Friday, 28 February 2014

Alan Rickman

Of course, in my rush to write a profoundly dull blog yesterday night, I forgot to mention Tuesday night... The night we had dinner with Alan Rickman!

Nathan and I had gone to the Print Room to watch the remarkable Sara Kestelman, in Ignis, pulling yet another surprise out of her lexicon of theatrical surprises. I think most people think of Sara as a bit of a grande dame; a classical actress with a rich baritone voice who is most comfortable delivering iambic pentameter. We all know she's also done musicals, very successfully, but what most people don't realise is that she's a published poet, and that, before the acting work started tumbling towards her, she trained as, and only wanted to be, a contemporary dancer.

And there she was, in a beautiful production, delivering her own intriguing poems whilst three astonishing dancers twisted, writhed and undulated around her. What none of us expected was for Sara herself to suddenly start joining in with the choreography, not just in a token manner, but with absolute panache and beauty.

We'd seen that Mr Rickman was in the audience. Nathan spotted him by his voice alone. We'd been impressed by his graciousness. The audience was small, but he'd stayed, with his partner to see the after show talk, and not only that, made it very clear that he thought a post show discussion was a wonderful idea. Whether or not he was aware that he was leading by example, I've no idea, but I expect if he'd made a beeline for the door, many more would have followed.

Of course, it turned out afterwards that he was a friend of Sara's, and a "quick drink" turned into a meal, which he very kindly paid for. We were joined by Belinda Laing (I'm not altogether sure where she popped up from) and the evening became a fest of theatrical anecdotes. Rickman was witty and droll and I finally got to ask him about his 'cello playing in the film Truly, Madly, Deeply. Apparently he did the bowing arm, whilst a pro 'cellist stuck his arm through Rickman's jacket to do the fingering and composer Barrington Phelong pulled Rickman's shoulder up and down! It must have worked. When I first saw the film I wondered if he'd played the 'cello as a youngster. Now, of course, I'm going to have to watch it again to see if I can spot any of the trickery!

Rickman's partner is a wonderful lady called Rima. A long-term member of the Labour Party, she was a local councillor for something like twenty years. There's such an astounding bond between them. They seemed so loving and supportive and have apparently been a team since the year dot. Well, since 1977.

I've been in the Midlands all day at the funeral of my honorary Godmother, Janet. My parents met me from Nuneaton train station and we drove to Kidderminster together, stopping off at services on route for brunch.

Kidderminster is a rather tragic place. The town centre is in disarray. One of the streets we walked down was full of boarded-over shops including an old Woolworths which still had all its signs in the windows. I can only begin to imagine when that closed down. Probably five or so years ago.

The service itself was nice. It was a nice send off. That's about all you can say at a certain point isn't it? My godfather and namesake, David, held himself together. One of their children was stoic, almost casual, but confessed afterwards that he was in absolute denial. The other fell apart completely on entering the church.

We went to a crematorium in the middle of a windswept field, heard a bit of the Lark Ascending, and then the curtains circled the coffin like some curious magic trick. I spoke to David afterwards, and he invited me to go and see him; "it will all be the same; same house, same hospitality... Just without Janet." My heart broke.

We renewed our age-old promise to visit the First World War trenches together, and that, as they say, was that.

We drove back to Nuneaton through the length of Warwickshire, my mother's heart leaping for joy as we drove through the villages, heaths and forests which she'd known intimately as a young woman. The nostalgia-fest was aided by the setting sun; a giant orange glowing ball in the Western sky. We stared at it in awe, all thinking the same thing; "Janet will never see this sunset..."

I'm now on a train now, heading home, cramped in a corner right next to the loo. I am reminded of my last train journey back from the Midlands at the start of February. We'd been in Birmingham holding NYMT auditions  all day and Jeremy had treated us to seats in First Class to celebrate our last out-of-London auditions.

We were served tea and little snacks by a Mancunian lad called Josh, whom, we discovered was also a theatre director. He asked us all about Brass, and the NYMT. You could have blown me down with a feather when he turned up the following week to interview for the post of assistant director on our show... A post we offered and he accepted today. Isn't that a brilliant story? It just goes to show that it's always worth chatting to train guards, and bar staff, and shop keepers. My old friend Vera, a stalwart of the Royal Court Theatre used to say; "ignore the ushers here at your peril. They're the most interesting people in this building..."

I hope she was right. One of those ushers was me!

Thursday, 27 February 2014

The most boring blog entry in the world!

We’re sitting on the sofa, working, with the television on in the background. There’s a programme on about brain surgery, which is fairly distressing. Every time I look up, there’s something ghastly going on. One man has about ten screws drilled into his head and is having an operation on his brain whilst he’s conscious. Absolutely dreadful. I’ve never seen so many stitches on the side of a face before. It’s also incredibly moving. A lad with a fearful tremor has just cried for joy, because, after an operation, he was able to drink from a glass for the first time. Sometimes we forget quite how such small things can be so profoundly meaningful.

The emails went out last night with the results of the NYMT auditions. I could tell because twitter immediately went crazy with most of the cast of Brass messaging to thank me for casting them, which I thought was rather sweet.

I have done little for the rest of the day other than sitting at the kitchen table writing. I haven’t read a newspaper, or seen what’s going on in the outside world for days. I’m so busy I can’t even answer the phone to friends when they ring. It’s incredibly frustrating, but needs must. If I stop now, I’ll never get everything done.  Gosh, this is a dull blog entry isn't it? Apologies!

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Love is everything

It’s been another insane day, which started at shit o’clock, and by all accounts is still going. We were up at Alexandra Palace in the early afternoon, having our photos taken for Channel 4. It was all a little embarrassing. Photo shoots can be painful at the best of time and I felt incredibly self-conscious, particularly when the shoot went outdoors, and members of the public stopped and started watching. It was nice to be out in the sunshine, however. Up there, at the very top of London, spring is definitely on its way. Little daffodils were poking up through the grass and some of the trees were sprouting early blossom. This time last year I’m pretty sure we were still under hundreds of feet of snow.

