Interview with Sussex composer Damian Montagu
PUBLISHED: 06:53 28 January 2020
Sussex composer Damian Montagu has released a second album inspired by the majesty of the South Downs
For those who love them, the undulating curves and ancient magic of the South Downs have long been a source of inspiration. For Sussex composer Damian Montagu, walking in the countryside is not just pleasure and recreation, but a form of meditation - one which resulted in his 2016 album In a South Downs Way. That album shot to the top of the classical charts after actor Hugh Bonneville named the title track as one of his Desert Island Discs on Radio 4.
Now Damian has revisited his beloved landscape for the album A Walk Into Reverie, released on 20 January. The 11 compositions are led by Damian with strings performed by the Tippet Quartet and piano by Rob Sword with brass arrangements and performances by ex-Paul Weller trumpeter Stewart Prosser, who co-produced the album.
The album is the second in the Walk Upon England project, which Damian and Stewart devised as a celebration of the English countryside in music and creativity. But Damian says he didn't actually set out to make another Sussex album: "I go where the inspiration blows. Music just flows out of me when I'm walking and it's a very natural process for me."
Damian walks alone except for his three dogs and says that walking is a daily necessity for someone who works from home. Creative inspiration comes naturally, he says, because of the rhythm of perambulation. "Almost all of the melody is written in the landscape. I hear the melodies and I have to literally hum them into my phone, it's not something I can notate or score. That rhythm of walking and the melodies I've used are the ones that stick - the ones where you go on another walk and you hear them again. But it's really hard to explain because as a musician you can often hear all the accompanying instruments and you can hear what the melody is being played on as well."
Now Damian and Stewart hope to perform the album in the area that inspired it. "We're really open to performances generating money for charities. I have always felt that this is a project that should give back to the land, because it came from the land. There was such a strong connection to the South Downs when I wrote it and I really do love the idea that somehow I could give back. I have had some lovely messages from people in the South Downs, one of whom is about to use my music at their wedding.
"I have this dream that people who can't walk, or can't get out and about - older people or perhaps those who are in hospital - I love the idea that they could listen to the album and somehow be transported to the Downs."
My cultural life
I've been reading Wilding by Isabella Tree, about the Knepp Estate. I am looking forward to hopefully visiting soon. I'd quite like to get some musical inspiration there.
I listen to a wide variety of music. I love everything from German composer Nils Frahm and the reflective nature of his music to Yann Tiersen, Philip Glass and Ólafur Arnalds - a lot of whom have rather unfortunately been described as neo-classical artists. I produce a South London singer called Jareth and her music is much more experimental.
I have been watching Chernobyl and the second series of Succession which I have been absolutely loving - the acting and the direction are both brilliant. I've also just watched a really amazing mountaineering documentary called The Dawn Wall. We're Netflix addicts!