Friday, 24 October 2014

Eurovision

I deliberately opted to start a days' work in Julian's studio at 10.30am today, assuming the later start would avoid the rush hour, and the overly-crowded tubes which I've started to dread. How wrong I was. The carriage was full of steaming, sweaty people and I ended up sandwiched between a Dutch woman holding a toddler and a man with such hairy ears he was suffering from dandruff!

I love working in a recording studio. My days with Julian are always special and always start the same way. I exit the DLR at Limehouse and go to the local 7/11 to buy cakes, tea and milk for anyone working with us that day.

Julian works from a small studio deep inside an old Victorian factory situated at the end of the fabled Cable Street. It's an absolute hive of creative activity. As you walk through the corridors of the building, you pass hundreds of doors, each with a fashion designer, a musician, an artist or a crazy bohemian inside. I'm told there are dominatrixes working within the complex, and rooms where trans-people gather together to try on dresses and chat.

Julian's studio is at the end of the longest, dustiest corridor. It's filled with curios; bizarre microphones, crazy keyboard instruments, chairs and sofas with the stuffing coming out of them... But it's a home from home. I always feel very happy there because it means I'm creating.

Today's mission was to record a potential song for Eurovision. The BBC have called for submissions. It's very hard to know how serious they are about it. One assumes the moment EMI pops up with a "young artist with a great look", the search for songs from members of the public will instantly come to an end, but because I made such a big deal about them giving opportunities for writers, it's vital that I put my money where my mouth is... And not to put too fine a point on things, I'm offering them a million pound package. Nathan and I have created the Eurovision holy trinity: great song, great singer, great gimmick. Years of Eurovision appreciation has taught me what the competition needs and if the BBC think that's an arrogant statement and would like to cut me down to size then all they have to do is give me the rope to hang myself with. If that's not mixing deathly metaphors...

My worry is that the people who have been put in charge of Eurovision at the BBC don't know the art form well enough, and will simply think that a pretty bird, with an edgy song has a hope in hell of winning. The UK needs to play a sneakier game.

I can't really say too much about the song itself. What I can say is that the singer is Alison Jiear, who sang Yellow at our wedding, but is perhaps better known for her performance of I Just Wanna F***ing Dance in Jerry Springer: The Opera.

The experience of working with her in the studio is quite remarkable. She came in, ate Jaffa cakes, had a cup of tea and then a coffee, a quick warm-up singing through with the track, and then nailed it in two takes. Two takes! If that isn't a sign that she needs to be representing the UK, singing live in front of 500 million people then I don't know what is. We're talking the most astounding vocal tricks. Two takes. No auto tune. No moving stuff around. Two takes!

I shall be devastated if the BBC don't take this entry seriously, and frankly, if they don't, I shall enter it next year for a different country and then spill the beans. And that's a promise! I'm waiting. Eurovision, come and get me.

Peace and love

I heard today of the death of someone I was at school with. He wasn't in my form, but he was in my year group. He was disabled, and so people are queuing up to say how brave he was. I can't comment on the level of his bravery in later life, but it struck me at school that he was simply getting by with the tools that God had given him. Sometimes I think we rather patronisingly describe anyone who lives with a life-altering condition as brave, regardless of whether they're actually brave or not!

Anyway, it's very difficult for me to think about this bloke without remembering how brutally bullying he was towards me. He may have been disabled, but he hated the gays and had extraordinary upper body strength, which one day found him throwing me over a wall and into a thorny bush! It's understandable really; the bully-or-get-bullied culture in schools was so prevalent in those days that he was obviously simply being nasty to me because so many others were being nasty to him, just as I was horribly cruel to a tragic young lass called Amanda whose face was shaped like a spoon. It certainly can't have been easy to have grown up disabled in a Midlands Town and I suspect he had to overcome a huge amount of prejudice, which was possibly more hidden and subtle than what came my way because, even then, it was unacceptable to be unpleasant to disabled people... At least to their faces. We have Blue Peter to thank for that!

