Tag Archives: HAMMER FILMS

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.

 

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GARY HUGHES.

 

 

Gary Hughes was a film music composer who was particularly active during the 1960, s and worked on a number of historical dramas for Hammer films. Born Gareth McClean Hughes on March 21st, 1922 in Nanaimo Canada, Hughes initially began his working career as a print setter but always had a passion for music. Whilst being employed in the printing industry he began to study music in his spare time, he eventually achieved his goal and became a musician becoming a trombone player and then progressed to doing arrangements and finally to becoming a composer. He re-located to England in 1955 with his wife Grace and settled in Richmond Surrey.

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He carried on doing arrangements and writing his own compositions and was asked to arrange some music for Sir William Walton, which threw him into the limelight and he began to work for several composers who were popular at that time. In 1960, he wrote the music for LINDA which was conducted by Muir Mathieson, soon after this he was recruited by John Hollingsworth who was the Musical director for Hammer films and worked on a handful of movies these included the period dramas, DEVIL SHIP PIRATES, THE VIKING QUEEN, PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER, A CHALLENGE FOR ROBIN HOOD and the English civil war tale THE SCARLET BLADE, which starred Oliver Reed and Lionel Jefferies.

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He also collaborated with Muir Mathieson again in 1964 on the Cy Enfield directed HIDE AND SEEK. At the age of just 56, the composer passed away in Farnham Surrey, on April 25th 1978, this was after a series of strokes, the fourth of these proved to be fatal. It is a great shame that he passed away at such an early age, as I am certain he would have continued to be a sought-after composer of film scores, his music was particularly suited to the adventure movies of the 1960’s but he was a versatile and talented composer, arranger. There is not a great deal of his music available on any format, although GDI records did include a handful of cues from his Hammer assignments on their compilations of themes from Hammer films. These are mainly the opening themes for the movies.

FRANK SPENCER, UNSUNG HERO OF THE SILVER SCREEN.

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Frank Spencer was a composer who contributed to numerous motion pictures and shorts during the 1940, s and up to the late 1950, s. To say his contributions to British cinema were immense is certainly something of an understatement, yet, his name is not more widely recognised amongst collectors and aficionados of film music. He was for a short time associated with Hammer films scoring their version of the DICK BARTON tales in the form of DICK BARTON STRIKES BACK and writing the scores for movies such as CLOUDBURST and THE ADVENTURES OF PC 49.

 

Spencer was born on July 19th, 1911 in Edinburgh Scotland. He was the first musical director/supervisor for the Hammer studios and it was his job to ensure that each of the films that Hammer produced and released received a score that was appropriate, although he was given the title of musical supervisor Spencer often wrote the scores himself. His first scoring assignment is documented as THE JACK OF DIAMONDS in 1949, which was directed by Vernon Sewell it was an adventure movie which focused upon an ex-soldier who persuades the owners of a yacht to take him to the Belgian coast to attempt to recover a treasure chest which he had hidden there during the second world war. The film which starred, Nigel Patrick, Cyril Raymond and Joan Carrol who was the director’s wife. The film was distributed by Exclusive films who later also distributed many of the early Hammer releases.

_The_Jack_of_Diamonds_During his time at Hammer from 1949 to 1952 Spencer was involved with many movies, CECILIA, (for which he shared a credit with Rupert Grayson), ROOM TO LET, TO HAVE AND TO HOLD, THE LAST PAGE (U.S. A. title MAN BAIT), TWO ON THE TILES (which was a Van Dyke release), THE DARK LIGHT, DEATH OF AN ANGEL and THE ROSSITER CASE to highlight just a handful of pictures he wrote for and to draw attention to the composers output in this short period of time.

 

He also worked on a few non-Hammer movies during the same period these included THE CAT GIRL (for AIP) and THE MASTER PLAN where his stock or library music was used without him being given any credits, he also acted as conductor on a handful of projects these included and THE BLACK WIDOW which was a 13-part serial produced by Republic films in 1951. Spencer contributed much to film and it is somewhat disconcerting that he is overlooked and almost forgotten.

