Music for The Homeless: ‘The Key’ from The Department of Distractions

Update 6th March 2018:  ‘The Key’ raised a grand total of £61 for Crisis and Emmaus charities for homeless people. The track isn’t on Bandcamp any more, but if you want to donate directly to these or any other homelessness charities, please do!

The Department of Distractions was joyous fun to work on; the walks between digs and the theatre were quite saddening.

There’s a man sleeping rough in an underpass on the way, so for a week I passed him twice a day. He sleeps on concrete slabs, next to a busy dual carriageway, sandwiched between two concrete pillars and surrounded by pigeon droppings.

This track is called ‘The Key‘. All profits from its sale will go to charities Crisis and Emmaus who help homeless people in Newcastle (the city where I was working) and Sheffield (where I live), respectively.

Download ‘The Key’ from ‘The Department of Distractions’ here.

The Department of Distractions is about a secretive organisation who ply the public with (secret’s in the name) distractions. Why do they do this? To keep us happy (and, possibly, well-behaved), of course.

Working from home, and being a big old highly sensitive introvert, I’m less out-and-about in the world. Especially in the winter when it is cold (people from Yorkshire and further afield describe this fear of the cold as ‘nesh‘. That’s me to a tee). Like a lot of us, my distractions are online and onscreen and in print.

However, when I venture out into a real environment I’m often struck (and still surprised, distracted as I am by said media) by the increase in homeless people and people begging on the streets in recent years, and how incredibly impotent I feel when considering what I can do to help.

So maybe this is something I can do:

  • Pay what you like for the track, minimum £1; it’s a toe-tappingly good tune and features all of the musical themes heard in the play.
  • Give money to worthwhile charities, both with awesomely excellent and effective track records in helping people in dire circumstances.
  • Get a feel-good rush of dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin as well! 

Win-win. Please give what you can. Thank you.

The Department of Distractions was written by Alexander Kelly, and made and first performed by Third Angel at Northern Stage, Newcastle in February 2018.

Image: Rick Harris

The Department of Distractions

“A single glove in the street,

A pair of shoes hanging from a telephone wire,

A torn up love letter in a Metro carriage,

A phone box that rings as you walk past…”

Are you distracted?

This month I’m working on The Department of Distractions, written by Alex Kelly and made by Third Angel.

The Department of Distractions is…

“an organisation so clandestine you won’t have heard of them. They say their job is to plant stories in the world “to make life more interesting.” Others would argue that their job is as much to stop us looking in certain directions. But things are starting to unravel, a story they started has got out of hand, they’ve lost control of it and now they’re in danger of being exposed. How far will they go to maintain their anonymity? How much are you willing to believe?”

It’s a wonderfully written, fun and quirky show with some rather dark undertones. The score oscillates between pristine, minimalist synths and raw, layered, folky violins.


Third Angel have been cataloguing The Department’s handy work for some time. See the files on Instagram

The Department of Distractions is on at Northern Stage, 2nd-10th February 2018. Book tickets here.

Image: Rick Harris

Music for Science Fiction – An Odyssey in Words

NASA Image of UFO Galaxy

So here’s something rather fun – I’m a Kickstarter stretch goal incentive for 2001: An Odyssey in Words!

Hah! Or rather, some of my tunes are. I’ve composed three pieces inspired by Clarke’s famous three laws, and, as an added bonus, a special, ‘ceremony mix’ of them that includes some exclusive additional material to make an 11-minute epic journey through the stars and beyond. This ceremony mix track has only ever been heard at the Clarke Award annual ceremony. And my studio obvs. But nowhere else!

These big, splashy, lush, sci-fi tunes are yours when you back 2001: An Odyssey in Words, a new anthology of original fiction by an awesome pantheon of science fiction and fantasy authors. The Kickstarter has only to reach its stretch goal of £10,000. Easy Peasy.

Pledge here.

Image: NASA oh my gosh how pretty is that?

Flood is over, and other news.

handwritten musical score with pencil


And now I’m on with scoring a couple of new animations for Red Star.

I’ve plans to release the Flood soundtrack Album (did you know you can still buy/stream ‘Look Across The Ocean’ in most online music stores?). There’s a series of posts I’m currently writing about the musical themes of Flood and how they all interconnect.

Also, I quit Twitter. It’s weird that it’s even a thing to mention. 

However, if you want to get in touch, here are the deets.

Flood Part 3 on the BBC and New Single Released

Set from Flood Part 2 (Malcolm Johnson Photography)

Flood: To The Sea, the third part of the Slung Low show for Hull City of Culture 2017 will be broadcast on BBC2 at 10pm this Saturday, 12th August as part of BBC Arts strand ‘Performance Live’. It’ll be on iPlayer for a month after that if you miss it. But you won’t miss it, will you? It’s too good to miss.

