BWW Review: CLASSIC ALBUM SUNDAYS - BADLY DRAWN BOY, Royal Albert Hall
As part of the ongoing Festival of Film, the Royal Albert Hall last night played host to Classic Album Sundays. Presenter Colleen 'Cosmo' Murphy hosted Damon Gough (a.k.a. Badly Drawn Boy), as he picked out some of his favourite pieces of film music and talked about how he approached his own soundtrack projects, including the classic About A Boy.
In its own words, Classic Album Sundays is a celebration of music, that "tells the stories behind the albums that have shaped our culture and in some cases, our lives" - they regularly run events across the world based around a range of classic albums, as well as provide online content via their website, podcast and social media channels. Following his 2000 Mercury Prize win, Badly Drawn Boy recorded his first film soundtrack, before going on to write music for The Fattest Man in Britain and Being Flynn.
His choices of memorable pieces of film music were rather eclectic, going from the 70s through to the 90s. The first film he remembers seeing at the cinema with his family was Grease, and being "dead excited" when he heard the songs from the film on Top of the Pops - plus he even missed the FA Cup Final to watch Star Wars - but his first music pick came a bit out of nowhere, with "Heaven on Their Minds" from Jesus Christ Superstar.
Despite almost wanting to "get it out of the way", his passion for the recording and Carl Anderson's vocals really came through: "He should've been a huge, huge star - he's got one of the greatest rock voices. I always wanted to track him down and work with him, because his performance in the show, as Judas, is brilliant."
Quentin Tarantino's debut, Reservoir Dogs, was next - partly because he will still sit down and watch the film now if it's on, plus the way the soundtrack was formatted (as a radio show hosted by DJ Steven Wright). "The fact that he's a master of choosing his music, perhaps even cutting his film to the music... For a director to get it so right, and pitch it, he must've been thinking about it for years." There are several memorable tracks in that film, but The George Baker Selection's "Little Green Bag" was the one that stood out.
"These cool guys walking down the street in slow motion... What better start to a movie? It just didn't let you down, it drew you in from the opening song and image." Even if you haven't seen the full film, you will know this scene - it's permeated popular culture so well that hearing the music immediately conjures the image to your mind.
The final selection was from Woody Allen's Manhattan, with the disclaimer of separating the work from the man to reflect on the genius of his film-making - particularly for New Yorkers. "He made you feel like you knew more about the world, or you were funnier than you were... It's accessible stuff, it's not so out there that you can't be in on it - but at the same time it's really intellectual."
We heard an excerpt of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue", which Badly Drawn Boy thought he may have connected with partly thanks to his short stint at Leeds College of Music. "I love things like Chopin and Debussy - some of their stuff sounds like it was written today, it's so modern and forward-thinking. I learnt bits and bobs along the way."
From there we moved onto his own time making film soundtracks; his decision to take on the About A Boy project was a bit of a slow-burner, but after reading the book he came up with singles "Something to Talk About" and "Silent Sigh", and then started the process of scoring the film. He worked closely with Steve McLaughlin, who had a lot of experience in making music for films so it ended up being a bit of a learning curve - the approaches he picked up in writing for this film set him up for future film projects, as well as seeping into his general songwriting process.
"I Love NYE" highlighted that, as it came about as a result of McLaughlin disappearing to make "the best vegetable lasagne ever" while the tape was left running for Badly Drawn Boy to play about with one particular scene - it ended up mixing up the two singles, working with the action to create the right pace and bring in pauses where necessary.
"A Minor Incident" was brought in to replace Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright", when Marcus finds his mum's suicide note. If you listen closely to it in the film you can just about pick up that it's written from the mum's perspective, subconsciously channelling Dylan with the harmonica, and introducing some wordplay within the title: the song is written in A minor, and he thought it would be ironic to label this situation as 'a minor incident'. "What would the mum be saying in that note? I didn't refer to the book or the film for that, I thought, 'what would I write?'. So that was my challenge to myself."
We later heard "All The Trimmings" and "Wider Than A Smile" from The Fattest Man in Britain, and "Harbor Street" from Being Flynn. One of the big things that Badly Drawn Boy has taken from his experiences in composing music for film projects is that it's effectively "bonus music" that he's ended up with; without the inspiration from these films he would never have written these particular songs.
Events like these are rather special, as recording experiences will naturally vary from artist to artist, plus it's a brilliant opportunity for fans to interact with their musical heroes and get some insight into how their minds work. Badly Drawn Boy was an absolutely fascinating subject, opening up as the night wore on and coming up with some fun and compelling anecdotes. Having a top-notch sound system also added to the experience with the terrific mix of tunes to which we were treated.