Category Archives: ARTICLES

Articles in this section reflect a personal view of the author only.

SORCERY AND SWORDS.

The genre of Sword and Sorcery movies is huge, filled with good and bad examples, low budgets and blockbuster budgets. What I think is the thing that brings all these movies together is the music that has been penned for them, yes, it is true to say that not all of the scores have been the best, but invariably the musical scores for these thundering, robust and swashbuckling storylines have been grand and memorable.

The 1980’s was it seems a good time to release a sword and sorcery movie, well it certainly looks that way when one looks back over that decade, with films such as Conan the Barbarian, The Beastmaster, Hawk the Slayer and The Sword and the Sorcerer appearing on our cinema screens and then later being issued on video tape and available from your local rental retailer.

Those four examples alone I think are good subjects for an article on this genre, but there are so many more from the same decade, and from previous decades and in the years that followed. The Beastmaster may have looked like a blockbuster, but it was relatively low budget, the score was recorded in Italy, and composer Lee Holdridge was responsible for the epic sounding score,.

He recalled how he became involved on the movie and memories of the recording of the score. “Curiously enough, the director heard my Concerto for Violin and Orchestra and that got me hired. That piece is very different from my eventual score for the film, but, whatever works! The sword and sorcery films were very much the rage at the time. I admired the score for Conan the Barbarian, and it certainly set the tone for those scores. I went that route as well with around 60-80-piece orchestra in Rome and added my own touches to the style. The entire score of over 80 minutes had to be delivered in about 10 days so I got some orchestration help from the legendary Greg McRitchie who orchestrated the Conan score and had worked a ton with Alfred Newman. Between cues I would get him to share his insights into the great film scoring days of the studios. Also, my buddy Alf Clausen (The Simpsons) helped me with orchestration. I would sketch like a madman, and the then the three of us would divide up cues and orchestrate. I finished the last cue in the hotel room in Rome the night before the first session”.  

David Whittaker.

The Sword and the Sorcerer however contained a grand sounding score, but the film failed to impress as the composer David Whittaker recalled when I interviewed him some years ago. “I think one of the last big pictures I did was way back in 1983, this was The Sword and the Sorcerer.  Now the film was not that good, but I like to think my music helped it along on its way to being watchable. It desperately needed music; I wrote 75 minutes of score for that film which ran for just over 100 minutes”.  

Hawk the Slayer too, had a fairly merger budget, and the producer composer Harry Robertson decided to go for something a little more upbeat for the films score. “I co-produced Hawk the Slayer and of course wrote the score. It was unfortunately not a great success. It was at the same time as things like Krull, and Dragonslayer, were around – both of those flopped as well. Hawk did reasonably well at the cinema because it was a quite low budget film, so we did not have a lot riding on it. I wrote some of the score whilst on location. I would see how the scenes were coming out and then do a bit of writing or just jot down some ideas as and when I got them. It was an interesting experience because I had most of the score ready before the cameras had stopped rolling.

I did try and emulate Kurosawa on Hawk with camera angles and the style of direction etc. but I think we sort of leaned more towards Leone in that respect in the end – Hawk was a fantasy western if you like. That’s why the score has little trills and motifs on it when we see the hero or the villain of the piece; it was my homage to Morricone and the spaghetti western score. I did want to do a sequel, but the film studios were very cautious after the bad ratings of the first picture.

After all, if a big movie like Krull had bombed what chance did we stand with a film with a fraction of the budget. I did not give up though, I tried to get television companies interested in doing a series based on Hawk; we even went to New Zealand to do some location scouting but it never came to fruition”.

The 1980’s was the decade of the sword and the sorcery movie, with Deathstalker entering the fray no less than three times in various adventures. Then at the other end of the budget scale we had the likes of Willow and Krull both making an entry, I suppose at the time of its release Krull was a kid’s dream or fantasy come true, a real swashbuckler which had definite influences from the story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table as well as being heavily influenced by Greek mythology and tales of a galaxy far far away.

There are also borrowed themes and scenarios that come straight from the imagination of Tolkien, but hey, did we or do we really care, did we embrace it, believe it and love it, yep, we did. Ok let’s go back over thirty-five years now, remember this is pre-internet, in fact pre-almost everything that we today take for granted. I know as well as you all do that Krull was probably not the best movie ever made, but it had its moments of excitement, magic, and romance, and at the centre of it all there was a love story. A tale of a Prince and Princess being kept apart by evil and what we thought was an unstoppable malevolent force.

Krull opens in a similar way to the original Star Wars movie, with what could be a gigantic spaceship floating through the darkness of space, this ominous looking sight sets the scene perfectly for what is to follow with a storyline that is awash with adventure, swordplay, magical steeds, and the Knights, Slayers, Heroes, Villains, Large Spiders and Evil Tyrants. The opening which shows the approach of what we at first think is a spaceship, is in fact a Black and powerful tower, a castle of sorts where an evil beast like ruler resides with his army of slayers, who are not a million miles away from storm troopers in their appearance. The film boasted a glorious score by the much-missed James Horner, which we all must agree is a powerhouse of a score and one of the movies most outstanding attributes.

James Horner.

Horner was just thirty years of age when he scored the movie, and his music is magnificent, the cue Riding of the Fire Mares is outstanding as is his Love Theme for the movie, and when you think that he scored this as well as Brainstorm, and Gorky Park in the same year it something of a major feat for a composer who was so young.

Riding of the Fire Mares.

Krull, the movie may have faded away into the mists of time and is now doomed to a life of late night airings on obscure satellite channels but the music is without a doubt one of the composers most popular works and in many ways one of his most complex, and to this day remains a firm favourite with film music devotees around the world.

Love Theme from Krull.

Then there is Willow, released in 1988 the movie was produced by George Lucas and directed by Ron Howard, it’s a rip roaring, swashbuckling fantasy adventure, that I adored when I first saw it.

I am not however saying it’s the best of George Lucas or indeed Ron Howard, but it’s an entertaining romp for kids of all ages, that is exciting, action packed and has numerous emotional interludes, filled with mystical and magical moments it was and still is a movie that many count as one of their favourites. And from a film music fans point of view it has one of the most powerful and thematic scores that was penned in the 1980’s. I think alongside Horner’s Krull it is one of my most listened to soundtracks by the composer.  

And so, to the ill-fated Dragonslayer, I say ill-fated but I kind of enjoyed it and Alex North’s complex score was also something special. The plot focuses upon a young wizard apprentice named Galen, and a King who has made a pact with a dragon to sacrifice young virgins to the creature in return for the dragon not turning his kingdom into a raging inferno. An old wizard, and his keen young apprentice Galen volunteer to kill the dragon and attempt to save the next virgin in line, the King’s own daughter. It’s a rather slow-paced movie, but I did enjoy it when I first saw it and have grown even more fond of it as the years have passed. Many did not like North’s score, but I found it to be weirdly attractive, wonderfully inventive, and totally supportive of the movie.

Highlander, Red Sonja, Hundra, Masters of the Universe, and of course Conan the Destroyer and the animated Disney feature The Black Cauldron should also be mentioned.  

So, as you can see, we are gathering a nice little collection of films and scores to talk about. The nineties also brought to the screen further adventures for The Deathstalker, The Beastmaster, and Highlander. And introduced us to Kull the Conqueror, The Bride with White Hair, and new adventures for an oldie but a goodie Hercules.

Composer Robert Folk scored The Beastmaster ll through the portal of time, in 1991, which like Masters of the Universe attempted to bring the warrior Dar into the 20th Century, did it work well I will let you see the movie and reach your own conclusions. The composer recalled working on the movie after I enquired if he was asked to use any of the music from the original Beastmaster movie. “You know, I love working on sequels. It’s almost as good as working on the original films. But to be honest, whenever I can I try to create a fresh score rather than utilizing themes and other materials from the original instalment of these franchises. So, I wrote a completely original score with little or no reference at all to the past score for Beastmaster ll”.

