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8th February 2010
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(Sir Christopher Lee on his career diversity)
"I am always looking for my work to reach new people. I do not want to be remembered for one thing; I would like to mean different things to different people. That's what being an entertainer is all about."
Christopher Lee - authorised still
Photograph copyright © 2010 Charlemagne Productions Ltd
Interview by Mark Holmes
Sir Christopher Lee is a man who requires little introduction within the realm of popular culture, having graced our cinema screens and thrilled different generations of audience for many years with masterful performances in iconic roles such as Lord Summerisle; Count Dracula; Sherlock Holmes; Saruman; Scaramanga; and Muhammad Ali Jinnah to name but a few. And, at the age of 87, Sir Christopher's cinematic career continues into the 21st century's second decade as Jabberwocky in Tim Burton's 'Alice In Wonderland'; starring alongside Nicholas Cage as Cardinal D'Ambroise in 'Season of the Witch'; and an appearance in 'The Resident', the long awaited return of Hammer Films to the big screen. However, despite various flirtations with music over the years both on and off the screen, he is perhaps less well known for his classical baritone vocals and, lesser still, an affiliation with the metal genre. Collaborating with both Rhapsody of Fire and Manowar in recent years, 2010 will see Sir Christopher make his own mark autonomously within the scene, lending his distinctive voice, sung and narrated, to symphonic metal project 'Charlemagne - By the Sword and the Cross'. Metal Discovery recently had the opportunity to pose a series of questions to Sir Christopher regarding his involvement in this innovative new venture...
METAL DISCOVERY: Hello Sir Christopher, Mark here from Metal Discovery. Firstly, I hope these questions reach you in good health, and thank you very much for your time in doing this interview - it’s a true honour to feature yourself and new musical venture within the pages of Metal Discovery.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Not at all. It is a pleasure.
MD: I gather you have a familial link to King Charlemagne through your Carandini ancestry - what exactly is that link, and how important is it for you to pay homage to Charlemagne through the medium of music?
CL: The Carandini family can be traced back to ancient Rome. A few years ago, during a Roman excavation, a vase was found with the words "Carandus". It dates back to the first century. It was Frederick Barbarossa who gave our family the right to use the Coat of Arms of the Holy Roman Empire. I have a signet ring, which I wear all the time with the coat of arms on it. I believe that one of three Europeans are descended from Charlemagne. I am however a direct blood descendent. Being an actor, I play people. Charlemagne was an historical figure who, with his actions, sometimes ruthless and controversial, he shaped the map of Europe and created an entire new culture.
MD: The samples of music available on the internet from the forthcoming album have received over a million listens combined, and the MySpace page has had over a million and a half hits in only 2 months - have you been surprised by such enormous interest in the ‘Charlemagne’ project?
CL: I am delighted and grateful for this worldwide recognition. I have always been very grateful to the people who watch my movies and followed my work through the years. In this case, I am very grateful to these listeners.
MD: I’ve listened to the short samples and it sounds like the album will be something rather special and innovative within the metal genre - how pleased are you with how the final recordings turned out?
CL: Extremely pleased. During this last two years and from the very beginning, I have been constantly surprised and overwhelmed by the quality of the writing and the music. You use the word "innovative" and you are right. The composer, Marco Sabiu has created a style which is unique.
CL: It has been fun. At times, I felt as if I was in another galaxy because I wasn't used to working on such a super musical production. The highlight was watching myself in one of the stills taken with some of the metal musicians. I look like if I belong to the band and I was wearing dark clothes but I did not do it on purpose. They too look like if they had enjoyed themselves, which is very important. They are all very nice people, professional and helpful.
MD: Are there any plans to take Charlemagne to the stage for any live performances and, if so, what form would this take - a stage musical; with a live band/orchestra?
CL: We are developing a musical version for the stage, which will premiere in 2011. Due to confidentiality agreements, at the moment I cannot tell you much more.
