Biography — the highlights
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I was born in Doncaster in 1950, went to Oundle School and studied music at King’s College, London between 1970 and 1973, resulting in a B.Mus. degree. This course included my only formal composition studies, principally with Geoffrey Bush, with extra — and extremely valuable — advice at the more radical end from Ian Bent.
In the 1970s my String Quartet and Sleep for 60 solo strings with keyboards, harp and percussion were given public airings by the Society for the Promotion of New Music. In 1979 the String Quartet was performed on BBC Radio 3 by a very young Arditti Quartet.
My Concerto for Trumpet and Brass Band, the middle movement of which is in memory of Duke Ellington, was premièred in 1978 by James Watson with the Grimethorpe Colliery Band under Elgar Howarth and broadcast in 1985 with Håkan Hardenberger as soloist. It was recorded for the Doyen label (in a slightly abridged version) in November 2005, again with Howarth conducting the Grimethorpe Band, with Richard Marshall as soloist. It is included on the CD The History of Brass Band Music, Vol.6: New Adventures (DOY CD165). In 2018 I completed a long overdue orchestral version which I now consider my definitive Trumpet Concerto.
The meeting with Hardenberger led me to write my largest work, Invisible Cities (1986/7) for him and the trombonist Christian Lindberg, who gave the première in The Hague with the Residentie Orchestra and a further broadcast performance in 1989 with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, both times conducted by Elgar Howarth.
Double Entendre (1985), for piano and stereophonic brass band, has received three performances, the first two with Andrew Ball as soloist. He played it in 1990 at the Royal Academy of Music in London with their brass students conducted by Harold Nash, and the piece was included in the Visions of Paradise festival in February 1995 at the Barbican Centre, London, to celebrate the 90th birthday of Sir Michael Tippett. On the latter occasion, Elgar Howarth conducted the Grimethorpe Colliery Band in a London Sinfonietta programme. Double Entendre was also performed later that year by Richard Casey with the Royal Northern College of Music’s brass students conducted by Chris Houlding.
Son of The Bebop Variations (1992) for trumpet, trombone and tape, has been performed by Håkan Hardenberger and Christian Lindberg a number of times: at the Wigmore Hall in London, at the 1993 Stockholm New Music Festival and Bath International Festival, at the 1997 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, and elsewhere. That piece was one of several spin-offs from Bebop for brass quintet (1986), which is now part of the repertoire of Fine Arts Brass. Other spin-offs from that piece were Big Bo Bebop, written as an encore piece for Son of The Bebop Variations; Be, Bop and Away (in memory of Dizzy Gillespie), which Hardenberger performed with a jazz group on a Swedish television game show in 1993; and finally, in 2012, Return of the Son of The Bebop Variations for chamber orchestra with drumkit (15 players in total).
In 1995 I composed and recorded music for Eric Schneider’s production in Luxembourgish of Howard Barker’s play The Europeans, at the Théâtre d’Esch in Luxembourg. This was followed in 1998 by Schneider’s stage adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Heart of a Dog (Coeur de Chien in the French adaptation), for which I also provided the music. This was for bass clarinet with electronic sound provided on CD. The seven-minute Entr’acte from this set, Music from the Heart of a Dog, was recorded by the leading British clarinettist and co-founder of Lavender Hill Opera, Andrew Sparling in 2004 for NMC Records and released on the CD Andrew Sparling (NMC D092). It can also be downloaded from the iTunes store.
In 2008 The Bossa Nova Variations for flute, cor anglais, bass clarinet, violin, cello and piano, was included in the ensemble Lontano’s La Linea festival of Latin American music. Odaline de la Martinez conducted in London’s Purcell Room.
In the 1990s, while exploring the possibilities of computer-aided composition, I generated the raw material (ie, basic notes) for a work called Hall of Mirrors. I have recently revived it as a suite for chamber orchestra, the final movement of which is complete. The first four will follow in due course.
In 2020 I revived my Perfect Stranger project, now a 10-piece band which is at the gig-hunting stage. Read the full story here.
Other works include:
- Life & Times (of a Perfect Stranger) for large jazz/rock band, now the ‘signature piece’ of Perfect Stranger.
- Variations on a Theme of George Harrison for bass clarinet, trombone, double bass, harp, keyboards and 2 percussionists.
- lovesongs: seven poems by e e cummings for voice and piano.
- Five Pieces for Saxophone Quartet, also transcribed as Five Pieces for Guitar Quartet and Five Pieces for Brass Quintet.
- Music for an Imaginary Ballet for jazz/rock sextet and orchestra — one of my largest works and still awaiting a performance.
- in heaven… for brass band, optional vocalist and tape — a computer-generated score inspired by the soundtrack of David Lynch’s film Eraserhead.
- Nights in Tunisia and Elsewhere, subtitled A Collection of Semi-Tasteless Pastiches, a set of variations for brass band on Dizzy Gillespie’s A Night in Tunisia.
- Short Change — all 30 seconds of it — written for and performed by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band under Elgar Howarth in their The Band Plays On concert at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall in 1993. (I was the only one of the four composers asked to compose a piece for this event who kept to the 30-seconds brief!)
- 60 Minims, for trumpet and general MIDI (or tape), a 60th birthday present for Elgar Howarth.
- Cog-Dance for divided orchestra, which reached the top 10% of entries for the 1997 Masterprize competition.
Over the Christmas period of 1995, I was one of the three judges (with Elgar Howarth and Michael Blake Watkins) for the Royal Philharmonic Society’s annual Composition Prize, which was awarded to Sang-Eun Lee for her O-Zone.
I have always maintained an interest in ‘popular’ forms of music. Over the years, I have composed, played and recorded everything from orchestral and chamber music to experimental jazz and pop songs and include Zappa, Ellington and the Beatles among my main influences, along with the likes of Bartók, Berio, Birtwistle, Ligeti, Messiaen, Nancarrow, Stravinsky, Varèse and Xenakis.
In recent years I returned to playing the fretless bass guitar after too long a gap, and since 2015 have been a proud member of Chris Ramsing’s PsychoYogi.