As the 2000’s dawned, we saw three Lord of the Rings Movies, all wonderfully brought to life by director Peter Jackson and given an ethereal and dramatic symphonic score by composer Howard Shore. It was also in the 2000’s that Dungeons and Dragons came to the big screen, as did Beowulf, Dragonheart, and Eragon. But even with the much more sophisticated FX that were then available except for the Lord of the Rings trilogy these new entries did not really have about them the excitement and the raw energy of those eighty’s movies. So, lets go back to before the 1980’s and see what sword and sorcery tales inspired the filmmakers of the 80’s. Whom the Gods wish to Destroy 1 and 2, were produced in Germany and released in 1966 and 1967 respectively, both were successful in Europe, but less so outside of the continent. The music for both movies was the work of Rolf A Wilhelm, and as far as I can see there were never any recordings of the soundtrack issued.

On watching both movies they I do not think can be called sword and sorcery, although there are elements of fantasy incorporated into the storylines, but instead they can be likened more to an Arthurian tale, with different characters.

Still both films were impressive with the music standing up well to the passing of time. The Magic Sword (1962) was a Hollywood production that starred Basil Rathbone, again a movie that was entertaining enough and at the time of its release attracted a fair amount of attention, the music was by Richard Markowitz, who provided the movie with a serviceable soundtrack,

Markowitz was more associated with TV rather than feature films working on popular series such as Mission Impossible during the mid-sixties providing a few episodes with supportive scores. He also worked on several popular series for television including Hondo, Wild Wild West, Custer, Ben Casey, and Dr Kildaire, all being aired during the 1960’s. He went onto to score episodes of The FBI, Streets of San Francisco, Murder She Wrote, Quincy M.E., Police Woman, Tales of the Unexpected, Dynasty, Columbo, Hawaii Five O, and many others.

He was born in 1926 and passed away on December 6th, 1994, in California.

Going back even further for the next movie that I feel should be mentioned and to 1956 and the Russian fantasy adventure Ilya Muromets (The Sword and the Dragon), although the movie was made in 1956 it was not released until the middle of 1960 outside of the Soviet Union, many versions that were shown in the UK being heavily edited and badly dubbed. It was shot in vivid colour, with the Ukranian born director Aleksandr Ptushko utilising stunning locations and employing a cast of thousands literally. The battle scenes were impressive, and the action almost constant throughout, so much so that one can even forgive the use of a somewhat unconvincing three headed dragon but remember this was the mid 1950’s.

Music was by Igor Morozov, who was born on May 19, 1913 in Luhansk, (Ukraine) Yekaterinoslav Governorate, in the then Russian Empire. He died on November 24, 1970 in Moscow, RSFSR, USSR. His score was epic in its style and sound and gave weight and substance to the storyline as it unfolded. It’s a film that maybe now seems dated and cliched, but also one that I think many would still enjoy.

I suppose there is also a fine line between Sword and Sorcery and just Knights in armour and adventures set in medieval times, But I think that the tales of Hercules can be easily regarded as sword and sorcery, and also a bit of strong arm stuff too and not forgetting the Gods which are always in attendance, films such as Jason and the Argonauts too has that element of the mystic, but this is I suppose more due to the involvement of the Greeks Gods rather than sorcery, (many might argue it’s the same thing).

In 2014 there were two versions of the story of Hercules doing the circuit in cinemas, sadly neither did that well at the box office, one of these entitled Hercules starred the Rock or Dwayne Johnson in the title role, directed by Brett Ratner the cast also included Ian McShane and John Hurt, but even the presence of these two distinguished actors failed to save it, set in 1400 B.C., a tormented soul walks the Earth that is neither man nor god. Hercules is the powerful son of the god King Zeus. But being the offspring of a god did him no favours as he receives nothing but suffering his entire life. After twelve arduous labours, and the death of his family, this dark, world-weary soul turned his back on the gods finding his only solace in bloody battle. Over the years, he warmed to the company of six similar souls, their only bond being their love of fighting, and the presence of death. These men and women never question where they go to fight, or why, or whom, just how much they will be paid.

Now, the King of Thrace, Lord Cotys (Sir John Hurt) has hired these mercenaries to train his men to become the greatest army of all time. It is time for this alliance of lost souls to finally have their eyes opened to how far they have fallen, when they must train an army to become as ruthless and bloodthirsty as their reputation has become. I found this version to be too modern in its approach, many of the lines being something that would be heard on the street in any modern-day metropolis and sounding out of place within the setting of this particular storyline.

 Spanish composer Fernando Velazquez provided an epic sounding score for the movie, which was symphonic, and anthem like in places, filled with romantically laced themes enhanced and bolstered by driving and adventurous passages it is a case of maybe the score is far superior to the movie it is intended to support?

The other version of the tale entitled The Legend of Hercules, was scored by Tuomas Kantelinen, and contained probably the better score, with the composer engaging fearsome brass, driving strings, choir and ethnic sounding instrumentation and vocals throughout, it is a score that is a mix of both symphonic and synthetic elements, the composer creating a highly adventurous and theme led work that oozes dark and fearsome flourishes which stands as one of his best film scores. He spoke about working on the movie just after completing the score.

“The Legend of Hercules was completed in record time. I don’t usually get involved that early in a process, but for this film we started right away, by making a sort of teaser for which I wrote some music, it was shown to buyers at the Berlin market in 2013. I also composed some cues for the set so they could have action music or music for some emotional scenes while they were filming. I was also working on the temp score of the movie, both helping to choose temp music and writing little atmospheric and transition pieces while they were editing the movie. We spotted the movie around the beginning of October, and then I started composing in earnest. Recording was in the beginning of December, final mix from the second week of December, and the movie came out on January 10th. All in all a very compact schedule, especially since the release was changed to an earlier date fairly last minute”!

Directed by Renny Harlin, the movies story is set in Ancient Greece in 1200 B.C., a queen succumbs to the lust of Zeus to bear a son promised to overthrow the tyrannical rule of the king and restore peace to a land in hardship. But this prince, Hercules, knows nothing of his real identity or his destiny. He desires only one thing: the love of Hebe, Princess of Crete, who has been promised to his own brother.

When Hercules learns of his greater purpose, he must choose: to flee with his true love or to fulfil his destiny and become the true hero of his time. The story behind one of the greatest myths is revealed in what is a fast paced and action-packed epic that is also a tale of love, sacrifice and the strength of the human spirit.  

Another version of the tale was released in 1983. Hercules was directed by Luigi Cozzi and starred Lou Ferrigno (the incredible hulk) in the title role, this bombed at the box office and Italian Maestro Pino Donaggio’s triumphant and over the top score was probably the best thing about the entire movie.

It was something of an odd entry into the Hercules collective of films, filled with really awful fx and a terrible script and acting standards that were rock bottom. Then there was the TV series Hercules, The Legendary Jouneys but that was just too painful to even talk about here, the musical scores for this were by Joseph Lo Duca.

Prince of Persia the Sands of Time, (2010) also involves swords and sorcery, but again was not a popular movie, with rogue prince (Jake Gyllenhaal) reluctantly joining forces with a mysterious princess (Gemma Arterton) and together, they race against dark forces to safeguard an ancient dagger capable of releasing the Sands of Time – gift from the gods that can reverse time and allow its possessor to rule the world. Nice work if you can get it that is. Music was the work of Harry Gregson Williams, again a serviceable score, and in the opinion of many far better than the movie.

A film that many often forget when thinking of this of genre of film is Ladyhawke, Captain Etienne Navarre (Rutger Hauer) is a man on whose shoulders lies a cruel curse. Punished for loving each other, Navarre must become a wolf by night whilst his lover, Lady Isabeau (Michelle Pfeiffer), takes the form of a hawk by day.

Rutger Hauer and Michelle Pfeiffer

Together, with the thief Philippe Gaston (Matthew Broderick), they must try to overthrow the corrupt Bishop (John Wood ) and in doing so break the spell.

