Cellist and composer Peter Gregson took time out of his busy schedule to talk with me about his stunning debut soundtrack to A Little Chaos, future film projects and his blue, electric cello!
This is one of 3 remaining soundtracks which will be released after Horner’s tragic death. The solemn and comtemplative feel of it makes it difficult to give a subjective view so I stress that this is not a review, merely my first reaction.
This a very different James Horner with dark shades and haunted by a questioning and sad piano. You recognise the measured tones immediately, this is a score where the space between each note matters. Careful use [meaning not over the top] of drums send a distinct message of fear.
The cue A Long Road Back is led by the piano and as it develops, it is quite beautiful for a movie depicting such a savage sport. Horner uses electronic sounds, again with precision. They are at their strongest in Hope vs Escobar which runs for 8 minutes and 26 seconds. Again a measured use of these sounds are what makes it work.
There are many cliches which can fit into an action film and I am glad to say that Horner has not gone down that road. I will visit this score again once I have seen the movie. From this, my first listen, I would say it’s a raw meditation of sorts, reflecting both the inner and physical torture the film depicts.
As enjoyable as this concert was, it was a little weird. To start with there was no Programme Guide plus in such a prestigious setting as the wonderful Birmingham Symphony Hall – I don’t think it was half full which is a shame especially as the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the exuberant Nicholas Dodds were ,on fine form. I have seen a fair few concerts here and every artist says how much they love the Symphony Hall. The acoustics are perfect and Arnold himself said it was ‘sensational’.
Dodd strode on stage first with his flowing white hair followed by Arnold in a sharp 3 piece suit. Immediately we were thrown into the The Main Theme to Wing Commander, a strident score Arnold wrote with Kevin Kiner. Staying strident Godzilla raised the roof tiles, the orchestra note perfect especially in percussion. It’s was an odd sight to get use to as Arnold sat right at the front of the stage with a small keyboard and an Apple laptop with his 2 guitars beside him. Apart from the few times he played said guitars, he would introduce the next piece and then he sat there whilst it was played. He played keyboards when it was called for but otherwise he sat gazing over the audience. I found it quite distracting especially as the house light never dimmed.
The deliciously Slight yWicked Waltz from Stepford Wives was next being both evil and comic. Arnold reminded us that he was responsible for the 2012 Olympics Closing Titles and the music for when the winners collected their medals. When introducing this he said he had ‘very creatively’ called the piece Medal Ceremony.
His chit chat was very good mentioning that John Singleton was the youngest director to be given an Oscar. This was for Four Brothers and his remit was to make the Opening Titles ‘in the style of Marvin Gaye’. This was a fab piece and he nailed the Gaye style! Although it was a Night At the Movies the next was a song from the music to the stage musical of Made In Dagenham and Arnold sung it [didn’t know he sang and he has a pretty good voice]. Title was Nearly Had It All. Seemed a little out of place to be honest. Back to the movies and the comedy Paul and a cue called Goodbye It’s A Little Awkward which gave echo’s of E.T.
It occurred to me that early on in his career he wasn’t able to let loose with his own style, whilst remakes of Stepford Wives and Godzilla were good they were obviously a tad derivative. But to be fair whilst walking the path of John Barry in his 007 scores he did come into his own eventually.
And onto Arnold’s guest whom he called his ‘secret weapon’, on stage the lanky, white suited and utterly captivating vocalist David McAlmont strode. This lifted the audience and the first ‘whoops’ of the night could be heard. The next piece was the very first ever Arnold track I heard. Play Dead was written by Jah Wobble, featuring and part produced by Arnold. McAlmont did the vocals which on the recoding, are performed by Bjork. Was a bit of a thrill to hear live I must say. A loud and exciting Suite from Stargate followed which the mighty orchestra pushed to it’s maximum. This suite showcased Arnolds composition and orchestration skills.
We enter the wolrd of 007 which Arnold said was a ‘composers dream’ and he fully embraced that dream. Starting with the title song from The World Is Not Enough with lyrics by Don Black. On the soundtrack of this 1999 James Bond movie is a track which Arnold wrote a song specifically for the character of Bond and how ultimately he is the one who has to take responsibility for his actions. Only Myself To Blame was recorded by Scott Walker. Arnold sang it with a sad weariness and it worked.
I’ve always thought that the Arnold/Black song Surrender performed by k.d. Lang should have been the theme song to Tomorrow Never Dies and apparently that’s what it was written for. Arnold bought back McAlmont to sing it for us and boy did he sing it, loud and clear with a last note going on for an insanely long time and which received the longest applaud of the evening.
The 007 section included Night At The Opera which Arnold said was ‘music for the Quantum organisation and an instrumental of the Casino Royal song You Know My Name. This was followed by a track from Amazing Grace [wasn’t made clear what track] and an excellent suite from the Sherlock Holmes tv show with a perfectly sweet violin, plenty of danger and full of the madness of Holmes erratic brain.
As it was almost July 4th his last track on his playlist was the End Titles from Independance Day with it’s patriotic under theme played wonderfully by the BSO. He did 2 bows and then we were treated to an encore which was the 007 theme with Arnold complete [with schoolboy grin] playing the riff on guitar. It was full throttle!
A good trip through Arnold’s career so far, he was personable and the orchestra and Dodd was superb but somehow it was a little lack lustre in it’s presentation. But you still can’t beat hearing film score music live.
Here is the link to last months radio show featuring music by: Jerry Goldsmith, Issac Hayes, Elliot Goldenthall, Craig Armstrong and others, plus a salute to Christopher Lee.
The show can also be heard on Mixcloud and as a podcast in iTunes.
Any requests for my July show?