Culture

Conductor Jules Buckley is ripping up the playbook at the BBC Proms

The musician is bringing two unexpected shows to the Royal Albert Hall this summer

Jules Buckley fronts two orchestras but not as you might imagine them. Instead of Haydn and Bach, he takes pop, grime and disco – music by artists as eclectic as the Arctic Monkeys and Chaka Khan – and reimagines them for the concert hall. With a Grammy Award, credits on around 70 albums and upcoming collaborations with the likes of Jessie Ware, this summer he’s taking the BBC Proms by storm with performances inspired by Nina Simone and breakdancing.

jules buckley

What’s your first musical memory?

My dad dropping the needle on some really cool records. He was into The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. But I didn’t get into music properly until I was nine, when I picked up the trumpet. I was introduced to Miles Davis at a very young age.

How did you go from jazz trumpet to conductor’s baton?

In my last year of college, Chris Wheeler [co-founder of the Heritage Orchestra] was putting a group together. I saw it as an opportunity to get my shit played. Every orchestra is full of killer players who are superhuman. That moulded my ideas of what I wanted to say musically.

What drives you to shake things up?

I’m just trying to put together really good projects that are fresh and interesting. People assume musicians in orchestras dress in bow ties, play Viennese waltzes on a Saturday night, and go to bed at 9.30pm. But of course that’s a load of bollocks. They play the most hardcore music that would blow your mind; the kind of music you won’t be able to get through without questioning what life is all about.

What keeps bringing you back to the Proms?

The standard of music at the Proms is insanely high. It’s the rock’n’roll mecca of the UK, although originally it was a beautiful classical concert hall. Some people might complain I’m not classical, but the truth is these non-classical collaborations don’t detract from that, but enhance it. They demonstrate what orchestral ensembles can do.

What’s the story behind Mississippi Goddam: A Homage to Nina Simone?

I wanted to look at the world of Nina Simone. She’s quite an enigmatic character, but as a performer and later an activist, she was a super-strong figure that can’t be denied. We’ve got two guest singers, Lisa Fischer and Ledisi, who are phenomenal.

And The Breaks?

We want to look at the tunes that are the grand-daddies of the breaking scene, and put them into an orchestral context. And we’re going to absolutely rinse these anthems – we’re drop-kicking them to the ultimate level. We’ve extended the stage and added in a breaking mat, and will have battles between breaking crews.

What’s next for you?

I’m working with Jessie Ware on her new album, as well as a collaboration with [French-Cuban duo] Ibeyi that debuts in November. I’ll also be touring with the Ibiza Proms this December, and in the middle of all that, I’m working on my first solo album.

Mississippi Goddamn: A Portrait of Nina Simone, 21 August, 7.30pm, £60, tickets here

The Breaks, 6 September, 8pm, from £16, tickets here 

julesbuckley.org