Ned Bigham shows us around his Bignor Park studio
PUBLISHED: 16:13 10 November 2014 | UPDATED: 16:33 20 March 2015
Jim Holden www.jimholden.co.uk 07590 683036
Ned Bigham shows Alice Cooke around his beautiful studio at Bignor Park, near Pulborough
Surrounded by LPs, CDs, sheet music and scores, Ned Bigham’s working space is a music lover’s dream come true. But we are not in Shoreditch or somewhere equally urban and trendy – we are at Bignor Park near Pulborough, looking out over the South Downs and watching young pheasants scamper about in the grass outside, scuttling under hedges as the occasional dog walker ambles past.
Ned Bigham has been composing for as long as he can remember. He has been in acid jazz bands, conducted orchestras and had two number ones in the American club charts. He has written for Amy Winehouse, DJ Robbie Riviera and worked with Neneh Cherry, and is one of the few composers to have had works broadcast on Radio One and Classic FM on the same night. And all of this, impressively, is just the tip of the iceberg.
Ned studied at Balliol College, Oxford and Trinity College of Music, where he was awarded the John Halford and Daryl Runswick Composition Prizes. His first break came playing drums for Neneh Cherry, after which he co-founded the cult acid jazz band D-Influence in the early Nineties. This became the tour supporting act for Michael Jackson, Prince, Seal and Bjork.
And what better source of inspiration than the enviable countryside that surrounds Bignor Park? “I never tire of it,” says Ned, as he shows us around the formal gardens, ponds, monuments and manicured lawns that surround his charming home. “I can’t imagine being anywhere else, really.” As well as being extremely well managed (“by a team of formidable women – I’m surrounded by them here, but it seems to work rather well that way”), the gardens are both tasteful and in keeping with the downland surroundings – you can see why the place is in such demand as a venue for weddings, private functions and corporate events.
As we are given a tour, I remark on the two charming bronze sheep that sit at the foot of the garden, grazing by the ha-ha. “There actually used to be three but one was crushed by a falling tree – it was quite the tragedy! We must get her replaced.” The fallen tree in question was carved into a table that still sits where it fell at the bottom of the garden and is used for summer lunches (the ill-fated sheep has since been removed).
Ned’s musical career got off to an auspicious start when as a child he was lent a drum kit belonging to one of the Rolling Stones. “It even had the name of the band on the front – I don’t think I fully realised at the time what an amazing thing that was to have to play with.” This came about as a friend of his parents was dating one of the band, and as an only child, Ned says that he was able to pour all of his time into his music.
This love of drumming has never faded, and there are collections of drumsticks dotted about the studio alongside a piano, various shapes and sizes of percussion instrument and even a hand-painted drum from the Crimean War. In the centre of the room there is an impressive collection of speakers, four keyboards and a large computer screen – it is here that Ned makes his music, which nowadays is mostly orchestral. “It’s all done through the computer on a programme called Sibelius – the technology is just astounding. You play a piece of music and it transcribes it. You can even produce the many different sounds of the orchestra. Compare that to what composers had to cope with back in the day, and on such impossible deadlines – it’s just a world apart.”
The modernity of this purpose-built little space (once a printing studio used by Ned’s mother, who now keeps her printers in the dovecote at the home farm, just along the driveway), is in stark contrast to the classic architecture of the house and 1,200 acres of gardens and fields that it sits alongside, but it is this, says Ned, that makes it such a special place to work. “It has everything that I need, and yet I am in the most fantastically rural place. What could be better?”
Originally used as grounds to fatten deer, Bignor Park was bought in 1584 by Richard Pellatt of Steyning, who built the first house on the site, the only surviving relics of which are two finials at the west end of the walled garden. The property descended through his family until it was sold in 1712 to Nicholas Turner. Charlotte Turner Smith (1749-1806), prominent poet and novelist, spent her childhood at Bignor Park - it became the inspiration for many of her poems. At the start of the 19th century the Cornish tin miner John Hawkins bought the estate, built the present house in 1826-9 and laid out the surrounding parkland according to a plan devised by renowned landscape designer and artist William Sawrey Gilpin. “My uncle once told me never to work with a view as it distracts you,” says Ned. “I couldn’t disagree more.”
To find out more about using Bignor Park as a venue, speak to Louise Hartley (07798 807043; firstname.lastname@example.org) or go to www.bignorpark.co.uk