CAST AWAY ON AN ISLAND
WITHOUT A PADDLE
I often listen to the choice of music of guests on the British radio show, “Desert Island Discs”. I often wonder if their mostly poncey choices of classical music were in any way a real reflection on their actual musical taste. I suspect not. I think they want to appear more sophisticated than they really are.
I don’t have that conceit since many people know from my career that my choices of music are more eclectic and in any event I always liked a tune I could hum. Therefore my musical selection is going to be a real journey back in time of music I have been directly involved in one-way or another. I figure if I chose a track for something I was producing or directing it really meant a great deal to me.
OK, so you know my guidelines and here goes. Of course there is no particular order of preference and I have not counted the number, so it might be above or below the threshold of ten tracks but why stop when you’re having fun. The first track was one I used on my first film, “Mister J”. It was a pretty amateur film and I don’t believe many people other than me and my then filmmaking partner, Mike Lytton have seen it. It was “Those were the days” sung by Mary Hopkin. I listened to it again before writing this and it stands up because Mary beautifully sings the lyrics and the tune is excellently orchestrated. Every time I hear this song I remember being young, excited by every day and full of the future and the possibilities every day would bring.
I then quit my day job working as an assistant director on The Avengers and made a film called “The Festival Game” about the Cannes Film Festival of 1969, yes I really am that ancient. I originally found some great soft rock tracks which we put on the rough cut but was then told that the chief booker for the big cinema chain, Rank, at the time, only liked jazz and hated modern music. My dad gave me the address of Ronnie Scott’s club and off I went. He was a pretty acerbic fellow and gave me a pretty hard time. Mind you I deserved it having asked for an entire jazz score for the one-hour film, including his entire band for the princely sum of less than six hundred pounds. I well remember standing in the booth of the recording studio in Wembley as they played my second choice, “The theme for the Festival Game” making it clear I wanted them to play quicker. Ronnie stopped the recording and said the classic words, “If you want to say something Tony you’d best come out here and conduct!” As a nineteen year old and not realizing he was extracting the piss I did as he suggested. Not my finest moment but the resulting music is pretty terrific!
My filmmaking journey continued on its erratic course when I made the film “Extremes”. I was now nearly twenty so I knew that this time we were going to get a proper music score that we really wanted. Of course by the time we got to select our music we didn’t have much money left. We scoured the famous Tin Pan Alley in London’s Denmark St. calling on random music publishers. “What have you got for our film?” was our cry, and the answer was “Not a lot if you’ve got no money.” Among the chaps making us tea in one of these music publishers called Dick James were two young chaps we got talking with. I remember their names, Bernie and Elton, who was then called Reg, I wonder whatever happened to them. The tea was nice. We heard many tracks and were told we couldn’t have the tracks for nothing. We eventually realized that if we could get the bands to agree to our using their tracks we might get them to persuade their publishers etc. to let us have the tracks on mates rates.
We particularly liked some tracks by a new band that were unknown. They were touring in an old bashed up van and apparently couldn’t meet the payments for it or their drum kit. There was talk of a potential financier but he hadn’t come through as yet. We tried several times to get the band in the viewing room to see our rough cut but they were always otherwise occupied and we were getting desperate. Eventually they all attended and one of them, through the haze of some special cigarettes announced, “Now we’re getting the buzz. Yes, you can have the tracks.” We did a deal for three hundred pounds to use the three pieces, which meant we were now over budget. Then their manager called us up and said they were under real financial pressure and if we could give him a further six hundred pounds we could share half of the publishing rights on the three tracks. We said yes subject to our getting the cash out of our film financier, Barry. He threw us out of his office after hearing the idea and wouldn’t even listen to the tracks. The group was called Supertramp and the tracks are “Surely”, “Am I not like other birds of prey” and “Words Unspoken”. I am glad to say they all feature on the film and are now on release with the film that Gonzo is handling along with “The Festival Game”.
Coming in at the same time was the music by Roy Budd for my dad’s film classic, “Get Carter.” At the time no one knew just how iconic that film would become but we all knew the music by Roy was terrific. Roy could be a problematic man, and as talented as he was as a musician and composer he actually really wanted to be a major entrepreneur. He died too young and frustrated in his ambitions but his music lives forever.
Shortly after this I was hired to do some filming of the Beach Boy’s Holland album in Holland. I was paid some money and flown to that country. I was then put in a nice hotel and told to wait as the band were not yet ready to discuss the filming. Every day for about a week someone would pop an envelope of cash and another with strange smoking substances under my door. Every time there would be a note telling me to be patient, the boys weren’t ready yet. Eventually I got a bit bored and decided to leave for England. I never heard another word about this abortive effort. Year later I was approached while in the States to have a meeting with Mike Love of the Beach Boys to have a conversation about my making a movie with the band. I reminded him about the previous non-encounter and he clearly knew nothing about it!
After the feature film work and the more or less conventional film scores I was asked if I wanted to work with elements of the band, Deep Purple. Of course I said a quick yes since they were populated with some of the best rock musicians in the world. This evolved into my making the film, “The Butterfly Ball”. I could go on and write a book about all of this, in fact I am going to do so but not for now. Suffice it to say they cut my budget by two thirds but still expected exactly the same results. Let’s draw a veil over all my suffering, and it was genuine and talk music. Here were some great tracks but the one that really stick in my mind is “Love is all”. At pretty much the same time they asked me to put together the production of Deep Purple playing the Budokan stadium in Tokyo. Suffice it to say that would be at least a chapter or two in anyone’s book but if we’re picking tracks that night’s rendition of their classic, “Smoke on the Water” was never better.
