“I appeared on soundtracks for most of the James Bond films (since Goldfinger), Pink Panther, Alien, the Harry Potters, and Lord of the Rings…”
Tell us a bit about yourself, and your training and career to date?
I joined the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) from school and I decided to part company with them at seventeen. Not what you’d call formal training, except doing gigs, concerts, and musicals around London from the age of nine years old.
When in the LPO I was doing a musical called ‘Robert & Elizabeth’ written by Ron Grainer of Doctor Who fame, and through him I started doing session work, as well as joining John Dankworth’s band with Cleo Laine singing. I was also playing at Aldeburgh for Benjamin Britten. At this time along came the avant-garde explosion, which featured percussion as it had never been heard before. So I worked with Boulez, Stockhausen, Maxwell Davies, Birtwistle, and Richard Rodney Bennett.
It was also at this time that I got involved in the pop world backing artists like The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Cilla Black, and Dusty Springfield. I became the timpanist of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, plus I appeared on soundtracks for most of the James Bond films (since Goldfinger), Pink Panther, Alien, the Harry Potters, and Lord of the Rings.
In the 1980s, I was in a progressive rock group called ‘Sky’ with the classical guitarist John Williams. I was also a founder member of the Nash Ensemble, Fires of London, and the London Sinfonietta.
‘Sky’ getting ready for the concert at Westminster Abbey. (L-R) John Williams, Herbie Flowers, Herbie Flowers, Tristan Fry, and Kevin Peak, with the Very Rev Dr Edward Carpenter, Dean of Westminster, London, Feb 3rd 1981.
Tell us some of the highlights of your career to date.
I’ve had many highlights in my career – I was actually playing drums in a couple of numbers with the Duke Ellington Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall when I was in the LPO. I walked out on Leonard Bernstein to do a gig with the recently deceased Ken Dodd (Tears for Souvenirs). Another time I was boarding a jumbo jet to go to Australia carrying my £13 trumpet, which I couldn’t play but used to do a cod part in ‘Tuba Smarties’ with Sky. I think that sums up the music business beautifully!
What makes Bach’s music remarkable, and what are the challenges?
We were lucky with Sky to have a hit with ‘Toccata’ (Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565). It was arranged by André Previn and Kevin Peek, and peaked at number 5 in the British Singles Chart. It also brought the house down when we played it on Top of the Pops.
It just shows you can’t beat a good tune, and Bach wrote so many of them. We always said that if he were here today he would be writing in a modern style because he was writing ‘to order’ in his day. I often wonder how much of his work was governed by the timpani and trumpets and the lack of being able to use more than two notes as a time. People may not realise that timpani were limited to hand tuning and therefore could not be changed during a piece. So when Bach wanted timps, he needed to work around the problem but then, maybe it wasn’t a problem for him? I would love to know!
I remember playing the Christmas Oratorio for the first time when I was nine at the Royal Albert Hall on a kid’s show. For some reason the publishers always write the notes C & G in Bach’s pieces, even if they should be D & A as in the Oratorio. I dutifully tuned to C & G, playing the first solo bar a tone lower than the D & A needed. The conductor tried hard to get me to change, but I wasn’t having it at that tender age. I was a know-it-all! Eventually we worked it out in time for the show.
Finally, what do you see as the value of the OBS?
I think the value to all in such an ensemble is supreme in every way. Firstly the singers and players are amazing in their performances and their love of the music, which shines through and therefore encourages others with love. It has to be said that Tom (our Artistic Director) is an inspiration to everyone, with a mixture of charm and superb musicianship, which I believe comes from his love of all types of music, and somehow getting inside the composer’s head, and letting musicians play (being a super player himself). Musicians perform best, I believe, when they are allowed to play and Tom has this knowledge as well as being able to shape it to his and everyone’s delight!
Bach, Worthy is the Lamb