40 from The Fall
April 2021

It’s fair to say I’ve had a complex relationship with the music of The Fall over the years. They were the first band I ever saw live in the summer of 1986 at GMEX in Manchester and I caught one of their last performances in Brighton a couple of years ago. Beloved of the late John Peel, The Fall’s music was also used in the choreography of Michael Clark to stunning effect in 1988’s I Am Curious, Orange. Over the last lockdown I thought it about time I listened to all the 31 studio albums by The Fall and compile a ‘best of’ playlist. The ‘rule’ being that the list has to include at least one track from each album. Here is Jarvis Cocker’s tribute to Mark E Smith with a cover of perhaps The Fall’s finest track.  Here is a link to an article about the Michael Clark project.

Colin Currie with Gillian Moore
April 2021

My connection with the percussionist Colin Currie goes back to BBC Young Musician of the Year in 1994 when he became the first finalist in the new (and long overdue) percussion category. As a percussionist myself, and then an aspiring composer, witnessing this on the BBC was a pivotal moment. I have been very fortunate to work with Colin since 1997 and glad to report we have more plans for the future. In this chat with Gillian Moore from London’s Southbank he gives some insight into the life of a freelance musician over the past year, and also his burgeoning relationship with the music of Steve Reich and the composer himself.

Death of Simon Bainbridge
April 2021

Saddened to hear of the death of the composer Simon Bainbridge after a prolonged illness. We were colleagues at the Royal Academy of Music for a short time when I was Fellow of Composition under Simon’s leadership. He had replaced his very good friend Robert Saxton at RAM, and my thoughts are with him and other close friends Gary Carpenter and Chris Austin and of course Simon’s family. Musically speaking, we didn’t always see eye to eye, but his warmth, sense of humour and wicked mimicry will be fondly remembered. 

Obituary

TIME TO COMPOSE
April 2021

Life for students in any field of study has been extremely difficult over the last year. As academics we feel their pain and frustration deeply. In my own field, composition students often rely on fellow students or visiting ensembles to enhance their learning experience, but the opportunities for workshops and performances of their work have been made difficult if not impossible by COVID restrictions. As a response to that I have set up an online course with the Carducci String Quartet who I’ve shared a close working relationship over the last 12 years or so. Details here.

Luke Lewis & the London Sinfonietta
February 2021

Great to see a former student from the University of Salford, Luke Lewis (now teaching at the University of Oxford), give some insight into a section of the large-scale piece he is writing for the London Sinfonietta. Given that the piece is still in progress, it is refreshing and informative to have this snapshot of the creative process. Too often this is the part of composition that is almost kept hidden from view, but exactly what students and audiences need. 

Massive Attack’s Blue Lines 30 years on
February 2021

The seminal trip-hop album Blue Lines by Massive Attack has turned 30 years old, with ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ being probably the best-known track. Always heralded as having ‘a great string arrangement’ by Wil Malone, it has always been unclear how much of the string parts were already completed in synthesizer form before Wil wrote for and conducted a live string orchestra. As a composer and arranger, I know too well how those twin roles can easily be confused and mispresented, and I’ve always thought that Wil Malone’s work on this track was not merely an arrangement for strings, but integral to the composition of the song. This link provides some useful and amusing insights into the making of the track. 

New Order: Best 30 songs
January 2021

New Order have been such a huge part of my life for over 35 years and it has been an immense honour to work with them over the last 8 years in various live projects and recordings. Alexis Petridis from the Guardian recently ranked their top 30 songs, so I thought it would be of interest to create my own response to this and compile my own top 30 list. The ‘rule’ being that every studio album had to be represented by at least one song. The playlist is roughly chronological in contrast to Petridis’ ‘countdown’ approach. 

Arvo Pärt’s Spiritual Minimalism
April 2020

I’ve been using the music of Arvo Pärt in composition lectures throughout much of my academic career and in particular the pieces Cantus in Memorium Benjamin Britten and Spiegel im Spiegel, both of which are models of succinct and systematic compositional process. The economy of musical material in both works is a great example to students even if they find minimalism itself too limiting. Much has been made of Pärt’s use of Tintinnabuli (meaning bell) but how this actually manifests itself in the music has been less clear. In this YouTube video the guitarist and composer Milton Mermikides provides an admirable in-depth guide to this compositional approach.

Terry Riley’s In C
October 2019

Terry Riley’s In C is regarded by many as being the genesis of musical minimalism. It certainly is an enduring and versatile work, and I’ve often returned to in teaching and directed several performances of it with student new music groups.  One of the most fascinating recent versions of it was Africa Express’ version at Tate Modern in 2015, and I have my fellow composer David Bruce to thank for bringing it to my attention. David has been producing fascinating YouTube essays for years on a whole range of subjects with his customary good humour and quirky style. Here is his feature on the work.

Radiohead’s Pyramid Song
November 2019

Recorded around the same time, Radiohead’s Amnesiac has always been considered the poor relation next its predecessor, Kid A. And perhaps the album is overshadowed by the inclusion of ‘Pyramid Song’ which is one of their finest achievements. It shares motivic and harmonic material from Kid A, most notably in ‘Everything In Its Right Place’. The rhythmic construction of the song has always been fiercely debated (certainly in my circles), but now this any every other aspect of the song has been put to rest by this incredibly detailed, insightful, and approachable analysis by the young British composer Barnaby Martin.

Hannah Kendall
February 2019

Great to witness how a former student From the University of Exeter, Hannah Kendall's career is progressing on both sides of the Atlantic with commissions from major orchestras and festivals. Here she gives some insight into her rich musical journey and creative process.

Tippett: 20 years on
January 2018

I think it was around 1990 when I first encountered the music of Michael Tippett, with The Hallé performing his oratorio A Child Of Our Time, and it had a profound effect on me. His music is somewhat neglected in comparison to say, Britten, but it is Tippett’s music I return to more than any other. From the early exuberance of the Concerto for Double String Orchestra to the luminosity of his last major work The Rose Lake, his music was always communicated in a very direct way. Here’s a scrolling score of the Concerto for Double String Orchestra and a link to David Owen Norris’ illustrated talk on The Rose Lake.