Craig Armstrong’s music is as varied as it is successful. Born in 1959 in the east end of Glasgow, the musician and composer headed to London in 1977 to train at the Royal Academy of Music. Under the tutelage of such greats as Cornelius Cardew and Malcolm MacDonald, he developed an approach that evokes the most delicate shifts in atmosphere and emotion.
On his return to Glasgow, Armstrong became in-house composer at the influential Tron Theatre, working for the first time with director Michael Boyd (now at the Royal Shakespeare Company). It was also at the Tron that Armstrong met actor/ director Peter Mullan, whose films (including The Magdalene Sisters and Neds) he continues to provide the music for today.
Armstrong’s early work, scoring for theatrical productions such as Boyd’s radical 1993 interpretation of Macbeth, laid the foundations for a spectacular career in film.
Since the mid-nineties, he has created scores for both Hollywood and independent films, from Mullan’s directorial debut The Close Trilogy to Bafta, Golden Globe and Novello award-winning soundtracks for Baz Luhrmann’s William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge! Many more films have benefited from Armstrong’s expert touch, including Richard Curtis’ Love Actually and Taylor Hackford’s Oscar-winning biopic Ray. Armstrong has composed two scores for Oliver Stone; World Trade Centre and in 2010, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Most recently Armstrong collaborated with Baz Lurhmann on their third feature film together, The Great Gatsby, for which Armstrong’s score was awarded an AACTA (Best Original Music Score award) and received a Grammy nomination.
Classic and modern
Running alongside his scoring work, Armstrong has built an impressive repertoire of both popular and classical music; a distinction of genres that he would prefer not to make, focusing simply on the excitement and integrity of the music itself.
Shared inspiration with Bristol trip-hop outfit Massive Attack led to the platinum-selling album Protection, and Armstrong’s talents for arranging, remixing and composition have also been called upon by names as diverse as the London Sinfonietta, Yoko Ono, the Barbican and Sakamoto.
He has nurtured a long-time collaboration with Berlin-based poet and electronic artist AGF, working with her on various pieces as well as forming three-way collective The Dolls with Finnish musician Vladislav Delay.
Armstrong’s influence extends to the world of visual arts, too, with pieces such as One Minute: 15 Pieces for Orchestra seeing him work with Scottish artists Dalziel + Scullion to mark the unveiling of the new Perth Concert Hall. Other orchestral works include Gesualdo, an operetta with words from author Ian Rankin commissioned by Scottish Opera, as well as acclaimed pieces for the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, choral ensemble Cappella Nova and award-winning violinist Clio Gould. In 2012 Armstrong received a Herald Angel award for a new Scottish Opera commission The Lady From The Sea, featuring a libretto from Zoë Strachan which premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival.
A central virtuosity
His series of solo albums, including the collaborative As If to Nothing (2002), and 2004’s Piano Works, reveal a more personal insight into a composer whose virtuosity is at the heart of every note. Armstrong’s third studio album It’s Nearly Tomorrow will be released this October on BMG Chrysalis and features work with long term Glasgow collaborators Paul Buchanan, Jerry Burns, James Grant and Katie O’Halloran. Other guests include Vladislav Delay (The Dolls), and Chris Botti on trumpet. The album was recorded all over the world: Glasgow, Babelsberg – Berlin, Prague, London, Sweden, Finland and Los Angeles.
Working primarily from his studio in Glasgow, Armstrong continues to work internationally in film and composition. In 2010 he accepted an OBE at the Palace of Holyroodhouse for his contribution to music.