This month, we have the pleasure of presenting a double-interview issue, inspired by the Star Wars mania taking over the world. Both our featured subjects have illustrious activities outside of their studio work, making it fascinating to see how they do it all. Terry Johns is a prolific writer as well as distinguished horn player - you will be amazed at all he has seen and done in his decades-long career in the UK. Australian-born Andrew Bain, the fearless co-host of our most recent symposium as well as principal horn in the LA Philharmonic, has just led the horn section in the latest Star Wars adventure. Read on and learn what it was like to be a part of it! (May the Force be with you, of course) :-) -KMT
Kristina Mascher-Turner: Terry, during your illustrious career at the heart of the London horn scene, you have played on numerous movie soundtracks. Which scores stand out for you?
Terry Johns: The sixties was an amazing decade for music in Britain. The Beatles conquered America in 1964 and every international conductor wanted to have a London Orchestra. Andre Previn came to the London Symphony Orchestra in 1968, he brought “classical” music to a vast new audience with his TV series “Andre Previn’s Music Night ” and many American film composers were coming to London to work in the studios at Denham and Shepperton. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I was very fortunate to have been a part of all this, having left the Royal Academy in 1965 and joined the Royal Philharmonic.
The first film sessions I was invited to were at Shepperton studios for “The Blue Max” – they began a few days before my 22nd birthday in April 1966 and it wasn’t solely because of the occasion that it stayed in my memory. I’ve listened to the sound track again recently. Jerry Goldsmith’s score is brilliant and the horn writing terrific. I think it’s one of the best things JG ever did, and I found out later that he thought so too. The music has been performed quite a bit in the concert hall I believe but the film is hardly ever seen on TV now. I’m sure I don’t know why. It’s a terrific film with a great cast – George Peppard, Ursula Andress and James Mason – and a powerful story about a German fighter pilot on the western front during world war one. For the record, the horns were Alan Civil, Jim Brown Jim Buck (jnr) and yours truly.
I do remember being amazed by the sound and the sight of the orchestra assembled for the film “Oliver” that was released in 1968. It was, by necessity a mixture of jazz, light music and orchestral players in large numbers not often seen in a studio, even in the London of the sixties. The great John Green conducted all the sessions, winning an Oscar for his “ best musical adaptation score” of Lionel Bart’s music.
A lot happened in 1969 that I remember for different reasons. I was part of the orchestra that got the sack from the film “Battle of Britain” along with Malcolm Arnold, who had conducted the sessions at Denham, and William Walton, most of whose music had been rejected by United Artists for a number of unlikely sounding reasons. Fortunately the recording was rescued later, and is still available despite nearly all of it having been replaced on the official release with a score by Ron Goodwin. Getting fired in such illustrious company was not such a bad thing I must say and there has been a lot of interest in the affair over a number of years.
In that same year, on the pavement outside CBS studios in London, Nat Peck introduced me to the slightly shy and then practically unknown John Williams, who was a little flustered and apprehensive because that morning he’d lost his bearings on the London underground and having found the studio at last, he felt uncomfortable because he didn’t know anybody in the orchestra. Nat (his old friend and fellow New Yorker) was introducing him to a few people to help him relax before the recording. We were all there to make the sound track for the musical version of “Goodbye Mr. Chips” with Peter O’Toole and Petula Clark, conducted by JW and with his orchestrations of Leslie Bricusse’s music. That, I believe was his first appearance in London. I saw him again on the sound stage at Denham for “Fiddler on the Roof” in 1971 conducting his orchestrations of Jerry Bock’s music for which he won an Oscar. Isaac Stern played the violin solos.
KMT: Let’s talk about the original Star Wars trilogy. What did you think of the music at the time? Did you have any idea it would live forever?
TJ: I was expecting something special actually. His great musicianship and skill as an arranger-orchestrator had been obvious to me and everybody who’d played on those first two films. But in between I had heard his original score for the TV film he did for CBS of “Jane Eyre” This is really great work I think, a clear sight of the finished article so rarely heard now - in Britain anyway.
So I was excited about what I was going to hear on that day at Denham, but I don’t think many of the LSO players of that time had worked with him before (Since the arrival of Previn in ’68 the orchestra had become so busy that nobody had any time to freelance!) but the atmosphere in the studio was electric even before we started, partly due to the huge orchestra that had been assembled and the presence of George Lucas and Lionel Newman in the recording booth. GL was so excited when he heard the opening fanfare that he phoned his pal Spielberg in L.A. and played it back down the phone to him!! (1970s technology !) There was talk in the studio too that the film was just the first in a series of eight that was planned to last thirty years in the making. I don’t know how many people believed that at the time!
KMT: How far in advance did the musicians receive the music? Did you have any time to prepare, or did you basically sight-read the score at the recording sessions?
