For any lover of thematic and melodic music the name of Michael J Lewis is one that will be familiar, his film scores and television works are for me personally some of the greatest scores ever written. I am so grateful to have discovered his eloquent and affecting music when I did which was back in the early 1970’s. I am also thankful that the composer took time out from a busy working schedule to answer my questions. 


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MJL. Hello John. Thank you so much for allowing me the pleasure of talking about my music.


MMI. I know that you are involved in more than just film music these days, but when you began your career was it film music that you wanted to write mainly?

All I wanted to do, from the day I was born, was compose – and that’s all I have ever done – except buy land. I was a choir boy at 6, school pianist at 9 and church organist at 10. Naturally, my early compositions were choral. After my enlightenment at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, I taught at two blackboard jungle schools in Tottenham, North London for just two years. I had zero hope of introducing the natives to Bach or eighth species counterpoint, so I let them take me over and educate me in the ways of John, George, Paul and Ringo. A whole new world of melody opened up. I was re-educated by the kids. At about the same time I became a fan of the Bond films. The scores and sounds were mesmerizing. I was hooked. I walked out of teaching and lived in a garret, being fed by Welsh girls who learnt the benefits of being good cooks. Then ‘The Madwoman of Chaillot’ came along. Suddenly I had orchestras filled with the best of the best, playing my music to the images of Katherine Hepburn, Charlton Heston, Richard Burton and Anthony Hopkins etc. Dreams do come true. 100s of tracks for commercials followed, then Broadway, an exploration of my Welsh music heritage, more choral music and now gospel in the Deep South.


You released a lot of your soundtracks as promo discs, a while ago, why were these scores not given a release by record labels, as they certainly warrant it, because they are superb all of them?
Simple answer. Not one single company regarded them as worthy of release!! The only reason that ‘The Madwoman of Chaillot’ was released as an album was that I knocked on the wrong door. During the 1969 Warner Bros Jamboree in the Bahamas (The Wild Bunch, The Damned, The Rain People, Madwoman of Chaillot premieres) I had a date with a gorgeous Swedish blonde. She gave me her room # but I screwed it up and knocked on the wrong door. A guy answered. He asked me who I was. I said “Michael J Lewis, composer.” He threw his arms around me and said that I was a master. Naturally, I asked him who he was. He introduced himself as, “Kenneth Hyman. Head of Warner Bros.” He invited me in for a drink. He told me my music for ‘Chaillot’ was terrific and that he would like to talk to me for longer, but he was expecting Visconti at any moment.

He asked me if he could do anything for me. I told him that Warner’s didn’t want to release ‘Chaillot’ as an album – which they didn’t. Visconti knocked on the door; Ken Hyman shook my hand, told me to go find the blonde and that when I got back to London to call Warner Records and tell them to give me the money for the album. The score won me an Ivor Novello Award for my first picture. It wasn’t until I recorded and produced my Double CD in 1994, in Berlin and Los Angeles, that my music had any widespread distribution. Thankfully the reviews were exceptional.




Do you think that film music has evolved for the better or maybe has lost some of its appeal to collectors or cinema audiences because of the lack of themes in scores these days, do you think that the use of the soundscape or drone effects as opposed to actual thematic content has maybe cheapened the art of film scoring?

Now John, you are stirring the pot. To anyone who reads what I have to say, please understand that I am giving my opinion and that it is in no way critical of others. Film music has certainly changed over the last 30 years. Many things have changed in the digital age. Pro-Tools is amazing. Altiverb is amazing. Sampled sounds are amazing. I enjoy them all. However, I think the great turning point came, mid 70’s ish, when producers realized that they could demand to hear a ‘virtual’ score before it was recorded and consequently for the first time had real control over music. Up until this time, composers were highly trained musicians with their feet firmly planted in the European Romantic tradition. The first time a score was heard was at the session. Suddenly anyone could record a score in their suburban back bedroom and present it to a non-musician producer who had no knowledge of the past, and who was primarily concerned with imitating the rock guys with whom he identified. Changes could be made, scores diluted. It was all the action of the moment and to hell with subtlety. As for emotional melody – that belonged in the unenlightened Dark Ages populated by those over 39. Icons like Spielberg upheld traditional scoring but the majority has not. I truly believe that many who hold the purse strings today wouldn’t know a great tune if they heard one. I devote most of Christmas and New Year to reviewing the past years ‘product’ up for Academy consideration. I wait, in vain, to hear someone come up with a great ‘movie theme’. Some of what I hear is ‘clever’ but in no way memorable. A lot of what I hear is simply – baffling.

