PAUL Leonard-Morgan is used to travelling for work. 

Eight years ago, the Glasgow-born film composer decided to make Los Angeles the permanent home for him and his family. At the same time, though, Leonard-Morgan kept a home and studio in Glasgow. 

“I’m fully aware of what’s going on back at home,” Leonard-Morgan tells the Sunday National over the phone.

“My wife is Scottish. I’m Scottish. We have so many friends over there. We keep in touch with people the entire time we’ve been living here anyway. It’s like nothing has changed, but everything  has changed.” 

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Over the last few months, though, Leonard-Morgan’s travels have been particularly exhausting as he has had so many projects to work on and promote. At the start of September, he was at the Telluride Film Festival to help unveil The Pigeon Tunnel, the Apple TV+ documentary about the life and career of John le Carré (below). 

Then he was in Glasgow to record music for an upcoming Netflix series. Soon after he was back in Los Angeles to see his family, only to be whisked off to London for its film festival, and when we spoke, he was about to leave LA for another premiere in New York. 

“I’m at the point where I just want to get some more work done,” he candidly admits.  

The National:

Making music has always been a fundamental part of Leonard-Morgan’s life and personality. Especially Scottish music.

While he was born in Glasgow, his parents moved him down to Bromley, Greater London, when he was just two years old. 

Since his mother was a music teacher, Leonard-Morgan learned to play the piano, violin, and recorder in his youth, before extending his skills to a variety of other instruments. 
While he was down in London, though, Leonard-Morgan felt a calling to return to Scotland. He eventually did so at 18 so that he could attend the Royal Scottish Academy Of Music And Drama (now the Royal Conservatoire).

“I kind of thought that I’d just have three years there. I’d get Sunday lunches made by my aunts.” 
By the time he’d graduated in 1995, Leonard-Morgan was working with “loads of bands” in the studio, including the likes of Deacon Blue, Texas, Simple Minds, Belle And Sebastian, and Mogwai. 

After a few years of “putting strings on their albums,” and even touring with some of the bands, Leonard-Morgan started to branch out to composing his own music. At first it was on short films, then it was television and video games  before eventually, he was working on major Hollywood productions starring Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro.  

Looking back, Leonard-Morgan admits that his career progressed at a surprisingly quick rate. “I worked on this show called Fallen and was nominated for a Bafta. That led to Spooks,” the television series that Leonard-Morgan worked on between 2006 and 2011.  

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All the while, though, despite there being the calls to work down in London, Leonard-Morgan insisted on staying in Glasgow. 

“The directors and producers would come up. It was cool. There’s so much talent in Glasgow and Scotland. I used to get a little bit annoyed when people would ask, ‘You’re not in London?’” 

When Leonard-Morgan was hired to compose the music on 2011’s Limitless, starring the aforementioned Cooper and De Niro, he realised that he might have to bite the bullet and jump across the pond to America, though. 

“That opened the floodgates for work because it was the number-one movie across the world.”  

Over the next few years, Leonard-Morgan worked on the likes of Dredd, Dynasty, The Grand Tour, Best Sellers, Gigi & Nate, as well as the TV adaptation of Limitless. 

The more the work poured in, the more Leonard-Morgan realised how much he “freaking loved” working on them. Even if he didn’t always know what he  was doing.  

“I’ve always maintained you do your best stuff when you don’t know what you’re doing. I’m always happy working with musicians and orchestras and trying different things.” 

His most fruitful working relationship has been with the Oscar-winning documentarian Errol Morris. The Pigeon Tunnel marks their sixth collaboration together. 

“He’s just a wonderful human being. There’s so much going on in his films and I love that he wants very minimal music but that it’s driving the themes of his movies.” 

Since The Pigeon Tunnel involves Morris interviewing le Carré – which Leonard-Morgan describes as a “meeting of two hugely intellectual colossuses” – he used this as the starting point for his music in the film. Leonard-Morgan wasn’t the only composer contributing to The Pigeon Tunnel, though.  

The legendary composer Philip Glass also worked in tandem with Leonard-Morgan on it. The pair previously collaborated together on Tales From The Loop, and while he’d never worked with another composer in this manner before, Leonard-Morgan found the process very rewarding.  

It was especially fulfilling during The Pigeon Tunnel, as Leonard-Morgan and Glass found the combination of their compositions to be the musical equivalent of Morris and le Carré’s discussions. 

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“I would play over the top or underneath Philip’s style and themes. It was such a joy.” 

But wherever he is and whatever he’s working on, Leonard-Morgan insists that his Scottishness and the influence of the country’s music are always present.  

“When I first worked in America, everyone would tell me: ‘Your melodies are great. But your rhythms are mental’. What I suddenly realised is it was because of all those years in Glasgow, especially walking into bars where folk music passed down from generation to generation is playing. It’s all infused in me. That’s what Scottish music has done to me.” 

The Pigeon Tunnel is now available to watch on Apple TV+