OST – original soundtrack

For most of my life, I’ve been a keen collector and appreciator of film soundtrack music.

Yeah baby! It’s Thunderball

There was this slow dawning, as I went into my mid-teens that, while other kids were following the charts and raving about David Bowie, Hot Chocolate and the Bay City Rollers (I know), I had my head in the scores to Thunderball , Close Encounters, Earthquake  and  The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

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Saturday Night Fever

Don’t get me wrong; I liked the popular hits too. I liked all sorts of bands, but they were something entirely apart from the film scores. Incidentally, I’ve been a big ELO fan for most of my life. Jeff Lynne’s work has been a bright spot for me over the years; but that’s the subject of another post.

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Jeff Lynne

Something that used to bug the hell out of me was the way soundtrack LPs (yeah, back in the days when vinyl reigned) often seemed to use cues that didn’t sound the way they had at the cinema. I later learned that scores were often re-recorded for an LP release. This allowed them to iron out any bugs or perhaps to fatten up the arrangements and make them “more listenable”. At this point, there was still some snootiness  amongst musos about the validity of film music.

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John Williams

I was lucky enough to be around when some of the greatest names in film music history were working their magic. I’d find myself reading that fine print they put on movie posters, to see who’d done the score. If it was James Bond, it would most often be John Barry. If it was a disaster film, John Williams (the American composer, not the Australian guitarist). If it was sci-fi, then Jerry Goldsmith. Films about WWII always sounded great if Ron Goodwin had done them (Where Eagles Dare anyone?). And Hitchcock was always best when backed by Bernard Herrmann (check out North by Northwest!).

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Ron Goodwin
Bernard Herrmann. He of the shrieking violins in Psycho

It wasn’t until the 1990s that filmmakers realised there was an audience out there who wanted to hear exactly what they’d heard on the big screen and not some mocked-up version of it. There was also a burgeoning realisation that  film music was a good thing in and of itself; that it had a valid place in musical history and was something people wanted to hear.

Yoda conducts the LSO with his midget lightsabre

The soundtrack market exploded and I was in heaven. All of a sudden, there were re-releases of film scores going back into the 1950s and 60s. Gone were the CD releases which just carried the limited selection of the vinyl release. A CD could hold twice as much material, so in most cases you could get every single cue from a film in there.

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Jerry Goldsmith at work

I still collect soundtracks, but am quite selective about which ones. Contemporary films seem to be pervaded by generic-sounding cues which you could transfer from one film to another and never know the difference. This is because the turnaround time is much shorter now and it’s harder for composers to catch and express that original sound which travels with the audience as they leave the cinema.

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John Barry

For me that’s the hook. A film needs its own special sound and you can’t achieve that by just vomiting off-the-peg musical cliches all over it. John Barry always used to build his work around two or three themes and you’d get fragments of them woven into the whole film. It made the story cohesive and provided an emotional ground upon which to stand and view the images before you.

Indecent Proposal. A real balancing act for composer John Barry

There are those who still put out work with strong themes; themes you can hum and remember. Michael Giaccino’s work on Jurassic World was something else. Not only did he work in John Williams’ themes from the Jurassic Park series, he added stirring motifs of his own and produced something wonderful in the process.

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Jurassic World

Another superb modern film composer is Alexandre Desplat (Girl with a Pearl Earring, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows I and II and Zero Dark Thirty). Desplat is probably one of my modern favourites. He never turns in anything shoddy or without merit.

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Alexandre Desplat

The list of available film composers is massive now. There are university courses in scoring for film and it has almost become institutionalised as an art form. For me though, the names which really shine are the ones whose style you can recognise and who counterpoint the action or tell you something about what’s going on inside a character’s head without flagging it up too obviously. It’s a delicate balance and not everyone can do it. That’s what separates the men from the boys in film composition.

 

Edge of Darkness (1985)

Over the last couple of evenings, I’ve revisited the BBC’s excellent 1985 miniseries, Edge of Darkness. This six-parter was the work of writer Troy Kennedy Martin (Z-Cars, The Italian Job, Kelly’s Heroes) and director Martin Campbell (who would go on to introduce two new James Bonds to us – Pierce Brosnan in GoldenEye and Daniel Craig in Casino Royale).

