Wednesday, 30 April 2014

More Melodyne

I'm on the rickety train-line which ambles its way along the coast from Portsmouth to Brighton. I take these trains every day when I'm working with PK, from Fiona's house where I stay in Hove to where he lives West Worthing. Sometimes it stops at every station in the world; funny places with bizarre names which are really just caravan parks for old people. Sometimes you find yourself at your destination before you can blink. It's a lottery.

PK and I have spent the day moving our way through the second movement of the Pepys Motet at a monstrously slow pace.

The problem with using Melodyne is that it becomes almost impossible to stop once you've started.  Once you've decided you're not going to accept less than perfection, the process becomes meticulous in the extreme... And highly stressful! At one point the two of us went entirely cross-eyed, and were only revived by PK's glorious partner, Olivia cooking us some delicious pancakes, which genuinely tasted like nectar.

It transpires that Melodyne doesn't respond well to opera singers. The problem with opera singers is that they can cover a multitude of sins with enormous vibrato... And it turns out that enormous vibrato makes Melodyne go into major spasms because it can't detect the centre of the note which it's trying to tune.

Melodyne shows the wave-forms of all the individual lines it's processing in attractive little patterns which I find endlessly fascinating. You can tell a decent singer by the regularity of their wave forms. If the form is a near straight line, they are singing a note with absolute precision without any vibrato. If the singer sings with a pleasant-sounding vibrato, the wave-form oscillates around the centre of the note like a series of perfectly-rounded, equally-spaced mountains reflected in a still lake. A less successful vibrato will look like childish scribbles, spider legs or an earthquake registering on a Richter scale!

I actually think wave-forms (and Melodyne) would be a really useful tool for a singer wanting to develop his or her craft. There's probably money to be made by an industrious singing teacher who can use the programme to demonstrate whether his pupils have a tendency to sing sharp or flat.


I'm having a lovely sit-down before bed with a nice cup of tea and a piece of cheese. Don't they say you shouldn't eat cheese before bed to avoid nightmares? They also say drinking tea late at night is pretty bad for you. I'll be peeing all night. Wide awake from the caffeine. Waking up from a nightmare every six seconds. Oh well.

I've been in Worthing all day, working my way through Movement Two of the Pepys Motet with PK. The first studio sessions for this project were around a year ago. We're certainly not rushing to get it out to the masses! It is also the most painstakingly slow mixing process. The work is scored for 20 soloists from a whole gamut of musical backgrounds... Soul, musical theatre, opera, folk singers. It would be an immensely exciting and engulfing work to hear live but because the singers are all performing a unique line, it's almost impossible to create something with the sonic unity required for a recording. It's a'capella as well, so there are no musical instruments to bring everything together. We've made the bold choice, therefore, to Melodyne every voice. The tiniest tuning discrepancies inherent in 20 vocalists from different worlds can come together to create a cloudy sound world, but I'm after absolute rhythmic and musical precision, and a sonic experience unlike anything heard before. I realise that by tuning classical singers I'm performing a deeply sacrilegious act, which would have the people at Radio 3 spinning out of control... But I love it!

Wait until you hear the results. People considered the likes of Steve Reich to be disrespectful because they used modern recording techniques. We are doing the very same thing! I think the world could prove to be a little slower in cottoning onto my ground-breaking genius, but you never know!

I am rather excited... Whilst we were in the studio today, six new spoken testimonies came in from people in Commonwealth Countries. Invisible Voices ought to be a hugely exciting composition, if we can just get the right balance of emotion, documentary and musical chutzpah!

And so to bed...

Monday, 28 April 2014

Beaches and sinks

As my Dad would say: this is just the ticket. I'm currently sitting on Hove beach. The sun is melting into a cloud, the shadows are long, the grey sea is calm, the shingle looks like amber. The white buildings of Brighton are glowing Easter yellow.  A curiously-shaped boat out to sea makes it look a little as though the funfair at the end of the pier has floated away. Everything feels rather perfect. Calm and still. I've sat on this beach many times in my life. On the hottest and coldest days of the year and pretty much everything in between.

I left the house and returned home a grand total of three times today. Desperate. On the third occasion I got as far as Archway before having to turn around to collect something else I'd forgotten; a true indication that my brain is in melt-down with way too much to think about.

Every time I turned around, the likelihood became ever stronger that I'd get trapped in the rush hour at Victoria station and sure enough, I ended up sandwiched in a train carriage like a little morsel of cheese on the floor by the kitchen bin!

The purpose of my visit to Hove is to spend three days with the lovely PK working on The Pepys Motet recordings we did like ten years ago, and to start the new project, Invisible Voices, which I shall be writing in tandem with Brass for the next few months. We've collected a fair amount of testimonial from LGBT people in Commonwealth Countries, and I'm going to try quite an unusual process when it comes to glueing them all together, which will hopefully be right up PK's strasse. I think I'm not wrong in saying that PKs favourite kind of music is no music at all. I, on the other hand will happily throw the entire kitchen sink at a piece of music to see what sticks. It'll be fun to get a bit more sparse!

Sunday, 27 April 2014

The ocarina from Picardy

We're in Clacton on Sea, which is a strange kind of place. I've just been served in a garage by the most astonishingly middle class older gentleman, with very rosy cheeks. Whether this is typical of the place, I'd not like to say, but there can't be many jobs for middle class older gentlemen here. It's a sunny Sunday afternoon and the place is half empty. For a town whose wealth must be based almost entirely on tourism, this can't be a good sign.

The windswept pier is filled with amusement arcades and fairground rides but has a rather tragic, down-at-heal vibe. Lonely gangs of teenaged lads drift like listless cyphers from bench to bench dropping chips for seagulls whilst the hope drains from their faces.

Clacton is permanently watched-over these days by a farm of windmills far out in the brown sea behind a light drape of mist. They lend a majesty and grandeur to the view from the pier, which I'm sure the locals loathe.

The beach is brittle. Sad. Empty.

This afternoon we drove to Woodbridge, a charming town at the end of a Suffolk estuary. We made the decision to go there after hearing about a rather special concert due to take place at the community centre in the town. The concert included a programme of string music played by a local amateur orchestra. A bit of Mozart. A bit of Brahms. A few arrangements of Scandinavian folk songs. Exactly what you might expect from a concert of this nature; all played with gusto and great joy by the elderly players. But it wasn't this part of the concert which had piqued our interest and brought us 80 or so miles out of London...

The concert's conductor, a friendly mild-mannered chap called Andrew Fairly, is a flautist and great collector of unusual wind instruments. Half way through the concert, he stepped down from the conductor's rostrum, and introduced the audience to a very curious-looking instrument; part-ocarina, part-flute, part rolled-up tube of cardboard.

The instrument he was holding had been made 100 years ago in Picardy by a soldier in a trench. He'd used whatever he could get his hands on to make it - "Wills" tobacco paper, a brass shell case, glue, boot polish - and created a unique-looking instrument with a haunting, slightly dissonant sound.

Mr Fairly found the instrument 50 years ago in a junk shop in Middlesex and it was recently semi-validated by the Imperial War Museum. They're a cagey bunch at the IWM and are never going to stick their necks out for something which lacks provenance, but they said of the instrument; "taking into account the materials used and method of construction, it was almost certainly made by one of our troops during a period of blissful calm between the horrors of combat."

