Movie score media never fail to surprise and delight me. They are a label that over the years have introduced many collectors to the music of lesser known composers, I am just inspired by the labels unfaltering support of the art of music in film and television and their championing of composers who we probably would not have heard of if it were not for this premier label. One of their latest releases is by composer Stephen McKeon, THE PILGRIMAGE is a 2017 release and the score won best original music at the Irish Film and Television awards. The movie which is set in the turbulent days of 13th Century Ireland boasts a soundtrack that is a mix of both ethnic, symphonic and choral. The composer has created a fine score which is as fearsome and unnerving as the scenarios that are taking place on screen, it is a soundtrack filled with dark and foreboding passages, dramatic and apprehensive interludes and raw and near brutal sounds that create moods and atmospheres that are sinister, dark and malevolent. It purveys wonderfully the shadowy side of religion, but also can be underline and evoke the more inspirational and heartening face of devotion to God. The fusion of symphonic, choral and solo voice performances is stunning, I won’t say that it is an easy listen, it is not, but I will say it is an interesting score and one that enriches the listener. I have never been a great fan of choral scores in fact the last three scores I would say I truly loved with choral work or at least choral work used in this fashion was THE LION IN WINTER, THE LAST VALLEY and to a degree THE OMEN. But, THE PILGRIMAGE has that sound and that quality that makes it almost impossible not to listen, yes this is a score that is a lot darker than two of the titles I mentioned, but that I think is its attraction, it is richly threatening and lusciously alluring, attractive in an unnerving way if you like. The darker it becomes  the better at times, with its booming percussive elements its driving strings and inventive vocalising, THE PILGRIMAGE is one that you should check out.




I only saw the movie EL TOPO once, and it was a movie that at the time I did not fully appreciate or understand, it was screened at the BFI which was in Brighton, a cinema that is sadly no longer there although he screen is still in place showing MTV to customers of a well known fast food chain, who have their restaurant on the site of the cinema. EL TOPO has been referred to as the first Mid-Night movie, a movie that was never shown before midnight in cinemas, why, Well I think it is because it is such a complex movie that not everyone would appreciate the storyline or the images on screen. As I said I saw the movie just once and came away confused and somewhat dazed, was it a western, was it a religious movie or a fusion of the two, it certainly had the violence of the Spaghetti Western, and the camera angles and way in which it was filmed were very evocative of the Italian made western. EL TOPO is a figure dressed in black, who carries his naked son on his horse behind him, at times carrying an umbrella to shield him from the sun, (shades of A MAN A HORSE AND A GUN).  EL TOPO played by the director of the movie, Alejandro Jodorowsky who also composed the score, has superhuman shooting ability and he is persuaded to put this to use avenging the slaughtered inhabitants of a village. He is persuaded by a woman to ride deep into the desert to confront and fight four mystical gunfighters, he leaves his son with a group of monks and rides off to face the gun men. EL TOPO kills all four of them but is then betrayed and wounded finally being dragged into a cave that is inhabited by a community of deformed people, these ask EL TOPO to help them too, they want to escape from the religious fanatics that inhabit the town, so they ask him to help them build a tunnel. Weird, yes, it is, thought provoking, I am still not sure, entertaining, well I don’t think I could say it was really, violent yes, sexual scenes yes, filled with religious references yes to that also, note the dead bodies with Bee hives inside them, as a reference to stories in the old testament.


El topo


The movie was given much credence and attained the cult status largely because of John Lennon who was a big fan of the movie and its director. But, because of certain disagreements between the director and the producer EL TOPO was withdrawn from circulation for some 30 years, and if you were lucky enough to see it after the first initial screenings, it was probably via a bootleg video tape. It was partly also due to its withdrawal that the movie attained the status it has. Something similar happened to DJANGO the Franco Nero spaghetti western, which was banned in the UK for many years, before being screened on BBC tv in the 1990’s. Like DJANGO, EL TOPO ‘S reputation preceded it. And it became notorious or infamous before many had even seen it. Thus, giving it an iconic or legendary status. Finally, the movie was given an official release on DVD in 2005 and then was screened in cinemas late in 2007.





