Can you tell us your career journey to this point?

I can’t pretend that Junior Academy didn’t play a major part. I started having piano lessons as a child, then when I was about ten somebody recommended that I should try out for something called the Junior Exhibitioners through my local council. The scheme offered funding to places like the Royal Academy of Music. From then on, my Saturdays were all about Junior Academy! My time there gave me a grounding not only in playing and performing, but in theory, harmony, and all the elements which would prove so useful in music at school and then at university.

When I left university, I was focused on singing and acting when a friend of mine asked for help writing the score for an adaptation of Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair. It ended up becoming a professional production at the studio space in Salisbury Playhouse. The director for the show was Rupert Goold, who is now the Artistic Director for the Almeida Theatre. At the time we were both very young and trying to learn our craft, and we’ve continued to work together a lot since that first show.

A lot of my work has continued through building relationships. For example, Michael Grandage came to see a production of Romeo and Juliet at Colchester Mercury Theatre which I had written the music for. Off the back of that he invited me to compose the music for his second production at the Donmar Warehouse, which kicked off another long-term collaboration. I worked on most of his shows during his ten years at the Donmar.

The hardest thing is to find yourself in the right place at the right time. You can’t underestimate how much luck is a factor in that and it’s important not to blame yourself if you are finding it difficult. The key is to make the most of every opportunity you are given and try your best to deliver work people enjoy because then you give yourself a chance to be considered for future projects.

'Winning a Tony Award for my sound design for Red was a really nice moment. It was a score I had really sunk all my attention into, and I was incredibly proud of it even before the idea of winning an award came about.'

Is there a project you are particularly proud of?

The National Theatre Studio paired me with the playwright Alecky Blythe in a musical theatre experiment week and we ended up creating a musical called London Road. We started working on it in 2007 and finished writing it a month before we went into rehearsals in January 2011, so it was a three and half year process of mulling over materials, experimenting and holding workshops.

Alecky is a verbatim playwright. She constructs her plays by skilfully interviewing people about their experiences and then edits the interview audio recordings into a play. My approach to the music was about transcribing the rise and fall of the spontaneously speaking human voice and turning that into songs and choruses.

London Road is based on a real-life tragedy - the murder of five women in Ipswich. When we hear the word ‘musical’ in connection with such subject matter, the danger is it sounds like something that is in bad taste and shouldn’t be attempted. But I hope that when people heard the results, they realised we had approached the subject very respectfully and sensitively. It went on to be staged at the National Theatre twice and was turned into a film in 2015.

Winning a Tony Award for my sound design for Red was also a really nice moment. It was a score I had really sunk all my attention into, and I was incredibly proud of it even before the idea of winning an award came about.

What are your favourite memories of studying at Junior Academy?

Studying music at university is quite different to a conservatoire education. In hindsight, the Junior Academy was my conservatoire experience. In terms of my solo piano training, I studied with a wonderful teacher called Jeremy Brown, and everything I learnt from him helped to fill the gap in terms of conservatoire training.

I also loved singing. I was in the Junior Academy boys choir until my voice broke, and then I joined the tenors which was for older pupils. I stood next to another boy, Simon Phillippo, and I remember how we would laugh while we were doing our vocal exercises. We were also coached in a piano duo together, again by Jeremy Brown, culminating in a performance of Bartok’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion. Simon remains one of my best friends today, and he is now Head of Keyboard at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

I remember sitting outside of teaching rooms, waiting for lessons, and hearing the drift of music coming through the corridors. Looking back, I was so lucky to be in an atmosphere where music and children’s education in music was taken so seriously.

'At Junior Academy, I was so lucky to be in an atmosphere where music and children’s education in music was taken so seriously.'

Do you have any advice for someone looking to follow a similar career path?

I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do while I was at Junior Academy, or even while I was at university. When I left, I thought I ought to be a completely ‘finished’ adult professional. What I didn’t realise at that age, is you never finish learning and it’s actually really fun to carry on learning!

The worst thing you can do is chastise yourself if you feel like you’re not doing things as well as the world expects you to. It’s okay to slow down in unfamiliar situations and take the time to learn. Things you find difficult now will come in time as long as you don’t rush them.

What have you learnt recently?

Technology changes a lot. There can be a period of stability where you become an expert with a certain piece of technology and then there is a paradigm shift where it changes, and you suddenly become an amateur again for a period of time. I think we’re in the middle of a change like that right now. I’m currently learning a new system called Soundscape which allows you to accurately track actors wearing microphones around the stage. It has really come into its own in a show that I’ve been working on recently at the Young Vic. The stage extends into the auditorium and the actors are pretty much walking amongst the audience, so it’s been really interesting trying it out and seeing how it helps with this unusual staging.

I come from a musical background rather than a technical background, so it probably takes me longer to grasp new equipment than someone who has a degree in something like sound design or engineering. However, by forgiving myself in the early stages of learning I know that I can grasp the same things, over a longer period of time. At least the music half of my work is consistent – the rules of harmony don’t change!

'You never finish learning and it’s actually really fun to carry on learning!'

What projects have you been working on recently?

I’ve been working on a show called Patriots which recently transferred to Broadway, so I went over to New York for a few weeks. It is high pressure because it’s Broadway, but at the same time the show is already a known entity. It originally played at the Almeida Theatre in 2022 and transferred to the West End last year, so we have already been through the production and technical process twice.

I’ve also written another musical which is the first one I started after London Road. It can be quite difficult to get these kinds of projects to a level where they are actually produced, so I hope to find the time to drive that forward.

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner