Essentially Pop Talks to Neil Davidge

You may not recognise his name, but you’ll know the work of Neil Davidge. He’s best known for the production of Massive Attack’s ‘Mezzanine’ and the hauntingly beautiful single ‘Teardrop’.

There’s more to him than that though. Davidge composed the music for Microsoft’s Halo 4, and his movie score credits include the forthcoming James Franco/Kate Hudson movie ‘Good People’ as well as the highly anticipated ‘Monsters: Dark Continent’ sequel premiering in late November 2014. A cursory glance of his wikipedia page and you realise how influential this guy is – in a career starting in the late 80s he’s worked with all the big names in the business including David Bowie, Snoop Dog, Damon Albarn, Primal Scream and Mos Def.

Earlier this year, Neil, a prolific writer and producer, released his first solo album, entitled ‘Slo Light’, which has been described as a work of “quality electronics and distinctive beats”.

Much respected for his work behind the scenes, Neil gave us some of the most remarkable music of the 90’s.

His new single ‘Riot Pictures’, out Monday, has been composed by Davidge with lyrics by Massive Attack’s Robert Del Naja. Sung by the gorgeous Sandie Shaw, the video seamlessly takes us from the 60s right through to the present day, We’re really grateful at Essentially Pop to have been given this opportunity to speak to Neil.

We’re curious to know how the collaboration with Sandie Shaw came about?

By chance and design. My management company had been sending me links and CD’s for years of potential vocal collaborators for my solo project. I think I turned all of them down… so, suffice to say they were pretty frustrated with me. In desperation they asked me for a list, artists who I’d like to work with or at least an idea of what kind of voice I was looking for. I emailed them a list of around 30 names, most of who were no longer with us. Sandie was very near the top of that list, probably along with Bowie, Lennon and Nina Simone. I sent the list over and got an email back saying that they’d had a request that morning from Sandie’s representation as to whether I’d be up for working on something with her. She told me since that her management asked for a similar list of who she’d like to work with, just me and Nigel Godrich. Theres a further twist, it turns out she and my uncle, the songwriter Roger Cook worked together back in the 60’s or 70’s and shared an office. She assures me however she didn’t sleep with him… I think she’s quite proud of that.

How does the real Sandie Shaw compare to the Sandie you were expecting to meet?

I have to say she really is very much what I imagined, full of life, passion, enthusiasm. She hasn’t aged a day since I saw her as a kid on Top of the Pops singing ‘Always Something There to Remind Me’, her energy is as bright as it was back then.

We loved the video for ‘Riot Pictures’, and found the use of the 60s footage in the video very effective. What was the thinking behind that?

Cheers! We recorded the song shortly after a protest in Bristol at the opening of a Tesco Express that turned into a riot. That was very near my studio which also overlooks the place where there was also a riot in the summer of 1980. On hearing Sandie singing the song I had this picture in my head of her, bare foot 60’s Sandie standing in the crowd of protesters, urging them to speak out. Young people found their voice in the 60’s, no longer seen and not heard. Along with Dylan, Lennon, Sandie was part of that change, a role model to a young generation (especially young girls) that challenged the establishment that can still be felt today.

As well as huge success with Massive Attack, you’ve worked with some huge names such as David Bowie, Damon Albarn, and even Snoop Dogg. Do you feel it’s important to have projects outside of the band?

Absolutely, as an artist you need to be challenged, I need to be challenged. Within any creative team people start to settle after a time, they become comfortable in their role and ultimately things start to become dull. I’ve always had ambitions beyond what the band are doing, we all do. I’ve been scoring movies, I’ve made this album, I scored the video game ‘Halo 4’. I love working with new people, creative individuals in all fields, it fuels me, helps me stay fresh and helps me bring new ideas to the table. I don’t know if I’ll ever work with the band again but if I do it’ll be because I have something new to offer.

You are a writer, producer, and more, but what do you do to relax?

I do gardening… well, I cut the grass, well, actually the grass really needs cutting… Music is as full time a job as you could ever have, apart from being a mum in the early years I guess. What little time I do have spare I spend with my 21 month old son and my partner. We play with diggers, read stories, sometimes drive to the beach on a weekend and splash in the sea and play football. I have two daughters too, one is now working and living in London, the other is studying music in Bristol. We occasionally hang out, listen to music, maybe go to the cinema. I might get half an hour on my own in the day to chill and watch half an episode of something. Maybe I’ll take up gardening one day, or hang gliding… I doubt that.

What do you consider to be your career highlight? Or do you think the best is yet to come?

There have been many moments. Working with Liz Fraser on the track ’Teardrop’. Playing with Massive Attack in Bristol in 2004 in aid of the Tsunami victims along with Portished and Robert Plant. Working with Bowie and Baz Luhrmann the track ‘Nature Boy’ for the film ‘Moulin Rouge’. Hanging out in the offices of 343 industries in Seattle for the game Halo 4. Hearing a 60 piece orchestra playing my music at Abbey Road studios. Standing in the cold wet courtyard of the V&A hearing my music play through 46 monoliths. There are more, and there will be more I’m sure.

What’s your advice to anyone wanting to break into the music industry these days?

That’s a tough one. You’ve really got to want it, it’s got to be the only thing you want and if you’re main reason for doing it is fame and glory and money… then find something else you can do because the chances are you’ll give up. That’s always been the case. If you know without any reservations that this is the career you want and are prepared to give it everything then… work with everyone you can work with, for experience, for favours, for free and never for glory. Be as easy to work with as you can be and dump whatever ego you have at the door.

Finally – what would you like people to take away from “Riot Pictures”?

That each and everyone one of us can make a difference in this world, make it a better place for all.

‘Riot Pictures’ is due for release on Monday 6th October. For more about Davidge, check his official website.

Neil Davidge spoke to Juliet Barrable and LIsa Hafey

About the author

Juliet is married with one daughter, a dog and a cat. She grew up in East London, but currently resides in Hertfordshire.

Having spent her formative years in the Mod scene, she has a lot of love for the 60’s...and the music of the Mod Father, Mr Paul Weller.

Juliet has always loved to write and began training to be a journalist, before ill health caused her to put her life on hold.

Two kidney transplants later, she still enjoys all kinds of writing, including poetry, and has had several poems published in various magazines and anthologies. She likes needlecraft, is big on animal rights and loves discovering brilliant new artists that the main stream media may have overlooked.

Last, but by no means least, she has a lot of love for two very talented Irish twins, you may know them as Jedward :)

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