Friday, 29 November 2013


I have had some postcards printed which advertise the London Requiem CD. We've made them specifically to appeal to Highgate residents, mentioning that the work includes settings of inscriptions written on gravestones in Highgate Cemetery and that the CD would make an ideal present for a lover of the area.

The postcards look rather lovely. They cost about £50 to print, so if I sell at least ten copies of the CD as a result of having them done, the exercise will have been worth doing.

It's a lottery of course, and the experience of walking door-to-door, sticking them all through letter boxes is painfully embarrassing. Fifteen years ago, instead of signing on, I took a job delivering leaflets for an Indian take away. The restaurant was  in Tufnell Park, but its owner made me deliver the leaflets 2 miles away in Highgate. I was paid £25 to deliver something like 5,000 of the blooming things, but in the hills and huge houses of Highgate, it took 20 hours to drop them all off.

When I returned to the restaurant to collect my money, the owner accused me of not delivering the leaflets, based on the fact that he hadn't had a call from anyone in the streets where I'd been asked to go. Of course he hadn't. There were hundreds of takeaways closer to Highgate than his. Why would anyone want to run the risk of their food getting cold in transit?

My brother, who was with me at the time, went ballistic when the bloke refused to pay up, and made an announcement to the people waiting in the queue to be served, which started with the phrase, "do you realise what kind of an establishment this is? It's a place where staff aren't paid properly..." At the same time, I could hear another member of staff taking a telephone order for someone living in one of the streets I'd delivered to, and when this was pointed out, the man begrudgingly paid me my £25, but there was no way I was ever going back to work for him again.

I'd found the entire experience genuinely upsetting. I was dating an MP at the time, and someone who I knew from that rather glitzy political world emerged from one of the houses and asked me what I was up to. I felt rather ashamed. I shouldn't have. But I did.

Anyway, all these feelings came tumbling back with a vengeance today. Every time I reached a letter box, another little piece of me died. It's particularly galling when you make your way down a long Highgate Garden path only to find a neat little sign on the door which says "no junk mail." Every fibre of the body screams "but this isn't junk mail!" but you know deep within your heart that your beloved postcard is very likely to be simply swept up with all the pizza fliers, and chucked in the bin by some wealthy housewife who feels violated by its appearance. It's amazing what a "non person" you become when doing these things. One particularly obnoxious older woman caught my eye through the window and  wagged her finger patronisingly as though to say "whatever you're delivering is of no interest to me, you scruffy little Eastern European." I pretended not to know what she meant, smiled sweetly and delivered the postcard anyway. If she's only gonna throw it away, the snooty cow can get on her knees and pick it up first!

I tell you something, houses in Highgate have a heck of a lot of steps going up to them - I counted 34 on one house, just to get to the front door alone! It's great for the fitness levels, I'll tell you.

I note with interest an incredibly mean-spirited comment in response to my blog yesterday, which comes from an anonymous New Yorker who apparently went to university with me. Whoever wrote it plainly misconstrued my reminiscences about Christian Mackay as some sort of insult, which is about as far from the case as it's possible to journey. I'm incredibly proud of Christian's success, and the thrust of what I was writing was that we should never pigeon-hole anyone.

It never ceases to amaze me how people can hold grudges for so long, or quite what they expect to achieve from writing such vitriolic things, unprovoked and in a public forum, particularly anonymously. People often pick me up on things I say in this blog which they don't agree with. I don't claim to be the oracle and am always interested to hear another side to the argument, but frankly, if you don't like someone, or if you think their life's work has been a failure, why on earth bother to read their blog? I don't like soul music. I don't sit and listen to it of an evening simply to punish myself.

Anyway, anonymous New Yorker, if you're reading today's entry and fancy a chat, and I genuinely have offended you in some way, I'd love to find out why you left the post and if there's anything I can do to make you feel less animosity towards me!

Just send me an email on

And if there's anyone reading this who thinks they'd like a copy of the Requiem (it's a great stocking filler...) you can go to amazon, or my website to order a copy.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Old university mates

I’ve been doing very little today. In fact, I’m sort of surprised that the day is nearly over and I’m feeling so tired. I’m watching a TV spy drama set in the 1970s. It feels like they’ve made no attempt whatsoever to make the fashions and hairstyles look realistic, particularly the young male lead, who looks like he’s just stepped out some kind of CID drama set in the present day.

I am also rather surprise to find my old university friend, Christian McKay in it. Christian acted in the first play I ever directed, in fact, he ended up in quite a number of the plays I directed as a student. We were in the same year, studying the same course. He was an astonishing pianist, but he used to talk in a cod Polish accent, and none of us understood why. I think he felt he was channelling some Eastern European pianist whom he admired.  He was a decent actor in a rather “old-school” sort of way, but was always a little eclipsed by Richard Coyle, whom everyone assumed would be the one that went on to do great things, which he has. Besides, Christian was the pianist; it was beyond our comprehension at the time that someone could be world class in two fields. When he went on to RADA, we all assumed that if he ever turned up on screen, he’d be playing a pianist in some way. You could have blown me down with a feather when he turned up, many years later, staring alongside Zak Efron, playing the title role in Me and Orson Welles. He was even nominated for a BAFTA for the role – and not many people can say that!

So, today has been about relaxing, really. I slept til 10 and fell asleep again until 11. My little jaunt to Hove and Worthing had been incredibly tiring. The second day of editing with Paul went very well, although the sopranos were a little more complicated than we’d assumed they’d be, but that was more a product of our thinking they’d be a stroll in the park, so we’d rather let our guards down. We ended up working til 9pm, and I got one of the last trains back to London, feeling like my ears had been gorged out with a rusty spoon. I’ve never needed a day off so badly, so a day off I took, which I spent doing things for me; hobby things, editing photographs for my albums, and making digital versions for Facebook. I think it’s always nice to take a step back at this sort of time of year to think about what sort of a year we’ve had. Looking back at photographs can be a really good way of working this out. I’d forgotten, for example, how nice the weather was in May, and that we had more than our fair share of decent summer days. Oh, for those summer days...

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

It's just not cricket!

I read this morning that England bowler, Stuart Broad, whilst attempting to justify the early disappearance of Jonathan Trott from the Ashes series, has claimed that cricketers are subjected to "gruelling schedules" where they can "sometimes be expected to spend as much as 270 nights a year in hotel rooms." How terrible!

Now look, I know nothing about cricket. It strikes me as an odd game, which attracts people who seem to be rather less fit than other athletes. In fact, the only thing I know about cricket is that it used to be quite rare to compete for The Ashes, but now that the English cricket team is good, we seem to want to fight for them as often as I eat spaghetti on toast for lunch.

What I feel obliged to point out, however, is that 270 nights a year in a hotel doesn't seem too bad a deal, especially if it's what your (very well paid) job expects of you. After all, 270 nights in a hotel, means 95 nights a year not working at all. And I dare say they're not gonna be sticking England players in the nearest Travelodge!

I find myself contemplating Nathan, who, like many actors this year, is regularly performing three pantomimes a day. I think about traveling salesmen and long distance lorry drivers, who miss their children and partners bitterly when they go off on jaunts around the UK, sleeping in terrible hotels, and the claustrophobic cabs of their vehicles. I think about nurses working night shifts and on Christmas Day, and my brother, who moved to Poland for the best part of ten years as part of his job. Ordinary people do these things because it's expected of them, and, because, in this climate, they're relieved they even have a job. No one's going to give them an OBE for services to lorry driving or nursing. They won't retire at the age of 37 with a knee injury, and spend the rest of their lives earning huge sums of money learning how to ballroom dance or survive in a jungle.

One of the issues I have with British team sports athletes is that they can come across as a whinging, molly-coddled, lazy lot. I've never read an account of Murray complaining about the gruelling nature of the professional tennis circuit. He knows that if he wants to maintain his position at the top, he needs to play matches, which requires staying mentally and physically fit. If he loses a match, he knows he only has himself to blame. If he wins, he earns a fortune.

