Jon Nicholls

- composer / musician for radio drama

Note to ND from Jon Nicholls....

..................Sounds from the real world and music have always been rather blurred in my head. Although I began learning the piano at the age of six, and went on to learn violin and bassoon, I think the first sound that made a very strong musical impression on me was the gurgling of the 1930’s plumbing in the bathroom at my grandmother’s house, and for almost as long as I can remember I’ve always been fascinated by the musical qualities of the everyday sounds around us.

I think I’ve always written music for things. I started composing at school a few years later, and as well as lugging flightcases round pub carparks at unsociable times of night in various prog rock bands, was soon writing music for school plays. Around the same time I started to play around with tape recorders and began to get very excited about transforming sounds in a very physical sense by sliding bits of tape around. I went on to study English at university, but spent almost all my time either composing, playing keyboards in a succession of rock, funk and soul bands, and writing music for student theatre productions and films. After leaving university I went to the London College of Music to study composition with the leading Scottish composer John McLeod, and then went to Dartington to study electroacoustic music.

During this time I’d built up relationships with several theatre companies and film-makes, some of which have lasted to this day, and over the past ten years I’ve composed over 250 music and sound scores for a whole range of theatre, radio, dance and screen projects. Some of the theatre companies I work with regularly include the Birmingham Rep, Northern Stage, Northampton Theatre Royal, Sheffield Crucible, Derby Playhouse, Theatr Clywd, the Unicorn Theatre and Red Shift. I also compose for TV documentaries and short films, and I especially love radio drama - as both a listener and composer; it seems to me to be a medium of almost limitless possibilities, which demands a truly active engagement by the listener. I’ve recently started a very exciting series of collaborations with writers, creating live performance pieces for voice and soundscape, most recently with the poet Jackie Kay. I’ve written an opera, ‘Falling Across’, which was premiered two years ago, and – finally - I also teach, play and compose for Javanese gamelan, which I started playing at the South Bank Centre when I was at music college and which has become a huge part of my life. Some of my most treasured memories are of playing gamelan alongside Indonesian musicians, surrounded by choruses of frogs and monkeys from the forests around the city of Yogyakarta in Java, and the structures and concepts of gamelan music are always present in my music at some level or other.

Jon Nicholls – principal work to date:

Music and sound design for radio drama (Radio 3 & 4) includes: Friday Plays: Between Friends, What I Heard About Iraq (Jury Special Mention Prix Italia 2008), Drama on 3: Babel’s Tower, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, The Time Machine, The Histories of Herodotus Afternoon Plays: Caesar Price Our Lord, It’s Better With Animals Woman’s Hour Serial: Faust, The Quest

Screen work includes numerous documentaries for the BBC, Channel 4, ITV and Sky, and over thirty short films.


Major productions as composer and sound designer include Rutherford & Son (Northern Stage), Amadeus and Masterclass (Derby Playhouse), Art, Blue Remembered Hills, Silas Marner and The Changelings (Theatr Clwyd), Oz (Unicorn Theatre), Private Lives, If I Were You, Much Ado About Nothing and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (Manchester Library Theatre), Life-Stock, Linda, Longshore Drift, Katherine DeSouza and The Mother Ship (Birmingham Rep), Humble Boy, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Beyond the Horizon and Spring Storm (Northampton Theatre Royal), Therese Raquin, The Rivals and Alice in Wonderland (Basingstoke Haymarket), Me And My Shadow and Shelf Life (Theatre Alibi), and Hamlet, Hansel & Gretel, The Love Child, Nosferatu, Nicholas Nickleby, Get Carter, The Legend of King Arthur and Vertigo (Red Shift).


Falling Across
Opera with libretto by Michael Akraka for soprano, counter-tenor, bass-baritone, chorus & ensemble. Co-commissioned by Birmingham Rep and Birmingham 2007 Collide Festival, and premiered at St Peters and St John’s church, Ladywood, Birmingham, May 2007.

The Seamstress’ Revenge
Music-theatre piece for two actors, cello and electronics; text by Michael Akraka. Commissioned by the Birmingham Rep and performed at the Birmingham Rep, 2005.

Instrumental music includes Y Ffordd Dhu for orchestra, Bathyscape for string quartet, bassoon, clarinet and horn, & Vice Versa for brass quintet and the curious case… for string quartet

Numerous pieces for Javanese gamelan including, Tic Tac Toe, Hati Hati, Crazy Paving and Tongs & Bones and Lullaby for Rani.

Electroacoustic concert works include Vague Motion, Maya, Jingle and open / shut

Wish I Was Here for voice and sound score, with text and live performance by Jackie Kay, Wig for voice and sound score, with text and live performance by Patrick Gale and Some Voices for voice and sound score, with text and live performance by Valerie Bloom.


