Monday, 8 July 2013

Music Maestro

This post is from a piece I was asked to write about music and writing:

I like to listen to music while writing but my choices are limited because I just cannot write while anything with a lyric is playing. I am so interested in writing of any kind that I become too easily distracted by other people’s words to write my own. As a result, I am usually restricted to tuning into Classic FM, so most of my gritty, contemporary crime stories are written while the music of long dead composers plays gently in the background.

Music does feature in my books. I figured David Blake, my white-collar gangster anti-hero would spend a fair bit of time in night clubs, so I researched the kind of music that would be played in them these days and was quite surprised to pick up a taste for R&B along the way. I found myself driving around with Rihanna and Black Eyed Peas CDs in my car and Flo Rida or Neo blasting out of the radio. Down with the kids? No, it’s more of a guilty, private pleasure. If I attempted to bust some moves to Rihanna, I’d look like one of those embarrassing dads trying to dance at a wedding.

If I’m really looking for a bit of inspiration to get the words flowing or to drag me away from the twin, distracting evils of Facebook and Twitter, I’ll play a film score. I’ve always been a film fan and my writing is more influenced by films than books if I’m honest. I love soundtracks and these days, with the advent of YouTube, it’s even easier to find obscure scores from long forgotten movies or TV shows. I’m a fan of Ennio Morricone, particularly his score for ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ and John Barry’s themes from, ‘The Ipcress File’, ‘The Persuaders’ and the Bond films never seem to diminish with age. Hans Zimmer, composer of ‘Gladiator’ amongst others, writes some stirring stuff to help gee up the word count and it doesn’t get more atmospheric than Trevor Jones soundtrack for ‘Last Of The Mohicans’.
Ipcress File Theme

I’ve never been able to pick up a copy of my all-time favourite film soundtrack, so I have to summon it up from YouTube whenever I feel the need to hear it again, which is often. The theme for ‘The Long Good Friday’ is simply terrific.  Francis Monkman’s pulsating score might sound like it was distinctly of-its-time but still provides the perfect backdrop for London’s top boy, Harold Shand’s arrival at the airport, ten minutes into the film. Bob Hoskins doesn’t even have to emote at this point. The theme tells us everything we need to know about Shand. He’s nails and you wouldn’t mess with him……unless you happen to be the IRA of course, which sets us up for possibly the finest climactic scene of any British film ever. Hoskins face, as he is driven away at the end of The Long Good Friday, to the strains of Monkman’s brilliant theme, lives long in the memory.
The Long Good Friday theme:

A couple of years back, I managed to get hold of the soundtrack for the classic British gangster film ‘Get Carter’, which has a particular resonance for me. My first book ‘The Drop’ has been described as “A Get Carter for the 21st Century”, partly because the two stories share a common gangster theme but primarily because ‘The Drop’ is also set in Newcastle (though the original book ‘Jack’s Return Home’ by Ted Lewis is famously not based in Tyneside). Roy Budd’s soundtrack is one of those scores that’s instantly recognisable. ‘Get Carter’ is a very good film that becomes a terrific one because the incidental music lends it an instant ambience of understated cool. It even makes up for Michael Caine’s ludicrous accent; a Geordie returning to his homeland? I don’t think so, unless the Elephant and Castle is actually a district of Wallsend. Somehow it doesn’t matter and ‘Get Carter’ is still a classic.
Get Carter theme:

When my second book ‘The Damage’, came out, I was interviewed on TV for the first time. The ‘North East Tonight’ reporter asked his cameraman to film me walking up and down the mean streets of Newcastle. I was eager to please but more than a little self-conscious. I didn’t expect much from the end result but was pleasantly surprised when they aired the footage. I was no better looking, cooler or harder than normal - I look like a chubby Peter Beardsley on a good day - but, as I made my way through the dimly-lit, pedestrian tunnel behind Newcastle Central Station they played a bit of background music that I instantly recognised; the theme from ‘Get Carter’. The reporter concluded that, “Forty one years on from Get Carter, Newcastle may have another gritty gangster thriller to define its character in the eyes of crime novel readers.” I don’t do cool; never have, never will but that was……almost cool. So shoot me know. Thanks to Roy Budd’s iconic theme, that short walk, captured on film, was easily my finest hour.

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