This interview was conducted in the winter of 1994, it was at a time when Patrick Doyle had just completed the score for FRANKENSTEIN and the film and soundtrack release was being eagerly awaited by fans. My thanks to the composer for allowing me to ask the questions at such a busy time and also thanks to Air Edel Associates in particular Karen Cockerell who’s assistance was vital in the setting up of the interview.
When and where were you born?
I was born in 1953 in a place called Belles Hill, which is not the most glamorous of places in Lanarkshire, which is in Scotland. Then when I was nine months old the family moved to a place called Berkenshaw in Edington, and my parents still live there today.
Your first score, HENRY V, was very well received. How did you become involved on the picture and were you a little apprehensive following in the footsteps of Sir William Walton?
It came about as the result of a working relationship I had with John Sessions, who is very well known as an English satirical comedian and also straight actor. John and I had worked on two projects together and he was a friend of Ken Branagh’s. They had attended R.A.D.A together. Ken was looking for someone to write the music for TWELFTH NIGHT, and had asked John if I would be interested in doing it, which of course I was. As a result of this first encounter I did a tour with him on three Shakespearean plays, and when the film came up I asked Ken if he would like me to have a go at writing the score. It was I must admit a very very frightening experience, but the Walton thing was to be honest the last thing on my mind. This is because the job in hand was for me far more terrifying than following in his footsteps; I had to create my own footsteps I suppose.
What musical education did you receive?
I went to the Royal Scottish academy of music and drama, where I studied piano and singing, harmony and counterpoint and all the usual things. I didn’t study composition as such, we only dabbled with it. My family were all singers; they had always been singers through the Irish side of the family. I was also encouraged to sing; in fact everyone in our family had to sing. It was not until I reached the age of about twelve that I started to take up the piano, which I suppose is rather late to start any kind of formal instrumental playing. I was a member of the junior academy and played in the Lanarkshire Youth Orchestra. I spent three years at the Academy and then I taught music for about twelve months or so. So I had a fairly extensive musical background.
What would you identify as your musical influences?
I suppose everyone has influences and I think that probably everybody influences me because I listen to everything, whether its music that comes from the radio at home or in the car, or even music from a car passing me in the street, I will say however I do listen to a lot of classical music. I listen to every composer imaginable, so everyone goes in and I suppose subconsciously influences me, but I would not say that one composer or artist dominates.
One of this years big movies is MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN, again this is a Kenneth Branagh movie. You must have just completed work on this, can you tell us something about the assignment. Did you look at any other versions of the story on film to get any ideas what musical direction that you might take?
I didn’t look at any other version of the story; in fact I have to say I have never seen any other versions of it at all. I think that would be a bad idea anyway, because obviously each re-make or re-telling of the same story has got its own approach. Indeed that should apply to all the elements within a picture, including the score. FRANKENSTEIN has a very large scale score, both Ken and I decided that thematically it should have a religious quality about it, I attempted to capture the obsessional behaviour of Victor Frankenstein, the love relationship between him and Elizabeth and also the loneliness of the monster, plus there are obvious things such as the chase sequence, the glacier scene and there is an ice cave scene, so it is a very varied score, but on the whole it is very grand and operatic, as opposed to gothic.
How long do you get to score a movie, or does it vary between projects and the individual requirements of each movie, maybe you could use MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING as an example?
It does vary, but on MUCH ADO ABOT NOTHING, I spent about six weeks on the final scoring, I had been writing off and on throughout the filming, when I was there. I was developing a lot of thematic ideas whilst on set, so when it came to scoring the picture it was quite luxurious to have the six weeks from then to the scoring sessions to start developing all of these pre-conceived ideas. It’s different when you have to start from scratch, from that point it is very difficult. Normally I like to get a couple of weeks at least before actual serious writing starts, to develop thematic material once I have seen the picture.
My own personal opinion is that you are a great talent within film music today, so are there any composers that write for the cinema that you find particularly original?
That’s a very difficult question to answer, because there are so many out there doing a great job….The obvious ones always spring to mind. For instance Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, the late Henry Mancini, Bernard Herrmann, and from the old days David Raksin. I would not say that these people influenced me in any way, because to be very honest I only became of film music composers when I started to work on movie myself. Up until this time I never was aware who had actually written the music, so that is why I am never offended when people don’t know who I am (laughs).
What are your feelings about the increased usage of electronics within film scores?
Well, electronics are very useful to bump up the bass sections of the orchestra, or to add particular colours throughout the orchestral palette, but they will never replace the sound of real musicians playing real instruments.