MD: Amongst records you hold in the realm of cinema such as the greatest number of onscreen sword fights, and most prolific actor in the quantity of films within which you’ve appeared, you can now lay claim to being the oldest singer to release an album within the metal genre! Do you anticipate and/or hope that your name will now be introduced to a new generation and type of fan?
CL: I am always looking for my work to reach new people. I do not want to be remembered for one thing; I would like to mean different things to different people. That's what being an entertainer is all about.
MD: You had an album released in 2006, ‘Revelation’, which was more a compilation of cover versions of established songs as well as the fantastic Richard O‘Brien track, ‘Name Your Poison’, from ‘The Return of Captain Invincible’, but did you always have it in mind to record an album of purely original music such as you have done now with ‘Charlemagne’?
CL: My dream when I was young, was to be an opera singer. My acting took off but I have always wanted to do it. Now I have been able to do it and in a style which was unknown to me until very recently.
MD: I understand that your great-grandmother, Marie Carandini, experienced success as an opera singer in Australia so I guess your singing talent has been genetically inherited - how does it feel to make your own mark in the history of music and perpetuate the Carandini musical heritage?
CL: Very proud, even if it is not opera. I think she would have loved to diversify herself. Our family enjoy challenges; I think it is what we live for. To finally be able to appear in a full album, an original concept and playing the lead role, is very gratifying.
MD: Your daughter, Christina, features on the ‘Charlemagne’ album as a narrator - apart from the Rhapsody album she did with you, ‘Triumph Or Agony’, has she previously had a musical background, and has she inherited your musical genes?
CL: Christina learnt to play the piano from a very early age and sung in the school choir. She is very talented and I am very proud that she has taken on this challenge.
MD: You’ve already worked within the metal genre, of course, through your collaborations with Rhapsody and Manowar, and you've stated in a recent interview that you’d very much like to work with them again. Have either band approached you to do so yet, as I gather Rhapsody are about to release a new album? Any plans to reprise your role of The Wizard King?
CL: I believe that I still appear in that album as the Wizard King.
MD: After you collaborated with Rhapsody and Manowar, were you approached by any other metal bands to work with them?
CL: I have been receiving offers almost every week. To narrate, to sing and even to participate on a death metal video. I would love to try all these out but I have been unable to find the time. Every single week, I have been offered a new project.
MD: On a side-note, ‘The Wicker Tree’ is due to be released this year - can we expect more singing from Lord Summerisle in the movie?
CL: I am not playing Lord Summerisle. The original part I was offered, but I was not available.
MD: Congratulations on the knighthood last year. How did it feel to be honoured in this way and eventually recognised for all of your life’s achievements with such royal commendation?
CL: The most important recognition for me is that of the public because the work I do is for them. Being knighted is an honour and a privilege and I hope to continue to live up to it.
MD: I’ve heard you state in an interview that the British conductor, Sir Thomas Beecham, once said “one should try everything in life except incest and folk-dancing” which I gather is partly your own motivation for becoming involved in different artistic outlets during your career. At the age of 87, you’re about to make your mark in the metal genre, but do you have any unfulfilled ambitions left?
CL: I want to play the part of Don Quijote. I look like him, I understand him, share the same values and I am the right age.
MD: Once again, sincere thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, and the very best of luck with your latest venture. I sincerely hope that the album sells as many copies as you’ve received hits on the internet thus far!
CL: Thank you.
Official Christopher Lee Website:
Official Charlemagne website:
Thanks to Corrado Canonici and Juan Aneiros for their assistance in arranging the interview.
Revelation (2006)
Charlemagne - By The Sword And The Cross (2010)
Thanks to Sir Christopher Lee for his time in doing the interview.
MD: I gather ‘Charlemagne’ has been a great ensemble effort from the plethora of talent involved in the project, from those who’ve composed the music and lyrics, to all the performers and behind the scenes technicians. How has the recording experience and creative process been for you in working with these talented individuals?