Sunday, 31 March 2013

Dachshunds

Easter Day, and we're still in Thaxted, sitting in front of an open fire, putting the world to rights.

We've talked about the BBC, Eurovision, my career and now we've moved onto education. We're in complete agreement that Michael Gove is not just a complete tit, but a complete tit with a dangerous Hitler complex. It's time for teachers to put their collective foot down and stop him before he starts doing experiments on dwarves.

The best Eurovision song by far this year is the Dutch entry; a haunting, quirky little piece sung by a woman called Anouk, which is called Birds. It includes the intriguing lyric "birds falling down the roof tops, out of the sky like rain drops" which I find rather alluring for some reason. You can hear it here.

I have made my first ever actual bet on the contest this year. £20 on Russia (at 16:1) to win. Russia's song this year is all about coming together and supporting one another, which feels hugely ironic in the light of the way they treat gay people over there. I don't want the song to win in the slightest; I just think it will, and if it does, I want the proceeds to go straight to the Four Colours project. Homophobic twats.

We've been looking through my mother's dachshund calendar. She adores dachshunds but doesn't deal very well with photographs which make them look deformed (or more deformed than they already do.) She has, for some time, doctored pictures of ugly dachshunds on calenders to make them look more appealing. This month's animals had necks which she considered to be too long, so she's tried to make collars for them. The results are extraordinary! 



Saturday, 30 March 2013

Easter nests

It's Easter Saturday, and I'm in Thaxted watching Doctor Who. We've just been to the local pub for a spot of grub - stuffed mushrooms and a veggie burger - and I feel like a fat banger. 

I spent some of the afternoon creating a little Easter basket for the centre of the dinner table tomorrow. It's very much an ode to my Grandmother, who would have been 100 this year. Grannie was unique, pretty much in every respect. Everyone else gave us shop bought eggs for Easter, but she crafted little nests out of margarine pots and straw, filled them with Cadbury's Cream Eggs and little yellow fluffy toy chicks, and hid them in the garden for us to find. It was magical.

I'm on a bit of a nostalgia-fest at the moment and find myself regularly drifting off into the relative safety of childhood memories. I think, at heart, I'm something of a Luddite and find myself uncomfortable with the speed that the world is turning around me at the moment. In short, I long for simpler times. 

I think a lack of children is possibly complicating the issue, because I don't really have anyone to share these special memories with. Sometimes I think it would be rather lovely to build an advent crown with someone who hasn't been polluted by technology or jaded by complacency or cynicism. 

We take so much for granted these days - good health, relative wealth, knowledge, freedom to express ourselves - that sometimes I think we've lost that sense of magic and awe, in favour of what we know can be downloaded straight into our minds at the flick of a switch. 

I am determined to reboot my brain to allow some of the magic back in. From henceforth, I shall build Easter nests and advent crowns. I shall wander across misty moors, hunt for ghosts and sit by open fires toasting marsh mallows, and any of my friends are welcome to join me.  I need it. I genuinely need to reboot.



There! That's filled a gaping gap. 



Friday, 29 March 2013

Brixworth Church

Today I got an opportunity to meet Ian Knauer's Mum, Sheila. She's an absolutely charming woman, but I found myself being constantly surprised by her English accent. Ian seems so American, that it feels a little odd to think of him as half-British, but that is, after all, the reason why he's allowed to live here with Jem. They'd be unable to live as a couple in the States or Australia which is as good a reason as any to be proud to be British!
More curiously, Ian's mother hails from Northamptonshire, up near Pitsford Reservoir, so we were able to talk about familiar landmarks including Brixworth church, which I've long considered to be the most eerie place in the UK. Every time I've walked into the churchyard there, my legs have felt really heavy and my head has started spinning. 

We once had a very good-natured dog who point blank refused to enter the place; all the hackles went up on the back of her neck and she started growling. The poor creature was terrified.  

When I was 18, I travelled there with a university friend on a hot summer's evening. We decided to go for a walk as the sun was sinking in the sky, but as we crossed the stile out of graveyard, we could hear the sound of a fox hunt - bugles blowing and hounds barking - being carried to us on the breeze. "It's not the hunting season, is it?" asked my friend, "I don't know," I replied, "I'm not up on that sort of thing, but I'm surprised they're still rushing about at sunset..."

We went for a charming and lengthy walk down to the bottom of the hill, and returned to the churchyard after dark. As we arrived at the stile, we heard the very same fox-hunting sound, once again being carried on the breeze. Crazy or what?

I took Sheila with Ian and Jem to the pergola on Hampstead Heath, but, for the first time in my life, found it closed; health and safety reasons, because of the snow and ice. It annoyed me intensely, but we got to look at it from the outside, and everyone seemed suitably impressed. 

I then took them to look at the view over London from above the Vale of Health, which I consider to be one of the finest in the city. An enormous fair had been set up on the bridle way there, which looked a little pathetic. A few children were wondering about aimlessly with little bags of candy floss. There are no houses anywhere in the vicinity and I can't imagine how anyone would know it was there, or be bothered to walk to it from other parts of London. It's hardly going to appeal to the dog walkers and cruisers who normally hang around up there! 

We had lunch at the Flask in Highgate, and it was only at this point that I realised today is a bank holiday. Ah! The life of a freelancer!

I'm reliably informed that it is Good Friday, which is the day when this bloke called Jesus, who shares his birthday with Annie Lennox, got nailed to a tree. Well that's what Tim Rice told me, anyway. Mind you, he also told me that Evita Peron was a saint rather than a crypto-fascist, so maybe I should downgrade his oracle status. 

My Mum used to tell me that the sun always goes behind a cloud at 3pm on a Good Friday and I always forget to check. It was quite sunny this morning, and indeed this evening, when Ali Pali from my sitting room window was glowing so majestically that I immediately tweeted the world to tell anyone who could potentially see it to rush to a place where they could. Anyway, the point of that ridiculously long sentence was to suggest that it was indeed rather overcast this afternoon, so God's plainly embraced the concept of time zones. 

Nathan is currently learning Sherry by the Four Seasons for a gig tomorrow. My Mum would be in 7th Heaven, but it's always been one of my least favourite songs. All that shrieking in falsetto. Nasty.  

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Tired eyes

It's been another day of writing music, another day spent staring at manuscript paper with my tired eyes itching. I now have the barebones of four songs for the White City project, which is not bad going, I suppose. 

I'm not sure I have a great deal more to write about. I went to the gym and skipped about whilst the pumped-up steroid-popping regulars grunted and gasped in the free-weights room.   When the same men gather in the steam room after their work-outs, all they seem to be able to talk about is drinking beer and watching sport. There's nothing like a stereotype! Do straight blokes genuinely like these kind of discussions, or do they have them simply because they feel they OUGHT to? 
  
