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Brief Encounter with ... Composer Matthew Strachan

Composer and lyricist Matthew Strachan has released a new album, 25 Year Songbook, celebrating 25 years of songwriting.

Strachan composed for film and TV for ten years before songwriting in Nashville and for musical theatre. His best known music is the theme to Who Wants to be a Millionaire?. His third musical About Bill premiered in London in 2011 and he is currently working on music and lyrics for a further stage show.

He is performing an evening of his music and lyrics on 15 July at the Pheasantry in London, which will include songs from Nashville and numbers from his next stage musicals including About Bill and Next Door’s Baby. His guests will include Rosalie Craig, Louise Gold and Kim Ismay.

25 Year Songbook is on 15 July 2012 at the Pheasantry in Chelsea.

What can we expect from your show?
Some funny songs, some sad songs, a bit of patter, and great performers joining me. There'll be pizza too.

Tell us a little about your special guests at The Pheasantry, and why you've asked them to sing these particular songs.
Stephen Carlile, Louise Gold, Kim Ismay and Riona O'Connor are all singing. They're great charismatic performers and they're doing songs from my musicals. They inhabit the songs really vividly.

You seem young to have 25 years of songwriting behind you. Did you start in the cradle?
I think I started writing songs - as opposed to doodles - when I was about 13. By the time I was 16 I'd written a couple of good ones. I'm even doing one or two of those at the Pheasantry show.

You rarely perform. What gave you the urge to get on stage again?
I used to perform all the time when I was younger. Gradually I became more of a backroom boy but recently I was curious to see how it would go if I tried it again.

How did your stint composing TV music compare to your current career of writing songs and musicals?
TV and film music is work for hire so there's a brief and a deadline – all good in its way because decisions are made for you. Writing a musical is more speculative and takes much longer. And it's more creative. But it's really satisfying when it works.

Tell us a little about Nashville. You used to spend part of each year there and still visit. Do they all wear cowboy hats?
I've never seen them anywhere but souvenir shops! Nashville has its own unique music industry culture. You make songwriting appointments with other writers, go into a room for three hours and finish up with the basis of a song. There's not much whimsy – it's more about market place and craftsmanship.

The show includes songs from Next Door's Baby, Silk and About Bill, the three musicals you've co-written with your wife, Bernie Gaughan (better known as the novelist Bernadette Strachan). Is it tricky to find numbers that work both as stand-alone songs and as part of a story?
The musical theatre songs are often difficult to extract because they're so embedded in the book .But there are a few that work as set pieces.

Which songwriters do you like to be compared to? And which comparisons make your heart sink?
Fred Ebb, Randy Newman, Kurt Weill or Leiber and Stoller would thrill me. Someone once said I was somewhere on a spectrum somewhere between Dr John and Richard Stilgoe. I don't want to think about which end.

It's traditional for songwriters to complain about the painful process of birthing a song. Do you? Or do you love it?
It's horrible writing them. It's great having written them.

You seem to like tackling dark and strange topics.
They certainly thought so in Nashville! Yes, it's the case that I gravitate toward strange subjects for songs. I tend to write a character, as if it were a talking head. So I've written about murderers, hangmen, unscrupulous journalists, ghosts and Klansmen. Very often with dark humour. I have written nice songs too, though. One or two maybe...

What did your teenage stint playing requests at the piano in bars teach you?
They love to cry. A guy came over and gave me 50 quid to go away and learn "Love on the Rocks" by Neil Diamond for the following week. I came back and played it. It was for his wife's birthday. There was a torrent of mascara.

Will it be 25 years before you get back in front of an audience?
I'd like to do it more often. If I don't get booed off, I may start doing the rounds again!


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