We had another epic production meeting tonight which lasted until 9pm. I think there were about ten of us sitting around a table, eating biscuits, drinking cups of tea and talking through the project in minuscule detail. There’s so much to do, and everything is taking an absolute age to slot into place from a logistics perspective. When you’re dealing with big names, you’re also dealing with considerable egos, and, quite understandably, people wanting to know what’s in it for them. So we look at the demands and requests in relation to what we perceive as integral to our film. It’s a rather fragile balancing which can be incredibly stressful. I start sessions in the recording studio on Monday and obviously everything needs to be orchestrated long in advance. Cue panic, because, with three days to go, I still have no idea what two of the songs are actually even going to be. It’s times like this I wish I were a little more laid back. But I can only do my best I suppose.  

Still, it comes to something, doesn’t it, when you’re still writing music at midnight!? Nathan is in the next door room still writing lyrics. I read the Channel 4 press release today which described this as my most ambitious project to date. They’re really not wrong!

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Love conquers all

I broke my day up today with a trip into Central London to mert Nathan for lunch and have my hair cut. We have to do a series of publicity shots tomorrow for Channel 4, up at Alexandra Palace, which surely means, very shortly, I'll be able to write in detail about what we're actually doing! I feel rather like I've been lying in this blog since January; avoiding the mention of certain key events and speaking obliquely about others. I am, however, slowly getting less anxious and more excited about what we're doing. It is, without doubt, the most enormous thing which will possibly ever happen to either of us.

Nathan was in a secret location in Central London this morning, filming one of the special guests who'll be appearing in our film. He phoned me earlier on, sounding a little breathless, saying everything had gone incredibly well.

I walked through North Soho to get to Old Compton Street, and en route, passed a man who was sitting on a step, making a butty from a bag of chips and a stottie. The delicious aroma of vinegar almost smacked me in the face! What is it about the smell of vinegar which is both repulsive and remarkable? Maybe there's an enzyme in it which is triggered when it starts breaking down or preserving food which isn't triggered when, for example, you spill it on the carpet, or your favourite jumper, which is this vinegar addict's favourite trick!

I sat in Soho writing all afternoon. I love how cosmopolitan it gets in that part of town. I doubt there were more than two people of the same nationality in the cafe with me. That said, there was a rather amusing incident triggered by two European lads attempting to communicate in rather broken English. It was a simple enough transaction. One wanted to know if a chair was free so that his friend could join them. The other didn't have a clue what he was trying to say, and there was much gesturing and embarrassed laughter. When they'd finally established that the chair was indeed free, the first lad called over to his mate; "libero, libero..." cue an astonishing amount of laughter as both lads realised they were Italian!

Very good news arrived from the Arts Council today. They have decided to fund Brass. It's a humble amount, but the NYMT are thrilled. It might mean a few nicer costumes, or one or two extra bursaries for the kids, which is just marvellous.

I have made a vow to Sara K that I will do everything humanly possible to make sure the cast of Brass have the summer of their lives. I think back to the time when I was their age, and we were performing Big Book for Girls on the Edinburgh Fringe with the National Student Theatre Company. It was perhaps the most exciting, optimistic, carefree period of my life, and I want the young people in our show to have the same experience.

As I hurtle towards forty, I'm beginning to realise what an epic year this is turning out to be. Perhaps a mini break-through is finally on the cards. Wouldn't that be lovely?

Off now to see Sara Kestelman in a dance drama at the Print Room in Notting Hill. An evening off would you believe?! Whatever next?!


It's 9pm, and we've just finished a six hour production meeting with people from Channel Four. I couldn't believe it when I saw the time. There was, admittedly, something quite nice about everyone being together in the office until late, but I've now reached brain-saturation point. I'm trying to orchestrate a song that Nathan has written for the film. I really can't find the right feel for it and am on my umpteenth variant. To give an indication of quite how far off the mark I've been, I played it back, and discovered I'd made it a full minute slower than Nathan had envisaged!

I guess some people are more natural arrangers of music than others.

I think I may have to go through the night to get this arrangement done and dusted, which is a fairly awful thought... but needs must, and I'll be grateful in the long run that I took time to do things properly.

They were lovely in the meeting today; hugely respectful about the work I'd done on the music so far. But even the merest, seemingly innocuous lyric change tends to have a catastrophic knock-on effect. I spent a full half an hour changing just two bars earlier! Sadly that's the intricate nature of what I've been writing. It's difficult to un-stitch and re-stitch things.

Anyway, I've been horrible to Nathan all night. Stress always makes us lash out at the ones we love most of all doesn't it?

I had osteopathy this morning. It seems like a long time ago and I'm not sure it's doing a great deal of good, neither am I sure I could expect to get much better whilst things are so manic.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Brass is cast!

What I forgot I mention yesterday is quite what a treat it's been to hear songs from Brass sung for the first time. I am touched, in fact a little grateful that people have spend so much time inside my songs, learning them, interpreting them. Eliza's big number seems to have struck a particular chord. Nathan says it's the show's big hit, the one they'll be auditioning with at drama schools in five years' time.

I held my breath when I heard it for the first time...

Hilary said something which was very lovely to hear, namely that she quite forgot throughout the day yesterday that we were listening to songs from anything other than a well-established West End show. Isn't that lovely?

It's now 11pm, and Brass is fully cast! It took us four hours after the recalls finished, and there was an astonishing amount of somewhat bitter tussling going on with the other two productions over who wanted to cast who.  We were informed at one point that one of the girls we were potentially interested in, a girl from Leeds, wasn't interested in doing a show in Leeds and was only interested in performing in The Hired Man in London! Our director, Sara Kestelman was horrified; "what? She's turned down the opportunity to create a role in a new musical!? Why on earth did she bother to come to the recall!" Some little divas start acting up rather young these days. Oh well. Her loss! We have the most stunning, stunning cast and I am absolutely thrilled.

I actually can't believe it's done. I'm scared, excited, relieved, happy, scared, relieved, excited, exhausted, scared, scared...

Anyway. I can barely keep my eyes open. Time for bed!

Saturday, 22 February 2014


As we walked around Sainsbury's this evening, we kept stumbling upon a little old Chinese lady, who was walking around, singing softly to herself in a beautiful soprano voice. It was so lovely to hear. She was probably 80 years old, and moving incredibly slowly, but she was out and about, choosing something nice for her supper, and plainly really happy about the fact. I get a little teary when I see a happy-looking person, particularly if they seem happy even though the odds are plainly stacked up against them... You can multiply my reaction by ten if I'm tired. When I'm tired, I'm completely unable to control any of my emotions!