Afternoon Drama: Warrior Class....2012
By Kenneth Lin, ad. Judith Kampfner. 6 Nov 2012: The title refers to the cut and thrust and horse-trading of American politics. Julius Lee is a local assemblyman who explodes onto the political scene from nowhere, makes a great speech suggesting he could be a congressional candidate and the Republican answer to Obama. The party puts down seed money to begin marketing him. They groom him to take back a seat that has been held by a Democrat for twenty years. Julius ....... Louis Changchien, Holly ....... Katharine Powell, Nathan ....... David Rasche, Director ....... Judith Kampfner , Producer ....... Judith Kampfner , Writer ....... Kenneth Lin , Writer ....... Judith Kampfner, Music by Jon Nicholls. Sound design by Peregrine Andrews. Indie (Corporation for Independent Media).

R4, Saturday Play, 23 Jun 2012) was the first dramatisation in any medium of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Robert M. Pirsig's story of a father and son making a motorbike journey across the USA was initially turned down by 121 publishers but it went on to become the biggest selling philosophy book ever written. Peter Flannery did the dramatization.

The story touches on the way scientists and artists think. It also has things to say about the nature of learning as opposed to understanding. The radio version had music composed by Jon Nicholls; an excellent score, and the play was as absorbing as the book.

The cast included James Purefoy as Dad/Phaedrus; Max Cazier as Chris, Sean Power as John and Lucy Newman-Williams as Sylvia.The producer was Melanie Harris.

Pink Mist ....2012
A dramatic poem by Owen Sheers commissioned for BBC Radio 4’s More than Words listening festival in Bristol 15th-18th March 2012 and transmitted on Radio 4 in five 15-minute episodes, 19-23 Mar. It is set in and around Bristol and tells the story of three young soldiers and the three women in their lives. The three, Arthur, Hads and Taff all live in Bristol. They were school friends who joined up at the same time to serve in the Infantry. All were deployed to Afghanistan. The poem is mostly narrated by Arthur who first wanted to get away from Bristol by joining the army. He tells his story – where he is from and how and why he came to enlist. His girlfriend talks about their life together. Arthur introduces his two friends: Hads, the son of a Somali refugee and a white Bristolian, and Taff, a Welsh dubstep enthusiast. Both are escaping from the bangs and explosions of Bonfire Night in Bristol when the poem begins. Original soundscore composed by Jon Nicholls. Cast: Arthur – Carl Prekopp, Hads – Osi Okerafor, Geraint (Taff) – Jordan Bernarde, Gwen – Devon Black, Lisa - Alex Tregear, Sarah – Leona Walker. Producer: Tim Dee

Afternoon Drama - Erebus....2012
12 Jan 2012. A poetic drama by Jo Shapcott about the search for the North-West Passage. The 1845 expedition led by John Franklin was lost in the ice and never returned. The mysteries remain. In the intervening time rescue and, subsequently, archaeological expeditions have gone in search of clues as to what went wrong. Fragments of evidence have been found in the ice and latterly frozen bodies too. Why did the mission fail? Cast: Russell Boulter, David Birrell, Peter Marinker, John Mackay and Jasmine Hyde. Music by Jon Nicholls. Produced by Tim Dee.

Afternoon Drama - Laurels and Donkeys....2011
Note the date: 11.11.11.........A sequence of dramatic and new poems by Andrew Motion to mark Remembrance Day. The poems draw on soldiers' experiences of war from 1914 until today, beginning with a story about Siegfried Sassoon and moving via World War Two and Korea to the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of the poems are in the voices of combatants. With: Julian Rhind Tutt, Toby Stephens, David Birrell, Russell Boulter, Carl Prekopp. Music: Jon Nicholls. Producer: Tim Dee.

Spring Storm.... 2011
By Tennessee Williams. 6 Mar 2011. Radio 3. Adaptation of Tennessee WIlliams's play, starring Liz White and Michael Malarkey to mark the centenary of the playwright's birth. Heavenly Critchfield has almost everything a young woman could desire, but when she's forced to decide between respectable suitor Arthur and handsome, wild lover Dick, her actions cause a chain of consequences which tears their lives apart. Cast: Heavenly Critchfield ..... Liz White, Arthur Shannon ..... Michael Malarkey , Dick Miles ..... Michael Thomson, Hertha Neilson ..... Anna Tolputt, Esmeralda Critchfield ..... Jacqueline King, Aunt Lila ..... Joanna Bacon, Mrs Lamphrey/Birdie Schlagmann ..... Janice McKenzie, Henry Adams ..... Gavin Harrison, Oliver Critchfield ..... James Jordan, Ralph ..... Steven France, Mabel ..... Ailish Symons; music composed by Jon Nicholls. Directed by Laurie Sansom. Produced by Jeremy Mortimer.