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Three years ago, there was an outstanding movie that should have won Best Picture. If it had had an epic score, I’ve no doubt that it would have. To me the score for that great film was incomprehensible – and the price was paid. Please don’t ask me to name names. As I said, this is just my own, humble, unadulterated opinion! However, occasionally a film song appears (a song is not a score) that blows me away. This year’s ‘Stand Up’ from ‘Harriet’ thrilled me. Everything, just everything, about it was outstanding. The writing, the performance, the arrangement, the mixing – fabulous. We live in hope of more real music to come.

Can I ask you about two scores of yours, THEATRE OF BLOOD and also JULIUS CAESAR. The latter is a triumph of a soundtrack, and it just adds so much to the movie, what size orchestra did you have for this particular assignment, and were you given any specific instructions by the director of the movie as to what type of music was required and why is there no full soundtrack released of this score on promo or commercial release? To, THEATRE OF BLOOD this is such a beautiful score, the central theme is so haunting, we all know that it is essentially a horror film, so why did you choose to score it with a romantic and rather lovely melody, of course the film is a little tongue in cheek, but the music being so poignant I think makes the black comedy work even better, was this also your thinking behind scoring in this way?


Many great questions herein. First, Julius Caesar. I had met the producers on ‘Chaillot’ and had an excellent relationship with them. They trusted me. The director was a theatre man with very little experience in film. Consequently, there were a few problems. I was thrilled to be doing an historical epic. I had been in awe of the great epics of my youth. Exodus, (what a tune), Gone with the Wind, (melodic perfection) and later Lawrence of Arabia and Zhivago – master scores. I wanted JC to have a great theme. I persuaded the producers to have an overture like Lawrence. I recorded a demo (high quality demos always pay off if they are high quality!) and played it to the director. He was horrified. It sounded like a cinema epic. The producers loved it and off we went to CTS in Bayswater. Orchestra was about 78. The ‘Overture’ and ‘Caesar’s Entry into Rome’ remain some of my all-time favourite tracks. Big, melodic, vibrant, cinematic. Scoring and mixing finished I went for some R&R in Italy (where else?) A few weeks after my return, JC opened in Leicester Square in 70mm stereo.
I sat through the Overture and was thrilled. And then, reel by reel, horror transpired. They had re-cut the film after scoring and the scenes I was looking at did not relate to the score. I have never seen the film since.
When I relocated from UK to US in 1984, some of my recordings never completed the trip. ‘Julius Caesar’ was one of them and ‘The Legacy’ was another. Thank God, most made it.


Theatre of Blood was another great experience. The late, great Douglas Hickox was the perfect director to work with. He was a commercials director essentially and knew his craft. He also had a great sense of humour – what an asset. We spent hours at my house near Ally Pally in North London with that great hunk called a Moviola. (If you’ve never lived with a Moviola, you have never lived.)
We ran different tracks of mine against the film until we found the right feel. After that, Dougie trusted me and left me alone to do as I saw (heard) fit. My approach was to avoid horror/black comedy clichés. I wanted the score to work as a counterpoint to the film. When Arthur Lowe was having his head sawed off, the strings soared romantically like one of the TV medical series of the time. The opening needed a tune. All movies need a tune, good ones grab the emotion, hook the audience. The film was Shakespearian, so it called out for harpsichords and recorders and a poignant theme which would recur throughout the movie, organically, as a leit motif. That’s how movie scores are meant to be written – organically, not fragmented. The trampoline sequence was a hoot to write as a fugato. My years at the Guildhall paid off.