What is sad about all of this is that, because I ran away from the town where I grew up, largely due to incidents of this nature, it's impossible for me to know how some of these people from school developed and bloomed in adult life. I'm sure this particular lad grew into a wonderful, gracious, tolerant and genuinely brave individual. And at times like this I need to remind myself of the thing I've always argued about gay people, namely that we need to rise above the blame game. Homophobia happened. It shouldn't have, but those who gave people a hard time for being gay can't be blamed because they simply weren't given the facts. It's a marvellous thing that the UK, within my life time, has rejected and indeed reversed homophobia. In fact, one of the heads of Channel 4 said to me the other day that the film of our wedding made him feel genuinely proud to be British. Gay people, it turns out, have have a much easier ride than disabled people, to the extent that Our Gay Wedding: The Musical tanked at a recent diversity awards, largely because I think our concept of diversity these days no longer includes sexual minorities.

So I very much hope that my school chum rests in peace, and that he genuinely found peace and love in his time here on earth.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Grayson Perry

I forgot to mention yesterday that whilst in the ramshackle cafe on Upper Street, we were visited by a rather charming little robin, who hopped his way inquisitively around the table next to us, seemingly unconcerned about the two enormous human brings drinking fancy tea in close proximity. I read somewhere that there's something in the character of robins which make them very interested in, and surprisingly unflustered, by human activity. This is why they're often seen sitting on spades on Christmas cards and things. I'm not a great fan of birds, but if I were to chose a favourite bird, I'd almost certainly chose the robin. They have a beautiful song, and they're patriotic enough to stay in the UK all year round. I'm not a big fan of these fly-by-night migrating fellows. The greatest rewards come from choosing a horse and backing it through thick and thin! The ability to be loyal sorts all the mice from the men!

I worked all day on the Fleet singers composition, developing a little sequence of uncharacteristically funky music. There's a light jazzy quality threading its way through the entire piece which I'm rather enjoying.

This evening I ventured into town to attend the Channel 4 launch of Grayson Perry's new documentary series, Who Are You? It promises to be a very fine series of programmes, all of which focus on identity. Perry has created fourteen pieces of art to accompany the shows, which include silk prints, exquisite vases and one of his trade mark giant tapestries. I love his work, I love the way it flows organically and takes its inspiration from what many other artists would consider inane. Most of all, however, I love the way that he talks about his work. He is very much a man of the people. His art has the common touch, because he's full of empathy and humility. If you love and make it your business to understand people, then your work will have the common touch. I genuinely believe that.

The event was full of famous faces, many of whom were wearing clothes which which were works of art in themselves. Janet Street Porter was there. I was introduced and shook her by the incredibly limp hand, forgetting to remind her that I'd met her once before on the top of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh. Nathan later told me I shouldn't have shaken her hand. She apparently hates being touched!

Uncle Archie and I then hot-footed it into Soho to a second party, this one at Evolutions, the edit suite, which was strictly for nominees at this year's Grierson Awards, which is a week on Monday, I believe. The Griersons are the Oscars of the documentary world and are highly regarded within the industry. Our
Gay Wedding has been nominated for Best Entertaining Documentary, which is subtly different from Most Entertaining Documentary, which is what I initially thought the category was called.

The party was hugely noisy. We could hear people literally shrieking at one another as we walked up the stairs and upon entering the room were blasted by a continuous roar of sound. It's moments like this when I tend to freak out. My ears and voice are very much my career, and trashing them both for the sake of fun is not my idea of fun! We found a quieter corner, put the world to rights and then beat a hasty retreat to Highgate to watch Grayson Perry on telly!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Dorsal Springing

I had another dose of osteopathy this morning, which involved a bit of clicking and a lot of something called dorsal springing, which instantly makes me go cross-eyed and sends me into a some sort of cat-like stupor. I'm told that the "fight or flight" instinct releases endorphins which explain my reaction but I reckon I'd pay a masseur mega-bucks to do that once a week for the rest of my life. Does anyone know a masseur who specialises in dorsal springing?

I had lunch in a greasy spoon in Angel. The food arrived and I couldn't believe the size of the portion. I started sweating at the thought of eating it!

