Talking to composer tom howe.

I think its true to say that thousands if not more people are already familiar with your music because of the success of the Great British Bake-Off series, how did you become involved with the series, and when you are working on the series do you recycle any of the cues that you may have used previously because I would imagine it’s a very tight schedule?

I had worked with the director, Andy Devonshire, recently on a documentary and he asked me if I was up for getting involved. Neither of us realised how successful the show would become! The first season Andy came round to my studio with coffee and donuts and literally sat with me as I wrote the music, so I had instant feedback. A particularly useful way of working when you are trying to find a sound. He is incredibly easy going and let me just get on with it, but when I did something, he liked he would comment and then I would move further in that direction. As I move through each season I have more and more music to play with. I now have music for each moment, so I write less original material each year, but I reuse themes and ideas in new pieces.

What size orchestra or ensemble do you use when working on the series?

I made the decision to keep the music more chamber size and not over do anything. I didn’t have budget for orchestral sessions and the music in the early seasons was made up of my samples, myself on clarinet, guitar, piano and percussion. As the seasons moved on, so did the quality of orchestral samples (companies like Spitfire Audio and Cinesamples came to the foreground when they hadn’t existed before) and so I was able to develop the palette into a larger sound when needed using the samples. I still lean heavily in guitar and clarinet. I think that each episode is an hour in duration and as far as I can hear the music is continuous is the score for the series more or less a wall to wall score as in continuous? Pretty much! You have also scored several feature films, is there a great deal of difference working on a TV series and scoring a motion picture? I am always trying to acheive the same things whether it’s film or tv, find the emotional beat/score the action etc.., but when a TV show runs and runs as the Bake Off has it is a total delight. Each time I start a new project I have the pressure of having to find “the sound”, whether that’s sonically or thematically, but in the case of Bake Off each new season feels familiar and I know exactly what I need to do. I work with the same editor (Simon Evans) each time and we have a real rapport and short hand, which takes time to establish, but after 11 years it’s innate!

Most of your scores have been for TV series, with some of these running for many episodes, when you are scoring a series with numerous episodes do you get to score these in the order that they will be screened, and do you think that a catchy theme or something that is melodic can help viewers identify with the series?

This varies each time. Often the episodes are out of order, but not by that much. So you might have 2 or 3 edits running at the same time so I might score 1 and 3 then do 2 and 4 or something like that. If it’s a drama series I have read the scripts and had conversations with the right people to know what the arc and overall story are so I can get a sense of what the music needs to do over a season arc. I absolutely think that a catchy theme or sonic motif can help the viewers identity with a series. You think of all those shows from things like Knight Rider to Game Of Thrones and how those musical nuggets become so important. What musical education did you receive, and were there any areas of music that you focused upon more than others? Musical family, Instruments from young, choir school, studied at school and further education too. I focused on guitar heavily and wanted to be in a band for a long period. I did a lot of session work and pushed that, but education wise the most useful thing I learnt and continue to try and constantly get better at is orchestration.

Were you always conscious of music even as a child, and were any of your family musical at all?

Yes always. My Dad played drums, guitar piano and organ (in church) and my parents sung in the church choir. My Dad used to always buy records on the weekend and then we’d turn it up loud and listen through.

Do you work on your own orchestrations and do you feel that orchestration is an important part of the process of composition?

I do and my demos are always fully detailed with the information I want (see your question in Upside Down Magic) and it is part of the process for me, but I know there are all kinds of methods. There is no right or wrong way, but when I write a melody or line I naturally have an inclination to break it across different instruments or change the colours as I move along. I suppose that’s a taste thing, not sure, but I know plenty of brilliant composers who start with a sound or something else and achieve what they are looking for.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman is a wonderfully thematic score, do you think in recent years there has been a trend for films to be scored with soundscapes as opposed to music, with the old fashion main title theme being abandoned, is this just a trend and do you think the themes will return?

I really enjoyed working on that. Angela was a great director and was keen to hear melodies in her film, which as you say can be rare. A lot of films nowdays are soundscapey. I don’t know if it’s a trend thing. Sometimes soundscapes and more textural things are the right tool for the job, but it does seem to be the current default. When you are scoring a project, how many times do you like to see a movie before starting work on ideas for the score and where music should be placed etc? I watch it on loop until I know every tick of every character. Every film has a natural tempo and the more I watch it the more I get into that and know where the music should be placed. I get into where people are breathing or blinking, the lot. It’s a little crazy!

