Composer James Griffiths has in a relatively short period of time established himself as a film music composer of worth and a talented musician who regularly performs on his film scores. His latest assignment LANCASTER SKIES is certainly no exception, released on Movie Score Media as a digital recording with it soon be given a compact disc release on the Spanish label Quartet. Straight away I have to say that LANCASTER SKIES is a compelling listen, it is filled with rich and tuneful thematic material, in many ways the central themes evoke memories of the style and sound that was realised by Jerry Goldsmith, solo trumpet being particularly prominent giving the work a sound that I for one do associate with the likes of Goldsmith and Williams, the trumpet purveying a sense of loneliness. It is also a score that is scattered with emotive musical passages and lilting sorrowful tone poems. The composer utilising solo cello which is accompanied by delicate piano to relay an air of melancholy. This is a wonderfully affecting work, which one moment is poignant and heartrending but in the next instant can alter into rousing and patriotic sounding pieces or erupt into full on action mode. Woodwinds also feature throughout and are responsible for establishing a sound that is alluring and haunting. The composer told me that the films budget did not run to a full orchestra, so how did he achieve such a rich sound that in places is quite grandiose?


james com
“The live musicians were friends and ex-colleagues of mine. They are either currently serving, or ex-service musicians hailing from the British Armed Forces, and members, or former members of the prestigious Bands of The Household Division. My friends were amazing, very much bringing their excellence to create the authentic British Military wind band sound with orchestra. We recorded woodwinds, brass, and soloists. I also twisted the arm of Peter Gregson (Bach – Recomposed, Forgotten Man) to perform solo cello on the score. I performed as much as I could, playing all of the saxophones, piano, guitar and traditional military percussion. I did everything in my power to use technology to create the most realistic experience of an expressive symphony orchestra. I mixed the score and my amazing assistant, Christoph Allerstorfer, did the mastering”.


The score for LANCASTER SKIES is in a word superb, it is certainly well written, with the composer infusing his work with so many emotions and tantalising textures and colours. It has to it a sound that we would normally associate with War movies of years ago, timpani, low string passages, and ominous sounding interludes, and thundering percussion, but it also has to it a heart and soul that is written in a more contemporary fashion, there is a real lushness to the work and even though the composer was not able to utilise a large orchestra he has achieved the sounds of a symphony orchestra via clever writing and also by integrating solo performances alongside and amongst synthetic instrumentation.  LANCASTER SKIES is a stunningly powerful work, and one that collectors will return to many times, this is one for your collection.





What musical training did you undertake?
I started learning piano in my childhood, later on as a teenager I studied harmony, ensemble and jazz moving then to counterpoint. I started music composition when I was 11 years old. I have always studied privately and I keep studying every day.


What is your main instrument when it comes to working out your musical ideas for a project?
My internal ear and the paper when I compose music. Piano and sampler come only afterwards. The beginning of the process is when I listen to the music inside of myself envisioning the sounds and the structure.



Was it always writing music for film that you wanted to do, or was this something that developed as your career moved forward?
I have a long lasting relationship with narrative and moving images. I set on music my first silent film when I was 26 at the Cineteca of Bologna in 2002. Before that I created music for several commercials, the very first one when I was 18. At that time, I was also working on music composition for theatres.
From 2006 on, I started developing a proper recording career and I believe composing film soundtracks came as a natural consequence of the experiences gained through the time that have shaped my style.




Do you have any memories of the first time that you engaged with music
of any kind?


As mentioned earlier music has never been just a hobby. Music has been with and within me ever since I was a child. I made my first money out of music. To be honest, I have no memories of my life ever been without it!



I recently listened to three of your scores for movies that focused upon, VAN GOGH, MONET and PICASSO. How did you become involved on these and were they scored very close together?
I was involved in scoring Hitler Versus Picasso and the Others from the producer Didi Gnocchi (3d Produzioni) with whom I previously worked for some television projects. She co-produced Hitler versus Picasso with Nexo Digital as distributor. From that moment on we started an ongoing partnership collaborating particularly with the CEO Franco Di Sarro. I composed the 3 scores one after the other since all the films were released in 2018, one every two months in approximately six months.
What size orchestra did you utilise for the scores and what percentage of the ensemble was samples or electronic?
My scores always involve musicians. My team is made up of people who get along and of high expertise. For string instruments we have developed a special technique that mixes pieces played by musicians for every section of the orchestra and samples. This combination makes the sound tenser and more modern without giving up to the kind of expressiveness only musicians can add. Brass instrument, woods, percussions and string instruments are rigorously played by musicians. Piano pieces are of course played by me. I like using electronics in expressive and analogue fashion.


You have composed music for the theatre and also worked on music for silent movies, when writing music for a silent movie do you find you have more freedom because of the absence of dialogue and sound effects etc?
I have always imagined a silent film with screenplay and sounds To me, silent films are just films. Therefore it was a matter of commentating them musically rather than making didactic choices or a simple accompaniment. This requires a greater preparation on the film and a greater respect of the narrative. I cannot stand the idea of extemporizing music especially for a silent film. In fact, a greater rigor is expected. Obviously there is no chance to discuss the music with the filmmaker and thus you need to convey modern emotions and feeling from a film shot almost a century ago.