We did our first day of recalls for Brass today. Utterly exhausting. Utterly exhilarating. Uncle Bill came to give me her support, and Nathan was also there. All in all, I felt we were a wonderfully well-oiled machine. By the end of each session I felt we'd got a very good sense of the capabilities of the kids who were there and hope that none of them felt over-looked. At one point, we split into four groups, working with twelve recallees, each one of us focussing on acting, singing or dancing. By the end we had a true sense of all the kids and their abilities across the full range of performance disciplines.

And some of them were truly outstanding. Genuinely. Based on today, I've no idea who is going to get the role of Eliza. There are at least two outstanding candidates. Hilary summed it up rather succinctly when she said, "it depends if you want the role to be played by a goddess or a woman..." We all knew exactly what she meant. One of the girls was statuesque and slightly other-worldly, the other was deliciously down-to-earth. Both were extraordinary singers. One edged it on the dance. The other edged it on the acting. Grr! Heaven knows what will happen if two more excellent Elizas throw their hats into the ring tomorrow!

What I WILL say is that I would feel proud to have any number of those kids in Brass. And I'm not just saying that.

Friday, 21 February 2014

The merits of a piano

We’ve been writing in two separate rooms all day today. Nathan says it feels a little bit like a scene from Merrily We Roll Along; the number called We’re Opening Doors, where the three lead characters are on the phone to one another. I sit in the kitchen writing music. Nathan lies on a bed with his eyes closed, writing lyrics. He assures me he’s writing and not sleeping. My great friend Sam Becker used to do the same thing when writing music. We lived together for a few years in the late 1990s in a house in Kentish Town with paper thin walls. When I was writing music I’d scream and yell and sing. Sam liked to write in absolute silence, periodically moving across to the piano to lightly touch the odd note, just to check he was on the right lines. I can’t imagine how awful it must have been for him with me next door bashing and crashing at the piano.

I always used to see writing music at a piano as a sign of weakness... I still do in a way. I think the practice rather demotes me to the realm of songwriter rather than composer, not that I really have an issue with this. At university there was always a slight snobbishness which wafted from those who could write without a piano in the direction of the mere mortals who couldn’t. I used to pretend to write without, and subsequently never wrote a bar of music whilst I was actually in York because there was never a keyboard in my student digs. I used to go home and write during the holidays... if I could be bothered. I was a lazy bastard in those days.

I watched a girl once orchestrating a piece for flute quartet as quickly as it took her to write the notes. 20 years on, I’m still trying to reach those dizzying heights of musical sophistication! Mind you, she did have perfect pitch, and she was writing for flute quartet, which in my mind rather lessens her genius. To my ears, the flute is probably the ugliest-sounding instrument in the world... There’s something about the regularity of its sound waves, the pitch that it plays at, and, to be frank, the type of person who tends to be drawn to it! Girls. Blond. Vapid. Long-limbed. A hint of the blue stockings...

We’ve just spent the last hour or so looking through the final draft script for the Channel 4 film. It’s beginning to fly, we think... beginning to feel like something which could be very special. I’m getting the same sense about some of the music as well. I think I turned a corner last night and am entering the realm of finessing what I’ve written, which feels like a strong place to be a week before studio sessions start. The opening sequence is as nutty as a fruitcake, which I suspect will be about the most surreal piece of television which has ever been shown. I wish I could give you a little sense of what we’re up to; the sorts of people we’re working with and what the end result might be. I think we’re doing some publicity with Channel 4 in the coming week, so at that stage I’ll be able to share some of the more exciting details.

Right. Back to the grindstone. I have a series of recall auditions to prepare...

Thursday, 20 February 2014


It's been another epic working day, which started at 8am and ended at ten tonight. I'm starving hungry, buzzing from too many cups of tea, I have a vague headache behind the eye, but I do feel I've achieved a great deal. At the moment, I'm like a machine; throwing music at virtual manuscript, getting the shape of things and then returning to look at it in finer detail. It's like a sort of mania.

Because I'm over-dramatic and a little bit emotional at the moment, I decided first thing this morning that Nathan's fever in the night was the product of his somehow managing to pick up malaria from the Dominican Republic. I even telephoned the centre for tropical disease to see if they could give me some advice. They weren't in, so I left a message. They probably heard the hypochondria in my voice, because they don't seem to be in any great rush to call me back! In retrospect, and having spent the day with Nathan, I'm almost convinced he's fine, and simply suffering from a bit of a chesty cough! He seems rather chipper this evening in fact; certainly not malarial. (I'm basing this on Cheryl Cole.)

Bubbling away in the background all week have been thoughts of this weekend's Brass recalls, which promise to be desperately manic! The kids have been split into six groups, each of whom are ours to do with as we please for a couple of hours. Four of the groups have 11 or 12 people in them, which strikes me as a very decent number for a recall, but then there are two rather epic groups with 30 kids in them, which is terrifying, especially on the day that our esteemed director, Sara, can't be there.

I suspect at least some of my day tomorrow will be spent prepping what on earth we're going to do in that session!! Flying by the seat of my pants will almost definitely come into the equation! Asking Nathan to come and help? Check. That's if he's not in hospital!

Wednesday, 19 February 2014


I've just finished work for the day. It's 10pm, which is not at all bad by present standards! We're heading out right now for a vegetarian kebab. There's no food in the house and Nathan is coming down with some kind of 'flu, so we've decided to snuggle up under a duvet and watch an episode of Mr Selfridge before bed.

I glanced out of the window at about 5pm this evening, and noticed, on the horizon behind the trees, the most extraordinary smudge of luminosity, almost as though there were an enormous fire a mile or so away.  It took me a while to understand what was going on. The pale stone of Alexandra Palace had caught the last few rays of the day's sun, and was glowing a vivid shade of pink. A shade of pink I'd never seen before. It was breathtakingly beautiful, made perhaps even more spectacular because it was being framed by a dark storm cloud. Yet again, nature strives to blind side us with its profound beauty.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014


I found out first thing this morning that my "Godmother," Janet, died on Sunday night. She was surrounded by loved-ones, and I suppose, as deaths go, hers was about as peaceful and dignified as it could have been. I get the impression that she merely slipped away; fell into an ever-deeper sleep.