1 Feb Afternoon Drama - In Memoriam....2011
An adaptation of Tennyson's long sequence of poems of grief and hope written after the death of his close friend Arthur Hallam. Performed by David Bamber. Music by Jon Nicholls. Hallam was born 200 years ago and died in 1833 in Vienna. He and Tennyson had met at university and had become friends; Hallam became engaged to marry Tennyson's sister. His sudden and unexpected death prompted some of the most personal poetry Tennyson ever wrote and some of the most moving and powerful poetry of loss and grief in the language. The sequence includes several poems that have given phrases to the common language - In Memoriam is where we hear 'nature, red in tooth and claw' for the first time and also 'tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.' For this production the sequence has been adapted and cut to half its length by Tim Dee.

11 Oct: The Researches of Herodotus, by Tom Holland. ...2009
R3. 90m, producer Tim Dee, starring Anton Lesser. The early Greek historian's account of events in the eastern mediterranean, heavily condensed. Cast includes Richard Bremmer, Stephen Noonan, Owen Teale, Adam Levy and Pippa Heywood. Music composed by Jon Nicholls. More on the r3-2009 page.

Caesar Price our Lord....2010
30 Aug 10. Afternoon play. By Fin Kennedy. Illusionist Caesar Price has reproduced nearly all of the miracles of Jesus and built a massive cult following but is he prepared for what will happen when he decides to stage the crucifixion? Caesar.....Lee Ingleby, Sam.....Aidan Parsons, Lois.....Emma Cunniffe, Mum.....Joanne Mitchell, Dad/Ben.....Conrad Nelson, Alan/Pastor.....Robert Pickavance, Barry.....David Fleeshman, Judy.....Carla Henry. Music by Jon Nicholls. Directed by Nadia Molinari.

THE QUEST....2009
24 Aug 09. Woman's Hour Drama: 5 episodes. A modern take on the works of Sir Thomas Malory and Alfred Tennyson. In the first episode, King Arthur has been mortally wounded; and talks to Merlin as death approaches. Arthur ...... Julian Rhind-Tutt, Merlin ...... Mark Gatiss, Percival ...... Mark Meadows, Morgan Le Fay ...... Jasmine Hyde, Lancelot ...... Stephen Noonan, Leodegrance ...... Paul Mundell, Guinevere ...... Eleanor Tremain, Lot ...... David Collins. Directed by Tim Dee. Imaginative use of radio; this is not an ordinary re-telling of some of the best-known episodes in Arthur's life, but a radically different version, re-composed, if that is the right word, for the 21st century. Score by Jon Nicholls.

26 Apr 09, R3. Mike Walker's play imagines the Jewish-Russian writer Isaac Babel being interrogated after his arrest by the Soviet secret police in 1939. As Stalin's henchmen beat and bully Babel, scenes from his two great collections of stories come to him: the Jewish gangsters fighting over Odessa, Babel's hometown, and the Red Cavalry, with which he had ridden as a war correspondent, slaughtering Poles at the edge of the new Soviet Union. Babel ...... Antony Sher, Rudin/Trunov ...... Robert Glenister, Sverdlov/Benya ...... Stephen Noonan . Also in cast: Christopher Staines, Karl Theobald, Roland Oliver, Lucy Black, Rachel Atkins and Sandra Voe. Music composed by Jon Nicholls.

(22-02-2009; 20:00) The Time Machine....2009
(H G Wells/Philip Osment) Robert Glenister stars in Philip Osment's dramatisation of HG Wells' classic story of a time-traveller's journey to the future, where mankind has diverged into two species - the Eloi and the Morlocks. Time traveller - Robert Glenister, HG Wells - William Gaunt, Young Wells - Gunnar Cauthery, Martha - Donnla Hughes, Filby - Stephen Critchlow, Bennett - Chris Pavlo, Mrs Watchett - Manjeet Mann, Weena - Jill Cardo, Other parts played by Robert Lonsdale, Inam Mirza and Dan Starkey. Music by Jon Nicholls. Directed by Jeremy Mortimer. (105m)

31 -7 -2008. Mike Walker's play is based on three short stories: The Red Fox Fur Coat by Teolinda Gersao; Blue Waltz with Coyotes by Jean Dixon and Pie Dance by Molly Giles. An elderly proprietor of a fur shop in New York narrates three touching; funny and magical tales of animals; furs; and their impact on three different women. I>Shopkeeper/Konrad ...... Russell Horton, Eve/Mom ...... Jennifer Van Dyck, Ellie/Pauline/Cop ...... Laura Dean, Barbara/Karen ...... Tory Wood, Dad/Gerry Mac/Mugger ...... Kevin T Collins, Children ...... Kate Kearns; Maggie Langer; Flora Salmand. Music composed by Jon Nicholls. Directed by Judith Kampfner.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof ....2008
By Tennessee Williams, for BBC R3, 16 Mar 08. With Joss Ackland, Alison Steadman, Gemma Jones, Roy Dotrice, Clive Carter, Marcus D’Amico and Elizabeth McGovern. With Ladbroke Radio. Music by Jon Nicholls. First radio drama to record at Town House Studios. Directed by Andy Jordan (‘This version is a tour de force. The cast is as strong as the script’ - Jane Anderson, Radio Times). More information here .

compiled by Nigel Deacon / Diversity website

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