Monday, 4 May 2015

Running in the rain

Working on a Bank Holiday always makes a bloke feel rather virtuous... And simultaneously slightly tragic. It's been a nice day in London weather-wise, and I could see people exiting the tube on their way up to Highgate Village and the Heath. Most of them had that carefree look about them. The one that says "it's a bank holiday and we're all off somewhere fun." I looked at them, enviously, through the window, and felt like a lonely widower waiting for a phone call from his grand child! Not that Bank Holidays have a great deal of significance in the Till-Gaitch household. In fact, it was Brother Edward yesterday who reminded us that it was a Bank Holiday today...

So, today, and for the whole day, I sat on one sofa whilst Nathan sat on another. I created a shot list for the Billy Whistle film and Nathan knitted his big commission. He's putting in twelve hours of knitting a day at the moment, which is giving him cramps in his fingers and arms. I had to stick him in a bath at 10pm just to relax his muscles! How surreal is that? Perhaps what he's suffering from ought to be called "knitters wrist" to go into that lexicon of hobby-specific ailments like tennis elbow and Charleston knee!

I went for the briefest of runs tonight, just as the heavens opened. Running in the rain is a deeply pleasurable experience. My favourite thing is brushing past an overhanging fir tree and having a massive blast of rainwater smack me across the face. I probably should have run faster and further, but I was too busy limping like a flamin' asthmatic!

The rain is making me a bit twitchy about the shoot on Sunday. Much as it would be hugely authentic to have the lads trudging through mud, I have hired costumes which cannot go back plastered with muck. Can everyone keep their fingers crossed on my behalf for a good dry spell between now and then (despite the forecast?!)

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Why I'm voting Lib Dem

I had the most horrifying, yet classic anxiety dream last night. I dreamt I was back in my old school hall, having directed a production of Oh What A Lovely War for which, for some peculiar reason, I was also part of the pit orchestra... Playing piano. The whole thing unravelled at high speed. Highlights of the carnage included my forgetting how to play the piano and suddenly realising what a terrible idea it was to put countless ABBA songs into a show about the First World War. On top of everything, none of the performers made it onto the stage in time and several resigned in the interval. I was forced to as lib dialogue and scene change music and every time I put my fingers on the piano keyboard, the most horrific notes sounded. The school hall was full of agents, all thinking I'd created the most dreadful piece of musical theatre ever! That's the sort of dream which tells me there's too much going on in my life which feels out of my control!

It seems we're four days away from a general election, which I assume is going to end in some kind of hung parliament, which I don't think will do us any harm whatsoever. This country doesn't require brave, sweeping reforms at the moment, so I quite like the idea of a chamber of people who actually have to try to get along if they want to achieve anything! My advice to anyone who is still undecided about how to vote is to be brave and simply plump for the candidate you think is the most decent human being, regardless of who their leader is.

In Hornsey and Wood Green we're rather lucky in that our MP, Lynne Featherstone, is not just a fiercely good constituency MP, but a person with great integrity who fights for human rights on an international platform. I can't really think of a better combination. She has been marvellous in the fight against FGM, and, of course, instigated the same sex marriage bill, which was so important for Nathan and me... And LGBT people everywhere.

Lynne happens to be a Lib Dem, which means a lot of people will turn their backs on her this time round, which, frankly, if you're a member of the LGBT community, feels a little ungrateful, particularly when you consider what a mountain she had to climb in order to get that particular bill through parliament.

If Lynne doesn't get in, she'll be replaced by Labour, who, I'm told, are so certain they're going to win here that they've all but stopped campaigning, which seems a tad arrogant. I've had nothing through my door from them and seen no evidence of them canvassing anywhere.

We had to work all afternoon today. No rest for the wicked and all that... Nathan sat knitting, and I completed a call sheet for the shoot next week, which seemed to take an inordinate amount of time. You have to be thorough or things have a habit of falling apart.

We went to Brother Edward and Sascha's this evening to eat wonderful food and watch Eurovision Song Contest highlights... Or pre-lights. This year, as I've found myself saying so many times, it's all about Sweden, who've entered another absolute corker with a brilliant gimmick. Italy, Norway and Slovenia are also submitting strong songs. I'd love to say that the UK will do well but we won't. The more I see our entry, the more ashamed and angry I feel. It's cheap tat. Like a plastic necklace in a jewellery box otherwise filled with beautifully crafted gemstones.

The Chilterns

I've spent the day today on The Chilterns, walking for miles and miles up and down hills, through ancient bluebell woods, across heathland bedecked with bright yellow gorse and over chalky ploughed fields. Our journey was observed by scores of red kites.  Coming over the brow of one hill we were confronted by ten of the majestic creatures, swooping up and down and gliding on the thermals. A rare sight...

