December

The Locrian ensemble, Tallis chamber choir and Southend Boys’ & Girls’ choir performed the world premiere of my new work ‘Song of the Holly’ at the beautiful church St Martin in the Fields in London. The work started off with my setting of Shakespeare’s poem of the same name and then developed through various orchestral moods to a Requiem with the choir and organ and a final conclusion again with Shakespeare’s words “Blow, blow thou Winter wind” as the piece slowly closes. Hopefully the piece can have a second outing sometime!

Spent a fun day at Sphere studios recording strings on 6 songs for Chass Guthrie & Nat Silbert. Pete Martin was producing (we worked on a Big Brovaz track previously). They have some great songs and a very cool sound that crosses many boundaries. The Millennia Ensemble played their socks off and I look forward to hearing the finished results of the mixes!

November

Just come to the end of the tour with The Bays & The Heritage Orchestra. It was an extraordinary experience. Having to constantly keep writing material for the orchestra for the 1 hr+ shows and night after night was an incredible challenge but also a very rewarding one. No two shows were even remotely the same, as the very nature of the project would suggest. We even had people come along to more than one performance to check that they were different!! They wouldn’t have been disappointed in that regard… It was a pleasure sharing the stage with The Bays (Andy, Simon, Richard and Ski) and also of course with Jules and the Heritage Orchestra. Special thanks also to John Metcalfe – we did it! Quite how I’m not sure. “The windows – they’ve all gone!” Here’s hoping we get to do it again soon…

Added strings to 7 songs for Universal/Island artist Remi Nicole being produced by Mark Taylor. A busy couple of sessions to get them done but all sounded great and crossed many decades of musical influences!

About to depart on the tour with The Bays & Heritage Orchestra across the UK. Scary. 10 shows with the last 6 being consecutive…

 

October

Wrote a concert work for orchestra, chamber choir and children’s choir. Due to be performed at St. Martin in the Fields in December with the Locrian Ensemble, Tallis Chamber Choir and Southend Children’s choir. With the chamber choir behind the orchestra and the boys & girls split across the two balconies it should be a real ‘surround’ mix.

Worked on three songs for new Sony/BMG signing Julian Perretta. Produced by Rob Harris and Matt Johnson  - always a pleasure to work on their stuff. It’s going to be a great record! A great section from Millennia Strings - up at Angel again with Niall Acott.

September

Added strings and brass to a cover of The Carpenters “Sing” (or “Chante” in this case) for Universal France to be used as part of the ongoing Star Academy series. Bertrand Lamblot came over for the session and a great team of Millennia Strings, Noel Langley on Tpt/Flg, Fayyaz Virji on Tbn and Phil Todd on Tenor & Baritone Saxes. Engineered by Niall Acott at Angel #1.

Wrote 3 orchestral arrangements (and solo string quartet parts) for Escala. Since their success on Britain’s Got Talent, they have started recording their first CD. Trevor Horn is producing and it was great to meet up with him again after nearly 20 years since I was in Seal’s band! We recorded the orchestra at Angel and Sarm West and all is sounding like it’s going to be a great record. I did an arrangement of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” with all musical guns blazing. And why not?

Finished off Tina Arena’s latest CD with 4 more songs having strings added to them. One was a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “From Both Sides Now”, the original featuring an extraordinary arrangement by Vince Mendoza. After lots of thumb-twiddling and humming to myself, I think I managed to pay respects to the amazing original version and hopefully remain true to me too. Thanks also to Mat Bartram who engineered and did a great job!

 

August

The third-ever Bays gig with live orchestra was at the Big Chill festival in front of 10,000+ people. 45 minute turn-around, no sound check, rented computer, loading of Sibelius preferences and MIDI drivers 30 minutes before the performance. A piece of cake. All went well despite all that and it was a high-energy performance from start to finish. Looking forward to the UK tour in November. 10 dates across the country, please see www.simonhale.co.uk/live.html for details.

July

I wrote 3 orchestral arrangements for French artist Sissi being produced by Volodia. They recorded the orchestra in Budapest and I sent over the parts for the session without being there or listening in from the UK. By all accounts it all went very well!

