Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Foh pas

I woke up this morning and looked out the window to see epic blue mists swirling around the trees above the tube. The street lights were still on. Everything looked a little surreal and somewhat magical. But after a few minutes I started to feel sad. I'm not sure I like the winter very much.

My mood was lifted when I went downstairs to find two letters on the doormat, one with a generous "Brass for Brass" cheque inside from Llio's Mum, Silvia, and the other with a cheque in it which will basically pay for the mixing of "Oranges and Lemons," which the Rebel Chorus are going to record on January 11th. The latter came from Michael Smith, whose generosity to the Rebel Chorus has been beyond extraordinary. This particular cheque means I can relax, and we're now just one fundraising event short of being able to release our Pepys Motet CD! Hurrah! How lucky do I feel to have people like Silvia and Michael in my life? And how lucky do I feel to be recording two albums in January?!

...I dunno, you wait years for a recording and then two come along at the same time!

I worked through the morning, before heading to Paddington to meet Fiona off a train from Bristol. I know, right? Paddington! Old School! It's a horrible place as well. We had to leave the station to find anything to decent to eat, heading out onto whichever high street Paddington Station is on, finding a lovely little cafe where the staff did their best to make us feel like complete and utter freaks. By the time we left, we'd decided a lot of stuff was getting lost in translation, because when you ask for the bill in a cafe, you don't necessarily expect them to look at you like you've just asked them to remove all their clothes!

I met Nathan for a second lunch in Soho. I've decided to experiment with eating four small meals a day to try and ride my tendency to go up and down like a yoyo depending on the levels of sugar in my system, so I had two salads... (And a cheeky bowl of chips with Fiona.)

I had my hair cut on Old Compton Street by an Italian bear. Having one's hair cut is a bizarre experience because it gives you the opportunity to really examine yourself. What else are you going to do when faced with an enormous mirror, even if you're someone like me who tends to avoid mirrors whenever possible? Anyway, I had a good gander at myself, and deduced that my skin looked alright but that I wasn't too impressed by the double chin, or the grey streaks of hair in my fringe, which I initially mistook for dandruff! Ageing is a funny old process. I watched another hairdresser, an Italian, I think, and thought how my hair used to look like his; all thick, black, lustrous and curly. These days my hair is almost entirely straight and thin. What I wouldn't have given to have straight hair as a teenager. What I wouldn't give right now to have my curls back! At one point, my Spanish bear stuck a brush into my scalp and started blowing it with a hot hairdryer. It suddenly struck me what he was doing... Trying to get some volume into my hair! I died a quiet death!

Nathan returned from work armed with an amusing anecdote. They have a new front of house staff member at the theatre who works on the merchandise stall. She happens to be of South East Asian extraction and is, by all accounts, charming. So charming, in fact, that a member of the public went up to the theatre manager to say what wonderful service she'd had from "that lovely girl, Foh." The theatre manager was perplexed. "Foh?" "Yes," said the woman "Foh. The little Asian girl on the merchandise stall. Her surname is Staff... Foh Staff. It says so on her badge." The name badge was actually the same one that all the other ushers were wearing. FOH Staff. Front of house staff!

Tuesday, 25 November 2014


I woke up this morning feeling an almost complete lack of motivation, and had to give myself a stern talking to at about 10am when I'd achieved nothing but watching two episodes of the Big Bang Theory!

I spent the morning working on The Man In the Straw Hat, and then the afternoon and evening writing my lecture for the kids at Gordonstoun School. We're calling it: "Should real people sing - the journey to Our Gay Wedding." It feels rather remarkable to be going into a top private school, which will no doubt be filled with future prime ministers and business leaders, to talk openly about a gay wedding. When I was at school, Clause 28 meant that homosexuality couldn't even be discussed by teachers. What an astonishing amount of progress we've made in just 25 years. I feel very proud to be British. If Nathan and I went into a school in Russia and delivered the same lecture, we would instantly be arrested...

A woman on the television appears to be cooking a lobster at the moment. She's repeatedly hitting a claw with hammer and the claw is shattering into thousands of pieces. I genuinely can't understand how this can be considered as food. I have never eaten shell-fish. I can't really imagine how it must taste. I last ate meat at the age of seven, and think I can remember the texture and possible taste of chicken, bacon, sausages, fish fingers and tins of mince meat. I get some of those flavours muddled up with halloumi cheese nowadays, which I've always insisted tastes just like bacon, much to Nathan's great annoyance.

