The legendary songwriter and his producer reveal exactly how they wrote the theme for the new prime-time TV game show
Whether writing for his iconic pop group Take That, his solo career, other artists such as Elton John and Elaine Paige, or theatre musicals like Finding Neverland and Calendar Girls, Gary Barlow has proved himself to be a songwriter as dextrous as he is talented. His latest project was writing the theme tune for Ant & Dec’s Limitless Win, the ITV quiz show that gives contestants the chance to win the biggest cash prize in British TV history.
Helping Barlow come up with the tune was London-based composer Dan Keen, who has been his music producer since late 2020. Keen’s role involves arranging songs and creating bespoke textures and instruments for a wide range of projects. In this exclusive video, the pair take us through exactly how they created their latest composition…
Gary Barlow: “This is quite unusual for me. I’m not really in the game of doing TV themes. Not that I don’t like them. I’ve got lots of friends who do it for a living and they’re brilliant at it. I got a call from the production company and they were down the road with this. They actually didn’t brief us, they just told us what the show was, who was involved, what the idea of the show was, but that was it.
“There was definitely no guidance and no goalposts as to where we should put this. That is often bad but, on this occasion, I think it was good. I said, ‘I don’t usually do this so I’ll probably get it wrong, but I’ll try.’ I am quite instinctual with songwriting. I could actually hear the melody as I was coming off the phone and so I shot through into the studio and, while I was downloading this idea, I sent a message to Dan to see where he was because I knew I needed him on this with me.”
Dan Keen: “Gary and I always have a lot of fun with these types of projects. He sent me a text at about 5pm or something. He was like, ‘This thing is just gonna be fun.’ And it has been exactly that. Often he says, ‘No rush,’ with things like that. However, the exception is pitching and with this pitch, I knew that we had to turn it around quickly. So I immediately started working on it.
Gary: “I wanted to present it quite quickly but I wanted to present it in really good shape. I wanted to try and go for the bullseye. I spent about an hour on it. I went quite down far down the road with the drums, I sent a rough to Dan and he immediately started work and while he was working on it, I was making my rough even better.
Dan: “Because the show didn’t exist before and there wasn’t a set format, we had no idea how they would integrate it. All we could do was give them everything we thought they could need. So in the end, we provided a two-and-a-half-minute piece of music. You have to give them every little ebb and flow so that the piece of music contains every ingredient that it could possibly need from start to finish.”
Gary: “We possibly spent a couple of days – before we sent it in – at the most, I’d say. But we were working on it hard, I was stemming things off. It was a conversation between the two studios.
Dan: “We always have a lot of back and forth in our projects. In one of the first conversations I had with Gary, he said, ‘At the studio, we just play tennis all day, we pass stuff on to each other and then we ping pong it back to someone else and then they play with it for a while and bring it back. For this project, it was just the two of us working on it but there was a lot of me sending stuff to him and then him adding something and adding it back to me. And we find that this works really really well for us.”
Gary: “Yeah, we got it. It’s funny when you hear, ‘Okay, we love it, let’s finish it off,’ you go back then. This is what I do, anyway, I go back through all the tracks I’ve done and just make sure there are no bum notes or jazz chords anywhere. Just go through it with a fine-tooth comb.”
Dan: “Everything has to be the best possible version that it can be and, naturally, because we only spent a couple of days on this, we weren’t getting it mixed by a mixing engineer, we weren’t getting any live players to perform on it. So every little part had to be as polished as much as possible, mixed as brilliantly as we could.”
Gary: “We started putting the finishing touches on it, which was actually the easiest bit. As usual, the trickiest part is second-guessing what people are gonna like or what they’re not gonna like. But on this occasion, we both loved it, we were getting off on it, programming on it, getting the excitement and the drama working properly. It felt like a game show. Then you send it off with a hope and a wish and a dream and it all worked out.”
Dan: “While it was a lot of fun to put it together, it’s been even more fun every Saturday tuning in and watching how they’ve cut up our music and used it to accompany the show.”
Now tune it to this video to see a step-by-step guide of exactly how Gary and Dan created the theme for Ant & Dec’s Limitless Win