Editor: Ian Lace
Webmaster Len Mullenger
An Interview with Nic Raine, Film Music Orchestrator, and Conductor By Ian Lace
Nic Raine has worked as an orchestrator of film music with Elmer Bernstein, Maurice Jarre, Gabriel Yared, Michael Kamen, George Fenton and Stanley Myers on films like A Passage to India, Mad Max 3, Spies Like Us, Castaway, High Spirits, Top Secret and Madame Sousatzka. His work for television has included his orchestrations for the Wallace and Gromit animation films, The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave; and the Channel 4 documentary - D.W.Griffith - Father of Film.
Nic has also conducted more than 30 CDs for Silva Screen that include titles such as 'The Classic John Barry', 'The Essential James Horner', 'The Essential James Bond' and 'The Essential Jerry Goldsmith'. He has conducted several orchestras throughout Europe including the English Chamber Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, in London; and the City of Prague Philharmonic, the City of Granada Orchestra and the Ljubljana Symphony Radio Orchestra.
Nic Raine has had particularly fruitful relationships with two of the most prolific film composers of recent times -- John Barry and Carl Davis. John Barry's name is synonymous with the James Bond films, and Nic Raine has been a regular collaborator with Barry since their first meeting in 1984 when his work on A View to a Kill and The Living Daylights enhanced Nic's growing reputation within the film industry. He also works regularly on projects with Carl Davis. These have included feature films such as The Trial, Frankenstein Unbound and Ken Russell's The Rainbow as well as over ten silent movie scores for Thames TV that included The General and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
I met with Nic in a country pub near Nic's home in April 2000. I first of all asked him how his career had developed.
N.R.: My interest was kindled in film music when, as a boy, I first went to the cinema. I remember being aroused by the music as much as by any on-screen action. One of the first scores to make a major impression on me was Alfred Newman's music for How the West Was Won.
My musical education was basically classical. At that time, for me, films were purely recreational; I had no real ambition to work in films at all. I did not go to any music college. In fact I began my working life in a furniture store. But I spent much of my free time playing double bass, guitar, piano, and organ and I often needed to write out the music for myself. I thus began to get quite good at copying. I had an artistic background and I was torn between following a career in music or working as a graphic artist (which was my original intention). Then I got a job as a copyist with Boosey & Hawkes. This was in the early 1970s. The beauty of that position was that I was not busy all the time, so I used to go down to their music store, grab all the scores I could find, and take them back to my office to study them -- all on Boosey & Hawkes time! In this way, I began to teach myself orchestration. [A copyist copies out individual instrumental parts for the players from the composers complete score]
There I met Martin Smith who ran their Hire Library. Once when I was chatting with him, he said, "Stick around, Bernie's coming in!" That was how I first met Bernard Herrmann. It was my first meeting with a famous composer. I remember Bernie telling me a story about Alma Mahler who had said to him, "I was married to two Jews. All they wanted to talk about after sex was God!"
After Boosey & Hawkes, I thought about going into music management for a while. I applied successfully for a post as Personnel Manager with the London Symphony Orchestra. Basically it was a 'Mr Fix-it' situation - booking the orchestra. It was a brilliant introduction and insight into orchestral life and the mentality of the players. I was with them every day in lots of different halls. While doing my administrative work, I would sit near different sections of the orchestra. This experience gave me a 'very good ear' for how an orchestra works internally and the work of each individual section of the orchestra. Talking to the players, I learnt much more about the capabilities and compass of each instrument, and far more accurately than just reading text books.
I progressed with my management career for a while but my ambitions were elsewhere. After a disastrous working experience, I resolved to opt out of administration and really do what I wanted. I learned that Carl Davis was looking for a copyist with a classical background. He had been using somebody with a light music background and it wasn't really working out, and so Carl hired me. At that time, Carl had a lot of TV work on and so he also needed an orchestrator, so he hired Christopher Palmer, and Christopher and I started to work for Carl at the same time. Christopher then took me on as his copyist. After a few months of this, Palmer said, "You shouldn't be copying, you should be orchestrating!" So that's how my orchestrating experience began, and Christopher and I began to share film scores.
