Tracey Thorn and Carol Morley in conversation

Written by Roger Morris, Copywriter at Now.

Chatting about the SohoCreate festival with one of my younger colleagues, I mentioned that I’d been to see an event with Tracey Thorn.

Blank face.

“You know? Everything But The Girl?”

Nope. Still got nothing.

Anyhow, I was one of the many who filled the auditorium at Soho Theatre to hear Tracey talk about her collaboration with director Carol Morley, on the recent film The Falling.

The two met through Twitter, apparently, after Tracey tweeted about seeing and enjoying two of Carol’s previous films. Then Carol had a dream in which Tracey composed the music to her new film. When Twitter and your subconscious are telling you the same thing, it’s obviously meant to be. They decided to work together despite the fact that Tracey had never written film music before. In fact, Carol saw this as a positive advantage as she was keen to avoid typical film music, and was looking for something ‘raw’. Fortunately, this was the way Tracey saw the music too!

The Falling is a drama about an epidemic of fainting in a girls’ school in the sixties. Music was always going to be an important part of the film, and Carol spoke about how she likes to create an audio ‘moodboard’ when writing a script. This will consist of tracks that help her to get inside the story and the period. Obviously in a period piece it’s going to feature hits of the time (and earlier). However, Carol admitted that she doesn’t like film sound tracks that crudely signpost the era by featuring obvious songs from the period. Also, songs from the audio moodboard don’t necessarily end up being used in the film. In this case there were a few that did, including the Mary Hopkin’s version of Donovan’s Voyages to the Moon.

Carol was reluctant to share the moodboard with Tracey because she was worried that it would inhibit her, or influence her too much. But Tracey insisted. It turned out to be a big mistake as the project nearly fell apart when Tracey saw the tracks Carol had in mind. She was worried she wouldn’t be able to compete with them and that she wasn’t the right person for the project after all. There was much to-ing and fro-ing and reassuring and the project went ahead as planned.

What also didn’t help was that Carol’s producers were a little non-plussed by her idea of collaborating with a songwriter who is most strongly associated with the eighties and nineties on a film set in the sixties. They didn’t ‘get’ it. But Carol was determined to work with Tracey and dug her heels in. Presumably she shielded Tracey from these concerns, allowing her to concentrate on the music.

What was the brief? There was no brief. Tracey didn’t even get to see the film (or the script), apart from a brief extract near the beginning in which some of the girls in the story improvise together on the kind of instruments you get in schools: xylophones, triangles, recorders, etc. Tracey asked for these exact same instruments to be sent to her and she used them to create a haunting theme and soundtrack. She then thought, well, I am a singer, it would be silly if I didn’t sing, so she turned in a few songs. Carol described the moment she and her editor listened to the first song together for the first time. Her editor said something like “If she contributes nothing else to the film, she will have done enough…” In other words they liked it.

Tracey joked about how in the finished film every time she starts to sing, something bad happens, as if she had become the voice of doom. Carol said that she certainly saw the music as being the voice of something, almost another character.

Tracey had recorded the tracks as demos, without polishing them too much. It turned out this was just how Carol wanted them, and how they ended up being used. Carol and her editor did take some of the instrumental music and ‘mess around’ with it, creating loops and putting other effects on. Tracey was more than happy for them to do this and saw it as a further part of the collaborative process.

I haven’t seen the film yet, but the talk really made me want to. I’m especially keen to hear how the music works. According to Variety Magazine,  “it’s the film’s sharply splintered soundscape — confidently mixing period pop with dreamy new compositions from former Everything But the Girl frontwoman Tracey Thorn, including insidious interludes of xylophone-led playing by Abigail’s “alternative” school orchestra — that lingers longest in the memory”.