Facing the Music: An interview with Arrow Record’s senior producer James Blackford

To celebrate the release of Arrow Video’s THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE – out now on Blu-ray and limited edition vinyl soundtrack Arrow Record’s senior producer James Blackford looks back at the origins of Arrow Records, how they acquire rights for certain soundtracks, artists and musicians they have worked with on the releases and what’s in store for the label in 2019.

How did Arrow Records come about?

James Blackford: Arrow Records came about through a love of film soundtracks, an obsession with vinyl and a burning ambition to expand Arrow’s publishing activities beyond films and Blu-rays into exciting new areas. We aspired to apply our philosophy of producing top-quality home video editions to a new medium and format. We saw an opportunity to publish some wonderful, underappreciated horror and giallo soundtracks in beautifully presented editions, which showcased newly mastered audiophile quality audio and mouth-watering new artwork. It was too good an idea not to run with!

What has informed your decisions about what to publish?

James Blackford: Arrow Video has a proud history or publishing definitive home video editions of the best of Italian genre cinema, from horror to gialli to westerns… And, as so many of these films have incredible soundtracks, we thought this would be a great place to start. Our first 11 soundtrack editions have largely been drawn from this cinema tradition, with the exception of ZERO BOYS which is a fantastic, very early work from that giant of film soundtracks Hans Zimmer (alongside veteran Stanley Myers). It’s a little-known synth gem!

Some of the highlights of what we have published so far are Ennio Morricone’s wonderfully abrasive and atonal soundtrack to the giallo AUTOPSY and Stelvio Cipriani’s stunning scores to the gialli DEATH WALKS ON HIGH HEELS and THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE. Morricone is of course the ultimate maestro but this is one of his more difficult yet rewarding works. It made its vinyl debut on Arrow Records and was a great success at last year’s World Record Store Day. With regards to the two Cipriani’s, I honestly feel this composer’s finest scores give Morricone a run for his money…They are lamentably underappreciated. He had a wonderful ear for sweeping melodies and could make a small chamber orchestra sound immensely epic.

Does Arrow Video’s film publishing activities inform what soundtracks you publish on vinyl?

James Blackford: Wherever possible we try to publish soundtrack vinyl editions of films we have also restored and presented on Blu-ray…This has been the case since our very first vinyl edition PIECES, a Euro splatter classic which boasts a superb score bringing together selections from Fabio Frizzi (THE BEYOND), the aforementioned Stelvio Cipriani, and Carlo Maria Cordio (ABSURD). We have also followed this approach with Roberto Nicolosi’s wonderfully bold and brassy scores to CALTIKI: THE IMMORTAL MONSTER and ERIC THE CONQUEROR, two Mario Bava classics; Berto Pisano’s hauntingly beautiful score to Joe D’Amato’s horror/giallo classic DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER, and more recently our Blu-ray boxset of films by Jose Larraz, BLOOD HUNGER, which we paired with a beautiful clear vinyl edition of Cipriani’s score to Larraz’s film WHIRLPOOL – another mini-masterpiece from the accomplished composer which had never been published on vinyl before.

Sometimes a soundtrack is so good it warrants a pressing on vinyl even if we do not have the film rights to publish a video edition. This has been the case with two giallo gems: Riz Ortolani’s absolutely awesome score to THE ETRUSCAN KILLS AGAIN, and the obscure but amazing PENSIONE PAURA, composed by Argentinian composer Adolfo Waitzman. Outside of PIECES, all our editions have been first pressings: there is something appealing about taking a soundtrack from obscurity and presenting it in a beautifully mastered and presented limited edition.

How do you decide on the artists you work with?

James Blackford: We have built an amazing working relationship with a wide range of artists through our years of publishing home video titles with new art. Building on this for vinyl, so far we have worked with Graham Humphreys, Gilles Vranckx and Sean Phillips. All extremely talented artists who have contributed gorgeous new artwork for both our vinyl and Blu-ray editions. Wherever possible we like to publish two versions of a soundtrack: a black vinyl edition with original poster artwork; and a translucent colour vinyl edition with new artwork. We always use top quality 350gsm card for the sleeves, press on 180gram wax, and house the records in poly-lined inner sleeves. It is important that everything is of the best possible quality.

Does this approach also apply to the mastering?

James Blackford: Oh yes, we work with the mastering engineer James Plotkin, an acclaimed recording artist and producer in his own right. Wherever possible working from original tape materials, James optimises the masters for vinyl playback, managing the sub-bass frequencies, reigning in the top-end to avoid the dreaded inner groove distortion, and preserving the full dynamic range… A lot of work goes into making sure the playback is optimal!

What’s coming up?

James Blackford: I can’t speak to any specific titles right now, but we will be breaking out of the Italian/giallo arena into some more bigger titles from the world of cinema. We are 11 titles in, and it is only going to get bigger and better for Arrow Records! Thanks to anyone who has supported the imprint so far, and a big hello to all the Arrow Video fans out there! Cheers!

For more info please visit https://arrowfilms.com

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