The best thing that music can do is create awareness. - Brian Clifton
Brian Clifton is a Belgian film composer with international recognition. As an autodidact and multi-instrumentalist, he has contributed his revered talents and chameleon-like skills to a growing-body of feature film and telemovie soundtracks, and also across numerous tv-series, short films, musicals, theatre productions, commercials and game scores.
Born in Antwerp on March 22nd, 1962, carrying the name Dirk Thyssens, Brian was later adopted by Stan Pilaet, a once four time heavy-weight boxing champion who boxed under the appellative of Stan "Clifton". Stan and Brian became very dedicated friends. The name "Clifton" was first used by Stan's parents who in the 1920’s were members of the famed 'The Five Cliftons'. They shared playbills with mythical names such as Charlie Chaplin, Sophie Tucker and The Mills Brothers. In the early days of his carreer as an emerging, ambitious composer, knowing he had found his calling, Brian, like many other sons, sought his first pat on the back from his father. He thought that picking up the name Clifton would be a good way to begin. Contemplating his forename, he had always considered the English sound of "Dirk" quite annoying ("sounds too much like jerk"). As a drummer, he admired the drum solo 'Little B' by Brian Bennett of The Shadows. And accordingly, the artist cognomen Brian Clifton saw quickly, almost organically the light.
During his teens, Brian was advised by his neighbour, classical composer & piano virtuoso/pedagogue Marinus De Jong, to start private studies with composer Luc Van Hove for piano & harmony. But he still considers himself mainly a self-taught composer on piano/keyboards, percussion, guitar and conducting. Very similar, he finds, to his renowned colleagues Vangelis and Hans Zimmer: "The one thing in music that nobody can teach you is how to write a catchy melody".
Throughout the early 1980's, Brian tried his awakening professional steps not towards Belgium and their - at that point in time monopolistic - national broadcasting organisation. It was rather in London where he and his then partner and arranger Steve Willaert were offered the extraordinary opportunity to work closely together with legendary Beatlesproducer Sir George Martin on the soundtrack for The Mission. As fate would have it, an unstable financial situation at the production company Goldcrest made an end to that unprecedented occasion of its kind, hange to necessitating the scoring to be done by a well-known and much more experienced film composer. So magnificent music history was written by Brian's esteemed mentor, Ennio Morricone. Nevertheless, the whole experience gave Brian the self-confidence he needed to definitely persue an employment in that manner. And beyond doubt, there also remained the major support of The Mission's oscar-winning producer Lord David Puttnam, at those days the new CEO of iconic Hollywood based Columbia Pictures (today Sony Pictures), who recognized Brian's talent and encouraged him to make the big move to Los Angeles - where he stayed for over a decade - to further hone his craft. There his path crossed those of his highly-regarded heroes, resulting in some interesting lessons and fine anecdotes to tell: Jerry Goldsmith, Henry Mancini, Bill Conti, Bruce Broughton and one hilarious evening circumstance with John Barry.
With Ennio Morricone
The final sequence of Claude Lelouche’s ‘Toute Une Vie’ parallels the fate of two suitcases thrown together on a crowded airport baggage belt with that of their owners, two strangers seated next to each other on a plane: the start of a new life. That’s how I view my first meeting with composer Brian Clifton. His roots are in Kapellen near Antwerp, like mine. He enjoys chess, as I do (he claims to let me win so I’ll continue feeding him work). He wishes he’d been born 15 years earlier, in time for the psychedelic 60’s. I was there. I wish I’d moved to Hollywood as a young man. He did it. We’re both outspoken, sometimes to a fault. His beautiful music humbles me. Mine was never so gifted. Still, above all else, it is our love of film that binds us; we were born with 16mm. sprocket holes in our brains.
- director Vincent Rouffaer
These were naturally still pre-internet days during which the physical presence of a film composer was required. Hence the move to Hollywood besides the declining provides from his native Belgium. Luck, yet, was on Brian's side when he read an article on a flight from Brussels to New York that would lead him to what he calls "my most unique score to date". It was a write-up on controversial filmmaker Frans Buyens and the green light he received to start filming his autobiographical book Less Dead Than The Others. After Buyens notify Brian the core of the story and explained that he was not looking for a conventional movie score but rather for "a climate", Brian presented Buyens with a demo which impressed the director to such a degree, he decided to make Brian an unusual proposition: he'd fly him over to the editing room in Brussels to spot the movie with him, just once! Subsequently, he would not give Brian a copy of the movie for him to score the music to, as it is usually done, but would submit him the freedom to write "a symphony" based on his impressions. In return, Buyens wanted from Brian the liberty to work the impressive symphony into his film, anyway he'd see fit. The outcome is an astounding and powerful movie with Senne Rouffaer, Dora van der Groen and Koen De Bouw in the leading roles. The soundtrack Brian released himself on his cd-debut La Chapelle De Bois.
