Today it is time to rescue and publish an interview that has spent some time in the archives of SoundTrackFest; an interview with orchestra music producer and record label owner James Fitzpatrick conducted during the Film Music Prague Festival 2017 by Gorka Oteiza.
In the interview, an experienced James Fitzpatrick talks openly about his beginnings, about how he was going for law school and ended up in the world of film music, his first steps as a clerk in the record stores Rare Records and 58 Dean Street, the launch of Silva Productions, how he sold 50,000 copies of the soundtrack of Crocodile Dundee, his love/hate story recording the music of Lawrence of Arabia by Maurice Jarre, the foundation of Tadlow Music Ltd, his involvement in Smecky Music Studios in Prague and the creation of the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra… among many other stories… (Additional stories that will be told in a second part of this interview, which will be published during this week).
Hello James! Thank you very much for receiving SoundTrackFest here at Smecky Music Studios in Prague.
You’re welcome here whenever you want!
Thank you! So, let’s start… You’re quite famous in the world of film music and soundtracks in general, but please James, introduce yourself for those people that still don’t know you… What do you do? How were your origins in the world of film music?
Oh god, this is going to take hours! (*laughs*). Just joking… But anyway I’ll give you the short version… I’m James Fitzpatrick, I run a company called Tadlow Music Limited which essentially is for arranging or what we call contracting, or in English what we call fixing, recording sessions for orchestral recordings, like for film scores, video games scores, TV scores, classical albums, pop albums, heavy metal albums… Anybody who needs an orchestra, generally I can offer supervising services and book the orchestra for them. Most of the work is done in Prague. I do still a bit of contracting in London, but the difference in budget is tremendous, so when people know how much Prague costs, ninety-nine percent of the time they say OK we’ll go with Prague. Sometimes yes, somebody’s got enough money for London, but London is more of very big budget movies, whereas in Prague we do the lower and extremely low budget movies, because usually it’s just a few sessions. We were involved recently in a Hollywood movie which was sixteen sessions, which it’s been great for the musicians and great for me, but it gets very tedious and boring. It’s much nicer to do albums or short scores, where, you know, it’s like one of two days and then we move on to something else.
So I suppose you will love working for TV series, episode by episode…
Well, we never record the whole score in one go. Let’s say the TV series is eight episodes, so we record eight sessions over eight weeks. So the composer is writing episode one, and we record it, then he has a week to write episode two, and so on and so forth. Sometimes, as with Mychael Danna and the Tyrant TV series, they were broadcasting the first episode while we were only recording episode three, so that makes no announcers for a composer getting ill or any technical problem. It’s crazy, but latest one we were doing with Mychael was the Last Tycoon for Amazon, where I think even though we were recording music weekly, they were not going to broadcast it until with music finished.
That’s a good idea.
I hope so! But… let’s get back to how I got started in this world… (*laughs*) I first became interested in film music at age of six or seven, when I went to see a film called Lawrence of Arabia. In those days, you sat in the dark theatre are you got a five-minute overture and that blew me away. Because in that era, the early sixties, where films were Widescreen, Panavision or 70 millimeters, the music was so important that often you had an overture like for Zhivago or even Grand Prix or The Fall of the Roman Empire. The music then, was much much more important than it is now. The composer’s credit was one of the last on the main titles, and now sometimes the composer is relegated to, you know, sort of like costume design, prop builders or something like that.
So that got me interested in film music, but then I was also interested in really any type of music. I mean, I love any type of music as long as it’s good music. I’m not very fond of Country, but apart from that, if it’s good, I like it.
So you got hooked up in the world of soundtracks with Lawrence of Arabia… and then….
Well, how I got into business was purely by accident. After what we call in England A-levels at the school, I was then supposed to maybe go on to university to read law, because my sister is a solicitor and my father was a solicitor, so there’s a legal background. But I was so exhausted from all the exams that I thought “OK I’ll take a year off and then decide what to do”. And so I went to work in a music shop in Stockport which is in Manchester in the north of England. I started off as Hi-Fi salesman selling Bang and Olufsen and Dynatron Hi-Fi systems, but they had a huge record department and the manager got ill. I was asked to take over that department, so I just got involved in the record shop. I ran that department for a while and then moved to a big record store in Manchester called Rare Records, and then was asked to move down to London to manage 58 Dean Street Records approached by Derek Braege. By that time, I was already a specialist in film soundtrack and musical scores. I got to meet lots of composers and directors. Martin Scorsese was a regular customer, Anthony Quinn or George Delerue came in regularly, Charles Gerhardt… So it was fantastic. A small shop but a very important shop.
That means you were a reference in London back then!
On those days there was a real collector’s market. The market wasn’t flooded as it is now and so when people were already looking for rare albums, because we bought collections and so on, then that was an exciting time. And it was also exciting when a release happened. I remember that a representative of a record label came in the shop once, and had a new release of westerns. He couldn’t believe it when I would order one hundred copies. He said “Nobody’s done that yet!” but I told him we would sell them, and we did. So it was exciting times to be a collector.
Then I left 58 Dean Street because I wanted to expand and then after a couple years I started Silva Productions with a friend of mine called Reynold De Silva. It used to be Jazz music for HMV. Silva Productions was essentially importing albums that weren’t released in the U.K. There were a lot of albums released in America, France, even in Spain, that weren’t released in the U.K. so we used to import them, distribute them, and the natural progression was… why don’t we start our own record label?
One thing leads to another…
Exactly! And so we did. The work was essentially to license soundtracks that hadn’t appeared on album for a while – CDs had just started-. So we licensed things like Damien or Alien from Universal, to get those remastered and on the collector market again. And then the next phase we thought was… “OK, this is going OK… let’s maybe do some original, some new soundtracks”. And we were offered from Australia a film nobody had heard of, nobody knew about, and I said: “Well, why are you offering it to us?” and they said “Because it’s just before Christmas, and I want a small company who can release it and make sure the album and CD is in the stores the day of the movie release”. Now, because it was Christmas, all the major record labels were on holiday season mode, too busy, so we took it, and this “little film” was Crocodile Dundee which was a huuuuuge success, and the album… I think we sold about 50.000 copies which was fantastic.
That’s a great number!
Well, you wouldn’t do that these days. I mean, maybe with a big budget movie these days you could, like with Avatar. I think Avatar’s soundtrack sold that, but in those days, because again the soundtrack market wasn’t flooded, it happened. And ok, I mean, nobody really remembers the music from that movie. We sold so much because the film was such a success. After that, we thought, “OK, that’s going well, why don’t we do our own recordings of the classics scores?”. So the first one we did was The Big Country composed by Jerome Moross.
I hadn’t a clue then how to record an orchestra so I called Christopher Palmer, the orchestrator, to produce the album. We recorded the whole album in one day and had to finish the master midnight the same day. Because we recorded it direct to stereo, it took nine hours and three sessions with the Philharmonia Orchestra. I thought back then, that’s how it should be done! And it’s still a fantastic album, although Christopher made certain artistic decisions I still don’t agree with, and that I’d certainly like to revisit one day. But besides that, The Big Country seemed to do well, it sold quite well… I think it sold about 10.000 copies, which again, by today’s standards it’s fantastic.
So then I approached my friend Maurice Jarre about doing Lawrence of Arabia; a new album, as the original album was so awful sound wise. Maurice agreed, and said he would love to do it and he was going to conduct it. Again I got Christopher Palmer involved, because he was Maurice’s orchestrator, and we were set to record it at CTS Studios Wembley. I didn’t really agree with it because I didn’t like that studio particularly, but it was where Maurice recorded and he was used to it. Unfortunately, there was a bit of a hiccup contractually, a misunderstanding between Silva’s lawyer and Maurice’s lawyer, so Maurice decided to pull out, and also he got an infection of something, so he couldn’t make the date anyway.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t change the recording date, because we were locked in to release the album in the same time as the new version of the film, the restored version, so I asked Maurice if it was OK if Tony Bremner conducted it. He said yes, because they had worked together in Mad Max and others, and Tony was a friend of Christopher, so it seemed a logical thing. But… with Lawrence of Arabia, about everything that could go wrong in a recording session went wrong! (*laughs*).
