We at GoSeeTalk claim to be huge film score fans but there’s someone we know who puts both our passion and knowledge to shame. Hailing from London, living in Northern Ireland since 1990, host on a number of film and music related outlets, including his own “Movie Magic” show, is one Tim Burden. Raised on golden era Hollywood music his father was the John H. Burden, a past principal of the London Symphony Orchestra who played on some of the most iconic film scores of all time. I’ve admired his work and professionalism for some time and admittedly there’s a bit of Tim Burden’s “movie magic” in all my interviews.
You may have heard Tim’s work on one of our recent posts where we featured his interview with Patrick Doyle about his comissioned work for the Syracuse Film Festival. Tim, a radio host, voice artist and avid film score expert, has been to so many places and talked to such a wide variety of film personalities I thought he would be a perfect fit for our interview series. Tim and I sat down for about an hour to discuss his career, his taste in music and more so enjoy this conversation with our friend Tim Burden…
– Tim, thanks so much for spending some time with us. I don’t really have an agenda, but just wanted to talk to you about our mutual passion for film music. So I guess consider this like coffee talk between film score fans. Let’s go back a bit, and talk about your upbringing and what instilled this interest in film music?
Your father was the great John H. Burden, French Horn player for the London Symphony Orchestra, so what was it like growing up in a household of a major musician?
It was great but it was difficult for me to tell at a young age. His professional performance career really finished when I was about 4 years old. I was very young when I would be going around to certain things like recording sessions for film and TV or classical concerts in my pram. In about 1980 he stopped playing due to stress and an issue that many musicians can experience: Simply playing too much and not taking care of the embouchure. His schedule was ridiculous and he played so much he just couldn’t play well enough any more – it’s an issue which many players have. So what he did from 1980 onward is teach and he taught some of today’s best London players and players across the world while he was a professor at Trinity College of Music.
He was an influence on their lives and some of them contacted me after Dad passed to tell me they were his pupils. Off the top of my head I can recall Jim Rattigan, who is a famous jazz and French Horn player who played on amazing sessions like Gladiator and some James Horner scores. Dad was a big advocate of film music and was one of the principal musicians of the London Symphony in the 40’s and 50’s. He was one of the key players who actually resigned from the LSO because they had a management who didn’t approve of film music recordings.
A lot of those key players walked off and started an orchestra with Muir Matheson, one of the leading British film music stalwarts. They founded the Sinfonia of London and The Guns of Navaronne was one of their first score credits and Dad worked with many legendary composers like Dimitri Tiomkin, Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith, Henry Mancini, and John Barry loved his playing so much he was always called to play on his London sessions. Even John Williams very early in his career. Dad played on Goodbye Mr. Chips and Heidi. This was all pre-Star Wars and something Dad used to say was that he regretted not playing on the Star Wars soundtrack – there were such incredible solos that French Horn player David Cripps had to relish.
My mother was a piano teacher so music was always around the house and it was always exciting to grow up in that kind of atmosphere. Dad and I would watch movies often and he’d always point things out to me, saying things like “I played on that” and always helped me pay attention to the music. Some of the best music of the past 50-60 years has been written for film and a lot of the great composers of the past 50 years would easily be the equivalent of the classical composers. I don’t really like categorizing them actually, good music is good music.
– With all that exposure, what kind of interests did you have, and what career path did you take to get to what you’re doing today with voice overs, TV work, and film score reviews?
It was always very media related with much emphasis on entertainment and film. After school I went to college and did performing arts at a school with a two year program. While there I did sound recording for music production and also studied the administration of theater companies. It really covered all the aspects of performing arts. We’d go to a recording studio for a week and learn the complexities of a mixing desk and how to record an album. There were about twenty of us and for two years we spent our time learning all about performing the arts.
We’d also tour around schools and perform music and drama. I did a lot of acting in my early days but then I got a bout of stage fright. So I stopped doing that and preferred to stay behind the scenes with stage management focusing on music and sound which is about figuring out where to place sound and music for stage productions. That was a lot of fun. Some people have said I should have been a sound editor or a temp music editor as I have a pretty good ear on where to place music.
– Aside from the music that your parents played, what kind of music did you enjoy? What film scores/soundtracks did you find influential, or that helped develop your personal tastes?
I suppose it was a mixture of the James Bond scores and a lot of the Ron Goodwin music. John Williams definitely, Henry Mancini, Charles Gerhardt, and the classic film score album series by The National Philharmonic. That was a gateway to the wonderful Hollywood sound. Dad actually played on quite a few of them. He was one of Charles Gerhardt’s guys because The National Philharmonic was set up by Gerhardt and Sydney Sax. Sydney was a fixer in London for many years and wasn’t a particularly nice man. I think there was a time when he owed every single musician in London money *laughs* but anyway pretty much the best players in London would have played in the National Philharmonic.
