An Encouraging Note

When I was first asked to write music for TV, it was a simple case of arming yourself with stacks of manuscript paper and sitting at either a piano, or with a guitar and writing.

Norman Stone who was a budding producer, director and Steve Turner, an equally budding poet and writer got together to write a screenplay called: ” Support your local poet”. This mainly featured Steve Turner’s poetry and a variety of situations and guest narrators reading them.

I was asked to write the music for this. It was a fun and varied brief that ranged from all out jazz funk fusion pieces to simple solo guitar ragtime. So, it became a series of small separate library pieces rather than a ‘joined up’ score.

I was in relatively esteemed company with Vivian Stanshall, (Bonzo Dog) Derek Nimmo, Caroline Munro, Deryck Guyler and Graham Stark (Pink Panther) all involved and a production that allowed for something resembling a workable music budget. No home studios around at that time so a big part of the music realisation was finding decent studios and of course musicians that weren’t going to laugh or personally bankrupt me.
I’m not even sure that I made any demo versions of the music cues, such was the trust of the producers at the time. All the more reason to get it right and make sure we hit the targets in the studio on time.

Sometime before, I was half of a duo called MacKenzie-Cooke. You can work out which I was and Judy was the MacKenzie part. We had been fortunate to secure a deal with EMI which finally gave us the chance to record an album at Abbey Road. Being extremely inexperienced, all the musicians were chosen for us. Some were amazing and some were completely wrong. But the best person we met there was a fantastic arranger called Harry Robinson.  He was well known for writing and orchestrating Hammer Horror Movies such as
” Twins of Evil,” and “Countess Dracula”. As well as being Lord Rockingham with the novelty hit;” Hoots Mon”.
He’d been appointed to be our arranger doing the brass, strings, all the charts and generally pulling it all together musically while our EMI Producer, Wally Ridley, sat in the control room smoking and reading the paper waiting for us to produce a hit for him.
Whilst the hit never really came, Harry and I became great friends and my first real contact of proper arranging and score writing.

So, when I produced my excuse of a music score for “Support your local poet” I called him and asked if he would check it over for mistakes and unreadable bits. I told him I’d already booked some great old school brass players and apart from wishing me luck with the sign of the cross, he checked what I’d written, suggested a few changes here and there and told me that there were better ways to get ‘Jazzers’ to play what I’d intended. Then he showed me his movie scores, talked me through them bar by bar and what they would eventually sound like. It was his encouragement that was amazing, generous and unforgettable. It was like a masterclass not only of what to do but how to approach the mechanics and timings of a TV session trying keep everyone happy.

The day of the session came and not only were the musicians in a particularly truculent mood but I had a visit from ‘Doctor Death’, Don Smith, who was the Musician’s Union session representative and was checking up on me, ’The new boy’, making sure all my crotchets were dotted and my subscriptions were fully paid up. It was a very nerve-wracking experience but the end of the sessions arrived and we’d recorded everything I’d written.

Harry’s words rang true and apart from a few ‘seat of the pants’ moments and predictable complaints from the trumpets, the music got glued to tape and I had my first TV music in the bag.

It’s amazing that after all this time I can still remember the feeling of being encouraged and helped especially when I was feeling totally unworthy, inexperienced and unprepared.

Remember to encourage others. No matter what you’ve done, there’s always someone who’s coming up behind and needing your words of wisdom and help. Give it freely; it may be the most important thing you will do.