So you had a lot of trouble with your “first” recording of Lawrence of Arabia? (Because you did another one later…) Well, looking at the positive side, you got a lot of experience from that one!
Yeah I learnt so much! Again, we were recording it direct to stereo, no multitrack, so no mixing, just recording in the orchestra, like I did with a lot of classical albums. Unfortunately our session engineer, as wonderful engineer that he is, was incredibly slow and we only had three sessions to do this, one the first evening and then two the next day. That’s three sessions (9 hours) to record nearly sixty minutes of music, so you can’t waste time. Fortunately, he took about an hour before we even started recording, because he was trying to get a perfect balance. I know Lawrence of Arabia very well, and in this sense, it’s very difficult to get a balance with all of that percussion and so on and so forth. So that slowed us down. I had been forced to make a decision, again, which I totally regret and was totally my fault, because when the budget came through, it was a lot more than what we thought it would be. The decision was that when Reynold asked me to see where I could cut down orchestral-wise, I asked Christopher, and we cut down the strings. Well, with Lawrence of Arabia, you shouldn’t cut down the strings!! I know that now!!
Anyway, when it came to the session we were so far behind up in the first session, that the next morning we were all again at CTS at ten o’clock ready to go and I said: “Right we really have to go quickly!”. There were certain cues that were not so important so we really needed to do the important cues fist. And suddenly the musicians said, “That’s fine, but where’s the music?”. I answered, “What do you mean where’s the music? It was there last night”. I said while pointing to one side… And you know what?…The scores had disappeared! Apparently, the cleaning ladies had been to the studio and taken all the music and thrown it in the rubbish, the garbage!
Incredible! It was indeed a very difficult recording session!! And how did you solve that?
It seemed a bit of a joke at the time. (*laughs*) So Tony and me and Christopher Palmer and whoever that could help, went outside, going through the rubbish bins trying to get the music together. The manager from the Philharmonia said, “OK we totally understand it’s not your fault, we’ll delay the session by an hour, so that hopefully can get something together”. We managed to get some cues together and start recording and while the recording was going on, I was sorting out the rest. That incident didn’t help!!
Then, what I didn’t know is that the left channel was being under-recorded by quite a few D.B.’s less than the right channel, so the sound was not right. And, I mean, just one thing after another…
So you solved one problem and a new one came in. You were being tested with Lawrence of Arabia! A love/hate story!
That was a nightmare! And then, again, Chris had re-orchestrated certain cues, especially the cues that hadn’t been on the original album, that I was really wanting to record, and he changed the orchestration, changed the arrangements, changed the format, and I was furious, because I was passionate about it. He said “well, yes, yes, Maurice wanted to do this” and I replied, “you should have told me!”. Just a nightmare! But we put the album together and the album again sold well, and it’s still selling very well, it’s one of Silva Screen’s best-sellers.
I saw Maurice a few months after the release in Seville Film Music Festival, where he was sharing festival with Ennio Morricone. We got into chatting. Maurice was a lovely guy, but obviously he was bitterly disappointed, and he said to me “What a shit recording!” and I said “Yes I know, Maurice, it really is” (*laughs*) and he said “…but the album artwork is fantastic” and I replied with a “Thank you!”
Well, James, you did your best at that moment with what you had and what you knew… and turned out quite well!
Yes! And frankly, it didn’t affect our friendship. Maurice used to phone me up now and again, asking advice, and he even said once “I’ve heard you’ve done a recording of Christmas Classics, can I have it?”, he wanted the recording to play at home or something. So the recording of Lawrence of Arabia was bitterly disappointing for everybody, but you know, we moved on, and although Maurice died, thankfully I still had all the original scores before Chris Palmer re-orchestrated them, so years later, when I could afford it, we did it again as it should have been done: with the right size orchestra!!
