I have always been a fan of classic horror film (and scores).  

One of my favourites is THEATRE OF BLOOD, starring Vincent Price, Diana RIgg, Ian Hendry, Arthur Lowe, Eric Sykes (and many, many more fine actors).

The film features an outstanding score by Michael J. Lewis.  I had the opportunity to speak with him at length about the score and the creative process in general.

My sincere thanks to Michael J. Lewis for his generosity in taking the time to explore Theatre Of Blood.


Interview with composer Michael J Lewis.



JF: One of things I consider to be so fantastic about the score is how successfully the balancing act was achieved between a serious and dramatic musical approach and yet a sense of fun and irreverence, which perfectly complements the character of Edward Lionheart and Vincent Price’s portrayal of him.

I'd be interested in any thoughts of yours on how you came up with the material for Theatre of Blood, and how you may have decided on this approach.



Without doubt, one of the reasons why the score compliments the movie so well was the relationship that developed between the director, Douglas Hickox and myself. Dougie was very intelligent, a well versed film-maker with a sharp sense of humour. A joy to work with. The concept for the film too was just great - thanks to the producers Stanley Mann and John Kohn and a great script by Anthony Greville-Bell. A good team working together with an absolutely magnificent cast. A walking who’s who of the London theatre, with Vincent Price and Coral Browne added for great measure.

What was my inspiration? A series of murders lifted right out of Shakespeare, which screamed for a classical approach. That was me. Drama, variety, fun.

Douglas had obviously listened to my earlier scores for 'The Madwoman of Chaillot,' (starring Katharine Hepburn) ‘Julius Caesar,' (starring Charlton Heston) and ‘Upon This Rock.' UTR was a dramatized documentary of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome starring Orson Welles, Ralph Richardson, Edith Evans and Dirk Bogarde. I regard this score as my best work and no one, lamentably, ever refers to it. Very sad. These three scores became our points of reference. We played tracks from each movie up against sections of T of B. It was a highly enjoyable exercise and we learnt a lot. We found out what worked and what didn’t work. We did our homework, we prepared well.

When the director and composer are completely in sync, with the backing of the producers, sparks can fly. Dougie encouraged me to allow the music to work in counterpoint with the action. We had learnt from our tests with earlier tracks of mine that the more dramatic, the more intense the music, the more effective it became. I was in my element. I love being uninhibited - slightly over the top. Unbridled passion.

Certain sequences were directly inspired by Dougie's love for cues from 'Upon This Rock' principally the Finale of T of B and The Trojan Trail, (Friends, Romans, Countrymen). There are also hints of ‘Julius Caesar' and ‘The Madwoman of Chaillot’ in the Ides of March. Full credit must be given to Douglas for the approach to Cymbeline (Edwina’s Theme). He thought that the bloody sawing off of Arthur Lowe’s head should have a touch of Dr Kildare (a popular medical series of the time starring Richard Chamberlain). It was a stunningly good idea that I totally applauded and went along with. A romantic theme played on piano and lush strings, which became increasingly ardent while blood spurted and poor Arthur’s head rolled off the operating table down onto the floor. This was music in direct counterpoint to the action, making it wickedly funny rather than grotesquely obscene. I am so proud of this sequence.

Another sequence I am very proud of is "I'm so glad you've come." Diana Dors and Jack Hawkins at their deceitfully lustful best. A touch of French, then a little light jazz, ending with pure German Wagnerian melodrama. What more could one ask for? "Sexy lips and swinging hips!” - another totally tongue in cheek track that gets a lot of attention. A fitting tribute to Dame Diana Rigg. Flugelhorn solo by late, great Stan Roderick.

A film for the ages with courageous film makers who realized that the wisest thing to do was to select the best talent and then get out of the way and let them get on with it - without interference. Being in England, far away from the California studios made a huge difference. Totally different worlds.

All too soon, the digital era, with ever-increasing quality samples, crashed the party, allowing producers, directors, writers, secretaries, executives, coffee maids to cast judgment on a score before the recording sessions were even booked. Ever more realistic 'mock-ups' were called for that ‘they’ could then pick apart in an attempt to prove their cleverness, justify their salaries and cast judgment over a beleaguered composer who had to expose his work before he/she ever got to the studio and the inspired musicians waiting to add their magic to his/hers music. The more ‘they’ picked, the more ‘they’ diluted the score to the detriment of film music. Overnight the maestro went from being King to humble servant and everything started to sound the same. The wonder of turning up at a session with a huge pile of manuscript paper for the musicians and hearing the score burst into glorious being for the very first time, uncensored and unmolested, was tragically over. Music needs musicians, live highly trained musicians with beating hearts not technological computer chips. 

A few years ago, I was hired to score a really spectacular documentary. It was a terrific piece of film making. Abbey Road was to be the recording venue. Big name London orchestra. As I composed, I told the producers how enthusiastic I was about the project and that they should just sit back and patiently wait for the wonders to come. The score was going to be as spectacular as the images. Over the weeks, the more excited I became, the more suspicious they became. They just didn’t get my passion. One day the inevitable happened. The producers told me that they had hired a music supervisor (with no major movie experience) to check me out and that I had to produce a 'synth' mock-up of the entire score before we went to London to record. Without hesitation I refused. I would never have signed a contract agreeing to that. The whole process would have completely ruined the flow of my composition. They fired me and denied me payment. I threatened to take them to court and make them pay for my work. They paid. Meanwhile they hired another composer, who presumably wrote just what ‘they’ wanted under the eagled-eyed scrutiny of their interfering music supervisor.

