Nick IngmanBorn: April 29th, 1948, Richmond-upon-Thames, Greater London (United Kingdom)
Contrary to many other musicians, therefore, Ingman’s fascination for music began with pop right away. Ingman: “The piano teacher my father sent me to when he sensed my interest in music, only taught me classical piano. Nonetheless, I stayed with him for many years. As a student at secondary school, Westminster School in London, I was terrible, because I was just interested in pop music and girls – in that order. Like with my piano teacher, the school’s music lessons were hardcore classical. Could I write a motet in the style of Palestrina? No, because I did not want to. I put together a pop group with some friends, with me playing the keyboards. There was another, very ambitious guy in the school who was also into pop music, Andrew Lloyd Webber. We did several projects together.”
As a secondary school student, remarkably, Ingman scored a UK chart hit as a songwriter, ‘So long little girl’ by the Dictators (1964). “I was sixteen years old when I wrote that song”, Nick comments. “In fact, I was writing songs all the time, trying to be the new Paul McCartney. The material was usually played by the group I was in. When my father heard me play this song, he thought it was quite good and contacted a friend of his in the music industry. Subsequently, I was given a songwriting contract for this one item, which was recorded by the Dictators. I thought it was an appalling recording, but I was sixteen, had no self-confidence… and they did what they did. I still can see no good reason why such a horrible recording would have been a hit.”
After leaving school, Nick continued taking piano and music theory lessons, but he also broadened his spectrum by studying the trumpet and trombone with Norman Burgess, the principal trumpet player of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Moreover, between 1964 and 1966, he took private lessons in jazz composition and arranging with Graham Collier. “Since my father had been in the music business”, Nick explains, “he tried to discourage me in my ambition of becoming a professional musician, as he knew how tough that life could be. After he had accepted that I was not to be discouraged, he decided to help me. Realizing I was not happy with the classical education I was getting, he put an ad in the Melody Maker asking for anyone who could teach pop arranging. Jazz composer Graham Collier, a high-profile name in the 60s, answered the call and taught me for a couple of years. He was very important, as he introduced me to jazz music and recommended me to consider going to the Berklee in Boston, where he had been a student himself. At that time, it was literally the only place in the world where regular music courses that were non-classical were on offer.”
Nick decided to heed the advice of his teacher and, at just eighteen years old, he moved to Boston, Ma., where he studied composition, arranging, and music theory with professors Herb Pomeroy and Alfred Clausen at the Berklee School of Music (1966-’68); during his time in America, he also took some courses at the New England Conservatory of Music. Ingman: “Coming to America was a huge culture shock for several reasons. First, being from an English middleclass background, I had to adapt to staying in a slummy, rundown neighbourhood of Boston, in an apartment infested by cockroaches. Then there was the Vietnam War… it was shocking to have a guy sitting next to you in class one week being drafted into the army the next – and never coming back! As a foreigner, I was privileged not to have to dread this fate, but it was an uncomfortable feeling and all in all it felt wrong being there. There was also the positive shock of finding myself surrounded by an amazing scene of jazz bands, small groups, and big bands. At any time of day or night, there was a band of fellow students playing somewhere. I wrote my first arrangements for one of those bands. In retrospect, this was my real education, more than the rather archaic courses at Berklee, though I was extremely motivated and studied really hard – even more so because I was slightly homesick and wanted to get back to Britain sooner rather than later.”
