Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Marching orders

It’s Nathan’s birthday today, and he’s here with me in Leeds! Hurrah. He’s come up to help in the studio whilst I spend the day prepping the filming tomorrow. I also need to have a hair cut because I look like a Yetti... or more specifically because I look like a circle. My hair tends to grow out instead of down, and unfortunately as I get older it also gets finer, so gone are the lustrous curls of my youth, replaced by the sort of thing you’d expect to find on pension day sitting underneath one of those hair dryers waiting for a permanent wave.

The studio is certainly a testing environment. We hit another brick wall today when we discovered that our choir of early music singers had managed to systematically sing a perfect quarter tone flat; or probably, in fairness to them, at baroque pitch, which I’m sure is what they’re used to. At one point I was found with my head face-down in a piano keyboard wondering what on earth I’d done wrong in a former life! We continue to be forced to cut more and more sections of string music. If only I’d have known which few bars were going to end up with, I’d’ve been able to take longer in the studio trying to get them to sound a bit better!!

So, in two hours’ time, I have to say goodbye to the music, put my director’s hat on, and place my trust in Nathan, Hazel and Simon to continue whip my ungainly composition into shape. There’s still so so much to do on it before it can sound like anything other than a wall of confusing sound... and yet my ears are spent and my time has run out.

To make matters slightly worse, the surly teenager who gave me such lip in the studio is still deciding whether she’s going to grace us with her presence for the filming on Friday. She’s apparently going to make up her mind tonight; two days before we’re meant to be filming her. If she doesn’t turn up, I’ll be forced to find a replacement and we’ll have to spend another day in the studio sorting out the vocals, not to mention the expense of another day's shoot. I shouldn’t complain. I should instead try to remember at all times to feel incredibly blessed that she’s even considered lending her dulcet tones and beautiful face to our project.

Sitting in the studio with us on his birthday can’t be much fun for Nathan.I have given him a cake by means of apology and it has 8 candles, one for every year we've been together, which I hope he at least enjoyed blowing out!

350 years ago Pepys’ poor maid, Jane, was still lame. Elizabeth was climbing the walls and had become desperate for some help around the house. Pepys hired a boy called Will, who wasn’t destined to last very long in his employment. He then ordered Elizabeth to kill six pigeons, which he proceeded to eat with his friend, Mr Hawley, who’d also worked for Mr Downing back in the dark days when Pepys was a humble clerk.

Pepys spent the afternoon walking all over London; visiting friends near St Giles, Cripplegate before heading back down to Whitehall where he saw a great many “fine antique heads of marble” that Lord Northumberland had presented to the King in an attempt to garner forgiveness him for his previous commonwealth leanings. But how old were these antiques? What constituted a 17th Century antique, I wonder? And would these marble heads still be around today?

Pepys’ final job of the day was to “pay off” Miss Ann, who keen readers of this blog will remember as the gorgon who worked for Mrs Jemima; Montagu’s unfortunate daughter with the bizarre neck problems. Miss Anne had done nothing but complain to Pepys during her time in Mrs Jem’s service; especially during the winter when she herself was bedridden. How sweet it therefore must have been for Pepys to finally get the opportunity to award her with her marching orders!

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Who'd be a composer?

I woke up this morning feeling like I’d been smacked in the face, kicked in the stomach and then buried alive. I barely slept last night. It was hot and humid and I had a great deal of nonsense floating around in my head. I was in the studio with Simon until almost midnight and then back again at 9am. Ridiculously I woke up at 6am. Leeds seems to become a bustling metropolis at about this time; a fact I find somewhat confusing.

Hazel changed the guard with Simon at 4pm but I had to stay and now I’m so tired I’m almost hallucinating. A few minutes ago, I was looking at a wave form on the computer screen and it started to resemble some kind of horrific ant-like insect which actually started to make me feel a bit queasy! Despite all this, I'm a lot calmer this evening, knowing I behaved like some kind of wound-up plastic toy from Taiwan earlier on. Poor Simon really drew the short straw. He's been put in charge of tuning, and in the case of movement 2, not one instrument is playing in tune! The strings are all over the place, which means when the woodwind came into the studio, they all recorded their passages at slightly different pitches. It’s impossible to know which instrument, or set of instruments to tune to and I’ve been a right mardy so and so as a result! Fortunately Simon has one of my most even temperaments I've ever come across and always manages to bring me back from the brink of despair, when really he'd be well within his rights to tell me just to bugger off! This has officially become the most difficult project I've ever worked on, and this morning, when another technical crisis hit us like a piano dropping from a thrid floor flat, I hit an all time low. I've now lost all sense of whether the music I've written is any good. Who'd be a composer!?

So, yet again we’ve been forced to extend the recording deadline. Nathan has now been summoned to Leeds to take over in the studio whilst I’m prepping for the filming. With any luck at all, we should be done by Friday. Well that’s the theory in any case.

In the meantime, I have to work out how I’m going to get through the next 20 days without collapsing, offending someone unreasonably or entirely losing my mind. The weather forecast for Friday currently suggests “sunny spells”, but I'm told it’s going to tip it down on Thursday, so we’re by no means out of the woods just yet. More worryingly, Friday is our day of filming on the North Yorkshire moors, which, as we discovered recently, seems to have its own, very bizarre microclimate... No doubt if it's not chucking it down, we'll not be able to see the woods for the fog!

Friday 29th June 1660, and Pepys started his diary entry with the news that his beloved wench, Jane Birch, had been lame for the past few days. She'd been bed-ridden all this time and no one seemed to know what to do for her. Poor girl.

The rest of the day was spent rushing around Whitehall having official papers drawn up which legalised his position as Clerk of the Acts and Montagu’s status as the new Earl of Portsmouth (soon to be Sandwich). Pepys was shocked and somewhat worried to find his predecessor had appeared in town and was sniffing around his previous post, making Pepys even more keen to get things signed, sealed and delivered as soon as possible. A possible over-reaction, because it transpires there hadn't been an official Clerk of the Acts for some 20 years! Pepys' rival was ancient!

Monday, 28 June 2010

Quivering wreck

This week promises to be the week from hell. I'm committed to working 16 hour days in the recording studio for the first half of the week and then have just one day to prepare before we start shooting on Friday... I’m going to be a quivering wreck by the time we've finished.

We’re recording an autoharp player at the moment. He’s come in to plug up a gap that was left by some dreadful playing that we spotted just too late to re-record. Unfortunately the process seems to be taking forever. Autoharps are notoriously difficult to tune and every time we record a new chord, the whole thing seems to have dropped in pitch! I think we asked for the instrument to be retuned on 8 separate occasions.

It’s incredibly frustrating for us to find ourselves recording instruments so late into the process. We should be mixing and yet all we're doing is mopping up; and sadly we seem to be using a dirty mop. I just want to bury my head in my hands. It’s so hard to remain upbeat when your head is thumping and you’re watching the precious minutes sliding away...

Meanwhile various musicians seem to have decided that the entire filming process needs to revolve around them. They don’t seem to want to comprehend that we have 220 other musicians, all requiring attentioin. Alison is climbing the walls, and I’m faced with the hideous prospect of filming certain musicians in totally inappropriate locations. I’m getting a very strong sense that some people actually believe they’re doing us a favour by deigning to take part in the project, which is something I’ve not experienced before in one of these projects... We’re actually being asked to structure our filming days around MOTs and trips to the dentist.

To make matters worse, we've now completely lost all records of one particular musician’s input in the project. It’s like he never came into the studio. It’s messes like this that are setting us further and further back and making me doubt that we’re actually going to succeed.

The journey back up to Leeds was uneventful. Nathan and I were both upset to be saying goodbye to one another after what seemed like too short a time together. I had so much homework to do last night that we barely spent any time watching TV and eating pizza, which is the one thing we’d promised each other we’d do. He sat at the sitting room window this morning and waved at me for my entire journey to the tube. Highgate Underground is in a dell beneath where we live, and it’s possible to follow someone’s progress all the way from leaving our back door, to the moment they disappear down the steps into the station. Every time I looked back at the house he was waving, until he was nothing but a tiny speck in an endless row of windows. There was something rather upsetting about watching him slowly vanishing in that manner.
...And so the mixing process continues and every new instrument I hear seems to want to throw spears into my ears. I feel my heart beating a little heavier.

The 28th June 1660, and Pepys met up with his brother, Tom, who brought him a set of suit patterns to look through. Tom was following in his father’s footsteps and training to be a tailor, and Pepys was taking full advantage of the fact. Tom was an unfortunate chap, with a speech impediment and a seemingly uncontrollable desire to sleep with women who occupied the lower social echelons. One suspects this was because his issues made him undesirable to ladies of higher social standing.

Pepys visited his former boss, Mr Downing. Back in February he was terrified of the man; terrified of making mistakes, of losing his job, but now that he was Clerk of the Acts, he didn’t give a damn and finally put pen to paper to write what he was no-doubt thinking all along; “he is so stingy a fellow I care not to see him.”

Pepys then pottered across Whitehall to visit Montagu who was still in bed at 11am, having partied hard with the King the night before.