It was like a session orchestra really. To play and hear that music was an experience. It had never sounded so good because Max Steiner, Erich Korngold, Franz Waxman recorded their scores with lesser technology, so they were so scratchy due to the nature of the recording and the materials available at the time. So when you have the wonderful acoustics of the Kingsway Hall in London, the orchestra and the new recording technology, you can do justice to their music and have it arranged to give it a more expansive sound. Some of these suites were constructed by Charles Gerhardt himself or John Waxman, Christopher Palmer and George Korngold. It was quite a team involved in bringing the music of the golden age of Hollywood to a new generation and making it sound better than ever.
Those albums were quite seminal for me. I also loved pop music too, growing up with The Beatles, then Pet Shop Boys and Deacon Blue. Also Elton John and Billy Joel are huge influences on me, they’re both classically trained musicians and their songs are so theatrical, particularly Elton’s “Funeral For Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” and Billy’s “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” – that’s just 8 minutes of pure bliss.
– Is there any instrument you gravitated towards, either influenced by your parents, or something you wanted to try on your own?
I had a go at the French Horn, obviously because I loved that sound from a young age, and I still do very much. I did try playing but failed miserably. *laughs* Very hard instrument to play. I played piano for a few years but never really went anywhere with it. My party piece is playing Michael Gore’s Terms of Endearment Opening Titles or John Lennon’s Imagine. Not exactly a wide repertoire. But the thing is, you grow up with something, it’s all around you and you end up taking it for granted so it’s only in the later years you think, what an idiot, I should have kept with it and practiced more.
– Going back to that idea of not feeling comfortable not being yourself, can you talk about how you got into doing voice-overs? Also, are you able to feel more confident behind the mic as opposed to being on stage?
Yeah, reading a script or the idea of getting into a character that wasn’t you always made me feel too self-conscious about how and where I should be standing and moving on stage. It didn’t seem natural and so that led to stage fright for me. A horrible feeling. Some deal with it by drinking I guess, as has often been written in autobiographies. People often told me from a young age “you have a nice voice, you should do radio or voice-overs” so I got involved with community and hospital radio in my early years then after college I focused on getting a job as opposed to going to university.
I could have gone off to do media studies or production or performing arts but the attraction of earning money straight away took hold so I worked for Xtra-vision which was Blockbuster Ireland. As a movie fan it was a really appealing job, as you can imagine. I worked my way from part-time, to full-time, then up to manager until I worked in their Dublin head office as a distribution supervisor for Northern Ireland. At one point I was looking over 80 stores but I stupidly left that job, in that classic way of “we all make career move mistakes”, and went to work for a rival called Video City.
They tempted me with more money and less travel but it didn’t work out for me at all, it was a very cheap type of business and I left after 3 months. Fortunately at that time of leaving, there was a cinema opening up in my home town. I loved working with videos and DVDs but actually working as a manager in a cinema would be even better, so I was very fortunate to get a job as an assistant manager at the brand spanking new 7 screen cinema. I worked my way up and moved to a couple of different cinemas before I ended up working for Warner Bros. new Belfast 12 screen cinema which was quite a thrill. Warner Village Cinemas were a big operation and it was wonderful to work with them. They worked you hard but they paid you well. They looked after you. Then came the release of the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies and I used to love setting up midnight screenings and marathons, doing the likes of all-night screenings.
It was such a great buzz but *laughs* I remember the individual theaters would just stink because people would be there all night resulting in a mixture of coffee breath and farts *laughs* but you got such a buzz from it and I had such a great staff, about 50 that I was responsible for. A couple of them didn’t even get paid they were just there because it was fun. Things changed when WB sold their share of cinema chains and Village Cinemas retained us, but employed a company called VUE to operate us. It became a bit messy and whilst 100% mystery shopper scores were achieved I went off the rails a bit and well, screwed up basically.
On a positive note though, while I was with Warner Village I did a review slot at a local radio station which was great fun and that got me back into radio again. I bounced around career-wise a bit, even got into hotel management for a few years, but I guess it’s all about being in the right place at the right time because a new radio company called The Q Radio Network, which owned a group of radio stations, was opening up in Northern Ireland, and so I introduced myself and proposed doing movie reviews and voice-overs and it worked because the guy who had been doing movie reviews had just walked out the day before. So I fit the spot almost immediately.
