Friday, 31 May 2013

Orange and Bongiourno

It's really muggy today. I went into an electics shop on Tottenham Court Road to buy myself a new recording device and nearly keeled over. Fortunately the man pointed out that their air conditioning had broken down and that it wasn't just me going through the male menopause!

I've had a rare day off today, which found me doing very little other than coming into central London to meet Nathan for lunch.

The rest of the day seems to have been spent in front of the telly, making frequent phone calls to Orange and Ofcom about the phone bill business which came to light yesterday. The more I scratch the surface, the more I'm convinced that this is a legal scam which needs to be stopped. Ofcom assures me that Bongiorno are actually "in bed" with Orange and that the two companies are working together to make sure as many people as possible sign up for their products, which makes me feel incredibly let down by a service provider that I've been loyal to for 14 years. The man from Orange strenuously denies that they're in cohoots with Bongiorno and did his best to distance himself from the company, although he did admit that Bongiorno pay them a "small" percentage of their takings. Whatever the truth, the business is now being officially looked into by Phone Pay Plus, Ofcom's sister company (in charge of telecommunications), so we'll have to see what they say. Bongiourno claims that I willingly accepted their charges, and that they sent a text of confirmation to my mobile the following day. Fortunately, I never delete texts, so am able to prove conclusively that the text they actually sent read;

"(FreeMsg)Get to B!Games at bGames.mobivillage.com each day. See FAQs for more info. Free access week then £1.50/week until u reply stop."


If there's anything here which tells me implicitly that I've signed up for a gaming service, please point it out!

It wasn't until a year later that they aroused my suspicion with a text which read:

(FreeMsg) You're a member of iFortune for £2/wk. Check your horoscope @ ifortune.mobivillage.com. Already know your destiny? Rply stop.



I still assumed it was spam, however, and it took another three texts (one per month) for me to realise that I needed to write "stop" if I wanted them to cease sending these unwanted messages. It never occurred to me that I was being charged. More confusingly, the company by this point had started sending simultaneous texts informing me that I was subscribing to iFortune and B!Games. When I replied "stop" to the double text (see above), it appears I was only removed from the cheaper of the two services. There would have been no way on earth for me to have replied with separate "stops" to both texts as they came as one unit. Very sneaky. I would not learn that I had not stopped the iFortune texts for another month.

It's all highly suspicious, and as such, I'm no longer happy with a "good will" refund. I reckon I'm now in line for compensation for the bother and the panic which this whole business has caused me.

Leaving you now with a picture of a kettle which looks like Hitler...


Thursday, 30 May 2013

Mobile scam. Read!!

So today I received a text message from a company called Buongiorno which informed me that I'd signed up for a "horoscope service" which cost the princely sum of £2 a week (charged through my phone bill) and that if I wanted to unsubscribe from said service, I had to text "stop" to the number provided. 

I immediately called Orange to find out what on earth was going on, and discovered that, for the past two years, I'd unwittingly spent a grand total of £232.50 on mobile phone gaming and weekly horoscope/ "love match" updates... None of which I'd ever received, seen or used. 

Apparently in order to have been stealth-billed this extortionate amount of money I'd have needed to sign up for the service, provide all my details, and then counter-sign some kind of "are you  sure this is a product you want?" document. This is all, of course, deeply unlikely and somewhat troubling. Plainly if I DID sign up for weekly horoscope and love match updates, I did so utterly inadvertently, which implies I thought I was doing something else; probably attempting to stop them from sending any more unwanted texts to me. I can only think that this company must be incredibly sneaky in their practices and feel like I've been well and truly screwed over.

Obviously I kicked up merry hell, first with Orange, and then with the company themselves, and have been given a "good will" refund of the full amount, but the whole business has left a terrible taste in my mouth. 

I don't think many of us go through mobile phone bills with a fine-tooth comb, and I'm embarrassed (like a little old man) to discover that the best part of £250 has been deducted from my phone bill without my noticing. This really is the new scammers' frontier. 

So what's the moral of this story? Firstly, be very careful which buttons you press when you're trying to get rid of unwanted screens flashing up on your iPhone. Secondly, when you receive unwanted text messages from companies urging you to "click here to unsubscribe," don't immediately ignore them as spam. If it says unsubscribe... Unsubscribe! And if in doubt, contact your mobile phone provider. Thirdly, check your bills regularly and make sure you can account for everything. Don't do what I do, and assume your mobile phone company will get everything right. Fourthly, it's never too late to get a refund, so if you realise that something somewhat untoward has happened, immediately report it, and know your rights! Demand a "good will" refund. If my experience is anything to go by, you won't have to try that hard.

There. Now go check your phone bills!

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Not quite as it seems

The most horrendous aspect of working in Limehouse is changing from the DLR to the Northern Line at Bank Station during the rush hour. I read, today in fact, that Bank is considered the most unpleasant of all tube stations. It's certainly rather badly conceived. Some of the platforms are miles away from each other and only accessible via a series of tunnels, spiral staircases and countless escalators. To make matters worse, many of the obvious routes and corridors are closed off for no apparent reason. It would be a catastrophic place to be if there were a fire. This evening, two LU staff members wearing orange puffer jackets were preventing passengers from standing on the platform in an apparently random 4 metre square area. "You can't stand here," they kept shouting. We obliged, of course, but I wondered if this was the best use of two staff members' time and expertise.

I'm back at DIN studios with Julian and we've now started the lengthy process of mixing the White City songs. 4 days left now, and counting...

Mixing is a rather dull process for a composer because there's a lot of technical stuff - equalising, rhythmic correction - which needs to be done before his opinion is needed again. I therefore spent much of the day sitting on the sofa where Bob had his seizure, staring out across a rain-swept Cable Street, wondering how different the view would have been 80 years ago when the infamous anti-fascist battle took place. I wondered how the recent events in Woolwich would play out; whether the country is surging towards the far right again. Muslims are, of course, the new Jews, and Cable Street, once the Jewish heartland of Great Britain, is now predominantly Muslim, so one can imagine similar barricades being built on the very same streets to prevent the EDL marching through the East End spreading their message of intolerance. "History never repeats itself. Man always does."

I see Centre Point Homeless Charity is running a campaign on the underground. A lad with sad eyes stares out of the poster; "you walked past Mark today," the words inform us: "Just 40p will help make sure you don't walk past him tomorrow." It's a good sentiment, of course. The only trouble is that Mark (pictured) is plainly a middle-class young actor, cynically chosen for his beautiful deep brown eyes, and ability to stare into the lens of a camera with a look which implies vulnerability both emotionally and sexually. 

It annoys me. I would be far more likely to donate to a charity who published the image of a genuine homeless lad, than one who would choose a lad for his look. Maybe I'm being unkind. Perhaps it would be morally questionable to show the image of an actual homeless person; or perhaps the majority of Londoners will think "blimey, homeless lads are FIT, I'm gonna give loads of money to Centre Point so that Mark can go on the X Factor and get proper famous!" Maybe these same people think the impossibly glamorous ladies on the wee-wee pad commercials actual pee when they sneeze, and that X Factor contestants have walked straight off the streets to be seen by an un-briefed panel of judges. 