If a soundtrack of yours is to get a release either as a CD or on digital platforms, are you involved in the content or in the selection of what will actually go onto the recording?

Usually I am involved, but not always. It’s tough deciding what to put on! I also view the soundtrack as different to the film, in that I don’t want every cue on there. I want the soundtrack to be the best listening experience I can make whereas the score in the film is there to support the film.

Shaun the Sheep Farmageddon is a great score and so much fun too, it seems to parody so many sci-fi movie scores and has a grand sound in places, how much time did you have to write and record the score and do animated films require more music than say live action films?

I was on this film for around 18 months, which is very unusual. The reason I was is that there is no dialogue, so long before they animated I was scoring to story board to try and help people decipher what was going on during playbacks. This meant I got all my themes sorted out before I actually scored the film properly nearer the end. It was a monumental amount of work though. In the end I think I wrote around 4-5 hours of music which in the end became 85 minutes. There is always a lot of music in animations and you often start earlier so it is usually takes up more time.

What composers or artists would you Say have influenced you in the way you score a movie or the style of music that you write?

David Bowie, Beatles, George Butterworth, Elgar, Stravinsky and from film: John Williams, Bernard Hermann, Harry Gregson-Williams.

Up Side Down Magic is a fantastic score, its filled with some brilliant themes and also contains haunting melodies and robust action cues. What size orchestra did you have for and what percentage of the work was realized via electronic instrumentation?

This was a very interesting challenging project due to where the world went at that time. I had a lot of fun on it writing themes and using different colours for different characters. I started scoring just as the world locked down and at that point there was no way to record anything. Studios were shut and I had to deliver. After some back and forth with Disney about the best way forward we decided to use my demos. The score you hear is straight from my computer with my samples. I had them mixed by the fantastic Forest Christenson to make them 5.1 and movie ready, but what you hear is what I created on my computer and comes back to my earlier point of what I aim for in my demos detail and orchestration wise.

What is coming next for you?

A BBC nature series, Ted Lasso 2 and more Aardman,


Now I always felt that this was a movie that was a little odd, mind you any movie which has a mythical creature or being at its core must I suppose be looked upon with some trepidations don’t you think, after all do vampires exist, well I have never met one and I know quite a few odd balls. I saw the film initially on TV and at the time thought ummm, well that was different, but did I think this because I had already been somewhat conditioned about the folklore surrounding the Vampire by previous Hammer and Universal movies? When I thought of a vampire straight away, I had a mental image of Dracula or at least Christopher Lee as the Count, simply because of the generation I am from and the films that I grew up with. It may come as a surprise when I tell you that I saw the Hammer incarnations of Stokers famous Count before viewing the Lugosi movies as produced by Universal in glorious monochrome. I remember well seeing my first Dracula which was the 1958 Hammer production which was entitled The Horror of Dracula in the U.S.A. As the credits rolled and the music thundered, I felt scared I know it sounds silly, but I was just fifteen and had manage to persuade the lady on the ticket office I was old enough to see an X cert movie. The sight of the coffin being spattered with blood in the opening credits of the film made me think maybe this was not such a good idea. The thing is it was showing with Dracula Prince of Darkness, so I sat literally frozen to the itchy cinema seat in the Duke of York cinema Brighton, fixed on the screen. After a while it was ok, I was used to it or was I? I don’t think we ever fully grow out of being apprehensive around horror movies and I still find that those early Hammer movies with the rich colours, the wonderfully atmospheric sets, day for night sequences and the music a little bit scary, don’t you? 

I think this is why I found Kronos a bit harder to swallow, the way in which the vampire killed was different, the way in which the vampire could be dispatched and vanquished was also different although there were certain methods from the more traditional movies included within its storyline. This I think was something to do with the way in which the story was conceived and also because of the production team and director. Even the musical score was different, and the lead actor too was more of a swashbuckler and mercenary than a professor or expert on the occult, although he was surrounded by a team of people who seemed to know what they were doing.