He then went to the Clothworker’s Hall for dinner with Elizabeth and Mrs Pierce, the surgeon’s wife. He describes the hall as “brave” and wrote that whilst they ate they were treated to some very fine music. Pepys was particularly proud of himself to recognise the singing of a young man who he’d previously only heard behind a curtain performing in a pit orchestra. Fair dos to him. Unless this singer had a dreadful lisp, or sung like a frog, Pepys must have had a pretty good ear. I could do with him in the studio right now. I seem to have lost the ability to tell whether a particularly awful French horn player is playing sharp or flat. All I know is that it sounds awful!!

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Sequins Reign Supreme

I understand that England limped out of the World Cup today, losing to Germany by 4 goals to 1, which is an almost tragic result. On the plus side, it will finally bring to an end the state of blind delusion that seems to have been gripping our country. So many people I’ve spoken to over the past few days seem to have been convinced that England could pull it out the bag when it mattered, despite absolutely everything pointing towards the fact that our national team are nothing but a worthless bunch of overpaid layabouts. I firmly believe that the squad should be drawn exclusively from championship league players; that way, at least, they might stand a chance of actually functioning as a team instead of a group of preening have-a-go, goal-hanging heroes. A hugely embarrassing episode…

It’s the hottest day of the year today and temperatures in London have reached 30 degrees. I sat in a pocket park in Islington earlier on and could have been in Madrid. I'm terrified that the weather will break before we start filming The Yorkshire Symphony on Friday and am still being haunted by horrific images of 'cellists slipping down the sides of muddy mountains and violinists refusing to take their expensive instruments outside in case they’re destroyed by flash storms. I pray that God will bring us long days of sunshine, and glorious sunsets.

Today began with breakfast at Penny’s house in Hackney. We ate eggs and delicious croissants whilst sitting in her gloriously bohemian house, which reminds me of a commune on the outskirts of Potton that I spent much of my childhood exploring. Penny is the woman to whom I owe my career. She is the person who commissioned Hampstead Heath: The Musical, and allowed a failing theatre director to become  what I am today (a failing film maker!) We had some work to do, and our meeting started at the breakfast table and finished in a community centre watching Penny’s 7-year-old daughter, Sparky, doing a ballroom dancing exam!  It was a suitably eccentric way to go about things and it introduced me to another world, where sequins, pushy mothers, and extraordinarily camp dance instructors reign supreme!

I’ve just returned from Sadlers Wells theatre where I watched Nathan performing in The Day Before Spring. He did a wonderful job, playing a larger than life Tigger-like character in a piece which was charming in a light-weight kind of way. The audience was full of old people, all of whom seemed to be classical musical theatre fanatics. And who could blame them? This musical comes from an era when people knew how to write music. Lerner and Loewe were serious melodists. I can’t remember when I last came out of a theatre humming tunes from a musical I was watching for the first time. So few modern day musical theatre writers seem to understand the importance of a stonking tune.

After the show, I sat in the pub talking to the wonderful actor, Harry Landis. He was uplifting company. He’s a direct contemporary of my mentor, Arnold Wesker, and grew up, like 'Nold, in the old Jewish East End. We talked for hours about beigels, cracked Yiddish gramophone records and the Blitz. We then discussed the golden age of British theatre in the 1950s and 60s, where politics and drama collided magnificently both on and off the stage. This was the era of the workers revolutionary party; the time when playwrights boycotted productions of their own plays and when Arnold Wesker sued the Royal Shakespeare Company. Ah! Those were the days…

Pepys, too, was in a nostalgic frame on mind on this date 350 years ago. He spent some time at the end of the day in the garret in the turret of Montagu’s London residence playing music in the dark, appreciating the acoustic up there, no doubt also rejoicing in the thought that he’d moved on so comprehensively from the situation he was in when he lived with Elizabeth in that tiny attic room. The official papers had been signed earlier on which officially made him Clerk of the Acts, on a salary of 350 pounds a year. He was rocketing through the echelons of society. 

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Guitar Hero

I am writing this blog on my iPhone. Heaven knows if I'll be able to post it. I am currently in Brighton train station, having had a rather magical day of sun, swimming, fair ground rides and almost unbroken laughter! I've been here with my friends Jim, Nicky, Philippa, Rob and Hilary. Highlights have to include listening to Jim as he screamed his way around the Crazy Mouse ride, paddling, and then swimming in the coldest water known to man. Quote of the day came from Hilary, who, after 30 seconds of continual bouncing on one particular ride, screamed "here comes lunch"!

We took photographs in front of the setting sun and spent some time staring at the ruined pier, which looked like an appirition in the milky half light. We met a pair of entertaining drunkards sitting outside a bar on the pier. One of them looked like John Terry and talked nothing but nonsense.

My god daughter played Guiter Hero in an amusement arcarde and Nicky thrashed me at air hockey. I also discovered that some of my friends, upon reading certain passages of my blog, assumed I was actually working in Costa Coffee rather than simply going there to write!

The 26th June 1660, and Montagu decided he wanted to become Lord Portsmouth after being enobled. Quite when he decided to become Lord Sandwich instead, I'm not sure, but the title of Portsmouth ended up belonging to one of the King's mistresses!

It was a confusing day for Pepys who was offered 500 pounds not to accept his new post. So confused in fact that he spared a few words in his diary to directly ask the Almighty for a bit of guidance.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Where is the nearest Alton Towers?

I’m back in London, sitting in my brother’s riverside flat, listening to a moody Russian folk song, whilst looking across the black Thames towards the Millennium Dome. We’ve just been for a lovely Portuguese meal, right by the side of the water. It was a charming spot, and I suspect it would have been rather fabulous food, if they’d had something vegetarian on the menu. In the end I had to make do with a skewer of grilled vegetables for my starter, followed by a skewer of grilled vegetables with rice for my main! I get rather irritated by restaurants who stubbornly refuse to offer vegetarian alternatives. I understand that some people love meat, and can't be bothered to cook food that they think is going to taste bland, but this is the 21st Century and we live in a country where at least 5% of people are vegetarian. Conversation flowed rather wonderfully, however, and top marks have to go to our friend Daniel, who’s obviously been living in America rather too long, for when the topic of Alton Towers came up, he asked; “where is the nearest Alton Towers?” Oh how I laughed... (And for the Americans reading this blog, his question was a bit like asking where the nearest Coney Island is. Alton Towers is very much lacking a franchise!)

I travelled back to London this morning after a quick coffee with Siobhan in Leeds. Shiv produced Coventry Market The Musical brilliantly and seems to be the person at the BBC everyone phones if they want to find out how to make one of my musical films. Apparently she gets contacted all the time by people in the regions who think it might be possible to make a musical in a week. She spends many hours trying to explain that they take time, money and a huge amount of expertise. She looked very well and seemed relieved to be escaping her Leeds-based mother-in-law for a few hours. I finally got to meet her daughter Tilley, who was born just before we shot our film. She was very shy, and upon meeting me turned her head resolutely to one side, and promptly fell asleep.

I took the 10.05 from Leeds station. It was a pleasant enough journey, until we reached Peterborough when THE smelliest woman in the world decided to plonk herself in the seat next to me. I watched her as she limped her way towards me, sweating profusely, dragging her obese, rotting body down the aisle. The stench was one of mothballs, halitosis and cheesy poo. I was trying to eat a muffin at the time, and she entirely put me off it. At one point I actually gagged. To make matters worse, the poor woman then decided to engage me in conversation, and I was forced further and further into the corner of my seat. Eventually, I couldn’t bear it anymore, and spent the rest of the journey standing by the loos outside of the carriage.

After arriving in London, I hot-footed it across to Limehouse where we recorded some extra double bass parts for the symphony to make up for the music that we didn’t have time to record in our dreadful string session last week.

The 25th of June 1660, and a number of people were expressing their anger at the appointment of Pepys as Clerk of the Acts. At one stage (according to our hero) Lady Monck herself was asked to intervene, but Montagu refused to stand down. Pepys was his man and he was standing by him. There was a potentially awkward moment when Pepys met the man who was currently doing the job, but both men resolved to behave like gentlemen, Pepys claiming, "he was very civil to me, and I to him, and shall be so..." I'm sure civility is far easier if you're the man who's being parachuted into a position, but Pepys was not a man who made many enemies.

Thursday, 24 June 2010


Today we began the enormous task of working through the symphony in detail. Sadly, we’re having to do an incredible amount of remedial work; there’s some kind of mistake on almost every single instrument in almost every single bar. Part of me hates having to spend all this time mopping up. Musicians at all levels can be fairly arrogant and assume all too often that they're making a wonderful noise regardless of the reality. Some came out of the studio moaning, saying things like; "he made me do it over and over again until it was perfect". Well, yes, that's my job! But it shouldn't be my job to make people who couldn't be bothered to practice sound like mini-virtuosos! Unfortunately, I have to, because I don't want anyone to feel rubbish and I refuse to allow the overall quality of the piece to be brought down by a few rogue elements. Things are slowly beginning to come together, however, and for the first time I think Hazel the engineer got a sense of what this piece could be. I had a few rushes of excitement as well, but the bottom line remains that we only have three more days left in the studio and there is an almost bewildering amount to do. I have requested that Hazel and Simon do split days from now on. If needs be, I’ll be in the studio from 9am til midnight. This work is gathering so much steam that nothing short of perfection will now do!

