Saturday, 19 April 2014

Two songs

A very strange thing happened to me today. I was introduced to two songs that I'd never heard before and both prompted wildly severe yet diametrically opposed reactions! Both are love songs. I loved one. I hated the other. One, in my view, defines everything that is perfect about music, the other sums up everything that can go wrong...

The first song was written in the 1890s but recorded in the early eighties by The Fureys, an Irish folk group. It's called When You Were Sweet Sixteen. Not the most promising title, but I assure you, it's one of the most hauntingly beautiful melodies you'll ever hear. Utterly timeless. Utterly still with the most perfectly placed minor chord in the chorus. My mother introduced it to me today when I went to see the parents in Thaxted. She'd remembered it from when it was released and was trying to recall the song's title so that she could find it and listen again. A quick bit of googling tracked the song down and the three of us sat and listened to it on YouTube almost holding our collective breath. Tears were running down my face. It's one of those songs which I'm sure takes on more significance the older you become and I heartily recommend it.

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=z265BuKCQrc

On my way home from Thaxted, as I drove through the darkened country lanes, with brilliant bright stars, and the eerie lights of aeroplanes landing at Stansted floating all around me, I played the song again. And then again, eventually deciding that I'd become obsessed with it and that a blast of radio was necessary to break the song's spell.

It was at this point that I fell off the magic cliff and landed in a pile of excrement. The song which offended me so totally was by Mary J Blige and called Everything. Blige is one of those singers that some people rate highly. To me she's just a bird with nodules who likes the sound of her own vocals a little too much, which could possibly explain the vocal damage. I wouldn't let her near one of my own songs because she wouldn't respect the melody enough!

Anyway, aside from the ghastly bland, entirely forgettable tune, and the song's grotesque "New Jack Swing" vibe, the lyrics have to rank amongst the worst I've ever heard. If there was an award for a song most likely to have been written on the back of a Cornflakes packet, this one would win hands down.

"It's because of you I'm never sad and blue. You've brightened up my days in your own special way. Whenever you're around I'm never feeling down. You are my trusted friend, on you I can depend."

I mean, I wrote songs as an eleven year old like that, which my family had the decency to laugh at, but this song got to number six on the UK charts! I could have cut up pieces of newspaper and randomly generated a better lyric than that!

...And there she is trying to make it sound all soulful and cool with vocal licks and finger-wagging. Well, as they say, you can put a turd in a Harrods bag, but it's still a bag of shit. And this shit is smellier than most.

I immediately felt tainted, and had to play The Winner Takes it All, which is what I do whenever I need to remind myself that I have yet to reach perfection as a songwriter. It often calms me down, and reminds me of the beauty in the world. And then I played When You Were Sweet Sixteen again, and shed a few more tears, imagining how proud I would feel to have written something so profound and so devastatingly beautiful.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

But isn't gay a bad word?

I've been in my old stomping ground, Tufnell Park, for much of the day today. I had lunch with Uncle Archie from Wingspan and we talked through a few potential ideas for film projects in the light of the success of the wedding. Archie has very fine instincts, so when he makes a suggestion one would be foolish not to listen!

We had lunch in the Bull and Last; a pub next to the entrance to the boring bit of Hampstead Heath, which I frequented so often in my 20s. I remember one summer afternoon sitting in there with Fiona and Ellie and becoming obsessed with the shafts of light which were bursting through the windows. Really quite magical.

For old time's sake, I took myself to Fortess Road, my old street, to sit in Rustique, a "literary" cafe which is  lined with fascinating books and paintings. I remember when it opened fifteen or so years ago. It revolutionised the area for me. In those days many of the shops on the street were boarded over. These days there's even a Sainsbury's local, and all manner of cafes.

The woman who opened Rustique was American, and she wanted it to have the vibe of caf├ęs she'd hung out in back home. She wanted it attract writers and art lovers.

For the first few years of its existence I was almost part of the furniture, going in there every single day to work on the script of my musical Blast, trying to make a single cup of tea last as long as possible because I couldn't afford a second cup. The cafe was mentioned by a Guardian journalist in 1999, who described me as "so perfect a customer" for the ambience of the cafe, he almost doubted my authenticity. It seemed rather wonderful to be back there today, sitting in my old seat, working on Brass.

I came home by bus and stood next to a fat, sour-faced woman, who tutted every time the bus caused me to lose my balance and slightly invade her body space. Plainly I wasn't doing it deliberately, and I was deeply apologetic on the two occasions when it happened but she gracelessly refused to smile or acknowledge my apology, to the extent that I was tempted to call her a silly cow.