The ‘Variety’ review thought the score displayed “major talent.” Those who want to know more should pick up John Llewellyn Probert’s splendid book ‘Theatre of Blood’ which is devoted to the film. It has a fairly comprehensive ten page Q & A regarding the score, to which I contributed


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The sound on your scores is always wonderfully clear and balanced, did you record at one studio or maybe did you have the same recording engineer for all of them?


My sound was born at the original CTS Studios in Bayswater, London – an old theatre. I had first visited CTS in about 1967 at the invitation of John Barry who was scoring Bryan Forbes’s ‘The Whisperers.’ I trembled at what I heard. The sound was utterly enthralling, magical, captivating. Lot of reverb, close mics, awesome musicians, great score. All John Barry’s scores are text book examples of what film music should be. All his English works were scored at CTS, as were Henry Mancini’s – who I met at that session – when he was in London. Jane Birkin was at the same session – what a beauty. A year or so later when I landed ‘Chaillot,’ I did not hesitate to record at CTS. The engineer was John Richards and he did an outstanding job. The score still sounds great. I adopted the CTS sound and have taken it with me wherever I have recorded. It’s all in the reverb, guys. Originally it was plates, now it’s (for me) Altiverb. I know an outstanding recording facility in the USA Deep South, where I currently hang, that has the latest Neve, a fine room for 60/70 and they have no idea what to do with reverb. I stay clear. I love recording. I love recording studios. I love mixing. It is all magic and has been since I first visited CTS way back in 1967.


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You divide your time these days between the UK and the US, where you produce, record and also continue to compose, what are you working on currently?


Juicy question. In December last I read of an 8-part TV show going into production that interested me greatly, due to its subject matter. I recorded a demo and wrote to the UK and US producers on the Friday before Christmas. No reply, not even a thank you, or a goodbye. So, I thought to myself, “Screw you.” The subject is historical and hence public domain. I pondered how I might involve myself in the same period but with a whole different approach, and with a contemporary connection, for the cinema. Now five months later it has developed into an all involving project that demands every hour of every day – with the exception of this very enjoyable Sunday afternoon answering your Q and A in divine Mississippi – the birthplace of America’s music. So far so good. I am writing the script and the score simultaneously. The score is totally organic. It’s part of the story. One of the characters. A highly melodic character. Stay tuned.

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Welcome to soundtrack supplement nine, and the MMI look at a varied batch of recent releases, but, by way of a change I thought every so often we would take a look at a couple or three soundtracks that were released a while ago and you may have missed or indeed are unaware of completely. Composer Michael Small in my ever so humble opinion is a film music Maestro that has over the years been overlooked, his music for film I have to say is in most cases energetic and has to it an eloquence and an imposing melodic content. One score of his that I have always liked is MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON which was released in 1990.The story which is based on fact tells of the Explorer and Writer Captain Richard Francis Burton, who after making a journey to Africa finds himself in a dangerous situation, but is rescued by Lieutenant John Hanning Speke, after which the pair become friends and set off on an expedition to discover the source of the Nile. This quest takes them through unforgiving and unexplored territory and brings them into contact with a number of African tribes that are less than welcoming the pair also encounter new diseases. The Lieutenant finds a lake which he believes to be the source of the Nile, but Burton disagrees and on their return to England the friends argue and fall out, thus Speke decides to return to Africa alone and continue his search for the rivers source or at least validate his thoughts on the lake that he discovered. I only watched the movie three times, all three occasions it was on TV as the film was not really screened in mainstream cinemas in the UK or if it was it was not on the programme for any great length of time. Director Bob Rafelson had a lifelong dream to make the story into an epic movie, sadly because of the directors obsession with detail and also his insistence on sticking to the historical facts the finished film suffered and at times it was it seemed bogged down in dialogue and scenes that could have easily been omitted. Where the movie however did gain positive critique was in the acting department and also the excellent and breath-taking cinematography of Roger Deakins, plus the musical score by Michael Small is certainly epic and in places romantic and filled with adventure, the composer incorporates a number of ethnic instruments into the work and also underlines certain scenes with African tribal songs aswell and percussive and driving elements that add an even greater aura of authenticity to the work and support and underline the storyline superbly.



