Since 2018, I’ve led science communication for the European Commission’s Scientific Advice Mechanism as Head of Communications for SAPEA. It’s a very lively and challenging role which demands subject knowledge, creativity, hands-on communications skills, strategic thinking and (increasingly) team leadership. It’s not just about communicating the science behind our advice — it’s also about raising awareness of issues at the science-policy interface, and stimulating debate in society about the roles scientific evidence should play.
I’ve conducted choirs and trained singers for more than 20 years. I’ve been lucky to be involved with some very exciting ensembles, ranging from really top-rate chamber choirs (and associated chamber orchestras) to community and youth groups in the north of England.
I also arrange and compose, mostly for choirs, mostly unreliably and inconsistently. Some of what I produce is worth listening to.
My PhD examines conscientious objection by doctors, a topic at the intersection between public policy, religious belief and medical ethics.
I have a professional interest in the philosophy of science and an ongoing amateur fascination with the philosophies of religion, language, cognition and games.
Mostly through being in the right place at the right time, I’ve had the opportunity to lead high-profile public communication campaigns on European issues in Britain — including conceiving and developing a widely-used mythbusting app during the EU referendum campaign, advising the Remain campaign for the UK Labour party, and serving as Head of Communications to a senior British MEP.
I’m now a post-Brexit Brit, living and working in Belgium.
I arranged and directed three short (very short!) Basque songs for Lassenne Vocale, a choir in Brussels.
Deep Dive choral music
I’ve done rather less conducting since 2018, when I switched from professional music to full-time work in a non-musical field. But I’ve been diverting my choral energies elsewhere, creating some in-depth tutorial videos to help beginning choir conductors explore some of the classics of the repertoire.
I produce and present an ongoing podcast for the European Commission’s Scientific Advice Mechanism. It’s a series of long-form interviews about the interface between science and politics, focusing particularly on science advice and evidence-informed policymaking.
I’ve interviewed some big names (big in the science advice world, that is!), but also a range of early-career researchers and off-the-wall guests. The show has become pretty well known in science advice circles in Europe, and it’s a lot of fun — if you’re into that kind of thing.
In an extremely unlikely turn of events, I was the lead author for a paper about microplastics pollution published in the journal Environment International, and subsequently cited in Nature. I don’t think this is too bad an achievement, given that my highest science qualification is a school certificate from the age of 16.
Choral evensong in Bruges
The many Christian churches of the Belgian city of Bruges hold an annual massed service in the spectacular Sint-Salvatorskathedraal. In 2019, the Anglican community hosted a service of full choral evensong with more than a thousand people in attendance. I directed it.
Libricini is an upper-voice chamber choir based in Norwich, UK. They perform a wide variety of music, much of it very challenging, and rehearse intensively for just two days before each performance. I was fortunate enough to direct the group from 2009 until I moved to Brussels in 2016, during which time we commissioned and premiered several new works.
The Micklegate Singers is an amateur chamber choir, well known in the north of England, specialising in contemporary music and little-known older material. Their regular director is Nick Carter, but I was their Associate Conductor from about 2006 until 2015. This meant that I took rehearsals when their regular conductor was away, as well as directing their Christmas concert every year. I also took over as main conductor in 2012 when their regular director took an extended leave of absence, and led the choir on its first international exchange to Norway in 2013.
The Clerkes of All Saints
In the UK, I founded and directed the Clerkes of All Saints. We performed high-quality music, mostly in cathedral and church settings. I led the choir for six years, during which time we quickly established ourselves as Yorkshire’s leading liturgical chamber choir and developed a reputation for musical and liturgical excellence. We made our first studio recording in 2013, and were in residence at Gloucester cathedral in 2015.
The Clerkes’ mass
In the Anglican choral tradition, there are lots of interesting unaccompanied settings of the evening canticles, but very few interesting unaccompanied mass settings. This is my attempt to fill the gap. It was premiered in 2019 by the Clerkes of All Saints, directed by Chris Hamlett.
Flemish Evensong Tour
I directed a major choral singing tour in Belgium in 2019. Through public marketing and personal contacts, we assembled a choir of around 40 singers, mostly British, to rehearse and perform in spectacular venues in Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp and Leuven. The tour was conceived and organised in its entirety over the course of a year by my partner and me, and received overwhelmingly positive feedback in our follow-up questionnaire, including 100% of attendees saying they would recommend it to a friend!
Visual design and layout
As well as writing, I’ve done a lot of visual design for both printed and online communications over the years. Here are some samples.
Li p’tit banc
This is a romantic song in Wallonian French dialect, recorded by the excellent Brussels Chamber Choir directed by Helen Cassano, and available on their Made in Brussels CD.