We live in a world where nothing is quite as it seems... 

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Seizure

At 11am this morning I witnessed my very first epileptic seizure. It was a rather calm sort of thing - a mild attack by all accounts - and fortunately, a few months ago, the guy who had the seizure happened to show me film footage of him mid-attack, so I was aware of what was coming and knew not to worry too much. I guess it was both ironic and predictable that it was Bob who was going through the ringer. Bob is the vicar who is singing the song about epilepsy in our White City film. The whole experience was strangely calming and as he came around afterwards, he looked incredibly mellow. He took a few moments, and then went through a sort of check list with me, to make sure his brain was functioning as well as it had before the seizure: "we're in the studio, we're recording the song line by line, we'll stop and re-do it if I get things wrong..." What an amazing man.

I felt somewhat privileged to have witnessed the event and astonished how quickly things returned to normal afterwards. 

So, today we were back to the grindstone, mopping up the vocals for Tales of the White City which we'd not managed to record last week. Norma, who'd so spectacularly melted down on Thursday, stepped into the studio like a woman on fire. At times I thought I was recording Dionne Warwick! It's astonishing what a Bank Holiday will do for a woman's confidence. She was brilliant.

The only thing we've yet to record is the steel pan band. These were the guys who "forgot" to come to the session we'd booked for them last week, and from what I can gather, have subsequently been giving us the run-around, telling us we need to speak to other people associated with the group, people they won't be seeing for some time etc etc. What I find genuinely upsetting about the situation is that I wrote special music for them to play. I came to a rehearsal to see them learn new music. They listened to what I'd written and said how much they'd enjoyed it. They agreed to do the song - no-one held a gun to their heads - and I would have thought that pride alone would make them want to fulfill their promise. It worries me quite how quick people are to let people down. 

I sincerely hope that they'll work something out. They're such wonderful players and such brilliant role models. It would be a terrible shame if we were forced to cut their number - and all the other people involved in it - just because they couldn't get their act together. At this late stage, however, I'm not sure what other solutions there are. 

A woman on the tube seems to be holding twelve copies of the Evening Standard on her lap. Do you suppose she's going to try to sell them on the black market up north? Perhaps she's saving the crosswords for twelve of her friends. Suggestions on a postcard, please. 

Monday, 27 May 2013

Another glorious day

We've been in Cambridge all day today, drifting down rivers, sitting in tea rooms and ambling through flower-filled water meadows.

The decision to come here was made late last night whilst standing at the top of White Horse Hill in Oxfordshire. The forecast was good, and I wanted another glorious day away from London.

Our companions were Jem and Ian, and when we arrived in Cambridge we hooked up with Stephanie and Julia, friends of Jem's from Australia, the latter of whom had just returned from Malmo, where she'd presented all the Australian coverage for the Eurovision Song Contest, including the little package about Australia which had been broadcast midway through the final. The BBC had opted not to show it, but Brother Edward had played it to me on Saturday, so I was able to congratulate her... And mean it!

The lovely Julia

We punted along the backs in baking sunshine, constantly forced to avoid the mayhem of inexperienced tourists doing the most bizarre things. One woman seemed to be attempting to punt down The Cam sideways, creating the mother of all barriers in the middle of the river.



We had a lovely drink in a pub just off King's Parade, said our goodbyes to the ladies and then pootled off to the car via Lammas Land and Midsummer Meadow, every corner of which holds a memory, from the paddling pool, which I remember wading through and thinking it was deep enough to swim in, to the bridge where my mother once killed a duck by feeding it her incredibly dense homemade bread. The duck literally sank. It was deeply traumatic!!There are few places in the world that I can't actually remember seeing for the first time, particularly those which have remained in my life so constantly; this area of Cambridge is very special to me as a result.

We came home via Thaxted, where my Mum had laid on the most delicious assortment of cakes and scones.



We walked to the windmill as the sun set behind a sky filled with wispy mares' tails. Mares' tails are, of course, bad news for the weather as they herald the arrival of rain... But that doesn't matter. I've had two glorious days of sun, and that'll keep me going for a while!


Perfect


Today has been awesome; one of those days I fully expect to remember fondly for the rest of my life. It was spontaneous, relaxing, exciting, spiritual... and it all happened underneath a blazing sun.

We’ve just got back to the house, and I found Nathan underneath a pillow, deeply ashamed because he’d gone so red. He hates weird T-shirt tan marks (and all those other First World problems that people with decent physiques worry about.) “I look like a Swan Vesta” he said, revealing a scarlet face which made me laugh out loud.

The day started very early. I woke up, and drove to Heathrow to pick Nathan up from his Westenders Tour of Germany and Holland. It turns out there are few things more relaxing than driving around the North Circular Road in bright early morning sunlight on a Sunday. I had the road to myself and was at the airport in 25 minutes flat.

Poor Nathan was shattered. His tour schedule meant he’d only had two hours’ sleep, and he probably only managed about half an hour more as we drove west along the M4.

Our destination was Avebury; that curious, beautiful, mystical Wiltshire village in the middle of a massive standing stone circle, which is a world heritage site but frankly, ought to be one of the Wonders of the World. It has become by far my favourite place in the UK, and I try to visit it as many times as possible.

We were being met in Avebury by Fiona and Mez, who were driving there from East Sussex, Thelma and Louis- style in Meriel’s incredibly cool open-top car. We met in the blossom-filled churchyard at mid day and pretty speedily hit the pub for lunch.

It was Fiona’s first time in the village, so we took our time walking from stone to stone; trying to tap into whatever it was that spurred those Neolithic people into creating something so astonishingly epic. I don’t know whether we were all talking ourselves into it, but we were genuinely getting some crazy fizzy vibes off some of those stones! We decided it was all to do with magnetism. The rocks definitely have minerals inside them. You can see the streaks of iron ore. Lichen grows in strange shapes all over them, and there are weird patterns of erosion, different on each stone. Fascinating, if not bordering on something more profound.
 
We walked the full circle of stones before heading back to the churchyard, where we sat on plastic chairs drinking cups of tea and slices of cake provided by the local WI. That, for some reason, was perhaps the most perfect moment of the day; the sun was belting down, and I felt more relaxed than I’ve been in months.

We jumped in Meriel’s cool car, and headed to West Kennet to visit the Stone Age Long Barrow and spent the best part of two hours milling about in the fields, playing Pooh sticks, writing our names in chalk on the fences, and exploring the remains of the tomb, whilst kites and sparrow hawks soared gracefully in the blue sky above us. We were particularly thrilled to observe the progress of a little swallow, who’d obviously built a nest in the barrow itself, and didn’t seem at all bothered by the scores of people coming in and out. She was obviously just keen to get on with the task of feeding her young, and that was that!
We did a lot of jumping!
 
