At the movies
First uploaded (to Reverb Nation): 5 October 2021
Uploaded to 34SP: 5 October 2021.

Cinema seats with title on screenThis unusual project came from a desire to write film music. I'd been listening to a lot of it, especially Thomas Newman's for a well-known action series, and had noticed certain things about it... for instance, how long low string notes could be used for moments of tension. I felt that I ought to be able to do this, even though I well understood that none of it would ever be used in actual films.

I therefore decided to write for fictitious films, and as a first step pondered on what films I might want to watch. That is, films that I'd never heard of that had already been made, but I just hadn't seen. This necessarily made them fictitious. I picked five, with the idea that each would have two songs and two instrumentals making twenty tracks in all (though in fact I had ideas beyond that and used them).

THE DEATH OF HOLLY WEEKES - this was to be a conspiracy thriller. Weekes would be a young freelance journalist working on a big story when she supposedly jumped off a bridge. An old, cynical journalist gets interested and starts digging.

THE YESTERDAY PROJECT - this would be a time travel thriller. A European super-collider is commissioned. The press are proudly shown round, but two days later the whole project is sensationally scrapped following an urgent order from the president of the EU. There are dark rumours of unauthorised experiments, and one further unauthorised run late one night when the machine was supposed to be mothballed. Just after this the president is sensationally forced to resign in a financial scandal, and an old, cynical journalist starts digging. Yes, the same one... I kind of liked him so I brought him back.

THE PENHALIGON PAPERS - this would be a political thriller set in the 1950s. The permanent secretary at the defence department is studying papers relating to a top secret weapon when he abruptly disappears, taking the papers with him. As a frantic manhunt starts, the questions mount: has he defected to the Russians? or worse?

THE MURDER CLUB - this was a film Hitchcock (at any rate in my imagination) made in 1958 that never got a cinema release. A husband gets a card through the post apparently from 'the murder club' asking him to nominate a victim. Thinking it has to be a practical joke, he nominates his wife, but when she dies in a car accident a little while later the joke turns deadly serious. Was it really an accident? Who are the murder club? and what do they want?

DEATH AND THE WIRE - a high wire artist plans a spectacular tightrope walk across London, but in a blaze of publicity it goes horribly wrong. As the police investigate, his son plans a re-enactment. But what exactly happened the first time? and is history going to repeat itself?

Having picked these, I then wrote a plot summary for each, anything up to seven or eight pages long, sometimes including quite long stretches of dialogue. As I was writing these, these fictitious films came alive for me, and I could almost see them in my mind's eye. From that, I picked two scenes for each and wrote detailed descriptions of them which I then wrote instrumentals for. I also wrote two lyrics based on each plot.

What all this meant was that this project was written completely from scratch. I did have a lot of lyrics waiting to go, but I didn't use any of them. It also meant none of it could be based on ideas about my life or experiences, though of course I did borrow from them. I was curious as to how this would affect the music, and about whether whatever happened would still work done in that way. It was pleasing to find that it did.



Announcing progress - This was written as the music accompanying the promotional video announcing the new particle accelerator in The yesterday project. I wanted it to sound futuristic, dynamic, positive, enthusiastic.
Instrumental. Orchestrated in three sessions, 21-24 November 2019.
Edited in two sessions, 28 March and 15 July 2020.

The crash - This was for the scene where the wife's car crashes in The murder club. I listened to the Psycho score over and over, and tried to write the way Bernard Hermann would have done. I was also careful to do a strings-only score, as Psycho was (in that case to save money).
Instrumental. Orchestrated in two sessions, 3 and 9 November 2019.
Edited in four sessions, 3 Jun and 15 July 2020, 10 January and 5 March 2021.