I did some work in another cafe on Upper Street, before having tea with a charming animator I'd met at Abbie's wedding. We threw a few creative ideas around in a lovely ramshackle place at the end of Camden Passage. The tea was a bit fancy for my liking, however. Who serves "China Breakfast" tea instead of "English Breakfast?" For the record, China Breakfast is a black tea, which when taken with milk, is flavourless in the extreme. Adding milk simply turned the tea a weak shade of beige. And then all I could taste was cream.

I came home and finished my arrangement for Friday's session, whilst staring out at the trees by the tube station opposite, which were being buffeted by the wind like fronds of seaweed in swirling waves. We're apparently experiencing the tale-end of an Atlantic hurricane. The wind has been light by hurricane standards, but the news informs me that the leaves (which are still green and full of life) are acting as sales and causing trees to be ripped up from their very roots, which is in turn causing mayhem. Three people in London have already been killed.

Two workmen arrived at about 5pm this evening to clear the gunk from our guttering which has been causing all the water damage in our sitting room. I was astonished that they wanted to go out on the roof in rain and such high winds. There was also a somewhat apocalyptic-looking sunset, behind a band of rain, burning the Eastern sky. But out they went, with a little wooden step ladder, knocking over a shelf as they climbed through a sky light. I retired to the sitting room, half expecting to see a man falling past the window to an almost certain death on the Archway Road below, but eventually the men emerged with a bucketload of filthy moss, and mulch and bits of masonry, claiming that the problem has almost certainly been remedied, and saying they were quite surprised that I'd not taken it upon myself to go out on roof myself! I suspect it's because I'm a big old gaybo...

Monday, 20 October 2014

Poppies

I did a morning's work today, prepping music for a little demo  recording we're doing at Julian's studio on Friday. At the same time I found myself replying to scores of tweets and Facebook messages from friends and colleagues about our surprise win at yesterday's UK Theatre Awards. I'm fairly surprised by how many people seem to know about it, and furthermore by how lovely and encouraging some of the messages have been.

Cindy, who's staying with us at the moment, accused me of being over-nonchalant about the award. I guess I probably am being. I've spent so long riding the ups and downs of this industry that I've become a little jaded and lost the ability to dare to hope for specific outcomes. My philosophy has always been to simply continue to create, and enjoy the process of creating. If you place too much emphasis on success, or even stop for long enough to define what you consider to be the definition of success, then you'll invariably be disappointed.

...Anyway, at 1pm, Cindy and I jumped on the tube and headed down to Charing Cross, and then by foot to Somerset House where we met Ted Thornhill for lunch. Ted and I have known each other since we were fifteen, and we spent our later teenaged years in each other's pockets, busking with Fiona in shopping centres in various Midlands town and cities. Our parents ought to have been thrilled. Whilst other Northamptonshire teenagers were sniffing glue and joyriding, the three of us were drinking tea from a giant brown teapot, eating my Mum's chocolate chip cookies and playing string trios. Rock on!

Cindy, Ted and I took ourselves on a river-side walk along the North of the Thames. It turns out that the South Bank is by far the better option if you're wanting a charming stroll. There's very little opportunity on the North Bank to enjoy the river, and the Thames path continually diverts a walker onto busy, exhausted-smutted roads where ugly concrete buildings block any potential views.

Still, it was lovely to be spending time with Cindy and Ted, and our end destination, The Tower of London, was well worth the walk. We'd gone there to see the porcelain poppies. For those reading this from outside of the UK, an intriguing art installation has been set up in the former moat around this iconic building. The installation features 900,000 ceramic poppies, all of which appear to be growing out of the dark green grass. Unsurprisingly the 900,000 poppies represent the British men who were killed in the First World War, exactly one poppy for every man (or woman) killed in battle.

It's a deeply arresting and beautiful sight. In two places, the poppies tumble over the walls and out of windows, almost as though the bloody tower itself were crying tears of red flowers. The poppies are planted in very close proximity, so that from a distance they appear as a sea of red, the edges sculpted like waves softly lapping onto a grassy beach.

