More than a collector I know, an author and also Hammer films expert.
What film score was it that sparked your interest in music for the movies or was it a film?
I think it was the “Hammer Presents Dracula with Christopher Lee” LP rather than a film. I came across that record quite by accident soon after it came out and the resonance of James Bernard’s orchestrations made a huge impression on me.
Horror films are obviously a passion for you, but are there any horror movies that you don’t like or have a lesser opinion of?
I’m probably a bit old-fashioned in my personal tastes. I’ve recently been looking at a great deal of Body Horror for my latest book. These films are often very interesting indeed and have a lot of things to say about reality in general, but despite the gore, I find them visually rather bland, which is perhaps the point. In fact, I find the way most films look these days rather boring from a visual point of view. Basically, the more baroque, gothic and theatrical the better, for me…
What format do you prefer to listen to your soundtracks on, CD, LP or downloads?
CDs, really, as I hate clicks and scratches. I still have my old Hammer Presents Dracula LP though!
How many soundtracks have you got in your collection and can you remember what was your most expensive purchase?
It’s not a massive collection. Over 100 certainly. A lot of them are review copies, so I don’t spend a lot on recordings.
Are there any composers that you are drawn to more than others, likewise do you prefer action scores or something that is thematic?
Because I was initially attracted to Hammer composers, I became more interested in British film music, in general, rather than American. The Golden Age of British film music was stylistically very diverse, bringing in, as it did, so many concert composers with their highly individual voices. The 1960s were the great time of experiment and stylistic freedom, I think. There’s a great deal of diversity in American film music, of course, but the Steiner/Korngold idiom has prevailed via John Williams.
I really admire Williams’ JURASSIC PARK score, which I think is the best thing he’s ever done, but I’m an even greater fan of Jerry Goldsmith, who avoided that route, I think. My favourite American film composers from the Golden Age are probably David Raksin and Franz Waxman, who was such a stylistic chameleon.
I like fantasy in general as the music necessarily has to be more extreme and integral.
You are known for your interest in Hammer films and their musical scores, what Hammer composers have you interviewed?
I was very lucky in the early days in discovering that Leonard Salzedo lived down the road from me, and he introduced me to many of these composers via Phil Martell, whom I got to know very well in his latter years.
I of course knew James Bernard very well, too, but I also became friendly with Harry Robinson, met David Whitaker, Christopher Gunning, John Cacavas and Monty Norman, and corresponded with and spoke with Paul Glass, Tristram Cary, John McCabe, Mike Vickers, and Gerard Schurmann. I wish I’d had an opportunity to meet with Don Banks, but he passed away before I had the chance. (Phil Martell was a great admirer of his work.)
I also met Buxton Orr, which was the closest I got to meeting the great Benjamin Frankel, as Buxton was his friend and associate, and kindly made me a copy of Frankel’s amazing serial CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF score. Also, I’d love to have encountered Elisabeth Lutyens, which would have been as scary and entertaining as any horror film!
If you had to pick 10 soundtracks to take with you on a desert island, what would these be?
In no particular order: DRACULA A.D. 1972, DRACULA (1958), BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB, ARABIAN ADVENTURE (Ken Thorne), THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, THE MEPHISTO WALTZ (Jerry Goldsmith) DR JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE, LAURA, THE IPCRESS FILE, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN
Away from film music what do you like to listen too?
I’m a Romantic at heart. I first became aware of Wagner from Werner Herzog’s NOSFERATU. I went back to see that film three times just to find out what I was hearing, and eventually worked out that it was the Prelude to DAS RHEINGOLD. Ever since then I’ve been a huge fan of Wagner. Also Liszt, Chopin and all the great Romantics, and obviously Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, etc. I love Russian music (Ken Thorne’s wonderful score for ARABIAN ADVENTURE is very Rimsky-Korsakoff!) and I’m also a fan of what’s now known as lounge music. There’s also dance music and pop in the mix – Abba of course, and I might as well confess that I’ve always loved The Archies SUGAR, SUGAR, which I can remember being in the top 10 back in the 1960s. My tastes are very Catholic, but these days a long way from cool.
Do you have to have seen a movie for you to buy the soundtrack, or do you buy on past reputation of the composer or maybe word of mouth from other collectors?
Oh no. I often got to know the music of a film long before I saw the film itself. That was particularly the case with all those Korngold and Steiner scores. That’s an interesting way to approach things, because a) you’re so much more aware of the music when you do see the film and b) it’s often surprising to find out what the music’s designed to accompany! Obviously, a composer’s reputation goes before him, and sometimes the music can impress you so much when you see a film, you want to seek out the soundtrack later – as was definitely the case with JURASSIC PARK.
What is your opinion of contemporary film music as opposed to the movie scores of the golden and silver age?
A tricky subject. Well, in a nutshell, I think contemporary Hollywood scoring has become very generic – a kind of sub-Korngold, corporate sound that oozes over every film regardless of its content. That’s largely the consequence of the Blockbuster, so it all goes back to STAR WARS. Paul Glass used a good phrase, once, about what happened in the 1980s, which was “sitting on a synthesizer.” With a synthesizer you can play a couple of chords and dress it up with effects and hey presto. But that’s not to say that there isn’t a lot of good music being written for contemporary films. I still think that horror films inspire the most interesting music. And minimalism is well suited to film. (I don’t really believe in tampering with the classics, but I do think Philip Glass’s score for DRACULA (1931) works really well!).