Category Archives: Biographical Essays

DON BANKS. UNSUNG HERO OF THE SILVER SCREEN.

 

 

 

Australian-born composer and multi-instrumentalist, trained on piano, saxophone, violin and trombone. The son of a jazz musician, he grew up and was educated in Melbourne. After serving with the Army Medical Corps during the war years, he studied at the University Conservatorium of Music and graduated with a diploma in composition. Banks moved to England in 1950 to continue his training under the Hungarian émigré Matyas Seiber, while supporting himself financially as a sideman in a dance band.

 

 

During the 1950’s, he composed a number of concertos and chamber music which attracted critical notice. He won several prestigious awards, including the Sir Arnold Bax Society Medal (1959). One of his works, ‘Four Pieces for Orchestra’ was performed by the London Philharmonic in 1954. Due in part to his father’s legacy, he also remained very much steeped in jazz, both as a player and as arranger. He became more prolific as a jazz composer after cultivating a friendship with Cleo Laine and John Dankworth. The resulting creative partnership spawned a series of works which fused classical music and jazz, including “Settings from Roget” (1966). He later created pieces like ‘Nexus’ (1971), for jazz quartet and symphony orchestra; and ‘Take 8’ (1973) for jazz and string quartet. Furthermore, Banks was at the cutting edge of combining traditional acoustic instruments with electronics, including using some of the first available synthesizers, eventually becoming a founding member of the British Society for Electronic Music.

 

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Primarily for commercial reasons, Don Banks joined Hammer studios in 1962. He wrote several atmospheric scores for thrillers and horror films, working in tandem with musical directors Philip Martell and John Hollingsworth. Best among a body a body of diverse and polished works, are his jazzy, typically 60’s ‘film noir’ score for Hysteria (1965); his eerie, dramatic theme for Nightmare (1964), full of foreboding and hidden terror; and the equally evocative score for The Reptile (1966), with its predominant Indian motifs.

 

Banks left Hammer after five years to resume, what he regarded as more serious musical pursuits. In 1972, he returned to Australia to take up a position with the Canberra School of Music, followed thereafter by appointments to the music board of the Australian Council for the Arts and as head of composition to the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music. Physically frail and afflicted for the last eight years of his life by leukemia, he died in September 1980, aged 56.

 

HANS MAY, UNSUNG HERO OF THE SILVER SCREEN.

 

Composer Hans May, was born as Johannes Mayer on July 11th,1886, in Vienna, Austria.
Although at the time it was referred to as Austro/Hungaria. He left his native Vienna after the Nazis began to take power at first settling in France and eventually heading for the shores of England in 1936 after his Jewish roots began to put him in danger from the Nazis. The composer was known mainly at the beginning of his career for writing songs, many of which became popular and firm favourites throughout Europe. He also composed original scores for silent movies in both Berlin and Paris, and was much in demand for this during the mid-1920, s through to the 1930, s. He visited England in 1930, but at this time focused primarily upon the scoring of German pictures and projects. With the advent of the talkies and sound the composer came into his own and would often work on films that were operettas, or musicals, he re-located to France in the latter part of 1934, and worked on THE MAYERLING in 1935. His career was successful within the area of writing music for film, albeit mainly for shorts and musicals and after settling in London in the late 1930,sthe composer began to write for more and more feature length films and reached his creative and most prolific peak during the 1940,s, working on a varied collection of motion pictures which were produced by The Boulting Brothers and Rank/Gainsborough Pictures, most notably THE WICKED LADY and the classic motion picture BRIGHTON ROCK in 1947.

But it was his score for THUNDER ROCK in 1942 that attracted attention to the composer, the movie which was a Boulting Brothers production, starred Michael Redgrave, James Mason and Barbara Mullen, and was a psychological thriller/fantasy. By the summer of 1944, the composer was employed by The Rank Organisation, which was at the time the largest production company in England. May scored a long line of highly successful and popular movies, one of the first being THE MADONNA OF THE SEVEN MOONS in 1944.

 

Which was the film that established him as one of the leading figures in film scoring and one of the Fathers of the British Golden age of music for the cinema. The composer was granted permission by the British Government to continue to work in his chosen career during the dark days of the second world war and as the war came to an end could continue writing music for movies that were produced by British companies. His career continued through to the 1950, s and he was responsible for not only writing film scores but also for collaborating with various lyricists on many songs and for co-writing musicals such as the west end show, WEDDING IN PARIS (1954), which was a great success on the London stage with actor Anton Walbrook in the lead role. He also returned to scoring movies in his homeland and worked on a handful of German productions in the late 1950, s.

 

It was not until 1957 that the composer returned to the European continent and resumed writing for both film and stage productions. His first scoring assignment being in his own place of birth Austria when he scored the movie, DER KAISER UND DAS WASCHERMADEL. There is no doubt if the composer had been born some four decades earlier he would have become an important figure within the Viennese operetta golden age, his style being very similar and evocative of some of his older contemporaries such as FERENCZ LEHAR and EMMERICH KALMAN. Let us not forget that May was responsible for some of the most successful German language songs from the 1930, s such as ES WIRD IM LEBEN DIR MEHR GENOMMEN ALS GEGEBEN in 1936 and EIN LIED GEHT UM DIE WELT in 1933.