Upon his return to London (autumn 1968), Nick Ingman received an interview with Norrie Paramor, one of England’s most successful record producers who had just broken away from EMI and set up his own company, the Norrie Paramor Organisation (NPO). Paramor decided to give the promising Berklee graduate a six month trial as his assistant arranger and producer, and, in the end, Ingman stayed on with him for six years (1968-’74). At Paramor’s advice, Nick took a postgraduate course of composing with Edmund Rubbra at the Guildhall School of Music in London (1969). “At that time”, Ingman admits, “I did not really want to go to Guildhall, but it was important to get some classical background. Norrie was a great mentor, who untaught me a lot of the academic nonsense I had been taught at Berklee. The first scores I wrote for him were for the Big Ben Hawaiian Band, one of his studio orchestras. Checking them, he just put a big red mark across them, which was embarrassing… The main thing he taught me is the old cliché ‘less is more’ – not every song needs a grandiose orchestration. Moreover, he showed me how important it was to be gentlemanly and patient in working with insecure artists, some of whom were not very talented. Norrie was an ideal producer of the old school – let us not forget, he had more number one hit records under his belt than George Martin!”
Under Paramor’s guidance, Ingman worked with many of the stars in his stable, including most notably Cliff Richard and The Shadows, but also John Rowles, Malcolm Roberts, The Scaffold, Frank Ifield, and Sacha Distel. After Nick had taken some private conducting lessons at Guildhall, Paramor trusted him with conducting arrangements during studio sessions as well. Ingman: “I had done one or two conducting master classes at Berklee, but I felt very insecure about it, upon which I decided to turn to a Guildhall teacher, who taught me the basic techniques one on one. The thing about conducting is… I could teach anyone the techniques in five minutes, but conducting with confidence and at the same time knowing how to psychologically deal with eighty orchestra musicians is not teachable. I conducted my first studio session in 1969 for a Cliff Richard single recording. In the years with Norrie, I arranged lots of album tracks for Cliff and the flipsides of many of his single releases. I also wrote scores for Cliff’s TV show. It was nice working with such an established artist. Another talented guy I teamed up with in those years was Labi Siffre, who wrote his own record arrangements, but wanted me to check and conduct them. At Norrie’s request, I came up with some solo instrumental recordings, such as Jesus Christ Superstar, which was released in West Germany on the Polydor label in ’71. I did what Norrie wanted, but reluctantly – I always liked the vision of being the background guy more than being famous or up front.”
In 1974, Norrie Paramor sold his record company to become the chief conductor of BBC’s Midlands Orchestra in Birmingham, meaning that Ingman had to go freelance. With producer Peter Gormley taking over Paramor’s office in London’s Harley Street, Ingman stayed there for some years, working extensively with another producer, Norman Newell, for some ten years, doing studio projects with vocalists such as Bobby Crush, Vince Hill and Petula Clark. “Besides my involvement with Newell’s artists”, Ingman adds, “I was lucky to continue arranging and recording music with Paramor’s former protégés, who stayed with me… Cliff Richard, Geoff Love, and Claude François, for example. Another commission which Norrie passed onto me was writing the arrangements for the pantomimes, which were performed annually during the winter season in the London Palladium. Though it never really was my ambition to work on theatre, it was a great experience writing these scores and I wrote the arrangements for three of these pantomime shows in second half of the 1970s. Funnily, Paramor himself called on me again, as he had thrown away the entire music library of the Midlands Orchestra, instead getting young arrangers to write fresh, new material. In the following years, I composed some one hundred charts for him.”
When Paramor got ill and died in 1979, Nick Ingman was asked to take over as main conductor of the BBC Midlands Orchestra, though he never relinquished his freelance status. Later onwards, he also regularly conducted the BBC Radio Orchestra. In a very different corner of the business, Nick joined the newly formed Mingles Music, with David Mindel and David Seys, as resident writer producing TV and radio jingles and commercials. Starting in the mid-1970s, however, Nick’s main source of income for the next ten odd years became instrumental recordings, so-called Library Music and Beautiful Music.
