By Jordan Mooney.
It becomes very hard to review an album when it’s already part of a very, very much beloved piece of media, has been heard by some 11 million people in the United Kingdom alone and was nominated a BAFTA for Craft – to name but a few accolades. It’s co-authored by Andy Burrows and Ilan Eshkeri, both of whom have received plenty of recognition.
The fact is, this piece of music is already a success, and is already well loved, and doesn’t really need another review. But it’s only just been released on November the 4th. How can a release have such a massive repertoire when it’s barely even off of the starting blocks?
It’s quite simple, really – this album is the soundtrack to a film, a film that made up a massive part of Christmas 2012 – it is, in fact, the music from the story of The Snowman and The Snowdog.
I am a massive animation buff – I love everything that the Raymond Briggs animated tales brought to my childhood, and I have always – and I mean, always, adored The Snowman. It made up a major chunk of my younger years, and when I heard a sequel was to be made, I was at first very sceptical. Unsurprising, really – A Raymond Briggs story wasn’t involved and the addition of a dog to the list of characters seemed a touch too obvious – My tears of appreciation soon kicked my natural-born cynicism into a small receptacle at the side of the sofa as I blubbered away at a reintroduction of my younger years’ favourite Christmas feature on December the 24th 2012.
But the key thing to remember is that The Snowman, and its sequel, are very unusual films, in that they go about their merry, beautifully animated way, without the use of spoken lines – instead, it makes use of music.
Extremely well produced, precise and emotional music that is capable of telling a tale without anything surrounding it – this isn’t an easy feat for even the most talented soundtrack musicians. This is a particularly exquisite piece of composition and craft that not only carries a story, but does so without any assistance apart from some wobbly drawings on the screen, themselves lovingly put together over the course of 3,000 pencils.
This soundtrack had a really difficult job ahead of it – as old fashioned as the soundtrack to the original Snowman is, it’s an iconic one. It takes real skill to match it – even more skill to be recognised for it – and another sprinkle of talent to get into the charts with it.
One of these very talented men is, as aforementioned, Mr. Andy Burrows, of Razorlight and We Are Scientists fame whom gave us time from his incredibly busy schedule to chat about his work with one of the most iconic of Christmas characters.
Cat On The Wall: Hello there, Andy – A pleasure to have you at Cat on the Wall. Please introduce yourself to our readers..!
COTW: We are of course here to talk about your work with Ilan Eshkeri on the soundtrack to The Snowman and The Snowdog…You’ve been involved in soundtracks on in the past- but how did you both get called up to produce the soundtrack for such a hotly anticipated film?
AB: I’ve been friends with Ilan for a few years , and we’d often talked about working together on something at some point – and then, last year, whilst I was living in New York – during the hottest, muggiest summer I’ve known , came a very winter themed phone call from Ilan – he said he’d just been for a meeting at Lupus films in London , where they’d been discussing the possibility of him writing the score to the Snowman and the Snowdog, and that I was one of the artists that had come up on a short-list for someone for him to work alongside. He called up and asked if I’d be interested.. and obviously I said HELL YES!!! It was such an exciting call to get… Total dream! so then it was put to Lupus that we work together on it, and a couple of months later it was all go!
COTW: Was it particularly daunting, knowing the popularity of the rather iconic music that accompanied the first feature?
AB: Yes it was , hugely daunting. But it was also extremely exciting, being handed that challenge.
We’re both such massive fans of the original film, we felt strongly that if we just put our heart and soul in to it , & not be afraid to go with our instinct, – whilst always keeping the Snowman film in mind – that we’d come up with something special for the new film, at the same time as being fully respectful to the spirit of the original.
COTW: Did you take inspiration from the original’s soundtrack? What are your thoughts on the original music that brought The Snowman to life?
AB: Yes, absolutely. We took a great deal of influence from it. It’s a beautiful score, and “walking in the air” is a total classic. It’s incredible.
We tried to keep it in a similar vein, whilst trying to move it forward to a slightly more contemporary place ..
COTW: It’s fairly clear there’s been some modernisation work on The Snowman and the Snowdog’s accompaniment – what changes did you find most important to introduce for a 2012 audience?
AB: Well, it still has that Christmassy orchestral, choral, traditional sound, of course, but with a little more of a band-feel. There are some drums and guitars and non-choirboy vocals. We really, really wanted to keep it fully original Snowman vibes…. just with a slightly less traditional feel at certain points.
The ‘downhill race’, for instance, features double-drum solos from myself and Dom Howard from Muse, a guitar solo from Tim Wheeler from ASH and a piano solo from Tom Odell – It was a lot of fun to record!
COTW: And what were your own thoughts on the film, being fans of the original?
AB: I think this new film is totally magical and enchanting. Just like the original, but with a few little charming twists on the story.
I loved that they set it in the house from the first film – and with the area surrounding what was back then all farmland – now built up with houses and streets to bring it up to date…
And that the flight scene in this one takes place over London and all it’s amazing landmarks.
COTW: How does production of this sort of film work on the musical side? Are you given storyboards to work from, or do you get given a complete film? With the nature of the feature it must be a very close process..?
