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PostPosted: Sun Sep 08, 2013 8:54 am 

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'And he is planning to record a new album of original material – which he says will be half instrumental and half songs. It will be his first non-soundtrack-related solo album since 2005’s Once Upon A Little Time.' ... witterfeed

Long-time PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish on creating music for the big screen

Friday 6th September 2013

By Duncan Hall

He’s best known for his 25-year working relationship with PJ Harvey, as well as his collaborations with Eels, Sparklehorse and Howe Gelb’s Giant Sand.

But the past two decades have also seen John Parish build a reputation for his film soundtracks – the best of which he has collected on his latest album Screenplay.

“I had always listened to a lot of soundtrack music and had been a big fan of a number of writers – Ennio Morricone was an absolute genius,” he says.

“I was aware that some of the music I was writing was quite cinematic, so it wasn’t like a bolt from the blue when Patrice [Toye] phoned and asked if I would do a score. I had no idea how to get into that world – I was very fortunate that the world came to me.”

His soundtrack for Toye’s 1998 film Rosie began a long collaboration, with Parish also scoring the Belgian writer and director’s Nowhere Man in 2008 and Little Black Spiders last year.

He has also penned music for Ursula Meier’s 2012 Swiss ski resort drama Sister, and in 2009 scored both Sebastien Lifshitz’s road movie Plein Sud and Xialo Guo’s She, A Chinese.

Although both Rosie and She, A Chinese have been released as soundtracks, Screenplay is the first time much of the music has been made available separately.

“I wanted to make an album where it worked as a stand-alone record without knowing the film,” he says.

“A lot of the music I’ve written over the past 15 to 20 years has been for films. I’ve tried several times to go out and play it with differing degrees of success. I decided to put this album out as a slightly different approach.”

Several of the films have been re-edited into montages to accompany the live performance – to give a feel of the character and style of the film rather than create a direct backdrop for the music.

“The very atmospheric pieces can be quite difficult to pull off,” he admits. “I didn’t want to discount them and play just the more obvious song-like music. The atmospheric pieces are important in their own right – they balance the other music. I started thinking it would be good to have some sort of projection.

“Putting visuals on almost every piece of music was too much. We are quite visually biased as human beings – if there’s a moving image, we get drawn towards looking at it. I know from being in bars where televisions are playing any old rubbish my gaze will be drawn to it.

“We were getting feedback that people wanted to listen to the music and some of the visuals were distracting. We now have visuals for half the show, which seems to work much better – with one or two little bits of dialogue for when we are changing instruments.”

As with the album, the show is grouped into the various movies, rather than skipping between them.

“When I’m working on a specific film, I develop an instrumental palate for that movie,” he says. “Different movies have different sounds – it flowed a lot better when I grouped them together.”

His work on a film will differ from director to director.

“With Patrice she asks me to get involved right from the beginning when she hasn’t even shot any scenes,” he says.

“When I get involved all I know is the script, which is subject to change, and a few location shots to give an idea of where the thing is taking place. It’s quite an abstract starting point, but it’s probably where the best pieces of music come out of.

“It’s more restricting when you’re tailoring the music to fit a specific format – when it’s abstract you can let your imagination run a little bit more. I quite like to let chance play a role. I find it exciting if I can surprise myself.”

Getting the balance right

Whether a film score should dominate the action, or support what is happening onscreen is something he admits he thinks about a lot.

“The first time I saw Klute I was so gripped I didn’t remember any music in it at all,” he says.

“I watched it again on a plane, listening with headphones so the sound was more present in my mind. Knowing the story, so I wasn’t so gripped by events, I realised there was this amazing music [by Michael Small] which was so much part of what defined the atmosphere of the movie.”

Performing live is nothing new to Parish, who played Brighton’s Corn Exchange in 2009 alongside PJ Harvey to promote their second collaborative album A Woman A Man Walked By.

He began his career as frontman of The Automatic Dlamini – the story is that he and Harvey first met when she asked the Bristol-based band to play her 18th birthday party.

He admits it was a gradual decision to move more into the background as a producer and musician for hire.

“As I got older and my writing started to change, I started to feel I wasn’t comfortable – it wasn’t like I was being myself onstage,” he says.

“I just stopped booking gigs I suppose. I was already into production and playing guitar with Marc Moreland who was an amazing influence on the way I played. I wanted to see what I could do as a musician and how I could develop.

“Playing these shows I don’t feel like I’m playing a role any more.”

As for the future, he doesn’t discount another collaboration with Harvey – having played on her Mercury Music Prize-winning 2011 album Let England Shake.

And he is planning to record a new album of original material – which he says will be half instrumental and half songs. It will be his first non-soundtrack-related solo album since 2005’s Once Upon A Little Time.

That said, he isn’t leaving the world of film any time soon.

“I’m on the jury for the Ghent Film Festival which I’m looking forward to,” he says. “It’s my first film festival as a juryman, so I’m not sure how many movies I’ll have to watch in a week!”

Wiggins is so superbly unassuming, he looks like he's about to say 'Pop the gold medal in the post, I'm nipping out for some biscuits'

Mark Steel

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