Buster Birch writes about his upcoming show, Buster Plays Buster at the St James Theatre on Sunday 9th of June (2:30pm matinee show). The show features Birch’s live soundtrack to Buster Keaton’s 1924 film Sherlock Jr.
I’m very excited about putting on the show at St James Theatre next Sunday (9 June). The venue is gorgeous and the intimate studio theatre will be the perfect setting for it. This gig will see us joined by the award winning saxophonist Derek Nash, so it will be great to have his energy and great playing with us too. We’ve played the show quite a few times over the last 12 months so it has really got tight now and to the point where the music flows and breathes naturally, in spite of the many musical challenges. So it really is a joy to perform it and the audiences so far have loved it too. Its also a real treat to put the show on in London, as most of our gigs have been quite a way out of town, so this is a great opportunity for friends to come along and see it.
The brief that I set myself for this project was to play music that enhanced the film and captured the mood of each different scene, but would also work in its own right as complete tunes and a well balanced concert, without being totally subservient to every twist and turn of action on screen. I didn’t want to create some kind of slapstick cartoon score, with every knock on the head accompanied by a honk, that would be too crude. Also, I never saw the necessity of always having rag time piano music whenever showing a Buster Keaton film, like some kind of museum preservation piece. That idea of being “perfectly true to the original” is nonsense anyway because there were no scores and the original pianists improvised all the time. Who knows what they played? I thought that, if its done right, the movie would work equally well with the music that I would usually choose to perform with my quartet, tunes from the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Harold Arlen, Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter.
And so I set to work on it, but pretty quickly I came across a number of technical and practical problems. Like, having more than one performer but no conductor, so how do we change tempo and count each tune in and start and stop together, in sync with the movie action, without seeing the screen? How to score the music to fit perfectly in time to each scene and make sense as a piece of music on its own, with a beginning a middle and an end, at the right tempo? How much should I score out and how much space should I leave for the musicians to improvise, so they can have long enough to explore a solo?
It was a fascinating process which took about 3 months before I was really happy with it and had the finished product. I learned a lot from the process and was thrilled to have something that started as an idea in my head fully realised out in front of me. I knew it worked artistically, but would anyone else think so?! Fortunately the reception has been wonderful and so many people, of all ages, have commented on how much they enjoyed the show.
Derek Nash – sax
Neil Casey – piano
Pete Ringrose – bass
Buster Birch – drums
Box office phone: 0844 264 2140. Or book tickets HERE (£15-£30)