The trouble with team sports is that it's easy for a individual player to hide behind ten other men. I regularly watch England football matches and see players who can't seem to maintain the strength needed to stay alert for 90 minutes on the pitch. It's 90 minutes, for Christ's sake! You don't see Marathon runners flagging after 40! I don't hang up my baton mid session and say "tired now!" And we wonder why we haven't won a major championship for 40 years! A general lack of professional conduct and a tendency for Brits to support mediocrity means only one thing: excuses. We're told how difficult it can be when a footballer's trophy girlfriend isn't invited to hang from his coat tails at a championship, that it's really difficult to live a life under the media spotlight, that sportsmen should be allowed to get drunk, take drugs and have affairs just like the rest of us...

The bottom line is that there are aspects to our jobs that we all hate. My job is wonderful, unique and thrilling, but the pay's rubbish, and one or two of the BBC staff I work with are institutionalised and over-unionised "yes women!" You take the rough with the smooth. If you don't like a job, you move on...

If some of these national football and cricket players are too emotionally  fragile or family-orientated to do the job properly, then that's their choice. A million and one people would happily replace them. But if you're a millionaire, you're adored by millions, and you have a task which involves travelling the world, let's not get into  complaining about working conditions. I'm sure there's many in this country who would happily slap you and tell you you don't know you're born!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Movement One

I am standing at West Worthing station in the freezing cold. I neglected to bring a coat or scarf with me to East Sussex because I had no idea it could be this cold!

I've been with PK all day today, editing together the first movement of the Pepys Motet, which is very much sponsored by Melodyne (the software which can correct the odd rogue note!) It would be impossible to do something this intricate, fragile, complicated and a'capella without the aid of some kind of tuning device. It very much suits the style of the work, which sits in the bizarre space between classical, pop and electronica, and needs to have a clean, precise sound, which can be manipulated at will.

I'm very pleased with the way things are going. The first movement is the mystical one; filled with the sounds of snow and hollow wind. It sets up the world of Pepys' Diary, which was very much a product of the excitement and panic which followed the interregnum. Would Charles II return to England and accept the throne? Was Oliver Cromwell's son a lunatic?! And what of the year of the devil, 1666? Surely nothing untoward would happen to London during this, most anticipated, date?

We're very much on schedule. My target today was to get half way through the editing process for the first movement. I'd like to have gone slightly faster, if for no other reason than to give PK an evening off, but we're being thorough and that's important.

Heavens! The train's been delayed, and my fingers have turned into blocks of ice. I can barely type into my phone!

Whilst waiting for the West Worthing train at Hove this morning, a train pulled into the West-born platform, heading East to Brighton. I rushed over to the guard to ask whether I'd got confused and was standing on the wrong platform without realising. "No, sir," he said (very politely), "Hove Station is completely reversible." I found this quite an interesting fact and a rather peculiar concept, but instead of nodding my head and saying "how interesting," I pulled a ridiculously camp face and said,  "ooh, get You!"  He plainly had no idea what to say to that. I had no idea how to continue the conversation, so wondered off, mortified.

Interesting though, that a station can be reversible. I can't imagine how that works.

The train has now arrived, but it's a slow train to Hove. That said, it could well take that long simply to warm up! I am not used to being this cold. What is wrong with me, please?

Monday, 25 November 2013


This cold weather is definitely making me a little ratty. I'm finding myself with little tolerance for people faffing about in tube stations and making illogical choices when walking along the pavements.

The day started ludicrously early. The slight issue with shifting to a more nocturnal existence is that, from time to time, there's an unavoidable early start. This morning it was to go to the osteopath, who pummelled my lower back whilst complimenting me on having the highest pain threshold of anyone he'd ever met. Interesting, I thought.

I went to meet Michelle of the Turkie for lunch at Somerset House, and we treated ourselves to a 40-minute skate in the open air. Perhaps not the most sensible thing to do after a trip to the osteopath - I'm sure I'll wake up in the morning completely unable to move - but we managed to choose the one part of the day when the sun was shining brightly, and we had enormous fun drifting around in circles to the sounds of popular classics!

It's such an odd thing, skating. I haven't done it for years, and was instantly struck by how hard the ice actually is! I subsequently ended up looking like Todd Carty. Michelle, on the other hand, can even skate backwards, which impressed me greatly.

I'm currently in Hove, staying a few nights at Fiona's flat whilst working on the Pepys Motet with PK. Fiona is, of course, somewhere impossibly glamorous with Placebo. Except she's not. She's in Essen, which is, according to her, greyer than Corby! That's some claim! Corby is a proper shit hole. It's also the fastest growing town in the UK. Fact!

I arrived here and immediately took myself for a run. If this cold won't leave me any other way, I'll sweat the bastard out!

I ran from Fiona's all the way to Brighton Pier, forgetting how wondrously easy it is to run on a flat surface with no gradient. Highgate is hill after hill, whichever direction you run in. It was also an absolute treat to jog along the sea front. The sun a distant memory in the Western Sky, the moon reflected on the velvety water, the illuminations flashing. The old pier looked particularly eerie as I ran past, silhouetted against the night sky. I passed the Brighton Conference Centre and doffed an imaginary cap at the place where ABBA won Eurovision. One day I'll stand on that stage!

I've been at Fiona's flat all night, under a lovely blanket, waiting for the storage heaters to get their act together. How long do these things take? What is a storage heater anyway?

Sunday, 24 November 2013


Ian and Jem came over this afternoon, which gave me a rather lovely focus for an otherwise entirely uneventful day. When they arrived, I suddenly became hugely aware of how freakishly cold the house was, and had to rush around trying to switch heaters on and things.

I'm not sure I understand quite how to change the settings on the boiler, so, for example, I'm almost permanently without hot water at the moment. It's slightly tragic to have to acknowledge that there's at least one thing that your partner always deals with!

Still it was fabulous to see the boys, who are off to the States to get married just before Christmas. I feel envious when I hear of anyone going to New York, but the concept of someone else going to the city at that time of year is almost too much to bare.

Nathan and I have friends who have a wonderful Christmas party in Queens, which we've been lucky enough to attend a number of occasions. Yuletide in the city subsequently feels like OUR New York time, yet I'm desperately trying to imagine when we next might be able to afford to visit. There are people there I miss hugely... And a baby I need to meet for the first time.

New York and London are such similar cities. I do wish immigration laws meant that residents from both cities could simply up sticks and visit  and work in the other place as often as they liked. Nathan and I would love to live in New York for a while.

The rest of the day was spent pottering. I wrote some music. I watched the X Factor and Strictly on catch up. I tried to have a second bath, but the water was cold...

Really, I'm dull as dishwater.

Talking of metaphors, I often use the phrase "as thick as conkers" to describe someone who's maybe not that intelligent. I think it's a family expression, but Nathan always takes the Micky out of me for using it. Does anyone else reading this know of the expression? Is it a Midlands thing?

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Second Cherry

We're somewhere in Clerkenwell, in a chi-chi bar, absolutely surrounded by gay men who seem to know more about Eurovision than I do! (I know, impossible, right?)

I'm here with Brother Edward, Sascha, a lady called Sylvia and Michelle (who henceforth shall be known as "Little Michelle" to differentiate her from "Michelle of the Turkie" who I've been meeting for lunches at Somerset House of late. Little Michelle is actually rather tall!)

We're all at an event called "Second Cherry," a celebration of all the songs which finished runner up in their own countries' national finals. Sadly, there's no UK song to vote for, because, as we all know, the public in this country don't get to select their own Eurovision entry these days. Someone at the BBC merely dedicates an afternoon in her busy schedule towards thinking of a few has-beens who might want to subject an incredibly dull song on the rest of Europe.