We're now watching Sue Perkins travelling up the Mekong River, in what's shaping up to be a rather enjoyable documentary. She's incredibly charming. In fact, I think she's fast becoming a national treasure. She is, however, having to eat lots of fish with the people she's meeting. I'd be useless doing her job...

Editing films

We've spent most of this evening editing together clips from the various films I've made over the past ten or so years. We're taking them to Scotland on Friday night. Nathan and I are delivering a lecture at the prestigious Gordonstoun School, which is tucked so far away in the wilds of next-to-nowhere that we have to get there via plane, train and taxi.

Someone from my junior school has posted a class photograph on Facebook. It comes from the fourth year, when we were mostly 10 years old and it's lead to pages of memories about trips, and school songs and kids who could turn their eyelids inside out. I've learned some interesting facts about my former class mates. One of them, for example, is a pro darts player, ranked 50th in the world, which I consider to be really rather impressive. He has a darts player's nick-name and everything! And a page on Wikipedia!

We continue to try and organise everyone's diaries for the cast recording of Brass. It's becoming an absolute nightmare trying to get players and singers to commit to a series of dates. I got so stressed thinking about it earlier that Nathan had to drag me for a walk around the block.

It was freezing outside. We walked down Wood Lane and through Queen's Wood, along the path which looks like something from Narnia. The pavement was covered in a thick layer of brown and orange autumn leaves, which had been rained on, so under lamp light they looked shiny, like tiles of polished brass and copper.

Most of the parked cars we passed were covered in frost, the first frost of the season. Heaven knows how cold it's going to be in Scotland!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

The smell of wood smoke

Nathan had his first full day off in about sixteen years today and we celebrated by having the mother of all lie-ins before treating ourselves to breakfast in Muswell Hill. I say breakfast... We might call it lunch.

It has literally done nothing but rain all day. Rain, rain, rain. One of the windscreen wipers on the car has broken - fortunately on the passenger side - but as we drove along the motorway, with the rain pounding on the window, it all got a little hairy. I kept slamming my foot down on an imaginary brake because I couldn't tell how far the car was away from anything else on the road. Fortunately Nathan was driving, and is unflappable in these sorts of situations.

We were driving to see the parents in Thaxted, and had a big old drama in the country lanes around Stansted Airport as a result of extensive flooding. A man in a passing car indicated for us to stop and wind the window down, to tell us we'd never get through to Thaxted and that he'd just been forced to turn around at Haigh's Farm. It was all rather Winter 1963, but we drove on regardless because we're reckless and macho like that.

At Haigh's Farm, we were greeted by  a scene of carnage. A river appeared to be running through the farm itself, and the road was covered in deep, brown water. A cluster of men in hi-viz jackets were very helpfully stopping cars and telling them that their best chance of getting through was sticking to the left hand side of the road in a sort of "you didn't hear that from me" sort of way. And so we ventured forward, walls of water spraying up the sides of the vehicle. At one point the car started losing power and Nathan went uncharacteristically dramatic and said "that's it. It's over..." Fortunately it wasn't, and we crawled through the flood, and on to Thaxted where a wonderful open fire and a brilliant meal was waiting for us.

Ah! The joys of Thaxted. The cozy smell of wood smoke, the endless cups of tea, the chocolate cakes, occasional lamps, and all the tins and boxes filled with all sorts of useful objects like scissors and bits of string. The parents were on great form, and my Mum was looking almost regal in purple and olive green.

My Dad has bought himself a brand new poppy-red mini, which is a thing of great, great beauty. We watched the Strictly Come Dancing results show, marvelling at how everyone attempts to maintain the illusion that the show hasn't been recorded the night before. "Oh look!" Said my Mum, sarcastically, "Mary Berry's come to see the show for a second night running. In the same clothes. And she's still sitting next to Dave from the Hairy Bikers!"

