Biography and Interview by John Mansell
A Personal Tribute into the life and times of a jazz and film music legend
The interview was conducted two weeks before the composer’s tragic death in 1993
Roy Budd was probably the most promising and talented composer and musician to come out of the UK since John Barry. Budd’s film scores were always greeted with much applause by collectors and his ability as a pianist was second to none, in fact it was astounding. Roy and I first met in 1992. This was after a long string of phone calls to PRS and then his agent. Then one Sunday afternoon the phone at home rang. I answered it and said “Hello”. A voice on the other end said “Is that John?”. I of course answered “Yes”. “Oh good – its Roy Budd”. Well that certainly surprised me. We chatted and Roy cracked a load of gags and arranged to meet up. He had told me he was going to start work on a massive work for the cinema but it was all hush hush. Of course I did not press him to reveal what this was but after about 5 minutes into our first meeting he told me all about the project which was for the silent movie THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. I could tell he was really excited about the prospect of working on the film; it was not until July 21st 1993 we met again, but we had kept in contact via phone and letter (no e-mails then). It was on this day at the Bonnington hotel that we did the interview, Roy was his usual jovial self, wise cracks all the way, and in between the gags and the one-liners we managed to cobble together something that resembled an interview. I was on top of the world that day, (1) because I was interviewing Roy, and (2) because Roy had put a certain person (who now edits a film music mag and web site) right in his place (in other words, or in Roy’s words, he had told this person to sod off). Two weeks later on Saturday August 7th Roy was dead; he had suffered a brain haemorrhage. I remember hearing the news from a friend, John Williams, who was the editor of the original Music from the Movies. I was stunned as was everyone – Roy was well liked. So we rushed through an obituary for MFTM and one month later we printed a tribute to Roy in the form of an edited version of the interview. What follows here is the full interview with some contributions from filmmaker Euan Lloyd.
Roy Budd began his involvement in music from a very early age when, as an inquisitive four year old, he had his first encounter with a piano. “The piano came off the better” so the composer told me. “At first I would play by ear. You know – listen to things on the radio or if someone was playing a record and then I would be able to pick it up quite quickly and be able to play it”. By the age of twelve Roy had become very competent as a pianist but he lacked the appetite to perform in public. As he explained, “When I was twelve I was asked to perform at the London Palladium – this was in front of Royalty. I was so nervous; I went on stage and was just in awe of the watching people. I actually did perform but I finished playing about a minute before the orchestra had. I stood up, bowed quickly and I think I ran off stage. It was like playing the minute waltz in 48 seconds”. By the time Roy had reached his twenties he had established himself as a top jazz pianist. At the age of twenty five, the young musician decided to further and broaden his musical career by becoming a composer of music for film. His first scoring assignment was to be the highly controversial and violent western SOLDIER BLUE. How Budd got the assignment was also something of a controversy as Roy told me. “The director of SOLDIER BLUE wanted a British composer. You see there had been a lot of ugly murders in the States around about the time of the film being made. Americans had killed Americans and because of the film’s ending and a bit of Hollywood logic I suppose the director thought, I know let’s hire a Brit. to do the score then if there is any come back he is the one who won’t work anymore. Anyway I went to see the director; I must admit I was nervous. I took along a tape of some of my music. I played it on piano and recorded it but what I did not tell the director was that some of the music was not mine. I had actually pinched it from the likes of Jerry Goldsmith, Jerry Fielding, John Barry, Dimitri Tiomkin, Max Steiner, in fact just about everyone; the tape sounded like Great Movie Music Volume 1, 2 and 3 (laughs). Of course I did not include the main themes or anything that might be recognised, just tracks from soundtracks I had listened to on record and then performed myself on the piano for the tape. I told the director that all the music he was hearing was mine and he was very impressed – well he would have been. Just think, if he had turned me down, he would have been turning down half of the film composers in the world. The rest is history – I got the job”.
Soon after the success of SOLDIER BLUE Roy was inundated with offers of work from filmmakers. Euan Lloyd was one of many producers and directors that were after Roy to score their movies. As Mr Lloyd recalled. “It was Sam Wannamaker the actor and director that brought Roy to my attention. Sam had seen SOLDIER BLUE and was very impressed by the score. We were making a western at the time called CATLOW. Sam impressed on me the importance of having the right kind of score for the film and he was insistent that Roy Budd work on the picture. I was curious so I managed to find a cinema that was showing SOLDIER BLUE and went to see the movie. Although the sound system in the cinema was lousy, I was immediately impressed with the way in which Roy utilised percussion in this very violent movie – this for me was enough to confirm that he was the right composer for CATLOW. This was the first of five movies that I and Roy were destined to work together on”.
My next question for Mr. Budd was about the soundtrack release of SOLDIER BLUE. Why was it a re-recording; surely the soundtrack warranted a release in its original form? “Well, not if you are a record company it doesn’t, the aim of the record company is to obviously sell records, and as many as they can. So some record company executive at the time, decided that the original score would not appeal to people as a record. So because of my jazz connections it was decided that the score should be arranged and I should play piano on it – and that is the version of the score that was issued on Phillips, no sorry PYE records. I did not really mind at the time, after all I was new to all of it. I also recorded a lot of other tracks to be featured on the B side of the LP. These were all film themes and a medley from WEST SIDE STORY.” But did the tapes from SOLDIER BLUE exist anymore? “I don’t know. They did – but where they are now? Your guess is as good as mine”.