The score also contains a haunting love theme which is utilised to enhance the romance between Burton and his wife Isobel.
The soundtrack contains patriotic and proud sounding themes that are purveyed via brass, percussion, and strings, the composer adding a subdued sense of Victorian pomp and ceremony to the proceedings. There is no doubt that this is a score that works so well within the movie and has to it a life away from the images. Certainly one to look out for and also maybe a soundtrack that should be on the re-issue list for one of the soundtrack specialist labels, rather than keep on churning out re-issues of soundtracks that have had umpteen re-issues over the years. Also let’s not forget other excellent scores from Michael Small, the atmospheric and chilling KLUTE for example, JAWS THE REVENGE and CONSENTING ADULTS all very different but all wonderfully entertaining in their own unique way. From the MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON and the undiscovered continent of Africa, we head back to England for the next film and score.




THE WOLVES OF WILLOUGHBY CHASE was a 1989 movie, directed by Stuart Orme and starred Stephanie Beacham, Mel Smith, Emily Hudson and Richard O Brien. The film which was based on the 1963 novel of the same name by Joan Aitken, was not that well received at the box office, ad did not receive a theatrical release in the United States. The author Aitken wrote a series of books which she called THE WOLVES CHRONICAL, which number thirteen books, and were penned between 1963 and 2004 which is the year in which the author died. It is a shame that the movie was not a success as we might have seen a number of movies if it had been, the books are certainly entertaining. The film which is a horror, drama, fantasy involved a Lord and his wife who have to depart on a sea journey and leave their children in the charge of a harsh Governess who imposes an even harsher regime upon them governess and two untrustworthy individuals devise a plan to sink the Lord and Ladies ship and alter their will in favour of themselves. The children overhear the plans but when thy try to get help the governess sends them away to an orphanage, where they are treated like slaves. The musical score is by British composer and musician Colin Towns, who is probably one of England’s busiest composers of film and TV music. He started his career as a keyboard player and performed in various groups and bands, he began to write music for film back in 1977 when he scored THE HAUNTING OF JULIA, and has since then worked on hundreds of movies and popular TV series and short films. He has also written for the theatre and composed music for numerous adverts. One of his more recent scoring assignments is for DOC MARTIN a series for British television. The music for THE WOLVES OF WILLOUGHBY CHASE is I have to say better than the movie it was written for. Towns seemed to be inspired even more than normal when he wrote the score, it is grand and rich with melodious and dramatic musical passages that are supported by subdued and elegant themes and has to it a luxurious and ostentatious style and sound.

The soundtrack was originally released on the London based That’s Entertainment records on LP initially and then to compact disc. It is a score on a majestic and operatic scale with an abundance of sweeping and sumptuous material, the composer utilising to great effect the string and brass sections bringing to fruition a sense of grandeur, which at times comes in the form of a great opulent sounding waltz, but a waltz that although traditional has to it underlying sinister elements, plus Towns also manages to evoke an atmosphere of foreboding and urgency throughout the remainder of the score and maintains varying levels of virulence which he generates via tremolo strings and wispy and breathy flyaway sounding woods. Colin Towns is one of the many composers who produces wonderful music on a regular basis but remains somewhat neglected, he has the talent and the ability to work on films of varying genres and provides each one with a score that shines. This is another soundtrack that you should seek out, and again one that is screaming out for a re-issue.


Back to a TV score from 1993 now, BODY AND SOUL was quite a controversial series, it focused upon a Nun, Sister Gabriel, who decides to temporarily leave the convent to return home to help her family salvage their business which is a knitting mill that is on the brink of bankruptcy. Once out of the convent she becomes well versed in the ways of business but begins to have feelings for one of the men at the mill, these feelings cause her to doubt her devotion to her religious commitments and also make it difficult to stay true to her vows as a Nun. The music is excellent and is provided by composer Jim Parker who works predominantly on scores for television productions, his music has graced and supported the likes of THE HOUSE OF ELLIOT and the popular series SOLDIER, SOLDIER and more recently FOYLES WAR. But like many television scores he has had to work within a less than lavish budget, this however has never deterred the composer in any way from producing soundtracks that are intricate, inventive and more than worthy, plus works that sound not only lavish but developed and grandiose.


