Jarvis Cocker, Oscar-winning composer Dario Marianelli and cellist Philip Sheppard launch and perform at Not So Silent Movies…, an often hilarious, all-star improvisation to the silent comedy classics.
When it comes to creating split-second comic mayhem, cellist-composer Philip Sheppard takes his inspiration from such masters of the silent screen as Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton. In the old movie houses a lone pianist improvised along to the on-screen antics; but once a month at King’s Place concert hall, it’s what Sheppard calls ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway? meets chamber music’, as he and a crack line-up of players spontaneously generate a soundtrack for silent comedy classics.
The audiences at Not So Silent Movies… regularly end up helpless with laughter, but Sheppard and his colleagues stick to some serious rules: no rehearsal, not even the most basic sheet music, and no-one can view the films ahead of the show.
‘We end up with as much slapstick on stage as on screen,’ says Sheppard. ‘There is such a buzz from playing with no safety net. It’s the biggest adrenalin rush I’ve had as a performer, and that’s what makes it work. I love throwing caution to the wind and creating a spontaneous composition with a team of musicians who are at the top of their game.’
The ensemble has no leader, and the players take suggestions from the audience as how to start. ‘I’ve played at Ronnie Scott’s before now, but Not So Silent Movies… is much freer than jazz,’ continues Sheppard. ‘We’ve had phrases that start off as Brahms and end up as hip-hop, or which morph from Purcell to Stevie Wonder. At the same time, there is a sense of respect for the genre we happen to be working in at any moment. Something happens – we make a connection.’
The third series of Not So Silent Movies… was launched in September by Jarvis Cocker, who made his name with Britpop band Pulp, film composer Dario Marianelli, who in 2008 won an Oscar for his score for Atonement and has composed the music for Anna Karenina, and John Etheridge, whose guitar playing has evoked awe in such luminaries as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Pat Metheny, Soft Machine and Sting. There’s still time to catch the last in the series on 2 December, featuring returning guest artist, the renowned percussionist Evelyn Glennie.