Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Good news

I dreamt last night that a childhood friend had gone missing and was presumed dead. It wasn’t a very nice dream, and I didn’t particularly enjoy waking up, as I've no way of knowing whether she’s okay or not. I lost touch with her years ago.

The studio sessions at The Sage today nearly fried our minds. They seemed last forever and every time we let our guard down, another challenge presented itself. Some singers were under-prepared whilst others simply lost their nerves. One poor lady’s voice entirely gave up on her, but with the aid of one of The Sage’s wonderful in-house vocal coaches, and an hour spent cooling off in a dressing room, her confidence returned. It was so amazing to witness a timid, frightened rabbit becoming a glorious Shirley Bassey!

We recorded all sorts of characters, including one chap, who told us rather too often that he’d once nearly been a someone. “I played all over the world” he said, “Spain... the Isle of Wight...”

Geordies, it seems, have a love-hate relationship with the people who live across the River Wear in Sunderland; Mackems as they’re known locally. This fact was summed up rather (in)eloquently by someone who passed through the studio, and said; “Mackems are not even real people.” I beg to differ. About half my cast are from Sunderland, and they’re all wonderful.

I had a meeting this morning in a cafe in Newcastle and was told some incredibly exciting news. The project I’ve been whittling on about for the last 2 months has been signed off, green lit and, rather terrifyingly, is now going full speed ahead.

We’re making A Symphony for England. This project will feature musicians from pretty much every corner of our beautiful country, playing in iconic, quirky and epic locations. The lyrics for the last movement will be written by poet, Ian MacMillan and I will be working as the composer and director of the project. It’s kind of mind-numbing, and words cannot describe how I’m feeling. Penny arrived in the cafe and immediately said; “I’ve got some good news for you” and my heart ricocheted into my mouth. I’ve been on a high ever since and I am currently celebrating with a late night banana!

I walked out of The Sage into a crisp, Christmas-like air, and took a moment to look across the Tyne towards the twinkling lights of Newcastle. Everything was incredibly silent, as this part of the City always seems to be. Just as I started to walk away, the Cathedral bells on the other side of the river started to peel. Ever since working on Oranges and Lemons, church bells have had a very great significance for me, and for a few blissful seconds, I was able to imagine them ringing out to wish us luck for the coming year.

350 years ago, Pepys spent much of the day in the Fleece Tavern on Cornhill, drinking with Navy men. They talked about Algiers “and the manner of the life of slaves there.” It was apparently fairly common in those days for Navy men to be taken hostage by pirates, and two of Pepys companions claimed to have suffered this fate. Many sources suggest that white slaves were actually treated fairly well by their captors, certainly better than their black counterparts, but Pepys was told all sorts of stories about men being fed on nothing but bread and water whilst having the soles of their feet whipped...


  1. Wonderful news Ben! Please come to Lewes and do some music here.

    much love Merielx

  2. congratulations Ben on getting that project! scary but exciting! Let me know if I can help in anyway... tash x