John Foxx on music, theatre and art

John Foxx

John Foxx - Credit: Archant

John Foxx was the original founder of the popular 70’s band, Ultravox and has a career which has spanned for nearly fifty years. I spoke to John about his time growing up in Chorley where he was born and his involvement in the adaptation of the E.M. Forster short story, “The Machine Stops” by Pilot Theatre and the York Theatre Royal.

You have acquired many skills over the years as a musician, artist, photographer and a teacher and now you have stepped into the world of theatre. How did the move come about?

Juliet Forster, from the York Theatre Royal, sent me the script. I remembered reading it at school, and I liked her complete commitment, as well as the possibilities. So I said yes. It was also a great opportunity to work with Benge again.

What attracted you to the story of “The Machine Stops”?

It’s so impossibly predictive - I still don’t understand how E.M. Forster could, in 1900, predict not only the internet, but also its tendency to isolate while appearing to connect.

How does composing music for a theatre production differ from writing an album?

You’re working with a team of professionals in another area, and also working with a story that isn’t your own. But you get chosen because your own themes fit - so you’ve also got to bring something unique and useful to the process- provide another annexe to the story.

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How does the process of writing a soundtrack for theatre work?

You gird your loins and get down to it. Good communication is everything. And it must be fun - even if it’s serious fun.

You collaborate with analogue synth specialist, Benge, on the production and I am assuming this isn’t the first time you have worked with him?

We’ve worked together for years now. He built his own UFO in the basement. That’s where we carry out the experiments.

You were born and raised in Chorley and attended college in Preston. Do you often come back to the area to visit?

I’ve taken walks down Avenham Colonnade, Winckley Square and Avenham Park all my life - it’s always a great inspiration.

I also have a deep love of that old Harris School of Art building. It should never have been closed. You get something special from being educated in dignified and informed architecture. I still draw hugely on what I learnt during my time there.

My old Art teachers from school and college live in Preston and we’re still in touch. I also see Ben Casey, who runs one of the best design groups in the country from Preston, as well as other friends. I also walk over Rivington Pike whenever I can. Those ruined gardens left by Leverhulme have always been deeply affecting.

All these things and people are vital parts of my life and I still draw inspiration from them all.

As mentioned before, you have vast experience in music, art, photography and teaching. Are there any other areas that you would love to be involved in?

Well, I’m working on some sculpture, and a book with the brilliant Jonathan Barnbrook at present. So we’ll see if any of it finally emerges.

There have been polls recently suggesting that teaching music in schools should be compulsory. Is this a statement you agree with?

Certainly it should always be available - Music is a vital part of what makes us civilised, but it depends entirely on the quality and perception of the teacher for its success. It’s got to achieve some sort of true liberation, not something you can simply impose.

What’s up next for you? Can we expect any new material?

There’s material in the works for recordings with Benge, Hannah Peel, Harold Budd, Robin Simon and Ghostbox, as well as a lot of visual art - especially sculpture, as I mentioned. Coincidentally, that sculpture work is a realisation of things begun at the Harris College of Art, Avenham Colonnade, in 1965.

“The Machine Stops” opens from 13 May – 4 June at York Theatre Royal

Performance times: Tue–Sat, 7.45pm. Matinee performances – 19, 26 May & 2 June at 2.30pm and 21 May and 4 June at 2pm

Box Office: 01904 623568