The instrument made an incredibly sad sound. Plainly most of my sadness came through association; there is, after all, a song in Brass called "I Miss The Music" which is based on countless doleful accounts I've read where soldiers in the trenches speak of becoming hugely distressed as a result of not being able to play or listen to music. I was engulfed by the romance of a soldier being forced to make his own instrument, despite the fact that the cynic in me assumes the flute was made more as a representation of the ingenuity of its maker. What cannot be disputed, however, is the instrument's empty, willowy sound; a little like a breath of wind rolling over no-man's-land. One day I might attempt to write something for it. It was an absolute treat to hear.

Here's the flute itself


We've finally settled down for the night and are watching the new series of Derek, one of my favourite shows on television. I haven't traditionally been a great fan of the work of Ricky Jervais, but think the world he's created with Derek is spot-on. It's very similar to the world I find myself in when I make my films; the estates and the community centres in forgotten corners of the country. The people successive variants of the Labour Party have taken for granted. The people who will one day snap and help to bring a gruesomely right wing party in from the cold. Be warned.

I can't actually watch Derek without crying because it reminds me of so many I the people I've met on my journeys. Old people always light my touch papers and today's show - the first in the series - ended with an old lady singing, which utterly destroyed me. I think Nathan must be wondering what he married!

We were all over North London today. Nathan gave me a set of notes on Brass, so I spent the morning doing re-writes which were sent off to Sara and Matt to look through before they go to Philippa, whose notes, one hopes, will be the final set before the script is signed off. That will be a weight off my mind, and a significant moment for the project.

We had lunch in a greasy spoon in Muswell Hill to alleviate the pain of collecting a load of badly developed pictures of our wedding from Snappy Snaps. That's £100 down the drain.

We went to Dame Sara's this afternoon to see designer Erik's beautiful model box of the potential set for Brass, which is really very exciting. When we arrived, choreographer Matt and Sara were pushing miniature duck boards around the stage, photographing the different scenes they'd created.

We came home and spent the evening photoshopping in the hope we can trick Snappy Snaps into printing our wedding pictures with a little more clarity, contrast and vibrancy. It took rather longer than expected and by the time I'd finished it was nearly midnight, which meant there was no time left to do nothing. That's not a double negative. We genuinely wanted to do nothing. We just wanted to be. So we watched Derek, and, well, that, as they say, was that...

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Battle weary

Nathan returned from battle this afternoon with an enormous and highly-impressive drawing on his back, which is, apparently, rather painful and needs to be treated with great care for the next week or so. Because it's on his back, the onus is on me to apply the various creams and things necessary to keep the tattoo healthy. And let me tell you... Rubbing cream into a freshly cut tattoo is a slightly bizarre experience. Certainly not one for the faint-hearted.

I spent this morning in Muswell Hill. I was there for ages, in Snappy Snaps, essentially attempting to sift through around 3000 photos from what has turned out to be a rather extraordinary year, which started with a tour of Yorkshire, continued with a visit to the Dominican Republic, and then turned into a whirlwind marriage which became a trip to France and rehearsals for a new musical. I'm intrigued to know where else this year will take me. I'll say now that I'm very much up for new experiences. Life is, after all, about living.

I continue to orchestrate the title song from Brass in every spare moment. It's a lengthy process. It continues to be the most troubled of all the songs I've ever written. I am, however, slowly winning, and believe the piece will be all the better for my diligence. I'm never entirely sure why there are so many "composers" working in musical theatre who opt not to do their own orchestrations. For me, it's the process which brings my writing into colour.

We decided to drive down to Catford to see Julie and Sam this evening, and sat in their front room eating pizza and drinking Ribena. Julie and Nathan did some knitting and we nattered about all kinds of nonsense.

It strikes me that I'm not well. I'm expecting to wake up in the morning with a sore throat, aching limbs or some kind of bizarre rash. The slight change in pace I've experienced over the last few weeks has made my body close down and now it's urging me to slow things down even more. I think I just need to go into hibernation for a bit. If only that were possible!

Whilst walking through Highgate Wood today, I overheard the most peculiar conversation between two men who were walking their dogs. Both were talking about how awful the conditions must have been on Noah's Arc! It was such a peculiar thing to overhear; like one of those passionate theoretical conversations children have when they try to work out whether a lion or a bear would win in a fight. I'm all for empathy, but this was kind of nutty!

Friday, 25 April 2014

Sleep typing

It's terrible how the disappearance of one's husband can lead to the complete disruption of what little routine one has! I've already been asleep today and woken up thinking there was something I needed to do... Turns out I'd forgotten to blog, and now my face feels all hot, which must be something to do with adrenaline. Apologies if what I'm writing makes little or no sense. My eyes are half shut!

I've spoken to no-one all day except Nathan, in France, on the phone, at various stages of Tattoo-ness.

The rest of the time has been spent in front of a computer, splitting my day into morning, afternoon and evening sessions. This morning I finished off the arrangement of Love Is Everyone, this afternoon I sent off four TV pitches to Archie and this evening I worked on the orchestrations of the title song in Brass. I have typed the word title four times now, three of which the computer auto-corrected to "Turks" and then "turtle." Big fingers are no good, I tell you, for any form of iPhone functionality!

I went to bed with iPlayer playing an episode of Russell Howard's Good News, which, for the uninitiated is a topical satirical news programme. Imagine my surprise, therefore, to find it dated from 2010. Top news story was Kate and Will's engagement! Come on BBC! You can do better than that! Perhaps I should be more horrified that I watched the blessed programme! At least it wasn't the episode which seems to be on permanent loop on Dave where Howard talks about my Coventry Market musical film. It's on so often that people have stopped calling me to tell me they just saw me on telly playing the piano! That, I believe, was 2008, so I guess the BBC are two years more up-to-date than Dave. Still no real excuse... I think I'm typing in my sleep now...

Thursday, 24 April 2014


I've been working on an arrangement of Love Is Everyone today. I've been asked to do a version of the song for the London Gay Men's Chorus to sing, and hope I'll be able to do them, and the song justice.

Nathan is in France having a tattoo painted onto his back by a hugely well-respected tattoo artist. I felt awful when he left this morning, suddenly convinced that I should have gone with him. I certainly would have been very frightened at the prospect of going to France, changing trains, staying in a hotel and then turning up at a strange tattoo artist's house all on my own. But there again, I'm a home boy. The adventurous independent gene which my brothers have in spades is entirely dormant in me. I find it crippling to even strike up a conversation with a stranger.

I had tea with Lli tonight. It was fabulous to see her. We met in our regular cafe, a little place in Muswell Hill called Feast which is rarely crowded, and always a good place for a bit of food and a natter. We were rather surprised, therefore, when an elderly couple came in and opted to sit at the table right next to us! There was no one else in the cafe and perhaps 30 tables which were further away from us!

Thanks to a lovely man who came to see us at lunchtime, we now have hot running water, and even more thrillingly, a bathroom tap which actually works. We'd got so used to it being broken that we'd forgotten that ordinary people actually wash in sinks!

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Wonderful wonderful Northampton

Our house has no hot water! I couldn't have a bath this morning, and when I tried to run one this evening, despite the hot water switch having being on all day, we still had nothing. I had osteopathy in the afternoon terrified that I smelt horrible.

My day started with a journey up the M1 to Northampton. My old mate Bernie Keith wanted to talk about the wedding on his BBC radio show. He offered a telephone interview, but I don't need much of an excuse to go back to my home town. It's so odd to think that I went up and back in a morning when there were people in my class at school who had NEVER been to London. I wonder if the same would be true of Northamptonians today or if the global village we find ourselves living in makes us all more regular travellers.

Anyway, it was nice to talk to Bernie and he played the whole of the Mother's Song at the end of the interview.