The highlight of today was definitely recording the wonderful Bhupinder Chaggar playing the tabla. Watching him tuning his drums with a tiny metal hammer was almost hypnotic. He had a i-phone application which played the droning sound of a tempura, and used that to tune to a G and a D to fit in with the music that we’d asked him to play. He is a true master of the instrument and I feel hugely privileged to have him involved in the piece.

This evening, after we’d finished in the studio, I walked all the way home from Leeds 13 to my apartment near the station. It took over an hour, but the sunshine was intense, and I felt as happy as Larry.

Tomorrow, I’m heading back to London for the weekend. It’s the last break I’ll get before I deliver the symphony and I can’t wait. I’m missing Nathan rather a lot and am looking forward to snuggling up on the sofa with a pizza watching crappy telly. I’m also almost desperate for a bath. This shower-only thing is beginning to make my muscles ache!

Pepys started his day 350 years ago with a morning draft at Harper’s Tavern in Whitehall. Curiously, he also brought a pair of gloves there. Perhaps a peddler was wandering around with a bag full of things to sell, or maybe taverns in those days doubled as mini-bazaars. Not much else happened during the day. It was a Sunday, and Pepys spent much of his time wondering around London looking for his master like a lost puppy. He went to church, met up with friends, laughed at some “simple” letters written by his friend Lieutenant Lambert, but there was really only one thing on his mind; the prestigious job he was soon to start as Clerk of the Acts.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

The longest tennis match ever

I'm currently watching the longest tennis match in the history of Wimbledon, in fact any Grand Slam tournament. Mahut vs Isner. It’s the final set and the score is currently 50 games all! 50 games all!! 50! The crowd is going nutty! I have never seen anything like it. Surely it won’t end until one of them falls over, or simply dies. The umpire seems to be losing his voice. Nathan’s just texted to say the previous record for aces in a single Wimbledon match was 51; but that Isner now has 83, and Mahut is not far behind with 70! I think the England team could learn a great deal about commitment and stamina from watching this match. And on that note, I'm secretly pleased, but outwardly horrified that they’ve made it through to the quarter finals of the World Cup. They certainly don’t deserve it, but what would the World Cup be without them crashing out in a horrific penalty shoot during the quarter finals?

We’ve had another day of travel around Yorkshire and another day of glorious sunshine. We started the day on the "Wuthering Heights" above Haworth. They look absolutely splendid at this time of year. I feel ashamed to be mentioning flowers yet again in this blog, but I’ve never seen amber coloured dandelions before. They’re spectacular little things!

We visited the Ovenden Wind Farm and then a disused quarry where we stumbled upon a group of men with rotary saws taking a burnt out car apart, one assumes to use for scrap metal. En route to Sheffield we passed through what has to be the most beautiful village in Yorkshire. It’s called Booth, and it seems to be on two levels; the upper level is charming enough, but nestling at the bottom of the valley, underneath a steep slope covered in patchwork fields is the most picturesque terrace of houses. I immediately imagined living there; friends coming to visit and picnicking on the hillside, until the cameraman reminded me how dreadfully cut off these places become in the winter, and suddenly city living became a somewhat less arduous concept.

We found even more interesting locations in Sheffield. I was particularly taken with the bustle and colour of the Hillsborough district, but just when I thought I’d seen as much magic as it was possible to see, we stumbled upon the village of High Bradfield, which sits up in the Yorkshire part of the Peak District. The following picture was taken there. If you haven’t spent much time in Yorkshire, I urge you to visit. Around every corner lies another gem. This really is God’s own county!

The 23rd June 1660 was the date the King had decided to touch people suffering from Scrofula; a tubercular infection, which was also known as The King’s Evil, because it was said the disease could be cured by the touch of a consecrated King. Sufferers went to a service where many prayers were offered, and were then given a gold coin, or "touchpiece" which had been handled by the King. These would be worn around the neck until the illness was cured. It is said than on this occasion over 600 people turned up to be touched by the King, but sadly, according to Pepys, it rained, and the King was not prepared to get wet so “the poor people were forced to stand all the morning in the rain in the garden.” Later on the King touched 200 of them in the relative dry of the Banquetting House.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

America The Beautiful

We’re currently driving from Pickering to York with cameraman, Keith on a location scouting mission. It is the most glorious of days, which reminds me of those endless summers of my childhood. We’ve been driving through the Yorkshire Moors with the smell of dust, cow parsley and wild garlic drifing in through the open windows of the car. Rievaulx Abbey felt strangely atmospheric earlier on; rather still and contemplative as though it were taking a few moments to bask underneath the powder blue sky. We ate ice cream in Helmsley before heading north into the moors and finding a delightful little farm clinging to a hillside, which we immediately fell for. The countryside around it felt almost mid-Western. In one direction, pine trees stretched out as far as the eye could see. There was a Reader’s Digest Book book at my Nana’s house called America the Beautiful, and I used to sit and stare at all these pictures of places I longed to visit, but somehow knew I never would. That view reminded me of a page from that book, and instantly brought back that same childhood feeling of excitement tinged with melancholy.

The heather is just beginning to flower on the moors, and within the next few weeks all the hillsides will be covered in a deep purple blanket. Nothing could be as spectacular as the poppies, however. We’ve just passed a field which looks like a Persian rug. In the bright sunshine those delicate little flowers are surely nature’s most incredible gift.

It’s with a great sense of calmness that I enter my old stomping ground of York; merrily thinking about university adventures. Faces of old friends bubble up in the murky haze of my memory. Whatever happened to Madaleine Pennell, Clare Skiffington, Hector McAndrew and all those chaps who shared my corridor in the first year?

The 22nd June 1660, and Pepys was once again a busy man; covering impossibly large areas of London; drinking with friends, rejoicing in his new found status, and congratulating others on theirs. England was changing fast, and a brand new set of faces were establishing themselves as the movers and shakers.

Pepys wrote about drinking a can of good jelup; which was an intensely sweet liquid, often consumed as a comforter, a medicine or a laxative. Take your pick, but if you opt for the latter, take a moment to consider the plight of poor Lady Middlesex, who according to idle gossip reported to Pepys on this day, apparently “beshit herself the other day in the presence of the King” – how embarrassing.

Monday, 21 June 2010

The longest of longest days

The longest day. And It’s been a terribly long day. We’re finally putting everything together in the studio but unfortunately things are not sounding too good. There are rough ends all over the place. Tuning is appalling. Some groups are playing almost a semi-tone sharper than others so that everything played at once sounds just awful. The strings en masse sound a bit like members of a junior orchestra; which frustrates me because they were the only professional players we engaged in the whole project. It also makes the entire walk-out episode during their session seem even more... well unprofessional. I say fair enough if you’ve played like Gods but if the noises you generate make it clear you haven't looked at the music in advance, then you have to be prepared to stay until you get it right.

Worse than this, even though we thought we'd been really careful with timings, recording everything to a click track, we discovered that in many cases, people are playing so so far away from each other in terms of the beat that at some points it sounds like all the musicians have entered some kind of echo chamber. At the moment, apart from the third movement, the whole thing is a cacophony. It's a proper mess and I have to take a great deal of the responsibility for this. In my defence, I suppose, we didn’t have the time to finesse anything we recorded - and musicians were being pushed to the very limits of their abilities - but once again, that comes back down to me. I really don't want to let the people of Yorkshire down.

Not everything is lost. There are obviously things we can do that will improve things, but all of these processes are horribly time consuming and I’m so tired right now that I can’t keep the spirits up in the recording studio. We have huge holes as well; specifically moments where I was forced to cut all the strings either because they played so badly or because they were playing so badly we ran out of time in the session. This leaves us with whole sections of woodwind music that now don't work out of context. So we have to think of alternatives; which include bringing in guitarists and other musicians to develop or pad out the sound. It’s moments like this that I wonder if I’ve been too ambitious and pushed the whole project over the edge. Perhaps some things just aren't achievable. I sincerely hope I’ll look back on today as the lowest point in the project.

Unfortunately I'm away from the studio for the next two days checking out locations with our cameraman, so all of this is going to be on my mind, niggling away, making me doubt myself continually. In life I've tried my hardest to continually push and push to make things bigger, better and more professional and I suppose I’m always waiting for the moment when I mess up and fall flat on my face because I’ve finally bitten off rather more than I can chew. I really hope I'll be able to pull something incredible out of the bag... Not just for me, but for all the musicians who have given us their time and worked like crazy people to be part of the most ambitious community project that surely can ever have been attempted.

Pepys spent the longest day of 1660 rushing around London in a typically Pepysian style. There was a trip to the King’s Great Wardrobe, which was situated between modern day Blackfriars and Mansion House. It was to become Montagu’s Grace and Favour London residence. Unfortunately when they got there, they discovered a group of poor children “in tawny clothes” who’d been living there for the past 11 years. These children were unceremoniously dispatched with a few gold coins to make way for Montagu and his grand lifestyle.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Tantrums and tiaras

It’s been a mixed day in the Purple Pro studios and it’s had more than its fair share of tantrums and tiaras. We timed out and lost a French horn player very early in the morning. I threw a few books around and shouted at a stroppy teenager. Same old, same old, really. Today’s renegades included a transvestite farmer, a 12-piece wind ensemble, a singing barrister, 2 rappers, an extraordinary burlesque performer and a stunning jazz singer. The highlight was probably the Millhouse Green male voice choir; a brilliantly disciplined group, with a wonderful conductor, who smacked us round our exhausted faces with a dose of proper Yorkshire pride just when we needed it most.

