Coinciding with the current second series of The Outlaws on BBC One/iPlayer, we had the pleasure to speak with Music Supervisor Catherine Grieves about the show, and her work on Slow Horses which included collaborating with Rolling Stone Mick Jagger.
How did you become a Music Supervisor ?
I didn’t know that the job of a Music Supervisor existed when I was younger, but when I was a kid I wanted to be the person who chose the song that played over the dramatic football highlights montage at the end of Match of the Day! I play the flute and piano, and studied music and sound engineering at university, where an opportunity came up to do an internship at a big film music supervision and composer agency. I worked my way up from making the tea and burning CDs, to assisting on some big films and looking after supervision for television drama. With the emergence of streaming services and generally more international sales and recognition of British drama over recent years, music supervisors have gradually been more in demand in that area, so I’ve been lucky to be able to ride that wave.
How early on in The Outlaws did you get involved ?
I think I was hired on The Outlaws in January 2020, certainly before they started shooting. I think they managed 12 days of filming before the pandemic hit and everything was stopped in its tracks. It was enough time for series 2 to be commissioned though, so we filmed both series back to back. I’m usually brought on to a project at script stages so that I can sort out any music that we see on camera. There is a recurring use of The Chain Gang throughout both series, so it was imperative that I got all the rights to use that before we filmed as there was choreography involved.
Was Stephen Merchant involved in choosing the music for the show ?
Yes, Stephen has great taste in music and a very clear idea of the musical direction, so it was very much a collaboration. For example, Stephen had put the cover of I Fought The Law by Los Plantronics over the opening scene from early on. It worked really well in lots of ways, but we wanted to establish more of a western feel to set the musical tone of the show. We tried lots of ideas, but we were struggling to beat the energy and lyrics of I Fought The Law. I suggested that I contact the band and ask if they could do a new arrangement, which they agreed to, and added a Mariachi trumpet line on top. It did the trick!
Did you always plan to end with the Kings Of Leon track?
The end track was quite a big discussion from the start, with Stephen, myself and the director of the last episodes, Alicia MacDonald, all throwing ideas into the mix. The scene involves such a mix of emotions, it had to be exciting and driving, but with this heartbreaking poignancy, as well as touching on our musical world. Kings of Leon was Alicia’s idea, and it works so well.
With such a big ensemble how was it finding music to fit the different characters ? They have quite differing personalities.
We use music in different ways across the show, from using it to comment on the storyline eg The Chain Gang by Jackie Wilson, Salesman by The Monkees, and I Fought The Law, to defining different characters’ and their eras, so Souvenir by OMD which we used in the flashback scene to the 1980s, and local Bristol grime artists for Malaki’s flat. It was the most fun choosing songs for John, who is middle aged and has middle of the road taste in music – Sweet Little Mystery by Wet Wet Wet playing while he is high on crack is one of my favourite moments.
Was it always a plan to feature a Blues, Western style sound for the series?
Yes, this was Stephen’s direction from the start. In fact we started the process by talking to Morricone’s estate to see if there was a way of reworking some of his Spaghetti Western scores with a Bristol sound. We didn’t end up going down this route, but it was the starting point for engaging our brilliant composers – Dan Jones and Stew Jackson. Dan is very experienced and talented film and tv composer who always brings class and incredible storytelling to his music, and Stew has a crazy list of credits as producer, songwriter and musician for artists including Massive Attack, so they were such a huge part of bringing our Bristol Western musical world to life.
How did you find working with Mick Jagger on Slow Horses ?
I still can’t quite believe that we pulled this off! The director of Slow Horses and I had discussed getting an original titles song written for the show since the start of the project, preferably by a British rock legend, and even more preferably by Mick Jagger himself. We knew it was a long shot as Mick hadn’t done film or TV bespoke work before, but we pitched the idea to him, along with the theme by composer Daniel Pemberton, and Mick was keen! He and Daniel worked on the song together remotely, but it was such a successful collaboration.
Do you find the transition between film and television difficult?
There are a lot of similarities in supervising for film and TV, except TV usually involves more work at quicker speeds, as you are working on and delivering back to back episodes. The biggest difference for me is the politics – film is almost always director led creatively, whereas a lot of TV drama there are more people with a creative say. Every project is different so I couldn’t say if I preferred one over the other, but this can affect the scope of your creative input as a music supervisor, so it’s nice to work on a range of different projects.
Both Slow Horses and The Outlaws filmed two series back to back, was it a challenge separating the music from each series?
I think doing two series back to back works quite well as you’re in the musical zone for that project more consistently. It does feel like I’ve been working on both shows for about a decade at this point though, especially with pandemic hiatuses!
Can you tell us what you’re working on next?
I’m working on a few things, including a very exciting new music based drama for the BBC called Champion, and a hilarious Disney+ comedy called Extraordinary, from the producers of Killing Eve.
Many thanks to Catherine Grieves for taking the time for this interview.