Visiting Prague was once again a wonderful experience. And even though the days were almost exclusively taken up by the studio sessions, we still found time to visit some excellent restaurants in the evenings.
The visit began early for me as I needed to catch the 3.15 a.m. train from Bristol to Heathrow Airport (coach from Reading), hence I had no sleep either that night, or indeed very much the following night in the hotel. It’s an odd thing, as you would think that tiredness would automatically kick in, but it didn’t work for me. In fact, I never really slept well on any of the nights in Prague, nor even on my first night back in Bristol. But gradually I’m getting back into the normal pattern of things.
Anyway, there was no problem with the train and coach, though it was a little cold at 4.45 a.m. outside Reading station waiting for the driver to let us in! The coach was surprisingly full, but it did have to drop people off at all four Heathrow terminuses. On arrival at terminus 2, I had to collect my foreign currency, which turned out to be a right pain and took almost half an hour due to the incredible stupidity of the staff at Travel X. I moved down to check-in and soon spotted Rickie Clarke from Silva, who was to be our score reader during the sessions. He had arrived from the nearby hotel with Nic Raine who was now busy parking his car. Chief Engineer John ‘One Take’ Timperley soon appeared and when Nic joined us we queued for our boarding passes and checked-in our luggage. James Fitzpatrick had flown out the day before, incidentally.
The flight was uneventful and on time, and I had a few hours to relax before the first session began at 5 p.m. Unlike JT, who had to spend 6 hours setting up his equipment in the studio!
I was pleased to recognise many familiar faces amongst the orchestra and the first session began with ‘The Lion In Winter’. I thought at the time, and James confirmed later, that it’s always a nervous moment when they start. This was no exception and my heart sank a little, as they seemed ‘all over the place’ with certain sections of the orchestra playing at different tempos! But this was just a warming-up exercise, apparently. By the second or third attempt they sounded much more like it, and soon we were ready for the first recorded take. I think the orchestra numbered around 70 for the Barry sessions and they sounded terrific. Of course, for both ‘Lion’ and ‘Last Valley’, it’s difficult to judge how effective the recording has been, since the choir is missing and will be added later on in London. But everybody seemed highly satisfied with this first session, so this was a good omen.
The Last Valley was next up on the schedule and with the orchestra now fully in a ‘Barry’ mode, they sailed through it with aplomb and confidence and with the suite from Mary Queen of Scots also going smoothly, we began to get ahead of schedule. This was sure to prove useful when the orchestral had to tackle more complex material from Newman and Tiomkin later on.
My own day or days was Friday and Saturday with the recording of Robin & Marian. On the flight out I had mentioned to Nic that this year sees the 25th anniversary of the film, which is sure to prove a useful marketing tool for the CD. Once again, the orchestra proved more than equal to the task and despite a few retakes being necessary for ‘noise’ in the studio, the scheduled session for Sunday morning proved almost superfluous, there being just one cue left to record. By now we had been joined by Mark Ayres, who was having three of his compositions recorded by the COPP. One of these, ‘Meg Foster’, contained challenging variations in style and tempo – and the orchestra seemed to find this rather stimulating. They were smiling a lot, anyway.
The majority of Sunday and Monday were given over to recordings by Alfred Newman, Max Steiner and Dmitri Tiomkin, but there was also time for themes to Hannibal (Cassidy), Young Sherlock Holmes (Broughton) and Sunshine (Maurice Jarre). The latter required the presence of a Cimbalom. This was a special moment for me as I never previously seen one of John Barry’s favourite sixties instruments. In fact, I enjoyed Jarre’s composition very much, and it was this melody that remained in my head during the somewhat tedious plane journey home. I took some video film of many of the rehearsals for all the sessions, though annoyingly my Lion In Winter one has disappeared!
Newman’s Street Scene was a real treat both to hear and to see played. By now the orchestra had swelled to a 90-piece, and included five sax players! Nic took a lot of trouble with this piece and I think the end result justified him entirely. I have to say that it must have been a little out of the ordinary for this orchestra but they looked to be having a really good time. Other themes recorded included ‘Nevada Smith’, ‘20th Century Fox Fanfare’, ‘Captain From Castile’ (also wonderful), ‘Anastasia’, ‘Duel In The Sun’, ‘Bonanza’ & Gunfight At The O.K. Corral – another highlight.
I suppose it will be some time before I hear any of this music in the comfort of my own home, but at least I have the videos and some reasonable photos. I have to mention and pay tribute to the expertise of the entire production team which made things go so smoothly, led, of course, by James Fitzpatrick. He occasionally seemed to hear tiny little imperfections in the playing that I missed, necessitating another take, but as he said "You have to do these things properly"!
One amusing moment came when one of the percussion team, I think it was Tony, was asked to give us a little more from his cymbals. He replied that loud noises frightened him. And he had no answer when Nic asked him in that case why had he become a percussionist!
I mentioned the restaurants earlier. During one evening in one we were approached by an American gentleman who had heard us talking about music and wanted to know who we were and what we were recording. We said we were recording film music and his eyes seem to glaze over a little. We then gave a little more detail by mentioning Max Steiner, Alfred Newman, John Barry & Dmitri Tiomkin etc., but he still seemed somewhat disinterested. He said he was the principal clarinettist with the New York Philharmonic, and I suppose it's just possible he was not familiar with much film music - golden or silver age. His wife had a few words, too, and it turned out she is also a clarinettist.
A night or two afterwards in a different restaurant we were approached by another gentleman, this time from England, I think. He, too, had heard our musical discussion (we must have loud voices) and in particular caught a reference to an engineer named Keith Grant, who is quite well known around the London studio circuit and Olympic Sound in particular. He immediately adopted a sneering attitude when he made the assumption we were recording music in Prague 'on the cheap', but apart from saying he was a musician who had recorded with Grant "many times", he refused to identify himself. I didn't like him very much.
So, an enjoyable and successful trip. I wonder if there is any Barry music left to record now? Something will turn up by this time next year, I’m sure. In the meantime, I’m sure James & co. will be returning before then to finish off what didn’t quite fit into these sessions.