As we stood there, staring wistfully, Ted said, "one for every man killed. Thousands of marriages that never happened. Thousands of kids growing up without a dad." It's impossible to even begin to quantify such enormous numbers, but somehow this astonishing spectacle made it just that little bit easier to comprehend. And therefore, I suppose, just that little bit more horrifying. Within that sea of red, however, were the souls of 1000 Leeds Pals, without whom, Brass would never have existed. I thought about the Pals a lot as I stood there. And right on cue, it started to rain. From the sky, and, I confess, a little from my eyes.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Winner!

As I left the house this morning, dressed in a dapper suit with my dusky pink bow tie, I had the sudden realisation that people would assume I was going to church. I'm not altogether sure the thought sat entirely comfortably with me, but the clobber drew a few approving looks, which are always welcome. A man on a bike shouted "nice tie" and when I turned round to smile, he said "looking very smart." "Why thank you, Sir," I said, wondering which Jane Austin novel I'd just walked out of! I felt proud as punch however. What a horrible world we'd live in if no one commented on a stranger's appearance for fear of being accused of misogyny or harassment. It used to be that many parents would proudly parade their newborns about in fancy prams so that the world could stop and tell them how beautiful their children were, but these days, most people are terrified of their child being exposed to sunshine! Besides, anyone stopping to compliment a baby in the street would be considered very odd these days. Terrible, isn't it? Someone was recently telling me about a beautiful animation he'd seen about a little girl who befriends an elderly man, and I thought how sinister it sounded.

I was wearing a suit to attend an award ceremony at Guildhall. The city of London excites me on a Sunday. It's always eerily empty, yet somehow seems to vibrate with the buzz of the millions of workers who have bustled through its streets on the other days of the week.

The award ceremony was the UK Theatre Awards, which honour the work of theatres outside the West End of London. Brass had been nominated for the award for best musical production; an award we were highly unlikely to win because we were up against a production staged at the Scottish National Theatre and a huge it well received production of Chicago at the Leicester Curve. I was happy for any of the three shows to win, really. The Scottish piece had music by my dear friend James, and Chicago was choreographed by Drew, who did all the dancing for our wedding.

It was a star-studded event, with all sorts of turns and West End Wendies handing out the gongs. There were ten of us on the Brass table, which, when we arrived, discovered, forebodingly, was table 13. Not a great number of the creative and production team were able to go, but boy Robin (and his Mum), Ben and Laura from the cast were there, alongside some of the NYMT angels and Sara Kestelman.

The awards happened during a tasty three course meal with a particularly stunning apple and chocolate pudding. The Guildhall is a beautiful and ancient building which I felt privileged just to be sitting in. And frankly, as the afternoon wore on, I felt more and more privileged just to be nominated for an award. Jodie Prenger sang something from Calamity Jane as the interval act. Michael Xavier was presenting. Wayne Sleep, Anita Dobson and Dorian from Birds of a Feather were amongst the people handing out the awards. It was a pleasure to watch the NYMT cast members seeing some of their heroes in the flesh. And even more gratifying that I was able to introduce them to people like Michael Xavier afterwards.

Predictably our award was announced almost last. I explained to everyone on the table that we couldn't expect to win, because only one of the judging panel had actually seen the show, and also, it would be foolish to expect a youth theatre production to triumph over the big-hitting regional theatres.

Brian Conley announced our award, and did a rather peculiar piece of stand-up beforehand which seemed slightly misjudged. He announced the nominations one by one and our table went bananas when he said the word Brass.

This was nothing however to the noise that was made when Brass was announced as the winner. I looked at Sara, shell-shocked. I hadn't prepared a speech. Neither had she!

We stumbled onto the stage, five of us, and I burbled something about being pissed and not having prepared anything to say. I remember thanking NYMT for their amazing record of commissioning new work, Arnold Wesker for helping us with some of the lyrics and for mentoring me for 20 years, and thanking "my husband, who I'm proud to say agreed to marry me in a TV musical at the start of the year." I then mentioned that Nathan had helped with Brass. And that was it. I should have talked about the importance of commissioning new writing and the importance of listing the names of writers on awards and posters and all sorts. But instead I handed over to Sara and she was wonderful and dignified...