About that time, there was a musicians' strike in the USA and people like Elmer Bernstein and Maurice Jarre were coming over to England to work. Consequently, we had a wonderful, busy time working with these terrific composers, and I was learning my craft through Christopher Palmer.
I got my first real break when John Barry came over to record a James Bond score. He had not recorded in London for a long time and he wanted to use an English orchestrator but he did not know who was available. He asked Dick Lewzey who was going to be his engineer at CTS recording studios in Wembley. Dick recommended me. The next thing was that I got this call from John Barry out of the blue. "Hi Nic, this is John Barry here. I'm working on a Bond movie will you be able to help me?" Well, after staggering from a very full lunch at Rules - "'Glad you like your drink, Nic!"-I was on my way.
I.L.: Some might say John Barry is a brilliant tunesmith but he is not very good at developing his material. What's your opinion of Barry's music?
N.R.: I liked working for John Barry and I admire him greatly. His music is melody-led and he frequently uses leitmotifs to refer to characters, situations or places. John has a style all of his own that is instantly recognisable. He is always true to himself. I do think he is becoming a bit formulaic, though of late. His best music was written in the 1960s.
I.L.: Please tell us something of your relationship with Carl Davis?
N.R.: Carl Davis is an excellent musician; one who likes to push back the boundaries. He is equally at home working with a small ensemble as he is with a larger orchestra (when it is that kind of film and when the budget permits). We started working together on the silent films beginning with Abel Gance's Napoleon which was five hours long. Music was needed for much of that running time and we had to compose, orchestrate and copy (my job) in eight weeks. It was an amazing achievement. Now, 20 years later, almost to the month, on June 3rd 2000, we are re-showing the film at the Royal Festival Hall and I am working on the score at this moment. A new print has been made and they are slowing down some of the slightly too fast sections in it as well as including some freshly discovered material so that the new edition will run for 5½ hours. So really, the score has been completely redone and that will have to be that - there will be no more additions!
It's amazing to think that over 20 years, Carl has scored for over 20 silent films. It is a glorious tribute to his skill. I have actually conducted his score of The General in Granada, Spain.
I.L. What about the Wallace and Gromit scores and how do you work with Julian Knott?
N.R.: Julian is great to work with; I like him tremendously. Like so many new composers, he works straight into electronic keyboards and then lets me have the music that his computer prints out which is in a rather crude state. I have to make sense of this and refine it. Actually, Julian once lectured to a group of Royal College of Music students on film music composition, and told them a story which was a bit against himself but flattered my contribution to our collaboration. He said, " This was the first piece of music of mine that I had heard orchestrated by an orchestrator." And he played a clip from The Wrong Trousers, the sequence where the chicken climbs up the wall of the building that houses the huge diamond which he is bent on stealing. "When the orchestra first rehearsed that, I was in the control room," Julian continued, " All of a sudden my small music, from my keyboard, suddenly sounded huge and overbearing. I cowered at the table, over the score, in fear of what I was going to say. After they had finished playing, I turned round and said, 'What do you think of that?' And everybody said that it was great, just what was wanted." Now, of course, Julian knows all about what I do and he's used to working with me and thinking more orchestrally.
Talking about Wallace and Gromit reminds me of another generic thing about film music - interference which is probably why I do not want to be a composer. [I should state here that so many people think that if you're an orchestrator, you must be a frustrated composer but I am not because I think orchestration is a craft in itself just as composing is; and not everybody can do the two together. After all, if you have a burst pipe you send for the plumber.] But about interference, Julian was reviewing the Wallace and Gromit music with Nick Parke who obviously just loved everything Julian did but on this occasion he brought along an accountant who was unconvinced about the type of proposed music, preferring Mickey Mouse cartoon-type stuff. Of course my argument, and Julian's argument, was that despite being made of plasticene these characters had real feelings and were in real trouble and that the music should represent all that. Thankfully, that was the way we went.
In film music you meet up with this interference and attitude all the time with producers, financial people and anyone who has an interest in the film. They all want to contribute their own twopenny worth. How unlike the old days when the studio music department and the director had artistic control, and sense and taste prevailed. Now everybody is at the whim of the latest fashion and the music becomes ever more bland.
I.L.: What was it like working with George Fenton?