At times I even noticed a style that maybe would have been inspired by the films of Kurosawa or Leone, especially in the scenes involving Kronos and the character Kerro played by Ian Hendry who was supported by his band of cutthroats who are paid to murder Kronos. But initially as I say I was a little confused and decidedly unimpressed on my first viewing. Until I sat down one evening and watched the movie on DVD and ended up loving it because of its inventiveness and its innovative approach to the tales of the vampire. Mixing mystery, with adventure and sword play with vampirism certainly worked and the performances by the impressive cast were also a bonus.

This although offbeat compared with other Hammer vampire movies was a polished and wonderfully dramatic production. Directed by Brian Clemens who also penned the story, as well as acting as co-producer on the movie with Albert Fennel whom he was already associated with via their collaborations on popular TV series such as The Avengers and The New Avengers and had also produced Doctor Jekyll and Sister Hyde in 1971 for Hammer which was an interesting take on the original story by Robert Louis Stephenson.

The score for Captain Kronos was by Laurie Johnson, who was the third member of the partnership with Clemens and Fennel. Johnson of course was a well-known figure in the world of TV and film music as well as being an important figure in British music as a composer and an arranger. His themes for the already mentioned The Avengers and New Avengers are still popular today, but unless you are a Hammer fan or a film music collector one would probably not associate Johnson with a Hammer Gothic horror and it was to be the only Hammer movie that the composer worked upon, and in interview he spoke to me about the film and his score.

“I became involved on Kronos, because it had been written and directed by Brian Clemens, who had also been the main script writer on The Avengers, and at around the time of Kronos he had become a partner with myself and Albert Fennel. The movie was a quite different approach to a vampire. Which I found refreshing, I was given about six weeks to score the film or thereabouts I cannot recollect the exact amount of time that I had to score the picture, but I always specified a minimum of one month. The orchestra on the score consisted of a large string section, horns, and solo trumpet. Philip Martell was musical director for Hammer, so it was he who conducted Kronos. I found him to be a very able and affable person, and I had in fact employed him myself on several occasions as associate conductor. This is an arrangement that I found extremely helpful, as it enabled me to either conduct or supervise from the control room, as I felt necessary. Over the years this was an arrangement that also suited my long-term friend and business partner Bernard Herrmann and myself on both our film and recording sessions.”

As well as Johnson’s score there were sections of music utilized within the movie which had been composed by Malcolm Williamson, but I am unsure if these were additional cues or used as fillers or maybe sections that were added after the actual scoring had ceased and the producers wanted more music? But this was not unusual and had happened both before and after Kronos on other Hammer films, the MD whoever they were at the time selecting cues to add to the original score for greater effect. Johnson’s score is an accomplished one, with the driving main title theme being one of the many highpoints of the work. The ten note theme performed by solo trumpet which is used throughout and is a vital component of the pulsating central theme, has I have to say has similar attributes to the theme that Johnson wrote for The Belstone Fox in 1973, which manifests itself in that scores core theme and becomes more prominent in the Hunt sequence of the movie. This trumpet solo for Kronos is at times given a softer rendition via faraway sounding horns in a handful of cues, thus making it more of a gentle and calming effect in non-action scenes. Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter is probably one of Hammers best film scores, the composer creating a mystical and malevolent sound throughout. The music was released onto compact disc by the BSX label in the United States under license from the UK label GDI (who released several Hammer soundtracks) and has subsequently been made available on digital platforms such as Spotify. It has to it an uneasy but at the same time martial sound, with certain nods of acknowledgement to the style of composer Bernard Herrmann, with low woods and percussive elements being integrated into the soundtrack and evoking Herrmann’s Mysterious Island and Jason and the Argonauts. The composer also provides some more melodic and even religious, and romantic flourishes which come as a welcome respite to the remainder of the score which is action themed. There is also subtle use of cymbalom in a handful of cues, which adds atmosphere to the story that is unfolding up on the screen. But it is a four-note, then five-note motif which seems to be constantly present that the composer builds his score upon, with the motif being executed by varying instrumentation and acting as a calling card for Kronos.

The movie was given a late release in 1974 after several concerns being raised by censors in both the UK and the US. In America it was given an R rating and in the UK an X certificate. Because it was thought that the movie contained too much violence and had scenes of a sexual nature with a script that hinted at sexual acts. The movie was to be the first of a series of films to feature the titular character, but sadly this did not come to fruition.

