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8 Sept 2020

The Unfinished Interview With A Genious Man: Paul Buckmaster

It was in 2009 when I first got in touch with Paul Buckmaster. Back then, I was publishing in this blogsite, AllSongsList, the interview with the idols series. Former and current musicians were guests on the blogsite, dedicating a week or a weekend to them. For one of those sessions, I could remember it was about the most famous trio of backing vocalists Elton ever had, I asked Buckmaster to send me some words to Mortonette Jenkins (now Stephens). To be honest, I thought it would be no answer in reply, but I was wrong. Kindly and friendly, he sent me those beautiful words about her: "I hope you will forgive the brevity of this reply, as I’m in hard deadline workmode, but I’m delighted to offer these thoughts about Mortonette: It is one of the sweet and beautiful blessings in my life to have met, and gotten to know Mortonette Jenkins, not only as a supremely talented, experienced, and professionally competent vocalist, who has been endowed by heaven with a most richly beautiful singing voice, but as one of my dearest and special friends. Mortonette has also been somewhat of a spiritual guide for me, a friendly help, who, because of her commitment to truth, beauty, and intelligence, has and continues to be one of those friends who helps us on life’s path, to a deeper understanding and experience of freedom and precious liberty. There’s a line from one of Sting’s songs with which I cannot but agree: If you love someone, set them free ... But then, on the other hand, what sweeter bonds can there be than true friendship, or true love ... Or better still, that transcending devotion to the cultivation of a redeeming good will, for all mankind? In short, I love Mortonette!". He was so pleased with the end result, and we began to chat. He was particularly interested about an article I made about him, and send me "some inaccuracies in the biography, and some omissions in the discography and filmography". We did it. And after that, I asked him about doing an interview with him, and for my surprising, he accepted: "Miquel, I’ve been to your site (below) and it’s great.  Love it. Will try to find time to complete interview. Pb". 

So, unbelievable, but I had Paul Buckmaster ready to answer my interview. I remember at the beginning, when I first thought about who I would love to interview, in the top of my wish list was him. Paul Buckmaster for me is the greatest arranger modern music has ever given. And without doubt, Elton's and Bernie's songs are embellished by his touches: "Elton John", "Tumbleweed Connection", "Friends", "Madman Across The Water", "Don't Shoot Me! I'm Only The Piano Player", "Blue Moves", "A Single Man",  "Made In England" and "Songs From The West Coast", a wide collection of masterpieces has his credits as arranger, conductor, composer, cello soloist, orchestral arrangements, horn and brass arrangements. There were a lot of questions in mind to ask him, couldn't miss that chance. So I began to work on it, exchanging thoughts with him, until we completed the questionnaire.

That was in march 2009. Paul was very busy these days and was so hard to find a place and a moment to do that so: "My work-schedule continues to be very full right now, but I would much like to do the interview. It would be great if you can email your questions, and I will find time to type in my answers". That was so understandable, and honestly it took time to cover the first part of the interview. Thanks to his efforts, Paul sent the first row of answers, on Christmas 2011, as a kind of gift: "I’ve just spent the last three hours adding to the interview; my answers are in depth and quite detailed — they’ll be useful for when I publish my memoirs haha!". Always kind, always gentle, we get in touch so many more times. Unfortunetely, he did not finished the interview, he died on November 7, 2017. I was very upset about his death. The ones that you considered idols they should not die. Well, in fact, they don't die, his music still alives and surpassed them. But I had this unfinished interview on my hands, and I thought that I had to put that out someday, as Paul wanted and asked. To be honest, I always thought that maybe sometime we could have time to finishing, but then again no. Paul gave me his permission to put that out, so, why not.

In my regards, his wishings when I had my baby Júlia, his christmas wishes, his friendly words, ... he was a very special person. Some questions won't be answered anymore: his thoughts about young Elton, the Elton John and Madman sessions, the Reggie little moments, Bernie and Gus Dudgeon, Elton's sound, Friends soundtrack, outtakes like "America", "Hell" and "Finger tips", his collaborations with artists like Rolling Stones or David Bowie or Taylor Swift, and his contributions to films like 12 Monkeys, Midnight Crossing or The Spy Who Loved Me. So, in his beautiful memory, this is what we did...

The Unfinished Interview, by Jack Rabbit:

You showed natural music aptitude at an early age, taking up the cello at four years old, winning prizes for your musicianship at six... When did you decide to became a professional musician?

I guess I knew was always going to be a musician; there was never a “moment” in which I “decided” to “become” a musician

You won a scholarship at age eleven to the Royal Academy Of Music, London, precisely like young Elton, more or less, in the same period. What do you remember of your school days? Did you meet Elton in the academy; do you remember anything about him, then?

