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When tracks from Alexander Chapman Campbell’s debut album were first played on national radio, the 25 year-old pianist was pulled out of his Wiltshire seclusion and into the spotlight. It’s a big year for the refreshingly unworldly young star who’s the first to admit he barely knew what a record deal was, let alone how to get one.
In Sketches of Light the delicate motifs of Chopin rub up against the clean modern impressionism of soundtrack composers such as Joe Hisaishi and Howard Blake. A concept album of sorts, the 12-song cycle functions like a movie of the mind, or a wordless animation – each arpeggio and tonal shift triggering a subtle change in mood. The gorgeous fin-de-siecle chords of the closing track Light In The North recall Debussy’s Preludes, a remarkably confident finale from a precocious talent drawing on a childhood of composition.
Born in Guernsey in 1988 to a family of artists, Campbell moved with his brother, sister and mother to the hills above Dunblane in Scotland. At twelve he started improvising on the piano, working original passages into the standard exam pieces set by his teacher. His own music was always a secret: “In sixth form I’d be doing my Bach harmonies,” he says, “but still writing privately behind the scenes. I never wanted to mix the two. I didn’t like the thought of my music being marked or measured in some way.” Three weeks away from the start of a music degree at Durham University, convinced that the rigours of classical training would destroy his own composing just when it was bursting into bud, he gave up his place – and, in a move unusual for one so young, took up two years’ residence at an eco-village on the North coast of Scotland, The Findhorn Foundation, where he found work as a chef.
When he wasn’t fixing vegetarian feasts for hundreds of people, Campbell was holed up in the community’s music room: overheard one night by a cleaner, he was persuaded to give a concert for residents and very quickly the “curly haired boy who worked in the kitchen” was coming into his own. At just 18, Campbell already had several albums’ worth of unrecorded music up his sleeve. One track on his debut, Light In The Rain, was composed when he was just 13. Only upon leaving The Findhorn Foundation for Wiltshire did he embark on the considerable job of writing it all down. And only on the very morning that his debut album was sent for mastering did he come up with the titles: the theme of light, he hopes, reflects the “ephemeral and unbound” nature of the music.
The playful pencil sketches Campbell produced for the album artwork reveal the inner world of these songs. He describes writing as an automatic, meditative process – “a heightened state” unlocked by the movement of the piano keys. His musical inspirations are diverse, with Coldplay and Sigur Ros informing his writing as much as any classical composer.
Sketches of Light was recorded in St Georges, Bristol, a Greek revivalist church known for its fantastic acoustics, and produced by the award-winning classical engineer and producer Philip Hobbs, whose collaborations include work with the early music ensembles The Tallis Scholars and The King’s Consort. With his interest in authentic performance, Hobbs was a perfect choice: his unadorned production preserves the personality of Campbell’s music and this intimate recording almost sounds like it was recorded in secret. Aware that Campbell had no experience in the music industry, Hobbs put him in touch with John Cronin, whose independent label Music and Media picked up Sketches of Light last year. In November it was voted album of the week on Classic FM’s popular show, Drive with John Brunning.
“I always knew this: I write music, this is going to be a part of my life, but I don’t know how it is going to happen,” says Campbell matter-of-factly. Despite his innocence he is undaunted by his success – and has already written album number two. A series of shows are planned for the summer, where Sketches of Light can be heard in suitably intimate, atmospheric settings. And there’s still a bit of the classical musician left in this uncategorizable young player: when you see him, just remember not to clap between movements…
Sketches Of Light is now available!July 9, 2014
Written over a period of seven years, Sketches Of Light is Alexander's debut album for solo piano. Described as 'not classical, not jazz, not improvised, but is maybe a glimpse of something new', the recordings were discovered and then championed by Classic Fm in the autumn of 2013.
The album has now been re-released in the UK by Decca Records, complete with two further compositions, and is available from Amazon, iTunes and Google Play!
Follow Alexander on Spotify!July 2, 2014
Sketches Of Light is now available for streaming on Spotify! You can also find a playlist of some of Alexander's favourite music; music spanning various centuries and genres. Listen to the playlist here: Ten Favourites Click here to follow Alexander on Spotify.