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Suki Dhanda

“The Proms has always done different things: right from the beginning” - an interview with Jules Buckley

9 July 2017 Will Rathbone

Jules Buckley is a composer and arranger at the forefront of the recent trend for taking contemporary music and orchestrating it. The Notorious B.I.G., Radiohead and 80s ‘Madchester' rave music are just a few examples of the wide range of genres being adapted and performed by orchestras today. Having founded Heritage Orchestra in early 2004, and recently working with Holland’s Metropol Orkest, Jules Buckley returns to the BBC Proms this summer with two concerts. London Calling spoke to him about his collaborations, influences and love for the BBC Proms.

London Calling: Hi Jules, thanks very much for speaking with us today. Please could you start by telling us a little bit about your two concerts this year at the BBC Proms?

Jules Buckley: The first one is a concept that a few people have talked about doing over the years, but it’s never come to fruition for whatever reason - The Songs of Scott Walker (1967-70). The thing that’s really cool about these songs, made when Scott had just left The Walker Brothers, is that they’ve never been performed live. They were studio recordings made with a very large orchestra, plus band, and most of the arrangements were written by Angela Morley - a really fantastic arranger from the 60s who scored Watership Down and lots of stuff for John Williams. We’re throwing everything at it really. We’ve got John Grant, Jarvis Cocker, Richard Hawley and Susanne Sundfør on board, along with a male voice choir and Heritage Orchestra at their mightiest. It promises to be something special.

The second one is Beneath the Underdog: Charles Mingus Revisited with a different ensemble: Metropol Orkest. I think I can claim, quite happily, that there isn’t another orchestra on the face of the planet that can swing like this one. Charles Mingus’ impact on musicians throughout history is unquestionable, and we’re presenting a programme of his music with a particularly strong and varied frontline. There’s Christian Scott – a really electric American trumpet player, Kandance Springs – who is Blue Note’s latest darling, Bart van Lier - a fantastic trombone player from the Netherlands and Leo Pellegrino - a crazy baritone sax player from New York. That concert will be in August and it’s going to be dark, moody and grooving like hell.


Scott Walker. Image Credit: BBC Photographer Harry Goodwin

LC: These are your 11th and 12th Proms respectively – are they a particularly special gig?

JB: Definitely. It’s a festival that’s so special, and presents more new music and concerts now than it ever has done. The Proms has always done different things – right from the beginning - and I think there’s something special about it because it’s in the Albert Hall, it’s broadcast with really great sound and picture quality, and the audience is always very open and appreciative. It’s something I love to support and be involved in.

LC: Who are your biggest musical influences?

JB: Quincy Jones is definitely one of the main guys. If you look at his body of work, he’s always shifting from one thing to the next and he had a habit of bringing different parties together to create something fresh. Then there are arrangers like Gil Evans and Duke Ellington, and classical composers like Stravinsky and Shostakovich. There’s all of the pop history – George Martin, and his work producing The Beatles and those very early experimental mash-ups, and The Beach Boys. Vince Mendoza was a bit of a mentor for a while, and is one of the greatest arrangers on the planet.    

LC: Do you think your style - taking contemporary music and orchestrating it -  is a particularly 21st century way of making music? We can listen to everything, and so influences are now extremely varied.

JB: Yeah, it’s funny isn’t it? In the late 80s/early 90s people were going to record shops, getting their hands on as much stuff as possible and then sampling it and making music that way. The cool thing then was that you were listening to albums in their entirety. Now you can jump from one track to another, or shuffle. I don’t think it’s a negative thing, I think things are just always changing. The cool thing about today’s access to music, and the potential for collaborations, is that it’s changing the way ensembles across the planet are programming. There’s a big movement at the moment, where people want to explore and do things differently without worrying about the bullshit traditions.

Heritage Orchestra have been around for 13 years, and the movement in the early 2000s has built up steam to a point where now you see a lot of mainstream orchestras finally picking up on it. The reality is a lot of artists don’t want to work with state ensembles because they generally appear and act pretty stuffy. That’s why you’ve seen such a resurgence of pretty incredible ensembles. In the UK - with Aurora Orchestra, London Contemporary Orchestra and obviously Heritage Orchestra - I feel like we’ve really been at the forefront of that. In Holland, Metropol Orkest has always been smashing things around but I feel like they’ve become more internationally recognised now.


Image Credit: Suki Dhanda


LC: Do you have a first piece of music that captured you and made you think: ‘Yes - this is what I want to do.”

JB: Yes - any Michael Jackson album, from the perspective of the craft and the imagination. Take Man in the Mirror. You could keep playing that outro again and again and again. The early stuff, if you listen to the string lines and how it all works together so effortlessly, still stands the test of time. Before that, Miles Davis and Gil Evans did the album Sketches of Spain. Start the first track and you immediately think ‘What the hell is this?’ There are these shakers and castanets coming in at the beginning – it was a real hybrid album. There’s a tune on Jaco Pistorius’ first album called Kuru/Speak Like a Child and he wrote all the strings himself. At the beginning, when it kicks in with the string lines, it’s just wicked.   

The Songs of Scott Walker (1967-70) is on as part of the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on July 25. Advance tickets from £14.

Beneath the Underdog: Charles Mingus Revisited is on as part of the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on August 24. Advance tickets from £14.
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