Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Hurrah for Herr Thomas


I’m a big fan of wacky sixties and seventies pseudo-science, and Erich von Danniken’s ‘Chariots Of The Gods’ is a seminal text in the genre.

For those of you not amongst the millions that bought the book, E.v.D theorised that thousands of years ago, aliens visited the primitive world and our hairy knuckled ancestors to give knowledge and tools and inspire The Bible and all that which may or may not be true but is pretty cool.

Inevitably, the best seller was made into a film and, happily, the music for that film was provided by the brilliant German composer Peter Thomas.

Thomas started as an in-demand cocktail pianist in post-war Berlin. He played in bars and clubs in all four of the occupied zones of the city, performing for Americans, British, French and Russian audiences, all with their own favourite songs and styles and concepts of entertainment (a drunken Soviet officer once held a gun to Thomas’ head and said that he would shoot him if he couldn’t play Chopin’s ‘Minute Waltz’ exactly to time. Luckily, Thomas could).

After working as a jack of all trades for live music and drama station RIAS, Thomas began to write the scores for the Edgar Wallace crime thrillers and western b-movies that were the most popular products of the resurgent German film industry, and gained a hard-earned reputation as a talented, versatile, reliable and cost effective resource for all things musical: he could compose, arrange, conduct, record, perform – and he could do it in an interesting (and cheap) way.

Thomas never really had a big break, or a stab at a prestige film or TV project, but he was kept very busy and, ironically, by making music for productions that were neither mainstream or particularly 'credible' (thrillers, horror films, sci fi, soft porn, pseudo science documentaries) he found the freedom to experiment (he loved electronics, even inventing his own proto-synth, the Tho-Wi-Phon), earning him a cult status that has served his long-term reputation far better than simple respectability.

Thomas is still with us, but now spends most of his time overseeing his portfolio of exclusive resort properties, emerging most recently to provide music for the reopening of the Brandenburg Gate and for a Portugese musical called ‘Lady Di - Diana, Queen of Hearts’. No, I haven’t heard it. He's currently working on a musical of 'Hansel & Gretel' - and long may he do so.

Anyway, back to 'Chariots Of The Gods?' (the question mark is classic pseudo-science shorthand for 'yes, it's probably all bullshit'). 'Valley Of The Gods' is a typically eclectic Thomas piece, part exotica, part muzak, part odd and slightly unsettling noises. 'Popular Myth and Destruction of Sodom' has a wonderful title and a cheesy beginning that soon segues into something approximating a clockwork nervous breakdown. Finally, 'Easter Island' is a soothing and brilliantly simple sound picture with some nice jazz flute.

Look out for more Peter Thomas stuff in the future. We love him.

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