In Loving Memory of Eric Tomlinson
8 Jan 1931 24 Nov 2015
By Chris Malone
I fondly remember several highly rewarding wintry days in west England during January of 2007. Rolling green hillsides, angular ochre coastline, and exceptionally friendly people were to be found in the Devon countryside. Two such inconspicuous locals were recording engineer, Eric Tomlinson, and his radiant wife, Joy.
In an atmosphere of laughter, playful banter, and £2 bets we reminisced the days of CTS, Anvil, and Abbey Road. This was to be a remarkable epoch of film music recording in England. Ever so modest about his contribution to recorded sound a gold record for Star Wars decorated the hallway but only at Joy's insistence Eric was allocated the moniker of "Sir" by me and in return he labelled me "Magic." My lowly contribution was sorting a computer glitch!
We would individually take turns warbling film tunes with the other two harmonising along, trying to guess the piece. Discussions about The Quiller Memorandum (recorded by John Richards) were met with our best Matt Monro impressions as we crooned the theme. Was it "Thursday's Child" or "Wednesday's Child?" Eric and Joy were supremely confident of the former whilst I was steadfast on the latter. Google resolved the dispute in my favour and £2 was placed on the table for the taking.
Rich in tone, delivered via Maxell chromium oxide cassette tape, takes 104 and 105 of Farewell to the King provided fitting musical accompaniment as we toured Dartmouth in Eric's green Mercedes station-wagon. With 230,000 miles clocked on the odometer, the vehicle seemed to exude Eric and Joy's unperturbed temperament. A view of seagulls soaking up sunshine, with a sailing vessel meandering past, was typical of our journey through this peaceful nook of England.
Eric Arthur Tomlinson was born on 8 January 1931, the son of a chauffeur from Lancashire. A childhood adoration of aircraft led to the completion of an apprenticeship for the Fairey Aviation Company. However, it was during his daily commute through Hayes that Eric longed for the excitement of tinkering with ultra-modern broadcast and recording equipment at the neighbouring EMI Laboratories.
Abandoning his aircraft career and joining IBC Studios, Eric mixed and cut acetate discs during the renaissance of traditional jazz in England for artists including John Dankworth, Cleo Laine, and Ted Heath's band. It was a virtual proving ground for future recording luminaries including Keith Grant, Adrian Kerridge, and the eccentric Joe Meek.
Eric commenced his film music career in the late 1950s, initially executing recordings for conductor Muir Mathieson until the then new Cine-Tele Sound (CTS) studios beckoned.
From the earliest days of his career, Eric Tomlinson did not ascribe to romantic descriptions or haughty trumpeting of self-importance when it came to his profession. These were in contradiction to the congenial and self-effacing manner with which he assiduously worked and breezily entertained.
Behind the console, Eric possessed an adroit ability to rapidly obtain a balance and skilfully deliver a finished live mix. In the studio, shrewd selection of microphone and prudent placement were usually all that was needed. It was a virtuoso proficiency that led to the near total rejection of equalisation and dynamics processing electronics standards in the audio engineer's handbook. Outside of panning, the other potentiometers and switches found on the mixing console were, ostensibly, for display-purposes only. In principle, Eric was entirely accurate when describing his control room duties, albeit modestly, as "up for loud, down for soft."
Eric Tomlinson kept an enviable résumé. Frank Sinatra's only album recorded outside of the USA ("Great Songs from Great Britain"); the "James Bond Theme" together with early OO7 scores including Goldfinger and Thunderball; blockbusters such as Ryan's Daughter, Star Wars, and Superman were among frequent and prestigious projects; and he brought film scoring to Abbey Road where he captured Raiders of the Lost Ark and Brainstorm with astonishing depth, realism, and nuance.
In many respects these recordings, among many others, would serve as a young person's introduction to the orchestra. The multi-platinum double-LP soundtrack for Star Wars would be one such guide. It was through the magic of John Williams, spirited performance of the London Symphony Orchestra, and exciting engineering of Eric Tomlinson, that an entire generation studied the sounds of a symphony as they dreamt of Luke Skywalker's adventures in a galaxy far, far away.
I remember the time we were spinning the Monsignor soundtrack LP. Eric was certainly not afraid to rotate the volume knob towards its limits and the sound was indeed gigantic. During a lull in one of Maurice Murphy's superb trumpet performances, I turned to Eric and asked "Is this how loud you'd normally monitor in the studio?" He frowned and queried "Sorry?" requiring me to restate the question. I then received a blunt retort with a single word: "No". This was followed by a pause lasting at least 30 seconds as Eric savoured John Williams commanding the London Symphony whilst supplying his own air conducting. Pointing towards the ceiling, with index fingers extended on both hands, Eric shouted "MUCH LOUDER!" following it with a smile. We both laughed heartily and soaked up the remainder of the album side just listening together in deafening silence, so to speak.
What was most remarkable about Eric was his ability to listen to people. In many respects this is a quality assumed of someone who spent their career intently doing just that listening. But he was so careful in his attention and so genuine in his interest. And as much as Eric's adventures of yesteryear were peppered with famous faces, spectacular scores, and amusing anecdotes, he was far more absorbed with the excitement of tomorrow and what it held for you.
These are among the attributes that endeared him universally to those that worked alongside at a console in a control room or sat alongside at a bar in the local pub.
Eric was my mentor from afar. I'm certain he understood me better than I did and will probably ever do. He quietly championed me, my work, and aspirations. Eric's unflustered approach to life, his gracious good-nature, and his words of wisdom are carried within me.
My catch ups and conversations with Eric and Joy will indelibly be recalled with great affection. We formed a close bond that has endured more than ten years and I felt the love and care of parents towards their son. They made me laugh and I was fortunate to be able to return the good medicine.
Eric Tomlinson was the most humble, charming, and engaging Gentleman I have ever had the privilege to know. Quite simply, Eric was a superb person. And he helped make me a better one. It is an absolute honour to have shared pints of Kronenbourg 1664 with him.
Farewell to the King.
You may also be interested in the following:
- Recording Engineer Eric Tomlinson ( PDF 446 KB) - An overview of Eric's career in music by Chris Malone.
- Recording the Star Wars Saga - The story of recording the Star Wars Saga music scores by Chris Malone.
- BBC Radio 4 programme Last Word, hosted by Julian Worricker, featuring a segment on Eric Tomlinson. Broadcast on 1 January 2016.
- A tribute to recording engineer, Eric Tomlinson (1931-2015) - Cinematic Sound Radio host, Erik Woods, prepared a fitting tribute to Eric's ability to record an orchestra. Including smartly chosen selections from many noteworthy scores, Mr. Woods' survey follows From Russia With Love through to The Thief and the Cobbler. 10 December 2015.
- Music for Hot Air Balloons + saluting great recording engineer Eric Tomlinson - Secklow Sounds Radio host, Tony Carty, prepared his wonderful tribute to "an individual who made an immense contribution to film music." Broadcast in the Milton Keynes region on 15 December 2015.
- Eric Tomlinson, recording engineer - obituary - Obituary published in the Telegraph on 16 December 2015. Includes quotes from Eric and information from articles on this website.
- Star Wars Wins Original Score: 1978 Oscars - John Williams wins the Oscar for Music (Original Score) for Star Wars at the 50th Academy Awards. Maestro John Williams gives a nod to Eric Tomlinson's engineering.