On the way back to my car, I walked across Midsommer Meadow and noticed, on the other side of the canal there, a little ramshackle building marked "Northampton Sea Cadets." Northampton is famous as the UK town furthest away from any coast, so one wonders what these poor cadets get up to! Do they imagine the sea? Pretend to be in boats? Or does the grubby canal double up as a harbour? It may not be tidal, but water is water.

I've been completing the sixth draft of Brass today, which I've given to Nathan to read. It'll be his first time reading the script so he better not be too harsh!

This evening we went out to dinner in Highgate with Matt and talked a lot about his new project. He's making a situation comedy which won't feature a single actual word. A sort of cross between Mr Bean and Pingu, which sounds deeply intriguing.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014


God I feel sick! I reckon I must have consumed my body weight in chocolate today! I'm actually feeling a little bit grumpy as a result; firstly because I've got heartburn and am sort of crashing after the mother of all sugar rushes, but also because I'm annoyed with myself for continually stuffing brown crap into my gob simply because it was sitting in front of me! I've no will power when it comes to food. None whatsoever.

Still, it's been a glorious day, which was spent with Nathan's family in North Wales. It's very rare for both halves of Nathan's lot to be together in the same space, with a full compliment of nieces, nephews and great nieces. It was also rather nice to spend a day with my in-laws now that they are officially just that. I am no longer David's sin-in-law, or Samantha's brother-out-law, which was what we cheekily used to refer to each other as. Now I'm officially a son/brother-in-law! And I have a husband! How odd is that?!

We went to Sainsbury's in Muswell Hill first thing this morning to buy Easter eggs for the family, and were horrified/ excited/ perplexed to find they well selling off great big Cadbury eggs for 70p. 70p!!! Christ knows how many we brought as a result, but we stuffed them all into a basket with forty cream eggs and a load of straw we'd convinced the man in the deli opposite to give us, and arrived at Sam's house feeling rather pleased with our gift.

...And it would have been a glorious gift had Sam herself, and then Nathan's mother not also arrived with stacks of eggs, cakes, biscuits and God knows what else. We could have opened our own chocolatier! It becomes rude, of course, not to sample every chocolate variant, and so it went throughout the day.

There was a glorious roast dinner for tea, which meant we could all re-gorge ourselves to assuage our savoury appetites. Isn't it astonishing how it's possible to stuff one's face with sweet stuff, and then be ready to start all over again with the savoury treats? The human body definitely has two distinct stomachs...

There is, of course, no nicer thing to do than sit down to a roast meal with loved ones. Aside from everything tasting delicious, there's something about the sharing buffet-like aspect of the meal which makes it rather unique. Vegetarians and non-veggies alike essentially just walk along plate loads of goodies choosing which bits of the meal they want to tuck into. The joy about a roast, ironically, is that, unless you become obsessed with cooking roast potatoes in duck fat, aside from whichever meat you opt for, the large majority of food can be enjoyed by both veggies and meat eaters.

For the record, roast potatoes aren't any tastier when cooked in duck fat. Duck fat just makes ones lips feel all greasy. A combination of butter, vegetable fat, par-boiling, and a good shake in the pan will crisp things up beautifully and avoid the sensation of having dowsed your lips in Vaseline mid-meal! Take it from a veggie. We know how to get the best out of potatoes!

Monday, 21 April 2014

Happy Eostre

We've had a lovely Easter Day. Actually, more specifically, we've had a lovely Eostre Day. I'm pretty sure I knew Easter had its roots in Pagan celebration, but wasn't aware quite how direct the links were until we did a bit of digging whilst with Raily and co yesterday. In most other countries in the world the word for Easter has a direct relation to Christianity. Not so in the UK. It turns Eostre was a pagan Goddess associated with fertility and rebirth. In fact, Easter eggs and Easter bunnies all have their roots in paganism, so if anyone asks you to remember the true meaning of the day, or suggests that eating Easter eggs is a modern tradition, you'll be able to instantly put them right. I'd actually go as far as to suggest that the Easter bunny predates Jesus Christ! Controversial!

The weather's been horrible all day. In response to the UKIP person who suggested that this year's floods were due to the wrath of God over gay marriage, I say this: Our wedding day saw glorious sunshine, sunshine which has continued for at least three full weeks... Until today. Jesus' special day, when the weather went rotten! Someone somewhere will be thinking that the rain represents God's tears. I think God just wants to make it very clear that he's on our side!

This morning we trundled off to Stevenage to watch our dear friend Amy in a production of James and the Giant Peach in a theatre complex which instantly took my back to my early childhood. We used to go to watch pantos there in the late 1970s, and I also recall time spent in a crèche in the same building whilst my mother played badminton. I may be wrong, but the theatre, I believe, is still part of a sports and leisure complex. Even more strangely, I believe we were on our way to Stevenage when our car had to do a sort of emergency stop for what, at the time, we thought was a hare but subsequently assume could well have been a wallaby! Whatever it was was enormous, and wild wallabies are said to roam the countryside in the Bedfordshire/ Hertfordshire borders... Escapees from a Stately Home (before anyone thinks I've gone barmy on the crumpet!)

This evening we went to see Ian and Jem for a glorious salad (keep those salads coming Jem!) and a pudding tart thing which was almost unacceptably delicious. It looked a little like a quiche, but the fabulous short crust pastry was sweet. There was a sort of milky, egg-based filling, within which various sultanas and large shavings of chocolate were nestling. It's hard to think how it could have been any nicer, or indeed if the company could have been sweeter.  We had a wonderful night.

Ian and Jem are in a UK civil partnership, but also recently got married in New York, so one assumes the US marriage will now take legal precedence over the UK civil partnership. It's a very specific circumstance, and I'd be intrigued to know where the law would stand. We jokingly call them bigamists! Whatever the specific legal nature of their relationship, it's wonderful to share a space with two men who know how it feels to be married to another man. There are so few of us at the moment. I guess all four of us can consider ourselves to be trailblazers. How fabulous is that?

Saturday, 19 April 2014

An ancient art

I'm at Brother Edward's in Canary Wharf in a room filled with flags from European countries. Edward and Sascha are showing us this year's Eurovision Song Contest entries. Malta's song, I'm Coming Home, is a tribute to "those who didn't come home from the Great War." For obviously reasons it's immediately become my favourite. I was hoping for a song which referenced the war 100 years on. It feels deeply appropriate for a European competition.

Speaking of the First World War, I was deeply moved to discover that the cast of Brass have started writing letters en masse to one another. A great deal of Brass is based on letters written between England and France and I wanted the cast to have a sense of the magic and excitement associated with receiving a proper letter. It seems they're enjoying the process enormously and I'm enormously proud to have encouraged them to resurrect a dying art form.

I've done nothing but eat food today. We had brunch with Christmas Jim and Matthew in Vauxhall, which was more like lunch, before heading out West for a surprise birthday dinner for Iain, where we ate more. And now we're out East eating yet more... It's a hard knock life!

Two songs

A very strange thing happened to me today. I was introduced to two songs that I'd never heard before and both prompted wildly severe yet diametrically opposed reactions! Both are love songs. I loved one. I hated the other. One, in my view, defines everything that is perfect about music, the other sums up everything that can go wrong...

The first song was written in the 1890s but recorded in the early eighties by The Fureys, an Irish folk group. It's called When You Were Sweet Sixteen. Not the most promising title, but I assure you, it's one of the most hauntingly beautiful melodies you'll ever hear. Utterly timeless. Utterly still with the most perfectly placed minor chord in the chorus. My mother introduced it to me today when I went to see the parents in Thaxted. She'd remembered it from when it was released and was trying to recall the song's title so that she could find it and listen again. A quick bit of googling tracked the song down and the three of us sat and listened to it on YouTube almost holding our collective breath. Tears were running down my face. It's one of those songs which I'm sure takes on more significance the older you become and I heartily recommend it.