The aim of Second Cherry is to give us our own mini-Eurovision competition, where we get to judge the songs and create our own juries. We're representing Finland today, which is good because the Finnish song is streaks ahead of the rest. Sadly, it's a ballad, the subtleties of which will no doubt be lost on a room full of poofs who basically want to dance and cheer whenever someone takes an item of clothing off, or a pretty boy winks at the camera! I can say that because I'm gay. And because, much as it pains us to acknowledge the fact, minority stereotypes do exist!

Forest Hill

At 4.30pm this afternoon, I found myself stranded in Forest Hill, which is one of those places in South London which residents justify by saying “it only takes 15 minutes to get to London Bridge,” forgetting that there’s not a person on this planet who actually wants to go to London Bridge! And of course the trains are never quite as regular as residents suggest. Whilst waiting for the bi-hourly Victoria train, I was forced to sit on platform 1 for at least 25 minutes, freezing my nuts off, wishing I were somewhere a little more accessible. The man sitting next to me absolutely stank of vodka. He was plainly so profoundly pickled with the stuff that I could smell him in the open air with quite a breeze blowing.

So what was I doing in Forest Hill, bearing in mind it’s probably 8 years since my good mate, Ellie moved out of her little flat opposite the church there?

I was contacted earlier in the week by a chap called Paul who played the recorder in the Busker Symphony, a film I made for Channel 4 in 2006. We’ve exchanged the odd email since the project was aired, and I knew he was trying to break into photography. Anyway, he asked if he could do a little photo session with me, and I, having never done an official photo shoot before, decided it would be fun.

Perhaps I should have thought more about the shoot; the types of pictures that would be useful to use in the future. I should have brought a big old pad of manuscript paper, for example, but instead I brought a bowler hat. Hmm. I also decided that, for some of the pictures, I might go for a sort of 1920s Charlie Chaplin look. He was, after all, my cousin three times removed. I went into the Chemist shop opposite Highgate Station and thought it might be best to ask the woman behind the counter if she could recommend “something like kohl.” She looked at me rather horrified - “make-up you mean?”- before taking me over to a display and pulling out an eyeliner, which was described as kohl. I took it and thanked her.

As I paid, she said, “it takes all sorts!  Can I get you a handbag as well?” Now, in her defence, I was squirming somewhat about the idea of buying make-up, so she could probably tell it wasn’t a lifestyle choice. But what if it had been? What if I was trans and this was my first voyage into the world of buying make-up? I think the woman’s response would have destroyed every last piece of confidence I had, and I would have instantly melted into a pit of mortification. It’s not often you get a sense of how far we still need to travel in this country before we can call ourselves truly open-minded. The world of trans-sexuality is one we all need to learn about, particularly people who work in the sort of shops that trans people might feel the need to frequent. Chemists are surely at the top of that list.

Anyway, the shoot went well. Paul took all the pictures on old-school film camera from the 1960s, which I very much approved of. It made me a little nostalgic for my own days of taking photographs on film; the days when you actually had to understand the mechanics of photography to be able to take a decent photograph. These days it’s all about trial and error, and serendipity. Back then you really had to know your craft. The same is true of composers. Anyone can buy music writing software and fiddle around until something half-decent emerges... what they won’t realise is WHY is sounds half decent, or implicitly understand how they can make it sound even better. I thank God sometimes for my classical training.

My cold intensified in the night, not helped by the fact that I went up into the freezing cold loft and wrote music until 2 in the morning. I subsequently kept waking up in the night with the most horrific sore throat; probably more intense than any sore throat I’ve ever experienced. Still, by the morning, it had drifted down into my chest, and I’m now in that tickly-productive-cough stage. I think a lot of people are going down with colds and things at the moment, and I thank my lucky stars that the colds I get don’t tend to affect me for long. Quite a lot of my singing friends, and, in fact, my family, get these awful chest infections every time they catch a cold.

The woman opposite me on the train to Victoria was looking at me rather curiously. I almost asked her what her problem was, until I realised I’d probably still got kohl from the shoot all over my eyes. She’d no doubt have thought I was consumptive.

I hit Victoria station in the rush hour, which was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. I have never seen so many people crushed into one space. The ticket area at the tube was like nothing on earth, to the extent that I immediately found myself running away. Sadly, there was nowhere to run to. Every corner I turned, I encountered another large group. It was freezing cold. The only slight positive was my happening upon a plaque in the station, marking the spot where the body of the Unknown Soldier, in 1920, had rested the night on its way to Westminster Abbey. I was rather touched that this important location had been marked.

I went with Llio to Ravenscourt Park this evening to see a jazz singer and violinist called Alice Zawadzki, who is, without any question, a genius. She’s a remarkable vocalist, and uses her violin as a kind of support for her voice. The violin never sticks out. She doesn’t do huge epic solos, but sometimes you think one of the other band members is singing harmonies, and then realise she’s actually playing in thirds with herself; the flautando of her violin blending perfectly with her breathy jazz voice. It was an evening of daring rhythms, complex tonality and virtuoso musicianship, and I feel richly rewarded for having witnessed it.

Friday, 22 November 2013


I’m feeling a little blue today. I’m sure it’s something to do with the weather, missing Nathan, and the fact that I seem to have woken up with a nasty cold. I feel very lethargic and can’t bring myself to get particularly excited about doing anything, in fact, the only thing I want to do is sort of hibernate. I’m struggling my way through towards the end of this draft of Brass, but have lost my mojo a little. It feels like such an extraordinarily high mountain to climb and I’ve lost all objectivity.

I went to the cafe. It was bustling, but no one said anything of any great interest. I came home and spent the afternoon and evening curled up on the sofa writing, with the telly on in the background as my friend!

That is genuinely about as interesting as it gets. As the evening draws on I’m feeling worse and worse, and increasingly ratty, so it’s probably best that I make a dive for my bed and stop whinging! Bring out the hot Ribena!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Metal discs

Hail and thunder woke me up this morning. I was trying to have a little lie-in after sitting up all night writing another song for Brass. I write better late at night, so am not going to start feeling bad about shifting my hours to a slightly more nocturnal regime. It's not like you miss out on wonderful daylight hours at this time of year. Especially bitter, nasty days like today.

I struggled my way down to Hammersmith Town Hall, getting hopelessly wet on my way from Ravenscourt Park Tube, whilst the thunder rumbled in the distance. A poor man was standing outside the hall with a table filled with beautiful autumn vegetables. He was soaking wet and obviously freezing, but he was smiling bravely. I love the Brits sometimes. If there'd been money in my wallet, I'd have bought everything he had for sale.

The screening went well. A good load of people came, and many of them were weeping rather openly at the end. They stayed behind afterwards and we did a little impromptu Q and A session, and I feel I might have slightly insulted one of the council leaders, who, when I urged the group to not ignore the arts as a way of engaging people and bringing happiness to a community, suggested that she hoped I was pleased with the money they'd invested into the Lyric Theatre. Unfortunately I couldn't hold my tongue and reminded her that another well-respected arts institution in the borough, The Riverside Studios, had been condemned, largely, I'm told, because the Tories struck a deal with the Arts Council to remove its funding so that they could develop the land for housing. This, I must point out, is not a fact, but a rumour darting around the area, but it certainly makes you realise that, as Arthur Miller said, "there are wheels within wheels." Any way, I felt a little bad mentioning this to the council lady and I hope she wasn't too embarrassed. I'm sure she's a very great supporter of the Arts. She seemed like a genuinely lovely lady.

I came home via central London to buy manuscript paper, went for a jog in the filthy, freezing cold, did some work on Brass and then ventured back out in sub zero temperatures to see young Abbie and Ian for an evening of pasta and Tori Amos.

Ian brought down an enormous box of letters, belongings and photographs that his Great Grandfather had collected in the First World War, and I spent about 3 hours going through them. Such extraordinary things, the most moving of which was a wallet; the wallet he'd had with him in the trenches. Inside, a lucky rabbit's foot, a tiny badge of St Christopher and a curious circular disc of metal. The men carried their wallets in their breast pockets and the metal discs inside were said to be just enough to protect the heart from a stray bullet. So if the rabbit's foot didn't save you, the flimsy metal might!