 

 

 

He was truly a composer for all genres and was easily able to turn his talents of composition and orchestration to film, and adapting and creating wonderful pieces for both stage and musical theatre. Hans May was not only an incredibly gifted composer and a talented musician, but during the 1920, s was also a performer. During the 1950, s, the composer’s health began to deteriorate, and he passed away on January 2nd, 1959 in the South of France.

 

 

WALLY STOTT/ANGELA MORLEY.

 

 

When one thinks of Wally Stott I think you straight away remember the GOON show, as it was Stott who was musical director for many of these madcap pieces of comedy genius that featured the likes of Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe. Born Walter

 

Wally Stott on March 10th,1924. Stott later in life (1972) underwent sex reassignment surgery and returned to composing as Angela Morley. Stott often attributed his entry into music composition and arranging to the influences of the light music composer conductor Robert Farnon and it was within the area of light music or easy listening as we refer to it nowadays that Stott first made a name for himself. Writing popular pieces of music that were loved by the music buying public in England during the 1950’s.

 

He was also involved in writing music for radio broadcasts and provided the now familiar theme and incidental music for Hancock’s Half Hour, it was also during this period that Stott began to work as the musical director for the third series of THE GOON SHOW, which began to run from 1952 and finished in 1960. He also composed the 12, note theme for Lew Grades ATV channel that introduced each of the company’s programs from 1969 through to 1981 when the company stopped production. He began a long association with Phillips records in 1953, and would arrange the backing tracks and direct the orchestra for various artists that recorded on the label.

 

He also released albums as an artist in his own right one of the most popular being LONDON PRIDE which was released in 1958. In 1958, he provided the musical accompaniment and was the MD for Shirley Bassey and was featured on Bassey’s 1959 hit single, AS I LOVE YOU which reached the top of the British hit parade in the January of that year.

 

 

He also worked with Dusty Springfield. Frankie Vaughn, Roy Castle and Harry Secombe as well as collaborating with Scott Walker on the singers first four albums. In 1962 and 1963 Stott arranged the UK’s entries for the Eurovision song contest. RING A DING GIRL and SAY WONDERFUL THINGS which were both performed by Ronnie Carroll. In 1962, Stott acted as arranger for the debut album of Italian tenor Sergio Franchi, entitled ROMANTIC ITALIAN SONGS, which was released on the RCA RED SEAL label and later arranged and conducted the music for Franchi’s second album also on RCA entitled WOMEN IN MY LIFE. In 1974 as Angela Morley the composer was nominated twice for an Academy Award in the category of best music and original song score/adaptation, this was for THE LITTLE PRINCE and THE SLIPPER AND THE ROSE, on which she collaborated with Douglas Gamley, Alan Jay Lerner, Frederick Lowe for THE LITTLE PRINCE and Richard M Sherman and Robert B Sherman on THE SLIPPER AND THE ROSE. She was the first transgender person to be nominated for an Academy Award.

 


In later years Morley received Emmy nominations for composing music for television series such as Dynasty, Falcon Crest, Hotel and Dallas. Morley also worked on many American TV shows, these included CAGNEY AND LACEY, WONDER WOMAN, BLUE SKIES and McClain’s LAW. She won two Emmy Awards for her work in music arrangement, these were in the category of Outstanding Achievement in Music Direction, in 1988 and 1990, both for television specials starring actress Julie Andrews. She also composed sections of the score for WATERSHIP DOWN in 1978.

 

 

After this She began to work with composer John Williams, but mainly in an un-credited role providing arrangements for the composer to conduct with the famed BOSTON POPS ORCHESTRA and regularly conducted the BBC radio orchestra and the BBC Big Band. She died in Scottsdale Arizona on January 14th, 2009 aged 84.

 

JOHN VEALE, UNSUNG HERO OF THE SILVER SCREEN.

Born John Douglas Louis Veale in Bromley Kent on June 15th,1922, composer John Veale, is again one of the driving and original forces within British concert hall and film music that is at times sadly overlooked. Veale attended the Dragon School in Oxford from 1930 through to 1936, and then later went to Repton school which was in Derbyshire from 1936 up until 1940. After this Veale attended The Corpus Christi College in Oxford until 1942 where he studied History. Even when he was a young child Veale took a keen interest in music, which was something of a surprise as none of his family as in his parents or siblings were musically inclined, although his Father did like to listen to Gilbert and Sullivan. Veale found himself particularly attracted to the sound of the wind instruments and whilst attending the Dragon School and at the age of twelve was given a clarinet for his Birthday. He taught himself to play the instrument and when he moved onto Repton School took lessons and began to experiment in composing. He then began to play in the school orchestra and was a member of a jazz band and tried to emulate his hero at the time Benny Goodman. It was the arrival of his new music teacher in 1939, John Gardener who opened the young composers mind to other composers and widened his appreciation of the classical music world, in the form of Sibelius and Shostakovich that really fired up Veale’s interest in composition. It was Gardener who also introduced Veale to the work of William Walton via a performance of Walton’s first symphony. Veale also became interested in the music of Bartok, Bax, Ravel, Vaughn Williams, Rawsthorne and Barber. All of which made a lasting impression upon him and shaped the way in which he fashioned his own music in the following years. During the second world war, Veale spent his war service in the Education Corps, and during this time he continued to study music unofficially with Egon Wellesz and had lessons from Sir Thomas Armstrong in harmony and counterpoint. It was during this period that the composer had his first works performed and completed his first symphony.

early3 After the composer was demobbed, he returned to Oxford where he continued his studies with Wellesz and further studied music. He began to write incidental music for the theatre, and it was a piece of music from one such production LOVES LABOURS LOST (1947) that began Veale’s involvement in writing for films, the composer sent a copy of his score for the production to Muir Mathieson, who after seeing it asked Veale to write music for The Crown Film Unit, it was via this assignment that Veale met conductor John Hollingsworth, who was assistant to Sir Malcolm Sargent. Veale then became friends and moved in musical circles with many of the most respected composers of that period, Elizabeth Lutyens, William Walton, Humphrey Searle, Constant Lambert, Alan Rawsthorne plus poets and writers such as Dylan Thomas, Philip Larkin and Kingsley Amis.

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It was around 1954 that Veale returned to writing music for film, John Hollingsworth attended a performance of the composer’s clarinet concerto and had heard that Muir Mathieson was looking for a composer to write the score for THE PURPLE PLAIN which was a movie that starred American actor Gregory Peck. After hearing Veale’s clarinet concerto Hollingsworth spoke with Mathieson, who agreed that Veale would be right for the film. The score was a great success for the composer and this led to other film scoring assignments that included, WAR IN THE AIR which was a documentary for television and the feature films, PORTRAIT OF ALISON-aka POSTMARK FOR DANGER (1955) and THE SPANISH GARDENER (1956) which starred the then British heart throb Dirk Bogarde. Veale’s score for this was grandiose and dramatic and had to it a hint of the style employed by Miklos Rosza in his early British movies.

 

After this the composer worked on several B movies, CLASH BY NIGHT, THE HOUSE IN MARSH ROAD, HIGH TIDE AT NOON and NO ROAD BACK which was an early movie for Sean Connery and featured Alfie Bass.

 

 

As the 1960, s began Veale and composers like him who wrote romantic and richly thematic music seemed to fall out of favour, the music fans at that time opting for the pop music revolution or the more Avant Garde and modern sounding music. The decades of the 60, s and the 70, s were not kind to the composer. But interest in his music soon returned during the 1980, s and the 1990, s. With Chandos records recording a few his works. John Veale may not have written the scores to that many movies, but the few he did write were impressive and filled with rich thematic material. He battled prostate cancer for many years but finally had to leave Oxford and return to Bromley where he resided in a care home, he passed away on November 16th, 2006.

 

Michele Lacerenza.

Born in Taranto, Puglia, Italy on January 7th 1922. Michele Lacerenza was to become one of the most important musicians to be connected with the Italian cinema and in- particular the Italian western. Like Alessandroni, s whistle and guitar playing, Franco De Gemini’s excellent harmonica performances and Edda Dell Orso’s unique aural vocalising, Lacarenza was to make his mark on the western genre and also other movie scores with his inspired and unblemished trumpet playing.

Lacerenza came from a family background that was musical; his Father Giacomo Lacerenza was a well known conductor. Lacerenza came to the forefront of Italian film music when he was asked by composer Ennio Morricone to perform trumpet on “A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS”. The films director Sergio Leone had originally insisted on having Italy’s most prominent trumpet player at that time Nini Rosso to perform on the soundtrack, but Morricone wanted to use Lacerenza because he remembered his flawless performances whilst they were at the music conservatory and has stated since that he wrote the piece with Lacerenza’s trumpet in mind.

After playing the films central theme for Leone the great film-maker was said to be reduced to tears because Lacerenza’s performance was so full of emotion. Morricone described him as “A sublime trumpet player” After the success of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, Lacerenza continued his collaboration with Morricone on scores such as A PISTOL FOR RINGO , FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY. Lacerenza became much in demand and began to perform on many other film soundtracks, it was also at this time that he had a hit record with a cover version of THE HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN (La Casa Del Sole) a song that had been a worldwide hit for British rock band The Animals.

 

Lacerenza’s career went from strength to strength and as well as performing on film scores and collaborating with composers such as Ennio Morricone, Nino Rota and Armando Trovaioli he also began to compose music for the cinema and although his output may not have been immense it was certainly important and original. The Maestro also taught music at the Foggia conservatory of music and the Santa Cecilia Academy.  He died in Rome on November 17th 1989.