Raily told me a fascinating story yesterday. Her son, my godson, Will,  who walked down the aisle at the wedding with my ring, was asked at school what he was going to be doing the weekend of our wedding. "I'm going to a wedding" he said to his teacher, "but can't tell you anything else about it because it's a bad word..." When he reported this to his Mum, she was confused, and then horrified when it transpired that Will had, at some point, and quite rightly, been told that calling people "gay" in the playground was wrong. What no one had then told him, or perhaps what he hadn't heard, was that gay was only a bad word when used as an insult. It's funny how these things can backfire. By being well-meaningly PC his school had inadvertently reinforced homophobia. Poor Will had found himself unable to talk about his gay Uncle Ben.

Raily immediately sailed into the school and pointed out what was going on. The school acted brilliantly quickly and immediately called the kids into assembly to tell them that being gay was genuinely okay, and that it was only the context the word was used it that might cause offence. Phew! The teacher then suggested all the kids went home to watch Will's staring moment on the telly.

What's difficult to know, of course, is how many other kids like Will exist who are confused that the word gay can have opposite meanings depending on context. It's astonishing the pit-falls one can stumble across on the journey towards equality!

Glorious Thames

I'm about to get into a bath filled with Radox. I don't really know what Radox is but I know it's something you're meant to put in the bath when your legs hurt. It smells rather nasty. There's a hint of ammonia. It may be good for my legs but I reckon the environment is screaming no! My legs feel like little stumps. I reckon I've walked ten miles today. Maybe fifteen. Essentially the distance from Canary Wharf to Soho via the longest most winding route.

The weather has been glorious. Properly wonderful. There are flowers everywhere at the moment. The verges at the side of Southwood Lane are a riot of colour. There were even some flowers blooming this morning which I've never seen before. Dark purple things like paper tulips hanging from their stems like harebells.

The day started with a car journey to Beaconsfield, wherever or whatever that is! Nathan has a series of gigs with the Westenders across the North this week, and I was dropping him off at a service station where some of the other performers were picking him up.

I returned home and immediately headed off to Canary Wharf to visit the London Docklands museum, working a little on Brass on the journey there.

Meriel and Raily met me at the museum which is a rather lovely boutique of a place. There's lots of interactivity, some really interesting exhibits about slavery, and an entire space decked out to feel like a riverside slum, which we found particularly exciting.

We had tea and cakes before embarking on our epic walk, all the way along the river, which was shimmering like glitter in the bright sunshine.

The only issue with the Thames path is that it keeps becoming a dead end. We spent much of the day retracing our steps, and being forced to take routes further away from the river. I think it would be lovely if Tower Hamlets council could tidy things up a little and make it relatively easy for people to walk along this beautiful river's length within their patch.

We talked non-stop, bought ice lollies, took photographs, and explored tiny little beaches and twisting alleyways running down to the water.

We spent some time staring at the Traitor's Gate at the Tower of London. It's quite moving to imagine the people who floated into the complex via that particular entrance. The thoughts which must have rushed through their minds.

We made it all the way to Covent Garden before our legs started to give out on us, so I declared it fish and chip o'clock and we went to the Rock and Soul Plaice on Endell Street. Classic pun! Why is it that chippies always have these pun-like names?!





Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Smelling nasty

Today was my first day off since our stag do a month ago! I can't imagine how I've managed to stay alive for the period, but I actually feel remarkably robust! I even had a lie-in this morning! A lie-in! Imagine that! I'm afraid being dormant doesn't suit me very well, however, and my feet and fingers are already twitching, wanting to get back to work.

We went to meet Gene David Kirk today for lunch at his new theatre space above The Drayton Arms in Gloucester Road. He's doing a brilliant job in his new role as artistic director there, and seems to have decorated the whole place himself. He's currently reupholstering all the seats with old pairs of jeans. They look absolutely fabulous and are surprisingly comfortable.

He told us he'd had a contretemps with someone who works at a human rights charity who, in response to our wedding, said that he felt the Russians might be on to something with their anti-gay promotion policies! I'm sure he was talking in jest, but it seems rather astonishing that an activist of this nature would be using that sort of language in a public forum without the aid of an irony button! You'd expect - and ignore - it from an internet troll, but someone working for a human rights charity? Epic fail!

I had a massage this evening, which was just lovely, although it's made me smell of chip fat. My masseur is not a fan of the scented oils, so uses something masculine and odour-free, which isn't quite odour-free! I came home and tried to have a bath, but hot water eluded me! I then put a baked potato in the oven, which made the whole house smell of dodgy kitchens, so all things considered, I think the baby Jesus wants me to smell nasty tonight! Sometimes you've just got to go with the flow!