Ingman explains: “Library Music is instrumental music used for TV, radio, and films. I recorded arrangements which were paid for by a music publisher, who would try to sell them… if you were lucky, titles were picked up as background music or signature tunes for TV programmes. It was quite lucrative, as airplay for my music resulted in royalties. Beautiful Music, on the other hand, is a purely American phenomenon. Until the end of the 1980s, radio stations in America were divided in rock stations and the Adult Orientated FM stations. The FM stations did not play the original records, but instead broadcasted instrumental covers of hits. The IBMA, the International Beautiful Music Organisation, was run by Mormons and owned about eighty radio stations across America. They were hugely wealthy! It all started when Frank Chacksfield, an old school bandleader here in England who worked for the IBMA, asked me to write some arrangements for him. The head music producer of IBMA found out who the original arranger was, contacted me directly – and it resulted in my recording some 300 to 400 titles every year! Later, I also started working extensively for the American Reader’s Digest Music Division, producing similar instrumental recordings. I often played the same arrangements I wrote for America in the radio programmes with the BBC Midlands and BBC Radio Orchestras. I worked with both of the BBC orchestras until the second half of the 1980s.”
Continuing his involvement with the BBC, Ingman composed several signature tunes, most notably the sitcoms ‘Don’t wait up’ (1983-’90), ‘Ever decreasing circles’ (1984-’89), and ‘Keeping up appearances’ (1990-’95). Meanwhile, in the 1980s and early 1990s, he still regularly worked as an arranger for pop records for the likes of Bucks Fizz, The Fine Young Cannibals, Daryl Hall, Sarah Jane Morris, and the Spanish gypsy duo Azucar Moreno. For Sade, he orchestrated three albums, whilst the brilliant ‘Baby, the stars shine bright’ LP by Everything But The Girl (EBTG) (1986) included string and brass parts written by Ingman as well. His biggest hit as an arranger in this decade was ‘Nothing compares 2 U’ by Irish songstress Sinéad O’Connor (1989). “Nonetheless”, Ingman adds, “I was lucky not to be dependent on pop records in the 1980s. In the music which sold in the 80s, the plastic sound created by drum machines, samples, and synthesizers was everywhere and I thought, like so many others, that my career in that field was over… arrangers were not needed anymore, it seemed. It was thanks to the Beautiful Music phenomenon that I did not have to worry – for the moment.”
This situation was one of the reasons Nick Ingman accepted an offer from his old teacher Graham Collier to join the newly formed Jazz Department at the Royal Academy of Music in 1987. Ingman: “Even though Graham did not like pop music, he thought his students needed some tuition in that field. The original idea was to hold an hour’s lecture on commercial music once a week. Very soon, however, it turned out there was a huge appetite for my lectures and, within a year, the academy asked me to set up a Commercial Music Department, which I ran until ’97 – not that they were enthusiastic about pop music, because the outlook of the Royal Academy was always purely classical. Even they recognized, however, that there was a commercial field out there. I used to liken my department to going to the dentist: you hate to do it, but you have to do it. At that time, the Commercial Music Department was the only place in the UK which offered education in light entertainment music. I grew to like teaching very much, interacting with youngsters who challenged me to the utmost. Some of them were conservatory students doing a course with us, other were rock ‘n rollers who, like me back in the 60s, wanted more background, for example learning how to arrange for classical instruments.” Later onwards, Ingman also lectured at the London College of Music as a Visiting Professor for some ten years.
From the early 1990s onwards, Ingman has worked as a film orchestrator and conductor. His association with composer Stephen Warbeck produced a number of highly acclaimed films, such as ‘Mrs. Brown’ (1997), ‘Shakespeare in love’ (1998), ‘Billy Elliot’ (2000), and ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ (2001). The ‘Shakespeare in love’ soundtrack was awarded with an Oscar, as was the music to ‘Finding Neverland’ (2004), which Ingman conducted for composer Jan Kaczmarek. Other movies Nick Ingman orchestrated and/or conducted include ‘Lara Croft – Tomb Raider’ (2001), ‘Pirates of the Caribbean – The Curse of the Black Pearl’ (2003), ‘The Passion of the Christ’ (2004), and ‘Madagascar’ (2005). Moreover, he also arranged and conducted music for many TV films and series. “I got started in the film business thanks to Isobel Griffiths, a film music contractor. Though the skills and musicality of film composers vary immensely, I have enjoyed working on soundtracks. With average Hollywood movies having a budget of over 100 million dollars, the pressures in the film music industry are immense. Generally speaking, the budgets have decreased over the last few years, but American composers keep on coming over to England to record their work.”