The pennies continue to roll into the Four Colours charity recording pot. It's more of a trickle than a roll, especially when I compare our pathetic search for £1000 against the marvellous Bitter Ruin, who reached their enormous target of £20k for their next album in just 15 hours. Amazing for them and much deserved, but it just goes to show how little known The Rebel Chorus is in the big wide world. I wish I were the sort of person who knew how to schmooze! Maybe I should plan some notorious political crime and get myself sent to prison for a few years. That's enough time to write a pretty decent symphony, I reckon.  

If anyone reading this blog suddenly thinks, "oh, I was meaning to sling that lovely charity  project a crafty fiver", it's still not too late. 

http://wefund.com/project/four-colours/p57229

Or just go to www.wefund.com and search for Four Colours; the name of the EP we're recording. 

We've got about three hundred pounds left to raise, so we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Ian Drury

I went to bed feeling pretty lousy last night. I think the massage drew all sorts of toxins out of my system and I fell asleep genuinely wondering if I was going to see the dawn!

I woke up instead feeling refreshed and, for the first time in an age, without pains in my shoulders. If only I could afford more regular massages. I think my generation is getting to that stage now, where we can't take our health for granted any more. 

I worked in the cafe all morning, listening, with one ear, to the Highgate  mummies and their First World crises. One was really worried today about the lack of nuts in her porridge, and a few days ago I was party to a hellish conversation: After asking for her sandwich to come "deconstructed", one woman said to her friend; "Daisy-May's just bought an iPad!" "Really?" said the other one, "Tilly's not allowed to buy anything. She's just bought herself a horse."

I mean, Jesus Christ...

I wrote a song for the White City film this afternoon seemingly via a process of osmosis. A lot of these songs seem to be writing themselves, which either means I'm entering some kind of Imperial period, or that I'm simply coming up with a load of absolute rubbish. I cried my eyes out after singing it through, which is about the only gage I have that I've written from the heart. Vital for me. 

Mind you, I cry at everything these days...

Today's song was about Frank, who wants to sing a love song to his partner of 40 years. Tomorrow will find me diving into the back catalogue of Ian Drury to find inspiration for a song about epilepsy! Sometimes my life feels really rather surreal! 

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Massage

You must excuse me if this blog entry makes little or no sense. I've just spent the last hour being massaged, and I feel like a big floaty, floppy, dreamy, soggy, spinny mess. 

The set of stairs which leads up to our front door has recently become perilous. The weekend's snow has turned into glass-like ice, which is almost impossible to walk on. I mention it here because making my way up them in my present state was about as silly as going for a dip in a piranha-infested river. 

I drove to the massage; it's only round the corner, but a fifteen-minute walk afterwards could well unstitch all the good work. What I need is a bath and a good sleep. 

As I motored down Muswell Hill Road, a very silly woman ran across the street in front of me. It's fairly typical London behaviour. We're all guilty of doing it sometimes; the car's not driving fast and you assume that its driver won't want to run you over and will put his foot on the brake accordingly. A lot of Londoners aren't drivers, however, so the split-second decisions they make in this regard are potentially costly. Particularly when it's dark and icy. I very nearly hit her because the car wheels skidded as I slammed the brakes on. The car behind me was also forced to brake suddenly as a result of her pavement-to-pavement dash. The pedestrian gave me such a dirty look, so much that I really wanted to get out and give her a lecture on stopping distances in icy conditions, but decided I didn't want to be worked up for the massage. It was deeply irresponsible behaviour on her part, however, and I hope she learnt something from the episode I've half a mind to strip her of her cycling proficiency badge, although, quite frankly, I'd be happier if someone taught her that bubble perms belong to, and should remain at all times, in the 80s!

Abbie came over today and we recorded a demo vocal of Four Colours for our soloist to use as a learning tool. Abbie sang beautifully and we nailed the tracks in about an hour. 

I heard today that an amateur choir in York are planning to perform Yellow in July. This makes me feel very happy indeed. It's a work which deserves to take off. Particularly with its history. 

The rest of the day has been spent working on the White City project, composing music for Norma's song, which is about fostering children. I defy anyone to remain dry-eyed through this one. Norma is one of life's saints, and the song is literally writing itself. I mean figuratively writing itself. I'm holding the pen. I think. 

Monday, 25 March 2013

Sunday night

Sunday's blog (which I forgot to post...)

It is freezing cold; a dry kind of cold, where little flakes of ice seem to be drifting aimlessly in the air. The footpaths are lethal. The snow has turned rock solid.

I picked Nathan up from Stansted airport at lunchtime, and we drove to Thaxted to collect the coat I'd left there on my last visit. I usually only wear an overcoat for two months of the year, and under normal circumstances the coat I left could have languished in Thaxted for another 10 months, but they say there's no apparent end to this unseasonable cold snap, so the only option was to retrieve it. 

The north Essex country lanes were covered in drifts and the snow was piled high on the edges of the fields. The temperature remained at minus two from the moment I got in the car at Highgate to the moment we arrived at my parents' house. 

The parents themselves were with my Aunt on the Isle of Wight, where it's apparently not snowing. Their hotel room, somewhere near Shanklin, has a sea view, and my Mum's pretty sure it would be absolutely lovely during the summer! When I last spoke to them they were drinking sherry in my Aunt's room. Oh dear...

We let ourselves into the parents' empty house and keenly gobbled down a delicious bowl of home made vegetable soup which my Mum had left for us on the stove before wrapping up and heading back to The Smoke.

The evening was a relaxing one, spent in front of the telly eating pizza. We watched a programme about the closure of Television Centre, which I found rather depressing. I genuinely can't understand why the BBC is leaving that place. It's an iconic building, which is important both historically and artistically; as important, I'd say, as the Royal Festival Hall, and no one would be allowed to sell that off and turn it into a hotel! 

Sheep

I've worked pretty solidly today from 9am until 10pm with only a short break to go to the gym. This turned out to be a particularly unpleasant experience. Probably because I haven't had a chance to do any exercise during the last month, the moment I started sweating, I started to itch, and within a few minutes I was covered in a rash, which lasted about ten minutes. Allergic to my own sweat! Fabulous! I'm sure it was just an aberration and frankly, I've been eating so much rubbish of late that I'm probably kicking out all sorts of dreadful toxins which totally freaked my skin out. Time to pull myself together...

I was so moved today to see images of farmers in the north, with spades, literally digging their sheep out of snow drifts. I was astonished to see any of them emerging alive. They were completely buried and some had been trapped for days. It is, of course, lambing season and some ewes had been giving birth in the drifts. Of course these lambs don't stand a chance, and were being dug out frozen solid. It's so sad. I shall try to think about these farmers every time I start to complain about being cold. 

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Snow way!

I spent the day today trying to avoid Arctic winds and driving snow. Every time I woke up this morning, I could see the snow piling higher and higher on the roof outside. 

I stayed indoors with the heating on, and only left the house to buy a tin of tomato soup!

This afternoon I went to see Jem and Ian in Friern Barnet, about ten minutes up the road from me. I was horrified to find the car under half a foot of snow - so heavy on the windscreen that the wipers wouldn't work until I'd removed huge handfuls of the stuff.

