Amelia Warner: ‘I just felt this tremendous sense of coming home and what that meant’

Pianist and composer Amelia Warner’s new EP Haven makes for perfect lockdown listening. Duncan Seaman reports.

Amelia Warner.
Amelia Warner.

At a time when so many of us have been confined indoors, pianist and composer Amelia Warner’s new EP is sure to strike a chord.

Called Haven, its five instrumental pieces are thoughtful meditations on home and its central place in our lives.

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“It’s just funny the way it’s worked out,” says the 38-year-old of the follow-up to her 2017 EP Visitors, which topped the iTunes classical albums charts.

“It’s come full circle because I wrote it last year, just before and after having my third baby. When you have a newborn you’re in a lockdown of sorts, you don’t see anyone, you don’t go anywhere, you’re in this funny existence, between your normal life. It’s a lovely, precious time but it’s also quite isolating and quite strange, so that’s where Haven came from.”

Shortly before her daughter was born, Warner and her husband, Fifty Shades of Grey actor Jamie Dornan moved into a new home in the Cotswolds. “There was this real feeling to me, and I don’t know if it was because I was nesting and because at the end of a pregnancy you have these kind of instincts, but I just felt this tremendous sense of coming home and what that meant, and of this house being where we were meant to be. Then she was born and we were here and it was this lovely, special time that we had, and Haven came out of that.”

Now, with Dornan’s filming work in New York abruptly placed on hold due to the Covid-19 lockdown, the family have once again found themselves “in some bubble of sorts”, says Warner, “so it felt like the right time to get the music out there.”

When her daughter’s birth overtook plans to record the EP in a London studio, she followed the advice of a music business friend. “We were sat in the drawing room of the house and he said, ‘You should do it here. The room has amazing acoustics, you should be playing it on your piano and get everyone to come to you’.”

Amelia Warner.

She recalls a “lovely day” with a band set up in the room. “As the mother of a six-week-old, it was ideal. She was just around and we were playing music. Whereas those things when you’re trying to do it with a baby, they just become really stressful, here it was lovely.

“Because we were at the house we had fun. Drawing Room, the first track, we recorded from the hallway because I wanted that impression of just being outside the room, and then in We Came Home I wanted it to feel like you were in it, enveloped in the room.”

Warner is fond of found sounds. “I love atmospherics and those mistakes that happen sometimes, like a creaky piano stool or the sound of the wood of the piano, just random noises that happen where you can hear the human being behind the music.”

The EP’s artwork is a painting by Betsy Bradley that hangs in Warner’s living room. “It’s this huge, beautiful piece and I got it for my Christmas present,” she explains. “As soon as we were working on Haven I knew it had to be the artwork because of those colours. It’s that room to me.”

The daughter of actors Annette Ekblom and Alun Lewis, who played postmaster Vic Windsor in Yorkshire soap Emmerdale, Warner had an acting career of her own, appearing in the likes of Lorna Doone and Aeon Flux before she turned to music. “I just never really felt comfortable acting,” she says. “I think because it was in my family, my mum was an actress and I grew up around a lot of actors, it weirdly felt like a very natural path, even though for most people that wouldn’t be the case, but it wasn’t necessarily the right one for me. I realised that quite quickly – I did my last film when I was 23 or 24. It just wasn’t the right fit. I would get very anxious and I wasn’t comfortable in that kind of role. I found that I’m a lot more comfortable behind the scenes, telling the story but in a different way. I’m a lot happier.”

In 2009 she began recording music for TV commercials, under the name Slow Moving Millie. Two years later her version of The Smiths’ Please Please Let Me Get What I Want soundtracked a John Lewis Christmas advert. An album of covers followed but Warner’s interest really lay in instrumental music. After releasing her first EP, Arms, in 2015, she was approached by director Niall Johnson to write music for his film Mum’s List, starring Emilia Fox and Rafe Spall.

Last year Warner won the International Film Music Critics Association Award for the score she composed for the film Mary Shelley. “I was thrilled, it was such an amazing thing to get that recognition,” she says. “I got such a lovely, positive response to that score, it was so well received, it was more than I could’ve hoped for. It was a big leap of faith for the filmmakers to give me that chance.”

She says she is “just about to start” working on music for another film. She’s also been working on a musical “which has been a great lockdown project, to have time to play around with that idea”.

Haven is out now on Decca Records.