Pete Flood: Portrait Of An Inspirational Music Director

Musical composer, having dedicated his work and talent to theatre, dance and classical commissions,

And best known for great contibution as drummer and composer in the British folk big band, BELLOWHEAD,

Pete Flood is, first of all, one passionate person and inspirational human being who’s interesting to meet and chat with.

From Thursday 24 September to Sunday 4 October, he’s collaborating again with the Platform 4 for the re-staging of the acclaimed play ‘Memory Points’, whose Artistic Director, Cath Church has said: 

“Pete is a great collaborator and a consummate musician. We worked together on Platform 4’s acclaimed show Memory Points which is returning to the South Bank Centre this September 2015. Pete writes music with great sensitivity and has a distinctive voice, he has a great ability to listen, both to artist collaborators and/or the people who may inspire him to write music.He is also flexible, multi talented and able to play numerous instruments to a excellent standard for an ongoing partnership or on/off session.”

The re-staging will take place at the Southbank Centre, whose  Head of Contemporary Music, Jane Beese, has added this:

“Pete Flood is an admirably inventive composer and versatile musician, who I’ve collaborated closely with over the years on a wide range of bold and original projects both at Southbank Centre, in the Middle East and India.” 

The humanist project’Memory Points’, is an experimental and profound show about people suffering from the loss of their memory.

It takes its piece of illustration through the track titledCarry On Stars“.

This extract might sound strange at first, but here’s how to approach it, in Pete Flood’s words:

“From the 2014 Platform 4 show Memory Points. This track is about Terry, a sufferer from early-onset dementia at the Connections Club in Southampton, with whom I struck up a friendship. The piece uses recordings of him, as we take him through the route of the original incarnation of Memory Points at The Point, Eastleigh. His naturally sunny disposition comes to the fore here with tootling on his harmonica, laughing about being lost and joking about his trousers. But from time to time another, darker side surfaces with asides like “I don’t know who this woman is”, and “I’ve lost a few people along the way”. Terry was the person who woke me up to the humanity behind the label {dementia}, and I hope that with this piece I’ve managed to show that the wonderful, warmth and complexity of the man lived on despite his condition.”

To get closer from Pete, we had the privilege to get an interview.

Through this interview, you’ll be able to:

– discover more from Pete Flood’s work, 
– understand the creative process behind Memory Point, 
– know how people do inspire him to compose music
– discover Pete as a teacher
– and understand British folk music through Pete’s view.

 

Interview

1) Would you share with us one project in your whole career that happened to be the most inspirational and the most creative experience?

The project in question happened way back in 2001 […] it set the blueprint for how I approach creative projects to this day.
My puppeteer friend, Cath Hunter told me that she was developing a puppetry version of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale. Having played this piece in my final year at Goldsmith’s College, I was very excited and demanded to be the Music Director for the project.
I was also determined that we’d play this hugely challenging piece as an ensemble, like a the band of itinerant musicians Stravinsky envisaged, rather than a mannered classical ensemble complete with conductor.
This kind of thing happens a lot these days, but back then it was quite a big deal.
Despite my lack of experience as an MD we made it happen, for a month at Southwark Playhouse, and later at Battersea Art Centre. 

2) About ‘Memory Points’; reading the description of this project while listening to “Carry On Star was literally a mind-blowing experience. Putting the dementia under the spotlight and highlighting a beautiful humanity is marvelous enough to deeply touch everybody.
This project is somewhat really humanist; have you worked on any other humanist project like this?

I always think of Bellowhead as a humanist project.
Certainly our live shows, which attract all ages, involve an enormous amount of communal singing, and usually end with a pub session, are about celebrating our shared humanity.
Add to that the fact that we’re not dramatising our own lives, but taking our material from a shared heritage. But I don’t want to overstate it – we’re just a band after all.


The thing about what Cath (Church) and Su (Houser) do with Platform 4, is that it’s hugely time-consuming, and comes from a place of deep sharing of life experiences, so I guess for that reason, it is the most human-focused work I’ve been involved in.

