Paul Neville’s professional musical career did not conform to the usual academic background that is associated with most composers.
Despite having to listen to his father’s enthusiastic singing (in obscure keys) to popular operatic arias being played on the radio during the 1950’s, Paul still managed to persevere along his own path in the pursuit of music.
The final years of Paul’s education were at a Catholic college where he studied for the priesthood.
Latin, Greek and French were all included in an intensive college curriculum – but Gregorian plainchant was the subject that fascinated Paul when singing the medieval Latin text with his fellow seminarians in the college chapel. (This had an influence on his music in later years.)
Paul also sang Bass parts in the college choir and had extra private tuition for the piano.
The piano tutor regularly gave Paul short pieces (Bach or Mozart) which were to be learned by the following week.
A week later, Paul would play back the piece to his tutor. All too often, the tutor would listen all the way through to the end and then comment, “That was great – I really enjoyed it! … but … can you now play what the composer has actually written in the music in front of you?”
This non-conformist streak continued to be very evident throughout Paul’s life.
Every seminarian at the college had to obey the rule of “The Great Silence” – no talking from after supper until breakfast the following morning.
The only exception to this, was during any extra-curricular activity or hobby between supper and bedtime where verbal communication was permitted.
Most nights after prep, Paul would make a beeline for the music room where he would improvise at the piano.
Word soon got round the college and on many evenings his fellow students would turn up and make requests for him to play the latest pop songs of the day.
During the “Great Silence”, the melodic strains of Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly hits being played at night by Paul on the piano could be heard drifting around the dimly lit college corridors.
Eventually Paul decided that the priesthood was not for him, so he left the seminary and looked for work.
A great “burner of candles at both ends”, he took on a variety of “real jobs” during the 1960’s which would secure a regular income. This enabled him to follow his real passion – music -by playing keyboard in bands at night time.
The era of the 60’s (yes he was there and he does remember it) was a halcyon time for many bands.
If you were good, there were many opportunities for bookings as live support bands for the UK and USA touring artists of the day.
Paul’s band did “warm-ups” for a number of those acts – including one for Dionne Warwick‘s gig in 1964. (He’s still scratching his head now after Dionne’s warm-up – as he didn’t even get to meet her! His band had to leave the stage hurriedly before her set started – as his band had another gig elsewhere that same night! It was serious hard work back then …)
During all this period, he took on a variety of jobs – first as a police constable, then a lifeguard – and also as a photographic model with a well known London agency.
Marriage and the arrival of children put paid to all this wanton behaviour and Paul then had to find more “serious jobs” with a regular salary to support his new family … with the now customary proviso that nights and weekends would still be spent writing and arranging and gigging ….
During the 70’s, he worked for two multi-national companies – Unilever and then later for Honda Motorcycles (UK). Eventually leaving Honda, Paul went in to retailing motorcycles from a showroom in London in the early 80’s.
After four years, he changed direction again and started a print and design company in Sussex with a fellow musician and writer.
But Paul’s spare writing time became ever increasingly busier. New briefs for work continually came in from various conservation agencies and the World Wide Fund for Nature who needed music for their video productions.
At this point, unable to keep all these balls up in the air, Paul decided to work full-time as a composer and arranger.
This new era enabled him to spend more time in bringing his earlier classical music influences back into his work.
He started a new quartet called “Rubato” (flute, clarinet, violin and cello) that gave live performances and an outlet for his new works – and he also enjoyed a creative relationship with a contemporary choreographer (Angela Lane) writing new music to her dance routines.
Among other live performances, Paul co-produced and played piano at a live concert with Spike Milligan. All the music was written and arranged by Paul and performed by the Opus 20 Orchestra on stage with the American conductor, Scott Stroman.
“I never dreamed that one day someone would want to set my poems to music ….”
Spike Milligan (1996)
Paul and Spike lived near each other in Sussex and this concert was the culmination of a years work between them. Paul composed new pieces of music set to a selection of Spike’s poems. Spike read his poems on stage during the performance while the orchestra played the pieces on the stage behind him.
Many years later, Paul again set music to poetry – this time it was to the poem “Belderg” written by the Irish poet, playwrite and Nobel Prize recipient for Literature – Seamus Heaney.
The poem featured as part of a nine piece suite of music called “Ceide Fields” which took its inspiration from the folklore and history of the west coast of County Mayo in Ireland.
Seamus Heaney wrote back to Paul after listening to the piece:
“Belderg – your setting, delicate and pointed, crossing the old “cruit” music with younger strains of the pianoforte, hammers and strings, as it were. And it takes place very naturally in the whole nine-part programme, with its light and shade, its variously martial and melodic episodes.
Seamus Heaney (2012)
When Paul was not working on individual projects or theatrical presentations, he composed and recorded music for numerous television themes, trailers, television commercials and corporate/ad agency productions.
His non secular works include:
“The Mass” (Kyrie Eleison, Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei) for Sopranos/Altos/Tenor/Bass.
“De Profundis” (Latin)
“Ave Maria” (Latin)
“Ave Verum Corpus” (Latin)
“Te Lucis Ante Terminum” (Latin and English)
“The Lord’s Prayer” (English)
“Hail Mary” (English)
His secular works include:
“Hold Me Again”
“The Latin Code”
“When I Suspected”
Paul now composes, arranges and records in his project studio in the West of Ireland and – as a keen motorcyclist – he tries not to kill himself while out riding along the curves and bends of the “Wild Atlantic Way” which runs close to his workplace.