Orlando Seale and The Swell: From the Royal Shakespeare Company to gigs at festivals
Actor and musician Orlando Seale has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company, had roles in independent and Hollywood films (Sleepy Hollow, Pride & Prejudice) and toured with his improvisation and clown company. His first foray into feature films came when Kenneth Branagh handpicked Seale to be his understudy in the Academy Award-nominated adaptation of Hamlet. The worlds of music and acting collided when he played lead Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott in Hysteria – The Def Leppard Story. He fronts his post-punk inspired band Orlando Seale and The Swell, describing the music as “euphoric doom” or “dance funeral music”. “It’s sort of a joke really but what I mean by that is that even though the subject matter is sometimes a bit bleak the shows are anything but.”
You’re best known as an actor. When did your interest in music start?
When I was at school I never really played music. Somebody had a school music competition and said ‘who’s going to sing the song?’ I’d not done any singing and so I didn’t volunteer myself, but they said ‘you did a bit of acting, maybe you can do the singing’ and then I won this competition. And George Martin was the person judging it. I sang Imagine.
I thought ‘it’s really fun, I must do more of this!’ and then I was in a terrible school covers band. We did incredibly embarrassing versions of all the things I loved like David Bowie. At school you start to fall in love with your musical heroes. I’d always been really interested in literature and performance so I really identified with those musicians were doing something interesting and attached to performance like David Bowie, but I was crazy about Bob Dylan. Then I didn’t do anything, but became an actor.
When did you resume music?
When I was living in America I was in the Def Leppard Story, a film about the rock band, and I had to sing for it and even though the music was very different from the music I’d grown up listening to I had such a great time doing it.
I was living in Los Angeles and doing these long drives and listening to a lot of music in the car and being introduced to a lot of great music by my girlfriend at the time. She was connected to the whole Echo Park scene of musicians and introduced me to Elliott Smith’s music and The Shins and she lent me this guitar that Eliott Smith used in his recordings. They were friends from the area.
Hearing someone who was such an incredible lyricist was definitely my way into music. Although I loved melody I’d never had any training in music. It was through voice and then through language and Eliott Smith’s stuff really thrilled me. And James Mercer of The Shins is an amazing lyricist. Those were the things that really captured my imagination first.
I started to write not with a view that it would be something I’d do professionally, but I needed to make stuff of my own and express myself and to comment on what was around me and so I started writing, and it completely took over.
What brought you back to London?
I feel very European. I really love Europe so I wasn’t just coming back to London, I was coming back to Europe. And my father was quite old at the time; he was my remaining parent and I was very close to him.
I missed Europe and my family and my friends and a bizarre series of events happened, the worst 10 days of my time in Los Angeles. Somebody broke into my car and stole my guitar and I’d put a book of all the songs that I’d written in it, then they broke into my car again, then the flat I was staying in got flooded with sewage. I felt it was a sign to get out.
Orlando Seale and The Swell (Joe Sarah)
And you rehearse in Denmark Street?
I can’t believe it; it drives me mad to think that that area is being developed in such an insensitive way. It strikes me as astonishing that people want to get rid of the very things that attract people to London. If you’re interested in music history of the 20thcentury that place is so valuable. It’s an incredible concentration of knowledge – everybody comes across the city to get their instruments worked on. The whole way that we think about value is really topsy turvy and really tragic.
Tell me about being invited by the Old Vic Tunnels to perform with the Southbank Sinfonia and how you met the members of The Swell.
The Old Vic Tunnels have this fantastic programme of experimental immersive events. I’d done a few gigs in the tunnels and they said how would you like to work with this orchestra? It was an amazing dream for me. We did arrangements of songs with 20 musicians. Two of the members [viola players Becky Hopkin and Patricia Ramirez] have become core members of the band.
Are you doing any film work?
I’d love to do more stuff. I am doing little jobs and TV things but it’s been hard to do theatre stuff because this has been so consuming and theatre tends to take up your evenings which I’d wanted to keep available for this. But my dream would be to combine the two. There’s a gallery space I might be doing something for.
We played a big gig at the Scala and there we started to we had a wonderful choir called The Notables. I’d like to make something which is somewhere between a gig a piece of music theatre installation. I want to unpack some of the things we’re exploring in the songs and make an event. I want to keep that thing at a gig where you feel a bit rowdy or you don’t know what’s going to happen. I’d really like to bring them together and make an event. I’m trying to find performance element that could work around the music.
Orlando Seale and The Swell will play Cornbury Music Festival on Saturday 9 July at 4.30pm. More info and tickets here: www.cornburymusicfestival.com