Welcome to a series in which I’ll attempt to lift the heavy stone bearing the inscription ‘ The Music Profession’ , and expose the startled music- business termites beneath as they scuttle rapidly away from the light.
# 1: Mitchsomer Murders
Playing the guitar well is one thing. Playing the guitar well ( or merely competently) when faced with the challenges that the real world often throws at you is quite another. There are occasions when one’s goal is merely to set sail in the Good Ship Fender, navigate a safe passage through The Sea Of Frets and avoid shipwreck. Or scurvy. You will not discover strategies to deal effectively with the events that follow in any music instruction manual, but a useful starting point might be the Self Help section at Waterstones. Or psychotherapy.
I’m booked to participate in the recording of an episode of Midsomer Murders. This one is entitled ‘ The Ballad Of Midsomer County’. To say that the TV series is successful rates alongside understatements like “Brian May has done okay”. This is Series 17, Episode 102. Series 1- 16 have been sold to 180 countries. I assume that its worldwide popularity is at least partly explained by its gritty realism, in which three or four gruesome homicides occur each week in but one single sleepy English village. Or it could be down to the groovy signature tune featuring the oboe.
Scene 1. May 9th. Barnes
9am. Interior: the home of Jim Parker, four- time BAFTA award- winning TV composer. Also in attendance: director Renny Rye and actresses Lucie Jones and Rakie Ayola. Everyone present is either beautiful, or intelligent, or creative – or some combination of all three. Except me.
I have been forewarned by JP that “it’s going to be a bit rock ’ n’ roll at the meeting, so just go with it.” Over the course of the next three hours, I learn that my mission is to accompany Rakie singing two traditional English folk songs. One song requires a guitar part from me for her to mime to on the day of location filming, as well as a second part for me to overdub. I’m provided with a couple of chord charts and we start to work out a form ( intro, verse, chorus, ending etc.), a style ( arpeggios? chords? both?), a tempo, a key and length for each tune. We play around with ( sorry, brainstorm) different approaches for a while. I decide to use a capo at the 4th fret, having concluded that it’s an appropriate folk guitar device to make the key of C# minor sound authentic. And, er…
Everyone present is either beautiful, or intelligent, or creative – or some combination of all three. Except
playable. I alternate between Spanish and acoustic guitars to add variety.
I am played a demo of the The Ballad Of Midsomer County. It’s written by Seth Lakeman and very good it is, too. There is no written part. I repair to another room and attempt to transcribe it from an iPhone MP3 in ten minutes. It sounds odd. Unusual guitar tone. Some kind of open- voiced tuning. Probably using a capo. I return to the room. I blunder through my version of the demo with Lucie. It is greeted with lukewarm enthusiasm. “That’s fine for now but Seth is probably going to rewrite it anyway in time for the recording session. Oh, by the way, we need a couple of minutes of instrumental music as a contrast to the songs. What have you got?”
Clearly, nothing! I suggest something in the style of a rag. Four pairs of eyes appear to bore into my very being as I invent something on the spot, in a state of professionally concealed panic. Renny likes it. “Good, we’ll use that”. Mitch’s Midsomer Rag is born. And registered with PRS .
It’s midday and I must away. Within two minutes of departure, I can remember nothing of what has just occurred. Or what needs to happen next… Join me next time as the filming – and playing – heats up a notch or three!