An Exclusive Report on the Silva Recording Sessions by John Mansell
Originally published in Legend: Issue 21/1996
The Official Jerry Goldsmith Film Music Society Journal
Text reproduced by kind permission of the author, John Mansell
It was in November last year that the long-awaited sessions for Silva’s sequel albums to Music from the Hammer Films compilation commenced. They took place at the now familiar – and dare I say it – famous Whitfield Street Studios. The recording engineer was Mike Ross-Trevor, and the orchestra The Westminster Philharmonic, under the very able guidance of conductor Kenneth Alwyn.
I arrived late due to British Rail, or is it now Stagecoach Buses? – I’m not sure which, and I don’t think that they are, to be perfectly honest. I found a mob of young girls and boys at the studio doors, cameras in hands. My initial reaction was to think, okay, who told them that I was going to be here today? Then I thought Mike Jenner’s coming too, and someone in the Society had leaked the news. Alas, the crowd was not for Mike or me, and sadly not for James Bernard or Carlo Martelli, but for no less than Madonna, who was in the studio next door, recording something that I understand they call music (Sorry, Mike, I know you are a fan). I must admit that I felt quite good when I was let into the studios, because all those young ladies probably thought that I was Madonna’s manager, or toy boy – or should that read tea boy?
The Sessions – Part One
At last I was in the studio, and the orchestra was already whacking out a powerful-sounding piece which I must admit I didn’t recognise – I was later told that it was CORRIDORS OF BLOOD by Buxton Orr. I also didn’t recognise David Stoner, who was standing in the recording booth watching the proceedings. When he spoke to me, I thought I knew the voice: after all, I’ve spoken to him enough times over the telephone, but it had been some two years since I had last seen him. “Things are going well”, he said. At this time, the assembled people included composer Carlo Martelli, whose music from THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB was to be performed and recorded at this session. Unfortunately, things did not go quite to plan, and Martelli’s music was postponed until the next day’s session. The music recorded today was mainly the work of Buxton Orr, who was also in attendance, and of Benjamin Frankel, whose stepson Dimitri Kennaway was also present, along with the composer’s widow. I had to leave this first session early, due to a prior engagement in Brighton, so I was really unable to do much. Hopefully British Rail would get me there on time, and the next day I could really get down to taking photographs, etc., that’s of course if the aforementioned company managed to get me back to Brighton that evening.
Day Two was not much of an improvement as far as travel was concerned, but luckily, due to some young woman deciding to get off at a station where the train wasn’t due to stop, I managed to change to a faster train. I arrived in London, and – guess what? – it rained. I arrived at the studios a little damp, to say the least, but thankfully there were no groupies this time. So they didn’t see me in my wet shirt (they don’t know what they’re missing – or maybe they did, and that’s why they weren’t around!) So, back to the matter in hand – the session. I was particularly looking forward to this one, because WITCHFINDER GENERAL was due to be recorded.
I was told that the session was a little behind: THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF was proving a little difficult. Benjamin Frankel’s score for this Hammer lupine classic was, after all, a more-or-less fully atonal work, and the Westminster Philharmonic had to have a few attempts at getting things correct after a few takes, and the marvellous conducting skills of Kenneth Alwyn, everything turned out fine. Carlo Martelli was present again, so I took a few minutes to speak with him, and he was of the opinion that maybe the orchestra would also find his music from THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB a little difficult. I am glad to say that things went well on this, as on THE NIGHT OF THE DEMON. Clifton Parker’s marvellous music for this now classic movie vibrated around the studio, and evoked memories for me of the sight of the demon in question seeking out its victims and ending their existence.
WITCHFINDER GENERAL was up next. This score, by Paul Ferris, in many collectors’ opinions, is one of the best, and the most beautiful, written for a horror movie. The orchestra acquitted itself marvellously, and the reconstruction of the score by Philip Lane was, in a word, flawless. The cues included the opening title music, the love theme and the galloping music. As many will be aware, Paul Ferris sadly passed away recently, and the Horror! album for which this recording was destined is dedicated to his memory.
Other recordings included THE HAUNTING and THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN, both by Humphrey Searle. His widow, Fiona Searle, was present at the session, and she told me of a CD that is to be released of the composer’s music not written for film. Searle’s music for THE HAUNTING in particular was a delight of eerie sounds that made one feel uneasy, even in the presence of a full orchestra and the gathered company in the recording booth.
After lunch, James Bernard arrived. His THE DEVIL RIDES OUT was to be recorded, but as the session was running late, it was not recorded until almost the end of recording time. After a very quick run-through with the orchestra, Kenneth Alwyn literally let them rip with The Power of Evil from the score. This concluded the sessions for this particular time – we would all return in a fortnight to record more of the same. Those two weeks that followed seemed to drag: I was looking forward to the musical delights that were to be recorded during the next two sessions.
The Sessions – Part Two
If someone were to ask me what my favourite James Bernard score is, I would probably find it very hard to answer them. I have always admired the work of this great British composer: in my opinion, he is the master of the horror score, and has no, or at least very few, rivals in this particular genre of film. His music adds perfectly the sense of menace that is required for a gothic horror, but, there again, if I were to actually have to pin down my favourite scores, it would have to be three: THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, SHE and THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE. I choose the latter for the wonderful opening of the movie, where a shovel is thrown onto a closed coffin that is in the process of being covered in earth; a scream rings out, and Bernard’s anxious and urgent music begins. Also in that score is the haunting piano music: arranged especially for this recording by the composer into a Vampire Rhapsody this is a stunning work that will be one of the highlights of THE DEVIL RIDES OUT CD. The piano solo was originally performed in the movie by Douglas Gamley: for this recording, we were treated to a performance par excellence by Paul Bateman,
Also recorded over the weekend were James Bernard’s SHE, a suite arranged by the composer that included the Ayesha Theme, Desert Ride, Bedouin Attack and In the Kingdom of She, which is a powerful march, and the end sequence in which Ayesha enters the flames and perishes. An additional treat is the music from all three QUATERMASS movies, as scored by Bernard. The Quatermass Suite is, in the words of Silva’s David Wishart, “Real horror stuff”, and I must admit I agree with his opinion. The suite is terrific: tense music that is performed on strings and percussion only, this rivals the work of Herrmann on PSYCHO and VERTIGO. Seeing as Bernard penned QUATERMASS before either of these two Herrmann scores, I will let you draw your own conclusions about who influenced who, if indeed anybody did.
Other pieces in the session were Gerard Schurmann’s KONGA and HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, plus Buxton Orr’s THE FIEND WITHOUT A FACE, I have been to a few sessions on movies, but these were the first that I had been to where the music was being recorded for an album release, and I must say that I found them very interesting, plus the fact that I was able to hear some of the best music that has ever been written for horror movies.
I am confident that both the Horror! and The Devil Rides Out CDs will sell very well, and hopefully these will create enough interest for Silva to release further compilations. After all, the wealth of music in films of the horror variety is endless. In closing my report, I would like to thank David Wishart, James Fitzpatrick, David Stoner, Philip Lane, James Bernard, Dimitri Kennaway, Carlo Martelli, Kenneth Alwyn, Mike Ross-Trevor, Fiona Searle and The Westminster Philharmonic Orchestra. No thanks at all to British (the train now standing on Platform 4 is not yours, and it’s late anyway) Rail, or the London cabbie who decided that Whitfield Street had moved overnight to Chelsea…