New Single Released – Look Across The Ocean

I’m releasing the song from Flood, ‘Look Across The Ocean’ – sung by the brilliant Gina Walters, backed by Archordia Strings – as a single to coincide with the broadcast. Yes, I’m attempting to do cross-platform marketing! But also I’ve had a couple of requests for it so I thought this was one of the better ways to give the song a bit more life.

For all of 99p from all the online music stores, or on whichever music subscription site or app of your choice, you can have a your very own piece of Flood to listen to when you need another fix.

Get it in yer ears! 

Look Across The Ocean is on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, Google Play and everywhere else good music is available online.

Theatre: Flood, Partus, and Late Nights in the Studio

Composing Music for Theatre with A Hot Chocolate In The Music Studio

My site got hacked and my last post about quitting Facebook at New Year got overwritten. Probably for the best really, it wasn’t that exciting.

What is exciting is all the new work that’s going on at HF studio HQ!! Sort of, anyway…

I’ve been working late evenings this week to get two theatre project scores out the door…


Flood, a show about the end of the world as we know it, is in production *right now this very second* by Slung Low. Here’s the teaser:

Made of four parts spread over a year, I’ve just finished the score for Part 1, a gorgeous short film about the very start of the story of Flood. It comes out on Monday.

Parts 2 and 4 are headphone, site-specific theatre pieces. Massive, ambitious, set on the water…! Part 3 is a BBC TV special. This show is huge (deep breaths, deep breaths…).


Partus is a show about childbirth in all its bloody glory, made by Third Angel. It’s touring from next Monday and I’m off to see the preview tonight. I’m taking a dear, and heavily pregnant, friend with me. I hope it’s not too terrifying!

JK – it’s a rather lovely and balanced piece of theatre about the expectations, the exhaustion, the euphoria, the shock, the sadness, and the stupidly long shifts. From the point of view of mothers and health professionals, there are stories of love, fear, joy, resilience and bravery. It played last year at The Crucible Studio, and this year it’s retooled, refocussed. There’s also a brand-spanking new song I co-wrote with one of the maker-performers, the the comedy genius that is Laura Lindsey.

Here’s the trailer with another of the awesome maker-performers, Stacey Sampson...

I’m still off of Facebook. I didn’t delete my account entirely, just deactivated it; I *might* have been developing a smidgeon of an addiction, and it was making me, in Sheffield parlance, a bit mardy. I missed it a bit to begin with but now I’m not sure I need to go back on it. I’m happier without it.

And speaking of happier, how great is the Headspace app? I’ve a *slight* tendency towards manic-anxiety-stress-catastrophising (I mean though, who doesn’t) and 10 minutes a day of sitting non-judgementally with my thoughts and breath is proving surprisingly effective at mitigating it. I’ve tried meditation on and off in the past but never took to a regular practise. Especially right now as I’m gearing up for a month of solid scoring for Part 2 of Flood. Mindfulness ftw.

New Year, New Work

Before I go headlong into burying my cortex in Flood music, for the next week or so I’m creating a few sound and music elements for two new projects: a mobile game and an online educational product, both of which will hopefully (touch wood) lead to similar work later down the line.

A lot of my work is now repeat business with the same handful of companies (with whom I bloody love working and hope to do so ad infinitum); however, these recent two are new to me, and cultivating new client relationships is rather a nice way to keep your business and creativity on its toes.

Working with new directors is always an interesting process; exploring and conjuring a common language to properly understand their sound and music requirements is a brilliant workout for the grey matter.

It encourages necessitates a kind of mindfulness or more conscious awareness, not only of the (sometimes habitual) processes I go through to elicit a brief and then continue the conversation of drafting and feedback, but also of the actual composition procedure itself. The whys and wherefores of putting one note after or above another, the emotional and practical effect of these simple sounds, the need for or lack of complexity, ambiguity and complexity… assumptions I’ve made in the past through working with familiar people just don’t apply here. And so I have to start from scratch. Beginner’s mind.

And hopefully, what with a change being as good as a rest and all that, when I do return to Flood my neuronal workout will have a built a few more interesting creative pathways for me to draw on to score that behemoth of a show. Fingers crossed.

Happy New Year 2017, The Year That Hull Floods!

Happy New Year! How are your resolutions going? Politics is proving pretty disturbing at the moment so I’m burying my head in the sand work for now… and for the foreseeable, as 2017 is fairly solidly booked up work-wise already, which is a relief in unstable economic times, and also so that I can legitimately ignore the horrors of the daily news cycle guilt-free. Not that I really need an excuse: it gets more depressing everyday. Though sometimes it’s like a traffic accident, and you just. can’t. look. away….

sea and sky

There… that’s better.