In those parts, most of the names of the towns and villages are also well-known folk songs and dances, which I guess is an indication of how rural and ancient the area is. This fact becomes somewhat more surprising when you consider it's perhaps only thirty miles North of London.

I'm told the area was also chosen to represent the perfect English idyll on First World War anti-German propaganda posters. It's hardly surprising. Some of the views are utterly staggering. The villages are exquisite.

Five of us did the full walk. Meriel, Iain (whose birthday we were celebrating) his sister Libby, Beth and me.

We had a picnic on a bench made out of a tree branch, and watched several groups of young people doing their Duke of Edinburgh bronze awards trekking through a nearby field.

We stopped for a drink at a country pub outside Princes Riseborough which had an epic rope swing which kept us busy for a good half an hour. Meriel was particularly entertaining. She's utterly gung-ho, but the tiniest bit uncoordinated!

Raily and daughter Jeanie-Rae joined us at the pub, and the next part of our journey found us walking along the Ridgeway, past an Anglo Saxon chalk cross carved into the hillside, through a wood and past the Prime Minister's country residence, Chequers. The PM was obviously in. We saw a helicopter flying past, and then an assortment of police-escorted cars making their way down the long drive.

The walk ended back where it had started and we drove on to Raily and Iain's house in Aylesbury for some Moroccan food, and a bit of a sing song, which was an unexpected delight.

I came home just in time to receive a phone call from Fiona who'd missed her last train home to Brighton... So she's currently tucked up in the loft... And I'm writing this... And now I'm going to bed.

A lovely day.

Friday, 1 May 2015


I went to Abney Park cemetery to work out where we're going to be filming sequences next Sunday. It was a beautiful sunny morning and the place was full of twittering birds and strange little rodents rushing around in the undergrowth. As a direct result of the London Requiem (which was a musical setting of inscriptions I found written on gravestones over the course of about three weeks' solidly wandering around in cemeteries like some sort of daylight Vampire) I no longer feel uneasy in graveyards. In fact, I find them incredibly calming places.

Abney Park obviously holds great significance for me as it's where The London Requiem received its premiere, in 2012, at dusk, in amongst the gravestones. It was a hugely magical experience...

Anyway, I had a charming walk there this morning and have chosen the locations where those sequences of the film will be shot.

I had a lovely nostalgias-fest on the way home, listening to music by the band Renaissance. The song Northern Lights has triggered a memory from my childhood which I'm still trying to place. A good chunk of my extreme youth was spent on a sort of commune on the outskirts of the Bedfordshire town where we lived, and I think the song reminds me of that period somehow.

I came home and started to put together a call sheet for the shoot... Somewhat hindered by not having photoshop on my computer, and not being able to work out how to change the placement of a pin on googlemaps to show people exactly where to go. It turns out that postcodes aren't always that specific... Even in London.

At lunchtime, the mastered version of Oranges and Lemons came through from Denis, who does his work from a house in the tranquility of the Isle of Skye. I've always liked the fact that it's possible for one of my songs to disintegrate into the ether and reemerge for a good polishing on the Isle of Sky... It was rather surreal to sit listening to the piece on headphones whilst I ate my spaghetti on toast for dinner, but the track sounds amazing, and once I'd started listening, I couldn't stop. I'm incredibly pleased with Denis' work. He complimented the piece as well, which is always a good sign.

I started storyboarding the film this afternoon, which involves drawing a sequence of inexcusably dreadful pictures to represent the shots I want to feature in the film. I cannot draw. Not for toffee.

This evening we said goodbye to Jem, who takes himself off to the States for a new life tomorrow morning. We had a little meal in Pizza Express with a few of his closest London-based friends, hugged him goodbye, and, well, that was that. We shall miss him bitterly; a kinder, funnier, more talented, more generous man you'd be hard-pushed to find.


Another twelve hour day of admin. Today was all about inviting people to the album launch of brass, and trying to encourage a few people to come to our quiz. The lack of people coming is really beginning to get me down. We've worked so hard on it, but almost all of our friends are either not available, or not able to commit to coming right now... I suppose I need to reconcile myself to it being what it's going to be, rather than what I really want it to be. If there's only one team of eight, we'll split it into two teams of four and still have a fun!

I'm currently watching Empire on E4, which is the shiny new American show with songs by Timberland about the R and B industry in the States. It's a very cool concept, which I feel I ought to be enjoying a great deal more than I am. Unfortunately I'm finding it cliche-ridden and incredibly boring. It's like Dynasty with gangstas. Some of it is breathtakingly on the nose... An example of what happens when you get pop writers to try to create songs with narrative. I'd love to have sat down and talked to the makers about classic juxtapositions. You don't always have to say what you see.