The film, which was very good, actually got an Academy nomination but failed to get the Oscar. I found the courage to watch the scored film. The filming was still spectacular, the score unbelievably inert. Passionless, devoid of any energy. The vultures had done a great job.

Can you imagine Stravinsky doing a demo of ‘Firebird' and offering it to his critics before the first performance? The masterpiece would never have been heard. Stravinsky trusted his own creativity, got performed, booed, hissed, ridiculed and then a century later ended up with a 'pop' classic of outstanding originality.

You may or may not know that ‘they’ wanted to throw out ‘Moon River’, one of the most outstanding songs of all time by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer, from ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’. Audrey Hepburn saved the day by refusing to do any promotion for the film if the song was removed. Thank God ‘they’ lost.


JF : Was there an emotional sense in you that you responded to and tried to convey in the score?



All my music is purely spontaneous and inspired by the film. The movie is my mistress, it tells me exactly what to do and I never argue. I always listen and do just what I am told. I don't have the intellect to do otherwise. The 'silent' opening title of T of B dictated to me the direction to take. The mandolin (chosen over the harpsichord) has great poignancy as does the flute. G minor has great drama e.g Haydn 39, Mozart 40, Shostakovich 11 (all late, mature works). The opening title became 'The Overture to Theatre of Blood.' It set the mood for the drama to come. Once I got the emotion of the opening theme, everything else flowed. The Welsh (I was born and raised in Aberystwyth, Ceredigion) love their minor keys, you know - they are so much more emotional than their major counterparts. One of the first pieces of music I fell in love with was Joseph Parry’s great E minor hymn tune, Aberystwyth, written while he was Professor of Music at Aberystwyth University – in fact the very first professor. A mighty tune, which captures, in a mere 16 bars, the passion of the Welsh, living a life of drama on the shores of the unpredictable Atlantic Ocean, at times sublimely calm, at times ridiculously wild.   


JF : One of the aspects of the film that I think works particularly well is the fact that Edward Lionheart really is committing a lot of evil and grotesque crimes, and yet somehow still manages to be the protagonist. Ian Hendry as Peregrine Devlin is really the one who should have the sympathies of the audience and yet there is something tragic about Lionheart’s death at the end, even though this allows Devlin to survive.

I think the music greatly contributes to this, and that we got this right from the effective opening of the film. It gives us something about the motivations behind the Lionheart’s, that they’ve got pure and artistic ideals at heart.


MJL : 

Lionheart had such a presence that Devlin could never really compete. The actor had justice on his side - a dedicated, uncompromising artist seeking revenge for being undervalued and denied the respect and adulation he deserved. Potent stuff. Love it.

T of B is not a 'horror flick' or 'a monster movie'- it’s a bone fide black comedy with a legit classical background.

Film music is in essence incidental music, be it Mendelssohn's 'Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ Prokofiev’s ‘The Queen of Spades’ or Jarre’s incomparable ‘Lawrence of Arabia.’

The essential task of a good score is to be subservient, to compliment the film. But in no way does this mean that the score has to be forgettable. Nothing is more memorable than a good tune. Having a good melody at the beginning and a good emotional melody at the end helps enormously. As the old proverb says. “A good beginning maketh a good end.”


JF: Even though there’s a lot of expressionist acting and action throughout (and arguably the opening images of Shakespeare from the silent era could work with large exciting music over top), it really eases us gently into the film.



Naturally. Look how we are 'eased' into Bruckner 4 and 'Petrushka.’ No need to give it all away at the beginning. There are two hours to go. Plenty of time to climax. I never ever considered a ‘large’ sound for the opening for T of B. My original instinct was poignancy. That’s what my mistress told me. I listened. I did what I was told and over forty years later people are still talking about it. - J


JF : I wonder if it’s the amount of gentleness expressed here with only the mandolin and flute tentatively delivering the first tentative statement of melody that almost subconsciously aligns one’s sympathies with the actor, rather than the critic, and if you had any conscious ideas of this when you were doing that (see Main Title, below).

TOB-Main Title - Full Score



I have no conscious idea of what I do. As I said earlier, I listen to my mistress, intently. There is no time to think in film scoring. (60 minutes of music in 5 weeks!) I composed and orchestrated every note for ‘Sphinx.’ No time to think, just do. Frank Schaffner told me after the recordings that “no one could have done the score better.” Considering his pedigree, I felt very proud of myself.

I hear a lot of scores today that are very clever, very well thought out but, to me, emotionally barren. McCartney claims that he woke up with a completed "Yesterday” in his head. He never thought about it until it simply appeared. A great, great song spontaneously conceived without any thought. Very nice.

Jazz players turn up to a gig, have a few beers and a laugh, sit down on a stool and play. Louis, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, John Coltraine. Natural. Spontaneous. It’s like sight reading versus practice. I have known great players who can play a concerto with great style, given enough months to practice, but were unable to sight read the simplest hymn tune.