My next musical foray was to get invited to make the pop promo, now it would be a rock video, for Roger Daltrey’s first solo album’s title track, “One of the boys”. It went so well that I was invited to make “The Kids are Alright” with and for The Who. I can name several tracks that would find their way with me on to my far off beach, most notably, “Won’t get fooled again” “Who are you?” “See me, feel me”. Do you see a theme I had here? I worked on a bunch of feature films all over the world during this period and encountered many composers such as Elmer Bernstein and Maurice Jarre each with their unique talents and scores. When I went to pick Elmer up from Heathrow I was waiting for him to come through when another passenger saw me standing there with a little sign saying Bernstein. He walked over to me and said, “I wish you luck, the whole score for your movie is on the back of a single cigarette pack.” It turned out to be true. Elmer had banked the cheque but not yet written the score despite the fact that, for the film Gold we had a huge studio and a big orchestra waiting for him, the music and all the parts to start recording the next morning. We rushed him over to our musical supremo and fixer, the late Jack Fishman. He in turn brought in a very clever fellow who somehow, overnight coaxed an entire score and all the orchestrations out of our composer. Perversely Peters and Lee sang one of the tracks Elmer composed. This was made very difficult by the film’s director, Peter Hunt, who decided to throw a hissy fit at the film’s music fixer, accusing him of sabotage, “Why else would you send me a blind singer to do a song for a film?” Nevertheless he was overruled and it was then nominated for an Academy Award as best song. It wasn’t great and it didn’t win but how it was ever nominated I shall never understand.
For the “Shout at the Devil” music we hired Maurice Jarre. He arrived and I noticed that in front of the huge orchestra we had half a dozen pianos lined up next to each other. I asked him why and he pointed out that as the battleship approached he wanted a rich and deep sound of impending danger using the bass notes from the pianos all playing the same couple of notes. I enquired had he not heard of multi tracking and he turned on his heel in disgust at my ignorance. At lunchtime, as was the studio custom when a big movie score was starting its recording sessions we were invited to a lush boardroom lunch. Peter Hunt, yes, he was directing another film for us, whispered that he had to go to a meeting and would be back later. In fact the next time I saw Peter was about twenty years later because he’d apparently gone straight to Rome to see if he could get another film to direct, this time from Carlo Ponti. What Peter didn’t know was that Carlo had telephoned us to check out what we thought of the missing director. We were very polite, I informed Carlo that the only thing wrong with Peter was the first letter of his surname; otherwise I would make no comment. There were a ton of tracks that we worked on but the most enjoyable days of all were those special moments. First came the first day of filming in Shepperton Film Studios behind closed doors. The band played some Beach Boys tracks just for our cameras and it was special. They hadn’t played anywhere together for a couple of years and it was dynamite. Somehow, and I don’t know how, people turned up outside the studio to try and get in and listen to our private little and very special concert. The other day that was totally special happened when we booked a private concert for filming purposes at the Kilburn State cinema. Someone in our team decided that the band would need a full audience to get them up for a performance and secretly called the London radio stations to inform the general population that there would be a free Who concert that afternoon. Thousands of people dropped whatever they were doing and made their way down the Edgware Road. Pete was furious realizing we had not kept to our word for it to be just a film shoot. He shouted at the audience and I thought he might attack me when I called for him to play his favourite guru’s tune, “Begin the Beguine”. Their play that afternoon was raw and powerful and as good as it gets.
We then made a film called “Riding High” which starred the motorbike-riding superstar, Eddie Kidd. I have never been more nervous than when I was in charge of producing the huge jumps in our film while Eddie was totally nerveless. Sadly his bravery might have been his downfall since he sadly had a terrible accident years later and has spent many years handicapped and proving what a hero he is to the world. But I should get back to the music. I had vivid memories of some great tracks I had always wanted to use in a film and went out to get them for the film. I particularly loved the tracks by the Police, “Walking on the Moon” and the Pretenders, “Brass in Pocket” but there were some great tracks in the rest of that album particularly my secret favourite, “One Step Beyond” by Madness. I could carry on being endlessly self indulgent in my film / music connections but I guess its time to go back to the future. I do this by signalling my new musical theatre piece, “The Show Must Go On” which features the music and life of my old, very old, pal David Courtney. We shall be featuring some of his great hits, all of which I love. Other than the title track my special picks are “One Man Band”, “Giving it all away” and “Long Tall Glasses”.
As for being cast away I think I could handle that as long as there’s some food to get and clothes to wear. In fact I wouldn’t mind some laying around since I very rarely do nothing and although I am well past retirement age I won’t ever retire so if I’m stuck somewhere I would be forced to relax. I’d miss my family enormously, especially seeing my grandchildren grow into the wonderful adults I am confident they will be. I don’t know how many tracks that is but I have a career that could supply a great many more than ten tracks with which I have a close personal relationship. So I should explain the reason for my picking these choices other than my nostalgia. It has its roots in my choice, as a young man, to only work on projects I was passionate about, with people who could make magic. All of these songs meet that criteria and I love all these songs and all the people that made them. I am, as my late mother used to say, “A very lucky boy!”