John began exploring sound and note relationships as a toddler, starting to compose onto paper from around the age of 6. He learned piano from that age, and started a long relationship with the trumpet at 8. Other instruments followed, along with singing in the choir at Exeter Cathedral, winding up as head chorister at 12, conducting [with an adult singer] for a year before voice breaking, and then singing as a bass voice in Hereford Cathedral Choir to age 19. A love of all genres was an early confusion, with the inspiration of The Dave Clark Five, early Beatles and The Kinks, then Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Van De Graaf Generator & John Cale rubbing shoulders with Bach, Dvorak, Tallis and Purcell, as well as Bruckner, Stravinsky, Bernstein, Messaien, Penderecki & Tavener in his pantheon of inspirations.
Context has always been a burning issue: who is new music for? Where and how will it be performed, and who will be listening? There is no point in writing music for people who will never hear it. So after some early orchestral experiments at school concerts in cathedrals and other atmospheric buildings, he quickly began to compose for plays and more experimental theatrical events. At the time of leaving school, Cardiff [capital of Wales, across the sea from Ireland, and on the western border of England] was a very active centre of 'third' theatre, often non-verbal; so music, usually live and performed by anyone who could be found to play or sing something, was a crucial part of the artistic mix.
Even before university, John joined Cardiff Laboratory Theatre, an association which lasted 11 years until that company folded in 1987, composing for and performing in scores of touring shows and 'special events' [later known as site-specific theatre events]. Before, during and after the intensive 8-week terms at Oxford University, he was writing, training, acting, and driving all over Western Europe, meeting and working with fascinating groups of artists like Odinteatret, [for whom he wrote several works over the years,] Roy Hart Theatre, Grenland Friteater, Bekereke Antzikaldea, Teatro Piccolo Di Pontederra, Jerzy Grotowski [and his troupe], Peter Sellars, The Wooster Group, Michael Nyman, The Mike Westbrook Band, and many, many other fascinating artists.
The drive to be involved in active music making led to highly eclectic realms. John eventually directed the Edington Priory Festival of music within the liturgy for 4 years from 1979-82, having been involved each year since age 12, while doing rigorous physical and vocal training in the art of physical theatre, playing in orchestras, studying at the EMS electro-acoustic studio near Oxford, starting to compose music for films and early videos, composing for groups of friends, including the Oxford University Orchestra, getting a music degree, and then doing a year in postgraduate composition at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, studying with many interesting characters such as Peter Wiegold, Alfie Nieman, Patric Standford, Robert Saxton, A.L.Lloyd, Lucy Duran, Paul Daniel, and many others.
After a year with the Howard and Eberle Dance Theatre John toured as a solo singer-songwriter, combining this with 7 years as musical director of Brith Gof, a Welsh conceptual performance troupe which toured highly physical, politically questioning, multi-discipline shows to London, Glasgow, Dublin, Europe and Latin America. Brith Gof years
After leaving Brith Gof and composing music for the film Hedd Wyn which won a BAFTA Cymru best original music, John met the playwright Ed Thomas, which led to a number of fruitful artistic collaborations which continue to the present. John composed soundtracks for several of his plays: Song From A Forgotten City , House Of America , and Gas Station Angel . They also worked together on a wonderful production of Double Indemnity, [based on the novel and 1939 film] by David Joss Buckley, which Ed Thomas directed in 1996. In 1994, Music Theatre Wales premiered Flowers, a chamber opera based on an Ed Thomas play which received rave reviews and toured during 1995 and 1996.
The next Music Theatre Wales commission was in collaboration with Heledd Wyn and the New York dramaturg Norman Frisch, long time associate of Peter Sellars and Wooster Group. The subject of The Roswell Incident  was a possible crash [in 1947 in the wilderness of New Mexico] of an unidentified flying object, and the mythology and speculation which have surrounded this event. Initially scored for child singer, soprano, tenor & baritone, with string quartet, piano, percussion, & electro-acoustic soundworld, and touring to very small venues in England and Wales.