The musical score by the director was in many ways just as bizarre as the movie, although there are certain similarities within the score to certain Italian western scores, the use of solo trumpet for example and the utilisation of choir. However there are some interesting cues within the score, that at times have to be given credit for being original and innovative, the composer creates a number of haunting melodies which are performed by conventional film music instrumentation and would not be out of place in any genre of film, there is even the token trumpet track, UNDER THE EARTH track number 2, is typically spaghetti sounding, with cantering timpani acting as a background to the central theme being performed on trumpet and accompanied further by French horn. The soundtrack also contains several quirky up beat tracks that sound very similar to either burlesque or circus music, something that was used in certain spaghetti westerns by the likes of composer Carlo Rustichelli, whether these were effective or popular is another matter.  I have to say one track does bare an uncanny resemblance to the music of WALLACE AND GROMIT, but as this was written in 1970, I suppose WALLACE AND GROMIT sounds like EL TOPO. The composer also uses organ at certain points within the score, and his use of choir in cues such as DEATH IS BIRTH bares an uncanny resemblance to the style of both Morricone and Nicolai, Jodorowsky, combining the vocals with warm sounding strings and underlining proceedings with brass. The composer also makes effective use of woodwind and solo guitar. There is no doubt that this is an interesting soundtrack, and even at times breaks into jazz orientated cues, which maybe cold be a nod in the direction of composer Piero Piccioni who incorporated jazz influenced cues into his western scores. If you do not like or understand the movie, the soundtrack is still worth listening to and adding to one’s collection. Check it out on Spotify or I tunes, I am confident that you will be pleasantly surprised.





Any new score by British composer Debbie Wiseman is a delight, however her latest release, Edie is an even greater joy, the music is such an overwhelming pleasure, it is subtle and thematic and also haunts the listener right from the moment they first encounter it. The score is performed for a 50-piece orchestra, which by the sound of things is made up mainly of strings and woods with piano, a handful of brass and a scattering of percussion. The music for EDIE is intimate and highly emotive, and it has to it a personal and pleasing musical persona which at times purveys the atmosphere of loneliness or solitude. Fashioned beautifully and orchestrated lovingly it is a work of art literally. The composer utilises solo guitar throughout the work, which is I suppose the musical identity of the main character EDIE portrayed wonderfully by accomplished British actress, Sheila Hancock. The guitar solos drift throughout the work, underlined with delicate and fragile support from strings and woods, the guitar being the foundation of the work, and the remainder of the score radiating from this. The guitar is always centre stage and although it is enhanced, embellished and punctuated by the string section with little nuances provided via woodwind and the odd musical full stop or comma being added by the percussion, none of the instruments overwhelm each other, the composer has the balance perfectly right, and manages to create the perfect mix throughout. I was lucky enough to interview the composer about the movie last year after she had finished scoring it. There is a lot of music in the movie and many of the scenes towards the end of the movie are given over to the music as in no or very little dialogue, the composer really gave the film greater depth and certainly more of an emotional impact with her lyrical and at times melancholy sounding soundtrack, touching piano solos, and the fragility of the guitar are poignant and meaningful. This is a score that you won’t like, instead you will fall in love with it and adore it. Subtle but affecting, EDIE is a must for your collection. Highly recommended. Released on May 25th 2018, on Silva Screen records.





Your Mother was a concert pianist, so I am guessing that you got your interest in music from her, but what would you say are your earliest memories of music?

I loved picking out tunes on the piano when I was around 5 years old. My favourite was “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”.

What musical education did you receive, and what instrument did you study?

I took private piano lessons from around 6 1/2 years. I studied “popular” piano… never played a classical piece. I was taught to improvise from my very first lesson. Besides from those lessons I never studied music. I was a Fine Arts student in college.



Was it always music for film and TV that you intended to do for a career, or were you exploring other avenues and genres of music and an opportunity arose for you to work on a movie?


No. I never even knew that being a film composer was an actual career! I loved writing songs, stage musicals, and arranging albums. I accidentally fell into film composition.

You wrote a score for a film entitled WOLFEN sadly it was replaced, what happened on that particular assignment?

The director was fired. The producers let me record the score, but when they hired a new director the film was re-cut and he hired a new composer.

THE LAST STARFIGHTER, is a great score with a wonderful theme, how did you become involved on this movie and what size orchestra did you use for that score?

I had worked on “TAG: The Assassination Game” with director Nick Castle. When he developed “The Last Starfighter” he hired me to write the music. It was a very large late romantic orchestra. Quadruple woodwinds, six horns, six trumpets, 4 trombones, tuba. Big string section, lots of percussionists!


Do you have any preferences when it comes to where you record your film scores, if so for what reasons?

It depends on what kind of music I’m recording. For large orchestra my favourite has always been the Sony (previously MGM) scoring stage. For more electronic and smaller scores I tend to do a lot of work in my own studio, then mix somewhere else.



Is orchestration an important part of the process of music composition, and do you conduct your film scores, or do you prefer to supervise from the recording booth?

