Category Archives: Composition

‘Hooloovoo’ liner notes

Last year, I was commissioned by the brass quintet Mardi Brass to write a piece for their upcoming album ‘Something New’. The album will be the last in their ‘Something’ series (can you guess what the other records are called?), and will focus on new compositions/arrangements written especially for this project.

I sent over my offering in Autumn, and was excited to hear in February that it has been recorded! The piece is called ‘Hooloovoo’, after a creature from ‘The Hitch-Hikers’ Guide To The Galaxy’: it’s a tribute to the late HHGTTG author Douglas Adams, who would have been 60 in 2012. Mardi Brass asked me to write some liner notes/blurb about my contribution, which resulted in the following:


In 2012, when I wrote this piece, the late author Douglas Adams would have celebrated his 60th birthday. The occasion was marked with a gig at the Hammersmith Apollo, and when I was asked to write something for Mardi Brass I thought straight away of a ‘blue’ connection that would allow me to make my own tribute. Adams wrote what was probably the most important non-trilogy of books in my childhood, ‘The Hitch-Hikers’ Guide To The Galaxy’ series (there are in fact five novels in the ‘trilogy’). I spent many hours happily lost in the fantastical universe of the HHGTTG, with its array of absurd, wonderful characters and places. This is a universe where humans are the lab-rats in a giant experiment presided over by mice, where a cupcake wired to a person’s head can provide a sudden crushing vision of her own insignificance in the cosmos. It is the home of the ‘Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster’, a cocktail the effects of which are described as ‘like having your brain smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick’.


One of the inhabitants of the HHGTTG universe is the Hooloovoo. Admittedly, it has a small walk-on part at the beginning of the fist book, but it’s a fascinating creature nonetheless: a super-intelligent shade of the colour blue. The Hooloovoo is part of the team responsible for building the starship ‘Heart of Gold’, and we encounter it at the launch ceremony for the ship, ‘temporarily refracted into a free-standing prism’ for the occasion. This is the scene I was attempting to evoke with the piece: the bustling atmosphere of the opening ceremony, with interjections by its attendees, hailing from various corners of the galaxy. I tried to make the music shape-shift like its namesake, and culminate in the triumphant unveiling of the ‘Heart of Gold’, a ship that becomes an important centre for the novels and, indeed, an important character in them. The Hooloovoo stands by, a splendid vision of blue, as the starship prepares to embark upon what will become, unbeknownst to the reader at this point, one hell of a voyage. All hail Douglas Adams, the architect of this universe and, as is said of one of the HHGTTG main characters Ford Prefect, ‘a frood who really knew where his towel was’.


More info on the release of the album when I know more…I’m looking forward to hearing the recording!

Edit: I just read that yesterday (11th March 2013) would have been DA’s 61st birthday, which makes this an accidentally timely post.

The Magic Trio’s first gig! And some indie/folk library larks…

What a week! It’s taken me a few days to get around to updating the blog, but last week saw me running around like a mad woman brandishing a toy glockenspiel…well, no ‘like’ about it really, as that’s exactly what I was doing some of the time.

Before we get onto that though, last week also saw the first ever Magic Trio gig. We played at the Wenlock and Essex in Islington as part of a night hosted by Edge Music, a lovely bunch who have started putting on new music nights around town. We shared the bill with a jazz quartet and an avant garde recorder group – a first for me! Our set was lots of fun and the audience seemed to like it too. Jeff was on serpent and ophicleide, Tom played bass clarinet and I was on baritone sax. The set was mainly my compositions, with one from Tom (more like a suite really – ‘The Birds of Stoke Newington’ – soon to be heard in a slightly different form played by his sax quartet). The night had a really nice, relaxed vibe, which was perfect for trying out new music in a new ensemble. Our next gig is hopefully at a street party hosted by Jeff’s neighbours (yay!)…more on that soon. I look forward to more trio activity later in the year too!