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MALCOLM WILLIAMSON.

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Malcolm Williamson was born in Australia on November 21st 1931, his Father was a Minister and his Mother acted for a living. The composer took an interest in films from an early age and also began to focus upon music during his pre-teen years, studying French horn, Piano and Violin at the Sydney Conservatory. The composer later studied composition with sir Eugene Gossans. Whilst a teenager and growing up in Australia Williamson worked on a handful of documentaries, scoring them with music that was largely atmospheric and atonal as opposed to being melodic with developed thematic properties. In 1950 Williamson traveled to London where he continued to study music under the tutelage of Elizabeth Lutyens and Erwin Stein. In 1952 the composer settled in England and was already at this time in his early twenties considered by many to be a performer of note,with the assistance of Benjamin Britten and also Sir Adrian Boult Williamson had his first works published. Williamson has probably contributed to almost all genres of music contributing many works for concert hall performance as well as writing operas and ballets. He was introduced to Hammer films musical director John Hollingsworth in 1960 and it was Hollingsworth who suggested that Williamson should write the score to the studios production THE BRIDES OF DRACULA, this was the second movie in Hammers Dracula cycle but was not as successful as it predecessor which starred Christopher Lee as the infamous blood sucking Count. The role of Dracula this time being played by actor David Peel. In many ways Peel suited the role better he had a persona of refinement and sophistication about him that was tinged with virulence which for me personally seemed to be closer to the Bram Stoker character.

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The score was a success for Williamson and is now looked upon as one of Hammers finest soundtracks, it contained organ music which the composer had studied but he did not perform on this particular score. After working on BRIDES OF DRACULA the composer worked on numerous documentaries and concentrated more on writing symphonic works such as ballets and operas. Hammer contacted the composer on numerous occasions to work on feature films that they had produced but he was too busy to break away from his writing for the concert hall. It was not until 1969 when Hammers new musical director Phil Martell contacted him offering him CRESCENDO that Williamson agreed to take the assignment. “ I was actually in that movie as well” recalled the composer “I was asked to play the piano in certain scenes so that they could film my hands, this was for authenticity apparently, I even wore James Olsen’s ring on my little finger, I remember my hands were far more hairy than the actors so I had to be shaved before the filming could begin, but I was paid rather handsomely for this”. The assignment went well for Williamson and the score for CRESCENDO is probably one of the studios most melodic and romantic sounding. His next foray into horror territory came with THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN.

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In interview the composer recalled that this was not such a pleasing experience for him. “ I had specific ideas about the sound that I wanted to create for the film, I planned to use clarinets which would start with piccolo clarinet to double bass clarinet there would be eight in total which would be supported or underlined by strings and percussion, but things did not go entirely to plan and I was asked to add flutes and also oboe which I did reluctantly, this resulted in the sound becoming more of a conventional woodwind sound which for me completely defeated the object and diluted the sound that I was attempting to create. I also used the tuba to accompany the monster in the film, which was a mistake on my part it did not really work that well and made the character seem clumsy and awkward, or so I thought at the time, but seeing it in later years maybe it was not that awful, maybe I just did not understand what the studio was trying to achieve, but I was not the only one, Ralph Bates who I knew personally was the leading actor in the movie and he too was not pleased with the film was going. It was an attempt to combine Hammer horror with comedy or satire, which just did not work”.

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In 1973 Williamson composed the score for NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT which was a Charlemange production, the company had been set up by actor Christopher Lee and Anthony Keys and NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT was their first release. In 1975 Williamson was appointed THE MASTER OF THE QUEENS MUSIC and was the first non-Briton to take up the position writing music for Royal Occasions etc.in 1976 he was awarded the CBE. In 1984 Williamson scored his fifth and final film score which was for THE MASKS OF DEATH the soundtrack included a lavish sounding waltz and a wonderful British sounding military march. Malcolm Williamson passed away in Cambridge on March 2nd 2003.

