Questions by John Williams, Colin Childs, Serge Karov and Jason Drury.
Part 1. Questions from John Williams.
We all got to film music in different ways. Mine was my Mum taking me to the pictures when I was round 7. How did it start for you?
I got into films in a similar way, my Mum was an usher at the local Odeon, so when I wasn’t at school I was in the cinema, watching all sorts of movies, probably some I should not have, but I do remember AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, and also SPARTACUS for some reason, the fight scene with Woody Strode sticks in my memory, and then EL CID and action films mainly both on cinema and the TV when they showed them, of course they were in black and white, because that’s what was available.
It is a long way from enjoying music in a movie to collecting. What was the catalyst for you? I remember the first film music I had. My Mum and Dad bought it for me. Do you recall your first soundtrack purchase.
The main reason I began to notice music in films was because of my family’s love of the musical as in CALAMITY JANE and things like SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, but my love of film music began with LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, this was I am certain the first time I realised that there was music in films, not sure why really, it just caught my attention, and that was the first ever LP I had, my parents got it for me, but because they did not really understand the meaning of Original soundtrack they gave me a cover version album which was on Summit records and it was kind of like the bloke down the pub plays his impressions of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, but it was ok and it began my long journey into collecting film music, I think ZULU came next, but this was because of the movie more than I noticed the score. But I did buy that myself I saved up did jobs for pennies and got together 37 shillings and 6 pence and went and got it myself in Hove which is near Brighton where I am.
Did you tape soundtracks from tv via microphone and then edit the tapes?
Yes, I did but I soon gave up on it as I got irritated by the dialogue and sound effects, TV themes were the easiest I suppose as you got the opening theme and sometimes a nice long end credits theme. I think SANDBAGGERS was one I kept on tape, reel to reel tape that is I had a Grundig 4 track recorder, and wish I still had it now, along with my trusty Dansette which was bright orange. Talking of recording from the TV via a microphone mainly, I remember getting the five-pin din plug installed on the Dansette wow that revolutionized recording, I remember making tape after tape of compilations. It was great because my recorder had two speeds and if you put it on a slower speed you could get so many on one tape.
I now find as much I love Goldsmith Herrmann, the great s, I love many of the shall we 2nd choices in the early days. Jones, Dankworth, Myers etc. Are there some now you love you didn’t at the time.
Well, Goldsmith I always loved, but I did find it hard to get into Herrmann, For, me the main contenders were Barry and Morricone but then via Morricone I discovered Stelvio Cipriani, Bruno Nicolai, Carlo Rustichelli etc. the whole Italian school of film music. Which I have always stayed with, composers like Gianni Marchetti are so underatted and also Gianni Ferrio and Allessandro Allessandroni. As for composers I did not really take notice of back then and maybe have warmed to now, well John Williams or Johnny Williams as he was then known, Neal Hefti, Quincy Jones, but because I write reviews and also do interviews with composer I do find I soak up a lot of the new music and think, you know this is really good. Then I re-visit something like BLUE by Manos Hajidakis and think wow this was way ahead of its time.
I also have re-discovered Brian May. Is there a composer like that you may have found again?
Ron Grainer, I think, he wrote some great scores, OMEGA MAN for example. And also, Stanley Black two talents but rarely applauded. I never fully appreciated these composers in the early days.
What made you start writing etc. For me it was trying to find something on Chris Gunning and I could find nothing at all.
For me it was when I joined the Max Steiner Music Society, back in around 1973, I was 18. I think the guy who ran it was surprised that this young kid liked film music, so he asked me to write about it and why I liked it, it all started there, after that I contributed to their news-letter, but it was not till SOUNDTRACK magazine and the Goldsmith Society’s LEGEND magazine and later Music From The Movies that I started to write regularly.
You are a well-known authority on Italian Film Music. How did that come about?
