The story behind the music of Death in Paradise – and the new version of the theme song

Composer Magnus Fiennes tells RadioTimes.com how he re-recorded the opening song for the show's 10th anniversary season.

Death in Paradise - S10 - Ep2

The Death in Paradise theme song is certainly an earworm. You’re wondering now, What to do, Now you know, This is the end… and now it’s stuck in your head too, isn’t it? Sorry.

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Actually, the BBC drama has developed a winning formula with its distinctive musical sound. Each episode begins with the brief introduction (and swift despatch) of this week’s murder victim, followed by the jaunty opening bars of the theme tune as we launch into the opening credits. And then the music keeps things light and not-too-serious all the way through, until the detective and his team work out how to solve this latest mystery.

RadioTimes.com spoke with Magnus Fiennes, the composer who has worked on the show since it began 10 years ago. Here’s everything you need to know about the music of Death in Paradise.

What is the Death in Paradise theme song?

The song that plays over the opening credits is called You’re Wondering Now. It was originally performed and recorded by duo Andy & Joey in Jamaica in the early 1960s, and it was also covered by Jamaican ska band The Skatelites.

When The Specials covered the song on their debut 1979 album, it enjoyed another lease of life and reached new ears; and in 2008, Amy Winehouse recorded a cover version on her The Ska EP – leading to an excellent collaboration between The Specials and Winehouse on the main stage at Glastonbury 2009.

You’re Wondering Now has been the Death in Paradise theme tune since the show began. And our interviewee, Magnus Feinnes, is the composer in charge of arranging the drama’s distinctive version of the song – as well as creating the other music that is threaded through each episode.

Has the theme music changed for season 10?

Yes! Listen closely, and you’ll notice that the cover of You’re Wondering Now has been re-recorded to mark the show’s 10th anniversary.

Death in Paradise cast for season 10
Death in Paradise cast for season 10 (BBC)

“It was one of those things that you think: ‘We’re 10 years in here, we want to refresh things’,” Fiennes tells us. “It definitely felt like it needed to be updated and given a bit more care and attention, seeing as the TV show continues unabated!”

For this new version, the composer wanted to work with the most talented musicians he could find. “I think it’s much more authentic,” he says. “I was long-distance recording with Jamaican legends Sly & Robbie earlier in the year, and began also working with their horn section which is led by Dean Fraser – who is a legendary sax player in his mid-seventies who has played with all the Jamaican greats over the years. I asked him and his section to play on the title and teaser music and it’s made a huge difference.”

Magnus Fiennes comes from the famous Fiennes family; his siblings include the actors Ralph Fiennes and Joseph Fiennes, as well as the filmmaker Martha Fiennes, and his cousin is Sir Ranulph Fiennes. He’s enjoyed a prolific career as a songwriter, composer and record producer, working with artists including Shakira, Pulp, Tom Jones, All Saints, and the string quartet Bond.

He now lives in Los Angeles, where he was able to draw on the city’s talented reggae and ska musicians for the Death in Paradise re-record – including the LA reggae band The Lions (Blake Colie on drums, Dave Wilder on bass, Dan Ubick on guitar) and keyboard player Roger Rivas.

“These guys are obsessive,” says Fiennes. “Roger Rivas’s house he’s got eight or nine different organs, it’s like a kind of museum of the history of the organ in Jamaican music. And they take it very seriously. So I felt using those guys, and using Jamaican horns, the whole thing feels a lot more authentic and warmer.”

But why now? Why create a new version of the title music in the middle of a pandemic, when production for season 10 was already tricky? (Thanks to a four-month delay, filming only wrapped in December – less than a month before the show’s BBC One premiere date.)

“A lot of it is just to indulge in our ability to overcome and to have that kind of Blitz spirit and go: nothing will stop us,” Fiennes jokes. “Particularly creating music. Obviously as composers, this is kind of business as usual – I have spent 25 years locked in a room and talking to people over Skype etcetera, it was quite normal for me.

“But I think musicians, players, have really suffered, heavily, during COVID, and any opportunity that I can get to use players, I will. And often you can do it remotely, they can be at home and you can do it via Zoom – or we’ve done if they’re recording here we can be in separate rooms. It requires a bit of care, but you want to keep the music alive, and you want to keep people engaged and employed. We will not be held back by the miseries of COVID.”

How the music changes for each detective

Have you noticed how each new detective gets their own specific, individual, personalised score? That fits with their specific, individual personality?

“So DI Richard Poole [Ben Miller], for example, had that rather mournful sound of a jazz clarinet, and Kris Marshall [DI Humphrey Goodman] was a bassoon, and Ardal O’Hanlon [DI Jack Mooney] was a mandolin, and DI Neville Parker – Ralf Little – is sort of gypsy jazz,” Fiennes explains.

“I was very happy to discover that gypsy jazz and reggae partner amazingly well together. They’re a perfect fusion, so you can do that Django Reinhardt sort of thing, and you can have the comedy and delight of a kind of gypsy jazz with the reggae.”

Death in Paradise S9

When it comes to developing a new musical pallet for a new detective, Fiennes says, “You have to see them in action. You can’t really ever tell tone and tone of acting from a script, you can only get the broad sense of dramatic shapes.

“So you watch them and you’re looking for a kind of idiom that will work in well with the island music, and that can go from comedy to intrigue to suspense to your eureka breakthrough moments. It forces you to update the music and find a musical voice for whoever the detective is. I enjoy trying to maintain continuity yet evolution in the music.”

In season 10, we already know that Ben Miller is returning to Death in Paradise for a cameo – and that’s given Fiennes a chance to go back to the early days. “It’s funny, I’m looking here at this fabulous episode in this season where Richard Poole comes back, and what’s great is that I’m reprising music from season one – I’m taking 10 year old pieces of music – to accompany his return, and it all fits brilliantly,” he says.

How is the music created for Death in Paradise?

The musical score for Death in Paradise combines classic ska and old school reggae needle-drop, alongside classic murder mystery musical tropes, dub and world music elements. That was the sound which Fiennes developed to fit the TV drama’s Caribbean location and light-hearted tone, and it is a central element of the show’s success.

Having joined on the show at the very beginning, Fiennes now works with his assistant and co-composer David Celia to score each season of Death in Paradise. (“David has been working for me for years as an assistant composer and showed real flare for this show so I had him hop on board, which makes the musical heavy-lifting much more manageable.”)

The duo first see the episodes when they’re very, very nearly finished – and once the episodes are “locked”, they get to work.

“The most important thing is finding ways to constantly keep upping one’s own game and finding it fun,” Fiennes says.

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Death in Paradise airs on Thursdays from 7th January 2021 at 9pm on BBC One. Check out what else is on via our TV guide