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15 Years Ago: Badly Drawn Boy Composes ‘About a Boy’ Soundtrack

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Following a win of the coveted Mercury Prize for his 2000 debut album Hour of the Bewilderbeast, the pressure was on singer/songwriter Damon Gough, aka Badly Drawn Boy, for the follow-up. Circumventing the dreaded sophomore slump, Gough made a left turn by putting out a soundtrack for record number two, scoring the Hugh Grant vehicle About a Boy, which came out April 23, 2002.

“Getting approached to work on something like that was hard to refuse,” Gough told Hot Press in 2003. “I could step outside the Badly Drawn Boy world and do something that suits this big mainstream movie with Hugh Grant in it.”

Across 16 songs, seven of which were instrumentals, the perpetually knit-capped Englishman proved himself a more-than-adept candidate for the daunting undertaking of making music specifically for characters onscreen. It’s not that doing a soundtrack was any less challenging for Gough than coming up with an LP’s worth of new material, but it certainly lessened the burden a bit of having the luxury to have not as much material on which to focus.

“It was a blessing in disguise because it gave me a reason to record the difficult second album,” Gough told UK Music Reviews. “I feel lucky that projects like these have come my way because as a songwriter it broadens your horizons. It makes you look at things from a different angle and especially as you are trying to please someone else rather than just yourself.”

Songs like the career highlight “Silent Sigh,” as well as the jangly “Something to Talk About” and skittering “A Peak You Reach” gave a new dimension to Gough’s already wide musical canvas. That the tracks were for a film adaptation of a Nick Hornby novel, author of High Fidelity and Fever Pitch, seemed a perfect fit.

“One of the first things [About a Boy directors Chris and Paul Weitz] said was that they were thinking of getting Badly Drawn Boy to write the music, and that seemed quite spooky to me as it wasn’t an obvious choice, and certainly wasn’t an obvious choice from two American directors, Hornby told the Guardian at the time of the film’s release. It felt like a mystical moment.”

“I love that soundtrack album,” Hornby continued. ”What’s interesting is that it must have looked to some people like a dangerous commercial decision. But over the last couple of weeks I keep seeing what I think are adverts for the film but turn out to be adverts for the album. The album is everywhere and in the charts, so I’m sure it will make film companies think again – you can do something so interesting musically and help sell the film.”

For Gough, he saw the profile of Badly Drawn Boy take a surprising run at the mainstream with the soundtrack, making him popular far beyond the confines of the U.K. audiences where, for the most part, the success of his debut was centralized.

“I gained an audience from Bewilderbeast, and then after About a Boy, lots of couples starting coming to the gigs,” he told the Guardian in 2015.

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