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It started as a 'studio in the bedroom venture'. Now we're serious players ; The song remains the aim: Gemma Collins meets Leicester melody makers...

July 20, 2013

YellowBrix

It started as a 'studio in the bedroom venture'. Now we're serious players ; The song remains the aim: Gemma Collins meets Leicester melody makers Maryann and Michael Tedstone

If it's sweltering outside, you can guarantee it's positively tropical in Maryann and Michael Tedstone's recording studio. The sister-brother composition team rent a room at the top of Phoenix Square, in Leicester, and the hot buzz of their equipment makes it feel like a sauna on days like today.

We have to keep the windows closed when we're recording, too, laughs Michael, offering us a glass of water.

You can see why it's important, though. Their soundproof studio is a precisely-planned, perfectly-positioned mix of acoustic panels, Mac Pro and mixing desk, with six speakers and an orchestra worth of instruments.

Maryann and Michael's music has been heard the world over. It provides the soundtrack to adverts, TV programmes, films, theatre and historical findings.

Their CV is an A-list of merchandise and media, from Warner, Rank Hovis, M&S and Pepsi to the BBC and Channel 4. For the siblings from Glasgow, their musical story started at an early age. Our dad had an early-music group and we toured with that, says Maryann. We performed for Pope John Paul II in Rome. Security were funny, they took all the instruments apart to make sure they weren't weapons.

Michael, who's 30 and 12 years younger than his sister, missed out on that adventure. He instead played gigs at Disneyland and the Epcot Centre, among other incredible venues.

Music was at the foundation of our upbringing, he says.

So it made sense when Maryann went on to study early wind music under Philip Pickett at the Guildhall School of Music and Michael later chose Alchemea, one of the country's finest production colleges, to learn his craft. After Guildhall, Maryann moved to London and formed a baroque chamber orchestra. And then the unimaginable happened. Without warning, their mother passed away.

It was a really heavy thing to happen, especially for Michael, who was only 17. She had a heart valve problem no-one knew about. She just passed out at work one day and died. It was very traumatic.

Untimely death has a habit of putting life into perspective.

Dad said, 'I want you two to become composers', explains Maryann. And with that, he'd used the legacy money to build us a studio and buy us a car. That's how we got started.

Their first professional job was with The Royal Shakespeare Company.

I'd worked with Michael Boyd, RSC's artistic director, a long time before he'd taken on that role, says Maryann.

His composer had walked out halfway through a production and me, a 15-year-old then, finished his music off for him. I'd never written anything before. It just needed to be done and I knew how.

I guess you could say he owed me one. So I wrote to him and he invited us to compose. We ended up scoring the music for the play Pontius Pilate.

That was a big experience, it pushed us to our limits.

Without a doubt, the RSC gave them gravitas to gain new work, says Michael. It certainly got us in with Big Live Publishing. We were living in London and thought we'd have a go at writing pop music.

Big Live get sent about 100 tracks a week and call in only one composer. We'd written a song and it was a bit folky and grungy, which suited their style. We were really lucky. At that time they had the likes of SnowPatrol and The Verve on their books. But they signed us, gave us a salary and sent us away to write songs.

We reckon that was one of the last development deals, explains Maryann. There was no pressure or expectation to sell anything. It was there we got into sync music, pitching for adverts and really making money from our music.

The label was later sold to Universal and ownership of music and artists became an issue. So moving to their current label, Felt Music, was a big deal for the duo.

All of a sudden we were selling music to Game and Nike and being used on programmes like The One Show and 60 Minutes Around the World,'' said Michael.

And the Spice Girls documentary, Viva Forever! chips in Maryann.

You never know when it's going to happen, but you'll be watching TV, hear something in the background which sounds familiar, and then it'll click... we wrote that. It's a great feeling, said Michael.

And a good advert can bring in six figures.

Felt Music stores a back catalogue of thousands of pieces of music written by the pair to pick and choose from where appropriate.

In theory, Michael is the top-line writer, supplying the melody and lyrics, while Maryann scores the backing track harmonies, but that doesn't go anywhere close to describing the extent of the work they do.

Michael spends most of his time in the studio, he's the attention to detail, says Maryann. My job is to play the instruments and talk to people, book our jobs and push our music.

It wouldn't be rude to call Maryann pushy. She's the first to admit her persistence has got her where she is today. I just turned up and played my instruments in the BBC car park to get a job on Meet the Ancestors, she laughs. Then I wrote to Time Team, told them what I'd done for the BBC and how I could do the same for them.

Maryann and Michael's combination of classical music and contemporary training works harmoniously. Their company, Manike Music, is even an amalgamation of their names.

Their success, they feel, lies in their ability to diversify. Maryann's love and knowledge of world history has brought many a project Manike's way. She spent four years researching Roman music before putting together an album and recording a pilot documentary for the BBC.

The reason we came to Leicestershire was because of our Roman album, she says. We found a French guitarist in Melton who agreed to learn how to play the lute. I wanted to throw out all the preconceptions of how Roman music should be played.'' They thought they'd stick around for a few months but, five years later, they're settled in a lovely house overlooking Victoria Park. Their dad even left Scotland to live with them.

Leicester has been brilliant for us, says Michael. We've changed from being a 'studio in the bedroom' venture into serious players in the industry.

It's great being based at Phoenix, there are all sorts of interesting, creative people here. We've also received a lot of support from the Creative Enterprise Hub. And now we have The Last Plantagenet album.

That was Maryann again. There was no way the unearthing of King Richard III was going to escape a Manike musical makeover.

It took lots of e-mails and a meeting with Peter Soulsby, but we got the job, she laughs. The result is an album of music 'in the style of Richard III', using authentic instruments.

The music industry is competitive, it's hard work and there's not much time for anything else - especially now we're studying for a masters in songwriting at Bath Spa University, ''said Maryann. We're devoted to making this work. It's the most important thing for us to have the career we want. ? .M: Manike Music will be performing their album, The Last Plantagenet, at The Guildhall, Leicester, on July 28 and August 4 and 7. www.leicester.gov.uk/museum

Fred Leicester is on holiday: Don't worry, normal grouchy, grumpy, glass half-empty service will resume next week

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