We had a big boost last night upon listening to a completely unmixed version of the third movement of the symphony. It’s the dark movement; the one that features all the rock stuff, and it’s already beginning to sound pretty exciting. It bristles and there’s something rather raw and electrifying about it.

Today’s low point arrived in the shape of a young lady from Doncaster, who shambled into the studio, 2 hours late and had absolutely no idea what she was doing. I was particularly unimpressed because she’d asked for a copy of the “piano accompaniment” for her section of singing so that her piano teacher could help her to learn the music. I duly spent about an hour creating something that she could use. Obviously a symphony doesn’t often come with a piano accompaniment! When I asked why she hadn’t taken said music to her teacher, having requested it, she told me that her piano teacher had gone away on holiday. When I asked why she hadn’t got in touch with us to tell us this fact, I got a surly shrug. There was certainly never an apology for the time we wasted as she stumbled her way through her section. I worry she’ll forget to drag her grumpy arse to the filming and leave us all in the lurch. To think how many people I turned down to give her a chance...

We’re currently recording the top half of the brilliant Yorkshire wind ensemble; two flutes and an oboe. It’s a privilege to have them play my music.

Wednesday June 20th 1660 and Pepys was very relieved to receive the money he’d sent away to be exchanged from Dutch currency into English money. He’d been panicking that he’d never see it again, ever since handing it over to someone whilst still on the Nazeby.

Pepys dined at home today, which must have felt like a wonderful change. His wife, since arriving back in London, had busied herself turning their dwelling into a home again.

In the evening, after a day of letter writing and ordering people around, he went out drinking to the Bear Tavern on Fleet Street with his father and one Mr Swan, who Pepys obviously had little time for because he described him as a hypocrite. And this wasn’t the first insult. Previous diary entries refer to him as a “fanatic” and a “very rogue”. I say! Poor Mr Swan.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Luva Gunk

It’s all been a bit frustrating again in the studio today, although as the day has drawn on, things have started to improve. The bottom line remains that due to the almost unstoppable parade of musicians passing through the live room, we’ve still not had an opportunity to work through what we already recorded to decide whether it’s good enough to use or needs more work. At the moment we’re just piling track upon track and all of our ears have become horribly tired. To make matters worse a number of people simply haven’t turned up to the studio for their slots. At the latest count we’ve lost all three violinists from one section of music, which means no one’s playing in those bars! Sometimes I wonder why anyone would go to the trouble of agreeing to come to a recording studio, only to forget to do so or just decide just not to show up... And then there are the bed bug bites which are itching like crazy!

So, today we’ve recorded a flute choir, the Hull Youth orchestra, a folk fiddler, a ukulele orchestra and now we’ve moved on to record the top half of our rock band, Luva Gunk. I think we could well be here fairly late into the night, which is a slight issue because I’m now so tired I’m actually starting to panic! I certainly feel like I’ve lost all sense of objectivity. My ears are now a mass of crazy, bizarre harmonics and I've suddenly realised exactly what old people mean when they say they can’t see the wood for the trees!

Pepys was a busy man 350 years ago and set up even more money making schemes. I guess once you’ve popped you just can’t stop. Money breeds money... and countless other sundry clich├ęs.

It was a particularly important day for Montagu who “entered” the House of Commons and was immediately given official thanks for the vital role he played in bringing the King back home.

On his way home, Pepys was intercepted by one of the servants of Lady Elizabeth Pickering who took him to see his mistress. Lady Elizabeth needed Montagu’s help and figured the best route to him was via Pepys. Her husband had been a rather important Parliamentarian and had even stood as one of the commissioners of the high court responsible for Charles 1st’s trial. The only thing he had going for him was that he hadn’t signed the actual death warrant. There were many in similar positions, and all were trying to wheedle their way out of the death penalty. But it was an expensive business and it had fallen to his well-connected wife to try to lobby for his mercy. On this occasion she discreetly slipped Pepys five guineas wrapped in paper and asked that he did what he could to help. Something obviously worked. Her husband eventually escaped major punishment.

Pepys' wife returned to London with her maid, Jane Birch and their dog. They’d all moved back into their Axe Yard dwelling and Pepys returned home to find a “quantity of chocolate left for me, I know not from whom.” Blimey. How good would that be right now?

Friday, 18 June 2010

Purple violins

Today’s been a particularly fine day in the studio. We’ve had so many highlights, including Ed Alleyne-Johnson, the extraordinary electric violin pioneer, the wonderfully precise Ebor singers, and the Yorkshire saxophone choir, who against all my expectations absolutely blew my mind by bringing a level of professionalism to the live room which set new standards. Musician after musician passed through the studio hugely well prepared, and even though we found ourselves running considerably behind at one stage, I’m really pleased with the work we’ve done. I’m also thrilled with the team we’ve built around us. Hazel and Simon the producer/engineers, Dan the conductor and Alison from BBC Leeds have all achieved mini-miracles within the last week and simultaneously kept me buoyant at all times. I am absolutely indebted to each one of them.

...And for those of you who aren’t aware of the work of Ed Alleyne-Johnson, have a listen to this clip on you tube. We found him busking on the streets of York, and I asked him to take part in the symphony, unaware that I was speaking to the man who’d written and performed the Purple Violin Concerto; the man who was really the first violinist to experiment with looping and pedal techniques. He’s basically a God... Listen to him here

Speaking of Gods, Pepys was a busy man on this date 350 years ago. He spent the day working for Montagu, dipping his fingers into all kinds of pies in the hope that a bit of money might legitimately find its way into his pocket. Pepys then went with his master by barge to Trinity House in Deptford, where they had “great entertainment”. Sadly he isn’t specific about what form this entertainment took.

It was later in the day that Montagu took Pepys to one side to tell him that he was going to make him Clerk of the Acts; a hugely important position which would make him responsible for the entire secretarial side of the Navy Board’s work.

True to form, Elizabeth’s brother Balty, re-appeared, once again begging Pepys to use his position and reputation to help to find him a position which more suited the role he felt he was owed by his upbringing. Pepys, as always was reticent, bordering on condescending.

Thursday, 17 June 2010


I woke up this morning thinking about Popcorn; not the food but the classic Moog-inspired instrumental track. I don’t know why it suddenly sprung to mind and I even had to phone Nathan to ask him what it was actually called. I did some research and discovered that the version we all know by Hot Butter actually goes all the way back to 1971, which confused me because it feels so quintessentially 1980s.

I was even more surprised to discovered that the Hot Butter track is actually a cover of a piece of music which was written and recorded by Gershon Kingsley in 1969 - and you must must listen to it... right now!

Am I the only person who thinks this piece of music is mind-numbingly ahead of its time? When I first heard it, I actually gasped, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I started to feel emotional. I’m really not sure why it's had such a visceral effect on me and I’d love to know if anyone else finds it as extraordinary.

I shaved my beard off a few days ago, and have been feeling somewhat naked ever since. That said, it’s probably also shaved a number of years off the age that I look. There’s nothing like a big grey goatee to demonstrate you’re no longer as vibrant as you used to be... or indeed would like to be.

It's been a really tough day in the studio and my feet and legs are aching. We’re now dealing with people with much smaller sections of music to play, and I’ve been horrified to discover how few of them have bothered to learn what they're playing. Simon, the engineer asked a couple of the younger ones if they’d been practising and were told; “not really.” And boy did it show; to the extent that we’re now having to go out of our way to make some people sound even half-decent, which isn't fair on the musicians who've worked really hard who have subsequently been given less time in the studio. We’re also having a number of glitches with the music software; possibly because it's overwhelmed by the sheer number of musicians who are already playing on the tracks but more likely because it's me... and I have an adverse effect on all technology. It’s no life for any of us. We were meant to have the evening off today, but most people were so rubbish, we just had to keep plodding on...

June 17th 1660 was a Sunday and Pepys had a good lie-in before heading off to church. He noted that church organs on this date were played for the first time since Cromwell had called for their removal in 1644. This must have appealed greatly to the musician in Pepys but sat fairly uncomfortably with that inner-Puritan who hated fancy polyphony and felt music, particularly sacred music, should be as simplistic as possible. None of this stopped our hero from using church as a shop window for ogling attractive women, and today was no different; “just by the window that I stood at sat Mrs. Butler, the great beauty”

Wednesday, 16 June 2010


June 16th is Bloomsday; the day that James Joyce’s Ulysees took place. I hope they’re out on the streets of Dublin celebrating the life of the greatest Irish author. As a student, I directed a version of the final "Molly Bloom" soliloquy from the book, which I consider to be one of the most sensuous pieces of writing of all time. Kate Bush’s Sensual World is also based on this famous stream of consciousness. Famously, the Joyce Estate wouldn’t allow her to directly quote passages from the book. Had the fools not heard the claustrophobic majesty of Wuthering Heights? If you’re unaware of the joys of The Sensual World; take a look at its sensual video here

And if you haven’t read Ulysees, I suggest you do so immediately; but start at chapter two, cus chapter one is heavy going, man...

It’s almost midnight, and I’m still in the recording studio. At the moment we’re recording the fabulous Circus Envy. I’m so tired that I’m getting hysterical, and pulling rude words out of thin air at regular intervals whilst tittering to myself inanely...