Barry Manilow sang Copa Cobana. Frankly, they weren't going to have him on the show to sing anything else. My Dad maintained that Manilow doesn't have any other songs, which felt a bit unfair! A string quartet of pretty, skinny blonde girls was miming in the background. The rest of the musicians on stage were men. When will the BBC learn that this sort of musical gender stereotyping is the stuff of 1999 and should have died with Westlife? How about we show that musicians can be all kinds of shapes, sizes, ages and colours? God forbid we should see a female drummer, bass player or trumpeter. God forbid we actually get these musicians playing live. (It's the same MU rate after all!) And when will female 'cellist realise they look horribly tacky playing in mini-skirts with their bare legs wrapped around the instrument?! Pet hates! #angry'cellist!

Saturday, 22 November 2014

My thoughts on Emily Thornberry

So it would appear that Labour MP, Emily Thornberry has resigned from the cabinet for the terrible sin of tweeting a picture of a house with three England flags flying outside, with the implication that the owner of said house was a UKIP supporter. In the run up to a bi-election in the same town, I'm afraid I would have made the same assumption. Many of us would have done. But apparently Ms Thornberry is a terrible snob who is completely out of touch with society; part of a breed of elitist politicians who live in posh houses in Islington and have liberal middle-class values which are out of touch with the rest of us. Personally I believe she's apologised for any offence caused, and that should be the end of the matter.

...But no. We are forced into another trial by media. Ched Evans. Dave Lee Travis. Roy Harper. Who will be the next victim of red-topped vigilantism? When will we stop trying to place ourselves above the law makers in this country?

What worries me is that if we continue to cave in to the pressure of the small-minded moral majority, we'll be but one hop, skip and a jump away from bringing back the death penalty, allowing people to smoke in pubs, banning free thought and turning into a dictatorship led by the housewives of Midlands towns.

Sadly, I think Ms Thornberry's resignation says a great deal more about Ed Miliband than it does about her. This is a man whose weight is so far on the back foot that he's in danger of falling backwards into obscurity; a man who is so desperate to stay in power under any circumstance, that he believes the avoidance of a few negative press inches are more important than defending a close friend and loyal member of his team who has stuck by him through thick and thin and whose only crime was implying what most of us were thinking.

Yes, of course people should be able to fly the English flag with pride, wherever they want. I'm the first to argue that England gets a raw deal within the union, but three flags and the white van sitting in the driveway of the same house are indicative of a certain type of person, and I think Miss Thornberry was merely trying to indicate what an uphill climb her party was facing in the area where scenes like that were witnessed.

It turns out that Thornberry, far from being born with a spoon in her mouth, grew up on a council estate and has defended herself by saying she'd "never seen a house where people can't see out of the window because of England flags." Quite right. This is when English pride becomes an aggressive statement and one worthy of comment.

The owner of the house has responded; "I will continue to fly the flags. I don't case who it pisses off. They have been up since the World Cup." I take one slight issue with his statement. The flags aren't flying. They're actually hanging. Drooping.

I believe British society has now reached a cross roads and we have to think very carefully which road we want to take. UKIP are aggressively appealing to the lowest common denominator; the people who think the easy fix to this country's problems is blaming someone else. If we are scared to criticise these views, and rip to shreds the brave few who are putting their heads above the parapet, however misguidedly, then we are lost.

Ask yourself a simple question. Who would you rather run this county? A genteel, middle-class female politician with gentle left wing leanings who supports gay marriage and rights for women, or a white male who would jump ship to an extreme right wing party at the drop of a hat? However I look at this story, I see it as a battle lost for the good guys, and whoever played a role in Ms Thornberry's resignation has specks of blood all over their hands. And yes, that includes you Ed Miliband. You're no leader in my eyes.

Friday, 21 November 2014


You know those days when the s**t hits the fan and just keeps hitting it; almost as though there's a chimpanzee on the prowl, flinging the poo of every member of his extended family directly into the blades? That! My body has reacted physically. My neck is in spasms, it hurts when I swallow and I keep going dizzy. Joy!

I slept for eleven hours last night, and woke up naturally for the first time in an age. As a result, I experienced a series of peculiar dreams as I drifted in and out of sleep. I can't remember any of them, but woke up feeling anxious, so they can't have been a great deal of fun.

The morning was spent emailing. Emailing, emailing. Admin. Admin. We're trying to sort out some potential dates for the Brass cast recording, which is a most complicated jigsaw puzzle, involving the availabilities of fifty young performers, plus, more crucially, a series of recording studios, who all seem to be curiously busy in early January. It's hell on toast.

