In November 1998 a new label, GDI, hit the soundtrack market place causing quite a stir within the ranks of soundtrack collectors. For many years the music from the Hammer gothic horrors such as DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, THE BRIDES OF DRACULA, THE REPTILE and all those MUMMY movies had been much requested by collectors of film music to get a commercial release. Up until the arrival of GDI they had to make do with the re-recordings that had been commissioned by British label Silva Screen. GDI’s first release was a compilation of themes from no less than 25 Hammer classics, ranging from well known tracks as in James Bernard’s DRACULA through to oddities such as Don Ellis’s MOON ZERO TWO. The compilation was the idea of Gary Wilson, who is I suppose, the head of GDI music in the UK. I caught up with Gary via a mutual friend Michael Jones and after our first conversation we both realised we had a lot in common and shared a passion for music from Hammer Horrors. Before I met Gary I had already interviewed the majority of composers that had worked at Hammer from the early 1960s through to the early 1980s so I was pleased when Gary asked me to collaborate with writer Marcus Hearne on the liner notes for future releases that he had planned on GDI. It was whilst working on the notes for THE MUMMY that I asked Gary if he would consent to an interview. Of course being the shy and retiring person he is, he said yes straight away.
Talking to Gary Wilson of GDI Records
Q: Why Hammer film music?
Well why not, there is so much quality music from these films, and it’s never been released before, well at least the original stuff has never been issued, people have had to make do with re-recordings. OK they are pretty faithful re-recordings but there is nothing that can beat the original sound of Hammer. Hammer movies have always been special to me they were a big part of my growing up, I remember seeing THE BRIDES OF DRACULA, it scared the pants off me, but at the same time I found that I was very attracted to the movie, not just the story but the look of it, the rich colours the actors and also the music. I think I was about thirteen at the time so I should not have really been in the cinema watching it.
Q: So how did you mange to persuade Hammer to release the music into his care, as many record companies had tried and failed?
It was a pure fluke, an accident or maybe fate if you like. I was at Hammer’s offices to discuss another project that I was toying with and was talking to Roy Skeggs whom I knew very well anyway. I noticed a big pile of boxes in one of the offices that were just dumped by the look of it and were not labelled. Being the curious person I am I asked Roy what they were, to which he replied, “Oh they are just some of the music tapes to a few of the Hammer movies”. I sort of held my breath for a moment because I could not believe my luck and was amazed that this stuff was just lieing in old boxes in an office literally rotting away. A lot of the tapes were not labelled so it was a bit of a mammoth job sifting through them all matching music to videos etc. Obviously I was familiar with things like DRACULA and lots of other James Bernard material but when it came to other items it took quite a time to sort them all out. A few were in very poor condition, but things like TWINS OF EVIL, COUNTESS DRACULA, CRESCENDO and DEMONS OF THE MIND were in very good condition considering the way the tapes had been stored – it was a difficult but also a rewarding one find music that I had been told had been lost.
Q: Gary told me that there were approximately 8 boxes in all, so he certainly had his work cut out for him, he had to first identify music tracks, then index everything – but why had no-one noticed them before?
I suppose the answer to that is nobody had bothered to be nosey enough (laughs). No seriously what had happened was Phil Martell who was Hammer’s musical director had died and his daughter had gone to clear his house and found all these tapes plus manuscripts and other musical items. So because she did not realise what they were, she decided to clear the house and try and sell the things but luckily Hammer found out about the sale and instructed their lawyers to re-posses what was rightfully theirs. Phil Martell had been approached on numerous occasions by various record companies to see if they could release the original scores but Martell had always stopped any such contract being signed. He did however authorise and supervise the Silva Screen re-recordings, which were conducted by Neil Richardson, but even David Whitaker admitted that he was not keen on the way things were done on those sessions – so I was very lucky to get the tapes and also for Hammer to grant permission for the music to be issued on CD.
Q: So did you pick up any of the actual manuscripts when he acquired the tapes?
No it’s a shame but I am not sure if they survived the move from Martell’s house to Hammer, although I did manage to see a few things when we were discussing the tapes with Hammer. But the manuscripts are no real use to me as a music producer/record label because we have the tapes and that’s all we need. The collectors, I don’t think would be interested in the manuscripts, and our recordings are the originals – so when collectors put them on their CD player they are hearing the music as it was heard in the movies.