But getting commercial film music on the radio is pretty tricky, and was not without a few differences of opinion with the program controller and board of directors. Because film music, understandably, is kind of a niche market it took a while. Even now there’s not that much, or as much as I’d like, so a lot of it I gear toward online. I work a lot with Erik Woods at CinematicSound.net. He does some wonderful shows, a round up of new releases, or tribute/retrospective shows and over the past few years I have been doing some shows for him, including all of his station imaging and jingles. It’s been great, we’re very like-minded people and have similar tastes.
My voice-over work is very much freelance, mostly with repeat clients. Some of my work will be doing movie-related
interviews or reviews on different radio stations. Recently I have started to work with a local orchestra, The Ulster Orchestra and help program film music concerts for them. The first of which, in November, was Hitchcock’s classic Psycho with Herrmann’s brilliant score performed live to picture, the orchestra playing literally beneath the screen as the film plays is a superb experience and the audience loved it.
Our mutual friend, Richard Kaufman, was the conductor, and he excelled as usual. He is such a master and the orchestra were lucky to have him. A concert of Patrick Doyle‘s music on March 31st is my next project with the orchestra, I can’t wait! I also coordinate and host film music workshops in Northern Ireland for a festival called the Cinemagic International Film and Television Festival for Young People. They are fantastic people to work with and sharing film music knowledge and expertise with the young is so rewarding.
– Let’s talk about some of your experiences and exposure doing voice-overs. Is it cartoons, is it trailers, commercials? What does it entail?
Well the first part of it that I did was for a car company but what I run into, even from the very beginning, is the idea that anyone can do a voice-over. That’s just not the case. They think it’s an easy way to make money and people hear voice-overs and trailers and some of those guys do make the big bucks but it’s not that easy to get there. A lot of my voice lends itself to things like tutorials or corporate presentations. I must sound very business like *laughs* I suppose my delivery is very conversational and informative so it’s appealing to the likes of hotels who I’ve done a lot of work for.
I’ve done a couple movie trailers, recently the Lindsay Lohan movie The Canyons *laughs* it was tongue-in-cheek but I didn’t know what they were going to do with my voice, I just read the script. It was a scratchy trailer for a kind of 1940’s film pastiche and it is reportedly ropey, so i’m eager to give it a look to see if it’s that bad. I’ve done some tutorials for universities in India and China, helping them to understand computer programming or medical jargon. Tricky stuff as it happens as some of the words are unpronounceable. Reading page after page, 150 or so which I’d spend all night doing. I even did one for Coral Draw 3. But I tend to do a lot of work for radio now. There’s a bunch of radio commercials, whether they’re relaxing or the hard sells which can be overly dramatic, but I’ve also done a couple of audio books so it’s all different ranges of things.
– Where does “Movie Magic” come into this? Is that a paid gig, is that a hobby or what?
That is part of Q Radio that I mentioned earlier and that happens every Saturday from 10 A.M. to 1 P.M. It’s a show that’s very music based and after 12 it shifts a gear into movies, but again there’s not as much movie music as I’d like so I put Movie Magic on my website for like-minded people to hear a composer interview, a review or to showcase a particular film music concert. A real passion of mine! It allows me to fly the flag for film music as much as I can.
– I saw one of your first Q Radio spots – the one you did for Man of Steel. Is that something you’ve been doing recently, taking that flag waving in a more focused direction on a broader stage? It’s pretty impressive and even more so to see you in front of the camera.
Well thank you. Q TV is a thing over here, but it’s a web based entity, under the Q Radio umbrella. I’m told a bid is in for a proper TV channel, but that remains to be seen. We all do shows once a day or in my case, a week which is a lot of fun and it’s doing well so we’re happy with the response and the feedback so far.
– I first heard about your work when I clicked a link at /Film.com or other film-based site. Some of your “Movie Magic” programs highlight the incredible releases from La-La Land Records. The company produces some really amazing collector’s edition re-releases. It might have been the episode devoted to the Special Edition of John Williams’ Hook, but either way after that I was, forgive the pun, hooked. Do you work with them often?
*laughs* Yes, well not in any official capacity though I have been told I’m La-La Land’s publicity person. But it’s a pure coincidence. I think we’re very like minded, the two guys who run that, we’re of the similar kind of generation having grown up with the same movies. They’re such a great team to speak with and they put out releases that really appeal to the film music enthusiasts. They really go for the bonus tracks, outtakes and rehearsals, plus recording sessions cues. They call them Easter Eggs. I love that kind of thing.
– There’s such appealing diversity to the talent on your shows, and you give each interview a very relaxed feel. Being afforded many opportunities to speak with high-profile entertainers, whether in person or on the phone, I’m curious to know how you keep that fan part of yourself in check.
