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WATERSHIP DOWN (1978).

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The score for WATERSHIP DOWN is a classic work which was penned by Angela Morley and Malcolm Williamson with the song BRIGHT EYES being the work of Mike Batt. Conducted by Marcus Dodds this is a quintessentially English sounding score with more than a gentle nod in the direction of vintage composers such as Walton and his like. I think the attraction of the score to WATERSHIP DOWN is the simplicity of it and also the absence of electronic support, written at a time when synthesisers were beginning more than ever to be utilised within film scoring, composers Morley and Williamson decided to approach the assignment in a more traditional way making effective use of symphonic rather than synthetic. The actual credits read music by Angela Morley, Incidental music by Malcolm Williamson, whether this was a collaboration in the true sense of the word I am not sure and which composer was responsible for the lions share of the music too is a mystery but there is a richness and also a melodic lushness present within the score that at times reminds one of the works of Richard Rodney Bennett in particular his soundtracks for FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD and LADY CAROLINE LAMB, it has to it an ambience and style that also has many affiliations with composer John Addison (A BRIDGE TOO FAR) and also resonates a haunting and lingering appeal via the many themes included within its duration. I think that Williamson and Morley must have at some point worked together on the music because the compositions certainly flow and compliment one another.

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ANGELA MORLEY.

In my humble opinion this is one of the most appealing soundtracks produced for a British movie in the last fifty years or so, it is filled with emotive and melancholy passages that have the ability to take one back to the movie when listening to the score and straight away be able to recall exactly where the music is utilised within the picture. It is beautiful and mesmerizing as well as being entertaining and of course supporting the animated images on screen, the song BRIGHT EYES is one of the highlights of the work, with the version from the movie being included on the soundtrack album which is different from the edit that entered the British charts, Batt’s music and lyrics vocalised by Art Garfunkel being supported by highly emotive and heartrending strings that are punctuated by subdued harp which also laces and ingratiates the proceedings. I am not certain about the legitimacy of this recording on PENDULUM records, by this I mean is it a fully paid up edition of the soundtrack? The tracks are the same as the original LP release which was on CBS or Sony as it is known now, so surely Sony would have seen the potential of releasing this rather than license it to a smaller label. WATERSHIP DOWN may have been an animated feature but it was an important movie and one that has fascinated and entertained audiences of all ages since its release.

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MALCOLM WILLIAMSON.

The score is not surprisingly available for download on I Tunes which makes me wonder about the PENDULUM release, but hats off to them as this is a very good recording and is also well presented. Maybe as it is approaching the films 37th Birthday Sony might decide to issue an anniversary edition of the soundtrack, this score is a delight from the offset with the PROLOGUE AND MAIN TITLE opening the disc that includes narration by Michael Hordern, this wonderful opener to the soundtrack sets the scene perfectly and continues on with a number of highlight cues including, VENTURING FORTH, INTO THE MIST, VIOLETS GONE, BRIGHT EYES AND INTERLUDE, KEHAARS THEME and FINAL STRUGGLE AND TRIUMPH. Highly recommended.

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                  ANGELA MORLEY

“All the world will be your enemy Prince of a thousand enemies, and when they catch you they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner. Prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks, and your people will never be destroyed”.

(closing lines from Prologue).

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CARAVANS/WATERSHIP DOWN.

