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Part 4 – Belfast, Oil Drum and Japanese Taiko Drum

There is something incredibly powerful and invigorating about being in a studio with a performing percussionist that has an uncanny sense of rhythm – I can’t actually put it into words. I am lucky enough to have worked with percussionist Joby Burgess on some of my television drama soundtracks and I knew that he could bring something very special to my music for Spotlight On The Troubles: A Secret History.

Drums have played a huge role in music both north and south of the border in Ireland. But as part of my self-imposed rule of not having any instruments from the island of Ireland play on the soundtrack, I spoke with Joby, and together we planned a collection of percussion instruments that could work for the series that did not originate from Ireland.

Joby Burgess and his North African sweeping brushes.


Very early on I had a wish to use something metallic in my ‘soundworld’. Growing up in Belfast in the 70s and 80s I was used to security barriers, army checkpoints and concrete blockades. When I was a teenager my mother was a physiotherapist at the Royal Hospital in west Belfast, and one day the car she was driving was hit by a large metal security barrier that had blown free in the wind. She was very shaken by the incident and slightly injured. As a ten-year-old it made a lasting impression on me.

Working on the music to this series I was able to draw on my own memories of Belfast during the Troubles in addition to the rough cuts that were now coming to me from the BBC. The first two films from the series brought back those memories, and I was keen to capture this cold hard brutal place in my soundtrack.

Joby possessed the perfect instrument: a 40 gallon reconditioned metal oil drum painted grey, complete with a bespoke wooden stand. As soon as he played the oil drum in the studio it set my spine tingling. It was incredibly haunting. The cold metallic sounds of the oil drum were redolent of street disturbances and conflicting positions or ideas. The effect was to create a sense of dissonance and disharmony.

In addition to the oil drum we recorded Japanese Taiko drums, Tom Toms, Djuns, Bass Drum, Gran Cassa and small metal percussion.

Joby Burgess setting up at Urchin Studios London


The sound world I had been envisaging for the films was slowly coming together. Next week I will write about the recording session with the string players.

Read Part 5 here of the 7-part series on Scoring The Troubles: A Secret History here.