There were also books of picture postcards created by enterprising French people, many of which demonstrated the absolute destruction of towns like Amiens. One of them showed images of Albert, the town we stayed in during our recent trip to France, and was filled with photos of the church with its curious statue of the Madonna and child perilously hanging at a 45 degree angle from the very top. It was all fascinating and more than a little moving.

I'm home now, and thought I might do half an hour of composing before bed. I'm hoping the loft isn't too cold!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013


It's been a hugely tiring day, all of which was spent at the BBC Studios in Elstree, doing autocue for this year's Christmas special of the Matt Lucas Awards Show.

I don't often dust off the autocueing skills, and they were decidedly rusty today, largely because a lot of the default settings have changed on the software I was using. I spent the first half an hour of the day calling the auto-script help line with the man at the other end saying things like, "oh yes, that's been changed, most people don't use spaces on the screens any more..." Now I know how my Mum must have felt when she returned to secretarial work after a ten year hiatus to have children!

A year in modern lightning-fast technology is probably the equivalent of about ten in old money. Take your finger off the pulse and sudden up you're a Luddite.

Anyway, I sorted most of the issues before anyone else arrived, but spent the day finding solutions around a number of glitches which I was too proud to make another phonecall about!

We spent the day rehearsing and the evening recording, which is a slightly odd way to do things, because by the time you need to be absolutely focussed, you're sort of spent, having stared at a computer screen for more than twelve hours.

It's also a job where you can never switch off. The system you use is different from everyone else's, so when people say "go from cue 238", you have to reinterpret that in the prompt-script parlance, which doesn't have anything like as many markers. Of course, by the time they've named the cue, everyone else is ready to go... So the only way to avoid serious embarrassment is being one step ahead of the game.

Even going to the loo is difficult. You make a judgement, it seems like everything has ground to a halt in the studio for technical reasons, and you run like the wind, but return to hear that dreadful phrase "where's Ben?" And of course in the official breaks you have to be present so that people can rush over with script changes.

I certainly earned my money today.

As did the rest of the team. Some of the stuff that was being shot was really quite extraordinary. I don't think I'm at liberty to give anything away, but it's well worth a watch. And pay particular attention to the sequence involving French people! I say no more...

Food at Elstree never improves. I thought it might in the light of Children In Need and Strictly Come Dancing being recorded there this year for the first time. In fact today there was no heating in the canteen, which, when it's freezing cold outside, is not great...

When I say freezing, I mean FREEZING. I can't remember a mid-November day so cold. There were wisps of frost on the car windscreen when I left the house and by the time I'd left Elstree at 11pm tonight, there was a hard frost everywhere. The car temperature gage informed me it was -1.5 degrees. Bitter!

Monday, 18 November 2013

About FGM

I met Michelle for lunch today and, whilst waiting for her to arrive, stood and watched the skaters going in circles on the outdoor ice rink at Somerset House. The sound of the ice swooshing and scraping is a deeply atmospheric one.They were playing classical music on a loud speaker; silly things like the Flower Duet, and a few tracks from epic film scores, but the whole impression was one of great elegance and beauty, which moved me. I guess the surroundings helped. Somerset House is so historically important  and skating is such an ancient sport. Pepys, in his diary, talks about being quite astonished by the people skating in St James' Park and there was something about today which transported me to the 17th Century. I guess it's the nearest thing to self-propelled flying that humans have.

My mind, of course, drifted away to Torvill and Dean, and the magic of Bolero. As a child I'd never seen something so curiously beautiful. The lilac floaty costumes, the desperate sadness of the story they were telling and the intricacies of Ravel's iconic ostinato. Tack ta-ta-ta tack ta-ta-ta ta-ta-ta ta-ta-ta...

I came home from Central London, went for a run, did some writing, and then hot-footed it to Shepherd's Bush where my Tales Of the White City film was being screened (twice) at the Bush Theatre. About 100 people must have come in total, which was lovely, although I was devastated that they'd opted merely to screen a downloaded version of the YouTube version. It looked okay, but the sound was two frames earlier than the visuals, and we'd shot the film in high definition, so it was really disappointing not to see it at its best in such a lovely environment. The new Bush Theatre is absolutely beautiful. It's my dream to be the artistic director of a place like that.

Still, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and people said lovely things at the Q and A session afterwards. I met the MP Andy Slaughter in the theatre bar and we tried to encourage him to do something about the dreadful situation that Sagal, our anti-female genital mutilation campaigner from the film, has ended up in.

Despite the fact that she has founded a charity, and works around the clock taking Somalian women from the White City area to sexual health clinics in the borough of Hammersmith, because of the housing benefits capping system, she's now been forced to move with her family to the very far north of London. It takes her daughter an hour to get to school, and Sagal cannot now afford to travel back to White City to do her important charity work. Sometimes this government makes me want to throw a trifle at someone!

What kind of a message are the government tying to send out about FGM? It is totally illegal in this country and yet countless British children are sent off to places like Egypt to be butchered in their summer holidays. It is utterly disgraceful that not a single conviction has been made against any of the parents who opt to have their children "done" in the many years since the practice was made illegal... It's time to stop pussy footing about and nail the bastards who do this to the wall. Quite why people make such a big deal about paedophilia when young girls are being ripped apart like this, I'm not sure... Oh yes, that's right, it's little black girls who have it done. Half the country doesn't care what happens to the little black children, and the other half doesn't think we should get involved in issues which are so obviously culturally sensitive. God forbid they accuse us of racism.

Auspicious occasion

Nathan went off to Wakefield today and I went to King's Cross to see him off at platform 6. It's a funny old feeling to say goodbye to someone for a couple of months and I confess to shedding a number of rather subtle tears as I walked away! Touring is part and parcel of being an actor; they can't always work in London, but it's been a while since he went away for that long. In fact, it was 2005, the year we moved to Highgate. Can that really be almost ten years ago?

You become very used to a person being there every night. The knowledge that, whatever happens, there'll be someone there to give you a cuddle or do very little with, is hugely powerful.

Heaven knows how people deal with the loss of a long term partner. The idea that someone could get on that metaphorical train and simply never return is just too awful for words. My thoughts and love therefore go out to all the people reading this blog who have experienced the death of a loved one recently and are feeling low today as a result.

I went down to Victoria Station to meet Meriel for a quick coffee, and sat in a cafe whilst waiting for her, drinking the most expensive tea in a paper cup I've ever purchased. The woman behind the till annoyed me intensely. I went to the counter and very plainly said; "can I just have a tea please, to drink here." She responded "would you like muffins, cakes?" "No thanks" (I felt I'd covered this with the use of the phase "can I JUST have a cup of tea." I didn't want to feel irritated, but as though a) the tea wasn't already expensive enough and b) her asking me if I wanted a cake would suddenly make me realise the cakes in front of my were for sale!)

It was when she then said "was that a tea you wanted?" that I began to wonder if I'd actually spoken initially at all, a fact which was confirmed when she said, "drink in or take away?" I realised at this moment that my opening gamut should have been to ask the woman if she was ready to listen or not. Plainly she was not.

Meriel was well. We had an hour to natter before she got her train and I braved the horrible murky weather and disappeared north again. They say it's going to get even closer next week, which is not the most enjoyable thought.

At the moment I'm contemplating the love song in the second act of Brass. I'm finding it incredibly hard to come up with a lyric which doesn't feel hackneyed in some way. I put a post on Facebook asking people what they felt was the most romantic sentiment they could imagine, and lots have responded with ideas, all of which are very moving, but somewhat cliched. But then love is cliched! More recently someone wrote that the most romantic love songs are those which are "almost" love songs. Songs which don't mention the word love at all. I feel this is closer to the mark. Everything I've come up with so far has been entirely on the nose, and we live in a sophisticated era where we need a love song to surprise. But do I have it in me?  Lyrics really aren't my strong point. They never have been.

