CRAIG ARMSTRONG does one of the best things any musician can: he

composes music which confounds easy categorisation. He understands why

this has resulted in a measure of confusion about who he is. ''I've

never worked wholly in one field or another, in commercial music or

so-called classical,'' Armstrong says over an early-evening beer close

to home in Glasgow's gritty downtown burgh of Partick.

''I once heard a classical composer say that commercial music is

irrelevant. In contrast, I take the Steve Reich/Philip Glass line . . .

I love pop music, and the most interesting commercial stuff has a

definite influence on what I compose. Being actively enjoyed by more

than 20 people . . . that's why I became a musician. Hearing it on the

telly; hearing it in a bar. To make music that you don't need two heads

to enjoy. On good days as a composer, you feel open to things.''

Armstrong's determined open-mindedness has led him to compose much

wondrous and label-free music in a widely-varied assortment of locales.

He has crafted massive orchestrations for his big mates in Massive

Attack, as well as having co-written Weather Storm on their most recent

album, Protection. Armstrong's long-standing association with Massive

Attack major domo Nellee Hooper has led him to provide orchestral

arrangements on a number of Nellee's productions, most notably for

Madonna's Take A Bow.

Additionally, Armstrong's distinguished string arrangement can

currently be heard on Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me, U2's

contribution to the Batman movie soundtrack. The U2 link was recently

further cemented by Armstrong's involvement in the Bono-composed title

song for the forthcoming James Bond movie, Golden Eye, sung by Tina


Golden Eye's orchestration had to be hurriedly undertaken within two

hectic days. ''At the time, it was perfectly natural to find myself

sitting on a sofa with Bono, the Edge, and Tina Turner. It's only later

that you think: 'Wow, Tina Turner asked me if wanted a cup of tea.' It's

great that, as an impoverished Glasgow arranger, I can use my normal

orchestrator's craft to keep my kids in nappies as well as reach some

unusual musical places.''

On Tuesday night Armstrong will be present in two very different

settings. Physically, he'll be on a stage in Modena, Italy, conducting

the somewhat unlikely combo of Pavarotti, Brian Eno, and U2. They're

appearing in the War Child charity's concert for Bosnia, performing

Bono's near-certain chart-topper, Miss Sarajevo, a single which comes

with Armstrong-ian strings attached.

Meanwhile, on the same night back in Glasgow the performing

partnership of Gordon Dougall, of Strathclyde Orchestral Productions,

Jane MacFarlane, and Simon Burberry will be officially unveiling

Armstrong's score for the Tron's latest stage production, The Trick Is

To Keep Breathing, Michael Boyd's adaptation of Janice Galloway's novel.

Having previously contributed to such Boyd works as The Broken Heart,

Good, and Macbeth, Armstrong hails the Tron as ''an invaluable wee

centre of exploration''. Music for the stage, though. If it's doing its

job properly, shouldn't it be imperceptible, free of authorial


''No! It's not background music. What most helps a production is music

with a life of its own, that has its own narrative. It's not romantic

backdrop stuff, not angry-sounding music for 'this character is now

angry' moments. That's the worst way to use music.''

A large number of different institutions could be using Armstrong's

music over the next year or so. Mayfest have asked him to create

something for 1996, with Armstrong planning to deploy the rhythmic

wizardry of Massive Attack's Mushroom alongside the ambient-dance nous

of exiled Glaswegian production boffin Howard Bernstein. Typically,

Armstrong pledges that this collaboration will sport ''a freer approach,

not 'I, Composer, am going to write this work'.''

He's also got his own recordings to do for Massive Attack's new Wild

Bunch label, while Massive Attack themselves will hopefully be enlisting

Armstrong's services for their new album, due to start being recorded in


On top of that, Armstrong may soon be Dublin-bound for further work

with U2. Future Sound of London liked Armstrong's version of their

Eggshell, too. And there's a song-cycle with Peter Arnott; possible

Hollywood soundtrack work; TV soundtracks for Carlton and maybe BBC

Scotland; a Scottish Arts Council-funded study of Indian music.

Armstrong has come a long way from studying composition and piano at

the Royal Academy of Music in London. Or maybe not so far. ''I've a

couple of pivotal childhood moments. I remember being transfixed during

a holiday in the Lake District with my parents, hearing the Beatles'

Long And Winding Road on the radio. I lived for the moment it would be

on again.

''And I recall the joy of monkeying about with a pal's Grundig tape

recorder. There's a magic about recording, about studios. The things

that can happen in a take are beyond 'Can that bloke play OK?' What goes

on on tape is indescribable, inexplicable.''

It was in a studio around six years ago that Armstrong, reaching the

end of sundry sojourns in sundry under-achieving Glasgow bands, met Soul

II Soul's erstwhile motivator Nellee Hooper, deputed to be producer.

''Nellee's strength is that he trusts you to do what you want, rarely

looking over your shoulder to say: 'Why don't you do this there?' But

there's no barrier to you suggesting things to him. He gives his team

real freedom.

''He's intuitive, improvisatory. He does records that just flow.

You're never in the studio with him, looking at the clock and thinking:

'When's this going to be over?' With Nellee, it's all 'Whoosh!'

Travelling at 2000mph and there's the finished mix. He's the world's top

producer, no doubt about it.''

Any other thumbs-ups to dispense? To Armstrong's favourite composers:

Reich, Ligeti, Kancheli, and Wonder (Stevie of that ilk, for Music Of My

Mind). To Gil Evans; ''I marvel that I'm arranging in a similar way he

did in the fifties for Miles Davis. You would have thought the role

would have died out by now.''

And it's thumbular approbation for the dub-wise sound-manipulations of

the Mad Professor. For Sister Sledge's Thinking Of You, which Craig

knows is both a masterpiece and a religious experience. For the

unclassifiable grooves of Massive Attack, who create ''a world music . .

. not world music in the hippie sense, but in being free to use exactly

what you like from wherever in the world it springs.''

This all-embracing spirit is one which extends rather hearteningly

into Armstrong's everyday sphere of domestic existence, which is peopled

by three small human compositions co-crafted with his partner Laura

Mazzolini, a former member of Glasgow's long-lost, much-lamented His

Latest Flame.

Their trio of children, aged two, four, and six, much enjoy

spontaneous musical improvisations. ''Aye, nothing's out of bounds when

the three of them get together for a jam on gong, cello, and piano.''

Heart-felt music which accepts no limitations: a very good thing indeed.

I remember being transfixed during a holiday with my parents, hearing

the Beatles' Long And Winding Road on the radio. I lived for the moment

it would be on again