Saturday, February 22, 2014

John Anthony Helliwell Interview:
The Maestro of Music
Conducted by Anthony Servante

John Helliwell

Today with us on the Servante of Darkness Blog we have the Maestro of Music, John Anthony Helliwell,.the saxophonist, woodwind player, and background vocalist for the Pop Rock band Supertramp. In 2004, Helliwell formed the band Crème Anglaise with Mark Hart, who joined Supertramp in 1985. It was when I heard the music of Crème Anglaise that I reached out to John Helliwell to talk about his music outside of Supertramp. But for the sake of historical accuracy and to look at the man behind the Sax, I included a few questions about Supertramp. So, without further ado, let's speak with the British Maestro.

1.   Can you tell us about your early days with music? How did you get started in the music business? I started to play the clarinet when I was 13, after hearing a British clarinetist, Monty Sunshine, playing "Petite Fleur" by Sidney Bechet. Then I bought an alto saxophone when I was 15, after hearing Cannonball Adderley play. In my teens, I played mostly jazz until one night in Coventry, UK, I heard The Graham Bond Organisation, which included Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker and Dick Heckstall-Smith. They blew me away! I then continued to play while I was a computer programmer in Birmingham. I joined a blues group, Jugs O'Henry" and we turned professional, moving to London. It didn't last long - then I put an advert in the Melody Maker which said "Have sax, will travel" after wich I joined "The Alan Bown Set" with whom I stayed for 5 or 6 years. In the early 70s I played with various groups including backing-up singers such as Jimmy Ruffin, Arthur Conley, Johnny Johnson. I also played in cabaret clubs, strip clubs, and a season in US Airbases in Germany.

2.   Who were your early influences in music? Handel, Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Miles Davis.

3.   How did you come to become a member of Supertramp? I’ve followed the band since the first self-titled LP, the one the band never plays any music from. It seems there was a new band until the Crime of the Century LP settled down the personnel changes. I had met them when I was playing with Alan Bown (which had included for a short time Dougie Thomson) He subsequently had joined Supertramp, and when they were "re-forming" in 1973, he called me to see if I wanted to join them. I just sort of stuck around and I am still there, although they never did officially ask me to join!

Supertramp (John, center)

4. How did you go from Saxophonist to Emcee at the Supertramp concerts? You were a wonderful host that made every concert an evening spent with friends. As far as announcing, nobody else in the band wanted to do it - so I stepped in - I think that any humorous emcee-ing was perhaps to get a little light relief after a serious series of songs.

5.   What were your contributions to the music side of the songwriting? Your Sax solos seemed built for you. Did you help arrange them? Every saxophone and clarinet solo is extemporised - made up on the spot, by me, except the solo at the end of "Crime of the Century" which had to be re-done and arranged by me and Rick Davies when strings were added and clashed with the original solo. We all would help arrange each song

Supertramp (Rick Davies, left, John, right)

6.  After Supertramp disbanded, what did you do before starting Crème Anglaise? Supertramp didn't disband - we took some time off - and we may play again, even at our advanced years! In the early 90s I went to study saxophone at The Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. It was there that I started playing jazz again and met some great players, some of whom I still play with!

7.  Now can you share with us how you put Crème Anglaise together? I had a band around 2004/5 and I was asked to play at a prestigious event in Geneva for the watch company IWC. They asked me to play a couple of Supertramp numbers, so I asked Mark Hart (who had been singing and playing with Supertramp for many years) to join us. I thought that we should have a more interesting name than "The John Helliwell Group" so, as they speak French in Geneva, I tried to think of something French/English, or as we say - "Franglaise." "Crème Anglaise" just came into my head!