From West Kennet, we headed north, and stopped off to buy some food from a Tesco in a curious little town called Wroughton. Most of its neighbours - towns like Marlborough - are renowned as the most beautiful, stately, and probably some of the poshest places in the country, yet this little dump was like some of the shit-holes I grew up in on the A6 corridor. The Tesco itself had boarded-over windows, and there were groups of teenaged lads hanging outside with nothing to do. Add a bashed-up, joy-ridden car, and a 1980s ghetto blaster and you’d have a scene from my childhood in Rushden, Northamptonshire. Mez was so freaked out by the place that she went and sat in her car, in case someone decided to wee in it!

From Wroughton, we continued our journey north, crossed the M4 and headed into Oxfordshire to visit the White Horse at Uffingham, which has to be the most spectacular, the most refined, and in many ways, the most surreal of the English prehistoric chalk horses carved into hillsides. No one knows why it’s there. They don’t have a clue. It just sits on the top of the hill, like a majestic cipher, guarding the valley below.

We nearly didn’t make it there at all. Fiona and Nathan, in the car behind, got separated from us, and then promptly lost all phone reception, and then, more worryingly all battery life from both of their phones. They didn’t have a map or GPS in their car, and we only realised we’d lost them when it was too late. Fortunately, lady luck was on our side, and just as the battery life failed on Nathan’s phone, they picked up the first road sign for the White Horse, and all was well.

We had a lovely evening picnic sitting above the horse’s head, taking pictures of us jumping into the sun and chatting to the surprisingly few visitors who seemed to want to visit one of the UK’s greatest locations on one of the busiest days for British tourism!
 

I’m not complaining. We got the place to ourselves and got to watch as the sinking sun turned everything the most brilliant golden colour, which became a shade of peach, and then amber, and by the time we’d reached the car, the white chalk fields had all turned pink and the trees were glowing like coal in a furnace.

It was the perfect, perfect end to a perfect, perfect day.
 

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Eurovision reruns

I'm sitting in Sascha and Edward's sitting room, watching the sun setting over the Thames, whilst various reruns of this year's Eurovision flash across their television. 

Sascha and Ted were both there in the flesh, watching the show, in Malmo, and we're trying to spot them within the audience of 14,000!

It's great fun being able to ask how certain countries went down "in the house" and how various televisual tricks were achieved. I've just had a look at one of the rubber wrist bands which flashed with various colours when worn by audience members in the stadium. 

I treated myself to a massage this morning which has made me feel rather spaced-out and I suspect that the emotional roller-coaster of last week is finally taking its toll because I'm beginning to feel a little ill.  I bit my tongue rather badly whilst chewing on a sweet on the way over here and as a result am now nursing the mother of all ulcers, so am feeling a little sorry for myself...

There's very little else to write about today, which is just as well, as my phone could well be about to run out of battery before I'm able to post this blog. I hope everyone who is reading this enjoys the rest of the Bank Holiday. 

Friday, 24 May 2013

Heroes

I woke up at 11am, got myself a bowl of cornflakes, went back to bed,  made myself some toast, went back to bed, made myself a cup of tea, went back to bed, and so the hours trickled past in a fabulous lethargic haze. I now feel almost human again and celebrated this fact by heading to Sloane Square to watch the superlative London Gay Men's Chorus' "Heroes" show at Cadogan Hall. 

They performed a hugely varied concert which featured show tunes and camp pop classics. There was even a Mendelssohn oratorio, which felt wonderfully bizarre after Jim Steinman's "I Need A Hero!" I wonder what Mendelssohn would have made of 100 gay men singing his music with gusto whilst wearing ties in rainbow colours.

The LGMC sing fabulously well as a unit and there were a couple of moments when the hairs on the back of my neck started to rise. There's really nothing better than a male voice choir opening their lungs and letting rip. 

Everything was performed by memory and many of the songs were accompanied by really quite complex choreography, which all the choir were expected to do. There were drag queens, lots or rainbow flags, white gloves and plenty of costume changes. I was carried away by a glorious wave of gay pride!

Back home now for another mammoth sleep session. I reckon I'll be as right as rain tomorrow and ready to face the world again. 

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Tough day!

Today will probably end up ranking amongst the most difficult days in my life, although as I wasn't actually expecting to survive it, I guess there's cause for some form of celebration!

We started at 10am with pupils from  three White City junior schools, all of whom were polite, diligent, in tune and hugely well-prepared and as a result got the day off to an unexpectedly positive start. I think they enjoyed the experience of singing in a recording studio, and I very much enjoyed taunting them by speaking in a freakishly low voice through their cans. "I love his deep voice," said one little girl, and it struck me how unfamiliar most children are with men. Nearly all primary school teachers are female and I guess there's a slight tendency for men to speak to young children (particularly their own) at a slightly higher pitch. It feels more child-friendly, I suppose, although it's never something I've bothered to do. Talk to all kids like their adults; that's my motto. It's what my Uncle John used to do, and it freaked me out good and proper! 

We continued at a good pace with Frank, whose song is about a 40-year love affair with a woman called Mona. He was in and out in an hour and I was muchly relieved. 

We were on time for lunch, and Julian and I sat down in a restaurant on the Uxbridge Road for some falafel and salad. 

It was after lunch that things took a bit of a nose-dive. One of our most talented contributors got "red-light fever" (the inability to perform in front of a studio microphone), most hadn't learned their words, let alone the music they'd had for three weeks, and to cap it all, our steel band forgot to come for their session. All this, of course, means extra studio time and the budget for the piece is creaking at the seams! 

It's so tough being the composer in this particular situation. Probably because I'm shattered, I took everything incredibly personally and kept having to stop myself from saying, "hey, I've written you a song to sing about your life and spent loving hours crafting it and honing it; the least you could have done was learn it!" If someone wrote a song for me, I'd be thrilled. Frankly, I'm thrilled if someone writes me a letter! Then all manner of terrible thoughts started flashing through my head: is the song good enough? Is the  music too difficult? It's the ultimate rejection, I suppose, and it did make me wonder whether this ought to be the last musical film I make of this nature. I genuinely find the pressure too great to deal with as I get older, and if the contributors themselves don't seem that fussed about being involved, I'm forced to question who I'm actually doing it for. I'm certainly not doing it to provide the world with music that anyone can sing, because what I write is so specific to the individuals who perform it.  

Of course I'm being a little over dramatic, as there were high points along the way. Danny's session was long, but ultimately highly successful and the group of teenagers who came in at the end of the day were a joy to have around, but I go into the bank holiday weekend with three major sequences left to record, when I'd hitherto expected to have everything done and dusted. Very disappointing. 

Anyway, we still achieved much today, and there were plenty of belly laughs along the  way and tomorrow I get to have a lie-in, which is just brilliant. 

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Gawd bless 'em

It is difficult to even attempt to describe how exhausted I am right now. I was up at 5am - 5am, I say - driving Nathan to Heathrow for the start of his mini European tour with the Westenders. I returned home, packed my bags and immediately set off for Clapham.

Today ought to have been a relatively simple string session at Sonica, but I'd slightly underestimated the difficulty level of my music! There were all sorts of other factors involved in the general slowness of our progress; we started the session late, the players felt they were siting a little far apart, one of them was isolated in a carpeted room with a dreadfully dead acoustic, but the bottom line is that I was asking them to play a phenomenal amount of material and must learn from my mistakes! The good news is that all the players rose to the occasion and we got everything done, though God knows, by the end we were literally throwing music at the engineers to see what would stick! 

