Composer Series,  Interviews,  Movies/Entertainment,  Podcast Interview

Interview…Howard Blake Career Retrospective: The Avengers, Commercials, Ridley Scott, Queen and ‘The Snowman’

Truly great pieces of art and entertainment come along once in a generation. They are so expertly crafted, and are so well appreciated that they eclipse a label like “iconic” and, by doing so, become legendary. When that happens, we can be moved, inspired and forever changed by what we’ve witnessed as a culture, population or individual. Sometimes you don’t even have to be part of that time/era or culture to recognize and value the impact, the power and the reach something has. Case in point: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Babe Ruth calling his shot, even a quaint animated children’s story.

If we lost you on that last bit, don’t worry, and allow us to introduce you to Howard Blake. The English composer – who has more than half a century of experience writing/orchestrating/conducting music – has an innate understating of story and uses it to provide the heartbeat, nay, the lifeblood for every project to which he’s attached.

When first starting out, Blake followed the traditional route of going to school for music. But being quite adept at piano already put him leagues ahead and set him on a fast-track to future composing work. Even though it was early days for him, Blake’s talent was recognized straight away; he didn’t hit the ground running, he seemed shot from a cannon.

We spoke to Mr. Blake for more than an hour to discuss his career which more or less began with scoring 13 episodes of The Avengers TV series and advanced when working with Ridley Scott in the commercial world. He then scored Scott’s first feature, The Duellists, a small sci-fi picture called Flash Gordon (yes, Queen gets the credit for the songs, but Blake wrote the orchestral score), then Tony Scott‘s first picture, The Hunger, and many, many, many others including an uncredited role as conductor of Robocop, the music box theme in The Changeling, as well as a kid’s cartoon on BBC 4. The name escapes me…The Snow-something…eh, I’ll think of it.

Anyway, Blake’s output is nothing short of prolific and the speed and quality of his work kept him swimming in commissions and lucrative offers for decades. Yet to maintain his health, sanity, and professional satisfaction, he actually stepped away from the whirlwind grind to focus on something that really appealed to him.

In 1974 Blake wrote and later released Piano Quartet in A Minor. It gave him the break he needed, and proved to be one of his finest works outside of film and television. It also is one of many gems in the infinitely versed and delightful musician’s crown.

Blake’s work has made waves on both sides of the pond, and it follows him wherever he goes. Even at 82 years young, he is still quite busy and people around the world are discovering (or rediscovering) his music. Recently, Howard’s previously unreleased score to Agatha as well as Howard Blake: Ghost Stories (featuring music composed and conducted for The Canterville Ghost and Amityville 3-D) were released on Dragon’s Domain Records this year.

On a personal note, Blake’s music has been in my life for decades, and it is a true bucket list experience getting to interview him for GoSeeTalk. This time of year, The Snowman spins round the clock on our turntable, and if there’s one man who deserves the title of “Father Christmas”, it is Howard. In our opinion, his work is right up there with Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite, and Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf.

Blake’s music and song for The Snowman defined a generation because of the wonderment, innocence, beauty and enchantment he brought to the animated adaptation of Raymond Briggs 1978 picture book. Even 38 years on, it still moves the seasoned composer just as it moves everyone who’s seen it.

There are no words in the animated classic (fun fact #1: that was Howard’s idea) but the voice of the production belongs to Howard Blake…and, yes, chorister Peter Auty who originally recorded the song for the album (fun fact #2: Aled Jones helped make the music popular after it was re-recorded and released in 1986).

Looking at the calendar, we’re exactly 10 days away from Christmas. If you cherish the film and music like we do, please join us as we open our presents early by way of this ceaselessly entertaining and informative interview with Howard Blake!!

Howard’s first instrument, early days and first commission: 1:10 – 8:30
Commercial work and meeting/working with Ridley Scott: 8:54 – 15:25
‘The Duellists’ and almost working on ‘Alien’: 15:25 – 17:51
Scoring ‘Flash Gordon’ and working with Queen: 17:52 – 27:12
Howard and Freddie Mercury: 27:15 – 30:15
Tony Scott’s ‘The Hunger’: 30:16 – 38:00
Stanley Kubrick and happy accidents on The Snowman: 38:04 – 46:21
Working with Catherine Deneuve on the piano: 46:32 – 50:22
Music box theme for ‘The Changeling’: 50:22 – 55:56
CD releases of ‘Agatha’ and Howard Blake: Ghost Stories: 56:00 – 1:03:02
Piano Quartet in A Minor: 1:03:02 – 1:09:40
‘The Snowman’, Peter Auty and Aled Jones: 1:09:42 – 1:23:20
Download Podcast Audio

You can find plenty more info about Howard from his official website by clicking here. His work continues to inspire and, off screen, The Snowman lives on in stage show performances, and in concert halls, ice rinks, and other venues. His music is available in nearly all formats, even sheet music.