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Matthew Twaites is composing the music for new play, 'Slipping' at the Stephen Joseph Theatre

 

Bassist and producer Matthew Twaites turns composer for a new play at the SJT. 

Matthew Twaites is a music producer and bassist, whose CV includes touring with Mercury Music Prize nominees Electric Soft Parade, sound engineering at Metway Studio which is owned by the Levellers, and building a studio with Mystery Jets, alongside recording with them and co-producing their fifth album.

Matthew’s latest project is a new venture for him, for he is to be found working for the first time as a composer, creating original music for ‘Slipping’, a brand new play launching this week at the Stephen Joseph Theatre (SJT), written by Claudine Toutoungi and directed by the SJT’s Associate Director, Henry Bell.

Asked about his early career path, Matthew reveals that he first got interested in music as a child, delving through his parents’ record collection. “I would spend hours listening to the ‘classics’ – The Beatles, Neil Young, The Specials, The Eagles, Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush, Frank Zappa – and reading the album sleeves from cover to cover sat in front of the record player. I started to learn piano when I was about 8 and guitar when I was 13, playing only at home struggling to find anyone to be in a band with at secondary school.

It wasn’t very cool at my school in the late 90s, which is hard to imagine now. Then at VIth form college I suddenly met lots of musicians and became very involved with the local music scene.

I met Alex and Tom (the brothers that make up The Electric Soft Parade) in 1999 whilst playing in another Brighton band. They got signed in 2001 and they needed a bass player, which I was, and they asked me to join. The first album, ‘Holes In The Wall’ did very well, being nominated for the Mercury Music Prize and going Silver.

We toured extensively round the world for 3 years and then when the second album came out, the label dropped the band. This was obviously heartbreaking for those involved. Another self made album came out in 2007 and one in 2013, which we toured, but only as much as fitted in with our other lives.”

A blog post in April this year from the band’s official website reports that “it’s been a f***ing hell of a journey, and we’ve loved and hated it in almost precisely equal measure. But right now it feels like we both need to spread our wings and f*** off and do something else for a while.”  I ask Matthew if he can expand any further on this now several months have passed.

“I don’t really feel that the quote above speaks for my experience of being in the band, and to be honest I’m unsure as to what the future of the band is. Both brothers are now doing other projects, but we’ll see.

I have plenty of great, stand-out memories from my time with ESP. We achieved some great things that any musician would be proud of. Being on Top Of The Pops and Later…with Jools Holland are two big ticks on the bucket list. We did some great shows all round the world. The American tour we did in a Winnebago will always stand out as a highlight. In terms of shaping or influencing me, I consider it my apprenticeship. I learnt a lot from two fantastic musicians, and it pushed me to do all the things I have subsequently done.

Matthew has also been part of a band called Restlesslist for some years now, which features some musicians who’ve also worked with Electric Soft Parade.  Enquiring as to whether other career projects have somewhat overtaken live performance for the time being, he admits that Restlesslist is currently dormant. “I left Brighton and moved to London in 2012 and so the band came to a halt. We had also spent four years making a very ambitious narrated concept album, which I think had created rather strict parameters that may have been getting in the way of actually having fun. Sound engineering and production have definitely taken precedent for the last couple of years.

I am playing bass with Rose Elinor Dougal, but other than that I am the most band-free I’ve been since I was 16. I’m quite enjoying a bit of time away from the stage to be honest.  After touring died down with ESP, I wanted to get more serious about recording. I’d had a home studio for years, progressing from 4 track to 8 track, to getting a computer. Working in a recording studio had always been a dream of mine, and I’d been in and out of Metway [a studio owned by The Levellers] over the years, so I asked if I could do some work experience. I then became the tea boy and assistant, and then started doing sessions of my own.

I produced an album by Foxes! (the band line-up features ‘Slipping’ Director Henry Bell’s brother) using downtime, which was the first album I properly produced, and went from there. The Metway has been and is home. It’s a family, which is how the Levellers run everything they do. I was allowed to use the studio to my disposal and that is how I learnt to engineer. It was an invaluable opportunity.”

