The Living and the Dead soundtrack – plus listen to the music that inspired the show
James R | On 03, Aug 2016
The BBC’s The Living and the Dead finished last night and while the show’s spooky finale left a number of unanswered questions, one of the biggest questions from viewers has stemmed from the very first episode: where can I get the music from the series?
Music is a big part of the atmosphere in Ashley Pharoah’s script, as the green and pleasant land of Shepzoy descends into increasingly dark territory and Nathan (Colin Morgan) and Charlotte (Charlotte Spencer) Appleby find their farm haunted by a growing number of ghouls and ghosts.
The background score for the show is by Bristol-based duo The Insects, who then worked with a number of other musicians to produce the show’s careful blend of eerie and old-school tradition.
The pair got involved before filming began, they told Spiral Earth in an rather nifty interview.
“A lot of the ideas for the score originated in the script. There were a lot of narrative threads and themes. Obviously a lot of spooky stuff required – ranging from mildly unsettling to raging horror ! …but also a central love story and a tale of unrequited grief. Above everything else was the fact that this was not a conventional period ghost drama, it had the added time-shift elements which underpin the entire series. This latter element really helped us to go ‘off-piste’ when composing the soundtrack.”
Director Alice Troughton was the one who introduced the idea of fusing old and new by covering traditional songs.
“Choosing the songs took a LOT of work, though we were helped by Tim Laycock who was music consultant for the music filmed & performed live on the show, and who has a great knowledge of West country folk music & traditions,” they explained. “We were looking specifically for lyrics that had a supernatural content and – just as importantly – we were looking for great ‘haunting’ tunes and melodies which we could run with.”
And so the main theme tune became A Lyke Wake Dirge, an old tune with pagan pre-Christian origins that tells of the soul’s travels on its way from Earth to purgatory. The singer on that is Mark Leggasick, otherwise known as Howlin’ Lord.
Episode 1 featured the show’s most haunting musical montage, with Elizabeth Fraser of Cocteau Twins singing She Moved Through the Fair. Later in the episode, the show found that even without The Insects’ compositions, old folk tunes could still bring chills, as Colin Morgan sang The Ploughboy at a funeral, while others intoned the familiar hymn Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise.
Episode 3 featured The Reapers Ghost, a song that dates from the 1930s and was written by American singer/songwriter Richard Dyer Bennet – inspired by a story he overheard in a rural pub in Norfolk about a man who walked behind a hayrick and was never seen again. Sean Cook sang that one.
Elizabeth Fraser then returned for Episode 4 to sing The Lovers Ghost.
The good news is that audience reaction has been so positive to the show’s soundtrack that The Insects have decided to release it digitally for download via their website. You can buy the album here.
And, if that’s not enough of a fix for you, we’ve also compiled a playlist relating to the show, featuring alternative versions of the songs used by The Insects to compile the soundtrack, other tracks by the featured artists – and, with Charlotte revealing to us that she listened to folk band The Duhks to get in the old-timey mood for the show, a smattering of The Duhks for good measure.
Have a listen here:
For more on The Living and the Dead, read our reviews of the show here.