Born in 1956 in Birmingham, Paul studied composition with Anthony Gilbert at the Royal Northern College of Music and privately with Bill Hopkins. In 1999 he was awarded a PhD by University of Edinburgh, supervised by Nigel Osborne and Peter Nelson.
In 1977, his Concerto for Groups of Instruments won the Royal Philharmonic Society Prize and in 1978 his Music for Wood and Strings won the silver medal of The Worshipful Company of Musicians. However, the most important work of this period is The Ruin (Part 1), set to part of the Anglo-Saxon poem. The Ruin is a ‘double time refraction’ evoking the strong, though not specific sense of place which permeates his later composition.
Paul’s fascination with nature underpins all his music, and his tireless quest for scrupulous honesty in his writing led him to investigate a range of scientific phenomena. The beating wings of swans in flight were woven into the rhythms of Palimpsest; the pitches rendered from their calls. Nonetheless, it was the mathematics of a rainbow which developed into Paul’s groundbreaking research into trombone ‘lip’ multiphonics, and the musical ideas thus generated were, like the rainbow, to have no end! (See Research for further information.) A Field of Scarecrows was consequently based on the multiphonics discovered in birdsong; Squaring xlvii on spectral analyses of the vocal sounds of the poem, used with the kind permission of Seamus Heaney.
All this attracted the interest of Borders Television, where film director Peter Chapman was intrigued by the overlap between art and science. He made a documentary about how Paul’s research ‘fed into’ his compositional technique and its relationship with the natural world. The programme, which included a complete performance of Cloudscapes, was broadcast in October 1998.
In 1999, Paul was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, but he continued to compose. His last piece, I quattro libri dell’architettura, is a musical ‘map’ of Paxton House and its grounds, where he lived with his family. He died on 26th June 2001, aged 44.
Since his death, Paul’s music has received numerous performances and broadcasts on BBC Radio 3 and in Europe. Concerto for Groups of Instruments was performed by BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Garry Walker, and The Ruin (part 1) by Chimera Ensemble at the University of York; the latter with a pre-concert talk by Paul Griffiths, who also refers to Paul in the latest edition of Modern Music and After. Jane Keenan choreographed Cloudscapes for Ballet Bewegung, which ran in Berwick-upon-Tweed, York and Edinburgh Festival Fringe with the Bewegung Ensemble. A Field of Scarecrows has been extensively toured in Britain, Europe and America, and is available on CD. However, Comet Hale-Bopp, the work Paul considered his finest, still waits to be performed.