Monday, 29 June 2015

Cancer rising

As I left the house today I was aware of a flash of yellow darting in front of me. I followed the blurry shape and watched as it landed on my garden wall. It was the loveliest little bird: very refined, light grey with a yellow undercarriage and a great long tail which bobbed up and down as it watched me. It allowed me to get really very close. I'd never seen a bird bobbing its tail like that, and immediately assumed that it was a Pied Wagtail, although a bit of research revealed that it was actually a Grey Wagtail, a slightly rarer creature, whom I'm told usually lives by water. I can't actually think where the nearest source of water is to us, Waterlow Park, perhaps, so he's obviously a little way off his patch. That said, he's more than welcome to visit us again because he's a glorious little fella. I felt honoured that he wanted to say hello. 

shitty picture, I know, but you never know when the fellas are gonna fly off!
I had a little cry today after reading some of the positive messages people are writing on Facebook about gay marriage. I think we're standing on the edge of a major social change. First Ireland, then America. Australia will surely follow. And then what? Italy? Russia? For a moment I didn't understand why I was crying, and then I realised that it was out of relief. I was crying because I didn't need to cry anymore! I'd been so frightened as a teenager, but, because of the waves of love coming towards the LGBT community right now, those awful feelings of self-loathing and terror would be felt by fewer and fewer young lads. It's an amazing thing.


Less amazing is the situation in Greece, which is becoming graver by the minute. All Greeks are now limited to getting 60 euros out of their bank accounts each day and people are predicting a humanitarian crisis. George Osbourne, in his wisdom, has told British people going on holiday to Greece to take "plenty of money with them." Surely this is a catastrophe in the waiting? Greece is on its knees. Everyone there is poor. They know all foreign tourists are comparatively wealthy and carrying large sums of cash... You do the maths. I suspect heading to that particularly country will be like going to the Wild West.

We went to the Heath today as the sun set, and sat in our favourite field, dipping crisps in hummus as the silhouettes of swallows fluttered like bats between the trees. Hampstead Heath is such a magical place. If you've never been, I genuinely recommend a visit. Whatever the weather, there's always something astonishing going on. I leave you with a picture of Nathan in the long grass, the moon rising in the background.


Sunday, 28 June 2015

Guildford Reunion

I'm currently returning from the South Bank, where I've been at Nathan's drama school's 20th anniversary reunion. This tells me that it's also twenty years since I graduated from university, which is a horrifying thought. More horrifyingly, I realise I was also present at Nathan's ten year reunion, which was in a bar just off Trafalgar Square. Back then, ten years seemed like such a long time. Twenty seems a lifetime.

The reunion was brilliantly well-attended. There must have been a good thirty people there, all remembering the good times, looking at photographs of their younger selves and wondering where the years had gone. I'm not sure we'd manage to get thirty York University music students together again after all these years. We'd be lucky to get just two!

We were down in Gabriel's Wharf, an area to the East of the National Theatre which has always reminded me of San Fransisco. There are all kinds of funky bars and restaurants down there, many of them in the sort of wooden structures you find at American piers or wharf developments. They're over-shadowed by an enormous brick wall which has been painted with the life-sized gable ends of a row of colourful cottages, trompe loeil style. These days the paint is chipping off and looking rather faded and worse for wear. When I first came to London it was much more impressive. In fact, I thought it was real!

There was a rather hysterical moment this afternoon when someone engaged me in conversation about gay marriage: "Did you happen to watch that programme on Channel 4?" He said. "There was a gay wedding which was actually a musical. One of the grooms was a composer and the other was the spitting image of Nathan!" In fairness, he hadn't seen Nathan for twenty years, so it wasn't altogether surprising that he hadn't put two and two together. I was going to let him continue, but then I thought how uncomfortable it would have been for him if he'd then said, "bloody awful show..." So I butted in and revealed my true identity. He was somewhat mortified.