Q: Some of the tapes must have needed a lot of restoration work – and were there any at all that did not make it?
A few were no good at all but most survived. I was disappointed that the original DRACULA score by James Bernard was in a very sorry state and we only managed to salvage a couple of tracks from it. THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN was also in very poor condition but we did some work on it and got it into a fair state. But considering the amount of time that they had been in storage, well dumped in boxes at Martell’s house, the majority were OK. I handed them over to a guy called Peter J. Reynolds who is a wizard at things like this, he is amazing, and he and his assistant Steve Cook worked their magic on them – these guys are the best as far as I am concerned.
Q: The first GDI release was a compilation THE HAMMER FILM MUSIC COLLECTION VOL 1, and then the Comedy compilation followed, and soon after came THE HAMMER FILM MUSIC COLLECTION VOL 2. Why did you not release a full soundtrack to start things off?
I wanted to make fans and collectors aware that we had a lot of Hammer music to release, so I thought I would get their attention by releasing a few compilations, then sort of hit them with a full score.
Q: The full score was THE MUMMY which has music by Franz Reizenstein – why did you choose this particular score?
I just had so many memories of this movie. I think it is one of Hammer’s best from this period, it looks so good, rich in colour and there are some great performances in it. Peter Cushing is magnificent and also Christopher Lee is very convincing in the role of the Mummy and the music is wonderful – again it is so rich and strong, it had to be this score.
Q: Going back to the comedy compilation – this included music from all of Hammer’s ON THE BUSES films plus THAT’S YOUR FUNERAL, LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR, MAN ABOUT THE HOUSE, NEAREST AND DEAREST, and UP THE CREEK. It also had in its running order music from non-Hammer movies such as GEORGE AND MILDRED and RISING DAMP. Why did you go for this type of compilation instead of another horror collection at first?
I thought it would be better to release the comedy collection because then the collectors would know that we were not just going to concentrate mainly on the Hammer horror stuff. After all, Hammer did make a lot of films away from the horror genre and this was our way of saying we had all types of music from Hammer and not just the horror material. I personally think that the Hammer made comedies were on a par with the CARRY ON movies, if not in some ways better, and the soundtracks were all very good, written by top composers and including loads of catchy little songs and musical cues.
Q: Talking of songs, on the first Hammer collection compact disc, you included the song from MOON ZERO TWO – why did you include this after all the movie did bomb out big time for the studio?
I know, the film was a disaster for Hammer, but nowadays it’s something of a cult movie. The score by the trumpet player Don Ellis was a departure for Hammer but the song is great – I know at times it’s irritating to listen to but maybe that’s the appeal of it. Hopefully we will be releasing the full score on CD in the future.
Q: So to the future then, what’s up on the agenda for GDI in 2006?
The soundtrack market is not good at the moment, but there again the music market place in general is in a downward spiral, sales are very slow, no-one has any spare cash to waste on music, so a lot of things are being downloaded. Luckily soundtracks from Hammer movies are not widely available on the world wide web but because of slow sales and not wanting to put a lot of work into a project for it to lie on the shelves forever, or end up in the mark down bins, I have been very cautious and have been talking to a number of other record labels about the option of licensing things to them to release. LA LA LAND RECORDS in the States was one of them but that looks a if it won’t be going ahead. I have been talking to Ford Thaxton who is a great guy and he has a few ideas that just might come to fruition – we will have to wait and see.
Q: So you have a catalogue of around thirteen albums now, and also have licensed three compilations to another label in the UK – what came after THE MUMMY?
It was the QUATERMASS COLLECTION. I wanted this one to come out because the first QUATERMASS movie was an important one for Hammer and a very important one for composer James Bernard. It was his first ever Hammer score – of course he went on to do DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, KISS OF THE VAMPIRE etc. He is Hammer music as far as I am concerned – of course the album also included music by Tristram Carey for the movie QUATERMASS AND THE PIT. When you listen to James Bernard’s QUATERMASS it reminds me of PSYCHO but then when you think about it, it was written before that, so maybe Bernard Herrmann was influenced in some way by James Bernard – I would like to think so anyway”.
Q: After THE QUATERMASS COLLECTION, you issued THE VAMPIRE LOVERS. Now this is a classic Hammer movie and Harry Robinson’s music at times really hits home its evil itself. You said at the time that LUST FOR A VAMPIRE was coming soon after but this has never been issued as a complete score, only in the form of a few tracks on the VAMPIRE COLLECTION, along with VAMPIRE CIRCUS, KISS OF THE VAMPIRE, etc. Is there any reason that the complete score has not been released?