Remember me - In The Penhaligon Papers, the permanent secretary of the defence department disappears, amid questions as to where his loyalties lie. I imagined him being very aware of this, and of the fact that people would wonder if they'd ever really known him or understood who he was. The lyric is a kind of wistful lament. I feel tempted to say I don't want to spoil the suspense, except of course that nobody will ever see this film, as it was only a figment of my imagination.
Lyric written 14 November 2018.
Orchestrated in two sessions, 31 August - 1 September 2019.
Vocals recorded 26 September 2019. I was still getting over a cold. Ellen was still in Canada.
Additional guitar recorded 21 June 2020.
Edited in eight sessions, 24 May, 21-25 June, 15 and 19 July 2020, 10 January and 5 March 2021.


The joke - This was written for The murder club, in which a proposed murder starts out as a joke but turns deadly serious; hence, so does the lyric. I also tried to sing it the same way - bouncy and light hearted at first, turning sinister later.
Lyric written 28 April 2019
Orchestrated in four sessions, 14-17 July 2019.
Vocals recorded 29 September 2019, while Ellen was still in Canada and I was slowly recovering from a cold and a bad foot.
Edited in six sessions, 4-8 June, 19 July 2020, 13 January and 5 March 2021.


Yesterdays (keep chasing me around) - This was prompted by The yesterday project, but didn't directly describe the plot. The fact that a character in it went back in time prompted thoughts of the past, the present and the future. I had a surrealistic image of someone being chased like Benny Hill, by a gang of yesterdays from his past.
Lyric written 21 May 2019
Orchestrated in eight sessions, 4-11 August 2019. I was very pleased with how this was sounding even after the first session.
Vocals recorded 24 September 2019, after dinner. I was still suffering from a horrid cold. Ellen was still in Canada. It was he birthday, we'd spoken via Skype, she'd suggested I record, so I did.
Edited in seven sessions, 12 June - 25 July 2020, 14 and 16 January 2021.


Such a shame - Another one prompted by The yesterday project. I wondered idly, if I could go back in a time machine, whether I could have saved Elvis Presley (assuming that is that I could have got anywhere near him). I decided in the end that his life was what it was, he did what he did and that no good would come from second guessing it, which is pretty much what the lyric says.
Lyric written 2 May 2019
Orchestrated in four sessions, 28 July - 2 August 2019.
Vocals recorded 30 September 2019, while Ellen was still in Canada and I was nursing a cold and a sore foot.

Edited in six sessions, 28 and 29 May, 5 and 8 July, 11 August 2020, 16 January 2021.

Sunday (when it's gone) - The whole idea of the past being accessible (The yesterday project) was thought provoking, and this was another lyric that came from that. The title just came to me... whoever heard of Sunday, when it's gone... it just fell into place, and the rest of it came from that. I particularly liked "Sunday left a lot of things unsaid" and "drink every drop of poison till it's gone" (meaning, stick with a relationship until it finishes, however unpleasant it gets).
Lyric written 1 April 2019
Orchestrated in one session, 28 July 2019.
Vocals recorded 25 September 2019, the main vocal before dinner and the backing after it. Ellen was still in Canada. I was still recovering from a horrid cold.


Breaking and entering - The yesterday project again, this time the scene where the journalist breaks into the collider installation to try and find out what has been going on there. His source tells him he can get him to the boundary wire, but can't go in with him. The journalist does get to the machine controls, with security guards in pursuit.
Instrumental. Orchestrated in six sessions, 24 November - 6 December 2019.
Edited in three sessions, 28-29 March and 12 August 2020.


On the wire - For Death and the wire. Prompted by a remark attributed to the real high wire artist Karl Wallenda: "Life is on the wire, the rest is just waiting". This was a lyric trying to articulate that argument. I also wrote a companion piece to it which we'll get to. I watched the film of Wallenda falling to his death in 1978 over and over. He was 73, he could have retired, it seemed such a waste.
Lyric written 7 April 2019.
Orchestrated in five sessions, 11-18 August 2019.
Vocals recorded 27 September 2019. This was a Friday, but I was too poorly for chess. Ellen was still in Canada.
Edited in four sessions, 23 May, 9 October 2020, 20 January and 5 July 2021.


