CHAMPIONING-CHAMPIONS-A TRUE STORY.

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We often as collectors of soundtracks or should I say film scores, ponder the question, how come this score has been released and this one has not, or why was this available on an LP recording or a cassette and there has not been a subsequent CD release or even a digital version made available. One such score is composer Carl Davis’s marvellously stirring soundtrack for CHAMPIONS-A TRUE STORY, which starred John Hurt in the role of Jockey Bob Champion. The film told of Champion’s battle against testicular cancer and his triumphant return to racing in which he won the Grand National riding the horse Aldaniti in 1981. The soundtrack or selections from it at least were issued at the time of the films release on an LP which was on Island records, this recording boasted the composer’s epic music and the theme song from the movie SOMETIMES performed by Dame Shirley Bassey. Since this release there has been nothing in the way of an official CD release, ok, yes there was a CD of the soundtrack issued on a label called Movie Tracks, but this was shall we say not exactly official. Plus, it omitted the title song by Bassey, I think probably because of the question of rights and royalties.

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As I am sure Miss Bassey would not have hesitated to instruct her legal team to track down the label in question and make them pay. So why is this still not issued in any other format apart from the LP and a cassette that was issued in the USA? I have attempted to see if this could get a release but alas every time came up against a lot of red tape and invariably closed doors and brick walls. But this as they say is the nature of the beast, we call the film music business. The theme by Davis has been included on various compilations, normally of British film music, and on a handful of the recordings that Davis himself did with various orchestra’s over the years, but never the full soundtrack or even a straight re-issue of the tracks on the LP.

 

I was lucky if you can call it that to pick up the Movie Tracks compact disc many years ago, and glad I did so I can at times dip back into this wonderful emotive and inspiring work, but I still feel that there should be an official release and now some 35 years after the release of the LP thought maybe a review of the soundtrack might be in order, one never knows a record company might see it and think, this certainly is a score that needs releasing. (we can but dream and pray). Right from the opening bars of the first cue which is performed by a solitary and faraway sounding French horn which introduces The CHAMPIONS THEME we can hear immediately that this is going to be a rollercoaster ride of grandiose music that is filled with lush and lavish themes and vibrant and tantalising musical passages that will entertain, inspire and at the same emotionally destroy you.


The six note motif opens the proceedings and is repeated twice then a variation of it is performed again on horn, piano joins the proceedings and this in turn is underpinned by strings which sound warm and courageous, the string section begins to grow and expand upon the six note motif accompanied by piano and also haunting faraway sounding horns, trumpet is then added and strings embellish and support this until piano is then returned to create a stirring and concerto like sound as the strings swell and take on the central theme creating a melodic and drivingly beautiful piece that I think gets right to the heart and soul of the listener. Strings are then centre stage with piano dancing in and around them, percussion and brass are also brought into play as the piece moves towards its gloriously emotional and breath-taking crescendo. This opening piece is romance, and determination personified and one that I must admit sends shivers through my entire body on each listen, the surging strings, the proud brass, the elegant and powerful piano and the percussive elements are just perfection. The remainder of the score is equally as affecting and the music not only enhances and gives support to the movie, but it has a life of its own away from the images on screen. The tantalising colours and textures are varied and entertaining, with darkness, light, edgy moments, romantic interludes and melancholy compositions.

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The Grand National sequence is particularly thrilling, with the music taking the lead and working beautifully with the exciting footage, its odd that this score has thus far not been given a CD release, as it is obviously a work of quality, richness and has a resounding and highly themeatic musical persona throughout, and also Carl Davis has to be one of the most renowned composers of film music in the world and is known for his numerous scores for silent movies as well as TV scores, ballets and concert hall music. This and the composers score for THE SNOW GOOSE would be a wonderful pairing on one compact disc don’t you think? So surely because of the sheer quality of the music on CHAMPIONS this has to be a contender for a release soon, Please…….are you listening, KRITZERLAND, KRONOS, SILVA SCREEN, or even Carl Davis,,,

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ALL CREATURES HERE BELOW.

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Welsh Born composer Ceiri Torjussen is a name that has been more and more on the radar of film music collectors, since early 2001 he has been active on the film music scene in Hollywood and has scored a number of interesting low budget or independent motion pictures. More recently the composer has become involved on a handful of shall we say more prominent productions and has impressed not only his peers but has caught the eye or in this case the ears of critics and soundtrack connoisseurs alike. I was taken with his work on BIG ASS SPIDER which contained a great score that mirrored and paid tribute to many of the soundtracks created for monster and sci flicks that were released in their droves back in the 1950.s.One of the composers recent projects is for the movie ALL CREATURES HERE BELOW, which is not as the title may suggest a creature or monster movie, well at least there are no monsters as we know them from the movies of the 1950’s. Instead the film focuses upon a couple who are on the run across America and take refuge in Kansas City, it is a tale that deals with the now prominent subject of poverty and the effects of family and also love. For the score the composer has employed a varied style and fashioned a somewhat sparse soundtrack, which is performed via a fusion of Symphonic, synthetic and also choral elements. However, saying that there is a wide variation of styles within the work, one can also note that Torjussen utilises one motif for a handful of the cues, which is more noticeable in the tracks, WALKING HOME, RUBYS LETTER and then becomes stronger and more pronounced in RUBYS HYMN. The choral work is at times celestial in its execution with the opening title track taking its lead from the Hymn PRAISE GOD FROM ALL BLESSINGS FLOW, which the composer arranges sympathetically to achieve a striking and affecting piece. As I say this is a work that anyone would say is of one style or that it contains an overall stylistic sound, the variation of the music is stunning, and therefore I think such an interesting and attractive listen. The music is at times dark and apprehensive, but then there are cues that contain lilting and attractive sounding musical poems such as GOING HOME, where piano and guitar collaborate, and I LOVE YOU which is a subtle and fragile piece. The composer fashions brief but pleasant compositions such as GONE and OZLAND that entertain and haunt the listen. This is a score that I found enjoyable, it is somewhat sparse and at times does evoke fleeting memories of the style of Tomas Newman, but is that a bad thing? Recommended.

THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN.

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Composer, Bear McCreary, never ceases to amaze me. With each scoring assignment he seems able to re-invent and alter his musical style and sound, which I suppose is the whole idea of writing for film, because each new project is different. I have always been impressed by his work and I do realise many people associate him with THE WALKING DEAD television series, but there is so much more that this composer has. However, saying that the scores for WALKING DEAD were and are still wonderfully atmospheric and even grandiose at times far outstripping the actual quality of the series they are intended to enhance. And as one of his most anticipated scores for the new GODZILLA movie looms in the wings, we are spoiled and treated by his soundtrack to THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN, this is a highly atmospheric and mood laden work, with the composer creating beautiful but at the same time slightly unnerving melodies, that are interesting and haunting. McCreary has fashioned a eloquent and at key points mesmerizing sounding work, the composer utilising the string section and also solo performances from that section to purvey a lush and lavish rich musical persona, that is tinged with apprehension and a sombre mood. For me personally this is probably one of McCreary’s most accomplished and musically, mature works and also is one which I have no reservations on when it comes to recommending it to fellow soundtrack fans and connoisseurs. The mournful or melancholy cello performances are a highlight and these alone are capable of creating a richness and darkly romantic sound on their own, but there is more as they say, the composers obvious talent for inventive writing is too present and he works his innovative magic in many of the cues to bring forth a sad, solitary and a lilting style, that is immediately attractive. The alluring tone poems which McCreary has formed although subdued are totally absorbing and affecting, as are the darker and more threatening pieces, with the composer for the majority of the score maintaining a low key and minimalistic approach, being economical with the score. The cue FINDING THE PAMPHLET for example (track number-7), begins in a somewhat menacing way, with strings creating a tormented and agitated introduction, but this soon fades and gives way to plaintive woods which are supported by subdued and understated strings which give a foundation to the woodwind. This then segues into a lighter sounding mood again created by the fusion of rich cello and woodwinds which are also enhanced and given a slight but luxurious string accompaniment. Track number 8, THE SNOWBALL FIGHT is a delight to hear, with the composer again turning to the string section to purvey, richness and melancholy. This is a score that I returned to a few times before writing this review as it has so many musical faces and personas it is at times hard to take in that all the music comes from one score.

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There is also a beautiful vocal on the score, WHEN I AM DEAD is presented in two version, firstly the piece that we hear in the movies and then at the end of the recording in a slightly edited version on both performances the vocal is by, Melanie Henley Heyn. All together this a rewarding and enriching listen. Recommended.

Vivi o preferibilmente morti (ALIVE BUT PREFERABLY DEAD).

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As you all are aware, I am a huge fan of the Italian western, and also an even bigger fan of the music from this genre. However, there are a few examples of the genre that I am not shall we say bowled over by, these are mainly the handful of comedy westerns that were produced by Italian film makers and also scored by Italian composers, I think we the exception of the TRINITY movies (well the first two at least) there are really no other comedy westerns per say that I am that keen on, I feel that the genre as a whole contains comedy but it is normally of the darker variety, which in movies such as THE BIG GUNDOWN, SABATA, THE BOUNTY HUNTERS and also the DOLLAR trilogy, is fine. But a film that is a comedy within this genre maybe lost its way a little, mainly due to scenarios and one liners or punch lines that are delivered in Italian do at times fall flat when being translated into other languages especially English. It is I suppose all about the way in which something funny is perceived in different countries, for example American humour is shall we say an acquired taste, unless of course you are American. Also, British comedy too can fall flat when seen outside of the UK. So, it is not something that is confined to the Italian western. There have been a few comedy westerns within the Italian western collective and don’t get me wrong I have seen them and I suppose found them fairly enjoyable, but it’s not a sub- genre within the Spaghetti western that I would go out of my way to watch, such as the Zapata westerns etc.

