“What have you heard? What have you seen?”

I think I was 10 years old when I saw Edward Scissorhands for the first time.  I was young enough and clueless enough that I knew who precisely none of the actors in the film were. It was the first film that I can recall sweeping me up into the story and being really beautiful and really sad at the same time. It probably screwed up my perception of romance for life. I carried it around in my memory as a favourite for a really long time without seeing it again for years, before I obtained my own VHS copy (and later, inevitably, DVD.  Eventually I even had the chance to see it at the cinema).

Edward Scissorhands was also the first time that I realised that music can make or break a film. The opening tune haunted me for a long time, and still, for me, no other film has been scored so perfectly. When I was older I bought the soundtrack on CD and listened to it all the time. At 16, I was already a sucker for every score and soundtrack going – the bulk of my music collection was (and to some degree still is) made up of film rather than albums. I could already pick a Danny Elfman score out of a line-up – but then I could also pick out Rachel Portman (Chocolat remains a favourite bit of music), John Barry, James Horner, Michael Nyman. When I was living in France, aged 18, I bought both the Sleepy Hollow score and the Chocolat score and they (along with Dido, St Germain and loaned copies of the score of The Red Violin and the Mystery Train soundtrack) were my music for the three months I was there.

Long story short: film music. Love it. And Danny Elfman’s work on Tim Burton’s films is at the core of that.

I found out by accident, months ago,that the Royal Albert Hall (RAH) was hosting the world premiere of a concert of Danny Elfman’s Music from the films of Tim Burton (excuse the slightly unwieldy title, but that’s what it’s called).  I was a) really excited and b) almost too late to get a decent ticket. That lateness and excitement is what led to me forking out more for a concert ticket than I ever have, and it’s a decision I don’t regret.

Or, "
Or, “All my favourite noise”

The site hadn’t released the behind-the-choir/almost-no-view seats yet; I’d never been to the RAH before; and Coffee Monster isn’t really a fan of Elfman or Burton, so I ditched the idea of getting a ticket for him as well and tapped out my card details for the only sitting-alone seat left on the chart (on the RAH site, the only other seats left were two pairs. There were literally five seats left.) I didn’t particularly check where it was in the room except to ascertain that I could see the stage a bit. And then I stopped being excited and forgot about it until about a week before the performance.

Have you ever looked around you and thought ‘This. This is my happy place,’ and felt absolutely content?  That’s what happened when I found myself in a box (a BOX! I’ve never had such a seat before) at the RAH, shared with three lovely, RAH-first-timer, French Elfman fans, a glass of Jack Daniels in my hand, with a perfect view of the screen (showing clips from the films and Burton’s sketches), the orchestra, choir, theramin player, pianist and conductor, and the music from my favourite film score in my ears. If I take nothing else away from the (amazing) evening, it was worth it for that moment.

I mean, I get a bit overwhelmed (in the best way) watching and listening to orchestras live – there is something basically powerful about that many musicians playing together. Also I’m nostalgic about it (ex-violin player and Youth Orchestra member here). But this was just breathtaking.

(I was going to put up the only picture I took of the night here, but it’s a bad picture and the one in my head is way better.)

The rest of the evening, by which I mean…

– all the film suites, including the opening sequence which started things perfectly;

– the lead violinist – who I wish I could name, but I didn’t get a programme and can’t find a definite name online –  getting Edwardo the Barber spot on (I was literally leaning forward with my mouth hanging open);

– the theramin player, the harpist, the pianist;

– actually, the entire BBC Concert Orchestra and the Maida Vale Singers;

– the bone-chilling opening chords of Batman;

– the lyricism of the Big Fish music, a film I haven’t watched in years;

– the absolutely haunting rendition of Alice’s Theme (Alice in Wonderland, duh), sung solo by a young choirboy (again, no name);

– Elfman himself singing Jack’s songs from Nightmare Before Christmas, particularly What’s This with the film sequence playing in the background so Jack Skellington is basically lip-syncing;

– Elfman also announcing, camera in hand and entirely sincerely, that it was the best moment of his life –it must have been incredible to see fans of a career spanning 20 years filling the hall and whooping and clapping.

– a visibly nervous, but very charming, Helen Bonham Carter singing Sally’s Song;

– conductor John Mauceri putting on a Santa hat and singing the part of Sandy Claws for the Oogie Boogie Man encore;

 – Tim Burton appearing at the end;

– walking through the crowd to my bus stop 20 minutes away and eavesdropping on all the earnest and happy and intellectual conversations about film music (not a word of criticism to be heard, by the way)…

… this was all just icing on the cake.

Oh, what, you expected some sort of unbiased review? No chance. And as nice as it would have been to share the experience with someone, going by myself was a large part of it, because going alone and being anonymous added to me being able to lose myself in the music. It also means there are no other opinions or criticisms to blur my rose-tinted, black-and-white striped memories of the night, which I will always, always treasure.

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