Rutger Hauer and Matthew Broderick

This is a great movie, and one that I for one never tire of watching, the excellent score is the work of Andrew Powell, who combined upbeat compositions with dramatic and romantic symphonic performances to bring to fruition a score that can I think be referred to as iconic. Directed by Richard Donner Ladyhawke was released in 1985.

Staying in the 1980s and to 1981 for Clash of the Titans, I often wonder if this is sword and sorcery or just Greek mythology, but I suppose it is a little of both. A quirky and entertaining movie, in which we follow Perseus (Harry Hamlin) wh o must complete various tasks including taming Pegasus, capturing Medusa’s head, and battling the Kraken monster. Music was courtesy of Laurence Rosenthal, who fashioned an epic work. The story was given a new lease of life in 2010 and scored by Game of Thrones Maestro Ramin Djawadi. There are so many movies and TV series that are firmly within the Sword and Sorcery genre, in fact so many that it would be impossible to incorporate them into an article all at the same time. But for now, I hope you enjoyed my selection.

ELIZABETH THE UNSEEN QUEEN.

Originally aired as part of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations for Queen Elizabeth ll, Elizabeth the Unseen Queen is a fascinating and emotional look at the life of the Queen from babe in arms through to her reign as Monarch of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. The documentary follows rare private moments from the Queen’s life, including her engagement at Balmoral and behind the scenes footage of her first tour abroad with her family.

But it is more than just a documentation of this beloved ruler’s life and the times that she grew up in, it also shows footage that may not have been seen before of the Queens parents, and grandparents during their respective reigns. The most poignant and emotive ingredient is that the Queen herself narrates the proceedings. It’s a rare opportunity to be able to hear the Queen speaking about her upbringing.  

Conveying her personal thoughts as they accompany some amazing pictures and footage which show the private and official moments of Royal life. It is I suppose like a fly on the wall account of the day-to-day goings on within the royal family, and a fascinating insight into how the Queen became the Monarch and her deep and heartfelt love of her family and the people of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, plus we see her beautiful smile that seemed to be able to light up the darkest of times.

One can clearly see how close a family they were, and how the closeness of that family and the love expressed shaped the young Princess Elizabeth into the person that became Queen and dedicated her entire life to serving her people. It was also a testament to the fact that the royal family were always keen to film the things they did as a family, and in turn again shows how dedicated and loving they all were and still are. The images are aided greatly by the musical score, which was composed by David Schweitzer, his beautiful, heart-warming compositions play almost continuously lending support to the emotive, poignant, and highly affecting film.

DAVID SCHWEITZER

As I watched for the first time back in June 2022, I did wonder if the eloquent and beguiling soundtrack would be released, alas it has not yet come to fruition, but maybe it will one day. The documentary directed by Simon Finch along with its haunting and pleasing score is even more precious now that Her Majesty has passed, leaving a void that will never be filled and a population of millions wondering what the future will bring.

The film is awash with subtle, elegant, and at times powerful musical passages and interludes, and has to it a typically English sound a sound that befits a Monarch. The composer underlining, punctuating, and enhancing so many moments that are charming and touching, with equally enchanting and sensitive compositions.

This is a documentary that no matter when viewed can never be watched without shedding tears of both sorrow and joy. At the moment there are no plans to release the score, which I personally think is a mistake, this is an enormously important documentary, and the music I feel becomes part of its heart and its soul. It is a score that should be released, a score that everyone should own, maybe we should write to the BBC and tell them that?

KING ARTHUR ON FILM.

LEGEND, MYTH, MAGIC AND MYSTICAL.

There have been many films that have at their epicenter the tale of the Legendary King Arthur Pendragon, it is to be honest a fascinating story, of knights in amour that band together under the leadership of Arthur and sit around a round table protecting the vulnerable and fighting tyranny and evil everywhere, with certain individuals embarking on quests and pilgrimages. However, some films do not always get things right when it comes to Arthur, or at least the stories that revolve around this character, who may not have even existed.

Apparently, Arthur was based in Wales or Cornwall and ruled England in the late fifth and early sixth centuries, he was credited with being the monarch who brought the English together to fight against Saxon invaders or so the Legend goes, and from the description in many of the books and poems that have been written on this formidable leader, the location of the Welsh and Cornish areas could be correct. The figure of Arthur is shrouded in mystery with tales of Swords in a stone, witches, warlocks, and Merlin, plus the mystical lady of the lake and the famed sword known as Excalibur.

FIRST ENCOUNTER.

I think the first time I encountered King Arthur on the big screen was in Knights of the Round Table, a fantastic colourful romp that although was filmed in England was a production that had its fair share of Hollywood-isms. The film was and still is a compulsive watch and much of this attraction is because of the way in which it was filmed, with rich technicolor images and atmospheric settings both inside and out, giving it the right to be referred to as a classic piece of cinematic storytelling, the cinematography by F.A. (Freddie) Young was stunning, with a musical score by one of the giants of film music Miklos Rozsa who had already placed an indelible mark on both British and American movies.

Released in 1953, Knights of the Round Table was filmed in England and Ireland, with most of the interiors being photographed in Borehamwood studios near London where MGM also filmed scenes for Ivanhoe (1952) and The Adventures of Quentin Durward (1955) (the latter scored by Bronislau Kaper). All three movies are looked upon as an unofficial trilogy that the MGM studio produced in the early to mid-1950’s  all of which were directed by Richard Thorpe and produced by Pandro S. Berman. Based on the Caxton published tale from 1485 Le Mort d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory. Knights of the Round Table had a screen play that was the work of Talbot Jennings, and Noel Langley.

The already popular actor Robert Taylor starred as Sir Lancelot with the beautiful Ava Gardner as Guinevere, and talented actor Mel Ferrer as King Arthur, a young Stanley Baker as Mordred or as he is called in the film “Modred” which is the Welsh spelling for the characters name.  The movie also featured Anne Crawford as Morgan Le Fay and Felix Aylmer as Merlin. The costumes for the movie were eye arresting with much attention to detail from costume designer Roger Furse.

The musical score by Rozsa, is one of the composers finest, and was essential a pre cursor to his work on movies such as Ben Hur (1959) and El Cid (1961). It contained the drama and the romance that one associates with King Arthur and the times in which he was said to have ruled. Rozsa’s exciting and lush sounding music underlined, punctuated, and enhanced the many action scenes and ingratiated the romantic and at times melancholy moments within the unfolding storyline. The score was recorded in the United States and performed by the MGM Studio orchestra.

There have been various releases of the soundtrack, both on LP record and CD with a double CD set of the score being released by Film Score Monthly in 2005 which boasted twenty-seven cues from the movie that included source music and tracks from the original LP release, the CD also included the score from The Kings Thief (18-cues) another Rozsa score. Some recordings of Knights of the Round Table credit British composer and conductor Muir Mathieson as conductor, with others saying that Rozsa himself directed the orchestra.

But I am informed that Mathieson conducted the recordings of the English release of the soundtrack, with the composer Rozsa conducting the American recordings. His score is imposing, powerful, commanding, and melodic. His central theme being a perfect opener and setting the scene for the dramatics and swordplay that would follow. The soundtrack is available on digital platforms.

I WONDER WHAT THE KING IS DOING TONIGHT?

From the 1950’s to 1967 and a very different take on the Arthurian legend, Camelot is a musical, with music and lyrics by Lerner and Lowe, and the film was directed by Joshua Logan. It starred Richard Harris as Arthur, with Vanessa Redgrave as Guinevere and Franco Nero as Lancelot.  It is the story of the marriage of England’s King Arthur to Guinevere and is played out amid the pageantry of Arthur’s Camelot. The plot is like most King Arthur films, with the illegitimate Modred (David Hemmings) attempting to gain the throne and Guinevere’s growing attachment to Sir Lancelot, whom she at first abhors, threatening to topple Arthur and destroy his “Round Table” of knights who use their might and skills for right, fighting evil and protecting the weak.

