An interview with composer Renell Shaw

Ivor Novello award-winning composer, songwriter and music producer Renell Shaw is one of four composers who have been commissioned by Leeds International Concert Season to write a ‘season’ for Four Seasons of the Caribbean.

Taking Antonio Vivaldi’s iconic The Four Seasons as a starting point, Renell, along with composers Philip Herbert, Cassie Kinoshi and Ayanna Witter-Johnson, have each put their own take on the classical masterpiece. Four Seasons of the Caribbean is a brand-new work for solo violin, steel pan and orchestra that blends the sounds and feelings of the Caribbean population in Britain.

We caught up with Renell ahead of the Four Seasons of the Caribbean world premiere later this month to find out more about his season, The Last Summer, and about life as a composer. 

Please tell us a little bit about how you came into being a composer, songwriter and music producer.
I’ve always been interested in how things work, why certain elements connect seamlessly, and why others don’t. The more I listened to music and experienced live performances, the more my interest in the creation process developed.

Who and what are your musical inspirations and how have they influenced The Last Summer?
Quincy Jones, Earth Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder, and James Brown are a few of my inspirations, although you won’t really hear them in The Last Summer. My influence for this piece comes directly from the culture and the people of the Caribbean, and particularly by the passing of my grandfather on 25 November 2022.

My grandfather’s transition revealed a truth that I’d not considered before this experience, that many members of the Windrush generation are approaching the age where they’re experiencing their last summers, and eventually, this will be the end of an era. For this reason, I chose to write The Last Summer as a collection of my grandfather’s memories and experiences of finding his feet, and “building a foundation of his own” in England.

It’s also dedicated to the people of the Caribbean, the men and women who came to the United Kingdom to help rebuild its economy and shape new dreams for themselves.

What are you most looking forward to about hearing The Last Summer performed live in concert for the first time?
Experiencing it as an audience member and not as a composer.

What would be the five pieces of music, book and luxury you’d take to a desert island with you?
I don’t need much, if I was on a desert island, I’d just kick back and chill.

The world premiere of Four Seasons of the Caribbean by Philip Herbert, Cassie Kinoshi, Renell Shaw and Ayanna Witter-Johnson takes place on Sat 25 November, 7.30pm and Sun 26 November, 3pm at the Riley Theatre, Northern School of Contemporary Dance. 

Four Seasons of the Caribbean has been commissioned by Leeds International Concert Season in partnership with Riley Theatre and Northern School of Contemporary Dance for the Sound Out Leeds series. Four Seasons of the Caribbean is supported by the Francis Routh Trust.