Richard Hartley interview - Crazed Imaginations

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Reprinted from Crazed Imaginations #57, Richard Hartley discusses his work on early stage plays with Jim Sharman, Shock Treatment, and the planned Rocky Horror sequel.

"Yay Richard! Yay Another Richard!"

–Crazed speaks with Richard Hartley, musical arranger for Rocky Horror, Shock Treatment, and beyond

"If Richard Hartley is to be involved [in a production], I sing the songs to him, and he goes away and either (a) arranges them or (b) re-writes the tune completely. I leave it up to him. And, as yet, after 20 years or more of working together, we've never had any disagreement." –Richard O'Brien, in a 1999 interview on Rocky Radio

Richard Hartley composes, conducts, orchestrates and produces albums. He has worked on more than 55 productions in the last 25 years. "I just keep working; I don't know what I'd do if I didn't," he says.

He's also, over the years, functioned as Richard O'Brien's opposite number, taking O'Brien's creations from demo tapes and turning them into the brilliant musical arrangements we know and love.

How It All Began
Many of the Rocky Horror gang met at the Royal Court's production of Sam Shepard play The Unseen Hand, including both Richards (Hartley and O'Brien), Jim Sharman, Brian Thomson, [and] Christopher Malcolm (the original Brad).

Another Sam Shepard play, The Tooth of Crime, was done after the Rocky Horror Show, also at the Royal Court, with costumes by Sue Blane and featuring Richard O'Brien. "It was a conflict between old and new, and used rock and roll as a basis," says Hartley. O'Brien played the challenger who becomes the new king of Rock 'n' Roll.

Hartley worked on Tooth with Shepard, who lived in London at the time. The songs were tailored to the actors. "Shepard wrote most of the songs for the first production. But he wrote a lot of new ones for this….The songs were kind of Velvet Underground. Originally they [had been] sort of country. The band was on-stage, and there was various other music: it was scored almost like a film, with music from beginning to end. It was very exciting!"

Rocky Horror

Why did you go with a lush, full soundtrack instead of a cheap, B-movie style soundtrack? "I wanted it to be kind of gothic. I saw the film: it was very dark-looking. They slowed a few things down. The songs were much quicker in the theater. They didn't sound right when they were recorded: they were too chirpy. I decided to make the songs slightly richer and darker …the darkness gives [the film] more reality."

'I'm Going Home' in particular was really slowed down. "I think it wouldn't have worked otherwise. It's quite a big sound: we put brass on, strings…it just grew." 'There's A Light' was also slowed down, and cellos and basses added.

What do you think of the stereo mix? "I haven't heard it," Hartley says. Though he has seen the video, which features the stereo mix. "I thought it sounded different: a lot of the subtleties have gone: it's quite homogenized. There is something about the soundtrack in mono that you wouldn't do now….we put quite a lot of bass in it. They wouldn't do that now, especially in LA: they don't put anything on the bottom end. [They like it] bright and breezy. I wanted as much bottom end as possible: it felt ominous. I didn't want it to sound like a cartoon."

He reflects. "It certainly does sound a little weird; I thought it was the [VCR] machine."

One of the notable changes between the stereo and mono mixes is Peter Hinwood's Floor Show verse. Hartley clarifies: "Peter Hinwood didn't sing it: it was originally sung by one person on multitrack. When we saw it with the film, we decided to change the voice. Peter had already lipsynched it. We brought in someone else… I suspect in the stereo mix they used the original vocal that Peter lipsynched to, which would have been on the multitrack, not the re-voiced version which was used for the film we all love and know!"

He adds, "The film was originally mixed in stereo. They did the first three reels and it took so long, and they were running out of money…they went back and did it in mono." Lou Adler didn't consult Hartley about the later stereo remix. "They would have had to do a lot of rejigging. There were 24 tracks: it was very complicated."

You've arranged various Rocky cast albums (London '73, Film, Roxy, and London '90); do you have a favorite? "The original [play] certainly had a 'naïve charm,' but I prefer the film version: it reached its peak there." He notes that for the 1990 revival he went back to the film score, "even down to the fanfare."

How do you feel about the current version of the play's music? "The play has evolved into a caricature, [though the feel] depends on who plays Frank…the recent ones I've heard sound a little too self-conscious, especially about the 1950s music. We never saw it as a pastiche: all of our favorite memories from that period (which was a little more recent then!) went into the play. [There were] a lot of little ideas for records I listened to as a kid: it wasn't a pastiche or a sendup ….[the current version] doesn't sound real. It's too kitsch…. The versions on stage [are] very overripe arrangements. They put in every little gimmick you can think of."

Hartley did like the disco Time Warp mixes Damien did in the '80s, however. "It was a big hit. I thought it was quite witty."

From Urban Jungle to Sydney Strippers: Richard and Richard Return to the Stage

After Rocky Horror, the Royal Court presented Richard O'Brien's plays T-Zee and Disaster.

What is T-Zee? I've heard it was sort of a postmodern urban Tarzan. "That's what it was…It was Tarzan coming back into Los Angeles and encountering all sorts of different things—an urban jungle."

The role of Tee Zee was originally written for Meat Loaf, but he backed out to do Bat Out of Hell, and the music was rewritten for the new actor, Warren Clark (the villain in A Clockwork Orange). The play ran at the Royal Court for 4 weeks, featuring Richard and a few other people from the Rocky Horror Show.

Disaster "The idea [for Disaster] was from an article in the newspaper: a huge iceberg broke off from the Arctic Circle and was drifting towards an island off the coast of South America. Disaster was set off the coast of the USA in the Bermuda Triangle. It was a "green" musical: ecological…Only one song had anything to do with rock and roll; [it was scored] for cello and piano and violin: a chamber musical."

The cast for the 1979 production included Richard Hartley, Jonathan Adams, Patricia Quinn [as Martha Fortune], Christopher Malcolm and Richard O'Brien, who "played a guy on a radio show. He was fabulous in it; he had a fabulous wig." Jonathan Adams played the piano, serenading Martha Fortune with 'Moonlight Sonata.' The show's designer was first-timer Bob Crowley, who's currently re-doing Aida with Elton John and Tim Rice. "[Disaster] was quite funny, but there's no recording out there….[it had] very witty lyrics, especially one [song] about building a nuclear bomb. It was very short: 80 minutes."

What about The Stripper? The Stripper was an original creation by the two Richards and directed by Brian Thomson, based on a pulp novel by Australian author Carter Brown. "It was kind of a faithful adaptation. We did it in Sydney, in kind of a building with a restaurant. There was a cabaret club on the top floor. It wasn't a theater as such; people sat at tables."

Hartley continues, "We did a demo of all the songs before we went. The demo is the best version: it had Richard O'Brien, a girl from Tooth of Crime, and someone from Rocky…” The music on the tape included piano (Hartley), bass, drums, and guitar. "I've still got the tape."

"When we went to Australia, we couldn't quite get the people we wanted as stars…and there were 8 weeks of rehearsal, which was far too long. It didn't quite work. The setting sounded ideal, but became very restricting. We had to put in extra songs ['Men Like That' and 'All Cats are Brown.'] to get from A to B — physically to get people offstage, and move things….[And] the Stripper was a little shy when it came to the strip tease!"

Contrary to rumor, the play was fairly successful: "We were going to do it [in the UK], and there was talk of a film, which never got made….the record was released after the show was over. The show ran for quite a while in repertory, alternating with other productions."

Please tell us about Shock Treatment. "It didn't quite start life [the way it turned out]: that's why it never worked…it kind of grew into a satire of American TV, [but] quite a few of the songs were started for Rocky Horror Shows His Heels [the original planned sequel to Rocky Horror—Ed.]….It's been successful later on, but I never really liked the film: it was too black and white. It lacked charm, I think; I think it was too cold. [That] was deliberate, but not on my part. I didn't think it should be like that. There are [also] too many songs with one person singing. It didn't quite have the ensemble thing."