The film was not as successful as it was thought it would be, although has in recent years become a favourite with many. The cast also featured Lionel Jefferies as King Pellinore, and Laurence Naismith as Merlyn (note the spelling). Its soundtrack featured instrumental music by Alfred Newman who also arranged and conducted the score with songs such as How to Handle a Woman, I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight, The Simple Joys of Maidenhood, If Ever I would Leave You, and the title song Camelot.

I have always liked the movie and enjoyed the songs and music, Richard Harris I thought was a brilliant King Arthur, with Franco Nero believable as Lancelot, and Vanessa Redgrave being an English rose perfect for the part of Arthur’s Queen. The show had been a success on Broadway before being committed to celluloid, and many believed maybe it was a show that should have stayed on Broadway. But that as they say is a matter of opinion, maybe check it out again and either revisit it or see it for first time and make up your own mind.

The soundtrack was originally available on LP in 1967 on Warner Bros records, and later received a compact disc re-issue as so many shows and soundtracks did when the CD revolution took hold. It is also available on digital platforms.

SHAKEN and STIRRED.

From the late 1960’s to 1995, and King Arthur played convincingly by Sean Connery in First Knight. The movie was directed by Jerry Zucker, who produced an exciting and adventure filled tale of knights in armour and the love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot. It was a little different from other King Arthur tales, and to be honest did contain some sequences and dialogue that one stopped and thought about as in Really? Supporting Sean Connery there was Julia Ormond as Guinevere, a long-haired Richard Gere as Lancelot and the excellent Ben Cross as Prince Malagant. Although it was an acceptable romp Zucker’s take on the legend of Camelot and Arthur and his Knights of the round table was a little cheesy and dare I say it Hollywood had its evil way with the story. Music was by the great Jerry Goldsmith, who composed a score that is arguably better than the movie it was intended to support. Filled with fanfares, proud anthem like pieces and full-on action cues plus a romanticism that Goldsmith rarely displayed. The score evoked Goldsmith’s past triumphs such as Masada (1981) and Lionheart which he composed in 1987.

It even contained choral work that was not unlike The Omen in the cue Arthurs Farewell. First Knight was a far grander affair than Lionheart being generously and consistently thematic, containing sounds and styles that were not unlike the music from the Golden age of cinema.

Listen to the cue Arthur’s Fanfare to see what I mean.  I felt the storyline of the movie was to modern and clean looking, and Gere was a little too much like John Travolta with a long wig. This was supposedly the sixth century in England, not a pristine and new looking setting which is what it came across as. But Goldsmith’s thunderous and epic score made up for the short falls on screen.

THIS IS DIFFERENT.

Music for the next film that has an Arthurian storyline is by British composer Daniel Pemberton, King Arthur Legend of the Sword, I think had great potential, but it failed to ignite much interest at the box office, and soon found its way onto Sky Cinema and the like. I thought this was a missed opportunity by director Guy Ritchie, but there again he does like to be different and approach things from different angles, the score too was odd in places, the composer utilising upbeat dance beats to score some sections of the movie, the music was out of place, and I have to say one of the least King Arthur soundtracks that I would listen to, maybe I am a traditionalist? But. King Arthur to a hip hop, style does not gel. The music I felt took one’s attention away from the action on screen, because it was so out of place. With the score only really showing any signs of the dramatic in cues such as The Legend of Excalibur, and The Story of Mordred and these were not that good either. It was a disappointing score from Pemberton.

And the movie too did not cause any great ripples. So, Mordred the Warlock, gathers his armies and attacks Camelot. Uther Pendragon who is King of the Britons, during the battle manages to enter the lair of the Warlock and beheads the Warlock with a sword that has been forged by Merlin. Thus, he saves Camelot from being overrun. After which Mordred’s brother Vortigern decides he would very much like the throne. He sacrifices his own wife to take on the guise of a Demon Knight, and then kills Uther’s wife and also defeats Uther, the son of Uther, Arthur escapes and this is when the story begins in earnest.  

It tells of the life of Arthur in Londinium being cared for by prostitutes, he becomes a crime boss but is haunted by images and nightmares of his parents being murdered but he can never see who the killer is. Vortigern rules Briton cruelly and dedicates resources to building a tower near the castle. When the water surrounding the castle recedes, revealing a sword in a stone, he has all the men in the city taken to it to remove it. Arthur manages to evade capture with the help of the prostitutes but is eventually caught.

He removes the sword from the stone but is overwhelmed by its power and passes out. In captivity, Vortigern explains Arthur’s lineage and that the sword’s significance to him before planning his execution. That’s a basic outline, of course Arthur returns to become King and all’s well that ends well, sort of at least.  

SMALL SCREEN ARTHUR.

Between 1972 and 1973 Harlech TV in the UK produced 24 thirty-minute episodes for a series entitled Arthur of the Britons. It starred Oliver Tobias as Arthur who is the chief of a small Celt tribe in Dark Ages Britain, a century or two after the withdrawal of the Romans. Arthur struggles to weave the scattered tribes of Celts, Jutes and others into a union that can effectively oppose the Saxon invaders who are arriving in Britain in growing numbers. He is aided by his adoptive father, Llud (Jack Watson) and his foster brother, Kai (Michael Gothard) who is himself a Saxon foundling. The series used to go out on a Sunday lunchtime on the independent TV network and would also be aired on a Saturday in certain regions.

The series also featured actors Brian Blessed, and Rupert Davies, the series was a popular one and in 1975 a movie was released, but it was not a re-working of the series, instead the producer’s used parts of the series and edited them together to make up a feature film which ran for 90 mins. The scores for each episode was the work of British composer Paul Lewis, who provided a wonderful soundtrack to the many stories and scenarios that we were treated to each week. But the outstanding piece from was the opening and closing theme which was composed by Elmer Bernstein. It’s a rousing composition, short and straight to the point, get people out of the kitchen, garden or wherever and get them in front of the TV.

The soundtrack was not available at the time of the series being aired but an album was released by composer Paul Lewis and Silva Screen, and is available on digital platforms, and the Bernstein penned theme is included as the closing track but credited to Lewis. It’s hard to believe that it has taken some forty years or so for Bernstein’s driving theme to be released and for that I say a big thank you to Silva Screen and Paul Lewis, the incidental music as some may refer to it as has been issued before or at least a suite of it was made available on a compilation album of the music of Paul Lewis.

BERNSTEIN’S THEME ARRANGED BY PAUL LEWIS.

But this I am sure is the first full release of music from the series. The music that Lewis produced for the series is some of the best I have heard from this period in television, in fact it is overflowing with dramatic and romantic interludes, contains tense and strong thematic material and serves the series effectively. The varied and inventively creative elements of the score combine to generate an exciting and overly attractive and entertaining work, which at times conjure up several feelings of de ja vu for this listener at least. Lewis’s music sounds more like a full blown film score as opposed to a television soundtrack, the composer orchestrating and arranging the music to a high standard that is quite honestly on a par with The Vikings and The Long Ships soundtracks by Mario Nascimbene and Dusan Radic respectively, this sound I think can be heard more prominently in track number three, Celtic Horns and the Longship, two rather subdued horns play in unison at the offset of the composition, creating for want of a better word a near restful atmosphere.

This mood soon alters as the horns become louder and more threatening in their sound but after a brief period they revert back, again to a softer ambience before more brass is added and usher in strings which then introduce another level of uneasiness, all of the time the horns remain in the background punctuating and supporting, the composer adding wood wind and subdued percussion gradually, thus building the tension and atmosphere of unease and uncertainness‘. Horns are used again as the mainstay instrumentation in track number four, Sentinels, which although brief is highly effective. Track number five, To Battle is full to brimming with martial sounding instrumentation, woodwind, snare drums driving strings and jagged brass stabs and growls open the cue but are halted to be replaced by a more aggressive sound that is created by swirling strings and booming timpani which towards the end of the composition overwhelms all other instruments.

This is an album that should be in your collection, it was such a long time coming it would be re-miss of any self-respecting soundtrack collector, old or new to not purchase it. The score has a sound to it that could be Walton or even has certain affiliations to the style adopted by composer Frank Cordell on Cromwell and maybe a gentle nod in the direction of James Bernard.  