On my way home from Thaxted, as I drove through the darkened country lanes, with brilliant bright stars, and the eerie lights of aeroplanes landing at Stansted floating all around me, I played the song again. And then again, eventually deciding that I'd become obsessed with it and that a blast of radio was necessary to break the song's spell.

It was at this point that I fell off the magic cliff and landed in a pile of excrement. The song which offended me so totally was by Mary J Blige and called Everything. Blige is one of those singers that some people rate highly. To me she's just a bird with nodules who likes the sound of her own vocals a little too much, which could possibly explain the vocal damage. I wouldn't let her near one of my own songs because she wouldn't respect the melody enough!

Anyway, aside from the ghastly bland, entirely forgettable tune, and the song's grotesque "New Jack Swing" vibe, the lyrics have to rank amongst the worst I've ever heard. If there was an award for a song most likely to have been written on the back of a Cornflakes packet, this one would win hands down.

"It's because of you I'm never sad and blue. You've brightened up my days in your own special way. Whenever you're around I'm never feeling down. You are my trusted friend, on you I can depend."

I mean, I wrote songs as an eleven year old like that, which my family had the decency to laugh at, but this song got to number six on the UK charts! I could have cut up pieces of newspaper and randomly generated a better lyric than that!

...And there she is trying to make it sound all soulful and cool with vocal licks and finger-wagging. Well, as they say, you can put a turd in a Harrods bag, but it's still a bag of shit. And this shit is smellier than most.

I immediately felt tainted, and had to play The Winner Takes it All, which is what I do whenever I need to remind myself that I have yet to reach perfection as a songwriter. It often calms me down, and reminds me of the beauty in the world. And then I played When You Were Sweet Sixteen again, and shed a few more tears, imagining how proud I would feel to have written something so profound and so devastatingly beautiful.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

But isn't gay a bad word?

I've been in my old stomping ground, Tufnell Park, for much of the day today. I had lunch with Uncle Archie from Wingspan and we talked through a few potential ideas for film projects in the light of the success of the wedding. Archie has very fine instincts, so when he makes a suggestion one would be foolish not to listen!

We had lunch in the Bull and Last; a pub next to the entrance to the boring bit of Hampstead Heath, which I frequented so often in my 20s. I remember one summer afternoon sitting in there with Fiona and Ellie and becoming obsessed with the shafts of light which were bursting through the windows. Really quite magical.

For old time's sake, I took myself to Fortess Road, my old street, to sit in Rustique, a "literary" cafe which is  lined with fascinating books and paintings. I remember when it opened fifteen or so years ago. It revolutionised the area for me. In those days many of the shops on the street were boarded over. These days there's even a Sainsbury's local, and all manner of cafes.

The woman who opened Rustique was American, and she wanted it to have the vibe of cafés she'd hung out in back home. She wanted it attract writers and art lovers.

For the first few years of its existence I was almost part of the furniture, going in there every single day to work on the script of my musical Blast, trying to make a single cup of tea last as long as possible because I couldn't afford a second cup. The cafe was mentioned by a Guardian journalist in 1999, who described me as "so perfect a customer" for the ambience of the cafe, he almost doubted my authenticity. It seemed rather wonderful to be back there today, sitting in my old seat, working on Brass.

I came home by bus and stood next to a fat, sour-faced woman, who tutted every time the bus caused me to lose my balance and slightly invade her body space. Plainly I wasn't doing it deliberately, and I was deeply apologetic on the two occasions when it happened but she gracelessly refused to smile or acknowledge my apology, to the extent that I was tempted to call her a silly cow.

Raily told me a fascinating story yesterday. Her son, my godson, Will,  who walked down the aisle at the wedding with my ring, was asked at school what he was going to be doing the weekend of our wedding. "I'm going to a wedding" he said to his teacher, "but can't tell you anything else about it because it's a bad word..." When he reported this to his Mum, she was confused, and then horrified when it transpired that Will had, at some point, and quite rightly, been told that calling people "gay" in the playground was wrong. What no one had then told him, or perhaps what he hadn't heard, was that gay was only a bad word when used as an insult. It's funny how these things can backfire. By being well-meaningly PC his school had inadvertently reinforced homophobia. Poor Will had found himself unable to talk about his gay Uncle Ben.

Raily immediately sailed into the school and pointed out what was going on. The school acted brilliantly quickly and immediately called the kids into assembly to tell them that being gay was genuinely okay, and that it was only the context the word was used it that might cause offence. Phew! The teacher then suggested all the kids went home to watch Will's staring moment on the telly.

What's difficult to know, of course, is how many other kids like Will exist who are confused that the word gay can have opposite meanings depending on context. It's astonishing the pit-falls one can stumble across on the journey towards equality!

Glorious Thames

I'm about to get into a bath filled with Radox. I don't really know what Radox is but I know it's something you're meant to put in the bath when your legs hurt. It smells rather nasty. There's a hint of ammonia. It may be good for my legs but I reckon the environment is screaming no! My legs feel like little stumps. I reckon I've walked ten miles today. Maybe fifteen. Essentially the distance from Canary Wharf to Soho via the longest most winding route.

The weather has been glorious. Properly wonderful. There are flowers everywhere at the moment. The verges at the side of Southwood Lane are a riot of colour. There were even some flowers blooming this morning which I've never seen before. Dark purple things like paper tulips hanging from their stems like harebells.

The day started with a car journey to Beaconsfield, wherever or whatever that is! Nathan has a series of gigs with the Westenders across the North this week, and I was dropping him off at a service station where some of the other performers were picking him up.

I returned home and immediately headed off to Canary Wharf to visit the London Docklands museum, working a little on Brass on the journey there.

Meriel and Raily met me at the museum which is a rather lovely boutique of a place. There's lots of interactivity, some really interesting exhibits about slavery, and an entire space decked out to feel like a riverside slum, which we found particularly exciting.

We had tea and cakes before embarking on our epic walk, all the way along the river, which was shimmering like glitter in the bright sunshine.

The only issue with the Thames path is that it keeps becoming a dead end. We spent much of the day retracing our steps, and being forced to take routes further away from the river. I think it would be lovely if Tower Hamlets council could tidy things up a little and make it relatively easy for people to walk along this beautiful river's length within their patch.

We talked non-stop, bought ice lollies, took photographs, and explored tiny little beaches and twisting alleyways running down to the water.

We spent some time staring at the Traitor's Gate at the Tower of London. It's quite moving to imagine the people who floated into the complex via that particular entrance. The thoughts which must have rushed through their minds.

We made it all the way to Covent Garden before our legs started to give out on us, so I declared it fish and chip o'clock and we went to the Rock and Soul Plaice on Endell Street. Classic pun! Why is it that chippies always have these pun-like names?!

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Smelling nasty

Today was my first day off since our stag do a month ago! I can't imagine how I've managed to stay alive for the period, but I actually feel remarkably robust! I even had a lie-in this morning! A lie-in! Imagine that! I'm afraid being dormant doesn't suit me very well, however, and my feet and fingers are already twitching, wanting to get back to work.

We went to meet Gene David Kirk today for lunch at his new theatre space above The Drayton Arms in Gloucester Road. He's doing a brilliant job in his new role as artistic director there, and seems to have decorated the whole place himself. He's currently reupholstering all the seats with old pairs of jeans. They look absolutely fabulous and are surprisingly comfortable.