I was proud and hugely grateful to all the players for sticking with me, and doing so with such grace and a sense of humour, but at the end of the six hour session, I reckon we all felt like we'd been raped by semi-quavers. 

All this aside, there was some stunning playing going on, motored along as usual by the magical 'cello fingers of Vicky Matthews, who could break a man's heart with her luscious tone. Fiona and Gillon proved a winning combination on first and second violin; sparring off each other like the ancient friends they are. Viola was provided by the glorious Rachel Robson, and Beth the Brummie played a mean bass from her carpeted prison off the control room. Poor thing. Frankly I'd have told me where to go! 

Fiona, gawd bless her, stayed behind to do a sequence that I'd aborted in a frenzy of "we'll never leave this place if we don't cut something" and the two of us went for tea in Clapham afterwards. Pasta. Just what the doctor ordered. 

Tomorrow is likely to kill me and I'm already battening down the hatches 60 amateur musicians and singers. 12 hours. One tiny Western studio. Hell. Deep hell! I can't wait until Friday! 


Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Keyboards

I'm on the Northern Line heading north from Clapham Common after a day spent in the studio, recording music for the White City project. The session started with the wonderful Sam Swallow, keyboardist with the Hoosiers, who tinkled the ivories with extreme precision. Sam lives in White City and is the musician in residence in Bob the vicar's church, so it very much made sense to invite him to play piano on the tracks. I had no idea his playing would be so beautiful, however. He managed to make the piano sound like a symphony orchestra and seemed to   understood implicitly what it was that my music required. It is very rare that I find myself moved by piano playing, but there was a sadness in his touch which made my eyes prickle. 

We worked through lunch. My dear friend Rachel popped her head into the studio to do a quick hour recording a piano line for the Four Colours piece. We dashed out for a quick mouthful of lunch, and then returned to find Mustafa from the Egypt House on the estate waiting to record his solo, which he did very well, although I felt like a proper slave master; "do it again... Again... Again... Now once more with feeling!" There's a fair amount of tweaking and pulling around that will need to be done in post to make everything sound lovely but I certainly think we've got enough material to make that happen.

After Mustafa left, I recorded some more piano parts for White City, which I found a deeply stressful experience. I'm not a pianist, and find playing in strict time to a click track a little unnerving. You think you're doing so well, and then hear yourself and wonder why you ever put yourself in the firing line. Julian insisted that I persisted, believing firmly that a composer playing his own music brings a unique vibe and integrity to a song. He might be right. I just wish I had a better vibe! 

So, I've come home feeling a little disconsolate; like things could have gone more smoothly, partcularly as they started on such a high with Sam this morning. I'm also rather dreading tomorrow as I have a ridiculously early start which involves taking Nathan to Heathrow at 6am, before a day of strings at Sonica, which itself is a prelude to the mayhem of Thursday; a 12-hour session at Bush Studios where up to 80 White City residents will have their voices and instruments recorded. God help me! 

Someone with rather silly, heavy hair is standing by the door on this tube and I genuinely don't know if it's male or female. I guess, ultimately, it doesn't matter as I'm not expecting for us to have a conversation, despite the fact that he or she is staring at me in a rather off-putting way, probably wondering if I'm a boy or a girl.  I'm assuming it's a bloke, but there's definitely more than a whiff of the Sharleen Spiteris about him. It must be odd going through life knowing you're generating so much confusion. Perhaps he doesn't realise. I'm sure he doesn't care. And anyway, who am I to gender stereotype in this manner? I'm ashamed of myself! (Still fascinated...)

Monday, 20 May 2013

Walking the river

I've felt like Samuel Pepys throughout the day today, having walked all the way along the river from Monument to Pimlico, with a brief sojourn in Soho and Covent Garden, where I had lunch, popped my head in on Nathan at the Shaftesbury Theatre and had a hair cut. 

The day started way too early and I faffed about at home for far too long, which made me half an hour late for my first appointment. I loathe being late. I'm usually early enough to sit in a cafe with a nice cup of tea whilst preparing myself for whatever's about to happen. 

The meeting was with a wonderful charity called Thames21, who deal with clearing rubbish from London's waterways. We're very much hoping to work together on an electro-acoustic composition about the River Thames and threw some initial ideas around about how we might find funding. I'm not hugely thrilled at the idea of going cap in hand to a whole new set of people, but as Fiona pointed out, in Buddhist culture begging is considered to be an act which puts you closer to a higher state of being. I guess the process necessitates leaving one's ego at the door, which can only be good. My only consolation is that I only ever beg to pay others; so actually one could claim that I'm merely encouraging investment in the arts!

From Monument I followed the Thames path into town, passing multitudes of tourists, all of whom seemed to want the Shard of Glass to feature in their pictures. It did look rather attractive today, with its spire prodding the clouds, but it also struck me how open Londoners are to iconic and daring modern architecture. We love the Gherkin and we love the Shard (the two most potentially controversial buildings of recent years) yet could take or leave (but probably prefer to leave) any of the "safer" modern buildings. Be bold. That's what I say! 

Nathan's theatre is depressingly quiet. Burn the Floor is on. It's supposed to be magnificent, but audiences are small. They've got some suspicious-looking merchandise for sale; specifically water bottles which look like large blue dildos! 

A Spaniard with a long mane and tattoos cut my hair, and sent me into something of a stupor in the process. I love having my hair fiddled with. I could have fallen asleep in the chair. He took his time as well, which added to the experience. 

I walked down to the river and through a series of beautiful gardens on the embankment that I'd not really considered before. There were flowers (and statues) everywhere. It struck me how rude it would have been to ignore things which had been placed and grown with such love and care, so I sat down on a series of benches to take in the atmosphere. 

I ended up in Pimlico, an hour and a half early for my meeting, so sat writing in a cafe for a while, finally bringing myself up to date with work on White City. 

Pimlico's a funny old place. I always thought it was a bit posh, but it's actually got quite an edgy vibe; the curious sight of laundry hanging on rows of specially-made washing lines in a communal concrete space behind a housing block rather intrigued me.

This afternoon's meeting was with the NYMT. That's the National Youth Music Theatre. They wanted to talk to me about a potential commission, which I'd very much like to do. They were the opposition when I was a student. I belonged to the National Student Theatre Company, and these things made a big difference! The NYMT however were always a classy concern and seeing them performing Goodall's The Dreaming this year has made me very much want to get involved.

So that's it, really. I staggered home on the tube, back aching from the walking but relieved not to be panicking about work for the first time in ages! 

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Eyes like saucers


I’m sitting in the loft going through the painstaking procedure of printing out hundreds of music parts for string and piano sessions on the White City project in the coming week. I’ve been formatting the parts all day and they seem to have taken me a lot longer than I’d initially expected. I’m going completely cross-eyed printing them all out. I’m doing it in low light. My head is spinning slightly. I want today’s work to finish, please.