Added disco-style strings to a single for Suga Shikao in Japan. The song was produced by Gota Yashiki who was also over there when we recorded the strings over here. However, with them on the end of a webcam they were able to be part of the session whilst we recorded in London.

Immediately after the song for Suga Shikao, we added a string octet to a great song “Mayday” by Lemar. He produced it too and it was great to work with him again after a while.

Added strings to 3 songs for Just Jack. I had worked on the first record with him so it was great to be asked to come back again and add some more stuff to his second CD. One song was like a piece of minimalism with some fantastic vocal and guitar loops that came in & out as the song progressed. I had some fun with the string parts too – even used a 9-note row as a quasi-church bell peal! And why not?

Spent a fair time preparing and writing for a session with Tina Arena at Air Lyndhurst. We had 7 songs to work on, 4 with orchestra and 3 strings + harp. Like the previous CD ‘Songs of Love & Loss’, the orchestral elements are very prominent, but we were lucky enough this time to have Tina singing live as we recorded the orchestral arrangements. What a difference it made to the whole experience. She has a wonderful voice and it was a truly great pleasure to be part of the process.

June

The second-ever Bays gig with live orchestra took place at the Custard Factory in Birmingham. This time The Bays featured Neil Cowley on piano, which gave it a different angle. We also had a different orchestra, mostly made up of Bit20, a contemporary music ensemble from Bergen, Norway. I think it was a bit outside their normal repertoire! The time for rehearsal was certainly minimal… John Metcalfe & I went through the same ‘pre-show’ doubts & anxieties though it was another success in the end! We swapped over (from writing from strings to winds) in the middle of the show and it gave the performance another dimension. Keep an eye on their website for details of more shows – including a UK tour in November!!

May

Played piano and added strings to 4 songs for Madness with Clive Langer & Alan Winstanley. Classic Madness material. The use of pizzicati was considered and not ignored. Which was nice.

Added strings and brass to another song on Will Young’s next CD. Produced by Biff Stannard and Ash Howes and recorded at Angel Studios with Niall Acott. Will came down too for the recording – it’s always great to see the artist attend the orchestral sessions.
Later (about 30 minutes!) that same day we put brass on 2 songs and strings on 4 songs for McFly. It was fab to be working with them again and they have some great songs on the new CD. Special thanks (yet again) to Noel, Phil & Fayyaz. 3 charts on the trot and all sounded great.

April

Wrote an arrangement for Scala, a string quartet appearing on Britain’s Got Talent. Unlike some of the entrants, these girls have! Good luck in the next round…

Recorded orchestral arrangements and played piano on 7 songs for a French theatrical production about the life of Cleopatra. www.cleopatre.com Styles completely across the board from symphonic to filmic to pop & rock. I produced one of the songs, which we recorded completely live with piano and orchestra and Sofia Essaidi (appearing as Cleopatre in the show). All came together very well. A&R by the wonderful Bertrand Lamblot – we’ve worked together for over 15 years now!

Played keyboards on another song for Will Young’s next CD again with Biff Stannard and Ash Howes.

March

Wrote two brass arrangements for the very talented Freemasons weblink. Recorded at my studio with Tom Jenkins engineering and Noel Langley, Phil Todd and Neil Sidwell on horns. A great sound they make too.

Added keyboards to a song for Will Young’s next CD for Biff Stannard. Almost straight after did a string and brass session for Stephen Lipson also for Will’s CD! Recorded at Sarm West with Tim Weidner. The last time Tim & I did anything together down there was nearly 20 years ago!!

Was asked by Jon Kelly to be involved in a project with a French singer called Sophie Delila. She’s written & produced her album with Steve Booker and it’s absolutely fantastic. Some great songs and she has an amazing voice. One to watch out for… www.sophiedelila.com Yet again some wonderful playing by the London Studio Orchestra. World class.

Played Hammond and piano for new London band King Blues produced by Clive Langer. Also added strings to 4 songs for them. Well worth looking out for – great lyrics with a lot of humour in them as well as having a strong message.