With a filmography as impressive and varied as Roy Budd’s it must be a difficult task to single out one or two that are favourites; I put this question to the composer. “PAPER TIGER is a score that I have fond memories of and I do like the movie a lot. I suppose I could say I like all of my scores but that would sound a little vain, don’t you think. I would really like to compose a jazz score. I know that many of my scores have jazz music included in them but I have never had the chance to write a fully jazz soundtrack”.
Euan Lloyd also spoke of PAPER TIGER. “PAPER TIGER was a movie that called for a very different approach and to be honest I was a little worried about giving the assignment to Roy but it did not take Roy long to convince me that he should work on the picture; he could be very persuasive at times. He told me that he thought that he would be able to do something special on the movie; it had a very emotional storyline and it was this aspect of the story that Roy focused on. I was weaned on the likes of Steiner, Korngold and Newman and what I wanted was a similar type of score for PAPER TIGER that, say, Steiner had written for one of those Bette Davis dramas. I asked Roy to concentrate on the emotive ingredients of the movie rather than the action sequences. He did this superbly, he gave me exactly what I wanted, and he lifted what was a relatively inexpensive movie into a minor classic. A big symphonic title treatment on a theme to be used frequently throughout the film, played by the national Philharmonic Orchestra under Roy’s baton; this is still my favourite Roy Budd score. When David Niven (the Paper Tiger) is humbled by a ten year old Japanese boy, Roy’s surging strings made audiences reach for their handkerchiefs. Steiner would have loved it”
After PAPER TIGER Budd’s next film with Euan Lloyd was THE WILD GEESE. This is probably one of Roy’s most well know scores and the soundtrack was re-issued on compact disc recently on The Masters Film Music series. Euan Lloyd told me what happened on that movie. “WILD GEESE was probably our biggest effort together – it’s now a movie standard and plays regularly worldwide. A huge orchestral score was needed to compliment a huge cast on a global mission. It had to equal competitive scores in movies such as THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, THE DIRTY DOZEN and THE WILD BUNCH. Roy was given the black and white reels as edited by John Glenn and he converted his bedroom into his own studio, timing his compositions on a clumsy old movieola. My only contribution was an insistence that Richard Harris’s character play a disc of Borodin whenever he met his son. This was effectively planted by Roy and its most effective and ultimate use was when a fragment of it was utilised by Roy when Harris’s character is killed by Richard Burton in the film’s final stages – this was stunning”. The Budd/Lloyd collaboration continued with THE SEA WOLVES which was swiftly followed by WHO DARES WINS. Both movies contained powerful and dramatic scores. Both adventure war movies but both different – one set in the days of WWII the other in 1980s London. Budd’s musical scores aided greatly the movies and helped heighten the tension and accompanied the action perfectly. The composer said of them: “I enjoyed working on THE SEA WOLVES, although I don’t think it did that well at the cinema – pity, it was a good old adventure film. WHO DARES WINS dealt with a very relevant issue, terrorism. There had been a number of attacks and hi-jackings etc, so the film was quite topical at the time; I think it was based on some of these incidents”.
Euan Lloyd also recalled the movies and Budd’s involvement on them. “Both of these pictures called for scores that would drive them relentlessly on towards their targets. Roy once again assembled his favourite session men under the combined flag of the National Philharmonic. I think Roy loved conducting as much as he did actually writing the music; his energy was limitless. For THE SEA WOLVES Roy wove the WARSAW CONCERTO theme into the fabric of his soundtrack. There was also a song sung by Matt Monroe. The music was the Warsaw concerto and lyrics were added to it by Leslie Bricusse; it was entitled THE PRECIOUS MOMENTS. WHO DARES WINS contained a highly volatile and dramatic soundtrack which was just right for the film. This was much darker than Roy’s other works. Our last movie together was WILD GEESE II. This took us to Berlin for an attempted rescue of Rudolf Hess. The Berlin sound cried out for use (just as Carol Reed’s THE THIRD MAN brought fame to the Zither and Anton Karas). Roy broke with tradition on this score and used the London Symphony Orchestra”.