I did however have a mega lie-in this morning, which has made a massive difference. I still have another four days of mayhem to get through this week, but I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Eurovision was great fun last night. About 18 of us sat down to watch it with plates laden with vegetarian lasagne. One of the big treats was meeting Llio’s Mum, and also introducing our friend, Ian, to the joys of Eurovision. I think it ended up a bit of a disappointment for him because he’d heard it was the most bizarre thing in the world. He also couldn’t work out why people at the party didn’t seem to be listening to some of the songs. I explained that the room will often audition a song very quickly to determine whether it’s worth shutting up to hear it. It is a bizarre thing. I guess some of us had watched the semis as well, so had already made our minds up in terms of what we wanted everyone else to enjoy. We can of course be wrong. I sent everyone off for a loo break during Hungary, and it ended up doing quite well in the competition.

Girls were definitely in the minority and those who came were very camp. The Mant sisters are always brilliant value for money and Julie Clare baked carrot cake. Biggest thanks to the lovely Tina who had arrived in the afternoon to help Nathan prepare and ended up scrubbing the bathroom clean.

Love was also in the air for two of the younger guests at the party. It’s a long time since I played match-maker!

My predictions were pretty good. I got three of the top five correct and Russia came sixth. When I put a bet on Russia, I didn’t realise they’d be placed so early on in the running order, which is the kiss of death, unless everything else is rubbish.

Bonnie was boring. There’s little else to say. Utterly predictable. The BBC really need to sort themselves out. I’ve written a letter to the Times about it, but don’t know where to sendit!

Right, that’s it for the day. If I stare at this screen any longer I’m gonna turn into a drooling imbecile.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Euphoria

It is, apparently, Rwanda Day, and some kind of mega-celebration is happening at the curiously-named Troxy in Limehouse. I'm not altogether sure what beef we have with Rwanda these days, but police are obviously expecting pretty major demonstrations, because you can't move for panda vans and men in high viz jackets waking around with sniffer dogs. 

Of course, far more important than Rwanda Day is today's Eurovision Song Contest, and I'm currently hot-footing it across London to our house (seemingly with a shedload of camp men in fancy dress) for our annual party, where I expect the top five countries to be Russia, Denmark, Azerbaijan, Sweden and the Ukraine.  Obviously I'd like Holland to win, primarily for being brave enough to enter a genuinely moving song, but I somehow can't see that happening. 

Brother Edward is actually there, in Malmo, and called me from an Internet cafe to say that the Danes were rather arrogantly assuming that victory was already theirs. Their song ticks all the right boxes, but does so in a rather clinical, almost cynical manner. I hope they come second.

Bonnie Tyler, for all her loveliness, has a song which lacks punch and will come 16th I should think. It struck me, whilst watching the semi-finals, that the UK is actually far too arrogant to win the competition.  What we systematically fail to realise is that it is not enough to enter a well-known singer barking her way through a semi-decent song, whilst a group of backing vocalists sway to Arlene Phillips' uninspired and tired old 'ography. A Eurovision song needs spectacle. To quote the song from Gypsy, "you gotta get a gimmick." However much you might want Eurovision to be "relevant" and "cool," it's not and it never will be. It's a big old, glitzy, escapist camp-fest. To excel you need to invest in the full package; a great (and utterly instant) song, a great vocalist and, most crucially, a unique gimmick. I'm talking shadow puppets, mini ice-rinks or a floor covered in 16,000 carnations. Bonnie standing in front of a pretend rock band of session singers won't cut it. People will walk away from this competition remembering the giant who brought the Ukraine's singer onto the stage, or the man hanging upside down in a perspex box!  
 
Eurovision doesn't need to be relevant because it has it's very own genre; one which most European countries understand - primarily because they wrote the rule book. The UK and France will never win if we refuse to adhere to everyone else's standards. To win, like in all art forms, you need to respect (and love) the genre, which is why Ben Elton will never write a decent musical. Trying to make Eurovision cool is like adding a rock beat to Mozart. It's unnecessary and ultimately futile. Its uncoolness makes it cool. The winning Eurovision Song is perfection within this crazy world and until we learn this fact, we'll continue to enter turkeys.

I think I just saw a corpse at Bank Station. The sight has troubled me. One of the platforms had been sealed off, and as I walked past, I saw a young man, holding a small bag, lying absolutely motionless on the floor on his side. What troubled me most was the fact that no-one was tending to him. An LU woman was standing above him saying "move along, please, there's nothing to see here..." If he wasn't already dead, why was no one trying to revive him, and if he didn't need reviving, why had the entire platform been closed off? 

I found the sight so distressing that I got on the wrong tube and headed south instead of north. I was in Kennington before I realised my mistake, and had added at least 20 minutes to my journey, making me in danger of arriving late to my own party! I'm really angry with myself, but am in Highgate now, so all I can do is wish you all a very camp and enjoyable evening. And if you're not watching Eurovision, why aren't you?

Friday, 17 May 2013

Jodie Prenger

Knackered beyond words. Struggling home from Limehouse with a suitcase and four Sainsbury's bags filled with the ingredients for two large vegetarian lasagnes that I'm going to have to make tonight as I'm in the studio all day tomorrow and won't have time to cater for our Eurovision party otherwise. 

Trying to be as zen as possible about the situation, but these bags are bloody heavy and this is Bank Station at rush hour on a Friday night and there are queues of people everywhere, many of whom seem to think I'm deliberately bumping into them with my bags. To cap it all, I need a wee.

We've just finished a long, gruelling, tiring, yet ultimately exhilarating session in the studio, which started at 10am with a very special guest: Jodie Prenger, who I can now reveal is our soloist for the Four Colours EP. I didn't want to say anything before she'd done the session in case I jinxed it, or disappointed anyone if it fell through, but she's in the can and she was fierce! 

More than anything else she was a joy to work with; unassuming, unpretentious, unflappable. We drank tea. She told comic stories. Her favourite swear word is "fart", so every time she made a mistake we heard the word reverberating around the studio. I was proper thrilled with her work and some of the phrases she sang were absolutely beautiful. There's a Streisand-esque quality to her high chest notes which  I found particularly attractive, particularly when it cracked slightly. Singers often despair in me because it's always the quirks and mini-flaws in their voices that I find most alluring. I welled up on a number of occasions during Blue. 

Jodie left at 11.30, and our session with Ivor, the guitarist extraordinaire, started at noon. We worked through lunch so that the BBC didn't end up paying for any studio time spent recording Jodie, and finished at 7. That's a long session, but there was a heck of a lot to do. Ivor is playing on 5 of the songs in a mixture of styles, and switching between acoustic and electric instruments. At one point I thought we were going to time out but we got there in the end. 

There's one song about the estate in the 1970s which came alive with a Pink Floyd-meets-Twin Peaks guitar riff and 40 Second Warning, our bizarre tribute to Ian Drury is getting more exciting by the minute. Bring on the strings! 

I suspect I may have to work late again tonight to write and format the last song in the piece. Quite how I'm going to survive tomorrow, I've no idea. I woke up this morning, jumped out of bed when the alarm went off and realised I didn't know where, or more worryingly, who I was!! 