He told us he'd had a contretemps with someone who works at a human rights charity who, in response to our wedding, said that he felt the Russians might be on to something with their anti-gay promotion policies! I'm sure he was talking in jest, but it seems rather astonishing that an activist of this nature would be using that sort of language in a public forum without the aid of an irony button! You'd expect - and ignore - it from an internet troll, but someone working for a human rights charity? Epic fail!

I had a massage this evening, which was just lovely, although it's made me smell of chip fat. My masseur is not a fan of the scented oils, so uses something masculine and odour-free, which isn't quite odour-free! I came home and tried to have a bath, but hot water eluded me! I then put a baked potato in the oven, which made the whole house smell of dodgy kitchens, so all things considered, I think the baby Jesus wants me to smell nasty tonight! Sometimes you've just got to go with the flow!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014



Dear all. I wonder if anyone out there can help me with my next project? I am currently working with the Kaleidoscope Trust on a very special piece of music called Invisible Voices which will include the recorded spoken testimonies of LGBT people from Commonwealth countries.
We are compiling recordings (all of which can be anonymous if requested), excerpts from which will feature in this electro acoustic work, which will be premiered at Southwark Cathedral. We are also interested in written testimony, which will be sung live by two singers. I am particularly keen to hear from members of the trans community in the UK, but if any one has any LGBT friends across the Commonweath (including Australia, NZ, Canada, India, Sri Lanka and many African and Caribbean countries) who might want to either provide a written account or a simple recording of them talking about their experiences, PLEASE get in touch with me at

Essentially, we're looking at how far we still need to travel in the world in terms of LGBT rights, so are looking to hear from people with moving, brutal, and frightening first-hand accounts of homophobia, alongside accounts of what LGBT people are hoping for in the future. Perhaps you live in the UK but you come from a Commonwealth Country, or have friends or family there? Perhaps you're reading this from further afield?

This could be a really shocking and important piece of music which reminds everyone, as the UK hosts the Commonwealth Games, that it remains illegal to be gay in 4/5ths of all Commonwealth Countries. But in order for this to work we need really interesting and honest accounts. Please PLEASE pass this on to anyone who might be able to help.

Remember that these testimonies can all be anonymous.


Morning after

Sara Kestelman and I have just sat for four solid hours at her dining room table working on the Brass script, making cuts and changes based on last week's rehearsals. I'm feeling rather upbeat about things. We've moved scenes around. Cut out great big chunks of text. Got rid of the flab. I want to make damned sure that this script is as brilliant as it can be. What's NOT in a script is often as important as what IS. But as lyricist, composer and script writer, I'm properly feeling the pressure. There's no one else to blame if one of the elements is bad!

I had osteopathy again this morning. A new bloke with enormous hands gave me a proper going over. He's a fourth year student at the school, and seemed a great deal bolder than the third years who have traditionally treated me with a little more respect and, as a result, been somewhat tentative.

I went from the osteopath in Borough to Somerset House to meet Michelle of the Turkie for lunch. We sat in the courtyard in the most beautiful sunshine and watched a load of kids running in and out of the huge jets of water within the fountain in the middle.

From Somerset House, I took a bus up to Dalston for a meeting with the Kaleidoscope Trust about what is now my next project.

I took three buses home to Highgate,  which felt a little epic for my liking, but on a beautiful sunny day, why on earth would one take the tube?!

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Sleep at last

I fell asleep on the sofa so deeply earlier this evening that when I awoke I had no idea where I was or what on earth was going on. It turns out I'd fallen asleep in front of the final of The Voice, which was a rather good judgement call if we're to believe bookers from the show recently approached a friend of mine and offered first £40k and then £100k for them to become a contestant with a guaranteed journey through to a certain stage in the competition. I realise that a great deal of reality television is massaged, and to an extent that it has to be to make good viewing, but this particular issue makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. So much, in fact, that I'm rather hoping it's not true.

We had our last day today in this first period of rehearsals for Brass. We actually did a slow run of the entire piece, which made me incredibly proud, despite the fact that the show is almost an hour too long at the moment! I reckon I've got to cut about a fifth of it, which is an horrific thought.

It was very sad to say goodbye to the team. We've been working so so hard over the last few days; very much in our own world. I haven't seen television or read a newspaper since I left Highgate on Monday morning. Leaving the all-encompassing safety of that sort of scenario can be a bit of an anti-climax.

I got really stroppy when I got back home, no doubt because I was tired and overwrought. I hadn't realised quite how much I'd been effected by jumping straight from the wedding into Brass, and took all my frustrations out on a bag of shopping, which I flung to the floor on our way home from Sainsburys. Slightly mortifying.

We've now moved from The Voice to Britain's Got Talent, which is like jumping out of the proverbial frying pan onto the surface of the sun! I suspect I'm feeling too cynical to be drawn in by it. I'm somewhat disgusted by the false hyperbole which drips off the tongues of the judges in these programmes. "You were literally singing for your lives." "That was a world class performance." I almost hate this nonsense more than when they say things like "that was flat as a pancake" (usually when the performer has been singing sharp.)

The messages and emails of support about our wedding continue to trickle in. A lot of people seem to be watching it on a bit of a loop and some of the things that people are writing are extraordinary. It seems we've hit a few buttons out there. People are writing to tell me about their gay children, and how much our mother's song effected them. One lady even wrote to tell me that her father had been gay, and that he'd only admitted it on his death bed. I feel incredibly honoured that people are sharing their stories with us and that our wedding has generated so much, well... Love.

Butterfly trench

...And so the initial rehearsal period for Brass reaches an end and there are 35 cast and crew members who are considerably more tired than they were seven days ago!

Today was a day of discovery. There were lots of breakthroughs, some epiphanies and many, many tears. It would be almost impossible to rehearse a show about the First World War without being dragged into an emotional whirlpool. The first thing that any 18 year-old lad confronts is the thought that 100 years ago, he would himself have been stumbling over the top. And for what exactly?

We have all thought about death in some way this week. Actual death. The death of innocence. The death of a world obsessed with class and empire. Camaraderie has been strong as well; partly as a result of our all living in the same bubble, and partly because Brass is an ensemble piece. It's an "us against the world" story and the cast have supported each other wonderfully through the desperately long rehearsals, the meltdowns and all the challenges.

I suspect no one who was present today will ever forget the little exercise we did up on a hill behind the school. At the bottom of the hill is a dry river bed and Sara and I took the male cast there and asked them to perform their last "going over-the-top" scene from within that natural trench. The men then climbed out of the trench, ran up the hill and acted being shot one by one. It was a chilling sight, particularly when the female members of the cast started throwing blossom at the men to represent the butterflies which feature so prominently in our show. As the cast re-entered the space, they were given a round of applause by members of the cast of the other show which is rehearsing in the same building, who had been watching the spectacle in awe through a window.

I felt rather proud to have conceived the exercise, because it means the cast will now have a very strong physical sense of what it means to climb out of a ditch and walk uphill into no-man's-land, which is exactly what happened to the Leeds Pals.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Too many Bens. Too little time.

I was awoken at 5.30am this morning by the most astonishing dawn chorus. I should perhaps preface this story by reminding readers that I'm working in a public school in Kent, staying in a building which is usually inhabited by boarders. It's therefore maybe not such a surprise but still fairly extraordinary that the birds were all making the sounds of electronic alarm clocks! I kid you not! There were beeps, whistles and all manner of electronic sounds, all coming from birds. The only explanation I could  think of is that the birds have got rather used to the sound, every morning, of scores of alarms clocks simultaneously going off. I know that certain British birds are occasionally known to mimic sounds and can only assume that these particular creatures have found their way, in abundance, to Seven Oaks.