I mean, it was actually a one hundred piece orchestra in that room, crammed there, very crowded, but it’s a perfect sound for that type of score. You don’t want to do it in a concert hall, because there’s no separation and there’s too much reverb with twelve percussionists playing live. So we did it as I think it should have been done, finally.
That’s a very nice story!! You got the recording you wanted! And how did your career go with Silva Screen?
Yes!… let’s get back to Silva Screen. Following Lawrence of Arabia, we started doing more recordings. I just said to Reynold “We’re doing these recordings for fans and people that know soundtrack music, and certain decisions have been made that haven’t pleased soundtrack fans” so I said, “I can produce these albums”. I’m not a musician, I never was, I used to play trumpet and violin very very badly, but I said “Look, I know the original so well and I know what they should sound like…” so we started doing recordings like Hammer Horror film music with the Philharmonia, and we also did a few recordings, which seemed like a great idea at the time, using an amateur orchestra which is the Westminster Philharmonic Orchestra.
Unfortunately, it just took so long getting any measure of a fine performance there that I was getting a bit desperate. Then, my recording engineer said, “well I’ve just been to Prague doing a recording, and they’re really quite good there!”. They had been to Prague as well for a B.B.C. film from a Kafka book, because it was filmed in Prague, and they had a history of recording film music in Prague. So I decided to give it a try at Smecky Studios.
I came over first time to Smecky Music Studios in February 1989 with Nick Raine as my assistant (*laughs*). Things have changed quite a bit now. He was complaining about the cold all the time (*laughs*). We did a Fellini-Rota album, which you know, has a few little flaws on it, but I still think it’s a fine album. And we had such great fun recording, and the orchestra was so enthusiastic… The album had many different styles, a little bit jazzy a little bit pop-y, then it’s very classical… and they did it very well.
So that album was kind of a test. You tested the orchestra and the studio to see if they could do the job.
That’s it, so I was very pleased and I started recording here. There were some things which weren’t so successful, again probably my fault trying to do very funky jazzy Lalo Schifrin type stuff without click with a live rhythm section. Now I know exactly what I would do, but then I didn’t know. But now, collectively, I think I’ve done over a hundred CDs here, and some of them I still listen to regularly, because we had a great time recording them and they’re really good. I’m pretty proud of some of them.
Then after fifteen years of Silva, I got fed up with the whole record industry, the way it was going downhill because of the downloads and the sales being not very good etc., etc… Although we were very successful with some classical artists, which really helped to maintain Silva Screen. But as I said, I got fed up with the record industry so then I started Tadlow Music Ltd, which is essentially just for producing and contracting for over record labels and films and so on.
You know… I had enough of record labels, but then after two years I thought, “well, it would be nice to do again a recording… let’s do Guns of Navarone”. Now some of these albums that I’ve done, some were easy to put together. For example, True Grit was very easy to put together, I mean, Elmer was supposed to conduct it. I recorded Elmer’s very last original score for a documentary called De Mille about Cecil B DeMille. We did it in Prague and it is finally now going to come out in a couple months’ time. We’ve been trying to get the rights from the producers. We had a great time doing it, but unfortunately, Elmer was dying. But we enjoyed the recordings. The musicians loved him, and his only instructions to the orchestra during the whole five days he was there were “if you play what’s in front of you, we’ll all be fine”. That’s the only thing, the only instruction, and he just let the orchestra make music.
We saw Joe Hisaishi’s rehearsal yesterday here in Prague for this weekend’s concert, and well, he gave many corrections, didn’t he?
Well, in my opinion, he had just the right amount of corrections. He wanted to get a precise sound and he needed those corrections, so it was fine. But sometimes, you get conductors wanting to tell the orchestra how to play every single bar, which you know, it’s not practical. Just let them play! They know if they’ve played a bum note, they don’t have to be told. They’re professional musicians.
So with the recording for De Mille, evenings were great hearing stories of Elmer from the Golden Age. On the last night, he was the only person left, because he was going back to America next day, and all the people from the production were actually going to go back to England, so it was me and Elmer. The last thing Elmer said to me was “meet you very soon again in Prague for True Grit” but unfortunately that didn’t happen, so you know, we did it without Elmer, but I’m very proud of that album.
