Music: that’s what I want
Julian Marshall reflects on money and creativity
Money was the last thing Julian wanted for playing piano on The Flying Lizards’ cover of the Tamla track. Truth is, he never thought in a million years it’d be a hit when recording it in his flat.
“It cost £6 to make and that was in tape and bus fares, it was nothing,” he laughs. “I’d been leant a rather nice grand piano for five years and had a tape recorder. David Cunningham (the new wave band’s founder, who taught at the same art school Julian’s wife was at) had a couple of mics and we put stuff all over the strings so it didn’t sound like a piano.
“I kind of knew the track (originally recorded by Barrett Strong) so played it through about three times and David said, ‘Well, Julian, that will do’. I thought, ‘Really?’. He said, ‘Well, you can have a £30 session fee or a percentage’.
“Honest to God, I thought I’d be ripping him off if I took the money, so I took a percentage, not thinking for a second I’d hear any more about this track. At that time my definition of a ‘proper studio’ was one that had carpet on the walls and smelled really nice, and it didn’t.
“I was the first thing to be recorded on it so had no sense at all of whatever else could go down. Next thing I know it’s at number five, we’re on Top of the Pops and David gives me a cheque for several thousand pounds that paid for the deposit on our first house.” Imagine how Julian and his wife – renowned glass artist Arabella Marshall – would’ve felt had he opted for a session fee. “Not good. She was pleased with my decision. It really was generous. I remember taking my son to see Charlie’s Angels when suddenly Money came up and I was like ‘oh my God that’s unbelievable’. Every now and again it appears on an advert.”
The songwriter – whose new Rupa Ensemble make their debut in Suffolk this October – doesn’t compose to make money. “That’s one of the reasons I don’t call myself a career composer. That may sound a funny thing to say but it’s something I got very clear about several years ago. Making money and writing music, for me, need to be really separate endeavours.
“If some of my music makes money, fantastic – I can only write music if I feel free to explore stuff. If I feel I’m working to a market it just doesn’t come out right and it’s out on every level. It just doesn’t work for me,” says Julian, who also had international chart success as one half of Marshall Hain, and then Eye to Eye.
In the past he loved writing singles. The whole raison d’être of 1978’s Dancing in the City was to have a hit, although he admits it happened rather too soon for the former’s good. They didn’t really know
“If some of my music makes money, fantastic – I can only write music if I feel free to explore stuff”
how to handle it and split a year later.
“It was amazing training in popular song writing and the business. It was such a miracle when it actually happened. But it’s rather odd, once it had happened it was like, ‘OK done that, that was fun, now what’?”
Julian, who says being a song writing teaching fellow at ICMP London has kept him on his toes, made the jump to mature composer of longer-form work a few years back with
Out of the Darkness and The Angel in the Forest. Captured by the sound world of chamber choirs and smaller, he thought it’d be great to have a little group he could work and learn with. The new Rupa Ensemble currently comprises eight singers, although he says the group could grow, shrink, or even include instruments further down the line. “I don’t want the size to be a limit to what we explore musically. I’m really keen to reflect my interests and be stylistically broad, not that we should be a kind of crossover group in any way.”
A fan of that sense of ritual you get from going to a concert, the idea is to create a joint experience between the performers and an audience as happy as listening to Kate Bush or James Blake as they are to William Byrd. “I’ve no reason, really, to be nervous but it’s our debut outing, as it were, so there’s a little frisson,” he laughs. Julian grew up in a family of professional musicians and feels he’s written enough to justify leading such a group now, although he still feels as much a beginner in many ways when he sits down to write a song as he ever did.
“You acquire experience but there’s always a lot of unknowns. I see myself as somebody who loves to write music and it’s always an exploration from nothing.” It’s interesting and useful, he says, to look back at past pieces that rise to the top or sink. “I feel compelled to be compassionate to my past. Some of it I’m very proud of and some of it is down to learning along the way.”
Despite some “wobbly tracks”, he loves the spirit and energy of Marshall Hain’s lone album Free
Ride and is fond of Eye to Eye tracks Hunger Pains, Falling for a Funny One and On the Mend. “Ones I’m not so proud of – twice I’ve done solo albums which are just too patchy, well intended but only bits of them have come out and for good reason. They were sketches, they weren’t really ready to bring to a public. I can’t even remember what they’re called but there are a few tracks that have never seen the light of day that I think, ‘Mmm, good’,” he laughs.
“It was such a miracle when it actually happened. But it’s rather odd, once it had happened it was like, ‘OK done that, that was fun, now what’?”
Early days in the music industry brought unexpected fame
ABOVE: Julian Marshall at home
Julian is launching his new Rupa Ensemble in Framlingham on October 27.
Julian says teaching songwriting keeps him on his toes.