Saturday, 5 April 2014

interview: Derek Wadsworth

I have a lot of interviews in the archive which have, for one reason or another, never seen the light of day and occasionally I’m reminded of one of these when I read an obituary. In December 2008 I read that Derek Wadsworth had passed away and I instantly recalled the lovely bloke who gave me a smashing interview when I met him at the Fanderson Gold convention in August 1996. Derek was best known for writing all the music for the second season of Space: 1999.

You came in halfway through Space: 1999 to do the music.
"Yes, I came in halfway through. There were big changes happening at the time, between those two series, not the least of which was that Gerry had just divorced and separated from Sylvia. Because they'd always been a husband and wife creative team. At that point they were going their separate ways, which was obviously a very traumatic time for both of them. There was also all sorts of changes within the business and in a way I kind of represented a new start for Gerry as far as the music was concerned."

Without wanting to go into personal details, was the break-up between Gerry and Sylvia very evident in the production itself, on set?
"Not at all. Because I'd come in as a new boy, I never met Sylvia anyway. But Gerry's such a hard-nosed professional that his private life would never spill over into his professional life. There are so many divorces in the world, aren't there? But people just get on with their lives and go on doing what they've always done. I wasn't able to compare Gerry's behaviour before and after because I didn't know him before. He was just a new character to me."

Were you familiar with the first season of Space: 1999?
"Yes, I was. In fact I was familiar with most of Gerry's work because I was a big fan. Especially Thunderbirds, because I had children who grew up and watched every episode. And all the Joe 90s and Stingrays. Oh yes, great fun. For me it was a big thrill to be part of that team. It was just wonderful."

How did you get the job?
"I'm a freelance writer/composer/musician. I have been for 38 years now; even then I'd been about 16 years in the business, when I started in 1976. So you get all sorts of odd jobs. One night you're playing in a pub for a pub crowd, the next minute you're flying on a jet with Diana Ross or something like that. You get all sorts of jobs come on the phone. Sometimes you have very quiet periods, sometimes you're flavour of the month and get a lot of work. Like any other sort of freelance business.

“I'd been musical director of the show Hair in the '60s, the hippy rock musical, and I'd put a band together for that with some people I knew, including a rock'n'roll star called Alex Harvey. Well, he wasn't a rock'n'roll star then; he was a rock'n'roller but not a star. I'd heard Alex Harvey singing in a club in the West End when I went to play my trombone. I played ‘Girl from Ipanema’ and all those sort of standards that you play in hotels and things. And I thought Alex was a great player. So when I got the chance to be musical director of this show, I got him in on guitar. Subsequently there was another guy too in that band, Mike Oldfield, who went on to make Tubular Bells. So they were both in the band. And Alex went on to be a big star in the '70s - The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. They were all very theatrical and camp, dressed up a bit and did kind of comic-strip routines.

“As he became a star, Alex always used me as his musical director if he wanted things like strings or brass or anything like that on their recordings. And he was sponsored by a guy called Bill Fehilly, Mountain Management. Bill made all his money out of bingo halls up North. He'd made a big empire for himself and it was his idea he was going to get into music. So his first promotion was this guy - sorry, it's a long story - Alex, who used to stick fly posters up for him in Glasgow. So, as Alex got bigger, Alex said, 'Why don't you do something for Derek? See if you can get him some films or something like that.' I had been doing some films already before that with Manfred Mann.

“So we got together in the office, thinking up crazy ideas. And somebody said, 'These bloody pop stars, they're so much trouble with their egos and their prima donna behaviour. Why don't we have a pop star who we can put in a box at night?' So it was a kind of a joke. So somebody said, 'Let's have a puppet for a pop star.' And somebody else said, 'Oh yes. We can promote him just like those guys on Thunderbirds and let's make him into a star.' So we said, 'Well, who makes puppets?' 'Gerry Anderson, he's the best.'

“So Tony Prior - who now owns Telstar Records, he's become very successful - he was a bit of an accountant, so he made an appointment with Gerry Anderson. And of course Gerry's always been open to crazy ideas. His antenna's always open. You can go to Gerry with almost anything and he would never laugh in your face because he's a very serious-minded bloke about his work. So he was kind of taken with this idea. And this was just the particular time when it looked as though Space: 1999 was going to finish in its first series. There'd be no more. So what Gerry had done to keep the company going, he'd made a pilot film inbetween times on Space: 1999 using some of the equipment from Space: 1999, some of the sets. While it was there, he made use of it. So he made a thing called Into Infinity. He'd just done this.

“So for some reason, I can't remember quite why, Gerry was suddenly too busy to do the puppet pop star. So he was saying to Tony - they became friends - 'We've got this film, we're trying to put this pilot together, but we haven't got a music score because I'm splitting with Barry Gray now.' So Tony pipes up: 'Well, we'll do the music.' Because somebody had to pay for it. So this company that I was working with, Mountain Management, said they would pay for the music and they said, 'Derek will write it.' So Gerry said, 'Fine. That's fine by me.' Even though he didn't really know me. So I did the music for that. The puppet pop star didn't happen. Into Infinity was made and finished; it was a pilot but it was never taken up as a series. But in the course of it all I'd met Gerry Anderson and he'd heard what I could do, and I suddenly got a call: 'We've got a second series of Space. Would you like to do it?' So that was really how I got it.”

How did the process work on Space: 1999? At what stage of production did you come in?
"The first thing of course was a signature tune. In those days of course we didn't have computers and synthesisers, it was all very new. These days people expect you to give them the finished product and say, 'That is my idea'. Or pretty near the finished product, because you can get synthesised strings and other stuff. In those days there was nothing like that and nobody had even twigged on the idea of having a demo for a tune anyway. It was just: if they liked your work, they gave you a job and left you to it, which was wonderful. In the event, when I did record the signature tune I did three different versions and they chose the one that they liked.