That said, this evening I sat down at the piano and wrote my first song from Brass.  A momentous occasion. The melody has been flying about in my head for days now, and the lyrics were the most advanced of any in the script, but even so I'm astonished to report that the song wrote itself in 25 minutes, which is an absolute record for me! Usually I have three attempts at each  song I write, but know on this occasion I've nailed it in one.

One of the positive aspects of Nathan going away is that I can sit in the attic and write music late into the night without disturbing anyone. Tomorrow I shall head up there with a candle and see what damage I can do to somewhere else in the score!

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Green flag

Last night Llio and I went to see the The London Vocal Project performing at The Forge in Camden. LVP are a sort of jazz choir. They perform a wide range of material from African-inspired gospel music through to epic jazz sound worlds. They were performing last night with an amazing Italian chap called Albert Hera who led the choir in the most fascinating piece of improvisation with shades of minimalism. Hera has a remarkable voice with at least a three octave range, but he's also capable of singing multi-phonics, two or more notes at once. He sails around the space singing little cells of music to certain members of the choir who then sing the music back, and the texture slowly builds. It was quite a remarkable feat of listening on behalf of the choir. Singers aren't necessarily famous for their aural skills. I have seldom seen a choir concentrate so intently but simultaneously look like they're having so much fun. It was a treat to see them.

On the way home, Llio's car broke down on Kentish Town High Street and we had to call out the Green Flag people. There was an overwhelming stench of petrol and the car simply ground to a halt. The fumes forced us to get out of the car and stand on the freezing street, shivering.

I have to say that the Green Flag people responded with remarkable speed and efficiency, and within 20 minutes they'd shown up, fixed the car, and followed Llio all the way up to the A1 to see that she was okay.

I had a long lie-in today and then did absolutely nothing! Nothing at all. Well, I went for a run. It's the first day I've done nothing at all for what feels like forever. I could get rather used to this!

Roy Harper

And so the media have decided to release the news of yet another rock star whose been charged with "historic" sex offences. But this time it's Roy Harper, a man I trust, a man I respect, a man I've worked with, and a man I feel the need to defend. 

Fifty years ago, Senator McCartney, in the chilly heights of the Cold War, decided that certain Americans with left wing tendencies should be accused of being un-American. In a polarised and paranoid world where black was black and white was white, those who believed aspects of communism were ideologically sound could be accused of undermining the very ethos of free America. 

No-one wanted to argue. If you argued, someone would pull the plug on you. And it was a relatively easy thing to accuse someone of. Certain types of people made rather good communists, or so they said. Gay people, for example, were perfect spies - they were used to deceitful behaviour. Bohemians, academics and actors all came under the spotlight. Those who had beef with their neighbours now had the perfect way of retaliating. No one ever got into trouble for making a false claim, but even the innocent would always be tarred with the commie brush. 

Arthur Miller's Crucible drew a startling parallel to events in Massachusetts in the late 17th Century, this time involving women suspected of practicing witch-craft. Another indefensible crime, and under the cover of mass hysteria, the perfect way to settle an old score. 

The curious difference in the current mayhem is that most of the crimes coming to light were supposedly committed 40 or 50 years ago and that the victims only seem to come forward when their abusers step into the limelight. 

Take Roy, for example. He releases a new album, goes on a tour, and immediately gets arrested for kiddie fiddling, almost as though his victim had forgotten about her terrible ordeal until she realised her abuser was coming into some money. 

The argument that always gets rolled out is the one that says these rock stars were so powerful that the law couldn't touch them until Jimmy Savile got busted. We conveniently forget about Jonathan King and Gary Glitter hitting the skids years before, and, in the case of Roy Harper, that  it's now two years since Savile. Plenty of time to decide to make a complaint. 

Obviously, I'm not defending paedophilia. Terrible things happen to young people and those who are guilty of doing terrible things must be punished. What strikes me about the 60s generation, however, is that they were all experimenting with boundaries; taking drugs, using contraception, being gay. Most of what they did was illegal but some of the strict rules and regulations they were kicking off against have subsequently been relaxed. I'm not sure anyone could have predicted then what would have been legalised by the year 2000. Change was in the air. The stuffy morality of war torn Britain was collapsing. In the 60s anything went, and some or those young girls throwing themselves at rock stars knew exactly what they were doing and what they wanted... 

The age of consent varies from county to country. Who's to say, for example, that the Spanish are wrong to draw the imaginary line at 14? Or the French at 15? Or many African nations at 12? Most people, if pushed, will claim to have lost their virginity before the age of 16. When I was 16, the age of consent for gay men was 21. Numbers. Just numbers. 

There are surely shades of grey within black and white, and I was absolutely horrified to go on twitter to find the obligatory and titilating  "trial by media" cranking up... These people don't care about the victim. Phrases like, "ugh, that's gross" completely undermine what she is supposed to have gone through. Instead of waiting for the justice system to do its job, every one develops a theory, and Roy is branded a baddie on the strength of a Daily Mail headline. Everyone has a reason why they're more upset than everyone else. Everyone knows someone who was felt up by the accuser.

Whether Roy is found innocent or guilty, his reputation will always be tarnished and his career will be effected. People will say there's no smoke without fire. They're already going through his song lyrics looking for clues. But is this fair? Does anyone deserve to have their life sifted through by the media before the courts sift through it all over again?

If the Michael Le Vell trial has taught us nothing else, it's that the media doesn't always get it right. There are mitigating circumstances. There are scores being settled. There are deluded people in this world. 

If we refuse to acknowledge any of this, I suspect the time has arrived to arrest every last living male celebrity from the 60s and 70s. We can ask the questions later on. In the meantime the world will be a great deal safer! And, quite frankly, whilst Syria's in disarray, people are vanishing in Sri Lanka and tens of thousands are without water in the Philippines the most important thing right now is that we rid the world of 70 year-old perverts! 

Thursday, 14 November 2013


I feel like I’ve been struggling a little bit through today. I’m obviously a little stressed and a bit over-wrought. I’ve developed a rash on my foot, my glands are up, I’m clearing my throat a lot, and my voice is getting very tired when I talk.

It’s all a horrible echo of what happened a couple of years ago when I needed surgery to have a polyp removed. There’s no way I’d ever go through that operation again, so I guess all I can do is try to keep as quiet as possible, and try not to mumble the words I’m writing on Brass out loud as I write them. I find it almost impossible not to, because it enables me to get into the minds of the characters, but it’s not doing me much good.

My computer (as ever) is playing up. It’s not allowing me to send emails this evening, which is just fabulous.

To cap off a rather stressful day, my back keeps going into spasm, which hasn’t been a lot of fun. Still, on the bright side, I’ve definitely kick-started my health and fitness regime, and have been running every day for the last two weeks.

We went to Philip Sallon’s house last night for an impromptu birthday party. As ever, his front room was filled with the most peculiar assortment of people, from famous actors and comedians to trannies, barefooted bongo players, wannabe pop stars, and drug-damaged ghosts from the early 1980s. Boy George was there, looking incredibly thin, and surprisingly well, and I made a few new friends, which was lovely. I did, however, feel somewhat under-dressed. There was a lot of Vivienne Westwood being paraded around the space, and people had made a huge effort to look glamorous and exciting, hardly surprising, really, given Philip’s status as a doyenne of 20th Century fashion. I was wearing a horrible T-shirt which looked like velour and clung to my body in all sorts of unflattering shapes. One of my goals for 2014 is to drape my newly sylph-like body in nicer clothes!

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Abbey Road

I fulfilled an ambition today, and got, for the first time in my life, to record something at Abbey Road studios. It shouldn't have been any more exciting than recording music at any other studio, but it absolutely was! I tried to play it cool. God knows I did, but even as we arrived, and saw the tourists all lining up in groups of fours to walk across "that" zebra crossing, my heart started pounding...

