I’ve long been an admirer of the music of Ennio Morricone. Composer of music for such films as ‘Battle for Algiers’, ‘The Mission’ and Cinema Paradiso, he’s perhaps best known for his remarkable soundtracks for spaghetti western films. including Sergio Leone’s trilogy ‘Fistful of Dollar’, ‘For a Few Dollars More’ and ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’. (incidentally, I once sat through an all night showing of all three of these at a cinema in Bury St Edmunds, emerging saddle sore but happy into the early Suffolk sun).
Where most film music has been content to play a supporting role, emphasising and linking the film visuals, Morricone’s music muscles in on the action, like a gunslinger bursting into the saloon. Shouts, grunts and whistles join together with drums and soaring Mexican style trumpet to barge around the set accompanying desperadoes on the run or the blood lusting posse. In a quieter moment, the musical chime from a pocket watch sets up the tension for a final battle between the good and the bad (or is that the ugly?)
So it was with surprise and some joy to catch a few pieces from a group dedicated to reproducing this glorious sound live at the televised BBC proms. Within those few moments they had run through two dozen instruments and several scene changes to take us shrieking and hollerin’ through the Mexican desert. That group was the Spaghetti Western Orchestra and like a drunk in an El Paso bar room, I was thirsty for more.
Seemingly working their way through the entire instrument catalogue of www.knockonwood.co.uk (you didn’t think I was going to pass up a plug, did you?), the orchestra’s instrumental arsenal includes over 100 instruments. So, being a bit of an instrument nerd, I’m going to try to count them.
Here we go – glockenspiel, vibraphone, bass drum, double bass, synthesiser, castanet, pipe organ, stainless steel pan, timpani, ocarina, melodica, snare drum, drum kit, trumpet, tam tam gong, wind gong, tin can banjo/violin, ukulele, wooden cow bells, bar chimes (mark tree), tin whistle (Clarke’s by the look of it), caxixi, mandolin, tambourine, jew’s harp, Kat midi mallet percussion (for tubular bells), slapstick, beer bottles played like panpipes, cup and saucer, grand piano, knife and sharpening stone, claves, handled castanet, angklung, door chain, asthma inhalers, packing tape, clothes brush, utters, hammer, circus slide whistle, bells, clothes hangers, hunting horns, panpipes, wooden clog, cornflake packet, bassoon, Remo frame drum, nose flute, tamborims, seed shakers, theremin, harmonica. I make that around 55 so, including the ones I’ve missed plus multiples of some of the above, 100 sounds about right. But hey, who’s counting.
Well, I suppose I was but ignore me I’m a bit obsessive like that.
Check out their dates for a great musical night out