Click Here to Purchase

8.   Tell us about the music of your band. What are you aiming for with the Crème Anglaise sound? The music of "Crème Anglaise" reflects our eclectic tastes - we are influenced by soul, R&B, jazz etc. I like to think that our music is relatively uncomplicated and "easy to listen to" - not of the genre "easy-listening music" We feature the superb talents of Mike Walker (guitar), Arthur Lea (piano), Ben Bryant (drums), Mark Hart (vocals and keyboards), Geth Griffith (bass) On our eponymous CD we also have Barbara Walker singing. Lately, we have featured Steve Gilbert (drums) and John Ellis (vocals and keyboards) who will be on our future recording project along with Mike and Geth. We play only a few concerts as the guys are all busy and I'm a bit lazy.

9.   Lastly, I’d like to ask you to list your ten favorite songs, songs that you’ve written with Crème Anglaise or for other bands, or songs by other bands or artists that have had an influence on your career.

     10. John Helliwell's Song List:

1. "For unto us a child is born" from Handel's Messiah - the first music I remember - my parents would sing it (and various other pieces from Messiah) around the house when I was about three.

2. "Petite Fleur" by Sidney Bechet, played by Monty Sunshine with The Chris Barber Jazz Band

3. "Autumn Leaves" by Joseph Kosma, played by Cannonball Adderley from his LP "Somethin' Else" featuring Miles Davis.

4. "Tenor Madness" played by Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane from the LP "Tenor Madness"

5. "The Goldberg Variations" by J S Bach played by Glen Gould. There is one aria , thirty variations, and a reprise of the aria. I would choose the aria if I can only have one of them!

6. "A remark you made" by Wayne Shorter from The album "Heavy Weather" by Weather Report

7. "You've got a friend" by Carole King, sung by Donny Hathaway, from his album "Live"

8. "A case of you" by Joni Mitchell from "Both sides now" with the London Symphony Orchestra - arrangements by Vince Mendoza
Click to Watch.

9. "En La Orilla Del Mundo" by Charlie Haden, from his CD "Nocturne"

10. "The ballad of the sad young men" by Tommy Wolf and Fran Landesman, played by the Keith Jarrett Trio from the CD "Tribute Live" (disc 2)
Click to Watch.

Best wishes, John.

BONUS VIDEO of John Heliwell with Helliwell-Derix Quintet in Beauforthuis, Austerlitz. Thanks to Egbert Derix for the footage.

Thank you, John, for being with us today and for sharing this great selection of Classical and Jazz, and everything in between. This song list has to be one of the most musically subtle we have had on the blog; it shows not only the spirit of a great overall sound and theme but also the soul of John Helliwell, the Maestro of Music. Visit John Helliwell at his website to learn more about John and Crème Anglaise. 

Thank you, readers and music lovers, for joining us today as well. Till next we meet on the road to musical discovery and enlightenment, this is your host, the Servante of Darkness, bidding you adieu. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Off Kilter TV: 
Where Horror Rears its Ugly Head on Family Television

South Park Season 15, Episode 7

"You’re Getting Old"

Reviewed by Anthony Servante

Off Kilter TV explores that odd TV episode that doesn't quite fit the series. For example, in RAWHIDE, when the cowboys come across the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (see my review in an earlier issue), the episode enters the supernatural realm, leaving behind stories about cow thieves and Indian conflicts. 

In today's discussion of Off Kilter TV, we examine the television show, SOUTH PARK. While this show sets the rules for being unpredictable, what happens when it takes on the standard structure of a dramatic TV show not uncommon to networks like the WB. Then we have an Off Kilter episode.  

Our story begins with a birthday party. 

Stan Marsh turns ten years old and develops a cynical attitude to the things he loved before his birthday. The catalyst for this change centers around the “Tween Music” he once listened to with his friends so enthusiastically. The problem now is that the music sounds like “shit”. Literally. Like flatulence and diarrhea exploding in cacophonic beat with the Tween songs. Initially, it is only the adults who hear the shitiness of the music. They even try to teach their children about the difference between “fad” music and “classic” music by playing kids a song by the band, The Police. To the kids, The Police sounds like shit. Thus, the metaphor is established: the sound of shit represents the cynical attitude people take toward new things; Tween Music is new to the adults and The Police is new to the kids, and both parents and children hear the same thing: shit.