Mis Bach Du/Black February, was commissioned by Welsh National Opera and produced with and by the people of Abergwaun/Fishguard, a beautiful little town on the coast of Pembrokeshire in the South West of Wales. It told the story of the last invasion of Britain, in 1797, by a motley force of French convicts, led by Irish and American officers, who were eventually persuaded to surrender before much blood was spilt. The piece took over a year to create with the people of the surrounding areas, including many school-age, and was a massive success, selling out over 4 nights in the local High School. Scored for a mix of amateur and professional musicians, with all the vocal roles sung by non-professionals.
Blue Letters from Tanganyika,also written during 1997 was commissioned, performed and broadcast several times by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, after scoring high in an audience poll. This 15 minute piece for full orchestra refers to the airmail letters home of a young white woman, working in primary education in East Africa in the mid 1950s. The young woman was John's mum, and her stories about the wonders of Africa, as well as the powerful experience of meeting his Tanzanian godfather, the artist Sam J. Ntiro, have predisposed John to African musical influence since childhood.
Fol-de-riddles: Fanfares for 4 fiddles, a driving and dramatic piece for 4 violins. This was commissioned by the first Red Violin Festival, for its grand opening ceremony at the marble and granite National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, repeated a few days later at St David's Hall, Cardiff. Performed by festival director Madeleine Mitchell and colleagues.
Broadcast on BBC Radio3 in 1998.
Discussions with Westminster Abbey began back in 1995 [there had been a special Brith Gof performance of Hiroshima there in August 1989] towards the commissioning of what became De Profundis, a 15 minute work which brought to an end the special concert in the Abbey on 8th July 1998, performed by the Westminster Abbey Choir, The BBC Singers, and London Brass, augmented by extra percussion, piano, harp and organ. The concert was conducted by Martin Baker, now dir. of music at Westminster Cathedral, but then standing in at the Abbey, after the departure of Martin Neary, who had been active in early planning of De Profundis. The concert was part of a series of high profile events, attended by world religious leaders, and the Queen, among others, to celebrate the unveiling of 10 statues of 20th century martyrs from around the world.
The Welsh premiere of De Profundis was in Llandaf Cathedral, Cardiff on 12 December 1998, by the Cardiff Ardwyn Singers and Players, conducted by Helena Braithwaite MBE.
An ongoing sequence of compositions for wind quintet began in 1999, the first performed by the Vale Quintet in the Norwegian Church in Cardiff, May'99. The working title is Archaeologies: Wild Wales [myths & legends].
Early in January 2000, Jeremy Huw Williams, the noted Welsh baritone, performed: Fflamau Oer: songs for Jeremy, a cycle of 4 songs he commissioned, in St David's Hall, Cardiff. Later in 2000 he recorded Yr Wylan [one of the 4 songs] for the Sain label, and performed this again at the 2000 Vale of Glaomorgan Festival, Sept'00.
There followed the composition and performance of three commissioned orchestral works:
A.C.T.I.O.N. - sing Wales 2000 [c.11 mins], performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, plus 800 school children, singing, rapping and using their bodies as percussion. Concept & lyrics by Heledd Wyn. Performed in St David's Hall, Cardiff on 22 March'00, conducted by Grant Llewelyn.
Fighting the clock, composed with Luke Goss, a group of school children, and members of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Initially 6 minutes long to fit into BBC Radio3's ambitious Time project, co-ordinated by composer John Harle, a longer version was premiered by the BBCNOW in St David's Hall, Cardiff, with the orchestra conducted by Hardy and the 50 children [age 9-18] conducted by Goss.
Fever [c.10 mins] was commissioned by St David's Hall for the Last Night of the Welsh Proms, 29 July'00. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Owain Arwel Hughes to a packed and ecstatic audience.
1991 saw only one concert commission: a piece for the largely non-music-reading Heartsong Community Choir of Aberystwyth, in mid-Wales. joywithinsects is a piece of flexible length, partly spiritual refrains, partly semi-improvised groups of insect soundworlds. The commission was funded by the Gulbenkian Foundation, and is conducted by Joan Mills.
There were two other performance projects, but they were partly made for the TV camera: Liftmusic was for the the Centre For Alternative Technology near Machynlleth, and the two pieces for military band and voices: Brotherhood & Longing, & Comradeship & Honour were in honour of the only only soldier from Merthyr to win the Victoria Cross [in 1917].
other selected works