Q&A: Arab Strap singer Aidan Moffat chats to Gregory's Girl's Colin Tully
The 2012 SAY award winner talks to saxman and composer of Glasgow's cult 80s classic before one-off performance
Colin Tully will perform the saxophone tracks that featured in the cult 80s geek-romance, Gregory’s Girl. Before he does, fanboy Aidan Moffat catches him for a chat
Colin Tully: Can't say I knew Bill well before That Sinking Feeling. His cameraman, Mike Coulter shared a flat with me in Gibson Street and Mike may have mentioned to Bill that I was into music writing. Cado Belle had folded and I was kind of holed up in my room with a Fender Rhodes writing songs. I was really excited to get the chance to write film music and the themes for That Sinking Feeling emerged in a bit of a torrent.
AM: When Gregory's Girl came around, were you shown any footage? The melodies on the soundtrack seem such an intrinsic part of the movie – the football training scene when Gregory first sees Dorothy or the scene with him and Susan dancing on their backs in the park – it all seems perfect.
CT: When Bill approached me to do Gregory’s Girl, the filming had all been done and Bill came down to see me with the rough cut. We sat and watched it in a friend's house and discussed where we thought music might fit. I probably used the second hand of my watch to get the timings to the nearest five seconds or so … I was always into the high tech side of things! As to the music underpinning the scene, I guess it was a case of finding the right mood for the shot but also finding something melodically ear-pricking. The dancing in the park scene just came together so beautifully with the visuals – way better than I could ever have hoped for. Alan Darby's gorgeous sustained guitar work made that track almost luminous.
AM: What I love about the soundtrack is that it seems really removed from what the selective history books tell us what was happening in 1980 – 1981 when the film was made, which seems to sum up Gregory – there's that scene where he panics after one of his mystery girls changes clothes in a phone box, into what's really a fairly tame, vaguely punk outfit. But he can't cope with it, he seems to almost fear her; he's not concerned with the trends of the day, and the music reflects this perfectly. Was this a conscious design or was it just Bill Forsyth's personal taste? Again, it works perfectly as a whole; I'm curious to know how deeply it was discussed.
CT: On the scenes with Gregory and his various encounters leading up to the park scene, I can remember one direction Bill gave me. He wanted this section to be a bit of midsummer madness, evocative of the Shakespeare play. Musically I put together some dreamy chords without a particular tone centre, put a jazz groove under them and improvised some soprano sax on top. Again Alan did some very atmospheric guitar stuff. Yes, it didn't connect much with a girl coming out a phone box in a punkish outfit … but then I hadn't connected much with punk music then nor since for that matter. Maybe it comes across like that because my influences were a bit away from the mainstream. An album that was having a big influence on me at that time were Frank Zappa's 'The Grand Wazoo' which for Zappa was a very straight big band recording featuring the wonderful George Duke. Also I loved Carlos Santana's album 'Welcome' which also influenced Alan Darby's approach.
AM: It also means the movie ages well because it's not tied down with contemporary cultural markers; it's pretty timeless and future-proof to me, and works as well today as it did then; I think it will always continue to find a new audience. Have you watched it recently, and are you still a fan? And how did you feel about it when you first saw it?
CT: When I first saw in the premiere I thought it was a great film but had no idea it was going to stick around to become the classic that it is. I would love the film even if I had nothing to do with it and am very proud to be associated with it. My kids get it out now and again and I find myself chuckling at nuances I hadn't noticed before. Yes, I think it still feels fresh. On the music side, it still sounds very 1980's to me!
AM: Have you ever seen the dubbed American version? It's very peculiar, it sounds as though the same actor voiced all the characters and some of the dialogue's altered: ‘Tits, bum, panties – the lot’! The music appears intact though, and the whole thing's on YouTube.
CT: No! I wasn't aware there was an American version … must check it out.
AM: There are lots of brief pieces throughout the film, and a lot seem to fade out. There's a tune at the very end, for instance – just after Andy and Charlie give up hitchhiking to Caracas and walk off into the night. It sounds as though it's part of something longer – was there a lot of unused material?
CT: I wrote a lot more stuff that was not used. I'm not aware of where the original recordings are. I should get off my backside and try to trace them as I get a lot of interest in the score over the internet.
AM: Why revisit the music now? The movie had its 30th anniversary last year – was this the inspiration?
CT: Yes the anniversary was the spur – we were invited to play the Gregory’s Girl tunes at the Bristol Film Music Festival earlier this year.
AM: You're performing the soundtrack with your current band, Sensorium – and playing the band's material too. What can we expect?
CT: Somebody once described the score of Gregory’s Girl as jazz with a Scottish accent. Sensorium to some extent has that trademark. Most of our tunes have a Celtic inflection. We've been together a long time, fourteen years, and we're still enjoying evolving that particular sound we've built together.
Colin Tully plays at Platform, Glasgow on Fri 29 Jun. Part of the Glasgow Jazz Festival.