It was a happy accident as they say, and I don’t know about an authority, there are plenty of other people out there that are far more qualified. Tom Betts, Lionel Woodman and Sir Christopher Frayling among them. I used to go out every Saturday and look around the record shops in Brighton, there was a TV shop called REDIFFUSION in North Street in the town and they sometimes had LPs there so I went in one Saturday morning and saw THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY in the rack Ennio Morricone? I thought who’s that. Picked it up put it down and then went back to it.
I noticed it was marked up wrongly at 13 shillings and 11pence, which if I am correct is about 70 Pence now. So’ I thought ok I got £2.00, but was still cautious, so I asked to listen to it, which you could then. Once I heard it that was it, I got it and made a hasty retreat in case they realised that they had priced it wrong, I think I looked over my shoulder all the way to the bus stop. So that’s how my Italian film music interest came about it was all down to the money(lol). A couple of weeks later I went back and in the rack was ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST but the French cover and yep it was 13 shillings 11p too I got that too. After that I started to go to DEAN STREET in London that was a treasure chest of everything films and shows.
Since then I have added hundreds of Italian scores to my collection, at first it was the Italian western that I concentrated on then I started to find things like THE SICILIAN CLAN and also Nino Rota scores as well, then Luis Baclov and others, and even today the Italian labels are still issuing scores I have never heard. The music led to meeting the composers, and interviewing a lot of them, a trip to Rome and a day with Franco De Gemini at BEAT, and with Franco Micalizzi at his studio, and numerous meetings with Allessandroni. Plus talking to Nico Fidenco who I have to say was the most open person I have ever interviewed, I also enjoyed talking to Piero Piccioni and Nora Orlandi. I wish I had met Bruno Nicolai and also Nino Rota. And I think that is why I did so many interviews with composers and not just from Italy.
What is your view on a new thing Isolated scores.
Not got any, so really cannot comment. I know people do like them and I was thinking of getting the NIGHT OF THE DEMON because I think that is such a great score. But still thinking about it. I am not into buying DVD.s at all.
I feel film music is dead, Long live film music!! Is there anyone coming up you have hope for the future.
That’s difficult because I think there are a lot of young composers or newer composers that will be awesome in the very near future, mainly Spanish or European, the Hollywood score for me personally is a no-go area, why? Well, I know this sounds like I am an old moaner (which I am so I am told). It all sounds the same(shock horror). But it does, there is very rarely any originality, and I will probably upset so many people here, but there are a few composers who seem to monopolize the scoring of movies in the States and they for me have made film music the same ole same ole, if you know what I mean. So it is the Spanish composers I have been listening to more and more. Some have only written a couple of scores, but their talent shines through straight away. And then there are composers like, Arnau Bataller, Fernando Velasquez, Angel Illarramendi, Roque Banos, Anton Garcia Abril, Sergio Moure De Oteyza, to name but a few, all gifted talented and creators of such beautiful music.
Does film music have a life in the concert hall. Are some soundtracks better in the film not a lp or CD.
There are lots of scores that work well in the films, which is their job after all, and when you listen on record or CD they are just background or atonal, so horses for courses I suppose, it sounds great in the film because its doing its job and supporting and enhancing the action, but away from the images its just sometimes a noise. Mind you some work in the film and also as a piece of music on their own, concerts I love, I like to see the orchestra working together and seeing how a sound is achieved as in what instruments are used. The new thing of live orchestra to film is also interesting, but only been to one of these, its getting the time and of course the prices are way over the top and I do sometimes think I got the original score here why do I want to go and watch it live?
How do you feel the future of recorded music will develop? How do you feel about Streaming? It has been said that soundtrack collectors will be the last to ditch CDS.
Because of room to store things now I have not purchased many CDS and record labels do tend to send review copies via downloads on the internet via an attachment, so if something is available digitally I do add it to my collection on the PC but things like HOLACAUST by Morton Gould recently I made a point of getting on CD as I will with the new Tadlow recording od Dracula and Frankenstein (unless of course I get a review copy from good old James Fitzpatrick-hint hint). Film music is a very small part of the market as we all know and we have seen record shops gradually fade out the vast soundtrack sections which is sad and a little annoying when you wander round a store like virgin or HMV searching for soundtracks and are showed by an uninterested member of staff that they are under the stairs in a badly lit corner next to the t shirts. And I think sometimes this is why the high street shops are fading away because there is just no customer service anymore, (sorry Victor Meldrew Person coming through again). So collectors have been driven to online purchases and more and more to streaming or digital downloads, I can click on Spotify and some- times find a soundtrack that there is no compact disc of, so I am happy to do whatever I have to listen to film music. But it will all go online soon I am sure or maybe we will have a new system installed in our homes that makes digital downloads and streaming obsolete too soon.