Quite aside from this being where the Beatles recorded everything, in fact where everyone recorded everything, it's where Roy Harper created those epic tracks like Me and My Woman and my beloved Kate Bush made all of her albums. It was opened by Edward Elgar. Edward Elgar! How's that for an extraordinary link to genius?!

It's probably a bit corporatey these days, they sell merchandise, and a few suspicious men in suits were milling around in the cafe, but there's definitely something in the air there. Something a little magical. It has the same heady creative buzz as the corridors of the old Television Centre. I hope it doesn't meet the same fate. You'd think it's iconic status would make it impervious, but they said the same about the BBC's flagship building, and Polar Studios in Stockholm, specifically designed by ABBA, is now a blinking gym!

We were in Studio Two today, although I darted into the empty (and vast) Studio One for a couple of minutes and played the opening bars of Wuthering Heights on an upright piano. There was a surprising shimmery brightness to the sound which made me wonder if it wasn't the actual instrument old Kate played on the track. Perhaps it was simply the room's acoustic. It was a wonderful moment, the memory of which I shall cherish.

Nathan and I were singing on the soundtrack of a feature-length documentary written by a friend of Uncle Bill's. There were eight professional singers and a children's choir from a school in Rye who were horribly late because their bus didn't arrive to pick them up!

We did the same sequence of music again and again, in different styles, until we wondered why we were still singing it! Such is the nature of film, one assumes. I'd certainly love to have been running a session with a choir of pros at Abbey Road Studios... The things I'd have recorded! I'm definitely in the wrong business!

But Abbey Road! What a treat! I suspect only lunacy or Alzheimer's will shake today's magical memories from my mind!

Tuesday, 12 November 2013


I read today that a group of people have started a campaign to shine a light on the importance of breast feeding. Apparently there are still some people who make the women who choose to publicly breastfeed feel rather ashamed. I’m sure there are one or two luddites and misogynists out there who behave appallingly, but I can’t help but think there are greater issues for women to get worried about. Unfortunately, and I’m going to say it, breastfeeding can be an anti-social thing which becomes particularly uncomfortable when the child doing the feeding is old enough to walk over to Mummy and ask for milk!

Above all, I get slightly irritated by the militant mothers who feel that, because they’ve CHOSEN to have children, the rest of the world needs to feel somehow grateful. To those of us without children, breastfeeding can be a slightly odd sight. I know it’s good for the baby; it’s natural, it establishes bonds, and delivers nutrients, but it’s also divides people. I for one don’t particularly like the sight of breasts. There are many who don’t like penises, and that’s why, when I have a wee, I don’t whip it out and piss in a pot in a cafe!

Furthermore, (and more importantly) I know plenty of new mothers who are desperate to breastfeed their children, but don’t have the ability to do so for whatever reason. Many non-breastfeeding mothers are made to feel rather (for want of a better word) emasculated by their inability to produce milk. There are also women, whose children have died or been adopted, who spontaneously lactate whenever they hear a child crying, and seeing a woman breastfeeding can be hugely distressing. Moreover, there are women, many, many women, and some men, who are desperate for children, but whom, either for medical reasons, or through circumstance, cannot have babies.

I personally think making a song and dance about breast-feeding or any aspect of child-rearing can be devastating for many. “Look at me and my fecundity, whilst you’re sitting opposite all barren and withered...” I once heard the story of a woman who poured her heart out to her friend (a mother of one) saying how terribly sad she felt that she didn’t have children. When she looked up, her friend was in tears. It very quickly transpired, however, that she wasn’t crying in sympathy with the woman, she was crying because the conversation had made her realise that she was probably never going to have a second child. I mentioned this story recently to a mother-of-two who said, “of course she was crying, the desire to have a second child is as strong as the desire to have the first.” She’s probably right. But what of the woman with no children at all? I use this example to suggest that the behaviour of young mothers can periodically (and unwittingly) be quite cruel. There’s sometimes a bombastic quality about their drive to be the most tired, the most put upon, the most amazing career woman, which can lose sight of the fact that, for some, they’re the luckiest women on the planet. Us non-parents are often told we simply don’t understand, without anyone realising that the views of the outsider can often be if not important, at least relevant.

The bottom line is that there are some things which need to be handled with a degree of subtlety. I am a proud gay man with law on my side, but I would never dream of showing a huge amount of romantic affection to another man in public, because I don’t want to offend, and frankly, don’t want to appear undignified. Quite why we need to suddenly go all militant about breastfeeding I’m not sure. After all, most of the women I know are hugely discrete about the act. They use cloths and blankets to hide their nipples to protect those who may find the sight a little bit too free and easy and I don’t see why we need to offend for the sake of being liberated. With all of these issues, we surely need to simply establish an understanding all round, without banging our drums too loudly simply because we have right on our side.

Monday, 11 November 2013


You know when you go out and immediately realise you've completely under-estimated how cold it is? That! Except, after I'd started sweating a little, everything started feeling unpleasantly sticky.

It's been the sort of day that I despise. Mizzly, drizzly, a little windy. Everyone walks around with looks of thunder plastered on their faces. Everyone you pass has a frown chiseled to their foreheads. Everything looks grey, from the sky and the River Thames to every building you pass. Grey, grey, grey. People get angry because they can't walk along texting or talking on the phone because the rain water gets into the mechanics of smart phones and makes them go temporarily wrong in peculiar ways.

I went to see my osteopath this morning, and, as usual, he gave me a bit of a pummelling, telling me I was the patient he dealt with who could take THE most intense deep tissue massage. I felt a little sick afterwards and my nose went all runny; a sure sign that he'd dislodged some serous toxins, which I'm hoping I don't somehow reabsorb.

11 am on Armistice Day happened whilst I was in the waiting room. Just as I stood up to announce to the room that the moment had arrived (I tend to think people like to know these things) the doors flew open and a group of osteopaths arrived to pick up their 11 o'clock appointments. There was mayhem in a space which was lovely and calm just two minutes before. I felt a little sad, but I would have made myself very unpopular making an announcement in the midst of all that. So I took my hat off and sat for a moment, thinking about the Leeds Pals, and the Barnbow Lassies, and the good folk of Coventry.

I met Michelle Turkie again for lunch, which is something we may do quite regularly over the next few months. It's so nice to catch up with her and see her smiling face. She gave me some apples from her tree; tiny little bright red things which were exquisitely tasty. I had two and two were offered up to pass onto Nathan, so on my way back home, I stopped off at the Shaftesbury Theatre and duly handed the contraband on.

I came home and wrote more of the Brass script. It was somewhat slow-going, as the opening of act two is a pretty lengthy song, and lyrics obviously take a great deal longer than script, particularly when you're reliant on an online rhyming dictionary!

I went running in the rain. It's a very liberating thing to do, especially when you find yourself brushing past fir trees, hanging over the suburban pavements, thick with water, which smack you in the face with an amazingly refreshing blast of raindrop joy.

More Brass, (I even wrote on the tube back into town) and then we met Jim Zalles and Matthew for dinner at Amalfi on Old Compton Street. It was just lovely to see them. I'd not had much of an opportunity to talk to Matthew before, and found him to be a very fine chap. He's the first person I've ever met from Milton Keynes.

We went home via Charing Cross police station to drop off some keys which Nathan had found on the street outside Bar Italia on Frith Street. Every good day deserves a good deed!

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Final session

What a relief! The Pepys Motet is now completely in the can. I'm not even going to THINK about the next stage, the many hours of editing and things, until at least next week, but the thought that twenty voices are all down on virtual tape and that there have been no meltdowns, fall outs or terrible catastrophes in the studio is a great relief.

The tenors were brilliant. I was really proud of them. Some of the sounds they were making as a unit by the end of the session were just beautiful - mellifluous, moving - and more excitingly, we had what the altos had recorded last week playing for much of the session and they sounded as good as I'd remembered them.

Our new tenor, little Joe, who actually MD'd the Christina Bianco cabaret I went to see with Llio last month at the Hippodrome, was spot on; an absolute delight to work with.