Whilst Ingman was convinced his involvement in pop music was slowly petering out, Britpop raised its head in the 1990s. He became the single-most sought-after string arranger for groups in this genre, working extensively with the major acts of the day: Manic Street Preachers, Oasis, Portishead, Suede, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, and Menswear. Ingman: “It more or less started with Oasis, four rock kids from Manchester without any musical background but obsessed by the Beatles. That was in 1993. Their lead singer Noel Gallagher basically wanted to be a Beatle and insisted on Beatle arrangements to his songs. Once Noel had accepted that it would not be possible to have the same session musicians as the Beatles had had for their albums, we got on well. The way Oasis presented their songs to me, was all over the place. I considered it my job into taking that chaotic situation and turning it into a record that sold. Much more than from composing, I have always got a kick out of arranging other people’s work into a unit of music. Arranging is a craft, like woodwork or shipbuilding.”
“It would be too easy to write grandiose pop string arrangements”, Ingman continues, “but at the end of the day the strings come in third place behind the vocals and the rhythm instruments. Details can hardly be heard. For that reason, it is important to write strings in primary colours, artistically speaking: big red, big black… you cannot be subtle. On a whole, it has to be simple and hooky. ‘Hooks buy houses’, is what I told Pascal Obispo, a French singer I worked with on his ‘Superflu’ album in 1996, when he said he wanted very intricate, interesting string parts for his album. I convinced him that his ideas would not work, given the fact that his repertoire was firmly rock ‘n roll. Five years and a successful album later, I went back to visit him in his Champs Elysées seven bedroom house. When I remarked half-jokingly that this was the house that the hook had bought, he conceded I had been right!” Away from Britpop, Nick Ingman worked as an arranger and conductor with Obispo, but with many more conventional pop and rock artists in the 1990s as well, including many high profile ones such as the Pet Shop Boys, Boy George, Chris DeBurgh, Enrique Iglesias, Bonnie Tyler, Louise Redknapp, Joe Cocker, Wet Wet Wet, Tina Turner, Johnny Hallyday, Charlotte Church, and Diana Ross. For Radiohead, he conducted the studio sessions for their highly acclaimed ‘OK Computer’ album (1997), whilst he also was involved in arranging Eric Clapton’s CD ‘Pilgrim’ (1998). Worldwide hits including Robbie Williams’ ‘Millennium’ (1998) and ‘Rock DJ’ (2000) as well as ‘High’ by the Lighthouse Family (1998) were scored by Ingman as well.
Due to his extensive studio work, Nick Ingman has only intermittently performed on stage. In 1997, he arranged and conducted a concert in New York with Portishead and the New York Philharmonic, whilst he performed in a six week sell-out series of concerts at the Royal Albert Hall with Cliff Richard and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in the same year. After several foreign concerts with Cliff and different classical orchestras, Ingman accompanied Eric Clapton with a string section on his Pilgrim tour. For Britpop formation Blur, he wrote orchestral versions of their most successful hits for their Wembley concert (1999). In 2000, Ingman performed with the German NDR Pops Orchestra at the Expo 2000 in Hanover with several artists, including Ray Charles, while he conducted the same orchestra in a one-off gig with German pop icon Herbert Grönemeyer at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. In 2004, he returned to the Royal Albert Hall in London, conducting the Refugee Voices for Darfur charity concert. A very special commission which came Ingman’s way was the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, for which he led the Norwegian Radio Orchestra (KORK) accompanying a host of different international artists. In 2011, he again conducted the Royal Philharmonic in a film music concert celebrating the eightieth birthday of the Abbey Road Studios in London.
