Thursday, 26 February 2015

Portraits 5-9

I slept for about ten hours last night, and woke up feeling a little better than I have been of late. Today promised to be rather epic, so I was relieved not to feel like a rinsed out dish cloth.

The purpose of today was to take another five... count them... five portraits for the front cover of the Pepys Motet CD, so I charged the camera batteries, grabbed a handful of Little Welsh Nathalie's beautiful placards and headed first to London's Pride, the epic St Pancras train station, which genuinely has to be one of the greatest stations in the world.

What they've done to save that place is genuinely amazing. This was the grotty barn of a building surrounded by old gas works where trains from Bedford and Wellingborough used to pull in. I sat as a teenager for many hours on various benches next to dirty-looking coffee kiosks drinking tea and feeding Mars Bars to pigeons. These days the entire place has been hollowed out. The Eurostar trains sit proudly alongside the longest champagne bar in Europe and the kiosks have been replaced by Carluccios, and Cafe Paul and Fortnam and Masons and scores of fancy little boutiques which announce to the rest of Europe that London means business. Two bronze statues peer over the hustle and bustle: Paul Day's giant meeting statue of two aquiline-nosed lovers fondly embracing and, appropriately, a statue of Sir John Betjeman, who loved this place.

The first photograph I took was of Joe Louis Robinson, who sang tenor on four of the Pepys movements. He's actually a little better known as a musical director, but he also has a charming light voice, which works very well in the mix. The Pepys Motet is an a'capella composition scored for twenty individual voices, each with a unique part, which means, at various stages, the twenty singers are all singing something entirely different. It is a highly complicated piece of music, which was almost impossible to record!

I photographed Joe at the Paul Day statue, and then again rubbing shoulders with Dear Sir John.

My second shoot of the day was in a rainy Greenwich, fortunately under cover, underground in fact, in the famous foot tunnel under the Thames. We actually filmed here, years ago, when I was working as the acting coach on the movie 28 Weeks Later. We were there for a whole day, but I don't remember much about it apart from climbing a lamp post somewhere near the tunnel, just to show off really. I used to be able to hitch my way up a rope or lamppost barefooted like a little monkey. I'm not sure I'd have the guts to do that now.

Our green room during the shoot was actually on the Cutty Sark; that famous old tea clipper in dry dock in Greenwich, which I'm told, for ten years, held the record for the shortest trip from London to Australia. There was a terrible fire a few years ago which nearly destroyed the ship, but fortunately, when it struck, most of its original wooden fixtures and fittings had been removed for renovation.

The Greenwich portrait was with Trevor Bowes, a professional operatic bass, who, like Joe, sang on four of the six motet movements. This evening he opens in Purcell's African Queen at English National Opera.

The Greenwich foot tunnel is a spooky sort of place, which smells of damp plaster. A lone double bass player was busking down there. It was a curious noise. A bowed double bass sounds a bit odd whoever's playing it; a curious blend of scrapy and robust, like a beginner 'cellist. For a few moments I even wondered if it was some sort of low saxophone or a tuba. The sound was reverberating through the tunnel in a most mysterious way. Anyway, it was a rather quirky accompaniment to our shoot, which I ended up rather liking. If you look carefully on all the pictures, the double bass is nestling proudly in the distance.

I took the DLR to Tower Gateway where I met Christopher Diffey, an operatic tenor who sings on all six movements of the piece. He's just off to Leeds to start rehearsals on a Jonathan Dove opera with Opera North, which actually opens at Covent Garden. I took his photo down on one of the Thames beaches by the Tower of London; an area I'm almost convinced would have been Pepys' alighting point for pretty much any river taxis he took whilst living at the Navy Offices near St Olave's Church. The tide had only just gone out, so everything was slippery and covered in algae and sludge. It was worth it. We stood underneath a wooden pier which provided some really interesting shadows and shapes against the murky brown water of the river.

I walked all the way from Tower Bridge to Moorgate to look at a potential location for a shoot on Sunday, then walked back to Bank and tubed it to Holborn before walking to Soho where I met the lovely Anthony Harris, a deeply theatrical and wonderful tenor who sang on all movements of the Pepys Motet. I photographed him outside a sex shop as a sort of nod to Pepys who was quite a randy bugger, and, if sex shops had existed in his day, would almost certainly have frequented them. As it was, Soho was only just being developed in his day. Previously it had been a hunting ground for the well-to-do. I'm told the word Soho was actually a hunting call.

Anthony and I had a lot of fun wondering around Soho, China Town, Piccadilly Circus, and then Soho again, where we sat outside a cafe drinking tea. I was determined to find him a husband, but my mission failed.

We met Nathan at his theatre and then walked up to Euston Square tube for the last shoot of the day. This one was with David Gregory who sang bass on all movements of the motet. I took photos of him staring into one of those curious warping convex circular mirrors you get on the underground. I'm never quite sure who they're for. They're usually on the stairs, one assumes so that you can see who's coming down as you're going up, but I'm not entirely sure they're necessary! They're cool to photograph though. I once took a shot of Tanita Tikaram staring into one of those. I used it for the inner sleeve of the London Requiem album.

I'm now in the bath. Shattered!

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