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One movie within the COMEDY collection is ALIVE BUT PREFERABLY DEAD, although it had quite a good plot and had an impressive cast I still cannot get excited or enthused about it, directed by Duccio Tessari in 1969, the film contained a somewhat energetic soundtrack courtesy of composer Gianni Ferrio, now Ferrio in my opinion was a fine composer and worked on numerous westerns as well as literally hundreds of other types of movies. What I liked about Ferrio when he scored a western was that he did’nt necessarily stay within the boundaries that had become known as the ITALIAN WESTERN SOUND, and like his fellow Italian Piero Piccioni utilised jazz at times within his western scores, which in most cases was effective and added another dimension to the films he was working on, but Ferrio also created a western sound that I consider to be all of his own, fusing jazz passages with grand orchestral pieces as well as at times employing whistling and maybe the odd cracking rifle butt sound on occasion. One only has to take a listen to his. FIND A PLACE TO DIE score, to hear that he was an innovative and inventive Maestro. His score for ALIVE BUT PREFERABLY DEAD was not solely orchestral, as it contained several songs, which basically told the story as it was being acted out on screen.

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The soundtrack was originally released in 1969 on a CAM LP record ,(sag 9023) I remember at the time buying it just because of FIND A PLACE TO DIE and SENTENZA DI MORTE which is another western score by Ferrio, and with a title like ALIVE BUT PREFERABLY DEAD it was bound to be good, wasn’t it? Well its not actualy a bad soundtrack, but for me the use of kazoo’s in anything kind of take the edge off a little. However, I skipped over the vocal tracks and the actual music from Ferrio was essentially very good for a comedy score, foxtrots, galloping tracks and fast paced comedic sounding pieces were heard between the songs, which made it bearable Just! A few years later in the 1990’s CAM re-released the soundtrack on a compact disc, as part of their SOUNDTRACK ENCYCLOPEDIA alas no extra tracks were forthcoming and it was a straight re-issue of the LP.

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Then CAM re-issued it once again and it was one of three western scores by Ferrio on one disc, the other two being UN DOLLARO BUCATO and SENTENZA DI MORTE.

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Then Digit movies in Italy re-released the score in 2013 with ten extra cues, but of course some of these were vocals, let us say that Ferrio served up a nice mix of styles, the songs being performed by THE WILDER BROTHERS, were country sounding, with guitar and hoe down sounding fiddle featuring large. Ferrio’s soundtrack was vibrant and robust and had amore American flavoured sound within it rather than spaghetti. But a classic spaghetti score it cannot be filed under, I am however pleased it is available in a fuller edition. Plus, recently Digit-Movies also re-released SENTENZA DI MORTE with extra cues, which is certainly worth having even if its just for the title song, THE LAST GAME performed by Neville Cameron and a rather upbeat track entitled HOT MEXICO which contains a very nice guitar solo. Check out ALIVE BUT PREFERABLY DEAD, as it is packaged well and has great sound quality. I however prefer the more conventional Italian western score, if there is such a thing, that is.

THE NINTH GATE.

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Released in 1999, THE NINTH GATE was a thriller directed by film maker Roman Polanski. It, starred Johnny Depp and was based upon the 1993 novel by Arturo Perez Revetrte entitled THE CLUB DUMAS. The films scenario revolves around a search for a rare book which supposedly contains the secret of how to summon the DEVIL. The film I thought was an interesting and absorbing tale which was directed wonderfully by Polanski with a stand-out performance from Depp and contained an atmospheric and haunting soundtrack composed by Maestro, Wojciech Kilar. The film was met with mixed reactions from both critics and audiences, with many giving it unfavourable comments saying it was not as interesting as Polanski’s other supernatural thriller ROSEMARYS BABY. However, the film and the score have in recent years become regarded as quality items with the film attaining a cult status. Kilar’s wonderfully operatic and beautifully macabre sounding score is in my opinion one of the composers most accomplished, and that is saying something with a composer such as he.

 

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Of course Kilar was already a respected Maestro within Eastern Europe before coming to work on American movies, and it is fair to say that it is probably his equally gripping and powerful score for DRACULA that acquainted soundtrack fans in America, The UK and Europe with the composers ample talents. Polanski was said to have approached the production full of doubt as he did not believe in the Occult although admitted to being fascinated by it and stories that surrounded it.

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The film also starred Frank Langella and Emmanuelle Seigner. The score by Kilar was fully symphonic and although the movie itself was set in modern time the composer opted to write a soundtrack that was classically orientated. Which was a masterful move on the part of the composer as his symphonic and grandiose instrumental flourishes support and underline the films storyline perfectly, adding a greater intensity and creating and more powerful and deeper dimension to the proceedings. Although the music is dramatic and filled with a menace and darkness, the composer still infuses his work with a richness and lavish melodic line, creating and fashioning commanding and theme laden pieces that glide and weave in and out of the at times fast paced and fearsome compositions.

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I think I was loathed to review this score at the time of its release simply because I thought it was a work of immense quality, and everyone else seemed to be ignoring it, maybe because of the negative reaction the film was receiving, however, here is my review of sorts, well not a review but maybe just a hint of a review, but in reality it’s a recommendation that if you have not heard the score to check it out, it is available on I tunes and Spotify and I thin one can still purchase copies of the CD release online. Let us say you will not be disappointed in any way or form. This is in my opinion a classic from a Master Maestro, who is sorely missed in the world of film music today.

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