The silent film pianist speaks

OK, back to some semblance of normality after all that mayhem. There’s a good interview with silent film pianist Neil Brand, originally published in The Scotsman, 6 August 2007, that’s just been made available online. Here’s the start of it:

I’m sat, listening to Neil Brand expound upon the history of silent film, when he glances over, across the hotel lobby and acknowledges his principal ally in reviving interest in the works of Chaplin, Lloyd, Laurel and Hardy. Without breaking stride, Paul Merton sallies on past and announces “don’t believe a word”.

As a jobbing silent pianist, and by that I mean he’s constantly being invited to perform at the world’s most prestigious film festivals, Brand routinely eschews words for eloquent arrangements of music. Yet as someone whose career spans from before the talkies to the present day, at least according to definitive internet movie website IMDB, which eerily traces the 49-year-old’s collaborations back to the 1910s, the composer, actor and dramatist can’t half talk a fascinating history.

The previous day at a nearby cinema, I’d witnessed him score a restored print of Buster Keaton’s classic The General and heard Merton, for whose Silent Clowns TV show and live performances Brand played piano, chuckling at a film he’s undoubtedly seen tens of times, if not more. Like many in the audience I suspect, I was initially distracted by the novelty of this bespectacled chap at the piano, though after a while I ceased to notice even his distressingly bright shirt. A significant factor in this was obviously Keaton’s consummate physical performance, but another was the cocooning insulation of the accompanying music.

“It’s odd,” Brand reflects. “What you tend to find is that most audiences, for the first five or ten minutes, they’re mentally struggling with the fact that they’re watching a film and can’t hear anything else. Then something just clicks, I don’t know what it is that pulls them in.

Hmm, that sounds like one of Neil’s shirts alright. Follow the rest of the interview on the Future Movies site.

And see how the Internet Movie Database indeed traces Neil’s career from the present day back to the 1910s…

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