It’s been a very very long day which has produced a mixed bag of musicians. Thank God for Hazel and Simon and the staff here at Purple Pro audio in Leeds, who are literally keeping me alive! Highlights of the day include a fabulous saxophone player, a singer with a voice which sounded like galaxy chocolate, and a wash board player who wore a very funky shirt... There were a few more troublesome moments, and I was very sad to discover that our glorious harp player, who is the heart and soul of this symphony, has somewhat lost her Mojo. Apparently she’d been up for Britain’s Got Talent, but been pulled apart by Simon Cowell in front of the live audience. Those talent shows have a lot to answer to. It should never be forgotten that all of the people who make it in front of the panel have got through countless auditions; during which time they’ve been told again and again how good they are. That’s why these hideous unfortunates, who appear to be the most deluded people on the planet always seem so surprised when they don’t get through. They’ve had smoke blown up their arses by blood thirsty producers desperate for decent television. I can only assume our harpist had a bad day when she saw Cowell, or simply that Cowell hasn’t got the musicality or passion to understand that what she does is remarkable, touching and utterly unique.

Apparently Pepys didn’t wear enough clothes on this date 350 years ago. He wore just one shirt “which brought me a great cold and pain.” Obviously a bit of a softie.

His day included a trip to the Admiralty office, where someone took him aside and let him into a scandalous secret, that the Nazeby had caught fire whilst the King was on board... Pepys was understandably horrified and quashed the rumour immediately!

He then went to Whitehall Palace to attend the King and found the whole experience to be “infinitely tedious.” One of the perils of having a King, and being invited into his inner circle, was having to hang around for long periods of time looking obsequious and no doubt kissing every hand that wafted past.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010


I’m looking at what can only be described as a biblical sunset. Huge streaks of orange light seem to be shooting up from behind an ink black cloud. I’ve been stuck in a recording studio for what seems like the last 48 hours and don’t think I’ve seen daylight in all this time. The experience of looking at such an attractive sky, which is now darkening to reveal a perfect crescent moon, is therefore all the more enjoyable. Less enjoyable is the fact that my flat up here would appear to have either bedbugs or fleas because my legs and arms are now covered in little tiny itchy insect bites. More on this revelation once I’ve caught one of the little critters in the act and punished him severely!

It’s been quite a time and I’m so exhausted I seem to have forgotten my name. Yesterday was hell on earth and presented me with my very first walk-out by a set of musicians in a studio. It was an absolutely horrible experience, led by old-timer, a real MU stalwart, who decided from the moment he arrived at the studio, that the set-up wasn’t something he was gong to put up with. He demanded extra lights, mirrors to reflect the extra lights and then a baseball cap to deflect the reflection of the extra lights! At 5 minutes to the end of the session, despite the fact that we’d started half an hour late and were playing the final 20 bars of the symphony, he downed tools and refused to continue. I asked him if he’d stay an extra 10 minutes, just to finish up, but he refused and proceeded to flounce out, breaking a pair of expensive headphones in the process. Unfortunately he was followed by another four string players; rather tellingly the quartet of players who we’d recently discovered weren’t actually from Yorkshire at all. I was however, hugely grateful to the players who stayed behind and muddled through to the end with me. I suppose it just had the effect of making me feel a bit crappy about things. I think I’ve got a bit too used to dealing with communities; and working with musicians and singers who seem to genuinely care about the projects I’ve invited them to take part in. It’s always hard to swallow the reality that some professional musicians simply don’t care about the music they’re asked to play, or for that matter the quality of their playing!

Today also started rather badly, with a pair of drummers in the studio who had a somewhat interesting relationship with rhythm. It took 2 hours to record 8 bars of music, which must be a record for one of my projects. Everything changed, however, with the arrival of the Colombian drummers, who were like a beam of beautiful golden sunshine. They were well-prepared and energetic, and their leader, Ian is wildly charismatic. Their enthusiasm totally turned the day around, and from then on everyone who stepped through the door seemed to be a joy to work with. There was a buxom and utterly charming pianist, a Wurlitzer player who performed the most authentically 1950s organ solo I’ve probably ever heard. After him came the Hut People; a duo consisting of an extraordinary percussionist who used to play with the Beautiful South and perhaps my favourite musician to pass through the doors of the studio so far; an accordion player called Sam, who worked tirelessly to make sure that every single note and nuance of my music was observed. It’s amazing how a day can be turned so completely on its head by a troupe of Colombian drummers!

Many thanks to Nathan for his guest blog entry. I hope you all enjoyed reading it as much as I did. I’m not altogether sure that the date in Pepys’ Diary he chose to write about was the 14th June 1660, so it might not have made a huge amount of sense to the keener readers amongst you. But I think he did an incredible job for someone who was given 30 minutes notice!

350 years ago Pepys was re-entering London society. He was making new friends and reacquainting himself with his old ones, which included the clerks who used to haunt the inns and taverns of London with him in his sillier, less upwardly-mobile days.

A rather cryptic remark in today’s entry read; “My lord resolves to have Sarah again”. Sadly this is less scandalous than it immediately reads. Sarah was a former housekeeper who had been sacked for unspecified misdemeanours in 1657, but was apparently being given another chance.

There was more news on the Montagu front; on top of everything else (he’d become the Vice Chancellor of the Fleet and a member of the Privy Council), he’d been awarded the position of master of the Wardrobe and I’m afraid I’m too tired to make head nor tale of what Wikipedia tells me this means. Maybe you could look for yourself!

Monday, 14 June 2010


It's 11.29pm, and I've just had a frantic phonecall from Benjamin syaing, "Please write a blog entry today!" That give me precisely 31 minutes to get something down for you to read.

So here goes...

I should probably start by introducing myself.  My name is Nathan, and I am Benjamin's partner.  Regular readers of this blog will no doubt know me at least by name, if not on a more personal level.

Poor Benjamin is in a bit of bother up in Leeds at the moment, working on the Symphony for Yorkshire project.  Today has been the first full day in the recording studio, and it was scheduled to be a twelve-hour day for Benjamin, and for Hazel too.  Hazel is the producer who runs the studio, and who worked with Ben on some of the music for his Channel 4 documentary, "A1: The Road Musical."  I met Hazel myself, when I went up to help Ben with the recording of the Rossington Male-Voice Choir in the Miners section of the film.

It seems things haven't been going according to plan up there.  From the tiny text-bulletins I've been getting sporadically throughout the day, some things have been taking longer to get right than were budgetted for, and the day has been stretching beyond the fun, and into the gruelling and unpleasant.  I believe there has been a bit of bother with some stroppy strings as well, but I'll leave Benjamin to tell you more about that when he gets out of the mixing room!

Ah, these things are often thus.  I have spent many long hours in studios myself: both at the microphone as a performer, as well as conducting, or assisting as Musical Director on numerous projects.  It is one of my favourite ways to spend a day, but can also be one of the most challenging.  When performing live, there is a wonderful ephemerality about your performance.  Once it has lived in the ears of the listeners, it os gone forever, along with any little glitches, idiosyncrasies or blemishes.  Not so with recorded work.  Those magical things that help make live music so wonderful come back to haunt you every time you hear it, and anything that is even slightly imperfect can destroy your best endeavours.  So it's vital to get absolutely EVERYTHING perfect.  Benjamin is as much of a perfectionist as I am, and his passion for his work knows no bounds, so the knowledge that time is running short for him today must come with the frustrating sense of compromise, and the knowing that he might not get the results he so badly wants.  I can only sympathize from a distance.  Even if I weren't in London, and he in Leeds, there's probably very little I could have done to help, but at least I could have lent some support, and fetched the odd packet of chocolate biscuits from the shop!

My own day has been pretty full, as well.  As well as being a musical theatre performer (more of that in a mo), I also do a variety of other things, including web design, and some corporate entertainment stuff to boot.  Today has been a whirl of many bitty little pieces of projects that has really set my head in a spin.  I've been creating a new website for the theatre company that I have founded with a group of friends, for the purposes of putting together exciting new works for our associations with RAFTA (The Ryal Air Force Theatrical Association), of which I am a proud life member, I've been working on another website for a friend of mine and Ben's, who is just emerging from a three-year baby bubble, and is keen to re-enter the professional world of comedy writing, continuing some work on the artwork for a CD of music by another of my clients, as well as trying to learn a whole shedload of music for a performance I am giving this weekend, as a singing fireman, who gatecrashes a big dinner event on the pretense that there have been some fire regulation infringements, before bursting into songs including I Want To Break Free by Queen, and the Pearl Fishers Duet by Bizet.  Quite a mix of styles there!  Ah, the life of an out of work actor!  Oh yes, I'm also in the early stages of writing a short musical for my aforementioned company to perform in May next year, so it's been a bit of a busy day.  Somehow I managed to knit myself an hour to go to the gym in, but I'm not sure how!

350 years ago, and it seems there had been bother with the burning of ships in the Channel.  Pepys was sending missives left right and centre regarding what to do with various persons and their gun powder, lest there should be any more trouble. A firey day for all, it seems!
He also had good news that his friend Mr Lewes was safely as far as Royston the night before, which was a great comfort to him.