I watched the news tonight for the first time in ages. The stories from Tunisia are incredibly depressing. It's said that up to thirty of the dead are British. Quite why, after so many days, information is still quite so sketchy, I'm not sure. I heard a dreadful story about a woman who'd hugged her husband and told him she loved him whilst the gunman reloaded before shooting them both. She survived. Her husband was killed. There she was, lying in a hospital bed, her world disintegrating around her. My heart broke. I wondered how I'd have felt if it was Nathan. I've said it many times before, but the fight against religious extremism is the only thing which would cause me to take up arms. I feel incredibly strongly that this sort of nonsense needs to be snuffed out as soon as possible. I am bored of seeing the parents of these murderers being interviewed, wondering how their precious children can have gone so unbelievably off the rails. It's time for them to take some responsibility. And not just the parents, but the religious leaders as well. There's blood on all of their hands.

The Kids from Fame Again!

 


Saturday, 27 June 2015

Pride pride

Sometimes I feel very proud to come from Great Britain. Today was London Pride. I marched. I felt proud.

It's all changed since the last time I came to Pride, which was probably the year 2000. That was the year that Philippa and I actually won the march. I'm not sure anyone else knew that it was a race, but we did, and we slowly yet stealth-fully snaked our way from the back of the march all the way to the front. We were quite surprised that we didn't win a medal for the achievement, but I reckon I'm just about ready to let go of the sense of injustice.

My first pride was in 1996. I was a student at Mountview drama school and was working as an usher at the Royal Court Theatre. Those were the days when people turned up to watch the march simply to see what gay people looked like. I remember Holly Johnson performing, riddled with AIDS and looking like he was about to breath his last. The following year, he performed again. The combination therapy drugs for HIV positive men were finally available, and he looked amazing again. Literally brought back from the brink. Or so everyone said.

1997 was the year I went to Pride as the partner of Stephen Twigg, who, two months earlier, had been elected as the MP for Enfield Southgate, in the fabulous New Labour landslide. Stephen was invited onto the stage at Clapham Common. I stood in the wings and watched a crowd of 100,000 people cheering him. It was a genuinely astonishing moment.
This year I marched as the guest of my brother and his company, HSBC. We looked a picture in our multi-coloured T-shirts, holding rainbow umbrellas and waving our flags. For the record, Brother Edward and I independently went for purple, me, because it was my Grandmother's favourite colour, Edward, because it's the colour of his Cambridge college.



Pride is so much better organised these days, and sadly, even if you wanted to, I'm not sure you'd be allowed to simply tip up and march like you could in the old days. I'm not sure that's very much keeping with the spirit of the occasion, but then again, this march felt like celebration rather than a political statement. In the old days we used to chant. "We're here, we're queer and we're not going shopping." I don't know why this was something we said, but said it we did. We'd stop outside "homophobic" businesses and boo. In 1996, we jeered at the gates of Downing Street. In 1997, we cheered.

But then again, no one really tended to watch the march back then. A few well wishers would wave from the windows of buildings. Unsuspecting tourists would watch us passing with bemused looks on their faces. The route was lined with burly coppers who were there to protect us from demonstrators. It all felt like a protest march rather than a cavalcade or carnival.

This year the police presence was negligible and scores and scores of well-wishers lined the streets to cheer us on. Around Trafalgar Square the crowds were 20 or 30 deep. It was almost overwhelming. Brother Edward was marching for the first time and repeatedly said how moved he was feeling. There were even people on rooftops waving rainbow flags. It was extraordinary. I am also proud to say that one of the people in the crowd was holding a Welsh Dragon flag in rainbow colours, which I thought was fabulous. I spotted it, and waved at the person holding it, who nudged his mate and said, "look, a Welsh person." I felt even prouder than I was already feeling!

Just before we set of, we were all handed whistles. I'm not sure many of the people there would have had a sense of the significance of whistles in the gay community, which goes back to San Francisco in the 1970s when Harvey Milk and co handed out whistles for gay men to blow if they got into trouble with homophobic gangs. There's a scene in the film Milk where a lad is found beaten to death in the street, his blood-spattered whistle still in his hand. I blew my whistle a lot. As did everyone around me. I now have temporary tinnitus.



We were held for a few hours before the procession started in a side street off Oxford Street, which I suspect had never been so busy. Everyone was rushing into a little newsagents trying to buy ice-creams and bottles of beer. Two Asian shopkeepers were rushing about trying to serve drag queens and disco bunnies wondering what on earth had hit them.

