I grew up in a world filled with jazz. My father (Larry Figgis) was a pianist and DJ (and party animal). A large collection of records of pre bop music formed my soundscape and my Father and I communicated through music. From him I learned to ‘listen’ to music and to discern the poetic, invaluable knowledge. I began trumpet lessons at eleven and was quick to learn, wanting to impress Larry the only way I knew how. At this point I was living on a council estate in Newcastle and attending the new ‘Comprehensive’ school, newly built in our area. At this school I had four teachers who changed my life, and it is worth noting them
Ian Carr was my English teacher. Carr, who sadly passed away in 1999, is recognised as one of the leading modern jazz musicians in the UK. He also wrote a much praised biography of Miles Davis.
John Walters, another trumpet player, was my art teacher. He later played with Allan Price and then became John Peel’s producer at the BBC. He gave me my first Charlie Parker albums and smuggled me into jazz clubs so I could hear live music.
Trevor Maynard was a PE teacher, also a trumpet player who preferred ‘trad’, he also gave me records and a book of notated Louis Armstrong solos.
Mr Ormston – my music teacher who put me in charge of the school band and was instrumental in getting me into music school.
With this amazing collection of mentors I flourished and became a good player. At fourteen I took up the guitar, inspired by Segovia, Big Bill Broonzy and also the notion that it was easier to impress girls on guitar than trumpet. At 16 I was approached by a local pop group (THE COLTS) to join them. They did the working mens clubs in the NE and their repertoire was mainly Beatles covers. A friend of my sisters was dating the young Bryan Ferry and he was playing with a band called GAS BOARD, they were looking for a horn section and I needed little persuading to join. The GB’s were super hip FineArt students, older than me and obsessed with Otis Redding and Bobby Bland and James Brown. By now I had been asked to leave my school and was trying to get into a college to study music and so I began hanging in the Uni’ and getting into various interestingly bad habits and touring with the GB. A records contract was promised in London and we set off. Things quickly fell apart and the band folded. Later Ferry contacted me to suggest working in his new band, Roxy Music but my hunch was that this was a non starter.
I arrived at Trent Park College and lived a lie for 3 years. I had bluffed my way into the music course without being able to read music. My improv skills were good on trumpet and no-one questioned my reading. I di my best to catch up and painfully learned to read and write music so that I could study harmony, counterpoint and composition. I also had a brilliant classical guitar teacher (Anthoney Rooley) who introduced me to amazing composers for Lute. During this time I began to explore the music scene in London and began playing with a ‘Free jazz’ group known as the PEOPLE BAND. The PB was unlike anything I had ever heard before and the ensemble varied in size from 3 to 20 players. There was no apparent structure or key and no fixed length of performance. The group made one album, produced by Rolling Stone drummer, Charlie Watts, which has since assumed minor iconic status among free players.
As I moved into theatre work I began composing. Lack of finance led to inventiveness with tape recorders and loops and early attempts at electronic music, these would be augmented by live performance, usually on trumpet or guitar.
REDHEUGH was a performance piece that I wrote and directed and for it I wrote four songs in German all of which were accompanied by a string quartet. I continued writing songs for theatre through the next two performance pieces and then suddenly I found myself in the world of film.
The first films I made had small budgets and producers were delighted to have me compose score, the fee always mysteriously being absorbed in to the directing fee. Hollywood studios were a different kettle ‘o’ fish. I struggled hard on INTERNAL AFFAIRS to be allowed to compose. I have since realised that producers in LA like to be able to control the music so they can do the record deals etc. I finally persuaded Paramount but they insisted I work with another composer. This was a good thing as my collaborators were user friendly and very savvy with new technology (the Synclavier). Liebestraum was such a disaster for MGM that they no longer cared about the music but MR JONES was different and after a horrid battle with producer Ray Stark I was dismissed as composer and replaced by someone famous. The pattern was repeated on THE BROWNING VERSION with producer RIDLEY SCOTT and again on MARA, a short film with Juliette Binoche which I made for HBO.
By the time I made LEAVING LAS VEGAS I’d had enough of studios and their ways and was determined to never be in that situation again. It was gratifying to receive a letter of praise from the producer of MARA noting how much he loved the music. Revenge as they say, is a dish etc. I wrote back to thank him and asked if he’d noticed that a large section of the score of LLV was in fact the score for MARA that he had replaced. He never replied.
And so I continue to compose for my films. I work in a simple way. Always motivated by the emotion of the film. I lay down basic tracks and then usually bring in exceptional musicians to improvise over my structures. I favour female voice.
If the budget permits I happily work with large orchestras and choirs and in these instances (ONE NIGHT STAND, COLD CREEK MANOR) I collaborate with an orchestrater.
I practise every day if possible on trumpet and continue to slog through renaissance guiter pieces. My sight reading skills are still minimal. I actually write quicker than I read.
I have composed for various ensembles, orchestra, voice, string quartet, duo bass and piano, trumpet and piano.
I have taken up the fretless bass a few years ago and have done a few gigs with my partner, Rosey Chan, a brilliant pianist and mega sight reader.