The information in the above question is inaccurate, Miquel; unfortunately, there are a number of sites out there which have published a lot of inaccuracies. My mother — who was born and raised in Naples, Italy, and who studied music and graduated in piano there at the Conservatory of San Pietro a Majella — was my first music teacher, and when I was ten years old, she brought me to Naples for a three-month trial period attending Maestro Guglielmo La Volpe’s cello class.  At the end of that period, we returned to London, and a week later my mother received a letter from the principal of the Conservatorio stating that I had been accepted for a four-year Italian State scholarship.

For the next four years, 1958-1962, I traveled alone and lived in Naples for eight months of each year (October-June), at a students’ hostel, and attended classes at the Conservatorio.  My principal class was cello, with music theory classes with Maestro Ernesto Arnese, and piano classes with Maestro Sergio Fiorentino.  I was also obliged to attend classes in Italian language and literature, history and geography.  The rest of the time in England was spent catching up with my London high-school courses; all was OK, except I could never catch up in maths ...

(During my period at Naples, I “discovered” Jazz, and over the following years became an avid fan ...)

Upon my return to England in 1962, I was obliged to complete my high-school course, and graduated in June 1963.  It this point, it was determined, between me and my parents, that it would be more economically feasible for me to apply for a scholarship at the Royal Academy Of Music, London, which I did, and consequently, auditioned, was accepted, obtained a state scholarship, and began, in September 1963, my full-time four-year period there as a cello student, first with Professor Muriel Taylor, and later with Professor Vivian Joseph.  I also attended harmony classes with Prof. Hugh Marchant.  I never imagined that I would work as an arranger or a composer, thus, did not attend any composition or orchestration classes.

During those four years, I continued to develop my interest in Jazz, and began to discover that I could understand modern music better, and thus became a fan of much that had developed “Post-Vienna” ...

But my abiding passion had always been the music of the late high renaissance, and that of the first classicists J.S. Bach and his contemporaries (Handel, Telemann, Vivaldi, Corelli, et al — but especially Bach!), and as a result, I was very fortunate to play in several excellent semi-pro chamber orchestras specializing in this music.  These orchestras never comprised more than twenty members, and more usually around sixteen.  Playing this music, in such small groups, was one of the deepest joys of my life.

In June 1967 I graduated from the RAM with a Performer’s Diploma, and over the next three months applied to audition with several “baroque” chamber groups.  The first reply I received was an invitation to travel to Tours, France, to audition with a small group based in a chateau in that area, and the day after I received the letter of invitation, took my first flight to Paris (in an Air France Caravelle), then train to Tours, where I was met by the secretary of the orchestra, and driven to the chateau, where I spent the next two days playing for the principal players and management.

Unfortunately, I did not fulfil their requirements, but later, I speculated briefly how my life would have developed had I joined that ensemble!

What was your first job in music? You began playing on bands like “Third Ear Band”, “Suntreader” and “Nucleus” , which music did you featured with those groups?

My first paid gig was while I was a student at the Conservatorio San Pietro a Majella, Napoli, Italy, in June 1961.  I was engaged to play in a twenty-one-piece chamber group, plus sixteen-voice choir, on the occasion of a wedding in the Basilica at Pompeii.  We played all the liturgical music, that is, the Solemn Nuptial High Mass, which was mostly music by Giovanni P. da Palestrina, Tomas L. de Victoria, and after the Mass, we played at the reception, mostly love-madrigals and dance-movements by composers of the same period.  It was really very beautiful to be able to play that music.

Later, during my studentship at the RAM, I played in several semi-pro chamber orchestras, which was great fun, or should I say, of deep joy ... That’s fun, but on a transcendental level.

While I was at the RAM, during my first year there, 1963, I auditioned to play piano, Hohner Pianet, and Farfisa Compact in a five-piece R&B/rock group, which was based in West London.
It was called “U.S. Five”, partly on account of that we were playing a lot of U.S Air Force bases!  I answered an ad in Melody Maker, the weekly Jazz and pop newspaper, and was accepted, and played with them for the next two years.  The interesting thing is, that I was able to convince the authorities at the RAM to hire us to play at the New Students’ Ball, October 1963, which we did, making us the first rock’n’roll band to ever play in that venerable institution.

I left them nearly two years later, to spend more time focussed on the chamber-group work I was doing, and introduced
the band to my fellow-student and friend the brilliant pianist/organist, and now, composer, J. Peter Robinson, who very competently took over the position of keyboardist in U.S. Five!

It wasn’t until after I’d graduated with my LRAM diploma and left the Academy, in late 1967, that a series of “chance” events and meetings eventually led to my working in the field of “rock”.  I didn’t “choose” rock; you could easily say that “rock” “chose” me!

No, it was a series of apparently chance encounters, and necessity, which led
me to start working as an arranger for pop and rock artists, and others.


In the loving memory of an unforgettable man and a finest musician, Paul Buckmaster, with all of my Love