Barry Adamson on David Lynch and movie scores

We chat to Manchester musician Barry Anderson about Soundtrack – a film season at HOME, Manchester focused on the art of score composition – and working with David Lynch

Feature by Steve Timms | 02 Aug 2016

Long gone are the days when film music fans made their way to the downstairs corner of HMV to flick through dusty soundtrack racks. What was once the musical equivalent of trainspotting has suddenly become cool: Ennio Morricone and Hans Zimmer now play sell-out stadium tours, John Carpenter has emerged from directing retirement to begin a new career as a musician, and people happily pay £60 for a ticket to watch The Godfather with a live orchestra.

This August, HOME celebrates film music with Soundtrack, a curatorial collaboration with HOME’s Artistic Director of Film, Jason Wood, and acclaimed, Moss Side-born musician Barry Adamson. The season showcases a diverse selection of celebrated and lesser-known titles, from traditional Hollywood scores to American independent cinema and European arthouse films. “Sound and vision go together like a hand and a glove, to mix Bowie and The Smiths”, says Wood, “and I thought it was time to celebrate the role that composed scores play in cinema. There have been a few instances of individual composers being honoured but I thought it would be more interesting to take a more expansive view.”

Adamson, of course, is not only a musician but also a successful film composer (he was bitten by the movie score bug after watching a James Bond double bill on a wet childhood holiday in Morecambe). Beginning his career as bass player with art punkers Magazine, and later as a member of Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds, Adamson embarked upon a solo career in the late 80s, pioneering a new sort of genre – soundtracks to films that don’t actually exist.

His first three albums – Moss Side Story, Soul Murder and Oedipus Schmoedipus – are characterised by loose narratives, spoken word interludes, and an eclectic array of musical styles, from cinematic funk to lounge jazz; dark electronica to soaring gospel. “I guess at the end of the day, those early albums are drawn from a personal wellspring of a disconnected life, lived outside of mainstream society,” says Adamson. “I knew I had enough within myself to make the abstract ideas connect in some way.”

Barry Adamson with Magazine during their 2009 reunion

It didn’t take long for directors to take notice, and Adamson was quickly invited to compose for actual movies, including additional score for Derek Jarman's The Last of England and Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers, and full scores for Carl Colpaert's Gas, Food, Lodging and Delusion. The Soundtrack season kicks off with Adamson’s most high profile score: David Lynch’s curious identity–switch-experiment Lost Highway features several Adamson cuts alongside music by usual Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti. The screening, on 5 Aug at HOME, Manchester, will be followed by a live discussion between Wood and Adamson.

The opportunity to work with Lynch came at a low point in Adamson’s life, following a hip replacement operation. “I was pretty down, stuck in a wheelchair,” he recalls. “Later that day, the phone went, it was David Lynch telling me he’d been listening to my music for ten hours straight! I went to LA and worked on the film at his house; it was the perfect tonic to the shit I was going through.”

Curating is a subjective process but soundtrack geeks might argue not with Wood and Adamson’s selections but their omissions: there’s no Jerry Goldsmith, no John Barry, and no Morricone. “No Howard Shore either!” says Wood when me mention the omissions. “What I will say is that we are very much beholden to rights and materials being available.”

“On reflection, there are a thousand films we could have chosen and I’m kicking myself at some of the ones I glossed over,” says Adamson. “And yes, Morricone is a GOD! Now I’m thinking, ‘Why didn’t I include State of Grace?’ – which is a lesser known film noir from the 90s, and a great Morricone score.”

Aside from Lost Highway, there are seven films in the Soundtrack season (Wood and Adamson share their thoughts on the choices below). Clearly they’ve only begun to scratch the surface: there are hundreds of great film scores out there waiting to be appreciated anew (Mychael Danna's Exotica, Stewart Copeland's Rumblefish, Philip Glass' Mishima … the list goes on). The solution might be to run a longer season sometime in the future. Adamson readily agrees. “We should have a Soundtrack all year, and show a film every two weeks – that would sort it out!”

Films in HOME's Soundtrack season

Under the Skin – Mica Levi, 6 Aug

Jason Wood: “Mica Levi is something of a genius, and the score straddles the line between score and sound design. Listening to it without the film is a new and equally invigorating experience.”

Barry Adamson: “The score is something to get excited about. I had one album by Micachu and the Shapes, her band, and so was interested to hear how she might approach the score for this film. The result is a great mixture of welding together theme and dissonance, and twisting it inside of the thing. Dark and beautiful.”

Anatomy of a Murder – Duke Ellington, 7 Aug

JW: “In all honesty, we wanted to screen The Man with the Golden Arm: one of Barry’s first solo recordings was a cover version of this. Sadly, there were no materials, and we won’t screen from a DVD ... so Anatomy of a Murder was something of a compromise. I am a fan though, and how can you not love a film with a score by Duke Ellington?”

Touch of Evil – Henry Mancini, 10 Aug

JW: I think it shows that Mancini had greater scope than people give him credit for. He is known for The Pink Panther and slightly sentimental work like Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I like his work for TV, especially McCloud, but my honest opinion is that he never topped this. How could he?”

Performance – Jack Nitzsche, 13 Aug

BA: ”It was a new kind of score to me, contemporary and based mainly on songs written for the film, as well as some hallucinatory atmospheres. I saw it at the Scala in London I think, and this new type of all art-encompassing-and-referencing-kind-of-way; the narrative and trippyness was something quite new to me.”

Psycho – Bernard Herrmann, 26 Aug

BA: “Why is Bernard Herrmann still relevant? Craft. Insight. Foresight. Hindsight. He’s one of the few that can speak the language of film in the most extraordinary way. If only for study, I think anyone who wants to score a picture should watch the films he’s scored and try and internalise what he is doing and why.”

Cape Fear (1991) – Bernard Herrmann/Elmer Bernstein, 29 Aug

BA: “It’s two for the price of one; you’ve got Bernard Herrmann’s original score, and then Bernstein’s sensibility. It's kind of a facsimile but you can also feel Bernstein’s take, otherwise there wouldn’t be a point. You can hear that it’s been modernised in a way, it’s quite strange. To show both versions of Cape Fear would have been the ideal option.”

Shadows – Charles Mingus/Shafi Hadi, 31 Aug

BA: “There are two versions of Shadows: Mingus scored the first and his saxophonist scored the second. John Cassavettes pissed everyone off with this film about race, setting a marker for a new wave of film... I think Cassavettes was extraordinary, and was working with film in a very pure sense, letting the actors go where they needed to go; there was a lot of improvising to help them find a sort of truth.”

Soundtrack runs 5-31 Aug, HOME, Manchester. For full details, go to