Speaking of disco bunnies, the float in front of us was full of twinky gaybos who'd obviously been invited to take part based on their ability to customise clothing and twerk. Those priceless little Marys had tied knots in their T-shirts and folded up their shiny shorts to uncover as much flesh as possible. When the choruses of the songs they were dancing to arrived, the twerking went crazy and the whole float started bouncing rather dangerously.
For me, the Pride experience was encapsulate by a couple of fabulous elderly trannies, one who could barely walk, who were going along at the same pace as the HSBC lot. They were dressed in glorious colours and it was moving to think how things had changed in their lifetimes. I was disappointed to hear one of the younger HSBC lads being rude about them and wondering if he should ask them to march elsewhere. I genuinely wanted to shake him and tell him that Pride is all about brilliant women like that, who fought the fight when it was a great deal more dangerous than it is these days. There's enough hatred in the world for gay people without young gay kids forgetting the past. I should have dragged him to the front of the march where people were holding flags from the countries in the world where homosexuality is illegal and read him the blinkin' riot act!



I love the sheer diversity within the gay community. Blokes dressed from head to toe in leather were walking alongside young lads wearing nothing but flip flops, fake tans and diamond-encrusted swimming trunks. At one point I passed a little kennel club of men dressed in dog-shaped rubber suits. The air smelt of balloons around them!



When the march was done, I took myself to Old Compton Street to meet Nathan out of work. I realised, as I walked through China Town, that it was a bad idea. Scores of people were heading in that direction like iron filings being dragged towards a magnet. I got half way along Frith Street, where there was such a huge, dense crowd, that I started panicking.
Nathan came to my rescue and I walked him back to work before escaping central London for the relative calm and tranquility of the North, where all the straight boys were. Most of them had plainly been playing frisbee in Highgate Woods.



Friday, 26 June 2015

Mixed

There was mayhem at Hove Station this morning, with last-minute changes of platform being announced, and people running all over the place looking slightly confused. But for my money, the most irritating thing about Hove Station is its ticket machines. They're "touch sensitive," which means you have to stand there for hours, stabbing at an unresponsive screen, whilst the people behind you tut and sigh. Unfortunately West Worthing isn't on the machine's list of most regularly visited stations, neither is it on the first page of the other train stations which start with the word "West," so a traveller is forced to type in letters to spell the station name one by one, waiting an age whilst the machine responds. The tickets get spewed out into a little compartment at the bottom of the machine with a vicious flap designed to instantly flay the back of one's hand. There's also a special little crack on the left hand side of the compartment, just big enough for your ticket to get stuck in. It's hideous!

The studio was slightly slower and more complicated than I thought it would be today. We spotted that one or two of the singers hidden in the mix had made one or two dreadful noises one or two occasions! Listening back to one particularly awful shrieking sound, I said to PK, "gosh it's like white noise." He nodded, wincing, and then said, "oh, I don't know... You can shape white noise! This singer shapes you!"

How wonderful to receive a text message from my mate Iain at 3.50pm today to tell me that gay marriage is now legal in all U.S. States. It's San Fransisco Pride this weekend: what a wonderful present for all those people. That'll be the party to end all parties. Things really are changing for the LGBT community. I could weep when I think about how long I was forced to lie and hide in my younger years. To have gone from that to hearing news like today's is remarkable and a true antidote to the misery being caused by religious extremists in the rest of the world today. The gays might be going to hell, but we're going to make life on Earth a damn sight better than those who believe in heaven.

As if there weren't already enough to celebrate, at 6pm, PK and I finished mixing the Pepys Motet. We're going to take the weekend to potter and ponder. He'll maybe cast a bit of extra sonic sparkle over the piece by tweaking a few levels and things, but it's essentially done and I think (just think) it might be just a little bit extraordinary! It's certainly not one for the faint-hearted, or for anyone who likes their music strictly on the "background music" spectrum. This piece demands to be listened to. It's conceptual, so many of the movements flow on from one another, but if you go to the effort of sitting down to listen with a cup of tea and a pair of headphones, then I'm quite sure rich rewards will be on offer.

I obviously chose the wrong time to return to London, judging by the sheer number of people who got on the train at Gatwick airport. There were suitcases and people everywhere, stuffed into all the aisles, spattered against windows and hand rails. A lot of people must arrive in London in the early evening of a Friday night, which I suppose makes sense. Doesn't make traveling much fun though...