The journey to Barnet took about 45 minutes. I crawled through Muswell Hill at an average speed of 6 miles per hour and traffic was at a stand still on Colney Hatch Lane. 

Seeing Ian and Jem was worth the road chaos, however. Jem had cooked a delicious quiche and both were full of the joys of Spring. I was slightly concerned to be reminded that I'd borrowed a DVD from Jem a year ago that I had no concept of borrowing. I didn't even remember the conversation we'd had about said DVD. Is this my first senior moment, I wonder?
 
poor car!

Friday, 22 March 2013

Con

I just ran out to the Archway Road to buy myself a halloumi kebab. It was absolutely freezing out there. Arctic winds were throwing droplets of rain about like icy bullets. It's snowing all over the country and yet this is the first day of spring! There's nothing for it, of course, than to batten down the hatches and eat like a crazy person, feeling ever so slightly sorry for myself. But we need spring. I have never felt the need for a season so acutely. Apparently we're even running out of gas supplies. Imagine being a little old lady in this? It's monstrous!

Siobhan from BBC Coventry texted today with some very sad news. Con Morris, the caretaker of Coventry Market, and the first person to appear in our musical film, has sadly died. Con was the chap who touched so many viewers by talking openly about his wife's struggle with dementia on the local news. He became a local celebrity and received all sorts of letters of support after his first appearance on telly.

He was proud to have been in the musical and couldn't wait to show it to his Grandchildren. Sadly, however much he tried to tell his wife about it, he couldn't make her understand what was going on. I dread to think how she'll have been effected by his death. He was the heart of the market and the heart of our film and I feel truly honoured to have met him.

I immediately went to the BBC's YouTube channel and dedicated the film to him and I sincerely hope that none of the internet trolls will taint his memory with cheap gags and crude remarks. You can watch the film here.

Rest in peace, Con. You touched many lives with your kindness.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

End of an era

We're hurtling through Hertfordshire on our way to Thaxted. Nathan is off to Europe, specifically Holland, again tomorrow, and we're staying with the parents in an attempt to make the shit o'clock plane pill that little bit easier to swallow.

I've just been to the leaving do of a colleague at the BBC. He opted to have his party at television centre on what appears to be the very last day of activity in that hallowed place. Another party, a much bigger one, was being held simultaneously in one of the television studios. This one was expected to be a star-studded and highly boozy event. Everyone wanted to go to the extent that 4000 BBC staff members went into a lottery for 1000 places. I've no doubt that it will end with the entire building being looted by drunken people looking for souvenirs. I kept looking out of a window to see them setting up an enormous band stand in the car park. The thing I found most distressing was the sight of a giant letter C - mounted on a white cube - being slowly separated from two enormous letter Bs. A physical representation of the BBC being torn apart.

The whole place was buzzing, but make no mistake, this is the absolute end of an era. We've known it was coming for some time, but this genuinely is the wrap party for a British institution. Sometimes change for the sake of change makes me feel very sad.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Transcription


Today found me with a pair of headphones clamped almost permanently to my ears. I’ve been transcribing interviews with people from the White City Estate, and the process is driving me insane. It requires so much concentration. When dealing with personal memories, it’s important for me to transcribe what’s been said absolutely verbatim; with every nuance, repeated phrase, grammatical error, or badly-chosen word. Most transcribers will tidy up as they go along, or paraphrase so that a sentence appears to make better sense, but for me, the poetry is in the quirkiness of the language. One of the people I was transcribing today has a habit of repeating key phrases... sometimes as many as three times – peppered throughout everything else he’s saying. This obviously has wonderful musical potential, as, frankly, do all the stutters, and even the “ums” and “ahs” and non-sequiturs. I personally love a sentence that just ends without any form of conclusion. It’s something I do all the time. I tend to assume people will join up the dots and know instinctively which words I’ve opted to omit. Sometimes I feel a sentence just outstays its welcome. You get other people who seem to keep saying words until the sentence they’re saying fulfils some kind of crazy internal rhythm.   I often think we’re more aware of the shape and rhythm of the sentences we’re saying than we are the words we’re actually using.

I went out this evening to see Nathan’s show, Mile High, and promptly left the hat Nathan knitted for me on the tube. I was absolutely gutted. I got involved in some kind of major claustrophobic crush on the Victoria Line at Euston, took the hat off, and, well who knows where these blessed things go.

 We were joined in Vauxhall by the lovely Jim Zalles and were beautifully diverted by the show, which is silly and camp and exactly what a fringe musical about trolly dollies ought to be. On the way back to the tube, we stopped for a moment to stare at the blackened, scorched building which marks the spot where a helicopter recently hit a crane and plummeted to the ground, engulfing some poor passer-by in a fatal ball of fire. I can’t quite imagine how terrifying it must have been to see a helicopter hurtling from the sky and can only hope that the poor bloke who was killed knew nothing about what was happening.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

My modelling career

I made a start on the process of transcribing the various interviews I did with people on the White City Estate. At some point these words will begin to form the basis of the lyrics for my film, but I’m still at the stage where it’s all a bit daunting. I have scores of interviews to transcribe, some of which lasted up to two hours. Until I’ve actually sat down in front of a piano, and got cracking, I suspect it’s going to feel slightly overwhelming.

I opened the front door this morning and discovered a large envelope which had been left by the postman on the doorstep. Part of me was pleased that I didn’t need to go to the post office to pick the parcel up, or go through the rigmarole of “rearrange its delivery”, but the rest of me was irritated that it had been left outside in the rain. The envelope was soaking wet at the corners.

The contents of the parcel were dry, however, and utterly unique; the sheet music to a song I'd found on Amazon, written in 1908, about the Anglo- French exhibition at White City, drawing particular reference to the Flip-Flap; that crazy fairground ride which towered over London for a year or so like a double-headed Tour d’Eiffel.  The songs tells the tale of a French lady, called Blanche-Marie, who comes to England to sample its delights and finds herself being whisked into the air on the Flip-Flap, which promptly breaks down. But it’s okay because the French lady is with her lovely English beau, and they’re perfectly happy to be suspended over the city for half the night.

It’s everything you’d expect from a camp Edwardian parlour song; a lovely waltz-like lilting melody and even a special comedy moment for the pianist or drummer to make a “flip-flap” noise; you gotta love those onomatopoeias! Fiona and Nathan sat around a piano singing it for ages.

The song is called “Come along up in the Flip Flap”; a title which demonstrates an almost bewildering number of prepositions, and, if you ask me, sounds a little rude. I'm not sure it's particularly likely to make an appearance in the film, but you never know... I may disguise it somehow.
 
The actual Flip Flap
 
Nathan launched his latest knitting pattern today; a little beanie-hat called “Wuppertal,” which he’s giving away for free on Ravelry. He took me to Highgate Woods today to take photographs of me wearing the hat in front of a tree. He’s used the pictures to illustrate his lovely design.