After the turn of the century, Nick Ingman has remained much in demand with pop and rock artists, such as Kylie Minogue, Whitney Houston, Peter Gabriel, Sugababes, Madonna, Il Divo, Elton John, Will Young, Björk, John Legend, and the Black Eyed Peas. For Herbert Grönemeyer, he arranged several consecutive studio CDs, whilst also teaming up with Eric Clapton for new album projects. Ingman was involved in hit successes such as ‘It’s raining men’ by Geri Halliwell (2001) and ‘Light my fire’ by Will Young (2002), and multi-million selling album releases, most notably ‘The voice’ by counter-tenor Russell Watson (2001) and the highly acclaimed ‘Life for rent’ by Dido (2003). Ingman about this last-mentioned involvement: “For ‘White flag’, one of the songs on ‘Life for rent’ which would turn out to be a huge international hit, Dido’s brother and producer Rollo Armstrong told me he wanted something out of the box at the beginning of the song to contrast with the simplicity of the tune itself. With an unusual intro, he aimed at the start of the actual song coming as a surprise. The twenty-second introduction I wrote for ‘White flag’ has become kind of iconic and very recognizable – it is one of my pop arrangements I am personally most pleased with.”
In total, Nick Ingman’s work as an arranger of pop records has so far resulted in thirteen number one records and five double platinum records in the United Kingdom alone. He has been nominated for a Grammy on three occasions: for arranging Eric Clapton’s album ‘Pilgrim’ (1998) and Sade’s multi-million selling release ‘Lover’s rock’ (2000) as well as for his role as a conductor of a new cast album of West Side Story with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (2007). Earlier onwards, in 1991, the Peter Knight Award was bestowed upon Ingman for his arrangement to ‘1992’, the national anthem of the European Community. In recognition of Ingman’s educational work, the Royal Academy of Music awarded him with a Honorary Membership in 2001. Later onwards, he also received an Honorary LCM for his lectures as a Visiting Professor at the London College of Music in the 1990s and 2000s. In 2010, he was inducted into the Musician’s Union Hall of Fame.
Besides his work in pop music, Ingman keeps being involved in recording film music and composing advertisement jingles. In 2012, he orchestrated ‘First steps’ for Elbow, the official song for that year’s Olympic Games in London which includes a huge symphonic intro. “Over the years”, Ingman concludes, “my outlook on music has changed. True, today’s pop music is not always to my taste, but as I am involved in recording strings for contemporary pop artists and the X Factor TV show, I think it is part of my job to keep up to date with modern developments in that field. I am happy to be part of the business.”
Nick Ingman in the Eurovision Song Contest
Ingman: “The other half was taken care of by Brian Bennett, who was the Shadows’ drummer and a very talented arranger. The deal was that the arranger of the winning song would conduct it in Eurovision. By 1974, Olivia was a familiar face to me, as she had been part of Norrie Paramor’s entourage for several years. About every second week, she performed in the Cliff Richard Show, for which I wrote part of the arrangements. Olivia was pleasant girl who knew what she wanted. When the Eurovision project came our way, Norrie probably felt it was a young persons’ thing – anyway, he decided not to get involved himself. Olivia’s producer John Farrar passed the arranging job onto me and Brian. The Song for Europe orchestra was backstage and, consequently, we did not get any TV exposure.”
“Before that”, Nick continues, “I recorded the orchestral backing of the three songs that had been allotted to me with a group of session players in the Abbey Road Studio in London. All musicians in the studio were joking about which one would win. Two of the songs were called ‘Someday’ and ‘Angel eyes’, beautiful ballads which allowed Olivia to showcase her vocal abilities. Brian’s three songs were nice, too – the only odd one out was ‘Long live love’, which was some sort of march. When I conducted the opening bars and the studio musicians started playing, we all stopped and burst into laughter… and we said: ‘That is the winner!’ It was so typically Eurovision! Composer Harold Spiro sent me a demo and told directly his ideas had to be copied. He insisted on boom boom... and in a commercial way, he was right, because ‘Long live love’ won the ticket to Eurovision. Olivia hated the song, but the British audience had awarded Spiro’s clever concept.”
One of ‘his’ three songs having won, Nick Ingman was now bound to conduct the orchestra for Olivia Newton-John’s Eurovision Song Contest performance as well. That year, the international Eurovision final took place in Brighton. Because of Ingman’s involvement as the musical director of the British entry, that year’s chief conductor, Ronnie Hazlehurst, did not get to conduct his orchestra for any of the participating songs. “I wish it had been abroad”, Nick laughs. “It would have made the experience more special for me, though it was special in one way – it was my last commission under the aegis of Norrie Paramor before he sold his record company and left for the BBC Midlands Orchestra. In Brighton, the atmosphere was pretty unique… due to the IRA threat, security was very high. Literally in the street outside the pavilion where the contest was held, there were tanks and guys with guns. This made me even more nervous than I already was… remember, I was only twenty-six years old and people kept telling me over and over again how many millions of people would tune in. It would be my first TV appearance anyway – in such a huge live event! The rehearsals were kind of unpleasant, as they mainly consisted of hanging around, hours and hours of doing nothing and waiting to rehearse your three-minute-song. For security reasons, it was not allowed to attend the other delegations’ rehearsals. The conducting job itself was simple… there was no more to remember than the tempo and that was not hard to remember, because it was a march! Olivia kept her calm and there were no hiccups during our preparations.”
In the end, ‘Long live love’ tied for fourth place with two other countries, with Sweden’s ABBA storming to victory with ‘Waterloo’. Ingman: “I had not heard any of the other songs before the concert itself, but as soon as ABBA came on and the melody started, I knew we did not have a hope in hell of winning the contest. ‘Waterloo’ is not a great pop song, but in the Eurovision genre it stood out big time. Moreover, the two girls were pretty, they bounced around the stage, and wore funny clothes. Even their conductor (Sven-Olof Walldoff, BT) was part of the performance by wearing a Napoleon hat! ABBA demonstrated that you can be commercial and have a great pop record as well. It was a foregone conclusion that they would walk away with the trophy.”
Though Ingman did not return to the festival as a conductor, he was involved in writing the orchestrations to two more UK entries, the first one being ‘Making your mind up’ for Bucks Fizz, the eventual 1981 Eurovision Song Contest winner. How did Ingman get involved this time? “Andy Hill was one of the composers of the song”, he explains. “I met him at the Mingles jingle company, where we both worked in the late 1970s. He was such an incredibly talented guy! With his girlfriend and manager Nicky Martin, he had casted four singers for the Bucks Fizz project, and recorded the song in the studio. In the record version, there are no orchestral instruments – and it would have been fine that way for the Eurovision Song Contest as well… but the rules were that the orchestra was obligatory, so Andy asked me to take care of writing a live orchestration. I made a very simple, primary colour arrangement. BBC’s choice John Coleman conducted it, a nice fellow. It was a good pop song and stood a pretty good chance of winning anyway, but the gimmick of taking the skirts of half way through clinched it. It was a masterstroke of Nicky Martin, a very astute woman. It was so clever: it was cute and sexy without being provocative. I went on to arrange several studio records for Bucks Fizz afterwards.”
The 1982 UK entry, ‘One step further’ by Bardo (a duo consisting of Sally Ann Triplett and Stephen Fischer), was composed by Simon Jeffries and produced by Andy Hill. It was conducted by Ronnie Hazlehurst and finished seventh. Like the year before, the studio version of the song was recorded with just a rhythm section and electronic instruments, but for the Eurovision Song Contest, an orchestral remake was obligatory. “It was very much an upbeat song and it was very hard to recreate the studio version into a live orchestration”, Ingman recalls. “Andy Hill told me he wanted the orchestral version essentially to be as similar to the record as possible. It was an impossible task and it would have been better to use backing tracks for the rhythm elements.”
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