Is there any composer you think more highly of now then you once did?
No, I don’t think so, maybe Michel Legrand, I seem to enjoy his scores more now, there are a few soundtracks by various composers that I often think Why did I even buy this in the first place. In fact, some of my LP’s have only been played once. I do enjoy classical music a lot more now, Mahler, Debussy, Holst, Stravinsky and Rachmaninov and depending on my mood Britten. I put this down to my age I am a lot calmer now than I was.
Do you miss the printed magazine against all online now?
Yes I do, it was always great to get the latest MFTM or Legend and soundtrack, it’s not the same online is it, but once again I am of a certain age and a bit set in the ways now, I suppose its like when LPS first started to get pushed out by CD.s I missed the notes on the back cover and holding the record and also the smell of the record too, yes there is a nice smell to a record. I recently contributed to WE BELONG DEAD magazine and when it arrived I thought how wonderful it was, Eric McNaughton who edits and publishes it does a fantastic job, I was taken aback by the high quality of the publication. I would love to see the return of something like FILMS AND FILMING etc or a specific film music mag, Empire does not do it for me, so a new Music From the Movies mag please….There were a lot of magazine around at one time, Soundtrack, Film Score Monthly, From Silent’s to Satellites, Music From The Movies, Movie Collector, Little Shop of Horrors, Legend, Sight and Sound, Films and Filming, Film Review, so many most gone now.
PART 2, Questions from Colin Childs.
You have often hinted that you do not like Hans Zimmer, any reason for this?
Well I am sure he is a great guy, and some of his early stuff I liked a lot, in the early days his music was more innovative and there was a great deal of variety to it, I think up until GLADIATOR I would always look out for his new works, but after that my interest went on a downward spiral. Look it’s like everything is,nt it certain people like certain things, one mans meat as they say etc, I loved Gladiator and also Backdraft and his theme for FIRST BORN has always stuck with me, maybe he just got too busy? Saying that though I watched a concert of his on Netflix the other night and it was brilliant, it was just pure entertainment and I was surprised just how many instruments he played. I just don’t get why so many younger collectors think he is the saviour of film music. So, maybe its this attitude rather than Zimmer’s music that makes me a little standoffish.
You write a lot, I would say you are pretty prolific in fact, do you research a lot into subjects before writing?
Yes, you have too, or someone will always be there to say you got that wrong, especially online now. Saying that I have been collecting film music since I was seven years old, so I seem to have picked up a lot of info and held it in my head, I cant sometimes remember what I went into a room for but ask me who wrote a score for an obscure Italian movie from the 50’s and there it is.
Do you just sit and think ok today I am going to write about Italian westerns or War movies or TV shows etc?
Sometimes yes, it maybe something I hear on the radio or see on TV or even at times its weird you see something or smell something and it kicks off a memory of a time or a place and then you think oh yes I remember that place it was in 19— whatever and I went to see TOO LATE THE HERO for example, and then you start to think about other movies and for example I did an article on war movies and all these titles came into my head, PLAY DIRTY now that was a good movie and Legrand did the score, there was a track from that on the UA GREAT WAR MOVIE THEMES LP I wonder why they never released the soundtrack? I just hope that when I write people will read it and enjoy it.
You are writing a book I am told?
Been writing a book since I was first born I think, or at least had ideas about one or two. Yes I am writing or at least now compiling a film music composer book, its just getting it published, two publishers said yes and then at last minute backed out so I am still sending proposals out every day, whether it will get put into print I don’t know, I think it will make a fantastic book but I am the author so I would say that. I have had a lot of support from the composers involved and I think it would not just be a book but a historical document of film music, the way it’s written and the way that it has evolved. Can I just say I am not worried about any money in this venture I just want it printed, there are some great interviews here and I would like people to see them. Also written a few stories mainly for children but never bothered to go any where with those.
