Main Pages

Actors & Crew
Year by Year
Magic Moments

Message Board

Interviews > Chris Pettifer

Chris Pettifer is one of Australia's most prolific and accomplished editors of music for television and film, with a CV boasting classics from The Flying Doctors to contemporary hits such as The Secret Life of Us and the movie Romper Stomper. We were delighted to speak exclusively with him about his decade-long contribution to Neighbours...

What is your background prior to Neighbours? How did you get the job on the show?
Prior to my involvement in television I was a working musician playing the pubs of Melbourne since school days. Eventually I ended up working at Crawford Productions, where they were making The Flying Doctors. I soon made my way into the music department under the tutelage of John Clifford White. John trained me as a music editor and then asked me to work for him on the infamous Oz movie Romper Stomper starring Russell Crowe, Jacqueline McKenzie and Daniel Pollock. I worked with another guitarist, John Hewitt, to record the score and songs for the film. We were John Clifford White's 'skinband' p
erforming the 'Oi' music. This cemented my love for film and television music. John Clifford White had long been in music editor in Melbourne, he had worked on Prisoner in its early days. He did a fill in job for the then music editor of Neighbours, Warren Pearson, who was moving on to do other things. When John had finished his fill-in stint, he recommended me to the producers of Neighbours and here I am still. I think that was about 1992-93.

You've overseen multiple revamps of the Neighbours theme. Was it daunting reinterpreting such an iconic piece of music, and what elements do you think must remain unchanged?
Changing the theme for a show like that is murder. I actually have only been involved in the last two changes. The first major change [in 1992] was done by a Melbourne composer, Peter Sullivan. The most important thing is the melody which sticks like glue in everybody's memory. To change that would be a big mistake. The chord progression can only be changed in very miniscule ways as it effects how the melody runs. So the only thing left to do was to attempt some kind of contemporary adaptation.

The first theme change I did [for the 1999 season] was a bit of a rock-based version. I used the vocal talents of Paul Norton and his wife Wendy Stapleton to achieve a rock duet feel. I simplified the chords by taking out all the 'jazzier bits' - altered notes. I also changed the key to suit Paul's voice and also put it in the classic rock key of 'A'. The producers of the show are very cautious when it comes to tampering with things as iconic as the theme, the font of the title and opening credits. Funnily enough, the editing of the theme over the years has changed the run of the lyrics quite a lot.

The most recent adaptation was arranged by Steve Wade, with vocals by Janine Maunder. The brief for this was to be light and breezy with a hint of the current hip-hop type elements in the rhythm track. I think the female vocal is the most significant step away from convention but it gives it a fresh and airy feel.

The closing themes are edited down for timing reasons in the UK. What do you think of the BBC versions?
I have actually produced the edits on these and so I have to say they're bloody good! I tried to retain the most recognisable elements whilst sacrificing small sections that weren't as intregral to the overall theme. There was a lot of instrumental material in the original versions which was culled for the sake of timing.

In 1996, there was talk of a new theme tune, I Love My Neighbours. Was there any truth to the rumour?
This would be the first I've heard of it. It would have to be pure speculation, which happens quite a lot.

Your incidental music is a big part of the show's character, affectionately dubbed Music of Doom by everyone on our site. What instruments do you use, and what do you think is the key to making the music underscore the drama effectively?
Music of Doom? Cool, I call it Happy Sad! I have created a few different packages of music for the show over the years. The first package I composed used a mix of real instruments such as piano, oboe, flute, saxophone, drums, guitar and bass guitar. These were used as top-layers over synthetic layers produced by samplers and other electronic keyboards. More recently I have been relying more on samplers and I perform the guitar and pianos myself. I still use a bit of saxophone and flute for melodies.

Making music for drama such as Neighbours definitely requires an understanding of the genre - you can't just make any old music work. In more adult productions you can afford to be more subtle and often music isn't used where it may be in 'G' [Australian daytime] drama. The most difficult thing is to avoid changing the intention of the storyline. I have had many conversations with producers over the years and it all comes back to keeping the music accessible to the wide demographic of the audience. Sometimes it is better to make it so you don't actually notice the music and drift in and out of the dialogue. Other times, when we feel the scene hasn't gone as intended, we use the music to deliberately drag the audience by their ears to the feeling we want for the moment. So sometimes subtle and other times sledgehammer!

The show uses a lot of popular music as underscores, too. How is this selected?
Mostly I look for lyrics that tell a similar story to what the scene is, failing that the mood and energy is what determines the song.

What can we expect for the new Neighbours CD album? How did the compilation come about?
The Neighbours CD will contain a mix of well known songs from the series that have punctuated storylines, a Kylie rendition of The Locomotion, the theme, some Holly Valance music, with artists such as Human Nature and Leah Haywood. After years of virtually zero merchandising, the good people at Grundy Television/FremantleMedia and Sony decided it was time to do something about it. Sony were keen to market some of their acts via the Neighbours badge and Grundy felt the same about the songs that we have made especially for the show.

What composition for the show are you most proud of, and why?
I have a lot of favourites but I guess my favourite is a theme called Gentle Love, as it has been the most recognisable love theme [I produced] and also works as a sad theme. I like the fact that depending on the pictures and story it goes with, it actually seems to change its mood to suit. I think I nailed [conveying] mixed emotions when I wrote this piece. A 12 second version with saxophone was on high rotation as an ad break [track] here in Australia. My favourite song written for the show is Lie which was one of the first songs I produced for Neighbours. Except of course for The River of the Soul and Free As A River which were fun tracks created for Dr. Karl's storylines.

To hear some of Chris' compositions from the show, visit his official website by clicking here.

Interview by Billy and Stuart. Added on 25th March 2003