Obsessive sonic

I missed the train from Hove to West Worthing this morning and had to settle instead for one that went to Worthing itself, which meant a slightly longer walk the other end. It was no hardship. The area around the train station is just as quirky, if not more so than West Worthing. There are scores of junk shops. Hard-faced women sit on the pavement next to trestle tables laden with cutlery and broken china. I think my favourite shop, in a street of eccentricity, is the store which sells bubble wrap! The next time I need bubble wrap, I'll remember not to go to W H Smith!

We worked hard in the studio today, and staggered through to the end of the album. It felt like a good point to leave things. We probably could have worked another couple of hours and I could have taken a late train back to London, but it makes more sense for me to stay one more night, make a few more changes with fresh ears tomorrow morning, and then treat PK to lunch at a greasy spoon to say thank you for a job (as ever) well-done.

I walked along the seafront in Hove this evening, sucking up the glorious sea air and marvelling at the sunset: fronds of smoky lavender-coloured, snake-skin-textured clouds bursting from a pastel-orange globe. As the night drew in, little black smoky ribbons started to form, one assumes the remnants of vapour trails. I completely understand why people would want to live down this way. 



Having walked along the esplanade, I decided to run along it, and, as the light faded, I jogged all the way to Brighton pier through the dope-soaked air, and twinkling seaside lights, and back to First Avenue via Western Road, the main shopping street which links Brighton and Hove.

I had a bath, ate some tinned pears (being on a diet is just no fun) and then listened obsessively to the Pepys Motet mixes to see if I could spot any sonic issues or glitches before our last day in the studio tomorrow.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

The death of Soho

My day started in that chi-chi district behind Bond Street where everyone is so impeccably dressed that people like me instantly feel like a bag ladies. It's like something from the Umbrellas of Cherbourg round there. The shop assistants wear the most beautiful designer suits, and their customers preen themselves like peacocks. There was a woman standing in the middle of the street, plainly with nothing to do, in a glorious 50s inspired twin-set with a hat carelessly strewn (read meticulously fixed) to her chignon.

The purpose of my trip to those parts was to meet a theatrical agent, whom I happened to like rather a lot, so watch this space for more news!

I went into Soho for lunch and discovered that mushrooms are horrible when served raw. I also discovered, much to my deep chagrin, that the Soho I once loved is officially dead. The charming, sleazy decadence which made it incredibly special has almost entirely disappeared. I think when Raymond Review Bar and Madam Jojo's were closed to make way for a mega casino, the final nail was driven into Soho's coffin. Old Compton Street, which used to be a mish-mash of grotty sex shops, cheap diners for West End actors and gay bars, is now a hub of fancy ice cream shops, sushi bars, artisan bakeries and clothing boutiques. The call girls and rent boys have moved on. Beautifully-dressed freaks no longer prowl the streets, and all the customers in the cafe where I had my lunch were straight boys in slick suits.

Many people reading this will think my description of the old Soho sounds like hell on earth... But it was OUR hell: a place for gay people and actors. An artistic district entirely lacking in machismo and the binge-drinking culture of surrounding areas. An oasis of streets where we all felt safe.

I mourn its loss because it's already clear what's coming in its place. They're labelling it a "pleasure district" but it will be sanitised, a "blue plaque" theme park for hen-dos and lads-on-tour who'll pay through the nose for a bit of titivation... They gamble and neck glasses of absinthe in a "bohemian theme bar" next to a mega-Macdonald's where bored secretaries will take pole dancing classes in a mirror-lined room called the "Hanky Spanky Zone." The last remaining gay bars will close, unable to afford the soaring rents, their clientele threatened by this new breed of Soho-ite. And bang, genteel Soho will become an extension of Leicester Square on a Saturday night, with people vomiting on every corner and seething aggression seeping out of the cracks in the pavements,

Of course, as the LGBT community slip unnoticed into society at large, the question becomes whether gay people even need their own districts. A great deal of recent research has been dedicated to the fact that the gay community has enjoyed an incomprehensible surge in popularity in the UK in the last fifty years. Being gay has gone from being illegal to being considered no more shocking than unmarried mothers or divorcees. We are unlike any other minority group in this respect, so perhaps part-and-parcel of living in this newly inclusive society is the lack of need for anything which resembles segregation.

I'm still going to miss Soho though...

