Interview - Paul Hartnoll of Orbital

To celebrate the release, thanks to Signature Entertainment, of the violent new “class war” Welsh thriller Concrete Plans on 23rd November, here's an interview with legendary UK dance music composer Paul Hartnoll of Orbital who scored the film...

Orbital were pioneers in the dance music scene from the late 80s with many now classic albums and songs to their name and a huge amount of movie credits for songs and scores too. Some notable films/games/TV to feature Orbital/Paul’s music include: The Saint, Event Horizon, Spawn, Test Drive 4, Mortal Kombat, Mean Girls, Peaky Blinders, The Beach, Wipeout, Hackers, Teen Spirit, American Ultra and many more.

At the Glastonbury Festival 2010 to close their set, Matt Smith, who played the Eleventh Doctor, performed with Orbital their cover of the Doctor Who theme. The due also performed "Where Is It Going?" live at the opening ceremony for the London 2012 Paralympic Games with Stephen Hawking speaking about the Large Hadron Collider.

In new film Concrete Plans, a manor house in disrepair and a landowner with a fierce temper and cash flow problem meets his match when confronted with a bill he can’t pay. Time is running out and the builders living on his land want their pound of flesh. With a fantastic British cast including; Amber Rose Revah (The Punisher), Goran Bogdan (Fargo, Otec/Father), Charlie Palmer Rothwell (Legend, Dunkirk), Chris Reilly (The Last Post), Steve Speirs (Upstart Crow), William Thomas (Mr Nice, Twin Towns), Kevin Guthrie (Sunshine on Leith, Fantastic Beasts) and James Lance (Ted Lasso). The tense thriller was written and directed by Will Jewell. 

Here's the interview with Paul about his career and love of culture, the new score and includes his choice of 5 favourite movie scores…

Hi Paul, thanks for taking the time to chat today. Your music is featured in so many films. The end of Mortal Kombat springs to mind for some reason…

Yeah, ‘Halcyon’. It’s been at the end of three of films; Teen Spirit, Mortal Kombat and Mean Girls. And it started Hackers. So possibly a gateway track for a lot of people. A lot of young people got into us by watching Mortal Kombat and hearing the track at the end and going “What is that?” and then discovering us through that. I think we were helped by the promotion of those four films.

You’ve had various other tracks on big films too.

Yeah we had ‘Satan’ begin the film Spawn, which we did with Kirk Hammett of Metallica as well, which was brilliant. Didn't get to meet him but we passed things backwards and forwards. Back in the day it was pre-internet, so it was done with couriers. Which was brilliant as we had this crazy courier arrive to give us the tape with Kirk’s stuff on and he was this full on heavy metal guy. I can’t remember the name of the courier company, but it had gothic type face and all that. I don’t know if that was deliberate, but it was “Yeah, this is how stuff from Metallica should arrive!” It was brilliant.

‘Satan’ was more of a live track right?

Yeah, ‘Satan’ is one of those tracks we have released a few times but never on an album. Actually, we did on the Wonky album where we did a particularly diverse version of it. It’s a track that the first time we tried to record it we didn’t really know how to arrange it. We just did something quickly. And then throughout life it’s always taken on a different shape. It keeps shifting its shape and form. Currently it’s a Belgian New Beat kind of version that we play and soon to get back to Heavy Metal I reckon. Bring back Kirk!

And ‘Satan’ is so good live.

It started live. It was around the time of Ozzy Osbourne or Black Sabbath that were getting it in the neck by religious extremists saying if you play one of their albums or songs backwards it would say “Satan is King” or something. And they were trying to take them to court about it, which is ridiculous now to think that that could even happen. So we just thought OK, we’re with those people, we don’t agree with this, so why don’t we just do one where the record says Satan going forwards? Just put it out and about! So, we decided to mix heavy rock and hip-hop and make it a tribute to Satan!

Where did the intro sample come from?

The Butthole Surfers, it’s a sample from them and we have their blessing.

Wow, and you kinda slowed it down I suppose.

