Wednesday, 6 October 2010


I presume you have been watching ‘Spooks’ on the BBC. If not WHAT ON EARTH HAVE YOU BEEN UP TO?

There’s nothing quite like getting your teeth into a decent TV thriller on a Monday night when you should be concentrating on the washing up, polishing shoes and ironing school uniform. But I have an excuse. Not only did I wish to feast my eyes on a bit of far-fetched international espionage action...I also wanted to feast my ears too. It turns out, the boy doing the music, a vital addition to the edge-of-the-seat tension that makes the series such a hum-dinger, is turning into a rather successful composer.

We are lucky enough to have some fantastic composers here in Scotland, and I shall come back to them at a later date. But for now, I am interested in this new breed, a very different sort of composer from those that used to sit at their spinets in some European creaking attic, quills poised as they waited for divine inspiration to strike. This new breed is hip and adept, casting a wider net far out across a musical ocean that encompasses old and new genres...classical, jazz, folk, rock, pop, garage, house, shed, garden or whatever they call the stuff. These guys know what's what and what to do with it. 

Imagine the scene. Just a few years ago, a young music student, Paul Leonard Morgan, was sitting about in a studio at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, fiddling with an electronic semi-quaver and generally minding his own musical business. The phone rang.

‘It’s only me, in the office,’ chirped a cheery Glaswegian. ‘There’s someone here from the telly...they want a bit of music for a football programme or something...flick your switch?’

From there a career was born. Young Paul got to work, provided the goods and made a name for himself. The next job was music for a wildlife documentary entitled ‘Galapagos’, and then there was some work with bands like Snow Patrol, Belle and Sebastian and Sharleen Spiteri. Before long, Paul had landed himself a dream job. Could he come up with an orchestral score for a BBC Scotland landmark production, ‘The History of Scotland?’ Oh, and by the way, could he also produce a ‘Concert Suite’ based on the score because the house band (BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra) were going on tour soon, and it would be kind of neat?

The series turned out to be a mega-production for the BBC, and one which has not been without controversy (there are tales of insulted historians and offended academics leaving production meetings in disgust at some of the editorial decisions.) I too would take issue with some of the views expressed in the series. Anyone who cares about Scotland and has an opinion would do so. But every big-budget production which aims to tell the history of a nation is bound to have its are asking for trouble, it seems to me. However, it is certainly a ‘good watch’ and for me, part of its success is the music, the glue that binds the whole series together to ‘make it live’. It's clever and it's beautiful. And it was from this success that young Paul went on to create the music for ‘Spooks.’

The new breed of composer is not only an accomplished musician...he or she is an arranger, a producer, a DJ, a mixer, and even a sound engineer. If they are composing for film, television or computer games, they must work within a collaborative creative framework...often their perfectly-formed phrases are cut and squeezed to suit visual action. Either the composer has to learn to live with this or there will be tears before bedtime. The funny thing is, if you are promised a cheque at the end, even the artiest of arty-pants can learn to adjust.

You may well think that choosing to be a composer is an odd career choice, the path chosen by dreamers and romantics. But this kind of thing can be big business. According to the Scottish Culture Minister, Scotland is a world-leader in the creative industries, a sector which supports 63,000 jobs, and generates an annual turnover of £5.2 billion. For a nation the size of Scotland, those figures are not to be sniffed at. So as the current post-credit-crunch belt-tightening hangs over us, I hope that somehow the creative industries will be seen for what they can produce, and not merely as unnecessary frills with which to pass an idle moment.

Meanwhile, I'll get back to my fiddle, and try to remember that all this desgraceful scraping and screeching may one day bear fruit.

No comments:

Post a Comment