JF : At the end of the film even though it seems the success of Lionheart’s master plans appears to not be possible, there is definitely something heroic about how you underscore his actions, something that suggests that the audience is to be on his side

(See "Come Fire, Consume This Petty World", below).

Did you see that character like this?



There is something heroic about all actors, writers, composers, dancers, painters who believe in themselves, but are frequently ignored by the world. Yet, they battle on creating because they have to, want to, need to. Good or bad, Lionheart was a true actor. He loved what he did but was denied the ultimate prize. Unfortunately he had to pay for his excesses – as we all do.


JF : This sense of serious playfulness extends to how you treat the melody throughout the film.  Much like the characters within are all actors, the melody appears in different guises throughout, from the main title to ‘master of the killing phrase’, ‘to be or not to be’, ‘partita of blood’ and the end titles.   Each has a different treatment (costume), from a sort of mediaeval arrangement to the most-contemporary sounding end title.

This sense of playfulness even extends to you varying the key each time it enters (from Gm to Em for ‘Fear No More’, Am for ‘To Be’, Dm for the ‘Partita’ and finally Fm for the end title). Was it important that you have a central melody to build the score around, because there are lots of other cues that do express a purely emotional state in a less-thematic way and one sequence (‘Ides Of March’) that sounds almost improvisatory in its chaotic nature, and yet the main theme still seems to be at the heart of the score.

In addition to this, there are traditional forms being used in the score (such as the fugato under the swordfight) and contrapuntal writing throughout.  The effect it creates is both exciting and unique (particularly in scenes like the swordfight).

Were these instinctive decisions?



Yes. But to me they were very obvious decisions. What form other than a fugato would you possibly use for two guys chasing themselves about on a pair of bouncing trampolines? It was a natural. I just looked at the scene, a great scene, and the scene told me what to do. The only choice left was the tempo. So I looked at the scene a second time and it dictated the tempo. Malcolm Cooke did a fine job editing the film. He got the tempo right. Who was I to argue?

Most of the early film composing greats, Miklos Rozsa, Max Steiner, Dimitri Tiomkin, et al, who arrived in Hollywood were Europeans with strong classical, symphonic background. Sonata form was in their blood. Thematic development was essential, it was designed to hold the audience emotionally and intellectually. Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner knew it well and so should we or has the quality of the digital sample become more important?


JF: Were there any opinions from the filmmakers as you were creating the music?



As I said earlier, my best directors have always trusted me and left me alone. I have been blessed to work with great men, Bryan Forbes, Douglas Hickox, Franklin J Schaffner, Jack Gold to name a few who have trusted me, absolutely, and just left me alone to do what I do best, spontaneously and without question.

Maybe they would ring up once or twice to keep in touch and ask if I had everything I needed, if everything was OK. They were all very polite gentlemen. Sometimes I would play them the cue I was working on at that very moment down the phone. They would politely say "Great" but I knew, and they knew, that it didn’t make much sense to them – I am not a very good KB player. All they wanted was to hear the track up against the picture adding magic to their images. I did a lot of major commercials in New York for a director who used to tell the clients that my music made his little pictures look big. They paid me well.

I have never let down my directors and producers and have never lost a cue, let alone a score. In the sad case of the documentary ‘they’ never even heard my score. Neither did they win the big prize. Needless to say, in my humble opinion, had they exercised a little more trust we would all have a little more gold adorning our mantelpieces.


JF : Have you any memories of the recording process, such as: Choosing the musicians, because there are some unique aspects to the orchestra you use, such as the mandolin and keyboard instruments.



I would tell my contractor, the late Sid Margo, what line-up I wanted and he would always come up with the best. Whatever, whoever I needed I got to perfection. Whether it was a tabla player, or a santoori player or a mandolin player or a Cor Anglais player, I always got the best. The better the instrumentalist the easier they are to work with and, of course, the more pleasurable. In all my years of recording, with the very best in the world, London, Berlin, New York, Los Angeles and recently Austin TX, only one muso failed to please - a second rate guitar player in London years ago who slipped through the net on a too busy day and was never called again. Ever. I have a harp player in New York who always gets to the sessions 40 minutes early and the first thing she says to me is "anything you want Michael, anything you want." She always delivers and always gets the gig.


JF : Did you choose any players personally, were these musicians you were used to working with at the time?



When I meet an outstanding player who understands me, with as few words as possible, I stick with him/her. I first worked with Hugo D'Alton (Mandolin) on ' ‘Madwoman.' Outstanding player. Very intense. Desperate to please.

We all need each other. We all need to be creative, spontaneously creative. I have tried to work with great players who cannot read. For me it just doesn’t work. It takes too many words to get started. I love meeting a player and we just groove from the start. When they get the message, I encourage them to go a little further, push them a bit. Good players love being pushed as long as they sense that you, the composer, know exactly what you want and that you know precisely what you are doing. Never give a fine player an unplayable part. You will have lost before the downbeat.


JF : Do you remember where it was recorded (there’s a bit of a CTS sound on the echo-y reverb but I’m no expert in these things)?



T of B was one of the last scores to be recorded at the old CTS Studio in Bayswater, London. I started my recording career there with 'Madwoman.' All the great Hollywood cats would come over to record there. Great sounding room demolished to make way for a retail store. Happens all the time. I used to love working at ‘O Henry's' in Burbank, CA. Beautiful sounding room, now shut. CBS in New York, regarded by some as the greatest room of all time, long gone. Apartments now, I think.

