I got off the plane at Gatwick feeling like a tourist. As the train from the
airport headed for London I became aware of the speed of everything, how
quickly people walked and talked, even the speed of the train itself. This was
going to take some getting used to.
It did. It took a year to get back up to speed, and for this I have to thank
Howard Blake who took me on as his assistant and paid me a living wage.
Howard is one of those musical minds you occasionally come across,
Richard Rodney Bennett was another, for whom musical thought is as natural
as speech. But he was involved in some legal matters that were causing him to
spend too much time away from his writing and were wearing him down.
One of the roles I found myself playing more and more was being a sound
board; listening to people’s problems and occasionally offering some advice.
When I was working with Michael Lewis back in the 70s, I remember one
movie where the title music, always an important part of the score, failed to
please the director, who wanted it rewritten. It was the first time I’d seen
Mike’s confidence broken. For a while he couldn’t think straight. On the way
back to his home we passed through Highgate village one of London’s most
charming spots. I suggested we stop at a pub and have a few drinks, which we
did. After some moaning and recrimination, punctuated with some deep
slurps, followed by more moans and more slurps until after an hour or so I
was beginning to feel rather pissed, Mike suddenly finished up his fifth pint,
lit a cigarette, jumped to his feet and said in his usual brisk and confident
way, “Well we can’t sit here all day boozing.We’ve got a score to write.” He
had completely recovered. That’s part of my job; restoring a composer’s
confidence through drink.
Working with Howard Blake was often fun as he is very good company
and loves playing his piano. We often sat around with him playing anything
from Liszt or Chopin to Cole Porter. One day we went up to Hampstead to
have a meal and listen to a supreme “cocktail” pianist who played in a pub
there. I only knew him as Alan, yet he’d played for many top singers including
Sinatra and Peggy Lee. When it came time for him to take a break, he sat
down with us to have some food while Howard got up to take his place at the
piano; something that Alan doesn’t allow many people to do.
Another time we were all invited to a farewell party when Angela Morley
was leaving for the USA. Half a dozen of the best pianists in London were in
the room, all grouped around the piano listening to Alan.
Strangely, despite his stellar reputation, he didn’t read music but played
entirely by ear.
One of Howard’s compositions, a clarinet concerto had been
commissioned by Thea King who was performing it in Valencia on the
Spanish Mediterranean coast. As he was going to accompany her, Howard
asked me to go with him in case he needed an interpreter. The concert was a
great success partly due to the fact that Valencia is the home of a huge
conservatory where most of the bandsmen in the country are trained. Sure
enough, after the concert, we went round to Thea’s dressing room to
congratulate her, but found the corridor outside awash with young clarinet
players from the college waiting for Thea to sign their programmes. They
kept her busy for quite a while with Howard adding his name from time to
On another occasion, I was driving back into London and had on the
Radio 3 programme, Mainly for Pleasure. The announcer spoke: “Now we
will hear a rarity, the Concerto in D for Jews Harp and Mandora by Carl
Ditters von Dittersdorf.”
I listened expectantly while this classical concerto opened with the usual
allegro followed by the entry of the two solo instruments. the mandora, a sort
of early guitar accompanying the jews harp. Of course it was funny,
especially as it was taken quite seriously and I was soon in fits, so much so
that I had to stop the car as I could no longer drive. After the slow movement
had started, to another burst of laughter, I suddenly needed to share this
experience with someone else.
Driving home, still snorting occasionally, I phoned up Howard, only to
get his answering machine. “Howard, you’ve got to listen to this”, I yelled
down the phone and held up the receiver in order for him to hear the closing
bars of the finale. Then the announcer’s voice came back, “That was the
Concerto in D for Jews Harp and Mandora, by Dittersdorf, ONE OF A SET
I had written to about thirty or forty composers with my CV, hoping to get
known again, but only got one answer back, from Paul Reade, who was
having trouble finishing his ballet, “Hobson’s Choice” for Sadlers Wells (now
the Birmingham Royal Ballet).
He was working with the choreographer, David Bintley, but had very little
time to complete the orchestration, so asked me if I could help. It was a big
ballet, three acts, a whole evening, and not much time to finish it. But I have
never enjoyed anything so much as working with Paul on this terrific ballet of
his. It’s a witty and very tuneful Edwardian pastiche with overtones of musichall
and, on the first night at Sadlers Wells, it received an ovation along with
the company and is now in their repertoire. It was a really glamorous night,
the opera house full of beautiful and beautifully dressed women. (I saw one of
my tennis heroines, Virginia Wade, looking wonderful.) Paul proved himself
well able to entertain all the admirers that gathered round him as he poured
This was not the last time Paul and I worked together. His connection
with David Bintley continued with “Far From the Madding Crowd” another
magnificent three act ballet. Although Paul managed to do much of the
orchestration, he asked me to do some of it including a show piece, “Dick
Turpin’s Ride to York” which brought the house down, I’m told, as I never
saw it, having to go into hospital with jaundice. There is another ballet by
Paul, “Byron”, which still lies unfinished due to production problems. What a
pity! What a subject!
Our association was broken with Paul’s untimely death, terribly early. He
left behind another ballet, “The Match Girl and the Flame” which I had the
great pleasure of orchestrating for the National Childrens’ Ballet at Sadlers
Wells a few years ago. If I watch the Antiques Road Show I am always
reminded of him by that maddeningly memorable theme that he wrote. He
had a rare quality among composers, a genuine modesty despite his talent. I
While I’m on the subject of friends untimely snatched away, I must
mention Paul Hulme.
