ONE of the highlights of New Year TV looks set to be Operation Grand Canyon, in which a team of modern-day adventurers, led by historian Dan Snow, set out in antique wooden boats to experience the ultimate white water ride.
The team recreates a journey first made in 1869 and which has never been repeated since.
But what TV viewers won’t realise is that much of the music which adds to the programme has been composed by a Chorley-born musician who is rapidly becoming one of the rising stars of the folk music world.
Phillip Henry was commissioned to add a soundtrack to the two-part documentary.
“It was a real challenge,” he said. “I have never written anything to accompany a programme before but I really enjoyed it.”
Phillip got the opportunity to score the documentary by chance.
“Dr Sam Willis who is one of the experts on the programme is also a musician and uses the same studio in Exeter that I do,” said Phillip. “When he knew the BBC wanted a soundtrack to accompany the programme we got together and I was given the opportunity.”
Phillip was sent unedited footage to work with and spent four days writing material before a full day in the studio recording.
“The producers wanted the sounds of harmonica and slide guitar which is what I play,” said Phillip. “The programme had already been filmed when I got involved,” he said. “There are all these wonderful shots of wide open skies and impressive cloudscapes so they wanted a Ry Cooder-style feel.”
Phllip can be heard on two songs which feature prominently in the programme including the closing theme, his new arrangement of the old gospel blues classic Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning.
This year promises to be a memorable one for Phllip, whose parents still live in Euxton. As well as the TV score, he and partner Hannah Martin have been nominated as best duo in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. The awards will be held at the Royal Albert Hall in London next month.
“Just to be nominated is such an achievement,” said Phillip. “It has raised our profile so much already, it is really exciting.”
The duo’s latest album Mynd has been widely acclaimed by the music press and the pair are tipped to break through in 2014. Phillip is already acknowledged as one of the world’s leading slide guitar players having studied in India as well as in the USA.
His original compositions feature a range of influences ranging from traditional British folk music to American blues and Indian classical melodies.
“The BBC have used far more of my music than I expected in the two programmes,” he said. “I sent them a whole load of instrumentals and they have incorporated a lot of them into the programme.
“We only recorded the music in the middle of December so it has all been very quick.”
The documentary team attempt to recreate the journey undertaken in 1869 by by one-armed civil war veteran Major John Wesley Powell.
“The team are using the same equipment as he did and there are plenty of hairy moments for them,” said Phillip. “I came to the programme too late to get involved in the expedition but if the BBC ever do another one I’d love to be the musician going along with the team.”
Both the theme tune and Phillip’s playing with Dr Willis on The Canyon song which features prominently in the programme are available to download from the website www.philliphenryandhannahmartin.co.uk.
“There is some talk that there might be some kind of live show based around the programme where the experts talk about their adventure and I’d like to be involved to play some of the music live,” said Phillip.
In the meantime, Phillip and Hannah are embarking on a tour in March and April including a date at Wigan Parish Church on March 7.
“I am getting nearer to home,” he said. “It looks like we will have a busy summer on the festival circuit and then go out on another tour in the autumn.
“We are working on some new material but I don’t think Hannah and I will get back into the studio until 2015.”