Songwriting & Production: Writing a song for an award-winning film.

by Caitlin Grey

We wear many hats here at Harvey/Grey Music and we love the variety that comes as part and parcel of what we do. We never know what we’re going to be working on next. 

We produce songs for other artists. We write lyrics to their music, write music to their lyrics, produce and arrange their vocals into full songs, write full songs for films or music for films. We also turn a lot of poems into songs. Any and all of the above! 

I’m often asked how we go about writing for a brief; that is to say when we are asked or commissioned to write something for someone else whether it be for a particular project, like a film or perhaps turning a poem into a song. The song in today’s post was both of those things. It was a poem, to be turned into a song, for a film. 

No pressure then! 

So today, I thought I’d share how The Puppet Master, the song from the hit movie Lucas & Albert, came into being. 

As mentioned, The Puppet Master was written specifically for a film. The film was UK crime thriller Lucas & Albert, which, as you may or may not know, went on to win Best Feature Film of 2021 at the UK National Film Awards. Lucas & Albert was up against some pretty stiff competition, including 1917! So, we were all totally thrilled when it won. 

Lucas & Albert is the story of two hardened & world-weary villains played by Tony Longhurst and James Osborne. They're aging, professional hit men, who are undertaking one last job for their boss, the  ‘puppet master’, Mr Mac (Michael McKell). It's in the vein of Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels

Robert Putt, the poet (& one of the film's writer/producers) sent me the poem in the hope that we could perhaps write something for it, mainly for his own use, but possibly to be included in the film. 

It’s a fabulous poem. (Scroll down to read the poem). 

It speaks of the futility of life, in that we are all merely puppets with no control over what happens to us, someone ‘above’ is pulling our strings. Most apt and poignant in today’s world! And as a successful actor of stage and screen himself, Robert used the stage metaphor to great effect. To enhance the poem’s words musically, Robert originally wanted a Bob Dylan-esque song, a 'protest' type song, so to speak.  After reading the poem, I could see by the metre that it lent itself well to the rhythmic pulse of a traditional folk song. A style much used by Dylan and his contemporaries. So, once in the studio, Neil & I played around with some melodies and in this instance, we hit upon the one we used quite quickly. Sometimes, it takes a while. Have you ever watched the Irish TV series Father Ted Eurovison episode? Check it out, that’s us. LOL.

Anyway, I digress. 

The poem's structure was interesting in that it was in a semi-strophic format. As a general rule, poems come in a 'strophic' format, that is to say, the same metre, verse after verse after verse, all the same. (Sweeping generalisation, but you get my meaning). But Robert's poem had a second section with a different metre; a deviation from the rhythm he’d used in the rest of the poem. This was ideal for our 'middle 8'. So, we used this separate section to write a different melody and take the song 'elsewhere' for a climactic development. Then we brought it right back down to finish the song with the first verse lyrics, almost 'finishing back where we began', with the ‘puppet master’, ‘pulling our strings’. 

We changed nothing about the poem, no edits or cuts. All the lyrics are Robert's. 

We did, however, add a lyric line. And it was this one...the only extra words that I wrote were in the line 'And the people go oh-oh-oh'.  This was needed to link the song structure together and act as a form of chorus/refrain. Neil laid down the basic track, and in line with Robert’s brief, it was mainly guitar, bass and drums and ‘protest’ song-ish.

Initially, we gave the song to Barry Nelson, a vocalist friend of ours to sing and we used the guitar-based accompaniment in the 'Bob Dylan meets David Bowie' style. Barry did a fantastic job on the vocals. His gorgeous rock voice possesses a heartfelt ‘rawness’ to it. It became a folk/rock song with a distinct bluesy edge, courtesy of Barry’s awesome vocals. He and his team added extra backing vocals to his version and it sounded fabulous. He also changed the last note of the end line of the ‘middle 8 section’, going up instead of down, which we loved! It really lifted the section. 

I had also recorded the song with more piano/strings, just for reference really, to send to our singer chum so he could hear the melody and the ‘feel’ needed. And I had also done all the backing vocals to help the song build and lift. Both versions were sent to the film's director and producers. I used my lower register, which has slightly more edge to it and necessary for this kind of song. 

In the end, to our surprise, my version of the song was chosen for the film. This really did surprise me and Neil as, given the film's subject matter, we fully expected them to go for the rockier male vocals performed by our friend Barry Nelson, a fabulous UK rock singer. 

But, the director felt that the juxtaposition between the two tough, world-weary male character leads and the female vocals in the underscore did work really well. The director also used Neil's melancholy instrumental music from the song in another scene, which was wonderfully poignant. Darren S. Cooke, the director, had a certain vision and used the song and its musical accompaniment to great effect. 

Watch & hear the song in situ. (Also features the other song we wrote this movie, One Last Job). 

Listen here to the instrumental. 

So, in essence, the producers and director, on heating the more orchestral and female vocal version of the song, decided not to go with their original choice of a Bob Dylan protest/male voiced song. It just demonstrates that, even when given a specific brief by the client, their opinions and decisions can change. 

Note to self. Always offer options! 

Obviously, I can’t talk about the two versions without sharing them both with you so you can hear the difference in styles that I am talking about. Click the links below. 

Here is rock vocalist, Barry Nelson's brilliantly raw, emotive version of the song. 

My version, used in the film. 

In summary. 

When we write something for a film or for a custom client, we are never really sure that they will like or indeed, use, what we’ve produced. It’s always a little trepidatious until we hear the verdict (usually positive!). Sometimes we can and do get it wrong. But experience has taught us that if we feel it’s right, then, nine times out of ten, it usually is what they want. All we have to go on is our experience, our own knowledge of how we feel the song or music should progress; in short, our gut instinct, if you like. Then, if we’ve stuck (more or less) to the brief we’ve been given, it usually works out fine! 

If you’d like to chat to us about working with you on your project, feel free to get in touch. 

The Puppet Master 

by Robert Putt 

When the puppet master pulls the strings 

The people jump and the birds take wing 

And we all lay dozin’ in the wings 

Until the puppet master pulls the strings 

Good or bad, we have no choice 

We’re prompted by the master’s voice 

Deeds rewarded in the same way 

As we dance to the tune that the master plays 

You thought you chose what game to play 

Steppin’ on the road of your own highway 

But it was all a lie, all make believe 

Your fate was set with nothin’ in between 

And the friends you’ve made and the loves you’ve lost 

It’s too late now, you must pay the cost 

No goin’ back, no time to wait, 

The master joker has set your fate 

Life begins with a dream and ends with a sleep 

The space that’s in between is bitter and sweet 

Well, you can’t make it happen or go back again 

Pulling your strings is the only game 

When the puppet master pulls the strings 

The people jump and the birds take wing 

And we all lay dozin’ in the wings 

Until the puppet master pulls the strings. 

                            Copyright 2019 Harvey/Grey Music/Robert Putt - All Rights Reserved Published by Barking Green Music Ltd 


Leave a comment

‘’I'm humbled at the love & hard work poured into my song by Caitlin & Neil. They're freakin' amazing.'' 

Emily Glazener US rock singer/songwriter

‘’Neil & Caitlin deliver such beautiful songs, They turned my poems into something so special. I'm thrilled.''

Jennie Ebbutt, Poetess, Songs from a Spiritual heart (8 songs album). 

‘’You guys are awesome! Thank you so much for Let Me Call You Sweetheart! It works perfectly in the film''

Richard Dee-Roberts, Writer/Director The Reverend & Mrs Simpson