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Cheap date

Day two in the studio on the White City project and we've now recorded all the drums and bass lines for the film. 

We were back at Julian's studio in Limehouse and everything went extremely smoothly. Our drummer, Jack, was on particularly good form, sight-reading his way through the hugely complicated charts for our song about the Egyptian House in the middle of the estate. The session also gave me the opportunity to work with a new bass player, Spencer, who made tidy work of 40 Second Warning, which is a rather crazy Ian Drury and the Blockheads-type number. 

The session was so relaxed, in fact, that we managed to have a full hour for lunch. We sat in a cafe opposite the DLR, near the curious homeless person who tends to sit on the pavement, begging, with a copy of the bible and a book about Jesus on his lap. It's a rather sad sight and I can't work out whether that's because I'm witnessing a cynical gesture on behalf of the homeless man to garner sympathy from a specific group of people, or because it makes me question the "Christian" values of Limehouse Christians. If this man IS one of them, then they surely have a duty to protect him? 

From Limehouse I went to Crouch End to see Julian's beautiful new house. Julian's partner is the vicar of the Swiss church in London and the place comes as part of the deal. Fabulous. They have an enormous garden which is full of buddleia  and harebells. As dusk descended, the place started to smell like my Grannie's handbag! 

Julian gave me a glass of vodka and lemonade which made me drunk. I'm such a cheap date!

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Top floor calypso

I'm so tired, I don't know if I'm coming or going. I was awake until 3am writing drum parts last night and was up at 8 this morning to spend a day on the White City Estate teaching songs to the troops. We started the day at Frank's house, had lunch in the vegetarian cafe (a glorious lasagne), and then climbed the five floors to John's house to sing his calypso. 

Nathan was with me today, which meant I could relax a little and let him take control with the singers. A fresh pair of ears is always useful, especially when I'm this tired. I basically spent the whole day sitting on various sofas with my little green keyboard, playing a few chords here and there and trying to deal with bits of admin which I've been ignoring for days.

After John's we went to the community centre to teach a group of young girls harmonies for their sequence in the film. I was hugely impressed by how quickly they picked up the melody. There's something fearless about young people. The older we get, the more pressure we put on ourselves because we know the horrors of failing. Nowhere have I noticed this more acutely than when I ran auditions in the West End for the show Taboo. The older, more experienced actors, with extraordinary CVs were always the most nervy. There's invincibility in youth. 

The oldest of the three girls was, I think, Nigerian, and had learned singing by the rather bizarre tonic sol-fa method (every note is assigned a word: do-re-mi etc) so Nathan spent ten minutes converting the music accordingly. Never let it be said that we don't cater for all musical tastes!

I've come home to continue writing and printing parts, but as a sort of gift to myself for working hard today, am simultaneously watching last night's Eurovision semi-final. For those who have lived in a barn for the last year, it's being staged in Sweden, home of ABBA, prompting cries that "Eurovision's come home." It's certainly an extraordinary show. They did an epic version of last year's winner to kick things off which quite took my breath away!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Going native

Another full day spent on the White City Estate teaching people in our film how to sing their solos. We started with Frank, then moved on to Mostafah and finished with Danny. In between there was a lunch of omelette and apple pie at Glad's Cafe on the estate and a brief sojourn at the BBC Starbucks to see how the other half live. More cries for soy chi latte mocka chocka do-dahs with extra cream and a side of foam. In Glad's cafe the currency is tea, plain tea, and everyone is greeted like an old friend rather than with suspicion by a sour-faced Pole!

We also managed to fit in a visit to Shepherd's Bush Market to location hunt and buy a portable speaker system because my expensive one from PC World, which has never worked properly is now truly broken. I also bought a new suitcase. £20. Not bad. The old one had a hole in the bottom, so anything I put inside was likely to get scuffed and scratched, which is not good. 

I've been accompanied all day by the lovely Michelle; a fabulous Cypriot women with Lebanese heritage who used to be a teacher at Ackland Burghley; she was probably the coolest teacher in London!

She pointed out that I'm a different person with everyone I talk to, swinging from posh to cockney and formal to potty-mouthed, depending on who I'm talking to. I guess I'm aware that this is something I do. My accent, and even the pitch of my voice has changed so dramatically over the course of my life that I don't really know what its natural state is. I think we all change the way we speak depending on who we're with. Fiona's accent goes a little American when she talks to her Texan husband, I have friends with London accents who talk to their parents in broad Scots, and Danny, who we were with today, has a London accent but received a call from an elderly Jamaican relative and immediately spun off into patois! Surely the differences in my voice are not this marked? 

Monday, 13 May 2013

Mortifying. Utterly!

So this evening I went to the Central School of Speech and Drama to see the musical version of Arnold Wesker's The Kitchen. Arnold had sorted a ticket for me and I got there with twenty minutes to spare because I hate being late. 

I spoke to the woman behind the desk. "Hello," I said, "I think Sir Arnold has left a ticket in my name..." She looked at me like I'd burped very loudly whilst saying the alphabet, "I'm afraid it's a list-only event... " I pulled my best confused face and she seemed to relent, "I'm sure there's space, so why don't you just go on through?" 

At that point I was whisked away by a student usher who explained that it had started ten minutes ago, but that there were seats reserved for late-comers at the front. I went in cursing Arnold. He definitely told me it started at 7.30, not 7. I hate being late. Thank God I'd arrived early enough to only miss the first ten minutes.

I walked into a studio theatre. A anxious-looking man in black, wearing an apron, was holding a rolling pin. I was a little disappointed. He wasn't singing. There was no band. Arnold had given me the impression that I was coming to see a fully-staged piece. 

My cheeks started to flush as I realised with horror that I was now sitting on the front row of the CSSD post-graduate acting course's showcase performance. This wasn't The Kitchen. It was a series of duologues which consisted of people screaming at one another as only drama students know how. It was an intimate performance to say the least. I could feel the actors' spit on my cheek as they annunciated oh so clearly. I was one of an audience of 60, all of whom had tutted when I shambled in late, holding my broken suitcase. 

I made the most of the first semi-blackout and (to more tuts) legged it out of the auditorium doors, in the process bashing into a group of actors waiting to go on. 

In the ensuing chaos, I rushed out of the wrong door which led me into a courtyard. The door shut behind me and I realised with horror that I was stranded. Utterly stranded. If I was to exit the courtyard by any of its doors, I'd need a special card. 

Eventually a lovely student took me under her wing and explained that there was actually only an open dress rehearsal of The Kitchen going on which had started at 6pm! I was welcome to watch the second half, and within minutes I was being ushered through a series of internal doors, which eventually deposited me, unceremoniously, into  a chair behind the director, and from there I watched the second half of the musical, periodically bursting into peels of hysterical laughter as I remembered my tragic little adventure. It strikes me that this sort of nonsense is far more likely to happen to me, and wonder why that is! 

I've been in White City all day teaching songs to the people in our film. I've felt so welcomed by everyone. Norma sent me home with a delicious carrot cake, and when we got to Melina's house, her family had laid on the most astonishing spread of Iranian treats. There was an enormous platter of grapes and strawberries, and a plate piled high with spicy nick-nacks, nuts and biscuits, all of which I'd never encountered before. I drank mint tea whilst their "housetrained" rabbit repeatedly attacked me, drawing blood on one occasion. This is what happens when a man walks into a female household! It was hysterical.