Yeah, we just messed with it, the guitar sample is from the same track as well. ‘Sweet Loaf’ from the “Locust Abortion Technician” (1987) album. We ripped off the whole intro and everything. We were so cavalier about it at the time, as people were. It was great, the gay abandon of youth.

So it was after the fact that you probably got their permission?


So let’s talk about your latest score for the excellent new Welsh thriller Concrete Plans, and how you got on board that project.

I got on it long ago through a music journalist who lives round the corner from me, he just said to me “Would you be interested, I’m working on a film that’s got something to do with the Welsh tourist board, are you interested in doing the score?” and I said sure and over time, director Will Jewell got in touch and said he’s trying to get the money together to do this film. We just spoke over the course of a year until it finally happened, and that was it. I just kept on in the background saying “Yeah, sure I’ll do it if it happens,” and lo and behold it did happen, it was great. 

It’s good to support British independent cinema and it’s been getting really good reviews.

I know it’s been great hasn’t it? Reviews have been brilliant.

And generally, Orbital are still going and you’re doing other bits and bobs, other composing too?

Yeah, I keep my hand in. I love scoring anyway, it’s always been a big passion of mine and something that I’ve always wanted to get more into, so I’m always keeping my hand in with that. I’ve been doing stuff with a poet friend of mine Murray Lachlan Young, who’s working on a fairy-tale kinda story, that he eventually wants to turn into a stage play. He’s got form doing that, so I reckon he’ll get there in the end. We’ve just done a series of 6 podcasts; ‘The Chronicles of Atom & Luna’ and that will be coming out soon. I’ve scored him telling stories, basically, in poetic form. We work well together. During the lockdown we did an album together, about a track a week, for Radio 6, which was a virus diary type of thing. He did a poem every week based on what was going on in the lockdown and I put it to music. We ended up getting really carried away. We’ve ended up making an album that sounds like the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band or something like that, it’s great fun.

Awesome. Would you fancy doing a full score for a massive comic book movie or sci-fi remake? A huge Hollywood project?

Oh yeah, I’ll try my hand at anything. I’ve worked with orchestras. I would do something with an orchestra again if I could. It’s always great fun to wield that kind of power. But as much as I’d like to do a science fiction time twistery film - which lend themselves to my electronic palate - I’d also like to do period dramas and things like that. I like to do anything. You can see from my choices of favourite film scores below that I like big romantic music. I thoroughly enjoyed that kind of thing. I like getting out of my comfort zone. I like working in something that you wouldn’t expect me to work in. It’s like going to the gym and trying a different exercise; it flexes your muscles in a different way, and you build them up. I like the naivete as well, it’s a way of becoming naïve again, by trying something different. I’ve been doing music professionally for 30 years, and another 10 before that, so it’s nice to be stretched. It’s nice to do something fresh and different.

But honestly, I would score anything as long as I like it. I’d possibly score stuff if I didn’t like it as well! Because that’s also a challenge. But I prefer to like something. But I would score anything because life is full of all the different emotions, I’d have a go at it all, really. 

Your work features various science fiction references as well appearing in so many film scores and soundtracks. Including playing the original Doctor Who theme live which you are known for. So you’re obviously nerdy, you guys? 

Yeah, me especially. Absolutely, that was a cover version and we did that in the mid-90s when Doctor Who was incredibly unpopular. It was beginning to be forgotten about. That’s why we did it - let’s revive Doctor Who! We eventually released it on an album, but it had cult status as it was a thing you could only hear live - a rave version of Doctor Who. And in the wilderness years between Doctors, what more could you want? 

And, finally, could we ask for 5 of your favourite movie soundtracks?


It’s a tricky one, picking 5, but I’ve got them, they’re quite big ones. First one I’ve got down is The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. I had to have some Ennio Morricone, I love lots of Morricone but this has the The Good, The Bad and The Ugly theme tune and The Ecstasy of Gold in it. I think that has to be one of the pinnacles of Ennio Morricone’s scoring. I like all his scores - even the mad 70s jazz sort of horror ones are brilliant as well - but The Good, The Bad and The Ugly has to be in here.

