THERE’S last minute and there’s last minute. The plan, composer Paul Leonard-Morgan says, had been to do a recording session in his studio on the outskirts of Los Angeles on the Friday for new series The Nest. The first episode of the BBC One drama was due to air on the Sunday night, so things were tight enough.

But then on the Thursday night California went into lockdown. No one could travel. And so, Leonard-Morgan and his assistant spent all night phoning and emailing musicians in LA, in London, in Berlin, to ask them to record themselves remotely.

Leonard-Morgan then had to chop it all together to send for mixing in LA. By Saturday lunchtime the resulting soundtrack had been sent across the Atlantic to Glasgow where Kahl Henderson, the dubbing mixer, had set up a studio in his garden shed.

“I think he finished dubbing it Sunday lunchtime and it airs Sunday night,” Leonard-Morgan says, wrapping up the story. “I don’t think you could cut it much closer.”

Read More: Martin Compston on The Nest

Last week was insane, the composer adds, perhaps unnecessarily. Today is Friday, less than a week later, and it doesn’t sound as if this week has been that different.

“I haven’t really been to bed,” Leonard-Morgan admits when I phone him. “I know it’s weird for everyone being stuck at home, but for me nothing really changes. I’m stuck in my studio.”

Leonard-Morgan, his wife and two kids have been in California for the last four years now after he got fed up of having to get on a plane every week. He still has a home and studio in Glasgow, but for now he’s in La La Land, staying up at nights to keep up with the work.

There is a lot of it. As well as The Nest, he has been working on a variety of TV and film projects, including the soundtrack for a new Michael Caine movie and a documentary about Scotland’s gold medal-winning curling team. There’s also the soundtrack for a new videogame, Cyberpunk 2077, which is due for release in October, and a symphony for a Celtic festival in Lorient in France in August (Coronavirus allowing). No real wonder then that long days are part and parcel of what he does.

“It’s not a job, it’s a passion,” Leonard-Morgan admits. “The hours that you end up doing. On the last month of a film it’s literally 20 hours a day.”

Still, despite the lack of sleep, he’s a loquacious, entertaining conversationalist this California morning as he talks about working in LA, his years in Glasgow and what it’s like to work with everyone from Gwen Stefani to Philip Glass.

Leonard-Morgan’s CV is an impressive and extensive one. He made his name on TV series like Spooks and Silent Witness. He’s done distortion and synths for the soundtrack for Dredd and symphonic scores for Neil Oliver’s History of Scotland. He’s worked in theatre (on the National Theatre of Scotland’s The James Plays) and on videogames. What unites his work from orchestral to beat-heavy electronica is an ear for melody. It’s what Philip Glass likes about his work and why he agreed to work with Leonard-Morgan.

You can already hear the results of that collaboration. Because, as well as The Nest on BBC One, Tales From The Loop, a new science fiction series – eight standalone pieces based on Simon Stalenhag’s illustrated books – can be currently seen on Amazon Prime. Each episode comes with its own bespoke Leonard-Morgan/Glass soundtrack.

“It’s film making which I’ve never seen the like of before,” Leonard-Morgan says. He singles out one episode directed by Andrew Stanton, which, he reckons, is “one of the greatest hours of TV I’ve ever seen, and I cry every time I watch it. And I don’t cry at film and TV. It is just beautiful and so emotional.”

Musically, it was satisfying for him too. “As a composer these days for film and TV you don’t get to write melodies that much. People have such short attention spans. You just have to pound out the drums. So, this was just awesome. We wrote eight two-and-a-half-minute tracks for the closing credits of every single episode.”

What was it like collaborating with Glass? Intimidating? “So, here’s the thing. I don’t get intimidated now. I don’t get starstruck. But when I was chatting to Philip, he just put me at my ease. He’s such a warm genuine human being.

“I had flown over to New York to meet him. America’s greatest living composer. I’m at there in his kitchen, completely jetlagged off the red eye, having a cup of coffee with him. We’re chatting away. He goes, ‘So, Paul, you write beautiful melodies. However, I think that your chords could do with some work.

“And he meant it in the nicest possible way. Basically in 30 seconds he had completely nailed my style. And he goes, ‘Well, look, you’ve got this melody and you could try this with the chords.’ I thought, ‘Oh my God, he’s Philip Glassing my music. This is amazing.’”

It’s worth noting here that Glass already knew of Leonard-Morgan’s work (his score for History of Scotland, in fact). Self-deprecation aside, Leonard-Morgan admits, “I’m pretty good at what I do.”

It’s why he is so busy. “When you get established you realise, they’re coming to you for a reason. There’s something about your style that they like. What’s the point trying to second-guess what they want? You’ve got to be true to yourself and do what you think is right for it. And if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work.

“It’s an art form. It’s not just about ego. It’s a case of having these wonderful collaborations with directors and producers.”