Peps dined that day with the alliterative pair, Mr Hater and Mr Hewer, where they did,"speak very sorrowfully of the posture of the times, and how people do cry out in the streets of their being bought and sold; and both they, and every body that come to me, do tell me that people make nothing of talking treason in the streets openly: as, that we are bought and sold, and governed by Papists, and that we are betrayed by people about the King, and shall be delivered up to the French, and I know not what."  A cheerier meal would be easy to imagine!

I'm afraid to say that unlike some recent entries, today's is hugely long, and there are now but five minutes before the end of the day, so I shall have to finish here, or Benjamin's endeavour to write every day be dashed completely, and that's a burden I could never carry!

It's been my pleasure to be with you tonight, and I'm sure Benjamin will carry on tomorrow, where I have left off today.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

One-armed drumming

Today’s the first day I’ve felt a bit lonely up here in Leeds. I had a rehearsal with a very talented saxophone choir in Harrogate earlier on, but now there’s nothing for me to do until we start in the studio tomorrow. On occasions like this, it becomes fairly clear what a workaholic I’ve become. Instead of relaxing, I’m sitting here panicking that I should be using my time off to do something more contructive. If I was in London, for example, I’d be able to see Nathan’s first performance of The Day Before Spring, a “lost musical” that he’s performing at Sadler’s Wells for the next 6 Sundays. I very much wish I could be there to support him, but the criminal cost of train travel in this country precludes anything other than carefully planned trips. If I were to jump on a train right now, for example, it would cost me £142 to get back to the capital. Driving would cost me less than half of this amount – even with current extortionate petrol prices – and this is certainly not how we should be going about trying to save our environment!

Sadly, we lost a second musician from the symphony today. This time it was a wonderful drummer who was beaten up on the streets of Leeds last night and has broken his hand. Obviously it would have been inappropriate for me to remind him that Def Leppard was a Yorkshire band, and that one-armed drumming might have been in his blood, because apparently the poor guy was gutted. Those bloomin’ footballs fans! How many people went rushing down the street beating people up when we came last at Eurovision? It’s times like this that remind me how insulting it is that the government has opted for a department of culture, media and sport. Culture has nothing to do with sport. At my school you had to give one up to study the other! I think it would be much more appropriate for sport to be sent across to the department of health...

It's now raining cats and dogs in Leeds, so I'm going to sit in the tiniest apartment in the world and watch television. Tomorrow is going to be exhausting and no doubt by the end of the day I'll be feeling like a rung out old dishcloth, so today has to be about preserving my energy... I may well end up sitting on this sofa until I wake up tomorrow morning.

Another snappy entry for Pepys on 13th June 1660, which revealed he'd spent12 shillings entertaining Mr Pearce, the purser, his great rival Creed and his uncle Wright at the Mitre on Fenchurch Street. The interesting thing about the entry is that it brings to light a 17th Century tradition, namely the practice of using carpets as table cloths. Pepys was horrified when he spilt something on one of them whilst dining at Mr Crew’s house; it was apparently a new carpet, and had just been hired. He was therefore greatly relieved when he discovered that he could get rid of the stain by dabbing some clean water on it. And if you’re curious to know what a table with a carpet on top of it would look like, take a look at this contemporary painting by Vermeer:

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Steely defiance

I’ve broken all the promises I made to myself and am writing this blog with the England/ USA World Cup match on in the background. I refuse to be drawn in, however. I’ve been there before. 1998 was a particularly painful memory. I don’t pretend to be a footballing expert, but it strikes me that England is pretty rubbish at the game. In my opinion, our players are paid too much and I genuinely think they spend too much time living the high life and not enough time perfecting their art or developing their stamina. They run out of steam before the end of every match and it is unbelievably frustrating to watch. And yet we continue to support them. The streets outside my window are entirely empty. It would appear that the whole of Leeds is watching the match. Why?

The most irritating aspect about this whole world cup, however, has to be the noise the fans make with their little plastic trumpets. It sounds like a million mosquitoes hovering over a cess pit, which is possibly not that far from what's actually going on. And in case you're wondering, all of the trumpets are pitched to a B flat, which is somehow even more hideous. At least if it was an A, you could tune your violin to it and have a little play whilst waiting for the English footballers to stop fannying around the pitch like uncoordinated children.

You may detect a slight anger in my tone as you read this. Or perhaps it’s more a sense of steely defiance. I’ve just received more news from Lincolnshire and it seems that going to court is now an inevitability. And on behalf of hard-working, trusting composers across the globe, I say bring it on...

Today was an incredibly important day. We recorded the first bars of music for the Yorkshire symphony in a portakabin on the outskirts of York. The group performing was the Shepherd’s Group Brass Band, formally the band of the Rowntree’s Chocolate Factory, before Nestle waded in and decided they didn't need a brass band. I worked them extremely hard, making sure that every note was as in tune as I felt it could be, and I’m incredibly pleased with the result.

We went home via the Hyde Park region of Leeds to look for more locations and found some absolute gems. My personal favourite was the Hyde Park Picture House which is a splendid art nouveau building in the middle of an area of back-to-back Victorian terraces. If this were in London all the houses would have been gentrified, and instead of chippies and greasy spoons, the place would be swimming with vegetarian cafes and one-stop-yoga-shops. But this is Leeds, and the area feels almost other-worldly; a sort of 1960s throwback. Washing hangs on lines stretched across the roads. Mucky-faced kids play on the steps in front of their homes. I knocked on one door to ask about a washing line, which I felt might make a quirky backdrop for a shot. The woman who answered was charming. You’d have thought I was her long-lost son. She explained that anyone could use her washing line; “I leave it there for t’students. And when mine's occupied, I tell 'em to use mi Mam’s next door. There’s always pegs. I make sure of that. It’s not a busy road, you don’t get fumes or owt, and we’ve not got back gardens, so makes perfect sense, if you think about it. If you’re keen, I’ll certainly make sure there’s summat hanging there when you come here to film.” Amazing people up here...

It was “very hot” and busy day for Pepys on this date 350 years ago. He met a bewildering assortment of people including Mr Pierce the purser, Mr Pierce the surgeon, Mr Faithorne, the painter and engraver, Mr Greatorex the instrument maker, the Dukes of Gloucester and York, the speaker of the house of Commons and a cuddly toy. Okay, I made the last bit up. When he returned to his father’s house, which seemed to be where he was staying, he found his parents in bed, and his wife, obviously slightly irritable. They’d been waiting for him to come home all day...

Friday, 11 June 2010

I always thought it was Sperm Head

We’ve just had the most fabulous day. The sun has been shining non-stop and we’ve heard extraordinary musicians and visited incredible locations. We started the day at Spurn Head; the furthest you can journey both East and South and yet still remain in Yorkshire. It’s a spit of land which sits perilously between the Humber River and the North Sea. As a location, it can only be described as epic. The long, straight road which runs down its spine is single-track and lined with dark, old-fashioned telegraph poles. It’s the American mid-West in England’s far East and it made my imagination go into overdrive. The spit is lined with the most beautiful white sandy beaches; but bizarrely the sea down there is a disconcerting shade of red-brown. North Yorkshire sits on a bed of soft clay and as a result, huge swathes of its headlands are dropping into the sea and being washed down the coast to Spurn Head. It may be where the soil wants to be, but very few people go there. A ruined light-house clings to the top of a sandy bank, another sinks into the sea. The eerie beaches are bedecked with bits of driftwood, old crab nets and discarded tractor tyres. It's kinbd of edgy and it's a location manager’s dream. I can’t wait to get some of our musicians down there.

Speaking of musicians; I was thrilled earlier on, to be able to rehearse with Circus Envy, who are joining us for the third movement of the symphony. They’re a fantastic bunch of folk musicians; some of Hull’s very finest; and a great set of lads. I'm proud to say that one of them grew up in Northamptonshire and is a contemporary of mine but this is the first time our paths have crossed. We’re listening to some of their music as we drive home to Leeds from Hull. The blinding copper-coloured sun is low in the sky and myriad poppies in the fields either side of the road are glowing bright red. Life is bloody good.

And you can hear Circus Envy here
On a less positive note, tragedy struck the project this afternoon, when our very own Jean-Michel Jarre decided his talent was too great to be supported by our symphony. He stormed into BBC Radio York this afternoon, saying he’d been booked to play solo with the BBC Symphony Orchestra but that he hadn’t had enough time to practice his music, so was going to have to pull out. The receptionist called us to let us know he was there and to pass on his message. I’m not altogether sure he was expecting us to say; “thank you very much for letting us know and all the best for the future” because later in the day he left an astonishingly rude and aggressive phone message telling us that he could wipe the floor with anyone in the BBC Symphony Orchestra and was going to tell the newspapers that we’d been foolish enough to let him go. Did we not realise that he was better than Jean Michel Jarre, Robert Miles and David Guetta? And how dare that Benjamin Till send him music written on manuscript paper, when he can’t read anything other than “key format” (??) and play with anything other than one hand. The big question, of course, is whether the entire symphony will fall apart without him.

Monday 11th June 1660, and Pepys spent much of the day riding around on Montagu’s coat tails. There were trips to a trio of taverns, a visit to Westminster Hall and chat with his cousin Mrs Turner, but it wasn’t what I’d call a particularly interesting day...