It was at CTS with engineer John Richards (who recorded all the early Bonds with the masterful John Barry) that I learnt the delights of multi-track recording, which in a span of just a few years or so went from 4 track (one reserved for sync) to 1 inch 8 track to 2 inch 16 track and then bliss upon bliss 24 track – even 48 track if you coupled two 24 track recorders. Heaven. It was at CTS that I learnt all about mixing and faders and reverbs, plates, chambers etc. Reverb was very much an English thing at that time. California caught up later. Nothing ‘echo-y’ about judicious use of reverb. Sonic enhancement is nearer the mark!

I have loved the studio life from Day One. Great engineers, in great rooms worldwide. At the moment I work at a studio in one of world’s most exciting cities – New Orleans – home of Louis, jazz and jambalaya.

Over the years, I have seen huge technological changes. Tape came and went as did cassettes, cartridges and CDs. Hard drives became smaller and smaller until now, when you can put a thumb drive in your pocket. I have never involved myself in the hardware side of things (I know too many outstanding engineers) but I have always kept up with the advances in technology. Essential.


JF: You’ve written orchestral scores as well as more pop music oriented scores (such as the main title for ‘The Man Who Haunted Himself’ or much of ‘92 In The Shade’) and a considerable amount of music outside the film and television genre.

Is there a common approach when first approaching a piece of music whether it’s for a film or say, a choral piece, or do different genres get approached in different ways?



The only approach I know is to be excited by the challenge of writing and recording a new work no matter the genre. The driving force for any creator is the simple question that haunts us all every morning. Can I write today as well, or better, than I did yesterday? I also believe that you have to be dedicated to writing for posterity and not prosperity, which can mean being unflinchingly uncompromising at times – very difficult in the film world. If a note is wrong it’s wrong. If it’s going to cost $$$$ to change it then $$$$$$$$ have to be spent. If you compromise today, you will pay for it tomorrow for sure. Once a recording is released, you can never recall it. Once you press send, it belongs to the world. I have to enjoy and believe in what I am doing. I relish variety. I thrive on writing in a style I have not explored before. I recently completed a 17 minute track for full classical (sampled) orchestra elevated by live alto sax, country harmonica, electric guitar, 6 string electric bass, vibes, jazz piano and multiple ethnic percussion all playing from a basic topline. No written score. We maxed out Pro-Tools at 96 tracks. The piece grew spontaneously each session. The end was unknown until we got there. I played all the orchestral parts. Great soloists in Austin did the rest. Great musicians bring greatness to your work. Thank God I never had to consult a director or a producer or any of their minions. It’s my project. A 17 minute story told through modern dance that is still seeking an ‘angel’ – a very wealthy ‘angel.’

"The Man Who Haunted Himself" was my first excursion into the 'pop world’ type score. I got an arranger to write out the drum, rhythm guitar and electric bass parts. They looked wildly complicated and were wildly complicated. When I got to the studio, the rhythm guys on the session took one look at the charts, choked, asked me what the hell was this s..., and suggested I tore up the parts (which I immediately did). They then proceeded to play something many times better. Ever since that time, the only part I have ever given a rhythm player is a bar chart and chord symbols. Working with rhythm players is always wildly creative, hugely fun, highly satisfying, totally spontaneous.

I am now working on a programme of a cappella nineteenth century art songs. Never a dull moment.

Thanks for mentioning ‘92 in the Shade’ – another minor key tune. The track on my Double CD ‘The Film Music of Michael J Lewis’ was an arrangement for harmonica and steel string guitar I wrote for the album. Two of the best musicians I have ever had the pleasure of working with – Tommy Morgan (harmonica), Carl Verheyen (guitar) came into a little garage studio in North Hollywood. I gave them the topline and explained as briefly as possible what I wanted. They gave me what I asked for in one take. Stunning cooperation and understanding between musicians and composer. I was my own producer. I financed the entire project. Since the Double CD recording, I have continued to work on the original track, because I love it so much, adding pedal steel, fretless bass and real strings. No synths, nothing digital other than good old Protools and, of course, outstanding, live musicians. The final arrangement can be heard on my guitar CD ‘Incandescence.’

I have just seen a very interesting trailer for a Hollywood movie to be released this fall. The director is also the writer, lead actor and producer. He stuck with the project for years until he finally got it made. Resolute persistence. Unwavering conviction. The soundtrack is big band from the mid-twentieth century, the period in which the movie is set. Music from the pre-digital era. Great stuff. I pray that the feature gets solid reviews and finds a big audience. We need more auteurs who can exercise strict control over their work and resist the interference of them who know not what they do.

Theatre of Blood also had a creative team who believed in their project and in each other, who supported each other. They, led by Douglas Hickox (who passed away far, far, far too early), encouraged me to be courageous, to cast aside the norm and be adventurous, spontaneous, fearless, to have fun. Failure never entered our heads.