Favourite scores have you a top 5 or more?
Not sure if I have favourites, I certainly have soundtracks I return to a lot, CONAN THE BARBARIAN for example and also things like, OHMSS, EL CID, THE SICILIAN CLAN, KRULL, THE WIND AND THE LION but these are just scores I go to when I need a lift or some inspiration. I don’t like lists of favourite scores, it’s annoying when you see a top ten poll online and SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER is number 1. You have to laugh, or you would cry I suppose. Its like when someone says what music do you like, you reply film music, you can see on their face an expression that says weirdo…and then they say OH so you like stuff like MY FAIR LADY and THE SOUND OF MUSIC. You stop yourself replying and just nod in agreement because you just know this person will not have a clue what a score is or the difference between I.M GETTING MARRIED IN THE MORNING and THE ECSTACY OF GOLD. No disrespect to musicals of course, I do kind of like them, in fact I was watching SOUTH PACIFIC the other day and noticed it had a really good score for the non-singing parts. Alfred Newman I think had a hand in that.
Do you participate in discussion boards?
No not any-more, too many negative thoughts, and so many rude comments, no manners and no courtesy whatsoever. A lot of opinions but if you do not agree with them, they single you out and that’s why I don’t bother anymore and will never go on them again. That’s why Movie Music International has no discussion board.
Ah yes Movie Music International, how did that start?
It began as a little Yahoo group where people who shared the same interest would chat, nothing fancy just a basic chat group, it was called MOVIE MUSIC ITALIANO. To progressed to the blog/website stage a few years ago and I changed the name because I wanted to include all things to do with film music if I could. It’s a small site compared with others, but its quite popular at times, I do try and post as much as I can and when I do an article or a review or interview the reactions are always nice.
What was the hardest set of notes for a CD that you have worked on?
All of them… well not sure if I can say this or not but I will, I worked on 20 sets of notes for a record company in Europe and they accepted the notes paid me and then found out they could not even publish the soundtracks because of legal reasons, so they returned all of them to me and told me keep the money, these were very hard to research etc, but never used which was disappointing. Same happened with Marvel mags, paid in full but articles never used because the publication they were written for folded, so again a disappointment. But then you get a chance to do notes for a nice release and it all is worth it. I think I am most proud of THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE by John Addison which was on Quartet and also THE HILLS RUN RED by Ennio Morricone also on Quartet.
Do you get a lot of direction from the record label as to what they actualy want in the notes?
Sometimes, but mostly there is no real need, Kronos for example are great, Godwin never interferes, he asks, I do the notes and I don’t think he has ever said I don’t like them, he may edit them but that’s usual because of limited space. Intrada were more hands on but not to the point of cutting stuff just asking for it to be re-written in American English, but they are the ones who are paying I suppose, and if the notes are not good it reflects on the release.
There were two releases I did for Italian westerns SABATA by Marcello Giombini and THE BOUNTY HUNTERS or INDIO BLACK by Bruno Nicolai, which were released originally by Hillside, these are both favourites of mine and had never been released in their full version before.
I did the notes, Hillside loved them, sent them to Italy where they were translated to Italian, but then Hillside said no we want them in English, so the Italians translated them back into English via a translating device and printed them without them being checked, it was awful, I actually cannot read them to this day as I squirm because the grammar and the punctuation are all over the place, and my name is on them. It was a shame because they were at the time important releases. After that fiasco Hillside never had notes again.
How did you become involved on the GDI Hammer CDS?
