Thursday, 26 April 2012

I'd rather have a bowl of Coco-pops

I went to my first meeting of the Musician’s Union Writers’ Committee today. It was a very peculiar experience, which I enjoyed thoroughly. The thing about composers is that we're all generally nuts. We spend way too long in our own heads and not enough time making small talk. 

As we waited for the meeting to begin, and a surge of latecomers to arrive, we sat in respectful silence, listening to the ticking of the radiators, the tapping of a door which hadn’t been closed properly, the humming of a neon ceiling light, the traffic rattling past outside. It was all just a little bit strange.

The meeting was chaired by a lovely chap called Peter, assisted by Naomi who's on the permanent MU staff. We talked about lots of things and in such detail that we found ourselves running out of time.
I immediately took to the woman sitting opposite me. She reminded me of my friend Glyn. I subsequently discovered she’d been in the original cast of Hair, had sung backing vocals for “Mama Told Me Not to Come” and was the voice that sang “I’d rather have a bowl of Coco Pops!” Frankly, with that trilogy of bizarrely wonderful accolades on your CV, you’d have to consider yourself to have had a life well spent.

One of the points on the agenda was my court case last year, and we had a long chat about it in an attempt to work out if we, as writers, could learn anything from the experience. Everyone in the room seemed genuinely horrified by the story and I felt the waves of shock, anger, terror and sympathy coming at me in equal measure. We agreed that you need to tread very carefully with inexperienced commissioners, and that if your gut tells you you're dealing with a nut-job, it's best to walk away, however much you need the money. Above all, it’s worth getting legal advice on all contracts, which is a service the MU provides. At the end of the day, we all agreed it was simply bad luck; the wrong courtroom, the wrong choir mistress, the wrong judge, the wrong commission. I could go through a million lives and never encounter that combination again.

The meeting got a bit heated towards the end as the luddites clashed with techno-geeks. I was astonished to find that some composers still only use a pencil and manuscript paper when they write. I suppose it’s not really that long in the scheme of things since I made the switch to computers, but it feels like a different world; those long nights spent writing parts by hand, the terror of realising the number of bars didn't match the score, the liberal use of tip-ex and sellotape to cover up the ghastly mistakes, one scuff of a ruler and an entire page was ruined. Thank God for music writing software. Someone said he'd recently handed out a set of hand-written parts to a university orchestra and the students had never seen the like!

We understand that rather strange things have been happening on the Bakerloo Line today. I’ve heard all sorts of bizarre and contradictory announcements about strange objects blocking tunnels, possible crashes, and parts of tunnels collapsing. The pub we went to after the meeting was positively buzzing. I actually suspect that there’s been something of a news blackout because the level of disruption is high and the level of reporting is low...

350 years ago, Pepys went on a day trip to Southampton, where he witnessed a “little church-yard, where the graves are accustomed to be all sowed with sage.” This would appear to be a Welsh tradition, but if rosemary is for remembrance, what is sage?

Pepys was impressed by Southampton; “the towne is one most gallant street” he wrote, “and is walled round with stone. Many old walls of religious houses, and the key [quay, one assumes] well worth seeing.” He was given sturgeon for lunch, which was so rare in those days that Pepys claimed it was the first that had been caught in those parts for 20 years. The chef also brought out some caviar, which Pepys tried to order but was told it hadn’t been salted, "nor had the seeds of the roe been broken but were all in berries...” I just sicked up a bit in my mouth. Piles anyone?

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