Melina actually knew her song by heart and performed it beautifully, but it can take some people rather a lot of time to learn these kind of songs. Setting verbatim text precludes the use of rhythmic repetition in the verses, so things can get quite complicated. I'm a firm believer in doing things again and again until it sort of embeds itself in the brain, but this is a tiring process, so I've decided to keep the learning sessions short, but regular. In the meantime I'm hoping people go away and are singing the songs so often they can do them in their sleep. I tend not to use the phrase "learn these songs backwards" any more, ever since one of my choir members on Oranges and Lemons asked me if she could have a copy of the notes in reverse!

I have been brutally tired all day. Yesterday as good as wiped me out and I realised on many occasions today that I simply wasn't making any sense. I kept forgetting words and losing the thrust of what I was saying mid-sentence. 

We went to Starbucks in the afternoon which is in the BBC's complex, just a stone's throw from the estate. It is, however, an entirely different world which is as alien to people on the estate as ITV is to me! BBC staff can be a horrid bunch and we were surrounded by ghastly people asking for soy chi lattes and having "power chats" about commissioning. One particularly obnoxious specimen was boring the bloke opposite to death by pumping him for information about his production company. She was one of those telly women; the hard-faced, gloriously self-centred ones who are thick as a plank, desperately insecure and always so profoundly "unlucky" when it comes to relationships. She would describe herself as a strong woman. She's not. She mistakes being strong for being a cow! Her hair had plainly been crimped, permed, straightened, and caramel-sliced to within an inch of its life. It looked like corrugated cardboard. 

I feel much more comfortable on the estate and we had our lunch in the vegetarian cafe run by adults with learning disabilities where a main meal only costs £2. The estate is where you find strong women, like Norma, who has fostered 20 children and J, who has been yanked by her hair to hell and back in her life. 

Sometimes I wonder how good telly would be if it was run by the people I meet on estates. I think there'd be far fewer examples of patronising day time telly for starters. No more antique shows and certainly no more travelogues presented by Caroline Quentin! 

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Thrilled

11pm, and we're driving home from a very successful session at The Pool in Bermondsey. The choir were on absolute top form and did the most amazing job of singing my music. They sang better than I've ever heard them sing before, and conductor Sam was like a daemon with his baton. I feel like a proud Dad. 

I particularly love watching the choir interact as friends. I genuinely feel like I've brought a group of people into each others' lives, and that's one of the most important things I think it's possible to do for people. 

It was the first day that our new singer, Llio, had done with the full group. Lli has one of my favourite voices in the world and I'm thrilled she's now part of the team. One of the more forthright tenors approached me afterwards and  whispered in my ear, "new girl, Llio. She's a keeper!" 

The atmosphere of the session was really good. We timed it very well. Sadly our soloist was unable to come today. Perhaps her coming would have made the day a lot more tiring. Who knows? Perhaps it will be better to record her separately when there aren't other distractions. 

At the very end of the session we recorded a few vocal sound effects for the Pepys Motet. It's extraordinary what noises it's possible to create with the human voice. We evoked the sound of raging fires, thunder storms, winds and large objects plunging into water. The lovely Ruth then lent us her gospel chops for a solo in the Pepys which we'd been unable to record her singing at Sonica. It's from the start of the fourth movement; the part where Pepys' servant, Jane, wakes him up to tell him of a "great fire in the city" which has destroyed "above 300 houses." 

It was the first time I'd heard all 20 voices on the recording together and it would appear that we have created a hugely unnerving, rather bizarre sound world, which I think could prove to be amazing. Ruth's solo added a quirky theatricality to her sequence. I wanted her to try and inhabit the character of a young serving girl, out of breath and terrified; stuttering, almost unable to get her words out. It's eccentric, brave and highly atmospheric. Exciting biting as my dad would say. 

That's probably about all I can say. I can feel my eyes closing, and have a full day on the White City Estate tomorrow teaching our contributors their songs. Thanks to everyone reading this for their good will messages over the last week. It would appear that art is worth every second of the hell it generates!

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Stress head

I'm feeling slightly stressed and hungry. I've spent the day prepping things for tomorrow's recording session and taking a series of lengthy phone calls about White City. One of our contributors seems to have gone AWOL, and in my view there's little point in chasing him, because if he's letting us down repeatedly at this stage, I believe the situation will only get worse. My producer is keen to give him the benefit of the doubt, however, because he has the potential to be so damn good in the film. It's a quandary. 

Things took a slight turn for the worst this evening when the actress who's singing the lead vocals in Four Colours emailed to say she wasn't feeling very good and wasn't sure she'd be able to join us tomorrow, which has thrown me into something of a panic as it has about a million-and-one knock-on effects. We don't have the budget to hire a studio on another occasion when she's feeling better and we don't have the budget to ask the film crew who are coming to make a video of the songs (as a massive favour to the charity) to come back to film the actress on her own (even if we had the budget to hire a recording studio!) At the same time, it's not much fun for the actress because no one likes feeling pressurised to come in to work when they're feeling like crap! Another quandary. 

I guess it will be what it is, and that no amount of worrying about things will change what's written in the stars. It's never easy though, is it? There's always some kind of last minute panic with my projects. 

I reckon my problem is that I ask way too many favours from those who love me, because those who love me are so bloody talented! Unfortunately, however, people have the habit of reminding you from time to time that they're doing you favours. No one ever does it with malice or probably even consciously, and I'm aware that what I'm saying might just be a product of my worrying mind, but when someone tells me they can't rehearse because they're flat out busy or because they have paid work which they can't miss out on, a little part of me shrivels. I feel guilty. I feel selfish. I feel greedy. I guess I just hope there's some kind of clear pathway mapped out for me and that I'll soon find out if I'm  going along it in the right direction! We'll get there!

Friday, 10 May 2013

The Battle of Cable Street

I'm wandering through Shadwell in the East End, which is a curious, lively part of town, filled with all sorts of weird and wonderful fabric and food shops, mostly catering the Bengali community, many of whom live in the area. 

The studio I've been working in all day is on Cable Street; an historically important road which wears its past on its sleeve. In the early 20th Century, this was the place where dockers rubbed shoulders with Jewish immigrants, and it was the scene of the infamous 1936 Cable Street Battle, when both communities united to stop Mosely's fascists marching through the East End. 

Sir Arnold Wesker writes about the riot in his play, Chicken Soup With Barley, and he once gave me a beautiful print of a painting of the battle, which takes pride of place on our living room wall. It's a remarkably detailed piece; a gloriously colourful image of street barricades, reminiscent of something from Les Miserables. A young lad in a cloth cap stands in the very left upper corner of the picture, on the roof of a building, throwing a flour bomb onto the street below. His simple missile narrowly misses a policeman who's vainly trying to disperse the gathering crowds. 