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It’s a funny thing but one would never connect the soundtrack or title song from the movie FOOTLOOSE with composer Mike Batt not getting the assignment to score the movie WATERSHIP DOWN. However it was a chance remark from a record producer at CBS at the time to filmmaker Martin Rosen that dashed Batt,s hopes to write the symphonic score for the animated feature. Dan Loggins Brother of singer Kenny who provided the vocals on the FOOTLOOSE title song was present at the demo sessions which Batt had arranged with Rosen to demonstrate his ideas for the musical score, this was no ordinary demo the composer had in fact hired the LSO at his own expense to perform sections of his score for the movie. Rosen was apparently smitten with the music and happy with Batt until Loggins decided to relate to the filmmaker that “If you don’t like this music we have plenty of other composers available” (why would you do this) especially as you really know nothing about the art of film music. This chance remark cost Batt the assignment, yes ok he was given three songs to pen for the film but just one of those was kept in, the other two being discarded. But it is probably BRIGHT EYES as performed by Art Garfunkel that is one of the most if not the most enduring memory of the movie. The song which reached number one in the UK charts and sold ten million copies world wide I suppose established Batt even more than ever as a renowned lyricist and composer, but even this part of his work on the movie was removed several times and only re-instated just before the films premiere. Batt was disappointed at not scoring WATERSHIP DOWN so much so that he never used any of the music he had written for any other project, until thirty years later he was offered WATERSHIP DOWN the TV SERIES, this was his chance to resurrect his ideas and themes from the 1970,s and utilise them with new works to enhance this latest incarnation of the story by author Richard Adams. Batt has for this recording arranged many of the scores principal themes into a 45 minute suite. The music here is basically what the composer would have written for the original movie, it opens with The Overture WATERSHIP DOWN – THE BEGINNING, which a delightfully essentially English sounding piece for full orchestra (The Royal Philharmonic), it is proud, slightly ominous and brings forth a rousing, lush and moving arrangement of BRIGHT EYES for strings and brass both of which are underlined and supported by percussion. This is a gracious and suitably anthem like opening to the suite, which also contains solo performances on trumpet and sets the ambience and mood for the remainder of the suite perfectly.

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Track number two is said to be one of the composers favourite themes from his score, ON WATERSHIP DOWN, was the first piece of music he wrote for the original movie, so it holds a particularly special place in his heart, he states in the notes that the music plays as the rabbits first arrive on WATERSHIP DOWN but it is also in a way heralding his music returning to the story. This is again a dramatic and fervently rousing and robust piece, written primarily for strings, brass and percussion with support from woods etc. It begins with a very easy going theme almost laid back and relaxed, but again very English sounding which conjures up images of greenery and hedgerows with wildlife in abundance and the unmistakable English countryside acting as a backdrop, there is however to this piece a kind of apprehensive atmosphere which the composer introduces via woodwind and brass with strings acting as support, the mood soon alters and the composition reverts to a proud and lavish sounding piece that would not be out of place in any Shakespearian drama. In many ways the style which the composer has employed within the score is not dissimilar to that of vintage composers, Malcolm Arnold and William Walton, it is full of emotion and overflowing with pronounced thematic material and is the material on which the remainder of the score is built upon. Track number three, MILITARY THEME AND DEVELOPMENT, is another highlight from the work again I found myself thinking of the likes of Walton, Bliss and even Patrick Doyle it has a thundering and strident persona, led by swirling and fearsome strings that are pushed forward and enhanced by brass and thundering percussive elements, but even though it is essentially an action led piece there is still melody present. Track number four is a brief but effective BAROQUE TUNE, short lived but indeed memorable. Track five is FRITH’S BLESSING, which was written especially for the TV SERIES, and is a story of how the rabbits were given the gift of a flashing white tail, powerful legs and speed voiced by Gary Martin. Track number six FANTASIA ON A FLYING THEME is gracious and simple, haunting and delightful, strings, harp, woodwind and subtle brass flourishes combine to create a highly emotive and affecting piece. Track number seven I think is possibly my own personal favourite cue from the suite, the composer creating an atmosphere that is Christmas through and through, WINTER ON WATERSHIP DOWN is a magnificently robust and uplifting composition, filled with happiness and jollity in some ways it reminded me of the style of the style of James Horner, horns and bells underlined by strings and contained shades of AN AMERICAN TAIL.