She was a wonderful woman. As a child, I thought she was absolutely fabulous. She had an incredibly sunny disposition, titian hair with freckles, and she always seemed to make my parents laugh and laugh. I was once found, at the age of four, snuggled up next to her in my parents' spare room...

She will, no doubt, be sorely and bitterly missed by her children, Edward and Matthew, her husband, my namesake, David, and of course my mother and father, who were best friends with her for the best part of half a century.

Incredibly sad.

Monday, 17 February 2014


Yesterday was the last day of first round auditions for Brass, and we were full to the rafters with almost 90 kids coming through the Pimlico doors. I recalled very few of them, not because they weren't good, but because, by the end of a series of auditions like this, you have a far clearer sense of what you're looking for and who you've already recalled. The truth of the matter is that people have already rather lodged themselves in my mind as potential favourites for the roles and this can make it a little hard for anyone else to make their mark!

Of course, earlier on in the process of looking for "the one", I found myself recalling one or two mediocre performers, just in case I couldn't find anyone better later on, so, in truth, the earlier you audition the more likely you are to be recalled.

The trouble with all this is that an actor, when given a choice in the matter, will leave it to the last moment to audition, either because he or she is shambolic, or under the auspices of needing as long as possible to prepare.

Of course, the best person for the job, if they're on their A-game, will usually get the role, but if someone is a nervy performer who responds better to the more nurturing atmosphere of a recall, I wholeheartedly suggest getting in there as early as possible!

I met Michelle of the Turkie for lunch at Somerset House and inadvertently wandered into the glitzy madness of London Fashion Week. We sat in our usual cafe, staring out onto the courtyard, where scores of wannabe fashionistas and curios were milling about in the sunshine, posing for photos for anyone who would oblige! It was a curious and surreal sight. Here a pair of ten-inch heels, there a man with a tattood face. Here an Andy Warhole clone, there a Yoko look-a-like. The scene was a riot of leopard print, day-glow mayhem, brittle-thin legs, silly hats, crimped hair and pom-poms! It all seemed to be rather good natured, though. If that had been a film or theatre event, I think the people milling about would have seemed a little more arch. I have never felt so short, however. Michelle, who can only be about 5 feet tall, suggested finding some stilts and sidling up to some of the models to see if they found it amusing!

...And then it struck me that height is one of the few physical attributes that people feel they can comment on. I would never meet someone for the first time and say, "Christ you're fat!" But I would cheerfully tell a tall person that he was tall... Expecting him, somehow, never to have been told this before!

I went home via Tottenham Court Road and ended up in the no-man's-land, around the Centre Point building, where they're developing the new Cross Rail station. It's a curious, dark part of town at the best of times, which was once a terrible slum; a Mecca for criminals, where 19th Century police were too frightened to patrol. They say the area is cursed, which is why business after business fails in that part of town. This doesn't exactly bode well for Cross Rail, but what struck me today, was how unusual it feels to walk around the (once extremely busy) junction where Oxford Street used to meet Tottenham Court Road and not have to compete with a million cars! I still think it's sad that they knocked down the famous Astoria Theatre to make way for the new station, but I guess we call that progress.

Sunday, 16 February 2014


It was a proper treat to wake up this morning. The sky was powder blue and the sun was blindingly bright. The air had a softness to it. I didn't mind that the Northern line wasn't running between Archway and Highgate, it meant I had a little longer in the fresh air, which I found balancing, somehow.

I saw the political journalist Andrew Marr being interviewed by Jonathan Ross last night, which I found both chilling and heartwarming. Marr, a self-proclaimed workaholic, had a stroke a couple of years ago, which wrecked the left hand side of his body and left him walking with a stick. The stroke happened after a period of ridiculous hard work, and, slightly more ludicrously, a session on a rowing machine where he pushed himself a little too hard. It seems so innocuous, but it almost killed him; a genuine lesson for us all...

Marr was very philosophical about what had happened and took up painting and drawing as a form of therapy. He can't sharpen pencils or do anything useful with his left hand, but his artwork is simply wonderful, in fact he's just written a book about the joys of painting. What I found most heartwarming however, was his optimism. He never once complained that half of his body didn't work. Instead he spent a lot of time talking about the beauty of nature, the joy of life, and how he simply wants to try and capture as much of it as he can in art.

As I walked through the sleepy Sunday morning streets of North London, I begin to realise that Marr is right. As human beings we've been awarded with many unique attributes. High on this list is the ability to appreciate and interpret great beauty. So I suppose if there's any moral to this story it's that we should make sure we find the time every day to appreciate the inherent beauty around us, because none of us knows how long we have left on this wonderful planet.


I worked til about 3 in the morning last night and, as a result, went easy on myself today, which basically meant allowing myself to work with the telly on in the background!

Hilary came over this afternoon and in the process gave me a much-needed break. The weather was surprisingly beautiful, so we went for a long stroll through the breezy woods in the late afternoon sunlight.

It was rather lovely to see her without her son. I adore Jago, but it's so good to talk an old friend about the things it's impossible to discuss in front of a three-year old. I think there comes a time in all new mothers' lives when they feel the need to reclaim their minds! I think, in amongst the moments of great joy and discovery, being a Mum must be one of the loneliest and most stifling jobs on the planet.

The woods looked glorious this afternoon, the green moss attached to the trees was almost luminous in the bright, white sunshine. We wandered through Highgate Wood and Queen's Wood, and then ambled up to Quarter's Cafe, where Hils had a Pims and we shared a delicious lemon drizzle cake. The cafe is also an antique shop, and there's was some fabulous stuff in there today including a tiny, portable, three-octave box piano, which sounded a little like a Celeste. I've never seen anything like it before. They're quite rare instruments, apparently. I'm told they were popular with early missionaries. I immediately coveted it, of course, imagining how useful it would be as an alternative to a twinkly synthy sound in one of my studio recordings. There was a sadness to it as well, however, which I couldn't quite put my finger on...

