Derek Wadsworth was a superb jazz trombonist and among the most gifted and versatile composers for film and television of his generation. His career spanned half a century during which Wadsworth played, arranged or conducted for virtually every big name in popular music. He maintained that there was always something new to learn about orchestration and was particularly admired for his imaginative combination of electronic and ‘live’ instruments which imparted a characteristic warmth to his scores.
Derek Wadsworth was born in Cleckheaton, Yorkshire, on February 51939, and began playing the trombone at the age of 11. Asa teenager he was a member of the Spenborough and the celebrated Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Bands, and at 19 he job ned Keith Smith’s Jazz Cardinals. In 1960 he moved to London, intent on playing jazz, and worked with the musician Teddy Fost er for a time before joining Ronnie Aldrich and the Squadronires, often playing at Butlin’s holiday camps.
In 1963 Dusty Springfield left the folk-based group The Springfield’s with the aim of establishing herself as a British soul singer. Her producer supplemented a beat group called The Echoes with strings and a brass section which included Wadsworth. ‘I Only Want To Be With You’ successfully replicated the Tamla-Motown sound and was a Top 10 hit. Wadsworth soon became Springfield’s arranger and musical director on many tour dates. He also worked with Georgie Fame, appearing on his album Two Faces of Fame (1967). The same year he entered the psychedelic world by playing on the Rolling Stones’ album Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967), later joking “Although it was their least successful album, it wasn’t my fault.” He contributed to sessions with Billy Preston and Doris Troy for the Beatles’ Apple label, and was later part of the orchestral arrangements for George Harrison’s No 1 album All Things Must Pass (1970).
As the Lord Chamberlain’s role in script licensing was abolished in 1968 in the UK theatres started to stage experimental and controversial productions. Wadsworth became the musical director for the hippie musical Hair, which opened in the West End that September with a cast including Floella Benjamin, Tim Curry, Marsha Hunt, Paul Nicholas, Richard O’Brien and Elaine Paige. Wadsworth undertook many sessions during the day, working in blues with Savoy Brown (Blue Matter, 1968), jazz with Neil Ardley (Le Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe, 1969) and jazz-rock with Colosseum (Daughter of Time, 1970) as well as playing on many pop and rock recordings.
His introduction to film music was as an arranger, beginning in 1970 with Spring And Port Wine. He then combined his talents with Manfred Mann in 1971 for the score of a sex film, Swedish Fly Girls. He arranged Alan Price’s music for Alfie Darling (1975) and Britannia Hospital (1982) and orchestrated Price’s autobiographical album Between Today And Yesterday (1974) which contained the hit single ‘Jarrow Song’, a brilliant marriage of pop and brass-band idioms. His other film credits include The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976) and the Woody Allen documentary Wild Man Blues(1997).
At the same time Wadsworth was busy working not only as a composer, arranger and conductor, but also as an instrumentalist. He played the trombone with the bands of Georgie Fame and Maynard Ferguson as well as on innumerable recording sessions with George Harrison, Diana Ross, Tom Jones, Dionne Warwick and Tony Bennett and many more.
He arranged and conducted for Judy Garland, Kate Bush, Nina Simone, Shirley Bassey, Randy Crawford and Cat Stevens. He also played electronic keyboards on several albums under the name Daniel Caine, persuaded by the argument that Derek Wadsworth did not have a sufficiently ‘international’ ring to it. In the early 1990s he encouraged the Coronation Street actor Bill Tarmey to forge a successful singing career and went on to produce Tarmey’s two gold albums.
In the early 1970s Wadsworth took part in a project to produce a puppet pop-star, a performer who wouldn’t be temperamental and could simply be boxed up at the end of a performance. The idea was never fully realised but initial meetings did introduce Wadsworth to Gerry Anderson who was pulling together a television special, The Day After Tomorrow, for which he was asked to compose the music.
In 1975 ITC agreed to a second series of Space:1999, on the proviso that Anderson bring an American producer on board. Fred Freiberger brought with him a desire to change the series from cerebral science fiction to more action-oriented sci-fi and, pleased with his work on The Day After Tomorrow, Anderson felt that Wadsworth’s unique style of melding jazz, electronic and live instruments would suit the new series perfectly. He composed and recorded three sample title themes, from one of which the final theme was developed. He went on to compose scores for five episodes, and this music was then edited and re-used throughout the series. Commercial interest in the music was sparked by Wadsworth’s own promotional CD, produced in 1995, which led to his involvement in remastering his original recordings for Fanderson’s double CD release in 2000. Never quite happy with the sound of some of the Fanderson tracks Wadsworth more recently went on to help remix them for a commercial release by Silva Screen, although these recordings have yet to be released.
Wadsworth was always a very welcome and popular guest at Fanderson conventions. He was extremely generous with his time and revelled in spending time with people who enjoyed his music. They will remember him for his humility, talent and wonderful sense of humour. His last appearance for Fanderson was at Destination Moonbase Alpha at Pinewood Studios in 2005. Wadsworth also enjoyed the challenge of composing for 30-second commercials and his work included the first television commercial for Cadbury’s Flake. Wadsworth’s wry sense of humour was never far away, and among the 200-odd television commercials for which he provided the music his favourite was one for lmodium-Plus.
“There l was, conducting this symphony orchestra – all very dignified and proper – when the voice-over says “One of these musicians had diarrhoea half an hour ago. Get lmodium-Plus today!” He was also quite proud of Pick It Upl, the jolly little song he composed to accompany Ken Livingstone’s anti-litter campaign.
Ardently interested in musicians’ rights, in recent times Wadsworth campaigned on behalf of Phonographic Performance Ltd for the extension of the copyright on recorded works, which is currently 50 years, meaning that many In expire during a musician’s lifetime. He wanted parity with songwriters and composers and was dismayed that the Government chose to “kick us in the teeth”. Derek Wadsworth died suddenly on 3rd December 20 08, aged 69. He is survived by his son Max and daughter Mary from his marriage to Betty, who died in 1987, and his partner Patsy Halliday.