The find - This was from my conspiracy thriller The death of Holly Weekes. The old journalist has spotted something glinting in the torchlight at the now abandonned crime scene: it's the victim's mobile phone, that the police missed. Now what could be on it? Details of the victim's last call perhaps?
Instrumental. Orchestrated in three sessions, 21 December 2019 - 6 January 2020.
Edited in four sessions, 4 June and 9 October 2020, 20th January and 21st March 2020.


Worth dying for - Again from The death of Holly Weekes. How far is this journalist prepared to go to uncover the truth? or if his colleagues aren't convinced, the police can't be counted on and he's encountering a wall of silence, does there come a point where he leaves it alone?
Lyric written 1 May 2019
Orchestrated in three sessions, 1 and 30 September, 12 October 2019.
Vocals recorded 19 October 2019. It was a Saturday, but Ellen was working, so I recorded while she worked.
Edited in two sessions, 7 and 8 June 2020.

Run - From the 1950s political thriller The Penhaligon Papers. The missing Penhaligon has just been located (there's another piece for that) when the guards interrupt proceedings. The agent runs, and after a chase and some shooting gets away. As for Penhaligon, well... I'll leave you to infer that from the music.
Instrumental. Orchestrated in two sessions, 7-8 December 2019.
Edited in five sessions, 24 and 30 May, 10 and 16 October 2020, 21 March 2021.


Lying liars - From The death of Holly Weekes, which after all featured a conspiracy and people lying, as does this lyric. Thinking about conspiracies must have triggered thoughts of people not being straightforward, which in turn led to this lyric largely driven by discontent about work. At the time a briefing had not long come out about location closures. However, the briefing itself failed to mention the closures at all and even seemed to suggest that the main impetus had been to improve work locations rather than to shut them. I was disgusted when I found out about that, and you can hear the anger in the lyric. At the time I would have been a little over 16 months from retiring early, and didn't yet know that I was going - the offer didn't get made until the following August.
Lyric written 7 June 2019
Orchestrated in six sessions, 21-29 August 2019.
Vocals recorded 1 October 2019, just after getting back from visiting my mother. Ellen was still in Canada. I had the remains of a cold and a bad foot.
Edited in three sessions, 16 October 2019, 20 January and 5 July 2021.


Circle of death - from The murder club. This did pose an issue as Hitchcock (despite releasing an album in 1958) apart from some talk of lost songs from the film Vertigo appears not to have used songs in his films. Music (that is, film score) did play a key role, but not lyrics. I could have therefore stuck to instrumentals for this one, but I didn't, and (like The joke) this lyric starts light hearted and turns sinister, mirroring the plot structure that The murder club would have had.
Lyric written 23 April 2019
Orchestrated in six sessions, 22-28 July 2019
Vocals recorded 28 September 2019, while Ellen was still in Canada, and yes I did still have *that* cold. The vocal isn't all one take, it was very difficult to get, and in the end I felt the part I had at the beginning of an incomplete take was too good not to use. I did record a toned-down version of the lyric for bars 54-58, but didn't use it.
Edited in three sessions, 10 April (Good Friday), 18 October 2019, 21 March 2021.


Not yet - from The death of Holly Weekes. The central journalist investigating the death I saw as perhaps late middle aged, drinking more than was good for him and on the edge of lapsing into a washed-out has been. In short, in need of a good story to restore his fortunes. I therefore wrote a lyric veering between optimism, denial and a deeper knowledge of his own situation. When I came to orchestrate it, I realised it might work as a musical-style song. I'd never written like that before, so I decided to try and write it in the style of 42nd street. I studied how 42nd street was scored and even how it was mixed, and then set to work. I even included dancing towards the end, which of course you can't see, only hear, and I might add that involved quite a bit of work to get it right.
Lyric written 6 May 2019.
Orchestrated in nine sessions, 14-31 October 2019 including some of it after recording. This was a technically awkward song to orchestrate due to being very different from anything I'd done before, and was also the last song to be orchestrated for this project.
Main vocals recorded 26 October 2019, while Ellen was in hospital.
Backing vocals recorded 27 October 2019, while Ellen was having a nap the day she came out of hospital. This was the last vocal recording for this project.
Edited in five sessions, 3 and 10 May, 18 October 2020, 5 and 25 July 2021.


