He has soundtracked Bridget Jones’s Diary, Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - not to mention Brave, the animated Disney adventure set in Medieval Scotland. Now RSAMD alumnus Patrick Doyle is being celebrated in two concerts at Celtic Connections. Interview by Ken Walton
He may be a giant in the world of film music, but it took a punishment exercise at a Glasgow music college for Lanarkshire-born Patrick Doyle to realise that writing music for a living might just be worth a shot.
“I was larking about, nothing serious, and my harmony lecturer, Stanley Thomson, jokingly said ‘OK Doyle, I want a trio for next week.’ I went away and wrote one. I think he was slightly shocked. Even my friends couldn’t believe I had written it.
“But mostly, I surprised myself,” says the 65-year-old, who is in Glasgow this month for two central events at this year’s Celtic Connections celebrating the Academy Award-winning composer who gave us the memorable soundtracks to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Gosford Park, Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet and Murder on the Orient Express, Bridget Jones’s Diary and Nanny McPhee, to name but a few.
Tonight, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra will perform the first live UK orchestra screening of the animated Disney hit, Brave, for which Doyle not only wrote the score but also featured as the voice of Martin. Thursday’s orchestral programme, besides examples of his film music, includes two new concert works. “One is a setting of a poem by William Dunbar, Sweet Rose of Virtue, which will feature the Glasgow Phoenix Choir. But the climax of the whole evening will be my new Scottish Fantasy,” he explains.
It’s well over 40 years since Doyle left the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland), but success in the music world, let alone the film world, wasn’t instant. He taught initially in a Glasgow secondary school, followed by a decade working in the theatre as a jobbing writer and actor.
Meeting Kenneth Branagh at London’s Renaissance Theatre Company was a critical turning point. “I had already made a decision to focus more on my music, and Branagh was about to make his film of Henry V,” Doyle recalls. “I did something that was so unlike me. I pushed myself and said ‘I’d like to write the score for this.’ I knew it would be a daunting task, but I kept lobbying him and he finally said OK.”
Doyle’s instinct for capturing precisely the right mood and subliminal presence of music in film served him well in the task, but that initial experience had him trembling at the knees. “It was absolutely terrifying,” he recalls. “I walked into the first session to watch the rushes on the big screen and my legs were buckling beneath me. I thought, ‘What have I done?’
“You question yourself throughout your life, but I have this constant urge to push myself, to learn more and be better. So having got through the process of my first film, the next challenge was my second.”
That was the Disney action film Shipwrecked, and Doyle’s order book has never dried up since.
Henry V won him the Ivor Novello Award for Best Film Theme, and his ensuing nominations and major awards are about as numerous as the directors he has collaborated with: among them Brian de Palma (Carlito’s Way), Mike Newell (Donnie Brasco) and Nigel Cole (Calendar Girls). But the Branagh relationship is a recurring theme in Doyle’s 50-plus movie projects.
Next up is Branagh’s fantasy adventure Artemis Fowl, due out later this year, to be followed by music for his new remake of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile. “Branagh has a wonderful interest in music,” says Doyle. “He invites you to be part of the whole process. From the very start I felt an instant rapport with him.”
In a movie world inhabited by planet-sized egos, has the affable composer ever come to blows with any director? “I’ve had artistic disagreements, but that’s natural in any job. Generally I get on with anyone” he says.
Doyle’s glitzy lifestyle – he’s inundated with invites to film festivals all round the world – must seem light years away from the 14-year-old Uddingston boy obsessed with Disney’s Fantasia. But this hasn’t stopped him “popping down” to visit his family. “I love coming back to Glasgow, which I do a lot, though it’s a sign of age that I’ve been here too often recently for funerals!”n
Celtic Connections presents the UK premiere of Brave in Concert at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on 19 January (2pm & 5.30pm), followed on 24 January by Patrick Doyle – A Celebration, featuring the BBC SSO, at the City Halls, Glasgow