If you haven’t seen it before, or have only seen the lesser film version with Mel Gibson (again, directed by Martin Campbell), then I would recommend this series. One caveat – it’s not easy viewing…


 Bob Peck – he’s got a teddy bear and a gun. Not a man to be trifled with.

In the first three parts, the action centres on Ronnie Craven, a policeman whose 21 year-old daughter, Emma, is gunned down in front of him on the steps to their house. Craven is no stranger to pain; a few years before, he watched his wife fade away from cancer. Now, the one remaining light in his life is snuffed out, but Craven soon discovers that Emma was neck-deep in some very sinister stuff.


Joanne Whalley as Emma Craven, murdered environmental activist. Official cause of death, gunshot wounds. But why is her body radioactive?

The series certainly looks and feels “of its time”, anchored as it is in the deep political divisions of the Thatcher era and presented in the old 4:3 format. However, this makes no odds in a powerful and at times surreal Cold War drama.

Edge of Darkness carries a pervading menace and doom. After I’d seen it back to back, I really felt like I needed a breather. Like all good drama, there’s no one thing that creates the atmosphere. In part, it’s the score by Michael Kamen and Eric Clapton (as I write this, I am into my second full day of that bloody guitar line going round and round and round in my head!) There’s also a highly intense performance by Bob Peck as the grieving father. Then there’s the underhandedness of powerful antagonists, portrayed by a superb supporting cast. And finally, the mystery of just what the hell went on at Northmoor.

Oh and then there’s Darius Jedburgh.

 Joe Don Baker as loose-cannon black-ops man, Darius Jedburgh

We first find Jedburgh in London. It’s closing time at a restaurant, and there he is with two American military pals. All are mullered, having spent the evening celebrating their return from doing God-knows-what, God-knows-where. Jedburgh is just sober enough to badger Craven out of his hotel room for a drink and from there, an already intriguing plot gets really engrossing.

Jedburgh’s a Langley man alright, but quite the oddball. He’s uncompromising and dangerous, but enjoys Come Dancing with childish glee and wears a poncho to breakfast.

A favourite scene is when, returning from El Salvador, Jedburgh empties out his golf bag. Out tumble golf clubs, tees, clothing, shoes, several empty bottles and an AR-15. Jedburgh draws Craven deeper into the looming mystery of what happened to Craven’s daughter and her organisation, Gaia.


“Millions of years ago when the Earth was cold, it looked like life on the planet would cease to exist. But black flowers began to grow, multiplying across the landscape until the entire surface was covered in blooms…” Emma explains it all to her dad. 

Edge of Darkness is a real one-off. It’s environmental activism (as it was in the 80s), blended with spy mystery, highly focused personal drama and revenge thriller.

It all leads miles underground, to a secret facility called Northmoor. In the film version, Northmoor was just an American corporation with dirty secrets. In the TV series, it’s much more sinister – a massive underground complex, known only to a few powerful people and hiding an ugly secret. There’s something about the way the characters get drawn into this grim, irradiated chasm that harks back to Dr Who of the 1970s or Quatermass before it.

Northmoor. Not exactly the place for a great night out… or is it?

Craven and Jedburgh retrace Emma’s steps and find their way to the heart of what’s going on. It’s a tough scramble down into the bowels of the earth and you find yourself sharing Craven’s astonishment at the secrets his recently deceased daughter must have been keeping. “This is the most dangerous business in England run by the most dangerous men”, Craven remonstrates with Emma’s ghost.

Yes, Emma’s ghost. That’s another element of this series; the enigmatic and supernatural side. Is she really appearing to him? Is he just imagining it due to grief? Is it prophetic?

Lobster omelette, asparagus tips, a cellar of the best vintages AND its own stash of weapons-grade plutonium. Northmoor – book now!

From then on, there is a tragic inevitability to the action, but it’s never predictable. All sides want a piece of what lurks deep in the caves under northern England but the truth can never be allowed out.

