He is the music man: Howard Goodall talks to me!
How did you first break through into composing for TV?
Well I was doing the music for student revues at university, which we also took to the Edinburgh Fringe each summer. The other two members of the ‘team’ were Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis. When they left college (the year before me) they went into TV ( Not the 9 o clock news ) I was dragged along in the slipstream, so to speak, by writing the weekly satirical songs for that show with Richard. I have done a lot with them both since, but in case everyone out there thinks it’s simply a matter of ‘who you know’, it’s worth pointing out that I haven’t composed the scores for any of Richard’s blockbuster movies ( Four Weddings, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones, Love Actually).
What brought you to work on Red Dwarf?
I was signed up – whilst doing Not the 9 o clock news – by Rowan’s then agent, Richard Armitage, father of Charles, who was instrumental in getting the original Red Dwarf off the ground. Charles introduced me to Rob & Doug and I was asked to do a try-out opening & closing theme for them. I said I thought it shouldn’t sound too ‘hip’ or too ‘modern’ for that time (80s) because it would end up sounding dated very quickly – hence the retro feel of the theme song and that portentious orchestral opening. Luckily everyone involved at the time of the pilot show liked the song idea I came up with and let me stay with the project.
What would you say are your main inspirations for the Red Dwarf music you produced?
The ‘wall of sound’ 60s hits of oddball American record producer Phil Spector, the John Williams scores for the first 2 Star Wars films, Ricard Strauss’ orchestral tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra and Rob & Doug’s unusual, original, quirky, smart script.
What sort of creative process is involved with creating a piece?
That really is too big a question to answer while I’m still in fulltime employment: ask me again when I’m retired!
Do you get much input from the producers of Red Dwarf or are you very much left to work your magic alone?
I got quite a bit of input over the years from Ed Bye, Paul Jackson, Rob & Doug, and the more the merrier say I! I like being given a clear & detailed brief and after that they left me alone to get on with it. As the series went on, the laying down of the music track seemed to occur later and later in the post-production process, so it was always a frantic panic, so they might have left me alone for purely practical, not artistic, reasons. I have the utmost respect for that foursome who are the Kings of Dwarf as far as I’m concerned: everyone else on the whole project took their lead.
When Series I, II and III of Red Dwarf was digitally re-mastered a large chunk of the incidental score was replaced. How much input did you have with the re-mastering process?
Was it? I guess I must have had no input whatever!
What would you say is the piece of music you’re most proud of from Red Dwarf and, indeed, any of your other TV pieces?
The closing Fun Fun Fun song, Natural Born Rimmers opening WW2 adventure sequence, the Kennedy asassination sequences, Arnold Rimmer in RimmerWorld song. I would have added Tongue-Tied if it had ended up as originally envisaged by me and the creative team, but it was messed about with prior to the studio recording and made into a bit of a dog’s dinner, IMHO. You can’t hear Rob & Doug’s clever lyric in the mix and the backing track is cloudy & unfocussed. I don’t pretend to know anything about an actor’s craft so it’s likely that the opposite is true too, isn’t it?
Will you be providing the music for the upcoming (we hope) Red Dwarf Movie?
I have absolutely no idea. The movie itself isn’t even definite, as you will know. Obviously I’d love to do it. One possibility though is that some young dude with a fashionable haircut will do the movie score but use some of my theme tune along the way. Who knows.
Finally, would you say that you’re a big fan of Red Dwarf?
Not a BIG fan, as in having posters of Craig or Danny on my bedroom wall, or having torrid dreams about Kochanski, but an admirer nonetheless of the comic talents of the cast, particularly the masterly Chris Barrie, and of Rob & Doug’s excellent writing. Overall, I feel hugely privileged to have been involved in this project from day one and have always had enormous fun doing it. Whatever roll of the dice it was that got me on it initially, I am very grateful and very lucky.