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When listening to this gorgeous musical score one cannot wonder if filmmakers actually have any idea about what music should be doing in film, I am confident if this score was utilised within the original movie it could have improved the end result and also embellished better the images on screen. Mike Batt is not just another lyricist or record producer, arranger, he is as he demonstrates on this score a wonderfully talented and gifted composer who sadly was not given the opportunity to fully demonstrate his imaginative and mesmerising approach to film scoring. It is a shame that many talented people in particular those who work or have worked in the film scoring arena have been either neglected or ignored, one only has to imagine what delights they would have produced. Mike Batt’s superb score for WATERSHIP DOWN is one that I know fans will adore, it is also a soundtrack that one will never tire of listening to it is fully symphonic with choral accompaniment and has to it a contemporary sound that is fused with that of the style of vintage British film music making it a unique listening experience, track number eight CHASE ADVENTURE-FROM WATERSHIP DOWN is a highly dramatic and somewhat foreboding piece again the composer turning to strings, brass and percussion to relay a sense of urgency. The final section of the suite is A KIND OF DREAM (track number nine), Batt opening the track with harp and pensive woodwinds, that introduce choir underlined by strings and more woodwind, soon we hear the familiar strains of BRIGHT EYES, but sung by many voices not one, it has to it a heavenly almost triumphant sound, the lyrics still after all these years creating goose-bumps and making the hairs on ones neck and arms stand on end. The mood of the composition alters and becomes more threatening with jagged brass and tragic sounding strings and voices carrying the piece to its conclusion. This is a score/suite that I highly recommended.

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I chose to begin my review with WATERSHIP DOWN because it is a score or a suite from the score that I had not heard until I received this compact disc which is part of the MIKE BATT ARCHIVE SERIES on the DRAMATICO LABEL. The other score included in this impressive two disc set is from the movie CARAVANS. Now this is a movie that did not receive a lot of attention at the time of its release but nevertheless was a pretty good adventure yarn. Based on the adventure novel by James A. Mitchener, it starred Anthony Quinn, Michael Sarasin , Jenifer O Neil, Christopher Lee, Barry Sullivan, Joseph Cotton and Behrooz Vosoughi. Directed by James Fargo and produced by Elmo Williams the movie contained stunning photography courtesy of Douglas Slocombe the appearance of the movie was strikingly beautiful as if each frame of film had been painted individually with rich and vibrant colours.

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It had been rumoured that John Barry would score the movie, then Maurice Jarre’s name was thrown into the arena along with a few other well known and important composers at the time, Michel Legrand for example. But it was Mike Batt who got the assignment and it was mainly due to someone on the crew having a copy of the composers album SCHIZOPHONIA and it being played during filming to create the correct atmosphere and mood. After much discussion and numerous meetings the investors on the movie who were Iranian agreed to hear Mike’s demo for the soundtrack this comprised of three themes which he had written to key scenes within the picture, the investors loved it and Batt was hired. The score is a mix of sweeping and epic themes and ethnic sounding cues performed on traditional Iranian instruments and percussive elements the composer skilfully and subtly weaving the two genres of music together to create a score that is enthralling, exhilarating and highly emotional. It is a powerful and haunting work that is laden with rich and lavish themes and laced with infectious ethnic sounds and dances, that intertwine and blend seamlessly with the symphonic material creating a potent and memorable collection of themes and also a an accomplished score. Batt also penned a hit song for the movie, CARAVANS performed by Barbara Dickson became a familiar and popular vocal at the time of the films release. However it is the score I am concentrating on here, this is certainly a work that Batt can be proud of, it is a work that not only enhances the movie wonderfully, but it also has a life on its own away from any of the images it was intended to support, the penultimate track on the compact disc for example is an up-tempo and full working of the scores central theme and I defy anyone to say that this is not infectious and haunting and I also defy them to say they do not press the repeat button more than once when they have finished listening to it. CARAVANS is a soundtrack that should be in every soundtrack collection. Again highly recommended…

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BANDIDOS.

