How We Met: Nitin Sawhney & John Hurt

'All actors want to be rock stars and all rock stars want to be actors'

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The Independent Online

Nitin Sawhney 47

One of the country's more eclectic composers, in a 20-year career Sawhney has written classical and dance music, and collaborated with artists including Sting, Brian Eno... and Nelson Mandela. His new album, 'Last Days of Meaning', features the voice of John Hurt

I was watching the election campaign last year when an idea dawned on me: so much insecurity and fear was being played upon throughout the campaign, with all three of the main parties trying to blame much of the economic downturn on the influx of immigrants. It's nothing new, of course; political opportunism always happens in times of recession. But I liked the idea of creating a character, a grumpy old man, who would watch the election unfold and comment upon it in a wider context – a social commentary of sorts, but without being overly politicised.

Initially, I thought it might work well as a script – I'd written it during a Tube journey on my iPhone – but then I realised it could be part of an album, monologues dropped in between songs helping to contextualise the music. I realised I needed somebody to narrate it, and I thought of John.

I was friends with him already; we'd met a couple of years ago at Sir Paul McCartney's Institute of the Performing Arts in Liverpool, where we were both being given fellowships. John's wife is a big fan of my work, so we all went out to dinner after and we just clicked.

Shortly after, I was commissioned to write the music for the BBC's Human Planet series. They were after a narrator, and I suggested John. I pitched it to him direct, and also asked whether he'd consider being the narrator on my album. He said yes. The voice I had in my head was very Samuel Beckett, very Krapp's Last Tape. As it turned out, John has played Krapp on stage before, so it was evident he'd be perfect for the project, and he was.

The day he came into the studio was initially daunting, me thinking, "Oh God, I have to direct the great John Hurt." But then, of course, I didn't need to direct him at all because he knew exactly what to do. I've been lucky to work with some truly great British icons: Sir Paul, Antony Gormley, and now John. And all of them proved easy to work with, each possessed with phenomenal insight. John's timing was spot-on.

He was very gracious. He could have been a git and it wouldn't have affected my enthusiasm for working with him, but the fact he wasn't was a major bonus. But that's John for you. He is very, very cool.

John Hurt, 71

Among the country's most celebrated actors, Hurt has had an illustrious career spanning cinema, theatre and television. His notable screen roles have included 'The Naked Civil Servant', 'The Elephant Man', 'Champions' and the Harry Potter franchise. He is also one of our most in-demand voiceover artists

I met Nitin a few years ago. I was to be given some kind of award given out by Paul McCartney at his institute, but I wasn't sure I would be able to make it because all sorts of things were going on at the time. Then my wife took a look down the list of people who were also to receive fellowships on the same day, and she saw Nitin's name on it. She is a huge fan of his, so she told me that no matter what, we were absolutely going to go up to Liverpool as she wanted to meet him.

I came to his music very much through my wife, and I have to say that I love what he does. It's so individual, so special. When music strikes a chord within you, it's difficult to say precisely how and why it does, but Nitin's really does.

He also happens to fascinate me as a person, and he is a wonderful conversationalist. He is intrigued by all the same things as me – quantum physics, for example – subjects I know little about but am nevertheless intrigued by.

Shortly after we met, we found ourselves working together on Human Planet, for which I was doing the narration. It's true that I do quite a lot of voiceovers and narrations, but then I do enjoy doing them; they're fun.

I haven't done very many music projects, though. I did appear on an Art of Noise album once, and of course I also provided the voice for Mike Batt's rock opera The Hunting of the Snark. In my experience, all actors want to be rock stars and all rock stars want to be actors. Usually, we should each stick to our day jobs, but working with Nitin is different. He is so organised and disciplined, and the recording was quick and effortless; and we had a lovely lunch afterwards.

I find him very simpatico. There is not a word for it in English, but that is what he is to me: simpatico. Our friendship was immediate and instinctive. We share ideas, a certain way of thinking and talking, and also have a similar approach to the very business of living. We gel.

'Last Days of Meaning' is released by Positiv I-D on 19 September