Speaking of my burgeoning career as a model, I was recently sent the original images from the shoot I did at the Museum of London where I'd been chosen to represent the “cultural connoisseurs” who regularly visit the museum. I’m trying to work out if there’s anything I can do with the pictures as composers are not often required to supply full-length body shots to commissioners! Frankly, I doubt anyone would want to see what sized trousers I wear! Nevertheless, if you’re interested in my alluring beauty, I will sign off with a cheery shot...
 
 

Monday, 18 March 2013

Dry ice

I drove up to Stansted this morning to collect Nathan from the airport. His plane was delayed, which meant I ended up taking the train back to London to avoid missing an important meeting. The irony was not lost on me; I'd driven up to Stansted to protect Nathan from the misery of a long train journey home, but had ended up with the very boobie prize we were trying to avoid!

Still, I got to drop in on my parents en route for a cup of tea and a pickled onion sandwich and that's always a bonus. They've painted their bedroom a sort of terracotta colour, which creates a very attractive backdrop for the open beams in the back wall.

I can only think there's been some rough old weather in North Essex of late. The roads were covered in enormous puddles and pot-holes and the main route into Thaxted had been closed off with no diversions. It turns out that a set of overhead power cables had frayed and were dangling perilously over the road. The electricity repair men were scratching their heads, wondering out loud how anything quite so bizarre could have happened. They couldn't suggest an alternative route into the village ("we're from Colchester, mate") so in the end, with their blessing, I drove through the road cordon, telling them I'd take full responsibility if I got electrocuted. In any case, I've heard that a car is one of the safest places to be when lightning strikes.

Another curious meteorological phenomenon confronted me on the winding country lanes which snake their way from the airport to Thaxted. From a distance the fields looked as though they were covered in dry ice. Thick wisps of mist, no taller than twenty centimetres, were drifting at fairly high speeds over the brown, ploughed fields. It was a curious sight; one which I'd never seen on dry land before. It was quite magical. In some places it looked like little plumes of smoke were billowing out of earthen chimneys. I can only think that the bright, warm sunshine (which has subsequently vanished) was somehow evaporating last night's heavy rain. I saw something similar over a lake just north of Neath in South Wales about five years ago, but it was much more impressive against the dark fields.

I stopped by the side of one field and tried to take a picture, but it didn't look anything like as impressive.



I returned to London and had lunch in a Starbucks just behind my least favourite road in London, namely Oxford Street. I hate the noise, the crowds, the tatty-looking shops, the tired-looking people milling aimlessly. Still, I was sitting opposite Tucker off of Grange Hill, which brought an old-timer's smile to my face.

The meeting in town went well and I am thrilled to announce that we've now secured our soloist for the Four Colours charity recording. I don't want to jinx it, so will probably avoid naming names until we've actually recorded the piece, but suffice to say she's supremely gay-friendly, has a wonderful voice and is very much the housewife's choice. She's perfect for the project and I can't wait to work with her. Hooray.

Banal

There is, of course, nothing to write about today. I slept for ten hours, woke up, slept for another hour and then hauled myself out of bed to do a few bits of admin which have been hanging over me for weeks now. 

There's still more to do, but I'd rather watch Carry On films whilst stuffing my face with food.  

I've been so lazy and inactive that I've even forgotten to post a blog. Frankly, if I'd forgotten altogether it might have been a good thing.

I ended up in a cycle of trying to avoid the Five Nations rugby on the telly, which was actually more difficult than you might think. Just as I settled down to watch something mind-numbingly vacuous, the bloody rugby would begin again. Sometimes it was on two channels at once. 

The alternative was Children in Need. I'm pleased to see that the BBC is still getting mileage from it, as it has been for the past 8 weeks. If I have to watch another spoilt, uber-tattooed kid from One Direction standing on a rubbish dump weeping profusely, I might just throw a slipper at the telly. Boys, if you're that saddened by the situation, donate half of your unfathomably large earnings to charity instead of asking young kids with precious little already to donate their pocket money. We know whatever they send will merely go towards lining the pockets of homophobic dictators, or, in the UK, towards convincing the government that they don't need to invest in charity themselves. 

What worries me about Children In Need is that they send the big names to Africa to do the weeping and wailing and leave the less interesting people to find out about the UK charities, which are equally important in my view, but always less televisual.  Weeping over a dead child in a shanty town dust bin makes a comedian look a great deal more caring than he does when he weeps about an old lady in Scunthorpe who died because no one thought to visit her. The light is so much better in Nairobi. It makes the tears glisten. And those celebrities who can't force the tears, can hope the beads of sweat will double up instead. 

Anyway. It's too late for these kind of comments. I'll only end up upsetting One Direction fans who'll tell me that Harry has a better voice than Debbie Harry when he sings "One Way Or Another" and that Zane's range is wider than Cherie Blair's mouth.  

A quick look at my twitter feed tells me that "Libras hate when someone say [sic] they miss them, but don't make an effort to speak to them or see them."

Frankly, the Libra who keeps tweeting this nonsense shouldn't be surprised when people stop making the effort to get in touch! Also, more to the point, why is it only Libras who don't like it when someone says they'll miss you and then forgets you instead!? 

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Coma

Well my time on the White City estate has come to a temporary close and we’ve selected the people who are going to be singing major solos in the film. We have an embarrassment of riches; a wonderful selection of people from the estate who'll be sharing their stories with us.

There’s a host of fascinating people with extraordinary stories and I’m almost frightened to start the process of writing, because I want to do it properly. I don’t want to let anyone down.

We spent the day holed up in a corner of the Community Centre and met a number of people; many of whom we’d met before and were just coming back for a natter, which is probably a very good sign.

Two ladies came in to show me one of their knitted rugs. They're part of a gang of five women from the curiously named Batman Close who meet once a week to knit blankets, which they sell for £20 and use the proceeds to fund occasional taxis to their favourite fish restaurant. They're an absolute riot and they love to laugh.

I went to watch a group of Irish dancers at lunchtime and was impressed. They showed me a little routine which involved a huge amount of leg kicking and foot tapping. At the end of their dance, the door to the room they were in burst open, and a young lad with Down’s Syndrome tapped his way across the front of the space. I was relieved and touched to discover that he was part of the act.

At the very end of the day, a charming young lass came in, and put the final piece into the jigsaw. I’m not sure I’ve ever met such a self-assured and intelligent 16-year old, with such strong and articulate views, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she became an MP one day. She's her mother's official carer and has been since the age of five. Her mother became disabled whilst giving birth to her. An epidural went horribly wrong. There are people in this world who are doing remarkable things on a daily basis. The rest of us don't know that we're born.

Right, that’s me finished for the day. I've just booked myself in for a coma.

Friday, 15 March 2013

CSI band

I woke up this morning feeling all shaky. My body is definitely fighting something off. The tender patches under my arms are particularly entertaining. 

We've been at the community centre all day running a drop-in for people interested in the musical. We seem to have attracted a rather odd and eccentric bunch. Someone spent at least 30 minutes describing the difference between leprechauns and clurichauns, which, though fascinating, felt, you know,  a little tangential.  

We've had all sorts through the doors; singing school girls, a man who runs a driving school for ex-offenders, a woman who remembers the ground floor flats of estate buildings being turned into bomb shelters during the Second World War and a local filmmaker who has made it her business to find out everything it's worth knowing about the history of the estate. 

And what a history...

White City was scrub land until the end of the 19th Century, described as "desolate-looking fields tired of being countryside and not yet ready to be town." In the early 20th Century it was chosen as the site of the Franco-British exhibition; a celebration of the Commonwealth in the form of the most extraordinary city of ornate oriental buildings, covered in pure white stucco and surrounded by exquisite water gardens where Edwardian ladies floated around on punts. At the centre of the complex, a series of death-defying rides made visitors gasp, including the "Flip Flap", where two enormous viewing platforms (housing 27 passengers a piece and looking like a double Eiffel Tower) endlessly looped the loop.

It was THE place to be. The most popular tourist destination in the country. 

In 1906, Mount Vesuvius in Italy erupted with force and many people in the bay of Naples lost their lives. The Italian government decided as a result that they couldn't stage the 1908 Olympics and London stepped into the breech, offering up the newly opened White City complex as the perfect setting for a brand new stadium. 

The years went by, and the beautiful white buildings slowly began to crumble. Local children played in the ruins, and the impressive water ways became stagnant ponds. The land was sold to developers and a large estate of social housing was built as "homes fit for heroes" returning from the First World War.

The Olympic stadium remained, however, and was chosen to house the 1948 "austerity" Olympics before being turned into a greyhound track, which remained an important part of the community until the 1980s when it was bought and demolished by the BBC, hungry for an extension of the Television Centre complex... And with that, every last memory of the gleaming White City had been erased.

This evening we went to a street dancing class and a Zumba group before calling in on the CSI steel pan band, who demonstrated the extraordinary process they go through when learning a new song. I genuinely don't know how it happened. It was organic. They started with little rhythmic cells, which they repeated as a slow groove whilst their leader Brett introduced each section of the band to new sequences. Twenty minutes later, the piece was learned and they played it perfectly, at full speed, whilst dancing like loons. It was virtuosic and quite astonishing. There was no sheet music. Complicated rhythms were learned in a sort of call and response way. It was enthralling. I felt proud to be watching.  

I looked at my twitter feed at one point. People were whinging about Comic Relief and yet in front of me a group of young, inspiring black people from a housing estate, instead of hanging out in gangs, were sailing through the most mathematically complicated music and in the process proving that community music is vital. Cut those community arts and sports budgets at your peril, Mr Cameron. They're the glue which holds this remarkable community together. 

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Exhaustion


I'm officially experimenting with a whole new level of exhaustion. I am only managing about 6 hours’ sleep a night at the moment and spend the days on my feet trudging about in sub-zero temperatures, or sitting in darkened corners of buildings drinking copious mugs of tea. Both are incredibly dehydrating. My lips are chapped, my arms ache, there’s dry skin on my forehead and knees, a weird pain in my arm pit and my hands and feet itch. Heaven knows what that’s all about.

We hung around the estate for just half a day today, and met one of the members of The Hoosiers; a lovely chap, who treated us to a beautiful ballad version of All You Need is Love...

Today’s special at the vegetarian cafe was quiche and salad and we had a piece of lemon cake for pudding. All washed down, of course, with tea. More tea. Tea tea tea. Tea is the currency of the estate.

I dragged myself home and then had to resuscitate myself in order to haul my sorry arse back into Soho to meet the lovely Julian who’ll be producing musical tracks for the film. We had a lovely chat about the stories I’m thinking about turning into songs; about the styles of music we might go for, and he sent me away to listen to Nick Drake and various other classic artists who, for some reason, haven’t really entered my radar.

Talking of classic artists, I understand that Agnetha from ABBA is releasing a solo album, which, rather upsettingly is simply called “A”. She was, of course, the first A of ABBA... And now she’s there on her own. She’s apparently done a duet with Gary Barlow. Gary Barlow? The woman could have the pick of male vocalists across the world, and she's gone for Barry Garlow! How horribly disappointing.

John Grant

I'm at the album launch for John Grant's new album, Pale Green Ghosts. We've been handed "access all areas" passes and it's all a little surreal. Ah! The joys of arriving with the album's strings arranger. For the record, that particular acolade belongs to my best friend, Fiona Brice. Name check important as no one buys physical albums anymore.

The gig was brilliant. John is such a clever song writer. He's also an ├╝ber ABBA-fan. I once stayed up all night with him watching "ABBA in Japan" on an endless DVD loop.

John plays with an Icelandic band and at the after show party I met the drummer from my favourite Eurovision song of all time; Is it True by Johanna. Star struck.

Speaking of all things camp and European, I've now heard quite a number of this year's batch of Eurovision songs and am ready to make  an early doors prediction; a win for Russia, second place for Germany and third place for Denmark. Depending on how Bonnie Tyler sings live, I reckon we might be talking about 10th place for the UK. It's not a bad song. It lacks a bit of punch and a money note, but it has a pleasant whiff of simplicity in a year when everyone's filling every sonic layer with sequins of sounds.

Another day spent in White City. This time I had the great privilege of attending the "Extra Time" club at Queen's Park Rangers football club, where a group of old timers get to do aerobics classes and sit at tables with bottomless mugs of tea nattering about the old days. 

I love the White City Estate. It's genuinely a community which seems to work. There's a real sense of people looking out for one another and I'm thrilled that even the local football club seems to be doing its bit to promote community spirit. 

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Fortess

Another tiring day in White City. I went to bed rather too late last night. Fiona was staying over and we drifted, as usual, into rather a long conversation about life and music.

Today started at a coffee morning in a junior school on the estate. It's such a horrible experience to be a lone male walking into a school these days. You can see the look of slight concern in people's eyes. They wonder who you are and why you're holding a suitcase.  Schools have become fortresses. Tall metal fences keep the children inside and the undesirables out. In order to get in, one has to ring a series of bells and negotiate a set of external corridors; at every stage  forced to declare your business to faceless intercoms. The Catholic school we visited later in the day was particularly gruesome in this respect. The secretary made me feel like an infidel! I suppose it's a necessary evil, but it certainly makes a school less of a central part of a community. 

At the coffee morning, I met an extraordinary woman; strong and dignified. She'd converted to Islam from Christianity and had a sort of inner light which glowed like a kind beacon. There are so many remarkable people on the estate; people who deal with pain on a daily basis, yet seem somehow to take it all in their stride. I feel genuinely lucky to be walking among them. 

We had lunch at Glad's Cafe and then drifted around the community centre all afternoon, watching a group of women doing a high-octane aerobics work out and speaking to an almost endless stream of local musicians who wanted to talk about the project.  It's strange that none of them thought to bring their instruments. It would be almost impossible for me to feature a musician in this piece without at least hearing them play, particularly one who claims to play every instrument under the sun. That's a big claim! 

I'm pleased to be heading home. I'm hungry and very tired and reckon I deserve an evening of telly with a big bowl of boiled vegetables! Man, I know how to rock and roll!