It’s fantastic, because he made us believe that cowboys listen to surf music, you know what I mean? We now associate anything that sounds like Ennio Morricone with Westerns. It’s got nothing to do with Westerns! That style of music played on that has got nothing to do with Westerns at all, but it has become the narrative for Westerns. It’s brilliant! We all believe that’s the sound of Westerns now, twangy guitars. They didn’t have guitars - well, electric guitars - back then. It’s not the sound of Westerns. It’s great. 


Danny Elfman - Edward Scissorhands because he brought back romance and fantasy in such a massive way. Every bar of that score is so sure footed. There’s no waste, everything is really gregarious and beautiful. And again, it’s been imitated so much in advertising and things like that ever since. He kind of set this twinkly Christmassy sort of gothic fantasy dialogue going, along with Tim Burton’s films. But for me, it’s what Danny Elfman brings to the table - it adds so much beauty. It’s an amazing score and I’ve loved Danny Elfman ever since. 


So for the next one, we have a similar era and Thomas Newman’s American Beauty. I was gonna pick Meet Joe Black. It’s a tough one for me, between those two. American Beauty’s been so rinsed it’s almost boring to listen to now. But when I go back to what it meant, and what it was, and the influence it had, and the diversity of instrumentation that it had… for what it was, which was an American suburban story. The ethnicity and strangeness of the instruments brought along a sense of alienation to the score, which was just immense. The beautiful piano piece, with the plastic bag. Again, how many times have we heard that since? It’s just echoed through popular culture since that point. I loved all his scores from around that time. Like I said, Meet Joe Black was a massive one. Road to Perdition was a great one. But with American Beauty, it’s like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, you gotta go back to the source, and that was the big one for me. 


My next one is the score to my favourite film of all time, which is Terry Gillingham’s Brazil. The score gets quite forgotten. But if you listen to it - and you’ve seen the film as many times as I have - you realise that Michael Kamen extrapolated the entire score from one piece of Latin American music. Everything is a version or variation on the one piece of music that is the “Braaaziiiilll- duh-duh-duh-duh”, everything. When it’s moody, when it’s scary it’s like “duh-DUHHHH”, it’s immense, it’s so beautifully crafted. There’s no reason why that film is called ‘Brazil’ as far as I can see and I’ve watched it so many times, apart from that that song was the earworm of the era when the action was being played out. Michael Kamen keeps that theme throughout the whole thing. Even with all the diversity of all of his score, it’s always a variation on that song. I love it as a technical piece of work, but it’s a great score as well. It’s so amusing and works beautifully with the film.

Great choice, can you say bit more about the original song they used?

There’s a song called ‘Brazil’, which is an old Latin standard, which I’ve spent the last 30 years collecting versions of. I’ve got a massive collection of variations on that theme from second-hand shops all over the world. I still can’t work out the reason they picked the song for the film. It might be really obvious, and someone might go “Oh it’s because of that, you idiot!”. But I’ve never really spotted it. Every piece of music in the film is based on that one song. 


So that’s that! And this is where I get stuck. I’m on 5 and I can’t decide between John Barry or Lalo Schifrin. I think I’m going to go with John Barry, because he makes me cry. Lalo Schifrin is groovy as hell, and I love him, but he doesn’t make me cry. John Barry makes me cry. And I cannot decide between a Bond theme and The Knack …and How to Get It. I think I’m gonna go for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It’s got a couple of changes of chord which just blow me away every time. It’s beautifully laid back and jazzy. It’s got vibraphones, which I love. It’s John Barry lounging it up in his best way. It’s a really sumptuous score. So many of his scores are brilliant, all the Bond ones. But I particularly like the romance of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. And it is a romantic film, it’s the one where James Bond gets married and then loses his wife, it’s terrible! We get a one-off James Bond as well, George Lazenby, God bless him. That was a hard one to pick, because there are so many brilliant John Barry scores, but that’s the one I’m gonna go with.

FrightFest Presents and Signature Entertainment Presents Concrete Plans on Digital HD from 23rd November. Find it on iTunes at

Images and info courtesy of Signature Entertainment.

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