I came home and ate a bowl of pasta in front of Saturday night telly, watching an advert for a sort of snack bar called Barny. As a tag line they used the phrase:"made with ingredients like wheat, chocolate and eggs..." Could anyone name an ingredient which is LIKE wheat, chocolate and eggs? I don't even think we can call chocolate an ingredient. Have wheat, chocolate and eggs got something in common which I haven't realised? It's all nonsense, of course, but worryingly, it's nonsense we accept in the process of being blinded by faux science or anything which purports to be organic. Surely we need to start questioning these statements before  the wool is pulled permanently over our innocent tragically gullible eyes!

Friday, 14 February 2014


I got up at a time I didn't even know existed this morning but was immediately thwarted by the lack of hot water in our flat. Sadly I'm one of those people who can't even consider greeting a day without a piping hot bath first, but the boiler in our flat is either very old, very rubbish, very mean or incredibly bitter about something, so will only periodically deliver the necessary goods. Today wasn't a good day in that respect.

...Cut to me, just before 8am this morning, attempting to boil water in whatever receptacle I could get my hands on which included three saucepans on the hob, a kettle and a bowl in the microwave. It became a rather interesting experiment to see which would boil first. The kettle, unsurprisingly, did its job most efficiently, whereas the bowl of water in the microwave was bitterly disappointing. Fifteen minutes of heating, and still no sign of any decent heat!

The resulting bath was, as you might expect, very disappointing. It was lukewarm at best, I was forced to lie on a bed of limescale which had fallen out of the kettle, and there were bits of food floating around from one of the pans which I'd plainly not washed thoroughly enough. I felt like a dumpling in a casserole!

Aren't bulbs extraordinary things? We had a hyacinth. I think it was a hyacinth. Hilary gave it to us for Christmas two years ago. It flourished and was spectacular in our kitchen window for weeks. When it died, for some reason, probably because we're slovens, the bulb just sat there, staring at us, looking miserable for the best part of a year... But suddenly it's sprouting again! Perhaps it will even flower.  It might end up being all the flowers I get this Valentine's day, with Nathan doing a concert in Grimsby tonight of all places. Ever since losing a court case to a choir from Lincolnshire, I've refused to acknowledge that particular county's existence as anything other than somewhere you drive through feeling a little nauseous!

I find myself a little concerned about my god mother (or atheist equivalent thereof). Unfortunately she's been battling with cancer over the last few months and my parents have just rushed off to Shropshire to see her. I can't think the news will be good but I pray to the universe that whatever happens is for the best.

I had a meeting this afternoon, down in Kentish Town, with the head of arts at Channel 4, who I like enormously and seems to be really championing our work. I played him some early drafts of some of the songs on my computer, and he's plainly musical enough to be able to appreciate them without getting confused by the tinny, synth sounds of music software. He loved the demo we recorded with Llio and took it away with him to enthuse other C4 types.

In the absence of time for a run, I walked from Kentish Town up to Highgate, skirting around the edge of the Heath. It's incredibly blustery and I didn't feel entirely safe wandering underneath the trees.

I've never known a time like this for successive gales, although I'm slightly comforted by the thought that Haringey, after Islington, is thought to be the least likely London borough to be affected by flooding. Small mercies. Perhaps the chap from UKIP is onto something when he suggests the floods are the result of the wrath of God regarding gay marriages. If I were thinking of tying the knot, I'm sure Haringey would already be under ten feet of water...

Thursday, 13 February 2014

No pounds

So today, George Osborne would appear to have told the Scots that if they opt for independence they can't be expected to share a currency with their old bed fellows. The Scots are claiming that this is an example of Westminster bullying the Scots and using scare-mongering tactics to keep them inside the union.

Surely, the whole point of independence is, well, independence. I'm actually all for Scottish independence, but only if it actually means independence, and not some half-baked half-way-house compromise which means English money gets pumped into Scotland to bail them out whenever they get into trouble. In my view, you're either in or you're out...

Last night, upon returning from our traffic jam hell, I switched on my computer to discover that the file I'd been working on for the past two days had managed to corrupt itself. Heaven knows how. You pay the best part of $200 for a fancy upgrade and your loyalty is rewarded with melt-down!

Archway Road was not a pleasant place to be last night. There were gales within and without our flat. I rushed around, like a whirling dervish, cursing my life, cursing technology, cursing poor Nathan...

Anyway, the issue sorted itself out just before midnight, as these things tend to just as you're about to defenestrate the inanimate objects which are causing you the most pain...

I kept waking up in the night, and rushing into the sitting room to jot down the copious ideas floating around in my head.

I got up very early, and have spent the entire day writing. As a result, I finally feel like I'm crawling forward rather than from side to side. I even managed a little run this afternoon, which felt rather lovely. I was out as the sun was setting; the first bit of proper sun I feel like we've seen in a while. It was freezing cold, however. I stopped at one point to talk to my neighbour Keeley and had to run away because standing still was so uncomfortable. Keeley was with her baby, and they were wrapped up together in a sort of papoose, and I felt rather envious that they had each other's warmth!

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

When there simply aren't enough hours

We left the house at 2.30pm today for two short meetings, and returned at almost 8pm, feeling like almost nothing had been achieved! The problem was, of course, London traffic. Our first meeting was in Harringey, the second, in Hackney. Parking in both areas was a massive problem. We ended up in supermarket car parks worrying that someone would come and clamp us. Traffic was close to ghastly. We could have driven to Northampton and back in the time it took us to snake our way through North East London. On the way home we got stranded somewhere near Finsbury Park. The one road which gets people out of that particular hell hole was flooded, and we ended up on a wild goose-chase, heading in ever-larger circles around the Emirates Stadium, as Arsenal fans wandered aimlessly in the middle of the road, heading towards their temple. 3/4 of an hour after leaving Hackney, we were two blocks away from the place where our adventure had begun. The only difference was that a little piece of me died in the meantime! I think the most horrifying thing in the world is trying to drive along the Holloway Road in the midst of rush hour/ football match traffic.