Just get there - from Death and the wire. Police make a breakthrough in their investigation and rush off to make an arrest, but events are moving fast. They get there slightly too late and have to revert to plan B, but it doesn't work out quite as they expected.
Instrumental. Orchestrated in six sessions, 2-10 February, 15 and 27 March 2020.
Edited in two sessions, 17 April 2020, 23 October 2020.


On the line - From Death and the wire, this is the high wire artist's wife answering back in response to On the wire. I imagined her being somewhat bitter, because Max Wallender's actual attributed remark that everything else in life apart from wire walking was just waiting to go back on the wire again did sound like a slap in the face not just for her but for his children. Max Wallenda's wife doesn't seem to have ever spoken in these terms, though the day he died she did try to persuade him not to do it. She couldn't bring herself to watch, as she often didn't, but was quoted as saying that as soon as she heard the screams she knew he was gone.

Lyric written 10 April 2019.
Orchestrated in two sessions, 18-19 August 2019.
Vocals recorded 2 October 2019, while Ellen was at Vancouver airport about to catch the flight back from Canada.
Additional guitar recorded 27 June 2020.
Edited in eight sessions, 15 May - 27 June, 7 December 2020, 20 January - 17 February, 5 July 2021.


Livingstone I presume - This was a scene from The Penhaligon Papers, in which a secret agent who has been searching for Penhaligon finds him, and a conversation ensues. The written brief for this one includes "music for tiptoeing around, opening doors, waiting for people to move etc." I had to check how Livingstone was spelled, as the quote relates to a real person. The scene immediately after it I also wrote music for (Run).
Instrumental. Orchestrated in two sessions, 8 and 16 December 2019.
Edited in four sessions, 17 April, 2 May, 7 December 2020, 17 February 2021.

Dead after all - From The murder club. A fake murder has supposedly been set up to smoke out the culprits, but all is not as it seems and a phone call to the hospital confirms that the fake murder victim is really dead.
Instrumental. Orchestrated in three sessions 12-14 June 2019.
Edited in three sessions, 7 December 2020, 17 February and 21 March 2021.


Case closed - This is the climactic scene (and yes I did check the spelling) from The death of Holly Weekes. The journalist had thought he'd clinched the proof and had his big story, but he's reckoned without the grim ruthlessness of the villains. Is he about to be put out of their misery? or will the cavalry come to the rescue at the last moment? What do you think?
Instrumental. Orchestrated in three sessions, 11-23 January 2020.
Edited in three sessions, 10 April and 7 December 2020, 17 February 2021.


The big one - This was the spectacular wire walk from Death and the wire. Not all of this walk would have been shown. He would have been nervous and a bit wobbly at first, but settled. Just when it all looks to be going smoothly, it goes wrong.
Instrumental. Orchestrated in five sessions, 25 January - 1 February 2020.
Edited in two sessions, 3 June and 7 December 2020.


Gone - This was one of my best lyrics, written for The Penhaligon Papers. It centres on the manhunt for Penhaligon, which in turn involved trying to understand what Penhaligon's state of mind was immediately before he disappeared.
Lyric written 14 November 2018.
Orchestrated in two sessions the same day, 13 October 2019.
Vocals recorded 19 October 2019, while Ellen was working. Some hacking around had to be done at bar 45, so it wouldn't quite have sounded the way you hear it here had you been there when it was recorded.
Edited in five sessions, 12-13 April, 14 June, 7 December 2020, 5 July 2021.


Lyrics written: November 2018 - June 2019. Orchestrated: June 2019 - March 2020. Vocals recorded: September - October 2019, mostly while Ellen was in Canada. Guitar loops recorded: 15-27 June 2019. Additional guitar recorded: June 2020.