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.