Thursday, 10 June 2010

The Hole of Horcum

We’re on the road once again; this time heading from Scarborough to Sheffield, which is a 2 hour journey. It’s astonishing how many miles you can notch up whilst driving around in this county. We’ve spent the day location hunting; firstly in the Yorkshire Moors and latterly along the North Yorkshire Coast. It would have been a fabulous day, had we not been somewhat hampered by the weather. The higher we climbed, the mistier it became. Fortunately we managed to see the funny side, and spent much of the day howling with laughter. The “beautiful” Rosewell Chimney looked like this...

And here’s what I saw of the mystical Hole of Horcum...

I imagined trying to film in these locations on a similarly foggy day and panicked so much I was forced to buy myself a bag of Fruit Pastilles which I ate four at a time. The bottom line is that this film would pretty much be ruined by inclement weather. I can just picture the singers huddled under umbrellas, frizzy-haired harpists knee-deep in mud, folk bands shivering in cars with the windscreen wipers on... I guess it would bring a certain reality to the film by representing a fairly typical English summer. It’s probably all that many visitors get to see of this beautiful county!

The quest for locations improved considerably when we reached Pickering and were able to stand on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway platform and watch a majestic steam train puffing into the station. I defy any grown man not to feel a rush of child-like excitement when watching a steam train. I’m sure it will provide a stunning backdrop for at least one segment of our film. Later in the day, we visited a strangely empty Scarborough. The visual mayhem of the amusement arcades over there, and the rusty fishing boats crammed into the marina should also form the basis of some very interesting shots.

June 10th 1660, and Pepys must have had a great deal on his mind for his entry is but a few sentences long, and a complete let down for the romantics amongst us who were waiting with baited breath to hear about his reunion with Elizabeth:

“Whitsunday (Lord’s Day.) At my father’s found my wife. After dinner, my wife and I to walk in Lincolnes-Inne walks. After prayers she home and I to my Lord. Stayed there: and so to my father’s, where I met Mr. Fairebrother. To bed with my wife.”

Wednesday, 9 June 2010


The weather up here has been ghastly all day. It's done nothing but rain. I went for a jog first thing and within minutes was soaked through. I suppose I could have turned back, but at a certain point it became quite liberating. The rain wasn’t particularly cold and when you can’t get any wetter, it’s sometimes fun just to throw caution to the wind.

I spent the afternoon with a group of Colombian drummers at the University of Leeds. It's apparently a tradition with this kind of music to drink a type of rum whilst playing; rum that kept coming my way, so I felt quite woozy by the end of the session.

The rest of the day was spent trudging around the centre of Leeds, looking for edgy locations for movement three, which is the darkest section of the symphony. I found a gloomy car park underneath a set of railway arches with tall, curved redbrick walls which were lined with moss, and strange white streaks. A few extra lights, and a bit of track, and I believe we could have something very special.

I'm now back in my bijou flat, trying to dry the bottoms of my trousers, which seem to have found their way into every puddle that I've walked past today. Wind is whistling around the building. Black clouds are drifting at high speed through a murky, smudgy sky. They've just announced on the news that there was a tornado just outside Leeds earlier on which destoyed a barn, so it could well be about time for me to batten down the hatches and have a bit of a snooze in front of the telly. In the meantime I'm attempting to cook a vegetarian kiev in a microwave oven and from the smell I'm not sure things are going particularly well.

Fiona is in the Lebanon at the moment, about to play a concert with Placebo which seems to have caused a great deal of controversy. Apparently all of the other artists have pulled out of the gig because Placebo have just performed in Israel and Israel, as we all know, is a country that us wet liberals like to criticise, particularly at the moment. Perhaps if a little bit more energy went into picketing certain African regimes for their treatment of women and gay people, there would be a great deal more harmony in the world... But that would involve criticising people masquerading as Christians, committing horrible crimes in the name of Jesus – and that would never do. I genuinely don’t think the ordinary people of Israel should be punished for the unfortunate decisions that their jittery government is making. I’m not sure I would know how to run a country whose neighbours were threatening to wipe it off the face of the earth.

June 9th 1660 was one of Pepys’ shortest ever diary entries. He returned to London by boat along the Thames and landed at The Temple, immediately heading to his father’s house, no doubt to demonstrate what a upwardly mobile gentleman looked like. The evening was spent in the company of the King strolling around St James’ Park. He may have been but a minor official, utterly reliant on the good will of his distant cousin, Montagu, but Pepys was in the company of the King... Going to sea was the best decision he'd ever made.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Grimethorpe, circa 1960

If you want to become all too aware of the speed at which time passes, you should try writing a blog! We’re about half way through the year already and I simply don’t know where the first six months have gone.

I’m knackered. We’re currently driving from York to Leeds, having rehearsed three separate groups in three separate places. We’ve seen 16 wind players today and a 30-piece brass band and everything has gone incredibly well. Alison liked the winds best, but the brass band, for me, came within an inch of delivering the sound I’d heard in my head during those long days in Costa Coffee. At one point my eyes began to prickle, very much as they’d done yesterday when the male voice choir opened their lungs and gave me an almost lethal injection of Yorkshire pride. For the first time, in my life I suppose, I realise what Arnold Wesker meant when he talked about an actress delivering her lines exactly how he’d written them. I didn’t need to tell the Shepherd’s brass band how to interpret my dots. They just seemed to know. The conductor cried; “Grimethorpe colliery circa 1960, lads” and off they went. Priceless. I don't know what the equivalent would be for the string players... Suggestions on the back of a postcard, please.

Aside from all the rehearsals, this period is about finding iconic and quirky locations for the accompanying film and trying to work out which musicians I’ll want to position where. The key thing is that the work flows visually as well as musically and that means I have to be incredibly organised and know when I’m recording music in the studio, exactly what people will be seeing on the screen. We’re location hunting in Scarborough, Bridlington and Sheffield this week. Sheffield has become particularly important as it’s here that I’m hoping to find a terraced street that we can seal off and feature as part of the film’s climax.

June 8th 1660, and Pepys was finally homeward bound. He’d been put in charge of safely delivering the King’s Guitar to London; and from the fuss he was making you’d think he’d been entrusted with the crown jewels. Sadly I doubt the King even knew he had a guitar!

Pepys made speedy progress through Kent. He dined in Canterbury, taking time out to visit the Cathedral and to see the grave of Thomas a Beckett. He then continued his journey through Sittingbourne and Rochester. At this point, the day’s entry descends into shorthand, almost as though Pepys had forgotten to write up his notes (which is how, we know, he liked to operate). Instead of the well-rounded prose we’re used to from the man, we’re offered tantalising glimpses of the latter part of his day. “Mr Hetley’s mistake about dinner.” “At Rochester the ships and bridge.” “A good handsome wench I kissed. The first that I have seen a great while”... Come on Sam, we’re missing out on the good stuff!

Monday, 7 June 2010

Bijou hotel-style apartment available for rent in LS1

I am in Leeds. The flat is minute and everything inside it is tiny! I have a tiny kettle, a tiny toaster, a tiny shower (or should that be a baby shower?). There’s nowhere to store anything. When I arrived, the landlord was searching for a place to put a handheld vacuum cleaner and decided the only option was to mount it to the wall. There’s nowhere to put my dirty laundry, so my suitcase, which takes pride of place in the only piece of floor space in the flat, has become a linen basket. I don't care. It has a door that I can lock... 
My rehearsal with the rock band went well last night. I sat at a piano, conducting the rhythms with my head, feeling like Richard Tandy from ELO. I think they’ll be great. I’m slightly concerned about the drummer because he’ll need to be rhythmically rock solid for the movement to work, but if he puts the work in, I'll be a very happy man.

It would appear that this project has generated the usual assortment of fabulous eccentrics, who have only just started to show their true colours. One poor chap has phoned Alison every single day to complain that his music says “keyboard” at the top of it, when he made it very clear in his audition that he plays the synthesizer. He may be about to go on strike, which would be a shame, because a number of national newspapers have apparently just heralded him as the next Jean Michel Jarre, despite his only being able to play with two fingers at any one time. I was also rather tickled by the musician who, when told she’d need to know the music backwards, asked if she’d actually need to play it backwards! Welcome to my world!

Leeds is as bustling as ever, although there seem to be some very peculiar people on the streets. Earlier on I walked past a blind man who was pushing a baby buggy with a doll inside. It was difficult to know whether to be amused, or find the whole thing tragic beyond words.

Headline of the week must belong to the Yorkshire Evening Post which screams; “Leeds OAP in scooter terror ride”. Apparently an elderly lady was left “extremely shaken” after her mobility vehicle got stuck in its fastest setting whilst travelling down a dual carriageway. Quite what she was doing on a dual carriageway, I’ve no idea, but cars were forced to screech to a halt left, right and centre before she crashed into a verge and damaged her collar bone. And if that doesn’t make people rush to buy a newspaper, I don’t know what will!

We’ve just returned from visiting the harp player in Haworth. She’s an amazing character who lives in a farm on the moors on the edge of the town. I instantly took to her. She’s absolutely fascinating. In her own words, she was brought up in a castle; “not a decent castle, a rubbish castle”, and her ramshackle farm is littered with astonishing antiques that she’s inherited over the years. We sat down to eat the freshest eggs I’ve ever tasted at Clive of India’s campaign table, which doubles up as the workbench where she makes her harps. The first harp she made was called Big Al, and subsequently every harp she’s created is given a name ending in Al... Mystical, Mental and Recycal...

It seems that Pepys wasn’t destined to get much sleep 350 years ago. He was awoken at 2am by someone delivering a parcel from London and then again at 4 when they started washing the deck above him. Water dripped through the ceiling straight into his mouth and he was forced to get up and sleep sitting at his desk.

...But life on the waves was soon to be a distant memory. Montagu had just been recalled to London... so to London they would go...

Sunday, 6 June 2010

An injection of cash, status and pride

I'm on a train to Leeds at the start of a two month adventure. By the time I return to London, The Yorkshire Symphony will have been made and I'll have moved on to the next project.

I suspect because it’s Sunday there are a lot of children on the train. I’m already becoming deeply irritated by the woman behind me who seems to be talking in a stupidly high-pitched voice to the child sitting next to her. To make matters worse, she’s systematically talking about herself in the 3rd person, which is obviously setting her child up for a lifetime of grammatical confusion, and frankly, if I hear about Teddy one more time, I’m going to flush him down the toilet. Some mother’s need to learn that the world does not revolve around their children. “Is Teddy going to sit on your lap? Is Teddy excited to be on the train? Look at Mummy waving bye bye to London, is Teddy waving bye-bye?” This child will obviously grow up thinking it’s natural to speak in a silly, ineffectual head-voice, and be terrified of men with low voices like mine. No doubt some kind of tantrum is on its way... and if that child starts to scream, Teddy really will go bye bye... all the way out of the window, followed by Mummy

This afternoon I have to meet the landlord of the shoebox I’m going to be living in for the next few weeks. I’m told it’s so small that it has a pull down bed, but I don’t mind. As long as it has a door that I can shut on the world – and a television set – I’m happy. I would have added a bath to my list of demands, but sadly I think I’d be on to a losing battle.

After meeting the landlord I’ll be doing my first rehearsal, which I believe is with the rock band, Luva Gunk, who will be providing the dark, thrusting motor for the third movement. They are the first of a bewildering number of sessions I’ve been booked into during the coming week. I believe tomorrow’s schedule starts with lunch with a harpist in Harworth and then I’m sure my feet will barely touch the ground until all the music is recorded. It will be as exciting as it is manic, but I could do with this cold clearing out of my system before the mayhem begins.

06.06.1660, and Montagu was dangling a very juicy carrot in front of Pepys in the form of a new job; more specifically the role of Clerk of the Signet; “which he did most lovingly tell me that I should execute, in case he could not get a better employment for me at the end of the year”. They also discussed Pepys’ Uncle Robert’s estate. Rich Old Bob was plainly on his way out and Montagu was going to pull some family strings to make sure the estate to found its way in Pepys’ direction. It really does seem that Montagu had Pepys’ best interests at heart and had started to pay him back for a life time of loyalty.

More news came from London. The King was busily selecting toads and sycophants for his court and the two Dukes were decadently gallivanting around town; “haunting” St James’ Park and paying numerous visits to the theatre; an industry which was flourishing in Restoration London... And even more excitingly, women had started appearing on stages for the first time.

Pepys expected to be called back to the capital at any moment and wrote to his father asking for a coat to be made that befitted a man who'd had injection of cash, status and pride!

Saturday, 5 June 2010

White horses in the haze

We’re currently winding our way along the tiniest country lanes on the Oxfordshire/Wiltshire border. The tall verges are lined with beautiful wild flowers, and I’ve lost count of the number of thatched cottages we’ve passed. I’ve just had a piece of Kendal Mint Cake and the setting sun is watery in the sky. I’m not sure how life can get much better...

We’ve just been to the Uffington White Horse, which feels like an incredibly powerful and spiritual spot. The views from the top of the hill have to be some of the finest in Southern England. You can see for miles and miles; ridge after ridge disappearing into the hazy distance.

We spent the afternoon at the Avebury stone circle, which is yet another amazing place. We met up with Nathan’s mother, her partner, Ron and Nathan’s niece and nephew, Beckee and Lewis. Wonderful Celia, who regularly calls me her sin-in-law, prepared a hugely decadent picnic, complete with an eccentric trestle table, which she covered with food and drink. We set up underneath one of the standing stones, and I genuinely think that many of the people passing thought we were running some kind of opportunistic cake stall.

The Royal Banquet that was less a picnic and more a house removal!
More Pickfords than Picnic!

We rolled down grassy banks and then ran around bottles to make ourselves dizzy before attempting to run back up again. Celia was particularly entertaining when it came to her turn, ending up in a little heap barely 2 meters from where she’d started! We took a long walk around the perimeter of the stone circle, which is so large it takes in a pub and half a village. We had water fights, blew thousands of soap bubbles and played lawn darts. (I was trounced by an 11-year-old.) We baaed at sheep and were astonished when they started baaing back. Celia spent her time handing out toys to passing children. We really were the eccentrics on tour.

Celia and the bubbles

It was another relatively quiet day on board The Charles on this date 350 years ago. There was a very strong sense that things were somehow winding down. With mission accomplished, what else was there to do on board the ship? Montagu went ashore to do some fishing. They played ninepins in the evening and then had a bash at singing some barber shop music, accompanied by a cittern (or gittern), which was an early form of guitar.

Friday, 4 June 2010

The most expensive picnic

I am in the midst of what seems like an almost endless day. We’re just leaving Cambridge. The sun is low in the sky. Our faces are tanned and I predict a harvest moon will make an appearance in the sky tonight.

We stayed up late last night with Hannah and her partner, Jamie at their beautiful flat in Tunbridge Wells. We ate Pringles, hummus and cardboard pizzas and many of us got rat-arsed. I fell asleep to the sounds of the dawn chorus. Perhaps it was the time of year, perhaps it’s the fact that we were out on the edge of countryside at the top of a hill, but I’ve never heard such a glorious avian symphony. The air was dense with the deafening sound of twittering, whistling, tweeting and trilling.

Unfortunately, I woke up this morning with an incredibly sore throat. Hugely predictable. Christopher’s been suffering from a cold and today’s the first day I’ve allowed myself to relax properly and that’s always the point at which my body gives up. Ah, the joys of being a freelance creative. You’re either too busy to enjoy yourself or too ill...

That said, drifting along the Cam in a punt with Christopher, Hannah and Nathan was wonderful. We sang in glorious four-part harmony, threw ourselves into the river and ate the most expensive picnic of our lives in the meadows towards Grantchester. The river, as usual, had attracted a crazy assortment of eccentrics and renegades. We saw three naked men swimming in the Cam; one of whom told us he’d been doing the same thing every day for 50 years. We negotiated a meander and discovered a man, wearing a wet-suit, perched in the branches of a tree like, ready to dive like a kingfisher into the water. There was a woman who looked like varnished chamois leather, a little boy who attached his dinghy to the punt, and a nine-year-old who we caught rolling a joint in a little ruined hut by the side of the water.

Not much was happening on the Charles on this date in 1660. Various letters were drafted and delivered to London, and Pepys sent all his Dutch money away to be changed into English currency. He wrote that it was the first time he’d had to do something like that, and as soon as the money was out of his hands, he began to panic that he'd not see it again. Oh for internet banking...

Hannah and Nathan in Cambridge

Our shadows on a Cambridge wall

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Pease Poodle

It’s been a glorious, glorious day. I spent the past 6 hours with Christopher and Meriel in Brighton. The sun shone endlessly and the sky was cloudless and deep blue. We ate chips on the beach, paddled in the sea, and played on the dolphin derby. We went to a Victorian penny arcade and wasted hundreds of ten pence pieces on various pinball machines and automata. We journeyed through a house of horrors on a ghost train at the end of the pier and rode a giant chicken on a merry-go-round whilst Keep The Home Fires Burning played on a pipe organ. I’ve laughed until my cheeks ached, sung Judy Garland songs, eaten doughnuts and had chocolate milkshakes. My teeth are ready to fall out and the back of my neck is burnt, but I don’t care. It’s been a glorious, glorious day.

My extraordinary companions

We’re now in Tunbridge Wells watching Hannah Waddingham performing a cabaret. She ended the evening with an extraordinary rendition of Send In the Clowns whilst the audience literally held its breath.

Christopher, who’s American, is having enormous problems remembering the names of the various quaint English town we’ve been passing through on our journey. He keeps referring to this place as Cotswold Minge and the already bizarrely named Pease Pottage was recently regurgitated as Pease Poodle, which I almost prefer!

Whilst passing through Lewes on our way here, I saw a dark-haired woman standing with her back to me in front of a news camera and immediately recognised her as my dear friend Claudia. I went back round the one-way system so that I could pull up alongside her and give her the fright of her life, just before she went live on the BBC regional news! It was wonderful to see her. The perfect end to a perfect day...
Claudia and her fluffy boom going live...

Not a great deal happened on board The Charles on Sunday 3rd June 1660; no games of nine pins or idle gossip or even news from London. Pepys returned to his personal accounts and discovered that he was actually worth the tidy sum of £100, which I’m told is about £9000 in today’s money. When you consider that he ended the diary worth something in the region of £10,000 pounds in 17th Century money, we begin to get an idea of quite how wealthy he became, and why he was able to leave such an impressive library of books to the world.