Set in 16th Century England during the European or Protestant Reformation. Dr. Marcus played by the excellent John Carson decides that he has to call in Captain Kronos portrayed by Horst Janson, with whom he served in the army to his village which is plagued by mysterious deaths which are a linked by the victims passing away with accelerated aging. Kronos and his companion, the Hunchback Professor Hieronymus Grost  portrayed by another wonderful actor John Cater are professional Vampire Hunters.

Grost explains to the initially sceptical Marcus that the dead women are victims of a Vampire who drains not blood but youth, and that there are “As many species of vampire as there are beasts of prey”. The discovery of another victim soon after the Vampire hunters arrive in the village confirms Grost’s explanation. On their travels Kronos and Grost  meet and take in a local Gypsy girl, Carla played by the beautiful actress Caroline Munro, has been put in the stocks for dancing on the sabbath, the duo release her and she decides to repay their kindness by becoming an assistant of sorts and later a romance between her and Kronos develops and they become lovers.

The intrepid vampire hunters begin to carry out tests in the area to try and find out if there is a vampire roaming the countryside. But they are at first thrown off the scent when told that the person or being responsible for the killings is an old person, which does not fit the persona of a youth draining vampire, who theoretically would become younger after each victim, rather than aging.  

Dr.Marcus decides that he will visit the family of a deceased friend, Lord Hagen Durward, where he speaks with Durward’s son, Paul played by Shane Briant and his beautiful sister Sara (Lois Daine). He however has to make his departure before having an opportunity to talk to his friends widow, the bed-ridden Lady Durward  portrayed by actress Wanda Ventham. While on his return journey Marcus is confronted with a dark figure who is wearing a cloak riding through the woods, Marcus encounters a cloaked figure which leaves him shaken and shocked as he discovers fresh blood on his lips.

Meanwhile Kronos and Grost are at a local inn when they are confronted by a handful of brigands led by Kerro (Ian Hendry). They have been paid by Lady Durward to kill Kronos. They fail as Kronos far outmatches all of them. This is one of the scenes where I was reminded of both the genre of the Italian western and the films of Kurosawa, Kronos killing all three of the thugs with two swipes of his sword. After Kerro ridicules Grost for being a hunchback. The scene is moderately violent, but it is the barman and bar maid ducking down behind the bar that reminded me of the delicate balance between an act of violence and comedy think of the mule scene, in A Fistful of Dollars for example. Whilst this is taking place Marcus enlists the help of Carla and together, they rig up a network of traps in the form of bells on strings and ribbons in the woods so if the vampire touches them, they are all connected and will alert them.  

A giant bat then kills a young girl in a horrific and bloody attack, and Marcus then realises he is a vampire or at least is turning into one. He pleads with his old friend Kronos to kill him, after which follows a horrendous and painful to watch sequence where both Kronos and Grost attempt to kill Marcus, with a stake, by hanging, and other such methods, by accident Kronos pierces his friend’s chest with a metal cross. After determining the way to kill a vampire Kronos and Grost take a metal cross from the graveyard and after fighting off the villagers manages to turn the metal from the cross into a sword, a sword that will kill vampires and in the hands of the Captain it is indeed a deadly weapon.

After waiting and watching Kronos ends up in the Durward mansion and is faced with a youthful looking Lady Durward who has hypnotised both her children and Carla, she has resurrected her dead husband Hagen (William Hobbs) and offers Carla to him, Kronos then steps into the picture and a deadly duel begins between Hagen and the Captain.

In which Lord Durward is killed after which Kronos despatches Lady Durward, and releases both her children and Carla from her grasp. The end sequence is an impressive one and vastly different from any of the other vampire movie as produced by Hammer. The film concludes with Kronos and Grost heading off into the sunrise bidding Carla farewell and moving onto more adventures, so the producers left the audience wanting more and maybe expecting more, but sadly, these adventures have never been filmed, because it was during this period the 1970’s, that Hammer developed financial problems which forced them to stop production.

There were however sequels in the form of comic books as published by The House of Hammer in 1976 and 1977 also Kronos rode again in Hammers Halls of Horror in1978 and in 2018 in the Titan comics publication. There was also a novelisation of the film published in 2011 penned by Guy Adams. Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter maybe different, but its an attention-grabbing motion picture, and because it is so different it has over the years attained a cult classic status.