Laurie Johnson is best known for his Television Themes, but his experience as a composer is much broader than that. The Demon Music Group are currently releasing a lot of music from his extensive back catalogue in a series of album sets called "50 Years of the music of Laurie Johnson". Although each volume is headlined after one of the television series he has worked on, the volumes overall demonstrate the breadth of his work. Volume 1 was called "The Avengers", Volume 2 was "The Professionals", and Volume 3 is called "The New Avengers". Each Volume of the series consists of three separately cased CDs each with their own comprehensive booklet notes, including extensive background material and photos to put the music from each album into context. Here we review the latest release, Volume 3, in more detail.
Disc 1 is "The New Avengers" title disc which contains the entire music scores from three episodes from the second television series. The original series "The Avengers" which ran during the 1960s and whose music was covered in Volume 1 had been a big success, in the UK and internationally (especially in the US), and the creative team behind it formed their own production company to make the new series during the mid-70s. That team consisted of producer Albert Fennell, producer/writer Brian Clemens and composer Laurie Johnson himself. The scores representing the series are from the iconic episodes "The Midas Touch", "To Catch a Rat" and "House of Cards". Also included on this first CD are some re-recordings of other incidental pieces (including some dialogue) from other episodes in the series, and all re-mastered by Johnson. The music of The New Avengers is very much in keeping with the original series played by a large jazz combo dominated by brass and percussion. A snare drum occasionally gives a military feel to the episodes, and there are clear hints of the musical soundscape of "The Professionals".
CD 2 features two West End stage musicals with music by Laurie. The first is the original cast recording of “Lock Up Your Daughters” with lyrics provided by Lionel Bart, who is a composer in his own right most famous for “Oliver!”). This show opened in May 1959 in London's Mermaid Theatre, newly built by Bernard Miles, who later became Lord Miles. To meet the deadline for the theatre's opening, Laurie put together the songs for the show in record time. Listening to it, you will be reminded of the musical sounds of the time, very Rogers and Hammerstein with a little sprinkling of Gilbert and Sullivan and a touch of Carry On style inuendo. The second musical on the CD is “The Four Musketeers” this time with lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, best known for the hugely successful musical version of “Les Miserables”. "The Four Musketeers" is very much a musical comedy which opened in London's Drury Lane with singer Harry Secombe in the lead role as D'Artagnan.
CD 3 starts off with some film and television themes, and we are very pleased to see examples from previously unreleased scores such as "Captain Kronos". A number of examples from Gainsborough Pictures’ Barbara Cartland films are also included. Gainsborough Pictures was yet another production company formed by Albert Fennell and Laurie Johnson, this time partnering with director John Hough, and with the specific objective of turning Barbara Cartland's period romantic novels into film costume dramas. The disc is rounded off with two pieces written for the Royal Air Force, and a number of standards from the era of Jazz and the Rat Pack standards played by the composer's London Big Band. Volume 3 of Laurie Johnson's music has kept up the quality of the previous volumes and is highly recommended for those interested in hearing the breadth of Laurie's work. The triple album is available from www.amazon.com and www.amazon.co.uk.