1 December 2001

Vol. 2 of Sangster's epic The Lord of the Rings

Vol.s 1 & 2 of John Sangster's classic epic musical interpretation of The Lord of the Rings. Are available now!

John Sangster retells the story

John Sangster recording Lord of the Rings

A small army of Lunatic Musical Mates became the nucleus of the sometimes frighteningly large army of LMM's who helped me perpetrate the seemingly endless LOR phantasmagoria. The Lord of the Rings. The writing and recording of which took a good eight years of my life. After a further fourteen more years, people are still walking up to me saying how much they enjoyed my Lord of the Flies.

Those good eight years out of my life actually began about twelve years before, in 1958, when a lady friend of mine gave me The Hobbit to read, which of course instantly made me rush out and get my hot stickies on the LOR trilogy.

I looked at all the poems and songs and little verses contained inside and waited for someone to put them to music. Someone other than good old Donald Swann the Pom, whose pathetically dreary efforts (The Road Goes Ever On, a Song Cycle) I found so unbelievably pompous, outright painful, and thoroughly un-recommend.

Or the Swedish geezer who did some Tolkien stuff that sounded like music for going up and down in lifts to. Let's get a bit of life into it, I thought, as I waited and waited.

Then I started thinking about the whole overall thing, Tolkien's splendiferous world of Middle Earth. Where's the Hollywood musical? Where's the Grand Opera? Where's the Rock Opera, for that matter. Where's the kiddie's TV cartoon series? Where's the bloody Ballet? Where's the four full-length movies? Where's all the lovely music someone should have written about all this? Nowhere, that's where.

So out of sheer frustration I made a start. I decided to have a go. My way. I decided to tackle what Whitney Balliet so rightly calls ├▒the slippery problem of making jazz composition as interesting as jazz improvisation.

First, The Hobbit Suite. Single album. Then the flywheel began to pick up and I approached Nevill [L. Sherburn, of Swaggie Records] with the idea of a double album, Lord of the Rings: Volume One. To the original band of seven I'd added another four brass, four more woodwinds, three voices and a string quartet. Just a little bit too rich for Nevill's blood; I sold the idea to EMI. Along with the provision for ample studio recording and mixing time.

That was 1974. Two years later came the second double-album Lord of the Rings: Volume Two. Again for EMI, and rightly so, for Volume One had won for them the Australian Radio Record Awards Jazz Award.

Then in 1977 came the third and supposedly final double-album, Volume Three, to complete the trilogy. By now the woodwinds had grown to six, the brass still at five, the strings enlarged to a full studio section. With the addition of Tony Ansell's synthesizers, the thing was becoming truly gargantuan.

And I thought I'd finished. Fifty-two pieces, plus the thirteen Hobbit pieces, making sixty-five in all. Nearly six hours of music.

But I kept hearing more, and EMI agreed to a fourth double-album, in 1978: Landscapes of Middle Earth. More reflective this time, no brass. Burrows and Graeme Lyall, with Jim Kelly and George Golla playing guitars. A rhythm section with percussions, the Claire Poole Singers, a large string section and Peader Carroll's harp. Twelve pieces, bringing the total now to seventy-seven, and the total Middle Earth music time to an astonishing seven and a half hours. I just couldn't stop until it was all out of me.

Eight years of hearing the bands playing inside my imagination, seeing the Professor's pictures in my mind's eye, listening to his words thundering the Spells and Incantations around in my head (I tell you it's Hell in there). And then, to cap it all off, EMI in their infinite wisdom made up another fifth album - excerpts from the previous four - and released it under the title of Lord of the Rings, A Musical Interpretation. Good gravy.

The aim of all this, if I may quote from my own liner notes, was simple, and best said in Professor Tolkien's own words: "the desire of a tale-teller to try his hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of his listeners, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them."

Roger Bell was so excited and moved when he first heard the stuff that he went a bit overboard: "some of the most important music to come out of Australia as it shows the way out for the impasse modern classical music finds itself in, and it gives new direction to jazz." On yer, Badger.

John Sangster (1988)

Lord of the Rings: Volume 1 is still available - place your order now!