We've had another wonderful day, and have worked in astonishing detail on a number of aspects of our production. Sara continues to inspire the young people, enshrined in her little womb-like rehearsal room, which even I don't dare to enter very often. The actors emerge looking elated but absolutely washed-out. Today it was the turn of the girls to be Sarafied, whilst Ben Holder and I did loads and loads of music.

As the evening drew in, I worked on Billy Whistle, which is one of the set piece showstopper numbers in Brass. We gave the song an electrifying roof-raising rendition to finish things off, which actually made me shake with excitement. The joy about working with young people is that they don't whinge like older actors. When they're tired, they dig deeper. We're rehearsing twelve hour days but when they finish, they continue to work. It's quite amazing. But then again, they're here because they want to be here. They're here because they live for performing. I was the same at their age. If I could have done so I'd have played 'cello in ensembles 24/7, and never once complained, or invoked MU policies.

At the end of one session, as I left the space, I heard one of the actors saying, "wait a minute, lads, we're in a room with two pianos in it. Let's not waste it!" Ten minutes later I could still hear music and laughter floating from the room. I'm told they were also dancing. Isn't that just wonderful? These NYMT kids are special kids.

There's a bewildering number of Bens involved in Brass. Frankly, I have never felt so ordinary! Our lead actor is a Ben. Our MD is a Ben. Ditto our DSM. I hear the name being called across the rehearsal room so often that I've given up responding! It gets far too confusing.

Friday, 11 April 2014


We're all exhausted and seem to be sitting in a common room, deep within the school where we're rehearsing. There was a moment this morning when I hit a brick wall. I'd sat up half the night writing music for the show and when I woke up at 7am, I felt physically sick.  It took until about lunchtime for my head stopped aching and spinning.

We've been working really hard all day; Sara ensconced in a little studio working intensively on book scenes, and Matt and Ben in the main hall working on dance sequences. I drifted between the two spaces and enjoyed observing the wonderful difference in energy within the rooms. It was actually a rather good exercise in letting go. Every time I had a thought: something perhaps I felt wasn't working quite as well as everything else, I'd make a mental note of it, but before I had a chance to air my issues, Sara, Ben or Matt would have spotted the same problem and corrected it. Sometimes you just have to learn to trust.

Assistant Josh also seemed to be doing great work.  When I returned from a production meeting at lunch time today, I found him with the entire cast in the main space. There was an air of absolute focus. You could have heard a pin drop.

All in all I'm absolutely thrilled with our team. We met the lighting and sound designers today, and all the costume supervisors and things like that and I genuinely couldn't be happier. The NYMT have absolutely done us proud.

I unveiled a new song today which features sixteen letters being sung in canon. Lots of scrunchy harmonies and lots of bits and bobs for the cast to get their teeth into. I was proud that it caused such a stir. There were tears and lots of exclamations; "you wrote this in five hours?" etc. It's amazing what pressure will do!

Thursday, 10 April 2014

More drills

It's been another hugely rewarding day in the land of Brass. We're all exhausted in both good and bad ways I suspect. We had the rudest awakening at 7am with a fire drill. I'd been up writing music until 1.30am the night before, so was absolutely dead to the world when the alarms went off. I threw clothes on and staggered through several long corridors to the assembly point, only to discover a man with a stop watch who informed us that we'd failed the drill, because it had taken us longer than 2 minutes to vacate the building and therefore - and this is priceless -  that we'd need to repeat the drill at a later point in the week! There was an air of astonishment from almost everyone, and a considerable amount of anger. I realise that these drills are unavoidable when you do these residential courses, but I'm sure there are better times to hit the alarm! The only positive I gleaned from the situation, other than that I was up nice and early, was that the grass was covered in the most romantic coating of dew which looked like someone had emptied a bottle of sequins on the lawn. You can quite see why Elizabeth Pepys and other barmy seventeenth century ladies would travel miles to find fresh early morning dew to wash their faces with, believing it had magical qualities.

The alarm debacle had a knock-on effect on our morning's rehearsal. Everyone felt a little rattier than they may have done otherwise, and it took until just after lunch for our mojos to return.

Fortunately at that stage the magic started to happen, and Sara holed herself up in a little room with the lads to work through scenes in absolute detail and complete privacy; a process which seemed to have a very wonderful effect on everyone present. The lads emerged from the rehearsal absolutely glowing, all wanting to tell us what a cathartic and emotional journey Sara had taken them on.

In the meantime, Matt worked with the girls on their upbeat Barnbow song, which seems to have been voted the catchiest piece of music in the Brass canon. So catchy, in fact, that the production manager is trying to ban its being sung outside rehearsals!

It's so strange for me to hear little snippets of my music being hummed and rehearsed all over the place. Sometimes it's an internal harmony and I barely recognise it, but then a familiar rhythmic figure jumps out and I realise I'm hearing something which sprung from my pen. It's really very interesting.

But look, I'm falling asleep here. I can barker keep the eyes open. I've been writing another sequence of music this evening. A massive ensemble piece where everyone reads letters to their loved ones. Mightily complicated.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Blossoms and drills

Today's been quite extraordinary: Endless. Productive. Adrenaline-fuelled. Exhausting.

We've sunk our teeth very firmly into Brass during the past twelve hours. We tormented the lads in our company big time. First they had to endure an hour of Swedish Drill with Matt (who shouted at them, and made them run around barefoot outside), and then they were forced to do an hour with an army Sergeant Major who taught them all how to march, salute and do military manoeuvres. There was a rather beautiful moment when I looked out of a rehearsal room window and saw them all standing in a line underneath a tree which was liberally shedding large clumps of blossom which fluttered through the air like hundreds of white butterflies. Butterflies are a key feature in Brass. One of the characters has a tendency to see white butterflies whenever someone dies almost as though he's seeing the souls of the dead, so the image of the men practising their drills in a sea of blossom took on a great poignance.

We started learning songs today as well; specifically two of the big numbers, which are starting to sound tremendous in glorious three-part harmony. Everything must be sung in broad Yorkshire accents, and it's becoming quite a fun game to finesse these unique vowel sounds.

We also made a start on choreography. Matt and I devised a process which involved him choreographing a routine to the lone accompaniment of a timpani drum, which played the rhythms he felt best expressed the mood of the dance he wanted to create. When this week is over, I will revisit the drum chart and use it as the basis for a fully-orchestrated composition. It's a really interesting and incredibly organic way of choreographing a dance number. Composers don't often think hard enough about the music they write for dance sequences. This will force me to!

As usual, I was last to bed. I've been sitting up writing up the big central ballad in the show, which, unsurprisingly, is called Brass. I've actually been writing the song for weeks. It's the longest period during which I've ever held a song in gestation apart from some of the passages from my requiem. I guess the wedding is mostly responsible for its slow progress, but it was also not a song which "wrote itself" like the majority of my other compositions. I've been known to complete the structure of a song in minutes, but this one was a little like chiseling away at some kind of ice sculpture... Here a nip, there a tuck... Sleep on it. Put it away in a drawer for a bit. And so it went on. I kept throwing it away, but retuning to it. Anyway, committing it to manuscript, even in a first draft form, is my way of taking control of a song, which has hitherto been entirely in charge of me!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014


So here I am in an Edwardian boarding house in a private school somewhere in Kent. I appear to be staying in a room which, during term time, is occupied by a young girl. Her favourite pictures and a series of brightly-coloured post-it notes carrying messages from friends are all over the walls. Being in a space which is so plainly someone else's world feels a touch intrusive.

