Walking in the English countryside with my dogs by my side is something that I love to do. As well as helping me stay fit and well, walking is a reflective time for me when I feel almost like I am meditating. The melodies for my latest album, In A South Downs Way
, came to me when I was walking and they echo the sounds and sights of walking in the countryside of West Sussex, where I live. It is a very pure form of composition and the orchestration is very organic – just brass, strings and piano with the voice of my friend, Downton Abbey actor Hugh Bonneville, who loves walking on the South Downs as much as I do and wrote and recorded the words.
It is a very pure form of composition and the orchestration is very organic – just brass, strings and piano with the voice of my friend, Downton Abbey actor Hugh Bonneville, who loves walking on the South Downs as much as I do and wrote and recorded the words.
At the time, Hugh said, “My friend, Damian, played me some tracks that he and Stewart were developing and asked me to read some poetry over the wonderful music. It inspired me to offer some words of my own. In A South Downs Way reminds me of the place I’m lucky enough to call home.”
As a composer, I am always looking for inspiration and the natural world is that for me. I literally walked and recorded my ideas on my mobile phone, making field recordings of skylarks and other British birds as well as countryside sounds. The final compositions include these elements in the mix although the effect is subtle and they are designed to be melodies, not soundscapes. Stewart Prosser, a local friend and brass musician who was involved in Paul Weller’s band, The Style Council, helped with the arrangements.
I was dealing with a recent family bereavement when I started developing the music for the album and I think that does show in the finished compositions. People who have heard the tracks – many listened to the Desert Island Discs recording when Hugh Bonneville selected The Path Towards Tomorrow in February 2016 – have said that some tracks actually moved them to tears.
The strings were provided by the Tippett Quartet and we were also keen to use as many local musicians as possible to record the tracks so other friends of ours played piano and additional brass. We did as much live recording as we could. Hugh came into the studio to record the lines he had written himself. What he produced sat so beautifully with the music and we felt that it completed it. We also avoided electronic or synthesised sounds to preserve a simple evocative feel to the compositions.
When we played parts of the album live at Glastonbury to an audience that didn’t come from the South Downs, the reaction was so good that we started thinking about writing other material that reflected the English countryside more broadly and that celebrated the connection we all have with the landscapes where we live.
We would also like the compositions to reach a wider audience of people who may find that these tracks help and inspire them to get out into the fresh air and exercise their bodies while renewing their spirits. The music is written in time to a walking pace and provides hopefully a useful backdrop to a walk, wherever you are. I know that people have listened to their album while climbing up mountains, walking to work in the heart of the City of London, or while recuperating in hospital. It gives me huge pleasure to know that something that has meant so much to me has already benefited others.
Damian Montagu is a British composer and music producer who has twice topped the iTunes music chart with his compositions. He recently recorded his first album, In A South Downs Way with collaborators, brass arranger Stewart Prosser and actor Hugh Bonneville, who used his own words to accompany the melodies.
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