Friday, 12 September 2014

John Addison: Film Music for ‘The Maggie’

One of my favourite films is the 1954 Ealing Comedy The Maggie. This film owes its inspiration to the Para Handy stories written by the Scottish author Neil Munro. These tales were originally published in the Glasgow Evening News under the pseudonym of Hugh Foulis and concerned themselves with the adventures of the crew of one of the Clyde’s once ubiquitous ‘puffers’ the Vital Spark.  These vessels were used to transport coal and other essential supplies from Glasgow to the Clyde Coast piers, Loch Fyne and the Western Isles. The Maggie was set in the nineteen fifties, whereas the original Para Handy (Peter Macfarlane) was sailing before and during the Great War.  Much of the action of the film is set on location at Glasgow, the beautiful Crinan canal and in Bowmore on Islay. The plot (no spoilers are given here) concerns an American business man, Calvin T. Marshall (Paul Douglas) who requires a cargo of bathroom fittings moved from Glasgow to Killtara where he has bought a house. Naturally, there is some confusion, and instead of Marshall’s secretary Pusey (played by Hubert Gregg) engaging a ‘reputable’ company’s vessel, he hires Captain Peter MacTaggart’s (Alex Mackenzie) boat the Maggie. Other characters of note include the mate, the engineer, Dougie the Wee Boy and the captain’s sister Sarah MacTaggart who is the owner of the puffer. Needless to say the progress of Marshall’s cargo is not without incident and humour. In the end the story ends happily.
The music for the film was written by the British composer John Addison (1920-1998). Addison is largely remembered today for his film scores which include Reach for the Sky, A Bridge too Far and Tom Jones. He wrote the theme music to the hugely successful Murder, She Wrote starring Angela Lansbury. He also composed ‘art’ music including a vivacious ballet score Carte Blanche, a fine Partita for strings, a Trumpet Concerto and a Sextet for woodwind written in 1949 and performed at the 1951 ISCM Festival.
There are two musical extracts available from the score to The Maggie. The first is included in the Chandos retrospective of John Addison’s film music. This is really an agreeable arrangement of one of the main themes from film ‘The Song of The Maggie’. It is well-played by the BBC Concert Orchestra under Rumon Gamba.  However, more useful and characteristic is the opening and closing credits of the actual film sound track which is uploaded to YouTube. In spite of the sound being a little muddy and indistinct this presents a good overall impression of the mood of the score. It features the concertina which gives a certain nostalgic feel to this music. I am not sure just quite how Scottish this music is, but it seems to fit the nautical mood of the film. Listeners will note that there is no ‘love interest’ in this film (apart from a little heart to heart between Calvin Marshall and Sheena after the ceilidh) so there is no big romantic theme. Addison has presented one or two sinister phrases in this opening music – perhaps reflecting the conflict with the Laird or maybe even the Marshall’s relationship with his wife (who is not seen on screen).
For transport enthusiasts there are great shots of contemporary motor cars, aeroplanes, cargo vessels as well as the dilapidated puffer. The Maggie was actually filmed using two vessels supplied by Hays and Co, a Glasgow based cargo shipment firm.

Clips from the film can be seen at the British Film Institute Screen Online website. (Registration Required).  The DVD is available from Amazon

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