Matthew’s work has not solely seen him stick in the realm of indie and psychedelic pop which began his career; he was working in a small studio in West London where Lily Allen and The Saturdays happened to be clients. “I’m a big pop music fan so it’s great to see into that world. The other end of the telescope if you like. They were all very professional and easy to work with. (I think that’s all I can say, professionally!)”

Pondering the many challenges and achievements Matthew has negotiated, he explains that the Restlesslist album mentioned above -‘Coral Island Girl’ - was a mammoth, 4 year labour of love.

“Concept albums are hard. A lot of them give up on the concept halfway through, because it takes forever to make everything tie together. But we did it. It was something I always wanted to do.

Also, whilst making the Foxes! album a hard drive melted and we lost 6 months of work. Not a fun piece of news to deliver to a band. They cried. I cried. We all cried.”

Naturally, I’m wondering what sort of challenge this latest departure, composing for theatre, is proving to be, and what he can tell us about how it came about and what we can expect of the play.

“It’s gone really great, actually. The initial idea I presented to Henry and Claudine went down really well and from then on I’ve had nothing but positive feedback. I’m not sure that’s how it usually goes. Maybe beginner’s luck?

I like to write conceptually, and with an arc, so this suits my brain well, and is not that different in approach from music I’ve written before.

Henry and I were in a band together at college. We met in the queue to see Radiohead at the Brighton centre in 1997, and then ended up in the same tutor group at college. We always had a similar musical taste and a similar emotional connection to music (mainly the music that’s about not getting girls!).

For his last production, ‘Screenplay’, Henry used some music by Restlesslist and then asked me to compose some original music for ‘Slipping’. I’m hoping it will be the start of an ongoing collaboration.

In terms of the play itself, I don’t think I can tell you much other than that it is great. I laughed a lot when I read it and that was in my mind as I went to write the music.

Just come and see it! It’s ace.”

Henry Bell equally says of the partnership, “It's been a joy to collaborate with Matt again on a creative project after a 10 year hiatus. In many ways it was like being 16 and being in a band again - he's got a great ear for music and is incredibly sensitive to the demands of the creative process. His work really helps bring Claudine's play alive.”

Matthew is clearly someone with a drive to keep busy and achieve new things; last year he teamed up with the Mystery Jets to create a studio together and is now working with them on their fifth album.  He relays the sad truth that it’s really tough trying to make a living in the arts, and as technology advances and everyone can have a recording studio at home, one needs to do as much as possible to stay afloat.

“Building the studio has been great – a dream come true really. It’s still a work in progress but as the album nears completion so does the studio. We’ve just got a control room, which feels like an enormous treat as we’ve all been in the same room for 6 months. It’s going great though. I think we’re about halfway through. Being their fifth album the band is doing something different and more ambitious than their last records. The phrase that is being bandied about is ‘Space Rock’, which I think sums it up fairly well. Hopefully it will be out early next year.”

As a gig-goer, Matthew is sad not to have yet had much chance to sample the local offerings, but declares that Henry has told him about some of the local wares, and he looks forward to checking some out soon. "Other than that, the best gig I’ve been to recently was Kate Bush at Hammersmith Apollo. Unbelievable!”

 

‘Slipping’, written by Claudine Toutoungi and directed by Henry Bell, is at the Stephen Joseph Theatre from 3rd to 18th October. 

 

Elena is charming and witty and... complex. She’s about to undergo life-changing surgery with Sean, her specialist.  The sparks fly and their relationship develops from patient and professional to a complex tangle of sex, deceit and lies, whilst at the same time unearthing a host of ethical quandaries.  

This is a contemporary, witty and sharply observed drama from othe SJT's  most recent discovery, Claudine Toutoungi, writer of 'Screenplay: Bit Part.'  It explores the effect of modern living on human relationships and asks:  How important it is to look ‘normal’ in the eyes of society? What is ‘normal’ anyway?  How much can we trust ourselves to make the right decisions about our health?

 And, can we really mix business with pleasure?

Age recommendation 14+: Contains some strong language

Free post-show Follow Up: 8 October

Access performances: Open Captioned performance: 17 October, 7.45pm Audio Described performance: 18 October, 2.45pm

Tickets from £10 to £24.50 depending on availability.

Special Offer: £5 tickets for under 30s available.

www.sjt.uk.com - 01723 370541 

 

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