And then we left the stage with a lovely glass award. Of course Sara and I spent the next hour wishing we'd said a million and one other things. Proof positive that you should always plan an acceptance speech even if you think there's no hope of winning.

I walked young Mr Jones back to Angel tube and then came home for a lovely celebratory cup of tea on the sofa. I very much know how to live, don't I? Rock and roll, people. Rock. And. Roll!

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Crapford

All the trains from London Bridge to Catford had been suspended this morning, so I was unceremoniously dumped at Lewisham Station and left to fend for myself in the hell of South-East London. Maybe the genteel world of Highgate has engulfed me, but Lewisham felt like a confusing, noisy shit-hole, full of desperately rude people. Perhaps that should read people whose cultural concept of rudeness is different to mine. I was buffeted about by people who refused to do anything but walk on their own trajectory, and stared at with venom by people I'm sure were looking for a fight to get their Saturday morning off to a great start. One black girl actually sucked her teeth at me! Cliche!! Only in Lewisham would you find a 12-year old boy wearing a weave in his hair. At least I think it was a boy. Sometimes I can't tell the difference between a boy and a lesbian.

I found my way to a bus which took my through the Lewisham Centre, which is essentially a shopping street next to a run-down sports centre which was so dilapidated we used it as a location for the post-apocalyptic 28 Weeks Later.

Catford wasn't a great deal more relaxing. Catford has a drive-thru' Macdonalds, a JD Sports megastore, a Mecca Bingo and a Lidl in the middle of a roundabout. Four locations for which I'd struggle to find a use!

Fortunately they've now removed the railings surrounding this mega-roundabout, which is rather grandly called the Catford Gyratory. It used to be that you'd have to go on a proper SAS assault course to avoid walking 100 meters out of your way.

I was in Catford for another instalment of Cake and Craft at Julie and Sam's. The rest knitted whilst I stuck photos into an album. I'm proud to say that I've always treated my photos with the dignity of a proper album. I now have over thirty books, dating back to 1991; my entire adult existence documented in pictures. Sometimes a friend will come over and we'll sit and go through an album from a particular year. It will always trigger a lovely nostalgic chat.

Tina told us all the story of a woman she sees every day on the DLR who wears a "baby on board" badge. For those who are out of this particular loop, the "baby on board" badge indicates that the wearer, though possibly not showing outward signs of being pregnant, is with child, and therefore likely to want to sit down on public transport. Perhaps it's cruel of me to suggest that some wear the badges to demonstrate their fecundity to childless women. Part of me thinks that the need to sit down only comes in the latter stages of pregnancy when the bulge is very obvious, but I'm happy to be told that morning sickness for some is so ghastly and exhausting that a seat is the only way forward. Anyway, the woman Tina sees has been wearing her badge for 18 months, and is still showing no sign of actually having a baby on board. She's therefore either an elephant, or she's pulling the wool over everyone's eyes. Shocking behaviour.

After Cake and Craft, which was more Elevenses and Craft, Sam and I went into Central London via Mountsfield Park, which represents a slightly more salubrious aspect of South East London. The only trouble was the weather: humid with yet more mizzle. It's so hot and stuffy, that walking up the merest hill became almost impossible. We're told a hurricane is on its way and I can well believe it. It was just this sort of weather which fuelled the 1989 hurricane; the most devastating to hit London in living memory. That particular hurricane was typified by huge oscillations in temperature which swung from the early teens into the mid twenties throughout the night.

I went into town to meet up with young Josh and his charming friend from university. We had drinks at the Soho theatre where Josh has just been accepted onto the new writers' scheme. On the way back to the tube, I took them on a quick tour of the highs and lows of Soho, and sent them into the night in search of a funky cabaret.  It struck me how little I know about what's hip and what's not these days. They'd had a tip-off about a "too cool for school" cabaret in a venue I'd not even heard of! I'm such an old fogey!