In those days, True Grit could maybe sell 3.000 which would never cover the recording costs, but it wouldn’t be too bad. The main thing with Prague, why we record in Prague apart from the price that is very good, is that that you own the master rights one hundred percent. If you record in London you have to pay extra for about what they call “buy out rights”, and sometimes it’s not a complete buy out. In Prague, no matter if it was a commercial or a video game or whatever, once the invoice is being paid, you can do with the master whatever you like.
That wouldn’t happen in London…. Complex and curious the world or royalties…
No, it wouldn’t. If it’s used in commercial or advert or something like that, then that’s where you can maybe make some money, or at least get some money back. Many labels obtain licenses of original soundtracks, but they only have the rights for that album. They have no other rights, and that is why now you get so many limited editions of 300 or 500 copies. I can’t imagine ever doing that for a recording, because that doesn’t pay. But if you own the master rights then you can have maybe some unexpected revenue.
Let’s talk about Prague a little bit and about Smecky Music Studios. Tell us the story behind…
Ok… First, it’s pronounced “Smechki”, “c” sounds as a “ch” in Czech… so it’s “Smechki” Music Studios.
Fine, “Smechki Music Studios” then! (*laughs*)
(*laughs*) The building was built in 1907 as the German cultural center in Prague, and of course, then there was a few German population. Even in the 1920s Einstein gave a series of lectures here and he even played the violin in the main hall.
So Einstein was here and he played the violin!
Yeah, yeah! Then it was Second World War and the main hall here was the dance hall for German army officers, not the SS officers, they probably couldn’t dance (*laughs*), but for the regular German army. Then almost immediately after the Second World War, in 1946, the main hall was converted into an orchestral recording studio because Barrandov Studios, which is a huge studio just outside Prague, where they did Casino Royale and Mission Impossible and Blade and so on and so forth, they wanted a music studio. So Smecky became part of the Barrandov Complex, even though nobody actually really knew who owned the building… you know, because the Germans had been thrown out after WWII.
It was a Barrandov Music Studio for many years, and in 1974 they did a lot a lot of these art house Czech movies, and also the Czech fairy tale movies. Certainly back in those days, in the 50s and 60s, it was almost like a mini Hollywood here. The orchestra was salaried so they would come in every day, sign in, and if there was a session they’d stay, if there wasn’t, then they go home. When Jan Holzner, my main engineer here, first started, January generally was a month for rehearsing. But it was literally like having the M.G.M. orchestra in Prague; they were salaried.
When I first started recording here was just after the Velvet Revolution in 1989 and what happened then is that there was a studio boss, who had to say to all the salaried musicians “we can’t pay you anymore, all of you will have to go freelance”. A lot of people just lost a fortune in those times. There were five symphony orchestras, two opera orchestras, lots of federal orchestras, with people that had to find new “homes”. So with the recordings, what I did was select the best players from all the different orchestras and create the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. It started really just as a session orchestra and we just picked the best players available on the particular dates.
So you created the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra from scratch, for your recordings.
Yeah, basically I did it myself. I mean, in the early days I worked with a guy called Rudolph Wiedermann, but for the last twenty years I’ve been working with Joseph Pokluda who is essentially the boss of the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, he’s also the boss of Smecky Music Studios, but basically, we’re almost like partners. I advise him what to do, I mean, we’ve talked about which players we want, and how to get things more professional and better, and we share many decisions. For instance, we’re building a new control room, that’s going to cost… well… it is costing over 600.000 euros.
That’s a huge amount of money for the Czech Republic!
Yeah, yeah, it’s a huge amount and all of it is private investment; there’s no money from the government or the local council. It’s all money that Joseph and myself, to an extent, have been able to get from the profits of recordings. The money we make from recordings, Joseph puts into the studio and I put into yet another recording, so we both have no money whatsoever. (*laughs*)
Well, you have no money but you’re investing in what you like and you love…
I’m fortunate and you know me, I don’t have many outside expenses apart from good holidays with my wife… otherwise, she’d kill me (*laughs*). We don’t have kids and we don’t have that sort of expenses, so I can dedicate that money to the studio. There is a joke among some composers, especially Grant Kirkhope, who teases me basically saying “you’re always on holiday!” and I say, “No! I’m always traveling, but I’m either on holiday or working. It’s one or the other. What else is there!”