N.R.: I worked with Christopher Palmer on George's score for High Spirits, a broad comedy set in Ireland. It was a pleasant experience. George is very easy going and I think he was slightly surprised by his success but he has become very much more confident and he is now a composer of some stature.
I.L.: What about your career as a conductor?
N.R.: The first time I conducted was for a television series entitled, 'The Best of British'. It was a compilation programme of clips from British films and the young composer was
Rob Wall who was asked to write the title music for it. He was another synth composer in need of an orchestrator and the job fell to me. When we were chatting together about it, he suddenly said, "Oh, you will conduct the session won't you?" Now I had never conducted an orchestra before -- so I said, "Yes". Fortunately, the orchestra was going to be the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra who I knew well because they were recording for all the big films at the time. I figured that once we got going, they'd more or less take over -- which is pretty well what happened; but I enjoyed my first conducting experience, and although I was nervous, it was fine and the whole thing was a success.
My next conducting experience was for Silva Screen. I met them while I was working on the score for Ken Russell's The Rainbow because Silva was issuing the soundtrack. Silva's James Fitzpatrick and I put the album together and CTS remixed the whole thing and put the cues together. Chatting over lunch with James, I discovered that Silva Screen was just beginning operations and had recently released scores for Lawrence of Arabia and The Big Country. James obviously had plans to release much more film music and I just glibly said, "If you want any help, just ask." Then we got talking about their projected Dave Willetts' album - they were testing him as a vocalist as they would do later with Lesley Garrett. I mentioned that I knew someone who was writing a musical of Wuthering Heights and that I was kind of involved in the writing of that as well. So Silva heard my demo tapes, liked them and I found myself conducting and producing a cast album that featured Dave Willetts and Lesley Garrett. Once again it was something of a 'fumbling-my-way-through-it' situation. We got through three sessions in a day and I became more and more confident, so much so that James asked me if I would like to conduct an album of John Barry's music.
Now I had previously been in Prague, with Carl Davis to record for David Jones' film The Trial. Although the orchestra we had used was something like the curate's egg, we realised there was some good playing there. So, I suggested to James that he might like to use them using them. Until then James had been recording in England; but he thought why not, especially when he realised his budget would go further in Prague and that he would be able to complete more recordings. Our subsequent experience in Prague was happy and it has blossomed ever since. My conducting developed and I gained confidence from on-the-job experience and from reading books and observing other people.
I.L.: The Prague orchestra was often criticised for their standard of playing in the first of their Silva albums although they have improved tremendously of late.
N.R.: Yes, the orchestra had worked in what you might call the State system - they had had a rather cushy time playing the same safe material over and over again. They simply had not got the mentality that they have since acquired and which is always taken for granted for players in London or America etc. - the ability to sit down and be able to read music instantly and perform it and do a take within ten minutes. Now they have reached this standard and some American organisations use them as do the French and Germans; and, of course, we've been going over there regularly. Although by any other standards they are not too well paid, by their own standards they are well paid. We know who to book now; and we now have what is essentially the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra - a crack band. Just listen to the 'Bond Back in Action' album to hear what I mean - the brass playing is wonderful and the rhythm is spot on.
I.L.: Do you find communicating with the Prague players, a problem?
N.R.: We always use an interpreter. It is interesting that when you talk to an orchestra you instinctively feel that some of the players speak English -- but they never let you know! You find yourself looking at a player and talking to him in English and your words are translated; and yet all the time he's been fooling you for he has understood you all along. But gradually these guys came out of the woodwork and we began to form relationships so that now we see a lot of the same faces each time we go to Prague. They know me; I know them, and we have built up a rapport. I am also picking up a few words of Czech.
I.L.: What have you been recording over there lately?
N.R.: Music by Frances Butt for an underwater documentary and music for another Silva Screen space film anthology. I am due out there again in June to record John Barry's score for Walkabout. Then we are scheduled to record another 'Bond in Action' album this time covering the Roger Moore years.
I.L.: Silva Screen recordings have sometimes been criticised as not being faithful to the original music as heard on the films' soundtracks.
