The Snowman…

Howard Blake’s The Snowman, live at Colston Hall, Bristol – December 2008

Howard Blake is a staple of the festive season thanks to his 1982 score for the British animated film The Snowman. The story, about a young boy who builds a snowman that amazingly comes to life one snowy night, touched the hearts of millions when it was first broadcast on Channel 4. Based on Raymond Briggs 1978 picture book, the film has since spawned stage shows, ice-skating shows and concerts across the globe. This weekend Howard’s score accompanied Briggs’ magical story across a handful of dates at concert halls in the South West of England. Yesterday the show arrived at Bristol’s Colston Hall and the full house who put their Christmas shopping on hold for the afternoon were treated to a heart-warming concert of words and music.

While The Snowman was the big draw, the concert opened with another Briggs/Blake collaboration, the more recent animation The Bear. In this tale, a young girl loses her beloved Teddy in the Polar Bear enclosure at the zoo, only to find herself face to snout with one of its residents the next night, as the kindly bear returns her toy and becomes unlikely friends with the girl. A call from the ‘Great Bear’ in the stars sees the friendly bear take to the skies with the girl, travelling through starlight to the heavens and a dazzling ad exciting denouement.

Although both story and music appeared to share much with its older, more famous cousin, The Bear proved that Howard Blake still has a magic touch when it comes to writing expressive, lyrical music. Weaving around Briggs’ words, accenting some, inviting others, Blake’s music enchanted us and – for some of the very young – sent a shiver through the spine. Like The Snowman, this film and score features a song centrepiece. ‘Somewhere a Star Shines for Everyone’ was performed by a pyjama-clad Irene Carter who, while having a very rich voice, seemed too old for the ‘part’.

I had seen the Bath Philharmonia once before and was again surprised that they don’t have a higher profile – overshadowed perhaps in the South of England by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. They performed beautifully under the baton of Jason Thornton, and Blake, who was in the audience, should have been proud to hear his music so ably performed; it was definitely in safe hands.

Of course the headline act was kept for after the interval and The Snowman did not disappoint. There is something so charming about this score; it’s full of little moments that raise the hairs on the back of your neck and whisk you away that by the time we got to the beginning of ‘Walking In The Air’ – performed beautifully by young soloist George McCarthy – we were ready to fly along with them. Highlights for me are always the music-box theme, the race around the garden on the motorbike and the dance of the snowmen and each were a treat to the ears when played live.

Obviously the stories formed a big part of the show and actor Russell Boulter (from ITV1’s The Bill) did a nice job of bringing the words to life, at times quite animatedly. It was all just about enough to keep the knee-high entranced, though others were less keen and during quieter moments, screams and cries could be heard around the auditorium. It was a family concert after all, and you can’t expect the very young to pay attention too long, particularly in a big dark room with lots of loud ‘noise’. Thankfully the music was loud enough that those who could appreciate it did…

So a little Christmas spirit was brought to Bristol this week and it was the perfect start to the holiday week; the stage looked beautiful decked in colourfully lit trees and the music that resounded through the hall was enough to get us into the spirit of the season. All we need now is some snow…


Originally published at Music from the, December 2008.