The day Adam’s music played at Drury Lane

Lancashire composer and former UCLan student Adam Simpson has been making music since he was at junior school. But the musician, who is dyslexic, never dreamt his work would be played at a top London theatre, as he tells Fiona Finch.

Wednesday, 19th February 2020, 11:45 am
Adam Simpson

In his wildest dreams composer Adam Simpson could never imagine his work being performed at London’s Drury Lane Theatre so early in his career.

But for the 28-year-old Blackpool based musician that is exactly what happened.

Adam was asked to compose five pieces for the RAF Centenary Royal Gala ‘Time Flies’ which was attended by Prince Michael of Kent.The composer and his family watched with pride as a dancer from the acclaimed group Ballet Boyz danced to one of those works.

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In the studio - Adam Simpson (left) with fellow Last Tourist musicians Jason Booth (centre) and John Wellby Photo: Daniel Johnson

The star-studded programme also featured Adam’s music as a poem entitled Sky Fever, written by Martin Barraclough, was read by actress Joanna Lumley. Other compositions were played as cast members from the musical Wicked read out letters home from those who served in the two world wars.

Adam said: “It was a surreal experience to watch ... It was such a breathtaking sensation to hear my work being played in the auditorium of one of London’s West End theatres.”

He added: “The BalletBoyz created their interpretation of my composition. I am very proud to be associated with the work of the multi-award-winning group.”

The commission for the gala performance came through Kirkham-based AWOL Media Productions who he works with regularly.

Adam Simpson shows the tattoo on his arm inspired by his family's voices

Adam began his musical career early, learning the piano at the age of six. By the age of eight he was composing songs.

He said: “ My mother thought I would just like to do an instrument. She phoned the local piano shop on Whitegate Drive in Blackpool and I went there. I first learned to do my grades, as you do, and I took to it quite well and the piano teacher said ‘You’ve got a good ear for music.’ I can play by ear.”

He was, he recalls, very fortunate to have a music teacher who helped to encourage and develop his composition skills.

The teacher entered him into the European Piano Teachers’ Association composer’s contest and Adam recalled: “I came third when I was about 12 - that motivated me to do more competitions.”

A few years later, at the age of 16, he entered the Blackpool Musicians’ competition and later a Sibelius contest. The judges for the Sibelius competition were composer Howard Goodall and Harry Gregson-William. Adam’s work stood out to the extent he was highly commended in his category. Adam said: “Sibelius is a software programme where you write music. They inspired me to continue my journey as a composer.”

It was just the spur he needed. Composition was, he explains, an especially important route for him because he has dyslexia. He said: “I find it hard to write music on paper I have always done it by recording. I find it impossible to sight read sometimes. I tend to listen to music and play back by ear.”

The former pupil of St John Vianney RC Primary School in Blackpool and Bispham High had enrolled at Blackpool Sixth Form College where he studied music technology, music and art. His early talent was again spotted, as he explained: “From that I attended the Royal Northern College of music Saturday classes and had one to one tuition with a tutor called Malcolm Sergeant. He taught me composition which were more experimental, abstract ways of composing. I kept going every Saturday to Manchester. It gave me a new dimension.”

Adam then studied for a degree at Lancaster University, graduating in music technology and discovered a passion and talent for writing film music.

He said: “I began to work on writing music for film and found my new drive in composition. I chose Lancaster because the course had a film element in it - it was more suited to what I wanted.”

He was also aware that with technology skills he would be more employable as he started his career.

Enrolling for a Masters degree in music practice at UCLan he focused on"‘music to moving image" and said: “I delved into the experimental side of music again.”

During his studies he was put in contact with local filmmaker Gillian Wood. He said: “After an introduction to my portfolio of work she commissioned me to write music for the film Tea for Two.”

Adam went on to write the musical accompaniment to another of her films on surrealist painter Leonora Carrington, which they now hope to interest TV companies in.

He said: “I have continued to work with Gillian and in 2018 composed the soundtrack for a short film that would go on to win the Blackpool Shorts at the Sea film festival.”

He is also working with his band Last Tourist. He said: “I play ‘synths’ along with lead vocalist and guitarist John Wellby and bassist Jason Booth. We are currently writing new material which is centred around electronic dark wave music and will be gigging later this year. One of my main aims for the future is to write sound tracks for film and to co-produce an album with my band.”

Meanwhile Adam, who works from his home in Blackpool, also works at Warren Manor Day Care Centre in Cleveleys using music as a tool to help residents build their confidence and to aid reminiscence. He said: “It links the emotional side of the brain.”

His family have strong links to music in his home town - a great grandparent used to play the piano to accompany showings of silent movies.

He has also created his own special music inspired tribute to his family. He made a sound recording of the voices of his mum Dorothy, a retired drama teacher, his stepdad James who taught graphic design at Blackpool Art College and his gran Barbara Simpson and had the resulting sound wave pattern tattooed on his arm. For Adam it will always be a lasting reminder of the power of sound and of music and of his family’s love.