Monday, 11 March 2013

The West Way

I arrived in White City today on what appears to have been the most ferociously cold day this winter. Specks of snow, looking like tiny pieces of polystyrene, were almost constantly drifting aimlessly in the breeze. Perhaps I was underdressed, but every time the wind funnelled its way through the concrete walkways of the estate it felt like we were being pelted with thousands of shards of glass.

I arrived at the community centre to overhear a woman complaining bitterly about her life. It sounded like she'd had to deal with almost constant bad luck; bad health, the death of her partner."I get up in the morning and pray like mad," she said, "if it wasn't for my faith, I'd have given up." This is the sort of blind faith I find very difficult to comprehend. Surely, when God's dealt you the worst hand, it's time to acknowledge that the prayers aren't working? It's my view that religion preys on the weak and unfortunate. Don't pray. Act.

Today was a most extraordinary day. I sat underneath a railway arch listening to a group of former drug addicts and homeless people playing beautiful soul music, drank tea with lesbians, and met an 89 year-old woman with a laugh like Barbara Windsor who looked about 30 years younger than her actual age.

The highlight of the day was undoubtedly visiting the traveller community underneath the West
Way. I had no idea that so much life could be crammed into the concrete struts underneath a motorway flyover. About 200 travellers, all of whom speak with broad Irish accents, live in caravans and pre-fabricated dwellings accompanied by the constant sound of traffic. They even have their own community space, where lads play ping-pong, and children's paintings of old-style gypsy caravans line the walls. Lots of little dogs run freely around the makeshift town and inquisitive kids with the faces of middle-aged men ask if they can help, and go out of their way to do so. It was my first experience of the travelling community and I was impressed. Those I spoke to seemed much more open and welcoming than I'd expected and I hope very much one of them will trust me enough to take part in our project.

Beyond the travelling community, the sub-Westway curios continued to reveal themselves. First, a tiny snow-covered playground nestling underneath a giant advertising hoarding, and then, most surreal of all, a riding school. Cross-eyed horses stood on sand in enclosures delineated by impossibly tall metal fences. This hidden world, in the centre of London, was almost impossible to comprehend and I felt greatly privileged - if not freezing cold - to be exploring it!

I went out this evening to meet the glorious Fleet Singers and was horrified to discover that the temperatures had plummeted to -3 degrees in Highgate. I tried to clean the car window and the water immediately froze!

The Fleets were singing a fiendishly difficult piece of music which made me feel a lot better for having laid down the complicated gauntlet of Songs About the Weather last year. It'll be like an old friend when they come to perform it again in the summer!

Sunday, 10 March 2013

A second appeal

I'm sitting in Edward's flat, watching the Dancing on Ice final whilst eating delicious wraps. I love staring out at the black Thames and seeing the little boats drifting through the silvery reflection of the Dome. 

I spent the afternoon in East London with Philippa, Deia, Silver and Philippa's Dad, Nick. We made finger-print pictures, cut and tied together endless pieces of multi-coloured string, made a carrot and walnut cake and drank hundreds of cups of tea. It was great fun. 

This morning, at shit o'clock, I took Nathan to Heathrow Airport. We got there in record time; 25 minutes flat, and I was back home and in bed again by 7am. I woke up at 11 and wondered if the whole trip had been a surreal dream, until Nathan called to say he was in a rainy Koblenz, which was effectively closed. The poor lad couldn't even find food and had to beg a restaurant to rustle him up something. The Germans seem to be very keen to abstain from doing anything on Sundays. Funny; I never associate them with being particularly religious. 

I've been a little disappointed by the slowness in which pledges are coming in to our Four Colours We Fund page. I'd love to have been a little further towards our target by now and don't really know what else I can do to motivate people into seeing the importance of what we're trying to do. It's a little scary because if we don't raise the money, it comes out of my own bank account and having just had to buy a new computer I'm in no position to be flash!

It's hard times out there, people don't have money, and obviously Kaleidoscope is slightly more controversial than the majority of British charities. I'm also aware that it's not long since I asked people to buy copies of the Requiem. It may also be that people are planning to come to the quiz. 

God, I don't know. I looked at my twitter feed this morning and everyone's talking about whether One Direction were wrong to ask their fans to get tattooed if they wanted to have a chance of being featured in their next film. First World issues which sadden me. Hundreds of thousands of people will spend 50p voting for their favourite celebrity on Dancing On Ice, and yet when a composer rattles his metaphorical pot, only five people respond. 

View me as a beggar by all means. I am begging - all creatives have to beg at some point, because art with integrity is unlikely to make profit. It doesn't make it any less humiliating. In this instance, however, I'm begging because I want to help a situation which I'm quite convinced we can change within our lifetimes. 

And yes, lots of other things are wrong with the world; we all have a list of things we find worrying. Lots of people are making art, and asking friends to donate money to charity, so I don't really know what I'm expecting, or even why I'm writing this blog! 

I suppose the clincher in all this was seeing that one of the performers on the recording, who's already performing for nothing, also donated a tenner, which was humbling in the extreme. 

I guess I'm just saying that I'm not gonna labour the point - there's nothing worse than a whinging writer - but if you DO have a spare fiver and you believe in the project we're trying to get off the ground, don't forget to make that donation! We really need the pennies right now.

Have a happy week!

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Help needed

I am dedicating today's blog to the search for funding for a very important project. Statistics tell me that around 100 people read this blog on a daily basis, and if every one of you were able to find just £10, we'd reach our target.

By the way, I should point out that I'm aware that even £10 is a lot for some people in this climate, so if you can't afford to donate, I fully understand. Simply pass the link on to someone who's having a decent recession!

http://wefund.com/project/four-colours/p57229

On May 12th, the wonderful Rebel Chorus will be going into a recording studio to record Four Colours, a set of songs about love, which we're releasing as an EP for the Kaleidoscope Trust. It's a lovely set of songs scored for strings, piano and voices; classic Till and if we can find £1000 up front to pay for the recording studio and a set of reproductions, every penny we raise in sales will go to the charity. All performers are working for nothing.

The Kaleidoscope Trust are the UK's only charity who deal exclusively with homophobia on a global platform. They have the backing of all the major UK political parties and their president is John Bercow, speaker of the house.

We take equality for granted in this country, but we shouldn't.

Being gay is still illegal in 41 out of 54 Commonwealth Countries. In 10% of these, the punishment for repeat "sinners" is theoretically death. Women who enter relationships with other women are routinely raped in some areas. Gay men are whipped in Middle Eastern countries. LGBT people live in fear on a daily basis, and this is wholly unacceptable.

In my view, Kaleidoscope, have the right approach to changing hearts and minds. They don't bash people over the head; they try to understand where homophobia comes from and chip away at the issue very carefully. In many cases draconian laws are actually the result of British invasion in the 19th Century and so we have to take a degree of responsibility.

