A conversation with Roy Budd by Allan Bryce
Originally published in Soundtrack Magazine Vol.3/No.11, 1984
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor, Luc Van de Ven
When I met the ebullient and highly amusing Mr. Budd for a lunchtime chat in Trader Vic’s restaurant (in the basement of London’s famed Hilton hotel) on the 27th June, he was looking remarkably carefree and confident for a man who has just taken the biggest financial gamble of his chequered musical career. The former jazz musician turned noted film composer had just forked out some three hundred thousand American dollars to pay for the production of a three-album soundtrack collection, in which he conducts some of the great film scores of our time (including his own SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER) in front of the London Symphony Orchestra.
A record deal had not yet been struck, though some of the titles he has recorded will make purists’ mouths water and there is certainly a big market out there for the material. Some of the albums’ contents are at the moment “off the record” for various reasons, and at quite a few moments during our long conversation the plain-speaking composer suggested I turn off my recorder for some colorful but unprintable views on people in the soundtrack business.
Here, then, is the expurgated version of my most enjoyable interview with a talented and likeable man.
The obvious question first: How did you get started in film scoring?
My first assignment, SOLDIER BLUE, was a very controversial film. It had mainly been shot in Mexico by director Ralph Nelson, and the end of the film, in which American soldiers massacre all the Indians, had become politically a burning issue – it was the end of the My Lai and Pinkville massacres in Vietnam (around 1969). Nelson had to finish the film over here in England because of this controversy, and I heard through a friend of mine that he was looking for an English composer to score the film. I had not, at this time, conducted or orchestrated at all, but I wanted the assignment and so I went out and taped all the music of all the composers I knew and liked; I sent the tape to him and told Nelson the music was mine!
(Laughing) I didn’t tape any of the main themes because otherwise he may have guessed it, but I taped bits of all the best film composers. He was impressed, he said, “This guy is terrific!” It would have been interesting if he’d turned me down, because he’d have been turning down Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, Lalo Schifrin and so on. But another reason I got the assignment was that after I met Nelson and watched the film, he asked me what music I would think of putting on after the final massacre. I said. “I don’t think anything speaks louder than silence.” He said. “That’s a great concept – do it!”
How did you take to the discipline of writing music for films?
Well, my main problem was I didn’t know what I was doing. I bought ‘The Henry Mancini Book of Sounds and Scores’ and read it all from there. At one stage I rang up Tony Hatch, who is a writer and producer of records (he scored the films SWEENEY 2 and TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT) and asked him how to write a viola clef – he hadn’t a clue either! You see. I was previously a jazz musician and piano player. I had won a lot of European jazz polls and piano polls, but I knew nothing about orchestration. Standing in front of all those musicians, waving your hands around, is a completely different story to getting up and playing Green Dolphin Street!
SOLDIER BLUE was a very popular score – what came next?
I’m not sure what came after SOLDIER BLUE. I think it was FLIGHT OF THE DOVES, then GET CARTER, ZEPPELIN, THE BLACK WINDMILL (aka DRABBLE). I’ve scored over forty movies – forty-three I think it is.
GET CARTER is one of my favorite films and the score for that is one I find particularly effective, though it obviously doesn’t use many musicians…
Just three in fact. I played the electric piano and the harpsichord at the same time. At that time we didn’t have the electronic wizardry we have nowadays, and I had to actually sit there. Uncomfortable, but it sounded pleasant.
Were you pleased with your work on SOLDIER BLUE?
Perhaps it wasn’t the best-written of scores, but I thought the feel was good. It had some marches in it that were fairly traditional. The atmosphere was right. You get better as you go along, hopefully!
Perhaps you will disagree with this, but I have always thought of you as more of a jazz composer – sort of an English Lalo Schifrin.
Lalo is actually a very decent human being, a very nice man and a fine and talented writer. Lalo has wonderful ideas. In many cases I feel Quincy Jones has gained from many of Lalo’s ideas. In my case, people know I play the piano and they know that Lalo plays the piano – he used to play with Dizzy Gillespie and I used to run a jazz trio. But I don’t think we write the same way at all.
You scored THE BLACK WINDMILL for Don Siegel, who traditionally uses Schifrin for his movies. Did it surprise you to be offered that assignment?