When I arranged to meet Roy for this interview I knew that he had been working on something big but he refused to tell me what it was. It transpired that it was a silent classic which he was scoring. “I have just finished working on the 1920’s silent movie THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. It’s been restored to its former glory and looks incredible. I have recorded the score and I am waiting to hear if there will be a compact disc of it released. I have written 82 minutes of music for this assignment and this is more or less continuous. It was a totally different experience for me – I am used to all the explosions and also dialogue on a movie, so when I had none of this to deal with it was a dream. Writing nearly 90 minutes of music was a little daunting, and also tiring, but the film inspired me and I just seemed to be able to get on with it easily. The film and the score will be premiered at the Barbican on September 21st this year (1993) all proceeds from the night will go to the children’s charity U.N.I.C.E.F. I will conduct the score whilst the movie is being screened. Hopefully the film and the music will finish at the same time (laughs). I am very proud of this score John and I am pleased that I have been asked to score another silent movie and I am looking forward to it”. We all know that Roy Budd was an accomplished film music composer, but he also excelled within the realms of jazz music, and was also well known as a prolific and polished pianist. Euan Lloyd recalled some of this side of Roy’s character. “Roy’s musical ability has been recognised by a wide range of peers – his incredible jazz playing impressed audiences the world over. I count myself as one of the privileged few who managed to hear him play at unexpected sessions. In Paris, London and Hollywood he would play at Shelley Manne’s hotel and also give impromptu performances in New York alongside Woody Allen, who would play clarinet. Music just seemed to pour from Roy’s fingers whenever the chance came along”. I asked Roy if he preferred a particular type of film to work on? “I like something with a good story and some action but I am also partial to a film that has a romantic storyline. So if I get something with action and romance that suits me down to the ground. FLIGHT OF THE DOVES was a charming little movie – I liked working on that. Also KIDNAPPED, now that was a classic; it had everything and some amazing scenery to go with it. One movie I was not that keen on was MAMA DRACULA. The film was a little weak to be honest but I still gave it my best shot”. I think one of Roy’s scores, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN DEADLY SINS, was his most entertaining. What did the composer think? “Yes it was a very entertaining movie – well, seven movies in one really, so seven different scores or mini scores; that was interesting to work on”.
Did the composer find any composers of film music or other types of music interesting at all? “Oh yes – Jerry Fielding is a master at film scoring. Just take a listen to THE WILD BUNCH and see how it works with the movie – it brings the story to a whole new level. He of course fell foul to some of those political backstabbers in Hollywood. If he had lived Fielding would have been right up on the top of the film music composer pile now. I would not say that any composer in particular has influenced me in the way I compose but people like Wagner always inspire me and also composers such as Jerry Goldsmith are great. Goldsmith I think revolutionised the way in which movies were scored and it amazes me that he can write for a large symphony orchestra on one assignment and then on the next he is right at home behind a keyboard. Then there is Ennio Morricone. His soundtracks for the Leone westerns just blew everyone away and are still being mimicked now. So yes – I think those people and others are, shall we say, just a little bit more than interesting”. Since the sad passing of Roy Budd back in 1993 a number of his cores have been issued on various record labels. The most publicised were the discs which issued by Castle Communications. I think Roy would have been pleased about this re-issue programme, as he was all for his music being accessible to his fans. I asked him about the availability of his music. “There can never be enough material released I don’t think. If the people want the music then why not let them have it. I get annoyed about the backroom politics when it comes to releasing a soundtrack; why not just put it out. OK, soundtracks are just a small part of a huge market place out there but surely it’s better to have something on a recording rather than let it lie around in some dusty old cupboard, probably to be eventually thrown out by a cleaner. It’s sad that so many people put so much effort into film music and it is often the last thought of the filmmaker. It’s the same with releasing soundtracks – I have noticed a trend to release just songs from films without any score at all on the disc; shameful practise”.
I spoke to Roy about his score to FIELD OF HONOUR. I was surprised that the composer was not aware that the score was available on CD. He laughed and said “I will have to give Silva Screen a call and get one. You see what happens is, when you write a score and get paid for doing it, that’s it. The music then becomes the property of the film company and they can basically do whatever they want to do with it. In 99% of cases the music is locked away and the film company are not interested at all if it gets released or not. It’s a sad fact of life that music is probably the last thing on the film companies mind and, for them, it’s just a pain to have people keep asking them can we issue this score etc. That’s why so many companies want so much money for the music rights etc. and record labels are not willing to risk a lot of money for something that might not sell”. If Roy had lived I am sure he would now be one of the most prolific and respected British composers. This year would have been his 59th – it is such a great pity that he passed away so early on in his life. He was a gifted and highly original composer, an outstanding musician and also one of the nice guys in the music business. His music lives on via his film scores and also the recordings of his jazz performances. I think it is only fitting that the last words about Roy are left to Euan Lloyd, “Mine and Roy’s professional relationship was at times rough and sour but we always wound up celebrating the final results, and privately, we were abiding friends, as close as two brothers. Knowing what immense mental and physical effort Roy put into his work, it is for me understandable that some catastrophe might inevitably interrupt his life. Knowing also that his almost certain greatest work, the scoring of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, drained his body resources to the limit, it was such a dreadful price to pay to give the world a score to remember for all time”.
The sad thing about the filmmakers closing sentence is that Roy’s score never saw the light of day. After his death it was replaced with another score by composer Carl Davis. I spoke on a couple of occasions to Roy’s widow, who had a copy of the recorded score, but due to legal wrangles the music that cost Roy his life will never be heard. Maybe some time in the not too distant future some record company will unearth this treasure and it will get the release it so rightly deserves. Until that time we can only ponder what magnificent musical sounds Roy created for the production. As Roy left he was his normal jovial self. He turned to me with a wide beaming grin on his face, shook my hand and said “Thanks John, keep taking the tablets”.