Sheridan Tongue is responsible for filling millions of people with a sense of unease, dread, pathos and dread – and we can’t get enough of it. It can raise tension levels and haunt us, but it can also instill intense feelings of awe and soul – all with a few carefully chosen chord sequences and ethereal vocal takes.
he long-running crime series Silent Witness wouldn’t be the same without the very evocative and bizarre soundtracks by the Belfast-born composer.
Likewise, his contribution to the BBC’s Brian Cox series Wonders of the Universe (and Wonders of the Solar System) helped win productions for a Royal Television Series Award for Best Documentary Series.
It’s hard to think of anyone better qualified to score the BBC’s planned series on The Troubles, a project so secret at the moment that it’s not allowed to talk about it, although the mere confirmation of his involvement alludes to the making of big budget documentaries. .
Now based in his American wife’s home state of Michigan, Sheridan was back in Belfast recently for meetings at the BBC and for a workshop with students from his former school, the also known Royal Belfast Academical Institution. under the name of Inst.
He says: “I was meeting the next generation of songwriters – they have so many opportunities that I never had. Belfast is such an exciting place now. When I was young there was nowhere to record and the only place to go for a good meal was the Skandia on Howard Street. That was it. “
The Bafta-nominated composer lived on Malone Road until he left for the University of Surrey at the age of 18. Her house was filled with music from her mother, Maddie (née McCormack), a Co Armagh dancer, and her English-born father, Alan Tongue, a retired BBC music producer and conductor of the NI Symphony Orchestra.
The couple met at Cambridge University in the 1960s before the unrest began, which ultimately influenced their decision to return to England after Sheridan and his younger brother Michael stole the nest.
Sheridan (51) remembers a flood of well-known faces from the music world passing through the house as a child.
“My dad worked with Derek Bell of the Chieftains so he was around a lot, and James Galway, Barry Douglas, Mary O’Hara,” he recalls. “And (Holocaust survivor, author and dancer) Helen Lewis was one of Mom’s best friends – we used to go to her house for tea.
“Mum has always been very active in dance and theater and I remember a time when she needed a composition for a production that she was in, so dad set up the electric organ and the drums and drums. recorded all parts.
“I was like ‘this is how you do it’. It definitely planted the seed.”
Sheridan learned the piano in elementary school but found he preferred to play by ear. His natural flair for music was such that his great-uncle, a former bishop of Cork, said the boy could get music out of a stone.
“I was always picking up things – pots and pans, a piece of wood, and trying to create a rhythm. I couldn’t stand still. I have always been fascinated by the rhythm and the sounds,” says- he.
“I would spend hours listening to records, like Hazel O’Connor’s Day Eight, and practicing music on the piano, and I would record all those TV soundtracks and try to understand them.
“I will never forget hearing the soundtrack of Where Eagles Dare, although I never thought of becoming a songwriter for the movies. I was just in music.”
Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, slightly removed from the city center and major areas of unrest, Sheridan paid little attention to the conflict until a bomb exploded in the front door of family and strip trees of their leaves.
“I was about 10 years old. My brother was younger and he was in tears,” he recalls. “It was our only real experience of The Troubles, other than the cops chasing some IRA suspects and ending up in a dead end near us.
“There’s usually a look of shock on their faces when I tell people that I grew up in Belfast, but the Troubles was right there; they didn’t really affect us, although my father’s music programs were often interrupted by these announcements from the police, telling all the key holders to go back to this or that place. He would be furious.
As a result of the bombing, a neighbor suffered hearing damage. A few years later, Sheridan had his own spooky experience of it, due to his proximity to loud speakers at a party at a friend’s house.
“We were dancing and having a lot of craic but the next day I went to the studio and my ears were ringing,” he explains. “I couldn’t hear all of the different layers I can usually get in music – the colors, textures and details. It was very scary.
“If this had lasted forever, my livelihood would have disappeared.
“Fortunately, it was only temporary tinnitus but it was a big wake-up call. Since then, I’ve been wearing custom earplugs for loud events and even on transport. I try to get the message across, via Plug’em from the British Tinnitus Association It is so important to protect your ears.