In the arrogance of my early days I had initially turned down the film – can you believe it? It had been pitched as a horror flick, which honestly did not appeal to me – it reeked of Hammer Films (Britain’s leading horror factory of the time out at Elstree.) However, the producers were persistent, resolute, unwavering. The second time, they pitched the film as a black comedy based on Shakespeare. I went, I saw and was conquered. I am so grateful to John, Stanley and Douglas who taught me to ‘fear no more the heat of the sun’ and in doing so gave me one of the most enjoyable, and creative experiences of my entire career. Originally titled ‘Much Ado about Murder,’ Theatre of Blood is still ‘Alive in Triumph.’ Thanks guys. ‘Thou, thy worldly task hath done.’ ‘To thine own self be true.’



Michael J Lewis

Huckleberry Place, Mississippi.

September 1 2016

© 2016 Michael J Lewis


George Martin has been called the greatest producer in the history of music, but in addition to his undeniable contribution to record production and arranging, he was also a fine composer in his own right.

Some early releases by him as a bandleader are the inventive arrangements of Beatles compositions released on the albums Off The Beatle Track and A Hard Day’s Night.   His facility for adapting existing material in creative ways would serve him well on the score to The Family Way (1966), which mostly consists of variations on the themes Love In The Open Air and The Family Way, composed by Paul McCartney.  A similar situation arose on the 1968 soundtrack to the animated film Yellow Submarine, but in addition to the bouncy re-arrangements of the title song, he also composed a striking original dramatic score, featuring the balletic Pepperland theme.




(As a teenager I was the only person I was aware of who was excited about getting the orchestral score on Side Two of the Yellow Submarine album as much as more Beatles songs.)

Circumstances reinvented themselves once again with the score to the James Bond film Live And Let Die in 1973, where Martin once again was able to weave motifs from Paul McCartney’s title song throughout the score with his own themes (as well as referencing material from John Barry’s arrangement of the original James Bond Theme), particularly his striking original theme for James Bond which appears throughout the score. With its wide range and alternating stepwise motion and melodic leaps, it is able to be equally exciting, atmospheric and romantic when necessary, through his sensitive arrangements and masterly spotting.  



In Live And Let Die, George Martin’s orchestral sensibilities are maintained whilst completely updating the rhythmic foundation of the score from the 1960’s swing of much of his earlier work to that of a funk driven groove throughout, which befit the new era of Bond as well as the change of setting from Europe to New York.  It is a masterwork of synthesising many differening dramatic and musical elements perfectly.

It’s also noteworthy that in the exciting Sacrifice music which appears in the opening and climactic sections of the film, one can also hear a technique originally deployed at the conclusion of the Beatles recording of A Day In The Life:

"What I did there was to write, at the beginning of the twenty-four bars, the lowest possible note for each of the instruments in the orchestra. At the end of the twenty-four bars, I wrote the highest note each instrument could reach that was near a chord of E major. Then I put a squiggly line right through the twenty-four bars, with reference points to tell them roughly what note they should have reached during each bar. The musicians also had instructions to slide as gracefully as possible between one note and the next. In the case of the stringed instruments, that was a matter of sliding their fingers up the strings. With keyed instruments, like clarinet and oboe, they obviously had to move their fingers from key to key as they went up, but they were asked to 'lip' the changes as much as possible too.

I marked the music 'pianissimo' at the beginning and 'fortissimo' at the end. Everyone was to start as quietly as possible, almost inaudibly, and end in a (metaphorically) lung-bursting tumult. And in addition to this extraordinary of musical gymnastics, I told them that they were to disobey the most fundamental rule of the orchestra. They were not to listen to their neighbours.

A well-schooled orchestra plays, ideally, like one man, following the leader. I emphasised that this was exactly what they must not do. I told them 'I want everyone to be individual. It's every man for himself. Don't listen to the fellow next to you. If he's a third away from you, and you think he's going too fast, let him go. Just do your own slide up, your own way.' Needless to say, they were amazed. They had certainly never been told that before."

(from "ALL YOU NEED IS EARS"- George Martin, originially published 1979)

(full orchestral gliss occurs at 1:36 mark and lasts til 2:09)

Cues appear as tracks "Gunbarrel And Snakebit" and "Sacrifice" on original soundtrack to Live And Let Die. 

Though record production would always be his main focus, he continued to write effective and unique scores (particularly in the 1960’s and early 1970’s), including the whimsical underscore to Pulp (Mike Hodges, 1972) starring Michael Caine, and the touching music to the underrated Peter Sellers film The Optimists Of Nine Elms (Anthony Simmons, 1973).

In addition, his compositions can be heard in his fanfare for swinging London ‘Theme One,’ originally for Radio One, and ‘By George-It’s David Frost’, for David Frost’s Frost On Friday.

George Martin's often overlooked abilities as a dramatic and melodic orchestral composer were unquestionable, as demonstrated in the many different genres and styles he wrote for. Had he decided to devote himself fully to composition instead of production, I'm sure he would have similarly distinguished himself.

MODS AND COPPERS - interview

Saturday the 20th of June marks the debut concert of                            THE JASON FREDERICK CINEMATIC SOUND, performing new arrangements of music from action and detective films from the 1960's and 1970's from films such as DIRTY HARRY, BULLITT, THE ITALIAN JOB, GET CARTER, STARSKY AND HUTCH, and THE SWEENEY, in support of the release of their album of the same name.