After starting the year with a week tying up a few loose ends on an early score for Red Star‘s latest animation, I’ve just started prepping work on Flood, an epic beast of a 4-part show for Hull’s City of Culture, which includes two site-specific headphone shows and some other ridiculously fun film bits. Flood is being produced by Slung Low and is beyond ambitious in its scale, telling a gorgeous and particularly timely story.  I cannot wait to see these shows up-and-running, never mind putting them in front of an audience.

So far, I’ve roughly plotted cues on the first headphone show, I think I’ve got the bones of a theme and I’ve really got to get started on a song, as those two bits of tune will probably inform the rest of the music, one way or another. So, obvs, I’ve gone for classic displacement* activity and decided to update the blog…

Flood is the story is what happens ‘when the waters come’. It’s set in a near future, the same world as The White Whale’ (2014). I would love to tell you more because it’s so exciting but I might wreck some finely tuned promotional schedule so I’ll leave it at that for now. Sign up to Slung Low’s newsletter and you’ll be informed when box office starts selling tickets! Go do it now!

*always use your procrastinating tendencies productively. In other news, my studio has been surprisingly tidy of late.

Two New Shows In Leeds and a Chattering Monkey

Cymbal Banging Monkey

For the next month or so I’m working on two new pieces of theatre in Leeds. They’re completely unrelated, but my gigs do have a tendency to clump geographically, as random things are apt to. I try not to read anything into it but my irrational neo-cortex doesn’t half like inferring deep meaning into patterns where there are none… but I digress…

Blackthorn plays at the West Yorkshire Playhouse from 13-17th September; so, this week, based on the initial brief from director Jacqui Holness-Martin and the script by Charley Miles, I’m sketching a few ideas for music styles or themes… which is a fancy way of saying that I’m throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks.

I’ve got three quite stylistically different sketches already written, with potential ideas for two more. It’s an odd process of plucking notions from thin air and trying to pin it down with the synths and samplers I’ve already got, or concocting ambiences and atmospheres that may or may not make it into the palette of the show’s sound design, all the while trying to head off that niggling, insistent, internal voice that likes to state, upon hearing the first tentative note, in no uncertain terms, that it’s, “shit and no-one would want to listen to it never mind it being completely inappropriate for the show and did you even read the brief and maybe you should go and make a cuppa and have a biscuit and really think about what you’ve done with your life-“. And so on.

Then, ignoring the chatter, I’ll write a few more notes and harmonies and add another instrument or three and she starts to come around, that, “maybe it’s not so bad and actually it’s quite nice and maybe you could take it off on a tangent here-“. What a chattering little monkey that inner voice is. Bless.

Then next week, for two weeks, I’m working with Slung Low on It Happened Here, an audio tour/installation around Holbeck, launched on 17th September. The audio is completely pre-recorded dialogue, sound and music. It’ll be available to download and listen to as you are led by the story on a walking tour of Holbeck – and in theory it could also be a standalone radio play of sorts (no pressure for the lovely writer, John Hunter, then!). Though the launch isn’t ’til the 17th, the bulk of my work must be finished by the 26th August after which I’m back on Blackthorn, so I don’t have time to mess around – I’m very much looking forward to ignoring that nay-saying little voice. No second-guessing allowed as we’ve got to hit the ground running!

Back to Blackthorn and rehearsals for two-and-a-bit weeks and then the show is on – first night is the 13th. It’s a beautiful debut script, gentle and funny and contemporary all at the same time, so should be a joy to work on. That little chattering monkey better take a back seat ‘cos I’ll have even less time for her.

After that there’s a couple of days grace just in case It Happened Here needs any last minute tweaks before launch, and then… me and Ms Monkey Chatter can get back to nattering.

Image by FHgitarre

National Commemoration of the Battle of The Somme

I’m in the middle of composing the music for a small section of the concert that will commemorate the First World War Battle of the Somme in Heaton Park, Manchester, in the evening of 1st July.

The concert will feature a children’s choir, the Halle Orchestra, Lemn Sissay reading a new poem commissioned for the evening. The part I’m working on is a new dance piece that explores hope, idealism, fear, excitement leading into the horror and brutality of war. A tall order!

The music is currently in its second draft and it’s been an interesting challenge to bring all of these emotions and ideas into one coherent piece that lasts for 14 minutes. It’s certainly one of the longer single pieces I’ve written for a theatrical event that isn’t an ambient underscore (in Slung Low’s shows these kinds of underscores are commonplace, usually to accompany large groups of audience members from one location to another). It’s way more front and centre – hopefully more a partner with the dancers and other elements than an accompaniment; and, because of this, it’s a more involved, more intricate and more crafted piece of work.

Ultimately the piece is in service of something way greater than itself – a commemoration of the largest battle of World War I on the Western Front,which killed or wounded more than one million men – one of the bloodiest battles in human history.