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Released in 1967, BANDIDOS is a fairly good Italian western, it holds ones attention via its original storyline but like most Italian produced westerns does have its lulls and lows as far as the story is concerned. One of the films most appealing attributes has to be the musical score by composer Egisto Macchi who fashioned a haunting and theme laden soundtrack, the stock instrumentation and sounds of the spaghetti western are present throughout, the composer relying upon solo trumpet performances, choral support, female voice, harpsichord, organ, jaws harp, bass guitar, percussion, dramatic strings, electric guitar, harmonica, sporadic trills from the woodwind section, racing snare drums that are punctuated by manic sounding brass stabs and vocals courtesy of Nico Fidenco, who I personally think had an input into the score as well as performing the songs, I say this because there are certain sounds or quirks of orchestration within the soundtrack that are distinctively Fidenco, the use of timpani, woodwind, choir and also soaring trumpet solos are stunning and at times rival the work of Lacarenza and Morricone, the overall combination of instrumentation however have to them a sound and style that just says to me Fidenco.

Maestro Egisto Macchi.

Maestro Egisto Macchi.

The soundtrack was originally available on LP on the Cometa label many years ago and soon became deleted and rare, in 2011 the soundtrack was issued on compact disc but this too has become something of a rarity and a holy grail for Italian western soundtrack collectors. Macchi has provided us with an excellent work and I think I am correct when I say it is his own foray into the western genre, it is a score that supports and underlines the films action and at times basically props up some of the less interesting sequences.

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The score is somewhat overwhelming in places and the music actually takes over and I have to say that at times I found myself listening to the score rather than watching the images on screen which is a bad thing I suppose as it’s the job of the music to enhance the images not detract the audiences attention away from them, but if there are cases of the music in films being more interesting than the actual movie, then BANDIDOS is one of them. The score has a very Hispanic or Mexican sound to it, not in the Mariachi sense but in its deep patriotic and proud persona. The maestro fusing this style with the highly volatile and raw sound of the Italian western to create a wonderfully exhilarating and entertaining soundtrack.

gruppo improvvisazione.

gruppo improvvisazione.

Macchi was born in Grosseto Italy on August 4th 1928,he worked in many areas and genres of music, these included, film scores, classical, avant-garde, musique concrete and he contributed many compositions to music libraries. He began composing in 1953,and was not only a gifted composer but a proficient conductor/arranger plus he played violin and piano. After creating and founding The Musical Theatre of Rome with Domenico Guaccero, Macchi established Studio R7 in 1967, which was an experimental electronic music laboratory. In the same year the composer joined Gruppo di improvvisazione di nuova consonantal, which was an avant-garde improvisation group to which he recruited composer Ennio Morricone who was a long time friend of his. During his career the composer worked on approx: 20 motion pictures, he passed away on August 8th 1992 aged 64. This is a very desirable soundtrack and for any Italian western aficionado is an essential purchase.

IL CONTE DRACULA.

