Nordoff Robbins meets…

Michael Burdett

As a first part of our new guest blog series, we spent time getting to know one of our own incredible supporters, TV music writer Michael Burdett, who has generated over £30,000 for the charity through his brilliant project work.

Any donation or regular gift, however big or small, is appreciated hugely by all of us at Nordoff Robbins, because we know that it makes such a difference to people in need of music therapy.

We spent time getting to know one of our own incredible supporters, TV music writer Michael Burdett, who has generated over £30,000 for the charity through his brilliant project work. The award-winning show Strange Face – Adventures with a Lost Nick Drake Recording has twice been one of The Times top picks of The Edinburgh Fringe.

Despite his busy schedule with another photography project, we managed to grab Michael for a few minutes to ask a few questions and learn a little more about how music has influenced his life and how it is at the heart of the project.

Michael has been involved with music since the 1970s. He played in a few bands, worked in studios as an engineer and producer before settling on writing music for television, which he still does to this day. He co-wrote the theme tunes to Masterchef and Homes Under The Hammer amongst others, and also writes his own music under the name ‘Little Death Orchestra’.

 

So Michael, how does music impact your life?

My relationship with music has changed recently. My desire to listen to music faded over time but recently like many people of a certain age, I’ve re-invested in vinyl and it’s reignited my love of music. The simple act of choosing an album, and placing it on a turntable and taking time looking at the sleeve helps you to interact more with the music that’s being played and certainly gives me a musical experience with more depth.

Why did you choose to support Nordoff Robbins?

Both of my parents have dementia and my mother can no longer construct sentences, but she can still occasionally be word perfect with songs from her childhood. So together we sing, and it makes us happy. I’ve had the personal experience of seeing how music therapy can help and have seen the benefits of it for so many people. It can be quite astonishing and an incredibly positive experience.

I’ve been aware of the great work Nordoff Robbins has been doing for many years and raising money for the charity seemed like the natural thing to do as my show and book are about how music acts as a conduit for communication.

Tell us about the ‘Strange Face Adventures with a Lost Nick Drake Recording’ project.

 The project involved strangers being offered the opportunity to hear an unreleased recording by English singer-songwriter Nick Drake, in exchange for being photographed. Out of this came a collection of photos and stories from people all over Britain, including a few famous names like Billy Bragg, Tom Stoppard, Fearne Cotton, Martin Freeman and Noel Fielding. I decided to call it Strange Face as a nod to the opening words of the recording, and not a reference to the amazing people I stopped.

What spurred you on to start it?

 Back in the seventies, I retrieved a lot of old tapes (with permission) from a bin at the back of Island Records, where at the time, I was working as a post boy. I was setting up my own studio and thought they’d be useful for me to record over in the future. One tape I found said Nick Drake on the spine, and on the back, Cello Song, With Love XX. Nick Drake had passed away 5 years earlier, but I assumed it was his handwriting and, already being a great admirer of his work, decided to keep the tape. It didn’t feel right to tape over what was already on there and I couldn’t let it go to the dump, so I didn’t do anything with it…until 20 years later when I finally listened to it.

 How did you go about pulling the project together after listening to the tape?

After the first listen, I immediately realised that it was a different version of the song I already knew, and that I was listening to something that had not been heard since the late 60s. It was a very exciting discovery. I played it to the manager of Nick’s estate, who thought it was lovely but not to be released, which of course had to be respected. So here I was with a recording by one of the most influential singer-songwriters of the last fifty years which couldn’t be released or broadcast. And in 2010, I decided to go on a journey to take Nick’s music to those willing to listen to it.

I went to every county in Britain and randomly stopped 200 people, whether they had heard of Nick Drake or not,  asking if they’d like to hear the recording on headphones whilst I took their picture. Amazingly only a handful of people said no, and by photographing people listening to the song, the project became something extraordinary. These are the only people to have heard the recording in the last 45 years or so.

The thing that I found most remarkable about the journey was how through music, the experience made people completely open up. They would talk about Nick Drake or about their own personal relationship to music, and most would share stories with me about their lives. There was laughter, tears and some extraordinary coincidences.

And now this amazing project has developed into something bigger! Tell us about that.

The book Strange Face Adventures with a Lost Nick Drake Recording came out of that project and it’s taken on a life of its own! I also enjoy introducing audiences to Nick Drake and the work of Nordoff Robbins. I love the fact that a tape discarded in the seventies recorded by a then relatively unknown artist has been able to do some real good. In my entire professional life Strange Face Adventures with a Lost Nick Drake Recording is the thing I am most proud of. And I’ve written music for Mr Blobby!

I’m currently working on another project that’s similar to Strange Face Adventures with a Lost Nick Drake Recording and am proud to say that Nordoff Robbins will benefit from this one too.

You can buy copies of the book Strange Face Adventures with a Lost Nick Drake Recording and be kept up to date about upcoming shows at  www.thestrangefaceproject.com

Scroll through for a little taster of his work below…