Looking ahead to the release of Blue Mountain Mystery: The Movie in Australia, Britain and America, a song now popular is to be tagged onto the end of the special.
Blue Mountain Quarry, which became upfront to the public on the internet in April, was sung by Sam Blewitt.
Now in his fourth year of being involved with Thomas, Roll Along Thomas caught up with the singer a few days before he and composer Robert Hartshorne were scoring music for a new film with the working title, Twelve.
So Sam, how did you get your career started?
My career has been long and varied. I started out as a singer in a rock band from Newcastle, lured/moved to London after a few years, released a few albums toured a lot, then started working as a session singer.
It was scary at first, but like anything, with experience it all becomes more fun. Now I guest as a singer on lots of different albums etc with lots of different artists. Some big and some not so big.
How did you get involved in commiting to Thomas? Did you audition or did Hit approach you?
I have worked with Robert Hartshorne, the songwriter and music producer, about 10 years ago on various other projects.
He called me out of the blue one day and said he might
have an interesting project for me. He explained it was Thomas the Tank
Engine. It was initially a one off special (Go Go Thomas), so we could
make the music a little more contemporary. It was great fun to work on.
Were you aware of the songs done previously that were performed by children?
Yes, I was very aware that children had sung the previous songs. I have 2 children and they spent many hours watching Thomas.
When it was decided to change tactics on the songs in
tieing in with the new generation of Thomas & Friends, why was
I think the “new” approach for the songs was down to the
producers at Hit and Robert Hartshorne. Because we had a one-off
special to work on, it gave us a bit more freedom to try something new.
The producers at Hit liked the song and it seems the fans did to. The
new formula seemed to be a success.
Did you think with the new dynamic that this may or may not have worked?
be honest, you never know if something will work or not straight away. I
recorded Go Go Thomas with Robert, he mixed it and presented it to the
producers at Hit. I seem to remember a slight lyric change, which we
did, but basically they loved the song and it went onto the special-Hero
of the rails.
When the tunes were being written or recorded, did you pitch any ideas to the team that helped out in improving tracks?
When you are singing a song, I try to keep it exactly as the writer / producer hears it. But sometimes I will chip in with a suggestion or add a vocal part to enhance a section.
Sometimes, I could be singing for a while and we would decide the key was wrong...then we would change the music to a new key and start over again. It’s all about the dynamic of the song in the end. Sometimes by adding or taking away a harmony you can totally change the sound.
How would you describe your take on the modern Thomas songs?
My take on the modern songs would be, that we took into consideration that adults would be watching and listening along with their children and that we tried to make the songs suit both. More contemporary with a “child-temporary” feel.
Do you have a favourite track you like to listen to? Be it classic or new?
I like to listen to Go Go Thomas (great song) and also Day of the Diesels is another good one.
Can you describe what your usual day would encounter from coming into the studio to wrapping the project?
My usual day in the studio with Robert would start with a quick catch up
on anything we’ve been working on, a cup of tea, listening to the
track, another cup of tea. Then singing, record some vocals, have a
listen to make sure we like it.
Tweak anything that needs tweaking, then
crack on and finish it. Main vocal first, then chorus harmonies, and
any ad-libs that might fit. Then sometimes another cup of tea and a
biscuit. The studio is about an hour’s drive from where I live.
How long would it take to record your voice all the way up to finalising the track for completion?
To sing a song from scratch, we would usually allow 2 or 3 hours.
Sometimes there are harmony parts to add. Robert will write the song, I
will come in and learn it quickly, then start building the track up.
Sometimes in the middle of recording we may change something, if it
sounds better. But it’s usually 2-3 hours to sing, then Robert will mix
the song. That can take best part of a day.
Have there been any songs involving you that may have been cut from the writing and development stages?
Usually Robert Hartshorne knows who will sing which song. Hit will sometimes say they want to hear another singer...either female or another style male singer. I sang backing vocals on the Fat Controller song because Robert wanted to use Stefan Ashton Frank (who did a great job)
If any of the records would one day enter the charts, would you like to witness this and maybe be part of stage performances?
Of course, I’d love to be a part of it. I thought they might have
released Go Go Thomas when we recorded that. I reckon it’s a hit. I’m
very proud of my involvement with Thomas.