BODY AND SOUL was one such project, the composer producing a semi classical sounding score which relied on strings and woods as its mainstay. On hearing Parker’s haunting theme for the first time some years ago I was under the impression that this had to be the work of an Italian composer or a composer from anywhere in Europe apart from the UK, the sound and style of Parker’s engaging and highly melodic work is in many ways similar to the style of Stelvio Cipriani (listen to THE ANONYMOUS VENETIAN) strings carrying the central romantically laced melodies whilst being enhanced by light and fresh sounding flourishes from piano, woodwind and subtle usage of harpsichord flourishes which add a touch of fragility to the work. The cello also features throughout the score, and its sorrowful heartrending performance is a vital component of Parker’s spellbinding compositions. The CD opens with the central theme performed by a small string ensemble, that seems by volume to grow in size as the cue moves along, the composer utilizing strings and clarinet playing in unison to great effect whilst adding little scatterings of harpsichord which themselves act as an introduction to a mesmerizing and heartrending cello solo which although short lived makes its mark upon the listener. The same can be said for the remainder of the score with Parker’s delicate nuances bringing charm and an air of romanticism to the fore whilst all the time underlining the storyline perfectly.


Back up to date now with three scores that have recently been released. The first was released this year at least the soundtrack was, but the movie was released back in 2006, fourteen years later we are lucky enough to get the score on digital platforms via Plaza Mayor, TOUTE LE BEUTE DU MONDE is the story of a woman (Tina) who has recently lost her partner, due to his death she becomes depressed and is heading for a nervous breakdown, She makes a trip to Asia where She hopes that she might re-discover herself and attempts to regain her love for life in general. Franck is her guide and companion and he falls in love with Tina, but She feels that she cannot be in love so soon after the death of her partner. Franck however is by her side throughout and soon becomes indispensable both as a guide and a friend, but can Tina find love with him? Music is by Beatrice Thiriet and it is a charming and delicate work, which has to it a simplicity and fragility but also manifests interludes that have to them a romantic and joyful side. The music, which is available on Spotify etc, has a very short duration time, there are but six cues here which in total run for approx, fourteen minutes. Do not get me wrong this is an entertaining and rewarding quarter of an hour, but I wanted to be clear to you about the running time before you either downloaded it or purchased it. Subdued and brief but affecting and totally absorbing is the best way to describe this beautiful score. Strings and woods take centre stage for the most part of the work, the composer fashioning subtle tone poems that seem to dance around and have a lasting effect upon the listener, the melodic music expressing melancholy, romance and also a sprinkling of humour. A score that I think will become a favourite, and one that will be returned to many times.

GROWING OUT is again not new film, but the soundtrack has recently appeared in digital form in various locations. The music is by Garrett Ratliff, or G-Rat as it is credited. The movie which was released in 2009 is a horror/comedy-drama, and focuses upon a songwriter who discovers a human growing out of the floor of his basement, (who writes this stuff)? Oh! Garrett Ratliff did and it was directed by his brother Graham too, looking at a handful of scenes this horror flick to me at a glance seems like a movie that has been produced by young filmmakers or a family of them in this case, who wanted to throw a lot into the mix, but the finished product ended up rather overlong with a thin and somewhat ridiculous storyline. The score however is fairly-good albeit a very short one. The opening track which is the main title is an atmospheric piece performed by guitar piano and synth strings, but it does have an attractive and mysterious style and sound to it, in some ways it did evoke the steamy and edgy sound achieved by Jerry Goldsmith in his Basic Instinct soundtrack, there is an element of the apprehensive purveyed throughout and this continues within the remainder of the work, the composer manages to conjure up an atmosphere that is filled with threat and also has to it a sinewy or spidery sound that does make the listening experience an uneasy or unsettling one. Which is the general idea I guess being that it is a horror movie. Sparsely scored the soundtrack release contains just eleven cues and runs for fifteen minutes, but it is well worth checking out, as is Ratliff’s other film score entitled SCRAPS, which is the opposite of GROWING OUT stylistically and contains some lovely piano performances that reminded me of the style employed by composer Michael Gore on TERMS OF ENDEARMENT and also had hints of a kind of Dave Grusin vibe as in jazz infused but at the same time easy listening. Just chilling I suppose, certainly thematic and a pleasant and enriching listen, although there is one cue CLUSTERWHAT which is a more ominous sounding cue, but even this has to it an underlying thematic inclination.
Again, the soundtrack has a brief duration of just eleven minutes this time. So, two short film scores both of which are available digitally on Spotify etc. But both are certainly worth a listen.

