The Jewish Chronicle
Barbican showcase for TV music composer
WH E N N E W BBC1 series The Musketeers airs for the first time o n S u n d a y n i g h t , y o u can be sure that the accompanying music will add a dramatic edge to the swishing blades. It has been composed by a man at the top of his game, Murray Gold, whose anthems for Doctor Who have earned him a slot at the Proms.
This is a big weekend for the 44-yearold, who hails from the small Portsmouth Jewish community. Not only do The Musketeers ride into action. Tomorrow night, London’s Barbican premieres his new work, when my brother fell into the river, which is based on a tragedy in his family. It will be performed by a 150-strong choir and 90-piece orchestra.
“If you had to choose one way of learning a craft, the apprentice system and learning on the j ob i s the best way,” Gold says. “I never went to music school, I never even d i d mus i c O-level. But I
was always involved in drama and always loved music. I learned how to write music from an early age. Now I can write for 250 people. So I have picked it up.”
Not only has he honed his musical craft. He also writes plays, winning the Tinniswood prize for best radio drama script last year for Kafka the Musical, which was broadcast by the BBC with David Tennant in the title role.
Like many a British talent, he is a graduate of Cambridge University’s Footlights revue, where he was a musical director. He composed the music for a couple of documentaries before landing his first big BBC drama series, Vanity Fair. His music has always had “a very dramatic feeling, like it belonged with pictures, with stories”.
That led to a collaboration with the producer who brought Doctor Who out of its long hibernation, Russell T Davies. He wrote music for Davies’s series Queer as Folk and The Second Coming, starring Christopher Eccleston, and Casanova (Tennant again) — both of whom went on to fly the Tardis.
WhenDaviesgothimtodo the music for the regenerated Doctor, he was asked to move away from the electronic minimalism that characterised the show’s early days. “They wanted something that reflected characters better and to underscore e m o - tions. Lo and behold, it was a very emotional show and nobody would have guessed that’s what Doctor Who would be in 2005. It was constantly making the audience cry. It was touching and sentimental in the best possible way.”
Gold also rearranged its iconic theme tune — the old, eerie “something-waits-for-you-in-a-dark-corridor” feel gave way to an orchestral grandeur with big, bold flourishes. He added a strings sequence which Who geeks have come to call “The Chase”. Gold’s music was catchy and atmospheric, whether dramatising legions of flying Daleks about to blast their way into a space station or stomping Cybermen gatecrashing a country house party. But the change of theme tune came late. The first episode of the revived series concluded with Eccles- ton persuading Billie Piper to leave her council estate to traverse the cosmos. “They’d attached the old theme — it was very minimal and it just didn’t fit,” he recalls.
“You’d had this climax, all of this emotion, this girl was going off to explore the universe with this guy and then this was creepy, sparse theme. Russell said we really need this to be bigger.”
His Barbican work — commissioned by the Crouch End Festival Chorus as part of its 30th anniversary concert — has an altogether different origin. In 1996 he was at home in Portsmouth where his father was celebrating his 60th birthday. It was Friday night and some of the guests who had come from London for a party the following evening were staying with them.
The middle of the three brothers, Jolyon, who was 25, was away travelling in India, as he loved to do. Although they had not heard from him for a while, given the “stoneage” state of communications then, that was not unusual. “The Shabbos candles were on the table in the middle of winter and two policeman ring the doorbell. I didn’t even hear them come up the drive. We are sitting around the table, the soup on the stove. They walk in and say: ‘You have a son called Jolyon?’ And my dad says yes. They say a body has been found.”
His brother’s body had been lying in a river for three weeks, and having identified it through a passport, the Indian authorities sunk it, so there could be no burial.
“All of the friends came down for his party and it became a shivah,” he recalls. “I remember that Friday night, after the police left, my dad walking up and down the stairs maybe 500 times. All he wanted to know was can somebody whose body hasn’t been buried go to heaven? I just remember feeling this was the worst kind of torture. It was almost biblical, like Job.”
His parents will be at tomorrow’s premiere of when my brother fell into the river, a work in seven sections. “Seven is an important in liturgies everywhere. The villagers in India had their own interpretation. If you drown in this holy river, you have been through the seven cycles of life and have now reached nirvana.”
Despite the sad event at its heart, its end, he says, “is incredibly celebratory — a gigantic orchestra sound, so hopefully it will bring the roof off”.
Gold’s credits range from the theme tune of Channel 4’s Shameless to the score for the Ant and Dec film Alien Autopsy. The radio play Kafka the Musical demonstrated his versatility.
It was inspired by Kafka’s own fears about the fate of his work after his death —- Kafka’s friend Max Brod disobeyed the dying author’s request to posthumously burn his manuscripts. “I always [wondered] what was he so frightened of, why would you not leave the work after you are dead.” In Gold’s play, the terrorising threat becomes commercialisation. “I thought his works managed to survive his requests for it to be destroyed. It survived the Communists, it survived the Nazis, but would it survive someone turning it into a musical?”
Now based mainly in New York, Gold spends many of his days airborne — he wrote the words to when my brother fell into the river on a plane travelling back and forth to London and Los Angeles. One might have expected to see him at the big Doctor Who 50th anniversary convention here last autumn. But family came first. “I was at my cousin’s wedding,” the composer explains. Concert information and tickets from www.barbican.org.uk