TJ: On film sessions we never saw the music before the day. Quite a few cues were done in advance while we were playing, by a team of copyists in the studio because almost everything was done by hand at that time. One of the most remarkable things about those sessions was the reading at sight, particularly in the strings and woodwind, and of course, many people listening to the original tracks now won’t be aware of that. Things did get easier in the later films as people got used to the idiom and his style of writing.
KMT: Do you remember how long it took; start to finish, to record the original 1977 Star Wars soundtrack? How many hours were the individual sessions on average?
TJ: There were eight three-hour sessions in March 1977. I couldn’t remember I looked it up!
KMT: How much contact, if any, did you have with John Williams during the recordings? Was he active on the studio floor or just in the booth?
TJ: He conducted every session, apart from two or three runs-through that Lionel Newman conducted, and when he knew everything was on schedule and he could relax a little, he liked to wander around the studio in the breaks and talk to people. His “previous” life, as many people know, had been in studios in the US as a pianist. The studio was (is) his natural environment.
KMT: What equipment did you play on the Star Wars films? Was this what everyone in the horn section played?
TJ: David Cripps was the solo horn on the first two films. He really liked to use different horns for different things and could do it easily and sound great. I used the same horn for years and I always felt uncomfortable with an unfamiliar instrument. There certainly was no rule or tradition about what people played. I’m pretty sure there was a wide variety of horns in the studio and that was the same for the “Empire Strikes Back”. I know I had an Alexander 103 for all that time and I played everything on it.
But when I played solo horn on “Return of the Jedi” I had settled on an Elkhart Conn 8D after a long period of trying to outsmart the engineer at BBCTV who always insisted on placing the horn microphone six inches from the bell. The Conn sound was the only one that survived that treatment.
KMT: Would you mind telling us if you are a fan of the Star Wars saga itself? Or was it just another gig?
TJ: I love science fiction! The first book I ever read was by Isaac Asimov. But “Star Wars” was a real break through in cinematic terms wasn’t it? Some say it saved the cinema industry from the relentless advance of television and it did so with tremendous technical advances as well as by going back to a few basics.
JWs music comes right from old Hollywood in the tradition of Korngold and Max Steiner with those lush upholstered orchestrations very often used under dialogue Also when he needs to, he writes with that tremendous power that drives the action, very like the film scores Prokofiev did for Eisenstein’s films. But really it was his use of the Leitmotif and his mastery of it in the first film that took the whole thing to another level preparing the way for the whole great cycle.
It’s safe to say, I think, that Star Wars changed the course of cinema history and film music.
KMT: Do you have any funny or bizarre stories of things that took place during the Star Wars recordings that you can share with our readers?
TJ: My old friend Pat Vermont, a West Indian violist, who enriched the lives of all who knew him, and was blessed with a glorious, glamorous, sense of theatre, would often entertain the LSO players in band rooms in foreign concert-halls or in recording breaks in studios with his amusing monologues, referring dramatically to our labours and peregrinations as -- “all this.”
“When ‘all this’ is over”, he would declare to the little band-room audience, “I’m going back to Jamaica to live with my auntie!”
Through the many hours of the Star Wars trilogy sessions, Pat had developed an intense dislike of Darth Vader who in Pat’s fertile imagination had become almost a real person and it was George Lucas’s “ colour coding” that seemed to annoy him the most.
”Oh why!” he would cry, “does the vilest person in the Universe have to be black!”
When Vader was Wagnerially incinerated at the end of “The Return of the Jedi” Pat sat watching almost ecstatic at the sight of the flames engulfing “that horrid asthmatic man”
There was a dramatic horn solo as the flames from the funeral pyre burned in the night sky and Pat told me during one of the play-backs, that “after nearly forty years in the LSO viola section” it was the ”only time in his life” that he wished he’d been a horn player!
KMT: When did you notice Wagner tuben being called for in horn parts for movie scores? It seems de rigeur these days.
TJ: I never was asked to play one on a film and I never saw any used but it’s a great idea!
KMT: I’ve read that you have extensive experience and a love for playing jazz. Would you say this has come in handy during your session work?
I played with a few jazz “greats” in my time. I played with Tubby Hayes. Kenny Wheeler and Mike Gibbs and I played on some records with Clark Terry, Phil Woods and Michel LeGrand so I was usually invited when there was anything “jazzy” to do. But for a time in London there was only myself and Mo Miller who would improvise and there were not that many horn players that were comfortable with the swing idiom. I expect Americans find that difficult to understand. It has always been second nature to your guys I know.
British players are much more versatile nowadays though. It even seems strange to be talking about it now. There are jazz courses at most music colleges. Jim Rattigan has one at Trinity Laban in Greenwich. Here’s a thought -- In our day jazz was banned at the Royal Academy. I imagine it’s hard for you to believe that.
KMT: Did you get free tickets to the rest of the Star Wars movies for life? Because you should have!
TJ: No. I got a T Shirt!