Tuesday, 15 April 2014

HELP NEEDED

15.04.2014

Dear all. I wonder if anyone out there can help me with my next project? I am currently working with the Kaleidoscope Trust on a very special piece of music called Invisible Voices which will include the recorded spoken testimonies of LGBT people from Commonwealth countries.
 
We are compiling recordings (all of which can be anonymous if requested), excerpts from which will feature in this electro acoustic work, which will be premiered at Southwark Cathedral. We are also interested in written testimony, which will be sung live by two singers. I am particularly keen to hear from members of the trans community in the UK, but if any one has any LGBT friends across the Commonweath (including Australia, NZ, Canada, India, Sri Lanka and many African and Caribbean countries) who might want to either provide a written account or a simple recording of them talking about their experiences, PLEASE get in touch with me at ben@benjamintill.com

Essentially, we're looking at how far we still need to travel in the world in terms of LGBT rights, so are looking to hear from people with moving, brutal, and frightening first-hand accounts of homophobia, alongside accounts of what LGBT people are hoping for in the future. Perhaps you live in the UK but you come from a Commonwealth Country, or have friends or family there? Perhaps you're reading this from further afield?

This could be a really shocking and important piece of music which reminds everyone, as the UK hosts the Commonwealth Games, that it remains illegal to be gay in 4/5ths of all Commonwealth Countries. But in order for this to work we need really interesting and honest accounts. Please PLEASE pass this on to anyone who might be able to help.

Remember that these testimonies can all be anonymous.


 Benj

Morning after

Sara Kestelman and I have just sat for four solid hours at her dining room table working on the Brass script, making cuts and changes based on last week's rehearsals. I'm feeling rather upbeat about things. We've moved scenes around. Cut out great big chunks of text. Got rid of the flab. I want to make damned sure that this script is as brilliant as it can be. What's NOT in a script is often as important as what IS. But as lyricist, composer and script writer, I'm properly feeling the pressure. There's no one else to blame if one of the elements is bad!

I had osteopathy again this morning. A new bloke with enormous hands gave me a proper going over. He's a fourth year student at the school, and seemed a great deal bolder than the third years who have traditionally treated me with a little more respect and, as a result, been somewhat tentative.

I went from the osteopath in Borough to Somerset House to meet Michelle of the Turkie for lunch. We sat in the courtyard in the most beautiful sunshine and watched a load of kids running in and out of the huge jets of water within the fountain in the middle.

From Somerset House, I took a bus up to Dalston for a meeting with the Kaleidoscope Trust about what is now my next project.

I took three buses home to Highgate,  which felt a little epic for my liking, but on a beautiful sunny day, why on earth would one take the tube?!

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Sleep at last

I fell asleep on the sofa so deeply earlier this evening that when I awoke I had no idea where I was or what on earth was going on. It turns out I'd fallen asleep in front of the final of The Voice, which was a rather good judgement call if we're to believe bookers from the show recently approached a friend of mine and offered first £40k and then £100k for them to become a contestant with a guaranteed journey through to a certain stage in the competition. I realise that a great deal of reality television is massaged, and to an extent that it has to be to make good viewing, but this particular issue makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. So much, in fact, that I'm rather hoping it's not true.

We had our last day today in this first period of rehearsals for Brass. We actually did a slow run of the entire piece, which made me incredibly proud, despite the fact that the show is almost an hour too long at the moment! I reckon I've got to cut about a fifth of it, which is an horrific thought.

It was very sad to say goodbye to the team. We've been working so so hard over the last few days; very much in our own world. I haven't seen television or read a newspaper since I left Highgate on Monday morning. Leaving the all-encompassing safety of that sort of scenario can be a bit of an anti-climax.

I got really stroppy when I got back home, no doubt because I was tired and overwrought. I hadn't realised quite how much I'd been effected by jumping straight from the wedding into Brass, and took all my frustrations out on a bag of shopping, which I flung to the floor on our way home from Sainsburys. Slightly mortifying.

We've now moved from The Voice to Britain's Got Talent, which is like jumping out of the proverbial frying pan onto the surface of the sun! I suspect I'm feeling too cynical to be drawn in by it. I'm somewhat disgusted by the false hyperbole which drips off the tongues of the judges in these programmes. "You were literally singing for your lives." "That was a world class performance." I almost hate this nonsense more than when they say things like "that was flat as a pancake" (usually when the performer has been singing sharp.)

The messages and emails of support about our wedding continue to trickle in. A lot of people seem to be watching it on a bit of a loop and some of the things that people are writing are extraordinary. It seems we've hit a few buttons out there. People are writing to tell me about their gay children, and how much our mother's song effected them. One lady even wrote to tell me that her father had been gay, and that he'd only admitted it on his death bed. I feel incredibly honoured that people are sharing their stories with us and that our wedding has generated so much, well... Love.