SPOILER ALERT! - Episode details discussed here.
Home-grown British crime drama Suspects returned to Channel 5 for its fifth season this week featuring my original score and end credit theme. This innovative drama has received wide spread critical acclaim for its groundbreaking approach; with the dialogue improvised by the actors, Suspects is a fast paced, gripping detective drama. Read on to hear about the brand new score I’ve written for the show and a breakdown of how I approached the first episode and end credit theme.
When Executive Producer, Paul Marquess and Series Producer, Kara Manley talked to me about the return of Suspects for its fifth season, it was very clear that this was to be Suspects and then some! They wanted to keep everything we loved about the show but add some powerful new dimensions; not least the introduction of three great new lead characters DCI Dan Drummond (James Murray), DS Alisha Brooks (Lenora Crichlow) and TDC Gary Roscoe (Perry Fitzpatrick), more location scenes and for the first time, a strong serial element.
This was the perfect opportunity to bring something new to the Suspects music too and Paul and Kara gave me license to revise the score to reflect the shows progression. My approach mirrored that of the production, keep all the best elements but bring some exciting new changes.
An essential new component is the use of real strings, as they are pretty hard to beat when it comes to expressing emotion. They had to be done in just the right way to fit with the show’s identity; gritty and real, the viewer is kept right ‘in’ the drama, so soaring Hollywood strings that transport you to a world far away would never be right for Suspects. I wanted to keep them close, real and not grand sounding and bed them in with the digital and percussive parts of the soundtrack.
Time pressures were a genuine concern as I have just a week to write, record and mix each episode but I knew it was the right way to go and I was determined to make it work. The producers liked the idea and were highly supportive. The solution came in the form of the multi talented musician, Richard Curran. I’d worked with Richard on a previous project and he was the ideal fit. He plays cello, viola and violin on the Suspects score; I’d write the episodes with midi mock-ups for the producers review and once they’d signed off, send the parts to Richard to record remotely at his studio, he’d then get the parts back to me in time for my mix session. It was a pretty ambitious turnaround but we pulled it off and everyone is very pleased with the outcome. The strings add a raw human feeling to the score: fragile and vulnerable.
The main Suspects theme, reprised in the closing credit sequence has always been an important identifying mark in the music; its melodic signature features throughout the series when our heroes are called to action. At the beginning of episode one, Jack gets the phone call from Daisy and races round to Martha’s house. I used that theme here but with a completely new arrangement: loads more textural detail and density and of course the aforementioned strings.
When Jack discovers Martha’s body, what we’re focused on is not a whole lot of blood and gore but Jack’s reaction at the discovery of his boss’s brutal murder. I wanted to create sounds that emulate his horror at the scene, his mind racing, processing what’s happened. I used minimal synths here, which are gated so although there’s a very small sound palette, they have an agitated movement and that almost helicopter juddering rhythm gives a feeling of heady tension while the ringing blown air sounds add to the feeling of discomfort. This is all new musical territory for the show.
As Jack calls it in and we go through the title into the arrival of DCI Drummond and DS Brooks, it’s the first time we hear the real strings in isolation. I love the effect - all this action, tension and discomfort has brought us to the sad truth - a senior police officer has been murdered.
One of the real high points for me scoring this episode was the end sequence in part four, starting when Jack goes to meet Stan (Sam Stockman), there is a very stripped back version of the main Suspects theme as Jack drives off but once he gets to the meeting place, the mood changes; Jack is about to cross a line and the tension is palpable. For the theme under the exchange and disposal of the gun I used minimal over driven drums, a suspenseful raw bass line and a gorgeously sombre cello melody. As Jack tells Drummond ‘it’s done’ the drums hammer out the gravity of what’s just happened and then the music changes tone again. I used a Rhodes piano melody to switch the focus back to Drummond; his extremely difficult day, just one of many as a London Detective Chief Inspector, is drawing to a close and then as we discover he is talking to Mo (Neil Stuke) and all is not as it seems, the music simply supports the drama with a long held cello note - very understated, very lush! That whole sequence was an absolute joy to work on - when I first mixed the real cello into the Stan gun scene, there was a lot of fist pumping going on in the studio - it was a total buzz!
You can listen to that cue here
The last thing to talk about in this blog post is the new arrangement of the end credit theme. I really like the theme as it stood in seasons 1-4 but the ‘Who killed Martha?’ aspect of this season made me want to add more depth and gravitas this time around. That was achieved by slowing the beats right down; the tempo of the melody is the same as it’s always been but the drums are playing at half speed while keeping the echoing percussion from the original arrangement. The melody is played once again, on the beautifully sobering cello with layered violins and violas playing the harmonic lines. Again, this was so enjoyable to work on and I’m really satisfied with the end result.
You can listen to the end credit music here
I hope you all enjoy this brilliant season of Suspects and my new score and check back each week for my insight into this wonderful musical journey. I'd love to hear your thoughts or if you have any questions, please do leave a comment.