AB: We had the complete film, in an incomplete state…If that makes any sense?! So we had it all.. But some was coloured in, and some were just black and white pencil scribbles with notes written all over the place… It was fascinating; So awesome to watch it all come together at the same time.
COTW: How does one make the transition from a host of bands, Razorlight, We are Scientists, I am Arrows, etc. to a soundtrack..? What is it that first got you into this sort of music, and how do you find producing it in comparison to a standard studio album?
AB: I love classical music, and I adore films, like everyone I guess!
COTW: It’s fair to say it’s been a successful endeavour – would you be interested in working with The Snowman again?
COTW: You’re both doing some live shows in London during December, with a huge list of people involved in the performance! What can you tell our readers about the nature of these upcoming concerts?
AB: I’m hoping it’s gonna be a night of festive Snowman/Snowdog magic! It’s gonna be the whole film accompanied by a live orchestra and my band playing the soundtrack – and then a second half of some festive classics with some very special guests…
COTW: We’d like to thank you very much for taking the time to talk with us. We hope you have a fine Christmas season and we can’t wait to hear – and see – your music on television again soon. It’s been a pleasure!
AB: Thankyou Thankyou, Cheers for having me and Merry Chrimble to you! x
It’s obvious Mr. Burrows is very passionate about the Snowman, his little canine friend and indeed the music he produced for their adventure.
About sixty people, from what I can attain, were required to bring this music to life, and they did so in a beautiful way. This music is your narrative, the foundation of the film, and even listening to the album single handedly will muster up the imagery we now associate with the characters.
Whether it be the sad, mournful periods of the film or the upbeat party attended by Father ‘bloomin’ Christmas (I would have allowed some dialogue purely for Mel Smith’s iconic grumpy old git of a Santa to bring up how much of a bloomin’ pain travelling to this snowy place is for a party and a bloomin’ skiing competition…but that’s just me!), this soundtrack captures everything the animation tells. Just as it should.
The Snowman and the Snowdog‘s musical numbers would have to exert something extra to catch success – the same old music would be what people were expecting, and people in 2012 aren’t so accepting to choir boys warbling away as they once were – no, this would have to be modernised – cue Andy Burrows providing a strong mark on the soundtrack he co-authored with Light the Night, the official single of the release.
This track is a perfect accompaniment to the classic flying scenes we all look forward to seeing on the small screen every year – light, dramatic and immensely evocative of flying with some velocity over a sleeping world, it proves just how incredibly capable the people behind this soundtrack are – not only is it capable of holding together a silent film, but it’s more than practical as a chart runner as well.
The entire album does something that most musicians can only dream of, in that it really does know how to describe a journey, an incredible, life-changing journey in which the world itself changes for somebody, a young lad who loses a companion and, in all his naivety, believes the world will never be the same again – only to find that the most magical of things can happen, in the most beautiful of circumstances. The music follows him, adjusting itself accordingly to suit his surroundings – doing so in a very subtle manner that brings us into a long, flowing adventure.
Everything the picture produces is underpinned, held down, cemented together by this excellent bit of music.
It would be pointless to explain what the album’s themes are, the story it tells or what each song is for – we all know the classic story and the sequel picture follows the plot very closely – plus it’ll be on TV in about a month anyway…
All you really need to know is it provides a perfect soundtrack to a wonderful film. A film that carries on the tradition of a real Raymond Briggs Christmas. It modernises itself accordingly, but it remains elegant, well produced, smooth, emotional, loving and gentle. It works in a simply stunning set of terms.
This is a really special piece of music which I feel will become as permanently engrained into the culture of a British Christmas as the Snowman’s checked green scarf, hat, and satsuma nose.
A soundtrack album may not be what most people would ever even consider purchasing. Indeed, it’s difficult to justify sometimes when the very genre is for telling a story – but if you want your heart warmed, some simply wonderful background strings to a quiet, snowy evening, or perhaps just want some contemporary classical compositions in yer lug’oles, this is the sort of album that will fill the void with lots of lovely white snow. It’s simply a pleasant album, one that doesn’t have an easy job to do – but does it perfectly.
It’s not the sort of album I expect millions of people, in their droves, to pick up from their local Sainsbury’s or ASDA. (CD Store? what’s that?) – but it’s the sort of album I expect everyone will hear at least once. And I can’t imagine anybody will truly dislike it. Like the film itself, it’s almost untouchable.
As Andy mentioned, he and Ilan Eshkeri – and a whole host of musicians from the London Metropolitan Orchestra – will be performing live-to-film shows in London for the Christmas season, before being joined by very special guests for a set of classic seasonal and Christmas cover versions. Lodon’s Union Chapel will be transformed for the occasion into a wintry wonderland befitting the occasion, and rumours abound that special guests at the show may just include a certain green hat and scarf wearing star, with a satsuma nose and a broad smile…
These shows will be taking place on the 12th, 13th and 14th of December – tickets are very reasonably priced at £20 and are now on sale here!
The official Soundtrack to the Snowman and the Snowdog was released on the 4th of November with Play It Again Sam records. It’s now available pretty much anywhere and it gets a hearty recommendation from us!