3)What’d be the creative process to compose for a project like Memory Points?

When I’m feeling my way into a project I like to write from a bunch of different standpoints, in order to get a measure of what a project needs. So I wrote maze pieces, aleatoric pieces based on relationship dynamics, pieces that were based around little encapsulations of specific memories, and lots of other experiments. In the end that all became too academic when I met the couples at the Southampton Connections Club – a group for people with early-onset dementia and their carers. It quickly became clear that we owed it to them to find ways to depict their strength of spirit, and warmth and laughter that still flowered in such a trying environment. At that point I stopped theorising and started to listen to the memories we were collecting. In most cases, because they are the heart of the show, they only needed the most gentle of framing.

4)What kind of people inspire you to write music?

For Memory Points, my big inspiration was Terry, who is the voice on Carry On Star. He was a lovely, gentle man, with a sunny outlook and a passion for music.
I was amazed by how dignified and accepting he was in the face of what was happening to him. Later in the process we worked with a couple of ‘Singing for the Brain’ groups, and the brilliant thing there was how the participants would be transformed through the singing, or playing of music.
We met people who were unable to finish a sentence without their mind wandering, who could pick up an instrument, or open their mouths and sing beautifully, and entirely from memory.

5)Should we expect something new from the Memory Point re-staging this September?

I believe there have been a couple of changes to the route, and a couple of new musical contraptions, but other than that, things are as before.

6)You teach percussions masterclass. What is one of the most important things your students should learn and remember from your lectures?

A lot of music teachers are highly prescriptive – “if you don’t do x and y religiously for 10 hours a day you stand no chance of a career in the music industry. And don’t even think about specialising in z or no one will employ you”. There’s often some truth in this advice (although plenty of people follow it religiously and go nowhere), but its opposite tends to get overlooked: Popular music welcomes mavericks – it depends on them. So don’t abandon the thing that makes you stand out, in favour of conformity – there’s already far too much of that in the music industry. Instead think of how you can make your creativity, however far out it is, appeal to your audience.

7)Folk music takes quite a place along your career. How much important is it for you? What does this musical root represent for you?

I used to love the discipline and challenge of writing a piece for Bellowhead.
Starting with the researching of a piece, from its beginnings as a broadside, through whatever different versions might exist, to the twist that would make it a worthwhile proposition for the band. It was like a totally absorbing puzzle, and you’d know if you’d solved it well, because it would then be recorded and put on an album.
I’ll miss that sense of a link to how we were.
And I still love the communal nature of traditional music, and the warmth and diversity of the folk audience at its best.
And finally, I love a lot of the old source recordings, from the Grainger wax cylinders to Topic Record’s Voice of the People series.
I’m not sure that I’m going to be involved in the folk scene for much longer, as the two things I do well – drumming and composing – are niche activities in that world.
And if Bellowhead’s demise in May 2016 marks the end of my involvement in folk music, I think I’ll miss it enormously.

8)Now you’re also working on RESTHARROW which lead us to the poetry of the natural world. Can you share a few words about this project?

Restharrow is a band name for a band that doesn’t exist yet, but will soon.
What’s happening is that I started, years ago, to really get interested in nature. And eventually, the idea of forming a band to reflect this obsession came along.
But, as I’ve been learning, I’ve become more and more aware of the incredible depth of my ignorance, and so I’ve been putting off work on the band until I fix that!
And also until I write enough good music., which I’m not hurrying on account of there being no end of great music already in the world. I have, however, put out a couple of solo albums.
Mycoworld, on Linear Obsessional, is inspired by years of mushroom hunting, and Uncumber, Yamlet, Bitterling and Bine, under the pseudonym Yetchiko Bedeguar, moves into the world of botany. They’re both on Bandcamp.

Thank You Pete Flood!

Get to see ‘Memory Points’ at the Southbank Center, you don’t want to miss it!

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