But the episode moves past the music as Stan not only hears the Tween sound as shitty, but also sees trailers for movies by Kevin James, Adam Sandler, and Jim Carrey as populated by turds and diarrhea mouths. Eventually, everything for Stan starts to sound and look like shit. His closest friends, Kyle, Kenny, and Cartman begin to avoid him because of his negativity and cynicism. So, not only is he losing the things he used to love, but also the friends who’ve meant so much to him in life.  At the age of ten, he is diagnosed by his doctor as being a “cynical asshole”, an attitude usually reserved for crotchety old folks.

Meanwhile, Randy Marsh, Stan’s dad, is also undergoing a negative change. Although he hears the Tween Music as crap, he longs to hear the music the way the young kids hear it, the way he heard music when he was a youngster. He pretends to like the Tween songs, and tries to hear beyond the shitty sounds. He starts a band and plays guitar as he flatulates, believing he is recreating Tween Music. His wife scolds him and accuses him of always trying to recapture his youth with his stupid projects. She alludes to his brawling with the Little League Baseball parents, taking up cooking, and playing this crappy music as ways to avoid facing the fact that he is getting old.

Finally, Randy admits the truth. He is attempting to recapture the happiness of his youth because he is no longer happy in his marriage. Sharon, his wife, confesses that she, too, is no longer happy. Furthermore, she says that week after week it is the same old story played over and over; it resets and ends only to be reset once again. And that she can't take it anymore. Randy and Sharon then agree to a divorce. Randy moves out, and Sharon moves herself and the kids to a new neighborhood.

As Landslide by Stevie Nicks plays in the background, Stan goes through the motions as he moves his things into a new house, turns his back on the friends he once loved, and sits alone and faces the setting sun that looks like a glowing turd in the sky. And here with this poignant ending, the controversy began.

The fans and the media believed that South Park was coming to an end. What started as a joke about Tween Music quickly turned into a story structured like a traditional drama TV show. Without the “shit” metaphor, this episode played like a “Dear John” letter to fans. When Sharon talked about “the same story” resetting itself week after week, the media understood and Trey Parker and Matt Stone, South Park’s creators, were hanging up their animation series to make movies and Broadway musicals; after all, The Book of Mormon was riding the crest of success with its Tony wins and sell-out audiences. The poignancy wasn’t lost on the fans. Matt and Trey were saying goodbye through the break-up of the Marsh family, Randy, Sharon, Shelley and Stan.

Many, many South Park fans admitted that this episode, in fact, made them cry. Divorce. A loss of innocence. A loss of friends. A loss of happiness. We were reminded: We are getting old.

And everywhere Matt and Trey went, the media asked them about the end of South Park. They were overwhelmed by emails and tweets about the sad farewell. The problem was, the South Park creators didn’t know what people were talking about, but the talk show hosts, the gossip rags, and the leagues of South Park geeks continued to seek confirmation about the show’s demise.

But there was no demise. Matt and Trey explained what the show meant and how and why they believed it was misperceived (listen to their commentary below by clicking on the link). The problem, in a nutshell, was that they had virtually used a traditionally structured drama format to tell the story, rather than sustain the “shit” metaphor about Tween Music, which was their original intention. Even Sharon’s speech about the weekly resetting of their lives was a last minute addition to close out the episode, culminating with Stevie Nick’s Landslide and Stan’s acceptance that the world had turned to shit. The South Park creators figured they would “reset” the show after the mid-season hiatus (You’re Getting Old was the last episode of the first half of the season). They realized that they left things hanging but never thought that the fans and the media would respond so overwhelmingly. After all, the show does “reset” every week. It’s a running gag; only the poignancy of the episode and its dramatic structure seemed irreversible, that the gag was over.