Regardless, starting out in L.A. wasn't easy. First, David Puttnam's tenure as CEO over at Columbia Pictures would be the shortest in Hollywood studios' memoirs. Secondly, the time of Brian's arrival in screenland marked itself as the one where soundtrack departments split off from the talent agencies they were part of. Instead of just four composer's agencies, now many arose swiftly, which consequently made finding the right agent a difficult task. Fortunately, there were although notabel productions such as Alfa Papa Tango and a solid long-distance trust from its director Vincent Rouffaer, or Jan Keymeulen with Sarah! Sarah?, that kept Brian strikingly composing for Flemish small screen.
A few agents and some obscure assignments later (like erotic art dance videos for Playboy, or involving as a ghost writer) and finally with a green-card in his pocket, Brian together with his agent Linda Kordek secured the job to score his first Hollywood movie: Bird of Prey, featuring Jennifer Tilly, Richard Chamberlain and Lesley Ann Warren, produced by Steven J. Wolfe.
Influenced by his favorite classical composers Debussy, Ravel & Stravinsky, Brian evolved a personal style of mostly rhythmical cadences alongside strong melodic developments. Focused on nothing else but the golden rule of 'practice makes perfect', he trained himself in creating music to picture and he, too, experienced keenly that "most unversed composers start by writing film music instead of composing music for the film", which is an important upbringing knowledge for any film music writer.
Not wanting to be restricted to screen and with an abiding attraction to other genres, back on Belgian ground, friend and Blinker co-producer Rudi Van Den Bossche brought Brian in touch with successful youth author Marc de Bel. Both soon found a parallel enthusiasm to combine de Bel's writing - rich of fantasy - with Clifton's evocative style of drama scoring, that led to countless collaborations and artistic prolific venues. Among them the musical fairy tale Malus, performed by the world famous Flanders Recorder Quartet, and the first Flemish teenage rock musical The Kriegels, directed by actrice/director Lulu Aertgeerts, who basically opened Brian's ears for musicals and in addition for writing songs with a dramatic stage function. Here, furthermore, his virtual ability and earlier pronouncing exposures perfectly served its purpose.
Meanwhile, Brian kept on composing music for film, including the youth classic Suske & Wiske: The Dark Diamond and the situation comedy Bingo (both retimed him with Rudi Van Den Bossche) as well the thriller drama eLLektra, in collaboration with actress/songwriter Axelle Red and pianist Claire Chevallier. The wide-ranging appreciation for his piano pieces accompanying the latter motion picture, had the prestigious accolade of being nominated in the Syracuse Film Festival, New York. Likewise, Brian's haunting music was highly acclaimed in the Netherlands because of the approved movie Bobby & the Ghost Hunters. However, his most memorable and popular tune may very well be the one which was not written for the movies, but for the world's most favoured sport, soccer: Brian's JupilerProLeague Hymne, a remarkably grand symphonic Olympic sounding theme, started off every Premier League football game in Belgium, maintained for nearly ten years. For the purpose of his anthem to one of Belgium's leading soccer teams, Racing Genk, Brian reached back to his endemic exploits as a rock drummer to fashion a catchy shuffle rock singalong, with tailor-made lyrics by his enduring lyricist, John Hoelen.
When I first heard Brian’s music, long before I met him, I was struck by his capacity to create aural moods that ranged from the extremely dynamic to the subtly romantic, sometimes within the same piece. It had a sensual, hypnotic quality whether creating exhilarating rhythms or lifting love themes. When I finally met him, I was impressed with his knowledge of and capacity to emulate masters like Mahler or Stravinsky. I felt these references were a good starting point to build a working relationship. The fact that he is a very charming fellow just made things easier. What makes Brian an extraordinary composer for motion pictures is not only his amazing versatility, but his very real interest in the drama that unfolds before him.
- director Temístocles López
Brian's versatility allows him, even better, constantly seduces him to experiment with various styles and musical directions. At the same time, whenever he's permitted a free hand, some distinct features and characteristics all his own keep jumping out: mostly epic, still intimate, catchy melodic, rhythmic, and inherently an elegant blend of acoustic orchestration with electronics. For many directors and producers, this masterful eclectic interplay means the appealing elevated value in the realization of their high-end projects.
Most current accomplishments illustrate once more Brian's huge expressive range, endless creativity and driving enthusiasm. They include a sensitive soundtrack for the tender Hollywood feature Everything But a Man, directed by Nnegest Likké, which reunited him alongside producer Steven J. Wolfe, and moreover a richely with genuine Greek flavour imbued virtuous sirtaki score to Rudi Van Den Bossche's feel good farce Cruise Control. Further, in favor of television apply, the composer's subtle mellowness work supplies the adorable, charming Dutch children series GIPS (directed by Janneke van Heesch). Equally, he displays afresh his particular skillfullness by painting a contemporary electronic coloured immersive and mesmeric atmospheric landscape, supporting the documentary series about the illustrious Belgian DJ and producers duo Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, consistently emotional enriched music that integrates bright remarkable captivating articulations. Again it showcases obvious that Brian could not be pigeonholed by genre.
In recent years, Brian has also become a steady guest professor 'film music' at the Brussels film school RITCS -School of Arts, as an considerably engaging expert in the field providing masterclasses concerning the correlation between sound and vision.