MODS AND COPPERS the album was recorded in spring 2015 in the UK, and features performances by Brandon Allen, Quentin Collins, Dan Mullins, Robbie Harvey, Steve Bingham, Scott Wheeler and Sean Freeman, of new arrangments of film and tv music by Jason Frederick.

The following are excerpts from a short interview about the project:

Jason Frederick : "It’s always been the music that I feel as though I grew up with.  It feels so comfortable, the combination of the incredibly strong material and the great sounds and the great musicianship.  I’ve gone on to be exposed to a really wide spectrum of music in the years since, but it’s always sort of been the foundation – there’s been elements of that late 60’s / early 70’s approach in lots of what I’ve been involved in since, even if it’s something as simple as combining a muted pick bass with orchestra or choice of organ on something..."

“...I got really excited about the idea of making an album with a band again.  For a few years now I’ve been overdubbing and creating studio-based music for the most part, and as fun as that can be, I originally came from the world of writing music for musicians to play, whether it was for bands or small ensembles or orchestras…"  

"...A lot of modern music, by necessity, gets produced nowadays with a few musicians overdubbing on top of a sequenced track – for reasons that are both practical and necessary, this is what has become the reality of how a lot of this music gets made (You can get by with a completely electronic production as well, with no human musical performances, but I generally avoid that).  But the days of the great groove-based library music of the 1970’s are by and large a thing of the past…

So anyway, yeah, because this music is so wonderful, I really thought it’d be great to cast an album the way someone like Henry Mancini or John Barry would’ve, where they knew the quality of the players they were getting, and that they were really ideal for what they were writing.  And I got really lucky with it, because everyone I approached, my very short list of who I thought would be particularly good and who understood the feel of this music, all said yes. ..“

“Trying to sort of…honour the music by reinterpreting it but retaining what makes it so fantastic, that was the challenge-if you can call it that, it’s a pretty good challenge as far as challenges go!  I remember listening to Pin Ups by David Bowie as a teenager, and thinking that even though it was a cover album, it was completely of a piece with Aladdin Sane and Ziggy Stardust – that was one of the first times I thought that you could do material by others and still have it sound like you, and that was potentially as original a statement as writing something ‘original’ that was actually completely indebted to someone else…but then, of course, you can too far in the other direction and deconstruct something to the point that it really isn’t recognisable anymore – what made it so interesting in the first place is no longer there.  Which has it's place too, of course, but like I was saying, that was the sort of balancing act of this album, to approach it as a fan of this music, and to add something else to it so that it wasn’t just a recreation of something that was already there and already brilliant, but to keep as much of what is so great about it and the era in which it was made as possible, at the same time…"


When people listen back to Dirty Harry in hundreds of years (as I’m sure they will, if people of the future are anything like me), they’ll be able to hear much of the major musical developments of the 20th Century in one place.

It’s got elements of funk, free jazz and aleatoric music, lounge music, 20th Century harmony,  pop music, orchestral  filmscore, rock and even collage.

You can hear the evolution of rhythmic approaches to film scoring from the latin and swing of Mission:Impossible and Bullitt to something with a much heavier and insistent backbeat. As pop was influenced by heavy rock and funk from the mid 1960’s onwards, this much weightier music was the perfect accompaniment to the growing cynicism of 1970’s cinema, whilst retaining the incredibly strong material and impeccable jazz-influenced writing that Lalo Schifrin was known for.

Dirty Harry is full of completely disparate musical elements that somehow sit alongside,  on top , and sometimes smash right into each other, and yet the result is a completely balanced whole – it shouldn’t work, and yet is does work - it works perfectly in the film (influencing the next decade of films that followed) and just as perfectly as a listening experience.

And either despite or because of its fearlessness in conception and execution, it hasn’t dated a minute in the 44 years since it was first created,. It would be just as exciting and effective underscoring some film or television today as it was in 1971 - It remains as relevant in this era as in any other.

And like all great works of music, it continues to reveal and surprise after 100 listens.


The discussion inevitably comes up - someone sees you playing guitar, or listening to something particularly guitar driven, or watching someone associated with the guitar (probably the electric guitar).

And once again, it’s been asked of me – so I thought it was worth formulating a better answer than the usual one I provide.

Who is the greatest guitarist in the world?

One of the things that’s so fantastic about the guitar is that, even with all the current access to recorded music we have and technology (we can listen instantly to an exponentially greater variety of music than ever before and can carry amp modellers in our pockets), there are still limitless ways to play, and make music with the guitar. 

The same principles apply to instrumentalists, bands, composers, creators of any kind.

When talking about the best guitarist, we are really talking about who most closely matches what any single person considers to be the best balance of complementary elements that comprise ‘being a guitarist’.

To decide this I think you are looking at several factors.

The first factor in this is technique, defined in the Oxford Dictionary as “A way of carrying out a particular task, especially the execution or performance of an artistic work or a scientific procedure”

How capable is the musician of executing with precision that which you are hearing?  Of course, even this is a relative term – the charm of some music is the fact that it is appropriately executed in a manner that’s not what you could call “slick”, and other music of course demands an impeccable technical approach to reveal it’s potential.

But in general, it could be said that the greatest guitarist in the world must have pretty formidable technique.  If this were the measure alone, however, than the fastest guitarist in the world would the best, as if there were a musical finish line that one only had to cross first.  This doesn’t seem to be the case in most people's choices.