Anyway, if you have a few pennies to spare, pledge them to the projet at We Fund. There are all kinds of lovely incentives, including limited edition prints of the Rebel Chorus. You might also like to attend the music quiz that Nathan and I are running on Saturday 27th April from 2.30-5.30pm. £5 per person, and all proceeds go to the same cause. For more information on that event, email nathan@nathantaylor.co.uk

So come on. Let's get this CD made so we can make a shed load of money for this important charity.

Benj

Friday, 8 March 2013

Shard

We've just been up The Shard; me, my parents, Edward, Sascha and Julie. On waking up to dense mist and heavy rain this morning, we all realised we were on something of a hiding to nothing, and sure enough, after taking the lift 77 floors into the sky, we found ourselves staring blankly at a rain smeared window. Still, WE know we were there, and if we pressed our noses against the glass we could just about see the tiny toy trains coming in and out of London Bridge, which was a vertigo-inducing experience. As it got darker, and the lights of London started to twinkle, we could make out the shape of a number of bridges over the Thames and at one point, through the swirling mists, we saw the mysterious silhouette of the magnificent St Paul's.

We had Italian food in Southwark for tea and then a quick drink at my parents' hotel, which I'm told they got for £30 for the night! Ah! The benefits of recession.

We spent the morning and early afternoon in White City, getting properly drenched, but speaking to all sorts of fascinating people. Sometimes I'm astonished by the way that some people seem able to trust us with their most precious, and, in many cases, painful memories. It's a huge responsibility which I feel more and more acutely the nearer I get to sitting down in front of a piece of blank manuscript and setting their thoughts to music.

Multi-culti

I'm at Bank Station desperately hoping that the High Barnet train will arrive before I collapse. I'm back in White City in ten hours' time and am now so exhausted that my legs are feeling fizzy.

Exhausted, but elated...

This morning started with a two-hour stint in Starbucks working on Four Colours and continued with a trip to the Adventure Playground Cafe which sits in the middle of the estate. The cafe is run by adults with learning disabilities who are training to be chefs. Each morning they cook their cake of the day (carrot and sultana today), which gets sold for 50p a slice, and two delicious vegetarian main meals, which cost just £2. I had a beautiful pizza and salad and loved every mouthful.

The cafe's regulars are a crowd of women and their children who must rank amongst the most multi-cultural group of friends I've ever meet. They represent every major religion baring Judaism and hail from all the world's continents baring Antarctica and Australasia. This is how life should be. This is how different groups of people learn to understand and respect one another.

We spent the afternoon in a series of increasingly bizarre cafes which culminated in a second visit to the Egyptian House: a little piece of Cairo in the heart of a concrete jungle. 

This evening saw trips to the bingo and to a youth club, where a group of girls playing basket ball sang Adele and Rhianna songs in my ear, whilst an extraordinarily strong stench of Ganga wafted underneath the door from a group of kids outside!

We took the Central Line to Bank and walked across a misty Southwark Bridge to a hidden bar where we watched one of our new estate friends performing the most beautiful poetry. The evening was a celebration of spoken word in the black community. There were six white people in a large appreciative audience and I have seldom heard such erudition coming from a group of performers. If anyone was searching for young, highly intelligent, motivated, beautiful black role models they would be foolish not to start with this crowd. One young poet called Lionheart caused the audience to gasp out loud with the wonderful line:

"She was so down to earth, she made the soil seem like clouds..."

I felt honoured to be there and deeply ashamed to have been surprised that an evening peppered with such extreme wit and intelligence could have been created and appreciated by the black community in this country.  

I left with a bitter sweet taste in my mouth. If such remarkable people exist, why does the British media not give them the platform they deserve? 

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Reggae

Bravo to the Canadian pop singer Carly Rae Jepson and rock band Train for pulling out of the Boy Scouts of America Jamboree concert this summer after hearing about the organisation's draconian ban on openly gay people either joining the ranks or becoming leaders. Every little helps, and gestures like this may have more repercussions than anyone could imagine. If the organisers of the scout movement refuse to behave like decent adults then we need to remove their toys. 

I've been on the White City Estate again all day, and spent the morning hanging out at a stall which sells produce grown on the community farm. Amazing leeks. The highlight of the experience was undoubtedly watching an extraordinarily grumpy woman from the Ivory Coast, whinging about having diarrhoea whilst throwing apples from a distance of 3 meters into her shopping basket because she couldn't be bothered to move her sloppy arse over there. I've noticed a slight tendency for people of West African origin to reserve movement for special occasions! 

My day started, as routine dictates, at the Starbucks at the BBC in White City, where I have my morning cuppa whilst doing an hour's work on Four Colours. It's a bit of a hassle cheating myself out of an extra hour in bed every morning, but it's the only way to manage two projects simultaneously. I get really irritated by writers who moan about the fact that they never have time to write whilst maintaining full-time jobs to pay the rent. An hour a day is all you need to keep the forward momentum. Take it off the time you watch telly at night.

From White City, I sped along the Central Line, for a quick meeting with someone within the BBC docs department at New Broadcasting House. I very much liked the woman we met, but can't help thinking there's always going to be a point with any potential commission of this nature where what I bring to the table just seems a bit "out there" or arty to merit being taken seriously as documentary. I always manage to fall between about a dozen stalls. Still, it was nice to see New Broadcasting House again, even though I'm not sure how anyone manages to get work done in what is essentially just a massive open plan office. Media people sometimes need to make noise, and news people surely need a degree of privacy? On my way to the meeting I walked through the middle of several board meetings which were happening on funny little areas of soft seating. It seemed a bit wrong, somehow. 

I went back to White City for the late afternoon and evening, where I met a charming vicar and a reggae band who looked every bit like the Buena Vista Social Club. They want me to jam with them on the 'cello; a thought which I find curiously exciting. 

Endless


The day started with an all-too familiar announcement at Highgate station. “Due to signal failure at East Finchley, we are experiencing severe delays on the Northern Line...” They weren’t lying. 20 minutes later, still no train, and a second announcement informed us that a “faulty” train had now been taken out of service. Meanwhile, more and more rush hour commuters were flooding onto the platform, crowd surges were developing, and I was losing the will to live. The trains eventually started passing through, filled to the rafters, the doors opening and closing again with no one being able to get on. It took me an hour and a half to reach Moorgate; a journey which ought to take under 45 minutes.

 

From then on the day took off. I was in Moorgate to visit the London Museum, where, rather randomly I was being photographed as part of some kind of in-house “this is what one of our archetypal visitors looks like” brochure. Someone had spotted me on my previous visit to the museum and identified me as a stereotypical example of one of their “cultural professional” visitors. It’s ironic for someone who prides himself on being one of a kind, to discover that he’s actually a stereotype, but if the cloth cap fits, wear it with pride, I say!

 

From the museum, I made my way along the central Line to White City, and spent another day on the estate in beautiful early spring sunshine, meeting residents, looking at recording studios, wandering through markets, chatting up cafe owners and trying to persuade one of our favourite contributors that taking part in the film wouldn’t compromise his religious beliefs.

 

The blossom has started to appear on the trees in the estate and I’m beginning to get the sense of a place which will look really rather pretty in the summer months.

