Interview: Chris Miggells

Words: Trevor Easton
Saturday 15 July 2023
reading time: min, words
Trevor Easton chats to Chris Miggells as he takes on the Iron Cathedral to launch his debut album...

Nottingham based composer and pianist Chris Miggells is about to embark on one of the most unusual performances of its kind as he took time out to discuss his past, present and future.

What is the idea behind both your new album and the Clipstone Headstocks concert?
Ok, so the idea behind the debut album - I guess we can start with the title Synesthese. This is a word I made from the term synaesthesia which is the neurological condition described as a sort of crossing of the senses- if you can imagine seeing colours when you hear sound etc. Without a doubt this is a creative influence behind the music. If I have a very vivid life experience, I'll often hear a soundtrack in my head to go along with it. Sometimes it can be so intense that I feel completely consumed until I've transcribed the sound in my head into a full piece of music. A good example on the album of this is Stone Giant. I got the inspiration when I was on tour in America and managed to see the Grand Canyon. There's this huge sound to the chords and the way the music crescendos, as it reflects when I was taking in such a place which seemed to get progressively more gigantic. What an experience that was.

Another prominent example of this writing has to be Aurora, which I wrote after encountering the Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis, in Iceland. I wasn’t sure what to expect at all. There are/were these mysterious shapes forming in the sky - faint silvery whisps, which I arpeggiated on the piano. The shapes get progressively more defined and then there's this explosion of colour and imagination in the sky, and so the music gets very intense, and I transcribed these mysteriously resolving chords in rapid sweeping motions which run the full length of the piano. If I close my eyes, I'm almost back there, and I relive that moment. That's one of the things which is so unique about my music and that I hope I bring to an audience - to transport them there with me.

Can you tell us something about the Clipstone Headstocks Event and how it came about?
I was looking for a location to create a film for one of my pieces from the album, ideally a live location recording. Whilst enjoying a festival at the Headstocks, I was fortunate enough to meet the owner and site redeveloper, Stuart Mills, who was kind enough to show me inside the building after I had explained my idea in our conversation by chance. As soon as I stepped inside, I could hear our footsteps and voices echo around the room. The acoustics in there are phenomenal. There's nowhere quite like it. It has already been dubbed the 'Iron Cathedral' - I was overwhelmed with excitement and knew this had to be the place. At one point people were talking about having the Headstocks pulled down and were calling them an eye-sore. I can't believe it - to me this is an absolutely stunning place that I grew up with, and I'm fascinated. It's an important part of Nottinghamshire's heritage, and I am so proud to be offering an experience there and showing people the potential of such a place. It's a historic monument which I think deserves all the appreciation. My grandfather was also in the mining community, and I am sure it means a lot to other families with history there too.

That's one of the things which is so unique about my music and that I hope I bring to an audience - to transport them there with me

So, there was a bit of an emotional conclusion to the filming, after the logistical challenges of bringing the piano and the movement in the music. Stuart suggested that he could bring 120 seats from his downstairs theatre up into the Powerhouse and that, if I would like to, we could hold a concert in there. How could I refuse. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity It has never been done before in history and we may never see it again.

I decided to make this my album launch event. The first night, 3 August, has already sold out, and due to demand we have been able to add a second night, 4 August. I am beyond pleased to know that people are wanting to experience the venue and are taking such an interest in my album. It's truly going to be a unique experience and it is a completely new and different way to experience modern classical music.

Is there anyone you would like to thank for helping in this project?
I work very closely with Sherwood Phoenix, the UK's piano specialists who are also based in Mansfield. I came to them with this idea for a piano film and have supported the vision to no end. They supplied me with a £100,000 Steinway & Sons Grand Piano and handled the logistics of bringing this incredible instrument into the former derelict colliery site. There's a documentary of behind-the-scenes footage showing how the piano had to be lifted into the building through the floor on an original mining crane. Terrifying, but a brilliant spectacle. So I have an immense gratitude to Sherwood Phoenix - without them it would not have been possible and I can’t think of another piano company in the world with such adventurism, determination and support for a local artist.

What's next for you with your music?
Plenty of exciting projects to come in the future. I'll be seeking out iconic landmark locations which I can support with my music and continue to provide meaningful and unique experiences for the local communities around them. I can feel another album coming too - writing music is a great love of mine and I wish to continue on this journey. I can see the shows becoming bigger. It's such an exciting time to be a pianist and composer and to be doing something totally different.


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