The second factor that I personally consider (even when I’m not really thinking about it) is theoretical ability – the styles and approaches of playing that a guitarist has awareness of (this might sound irrelevant to non-musicians but it is a factor, I assure you).  Is someone blisteringly fast but after sustained listening, revealed to be playing the same scale or idea over and over again, or do they have a wider grasp of harmonic/rhythmic/stylistic possibilities?   It doesn’t mean that someone has to be the master of eclectism and everything they play is a mashup of country, jazz, metal, blues, rock, psych, sweep picking, travis picking, tapping, etc - It’s more a case of, can they play something somewhat informed by the breadth of music produced by humans thus far, which to me (or whomever is listening) adds up to how interesting I think they are (informed by my own opinions and experience, of course).

The third factor I consider is taste.  It can be true that  someone CAN do something technically and theoretically, but how they choose to do this is a separate issue entirely.  Too much of one thing, or one level of intensity can dull the ability of a listener to appreciate it over time.  The most immediate example that comes to mind is the song Peanuts, by The Police.  Because Andy Summers is such a master of space and restraint and consideration in his playing, the chaotic intense solo in Peanuts completely makes me stop whatever I’m doing and listen to it every time I hear it, and decades of listening to it has done very little to lesson the impact it has on me.  10 solos in 10 consecutive songs on an album (or 5) in just that manner wouldn’t have the same effect (to me – some people like all chocolate all the time and they’re completely right to do so if it makes them happy – this is just how I see it).  In other words, do they keep you interested in continuing to listen to what they have to say, or does their effectiveness evaporate after a short while.

Finally, and this concept is transferrable to other instrumentalists as well, I consider tone to be pretty defining.  Do you absolutely love an overdriven Vox AC 30 (you know who you are)?  Then a 1970’s solid state amp may do nothing for you.  Do you love the tone of Richie Blackmore on the early 1970’s Deep Purple albums?  Pat Methany’s tone may do nothing for you..

As professional musicians have generally had an infinite variety of instrument types and electrically driven conduits for their playing (never moreso than today), the decisions they make as to what will be creating their tone are as important an element of what their producing as a guitarist as any other.

Which leads me to my ultimate conclusion – there really can’t be a greatest guitarist (or composer, or songwriter) in the world – there can be the one you like the most, which can lead you down your particular rewarding path of musical discovery (and can change, sometimes repeatedly), but as to there actually being a single greatest example that everyone can agree on – it’s not really possible, in my opinion.  The standards by which you judge your favourite to be your favourite will by their very existence rule out someone equally as proficient/influential/talented with a different balance of these factors.

Allan Holdsworth, Django Reinhardt, Ace Frehley, George Harrison, Larry LaLonde, Buddy Guy, Robert Fripp etc etc… all making something wonderful in their own way, yours to discover…




I loved my bagel cart - It was compact and yet held everything it needed to, so it stood almost unnoticed in the corner until it was called into service.  It held a tray of cutlery, small plates, cream cheese and a toaster, and cups, half 'n' half (ie cream) and sugar, and a cafetiere on the second level, all without seeming cluttered.

Part of my routine for these progress meetings was to start the day at the local shop at the end of my road buying an assortment of freshly baked bagels.

When the filmmakers arrived, we would have a brief discussion of the day's goals, and then, almost symbolically, the emergence of the bagel cart would signal that the session had officially begun.

One of the realities of a long critical session of any kind is a decrease in energy at the point that important creative decisions have to be made, so having something to address that is important.  It also allows people to jump right in intensively (and eat whilst we preview and discuss) if they so desire, or to use it as opportunity to take breaks throughout the session without leaving.

What I noticed, however, from somewhere in the middle of the decade (2000-2009), was that fewer people were coming over.  Instead of a director or producer and their teem leaving the editor for a few hours, and driving across town to sit with me and immerse themselves into the world of music and visuals, people were requesting that I simply send the cues to them online for them to be slotted in and allow the filmmakers to stay where they were.

This trend continued to the point where I moved to Santa Barbara (95 miles from where I lived in Los Angeles) and drove in to meetings, and no-one really noticed.

At the point that we packed everything for shipping to the UK, unbelievably the solid, dependable well-designed wooden bagel cart went in the yard sale.  It's services were no longer required.

This is one significant way that the business has changed.   Although there is absolutely no substitute for meeting people and face-to-face contact, I now work for filmmakers in other countries (and continents) as easily as those in the same postal code.  As a result, opportunities have opened up in ways that were simply not possible previously.  If you want to write for a Production Library in Los Angeles, you can work three streets away, or you can live in Europe.  If you want to live in the UK, score a film being made in Canada or the US, and record the score in another country entirely, you can do so without any of the principals having to meet one another.

The result of this technology-based change is, of course, that there's a lot more competition than ever before, but that is simply a reality of the digital world that has to be accepted.  The power of music to move people and underscore the dramatic needs of a performance or a piece of visual art has not changed. It might even be argued that it's more important than ever.




Sometimes, solutions come from the most unexpected places.

I’ve just finished a set of compositions called ASTRAL MINIMALISM, which were originally intended to be just that, strict minimalism.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the term, Minimalism, (as nicely defined by is “a reductive style or school of modern music utilizing only simple sonorities, rhythms, and patterns, with minimal embellishment or orchestrational complexity, and characterized by protracted repetition of figurations, obsessive structural rigor, and often a pulsing, hypnotic effect.”

