Preserving the Legacy of John Barry

An Interview with James Fitzpatrick by Stephen Woolston
Originally published in Soundtrack Magazine Vol.19/No.76/2000
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor, Luc Van de Ven

“It might interest you to know,” says James Fitzpatrick of Silva Screen records, “that over the last six years Silva Screen has recorded over 560 minutes of John Barry’s music.”

james_fitzpatrickIn that time, Fitzpatrick has produced a glut of John Barry re-recordings, including themes from HANOVER STREET and ELEANOR AND FRANKUN, suites from THE TAMARIND SEED and MY SISTER’S KEEPER, and full scores from ZULU, RAISE THE TITANIC and WALKABOUT. The common denominator in these titles is their relative rarity and appeal to the more seasoned John Barry fan. Whilst Varese Sarabande serves Barry’s fans with safer, more mainstream recordings such as BORN FREE, BODY HEAT, OUT OF AFRICA and SOMEWHERE IN TIME, Silva Screen have taken what appears to be a commercial risk to delve into the less commercial titles of Barry’s repertoire.

“Any specialist recording is always a risk,” explains Fitzpatrick, “but we try to minimise this by keeping to a tight-(ish) budget, where we feel we stand at least some chance of recouping the costs. In the past there have been certain projects that I have done for both the love of the music and in order to preserve the music for posterity as in the case of THE BRIDE Of FRANKENSTEIN, THE BIG COUNTRY and THE VALLEY OF GWANGI. Our compilations often include rarities that just wouldn’t be recorded by anyone else, such as the seventeen minute suite from THE RARE BREED by John Williams and THE FIXER by Maurice Jarre. Still, Silva Screen is not a charity, so we often have to record music which the collectors might already have, but which will appeal to our distributors and customers all around the world, in such far flung places as Taiwan, Japan, Australia, Malaysia, South Africa, Brazil, etc. We do not just rely on UK and North American sales.”

Fitzpatrick continues, “In the particular case of John Barry, we have found from past experience that even for relatively rare titles there will be enough international sales to justify the cost. These costs are always on the increase, while sales always seem to be decreasing,” he comments.

Is Prague a cheap place to record? “Just because most of these albums are recorded in Prague does not mean that they are cheap. It means that they are affordable and that we can record ten albums a year for the cost of two or three in London. That way each project stands some chance of paying for itself. After some false starts, we have an orchestra of world class musicians in Prague that after just eight years of recording film music are beginning to rival the more experienced orchestras of the UK and America. Just image how good the orchestra will be in another eight years!”

So why did Silva Screen choose WALKABOUT for their next project? Fitzpatrick explains, “I’ve always loved this film and loved the score. Over the years there have been numerous requests for us to record this music and after the success of RAISE THE TITANIC, now seemed to be the right time.”

It is well known that Silva Screen often work on their Barry recordings without the leisure of an original score. Enter Nic Raine, Barry’s regular orchestrator. According to Fitzpatrick, “Nic is also a great fan of this score although he might not have been too familiar with it until I brought it to his attention. In this case, Nic had to work from the DVD to work the cues out. Once we knew that the score and parts were as we wanted them, however, then the actual recording was fairly straightforward and we were able to devote plenty of time to get the atmosphere of each cue correct.”

That’s not always a problem, as sometimes original scores can be found. But even then it is not always clear cut. “Often you’ll find that these are uncorrected scores, or you might find that the parts have been corrected but the score hasn’t. You can end up, as other labels have found, having to correct things in the studio. When we did Tiomkin’s THE THING we got the original score and a massive orchestra, but there were no notes of what Tiomkin did on the day, so we had to record it as per the score we had been given. At least with Barry, who is relatively easy to reconstruct (at least compared to Tiomkin), if you work from the film with someone like Nic who knows what Barry would do, you know how the final thing is meant to sound.””

