing to hear Alec Wilder’s “I’ll Be Around” given a definitive performance and new life being brought to Johnny Mercer’s “I Remember You”. And in the year of great interest in all things Cole Porter, Gary comes in with 3 classics “Why Shouldn’t I?” “Just One of Those Things” and the aptly titled “You’re Sensational”. The songs here make up a who’s who of composers and I can hear this CD being played on many a retrospective of their work both now and in years to come.
In his liner notes BBC Radio 2 broadcaster Russell Davies remarks upon the availability of a full orchestra listing. It is rare to find such dedication on all fronts as so many labels cut corners but not here. A special mention must go to the sound engineers, Chris Bolster and Mike Dutton without whose ability we might not have the audible feast on offer. Overall, this is a must for anyone interested in the art of vocal expression.” In Tune Magazine