My EarlyYears

People sometimes ask me how I came to be involved in music.

As a boy, growing up in the years following World War II, life was tough. My mother and father had abandoned their professional musical careers and we were pretty broke. Father, desperately needing to earn some money, did all manner of odd  jobs; he was a night watchman for a tarmacadam company by night and a gardener and occasional piano teacher by day. At Christmas he would become Father Christmas in a nearby toy shop. He did anything to keep us supplied with food and clothes, while mother struggled to raise three children. 

It had not always been bad for them. My father had had an illustrious career as a musician, starting in South Africa, then Holland, then Australia, and finally this country. He had composed a great deal of music in a romantic style sometimes echoing Rachmaninov or Delius, and in Australia had accompanied some celebrities of the time, including Dame Marie Melba and Peter Dawson. The final achievement was to make it in Britain, and initially things went well. His music was performed by various orchestras here, including the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sir Adrian Boult. My mother, who was my father’s pupil, performed his piano concerti and other works with the BBC and the two of them toured the country giving concert parties. But a number of factors put a stop to all this. His musical style had become unfashionable, there were three children to support, and these were the war years. They must often have wondered why things had gone so awry. By the time I knew my father (he was already fifty when I was born) he was disenchanted and sick with untreated diabetes and then he suffered a series of dreadfully debilitating strokes. For the last five years of his life he was an invalid, and throughout these years my mother nursed him at home with undying devotion. 

A musical education for me was not high on the agenda, even though it must have been obvious from the beginning that music would provide my livelihood. I was no good at anything else! With no formal lessons at all, I picked up tunes and their accompaniments by ear, and it was not long before I was composing my own pieces. There were rather a lot of waltzes at first, but gradually things became more sophisticated. At Hendon County Grammar School, I learned to read music, and (if I say so myself) excelled at harmony and counterpoint. These were such exciting years, as I investigated classical music from dawn to dusk - or rather when I wasn’t out on my bike. I also started to learn about jazz - I’ll never forget hearing Miles Davis playing “Milestones”  and “Porgy and Bess” for the first time. And then came pop music in the guise of Burt Bacharach, and I realised that pop music, too, could be harmonically interesting. A major discovery happened when I borrowed an LP of Bartok’s 2nd Violin Concerto from the local record library. Actually it was the second time I’d borrowed it; the first time was when I was twelve and I thought it was rubbish. Then a friend suggested I give it another go, and since it was a friend whose musical taste I respected, I gave it another shot. Wonderful! A whole new area of music was opened, and I began to hear all sorts of elements I thought I could work with. Another composer whose work I began to adore (and still do to this day) was Maurice Ravel - I revelled in the orgasmic sounds of “Daphnis et Chloe” and was especially moved by the famous daybreak scene, loving the impersonation of natural sounds. It could be that this was the music which helped me veer towards composing for films. One cannot listen to Daphnis without having pictorial images, and yet of course the music always has a structure built of iron beneath the glowing surface. I have always consciously aimed at giving my film/TV music some sort of musical structure over and above the demands of the film sequence itself, believing that this way one might achieve the best marriage of visuals and sound. It’s a difficult proposition and I certainly haven’t always succeeded, but it still seems to me a laudable proposition. 

Schooldays over, I went on to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where I had already been a junior exhibitioner for two or three years. I didn’t work especially hard for the first two years - there were too many other distractions, notably girlfriends. But I knuckled down to it in the second two years, and after lessons with Edmund Rubbra, a highly distinguished composer, I needed to extend my compositional abilities somehow, so went to Richard Rodney Bennett. What a good choice this was! Richard taught me how to use serialism and various other contemporary techniques, and we also had marvellous discussions about film music composition and jazz. I was completely in awe of Richard’s abilities. Later on, Richard was to help me in a practical way by offering me work as an arranger on two of his films, and he recommended me for a documentary film which he didn’t want to do himself. The film was called “Runaway to Sea” and it showed life aboard the P & O ocean liner, Canberra. It was a nerve-racking experience to do the whole score myself, but the producer loved the music and that’s how my career as a film composer was born...
February 12, 2009 |

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