He is Hollywood’s secret superstar – a composer who has been responsible for thousands of musical memories.
And now John Altman, whose work has appeared in blockbusters such as Goldeneye and Titanic, is working with an amateur orchestra in West Bromwich.
The composer arrived in Birmingham this week to begin work on the project with The People’s Orchestra after the group appealed for his help with a new piece of music.
Emmy and BAFTA award-winning Altman is a living legend, working with Jimi Hendrix, Chet Baker, Spencer Davis, Jimmy Page, Muddy Waters, Tina Turner, George Michael, Rod Stewart, Phil Collins, Alison Moyet, Quincy Jones, Chaka Khan, Lionel Richie, Bjork, Amy Winehouse – not to mention actors Richard Gere, Michael Caine and directors like Luc Besson,
Yet the world seems destined not to know his name, but he doesn’t mind, In fact, Altman seems to relish his reputation as an unknown celebrity.
“Fame is not important. I simply enjoy what I do. It’s not about being a celebrity, it’s about following your passion,” he says.
“It’s nice to get Emmy awards but I think we all have something creative inside us that needs to get out. If I can help open the escape valve then great.”
For John, musical success is as routinely normal as a middle-aged couple passing each other on the landing. He can’t stop doing amazing things. But for The People’s Orchestra, this most unlikely collaboration has opened up a Pandora’s box of opportunity.
This unlikely connection between Hollywood movie composer/arranger and a group of amateur community players in West Bromwich, even sounds like a far-fetched movie plot.
“They contacted me on Facebook and that intrigued me. I can pick and choose my projects now so if I want to help a community orchestra then I can. If I can fire up some enthusiasm for people to discover music then it is worth doing, says John.
The People’s Orchestra wanted him to compose an educational piece to showcase what different instruments could do. When they performed The Snowman in Malvern, the audience liked it but some couldn’t tell the difference between oboes or clarinets.
“I felt that was such a shame because with a little knowledge, music can enrich your life forever. I wanted to do something about that. I also felt drawn to this project because I arranged The Snowman for Aled Jones’ number one hit, so I guess fate brought us together – fate and social media,” he adds.
After performing at Pride of Birmingham Awards at the Town Hall tonight, The People’s Orchestra plan to return to Malvern on December 7 to unveil their collaboration with Altman and commemorate that light-bulb moment – with a world premiere.
John is lightning fast. He wrote the famous tank sequence for Goldeneye in just 24 hours. Another hat-trick of achievements was even more eye-wateringly fast.
“I co-wrote and arranged Always Look on the Bright Side of Life for the Pythons in a morning, a music recording in the afternoon and finished the day with a TV advert – three things in one day! It was just the way you just did it back then.”
Dashing round the world from project to project can be exhausting though. At one movie pre-screening, he confesses he actually fell asleep.
“I missed it all because I’d just travelled 12 hours on a flight and dozed off.” Chuckling to himself he added, “Next day, I still told them all it looked great though!”
Oh, he has a sense of humour. When people confused him with ‘the other’ John Altman who played Nasty Nick in BBC1’s Eastenders, John found it so amusing he organised a special night “Altman meets Altman” where the two came together onstage to play music!
John has also worked on 4,000 adverts but even that “lesser” achievement is spectacular.
Hollywood glamour can seem light years away from Sheila’s Wheels car insurance adverts but John Altman doesn’t mind – far from it.
“I’m proud of it actually. When I did Sheila’s Wheels insurance advert it was new but by the end it was one of biggest UK companies, so I’m delighted about that too”.
John is so talkative he should have his own TV show. He co-founded Ten Club in London where Amy Winehouse, Katie Melua, Jessie J, Joss Stone and many more played.
“Amy Winehouse was a sweet girl when she first came to my club. Katie Melua, Jessie J, Joss Stone – they all played. Amy was delightful. She got up and sang every week at my club. Even when she was starting out, I knew she was special and deserved her success.”
John has a new tip for the top. “If I had to pick one name for people to watch out for it would be Jamie Collier. He is utterly amazing. I went to a masterclass he did at 18 years old! People should check him on YouTube.”