You spend so much time here in Smecky Studios that many people would think you live in the studio… or at least in Prague, but… where do you actually live?
I live in Cambridge in a tiny tiny little village, just a few houses, one street, no pub, no street lighting, no shops… nothing but open wild. It’s fantastic when I want to disconnect from the world, and also just twelve miles away lives Gareth Williams, my mixing engineer, who’s an absolute genius. He’s got his own home studio, so I don’t have to go to London to do mixing and mastering. He’s also a composer himself as well, plays a lot of different musical instruments, ethnic instruments, and he’s a great help. So in the recordings, we have the best quality sound but not having to pay Abbey Road rates.
Talking about rates and competition, let’s do some promotion of yourself and of the studio now (*laughs*). What kind of services or recordings can you get done? Imagine I’m a composer or a movie producer… What could you offer me? Sell yourself!
(*laughs*) That’s a good one! Ok… let’s go… in fact, it’s very simple… I always say to composers: “we are here to make sure you get the best quality possible. All you have to do is turn up and listen to your music, we would do everything else”. So basically, I would book the orchestra, musicians, if composer needs an orchestrator like Nick Raine or Adam Klemens then we would book the orchestrator, and also the music copyist… well, the whole team. We put together the whole team so that literally at 9 o’clock in the morning, all the composer has to do is turn up and supervise the recording.
Obviously, you know, they have to provide me with Pro Tools sessions or clicks, but I just see to the whole thing, especially if they’re inexperienced. I mean, for instance, we’ve done 5 or 6 Bollywood movies from Mumbai and the first time a Bollywood composer asked to do a recording in Prague, we were talking…“what size of orchestra are you looking for?” and he said, “well maybe sixty violins?”… I said “um, that’s interesting, and what else?…” he said “six violas, and… maybe one oboe…”. And I said, “Ok, that’s not going to work. You need an orchestrator”. And he said “What does and orchestrator do?” and I replied, “An orchestrator takes your ideas, if they’re on MIDI files or whatever, and make sure they can be performed by an orchestra”. You know, you can’t just give an orchestra random notes and expect them to play!
Or, as it happens, even today… I’m involved with composers that sing the melody to the strings for them to play, but they can only play a few bars because they can’t remember the whole melody!
Really? Can you name one composer that does that? (*laughs*)
I can… but I shouldn’t… (*laughs*)… so, back to the subject… my work is really just making sure that when we get to a session, no time is wasted on correcting notes. I mean, we’ve had people that have said: “Oh I will do my own orchestration”. OK fine… and then we sort of believe them, they turn to a session, and we’ve got the cello in the wrong clef, so they can’t read it, they can’t play the music, there’s no phrasing, there’s no dynamics… So our job it’s really just doing all the preparation. Everything is about preparation. If things aren’t prepared properly for a session, the session can fall apart… totally!
The session has to have a certain momentum. If the musicians get worried that there are so many wrong notes, they lose confidence, because they see that this is not going to work and they’re putting their name in that recording. Even with pop music. We’ve done some pop strings for a composer from Colombia on Monday afternoon, but I always insist that we get the music a few days in advance, so that the conductor can look at it. In the past, especially from countries like Turkey and Egypt and some others, we’ve got people so inexperienced, and we’ve sort of believed them that what they will bring will be fine musically… and then you find out that it can’t be played! So, it’s their money, it’s their time… but I don’t want to waste it. That’s why I always insist that everything is already prepared!
Well, that’s very interesting James… Let’s have a little break and we continue with this interview soon…
Nice! That’s ok for me! (*laughs*)
Interview by Gorka Oteiza
[JAMES FITZPATRICK INTERVIEW – END OF PART 1 // THIS INTERVIEW WILL CONTINUE SOON ON PART 2]