Today's studio session went incredibly well. We were really just mapping out the tempi for all the White City songs and putting midi files (synth sounds and guide tracks for live instruments) into place. It's great to be working with Julian again, especially in the knowledge that my other favourite producer, PK, will soon be sitting to my right when we start mixing the Pepys Motet. 

I'm off now to an even darker corner of East London to watch a musical about Sherlock Holmes. It's a beautiful evening and everything's taken on a rather syrupy light, which I'm very much enjoying. An evening off? Surely this is too good to be true? 

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Polari


Christ on a bike, today’s been tough! Every tiny little technological break down that could have happened did happen. Our broadband collapsed. We fell off line every fifteen minutes all the way through the day. I called Talk Talk, and they started doing random tests, which meant we kept losing the land line as well as the internet.

In the meantime, my music-writing software started crashing. I was trying to create midi files for the studio tomorrow, but they were all coming out in the wrong tempo. I called the helpline in the US. They deal with complaints so much better over there, but, on three occasions, just as I’d explained my problem and they’d started to look into it, the people at Talk Talk would run another test on the line, and I’d be cut off.

We finally deduced that the problem was, of course, created by the vile Windows 8. I had to download all sorts of updates, which could only be done on my old computer (which now has a broken “n” and lost all capacity to create a full stop) and transfer to the new computer via a memory stick. My new computer falls offline more regularly than Talk Talk. It’s just insane. He whole day’s been insane. I had fifteen minutes for lunch. By 6pm I was shaking.

To make matters even more complicated, I received scores of emails and phone messages through the day from various members of my choir and people involved in the White City projects who seemed intent on throwing ever larger spanners into the works... “I can’t make the rehearsal.” “I’m going to be arriving late.” “Can I leave early?” “I haven’t got my act together, do you mind waiting another day for the stuff you need?” On and on it went until I just wanted to scream!!

The only bright glimmer was a mini-rehearsal for Four Colours accompanied by tea and a mountain of biscuits this evening. There were ten of us, half the choir essentially, all crammed into our living room. God I love hanging out with the Rebel Chorus. They're so much fun. I felt desperately sorry for the neighbours when we started blasting gospel music into the ether, however.  Actually, I didn’t feel sorry for them at all. I felt incredibly proud of the noise we were making. We live next door to a soprano. I’ve never met her; just heard her singing beautiful arias through the wall. She must have been very confused.

Nathan and Michelle are still here, talking Polari on the sofa, which is somewhat amusing. No rest for the wicked though. I still have a load of prep to do for tomorrow.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Supercilious

It rained rather heavily in the night, and the joyous blue skies turned grey once again. I sincerely hope that this will not herald a repeat of last summer's hell-laden weather: surely that's not it for the summer of 2013? The wind is up as well and I'm wondering if gales are on the way. I've given up looking at the weather forecast. It seems It's almost impossible to predict what's going to happen in this country. 

Fiona and I walked into Muswell Hill for breakfast and then home again through the woods, which felt like a very pleasant way to kick things off. 

I am painfully aware of needing to get on with work, but found myself entering a hell-zone of admin the moment I switched my computer on to send an email. It's astonishing how many important messages can be generated during a day spent in a recording studio, rather enhancing my life's philosophy that it's always best to deal with something as soon as it arises. Leave it for more than a day and it inevitably gets prioritised, and often never dealt with. 

At the moment I'm working on a day to day basis, preparing what I need for the following day. Tomorrow is the rehearsal for the Rebel Chorus' recording of Four Colours, and we're still short a bass and a soprano, so much of the afternoon was spent getting information out to people about our big session on Sunday.

In the meantime I trekked across London to rehearse with Bob, one of our soloists on the White City film, which we're now calling Tales From The White City. Bob is a vicar and we sat in his rectory, drinking tea and going through his words whilst two rather supercilious long-haired miniature daschunds looked on. He did incredibly well. The music I've written for him is a little like something Ian Drury might have sung. Talk about being thrown in the deep end! 

I came home and wrote another sequence for White City, leaving myself with only one major section to score. A huge weight off my mind but we're not there yet! First day in the studio on Friday...

Phew!

Today found us completing recording sessions for this stage of the Pepys Motet. Studio time started with the sopranos and finished with the altos, and in the meantime there were eight hours of brain-mashing mega-music, which has rendered me almost unable to put a sentence together.  Apologies, therefore, if this blog makes no sense. I'm pretty sure we got almost everything we needed; everyone sang their little hearts out. I feel so utterly privileged to be surrounded by such talented musicians, all of whom have donated their services to this project for nothing. I'm a very lucky chap. 

Some of the singers absolutely came alive in the studio. Michelle, one of our sopranos, who's recently been having lessons with Jem, was positively Amazonian; a veritable tower of musical strength. 

No one let the team down; not even close. Sure, there are sequences which we'll have to prod and poke a bit in post-production, and there were one or two mini-meltdowns along the way, but every single one of the ten singers who passed through Sonica today had their own very special moment. My heart melted on more than one occasion. 

This blog is dedicated to those ten singers; Carmen, Hilary, Rebecca, Michelle, Mel, Abbie, Laura, Llio, Jana and Julie. With love and thanks. 

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Skint

I've never been so unhappy to be forced to work on a Bank Holiday Monday in all my life! The sun literally shone all day and I was forced to watch it from my living room window. I could smell the barbecues and see everyone in shorts drinking in the garden of the pub opposite, and there I was, feeling fat and pasty, staring at a broken computer screen whilst the smell of ancient rat urine drifted up from behind the sofa. 

The highlight of my day was undoubtedly pulling out said sofa to discover a series of cocooned wasps and bumblebees that had been parcelled up by one of our resident spiders. I was a bit saddened to see the bee, but thrilled to see the wasps had met a suitably untimely end. I hate wasps and love spiders and this particular episode has done nothing to change these views.  

I'm still working on the dance sequence from White City and suspect there's another couple of hours in me tonight once I've gobbled down a couple of dippy eggs. Is it wrong to eat dippy eggs at midnight? Frankly, I don't care any more. The house is a tip, all my clothes have holes in them and I've neither the time nor the money to do anything about it. I watched a trailer for a new Channel 4 documentary about poor people, called "Skint" and thought I could probably give the lot of them a run for their money. I filled in a BBC class survey the other week and discovered, to my absolute horror, that I'm officially in the bottom 10% of earners in this country! And that's before tax! On the other hand I'm apparently on the 100th percentile when it comes to the breadth and depth of my cultural knowledge! Nothing if not consistent! I'm an enigma! Fan me gently! 

Even more enigmatically, Nathan would appear to be in Calais! Our mate Dan called him at 5pm and said "how quickly can you get to Calais? I need a favour!" Nathan, always up for new experiences, immediately said yes, and within half an hour was in the car and on his way. 

Dan wanted some kind of object picking up which was too heavy for the Eurostar. It all sounds a bit dodgy if you ask me. No doubt it will end up being stuffed full of cocaine and someone will tell him the other end that it's nothing but a giant flour shaker. 

Right, time to go. I've just dropped an egg on my computer, so now it's even more broken than it was before! I'd scream like a girl but I don't have the time!