Friday, 20 January 2017

The Braw and The Brave Meet....Gary Cameron

Photo by Stewart Ennis 

Meet Gary Cameron, Musical Director and Composer. Spend a few moments talking shop with him and the infectious energy and passion he has for music and his work is palpable. He gets excited discussing projects he's been involved with, clearly cherishing the experiences and the breakthrough moments for particpants that he's been witness to along the way. Ever ready to embrace new opportunities, for Gary it's all about creating good music for others, with others. "My parents can't believe that all those years of playing guitar in my room have paid off. I got past a certain age and my mum was like, "Why are you still jumping around?!". I just had too much energy!". It was this vivacity, married with his inquisitive nature, that sparked Gary's love affair with music aged 7. 
"My older sister Lee was in a production of Little Shop of Horrors and I just fell in love with it and became obsessed with the soundtrack. I'd go get corkscrews out of the kitchen draw and perform 'The Dentist Song'". A highly skilled, self-taught musician, Gary started playing guitar when he discovered he only had to know three chords in order to play The Beatles hit 'Love Me Do'. "I've never had lessons for any instrument. I just taught myself. I can sit down at a piano and write what I need to write, which works perfectly for me"With a CV now boasting seriously impressive collaborations and commissions for some of the UK's most prestigious theatre companies and arts organisations, it proves that the passion and drive he displayed from a young age has led him to where he is now. 

Forming the band The Travels whilst still at secondary school, as front man and lead guitarist, Gary took on the role of song writing and producing much of their music. Headlining King Tuts in Glasgow and wrapping up their UK tour at the famous Cavern Club in Liverpool were real highlights of the band's career and despite taking an extended hiatus over the last few years, Gary assures, "We've never actually broken up". With no plans to go solo, keen to continue composing and producing music, Gary followed the advice of a mentor and embarked on experiencing an eclectic education, studying at various establishments, before completing a degree in Music Production. A short, not so successful stint as a postman following university led him to pursue 'the dream', starting out creating music for his sister's theatre company, Folksy Theatre which consequently led to more opportunities. "My sister asking me to write some spanish influenced music for Much Ado About Nothing started it all for me. Thanks Lee.”

 Gary has enjoyed a varied career thus far and it's evident in speaking with him that he gets a real buzz from the shifts and changes one has to navigate as a freelance artist. Variety offers the chance to challenge oneself but also to have heaps of fun. "I love all the intricate work I do with sound design but then when composing for shows aimed at children I can produce shamelessly catchy songs that people walk away humming the tune to!" . Highlights for him have included his time working on The National Theatre of Scotland's Commonwealth project Tin Forest in 2014 and more recently, Experiment 01: Abandoned with Dundee Rep, where not only the work produced by the young people impressed him but the camaraderie and supportive environment that was born  out of the experience. "It's amazing when you see them blossom through the process....when someone who felt like an outsider at the beginning has become part of the group by the end-it's amazing! When those young people bring so many ideas and feel confident in sharing them. Those moments are the real highlights!". Reflecting on his own experience as a young person Gary recognises that being creative can open doors for young people, break down barriers, boost confidence and make a lasting difference. Delivering workshops in some of the country's most deprived areas he's had a hand in supporting reluctant, under confident young people to be empowered through participation in the arts. "It's all about the importance of making a difference even if it's just for that moment. When you listen to and take on their ideas you break through the scepticism. It's that validation from an adult when they're listened to that matters". 

The creative process for any artist can start with the smallest of notions or a slither of inspiration. From drumming his fingers on a table mid-meeting, to hearing an inner melody as a concept is described to him, Gary must capture it there and then (usually by recording it on his iPhone) for further exploration. Reacting to his instincts and trusting that every  project is a journey, he doesn't fear an idea potentially not working as he knows it's all part of the process. "I can be writing entire songs with lyrics when we only have one page of what the show is going to be about. That can be a starting point to navigate from". He thrives on being able to closely work alongside others to breathe life in to their art form through his music. Initial discussions about a project will spark melodies and song lyrics before Gary's even picked up an instrument or put pen to paper. "A Director may not know what they want or can't articulate it. You give them something totally different from what they thought they wanted and it turns out that they actually prefer it"He enjoys a challenge as well as tracking the inevitable pathways that his work will go through, with experimentation and outsider influences serving to shape the final product. "Sometimes you'll get attached to an idea but you soon realise you just can't do that". Though never short of an idea, he's most at ease when the parameters are narrowed. " I love restrictions being put on something. If you said "Write a song about anything you'd like", I'd probably struggle to start it. But if you asked me to write a hip hop song about coffee I'd be able to do it-just like that!". 