What about original tapes for WALKABOUT, were they a possibility? “There are tapes. After we finished recording we finally got in touch with the lawyer of the film’s producer, Max L. Raab, and there are mono tapes available, but they’re in really shocking condition. We’re in talks to get hold of them to preserve them, but they are only in mono and there are sound effects elements on them as well. When we knew they were only mono we decided to go ahead anyway. The same may be true of RAISE THE TITANIC, we would have probably found mono tapes, but judging by the quality of the sound on the laser disc, I would imagine they distort all over the place, because it’s one of the worst sounds I’ve ever heard. Often the stereo is reversed and you can’t always tell if it’s in stereo anyway.”

“The main problem lay in recording the choir,” says Fitzpatrick, turning his attention to the difficulties beyond the absence of a written score. “We had to get the right balance between untrained kids, trained choristers and full adult choir. WALKABOUT might not be a terribly complex score musically but as film music, both with and without the images, it is exceptional. Once again Barry shows that the sparing use of music is far more effective than having wall-to-wall score.”

Silva Screen’s new recording of WALKABOUT is supplemented with a number of other themes and suites, including THE CORN IS GREEN, THE BETSY and THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS. An unexpected choice, however, was to re-record Barry’s Moviola. Fitzpatrick explains why. “As WALKABOUT is a short score, I wanted some extra music in order to make the CD sixty minutes long. I simply chose themes that I personally love, and Moviola is right up there as, in my opinion, one of Barry’s finest themes. Having recorded both Moviola and James Newton Howard’s eventual theme for PRINCE OF TIDES, I know which I prefer.” Fitzpatrick refers to the fact that Barry’s Moviola theme was withdrawn from that film. “Also, THE CHASE has always been one of my favorites and although Pendulum reissued the original soundtrack for a short time, I felt that it was worthwhile recording some selections for our album.”

An inclusion that will leave no one puzzled is, however, SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON, a haunting score in which a potpourri of musical styles meet to provide one of the most imaginative and infectious scores of Barry’s early 1960s period. Fitzpatrick says, “Again, I’ve always loved SEANCE and in a way, along with the historical dramas like ROBIN AND MARIAN and THE LAST VALLEY, this is the type of Barry score I’ve always had a great regard for. This is where he was able to combine his mastery of orchestral colors, using a small ensemble, with his knowledge of jazz rhythms and pop music of the 60s. With scores like this, THE WHISPERERS, NEVER LET GO and THE IPCRESS FILE, I felt that Barry created a unique sound. Some of his most interesting and inventive scores are from this period. It is this style that I grew up with, and a style which I often wish Barry had experimented more with over the last few decades.”

The jazz rhythm of SEANCE posed a challenge. “With the jazzy rhythms we had to spend some time getting f the band right, especially the timing of the percussion and jazz stand-up bass, who are generally used to playing on the beat, and the more traditional classical instruments who are used to playing slightly behind. There was also the interesting problem of recreating the reverb used on the original score. For this we recorded the xylophones relatively close and dry, while we cranked up the reverb for the piccolos. We recorded a piano with excessive reverb and overlaid just the piano reverb (not the actual piano notes) onto the xylophone in the first section of the piece.”

Such a 1960s technique calls for Silva Screen’s returning engineer John Timperley, who, Fitzpatrick explains, has been recording every type of music imaginable since the 1950s. “He had to record this type of music all the time in that era when he was working with just about every major British and American pop and jazz star, including Shirley Bassey, Sandie Shaw, Dusty Springfield, Bing Crosby and Tony Bennett. What he did here was fine-tuned by our brilliant editor Gareth Williams, who manages, on his SADIE 3 hard-drive system, to achieve results above and beyond the call of duty.”

Of UNTIL SEPTEMBER, Fitzpatrick simply recalls, “I drooled over Karen Allen in the film!” Of THE BETSY, he recalls that it was a nightmare to record. “The opening section is so quiet that the smallest studio noise sounded like gunfire.”