When it was first shown, Edge of Darkness aired on BBC2. Within days, it was rerun on BBC1 and quickly became a massive hit. To this day, it’s regarded as one of the most outstanding and influential pieces of TV ever broadcast and has influenced countless other productions.

The atmosphere of this series is so strong that I think it may be some time before I revisit it. It’s well-crafted, well-acted TV drama, but by heck it’s potent.

Kral Puncher Breaker 22 air rifle (FAC version)

A quick look at two of the Kral Puncher Breaker range…

And some stills:

Walnut blued (top) and Marine synthetic (bottom). These are excellent value guns and come with two mags each, a single-shot adapter, a built-in scope rail and (in the synthetic stocks) a storage space for the second mag.

The Marine variant with synthetic stock. This was the one I went for. It has a slightly shorter and more curved stock and I found it much easier to set up a scope the way I wanted.

Walnut blued variant. These air rifles are pretty much half the price of competing bullpup guns and yet the quality is excellent. The walnut is good quality with a sculpted and slightly futuristic look.

The Marine with a scope on top of a riser and a torch attached for night shooting.

Taurus shine-up

This is a UK-legal Taurus long-barrelled revolver, or LBR. The configuration you see here, with 12″ barrel and peculiar “dough paddle” at the rear, is the only lawful remainder of centrefire pistol shooting in this country.

Made in Brazil, these revolvers have been a staple of British LBR shooting for decades.

There are other types of LBR out there, such as Alphas and, very rarely, converted Smith & Wessons, but most long-barrel shooters go for a Taurus. This is because there are quite a few in circulation and, although expensive, they aren’t as cripplingly so as the other makes.

The only trouble is, Taurus has stopped making LBRs for the British market, so prices have spiralled upwards.

Another major issue is the finishing, the quality of which varies a lot, especially internally. The Model 66 and Model 980, on which our LBRs are based have a couple of besetting issues to do with their cylinders and, if these aren’t slicked out, owning a Taurus can become an exercise in frustration.

Then there’s spares. Taurus parts are not easy to come by in the UK. 

All that said, you can take one of these revolvers and turn it into something really pretty to look at and you can make them work.

This is mine:

It’s the 44 Magnum version. I sold this gun to someone who got it all sorted out and was intending to keep it. Then he changed his mind and sold it to a friend of mine and I eventually bought it back.

Just recently, I got handed another 44 Mag Taurus. This one had only seen light usage and for very good reasons. Nothing worked smoothly and the cylinder was barely rotating. Not good for a nearly-new gun.

I decided to give this revolver the makeover of its lifetime and sort out its rotational problems.

Here it is:

All stripped down and ready to be sorted out.

The sideplate was a pig to remove, because it hadn’t been finished well and was way too tight. A sideplate should be a snug fit, but shouldn’t require a sledgehammer and dynamite to remove.

These guns are always supplied in a brushed finish. That has charms of its own, but is poorly set-off by the uninspiring rubber grips that come with the gun. They’re narrow too, which means they transfer a lot of nasty recoil to the web of your hand.

The cylinder. Meh.

The ejector (the odd-looking angular thing sticking out) was so stiff it was barely operating. The centre pin (which pokes out the centre of the ejector and locks the cylinder into the frame) was stuck in its hole and couldn’t do its job. Dreadful!

Day one. I was still considering how far to go with this revolver when curiosity got the better of me and I polished the top of the vent to see how hard it would be to get it mirror-bright.

Damn. That’s torn it. Now I’ve got to do the rest of it!

OK… here goes.

Really getting stuck in now. No turning back.

By now, I had sorted out the grotty cylinder release problems and that ejector. All working smooth as butter.

This first bit went more quickly than I had anticipated. I refined my technique as I went along; learning  how far to go with polishing before calling it done.

Not totally done yet – still some scuffs and lines to get out, but we’re nearly there!

Internally, I had got to grips with the poorly-fitting sideplate. I’d made it snug, but without the nasty peening at its leading edge resulting from over-tight initial fitting at the factory. Unfortunately, the sideplate is on the opposite side to this photo.

And that’s Jenga.

Some crud and oil on the gun make the bit around my thumb look duller than it really is.

