Thursday, May 1, 2008

Remembering Tristram

Tristram Cary 1925 - 2008


Tristram Cary the composer and pioneer of electronic music was married to my Aunt Jane. I first met him in the late 80s when they came over from Australia to visit. He introduced us to Australian wine (which was just up and coming in Harrogate at the time) and what to appreciate in it. I got to know him a bit better when we stayed with him and my Aunt in Adelaide over Christmas of 92. I was still a student at the time and I had work to do on an astronomy essay, Tristram volunteered to vouch for me at the University Library as I needed some more information. After I had done my digging for references amongst the bookshelves he showed me around the University Campus and the nearby radio studios where he occasionally broadcast. I remember that we also visited the staff bar for a reviving drink before lunch there we talked about beer and sculpture. Tristram was a kind and convivial host, he took as a personal affront if our glasses were not charged with a drink of our liking.

His favourite pub in London was the French House on Dean Street, they have a rather nice restaurant upstairs. Whenever he and Jane were over they tried to have at least one meal with family there, these occasions were always a bit boozy, entertaining and gossipy.

In 2004 Tristram's work was the subject of a retrospective called Integrated Circuits on the Brighton Festival Fringe. There was an evening performance, both taped and live, of his electronic works from his early work including some done at the Radiophonic Workshop to more recent compositions, finishing with a live performance of Trios which was fascinating to watch. The next day we saw a double bill of films that he composed for; The Ladykillers and Quatermass and the Pit, The Ladykillers is still a wonderful film and Tristram's music is a huge part of that, he rescored the Boccherini quartet as a quintet for the five criminal masterminds. Quatermass and the Pit is a classic Hammer Horror you think you are going to laugh at the cheapo special effects but end up being engrossed and scared, if you are me. Tristram happily answered questions after the showing and then we went to the pub.

If you are British and had a telly during the 70s you almost have certainly heard his music many times as he composed the score to a cartoon version of a Christmas Carol. It seemed to be on every year when I was a child, I loved it, it was only 28 minutes long but managed to keep all the essential parts of the story, I would love to get a copy but it doesn't seem to have been released on CD. It is strange to find out that you know let alone related to worked on something that you adored as a child, strange but very thrilling.

My mobile ring tone is Tristram's version of the Dr Who theme tune. I asked him once how come he had ended up scoring the Daleks but not the theme tune to Dr Who? He told me that it was because that was how he and Ron Grainer had been commissioned for the series, Grainer got the first series, "An Unearthly Child", so got to adapt Delia Derbyshire's theme and he had got the "Daleks", it could have easily have been the other way round and he would have worked on the opening and closing music. I've got a CD of Tristram's music, signed natch, it would be great to hear it with the pictures; the music is sparse and scary far better than what we've got at the moment on Dr Who - lush, cloying, far too forward in the mix and as obvious as a mallet.

The last time I saw him was at his surprise 80th birthday party thrown for him by one of his cousins, it was a lovely day, the sun shone, Tristram was in fine fettle, family and friends came. There was cake . It was a great day.

Some more information on Tristram.
, The Times

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