As ever, Dear Ian delivered the heart-breaking vocal sound of the London Requiem's Pie Jesu, Anthony "Ding Dong" delivered the theatrics, Nigel was note-perfect, always the best prepared of all the male vocalists I work with, and then Christopher completed the equation by powering in with an operatic maelstrom of sound. At one stage I said to the group, "this is the moment to unleash your inner operatic divo," to which he replied, "back off bitches" and opened his lungs like a daemon!

So now I can watch Downton Abbey with a plate of food on my lap without feeling there's something dark looming in the shadows... That's if I can haul myself out of this lovely hot bath in time!

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Hug a hoodie

On route to Julie's this afternoon, we saw a gang of young lads hanging about outside a shop on the Holloway Road. I immediately bristled at the sight of one of them spitting on the pavement. Not just spitting, in fact; the nasty little git was almost vomiting a trail of phlegm onto the footpath! It was somewhat grotesque. There he was, in a hoodie, looking like a proper little chav. "God, how ghastly!" I said to Nathan.

Five seconds later, the lad was rushing to the shop door and I wondered nervously what was about to happen. Was he going to rush in and nick a can of coke? Was he going to wallop some unsuspecting passer by?

Turns out he was rushing to open the shop door for an elderly man with a walking stick who was struggling to get out. And, even more surprisingly, he made sure the man was okay before moving on.

What an astonishing dichotomy! It just goes to prove that one should never judge a book by its cover.

We had a lot of fun at Julie's. It was craft and cake and I went as easy as I could on the cake bit; a touch difficult when you're confronted with the most delicious chocolate and orange thing. Hard times!

We watched all the talent shows, marvelling at how the X Factor can call itself a classy television programme whilst it refuses to employ live musicians to accompany the "acts" every week. This week was "Big Band" week, which meant, finally, they got to perform in front of an orchestra, and, as always, the decent acts raised their game. Hardly surprising: the power of a Big Band including a full string orchestra will give any self-respecting performer a lift.

There were no white Grannies on display for the mixed-race performers this week, but they did pull out Tamera's (white) mother. Simon Cowell obviously thinks she's got record-selling potential, and as she was in the bottom two last week, must have felt it was time to remind the country that she's not a scary black woman. Desperate tactics. Sometimes I feel a little ashamed.

Elaborate code

There's an extraordinary code which exists amongst people in our industry where individuals demonstrate their personal links to famous figures by using nick names when they talk about them. When I directed an obscure Britten operetta at university I remember an old colleague of Britten's coming in and referring to him as Benjy.

A group of older industry figures came into the cafe this morning and were talking about a whole host of actors in this manner, the one that stood out was "Freddy Molina." (Alfred Molina.) I always question whether these people actually know the person they're talking about quite as well as the nickname would suggest!

I worked a full day on Brass and got all the way to the interval, which feels like a good place to reach just before the weekend.

I went for a run at lunchtime in a gap in the rain. I've been listening to a lot of Rita Coolidge whilst jogging. Her disco covers are always recorded at about 105 beats per minute, which is a good running tempo... For the record!

Raily arrived at 7pm, and is actually still here. We've had such a wonderful evening. Great food - a lovely pasta dish with some aubergines lightly fried in breadcrumbs - and amazing conversation. Raily is so knowledgeable and encourages the most astonishingly erudite debates. We've discussed so many things: art, politics, sexuality, evolution, monogamy, Frasier (all those whilst I've been writing this blog.)

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Professor Sands

I sat and worked in the cafe all morning, speeding my way towards the interval of Brass on draft two of the script. It's still not right - particularly when it comes to the lyrics (which are very much still just thoughts) - but it's slowly improving .

I was surrounded, as ever, by the great and the good of Highgate. A slew of yummy mummies were lowing, and then I became aware of a ghastly script meeting going on at the next door table, which ended up making me rather depressed. Bullshit was very definitely the order of the day. A very strange and edgy bloke about my age was telling a girl he might be interested in her script for a short film. Half way through the meeting, just after the director had said he could think of a number of Hollywood actors who might like to play the script's central role, she uttered the dreaded words, "can I be honest with you? It's just, I'd quite like to play the main role myself. I've got experience, you see, I studied performing arts at college and I've done a fringe play..." Painful! Any self-respecting director would have given the girl the important "don't run before you can walk" lecture. One look at her told me she didn't have the allure of a film actress. She screamed deluded ambition. I wanted to take her aside and say "if you're a decent writer you'll want this script performed well, and that might mean letting go of your desire to be a star!" But she stuck to her guns and I could see the director backing off...

I went into town to meet Nathan for lunch and stumbled across our resident Highgate homeless man on my way down the steep footpath to the tube. He's taken to sitting underneath one of the railings down there and seems to devour books. There's always a pile of paperbacks next to him. Today he had a rather sad little sign, written on cardboard, which advertised himself as a a painter or cleaner, "or whatever you need, just think of me..." A stark reminder, if one were needed, that we're still not quite out of the woods.

I didn't realise that I'd put myself on a Bank Branch train, and was so engrossed in the world of Brass that I was in King's Cross before I'd noticed my error. I threw my belongings together and leapt onto the empty platform. An eerie woman's voice echoed through the corridors; "Would Inspector Sands please go to the operations room immediately." Round and round her announcement went. Quite why they persist in using these "codes," I'm not sure. Everyone knows that Mr Sands means there's a suspected fire somewhere in the building!

So I tried to look cool and walked as quickly as I could to the Piccadilly line platform. Eventually the announcements stopped, but obviously, I'd spent all my time on the platform in a state of terror, smelling the air for smoke and trying to make sense of the other smells drifting through the station which including a whiff of some sort of petro-chemical, which made me wonder whether "Inspector Sands" was actually the code for "every body run, the terrorists have released poison gas!"

We had lunch in Wagamama. It felt a little fancy, but I didn't feel like I was knocking back the calories, which is important for a man who is now officially losing weight. I've been running every day this week so far.

Nathan is back on stage this Christmas, playing Ghastly Gordon in the pantomime at Wakefield Theatre Royal. I for one am very excited to see him, and further excited at the opportunity to spend a little more time in my beloved Yorkshire. If anyone fancies a trip up there, tickets are selling fast!

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Sops away!

Another day in the studio, and the Pepys Motet is now three-quarters recorded. Only the tenors remain an unknown entity, so I'm keeping my fingers firmly crossed for a smooth Sunday. Fifteen voices down. Five to go.

I hear there's no tube on Sunday, which will, of course, become the next hurdle. You can warn people till you're blue in the face about London travel chaos, but the fact remains that, on a Sunday morning, people will always stay in bed as late as they possibly can! And who can blame them?

The sopranos did well. There were a few hairy moments, but they absolutely excelled in Movement One, which seems to have been everyone else's Achilles Heal, or "athletes foot" as Nathan's Mum once called it!

It seems that each of the movements has particularly or specifically appealed to one of the voice groups. The altos, for example, went a bundle for Movement Five, and every time I heard a snippet of them coming through the desk today they were absolutely note-perfect in that particular movement.

We over ran by half an hour. Not terrible, I suppose, but not quite ideal.

I'm looking forward to getting home tonight, taking my shoes off and closing the door on the world. I may take myself for a run, as I've done very well this week on the health and fitness front, but ate a couple of three chocolate digestives biscuits in the studio. I'm going to become a calorie counting bore, I can sense it in my bones. You might as well stop reading this blog now. It's bound to turn into something like Bridget Jones' diary. Present weight: 29 stones. Calories consumed today: 901,457. General mood: panicky. Thought of the week: I am my own rainbow!

Grid lock

It was Fiona's birthday today and we sat around an open fire in an upstairs room above a beautiful pub on New Oxford Street.

We got stuck in appalling traffic on our way there; a proper gridlock which went from Holborn to Centre Point. There had been some kind of accident which meant all the one way streets around the British Museum became glorified car parks, with no one able to turn around and get the hell out of there!