INTO THE FUTURE.

In 1991 we were treated to The Fisher King, which starred Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams, it had links to the story of King Arthur although it was set in contemporary times. Jack Lucas (Bridges) was once a famous, arrogant, and egotistical New York City call-in radio talk show host. Jack goes on a quick downward spiral, both personally and professionally, after a shallow comment he makes to one of his regular caller’s, which results in that caller going on a murder spree. Three years later, the only emotional and financial support a despondent Jack receives is from his current video store owning girlfriend. When Jack hits rock bottom, he meets a seemingly crazy and homeless man calling himself Parry (Williams). Parry does have mental health issues, namely hallucinations cantered around the story of the Fisher King, which is why he is obsessed with obtaining the Holy Grail. When Jack learns of Parry’s own background and the reason he got to where he is, Jack feels he needs to be part of Parry’s salvation.

Robin Williams shouting in the street as Jeff Bridges watches in a scene from the film ‘The Fisher King’, 1991.

He figures the way to do so is to connect Parry with Lydia Sinclair, a shy and uncoordinated woman who Parry loves from afar. In doing so, Jack may himself be able to recapture his old life back. But if he does, he may not realize that he was no saint in that former life.

Directed by Terry Gilliam who also was responsible for co-directing Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The Fisher King, did not really attain the success it deserved at the time of its release but has since become something of a cult movie famed for its magnificent waltz scene at grand central station. Music for the movie was by George Fenton.

GEORGE FENTON

A recent reworking of the Arthurian legend or at least a movie that has affiliations with it arrived in the form of The Kid Who Would be King. Which was released in 2019, where we see old school magic colliding with the modern world in an epic and frantic adventure. Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) thinks he’s just a nobody, until he stumbles upon the mythical sword in the stone, Excalibur.

Now, he must unite his friends and enemies into a band of knights and, together with the legendary wizard Merlin (Sir Patrick Stewart), take on the wicked enchantress Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson). With the future at stake, Alex must become the great leader a King Arthur figure he never dreamed he could be.

The music for the movie is by Electric Wave Bureau (EWB) who are a London-based collaborative artist collective dedicated to composing and sourcing music for film, television, radio and online projects. Named after the North Korean government agency that monitors and stops residents receiving western entertainment on electronic devices, founder members include musician Michael Smith, artist Suzi Winstanley, Nelson De Freitas and musician Damon Albarn.


Their Recent projects have included compositions for, Paddington, Paddington 2 and Broken. The Kid who Would be King contains an effective score, that supports and elevates the action, it is a fusion of traditional scoring methods and a more contemporary style with electronics coming into play often but effectively. In many ways I think it is a much better score than Daniel Pemberton’s King Arthur the Legend of the Sword, I say this because I am comparing two contemporary takes on scoring a King Arthur movie.

The Kid Who Would Be King contains themes that are far more developed, and the composers allow these themes to breathe and interact more freely with the storyline and the action on screen. It’s a refreshing and infectious work, as in you don’t want it to end but you also want to hear the next track because the one you are listening to is so good.  Check it out on digital platforms such as Spotify.

The Green Knight, is one of the more recent movies that delves into the legends and tales that surround Arthur Pendragon, director David Lowrey serves up an epic tale filled with adventure and fantasy. The movie tells the story of Sir Gawain (Dev Patel), King Arthur’s reckless and headstrong nephew, who embarks on a daring quest to locate and confront the gigantic emerald-skinned stranger. Gawain encounters ghosts, giants, thieves, and conspirators in what becomes a deeper journey to define his own character and prove his worth in the eyes of his family and kingdom by facing the ultimate challenge.

 It is a fresh, unflinching spin on a classic tale that revolves around Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.

Music is by composer Daniel Hart, who’s score I must admit I did not like, but many others thought it to be a superb soundtrack, but I can only say what I think, and I have not changed my mind on it since first hearing the work.

WODE IS ME.

Back to 2004 for the next Arthurian tale, and to King Arthur, which was an ill-fated movie, and after watching it rightly so. It had an impressive cast list, that included Clive Owen (sorry did I say impressive) maybe I meant well we have heard of them. Ray Winstone, Keira Knightley, Ioan Gruffudd, and Stellan Skarsgard. But none of these made it a more bearable watch, even the composer Hans Zimmer made no difference, it was not a good movie, containing wooden and lack lustre performances with Owen definitely out of place, and that’s the end of it. Would be remiss to waste any more time on it.

EARLY DAYS.

English scholar T.H. White brought the writings of Malory to life for a new generation with the publication of four novels The Once and Future King (1958), which chronicled the whole Arthurian saga for a modern audience. The first book, 1938’s The Sword in the Stone, creatively imagined Arthur’s boyhood education under Merlin, which would stand him in later stead when he was crowned King. 

Disney spotted the potential of this storyline with its family-friendly combination of magic and life-lessons, and while not the best-known among the studio’s classic animated features, the results are a delight. With many in recent years marking it as one of Disney’s better animated features of the late 1960’s.  

Highlights include Merlin turning the boy into furry, feathered, and fishy creatures so he can gain a broader perspective on his place in the world, all leading up to a fantastic shape-shifting face-off between Merlin and Madame Mim. We get to the sword-pulling eventually, but the point of all this is an enterprising prequel to the familiar Arthurian legend. In that it succeeds wonderfully. The film contained a handful of songs, but not as many as other classics such as Snow White or Cinderella, but enough to hold the kid’s of all ages attention, it is a colourful and funny tale, that still to this day keeps audiences entertained.

NO MORTAL COULD POSSESS IT, NO KINGDOM COULD COMMAND IT!

The only film to date that attempts to bring Le Morte d’Arthur to the screen in one ambitious but brilliant fell swoop, is the magnificent Excalibur directed by John Boorman.  It is a valiant effort to blend visionary accomplishment, butchered storytelling, and full-on sincerity leaving no choice but to go with the veering chronicles route as we see the boy Arthur grow and become a King and a fearsome warrior, who eventually turns into a benevolent bringer of peace. 

Who then loses control of his Kingdom and allows it to slip into disarray and chaos because of his Queen Guinevere’s presumed affair with his most trusted Knight Lancelot. The tale is a bloody one, filled with axe wielding and broadsword slicing moments. It is an affecting film, and to think this was all before the now common place CGI that makes so many filmmakers look like they are geniuses.

Looking at the cast list it seems that most of the up-and-coming Irish acting fraternity such as Liam Neeson were allowed to cut their teeth as it were by being involved on Excalibur, with the wonderful Nicol Williamson standing out as Merlin.

The original score was by South African born composer Trevor Jones, but the movie will probably be remembered best for its utilization of the music of Carl Orff and Richard Wagner. (see interview with the composer here- TREVOR JONES | MOVIE MUSIC INTERNATIONAL. (MMI) . (wordpress.com) ) Composer Jones would return to the Arthurian tale in 1998 when he scored the TV miniseries Merlin which starred Sam Neil.

A FRENCH TAKE ON ENGLISH HISTORY.

Then we have Lancelot of the Lake, which was released in 1974, directed by Robert Bresson, it is a slightly different take on the legend of Arthur and his Knights of the round table. In fact it is miles away from the stories of Excalibur and the notions about Camelot being a utopia. The movie unashamedly and ruthlessly strips back the legend and exposes it portraying the Knights of the round table as brigands and liars, who are out for their own gain. Arthur’s knights being depicted as far from being heroic individuals who are greed driven and scheming. The film opens with news of the Knights failing in a quest to find the Holy grail. The knights return demoralized to the kingdom. Their leader, Percival, is lost, and Lancelot berates himself and his adultery with Guinevere as the reason that the Grail was not found- the search for it was, for him, also a search for God. Aimlessly resentful at first, the developing relationship between Lancelot and Queen Guinevere is seen as a resentful one and is more focused upon their anger rather than the infidelity that is predominant in other stories. This as we know leads to tragedy, as any love triangle inevitably does.  The film had no real stars in its cast, with the directors natural and non-conforming style making the movies images extremely powerful and memorable.