I'm trying my very hardest to work. I got up extra specially early today to do just that, but when you're dealing with telly people, who, justifiably want copious meetings to check that everything's going smoothly, sometimes the process of creativity gets placed rather far down the list of priorities! Instead of actually doing good work, you're asked to provide documents to prove that good work is being done! Criticisms are then offered before you've had a chance to create something which you feel is good enough to criticise! And of course, if your work isn't of a high enough standard, the TV executives potentially panic because they're the ones spending the money and they don't necessarily know that your actual writing time in a week has been limited to about ten hours! It's a difficult quandary. And sitting in a slow moving car is utterly exhausting!

Tuesday, 11 February 2014


So, today my computer decided it was going to randomly upload Windows 8.1, which took several hours and had the effect of rendering my music writing software unusable until I'd downloaded a newer version of that! Sometimes I wonder why I ever stopped writing music with pen and paper. Mind you, that particular process brought its own set of frustrations; ink smudging, paper ripping when you rubbed out the pencil marks, the time-consuming hell of using a ruler to make professional-looking note stems... I once left a carpet bag filled to the brim with first draft scores of my musical, Letter to a Daughter, on Hampstead Heath. There were no back-ups because I'd not yet photocopied what I'd written! I only realised I'd lost the bag when I got home that night. My great friend Meriel, my housemate at the time, got up before dawn with me, and we walked across the Heath together, looking for the bag as the sun rose. As luck would have it, we found it nestling under a tree. It had rained in the night, but the music had remained dry and unharmed.

Today we went to visit a potential filming location for our Channel 4 project. It's quite simply breathtaking; the sort of building which causes you to audibly gasp as you enter. As we walked in, I whispered in Nathan's ear, "promise me if we ever get married, we can get married here!"

We came back from the location and went straight into a meeting at Archie's offices about the project. Of course, if you have too many meetings, you end up in a position where you don't actually end up doing anything you need to do and we have so much to do, and such little time in which to do it!

I came home and worked until about ten minutes ago, finally starting to put down some markers on one of the songs, before breaking off to have a conference call with Julian, our music man.

Absolute mayhem. Truly!

Monday, 10 February 2014


I shan't lie. It's been a frustrating day. The house is a mess. We're too busy to tidy up. It's done nothing but rain all day, so we've not really left the house. And my sodding computer, with it's limited capabilities and blessed Windows 8 operating system has been sluggish and glitchy all day. At one point it crashed every time I played anything on my music writing software, and at some point along the line, it decided it no longer had the capacity to process emails. It seems that my computer packs up without fail every time I start a period of manic busyness. A new commission lands in the proverbial in tray and the computer immediately goes AWOL. Sometimes I wonder if my slightly nervous start-of-a-project energy somehow clashes with the electricity within the machine and then I realise I'm not Stephen King's Carrie!  I'm pretty sure some of the blame has to lie with the dreadful quality of PCs these days. ACER computers strike me as particularly awful. I keep telling them as much on twitter, but they don't seem that interested. Anti-virus software is also a factor.  In the early afternoon, before a plate of food at the local cafe revived me, I felt myself sinking under the pressure of the enormity of the task we have ahead of us. A friend of mine once said, "I'm one computer crash away from the loony bin" and today I knew exactly how she felt!

It's 9.30pm, we're still working, and yet it somehow doesn't feel like we've achieved anything, which is an awful sensation to have at the end of a day. Time seems to have evaporated like drops of water on a gas ring! This must be what it feels like to be 99 years old. I'm told the notion of time speeds up the older you get.

Still, tomorrow is another day, and I shall attempt to wake up early to really crack on with things to avoid this feeling for a second night in a row!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Patter scatter

We've just finished another day of auditions for Brass and I'm so tired I could fall over. I think general tiredness caused me to get a little hysterical in the last session of the day. One girl arrived wanting to sing I'm Not Getting Married by Sondheim, which, those who know musical theatre will recognise as a patter song; the sort of song where the words go by at lightning speed. Lots of words mean lots of dots, and the poor girl arrived with 26 loose pages of A4 manuscript, printed with pink ink which she proudly handed to the pianist, another Ben, who looked over to me with a panicked grin and asked if I'd page turn.

As I walked over he whispered in my ear that he thought we "might be heading for a car crash..." He wasn't far wrong!

As it happened, the girl auditioning was doing a rather good job, but behind the scenes the two of us were descending into absolute chaos. There was paper flying all over the place and I started giggling like a school boy. Tears were actually rolling down my face by the time the song finished, and the poor girl singing, who had her back to us, didn't have a clue why everyone in the room was laughing!

I came home and immediately started prepping material for the recalls, whilst Nathan sat on the sofa next to me working on the Channel 4 piece.

I have much much more to do before turning in, so will need to wrap this blog post up and get on with things.

I suppose all we can do is chisel away at our interminable list. In a month's time we'll look back and think "wow, look at everything we achieved in that short period of time!" Keeping an eye on the horizon is vital for our sanity!

A day of song

As I emerged from Pimlico tube this morning and turned left onto Vauxhall Bridge Road, the sun was shining bright and low in the sky, so bright and low in fact that everything was silhouetted in front of it. I could see right across the river to Vauxhall itself and that strange curved-roof bus station building. It was all rather intense. Rather magical.

We've been running NYMT auditions all day today. I was on music duty, and must have heard 80 songs including four "On My Owns" three "Empty Chairs At Empty Tables", two "Defying Gravities" and a really lovely song from a new musical I'd not heard before.

I was a touch harsh on one of the groups, primarily because, despite my telling them I wasn't interested in hearing pretty songs sung prettily without any thought or emotion, I heard nothing but pretty songs sung prettily with no thought or emotion!

In another group, there were tears for all the right reasons; kids connecting with the lyrical content of songs. One rather fragile little girl, a wonderful actress, got particularly upset after singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow. It's so difficult to be a male adult in this kind of situation, because every paternal instinct kicks in and all you want to do is give them big hugs, which is obviously inappropriate. So I sat behind my table encouraging the kids to do a big group hug!

I took the tube back home to Highgate. A homeless person came through the carriage and gave the obligatory, barely audible announcement about being hungry and needing money for a shower. People instantly started reaching for their wallets, and I watched £5 going into his pot in my section of the carriage alone, which included £1 from a young lad who frankly didn't look like he had it to spare. And it got my thinking; if the minimum wage is £6.31 per hour, this man is clearing that alone in a three minute announcement and whip round! I'm not suggesting that he'd always be as lucky as he was tonight, nor that his life is wonderful or blessed, but it did make me wonder why I, in dark times l, haven't donned a scruffy jumper and taken to the tubes!