Although their title selections might make you think that Silva Screen would be taken to be the Barry fan’s best friend, the team have come under fire from some hard core fans with complaints that their re-recordings are not true to the originals. Not from all fans, it has to be said, but there is nonetheless a party of dissatisfaction in the crowd. What does Fitzpatrick have to say about this? “It is very difficult to answer critics who, no matter what we do, whether good or bad, will always believe that John Barry would have done it better.

Well, my basic answer is as John has shown no interest in recording these works or even satisfying the requests of his fans, then the fans will have to make do with our albums. This might sound rather arrogant but after myself, Nic, John and the rest of the team have sweated blood in recording an album, it is rather a backhanded compliment from one to two hardened Barry fans to say that our recordings are fine but not as good as John’s would have been. To counter this criticism I take solace in the hundreds of congratulatory letters from both fans, the general public and the various composers I work with. This is not to say that I ignore criticism. In fact I take it very much to heart, but when a composer like David Arnold takes the trouble to immediately listen to both Bond Back in Action CDs, and phone through with his praise “how do you make the orchestra sound so good?” then I know we are on the right track.”

“As to faults on our recordings, I know these only too well. After all I have to listen to each edit about fifty times. Certainly our first few albums in Prague in the early 90s were not as slick as they could be or would be now. In the case of John Barry, there were a few things on ‘The Classic John Barry volume 1’ (FlLMCD 141) which I was not happy with – the lack of choir on THE LION IN WINTER, which we have since corrected, or the performance of the RAISE THE TITANIC suite, which we have also corrected. The symphonic version of THE PERSUADERS was certainly a mistake, but the blame is not to be laid at Nic Raine’s door, as it was I who insisted that he do an orchestral version. It was not a piece that would ever work orchestrally. I am, though, more than happy with things like OUT OF AFRICA.” This didn’t stop one German critic complaining that the Silva Screen version was three seconds longer than the soundtrack, a review recalled by Fitzpatrick as an example of the pettiness with which he perceives some of the criticism to be loaded.

Continuing his retort, James Fitzpatrick says, “With ‘The Classic John Barry volume 2’ (FILMCD 169) I am generally happy with most things, although I would have liked more time in the studio to get DEADFALL as I would like. Recording concerto type works is always far more time-consuming than tutti pieces and I probably didn’t allow enough time on this.”

Since those first two efforts James Fitzpatrick has been pleased with many things in his recordings. “I would be less than economic with the truth if I said I was happy with everything. No record producer is ever completely happy, but the whole recording business is a compromise between artistic endeavor and budgetary limitations. On the two Bond albums there are things that might not satisfy the demands of every fan, but as enjoyable listening experiences I believe they work. I am not interested in trying to recreate the original soundtrack exactly. Otherwise what is the point in a new and fresh recording? But I am interested in presenting film music in the best possible modern sound, and interpreting the music with a certain amount of artistic freedom whilst hopefully remaining faithful to the composer’s wishes. Not every original soundtrack is recorded or edited as the composer might have wanted.”

Citing another Silva Screen title, ‘The Greatest Themes From The Films Of Arnold Schwarzenegger’, Fitzpatrick says, “This might be greeted by the hard core fans with bemusement but will sell in very decent numbers all around the world.”

Fitzpatrick didn’t have the exact sales numbers for RAISE THE TITANIC, but knowing the number of re-pressings that have occurred, he estimates 13,000 copies sold in the UK and Northern America. “That’s more than paid for itself, which we can’t always say these days,” he comments, “neither for new soundtracks nor re-recordings.”

I wonder what John Barry himself makes of Silva Screen’s recordings, Fitzpatrick says, “I don’t believe that John is particularly aware of our recordings. He knows of them because I’ve heard that he’s very happy with RAISE THE TITANIC. We had lunch with Barry a few years ago to talk to him about doing them, but he didn’t really seem that bothered. But once WALKABOUT is released I will certainly send copies to him, in case he might like to perform these works in concert. One of the major expenses in these recordings is preparing new scores and parts. These days most of this work is done on computer programs like Sibelius 7, but it is still very time consuming and expensive. It would be nice if some of this hard work found its way into the concert hall, especially as Silva Screen now has a vast library of orchestral scores and parts just waiting to be performed live.”