But as we have seen, South Park continues. Stan, Kyle, Kenny, and Cartman still get into trouble, the rest of the cast still contribute to the storylines, and Matt and Trey yet satirize today’s hot topics. For a brief moment, however, we had an Off Kilter TV episode, and South Park ended in the saddest way possible, not with a laugh but with a frown. And we wept. Luckily, even tears can be reset.

Thank you, readers, for joining us today for our Off Kilter TV episode. Until next we meet, keep your eye glued to the TV screen and give a holler if you spot an Off Kilter show.

Then listen to Matt Stone and Trey Parker discuss the episode after all the controversy settled down.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sara Karloff Interview
With Anthony Servante

Originally Published in The Black Glove Zine

When Bela Lugosi turned down the role of the Monster in FRANKENSTEIN, Boris Karloff accepted the part and became an icon of Horror overnight. We are speaking today with Sara Karloff, daughter of the film, radio, and TV star.

Anthony: I am Anthony Servante. 

Ms. Karloff: Nice to meet you. I’m Sara Karloff.

Sara Jane Karloff Pratt

Anthony: It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Ms. Karloff. I’d like to start the interview with a little background on the subject of Sara Jane Karloff Pratt. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Ms. Karloff: (slight laugh at hearing her full name). I’m the only child of horror movie star Boris Karloff, also known as William Henry Pratt, and I was born on my father’s 51st birthday. I have two sons and three grandchildren, and I live in California.

Anthony: What kind of childhood did you have with such a famous father?

Ms. Karloff: Well, my father didn’t bring his work home; he was a very modest, self-effacing man, the very antithesis of the role he played, so my childhood was not would one would have expected of a child of a movie star.

 Boris Karloff and young Sara

Boris and Sara a few years later

Anthony: So, when did you decide to carry on the legacy of your father?

Ms. Karloff: Well, I’m not carrying on his legacy. The fans of my father do that. I just try to oversee,--to make certain that when the persona of my father is used, it’s done appropriately and with respect. It’s due to the fans that his legacy has such long legs and his fans are absolutely amazing.

Anthony: Boris Karloff is one of the few Hollywood stars who has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Can you tell us about that?

Ms. Karloff: Well, one is for film and one is for television. And he did an enormous body of radio work as well. He did over 170 films, and on television he had three series, and he was one of the very few Hollywood stars to embrace the new medium of television in the 1940s and he moved back to New York in 1949 and he starred on all the prominent shows of the day as a guest star, and as I said, he had three television series of his own: first, THRILLER, and COLONEL MARCH, and THE VEIL; so he was very, very active in television as well, of course, in film, radio, and on Broadway.

Anthony: What are some of your favorite memories of your father?

Ms. Karloff: Well, I think that the principal legacy that he left was that he was a man of great personal integrity and kindness.

A dapper Boris Karloff

Karloff as the Monster

Anthony: That’s nice. Having a father who’s an icon of Horror, how do you feel about the genre of Horror?

Ms. Karloff: Well, one of the worst kept secrets is that I do not like scary movies, and so it was the world’s worse casting me as my father’s daughter. I leave the room during MURDER SHE WROTE. When the music starts, I’m out in the hall. I don’t like scary movies. I don’t like horror movies. I don’t like being discomforted by film. I like to be entertained, and I think that my father would be not only disquieted but disgusted by the flesh and gore horror film of today.

Anthony: I agree with you. Sometimes the movie is shot around the gore and not the story.

Ms. Karloff: It leaves nothing to the imagination, and it really doesn’t involve anything but the gut reaction of the movie-goer. My father felt—well, he didn’t like the word ‘horror’; he preferred the word ‘terror.’ To involve the audience’s participation and intelligence was far more important to revolting them. And that’s why he preferred the word ‘terror.’

Anthony: But he isn’t only an icon of horror, he’s also become an icon of the Holidays with How The Grinch Stole Christmas…

Ms. Karloff: Oh, yes, that is such a wonderful part of his legacy that he left his family and his fans. He won a Grammy for How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

Anthony: So how did Boris Karloff hook up with Dr. Seuss?