A super fan of musical theatre and film composer Alan Menken, best know for his scores for Walt Disney films such as The Little Mermaid and Pocahontas, Gary has always been fascinated by the power of music in film. "The sound design part of what he does is incredible. He accentuates every step and if you were to take his music out of any scene, you'd start to see people squirm in their seats". Gary delivered sound design classes at last year's YTAS's National Festival of Youth Theatre working with young people to create their own soundtracks for exerts of film. Swapping out the ominous drone that underscores Robert De Niro's character Jimmy Conway in the film Goodfellas as he contemplates his iimminent killing spree, Gary replaced it with a comical Ragtime track to demonstrate what music means to a scene . "It just became a totally different thing. The young people said it now looked as though he was about to start dancing! It's a wonderful acting piece but it just showed them that you can manipulate even the best actors in the world with music"Influencing directors' decisions, actors' performances and audiences' reactions is all part and parcel of what Gary's work entails but being influenced by others' music is something he is tentative about. "Funnily enough I don't listen to lots of music. I'm often worried I'll subconsciously take something. Sometimes I just need silence- it gives me time to think as there's constant music in my head". 

Amidst all his theatre work, Gary is also Choir Master for Edinburgh Playhouse Community Choir rehearsing with his group weekly. The 50 strong group range from 16-85 years old and enjoy learning songs from various genres of music. Gary gets so much from leading the group and is always overwhelmed at the impact it has on his participants. Helping the group to write their their first ever song last year, he asked them "What does Christmas mean to you?". With everyone involved in the creative process, Gary felt it was important to give them an insight into songwriting and to give them ownership of the piece. He sees the emotional element that arises in being part of something so unique with like minded people and this is something he never takes for granted. "You just don't realise the effect something like singing once a week has on people".  

Photo by Toby Williams

Never one to rest on his laurels, Gary lives for that "little nervous feeling in your tummy that you end up loving" and seeks out new challenges and the opportunity to engage with new people. 2017 is looking to be another corker year of collaborating and creating, with already set to work on productions with The King's Theatre Edinburgh, Hibbs FC, Macrobert Arts Centre and Dundee Rep. "I can't not be busy. I'm so bad at relaxing! You don't need to live for the weekends because every day you enjoy yourself if you're doing something that you love, something that matters to you” 

Most likely to be listening to....
"'Solid Air' by John Martyn or the entire Beatles' anthology"

Biggest pet peeve...

"I hate lateness. If people are late on me more than 3 times, I go late on them...sometimes I arrive and they're still not there! Never go late on a late person!"

Favourite word...


Best song lyric....

"'I'd probably still adore you with your hands around my neck'- 505 by the Artic Monkeys-Alex Turner is a fantastic lyricist! I also love 'Wise men say only fools rush in but I can't help falling in love with you'". 

Three dinner party guests would be....

"Paul McCartney-I think he'd be a kinder guest than John Lennon! Alan Menken of course and Scorsese! I'd make them my chorizo pasta!"

Favourite memory....

"When I was around 16, Rihanna's Umbrella had just be released but it wasn't that well known yet. The band rehearsed it as a bit of a laugh and then we played it at a gig the week it went to number one The entire crowd were singing all the words and I jumped in to the crowd-the atmosphere was amazing!"

Favourite musical....

"Little Shop of Horrors! I'm also a huge fan of The Book of Mormon. I just think it's just the right way to do musicals now-in the world we now live in, we can't keep pretending that everything's Oz. It's not offensive, there's nothing in it that's not true."

I'm happiest when...

"I'm being challenged!"

Up and Coming Productions and Projects 

Festival and Kings Theatres - Lysistrata

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