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THE HAMMER VAMPIRE FILM MUSIC COLLECTION.

Notes for the Hammer Vampire film music collection, released on GDI records in 2001 © John Mansell and Marcus Hearne

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KISS OF THE VAMPIRE.

Bavaria 1910,honeymooning couple Gerald and Mirianne Harcourt are stranded when their motor car runs out of petrol. The Harcourts finding lodging as the only guests in a run down hotel, and accept a dinner invitation from Dr. Ravna, the owner of a nearby chateau. That evening Ravna’s son plays a bewitching piano rhapsody that has a profound effect upon Mirianne. The following day the Harcourt’s return to the chateau to attend a masked ball, but Gerald is drugged. He awakens to find that his wife has vanished and that all her possessions have disappeared from their hotel room. The mysterious stranger Professor Zimmer presents Gerald with the uncomfortable truth: Dr Ravna is the head of an obscene vampiric cult, and he has claimed Mirianne as his latest victim. James Bernards score for THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE is arguably more impressive than the ground breaking work that the composer carried out when scoring DRACULA for Hammer, this was after all the film that initiated the publics love affair with the various blood suckers that the house of horror would introduce during the years that followed. The score for THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE combines both virulent and romantic styles, one of the undoubted highlights of the score being the piano piece that is seen to be performed by Ravna’s son, Carl. In later years the composer arranged the popular piece into a concert work entitled VAMPIRE RHAPSODY, and performed a section of it in the closing moments of the 1987 BBC documentary HAMMER THE STUDIO THAT DRIPPED BLOOD.

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“ I decided to give (Carl’s) music a sort of perverted Lisztian flavour” remarked Bernard. John Hollingsworth, Hammer’s musical director at the time, called the piece ‘THE TOOTH CONCERTO’. John was always fun to work with but sadly KISS OF THE VAMPIRE was the last score of mine that he conducted. On KISS OF THE VAMPIRE I was asked to write a sequence of waltzes which wee to be used in the scenes of the masked ball, these had to be in the Viennese style, and also had to be composed in advance of the main score so they could be played whilst filming of the scenes took place. My deadline was tight, so I asked John to get somebody else to work on the orchestration of these. He engaged Douglas Gamley, who not only did a marvellous job on the orchestrations but also performed piano on the score.

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LUST FOR A VAMPIRE.

Reincarnated vampire Carmilla Karnstein poses as a debutante called Mircalla and is enrolled at Countess Herritzens exclusive girls’ boarding school. Researching legends associated with the nearby Karnstein Castle gothic storyteller Richard Lestrange falls under Mircalla’a mesmeric spell and tricks his way into a teaching post at the school. Fellow schoolmaster Giles Barton becomes similarly fascinated by the girl, and covers for her when she satisfies her bloodlust by murdering a student. Barton’s research into the occult leads him to believe that Mircalla is Carmilla Karnstein, and when he confronts her about her true identity his suspicions are horribly confirmed.

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Composer Harry Robinson gained a reputation at Hammer for being able to score films quickly and efficiently. Robinson had already worked on the 1968 television anthology JOURNEY TO THE UNKNOWN and scored THE VAMPIRE LOVERS IN 1970 by the time Hammer turned to him to work on LUST FOR A VAMPIRE. “ Lets just say that this was not exactly a great movie” recalled the composer. “ Certainly the other two movies within the Karnstein trilogy were for the most part very good, but LUST was the weakest of the three. I regard LUST FOR A VAMPIRE as one of Hammer’s ‘tits and bums’ productions-it relied more upon the uncovering of flesh than the unfolding of the story! Basically worked the same sort of formula on LUST as I had done on THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, although I did attempt to make LUST sound slightly more romantic. I hope I succeeded”. A sense of continuity with THE VAMPIRE LOVERS was further strengthened by the inclusion of music within LUST from its predecessor. “The music budgets were quite minimal at Hammer during this period”. said Robinson. “But we adapted things to suit each individual film. A score could be made to sound grand, even if we were only using , say 30 musicians. I think on LUST I used approximately 50 players, and reduced the numbers as we progressed”. Robinson went onto score the third and final instalment of the Karnstein trilogy, TWINS OF EVIL., and his work on this collection of movies is among the most requested by soundtrack collectors to be released.