Ms. Karloff: Well, my father could do most anything with his voice. It was a wonderful brilliant casting and a blending of great talents when they cast my father. Not only did he do the voice of The Grinch he was the narrator of the story. My father absolutely loved doing that program. The night it was to air, he called me; he said, “I want you to sit down with your sons and watch this—it is such a wonderful program.”

Boris voices the Grinch

Anthony: It’s a TV program that enters many homes during the Christmas season.

Ms. Karloff: It’s part of the Christmas season just as my father’s horror films have become iconic during the Halloween season.

Anthony: One of my favorite Boris Karloff movies is Black Sabbath. In the American version, he hosts and introduces each of the episodes of the movie. Did this give him the idea to host a show like The Twilight Zone or One Step Beyond?

Ms. Karloff: Well, he hosted Thriller, and introduced all of the episodes in the Thriller series, and he acted in several of them as well. The Thriller series was a remarkably well-written directed and performed series. It had marvelous actors of the time, some superb directors such as Bob [Robert] Vaughn and Ida Lupino, suberb actors from the time, and some wonderful scripts. It was along the line of The Twilight Zone, but it was just a wonderful, wonderful series. And my father introduced each episode.

Karloff come to TV

Anthony: And he also did THE VEIL?

Ms. Karloff: Yes, as well as COLONEL MARCH OF SCOTLAND YARD, which was a British TV series.

Anthony: Can you tell us some of the important events for your father?

Ms. Karloff: One of the events of which my father was most proud was his work with the Screen Actors Guild. His card number was 09; he was one of the founding fathers. When the Guild was founded, those screen actors who founded the Guild were putting their careers on the line because they were forming a union against the all-powerful studio bosses, and it was altogether possible that those actors would never work again, but my father and the other actors who were involved in the formation of the guild felt it was very important that once they had reached a point in their own careers to speak out on behalf of those who had not yet reached that point in their careers, and so I know my father, although he seldom ever spoke about his work with the guild, was very pleased to have been a part of that time with the Screen Actors Guild.

Anthony: Do you like attending the Horror Conventions honoring your father?

Ms. Karloff: Well, I am fortunate in that I am invited to conventions around the country and sometimes out of the country, and it gives me an opportunity to meet my father’s fans and it gives me an opportunity to thank them for their interest in my father’s career and his work.

Anthony: When is the next convention?

Ms. Karloff: That would be the Monsterpalooza in Burbank, California [held every year]. 

Anthony: I hear there’s a new book out on your father’s career?

Ms. Karloff: Yes, a terrific author in England named Stephen Jacobs has written the absolute infinitive superbly researched biography on my father, and it’s called “Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster”. And it’s unbelievably researched. I mean, I’ve learned things about my father and his career and his family on every page. It’s just an amazing and in-depth research on my father’s life, his family, and his career. For any fan of my father and his work it is a must-read biography. And we offer it on our website: (link only—no pic). And I would encourage people to visit our website; we have an artists’ gallery on which we show the wonderful Karloff art that various artists have submitted to us. It’s just the way we can help the artists display their art. We have a gift shop where you can pick up the biography and other licensee things.

Anthony: Thank you for taking this interview on such short notice.

Ms. Karloff: It’s been my pleasure. You made it very comfortable and very pleasant. Make sure you send me a copy of the interview when it comes out.

Anthony: I’ll be sure. Have a good afternoon.

Ms. Karloff: You have a good afternoon as well.

I interviewed Ms. Karloff by phone. It was my first interview. I was overwhelmed and awed, but I pushed on. When I transcribed the tape of our conversation, I couldn't believe how coherent it came out, and how we touched on a few controversial topics, such as Boris Karloff's work with the Screen Actors Guild. Unions were not popular back then in early Hollywood. 

I hoped you enjoyed my visit with Ms. Karloff. Please comment and share. Thank you.

Servante of Darkness
February 2, 2014