Looking on the bright side, however, one of my colleagues is in a room with hundreds of pictures of One Direction on the walls. That would be a little bit more difficult to deal with! Imagine Harry Styles' face being the first thing you see in the morning. Worse still, imagine waking up from a nightmare to see the little stumpy Irish one's face; the one who thinks he's witty in a sort of sinister way,

That said, I feel like I'm on a rather brilliant adventure. I love residential courses because those on them have nothing to do other than work on the project in hand. The focus is a great deal more intense, as is the sense of camaraderie. I keep having flash backs to my teenaged years and the half-term music courses I'd almost permanently find myself attending. They were some of the happiest times of my life.

We've just finished the first day of rehearsals for Brass. It's been a long old slog and I'm the last one standing, writing late into the night to ensure that we have decent material to use in rehearsals tomorrow.

I'm hugely impressed by the set up here. The NYMT are brilliantly organised, and run a tight, tried-and-tested ship. I've even been provided with a little room with a keyboard in it where I can go in the middle of the night if the muse strikes me. How many other organisations would have thought in that level of detail?

We had a read-through of the piece today. It's plainly too long. Probably by as much as half an hour. We're going to make a number of internal cuts in scenes whilst we rehearse, but it also feels like something might need to shift structurally. Perhaps even the loss of an entire number... or two!

I remain deliriously happy with the cast, and even more content with our happy, talented creative team. Sara at the helm is calm, cool and maternal. Matt the choreographer is witty, creative and highly diligent, and Benjamin, our MD seems to be in his absolute element when working with the kids. Add to that, a fascinating assistant director who I suspect has the hutzpah to go far in this industry, a assistant musical director with a passion for brass bands, a fabulous DSM who is also a counter tenor, and a deeply intuitive set designer, and the stars begin to align for something rather special. Let the magic begin!

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Feeling dirty

We're driving along the country lanes from a little village outside Thaxted where we've been taking part in the annual Thaxted Tennis Club quiz.

As Nathan puts it, we're feeling a little dirty. We were announced runaway winners of the quiz but our entire team got the distinct impression that we'd been over-marked by exactly ten points. The score we thought we ought to have received would have placed us third. The prize was a bottle of wine each, which made us feel even more guilty. Our only consolation was that we didn't win a single raffle prize, and there were about 100 of them, so the goodies were spread out equally amongst those attending.

It's been quite a hectic day, which started with a morning of composing and led on to a production meeting for Brass at Sara's house with Matt Flint and our designer, Erik Rehl, who, purely by chance also designed the first professional musical I ever wrote; Letter To A Daughter with Sir Arnold Wesker. Erik hasn't changed a bit in the 15 or so years since we last saw one another. I know this to be true because there are two large photos on my wall from the time. The one taken at the top of Arthur's Seat is one of my favourite pictures ever.

Matt had dug up a load of film clips of soldiers performing the Swedish Drill, which was a rather crazy exercise regime which all of the Pals battalions did to get fit quickly. It's a rather curious blend of military marching and ballet and yoga moves, which, if we put into Brass, I'm not sure anyone would believe!

Friday, 4 April 2014


Today's been about formatting music for Brass. There's lots of it, and I'm not in a position where I'm able to do it very well. I do wish there were another week before rehearsals, so that I could sort everything out properly, and give some serious consideration to the songs I've not yet written. Still, it will be what it is, and I can only do what I can do. Once this week of rehearsals is out the way, I have the time to finesse everything.

I went to a lunchtime concert at St Martin-in-the-Fields with Ted and Ma Thornhill today. I haven't seen Ted's Mum for years, and she looks incredibly well. We talked about the old days; the days when Ted and I roamed the Midlands as teenagers searching for crop circles and haunted woods. Ted used to drive an enormous brown estate car, which was big enough to carry an entire string quartet and their instruments, so that became our busking wagon!

Joan wanted to hear all about the wedding and at one point joyfully corrected me when I referred to Nathan as my "partner." Old habits die hard. It feels so peculiar to use the word husband. Both exciting and wrong!

The concert was brilliant. The programme was violin sonatas; first Brahms and then a glorious work by Ravel, which I found particularly thrilling. Yolanda Bruno was the soloist and she's a damned fine player.

Ted and I immediately slipped into our teenaged music school parlance. The leader of our orchestra back then was called Helen Whitehurst. She was better than everyone else, and was a bit of a hero to all of us. Half way through the concert, just after Bruno had effortlessly got her fingers around the most astonishingly dexterous passage of music, Ted leaned over and whispered in my ear; "she's better than Whitehurst!"

We had lunch at Soho House - soup and chips - and then I returned home to continue formatting music.

This evening, we finally got an opportunity to sit down and open our wedding cards. All sorts of glorious words jumped out at us. My dear friend Sam Becker's letter made Nathan (who was reading it aloud) burst into tears, and I couldn't get beyond the first paragraph of Sally's card. She'd copied out a passage about love from Captain Corelli's Mandolin. Sally lost her beloved husband, Ben last year. The thought of someone so beautiful in every way being subjected to so much pain fills me with desperate sadness and the words she'd written completely finished me off.

Brass script

I've been ensconced within the world of Brass today, effectively doing a twelve hour day on the script so that it could go off to the lovely Jeremy to be printed in time for the first wave of rehearsals which start on Monday.

At seven o'clock this evening, I started the manic and eccentric process of reading the entire script out loud to myself; accents, inflections, emotions and all. Sometimes I even cry when the characters cry! It's quite a cathartic process. When Nathan got home from work, I had to hide in the kitchen, because I felt so ludicrous chuntering and weeping away to myself!

Anyway, I feel that the script is now in very good shape, which is fabulous, but makes me even more conscious that the music itself feels a little in disarray! I reckon I've still got about a quarter of the music to write. During rehearsals I'm going to be sitting in a little room writing like a mad man by candlelight! It feels like there's a phenomenally high mountain still to climb!

This afternoon I tubed it down to London Bridge for a meeting at Southwark Cathedral which is where my next composition, Invisible Voices, is due to be performed. We're hoping to do a big gala performance with the London Gay Men's Chorus for the Kaleidoscope Trust, which could be really very exciting.

Quite when I'm actually going to have an opportunity to write the piece I'm not sure, but I guess that's what May is for!

The messages, emails, letters, tweets and cards about our wedding continue to arrive, but it's only now we're actually starting to get around to replying. We haven't even had the time to look through the photos! It's been utterly insane.

I've been deeply moved by some of the things I've read in the last few days; stories of people coming out to their parents, mothers writing to their sons to tell them how proud they feel, a man in Lancashire painting his door pink, inspired by our show. It seems the wedding has genuinely generated a wave of love, not just towards us, but towards and within the gay community at large. I don't think that's just my perception, and as a result, I genuinely couldn't feel prouder.

I've read news reports about it from the US, Australia and France. Big wigs at the BBC and C4 are describing it as "important" and "the most unique piece of television they've ever seen." People email and tweet to say they're watching it repeatedly, and crying all the time.

The house is, of course, a hopeless mess with unopened cards and presents on tables and surfaces everywhere. At some point we'll get to stop and relax, but not just yet...

Thursday, 3 April 2014


It seems like a life-time since we left for France, but it's barely 24 hours! The trip has been simply wonderful; am almost perfect honeymoon, I'd say.

It's been another day of great coincidences. The kind of day when questions get answered by the universe almost as quickly as you ask them.

Take this morning, for example. As we travelled to Thiepval, Sara said how much she wished she'd photographed the wonderful man who'd shown us his phenomenal garden shed museum in Bus Les Artois and, bizarrely, just as we pulled unto the car park, we found the very same man standing there! It turns out that he works as a gardener for the Commonwealth War Grave Commission. So Sara got her picture after all!