Yes, the tapes were not as good as I thought, so maybe after some work LUST FOR A VAMPIRE will get a release. TWINS OF EVIL was however issued and out of all the CDs was I think probably one of our best sellers. I also wanted to do COUNTESS DRACULA, another Harry Robinson score, but things have not been good in the shops so I have held this off for a while.
Q: I know you were toying with the idea of releasing non-Hammer scores on GDI, has that progressed any way?
Gary Wilson: No, not because we don’t want to, but simply because things have been difficult in this particular direction. As you know we wanted to do WITCHFINDER GENERAL and you did all the groundwork for us getting the tapes.
Q: Yes. I even wrote the sleeve notes.
Gary Wilson: And very good they were as well. I know you tracked down the composer’s widow for us, who wanted to do the CD as a tribute to Paul Ferris, but the company that owned the rights to the music also held the master tapes and wanted a lot of money for them. The score for WITCHFINDER is not half an hour long, so we were left with the predicament of finding another non-Hammer score to go on to the CD with it. So I tried looking for other titles but it turned out that it would have been so expensive to do this; that we would have had to put a high price tag on the disc – also we had trouble acquiring the rights to art work from the movie, the project was just not feasible.
Q: I was so disappointed about this. Even Silva Screen had trouble getting things off the ground and they too have given up on it. The other soundtrack that I searched out for you was THE LAST TRAIN by Chris Gunning. The composer was very keen to get this released – it is a great score, and one that should be released.
I know, I actually watched the series a little while ago on the Sci-Fi Channel. It’s a good series and the music is very much like a big blockbuster score. Lots of brass and choir like a take on the RIDE OF THE VALKARIES in places, strong stuff, but again the holding company are not interested in the music being released, so you might as well go and talk to the brick wall in the yard outside.
Q: I know how frustrating things like this can be. A record company in Italy, CAM, seemed to have the attitude that if they were not bothered about releasing something then they were going to make sure that no one else would have the rights to issue it. It’s infuriating especially for collectors knowing that all this great movie music is just lieing in a cellar somewhere, literally turning to dust. Mind you CAM have started to license things now so its not that bad. There was also a chance that you could get the original CARRY ON material – any news on this?
Gary Wilson: Again, sorry to say that all fell through. The reason for this was that the music was owned by two companies, some scores by one and a handful of others by someone else, so I could not get either of the companies to reach an agreement. It was the same with the original ST. TRINIANS, no head-way at all, no one returned phone calls. I was, or should I say we all were, chasing people constantly, so I pulled the plug on the projects – it was so easy working with Hammer I suppose I was spoilt.
Q: I know I was stunned when James Bernard passed away but he was always very supportive of you wasn’t he?
He certainly was. He came to a couple of launch parties, along with Veronica Carlson and Ingrid Pitt but James was one in a million it was very sad when he died.
Q: What reaction have you had from the composers of the scores you have released?
Not many have really said much. Carlo Martelli telephoned me to say that he thought the CDs were well done and as I have just said James Bernard was always complimentary. Carlo even offered me some tapes of his scores. These were all good works, MURDER GAME, CATACOMBS and WITCHCRAFT. He is a very underrated composer – he actually ghost wrote a number of scores for other composers during the 1960s and 1970s, receiving no credits at all.
Q: As well as your involvement with GDI records, you are also a performer and vocalist, and recorded an album last year in Nashville with Billy Swan. You also helm the well established CREATURES UNLIMITED which produces hundreds of model kits of monsters and characters from horror movies. So you lead a very full and busy life. Putting you on the spot now, do you have a favourite score from a Hammer movie or maybe a composer that you particularly like?
I suppose I should be diplomatic and say I love them all, but if I had to narrow it down, I think I would have to say DEMONS OF THE MIND is a favourite soundtrack of mine, and it would have to be James Bernard, Harry Robinson, and Carlo Martelli. Is that OK – am I allowed more than one?
Q: As it’s you I think it’s OK What about CAPTAIN KRONOS. Will we ever see this; it has been announced and then delayed so many times?
You will see this on CD, when I cannot say, but it will come out I promise.
Q: Thanks Gary…