11 Jun 2015

Music was his world

From Morning Report, 8:56 am on 11 June 2015

German composer and big band leader James Last has died.

James Last CC BY wiki
James Last, 1970. Photo CC BY 3.0 Nationaal Archief

A staple on Radio New Zealand's National Programme for decades, James Last’s music is reported to have sold over eighty million albums worldwide.

Versions of James Last’s song ‘Happy Heart’, performed by Andy Williams and Petula Clark in 1969, saw the song become an international success, and it was later included in the soundtrack to Danny Boyle’s 1994 film Shallow Grave.

Another of Last's compositions, ‘The Lonely Shepherd’, was performed by pan flute virtuoso Gheorghe Zamfir in 1977, and achieved cult status when it was included in Quentin Tarantino’s 2003 film Kill Bill: Vol. 1.

James Last’s super power was adding “cheese” to music of all kinds, by reinterpreting well known songs as lushly produced instrumental dance music, utilising his big band, strings and choir, giving it some swing. The resulting "happy music" was snubbed by music critics, but much loved by the mainstream public.

Last’s first live tour took place in 1968, and he gave approximately 2,500 concerts during his lifetime, the most recent in London in April.

James Last at RAHall London March by Kay McMahon
James Last at the Royal Albert Hall, London, 1 April 2015. Photo: Kay McMahon.

Paddi Addison is a sound engineer from Carterton and for the past 23 years has been the chief sound engineer for James Last's European tours. He talks to Guyon Espiner about the man and his music.

London-based New Zealander Kay McMahon was at the final show, reporting “James Last & a 27 piece orchestra: he came out to hip hop & has done pop to TV themes so far”. The largely elderly audience was unfamiliar with some of his newer pop selections, including ‘Happy’ (Pharrell Williams) and ‘Roar’ (Katie Perry). McMahon said Last’s declining health was noticeable when, at one point during the performance “he couldn't stand up and was clutching the podium”.

James Last spoke publically of his regret at having to retire from performing. Music was his world, spanning six decades and over 200 albums. He did what he loved. James Last died, aged 86, surrounded by family in Florida on the 9th of June 2015.