IT is not quite the Moonlight Sonata, but it has been written in the silent hours of a solitary night shift.

But Michael Murray, a night watchman at an Ayrshire shopping centre, is to emerge onto the musical stage later this month as his Guitar Concerto is premiered at the festival founded by Sir James MacMillan, one of the UK's leading composers.


(Sir James MacMillan)

Murray, of Auchinleck, first met the composer 20 years ago, when he was studying for his Higher Music at Cumnock Academy, where Sir James was involved in an educational session.

Murray impressed Sir James with his scores, but the two lost touch until the establishment of the Cumnock Tryst festival in the composer's home town.

Murray volunteered at the festival and Sir James was delighted to meet the promising student again - and now his music is to be performed on the opening weekend of the award-winning festival.

Murray, who in the intervening years carried on composing whilst working a series of jobs unconnected to music, is to present his Guitar Concerto, entitled Pilgrims, as a world premiere on September 30 at St John's Church with Sean Shibe on guitar with the Scottish Ensemble.

Mr Murray has also composed a second piece, King David's Dance, and is currently writing a chamber opera for two voices.


(Ayr Central Shopping Centre. Photo credit: Google maps)

Mr Murray, who works the night shift guarding Ayr Central Shopping Centre, said: "Basically, I had that sort of upbringing where it was said, 'Right, you've left school, get a job, time to work.'

"I have been working ever since. I used to make curling stones, I've been on building sites as well.

"One of the plus points of my job is that I get solitude and peace, to do some writing during my tea break and whenever there is a chance.

"And I know [Karlheinz] Stockhausen [the influential German composer] had a night time job as well."

He added that in the years since that Higher Music class he had created music for brass instruments, background music for wedding videos and pieces for charity.

Mr Murray credits an inspirational teacher, John Wilson, with encouraging in his composition, which he began when he was nine.

He writes music every day.

Mr Murray said: "I would always write, since composing the concerto, I have written a chamber symphony and I am working on a chamber opera as well, the Apostasy of Judas.

"They are not commissions, it's just because I have an idea and I have to write them down.

"I have the compulsion - I write every day. I have only written for half an hour today and I am itching to get back to it."

Mr Murray added: "When I first met Sir James I thought: I love doing this, and even though I may not do this professionally, I want to do it properly, and I have just kept that going my whole life.

"And even though I am a night watchman in a shopping centre, I still compose and have a passion for it, and I have to thank Sir Jimmy for putting that spark in me and keeping me going."

Sir James said: "It is wonderful the way this whole idea has emerged, right the way from 2013 when we met up again.

"Structurally it is three movements, there are some very atmospheric movements, some high energy moments and some improvisatory moments too."

Remembering their first meeting, he added: "He brought scores to me, which were inspired by [Iannis] Xenakis or John Cage, there was some real interest there, some originality and expertise and knowledge of extended techniques and so on.

"In the melee at the end of the day, we went our separate ways and I had always wondered what he had got up to.

"When I went back to Cumnock with the Tryst, we re-connected."