From his early days in New Zealand listening to his father sing opera, John Metcalfe has become one the most exciting and versatile musicians in the UK. From giving string quartet recitals in prestigious venues world-wide to composing for radio and TV, penning strings for no.1 UK pop hits and releasing his own genre-defying music, Metcalfe has gained wide recognition for his unique brand of music-making.
Moving to England he took up the viola and joined his first band at school playing drums. Raised on a dual-mono diet of Kraftwerk and Joy Division this band influenced his move north-west where he joined cult band The Durutti Column on Manchester’s legendary Factory label. He stayed for three years adding his own unique sound and flavour to the enigmatic style of guitarist Vini Reilly.
Hard classical study continued along with hard dancing at the now defunct Hacienda and scholarships took him to London and Berlin (studying with Italian maestro Bruno Giuranna) to finish his training. His distaste for standard classical recording industry practices led him to persuade Factory boss Tony Wilson to launch the ground-breaking Factory Classical label aimed at bringing young British talent and music to a truly new audience.
Metcalfe’s talents at A+R led to debuts for now major artists such as Rolf Hind, Steve Martland and his own Duke Quartet. In the meantime Metcalfe’s strength as arranger extraordinaire came to the fore.
Since his work on Morrissey’s no.1 solo album Viva Hate he has become one of the UK’s top arrangers working for artists such as Simple Minds, Bat For Lashes, Blur and Catatonia. He provided all the strings for the Concert for Linda at the Albert Hall, working with George Michael, Johnny Marr and Tom Jones. After hearing his arrangement of ‘Angel in The Morning’ for the ‘Friends’ soundtrack, the Pretender’s Chrissie Hynde asked John to arrange some of her most famous songs for the Isle of View album which featured John’s string quartet, the Duke.
As violist in the renowned Duke Quartet, Metcalfe has toured worldwide, made numerous cds and worked with a huge range of world-leading artists from pop, dance, film, tv and theatre; all highly acclaimed by audiences and press. Concerts over the next two seasons take them throughout Europe and the US.
In addition he is one of the curators at Kings Place implementing innovative and outstanding events including ‘Beyond the Loop’, featuring some of the most influential electronic artists from the last 30 years such as Plaid and the Durutti Column. The event concluded with the astounding Bays / Heritage Orchestra collaboration featuring live composing from Metcalfe and Toni award winner Simon Hale.
Metcalfe took his first steps as a composer nearly a decade ago. His debut cd ‘The Inner Line’ received glowing reviews with Billboard magazine describing it as ‘…. a solo debut that crosses all manner of boundaries. Melding avant-pop and electronica, film music and contemporary classical ‘The Inner Line’ is the ideal item for classical fans wanting to investigate a pop-leaning, contemporary sound world or for electronica fans who crave far more musicality than they’re used to getting.’
Metcalfe’s most recent album ‘A Darker Sunset’ epitomizes music currently dissolving boundaries between electronic and modern classical styles. Of a show at London’s ICA John L. Walters of The Guardian stated, “The event starts brilliantly with viola player / composer John Metcalfe. They play a smartly written, sharply defined repertoire… Gangadeen’s supercharged style reveals an extra dimension in Metcalfe’s material; the drums sit right on top of the beat, synchronising precisely with the urgent attack of the strings.”
For the last 3 years Metcalfe was arranger, MD and co-producer of Peter Gabriel’s orchestral albums,’ Scratch My Back’ and ‘New Blood’. Metcalfe was closely involved in helping Gabriel re-interpret covers of major artists ranging from David Bowie to Paul Simon using only orchestral instruments. Mojo magazine called it “A profound re-imagining made manifest in an orchestral soundworld as rich and thrilling as ever recorded at Air, the studio founded by George Martin”. Touring was worldwide visitng renown venues such as Radio City in New York and the Hollywood Bowl.
Most recently Metcalfe has arranged for Bat For Lashes’ latest album, is organising his current Kings Place series, ‘Monomedia’ based around music in the dark with Thomas Dolby and Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory in the line-up, and is completing an album for Bowers and Wilkins’ Society of Sound series for release in April.
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