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Released in 1973, Jesus Franco’s version of COUNT DRACULA or IL CONTE DRACULA is in my opinion very underrated. I love the way in which the director stays with the original storyline as created by Bram Stoker, and although there are a number of mistakes or short fallings within the production, these in no way spoil the overall impact of the picture, this for me anyway outstrips any of the Hammer Dracula movies and to a degree is even more entertaining than Coppola’s high budget version of the story. Christopher Lee is excellent as the infamous Count and has to be congratulated for portraying the character in a completely different way to what he had done in previous productions from the Hammer studio. This version of the story not only adheres to the original novel but also has about it a greater atmospheric quality than any production before or after its release, in some scenes I was reminded of the Mario Bava approach to horror movies, dark, eerie and no dialogue, but affecting. Lee appears exactly how Dracula is described in the novel complete with moustache and as the movie or story progress’s and he preys on more victims he turns from an old man into a handsome younger version of himself (an idea explored in Hammers COUNTESS DRACULA). Klaus Kinsky is deserving of a special mention for his role as the manic and raving Reinfield, this is an accomplished performance that had me convinced. Herbert Lom also makes an appearance as Professor Van Helsing and there are a number of Franco’s usual cast members in the form of Maria Rohm, Soledad Miranda and Jack Taylor, the director also appears as a servant of Van Helsing. The highly original sounding soundtrack by composer Bruno Nicolai too adds a greater atmosphere and impact to the movie, the composer utilising cimbalom and eerie sounding woodwind underlined with strings to create a sense of foreboding and a mood that is somewhat apprehensive and oppressive in a number of cues, but saying this Nicolai also utilises a grand lush sounding waltz motive which first makes a brief entrance in the opening credits music or PROCESSO on the compact disc release. Track two is in the first instance rather low key and gloomy but this is short lived as the composer introduces a secondary theme performed by strings that is strikingly lush and lavish, but this too melts away as the piece returns to the cimbalom led theme that opened the score. Track number three PENOMBRE is I have to say fairly typical of Nicolai, again strings take the lions share of the performance punctuated by jagged near frantic sounding trills from woods creating a sense of urgency and fear. He also makes effective use of brass for the scenes which are more action orientated and muted brass combined with woods and deliberately placed bass and piano are also highly effective.

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This is I think one of Nicolai’s most accomplished scores for film, it bares no resemblance to his western soundtracks whatsoever and more to the point there are no traces of any influences from Morricone, IL CONTE DRACULA is an inspired work that is Nicolai through and through, in fact thinking about it I can only recall one other score that might be slightly similar to this and that is THRONE OF FIRE by the composer which is another movie directed by Franco and starring Christopher Lee. If this is a soundtrack that you have for some reason missed then it is time to rectify your obvious mistake.

DAY OF ANGER.

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DAY OF ANGER was released in 1967, it starred the inimitable Lee Van Cleef and when watching the movie it becomes evident to all just why he was the main man when it came to the spaghetti westerns. Van Cleef portrays ageing gunfighter Frank Talby who decides that he must re-establish himself as a force to be reckoned with so guns down a local town Sheriff. The movie also stars another genre stalwart Giuliano Gemma as Scott Mary a downtrodden individual who was friends with the Sheriff, Talby takes Scott Mary under his wing and teaches him how to use a gun, after a while however the protégé becomes a threat and at the movies climax the teacher must face the pupil in a deadly showdown. Directed by Tonino Valerii who worked as an assistant to Sergio Leone and went on to direct THEY CALL ME NOBODY, DAY OF ANGER was certainly one of the genre s more high profile movies and contained a surprisingly savage sounding score by composer Riz Ortolani. The soundtrack was originally released back in the late 1960,s on an RCA long playing record.

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Ortolani is a composer that has written his fair share of western scores both for Italian and American productions, but when working within the genre of the spaghetti western the composer never seemed to quite get the chemistry right, many of his scores sounding as if they were just tracked with his music rather than it being specifically scored, but with DAY OF ANGER the composer created a sound that was not just melodic but was also suitably savage, brutal and powerful like many of the works fashioned by his peers such as Morricone, De Masi, Nicolai and Fidenco etc. The soundtrack was re-issued on the RCA label on compact disc in 1991 but this was just a straight recording of the LP release paired with selections from Ortolani’s score for BEYOND THE LAW (another Van Cleef movie). In 2006 Hillside CD productions and GDM released a compact disc that not only contained the Long Playing records content but also a further sixteen cues taken from the actual film score in full stereo. The result is a stunning release that is brimming with numerous themes and overflowing with Ortolani’s exhilarating and infectious soundtrack. The CD sold so well that Hillside had to re-press the soundtrack and re-issued it with the same art work but a different background colour. Certainly a score worth having and one that will keep any fan of Italian western scores entertained for hours on end. I live in hope that Ortolani’s excellent score for THE HUNTING PARTY will one day see the light of day. Now that’s a savage soundtrack.

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