For the album notes, one of Fitzpatrick’s initiatives was to contact WALKABOUT’s main actress, Jenny Agutter, for an introduction. “She’s a lovely person and we’ve had long chats on the telephone.” But does she have much awareness of the music? “Oh yes, she knew straight away that it was John Barry. Many film stars have no idea who the composer assigned to their film might be.”

Another Barry-dominated album of re-recordings is ‘Bond Back in Action 2’, Silva Screen’s follow up to their earlier disc focusing on the post-Connery years. In this case, however, there does not appear to be a great deal of previously unreleased music. “For both Bond albums the basic research was done by Geoff Leonard of Play It Again records. For the first volume there was a good deal of unreleased music to choose from, but for the later films we were both very surprised at how little new material there was. There was less than twenty minutes of worthwhile material across all the selected films. For this reason I largely had to choose cues that would stand by themselves as complete pieces of music, or at least work in the context of a suite. It is very difficult making these sort of decisions, but at the end of the day I trust we have chosen the strongest music cues.”

For any new recording Silva Screen seek the permission of the publishers. “In this case it was EMI music, with whom we have a very strong relationship. In fact, they handle Silva Screen Music Publishing world wide. The publishers will then often run our request by the composer, but I believe that it is not always necessary. John’s permission was certainly sought and given for HANOVER STREET. In the recording world the publishers are all-powerful, so they are always the point of contact for securing first recording rights.”

An added member to the Silva team for this latest Bond album is Chris Tin. “As Nic was extremely busy in April and May this year with film work, preparing scores for the WALKABOUT album, and conducting five concerts of John Barry’s music in Scotland and Northern Ireland, we had a new addition to our regular team in the shape of the young American composer Christopher Tin. Chris lent great assistance to both Nic and myself in preparing the Bond scores, being something of an expert on the Bond music, having taking his doctorate in Spy film music!”

Regarding the aforementioned concerts, Fitzpatrick adds, “I went to the first concert at the Caird Hall in Dundee, and it was one of the most enjoyable film music concerts I’ve ever been to.”

On the topic of keeping in touch with fans, James Fitzpatrick adds “I take a great interest of the views of fans, and even get involved when time allows in the John Barry discussion group (www. egroups.com/messages/johnbarry), even though I will see comments which I might not agree with or information which might be wrong or misleading.” Fitzpatrick goes on to cite an irksome example, “There was a rumor put around this year that we had recorded WALKABOUT in February but the results were so poor that we didn’t dare release the CD. As this rumor was spread a few months before the actual sessions in June/July, I was not best pleased.” And he adds, “I think that by and large we have satisfied the fans’ demand for both popular and, more importantly, rare John Barry titles.”

Is there another album in the pipeline? “I think that at the moment I am going to retire from recording John’s music for Silva Screen Records, as we have probably recorded all the titles we need. However, I am working on a complete recording of a Barry score with the great Geoff Leonard, hopefully for recording next year.” Fitzpatrick uses the word “hopefully” because legalities and permissions are still outstanding. I can reveal, however, that the score is ROBIN AND MARIAN. Not only that, it will not be a reconstruction but a recording from the original scores. “If any Barry fan wants to sponsor a Barry recording of their choice and can fund the entire project, then I would be only too happy to produce or ‘ruin’, (depending on your point of view) the album for free.”

Well, there’s an invitation. How much? “For a full orchestral score from existing score sheets you are probably talking between £15,000 ($21.000) and £20,000 ($29,000). If it was something like a small orchestra with not much music, it would obviously be much less. If new scores are required, it would be closer to £25,000 ($36,000).”

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