A few months back Dragons Domain records in the States released a compilation of Australian film music, the content of which was varied and interesting. ANTHONY I. GINNANE Presents CLASSIC AUSTRALIAN FILM SCORES FROM THE 70’s AND 80’s, is one of the most entertaining film music compilation to be released in a while, well re-released actually because the album was originally issued back in 2008 by Australian record label 1M1. The problem with the original release was the label had problems getting it distributed outside of Australia, and therefore DRAGONS DOMAIN has re-issued it. The collection has music from twelve movies all of which were produced by filmmaker Ginnane, it is an impressive line-up that is presented here and includes selections from. THE LIGHTHORSEMAN, HIGH TIDE, THE EVERLASTING SECRET FAMILY, THIRST, THE SURVIVOR, PATRICK and more. Music comes from composers such as Brian May, Mario Millo, Peter Best, Tony Bremner, Graham Tardif etc. The recording has been re-mastered and has crisp clear sound, with some informative notes’ courtesy of Randall D Larson. What more could you want, available as a digital download and on CD from the Dragons Domain stable.

On the subject of Australian composers of film music can I just remind you of the artistry and the talent of Christopher Gordon, I especially want to draw your attention to his wonderful score for the TV mini-series ON THE BEACH it is a score that just touches you on every emotional level, and also one that you should have in your collection, I think the CD is long deleted, but it is available on digital platforms, so go and investigate this momentous soundtrack, it is a score that you have to sit and listen to from start to finish, and also more than once, because its themes develop and mature over time and become tantalising and haunting pieces that you will want to return to many times. The score has so many little quirks and nuances within it that you must immerse yourself to appreciate it fully. The composer purveying many emotions throughout, and bringing to fruition fragility, uncertainty ad melancholy. I would go as far as saying that this is a superb score a great score in fact, and one that every self-respecting film music collector should add to their collection. Gordon was born in England but went to Australia where he is now a respected composer and politician. His other credits include, LADIES IN BLACK, ADORE,MASTER AND COMMANDER, OUT OF THE SHADOWS, MAO’S LAST DANCER and MOBY DICK to name but a few.


So, now to an occasionally true story, THE GREAT which is a Hulu TV series, that is loosely based on the life and times of the Russian Empress Catherine the Great. The entire first series of this Historical/fictional, comedy, drama which comprises of ten episodes was released on Hulu on May 15th. The inventive and most enjoyable musical score is by composer Nathan Barr, who has written a highly entertaining work that has the ability to just keep on giving as in remaining fresh and vibrant no matter how many times you sit and listen to it.  The score is outstandingly supportive of the series and away from the story has to it a rewarding and enriching aura and an eloquent and attractive musical persona, which can be enjoyed without having to watch the series. I loved the composers work on the Amazon series CARNIVAL ROW and keep on returning to some of his other scores such as THE AMERICANS and the 2017 re-boot of FLATLINERS. He is a composer who is well worth investigating, and like composers James Horner, Richard Band and Christopher Young produces high quality soundtracks that are at times superior to the productions that they are intended to support and enhance. Inventive and innovative is I think the best way to sum up this composer’s music, his talent is boundless, and his scoring intuition is apparent. THE GREAT has a score filled with a quirky and somewhat comedic airs and graces, but also has to it a richness and a highly creative and melodic foundation. The composer utilising an array of instrumentation both symphonic and synthetic to fashion both appealing and attractive themes which are in their abundance. Recommended.


Taking a look at what is up and coming it looks like SOUNDTRACK SUPPLEMENT TEN will be a full one.