Back in the early part of the summer in 1993, I was fortunate enough to at last meet one of the worlds most talented composers of film music. Roy Budd had always been a favourite of mine, right from hearing his score for SOLDIER BLUE I was as they say hooked. I had written to Mr Budd many times asking if he would be interested in an interview, he replied saying he thought it was a great idea and we must arrange it as soon as it was possible, but he was working on something very big and would let me know when he was free. One evening my phone rang and it was Roy Budd, he explained he had been working on a project that was so dear to him, and the project was finished and he would be recording it soon. The work he spoke of was THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, the 1925 silent movie starring Lon Chaney, a few weeks later I was at a reception at the Bonnington hotel in London for Silent’s to Satellites, which was a publication helmed by John Williams, I had written a few things for John and he asked me to go along to meet a few composers and to announce the winners of the awards he gave out annually. During talking to various composers and collectors, John came and said to me Roy Budd is here. I was a bit surprised I had no questions with me but I had already compiled them so they were fresh in my mind, anyhow maybe he did not want to do the interview, maybe he was there for just a day out? I introduced myself and we chatted, he then went around talking to fans etc, to my surprise he came up to me and said, “OK then are we going to do this interview”? Yes of course I replied, trying not to look to phased or on the spot, but I think he realised he had caught me totally on the hop, so off we went into a corner in the hotel lobby, to be honest Roy made me feel so relaxed and cracked so many jokes I think it was around 30 mins or so before I asked my first question. He spoke of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and explained to me how it had come about, and his passion for film in particular horror movies. But first he told me about his involvement on SOLDIER BLUE, “The director of SOLDIER BLUE wanted a British composer. You see there had been a lot of ugly murders in the States around about the time of the film being made. Americans had killed Americans and because of the film’s ending and a bit of Hollywood logic I suppose the director thought, I know let’s hire a Brit. to do the score then if there is any come back he is the one who won’t work anymore. Any way I went to see the director; I must admit I was nervous. I took along a tape of some of my music. I played it on piano and recorded it but what I did not tell the director was that some of the music was not mine. I had pinched it from the likes of Jerry Goldsmith, Jerry Fielding, John Barry, Dimitri Tiomkin, Max Steiner, in fact just about everyone; the tape sounded like Great Movie Music Volume 1, 2 and 3 (laughs).
Of course, I did not include the main themes or anything that might be recognized, just tracks from soundtracks I had listened to on record and then performed myself on the piano for the tape. I told the director that all the music he was hearing was mine and he was very impressed – well he would have been. Just think, if he had turned me down, he would have been turning down half of the film composers in the world. The rest is history – I got the job”. This is probably something that nowadays no composer would be able to do as many directors and producers are a little more aware of what’s going on as far as music is concerned.
We chatted for a while about nonmusical things, then I asked the composer about the tapes for SOLDIER BLUE and why had the original score never been issued on a recording?
“Well, the aim of the record company is to obviously sell records, and as many as they can. So, some record company executive at the time, decided that the original score would not appeal to people and, because of my jazz connections it was decided that the score should be arranged and I should play piano on it – and that is the version of the score that was issued on Phillips, no sorry PYE records. I did not really mind at the time, after all I was new to all of it. I also recorded a lot of other tracks to be featured on the B side of the LP. These were all film themes and a medley from WEST SIDE STORY.” But did the tapes from SOLDIER BLUE exist anymore, I enquired. “I don’t know. They did – but where they are now? Your guess is as good as mine”. Eventually we got around to THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, “I have just finished working on the 1920’s silent movie THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. It’s been restored to its former glory and looks incredible, in fact I have restored it, as it is one of the movies I have always been fond of. I have already recorded the score and I am waiting to hear if there will be a compact disc of it released. I have written 82 minutes of music for the picture and this is continuous. It was a totally different experience for me – I am used to all the explosions and dialogue on a movie, so when I had none of this to deal with it was a dream. Writing nearly 90 minutes of music was a little daunting, and tiring, but the film has always inspired me and I just seemed to be able to get on with it easily. The film and the score will be premiered at the Barbican on September 21st this year (1993) all proceeds from the night will go to the children’s charity U.N.I.C.E.F. I will conduct the score whilst the movie is being screened. Hopefully the film and the music will finish at the same time (laughs). I am very proud of this score John and I am pleased to say I will be scoring another silent movie very soon”.
I remember thinking how happy and kind Roy was and he was genuinely so passionate about THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, we spent around two hours or so chatting, As Roy left he was his normal jovial self. He turned to me with a wide beaming grin on his face, shook my hand and said, “Thanks John, keep taking the tablets”. It was about two weeks later that the composer died, and his loss is still felt today. I remember thinking at the time how sad it was that we would probably never get to hear his music for THE PHANTOM, but then nearly 22 years later the score was released on to CD as was the DVD of the movie with Roy’s score accompanying it.
Then on October the 8th 2017, thanks to the efforts of Roy’s wife Sylvia and Nick Hocart, Roy’s dreams of having his score performed live were realized, and what a performance it was. It took place at THE COLISEUM in London, which was rather fitting because Roy Budd made his debut at that very same theatre, back in 1953, he was just six years of age.