The revolver is now away having some finishing touches added by my good friend David at Shooting Shed. Click the link for David’s journal.

This was a labour of love, initially to see how long it would take (about 2 weeks on and off), but I now think there could be a new lease of life waiting for dozens more Tauruses out there.

Once I have it back and new grips on (those may take some while to get), I will post an update.

The Limehouse Golem

I haven’t said much about films lately, but not because I haven’t seen any. In fact, if anything, I’ve been watching quite a few but I tend to only pick out ones which have really made an impression to talk about on here.

Let me say right away that I’m no big fan of murder mysteries/whodunnits (or Victorian period pieces) but The Limehouse Golem (2016) sticks out as an extremely well-made piece of drama with a solid evocation of the period.

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I won’t spoil the story for you, but this film recreates the seedy world of Victorian East End London so well that you won’t have to suspend disbelief.

If you’re the kind of viewer who grew up devouring Agatha Christie and enjoys second-guessing mystery dramas, then you may work out what’s actually afoot in this film. I can never be bothered to puzzle it out. I just like to sit back and enjoy,  so for me this was a solid 105 minutes’ entertainment.

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The film centres on the goings-on in and around a popular London music hall company. A string of grisly murders takes place, pre-empting Jack the Ripper’s infamous doings and so horrible that the killer is nicknamed the Golem; a legendary creature of dark and murky origins.

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The narrative is ever so slightly non-linear, at least in the beginning, but the threads are skilfully woven together by director Juan Carlos Medina, who also elicits some terrific performances from Bill Nighy,  Douglas Booth and especially rising star, Olivia Cooke.

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Not for the squeamish and definitely not for young children, The Limehouse Golem is a little bit like the Sherlock Holmes films with Robert Downey, but minus the daft contrivances and laugh-aloud gags.

Bill Nighy is Inspector John Kildare, a very clever and capable policeman whose career progression has been quietly capped, owing to bitchy rumours about his sexuality. Olivia Cooke is the young actress married to a cruel and domineering man. Her career has also been stunted, because of her husband’s interfering.

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There isn’t a wasted talent in this picture. All the supporting cast turn in fine work and the story zips along nicely. For nearly two hours, you’ll feel transported to the Limehouse of the late 19th Century.

 

James Boyd – concert guitarist

For quite some time, I’ve been meaning to mention James Boyd, a virtuoso concert guitarist based here in Norfolk. I’m fortunate enough to have lessons with James and he is, without a doubt, one of the most extraordinary people I’ve ever met.

When I first went along to see James, I don’t mind admitting I was very, very nervous. I hadn’t had much luck with teachers, was petrified of playing in front of other people and, aware of how good James was, was worried he would simply confirm my fears: that I was actually rather crap and should stop playing altogether.

Boy, was I surprised.

Within the first lesson, James had got right to the issue and got me actually playing. I’d been struggling along, on and off, for decades and had always stalled at the same page on the same book… and then eventually given up.

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I’d gone along to that first lesson with some preconceptions; scales, grades, strict regimens of practice and so on. However, the conversation ran something like this:

“Do I need to think about grades?”

“Do you want to?”

“No.”

“Well don’t do them then.”

“I guess I’ll have to study scales?”

“You can, but why not just do them when they crop up in a piece of music?”

James won the Julian Bream prize at the Royal Academy of Music when he was there and now travels all over the world giving recitals and concerts. He knows what the pitfalls are and his emphasis is always on being a good musician, not on “producing notes”.  More to the point, he’s overcome all these obstacles in the context of world-class performance.  This is why I’d always recommend learning from a pro player.

I’m aware that this post could become a hagiography, but when you’ve had the frustration of never quite getting it right and then come across someone who helps you succeed and  tells you you’re a good player (and James never bullshits people)… well, those moments are gold dust.

I’ll leave you with a link to one of James’ executive training sessions. He’s taken all that he’s learned over years of playing the guitar professionally and applied it to business development and corporate learning strategies. I think you’ll agree, he’s someone you could listen to for hours.