N.R.: Well I can tell you that we put an awful lot of care and effort and love into our recordings. We do have lots of hair-splitting criticisms like - the trumpet was not loud enough or this cue was 3 seconds longer than the soundtrack. It is interesting to note that composers themselves agree that with different orchestras, recorded at different times and in different ambiences you are bound to get slight variations in sound - no two performances can ever be precisely the same
At the same time a lot depends on the state of the music that we have to work from. Many, many scores have been lost and reconstruction is necessary. Sometimes I have to go back to the original films and familiarise myself with the music. This is not always easy because the music can often be submerged below explosions and all sorts of sound effects, or be very hard to distinguish because it is supporting dialogue that clearly has to have preference. Obviously this is not so much of a problem with more modern scores that are more easily available; and John Waxman's huge hire library is tremendously helpful. Interestingly, when we work from original material, we quite often discover wrong notes that were not corrected in the original recordings.
People think you should slavishly follow what was recorded on the soundtrack but they forget that modern scores are recorded with the click-track so that the music will synchronise with the film perfectly - and that's not always a musical way of recording. So, for dramatic effect, and for a heightened musical listening experience, we might add a ritenuto, for instance, to add punch to the arrival of a love theme. I really do not see any objection to this from an artistic point of view.
I.L: Perhaps if the spirit of the original soundtrack music is maintained, then slight variations are acceptable?
I.L.: What are your views about compilation albums as opposed to specific dedicated film recordings?
N.R.: Well I think you must agree that you have to be a really dedicated collector to sit through some of the single score releases. You may get the main theme over and over again and there may be a lot of under-dialogue music that might not be terribly interesting. So, while they have their place, and I appreciate that a lot of people think they are the only type of film music albums to have, I do believe that compilation albums
are ideal for people who may be not quite so serious about the genre and just want the rousing themes or the main cues from films. Compilations are also a very good way of getting to know a composer's work and seeing it evolve over a number of years.
I.L.: Of the film composers from Hollywood's Golden Age, who do you especially revere?
N.R.: Rózsa, Herrmann and Moross. Rózsa because Christopher Palmer was influenced by him and learnt his orchestration through him. Christopher was a big fan of Rózsa and I too have worked with Rózsa. I remember visiting him in Hollywood; and, with Christopher, I orchestrated a lot of his pieces - I worked on the reconstruction of Spellbound for instance. I admired Bernard Herrmann's great individuality and the way he put together extraordinary combinations of instruments like 16 flutes, or lots of harps or horns. I readapted his score for It's Alive with Laurie Johnson. Jerome Moross's widow, Susanna, is entrusting me with the reconstruction and re-recording of a number of his scores including The Valley of Gwangi, Jayhawkers, and Captive City.
I.L.: What about contemporary film composers?
N.R.: I admire Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams - they are musicians' musicians because they know what they want and they compose and orchestrate as one process. If you do have a job working as an orchestrator for Goldsmith, for instance, all you have to do is expand on his detailed sketches. I admire that sort of musicianship. I don't think John Williams has produced a mediocre score although Goldsmith has, but that has probably been because he has been working on it alongside another score.
I.L.: What about this new development in your career, conducting concerts of classical music?
N.R.: This all came about because John Barry has used the English Chamber Orchestra when he's come over to the UK. I first conducted them in a concert performance of James Bernard's score for Nosferatu at the Royal Festival Hall. Then I was offered a concert of Viennese music at The Hawth Concert Hall, in Crawley. "Can you come up with a programme," they asked. I did, I conducted it and I had a ball. After all you must remember I was brought up with classical music which I love and now that I have got an agent I would like to think I will be able to do more classical concerts alongside my continuing career in film music. By the way, you might be interested to know that I will be conducting programmes of John Barry's music in the Royal National Scottish Orchestra's Proms programme later this year in Dundee, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen and Belfast in May and June.
I.L.: Finally, if you were cast ashore on a desert island what records would you like to take.
N.R.: This is a terribly difficult question to answer. Where to begin? Well, I would have to revert to my original love of classical music and I would need to have some Bach with me - probably the Brandenburg Concertos, or the B Minor Mass; and some Mahler - the 8th or 9th Symphonies, I guess.
Nic Raine lives with his family in the depths of the Sussex countryside
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