Not really. I don’t know whether he didn’t want to use Lalo, whether he felt he should have a change and use a different composer, or perhaps he asked Lalo and he couldn’t do it for some reason. I haven’t got the foggiest idea. The film was shot over in England. I met Don Siegel, and was delighted to be working for him, that’s really it. Unfortunately I did the one Siegel film that failed – he had just made DIRTY HARRY and CHARLEY VARRICK, two excellent movies. I think that THE BLACK WINDMILL failed because it was neither a love story, nor a thriller. It had elements of both, and I think Siegel wanted to do something different. It was a difficult movie to score. Looking at it now, it’s a better film if you forget Don Siegel made it, because it’s not as exciting as most of his other pictures.
You haven’t seemed to develop a relationship with a director that has lasted over the years, though in the early stages of your career it looked like you might – Ralph Nelson for example…
I did SOLDIER BLUE and FLIGHT OF THE DOVES, but his third film, called THE WRATH OF GOD, was filmed in Mexico and they wanted it scored in America with a Latin American feel. Lalo Schifrin did it. There’s enough room for everybody in the film business though, we all swap and change around – except maybe Blake Edwards and Henry Mancini!
Do you have your own favorite score?
It might be SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER, because I found that score fit the film very well. I liked very much my score for THE STONE KILLER that was literally wall-to-wall music – started at the beginning and ended at the end. Jerry Fielding normally worked for Michael Winner, but I took that particular assignment. Jerry Fielding was a good writer and a good friend. He wrote in a very emotionally involved style – almost angry. In fact he was a pretty angry guy about things he felt strongly about. Very forceful and straight-talking. Unfortunately he worked so hard he killed himself – he was an awesome talent.
No. in retrospect my favorite score is PAPER TIGER.
Obviously you know a lot of other film composers…
One I know very well and admire tremendously is Henry Mancini. Henry is what you could call ‘ambassadorial’. All round he is such a good representative. Talent wise he is totally different from someone such as, say, Jerry Goldsmith – though it must be said I’ve probably got more Jerry Goldsmith albums than anything else in my record collection. My favorite Goldsmith score is THE CHALLENGE. Jerry is very much influenced by the Stravinsky Russian way of writing at times, and that makes him one of my favorite composers. He’s always searching for new ideas. He has a talent to move somebody emotionally in the cinema, for tension or power or whatever. But then you cross the street to Henry Mancini, who is a good song writer as well. There is just no parallel, they work in different leagues while both being equally talented. Like Lalo Schifrin. He’s an ideas man, does some great stuff.
Getting back to this jazz background of yours. Does it influence your writing or performing?
I rarely play on my own scores. Perhaps when there’s a bit of piano playing, but almost never. If I have anything amazing in my film career it’s the fact that I’ve now scored forty-three pictures, having just finished the Tom Stoppard thing SQUARING THE CIRCLE, which has got all the rave reviews (it’s about Lech Walesa and the birth of solidarity in Poland) and I have never been asked yet to write a jazz score. Never once have I been asked to do the thing that I am obviously best suited to doing! I’ve been asked to score KIDNAPPED up in Scotland playing bagpipes, but never a piano score.
You live in Paris now. Do you do much work over there?
Nothing at all! I would love to score a French movie – in fact one of my forthcoming assignments may be a French film called tentatively FOUR BAR CHASE. I did do a full-length cartoon movie called THE MISSING LINK, but that was recorded over here in London. I had to write the whole score for that film in six days, because the producers had rejected a score already written for it and were in a hurry to get it finished – it was a hair-raising experience!
You are now divorced from singer Catharina Valente?
Yes. I live with my fiancée in Paris. I’m over here now to complete a personal project, what will be the definitive soundtrack collection of all time. I can’t discuss everything about it here, but I can tell you it will be a three album set of film music, possibly titled The Final Frontier: the set contains musical suites from THE MARK OF ZORRO (Alfred Newman), THE FINAL CONFLICT (Jerry Goldsmith), INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (John Williams), SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER, and many others that will delight classical film music enthusiasts. Most of the music is arranged in suite form – there’s a STAR TREK suite that incorporates themes by Alexander Courage. Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner. I conducted the London Symphony Orchestra, the music has been recorded digitally, and I have personally sunk some three hundred thousand dollars of my own money into the project. Now I’ve got the tapes and I know it was worthwhile. I’m looking around for a suitable deal and I hope that the collection will be in the shops by November. It’s going to be the best record set of its kind ever released.