In documentary making, we call this process "Lord Privy Sealing." There's some apocryphal tale about a young editor who was sent off to find shots of Lord Privy Seal, and came back with three separate images of Lord Palmerston, a toilet and an elephant seal! As a result, when someone visually decorates the spoken word with unnecessary images, we tell them it's all a bit "Lord Privy Seal."

There seems to be another show on E4 called Nashville, which, from the trailers, looks like the Country and Western version of the very same show! I might pitch to do a British version with a WI choir in Corby. I reckon that could be well sexy!

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Billy Whistle Mini-Premiere

And so the Brass journey continues with its series of mini milestones, many of which I've deliberately created to keep the cast and musicians excited and engaged about the project. When we started rehearsals for Brass I was very clear that I wanted the experience to be something the cast remembered forever, just as I will always remember my summers with the National Student Drama Company at the Edinburgh Festival. Art is never merely about audiences: it's about the astonishing bonds that creative people make when they work together... The cast bonded remarkably well and I think I owe it to them to create opportunities where they can engage with one another, for as long as I feel their need to do so! Just call me Mary Poppins!

Today's task was to send the cast the latest mix of Billy Whistle so that they can practice lip-synching for next Sunday's shoot. None of them has heard anything much from the recording so far, and I thought how special it would be if, instead of emailing them all, and have them listen in their own time, we all listened together online.

Fortunately there's a hugely active Brass Facebook page which the cast regularly check into, so, at 8pm, I went on and told them all to congregate there at 9pm, at which point I would release the link to the track. Word got round and I'd say a good half of the cast and musicians were there. It was all very exciting really. Like a mini-virtual premiere... It's amazing what you can do (and how rapidly you can do it) online these days. I posted the link and the screen went weirdly quiet as everyone tuned in...

And then suddenly, one by one, they started to respond. Lots of "wows" and "amazings" and a genuine sense of great pride. PK is suddenly on a roll and the mixes which are coming through are stunning. It is going to be an epic soundtrack "the best since Les Mis" says Nathan... A comment he apparently means! What IS certain is that you don't often get a new cast recording which features 30 singers and a band of 22! The music is MEGA!

It's just as well really. After putting in another twelve hour day on admin for these projects, I was beginning to get a bit square-eyed and under-energised.

I released the CD credits today so that people could check their names had been spelt properly. I was so relieved that I'd done so. I'd managed to leave two musicians off the list, and one poor girl got thanked as Hannah Forget instead of Hannah Froggett!

Now listen... Everyone reading this... Please come to our music quiz a week on Saturday. 1.30-5.30pm... I'm genuinely worried that no one is going to come, and unless we raise a few pennies I won't be able to afford release the Pepys Motet and Oranges and Lemons just yet. And believe me, this album deserves to be heard every bit as much as Brass!

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Missing building

I emerged at Borough tube today and was confused to find the building opposite had been demolished. I can't remember what the building actually looked like, but I knew something wasn't quite right, and briefly wondered if autopilot had taken me in the wrong direction out of the tube. It's strange: you can become very used to the shape and light of a setting, so that when one aspect is removed, things can get a little confusing.

I didn't much like looking at the ruin of the old building; seeing it reduced to a pile of rubble. There were windows, tattered curtains and bits of wall paper which all felt a bit too human for my liking. Whenever a building is knocked down, it's fair to assume that not everyone is happy to be thrown out of their homes. Imagine the heartache of being told you need to be evicted simply to make way for progress... Ghastly.

On that note, I'm horrified to learn that The Black Cap, Camden's iconic and ancient gay pub, has closed down and is being replaced by luxury flats. Paul O'Grady was talking about it on his Radio 2 show yesterday. He has a particular interest in the old place because it's where he regularly performed as Lily Savage in the earlier part of his career.

The Black Cap was a dingy sort of place, with a downstairs, rather smokey and claustrophobic club space where all the drag acts used to perform. I never really went down there; it all used to get a bit sweaty and uncomfortable. The upstairs bar always far more salubrious, light and spacious. More importantly, it had a huge roof terrace where I sat on many a summer's evening in my 20s. The Cap was always open. In the nineties it was one of the only bars in the area with a late license, and loads of my straight mates used to go there after band gigs when they were buzzing on adrenaline too much to go straight home. I think it's incredibly sad that we'll not get to see it again. In the grim days of the 1980s, when the LGBT community was suffering, it was like a refuge. A metaphorical beacon of light where we could meet people without feeling threatened.

I came home and worked... Worked and worked and worked, worked some more and then when I'd stopped working it was 1am! Genuinely.

How did that happen? Better go to bed!