Doctors’ moral beliefs and public policy
This is my PhD thesis, if for some reason you really want to read it.
I wrote and edited the rules for several popular board games on the Dized app.
Skipton Choral Society
Skipton Choral Society sings a wide variety of works, large and small, including the traditional repertoire of English choral societies and a lot more besides. Sadly I could only work with them for a couple of years before moving abroad, but it was a very rewarding experience.
I’ve written my fair share of speeches for people much more important than me to read from podiums. Here’s one I wrote for the erstwhile prime minister of Bulgaria. (Yep.)
South Bank Singers
The South Bank Singers is a group of about 30 adults who meet to tackle challenging music in a relaxed atmosphere, and perform at venues around York, UK. I was their founding conductor.
This piece sets fragments from two national epic poems of Finland. According to these poems, music — and specifically singing — is not just a form of artistic expression but also a kind of creative magic.
I collaborated with John Morgan, another York-based composer, to put together a set of English carols for the Micklegate Singers in York, UK. The other pieces were arrangements; this was my only original contribution.
Party of European Socialists
When I first moved from the UK to Brussels, I spent two years as Senior Communications Advisor to the Party of European Socialists. My particular responsibility was press and media relations, but I also had a role in publications, events planning, campaigns and many other areas.
I conceived and created a phone app, Doorstep EU, in the early days of Britain’s EU referendum campaign. Originally intended for doorstep campaigners, it provided daily in-depth analysis and mythbusting of the main EU-related stories in the British media. By the final weeks of the campaign it had over 20,000 active users — including Labour MPs, BBC journalists, politicians and activists.
UK referendum campaign
I was closely involved in the 2016 UK referendum on EU membership — on the losing side, unfortunately. Alongside being head of communications to the leader of the Labour party in the European Parliament, I was seconded as a communications advisor to former home secretary Alan Johnson, who led Labour’s campaign.
How to talk about Europe
As part of the UK’s referendum campaign in 2016, I was commissioned to write some guidelines for well-meaning political journalists and campaigners on how to avoid traps when discussing Europe.
Sad to say, this stuff is no use to anyone any more. I guess we didn’t avoid enough of the traps.
The road goes ever on
This set of songs for upper voices and guitar, based on Tolkien poems, was first performed by the Larks quartet in Northampton. I originally composed it as a present for a friend.
Two Cornish songs
I composed two settings of texts by Cornish poet Maureen Jackett, my grandmother-in-law. ‘The freedom of Cornwall’ won the 2015 prize for composition at the Cornish Gorsedd, which is not an especially exciting achievement since I believe there were only two other entries.
These had their first outing at Gloucester cathedral on Trinity Sunday, 2015.
An upper-voice choir in Norwich, UK, is called ‘Libricini’ after the famous notebooks in which Leonardo da Vinci scribbled various sketches and ideas throughout his life. For the choir’s first tour (to the Yorkshire Dales in 2015), I set some of Leonardo’s scribblings to music.
Volunteering at festivals
Until 2015, I was a supervisor every summer at one of the UK’s biggest popular music festivals. I managed a team of about 60 volunteer stewards, with frontline responsibility for the safety of thousands of music fans.
The poem Philomela, by Richard Pomfret, describes what runs through the mind of an audience member during the fleeting moment after a musical performance ends, but before the applause begins. It was first performed in Oxford in 2010.
This suite of four short military epitaphs was commissioned by the British Royal Armouries for their World War I centenary commemoration on Armistice Day, 2014. It remains my only piece ever to appear on national TV (the BBC played about six seconds of it!). It uses music composed by both myself and a friend.
Training for early-career researchers
When working for a collaborative research project in the UK, one of my responsibilities was to train early-stage social science researchers in communications activities, both traditional and new media. As well as providing written training materials, I also put on a series of seminars, plenary lectures and workshops at the Universities of Cambridge, Reading, Sheffield and Loughborough.
For five years, I taught an elective module in media ethics for medical students at the University of York. The course ran every term and was frequently over-subscribed. It was one of the most fun jobs I’ve ever done.
To everything there is a season
I have an excuse for this rather off-kilter piece: it was written to challenge the excellent ladies choir Libricini, and to take advantage of the unique architectural properties of the Octagon chapel in Norwich where they premiered it in 2013.
I have a diploma in choral conducting from the Association of British Choral Directors, accredited by the ABRSM.
Limericks are dreadful
I wrote an extended essay on limericks so you don’t have to. Here’s the first part of it.
Shape from shading
I’ve done various freelance science writing jobs over the years. This is an example of a magazine commission I wrote in 2013 — an article about scientists’ attempts to teach computers to understand 3D shapes.