I got the first CD that GDI did which was a compilation, and I was over the moon with it, somehow I managed to get Gary Curtis’s phone number and I rang him to say how great it was to have the music at last, I think we spoke on the phone for about an hour, and then he said come to London and we will meet up, he was planning the comedy CD and also a second compilation, I noticed that Marcus Hearne had done the notes for the GDI releases I had known Marcus from the Marvel Hammer magazine and he had always said he liked my Hammer interviews. So, when Gary said he was going to release THE MUMMY by Franz Reizenstein, I wrote some notes and contacted the composer’s widow, Gary liked them and used them, I think I did thirteen CDS in total.
Of course, I was really lucky because I was already friends with James Bernard, Harry Robinson, Carlo Martelli and David Whittaker and had met Laurie Johnson and a few other Hammer composer’s such as Chris Gunning, and I had a lot of info to hand because I had interviewed them all. The releases on GDI were a dream to do, VAMPIRE LOVERS and TWINS OF EVIL were my holy grails and there I was writing the liner notes for them. I just wish they had done a lot more PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES was one they mentioned but it did not come to fruition.
How did you meet James Bernard?
I had written a review of the Silva screen HAMMER films LP and CD and David Stoner had sent it to James who was in London, I asked David to introduce me and he did, James was a kind and gentle man, I liked him a lot. After the interview with James I found out where Harry Robinson was and phoned him out of the blue, I think he was surprised anyone was interested to be honest, but I went along and spent the entire day with him talking and taking photos. Carlo Martelli and David Whittaker was the same scenario but Laurie Johnson and Tristram Cary interviews were done via letter, and I never met Laurie Johnson till after the interview.
You knew Michael Jones quite well didn’t you?
Still do, he is a live and well, Michael is probably one of the most overlooked figures in soundtracks as in retail, he was responsible for getting Italian soundtracks into the shops in London, and is never given the full credit. If it were not for Mike we would not have had the LPS on CAM or BEAT in the 1960’s and 1970’s. He should be applauded. I keep on at him to do an interview but he wont, which is such a shame.
PART 3. QUESTIONS FROM SERGE KAROV.
After so many years dedicated to film music, and with present knowledge of everything what you had experienced during the time, would the choice to follow this path remain the same?
Yes I think so, its something that I was attracted to and still am, I get excited over a good score and I do try and experience as many new scores as I can and have over the past few years found soundtracks I was not familiar with, its like a voyage of discovery isn’t it. Film music is still surprising and sometimes it does disappoint, but very rarely in my opinion. So, yes, knowing what I know now my path would have been the same. Maybe I would have studied music, which is something I always regretted, I was not allowed to do that my family refused to fund it. I was told to get a proper job (lol).
We know you were DJ, so your exploration of music was not solely concerned on film music, but would I like to ask you all the same – between the two – what has the highest priority, regardless of how small the difference might or might not be, movies themselves, or their music?
The DJ work came a lot later I think I was around 19 when I started, I think it was my way of getting into music more, my entry into it was a big bluff really, someone had been let down and I had a collection of records, so they asked me to do their wedding of course I said yes, then wanted to leave the country as I had not got a clue, I had watched and listened to DJS in bars and on the radio so I modelled my self on those I suppose anyway I did the wedding and it was good, and ended up DJ,ing up till New year’s eve 2017. I think I was fortunate as I was DJ,ing in the 1970.s and there was so much great music around then, funk, disco, jazz funk, soul, Motown and also cheesy pop stuff too. The music then or should I say popular music at that time was so different to now, there was variety and it was not unusual to see a hard rock track in the chart next to a love ballad and maybe an instrumental or even a theme from a movie. Not so now sadly. I did a couple of what they call mobile discos and ended up in a full-time residency and then worked three residencies at once which was a bit confusing sometimes trying to remember if you had played this at the venue you were at or was it at the last place?
I worked through till the beginning of 2009 in various big clubs and specialist venues, but things change and you find that venues or at least the managers at the venues don’t want experience any more, they want youngsters or bedroom DJ.s as we called them, because they can influence them or boss them about basically. As for the question about movies and music, I don’t have to see a movie to buy a score if that’s what you mean, but I did see a lot of films. So, I guess I am a bit of a film buff too, but if I had to choose between films and music it would be music every time. I am a bit of a fidget and I have to admit if a film starts to lose its way a bit that’s it, I am up and doing stuff.