Sometimes, that’s not always straightforward. “I did this film last year called The Tomorrow Man. The director was Noble Jones. It was his first feature and, bloody hell, it was a process. And a lovely process at the end of it. He thought he’d shot a thriller and the studio thought it was a romcom. We got there in the end and that’s about the collaboration. You’ve got to keep everybody happy. The studio is marketing it, but the director is the ultimate auteur. It’s not a pop video. It’s about the music that works with their vision to help enhance the emotion.”

Time for the back story. Leonard-Morgan grew up in London but his mum’s Scottish and he moved to Glasgow to study at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Dance (as the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland was known then).

“I learned orchestration there and ended up writing clarinet concertos. While I was there, I got to work with Scottish TV.”

Soon, he had a little studio, at the back of CaVa, one of Glasgow’s best-known studios, and began to hang around with the bands who used it. Soon, he was working with Mogwai and Belle and Sebastian and Texas and hanging out in Glasgow bars with them too.

He spent years working with musicians (everyone from Snow Patrol to No Doubt) and in TV before increasingly moving into soundtracks. His first big TV project, Fallen, earned him a Bafta and an Ivor Novello nomination. Scores for Spooks, Galapagos and History of Scotland followed. He was in Morrisons when he was asked to pitch for Limitless, his first big Hollywood film, which starred Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro.

He hasn’t cut his links with Scotland though. The Nest is just the latest example of that connection. Despite the London accent, maybe Scotland can claim him. Last year, he says, when he met Nicole Taylor, the writer of The Nest, in her London home she told him he didn’t sound Scottish.

“But halfway through the meeting, she said, ‘You can tell you’re Glaswegian. You’re totally self-deprecating. You’re really talented, but you don’t brag on about it.’

“Oh, shut up,” he replied. “My ego’s up there with the best of them.”

There’s another good reason why he feels in Glasgow’s debt. His daughter. “She had a thing called Hirschsprung’s Disease. Her intestines didn’t really work. She spent the first three months of her life in what was then Yorkhill. She just about died.

“The doctor who was on duty that night is one of 10 specialists on Hirschsprung’s. Unbelievable timing that when we were there he was there.”

Every year since Leonard-Morgan has done an annual kilt walk. Last year his daughter was six, so he cycled, ran (“and hobbled”) 66 miles, with the aim of visiting 66 studios around LA.

“I went to about 100 studios instead of 66. Out of those 100, 70 people I’d never met before, including Steve Jablonsky who does the Transformers films. Massive composers. It doesn’t make any difference. They’re just human beings. There’s this wonderful community.”

In short, he says, it’s not a competition.

“There’s enough work for people, so have fun. Life’s too short to not have fun, so, if you’re going to get into music, do it because you’re passionate about it not because you see a pay cheque. Some stuff pays, some stuff doesn’t, but it’s about getting to do the best job in the world.”

And if you’ve got the best job in the world why would you bother going to bed?

The Nest continues on BBC One tomorrow night and concludes on Monday. Tales From the Loop is available on Amazon Prime now.


"I would phone up Philip and say, 'What should we do in terms of instrumentation?' A lot of sci-fi has big orchestras and right from the start we said this is not about technology so it’s not a big synth-heavy score. It’s not electronica. This is going to be a heartfelt score.

"For the first couple of episodes we had a massive orchestra. We thought, 'Well, this is really nice, but it’s almost too big.'

"And as we got into our flow with it on the later episodes we had a quartet and a harp and a flute. It was about creating the sound for the look.

"I  phoned up Philip and said, 'I'm picturing this little motif so that every time something haunting happens, something weird caused by the Loop, we could have this really simple thing like a recorder. He suggested this instrument called the ney, which is this Middle Eastern wind instrument. So we ended up wth both.

"We created this lithophone. It’s like a marimba, but its made of stone – a bunch of different-sized stones. We made the crappiest lithophones. You get them hanging down and you hit them and you get the vibration and I sampled that.

"All of these things you don’t get to do on normal  soundtracks." 


"When I was at the RSAMD I was always into drums and orchestra. I always thought that was quite cool. Classical music didn’t bore me, but I’ve got quite a short attention span. Don’t make me listen to the Ring Cycle. So, classical music I love, but I was always interested I n the modern side and in Glasgow you had all the different c lubs. Going out to the Sub Club, the Garage - don’t judge me. I was always intrigued by the fusion. I always thought, 'Why can’t you do orchestra and beats?' You see it happening now more and more."


"Morricone. I love Morricone. I remember listening to The Mission score. It got me into wanting to write filmmusic. When I was at the RSAMD there was a guy who said, 'I played on the Mission soundtrack, but every oboist I meet says they played on the Mission.' From the beauty of The Mission to this wacky whistling for Leone.

"I would always love John Williams. It stands the test of time. I was watching ET with the kids the other day. Oh my God, it’s  so beautiful.

"Similarly, there are modern-day composers. Hildur [Guonadottir] who just wrote Chernobyl and won the Osar for Joker. 

"Trent [Reznor] and Atticus [Ross], love what they do. There are so many good composers out there."

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