Some examples of this type of composition can be heard in Steve Reich’s “Drumming” (1970-1971),

or “Six Marimbas” (1986)

I had finished composing a half-dozen pieces that were based on this, the changing relationships of material gradually moving out of sync with itself.

For example, the first piece in the series began with a pulsing ostinato on a single pitch, lasting four beats and repeating constantly. 


This was joined by a repeating nine-note violin figure.


These two motifs were next accompanied by a low mallet figure (sounding 8vb)


which repeated eight times and then expanded to four notes


and then to five (after another eight repetitions), and so on.

This was joined by a twelve note figure, made up of two six-note motifs with a different concluding tone (sounding as written)


As you can see, after the first statement of each motif, every bar of music would have each note of each of these ideas in a different relationship to one another due to each motif being different lengths (Technically there may a point that the motifs resynchronise if the piece continues long enough, but in a practical sense the act of them doing so wouldn’t be noticed by the listener or SEEM LIKE SOME DESTINATION OR CONCLUSION OF ANY KIND).

For some reason, even though this should’ve been a completely acceptable point to reach, the pieces all seemed as tho they were missing something..

Perhaps the material itself wasn’t interesting enough, or perhaps it was because minimalism has been explored so effectively throughout the past half-century that these results, even after substantial manipulation and reorchestration, just weren’t satisfying.

Just at the point that I thought this was destined to be another worthy but unsuccessful experiment, the unforeseen presented itself.

I was listening back to one of the pieces and left the room to answer the phone where it turns out the stereo had been left on. For one moment in the hallway, I could hear this heterophonic piece of string music playing over the static minimalist piece.  And suddenly, through this happy accident, it all become quite clear.

I had the opportunity to study composition and orchestration with 
Dr Hugh Hartwell at McMaster University (who had studied with George Crumb), and one day (in the 1990’s), when we were talking about serialism and my opinions of its value, he offered his approach on the subject, which was : to make the dodecaphonic matrix

and then generate some material, lots of material,  based on its permutations, and play around with it for a week or so, until you’ve truly dug in, explored the insides and outsides of what it has to offer…and then to throw it away and write a piece of music, flooded with the influence of the material generated by the rows, but making instinctive artistic decisions and not checking with a piece of paper to confirm that you’re doing things correctly.  This has always been an idea that has stuck with me, and it seemed as tho this was the answer I was looking for.

(Back in 2014) I quickly went back through all the pieces (I don’t think I bothered to answer the phone), and listened to each only once – every time I felt that one was losing its effectiveness, I instantly marked the point and used that as the basis to apply any and all traditional methods of composition to them.  Static harmony changed in some cases, obsessive structural rigour stayed in some instances, remained partly in others, and was abandoned completely in a few.  I’d say a pulsing effect overall is all that’s remained.  At this point the doors of clarity were open and I quickly composed four more pieces.

Perhaps in the future I could find the passion to compose something in a scrupulous and precise minimalist form.  But in this case, creating something that I personally could feel passionately about and be truly satisfied with involved putting artistic instinct over pre-arranged structural demands.

Of course, it’s just as easy to be accused of laziness or lack of strictness – there are a great many schools of thought based on the idea that true freedom can only be achieved through intense self-disclipline, and perhaps I’ve simply failed at doing that (Strangely, I’ve always loved writing fugues, and still do from time to time, without any problem sticking to all the 18th Century rules to do so).

I prefer to think that sometimes you can’t plan things out too carefully in advance, and this was an occasion where it was necessary to abandon the preconceptions of certainty to reach the desired outcome.  It wouldn’t necessarily work in baking, but it seemed to here.


Farewell to the bagel cart.

A question I get asked a lot (other than "How do I become a composer", which is impossible to answer, even tho I will be attempting several approaches to answer that question in the coming entries) is "how much have things changed from the way things used to be, and what should I know today?"

My professional career did begin at an interesting time, not long ago at all, but at the same time, back when people made videos on film and frequented record shops to buy lp's, cd's and cassettes, people wrote music on paper as well as with software, bands/composers/artists didn't have websites, and most music, orchestral or otherwise, was committed to tape, beautiful 24-track tape.

I moved to Los Angeles to study, and then to apprentice, and then to become a freelance composer.  I moved because I wanted to (it's an exciting place to live and remains the centre of the entertainment industry), but also because it seemed as tho there was no more logical thing to do.  You have to go to where the work is, and how could you possibly write music for people that you hadn't met, and that you weren't looking at face-to-face?

Eventually I had a room that I wrote in, and quickly it became a room that people frequented to hear what they would eventually be taking away and living with (and hopefully loving), for eternity.  Sometimes it would be a quick dropping-by, but more often than not it would be a rolling-up-the-shirt-sleeves, let's-dig-in type of session.  I had a sofa for them, and a rolling chair for me (rolling back and forth between the mixer and the screens and them became one of my moves to keep everything moving as smoothly as possible).

And, inspired by time spent in recording studios and with other more experienced composers, I picked up one other accessory early on that I considered to be an integral part of my setup.

A bagel cart…

(to be continued)