Nathan and I found a voucher which meant we could have tea in Cafe Rouge for a tenner. It was a much-needed bit of "us" time before I skedaddled my way back down to Hove so that I could be with PK early enough to do a good day's work on Pepys. I had a cheese and mushroom toastie. I'm sure they call it something much fancier than that, but a toastie it was... And rather delicious.

Someone sent me a photograph this evening of the Drama Barn on the campus of York University. It was bathed in glorious early-evening sunlight, which is exactly how I remember it always being in the summer term. The Drama Barn was where we did all our shows. It was the drama society's space. We could rehearse there whenever we wanted if we were friendly enough with the porters who held the key. I regularly ran rehearsals which went through the night, because I felt it was important to break down people's inhibitions by making them exhausted! I remember nicking a pint from a milk float on the way home from one rehearsal, as the first rays of dawn burst across the sky.

The drama society is currently raising funds for the space, to modernise the equipment and so on. They're crowd-funding, so if anyone reading this remembers the old place as fondly as me, and fancies sticking a tenner in the pot, please do so...
R
https://yustart.hubbub.net/p/dramasoctech/

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Chaz n Dave

The walk from Fiona's flat to the train station in Hove is about fifteen minutes I guess. I always think it's good to start the day with a walk; get the blood flowing and all that. The two locations are separated by a grid system of roads which offers myriad possibilities when selecting a route. I'm still not actually sure I know which street leads direct from the main shopping street in Hove to the station. They all look the same, lined with exhaust-smeared, yellow-brick Edwardian terraces, so I snake my way slowly up there like a knight on a giant chess board.

West Worthing High Street continues to be a quirky place, despite the arrival of the much-anticipated Co-op, which has become the only chain store in the area. It's such a welcome relief to see nothing but independent shops, particularly ones which are quite so unusual. There's even one which only sells sci-fi comics, like something out of the Big Bang Theory.

The posters blue-tacked in the shop windows are particularly special. I guess in London we get used to seeing images for West End shows in cafe widows, or, up in Highgate, neat little printed invitations to historical society events and musical soirees. In one of the shop windows in West Worthing, I saw an advert for a Chaz n Dave concert, and in another, a Toyah and Big Country tour was being promoted! Chaz 'n Dave, eh? Do you think they're still the original blokes, or are Chaz 'n Dave a franchised brand like the Sugababes or Bucks Fizz? Do you become too old or jaded to be one of them? I think I'm right in saying that, at one stage, there were two Bucks Fizzes, one of which had three of the original members in it, and the other which had just one, plus him off of Dollar. Thingy Van Day. I think cries of misogyny have meant that the women are now forced to pull the men's trousers off in that iconic moment in Making Your Mind Up. Ancient blokes being forcefully stripped down to their undies? How deeply undignified. It brings a whole new meaning to the lyric "if you wanna see some more..." Yes, I'd like to see a walnut-like dangly scrotum, a colostomy sack and a pee-stained pair of boxers! I shudder at the thought...

Today was another long day in PK's loft. As predicted, it was the third movement which required the most remedial work. Not only is it something of a beast, but also, because it was the first number we recorded and rough-mixed, it's riddled with problems. There are some incredibly dodgy bits of singing; moments where I'm sure some of the performers closed their eyes, opened their gobs and simply hoped for the best! Bless them, we've all been there! Those terrible, meaningless passages of score you promise yourself will all miraculously make sense in the recording studio, Mopping up after that sort of sonic trifle isn't the easiest thing to do, but we'll get there. I'll need to return to Worthing on Thursday to finish things off. Fortunately what we have on the Pepys Motet is time. Why rush something which has already taken so long?

On the way home, the train stopped at Hayward's Heath for what seemed an eternity. It's a station where trains seem to get longer or shorter depending on where they're heading, and there's always some safety announcement going on about making sure you're sitting down as the process of coupling of uncoupling carriages takes place. I stared out at the sunset: not a hugely impressive affair, but a strangely captivating phenomenon was taking place, where (I think) car lights from somewhere in the distance outside the opposite carriage window were reflecting on the window I was looking through. The effect was that the sky around the sunset was intermittently filled with bright flashing lights of the strangest shapes. At least I hope that's the explanation for what I saw. If there's been an alien invasion in East Sussex, I was its witness. I'll be blind tomorrow, of course, and this blog will have been censored by giant carnivorous plants. Speaking of which, does anyone remember the televised version of the Day of the Triffids? It was on just after the Kids From Fame. Wednesday nights. I'm gonna say 1985.

