The man behind the music of hit drama

The man behind the music of hit drama

From loyalist gang feuds to a ‘will they-won’t they’ love story, creating the score for the hit BBC TV series Blue Lights can be, according to its composer, a tricky balancing act.

“It’s all about trying to add to what’s happening in a scene without pre-empting anything” said Eoin O’Callaghan, the man behind the music of the police drama.

“If you know someone is about to be shot, the music can’t tell the viewer that until it happens”, he said

“You have to constantly remind yourself that you can’t give away too much of the storylines.

“It’s the same with love stories. The music can’t make the it obvious that falling in love is actually going to happen. Its tricky.

“You’re trying to hint all the time subliminally with the music.”

Blue Lights – which was co-created and written by Declan Lawn and Adam Patterson – launched to more than seven million viewers last year.

The drama follows a batch of newly qualified officers navigating policing in post-conflict Northern Ireland.

The series two finale will be screened on BBC One on Monday.

Eoin has composed the score for series one and two of Blue Lights, along with its theme tune.

The creative process, he said, takes around six months and the work is all done from a studio based at his home in Derry.

“In series two I was brought into production much earlier” he told BBC Radio Foyle’s North West Today programme.

“I spent a lot of time talking to Adam Patterson.

“There was an idea of really wanting to emphasise Belfast as more of a character.

“You have the drone shots of the city and sunrises and I was given the space for the music to accompany that – giving me free rein to be heard and not compete with the dialogue.

“It was really cinematic and I had a lot of fun with it,” he said.

Opening Doors

Eoin had already forged a successful career releasing his own original music and as a touring artist.

The album Borders, an audio/visual collaboration with Ryan Vail, was awarded the Northern Irish Music Prize for Best Album in 2019.

It was this work released under the name Elma Orkestra and a Derry connection that led Eoin to getting involved with Blue Lights.

“Louise Gallagher [Blue Lights co-creator and executive producer] is from the city and she’d come across various Elma Orkestra work which was mostly instrumental and had quite a cinematic style,” he said.

“Louise got in touch and asked would I be interested in pitching for series one.

“It was great for her to open the door and then you have to approved by a whole team of people.

“They sent me some scenes and I wrote music to some very rough cuts.

“Thankfully it all worked out”.

NI Voices

When he was trying decide what he wanted the Blue Lights score to sound like, Eoin said he wanted to include Northern Ireland voices and reflect the sound of its people.

“I came across some archive from the early 70s of children singing songs on the streets of Belfast,” he said.

“They were signing nursery rhymes and one that stood out was a version of I’ll Tell Me Ma.

I took a sample of it and was able to build something haunting around what is normally an innocent nursery rhyme.”

Copyright rules meant the original sample couldn’t be used but Eoin’s 13-year-old son Naoise instead stepped in and provided the lyric.

The song went on to be used in a key scene of episode three of series two.

And Naoise is not the only other family member involved in the Blue Lights soundtrack – Eoin’s wife Kitty O’Callaghan, a soprano, can be heard in the theme tune and closing credits.

‘Heard by millions’

With the success of Blue Lights, what is it like to have your music heard by millions?

“I’ve had great feedback,” said Eoin. “Definitely a lot more than the first season.”

“I think season two just allowed the music to breathe a bit more and you are given sections where you’re just allowed to shine.

“It has been amazing and I could be so much more creative.

“Season three is on the horizon now and hopefully I’ll just build on that.

“I have plenty of ideas about where the music of Blue Lights might go.”

Blue Lights series two finale screens on BBC One on Monday 20 May at 21:00 BST, with the full series available on BBC iPlayer.

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