This evening we went to Llio's house to record a demo for the C4 project and listen to the album she's just finished making. It's an absolute  masterpiece. I genuinely mean that. Utterly engulfing. Deeply emotional. Musically daring. Transporting. Darker than dark. I feel privileged to have heard it.

We left Llio's to the great chill of a bitter winter gale. As we drove home, we passed scores of blown over dustbins and street signs. The poor people in Cornwall, which we're told is in the eye of the storm, must be wondering if Armageddon has finally arrived.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Love conquers all

I can't even remember getting up this morning. It seems such a long time ago, probably because the day was split into so many little self-contained chunks which happened in different London locations.

I worked through the morning and then through lunch, mostly on our project for channel 4, which stretches out in front of me like a very short, but excessively deep river! By April it will have happened. The following week I go into rehearsals for Brass. My life is insane!

We went over to Abbie's this afternoon to record her singing demo tracks for the NYMT recalls. I was fairly astounded by how fast she picked the tunes up. There are some pretty complicated rhythms and a number of tricky intervals floating about within the three songs she sang, all of which she tackled fearlessly. She also seems to have fallen in love with Eliza's big ballad in Brass. It will be lovely to hear her perform it when she's had a chance to sing it into her voice.

From Abbie's it was back to Archie's offices in Tufnell Park where we had a three hour evening meeting, plotting the C4 film in terms of who needs to do what and by when.

And that was pretty much my day. Not very interesting for a reader, I'm afraid. I could lie and say I went to Blackpool and back to tap dance in the ballroom there, but hard graft never makes for good prose!

If only I could announce what I'm up to!

Friday, 7 February 2014

Dividing the day into chunks

It's gonna be a long night I suspect... Nathan and I are trying to record learning files for the kids who are being recalled for Brass at the end of the month. It seems to be taking a ridiculous amount of time, which I could do without right now. Nathan recorded one vocal, with a rasp in his voice due to exhaustion and I recorded the other in the style of someone who'd never breathed in his life before!

We found out on Tuesday that the project we were working towards at Channel 4 has been green lit. Hurrah! Hurree! Harooo! I'm afraid until the project is announced officially, I'm not allowed to tell you anything more about it, but suffice to say it's incredibly exciting and will force both of us to work harder than perhaps we ever have before... I am now splitting my days into chunks which enable me to move forward on both Brass and the Channel 4 project. It's relentless, but it certainly worked okay today. I managed to write and orchestrate a two-minute song on the C4 project, prep half of the audition scores for Brass, and begin the process of orchestrating the opening number for Brass. The songs just keep appearing in the script... Just as you think you're nearing the end, another one crops up and whispers "remember me?"

At the same time I'm back on a weight loss programme, so until my metabolism settles I might be a bit grumpy!

This evening we went for a lovely dinner in Soho with the commissioning editor in charge of our new project at C4, Archie and our new project co-ordinator, Sean.

Thursday, 6 February 2014


We're currently in the deepest, darkest, rainiest, twistiest country lanes on the border of Wales and England. We're doing a day of seeing family which started with lunch with the parents in Thaxted: for the record, two different soups, and a wonderful platter of breads and cheeses.

The drive to Wales was a nightmare. A terrible gale was blowing, which actually took our wing mirror clean off the side of the car, and the traffic was ghastly, particularly around Birmingham. It took us just over four hours to complete the journey. Still, when we arrived, Nathan's sister, Sam, had cooked us a wonderful meal and there was tea and cake and two friendly cats at Celia's. Mind you, the shock of having a wing mirror fly off a car on a motorway will live with me for some time!

It took us two hours to get back to Highgate from Chiswick last night, which was fairly unpleasant in the driving rain. We'd gone to Chiswick to see a show at Arts Ed drama school which was choreographed and MD'd by two men we have our eye on for similar roles on Brass. Frankly, I'd have booked them both on the spot. The standard of their work and creative vision was absolutely remarkable. The standard of the Arts Ed students was, furthermore, brilliant. That drama school is definitely one of THE places to study musical theatre at the moment, although I hear very good things about Urdang as well...

Our travel nightmare began upon reaching Turnham Green tube and discovering that the 48-hour tube workers' strike had already begun. They're sneaky little bastards, those tube workers. We're told normal services won't be resumed until midday on Friday, which by my calculation is a 66-hour strike. Longer than advertised. As a result, I find myself with little sympathy for them, whatever their cause. How easy it is to get what you want when you can bring a city's infrastructure to its knees in just two days. Oh, that the miners or the teachers in the 1980s had that sort of power.

I'm a great believer in the right to strike, but only if those doing the striking express themselves in the form of a picket line, or a visible demonstration which gives passers-by the opportunity to learn why they're striking. In the case of tube workers, it is unacceptable, in fact, unforgivable not to have made sure LU staff were present at tube stations to help worried people to plan alternative journeys home. The curious absence of any staff at Turnham Green makes me assume that staff simply slunk off early, either to the pub, or back home for an earlier tea than usual.

...So two busses it was for us, the first of which snaked its way through Kensington so slowly that if it weren't for the rain, I'd have leapt out and walked to Camden myself. My legs went entirely fizzy, all cooped up as they were on the upper deck!

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Thomas Britton

Fiona's mother, Barbara, sent me a card through the post today, with a newspaper clipping inside about a former resident of Higham Ferrers called Thomas Britton. Higham Ferrers is the Northamptonshire town in which I grew up in. It was famously the home of writer H E Bates and the birthplace of Archbishop Chichele, but as school children we were never taught about Thomas Britton, which, in the light of things, seems rather a shame.

There are apparently three portraits of Britten in the National Portrait gallery, which perhaps goes to show what an important figure he was. We're told he was born of "humble parentage" in Higham in 1644, and moved to London as a teenaged apprentice in the coal industry.

Some years later, he set up a business delivering charcoal from a wheel barrow, and must have made a small fortune, because, by the 1670s, he had rented his own rather large stable in which to keep his coal.