Robert Hartshorne has been with the show since 2004. Since
the Animated Series and movies have come along, his music score changes
have proved popular among fans who now compare some of his works to
previous composers, Mike O' Donnell & Junior Campbell. How do you feel
Robert is brilliant, he is a great musician and composer. He covers a
wide range of styles and genres. I’ve sung on countless pieces of music
for him, some classical, some folk, some rock, some pop. I sometimes
wonder how he does it, but he always comes up with an amazing catchy
song. I would say he’s a genius, but he’d get far too bigheaded.
Is there any character that you would like to see gain their own song whether they've had one or not?
I think they should all have a feature song at some point. Maybe that’s a suggestion for the producers.
Fans can tell in the new songs that Sharon Miller may have wrote certain ones. Is there any that didn't involve her?
I met Sharon when we first worked on Hero of the Rails at Robert’s studio, she’s great. I think she may have been instrumental in the “new” song approach. She may have written lyrics or given the songwriters direction as to the subject matter of the episodes.
With the backlash that Miller received in episodes and even the music side, how do you feel about the criticism centering on her?
I wasn’t aware of any backlash towards her. I don’t really get involved in anything but the songs. Robert told me she was standing down, which was a shame, she was very good to work with.
We now deal with Ian McCue at Hit, he is a fantastic guy and a very good producer. I was recently at a wrap party for 3 episodes we have worked on...met all the UK staff and producers and writers, they’re a fantastic bunch of people and are very passionate about what they do.
Do you occasionally go onto the internet to see fan reactions and feedbacks?
I have looked at some feedback, but not too much. You have to be
careful, you may not like what you read, mainly on Twitter to be
honest. There were some people in the US who contacted me with a few
questions, that was 2 years ago now.
Would you like to continue working for the show? Do you see an end to it?
I would love to continue working on Thomas the Tank Engine. I’m very proud of my involvement. I travel all over the world and almost everywhere you go, they know of Thomas.
I think, there may a shift of music style one day, there always is. When that comes, I guess that’ll be it for me. But until that day comes, I’ll gladly carry on as will Robert. But when I met all the producers and staff recently, the future looks bright, they all seem really happy with how things are going.
It has been announced that the new creative team coming in for Season Seventeen and onwards are to make changes to the series. Is there you want to say on this matter?
There is always a change going on somewhere, especially with big companies like Hit. I have no word on that I’m afraid, I haven’t heard a thing. I personally feel when something ain’t broke...don’t fix it. But I’m just a singer. Hopefully they’re happy with the music, that’s all that’s important to Robert and myself.
Robert Hartshorne in the past attended the Hero of the Rails premiere. What would you say to joining a Thomas event like this?
I was invited last year to the premiere of Day of the Diesels, but I was
on the road with a band at the time. I couldn’t make it back in time
for it. But I would have been there otherwise.
Maybe next time for the Blue Mountain Mystery premiere?
I’ll be there if I can, not sure when it is of course. Hopefully I’ll get an invite.
What have you got coming up in the pipeline in your career?
I only have some live shows this year, been recording with lots of
artists, but it all depends what happens with them. If any of them take
off, then I’ll be working with them. I sing with 2 or 3 bands, one of
them “California Screaming” is a rock band, we’re doing a few charity
events this year.
Finally, is there anything you would like to say to the fans?
Yes, fans are what keep film, tv and music alive. Without them
there wouldn’t be any of this. So a big thank you to all the fans of
Thomas. Robert, myself and all the people at Hit are delighted that Thomas is still going strong.
You can hear Sam's vocals sing out to Blue Mountain Quarry when the feature-length story, Blue Mountain Mystery is rolled out to cinemas and on home video.
Blue Mountain Mystery marks its world premiere in Australia at Hoyts cinemas on Saturday July 21st 2012 and will screen the film until September 16th.
The United Kingdom premieres the film in Vue cinemas for two days only on Saturday September 1st and 2nd 2012. A celebrity blue carpet launch at Vue Leicester Square in London is to be simulated on the first date.
The United States' release date is currently billed for a September rollout. This also applies to DVD/Bluray products all the above English speaking countries.