The musical score is the work of Phillipe Sarde, which itself breaks the mould of what is conceived to be music for medieval times, the score at times containing an easy listening style, whilst the opening theme is martial sounding with timpani and instrumentation that is not unlike bagpipes but is in fact the sound of the Loure which is basically the same instrument but one that was native to France specifically Normandy and was used widely in the 17th and 18th century.

Sarde’s opening and closing themes were available at the time of the movie’s release on a 45rpm single. There was also a TV series produced in France in 1970 under the same title, the score for this is excellent and penned by Georges Delerue. The Delerue score has been made available recently by French Soundtrack label Music Box and is certainly one to check out.

THE LIGHTER SIDE OF PENDRAGON.

There are many films that have within their storyline’s references to King Arthur, The Spaceman and King Arthur for example, which was Disney movie from 1979, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court which was released in 1949 and starred Bing Crosby, Rhonda Fleming, Sir Cecil Hardwicke and William Bendix amongst others, the movie which was based on the 1889 novel by Mark Twain was a musical comedy drama.

And what about, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, from 1975. In which the Pythons take history and turn it inside out and upside down, we see King Arthur travel the countryside to find knights who will join him at the Round Table in Camelot. Gathering up the men is a tale all of it own but after a party at Camelot, many decide to leave only to be stopped by God, who sends them on a quest: to find the Holy Grail. After a series of individual adventures, the knights are reunited but must face a wizard named Tim the Enchanter, killer rabbits, and lessons in the use of holy hand grenades.

Their quest is brought to an abrupt end when the good British Police intervene and stop everything, well yes what else would you expect from this group of madcap genius’s? Satire and swordplay on the menu its an entertaining romp if not a slightly confusing one, but that’s the brilliance of Python.

And then there was Monty Python and the Holy Grail set to music as in Spamalot which came in 2004. There have been so many movies made about King Arthur, and TV series as well, it would take forever to go through them, the titles I have mentioned are the tip of a very big iceberg. And maybe there will be a part two on this subject?

DOES THE DEVIL HAVE ALL THE BEST TUNES?

“The Devil has all the best tunes” is a view held by many and a saying that has been around for a long time now, many come to this conclusion because music, especially popular music, is predominantly secular rather than religious. So, this got me thinking, (which is sometimes a dangerous thing). Does this apply to film scores for movies about the Devil? And how do scores for films about the Devil compare with the Biblically slanted Epics and other such movies that tell the story of God and Jesus and all things good? So, let’s start with the bad boy shall we. Well, many movies about the Devil or Satan, Old Nick, The Beast, Lucifer, and so many other titles and names attached to the Evil One, who was cast out of heaven by God. Contain strong and powerful musical works, which is to be expected as the character of the Devil is often looked upon as a controlling, unforgiving and unmerciful individual.

Let’s not forget that the Devil was initially an angel or so the Bible tells us, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him”.  So, the Devil, was at one time good? Cast out because he sought to become the overlord of paradise. “I will exalt my throne above the stars of God” and I will be like the most High”. There have been many interpretations of the Devil in motion pictures, at times these have even had a comedic takes on the power that is wielded by him or is it her? 

A recent interpretation is by Welsh actor Tom Ellis in Lucifer the TV series on Netflix which is now in its sixth season and has aired thus far 93 episodes which focuses upon Lucifer Morningstar, bored from his sulking life in hell, comes to live in Los Angeles. While there, he helps humanity with its miseries through his experience and telepathic abilities to bring people’s deepest desires and thoughts out of them. While meeting with a Detective named Chloe Decker (Lauren German) in his exclusive nightclub called LUX, a shootout involving him, and the Detective leads him to become an LAPD consultant who tries to punish people for their crimes through law and justice. It’s a clever concept with a witty script plus it’s a series that is a compelling and an addictive watch, with Tom Ellis being perfect in the title role and the remainder of the cast also bringing much to the unfolding storylines. The central character is at times played in a humorous fashion, but then we see at times just how powerful and unmerciful he can be when he shows his true colours as the situations call for it.

The music is credited to Marco Beltrami who began working on the series back in 2016, the music department is also credited to many performers as in bands, composers, and vocalists, which to be honest run into double figures, plus there are numerous songs on the soundtrack by artists such as David Bowie etc. The score or music is atmospheric, but often the orchestral or instrumental sections are short and to the point stabs that act as support for a stand off or a moment of violence and often are a segue between scenes or pre-announce an important stage of a storyline or indeed herald a commercial break. The soundtrack is scattered with an abundance of rock influenced songs and riffs, which do work especially because of  the time slot that the series is set which is contemporary Los Angeles.

From the bustling city of angels to a more otherworldly setting, is it in the future or could it be set in a time long gone and even in another world? Well, I suppose we all must make our own minds up when it comes to Legend. The Ridley Scott movie I have always looked upon as a masterpiece, but many do not share my opinion, maybe it is because the movie was so badly cut when it finally reached cinema screens, and there were also so many different versions of the film. Some containing the score by Jerry Goldsmith others having the music of Tangerine Dream on the soundtrack.

The Goldsmith score is a wonderous collection of mysterious, poignant, and compelling thematic material, with the composer employing varying shades of darkness and light throughout, the music having to it a mischievous and enthralling persona, each of the characters having themes and motifs, and the central performers such as Tim Curry in his marvellous devil make up being underlined by a foreboding and fearsome sound, making his performance even more imposing. Goldsmith’s impish and otherworldly flourishes that are created via symphonic and synthetic performances adding even more magic and mystery to the proceedings.

The score that was provided by Tangerine Dream, is also very good, but not as effective as Goldsmith’s with the Dream’s music being more like a soundscape and at times not really being in sync with the action on screen. Goldsmith created a score that was overflowing with a beguiling and affecting richness, his music for the goblins being threatening but at the same time having comedic layers.

The National Philharmonic orchestra produced a wonderfully flawless performance with the composer mixing and fusing instrumental themes with haunting songs such as My True Loves Eyes and Sing the Wee.

Goldsmith employed many of what we now sometimes call “Goldsmithian” trademarks throughout the score, brass flourishes surging, and romantic sounding strings and action led cues with pounding percussion and rasping brass that were relentless and at the same time eerie. These trademarks can be heard in any number of the composers works for film, especially in the 1980’s. However, I still consider Legend one of his best scores and like most of his film scores is like a piece of gold in a silver age.

Staying with Goldsmith and the Devil, and turning to his scores for the Omen series, The Omen, Damien Omen 2, and The Final Conflict. All three are filled with a malevolence but it is the first in the series that I return to most, the darkness and the foreboding Ave Santani still sending chills through me on each listen. The track entitled The Dogs Attack also being a triumph of the macabre and impending doom. Damien Omen ll, is probably my least favourite score in the trilogy but there again I was not over impressed with the movie. The composers Final Conflict too contained a sense of doom and disaster, but also too had a mood that was spiritual and hopeful, which came into its own in the final sequence when Damien finally is dispatched, and the glory of heaven is given centre stage with a magnificent and moving piece created by the composer.  

This is a score that is filled with grandiose set pieces as in  The Second Coming, Goldsmith fashioning a beautiful piece build around a variation of the Ave Santani, but in this case it is a heavenly and triumphant sound that we hear, although it is at times interspersed with icy whispers and threatening voices, these give way to the splendour of Goldsmith’s vibrant and awe inspiring music that announces the second coming of Christ, the cue ends with the Ave Santani motif performed on French horns, giving the cue a fearsome and commanding finish.

From Goldsmith to Williams, and to The Witches of Eastwick, with Jack Nicholson in the role of Daryl or the Devil. John Williams music is a mischievous yet wonderfully thematic journey through the many ups and downs of three women of Eastwick who are beguiled by the devil and wreak their revenge upon him. Williams providing an infectious collection of themes and also adding atmosphere and creating a comedic yet pulsating apprehensive air throughout.