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VAMPIRE CIRCUS.

Schettel, mittel-Europe; Anna Mueller leads a young girl to the castle of her lover, Count Mitterhaus. The girl is then murdered by the vampire Count, and professor Mueller gathers together a horde of angry villagers to help him take revenge. Mitterhaus is eventually impaled upon a sharpened stake and curses his assailants; “Your children will die to give me back my life!” Fifteen years later the disease ridden village is in quarantine. A mysterious gypsy woman crosses the blockade, bringing with her the convoy of vehicles that comprise the Circus of Night. While the circus prepares to entertain the local children the gypsy woman who is in reality Anna uncovers the castle crypt, Mitterhaus’s bloody vow is about to be fulfilled. Composer David Whitaker, studied at the Guildhall of Music between 1947 and 1949,and began his career in film music in 1966 when he scored the Jerry Lewis comedy DON’T RAISE THE BRIDGE, LOWER THE RIVER. Although his arranging work has included commissions from such diverse artists as THE ROLLING STONES and LISA STANSFIELD, it is probably true to say that Whitaker is best remembered for his two Hammer horror scores DR JECKYLL AND SISTER HYDE and VAMPIRE CIRCUS. “ After seeing VAMPIRE CIRCUS I decided it needed a big score,” said the composer. “At that time the Hammer formula for an orchestra line up comprised around 120 musicians, and it was really up to the composer how these were utilised. With the guidance from Hammer’s musical director Philip Martell I spread them as I saw fit. I think we used around 60 musicians per session. Phil was quite serious, and although we hit it off very well there weren’t many light moments with him. I do remember however, being rather amused that the vampire at the start of the movie seemed so camp”. Whitaker subsequently scored Hammer’s comedy from 1973 THAT’S YOUR FUNERAL.

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THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES.

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Transylvania 1804,Count Dracula rises from his tomb and assumes the physical form of his Chinese disciple Kah. A century later Professor van Helsing lectures a class of cynical students about the legend of Ping Kuei, a remote village plagued by marauding vampires in golden masks. One of the professors students His Ching takes the story seriously and begs his tutors help in the vanquishing of the creatures. Van Helsing joins his son, Leyland, wealthy widow Vanessa Buren and His Ching on an expedition to the village. They travel with His Ching’s five brothers and his sister, Mai Kwei, all martial arts experts. Following an arduous journey the party arrive at the besieged village, and Vanessa and His Ching die in the ensuing battle. The last remaining vampire kidnaps Mai Kwai and takes her to their temple, where their foul overlord awaits……..

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For James Bernard’s final feature film score for Hammer he fused his recognisable style with traditional Chinese music. The epic results made for a suitably impressive accompaniment to the company’s last vampire movie, and appropriately incorporated cues from Bernard’s score from the 1970 movie TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA. Bernard’s work on this project did not however end with the film score, as the composer recalls. “ I Was asked to compose music for a LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES ALBUM that would contain dialogue from the movie with a narration spoken by Peter Cushing, similar in style to the DRACULA album that had been recorded with Christopher Lee. Phil Martell thought it would be a good idea to include a new theme that would act as the opening section of music, similar to an overture, so I composed some music especially which was used to open and close the record. I chose a Chinese sounding march with lots of crashing cymbals, percussion and brass. Philip Martell conducted the sessions and although the LP was called the original soundtrack recording it actually contained very little of the score from the film”.

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