 

Sheridan “Cowboy” .177 pellet/BB revolver

I’d like to show you this great little airgun from Crosman – the Sheridan Cowboy:

It’s designed to look like an 1858 Remington revolver which was of course a muzzle-loader. This one copies the later cartridge-converted variants on those guns.

The size and weight are quite a surprise when you get it in your hands. It’s not light and tinny as you might expect.

It has a Peacemaker-style loading gate and takes six dummy cartridges, each with a pellet or BB.

This is how you load the dummy shells.

Pop them in with the hammer at half-cock and you’re good to go.

A very nice touch is this little under-frame safety catch. Red means ready to fire.

A CO2 bulb is loaded via the left-hand grip and an L-shaped hex key is included to make life a bit easier.

It even comes to bits like the real thing. The ramrod under the barrel isn’t moveable, but the pistol has an ejector rod.

Totally authentic-looking from the outside, the cylinder is actually hollowed out, so no danger of it being converted illegally.

The end of the barrel shows imitation rifling.

 

Shoots pellets or BBs. A total of twelve shells are included (six for pellets and six for BBs), plus instructions.

These are terrific back-garden plinkers and very satisfying to use. The grip is a lot larger than you might expect but that makes a very comfortable fit for adults at least.

The trigger breaks at about 4lb.

Now selling Dillon presses & accessories plus Mr Bulletfeeder

Good news for fans of progressive reloading: we’re now selling Dillon equipment and the Mr Bulletfeeder range.

If you’ve ever wondered about the convenience and ease of cranking out ammo to your chosen spec, then this brand definitely warrants checking out.

It’s a good idea, if you’ve not loaded much before, to come to progressive loading after a bit of time spent on single-stage or turret press work. That will provide you with the basics needed to move on to these more complex machines.

There is something pleasurable about setting one of these machines up. They actually look quite scarily complicated, but the step-by-step instructions make it dead easy if you follow them carefully.

There’s a variety of machines and setups to suit differing needs and budgets. These range from the Square Deal B machines, through the RL550s and excellent XL650s, all the way to the Super 1050s, which can chuck out over 1,000 rounds per hour!

Personally, I have been pleasantly surprised by the consistency and quality of ammo my machine produces. You wouldn’t think something so complex could turn out such accurate results, but they do and they’re worth the time and investment.

The Mr Bulletfeeder setup is an aftermarket line of gear intended to take the one remaining nuisance step out of progressive loading: adding the bullets by hand. These devices drop the bullets into place so all you need do is pull the handle.

There’s even a fully automated add-on for those who want to phone in their reloading and go make a cuppa.  The Mark 7 Autodrive (made for the XL650 and Super 1050 presses) is for serious ammo makers and clubs. These machines automate the whole process.

Whatever you end up buying, you won’t be disappointed. The Dillon range has been perfected over decades and is now the last word in quality progressive loading.

Get yourself a kit and start cranking them out!

To make an enquiry, please mail me on: jon@jdrguns.com

Face the music (or not)

Not long back, I had a break of several weeks from playing the guitar. I don’t get that much time to devote to practise anyway. Really just a few minutes at the end of the day at the moment.

I’d been butting heads with a couple of tricky pieces (for me anyway) and so decided to park it for a bit and do something else. Watch films, clean the car, load some ammo, God forbid, even just sleep. Anything but go over and over the same troublesome musical phrases.

After my break, I’d been quite concerned that what I’d learned would have evaporated or that I’d have to backtrack several months in order to catch up.



Weirdly, I found the opposite to be true. I went back fresh into what I’d been learning and, instead of getting to those knotty bits in the music and falling over, I found that they pretty much just trotted out as though I’d been doing them for decades.

This is apparently something well known to musicians. Not just retained muscle memory, but an entirely different function of the human brain; it seems to go on working on problems in the background.

I guess that’s why it’s often better to sleep on a difficult decision or other issue that you can’t resolve by stressing about it and getting nowhere.

I’m not suggesting for a minute that I did sod all practice and then woke up one morning and found I had the hands of David Russell, but it was an important lesson that sometimes you’re just meant to leave something be and allow it to percolate.

After all, music is meant to be fun isn’t it?