 

I found myself in the ghastly Westfield Shopping Centre in the late afternoon, looking for a new pair of headphones. The place made me feel instantly uncomfortable. Everything is shiny, bright and over-clean. I could see my reflection everywhere I looked; in windows, on the walls, even on the brightly polished floor. It’s a horrifying temple of consumerism, and it made me feel physically sick; a sensation which was enhanced tenfold by my walking into the ladies loos by mistake. I was somewhat confused as to why there weren’t any urinals, and after entering a cubical, and hearing two women enter the space, I realised what I’d done. I sat in silence, sweating, as the women peed and chatted and peed and chatted, wondering if I should jump out, shouting “surprise” or pretending to be trans. I got myself into a terrible panic with the thought that a steady flow of women could actually lead me to being trapped in the cubical forever. Fortunately, the women’s voices finally disappeared, no new ones appeared and I bolted out of those loos, and, in fact Westfield, like shit off a shovel!

 

From West London, I headed east on the weird pink line and spent two hours in a cafe in Baker Street rewriting my Four Colours composition for our recording in May. Re-writing a composition which has already been performed is a luxury which doesn't often happen and I intend to make the most of the process so not one quaver of orchestration is wasted.

It was Matt's birthday tonight and the old gang were finally back together again for the first time really since Kevin died. There was a palpable sense of how important it felt for us all to be sharing a meal, and how much we'd missed the golden days, when everything felt like a glorious, sunny adventure.

I sat next to Sultana and it was just lovely to reconnect. The two of us have vowed to go and visit Kevin's grave together. I'm ashamed to say I didn't know where it was, and even more ashamed to discover he's with some of my London Requiem family up on Hoop Lane. I could have paid him a visit so much sooner.

Monday, 4 March 2013

The hunt resumes

Day one of my two-week full-time stint on the White City Estate and I'm already so tired that my legs have gone to sleep. I do, however, feel properly elated. 

We're searching for people with interesting faces and fascinating stories to be in our musical film and I find myself regularly astonished by the people we meet. 

The highlight of the day was undoubtedly a trip to a film club for pensioners, where they played 100 Faces and Songs From Hattersley, and made me feel like a film star! 

The film club happens every Monday afternoon in a church hall just off the Uxbridge Road, and upon entering we were handed cups of tea, led to a table laden with sandwiches, cakes and crisps and told to "stuff our faces" with whatever took our fancy. Quite a lot, as it turned out, and we were very hungry. 

I introduced my films and was thrilled by how well the Hattersley piece in particular was received. I still consider it to be my best work, and have never really understood why the BBC didn't push it as hard as my other, more celebratory films.

This evening we made our way to Willesden to meet a young poet from the estate called Imhotep, which has to be about the coolest name known to man! He had a fascinating outlook on life, and both Penny and I were hugely impressed by his manners and energy. We talked about the estate as a fortress, an oasis and as a wardrobe full of shoe boxes... The glory of poetry! 

It's been a good day, but a long day, and I've come home and am simply staring at the telly, which probably means it's time to go to bed.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Musical what?

We've just been to see a concert of music by a young musical theatre writer with a great deal of promise. He's currently in his mid-20s, and is obviously still in the process of finding his own voice, which meant some of what we heard was somewhat lightweight, but as the evening drew on, we were treated to a more complex songs which packed an emotional kick.


What I'm constantly irritated by, however, is the assumption that all musical theatre needs to be performed by actors affecting twangy, brassy American accents. My heart always sinks as I realise I'm going to be subjected to a song with no emotional content - or worse, that if there is an emotional core, the actor will singularly fail to find his or her way there

Every cabaret I visit these days seems to start with a hyper-nasal  squeaky salute to our cousins over the pond, which instantly has me looking for the programme to see if I can expect anything later on with a bit more weight. 

Sure, some songs are inherently American and need to performed with a Bronxy twang - imagine Adelaide's Lament being performed by someone imitating Julie Andrews - but Broadway performers generally have well-rounded voices with extraordinary natural resonance, which seems to vanish whenever the Brits "do" American. 

Even when many British musical theatre performers deign to sing in English voices, they often opt to hide behind comedy regional accents, which makes me wonder if they actually have voices of their own, or any interest in their audience's emotional journey! 

Anyway, it's time to get off the soap box and back to the telly. We're watching Let's Dance for Comic Relief, which takes me from the sublime to the absolute ridiculous! 

We spent the afternoon in Joe Allen's theatre bar and restaurant celebrating a highly pregnant Lisa's 40th birthday, which was absolutely wonderful. She looks ridiculously well, and I've seldom seen a baby bump being carried with so much out front. If the old wives tales are anything to go by, that is, unequivocally, a boy.

 


Thursday 28th February, 2013

Horrified to see that one of my blogs didn't publish this week. For what it's worth, here's what I wrote on Thursday, but forgot to put online...


I didn't sleep a wink last night. All sorts of thoughts were riding around my head like a game of Pacman. Just as I started to drift off to sleep, another cherry would appear behind a wall, and I'd rush off in pursuit. Fiona was sleeping on our sofa cushions and I got up in the night to talk to her. It all felt a little surreal, wrapped up in a blanket at 3am, talking through the dusty haze of the wee smalls. I eventually went to bed, and drifted off to sleep, listening to the song of what I think must have been a nightingale. 

I suppose I was worrying a little about money. The car cost £550 to  be repaired, and then, of course, when I went to pick it up, we were clobbered with a 20% VAT bill. I hate VAT. I hate paying it, and hate the fact that some rich people don't have to pay it at all. I've never understood how that works. It always feels like another way simply to make the rich richer.

I wanted to sleep all day, but instead worked hard at the Four Colours songs, marvelling at quite how much I've developed as a composer in the last couple of years. I'm much more of a minimalist when it comes to scoring. I like to see a lot more open space on the page, and can't believe how complicated and frilly the music I used to write seemed to be. I genuinely think this is the most important lesson any writer can learn; the need to continually strip back to reveal the power of a simple melody.

Of course this is  not to say that throwing everything at a page doesn't have its attractions and can't be quite exciting, but maybe this is the prerogative of an exuberant youth and I, with my creaking bones and aching feet am no longer young. 

Benny and Bjorn reached the 1980s - and their 40s - and suddenly started stripping back the orchestrations in ABBA songs alongside the scope of their melodies. Benny has often said that the power of The Winner Takes it All, one of their later compositions, lies in its profound melodic simplicity; two almost identical phrases, essentially, repeating again and again. By the time ABBA reached the end of the road even their trademark multi-layered backing vocals had started to vanish. 

I don't know much about the output and time-lines of less-significant European composers, you know, like Mozart but I'd be interested to know
if any of that lot became more sparse the older they got. One assumes the opposite is true of Beethoven whose orchestrations got bigger and bigger. Or did they? I've no idea... My friend Sam will be wincing. Literally wincing. I can see his knowledgeable toes curling up as he reads this. I appear to have based an entire thesis on my love of ABBA! And not for the first time!