Swing Punks - Interview with composer Chris Bemand

Chris Bemand is an eclectic music composer based in London. He has released many innovative leftfield electronic albums and writes musical scores for TV and film. His latest project is a live show ‘Swing Punks’ that features complete reworkings of classic 70s punk songs using a twenty piece big band.

Which are the top three moments of your musical career so far?

Singing in front of the Queen when I was eleven years old, playing Glastonbury with my Latin Electro band (Los Ladrones) and composing the score for BAFTA-nominated animated TV show King Arthur’s Disaster’s.

Which do you prefer, composing or performing?

I tend to oscillate between the two. Composing TV/Film score is creatively very satisfying, but it’s also generally quite a lonely existence in the studio. Sometimes the only contact you have is with the director or the producer of the show. Also, you are generally working to tight deadlines and some of the music that you stay up all night to write gets edited out or buried in the final mix. Writing stuff and performing it on stage to a live audience is very immediate, it’s a big buzz and you get the opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t very quickly. Swing Punks has twenty musicians on stage so it’s a fantastic experience just standing in front of them and hearing the brass sections blatting out the arrangements.

How did you come up with the idea to make a show that combines punk songs with Jazz?

I loved punk music in my youth, the energy and vitality was extraordinary, it scared people. The punk song writers were very eloquent, they were fantastic poets, but musically, most punk bands were very limited. Later on, I started to love Jazz, it had a similar creative wildness but more often than not, the very talented musicians seemed content with old standards and lacked any new material that might engage new fans. I wanted to create something more interesting, something big, organic with great virtuosity but also very entertaining. A lot of people don’t know the original punk songs and a lot of people haven’t ever seen a big band, so combine the two and it’s a fairly unique musical experience. Great songs, great musicians, great fun.

How does striving to be a musical originator challenge you?

It’s always difficult to develop an original idea because you’re not working to a template. Creativity can be like wrestling with an untrained dog on a long lead, it’s very easy to get tangled up or wander off in the wrong direction. You have to keep yourself focused and believe that your new idea will be fantastic and worth all the time you are spending on it. Then you have to convince people that you’re actually not crazy……

As a creative mind, what inspires you the most?

Breaking the rules and finding new sounds. As a kid and as an adult you are continually told about what you can and cannot do. I am fascinated about things that shouldn’t work together but do: avocado and coffee, flowers and stripes, …….punk songs and big band jazz music.

We’ve had an amazing response to Swing Punks so far. A complete mix of people from OAPs to teenagers have seen the debut shows. Older Jazz fans love the new arrangements and the big band (we have some amazing soloists) , the younger crowd really like hearing the quirky hit songs for the first time. One of my favourite comments so far has been : “I don’t generally like jazz but I loved your show….” Everyone is leaving with a smile on their face. That is truly inspiring.

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