When told that Shock Treatment is now frequently performed at conventions, Hartley commented "I'm sure it's better than the film!" Though he does note that ST had some "brilliant cameos: Barry Humphries gave a fantastic performance, as well as Ruby Wax and Rik Mayall."

If Hartley had had his way, the film would have been very different. Candy Clark [from The Man Who Fell to Earth with David Bowie] was his pick for Janet Majors. "She just had the right quality: I felt she was much more vulnerable [than Harper]: the transformation would have been more spectacular."

Hartley's favorite scene from the film is 'Lullaby.' "It was a bit longer; it may have been edited." 'Lullaby' was one of the songs originally planned for the RH sequel. The other transplanted songs include 'Little Black Dress,' 'Bitchin' in the Kitchen,' 'Thank God I'm A Man,' and 'Breaking Out.'

"'Breaking Out' started things out," says Richard. "It was the first song after the titles when Rocky finds Frank, and sings, running over the hills taking Frank to Dr. Scott…'Breaking Out' was taken out, then put back in; they wanted a song for the band. It's kind of thrash, postpunk; the tempo is different; it wasn't supposed to sound like that. The songs were all moved around in order to be put into the film, and it shows….you could see the holes, like a dishcloth. Trying to stitch it together was a nightmare."

What different sounds did you draw on for the music of Shock Treatment? Richard O'Brien said you brought an "Eighties Feel" to the film: could you comment? "The whole thing is very brash: the overture sounds like a game show intro…a little bit is taken from commercials and things. We decided to put in the Overture in as an afterthought. Jim thought it should have one to bring people in. It's like a medley, a traditional overture: there's a little bit of each song. There is a lot of trumpets and brass: very hard, almost like '70s stuff. I enjoyed doing it."

Unlike Rocky Horror, the record is mixed from the soundtrack. Hartley explains: "The soundtrack of the film and the record are identical. It was so hard and bright: I decided to make the record like that." In addition to doing the musical arrangements, playing keyboards, producing and mixing the record, Hartley had additional duties due to the actors' strike: "I had to sing while recording with the [soundtrack album] band…. The actors were supposed to come and sing along, but because of the strike, they weren't allowed to work. So I wailed away so the band could know how it went and where the voices were."

The planned sequel eventually morphed into abandoned project Revenge of the Old Queen. Could you tell us about that, please? Collectors take heart, Hartley does have a demo tape, "somewhere!"

"[ROTOQ] had two very good songs. The lyrics were very good, actually. We did three or four versions." Hartley's favorite was 'The Moon-Drenched Shores of Transylvania,' which opened the film.

What about the current planned stage sequel? "Hopefully it will happen sooner rather than later. The time is ripe. Richard is trying to resolve the ending, which was never fully resolved in the first draft. The first half is just fantastic. There's a chance that [the project] will happen."

Since you and Richard often work together, why weren't you part of his recent album, Absolute O'Brien? Hartley had a two-year long-term commitment at the time ("I was busy doing one film after another"). Richard O'Brien didn't want to wait, and "ended up working with a mutual friend."

One of the Meat Loaf fan clubs notes that you recorded two non-Rocky tracks with him and the RHPS album musicians. Could you tell us about that? "We did two songs: 'Stand By Me' and 'Clap Your Hands' [written by Hartley with Brian Thomson]. They appeared later as B-sides on Meat Loaf singles. It's the only time I got to work with Meat Loaf: A&M Records turned him down! Then he went back to the US."

Is there a musical style you haven't done? Hartley initially answered, "Jazz," then reconsidered. "Have you heard of the film Dance With a Stranger, with Miranda Richardson and Rupert Everett? I did jazz for that...I don't often do jazz. I'm a great fan, but it's not something I do. I can't play in that style."

Hartley's personal musical journey has brought him full circle. He started playing Mozart at the age of 5, got into rock 'n' roll, and is now doing "sweeping classical music," including a lot of scores, such as the score for Stealing Beauty, and the star-studded TV version of Alice in Wonderland, which recently netted him an Emmy. "I haven't done any rock and roll for a while: maybe it's time!" he says.