“I’m lucky I managed to avoid permanent tinnitus.”
After learning the clarinet under the tutelage of the “inspiring” music teacher Arthur Ashton, the young Sheridan formed a “terrible” group, Plectra, who died during their first concert at the Reid Memorial Hall on Lisburn Road in Belfast, in never see again.
He had more success with the Saxophone Madness quartet, which started out on the streets and made their way to weddings and restaurant openings across the province. But Sheridan knew he had to leave Northern Ireland to pursue his career in music, opting for a “Tonmeister” degree in sound recording at the University of Surrey.
There he explored his love of sound recording and acoustics, alongside orchestration, composition and directing, working through the night on the exciting new recording equipment at his disposal. After that, it was all about being in the right place at the right time for the nascent composer.
Britpop was just around the corner when Sheridan found himself interning at the Red Bus studio in London.
“Blur recorded there when they were just starting out, when they were only on the NME stage in Glastonbury. A few years later they were huge,” he recalls. “The Verves were there too. I got the job by raising my hand in class when a producer asked if someone could play the piano.
“I played in one session and got it on the first or second take. It led to other sessions and I suddenly found myself right in the middle of this new golden age of the record.”
In addition to Blur, Sheridan worked with Robert Plant and Johnny Marr, and received a gold record for his work on Beverley Knight’s Prodigal Sista album. But his real passion was and remains classical and experimental music. Rather, Debussy, Stravinsky and Vaughan Williams, along with Philip Glass, Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson and film composer Hans Zimmer, are his cup of tea.
He has found the perfect outlet for his natural musical inclinations in film and television composition and has worked on numerous contemporary British drama series including DCI Banks (five series), Sea of Souls and a dozen Silent Witness series.
He also composed the music for five television series for The Discovery Channel and PBS Curiosity Stream with Professor Stephen Hawking, bringing the late genius’s work to life in programs such as Into The Universe with Steven Hawking, Grand Design and Did God Create The. Universe?
By this point, Sheridan had settled in with Pam, the mechanical engineering student he had met at the University of Surrey.
“Pam was an exchange student, but she stayed with me and did a doctorate in biomechanical engineering,” he says. “We had two little boys (Tristan, now 20, and Ryan, 17) and moved from London to Cambridge to be in the countryside. We went to Michigan for a year in 2011 and really enjoyed the style of life so we moved there permanently in 2013 but I have a big setback at home and we are going to stay in my parents cottage in Killybegs Donegal.
“They would take us there in the summer to escape Twelfth for six or eight weeks. It’s a very special place and the boys love it. Sarah Jessica Parker has a house nearby. It’s so great there. to return to.”
He plans to record an album in Donegal with local musicians, under his alter-ego IN-IS. A reinvention of classical music for the contemporary era, according to Fortitude magazine, Sheridan’s first original music album IN-IS received rave reviews in 2016. He is working on a second album but continues to score highly on TV projects. popular, working closely with producers and directors to achieve the perfect background music.
He created the moving music for the children’s drama Summerhill, a Bafta-winning BBC film based on the actual court case of a school that sued the UK government and won.
He also composed the music for the BBC documentary One Wounded, another Bafta winner on combat casualties in Afghanistan, and composed the music for the 2018 film Bertie with Alison Steadman.
Bella, his bearded collie, often accompanies Sheridan to the studio for the recording of his latest album – and quickly falls asleep. It is an exception to the rule, the compositions of his master are not really sleeping pills. His soundtrack for the BBC’s The Troubles series promises to be very special.
“Belfast has changed so much since that time, especially the creative industry.
“There was no opportunity for me when I left in the mid 80’s; now there is the center and the Oh Yeah studios – Gary Lightbody has created something phenomenal there, ”he concludes.
“It’s great to be able to deliver something like this. I’m coming in November as a special guest to give a talk. It’s such a privilege. We’ve never had anything like this in my time.”
For more information, visit www.sheridantongue.com