I tend to watch the older movies if I do watch any to be fair, again the classic stuff like ZULU, KHARTOUM, THE GREAT ESCAPE and anything Hammer horror, I also do watch Italian westerns but even these I do think now how did I think that this was a great film. But that could be because I liked the music rather than the film?
Being aware of many movie scores now considered as being lost forever – what do you think of re-recordings, as an effort to fill, let’s say, the missing link? Can you recommend some of those titles, which you deem are almost as good as the original would’ve been?
I do not think there is any substitute for the originals. Although the RCA series of the Golden film music of Hollywood, conducted by Charles Gerhardt is pretty impressive. it’s a series that I still dip into and enjoy. There have been a lot of re-recordings around in the past ten to fifteen years, the John Morgan William Stromberg material is also excellent and invaluable, after all they are preserving the music from yesterday that would have been lost and probably forgotten. I know it’s not full scores (apart from GONE WITH THE WIND I think) but the RCA series did so much for film music in general and we as collectors could also hear certain things within the vintage scores that contemporary composers had been influenced by. THE SEA HAWK and STAR WARS springs to mind, I am not saying of course John Williams copied Korngold, but without Korngold’s bristling fanfares would there have been a STAR WARS theme/score as we know it? I also thought that the Silva Screen HAMMER FILMS collection was pretty good, quite faithful to the originals, although composer David Whittaker disagreed with that for some reason. Recent re-recordings on Tadlow have been ok, but sometimes I do prefer to go back to the original soundtracks as in CONAN THE BARBARIAN and EL CID, its all very well adding ump-teen tracks and secs and minutes here and there, but sometimes less is more isn’t it. I am however looking forward to the Hammer, DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN re-recordings on Tadlow they should be interesting. It’s a shame that GDI never released the full scores from the original tapes. I would have got to do the notes.
PART 4. Questions from Jason Drury.
How do you split your time with your reviews and the rest of your life?
It works out quite well I just write when I want to basically, unless I get asked to do liner notes and there is a deadline of course. Some days I can do four maybe more reviews other days I just can’t string two words together. Recently I have slowed down a little on MMI, but have been working on other bits and bobs.
Was there an interview that got away?
Yes a few actually, Mike Oldfield, he said yes then never turned up, which is fine as I know how busy composers are. I also sent questions to a few composers who said yes that’s great but never did get back to me, I wont mention names as that’s not fair really. There are also a handful of composers who are very difficult to get to, their teams around them sort of say and who are you, no sorry no can do. And I am sure the composer does not know anything about it.
How difficult is it to get a composer interview these days?
Yes, its quite difficult because they are all very busy, but the majority do reply, and I end up getting a few answers.
Which Interviews have given you the most personal pleasure to do?
James Bernard certainly, and Harry Robinson. I also enjoyed doing all the Italian composers some face to face others via letter at the time and more recently e mail. But James and I became friends which I was pleased about, he even shared his souffl’e recipe with me at one point. Most of the time composers do the interview and then move on, but James and Harry stayed in touch till they sadly passed away. The same with Roy Budd I spoke with him a lot prior to the interview, and for a short time afterwards, but he also sadly died suddenly. I thought Roy was great full of life and terrible jokes. Alessandro Allessandroni too became a friend. I do like to think of all the composers I have interviewed as friends really, Debbie Wiseman is wonderful she always replies, and she wrote the foreword to my book which is still in production. Mark McKenzie I think is one of the nicest guys in film music and Chris Young is awesome. But I get pleasure out of most things I write, if I dont I discard them. Harry Robinson said to me “IF YOUR NOT HAVING FUN THEN GET OUT”. Which is something I do tend to do.
How do you see the Film Music Industry developing in the future?
I think we will see an increased use of electronics and the conventional instrumentation within film scores will evaporate, this is not a realy bad thing because the samples etc that are now being used are so good. But the sad thing is that musicians will be utilised less and less, but at least we are getting scores and not soundtracks made up of songs that are pretty dire.