An Intrusion and an Explanation

Hidden Man - My Many Musical Lives - John Altman

John Altman [+-]
Film composer, music arranger, orchestrator, conductor and saxophonist
John Altman is a film composer, music arranger, orchestrator, conductor and saxophonist. Among the 54 movies he composed, arranged and orchestrated for are Titanic (period music), Monty Python’s Life of Brian and Goldeneye, winning a BAFTA Award for Hear My Song and a Golden Globe for orchestrating Sheltering Sky and a commendation for his work on Léon: The Professional. He also won an Emmy for his score for RKO281, was nominated for Roman Spring of Mrs Stone and received a nomination for the Golden Reel award for Little Voice.  He recently completed arranging and conducting for the next James Bond movie No Time To Die.  In addition to writing a 100-minute score for the silent movie Shooting Star for the London Film Festival Gala, John has his name as an arranger on 19 platinum records, including George Michael's album “Faith”, which won several GRAMMYs in 1989 including Album of the Year, and Altman was nominated for the Rutles film All You Need Is Cash. He wrote for Simple Minds, Barry White, Tina Turner, Björk, Diana Ross, Tom Jones, Pretenders, Rod Stewart, Michael Jackson and has scored over 4,000 commercials worldwide to boot. Playing woodwinds he was musical director for Hot Chocolate and Van Morrison and has played with Nick Drake, Little Richard, Peter Green, Amy Winehouse, John Legend, Prince, Eric Clapton and many more. As a jazz musician he has led his big band in the UK, USA and Australia and played with Chet Baker, Slim Gaillard, Bud Freeman,  Les McCann and other jazz giants. He has four Lifetime Achievement Awards and an honorary doctorate in music from the University of Sussex.


Everybody knows John Altman’s music, but not so many people know his name. Yet he is one of the most prolific composers, conductors and arrangers in history and his saxophone playing has been heard live and on record with many great names. In this vivid account of over fifty years in the world of popular music, Altman explains why he is the ‘Hidden Man’, whose scores include such well-known film sequences as ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ from Life of Brian , which he arranged, conducted and whistled; the tank chase through St. Petersburg in the James Bond movie Goldeneye and the ship sinking in Titanic , with the orchestra playing on deck. In all, he has composed the music for over 50 movies, and won most major film awards in his long and distinguished career. His orchestrations can be heard in film scores by legends like Elmer Bernstein and Jule Styne, and he was musical director for several television series, notably Miss Marple , starring Joan Hickson, as well as Peak Practice , in which his music can be heard in every episode. His television and recording work included all the arrangements for the Grammy-nominated Rutles , and there are plenty of stories of his half-century of collaboration with members of the Monty Python team, and Neil Innes. As an arranger/conductor he has worked on hit records for numerous stars, among them Rod Stewart, George Michael, Tina Turner, Barry White, Diana Ross, Björk, and Alison Moyet. As a saxophonist, flautist and clarinet player he has performed with an equally stellar list of musicians, and the book includes many tales of life on the road during his early days with Hot Chocolate and Van Morrison. John Altman has also found time to write, produce and arrange over 4,000 commercials worldwide, and another example of his subtle influence is his theme for the ‘Sheila’s Wheels’ advertisement, which was being whistled and hummed all over Britain during its run on television, yet it’s likely nobody knew its composer. Such anonymity coupled with universally-known themes is why Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam named Altman the ‘Hidden Man’. In this entertaining, fast-paced memoir you will discover how Ingrid Bergman smiled at his back; how a Beatle always greeted him by singing one of his musical phrases; how he tried in vain to persuade Nick Drake to continue performing in public; how he reduced Freddy Mercury to helpless laughter; how he got Pierce Brosnan his big movie break; how he sat with Charlie Chaplin watching a movie that hadn’t been seen for a quarter of a century (with a running commentary from the great man himself); how he sang over a mobile phone to James Cameron and the cast of Titanic ; how he inspired a five-year-old George Michael to become a musician; how he was the Wailers’ tour guide around London, and how Tina Turner made him a cup of tea. One of the most poignant parts of the story is how he mentored the young Amy Winehouse, but she is just one of the many dazzling musicians who have worked alongside the Hidden Man.

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Altman, John. An Intrusion and an Explanation. Hidden Man - My Many Musical Lives. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. Feb 2022. ISBN 9781800501553. Date accessed: 17 Sep 2021 doi: 10.1558/equinox.42907. Feb 2022

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