His Dance of the Witches is an incredible composition, as is his The Seduction of Suki and the Ballroom Scene, which contains a glorious and uplifting melody.

The Devil Rides Out is a classic film, produced by Hammer in 1968, based upon the Dennis Wheatly novel, the movie starred Christopher Lee, Charles Grey and Nick Arrighi, directed by Terence Fisher the score was composed by James Bernard, it is one of Bernard’s most revered works for Hammer, and has stood the test of time well alongside the composers scores for the many Dracula movies that Hammer released and a string of Frankenstein movie creations.

Like so many of Hammers scores The Devil Rides Out remained unreleased for many years even though many collectors requested it, it was finally released by GDI records in 2002 and was the 13th CD release in that labels excellent Hammer soundtrack series. The short but highly effective opening cue from the score, strikes terror into the hearts and souls of the watching audience and sets the scene perfectly for all that is about to unfold in the film. Bernard’s chilling music for The Spirit in the Observatory too is menacing and consuming, the composer relying upon strings to fashion a sinewy, mesmeric, and apprehensive piece that is punctuated by brass stabs.

Bernard’s dark and foreboding sound was well suited to Hammer movies and increased the drama in The Devil Rides Out magnificently.

So does the evil one have all the best music as in film scores, well that I suppose is a matter of opinion and personal preference, so lets look at the other side of the coin as in Good or God and the music that has been penned for a number of Biblical tales that have been committed to celluloid. The Ten Commandments, for example, a great and rousing score by veteran composer Elmer Bernstein, triumphant flourishes, proud fanfares and stirring action cues are scattered throughout the movie, it is in every sense of the word a classic.

So, 1-0 to God on this one. What else, ah yes, the iconic music from Ben Hur, The Robe, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Quo Vadis, do I need to go on? OK, King of Kings, The Bible, any need to continue, no I did not think so.

So maybe old Nick needs to think again before he starts to think he has the best tunes, the scores for the Biblical epics I have mentioned are uplifting, gracious and celestial in their overall sound and make up, and yes Biblical scores too contain dark and foreboding interludes, but these are overwhelmed and countered effectively by heavenly choirs, proud anthem like fanfares and affecting and sweeping themes.

There is more emotion in the opening theme or Overture for Ben Hur than in many of the movies that tell a story about the horned one. Depending on your own particular taste, I would think that the score is about equal, but maybe the sound of good will hopefully triumph over the dark and foreboding choruses of evil.  

THE SPAGHETTI WESTERN SONGBOOK.

As a follow up to the article about the spaghetti western soundtracks on compact disc, I thought it might be an idea to give collectors an insight into the vocalists who performed so many of the title songs for those Italian produced movies. Often the song from a Italian western would be released onto a 45rpm single record with a picture cover either showing a scene or poster from the movie in question or a picture of the vocalist wearing cowboy outfit. I suppose this in the early days was also a way of promoting the movie and its soundtrack, some of the songs from the movies even entering the hit parade as it was then called. The singles were mainly released in Italy, France, and Germany as in the beginning there was it seemed limited interest in the songs from the movies outside of those countries. Artists such as Maurizio Graf, Peter Tevis, Christy, Peter Boom and others often achieving fairly high chart positions with the performances and in Italy particularly appearing on TV.

Many collectors in the UK never latched onto the Italian western theme song until RCA released Il Western by Ennio Morricone, which included songs from movies such as Gunfight at Red Sands, Bullets Don’t Argue, A Pistol for Ringo, Return of Ringo etc.

After this release many Italian western fans began to take more notice of songs from the movies, and were drawn to composers such as De Angelis, De Masi, Lavagnino, Ferrio, Nicolai etc, all of whom at some point included a vocal performance on their soundtracks. One of the most popular and enduring is surprisingly not by Morricone, but by Francesco De Masi.

His soundtrack for Quella Sporca Storia Nel West (The Dirtiest Story of The West-aka-Johnny Hamlet) opened with the pop slanted song Find a Man, which was co-written by Alessandro Alessandroni who also provided the infectious guitar riff that opened the song.

Quella Sporca Storia Nel West. (excerpt).

Find a man who never killed

not even for the love of gold

Find a man who never lied

and offer him your soul.

Find a man who never stole

from any man a woman’s love

Find a man who never lied

and never let him go

The vocals were courtesy of Maurizio Graf who was supported by members of Il Cantori Moderni and an upbeat orchestral backing, that sounded more like American Surf music and UK pop a’lla the Tornadoes rather than music for a western.

The twangy guitar solo that was woven throughout the vocal was an instant hit and the soundtrack also included an instrumental version of the tune. Graf’s performance was a strong one and surprisingly it was also easy to understand every word, which was not always the case with vocals from Italian soundtracks.  Many suffering because of the individual vocalist’s pronunciation of the English lyrics, of course they did at times also record the song in Italian, which for me personally always sounded far more powerful and expressive which was certainly the case with the title song for the Sergio Corbucci movie Django (1966) as scored by Luis Enriquez Bacalov, which seemed to become instantly more commanding and had a better flow to it. This genre classic vocal was performed in Italian by the singer/actor Roberto Fia, with an alternate English version being sung by Rocky Roberts.

Roberts was an American vocalist and went onto work with composer Bacalov on a handful of other songs which included Can Be Done from the western Si Pio Fare…Amigo.  The English version of Django was given a new lease of life more recently in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.

Django. (excerpt)

Django!

Django, have you always been alone?

Django!

Django, have you never loved again?

Love will live on, oh oh oh…

Life must go on, oh oh oh…

For you cannot spend your life regretting

Django!

Django, you must face another day.

But back to Maurizio Graf, who also worked with Morricone, on the songs for the Giuliano Gemma westerns A Pistol for Ringo and The Return of Ringo. His unique vocal performances on both added much to the overall sound of Morricone’s score and via the vocals also made Morricone’s music even more popular. The first which was entitled Angel Face was a lyrical and melodic affair, even if the lyrics themselves did contain mention of rivers of blood etc, Morricone added his own distinctive sound with soaring strings, choir and guitar which were supported by a familiar Italian pop vibe.

Angel Face from A Pistol for Ringo. (excerpt)

Countries, that know only the springtime
And your green fields, with your scentin’ of hay
Know Ringo, with his angel face
And a woman, who was waitin’ for his return
Cross the canyons he laughed
Down the valley the death
And he left behind a river of blood.

Whereas The Return of Ringo was a little more edgy and had to it a dramatic near operatic style within the arrangement.

The Return of Ringo. (First verse)

I kiss at last the beloved ground of my land. That I left one day with my hard heart full of pain. I have looked in the faces of my old friends. But nobody looked at me as my old friends. And now what happens you must, you must tell me.

Before scoring the two Ringo movies Morricone worked on two other westerns, Gunfight at Red Sands (1963) and Bullets Don’t Argue, (1964) both soundtracks contained songs, Gunfight at Red Sands had the title song A Gringo Like Me and Bullets don’t Argue contained the haunting ballad Lonesome Billy, both songs were performed by Peter Tevis.

Tevis was the vocalist on the song Pastures of Plenty (RCA PM45-3115). which was written by Woodie Guthrie and arranged by Morricone, an instrumental reworking of this eventually ended up as the theme for the first in the Sergio Leone Dollar Trilogy of movies A Fistful OF Dollars (1964). Peter Tevis was born 1937, in California, USA, he was an American folk singer but is best remembered for his work on the soundtracks of composer Ennio Morricone. Tevis met Morricone while living in Italy during the 1960s and suggested that they should work together.

A Gringo Like Me. from Gunfight at Red Sands. (excerpt).

Keep your hand on your gun.

Don’t you trust anyone.

There’s just one kind of man that you can trust,

that’s a dead man, or A Gringo Like Me.

Be the first one to fire.

Every man is a liar.

There’s just one kind of man who tells the truth,

that’s a dead man, or A Gringo Like Me.

Don’t be a fool for a smile or a kiss,

or your bullet might miss.