The evening was wonderful, however, and was peopled by all sorts of people from Fiona's life. A number of the old guard were there - Ted Thornhill, Jim Fortune and Vic Benjamin - alongside a parade of people from Fiona's glamorous world of rock music. Ed and Gita, Vicky cello, and some of the members of Placebo and their mates. A good crowd, and a fun evening all round, although almost everyone there seemed to be called either Ed or Vic!

It was so nice to see James Fortune, who's had the most horrific issues with his voice over the last few years to the extent that he's now stopped performing and is writing music instead. He showed us pictures of his son, who's growing up fast. Is it me or does life seem to be rattling by at a rather alarming rate?

I'm having a lot of very vivid and slightly portentous dreams at the moment. I don't know what that's all about.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Blinking tenors!

Is it cold or have I recently turned into some kind of little old lady? I'm sort of wandering around the house looking for extra layers, terrified to turn the heating on because that would be acknowledging winter! This, I am aware, is very much the behaviour of a geriatric!

The sun has been shining all day, which probably explains the low temperatures; no cloud cover to keep the warmth in, and not enough heat in the sun to warm the ground. I went for a lovely jog up into Highgate village at about 3.30pm when the sun was really low in the sky and glinting on myriad windows. From Waterlow Park, the views were spectacular. The sky was blue and all the buildings were the colour of Nice biscuits!

I met up with an old friend at lunchtime. Dear Michelle Turkie. (Yes, that really is her surname!) She was one of the first people I spoke to at university, and she looks just the same, except her (once Easter-yellow-scarf-filled hair) is now greyish around the temples. Just like me.

We had a lot to catch up on. Five or so years of gossip and chat, but it felt so easy. So easy, in fact, that time flew past, and suddenly it was time for her to return to work. We immediately arranged to meet the following week.  There's no way I'm going to allow her to drift out of my life again! She's so much fun.

Whilst nattering away to Michelle, I took a phone call from the tenor we'd booked to replace the tenor we'd booked to replace Stephen! It all gets rather confusing...

Sadly, having told me he was free and thrilled to do the session, he now tells me he'd entirely forgotten about another rehearsal on the same day. He wondered if perhaps he could do just half of the session.  What am I meant to do? Chuck away half the cost of the studio whilst we wait for him to turn up, and send the other tenors down the pub. When I said that half a session wasn't an option he asked me to consider him
for future work and I thought "what kind of person messes someone about like this and still expects to be considered for work?" I'd spent an hour on Saturday night formatting files for him and changing music to suit his range! Why do people just not say no immediately?!

On the bright side, twitter went almost viral with pleas for a tenor, and this evening I find myself spoilt for choice trying to work out who to approach first! A lot of musical directors and composers have come forward, which is pleasing in a way; they'll know a lot about music and will also understand why it's often important to do someone a favour! The flip side, of course, is that there are never recordings on the internet which show them singing, because they don't tend to do it professionally. That said, MDs tend to be very fine singers indeed. I probably just need to take a punt!

Right, that's me! I need to do another half an hour on Brass before bed. I'm about to kill someone off in the script! Need to focus!

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Reality bites

We're having an evening at Brother Edward's house watching the various results shows from various reality shows. Obviously I barely care about the results, but it's nice to see talentless people having the arrogant smiles wiped off their faces. I personally like it when they beg or look really shocked to be in the bottom two (Tamera.) Brilliantly lacking in dignity!

I love the cliches: more than 110% of acts this evening were literally singing for their lives.

The other cliche about British reality TV which I find a little distasteful is the tendency to bring out the white Grannie if the contestant is mixed race. It happens all the time. We've all seen it; the little film which gets played out before the act performs where we learn how close the contestant is to their (white) grandmother. Even Alesha Dixon on Strictly brought out her white Grannie. It's incredibly cynical and it makes me feel uncomfortable, almost as though the producers of the show want to remind viewers that the contestants are "one of us" lest they should think they're black, and therefore not worthy of a vote. Watch out for it. They did it with Leona Lewis as well.

We went to see Jem and Ian this afternoon for a meal at the Pizza Express in Totteridge and Whetstone and then went for tea and chocolate back at theirs. This is my last day of decadence before my strict diet and health regime begins. I'm mentioning it in the blog so any readers who see me stuffing my face can remind me not to. I mean it!

There's very little else to write about. The traffic has been awful in London today. We got horribly stuck around the Old Street area. It's a terrible bottle neck round there, even in the middle of the night.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Home made crisps

We had a lie-in this morning. Blissful! I think we both slept until at least 11. Waking up of one's own accord is the most wonderful sensation.

Michelle came round at 1ish to run through her music for the soprano session on Pepys, which is the next up on Wednesday. We staggered our way through the music and had lunch in the greasy spoon half way through.

Delightfully, Michelle hung about afterwards and we watched Strictly and the X Factor live on telly for probably the first time in my life!

The evening was made very special by the firework display at Ali Pali which we could see behind the trees by the tube station. There was a mini display going on a little closer to us which felt even more impressive. The fireworks seemed to be bursting just in front of our window!

I threw together a plate of pasta for us all, with some hand made crisps which I was rather pleased with.

I've not touched Brass today, and I have to say it feels a little odd! I'm itching to get going on it again and am pleased to find myself with a couple of clear days to completely immerse myself in its world starting Monday. My aim is to make the language I use surprising. I'm not sure I even know what this means yet, but I think I could fall very quickly into a world of First World War cliche, which I somehow need to fight against. That said, there are certain cliches which an audience would feel disappointed not to see. It's an interesting dilemma!

Friday, 1 November 2013

Sit com

I've been rather dreading today; nervous all week that the Pepys altos session would go as badly as the bass one.

I hauled myself out of bed, bright and early, and took myself to the post office to send a letter to Arnold Wesker. Fiona's mother sent me an article from The Times about him last week which I'd found inexplicably moving, so thought I'd drop him a line to see how he was doing. It's always good to get a letter isn't it? My mother always used to say "if you feel lonely or sad, send a letter," although I seem to have almost completely lost the ability to write! My writing looked like a little spider had walked through a puddle of ink and then run across the page.

I did a couple of hours on Brass at the cafe. It's fairly addictive and I'm enjoying the process of writing in detail immensely rewarding. I also enjoy the environment of the cafe. It struck me today what an extraordinary sit com this particular cafe would make, filled with the eccentric characters who people the Archway Road.

I sat on the tube to Clapham opposite a ghastly fat, sly-eyed Eastern European woman, who was wearing a bag-like T-shirt with a tiger on it. She had a baby under one arm. An older girl, maybe eight, was sitting next to the woman. She had a sallow face and deep-set eyes and was plainly terrified of the older woman. Every time she tried to speak, the woman (probably her mother) told her, aggressively, to shut up. Every time the baby dropped something, the young girl  immediately picked it up with a look of terror on her face.

How awful to grow up frightened of your mother, having to learn life's lessons from a woman who doesn't smile, a woman who treats you like a slave, blames you for everything, and probably smacks you when you don't please her. I stared at them for some time trying to work out how a situation like that could have developed. And I felt really sad.

The session with the altos was a blinder. Thank God! We ended on time and by the evening had well and truly hit our stride. Everyone was listening to one another intently and it felt as though all five singers were breathing and thinking as one.

It got a bit hairy in the middle; Movement One took longer than expected - it always does - but everything else was marvellous. We had proper breaks and everything!

I'm shattered however, and can't wait to get home. Unfortunately we lost our umpteenth tenor today for next Sunday's session, annoyingly someone who initially said he was free and then seemed to change his mind, no doubt whey he decided he was far too important an artist to deign to do a session for love rather than hard cash! Obviously it's no skin off my nose if somebody can't do a session, what annoys me is the loss of three days of "finding tenor time" because no one thinks it's important enough to get back to the composer to say the person he's  been assured is happy to do the gig, for whatever reason suddenly can't! Ho hum. Just one reason why the life of a creative can be a little hard.