Composing Half Centuries 1: a McGough Setting; Christ the King and All You Need is Love

1967 was an important year for Liverpool.

I have the very exciting prospect of composing a piece for musicians from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra for a concert at Edge Hill University as part of the new Resonant Edge festival on Saturday 17th June 2017.  So I thought I’d keep a blog about the piece’s journey.

The concert event is to celebrate the publication – 50 years ago – of ‘The Mersey Sound’ a fabulous collection of poems from Roger McGough, Adrian Henri and Brian Patten.  I remember buying my copy in a second hand shop around about 1979 or 1980.  Sadly I can’t find it now, it was probably an original edition.  I read those magical pages many many times as a teenager and young adult.  I’ve followed the poetic output of McGough and Patten over the years and have attended a few readings of Patten – such a lovely chap.

The concert in June will feature musicians from the RPLO with McGough reading the fantastic ‘Summer with Monika’ and other poems – a special evening is in store for us all.  I, along with one or two other composers have been invited to supply some musical inserts.

I leapt at the opportunity, given my affection for McGough’s work.  I asked if I might be allowed to set one of his poems – to my delight Roger said yes to this idea.  So I spent many days re-reading my McGough collections, it was a difficult task since there are so many that I’d love to set.  One day I’d like to set the heart-rending 13 verses of ‘Unlucky for Some.’

Anyway, eventually I decided upon setting ‘Poem for the opening of Christ the King Cathedral, Liverpool, 1967’ it has the typical – for McGough – down-to-earth language, juxtaposing wit, charm and life observations.  Any of you that haven’t visited the large Catholic Cathedral in Liverpool, it’s well worth a visit for reflection – it’s design is extraordinary , causing it to be known locally (and I hope affectionately) as ‘Paddy’s Wigwam.’  It too is celebrating its half century in 2017.

I like all of my music to be ‘haunted’ (in the Derridean sense) by musics and sounds from the past, so that the piece that I realise is in some way fundamentally located, attached to our cultural past.  I often design small computer algorithms that allow me to play with historic musical structures that allow traces to appear in my works in varied and surprising ways.

In 1967 the seminal psychedelic rock album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released by the Beatles.  This half century is also being celebrated in 2017.  Of course, along with millions of others, I like many of the fantastic songs from this collection, but actually of the Beatles output of 1967 I prefer many other of their songs: ‘Penny Lane’, ‘Strawberry Fields’, ‘Hello Goodbye’, ‘I am the Walrus’ but probably my favourite of theirs from that year is ‘All You Need Is Love.’  First broadcast in June 1967 – so this wonderful hymn to love and self-realisation also reaches its half-century in 2017.  And yes, my McGough setting for the RPLO will be ‘haunted’ by strains of this magical song.

McGough’s lines in the poem make mention of several locations that I’ll also capture for soundscape strains in the work: the docks; the Kopp

What else is there to say about the piece right now?  Not much really, I haven’t started the composition process proper yet, but I do know that I’ve got the wonderful voice of Aniko Toth and the instruments that I have at my disposal are: flute,clarinet, horn, vibraphone, piano, 2 violins,viola,cello, double bass…can’t wait