Britton was a huge fan of music and above the stable was a very large room which was only accessible by a rickety old ladder. The room became the key to his fame, because within it, the very first public music concerts in the UK were held.

The concerts improved in quality, until they became THE place for society figures to be seen. The great and the good performed there. Royalty attended. Even Dear Old Mr Pepys braved the dangerous ladder.

Britten wanted his concerts to be free, but later started charging 10 shillings a year (which I'm told is the modern equivalent to 50p) and he served coffee at one penny a dish. He set up a five-stop organ in the corner of the room which Handel played on several occasions.

The next most extraordinary thing about Thomas Britton was his death. A "friend" decided to play a practical joke on him, and hired a ventriloquist to sit in the audience of one of his concerts and throw his voice, like the voice of some sort of spirit, warning Britton of his imminent death. Britton was so frightened that he suffered apoplexy and died two days later of shock!

And if that isn't the synopsis for a brilliant screenplay, I don't know what is! Get there as soon as you can before I set it to music!

Monday, 3 February 2014


I forgot to report the key event from yesterday which involved me, in front of all the kids, splitting my trousers so badly that I had to spend the rest of the day walking around with my hand clasped against my backside so that no one caught a glimpse of my polka dot spotted boxers shorts! The problem with linen is that it rips rather too easily, and I actually managed to tear the sodding things simply by sitting with my legs crossed and catching the fabric with the heal of my shoe as I repositioned my foot. Again, I do wonder why these things tend to exclusively happen to me. Perhaps I just fidget more than other people?

Today was Philippa's 40th birthday. I had osteopathy and lunch with Michelle of the Turkie before walking all the way through the City from Somerset House up to Columbia Road. It was a very pleasurable walk in the sunshine, considerably improved by a lovely chat with the parents and a series of texts from Fiona, who was with us last night and went to Paris today to record her string arrangements for a couple of pop songs. The concept of going to Paris for a day to record strings is impossibly glamorous and made even more so by her being in Serge Gainsbourg's old studio. Legendary. I want to go to Paris for a day's work! Actually, I can't complain. I just went to the Dominican Republic for a day's work!

We congregated at Philippa's house this evening; her mother, Kate, and a whole bunch of her favourite people. We ate curry and cake, told embarrassing stories and performed yoga moves on the sitting room floor until we couldn't breathe for laughing so much.

All Philippa's friends went in on a fancy handbag for a present which hadn't arrived, so Moira rather cruelly wrapped up a tiny little home-made thing created from pipe cleaners and a scrap of canvas in hundreds of layers of paper. As Philippa (who'd asked for a fancy handbag from her friends) unwrapped the parcel and it got smaller and smaller, her little face became more and more disappointed, until she realised we were pulling her leg!

Nathan has just released an astonishing pattern for a optical illusion double-knit scarf. I urge anyone who's interested in knitting as art, to take a look by going to:

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Birmingham auditions

We've been in Birmingham all day today, auditioning for this summer's three NYMT shows. It felt a little like a proper homecoming for me. The train took us up through Northampton, Long Buckby, Rugby and Coventry - all places I know like the back of my hand - and I got really quite emotional when talking to the kids beforehand. I told them all the story of finding my Great Great Uncle William's grave within the Leeds Pals' cemetery at Serre, explained that he'd been part of the Warwickshire Regiment, and that I'd based a character in Brass called Wilfred on him. It's silly, really, but I wanted Wilfred to survive the war in Brass and return to Leeds, if for no other reason than to somehow address the anger I feel for his death... And the death of all the Pals.

I have written Wilfred as a Coventrian, but feel he may now have to be re-written as a Brummie - or, for that matter, from somewhere else entirely - as not a single kid walked through the door from Coventry, and only a few came from Warwickshire, and they were all girls. Bitterly disappointing.

I saw some remarkable singers however. I think I may have found my Tom and Lizzie today, to add to the Alf I found in Manchester, the Eliza in Bristol and all manner of Tots, Tats and Tittys in Leeds. And, yes, I have written a character called Titty, although it got me into all sorts of problems on the first day of auditions when I scrawled the word "Titty" on a 16 year-old girl's audition notes!

We also saw some brilliant musicians, including a young chap who played the cornet and trumpet with brilliant virtuosity, and a wonderful euphonium player.

The train journey back from Birmingham seemed to take no time at all and in all honesty, we couldn't wait to get out of New Street train station, which is in mega-disarray right now. In fact, the whole area between the station and the music college left a little to be desired. We ended up in some kind of concrete walkway called Paradise Walk, which, unlike its name, was shockingly grotty. There had obviously once been a water feature there, which was now just a stagnant pool of water. Birmingham surely deserves better. It's Britain's second city, for God's sake and I'm sick of the Midlands in this country being over-looked. I sincerely hope the disarray at the station, with its curious broken escalators leading nowhere, is a product of planned improvements, rather than a right royal Midlands shambles!

Lun to Brum

I have been feeling a little odd all day; dizzy, swimmy, a bit head-achey. I think this must be that fabled thing called jet lag that seasoned travellers talk about.

I've been at Westminster Under School all day, auditioning 90 or so young people with the NYMT team. We saw them in groups of up to 30, which nearly made my head explode. We met some great people, however, some of whom were greatly talented. I recalled about 14 for Brass, which is a fairly high number by my standards. We were without our director, Sara Kestelman today, so I recalled a couple of kids I wasn't altogether sure about so that she could give me her professional opinion. She is, after all, the person who will be tasked with getting the best performances out of them. I have to say, it's so marvellous to have Sara on board with this project. It's Sara-bloomin-Kestelman after all, the Olivier-award-winning, grande dame of British theatre. How lucky does that make me?

We're off to Birmingham tomorrow to see what the Midlands has to offer in terms of talent. I shall be asking every single person where they're from in the hope someone says Northamptonshire or Warwickshire. There's a character in Brass who actually comes from Coventry, so I'd love to find a legit Coventrian to play him. Up the Midlands.

That said, auditions in Birmingham mean a very early start and the concept of 6am on a Sunday isn't exactly filling me with joy, so I better get myself off to bed. I shall sleep like the dead, no doubt.