Just added strings, horns and harp to 3 tracks for London rapper Sway. He had heard the arrangements I did with Ian Brown and wanted some of that world on his record! He gave me a lot of scope to do whatever I felt was the right thing to do and I didn’t hold back!! A special thank you (again) to the wonderful players of the London Studio Orchestra. I kept them very busy for the 3 hours but the results sounded amazing. He is a huge talent and it was a great pleasure to be a part of his next CD. Due to be released in May.

 

Steve Price recovered from the right hook soon afterwards…

Session photos © Paul Hampartsoumian link

 

February

The performance of The Simpsons was last night and had about 120 brass players on stage making an amazing sound. Special thanks to Kathy Gifford & Nick Care & the AMC BB for holding it all together. It even featured the incredible Mark Templeton guesting on trombone!

Spring Awakening won the Grammy for “Best Musical Show Album” last night too. Wow!

Wrote four orchestral arrangements for The Ten Tenors to be recorded on their next CD.

January

The most amazing start to the year with a concert at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall on January 4th. Andy Gangadeen from The Bays had called me up a few months ago with an idea that he and the band had about doing a concert (as part of the Fresh Festival) with a live orchestra. Their music is all improvised, no songs, no recordings, no rehearsals. So to add a live orchestra to this was a pretty wacky idea! With John Metcalfe as the other live composer, we wrote ideas live into Sibelius and then the output of our monitors was sent around the orchestra for the players to read from. At first we were reacting to what the Bays would play and adapting our ideas to fit their mood, but after a couple of attempts they felt that we could have as much of a leading role as them so that they could be equally inspired by what we were doing and react to that. So that’s where we ended up, a completely free improvised composition from start to finish that lasted 1hr 45 minutes on the evening of the performance! Another cool idea was that John & I started the performance on stage with the Heritage orchestra (with Jules Buckley conducting, and doing an amazing job of bringing people in and out as he felt appropriate, even taking individual notes from the material we wrote and getting the orchestra to play them at different points). All we discussed as a starting point was a basic tonality…”G” or “D” or whatever we felt. Not major or minor or anything else! The first time we did it was “G”, and I began in one vein whilst John felt things in another. We couldn’t see what each other was doing and were busy enough as it was! When the first notes started to come together it showed how different things were from different composer’s perspectives. An amazing sound that couldn’t really happen any other way! Jules chose the different motifs & textures “on- the-fly” with great musicality and some of the sounds we heard were unrepeatable! Especially as the band don’t release Cds….. On the concert, after about 10 minutes or so of this The Bays came in and joined us on the rest of the journey. It’s hard to describe how this felt in words, but it was one of the most amazing musical experiences I have ever had. Although it was a pretty demanding challenge for John & me, having to write notated music instantly and input it into Sibelius, the reward of being on stage with the Bays & the Heritage Orchestra and seeing the audience’s reaction at the end made it worth every single moment of panic beforehand! On a technical note we had Sibelius version 5.1 very kindly supplied for us and the orchestra comprised of 8 violins, 2 violas & 2 celli (written for by John) and Flute, Alto Sax dbl Sop Sax, Tenor Sax dbl Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Trumpet and Trombone (written for by me). We had set the screen up so that the RHS was “pending” and the LHS ready to play for Jules & the orchestra. Also that way I had set up the LH score to be transposing so I could write at concert pitch (both John & I have perfect pitch so concert was definitely the way to go!). Fingers crossed for a chance to do it again, because although the concept sounds as if it might be completely “squeaky gate”, the result was an incredible mixture of ideas and energy and SO musical. Special thanks to Andy, Chris, Simon & Jamie from The Bays, Adam and Tom backstage, Jules and the Heritage Orchestra and John Metcalfe for sharing the fear and the buzz! My longest ever blog – back to normal from now on… Take a look at a short selection of bits from the evening…youtube

Photos (c) Tom Oldham Thanks Tom!

Wrote an arrangement of The Simpsons theme for the Aylesbury Music Centre’s brass bands (they have trumpets & French horns rather than cornets & tenor horns so have a louder, more modern sound). The idea is that all 3 bands play it at once – from the beginners (Grade I upwards) via the Intermediates to the main band, which has some very fine players indeed. Lots of notes, lots of fun. Stand WELL back…