Clint Mansell: and the joy of live movie music
Clint Mansell

Wowed by Clint Mansell’s spectacular show in the North East this weekend, Mark Butler argues that experiencing great movie music live is a special – and thankfully more and more popular – delight. 

On Saturday I had the privilege of seeing one of my favourite movie composers perform live at the Sage in Gateshead.

Clint Mansell is the man behind some of the finest cinematic scores of the past 15 years, and one of those rare sonic talents whose mere involvement in a film is enough to inspire greater interest – and compel fans to seek it out.

At the weekend, with the latest performance of his UK live tour, he proved just why he merits such a dedicated following.

I was profoundly moved at times: by heartbreaking lullaby ‘The Nursery’ from Moon, the justly famous ‘Lux Aeterna’ from Requiem For A Dream, and the epic climactic rendition of ‘Death Is The Road To Awe’ from The Fountain.

I also found myself developing an even greater appreciation for the ingenuity of Black Swan.

The backing band were phenomenal, and serious props go to the magnificent musicianship of the line-up, including pianist Carly Paradis (composer for BBC drama Line Of Duty, no less) and the ever tremendous Sonus Quartet, who have worked with Mansell on some of his scores.

But there were also personal and insightful anecdotes from Mansell direct to the audience, ranging from the funny (the time he went round Madonna’s house) to the extremely poignant (the background to his team-up with Ben Wheatley on new movie High-Rise).

One of the great things about live film music is often the sheer variety of genres on display, and in this sense no-one is more impressive than Mansell, who veers seamlessly between classical, electronic and guitar music with aplomb.

It was like watching the greatest post-rock band of the moment during Noah, then we were plunged straight into a fantastic burst of grimy, mad-cap drum n bass from Pi, and later there were experimental, tortured strings from one of the most hard-hitting scenes of Requiem For A Dream.

(Perhaps my only petty gripe is that Mass Effect 3 didn’t get a brief cameo. But then again that’s a video game. So for the purposes of our discussion, we can let that slide…)

There’s something truly special about experiencing your favourite film scores performed live and in the moment.

Yes, it’s the marriage of visuals and sound that often triumphs in cinema; but a great piece of movie music can flourish even in the absence of its accompanying footage – bringing to mind other images, or perhaps simply evoking powerful memories of the films in question.

And of course, when performed by supreme musicians, and soaked up in the flesh, great soundtracks take on a new kind of potency.

Their shockwaves tingle your fingers. You feel the resonance in your bones.

When I saw Danny Elfman in Leeds back in 2013 – my first ever concert of this kind – I was struck even more than normal by the sheer soaring emotional power of his Edward Scissorhands suite, delighted at garnering a new appreciation for the Mars Attacks! music, and like a giddy kid all over again when THAT theme from Batman started up.

The good news is that this kind of thing is increasingly common, and Mansell isn’t the only screen composer who’s bringing his music to the live arena this year.

The majestic Ennio Morricone, bombastic Hans Zimmer, and sublime Debbie Wiseman have also played, or have scheduled to play, to audiences in the UK in 2016.

Several of the WOW247 team recently enjoyed performances by the wonderful Ludovico Einaudi in Edinburgh and Manchester (if you don’t know who he is, trust me, you’ll have heard at least a few of his beautiful piano-based compositions without realising it).

The rightly celebrated Philip Glass has been touring on and off for years (“Koyaanisqatsi!”), and Howard Shore did a few mammoth live sets of his Lord Of The Rings masterpiece a while back, but there certainly seem to be more composers hitting the road of late.

And it’s a fantastic thing too.

I’m going to be first in line when genre movie king John Carpenter plays a special Halloween set in Manchester later this year. Including, yes – you’ve guessed it – the music from Halloween.

Until then, I’ll have plenty of fond sonic memories of this recent Gateshead show to draw on. For any aficionado of cinematic composition, live movie music is also the road to awe.

Clint Mansell plays Glasgow Concert Hall tomorrow (Tuesday 29) – more info

More:

The greatest movie soundtracks of the Noughties

5 incredible film composers you can see performing live this year

8 of the greatest Ennio Morricone soundtracks