First it is a bit of a skill to draw any celebrity’s personality out of an interview and you kind of just learn that over time. Secondly, I think all of us have an inner geek or fanboy gush at times and the key for me is that when interviewing professionals in the industry, you need to show your appreciation and your enthusiasm, of course, but approach it respectfully as well as displaying a distinct knowledge. Finally there’s that fine line between being gushy which I admit to being many times, and then just showering deserved praise. It’s different for composers because actors and directors are used to being in the limelight and getting attention, but for composers it’s a little different.
A lot of their work isn’t appreciated as much as it could and should be. They really do a lot of work which can go unnoticed so when I interview them the goal is to shine a spotlight on their work. Talking about how they do their work and why they do their work is celebratory in itself so I don’t see why there shouldn’t be a bit of fanfare to show appreciation for what they do as long as it doesn’t come across too geeky I suppose.
But having knowledge of their work is important, I mean a lot of film composers do forget the things they’ve done, to a certain point, because after they’re finished they are straight on to something else. I recently put together a montage for a composer, something I get a real kick out of editing, and after he heard it he sent me a message saying “thank you, I’d actually forgotten a lot of those scores you had put together, so it was a nice reminder”.
And it goes with the territory, a lot of composers, as I’m sure you’ve heard, never look back so I think they find a pleasant surprise to be reminded of some of their work and that people like us like it enough to have it showcased. A lot of artists, to some degree, are always striving to do their best work, and if they’re listening too much to something they’ve done in the past they’re afraid of copying it or constantly beating themselves up thinking they should have done things differently or change something completely. Probably much like this interview after I read it back *laughs*
– So your time is spent between voice-overs, radio shows, film music organizations, and work as a film score critic. Let’s get into the latter two. Tell us about those.
I was invited as a board member to the Film Music Foundation (founded by Elmer Bernstein) as I’m a UK film music specialist who educates and promotes film music to young people with Cinemagic and facilitate the performances of it for the Ulster Orchestra. Savoring its legacy and historical significance for others to appreciate it is very much what the foundation is about. We help fund education and preservation initiatives. Recently we supported a Richard Rodney Bennet memorial event in New York and a Liverpool University film music seminar.
The International Film Music Critics Association is a vibrant group of film music professionals. Our ideals are to ensure that the presentation and skill of music written for film is endorsed and awarded as a stand alone experience, not necessarily recognized for its effectiveness as part of the film, TV or game for which it was written. This can often cause debate as to our usefulness, but I believe film music can be judged and certainly awarded away from its film as a stand alone listening experience. I also do regular work for Film Score Monthly Online which is a US based company that operate a monthly subscription based magazine. I’m their UK Correspondent. It used to be a print magazine I loved to read as a teenager, but now it’s exclusively online.
– As the year comes to an end, what are some of your favorite scores from 2013? Also, what are some of favorites in recent years?
Well there has been lots of good work produced this year. I guess for 2013, my favorites are Summer in February (Benjamin Wallfisch), Man of Steel (Hans Zimmer), Impressions of America (Patrick Doyle – non-film), Evil Dead (Roque Banos), The Great Gatsby (Craig Armstrong), Thor 2 (Brian Tyler) and Symphony 5 (Christopher Gunning – non-film).
Recent ones I really enjoy are War Horse & Lincoln (John Williams), Karate Kid & The Amazing Spider-Man (James Horner), Up & Star Trek (Michael Giacchino), Ponyo (Joe Hisashi), The Sound of Gaya (James Seymour Brett – non-film), Julia’s Eyes & The Impossible (Fernando Velaquez), Rise of the Guardians (Alexandre Desplat), Marilyn and Me (Conrad Pope) and Thor (Patrick Doyle).
Additionally I think it’s worth noting how much I love European composers, like Frederic Jusid’s music for Isobel, Frederic Talgorn’s Asterix at the Olympics is glorious and Philippe Rombi’s score for La Nouvelle Guerre des Boutons. More internationally, I often rave about Alan Silvestri and his Captain America March is easily the best movie march since the Raiders March, in my opinion. Mark McKenzie’s The Greatest Miracle is utterly sublime.
By the way, I run Christopher Gordon’s Facebook page (he wasn’t keen to join FB initially, so it kind of went from there). We’ve become good friends and 2 of my favourite scores of the past 10 years are from him: Daybreakers & Mao’s Last Dancer. In fact, there’s just so much great film music out there and that’s why it needs to be promoted and showcased as much as possible.
Thanks again to Tim for his time. You can find Tim’s work on his website, and at Film Score Monthly.