I met Paul through Trevor Jones, a composer I had worked with since pre-
Mallorca days. It was while he was scoring “Arachnophobia”. Trevor always
mixes the ordinary music in his scores with electronic which he makes in his
own studio at home, and it was in this studio that I met Paul, who was acting
as sound engineer.
Burly and round with the biggest smile, Paul was one of the very top
people in his field and I am glad to have made several pictures with him at the
sound desk. He always seemed to start his working day with a bacon
sandwich which, when we were working at Lyndhurst studo, would come up
fresh from the kitchen and sit, giving off a delicious smell and driving
everyone in the room mad with hunger till one by one we all had to have one
Anyhow, back to Trevor. If anyone who is reading this has not seen
“Arachnophobia”, I have to tell you it is a very frightening film, based
cleverly on everyone’s fear of spiders. Trevor and Paul were responsible for
the unsettling sound track to which I put some novel orchestral effects.
We recorded this picture in Los Angeles and had tremendous fun
conjuring spooky effects with the wholehearted collaboration of the orchestra.
There’s nothing like a good horror film for orchestral effects. I tried not to do
the obvious and scare people, I preferred the icy trickle down the spine rather
than the pail of water in the face.
This was our second visit to the US. A couple of years before we were in
New York to make a picture called “True Colours” and used the old RCA
studio which I’m told has been pulled down. That’s America for you; if it’s
been there for forty or fifty years, it must be time to replace it.
Anyhow we started recording when I began to notice the staff looking at
me suspiciously from time to time. Its true I had recently come out of hospital
after a bout of jaundice and was a bit yellow, but only a little. But this was
New York during one of their periodical AIDS scares. They all thought I had
it, and when Trevor assured them I was clean I don’t think anyone completely
Later, when we were mixing the music at the old Brill building on
Broadway, where Irving Berlin and dozens of other legends of popular music
since the 20s had plugged their songs, I saw Trevor perform a feat of
prodigious eating to match any New Yorker. Across the street was a pizza
house where they made those giant pizzas over yard across. Loaded with
toppings they divided each one up into four or five enormous portions. It
turned out that Trevor was hungry, for I saw him eat two pieces of pizza. But
then he calmly ordered a deep dish of Rigatoni alla Bolognese weighing about
a kilo. After he’d finished a bottle of coke we went back to work while
bystanders acknowledged a fellow New York-sized appetite.
What is so annoying is that Trevor is perfectly slim. Perhaps he is a binge
eater, because later in that trip we went to an oyster bar where he ordered so
many dozens of different kinds of oysters that I lost count. Of course, when
someone is in the mood for ordering oysters it seems churlish to quibble about
it, don’t you think?
Oysters do funny things to people because, years before, Simon Napier-
Bell invited us to lunch at a posh west end restaurant and we took daughter
Sophy, aged 17, who had just passed her final exams at school. She had never
yet had oysters and we asked her if she would try some.
Simon ordered half a dozen natives and watched her as she was shown the
drill with the dash of lemon juice. She golloped them down and looked round
brightly, “They were lovely… Could I possibly have some more, Simon,
The prices were only printed on his menu but he laughed loudly as he
“Why not have a dozen, then? They usually come in dozens,” he
“Okay then…a dozen !” came the voice of my young oyster catcher.
While we were still in Mallorca, Trevor, his wife Victoria and two
children, Emily and Casper, aged about 3 and 5, came for a holiday in Puerto
Pollensa. As usual with holiday makers they arrived with Northern European
energy which slowly drained away to be replaced by the “Mallorcan Trance”,
as I call it. Whilst still in the earlier stage, they rented a car and systematically
toured the island. On the second of these days we visited them at their hotel.
“Well, how are you all getting on?” I asked.
“Marvellously,” Trevor said, and gave us a long description of a trip to the
south coast where they had visited some wonderful caves and had ridden in a
boat on an underground lake. The next day they had gone through the
mountains to Soller and seen some amazing things on the way back. He
continued with this adventure until there was a pause, and 5 year old Casper
added his comment: “I hated it.”
I am aware that this chapter might seem a bit disjointed. Coming back to
the UK at getting on for 60 and picking up the swing of things wasn’t easy,
but, fortunately both my children were in London.
Hugo had embraced IT Technology and spoke a separate language as a
result. But, insofar as I am able to use a computer, it is the result of his
tutelage and patience.
Sophy fell on her feet when, after a period in fashion modelling, she was
offered a job as PA in a record company when that business was in a much
better state than it is now.
While she worked at Warners, they had an office just off Kensington High
Street, close to where Howard Blake lived. I hadn’t been inside the building
but she told me their office was in the basement. One day I was walking back
with Howard and we passed her office. Along the side wall there were
windows low down close to the pavement. We were peering through these
windows, hoping to catch a glimpse of her when her voice suddenly rang out,
“Pa! What are you two doing snooping about round here?”
Caught red-handed we stuttered something and hurried off. How
Sophy was the main go between in getting Suzy and I back together. We
had divorced and been apart for five years when one day, Sophy asked me to
meet up with her as she was in England, adding slyly, “She still looks good,
We were married again in 1992 at Chelsea Registry Office.
Funny thing, Sinatra was right. “Love is lovelier the second time around.”