Classical music: She's making plans for Stanley

Classical? Pop? Jocelyn Pook's work defies labelling. Which is why Stanley Kubrick signed her for his new film.

WHEN STANLEY KUBRICK telephoned the composer Jocelyn Pook to talk about the possibility of her working on the soundtrack to his new film, Pook was taking another call at the time. Alerted to the new caller by her call-waiting service, Pook quickly asked the stranger to hold and continued her conversation, leaving the reclusive film director hanging on the telephone for far longer than he can be used to (one likes to imagine him tapping his fingers on the exquisite veneer of an antique desk or perhaps playing with a set of model-soldiers in Napoleonic uniform). Happily, Kubrick did not hang up and they had a brief but pleasant chat.

Later that day a large black limousine arrived at Pook's Islington flat to collect the cassette she had hurriedly put together as the sample of her wares that Kubrick had asked for. The next day, the limo appeared again, and this time Pook herself was whisked off to Pinewood Studios to meet Kubrick face to face.

Ironically, what alerted the very famous Kubrick to the fairly obscure Pook in the first place was the theme to a TV commercial for mobile phones: the wonderful Orange Telecom ad featuring a sample of Kathleen Ferrier singing "Blow the Wind Southerly".

A version of the theme, "Blow the Wind - Pie Jesu", was included on Pook's debut album of last year, Deluge, when it provoked a very silly - yet for Pook, profoundly damaging - controversy over whether the music should be classified as "classical" or not. But more of that later. Let's get back to Stan.

"The reason he heard my music was that a choreographer called Yolande Snaith was working with him on a scene, and she was playing a track from my CD at the time," says Pook, who tonight performs in a concert of her works at the Islington Festival. "He picked up on it, felt it was really appropriate for what he was doing, and then rang me. When the limo took me to Pinewood, it was all very normal and we had an interesting meeting. He was very musically literate."

The film, Eyes Wide Shut, starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, remains pretty much a closed book for Pook, as she has yet to see any of it. "I don't know a lot about it and I'm waiting until there's stuff to see," she says. "Up to now I've just done sketches, blind, and since the meeting there's just been phone calls. It's been very loose and I haven't really found out what he wants yet."

Pook is a self-taught composer who followed her studies in viola at the Guildhall with three years of touring with the Communards. She then co- founded the Electra Strings, the all-female ensemble who have played for everyone from Massive Attack to Meatloaf. The Kubrick experience is also just the latest in a series of film and television projects that Pook has been involved in. She co-composed the music for the brilliant film of DV8's Strange Fish, which won the Prix Italia Award in 1994, and has written scores for John Smith's Blight (in the BBC's Sound On Film series), and Colin Spector's BBC documentary Following Strangers Home.

Even the music for "Blow the Wind" was originally conceived as part of a proposal for a film by Pook, to be called Requiem for a Spiv. "For me, Kathleen Ferrier's voice represented a special kind of Englishness and a kind of nostalgia, something I associated with my mother's youth and that whole radio world," she says.

A version of the piece was first released on a compilation CD by Unknown Public, an experimental audio-periodical available only by mail-order. "The writer of the Orange ad, Larry Barker - son of Ronnie - was a subscriber and he contacted me. Normally you get ads from an agent so this was a real break from out of the blue, like the Kubrick thing. It was a really beautiful advert and lots of people wanted to get hold of the music, but it took a long time to get the album out."

On release in February 1997, the album became the subject of absurd controversy, when a self-appointed Star Chamber of record industry representatives deemed it unfit for either the classical or crossover charts, effectively consigning it to commercial oblivion. Despite which, two of the panel later included the track on classical compilation albums for their own labels.

"At the time I didn't realise what it meant. I just thought it was a drag and like, who cares," Pook says. "But the only way the company would promote the album is through the chart system, and they also rack it in shops according to category, so the classification is all-important. As it is, you can't find it anywhere. It's only been released in Iceland and Hong Kong. I don't even know who's going to put out my next album because Virgin are worried the same thing might happen again."

Pook continues to write and to perform, both with the Electra Strings and in the group 3 or 4 Composers, who last year presented the stunning music-theatre piece Still Ringing. Her rich and evocative music, often accompanied by the marvellous voice of Melanie Pappenheim (with whom she appears in Islington tonight) is also staged with a filmic visual flair that makes most "straight" music-theatre look sadly deficient.

While Pook may not have been deemed suitable for the masonic lodge of the "classical" tradition, she shows an eye for the details of presentation that even Stanley Kubrick might commend (if only he could get through).

`Voices on The Verge' by Jocelyn Pook, with the Electra Strings, Melanie Pappenheim and Jonathan Peter Kenny, is at Beck's Famous Spiegeltent, Highbury Fields, London N5 tonight (0171-288 6700)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices