Words by Christian Henson
In this article, Christian reveals his travelling composer ‘must-haves’.
I’m a W.I.L.L.I.E. which stands for “works in London, lives in Edinburgh”. It’s a thing, and we spot each other on planes and trains like dogs. I’ve being doing this for nearly 2 years, and have learned the hard way that you need to keep a tight inventory on your travel-wares - one misplaced power cable can lead to four very empty hours on the East Coast main-line. So with most of what I have in my case, it never gets taken out. I have duplicate power cables, dongles, everything except for duplicate computers so that I’m never tempted to move stuff out of my bags.
I love the fact that I can write fully realised orchestral music on the go. Apple computers are amazing combined with the Samsung T3 drives, but boy there are some real issues with the new MacBook Pro - the keybeds are massively loud, and I get sneered at on trains all the time. But also the keyboards die - this is my third one in just over a year! But the real killer is the ‘dongle grannies’ we’ve all become, it is ridiculous. I have one drive for my music, one for my vlog, then a backup for anything I don’t want to lose. I also chuck stuff onto Dropbox as a super safety, but also because I’m forgetful, so an hour dragging something down on a slow connection is better than sitting on the train wiggling your thumbs for half a day because you’ve forgotten a drive. My music drive contains my movie files (as in cuts from productions), Logic files, but also a selection of samples based on templates I’m working with. I also have an ‘Everything’ drive of Spitfire’s entire catalogue, and I drag libraries here and there across to my music drive as and when I need something. My headphones are a basic set of Sony’s. I can’t stand noise cancelling or wireless because they’re just too complicated. If anything goes wrong with them, or a battery runs out, I can’t work. So I stick with some trusty Sony’s which I wouldn’t work with at home, but they just seem to be perfect for travel both in impedance, bass response and the right amount of isolation so that you don’t feel like you’re hallucinating the world around you. The only piece of kit I love and hate in equal measure is the little M-Audio keyboard. It is the only one that can fit in my bag with the right minimum number of keys. It’s not the size or lack of controllers that’s the problem, it’s the touch sensitivity which from what I can gather is at best arbitrary, if not totally random.
I have three phones. One is my composer phone, one is Spitfire - but because I have two phones, I lose them twice as much. Therefore, I have a bag based emergency phone, so that regardless of where I’ve left the other two, I can always reach my family.
A lot of what I buy is influenced by my Mother, who lives in St James’ in London - starting with my hat, a Lock & Co., one of two companies I admire for their similar approach in making their packaging and their brand one in the same. My case is a Swaine Adenay & Brigg, which is famous for its brightly cured leather (and also for making Indiana Jones’ hat). This is my second, as my first died recently after 18 years’ brutal service. My luggage is Rimowa. The thing with luggage, is people say “this case is bullet proof I’ve had it for 20 years”. Well yeah, possibly, but that is using it twice a year for 20 years. When you use luggage twice a week, it demonstrates how poorly constructed the stuff is. I’ve been through about half a dozen cases in two years, and this is my second Rimowa. They look great when they get battered though, and I’ve even considered throwing this down a few flights of stairs to de-bling it if I didn’t think it would shorten its life.
I’m a bit of an aesthete and I think I get this from my Mum, who would take us to galleries a lot as kids, and from my Grandpa, who admired good industrial design and well engineered items, which he would exhaustively point out to my brothers and I. I tend to lean towards British design, as it is more pragmatic and utilitarian (something I think Jony Ive exported into Apple) and feels like something my Grandpa would approve of. I guess when travelling around so much, some of these lesser used items remind me of the folk who brought me up, which is a comfort.
I’m a stationary fetishist, so it is only natural that the king of stationary is represented here with lots of Smythson (the other company who loves their own boxes) accessories, but also my pride and joy, a Parker 51 circa 1957. For me, this is just about one of the most perfectly designed things - it is the Porsche Spyder of pens. I’m so obsessed with these, that the entry for “Quink” (the ink designed to work with the Parker 51) on Wikipedia is actually written by myself! I rarely get this and my dark notebook of secret thoughts out in public, as I feel like a bit of a pretentious wanker writing with a fountain pen. But when I’m on my own, I love using it with Quink blue ink, which looks so murky and 1950s depressing. It is also worth noting that the nib head of the pen is made of the same plastic that is used on the nose cones of Spitfire planes. I have to admit that this was the clincher for me when I bought it 15 odd years ago.
I don’t know how much money my Mum has cost me by introducing me to Margaret Howell, but 100% of my shirts are from her shop on Wigmore Street. I like the way I still fit a medium! My jeans, well I struggle with this. Is it OK for a 45 year old to wear denim? My justification is that the Levi’s 501 is a design classic, and anything with its own Wikipedia page is fair game for someone born in the 1970s. I like to wear Creed Irish Tweed aftershave on the go, because it comes in small bottles that are allowed on planes, and there is something gloriously retro about the smell which I also enjoy. The book, well I’m working my way through it one page at a time (as a struggling insomniac, that is all I can manage in one sitting), but I can safely report it is one of the greatest manuals on how the music biz works that I have ever read…Seriously, it’s written by one half of the boyband Bros (after Craig left and become hugely successful in the music industry) and illustrates how the music industry is designed to ensure that the last person to see a penny is the artist. Last but not least, is my pencil. The hotel chain I stay at in London give these away. These hotels are my homes away from home, so each time I stay, I get to nick a bit of stationary as a badge of honour.
Essential Inventory For A Travelling Composer