Orchestration is extremely important, especially in film music… it conveys the mood, subtext, and importance. I’ve always conducted my own scores. I think the energy I can impart conducting is more important than being in the booth.


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You worked on the TV series CHEERS, is it demanding writing music for a popular TV series when the episodes go out so frequently, and do you ever re-cycle any themes from previous episodes in later ones?

“Cheers” was pretty simple to compose. There was very little music in each episode, so I would often record three shows in one session. Also, each season I would compose and record an entire library of music cues which the music editor would use. The show was a mixture of my library and newly recorded music. Also, since it was written for only 5 players the music was very simple and quick to write.



What would you identify as the main differences between scoring motion pictures, TV series and TV movies?

The three are conceptually very similar. The big difference is that with a feature film there is usually more time and more money to get things right. Also, bigger orchestras. The downside is there is also much more anxiety and politics in a feature film than in TV. TV doesn’t rely on box-office like a feature film and has a much quicker turn-around time, so the producers and executives are not as anxious.

Does budget have an impact on what a composer can achieve because of the restrictions it can have upon the number of players, or can you get around this by writing in a different way?


I can usually work around budget issues. The biggest trap is trying to do too much with too little. It’s best to scale back the type of music one is writing to fit the budget.

At what stage of the production do you prefer to become involved on a movie, rough cut, or maybe you look at a script, and how many times do you like to see a movie before you start to make decisions on what style of music you will write and where it will be placed to best serve the movie?

I like being involved when there is a rough cut. Often the musical style is largely decided by the director and editor, who put existing music on the film as it is cut. It is often very difficult to change the musical style when it has already been set by the director. That’s a big challenge!

Going back to your theme for THE LAST STARFIGHTER, many fans think that the opening theme has now become a thing of the past, as it is the trend in new movies not to have one, what is your opinion of this, I think the main theme is important, as most scores can be built on and around it?

I love having a theme. Some films want a bigger, more in your face, theme (like “Starfighter”). Other films have more hidden themes or none at all. In some films the music is hard to distinguish from the sound effects.

What composers or artists have influenced you or inspired you?

Leonard Bernstein, Stravinsky, Bartok, Prokofiev. In film Jerry Goldsmith, Bernard Hermann, Max Steiner and Elmer Bernstein.

What in your opinion is the purpose of music in film?


Film music helps drive a film, also it helps clarify action. It also can express the subtext of a film, showing what a character is feeling or thinking. Music enters one’s body involuntarily, so the film score can by-pass the brain and really affect the audience.


The TEMP track is something that many film makers use, is this something you find helpful when working on a movie, or can the director sometimes become so accustomed to the TEMP that they want the composer to basically copy it?

The temp track used to be used only during montage scenes. Now, with the ease of laying existing music on film, the temp track is pervasive and usually very constrictive to the film composer.


Do you have a set routine when scoring a movie, by this I mean do start at the opening theme and work through to end titles, or do you tackle smaller cues first and develop the central theme from elements in these?



I usually work on a few themes and then start by writing some of the less important cues. That way I can safely get a feeling for how to handle the theme and orchestral point of view. I won’t write the opening music or the big cues until later.

You have used electronics and synthesisers in your scores, what is your opinion of what is becoming known as the DRONE sound in recent scores, is this music, soundscape or just a background filler?

I think there’s a place for music-as-sound in films. However, sometimes it becomes overwhelming and I miss actual melody.

What have you been working on recently?
My new album “Sirens” is going to be released this May on Varese Sarabande Records. It is music inspired by Homer’s “Odyssey”.






If you like I were lucky enough to be collecting film music during the early 1960,s and through to the present day, I hope that you would have also noticed the wonderfully detailed and colourful art work that accompanied some of the LP record releases, I was particularly fond of the Italian soundtrack releases, especially western scores that were released on the CAM label. CAM were one of the worlds foremost and active soundtrack labels. Their releases were great for collectors as they often included two soundtracks on one record.

CD ART                                       CAM LP ART.

One of the first LPs I got on the CAM label was A MAN A HORSE AND A GUN, the music was by Stelvio Cipriani and on the flip side we had THE BELLE STARR STORY music by French composer Charles Dumont. But, I have to say here and now it was not either of the composers or indeed my knowledge of the music that sold the soundtrack to me, it was the striking art work, as I stood in The Arts Theatre Club Foyer, talking to Michael Jones. I just could not take my eyes off the cover and decided to buy it there and then, of course the score is iconic, and is filled with everything good bad and ugly from the Italian western school of film music, it remains still a treasured possession and one I would never part with.