“When it came to the episodes, they used to have these things that they don't have any more called Moviolas. It was a bit like the old Singer sewing machine, with a foot treadle, and the film goes through. Of course, this was all before video. You know the effects of the video: stop, start, frame move and all that business. Well of course, that was unknown to the general public in those days. The only thing you had was this machine, the Moviola; which, with the foot peddle, you could move the film back and forward and then spot it.

“Now, it's not just as simple as making up the music and put in what you like. The first thing you have to think about is the very practical considerations, because there are Musician's Union rules that you have to abide by. Not least of which - and this still applies today - is that you can only record twenty minutes of music in one recording session. Which is a three-hour recording session in which you're allowed to record a maximum of twenty minutes of music. So therefore, when we had a session, you usually had twenty minutes of music maximum for a one-hour episode. So the first thing is to decide in the episode where the most important bits for music are, bearing in mind you've only got twenty minutes. You might choose lots of places then suddenly realise there's a big important scene at the end. But you've used all your points up earlier on, so you have to go back and drop something.

“So there was those kind of things. And the budget of course, you've got to think about the budget. That's the hard bit, working out the cost of the studio and the cost of the players and whether you're doubling the instruments and whether people are dragging on the main performance. You're doing all this kind of logistics. Then comes the creative bit, which is picking out the bits in the episode where the music goes: the start point and the end point. Then you've got some horrendous calculations, which is another thing. Because one foot of film is two-thirds of a second. So the editors give you the timing in footages. So if you decide that the start point is when someone opens a door, then at 17 and a half foot someone thumps somebody on the nose or something like that, you've got 17 and a half two-thirds of a second to work out. You can't even work it out with a calculator because it's not a decimal thing. And I'm not very good at maths anyway. So there's a long list of sums to be done.

“Having then done your sums, you then get the score. First of all, you decide in your head what the tempo will be. It's better in a sense not to use a tempo and just to play it wild. But of course you've got your budgetary factor coming in: you don't want to be in the studio with any risk factors, you want to get it while you possibly can. So nearly all of us work with click tracks. The musicians work with headphones on: they can hear tick-tock-tick-tock in their cans, so that's an exact frame-beat click track. Then you end up getting your score paper, putting little crosses at certain bars actually where things are supposed to happen. You've got your tempo with it. Then bar three, you put a little cross because a spaceship lands; bar five, beat four, the dialogue begins between Koenig and Maya or something like that; then the dialogue ends. So you mark all these things on top of your score, so you've actually got like a painting-by-numbers kit before you start. That's the hardest part of the work. Then you can see exactly where these spaces are, where the music can come through, where the effects are and so on.

“Then really just like anybody would, you make up a tune. Dress it up; put a little bass line on it or things like that. And I was typical really of anyone who was fairly new to the game. I was talking about this recently with Bill LeSage who used to do a lot of black and white movies in the '50s. Anybody that's in my business who first gets their break, who does music on an important programme, you try too hard. You want to prove to the world how brilliant you are, and you put too much in. And it's wrong. Music is just an effect. There are spaces. There are some directors who will give you the space. But on the whole, you shouldn't be thinking about your own little ego trip. And that's the fault that I did. When I see these things today, I cringe. That's me trying to be clever. If I were to do it now, older and wiser I'd be a lot sparer in what I do and really use it more as an effect, rather than me saying, 'Aren't I clever?'"

Finally, how much contact did you have with Gerry?
"I've got nothing but respect for Gerry Anderson, because once he's decided he's going to use someone, he gives them total freedom to do what they want to do. He'll prod you, but he doesn't breathe down your neck. A lot of people do in the film world. They're knocking on your door in the wee small hours of the morning, leaning over you as you're trying to play the piano and worrying themselves to death. I think Gerry sizes you up and if he thinks you're worth your salt, he'll let you get ahead with it. When it comes to the rushes and he gets to hear the music for the first time, if there's something he doesn't like, he doesn't throw a wobbly and say, 'What's all that about?' He discusses it in a very, clear, rational way. He's got this quiet, slow manner. He'd say, 'Derek, we've decided that we're going to have more effects in here, and I think' - he'll put it to you - 'Do you think the music would be better if it was less busy and a bit more quiet at that particular point? What do you think?' He doesn't say to you, 'For God's sake! There's too much going on there? What the hell are you doing?'

“In my time in the business, looking back, there are three or four people I've worked with who were great motivators, people who bring the best out of you. I once toured America with a band leader who, before you went on, would come up to you in the wings like a cheerleader. He'd say, 'Oh, you were fantastic last night, Derek. We're going to knock the socks off them tonight, aren't we? We're a great band. They won't believe it when they hear us!' So you'd go out and do the concert and feel really good in yourself. Yet only a few months later I toured America with another artist who would come on and say, 'God, you screwed that up last night. What a load of shit you played. You're going to get it right tonight, aren't you?' But Gerry's one of those motivators. He flatters you, and brings the best out of you.

“And when you're working for him, you're the greatest in the world. He tells everybody, 'This boy here, he's the best.' When your turn has come not to do something, then the next person in charge is the greatest. He's a great motivator, a terrific person to work for. I subsequently applied for one or two more of his other productions in the past. I didn't do Space Precinct, but I would have liked to have done. But it's a competitive field. What's expected now of composers is that you put in a demo, and if the demo's good enough, you'll get the job. Gerry would have liked to have worked with me. In fact, I came very close to getting Space Precinct, but there was a decision between him and his backers and I didn't get that one, which is fair enough. I do other television series; sometimes you get them, sometimes you don't. It's a competitive, open field and if you get them of course it's great because it's a very lucrative field. If you get one out of ten then you're doing very well.”

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