There were other things too. At one stage I told the lads that I was convinced there were no Tills within the 72,000 names of missing British soldiers inscribed on the monument. I'm pretty sure I'd checked the last time we were there. It turns out that this isn't the case at all. We went to the official lists and discovered that there were actually three Tills, one of whom had died on my birthday in 1916.

And so it went on.

We had lunch in Albert; the same place we'd eaten in the night before, and in fact every night we were there with my parents in September.

The weather has been glorious throughout our trip; powder blue skies, almost burningly-hot sun. We sat outside our cafe today basking in the sunshine.

From Albert we went to the Beaumont Hamil memorial, a massive area of preserved trenches owned by the Canadian government and dedicated to the countless Newfoundland people who were killed there on the same day as the Leeds Pals, two miles further along the line, were themselves suffering unprecedented losses.

We had a guided tour, which was interrupted briefly by a low-flying single-seater aeroplane. For all of us it seemed almost as though there'd been a time slip. Almost 100 years before, enemy biplanes would have sailed above the trenches on reconnaissance missions.

Later still, we stood on an elevated platform, looking down across what had been no man's land. We stood in silence for some time, all thinking the same thought, which was finally articulated by Matt; "if only I could blink and see what it was recall like..."

From that elevated position we got a sense, the merest glimmer. A criss-crossing mesh of zig-zagging trenches which would have been filled with frightened people running, crouching, shouting. Thousands of shells and bullets relentlessly flying overhead. Noise. Confusion. Mayhem. A dreadful sunlit vision of hell.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014


I'm currently in Albert in France on some kind of honeymoon. I say some kind of honeymoon because we're not alone. In fact, we’ve come here with a screen writer, an Olivier award-winning actress, and a choreographer from Scarborough. I don’t believe we’ve managed to tick off a single wedding stereotype. No cake. No chair ties. No bride. No honeymoon.

We’ve had some lovely reviews for our film in the papers today, however. I think I was probably most touched by what was written in the Telegraph; “the flow of tears down Till’s face as Taylor crooned his undying love was more powerful than anything all the romcom writers in the world could have put together.” I’m not sure I’ll ever garner a better quote than that!

So why am I in Albert? Well time stops for no one, not even a happily married groom, and I’ve got the rest of my life to be getting on with. The five of us have come here on a research and writing trip for Brass and we’re revisiting all the places I discovered with my parents in September last year.

In fact, it’s a little like ground-hog day, for although the fields are a different colour, and instead of yellowing leaves on the trees, there’s blossom everywhere, we are bumping into the same local characters, who seem to want to have the same conversations with us.

As we pulled into Serre today, the same farmer who’d come up to us last time, collared Sara Kestleman and asked if she knew Judy Dench, which was exactly what he’d said to my Mum when we were last there. It became all the more surreal when Sara assumed the farmer was asking if she knew Dame Judi personally, which of course she does.

As we pulled into Bus-les-Artois, the same man popped out of the yellow house opposite the church and invited us in to see his wonderful “in-a-shed” museum, which of course was exactly what we were hoping he’d do because I’d found the experience so profoundly moving the last time.

It feels a little like we’re being rewarded for our return visit. When we pulled up to the Lochnagar crater, that terrifying, incomprehensibly large shell-hole, we found a bloke selling First World War souvenirs by the side of the road. It was something I was desperate to find the last time we came, but we were unlucky. Sara bought all sorts of things to show to the cast. I bought a button. I only had five euros!

The other thing Nathan and I had spent ages doing on the last trip was scouring the sides of fields just in case something interesting and metal-like from the conflict had been thrown up by a farmer’s plough. We found nothing, but today, a veritable treasure trove of ancient metal had found its way onto the edges of the grassy walkways including a few twisted pieces of metal fence, and three shells. We managed to freak ourselves out at the thought that one of them hadn’t been detonated, and that, by hitting it with a stick, we were facing terrible calamities.

Our two other travelling companions are Philippa (my best man, and dramaturg on Brass) and Matt Flint, (who’s doing our choreography.) They are, of course, brilliant travel companions. It’s a bit uncomfortable with us all squeezed into the back of the car in bizarrely warm temperatures (21 degrees today,) but there’s a lot of laughter, a lot of bonding, and a lot of sensible chatter about Brass.

We were up so early this morning, and in bed so late, that all of us keep drifting off to sleep at inopportune moments; me mostly in car journeys! This evening we went into Albert, managed one course and then swiftly came back to the hotel to go to bed. My eyes have stopped focussing on the page which surely means it’s time to sleep!


Well today has been, quite frankly, extraordinary. It started with a terrible rude awakening. Nathan had forgotten to set the alarm and all I could hear was swearing and someone leaping out of bed. I had no idea what was going on. In my half-slumber I decided we'd actually managed to miss our own wedding!

It was 7am and a taxi had already arrived to take us to to Broadcasting House for an interview with the BBC World Service. We sat in relative silence during the journey. I was still terribly upset about a string of ghastly comments which had been written about us by Daily Mail readers, including perhaps the most dreadful piece of nonsense I've ever read: "Disgusting. In Germany in 1939 they would have been arrested and detained."

As the day wore on I became rather grateful to the bigots because it reminded me above anything that the fight against homophobia is not yet over and that we are doing the right thing by allowing our wedding to be seen on television because we have a duty to challenge entrenched perceptions about gay people!

From the BBC we went to ITV where we were interviewed by Philip and Holly on the This Morning sofa. How bizarre did that feel? For the record both of them are utterly delightful, very easy to talk to, and as charming in real life as their television personas.

The researchers also managed to pull out footage of Nathan dancing naked on the show in 2008 when he was in Naked Boys Singing. Hysterical.

I went up to Crouch End for the best part of the afternoon to eat soup and hang out with the Brass production team and thrash out some ideas for the show's set. It felt like a rather curious oasis in a day of wedding publicity. It was also brought to a rather speedy end by the arrival of a car to take me back to the BBC for an interview with Huw Edwards. There was a bit of a mix up with the car and some heavy traffic, the combination of which meant that I arrived, panting in the studio, a minute after the interview had started. Nathan was manfully holding the court, but the decision was made to insert me into the interview. It's not often you see a guest clambering into shot on live television. But clamber I did. Fortunately I was too het up to feel embarrassment!

From the BBC we returned to Highgate to almost immediately head back into town for the screening party of Our Gay Wedding: The Musical at Soho House.

It's difficult to think either of us will ever forget the experience of watching the show with our phones in our pockets going absolutely bananas. Every second, a mini vibration would tell me another message has come in on twitter. We trended world-wide, I gained 300 followers and, astonishingly, the majority of comments were overwhelmingly positive.

Our hashtag #LoveIsEveryone went global and messages poured in to say how moved, touched, excited and proud people felt. A curious piece in the Metro online even described the wedding as "better than Wils and Kate's" which was, of course, insane.

The guests at our little screening party got progressively drunker. Even I started drinking shots. Well one shot. Franschene, the registrar became delightfully paralytic and my good mate Cindy did a face plant off her Gaga heels, shouted at our commissioning editor and then vanished. We've no idea where she's gone, but with any luck the euphoria of the evening, and the fact that she was in Soho has kept her safe.

We're home now, and I have to get to bed as we're off to France first thing in the morning. It seems to be 3am.

I leave you with two thoughts.

1) In the words of Kate Bush, "every old sock meets an old shoe"


2) Love Is Everyone