The same can be said for SENTENZA DI MORTE, again it was the art work for the LP which convinced me I have to own this, and of course later the love of the music just happened. These are just two examples of some of the mesmerising and finely crafted art work that adorns so many Italian soundtrack releases. These images are the work of the Maestro of the Movie Poster world Renato Casaro. This talented artist has provided the art work on so many movie posters and also in turn these images have been used on soundtrack releases. It was not only Italian movies that the artist worked his magic for, he also worked on numerous films in Europe, Gt. Britain and America, his style and vivid artistry being instantly recognisable after a while.


He established himself as the most sought-after artist for the cinema and became firm friends with Dino De Laurentis, Sergio Leone and Bernardo Bertolucci to name but a few. To list all of his work I think would be almost impossible but say this the artist has kept a comprehensive library of his art which I am told is unusual. Born in Treviso which is located in Northern Italy in 1935, the artist came from a family who in his own words were not particularly skilled in that direction. His passion for the cinema manifested it self when he was very young, Renato often attending the cinema every day, and his love for the images on screen soon spread to the posters that were displayed at the picture houses advertising the film being shown or advertising up and coming attractions. He would often go to the cinema and ask for the posters, taking them home to study them and then eventually attempting to paint copies of them.

His study of the posters and his understanding of how certain artists worked soon convinced Renato that this is what he wanted to do as a career. He also began to recognise the work of certain artists, Angelo Cesselon for example, but the young artist was taken more with the style of Norman Rockwell, who he regarded as the Maestro. Because there was no art college or any way of enrolling in a course to allow him to learn the skills he knew that he would require, Renato decided that he had to leave Treviso and move to Rome. Before this however, he worked for an advertising agency who promoted food drink and various other commodities, such as wine, his first major advertising illustration being for PANATONNE CAKE.

He then managed to convince a cinema to let him work for them painting images of movies that they were showing on a wall for all to see. He took photographs of these and decided at 20 years of age he had to go to the Italian capital, he showed his work to STUDIO FAVALLI who worked for numerous film companies, and they liked what they saw and asked Renato to go for an interview, the interview went well and it secured him a position on the team of Augusto Favalli. Because the team at FAVALLI was small, Renato soon became noticed for his work and it was not long before he was working steadily and learning various techniques from the artist Renato Frantini.


It was also at this time that he got to meet his idols such as Angelo Casselon and from there on began to understand the polished and creative flair that they had and incorporating certain techniques into his own work. Augusto Favalli was also the owner of LUX films in Rome so at times would hire a major artist to create a poster for a production, thus Renato would have contact with these and all the time be learning. One of the posters Renato worked on whilst at Favalli studios was ATTILA which was a Sophia Loren movie, after a year at the studio he was told that he should become a freelance artist and work independently, he prepared a portfolio of his work and presented it to various movie distributors, his work was met with much enthusiasm, he was like a breath of fresh air in the industry as many of the artists who worked on movie posters had been doing this for many years, and as the styles and tastes of cinema began to change distributors saw that they needed a fresh approach to keep the public interested. He soon established himself as a trusted and fast worker, in fact many of his clients called him RENATO FA PRESTO which loosely translated means, DOES QUICKLY.



He soon established his own studio and worked for small distributors on independent movies and B films rather than concentrating on trying to become involved on major movies, it was at this time also that he began to perfect his style because the smaller distributors were happy to let him be creative and experiment.




At the age of 21 he was called up into the Italian Military but was fortunate enough to be assigned to creating posters that promoted the forces, so whilst in the army he still carried on perfecting his craft, at times working on Military posters by day and in the evenings painting film posters. After his military service he began to work again creating art for films and was commissioned to work on the poster for the Italian release of THE MAGNIFICENT 7.

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In 1966 Renato began to work for Dino Di Laurentis, the first commission being for THE BIBLE, after this he worked on projects such as WATERLOO, CONAN THE BARBARIAN, FLASH GORDON and the ill-fated DUNE.


The artist went from strength to strength working on major movies such as Leones THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, his art work has adorned so many posters for films such as, OCTOPUSSY, NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN, RED SONJA, TOTAL RECALL, THE BIG GUNDOWN and a plethora of Italian made westerns, Giallo movies, Horror films and Romances. Renato Casaro is unique and highly innovative, his art is striking and colourful and has an almost hypnotic affect upon anyone who studies the images, each time you look you find something that maybe was not there the first time you looked, it is so detailed and finely tuned.



Look in your collection of Italian soundtracks and find the signature, I bet you its his.