Tommy Smith on Planet Wave: 'The music composed is directly inspired by the poems and the imagery is manifested in my mind'

Tommy Smith on Planet Wave: 'The music composed is directly inspired by the poems and the imagery is manifested in my mind'

To celebrate poet Edwin Morgan's centenary, the SNJO perform the epic collaboration between Morgan and composer Tommy Smith

Opening with the Big Bang and ending with the Renaissance, Edwin Morgan and Tommy Smith's Planet Wave is an epic work fusing poetry, jazz, visual arts and theatre. Originally performed in 1997, the suite has been revived to celebrate the late Scottish makar's centenary. Backed by the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, composer and saxophonist Smith is joined up front by actor Niall Greig Fulton, who will read Morgan's poems.

Smith collaborated with Morgan on several projects, beginning with Beasts of Scotland in 1996. The pair remained close friends until Morgan's death in 2010. 'I even got a few poetry lessons from him!' For Planet Wave Smith commissioned 55 poems from Morgan addressing the subject of 'time, creation and our world.' As Smith recounts, their aim was to 'explore in word and music the period from the Big Bang in 20 Billion B.C. to 1543 A.D, the Age of Copernicus.' Along the way, we witness the fall of the dinosaurs and the advent of cavemen, the Great Flood and the building of the pyramids. There's the disturbing spectacle of a Viking funeral, and encounters with Genghis Khan, Ferdinand Magellan and Nicolaus Copernicus.

Tommy Smith on Planet Wave: 'The music composed is directly inspired by the poems and the imagery is manifested in my mind'

Tommy Smith / credit: Aldo Ferrarello

'For Planet Wave I gave Eddie some videos of a historical nature and together we looked at the various points we'd focus on, as we did with Beasts of Scotland a year earlier,' Smith recalls. 'The music composed is directly inspired by the poems and the imagery is manifested in my mind. Eddie would complete a poem and I'd set to work. If I had a question I would phone him.'

Beasts of Scotland was written for a sextet, but for Planet Wave, Smith wanted to create music for a larger ensemble. 'My compositional style and approach was taking an ever more challenging route. Collaboration was always present. I expanded the band to three trumpets, four saxes, two trombones, piano/effects, electric/acoustic bass, drums/percussion. I also used a lot of samples: wind, thunder, rain, explosions, meteors, horns, weird sounds. The music is pretty contemporary for its time and we'll see if it remains so today. Bringing visual art, poetry, and music together. When you have these elements the music can be pure and the audience can relate, however contemporary it is.'

The poems are written from the perspective of an omniscient being, 'a spirit, a shaman', who Smith stresses is not god – Morgan was an atheist – but can be interpreted as such if you are a believer. Inhabiting that spirit is Fulton, who last performed with Smith for the SNJO's celebration of poet, playwright and jazz pianist Tom McGrath in 2017. 'I was aware Niall is a Morgan fan. When I offered him the role he gladly grabbed it, holding off any other work. Niall and I have spoke for centuries about Planet Wave and I know that he is going to be stellar.'

Queen's Hall, Edinburgh, Fri 21 Feb; City Halls, Glasgow, Sat 22 Feb; The Sanctuary, Queen's Cross Church, Aberdeen, Sunday 23 February.

Scottish National Jazz Orchestra: Planet Wave

by Tommy Smith & Edwin Morgan featuring actor Niall Greig Fulton Celebrate Edwin Morgan’s centenary as the SNJO perform the colossal work ‘Planet Wave’: an extraordinary collaboration between ex poet-laureate Morgan and composer Tommy Smith. Through music, theatre, sound effects and poetry, explore waves of history…

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