Born in 1943, John Mills-Cockell first rose to prominence as an up and coming piano prodigy in the 1960s. He studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music and the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto, and won a BMI Award in ’67, given to student composers for his work in orchestral music.
By the end of the 1960s, he’d co-founded Intersystems, mixing new age electronica with spoken word. The group came to be as a result of him meeting Michael Hayden & Blake Parker while he taught electronic music at Toronto Royal Conservatory. “When Hayden did a large installation at U of T’s ‘notorious’ Perception ’67, he asked me & Parker to work with him,” Mills-Cockell explained. Along with Dik Zander, they recorded three albums.
He also helped form The Mind Excursion Centre in Montreal, a sort of free-form art space, briefly joined Hydro-Electric Streetcar after moving to Vancouver (good for three singles), and worked with Kensington Market on their landmark AVENUE ROAD lp after returning to Toronto.
The beginning of a new decade saw him co-found Syrinx, but decided to go solo after only two critically acclaimed early electronica albums, which included the theme song for CTV’s “Here Come The Seventies” program, “Tillicum.” But by the end of 1972, the band drifted apart amicably, and Mills-Cockell set out on a solo career.
He stayed with True North Records and released HEARTBEAT in ’73, utilizing his former Syrinx mates Douglas Pringle and Alan Wells, among a host of other session players. No singles were released, but caught critics’ attention with mesmerizing numbers like the lead-off “The Spell,” “Field Hymn,” the title track, and the two-part “Eldorado.”
His follow-up album was a year later with A THIRD TESTAMENT, which also served as the soundtrack to the highly praised TV documentary of the same name. In it, songs like the single, “North African Gladiator,” “Sunset At Nurnberg,” “The Prisoner of Tegel,” and “Voices In Westminster Abbey” were used as the backdrop to author and Christian apologist Malcolm Muggeridge’s profiles of six famous and unique men, whose search for God forms a kind of modern testament to the reality of Christ in modern times.
His next conventional album was 1977’s GATEWAY: A NEW MUSIC ADVENTURE, after his move to Anubis Records. “Neon Accelerando” was released as a 12″ single. Although more accessible to the mainstream than some of his other works, like “Dreamstripper,” “Consequence of Moonrise,” “Collision,” “Another Fading Souvenir,” and the rest of the album, it was an instrumental number high on production value and meant for the true afficianado, and thrown into the general ambient and synth/pop genres. With a pronounced synthesized undertone, it also included a who’s who of the business, including Eugene Martynec on guitars, whom he’d worked with in Kensington Market in the 1960s, bassist Steve Kennedy (Dr Music, Motherlode, Patsy Gallant, Bob McBride), and drummer Jorn Andersen (Fludd, Murray McLauchlan, Bruce Cockburn, Tom Middleton.)
He returned to his classical roots in the late ’90s with DO YOU HEAR THE RUSHING RIVER? on Kestrel Records, then again in 2004 with CONCERTO OF DELIVERANCE on Sunburst Music. Designed for voice, solo violin, clarinet, choir and electroacoustic instruments, it was a structure of seven movements with several of the industry’s leading performers guesting on it, as well as the children’s choir – The Island Academy Singers.
In addition to conventional recordings, Mills-Cockell has also created scores for a wide array of arts groups throughout the world, including Vancouver Playhouse, Toronto Dance Theatre, The National Ballet of Canada, The National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Citadel Theatre, and the Glasgow Museum of Art, among many others. He’s also scored dozens of films for the National Film Board, as well as independent and more mainstream film. On the list are “Humongous,” “The Clown Murders,” and “Deadly Harvest,” among others.Just some of the TV movies and series he’s credited with working on include “Maggie & Pierre,” “The Stationary Ark,” “Labour of Love,” and “The Little Vampire.”
He’s added musical compositions to productions of Shakespeare’s classics, including “The Taming of the Shrew,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “All’s Well That Ends Well,” and “Romeo and Juliet.” The theatrical productions he’s worked on include the Toronto Free Theatre’s outdoor staging in High Park and The Phoenix Theatre in Victoria, BC, and his works with Bluebridge Theatre, where he’d already worked on “Streetcar Named Desire” and “Death of a Salesman,” is expected to culminate in productions of “Uncle Vanya” and “My Fair Lady” in 2013.
GATEWAY and A THIRD TESTAMENT are both currently being remastered, and are expected to be re-released in 2013, as well. Singer auditions and recording for “Savitri and Sam,” an opera in collaboration with playwright Ken Glass is also expected to come to fruitition in the near future, the culmination of five years of development.
He’s been nominated for and received numerous awards during his career, including a Genie for best film score for “Terror Train,” a Dora for best musical for “Donut City,” and was honoured in 1990 with the SOCAN Award for outstanding contributions to Canadian music.