Keep your eye on your goal.

Lonesome Billy from Bullets don’t argue.

Always lonely

Always looking

To get even with the men

Who did him wrong.

That was Billy

Lonesome Billy

Who was quick to think

A gun could make him strong

No one tougher or more daring

Only he and his gun sharing

The great fight to live

And his great love to fight

A rough man who played with danger

To whom trouble was no stranger

Until one day he lay dying

He’d filled his date with destiny.

During the 1970s Tevis produced audio recordings designed to train different families of songbirds to talk. In his last years he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and had almost lost his voice. He died in September 2006 in Washington.

Tevis is also known for his performance of the song A Man Must Fight,  from 7 Dollari Sul Rosso-(Seven Dollars on the Red), which had a score written by Francesco De Masi and was written in the style of many of the songs from American westerns.

Maybe one of the most well-known songs from an Italian western is They Call Me Trinity, the film was scored by Franco Micalizzi and Roberto Pregadio, and the title song was performed by Annibale Giannarelli, under the name of Annibale. The singer was born in Sassalbo, Massa Carrara, Tuscany, Italy on the 9th of May 1948. His career began during the early 1960’s as both a singer and a instrumentalist. He has performed throughout Italy and Australia often at major venues and also has made numerous television appearances. His vocal talents are outstanding and he performs a wide range of songs from traditional Italian and pop through to jazz and classic hits. He performed the song for Franco Micalizzi on the first in the series of the Trinity movies and performed on Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack for Paola and Francesca. The iconic vocal on the comedy western They Call me Trinity was an international hit and is still performed by Franco Micalizzi’s big bubbling band in an instrumental arrangement when they are on tour. The song’s lyrics were by Lally Stott and was basically a send up of the American songs for western movies containing the lyrics.

Lo Chiamavano Trinita (first verse).

He’s the guy who’s the talk of the town
With the restless gun
Don’t you bother to fool him around
Keeps the varmints on the run, boy
Keeps the varmints on the run

You may think he’s a sleepy-type guy
Always takes his time
Soon I know you’ll be changing your mind
When you’ve seen him use a gun, boy
When you’ve seen him use a gun.

Another much loved song from the Italian western genre is The Man From Nowhere, which was penned by Francesco De Masi, and Alessandro Alessandroni for the movie Arizona Colt (1966). The singer on this occasion was Raoul who worked with De Masi on other western songs and collaborated with Alessandroni and his Il Cantori Moderni. Born Ettore Raoul Lovecchio the Italian singer and actor was often called on for solo-singing on soundtracks in the late 1960s. After which he left the genre to become an actor during the 70s. He was also known for being the owner of a boutique for Oriental fashion in Rome.

RAOUL.

He was also known as Raul or Raoul Lo Vecchio. He also sang on other westerns that included. Death Rides a Horse, A Taste of Death, 15 Scaffolds for a Murderer, 7 Winchester per Un Massacro, Quanto Costa Morire, I 4 Inesorabili, Ammazzali Tutti E Trorna Solo, Testa a Croce, Vado L’Amazzo E Torno, and many others. His distinct voice giving the songs an earthy and dramatic feel.

The Man from Nowhere from Arizona Colt. (First verse)

He came out of nowhere with no one beside him, he rode out of the sunrise all alone, a man out of nowhere with no one to love him his one faithful companion was his gun, no one could say just where he came from, no one could say where he was going. Was he a man without a heart, a man with a heart made of stone.

Don Powell was a vocalist who regularly appeared on Italian western soundtracks, working with the likes of Marcello Giombini on Tre Pistole Contro Cesare-(Death Walks in Laredo) the title song Laredo was a fast paced affair, with Powell exaggerating the Laredo, to Lareeedo. He also worked with composer Carlo Savina on Pocchi Dollari Per Django (A Few Dollars for Django) 1966 and on Ehi Amigo..sei Morto in 1971. Nevada with Gianni Ferrio also in 1971. The singer collaborated with Angelo Francesco Lavagnino for the title song A Gambling Man on 5000 Dollari sul Asso-(5000 Dollars on the Ace) 1964, And with Spanish composer Anton Garcia Abril on the classic Texas Addio in 1966.  Powell’s voice was at times compared with that of Frank Sinatra, at times having to it a smooth and mellow tone, which can be heard particularly in his vocal for Nevada entitled They call it Gold.

Texas Goodbye.

As a boy
All the thoughts, that filled my mind
Were as a boy
Then, one day
Something in my childish mind
Will be a strain

But as a man
Love and hate
They somehow mean the same
All could blame
To a child which was born into a world of pain.

Fred Bongusto is a name we have seen much of when it comes to Italian film and TV music, he is not only a composer but also a singer and has performed a handful of songs for Italian westerns, Uccidi O Mouori-(Kill or be Killed) being one of them, the song I Must Go is an excellent western song and evokes memories of the song in High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me) the score is by composer Carlo Rustichelli who’s instrumental version of the song is pure spaghetti western, with soaring trumpet solo, electric guitar, and includes Rustichelli’s melodic and classical sounding strings that are enhanced by percussion and organ.  

We return to the power of Morricone for the next two songs, both of which were performed byChristy who is an Italian singer (also known as Cristy). Her real name is Maria Cristina Brancucci. She is famous for the powerful title songs to The Big Gundown and Tepepa. Run Man Run and Al Messico Che Vorrei respectively.

Away from the Spaghetti Western genre she provided the vocals for the Morricone/Nicolai scored Operation Kid Brother and has also recorded Deep, deep Down, which is the title song from Mario Bava’s Diabolik also written by Morricone.

Run Man Run -from- The Big Gundown.

Somewhere there is a land where men do not kill each

Other. Somewhere there is a land where men call a man a brother.

Somewhere you will find a place where men live without

Fear. Somewhere, if you keep on running, someday you’ll be

Free. Never, no never no they’ll never lock you in.

No never, no never, no never let them win.

Go ahead young man, face towards the sun,

Run man, run while you can,

Run man, run man, run.

Running like a hare, like deer, like rabbit,

Danger in the air, coming near, you can feel it,

And you’re panting like hare, like deer like a rabbit,

Running from the snare until fear is a habit.

Hurry on and on and on.

Hurry on and on, hurry on and on

Run and run until you know you’re free,

Run to the end of the world ’til you find a place

Where they never never never

No never no they’ll never lock you in.

Never, no never, no never let them win.

Go ahead young man, face towards the sun,

Run man, run while you can,

Run man, run man, run.

There are obviously many other vocalists who have performed on Italian western soundtracks, The Wilder Brothers for example on The Man With the Golden Pistol for Lavagnino, Gene Roman, on The Continuing Story of Trinity for Guido and Maurizio De Angelis,

Ann Collin on Deaf Smith and Johnny Ears for Daniele Patucchi, and her brilliant vocalising on That Man from Fasthand for Gianni Ferrio, also let’s not forget Nevil Cameron on Ferrio’s Sentenza Di Morte and the moody but excellent rendition of The Last Game. And Let it Rain Let it Pour vocals this time by Stefano Grossman from the movie Amico Stammi Lontano Almeno Un Palmo and Jula De Palmaon Ferrio’s superb score for Find a Place to Die which included two songs, one being Find a Place to Die and Era Una Cowboy.

find a place to die
Era Una Cowboy.

Plus, there is Peter Boom on Corri Uomo Corri by Bruno Nicolai and Marcello Giombini’s The Return of Sabata. John Balfour on The Son of Django for Umiliani.Saverio Moriones on John Il Bastardo for Fidenco and for Fidenco again Gianni Davoli with Forgive but Not Forget from One more for Hell.

And then Fidenco himself on songs such as The Lanky Gunman, from The Taste of Killing, and Texican from Ringo the Texican. Gino from The Hills Run Red for Morricone, with the song Home to My Love, the list is it seems endless. Because of this I know I will have missed names and titles but let’s hope this article might inspire others to discover the vocal side of the Spaghetti Western score.