10 April 1998

With the Art of Noise’s Anne Dudley

She doesn’t look like an experimental art-pop terrorist, but then you’d expect them to come in disguise. There could be one sitting next to you right now. The only clue to Anne Dudley’s identity as a founder member of the thrilling 1980s electronic collective The Art Of Noise, when her tall, blonde figure strides into a cosy top-floor London studio, lies in the ascetic, Bauhaus functionality of her clothing. Plain white shirt, slate-grey trousers – the purist colours of a minutely pencilled musical stave.

In fact, no one was ever quite sure who The Art Of Noise were, as they refused – a viciously clever stroke, in the heyday of New Romanticism – to pose for publicity photos. But Dudley has found a quite different fame lately, as the only British artist to be honoured at this year’s Academy Awards, for her musical score to The Full Monty. When the news broke, Dudley was out of the country, but a gang of craven hacks from the Express found out where her parents lived and camped outside their house, harrassing them for quotes. She finds the sudden media interest bizarre. “People always want a soundbite,” she observes, colouring the last word with a subterranean disgust. Continued →

14 November 1997

With Hammer composer James Bernard

The composer-in-residence at the house of horror is back in business. Writing music to make your flesh creep is his speciality, and he is rumblingly passionate about it: “If Dracula’s approaching a victim, and there’s a lovely nubile lady in bed, and she’s tossing and turning and restless, and the window’s open, and she’s got the maid to come and take all the garlic flowers out of the room – suddenly you cut from her to the window, and there is Christopher Lee as Count Dracula… You’ve got to have a great ‘Oh-Woaaah!’ at that moment. If you try to be subtle, it simply doesn’t work – if you say I’m going to be very clever here and just have a little ‘ee-oo-wee’, it sounds terribly weak, you know…”

Resplendent in a green jogging-suit and wide-collared floral shirt, the dapper, silver-haired speaker leans back on his sofa, sips at a glass of blood-red wine, and gives a little low chuckle. This man is James Bernard, an unsung giant among film composers, who wrote the supernatural soundtracks for countless cult-classic Hammer films in the 1950s and 1960s. Now he has written a beautifully lush and brooding new score for the dark prince of horror films, FW Murnau’s silent masterpiece, Nosferatu, which had its premiere 75 years ago in 1922, and took its director and star, Max Schreck, to Hollywood. Continued →

26 April 1996

Interviewing Lawrence Norfolk

There are rats in Lawrence Norfolk’s new book. Infesting the topographically unpredictable buildings of 16th-century Rome, they consciously plan and execute sanguinary wars of espionage and repulse. There are herring, too, swimming about in the depths and dumbly curious at the periodical tributes – animals, ships, sometimes a whole city – that humans cast down to them. There is even a deliberating ant.

Such virtuosic anthropomorphisms abound in The Pope’s Rhinoceros, furnishing both wry counterpoint to the human drama, and a visceral narrative bedrock. “I think most literary urges are really very primitive,” Norfolk explains. “And if you’ve got animals, you can’t have nebulous, nuanced desires to move the story on – they eat, they fuck, they shit. If you can root your action to those three really basic things, you’ve got a pretty unassailable story to tell.” He does. The Pope’s Rhinoceros is a gargantuan, dazzling fable, based on the true story of how the Portuguese captured a rhinoceros for the pleasure-loving Pope Leo, only for their ship to be wrecked off the coast of Italy. It is even better than his debut, the Augustan-steampunk classical-mythology conspiracy-thriller, Lemprière’s Dictionary, published when he was an unknown 27-year-old. It won the 1992 Somerset Maugham Award and went on to sell half a million copies worldwide. Given the prospect of interviewing such an author, it is tempting just to invite him to compile his own version of Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo, and fill in the blanks under “Why I Am So Clever” and “Why I Write Such Good Books”. Continued →