Q & A with composer Colin Riley
20 October 2017

British composer Colin Riley's work draws on a range of elements including new technologies, improvisation, song-writing, and large-scale classical form. His work is difficult to categorize, embodying a genuine integration of stylistic approaches.

Colin Riley's album Shenanigans is available on NMC here.


Can you share with us your top five contemporary composers and/or pieces?

Can I choose ten? If so ... can I direct you to a blog about my 'top ten' from last year, featuring Messiaen, Genesis, Bryars, Sylvian? It relates to Lyric Pieces on my album Shenanigans too.



Where and when was your first composition performed? What was it?

I won the school carol competition with a very traditional 4-part song called Rejoice and Be Merry. This was at my local comprehensive school aged 13. If I remember correctly, I played the piano accompaniment. Some of the choir (particularly as it required SATB) were members of staff. The biggest thrill of the whole thing was watching my teachers singing my tune.


Any stories of unusual jobs you had prior to entering the music world?

I think being a music teacher qualifies for quite an unusual job. If things carry on as they are, it might become extremely unusual.


You're stuck in a lift with three people of your choice (dead or alive)! Who are they and what would be the topic of discussion while you wait to get rescued?

It would be good to ask some deep questions to Arnold Schoenberg. I was, aged 16, a massive fan. He seemed to come from another planet in so many ways for me at that age, and was a huge burst of different air. I could try and explain how music has developed in the last 100 years to him. I'm sure he'd be intrigued.

It would also be interesting to discuss the Lake District and children's literature with Arthur Ransome. I could possibly find out if he really was a spy in Russia during the revolution.

Probably Steve Coogan would also be on my list. Our shared Manchester upbringing and the wonderfully familiar references in his comedy always connnects easily to me. I'd be very happy to hear his impressions all day, but would also be keen to ask if 'Saxondale' might be making a return to our screens at some point in the future. 


What are you working on at the moment?

I'm just completing a 10-movement song cycle called In Place. It's been a long time in conception, involving much research, planning, fundraising and finally composing. The songs explore 'a sense of place' in the British Isles. The wonderful thing is that I'm working with eight superb living writers who have each contributed a piece of text for me to set. These have almost all been unexpected, challenging and utterly brilliant. Robert MacFarlane, Daljit Nagra, Richard Skelton, Autumn Richardson, Paul Farley, Jackie Morris, Selina Nwulu and Nick Papadimitriou make up the writing team and bring a massive range of approaches. The project has been funded by both the Arts Council of England, and the PRS for Music Foundation's 'Beyond Borders Fund'. Sound Festival Scotland has commissioned it and it tours the UK from November through most of next year. www.inplaceproject.co.uk


If you could collaborate with anyone across any genre or art form who would it be and why?

Probably a film maker like Mike Leigh or Ken Loach. I'd love to get my teeth into something relatively mainstream, but something hard-hitting and political that would reach a lot of people. It would be such a thrill hearing your music pounded out at the high volume of the cinema too.



All entries in chronological order
3 August 2020
26 June 2020
18 May 2020
11 May 2020
9 January 2020
16 December 2019
9 December 2019
28 November 2019
21 November 2019
7 November 2019