So, back to the toy glockenspiel. It was played very beautifully by Quadraceratops keys player Kit, as part of a recording for an album of library music I’ve been working on over the past few months for JW Media Music. They wanted a kind of ‘indie/folk’ sound, so I rounded up a band featuring brass, accordion, mandolin, ukulele, violin, piano, bass and drums. It was the first time I’ve done something like this, and it was interesting to get my teeth into the writing, thinking about how genre is constructed through rhythm, tonalities and instrumentation etc….plus, the session was a good laugh and it was fun to play with an ensemble featuring some cool instruments I don’t usually work with. Accordion in Quadraceratops anyone?!

Getting a bit Mardi….and Quad minus two weeks(ish)!

Checking in with a bit of composition news today: I’ve been asked to write a piece for the brass quintet ‘Mardi Brass’. They are doing an album this year featuring compositions from a few different people. Exciting! The theme is ‘blue’, but a very broad blue, thankfully. I have a pretty wonky idea up my sleeve so I hope they like it…this will be my first time writing for that lineup. Mardi Brass has as its tuba player my good friend (and Magic collaborator) Jeff Miller.

In other news, the Magic Trio has started rehearsing for our June gig – I’ll try and grab some rehearsal recordings to put up on Soundcloud soon. Also, the Quadraceratops gig at the Forge is now only TWO WEEKS away tomorrow. Perhaps strangely for a band with a prehistoric name, we’ll be playing a set composed entirely of brand new music. And maybe *one* cheeky arrangement. 24th May. Come and listen. Info and tickets can be found over on the Forge website

The Magic Trio

I have an unexpected gig with my (other) exciting new project The Magic Trio! We will be playing on June 21st at Edge Music, a new music night at the Wenlock and Essex, near Angel. Expect a set of new compositions from all three members…

Cath Roberts – Alto and baritone sax

Tom Ward – Clarinet, bass clarinet

Jeff Miller – Assorted low brass instruments

Reporting from the rehearsal room…

Well, not really. That wouldn’t be the most productive rehearsal approach. No, in fact, we played last night and I decided to write it up as a way to get this blog going – I thought it might be nice to blog about getting the Quadraceratops project together and post some bits and pieces up here as we go along.

Small, but perfectly formed?I’ve been quite the writing hermit recently, spending all my available time at the piano or my new tiny desk (acquired recently to create a second mini work area in our flat). The process (not over yet by any means) has been pretty interesting. I’m learning about how I work best, trying different methods and also, critically, discovering how long it typically takes me to complete a tune. This isn’t something that I would usually concentrate on, because it tends to ‘take as long as it takes’ for me to write a piece of music, but working to a deadline has obviously changed that. I’ve had to set myself targets (argh!) to be completed by certain times (e.g last night’s rehearsal), and then go nuts to try and meet them – in the process learning whether they were realistic in the first place. I’ve been finding that it’s very easy to overestimate the amount I can comfortably get done in a set time period, but that I can also get quite a lot done in a scramble right before the deadline.

Dining room becomes writing room...One perfect example of this happened a week or so ago, when I went away for a mini writing retreat, taking advantage of my family’s house which was going to be empty during the day time for a run of days in a row. I pitched up and built myself an awesome temporary writing room/studio and planned to get a massive amount of music produced in the relatively short window of time available. Did I manage it? Of course not. I wrote about 50% of what I wanted to. However, I was really pleased with the results and it was evident that a change of environment and some enforced isolation had been a big bonus. I came back to London feeling a combination of pleased and disappointed, totally on track and massively behind. It seems like the only possible thing to do is to set deadlines, allocate as much time as possible, and then just see what happens. Right now, I can’t accurately estimate how much music I can produce in how much time.

Anyway, all of which meta-musical/methodological analysis meant that I was pretty excited about getting into a rehearsal room and actually playing! We were down a few members, but it was still great to hear some of the music played by real people. Plus, we had a really nice attic rehearsal room that I just discovered (I have a thing for attics). My plan had been to take some pictures and recordings for blogging purposes, but I got caught up in actually rehearsing. This is the paradox of social networking! To document the activity at the expense of actually doing it?! Argh. Anyway, I’ll work on that. The trick is probably to turn the microphone on. In the absence of any such documents, then, I offer some photos of the music in its paper form. It exists, which feels good! Now I just need to write a load more.

Mmm...papery...Papery goodness...