The venue was also perfect for the viewing of the movie, as it could maybe have its own Phantom walking the passages and stairways, it had that kind of aura about it, a stunningly beautiful building, and a venue that has so much history. The score was performed by THE DOCKLANDS SINFONIA, which comprised of over 70 players, under the direction of Spencer Down, their performance, in a word FLAWLESS, but why stop at one word, perfect, beguiling, mesmerizing, alluring and highly emotive are just some of the things I was thinking whilst listening to the orchestra perform. Roy’s music is superbly lush and lavish and for me personally evokes memories of the vintage Hollywood scores of yester year, there is also present an underlying presence of a style that can be likened to the music employed in Hammer gothic horrors such as Dracula, by James Bernard, Budd, conjures up a powerful and commanding musical force that drives the Phantom on and underlines his insane plans, then we have the romantic and melancholy atmospheres created for Christine, which also serve as a mournful but beautiful underscore for The Phantom, as he begins to realise that Christine will never love him as he loves her. Then there is a robust and firm persona that the composer employs which for me evoked the crashing and vibrant music of Bernard Herrmann. With this work Roy made the transition from film music composer and jazz pianist to Movie Maestro extraordinaire, producing a score that outshines anything that has been written for a silent movie, the movie is a classic and Roy’s music too must be given that title.
At times because the performance was so good I forgot I was listening to the work live, the co-ordination between film and music was wonderful and the performance by the orchestra in my opinion outshone the recording of the score which is available on compact disc. Roy’s dramatic, romantic and at times comedic soundtrack, filled the air and the hearts of the watching audience. I looked around and could not help but think, maybe Roy is sitting up in one of the boxes, watching, listening and smiling that infectious smile, I like to think he was. The evening was a great success, as I was leaving I spoke to many of the audience, all of which were thrilled and so pleased that they had been privileged enough to be there to witness this magnificent and brilliant work. Roy Budd died far too early, and we miss him so much, his wit, his kind manner and of course his music, he would have been 70 years old this year, just think what he might have achieved and what beautiful, poignant, dramatic and thrilling scores we might have heard if he had lived.
I truly hope that THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA will go on tour, so that more and more people can savor the delights of Roy Budd. I am proud to say that I was there on the night and look forward to maybe more nights where we can hear the music of Roy Budd performed live.
“Mine and Roy’s professional relationship was at times rough and sour but we always wound up celebrating the final results, and privately, we were abiding friends, as close as two brothers. Knowing what immense mental and physical effort Roy put into his work, it is for me understandable that some catastrophe might inevitably interrupt his life. Knowing also that his almost certain greatest work, the scoring of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, drained his body resources to the limit, it was such a dreadful price to pay to give the world a score to remember for all time”.
Docklands Sinfonia is the only high quality symphony orchestra based in the heart of East London’s Docklands. The orchestra was founded by conductor Spencer Down, the grandson of a docker, whose love of music was born listening to his grandfather play trumpet in working men’s clubs in the East End.
Over the years, Spencer watched the Docklands develop from a wasteland into one of the biggest financial centres of the world. But while the glitzy tower blocks have sprung up at a dizzying rate, the area remains a wasteland for cultural provision. With one in every two children (49%) living below the poverty line in Tower Hamlets – London’s most deprived borough – few young people in the area have, or will ever, experience the joy of listening to a live symphony orchestra.
Grounded in our home of St Anne’s Limehouse, Docklands Sinfonia is on a mission to change this. Our youthful and pioneering orchestra has become a major cultural force in the Docklands – bringing high quality music to the area, staging ground-breaking concerts and creating a lasting legacy by inspiring generations of young people.
The orchestra aims to reflect the old and new spirit of the Docklands. Our concert programming is respectful of the past while innovating for the future.
Docklands Sinfonia nurtures young talent at every level – whether providing playing opportunities and work for our musicians, providing a platform for young composers and emerging soloists or through expanding our educational work with schools in the area.
We aim to challenge the norm by seeking out innovative collaborations to reach new audiences. In 2014, Docklands Sinfonia became the first British symphony orchestra to perform an entire programme of Iranian symphonic music and launched a new composition competition in Iran to wide acclaim. In 2016, we will be recording a CD dedicated to Iranian orchestral music performed by Iranian soloists.
To underline our commitment to supporting new talent, we have commissioned and programmed more than 20 new compositions since our formation in 2009. Looking to the future, we have a firm commitment to perform at least one new work at all our community concerts held at St Anne’s Limehouse.
Since its formation in January 2009, the orchestra has enjoyed incredible success with performances at Buckingham Palace for the Queen and at the Royal Albert Hall and the House of Lords.
In November 2010, Docklands Sinfonia performed the world premiere of Grammy award winner Imogen Heap’s ‘Love The Earth’ to a sell-out audience at the Royal Albert Hall. The event was live-streamed over the internet to over 400,000 people worldwide.
In May 2011, the orchestra was honoured to perform a special concert for the Queen to celebrate youth in the arts in the ballroom at Buckingham Palace in front of a 500-strong celebrity packed audience. Docklands Sinfonia played alongside artists from the English National Ballet, Royal Opera House and National Youth Theatre as well as pop stars Joe McElderry, Rumer, DJ Ironik and Sara-Jane Skeete.
Docklands Sinfonia has enjoyed numerous collaborations with the record producer and song-writer Mike Batt. In 2013, Docklands Sinfonia recorded Katie Melua’s new album Ketevan which was produced and written by Batt. Her single ‘I will be there’ has been viewed by nearly two million people throughout the world on YouTube since its release in 2013.The following year, the orchestra recorded Voice UK singer Bob Blakeley’s new album.
Just weeks after its first rehearsal in 2009, it was asked to perform on the BBC1 series ‘Clash’ and it has performed a number of sell-out concerts featuring major classical artist including renowned trumpeter Alison Balsom, cello virtuoso Leonard Elschenbroich, baroque soprano Elin Manahan Thomas, trumpeter Rex Richardson, saxophonist Christian Forshaw, the Raven string quartet and LSO principal trumpet Philip Cobb.