The frustration really started ramping it up on my way to the gym when I received an email from a friend which made me feel dreadful, and then, as I came out, I found a parking ticket on my car. The last time we went to the gym, we were handed a little permit which allows us to park in the car park for free. I immediately placed mine on the dashboard and said it had to stay there because it's exactly the sort of thing I'd forget. It turns out the silly thing must have blown away, because it was no longer there this afternoon. Hence the fine. Hence me going into slight meltdown.

At that point I simultaneously found out that the two dates I'd earmarked for brass player sessions on Brass were problematic for players, and then, via a generic "Dear Sir/Madam" email, that our song has not been shortlisted for this year's Eurovision. If I'm completely honest, I wasn't really expecting it to be. The BBC plainly has its own desperate-to-fail agenda when it comes to the competition. The generic letter was at least one step-up on the response to the last song I entered, which wasn't even acknowledged! Apparently, due to the large number of people who entered, they can't give us individual feedback regarding why we weren't selected, but they very kindly wished me luck in the future. Talk about feeling crushed by a brutal machine. I'm a soddin' BBC composer! And I'm 40!

I personally believe that if people have taken time to find singers and create demos, and you're a subsidised broadcaster, you have a duty to find the five minutes it takes to tell them why they've not been successful. They plainly weren't inundated with entries. Frankly, anyone with an ounce of compassion would realise that you have to be a little bit careful with the feelings of creative people if you want them to continue to create in the future. What makes things even more perplexing is that I'd just sent an email to the woman at the BBC I'd been exchanging countless Eurovision-related emails with, asking if there was any news. A politer individual might have emailed me back with a personal message.

It reminded me of the time I was called in for a meeting with Stephen Daldry and half a tonne of other swanky people about the possibility of my becoming the resident director on Billy Elliot. We had a lovely dinner in a pub and a two-hour chat. A few weeks later, a letter came through the post which read, "Dear Mr Till, thank you for your interest in this position. There were a number of very strong applicants for the role, and I'm really sorry we didn't get a chance to meet with you on this occasion. Good luck with your future career etc etc..." Sometimes a generic letter can cut to the heart!

...Oh, I shall be watching very carefully to see what the BBC actually selects this year. If it's anything short of genius I shall stamp my little foot incredibly hard. And next year? Well, I shall turn my attention to a different European country and show the BBC how it's bloody done!

I'm currently speeding my way back to Highgate after a phone message from my neighbour, Little Welsh Natalie, who tells me that we are currently experiencing a power cut! A power cut?! Oh joy of joys! What next?

Basically, the moral of this blog is that if anyone else has some poo to fling at me, they might as well do it right now. Gladiators? Ready! Poo flingers? Ready! I'm gonna eat myself into a coma.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

First day of winter

I'm currently trying to get over this cold/ nervous exhaustion thing which is coursing it's way through my body. I'm sitting under a blanket watching a TV programme about the rather stunning Tagg's Island on the Thames out towards Hampton. The island is situated roughly at the start of the non-tidal, calm part of the river, where the water twinkles in the sun, and meanders slowly whilst people swim and mess about in barges and rowing boats.

Tagg's Island is famous for its community of bohemians who all live in house boats permanently moored on the water's edge. They call them house boats, one assumes because they float, but the majority are two story buildings with multiple rooms. I would love to live there. One of the women on the show had a grand piano in her sitting room, with enormous windows looking out onto the river. If I lived there, I'd have a punt in my garden and I'd be as happy as Larry, whoever he is...

I finished and delivered parts two and three of my composition for the Fleet Singers this morning, and sent them off to the choir leaders before heading to the gym, making a detour en route to the shops on the Archway Road. We wanted to put some posters up to advertise the show Julie is producing at Trafalgar Studios next month. The piece promises to be excellent. It's written by my mate Di Sherlock and is a one-woman show based on Dickens' Miss Haversham, which stars theatrical grand dame, Linda Marlowe. With a bit of persuasion and a couple of quid, we managed to get about ten posters up in shop and cafe windows along the street. I'm always happy to go the extra mile for a mate who's taking risks for art. Producing a show is the ultimate risk, and I really hope it works for her.

We had our first casserole of the season for lunch today; a sure sign that we're battening down the hatches and preparing for winter. The heating is now on in the morning and at night, and I'm finding myself searching for long-sleeved tops. I might eat a bowl of porridge for supper. I just have. It was lush.