Some collectors of film music have said that your score for DEAD AGAIN is very reminiscent of the style employed at times by the late Bernard Herrmann, was this something that you set out to achieve when working on the movie, or did the sound just develop as you worked on the score?
Not in the slightest, As I said I was not aware of any particular film music composers until I became one myself, well maybe that’s not completely true, of course I was aware of STAR WARS but that was because of the movies sheer enormous success and because of this success I became aware of John Williams. As for being compared to Bernard Herrmann, now of course I have listened to his music and the reason why I think people have made this comparison between his music and mine is because it is very bold. He pulls on Eastern European influences. I feel he was influenced by people such as Barton, Prokofiev, and the Russian school of music. And likewise I suppose I am influenced to an extent by the same people , but what makes me I would hope my own man in terms of my own style is that I came from a very strong Celtic musical background and that pervades all my scores.
Have you ever turned down a project or for any reason pulled out of a project?
Never pulled out of a project, that’s very unprofessional, would never dream of doing that. Once you start a job you are committed, I have however turned down a few scripts in my time, I felt that I would not be able to add anything to them with my score, and I turned down a project in the past because they asked me to use material from another project; I felt I could not do that, it would have to be uniquely my own music.
Do you see yourself as a composer solely of film music, or are there any other musical avenues that you would like to become involved in?
Well I suppose one day I would like to sit down and write a ballet or an opera, but to be honest it would take years out of my life. One day I intend to do something like that. At the moment I’m quite happy earning a good living being a film composer. The minute I get bored or start to find it strenuous or it is not challenging any longer, then clearly I would have to re-address the situation. For the time being I enjoy what I do.
Are there any scores that you have written that you have found particularly hard to compose?
They’re all hard, every single one of them. Let’s say it’s just as difficult writing for 25 musicians as it is for 75 musicians. They are all hard because I worry as much about writing a solo oboe line as I do about writing for a full symphony orchestra.
INTO THE WEST was a charming movie, it was heart warming and I thought very entertaining, but it did not do that well at the box office, Your score was certainly a varied one and most enjoyable, it included Gaelic, classical, and western styles, it also had a very effective and haunting female voice solo. How did you become involved on this picture?
Mike Newell (FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL) who was the director asked to see me. I don’t actually know how my name came into it. We got on fine, and he offered me the job. The singer was my sister, Margaret, who I felt was perfect for this song, because it needed an innocent, young youthful woman’s voice, and she was has that untrained quality. If you listen to her you will see why I write the way I do: She has a natural inherent feeling for that kind of music, she was brought up listening to it ,she can still remember her great auntie and grandmother singing, people from that generation used to sing unaccompanied.
SHIPWRECKED was your second movie score, this was a Disney film, what was your working relationship like with Disney as they are know to be a little controlling?
I had heard stories of Disney being very controlling, but they were nice to me, the relationship was great, mainly because Chris Montan and Andy Hill from the music department were very supportive of me and are supportive of film composers in general. I am still very good friends with them both. It was a good experience for me.
INDOCHINE, contains a score that I suppose can be called luxurious and romantic. I was however surprised how little Eastern orientated music was in the score, considering the location in which the story was set.
The characters in the film are quintessentially French, living and imposing themselves within another culture. The story was really about a French woman a French soldier and a Vietnamese child that was brought into a world that was totally dominated by a French western culture. The obvious elements of the woman’s engagement the opening of the picture where there is a Vietnamese funeral, and these were the elements that both the director and I felt absolutely cried out for music which spoke of that culture. Because of the colonial umbrella that hung over the entire picture, it was felt that the music should be much more western, to encapsulate that feeling.
Have you a favourite score of your own or by another composer?
That is a Very difficult question. Each film score that I have done contains certain cues that I feel very proud of. There is no particular film score that I would say is my favourite, because I generally don’t listen to a lot of them. As to other peoples score, Occasionally I might buy something, people might send me something, but I don’t go out of my way to buy film scores, this is no way meant as a disrespect to other composers, it’s just I tend to concentrate listening to the great classics, as I sure all the great film music composers do themselves. I suppose I am much more aware of a score when I go to the cinema to see a film, but not that conscious, because if the score is doing its job I watch the movie. The other day I watched a picture on video, MALICE— it’s just a terrific the way that Jerry Goldsmith manages to capture the feelings that each subject requires.
What do you do to relax, if indeed you do relax?
I’ve got four kids so there is very little time for relaxation, I enjoy swimming, and I go for the odd little walk. I’m very fortunate to have a place in Scotland and I go there to just “chill out” as they say in America, I go for walks when I am there and of an evening I’ll just sit and read and stew in front of a big log fire.