Well, I’ve gone and done it. I’ve got an interview with a member of the Red Dwarf production team. Take him: Oxford-educated, good background, extremely talented, well-spoken, can stay awake during operas, knows his cheeses. He’s class. And you? What are you? I don’t mean to sound cruel but in comparison you’re scum.
Ahem. Four questions, now. Excellent. Thanks to my incessant groveling, he took pity and was willing to answer another two questions. Which means, I think, it’s time for a bit more groveling. Anyway, enjoy the interview.
How closely did you work with Rob Grant and Doug Naylor?
Initially I had some discussions with them, the director Ed Bye and the producer Paul Jackson about the kind of theme they might like, but despite their briefing they gave me a pretty free hand and I came up with the idea for the song in its 60s style myself. I jotted down my ideas and went into rehearsals where I sat down at the piano and sang them the Dwarf song, which they seemed to like and a week or so later we recorded it! On subsequent episodes & series we discussed in detail what exact incidental music would be required for each scene, if any, and I tailored the theme to their requests fairly closely. I have always had an excellent working relationship with them both (we wrote a TV musical together once in 1989 called ‘Maggie!’).
(For more information on ‘Maggie!’, click here. – Ed.)
In all of the comedy shows you’ve done, the music you’ve written is generally quite straight-faced, focusing more on the dramatic aspect rather than the comedic. What is your mind-set when scoring comedy?
My attitude is not to treat comedy any differently to any other subject matter: for me what’s important is the mood, the setting and the predicament of the characters – I let the comedians do the funny stuff. Since the first series of Red Dwarf was all about Lister feeling marooned in space with Rimmer and no-one else, dreaming of being on a South Pacific desert island (Fiji), and since they were quite fast-moving plots I thought the upbeat song about having fun in the sun just about summed up Lister’s feelings. Likewise, the opening of the first two series seemed to call out for something awesome and grand to give the impression of their utter loneliness in space. Later, as you know, we zipped up the opening and made it a guitar version of the end to complement the pacier, punchier nature of the storylines as the series developed.
What was your involvement with the production of the show? (For example, did you ever attend any of the episode recordings/rehearsals to get a feel of how you might score the episode?)
I was involved more at the beginning – in terms of turning up at rehearsals etc – when the initial ideas for the feel and mood of the programme were being formulated. Once they’d got into the rhythm of taping the shows in front of an audience up at Oxford Road in Manchester I didn’t go up much, and in any case for the first 3 series we used to record all the music up front (i.e. before the episodes were filmed) in one big session. The very first session was at the BBC’s old TV recording studio in Lime Grove, Shepherd’s Bush, London, which has since been demolished and turned into flats, all subsequent incidental/theme recording sessions took place at Angel Studios Islington (studio 1, with the real organ in it that can be heard, for example, in the opening of episodes 1-6 – it used to be a Methodist Church!). You can see a picture of this historic studio at this link: http://www.angelstudios.co.uk/ (go to the Studio 1 virtual tour). Series 4 onwards, apart from various special occasions when we returned to Angel (Natural Born Rimmers/Kennedy sequences etc), I used to compile the incidental music in my own studio, fitting the score to the ‘rough’ cut (known as ‘offline’ cuts – not the final article) tapes of the shows as they were edited. Often they would be working to so tight a schedule I wouldn’t get the luxury of fitting it precisely to the ‘fine’ cut (i.e. the version that’s never changed again) and there would be a certain amount of farting about with the cues at the ‘dub’ (where all the sound gets its final broadcast mix – the moment in any film where the music gets submerged under sound effects and laughter and months of hard work become inaudible). Having said that, I kept in touch as best I could with the post-production process and would discuss with Ed Bye or Doug at some length what music might be needed that the actors needed to know about (eg. the Tongue-Tied and Arnold Rimmer songs etc).
How do you feel about your work from Red Dwarf? Are there any particular cues you’re quite proud of, or not so proud of?
I am very proud of my involvement in this unique and fascinating series, from start to finish, mainly because I feel I have been immensely lucky to have got the gig in the first place. Rob & Doug presented all of us on the creative team with some big challenges and some thought-provoking concepts to grapple with and that kind of work is always going to be the best. My favourite musical moments in the whole thing are the theme tune/song itself, Rimmer’s WW2 action sequences, RimmerWorld and its song, the Kennedy stuff, the Horsemen of the Apocolypse stuff (I filmed at that location – Loredo Ranch – for my own new Ch4 TV series recently, they all remembered the Dwarf invasion VERY well after all these years!) and the Curry monster madness. But there were lots of things that were great fun to do. Mostly when I hear it now I wish I could have another stab at it and do it better. One regret is the version of Tongue-Tied that was transmitted – I feel that the mix and the backing track were not successful, obscuring not enhancing Rob & Doug’s funny and clever lyric and confusing the plot, not helping it – but that’s what happens when you let the actors redo the music cues! Red Dwarf was a peach of a job to get and it’s brilliant that it is still so alive in the minds and hearts of so many fans out there in cyberspace.
Many thanks to Mr. Howard Goodall.
‘Maggie!’, the musical that he mentioned, is described on this website as:
“Maggie!, a satirical musical for television (May 1989), part of Ten Glorious Years!, to mark Margaret Thatcher’s 10 years in power as Prime Minister. Book & Lyrics by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor.” If I find any more information on this musical, I will of course let you know.