Monday, 6 June 2011

A useless conductor

We’re in the A and E at The Whittington Hospital. I often find myself sitting here with Nathan. Today’s problem is his ankle. During a rather speedy strip in the wings of Naked Boys Singing, he managed to injure himself somehow. He’s been putting up with the pain, and the swelling for long enough, so I’ve frog-marched him down here. It’s a shame I don’t have my Mum in tow as well. She’s injured her knee rather badly and is insisting on a mere visit to the GP, which will almost certainly turn into a trip to the hospital, because the GP won’t be able to administer antibiotics to solve the problem.

I’ve been up in Highgate Village all day sitting in Costa Coffee writing music. I’d forgotten how good it feels to do a full day’s work up there. There’s an immense sense of achievement which comes from having worked, uninterrupted for at least 7 hours. Sitting at home invariably brings myriad distractions. The television goes on for a bit of company. The dishes get washed in an act of gross procrastination. I make toast. I play with the rats. The only problem with Costa is that it makes my clothes smell – like a working class family; a sort of mix of cheap coffee and chip fat. Add wee and broken biscuits to the blend, and you have the smell of many of my classmates in the 1980s.

I’ve been working on Mr Blue Sky today, and the Agnus Dei from my Requiem. Mr Blue Sky is a deceptively complicated piece of music; which features one of the most ambitious chord sequences in pop. The original track is also slightly sharp, which makes it almost impossible to transcribe – particularly towards the end of the song, when ELO, as usual, go way over the top with choirs, string sections and D flat major diminished chords. When I finally nail it, however, it will be perfect fodder for our choir.

As we drove up the Archway Road, we passed a woman standing by the side of the road who was holding a camera skywards. We strained to see what she was attempting to photograph, but could only make out a few ribbons of red light hovering just above the horizon. A few seconds later, however, we saw the joy. The setting sun was not just enormous, it was the colour of a strawberry! We often talk about a blood red sky, but usually there’s more than a splodge of orange in the mix. This sun was red. Red, red, red. Like a strawberry slush puppy. Like a chilli pepper. Like a 134 bus. Sadly, our elation was short lived. As we pulled into a petrol station, the miraculous sun disappeared forever. Five minutes later, we were moaning about the fact that a full tank of petrol had set us back £75.

We went to the Heath for a quick stroll. The rain earlier in the day had brought out all sorts of heady smells, which made the experience quite extraordinary. At the top of Kite Hill, a couple were sitting on a bench underneath a blanket, staring out across the twinkling lights of London. It's easy to forget quite what a tonic Hampstead Heath can be when you're feeling a little blue. It is a magical and deeply inspiring spot any time of the day, any time of the year.

350 years ago, and Pepys woke up with the mother of all hangovers; the product of an evening sitting under the moon drinking claret with one of the Sir Williams; “my head hath aked all night” wrote Pepys, “and all this morning, with my last night’s debauch.”

Pepys made a journey to Greenwich with Lieutenant Lambert, who told him many things about boats and Navy matters en route, which Pepys found “of good use.” The two men went to the Globe, a pub in the village, where a very early example of an automaton (a "motion") had been attached to an organ. It appears to have been a figure of a woman, we don't know how big, who held a stick in her hand, which appeared to move in time to the music. Pepys described it as “too simple,” but think about this; the earliest references to music being conducted with batons (rather than hands, or banging a staff on the floor) would appear to date from the early 18th Century, so could this wooden lady be the first reference to conducting in history? I like to think so! Judge for yourself:

There we went and eat and drank and heard musique at the Globe, and saw the simple motion that is there of a woman with a rod in her hand keeping time to the musique while it plays, which is simple, methinks.

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