I love the music for all three of the scores I mentioned for films about great painters, did you perform on the soundtracks?
Thank you. And yes, I did play the piano (as I always do) in my soundtracks. Not only the piano but also some analogue instruments such as Roland Juno 60 and Korg MS20. Also, together with my team I supervise the planning.



Your music is so rich in melody and thematic properties, what is your opinion of the film scores of today compared with those from the 1960’s and before this?
The great revolution was made by Bernard Hermann with Hitchcock and Ennio Morricone with Sergio Leone. Before that, I believe we all agree that music was just a secondary or teaching aspect except for few instances. This is a result of the use of music in silent films: to cover the noises of the first projectors.
Nowadays I think it is important for cinema the relationship with composers who know how to deal with the orchestra and who have a solid basic preparation along with the ability to modernize sounds through technology and electronics.
The soundtracks offer interesting combinations, it allows you to be bold on new solutions and a new way. Today’s landscape is filled with great composers who are looking for new paths.




Do you conduct your film scores, or do you use a conductor so that you may monitor things from the recording booth?
I usually conduct film scores supported by my assistant the Maestro Federico Mecozzi. While one conducts the other supervises in recording booth with the sound technician Cristian Bonato.




How long is it after first seeing a project that you begin to form ideas about what style of music you will write and where the music would be best placed to serve the movie?
The ideal time range is one month for preparation, 20 days for composing and then approximately two weeks for studio recording. Let’s say that two full months is a decent time. Being involved in the project during the screenplay preparation and before the film is shot is even better. Music provides the meaning images cannot express, what goes beyond images.


When you are writing a score, do you orchestrate as you are writing or is this something that comes after the initial composition?
The orchestration strictly follow the composition. While I create the music for a specific scene I have already in mind the orchestration that will appear in the trailer I will send out. I am obviously talking about an orchestral piece.



I know that your Brother is also musical, but do you come from a family background that is musical?

Our parents do not play any instrument, however they were and are demanding listeners when it comes to music and this environment has surely had an impact on us.



Have you given concerts of any of your music?
As mentioned I was primarily focused on developing a discographic career and then soundtracks composition. This arrangement is very stimulating. Composing an instrumental music album such as “Nocturne” for Sony Classical is a valuable example of what it means to me making an album. It is my film, I am the filmmaker, the screenwriter and my music should allow every listener to envision his/her own film. This requires a different approach and a composing technique which is completely different compared to the one used for soundtrack composition. When you write for the images you need to create music that perfectly matches the scenes while keeping its own strength and uniqueness even without the images. It is a challenge since the protagonist is the always the film with its own time and requirements.



I think a musician can work for a film only if he loves the cinema deeply and knows its basic language. I feel comfortable in doing this because I work as if the music was not mine, I love cinema to the point that I personally strive for finding the most suitable solutions for the film. In my concerts I always put some themes from soundtracks that I rearrange in different forms to make it even more autonomous in the relationship with the audience.




What composers would you say have influenced you or better still inspired you?
I am personally fond of music of the Renaissance and I think of authors such as Palestrina, Marenzio, De Victoria, Gabrielli not because of aesthetic reasons but rather because of an integrity in the composition. I look for a counterpoint language in my music.

As for films I love deeply Pino Donaggio soundtracks for Brian De Palma, John Zorn film works or Brian Eno world in Ambient 1, Music for Films and the recent Music for Installations. Moving to  “wall of sound” important models are Hans Zimmer and Thomas Newman. For melodic hints I look at Nino Rota, especially in his cinematographic works.  For string instruments Riz Ortolani. And again, Ennio Morricone and Bernard Hermann.


You collaborated with trumpet player Roy Paci on the score for the documentary FIGHT FOR FREEDOM, TRIBUTE TO MUHAMMAD ALI. which I think sounds very retro Italian film score as in Piero Piccioni or Gianni Ferrio, was this a collaboration as in writing together or was it a performing collaboration?

The music of Tribute to Muhammad Ali is entirely mine. I asked Roy Paci to produce the soundtrack because I needed a black sound and Roy was definitely the perfect match. We wrote together the opening credits track called “Take Another Jab” and we add two pieces from Roy.  I composed the remaining part but it was great to see how Roy “dressed” my music. The funeral theme “I’m Not Leaving” is an example of what it means to create a theme and then entrust another gifted player. Such is Roy’s experience and sensibility.


What is next for you?


I just finished two scores. One is for the film “Gaugin in Tahiti. Paradise Lost” that is going to be broadcasted late March. It is a sound trip in the history of Paul Gaugin who gave up everything to move to Tahiti where he eventually found a lost paradise. The other one is for “Il Ladro di Cardellini”, an excellent Neapolitan comedy.


As for the very next future I will be committed on other soundtracks and busy travelling around for concerts. I had an amazing time last November in London where I played at the Purcell Room in the London Southbank Centre for the London Jazz Festival. It was my first concert in UK and it was a great experience. Hope to come back very soon!