Tell us about your background
My mum was a music teacher and taught me piano from an early age. I studied recorder and started composing pieces around 13. We would go to recorder camp every summer, where I started arranging pieces for all of us to play. I know, geektastic…
After studying at RCS, I started writing tv themes and music for theatre from a room at CaVa Studios in Glasgow. I would then get phone calls from the bands recording at CaVa asking me to do string arrangements for their songs. The music scene was thriving, and I got to work with bands like Simple Minds, Texas, Mogwai, Isobel Campbell, Belle and Sebastian and Snow Patrol.
The film guys loved the fact that I worked with bands, so I started getting asked to compose for film scores. I got a BAFTA for my first film score, which helped me get on the composing scene for tv, doing programmes like Silent Witness and Spooks.
I started getting some work in the US, being asked to compose the music for the US Olympic Committee and the launch of the Freedom Towers. After spending time in LA doing programming for No Doubt, I was asked to score the music for my first Hollywood film, Limitless, which topped box offices around the world, and from there it just kind of took off with soundtracks like Dredd and Walking with Dinosaurs.
Academy Award Winner Errol Morris started using me for his films after hearing my music for the NTS production of The James Plays, which led to me collaborating with Philip Glass on some scores.
You just never know where this job will take you – I LOVE doing different things!
How did your time at RCS prepare you for the world of work?
I came to RCS to study film music, but unfortunately the teacher left to go to Hollywood! I lucked out, having John Maxwell Geddes teach me about modern techniques and orchestration.
I would spend hours in the library studying the scores of Bernstein, Gershwin, Vaughan Williams, etc. Meanwhile I got Sir James MacMillan critiquing my compositions once a month – so it was a pretty great experience!
What my time there prepared me for the most was making the most of opportunities and being proactive. I got an orchestra together in my third year to premiere my clarinet concerto in the Stevenson Hall. I would get as many players as I could to experiment with and hear how all the instruments worked. I would literally just sit in brass practice and ask questions about how the instruments worked.
It has carried on to this day, whether I’m in recording sessions or on stages, and I ask the players if things would work better in a certain way. Never be afraid to take advice from players – they’ve studied their lives to master their instruments!
Also soaking up the traditional folk music during my time there – when I first came to Hollywood everyone told me my chord structures and rhythm were unconventional and that my sense of melody was strong. I now realise that’s entirely down to being surrounded by folk music from all my years in Scotland.
But most of all, the best thing that came out of RCS were my colleagues and friends. I still use so many of them for sessions, and when I was back recording the RSNO for a soundtrack, it was great to see so many familiar faces! Music is the most wonderful community.
What have been your most memorable moments from your career so far?
Collaborating with Philip Glass was amazing. Sitting having tea in his kitchen in New York, chatting about our ideas was surreal. But then, at the start of the Ukraine war, a video went viral featuring a young boy playing our music on the piano in a hotel, whilst bombs fell outside. It reminded me that music transcends boundaries and has the potential to reach people emotionally in a way nothing else can.
Describe RCS in three words
Cultured, modern, inclusive.
Any final points or words of wisdom?
Always say yes when you’re starting out and soak up as many different forms of art as you can. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and your style – be it composing, performing, drama – will develop all your life. Don’t think of other people as your competitors, think of them as colleagues. Learn from them, chat to them – they’re your family.