Green socks

I slept very badly last night. I've no idea why. I think I had loads of stuff going on in my head, and because I was away from home, I got into that staying up and watching telly thing that you do in hotel rooms. I ended up falling asleep with some live gambling programme burbling away in the background, which has got to be as trashy as it gets. 

I woke up this morning and the glorious sunshine from yesterday had turned into ghastly rain. I'd brought my decent suit jacket down with me and made the decision not to wreck it by wearing it, so went out in a just a T-shirt and a waistcoat for warmth, but was immediately forced to stop at a pharmacy for an umbrella. 

At Hove station I happened upon a group of policemen sitting on a bench, waiting to get on a train. Now, I’m not a massive expert on the etiquette of police uniforms, but it strikes me that green socks and brown suede water-stained shoes are not exactly standard issue? I don’t think you’d find many Met officers chasing criminals through East End streets so artistically attired. 



It's rained on and off all day, really heavily in the afternoon, although the clouds vanished tonight and we were left with a glorious sunset, which we could see reflected on the metal table in PK's loft. 

Speaking of PK's loft, the two of us have just done a mammoth twelve-hour session up there on the Pepys Motet. We have chipped away at it bar-by-by, slowly polishing the piece until it comes into into colour. It's a astonishing complicated composition. I doubt I shall ever write something again which is so ambitious, over-scored and all-encompassing! I have no idea whether people will love it, be perplexed, entranced, moved, embarrassed or terrified. (Very much how I feel when I listen to Berio!) It is the product of so many different variations. It was initially a 40-part motet, then I did five drafts of a 20-part version, and this recording alone has taken us three years. We've added to it here and there as and when we could afford it, we've begged studio time, and stolen ten minutes here and there when other sessions on other projects have under-run. I'm incredibly proud that it's finally coming together. 


But it's slow-going. We've edged our way through two movements today, with another four to go. But we are getting there. I promise!


Sunday, 21 June 2015

Naked!

Two nights ago I couldn't sleep, so, as I often do in these instances, I took myself into the sitting room to watch some telly.

Those who have visited our flat in North London will know that we have four enormous almost floor-to-ceiling windows which fill an entire wall.

The windows look out over North London. The A1 road is directly below us, and then a bank of trees prevents us from peering into a dell where the remains of the disused overground Highgate Station are located. When the trees are bare, we can see all the way to Alexandra Palace, which, on summery winter evenings glows majestically.

Anyway, we're on the third floor of the grand terrace we live in, and there's a street light outside our window which has recently been changed from having a halogen lamp to some sort of collection of white LEDs. We don't have curtains. We're high up and not over-looked, so the street lamp fills our sitting room with light.

So there I was, at 1.30am, entirely naked in a pool of LED, unable to sleep and settling down on the sofa to possibly watch a bit of telly, when I become aware of some flashing lights outside. Moments later a hard hat, followed by the figure of a man in hi-viz loomed into sight, riding a cherry picker. He was plainly there to refocus the street lamp. I froze. He was literally no more than 4 metres away from me. I could see the whites of his eyes. All that separated us was the window! I didn't want to bring attention to myself by rushing away, or grappling around for something to cover myself up, so I simply attempted to shuffle into a pool of darkness to sit the humiliating experience out, keeping my fingers firmly crossed that he wouldn't notice me.

I am horrified to report that, in the process of refocusing the street light, he pushed it to a position where I was fully lit. It was like some form of Nazi interrogation. And then it happened. He spotted me. I waved nervously, and then realised that, in the process of waving, I'd uncovered my genitals. I have never seen a cherry picker descend so quickly!

Why do these things happen to me? It's taken me two days to fully process the event. I wondered if I'd dreamed it for some time, but the street light is still shining directly into our living room, so we'll no doubt have to contact the council and see if it can be repositioned again, which will no doubt happen the next time I'm naked on my sofa again!

I watched a show yesterday called 1000 Heart Beats, which is a game show, the premise of which is to answer questions whilst hooked up to a heart monitor. You have as long as it takes for 1000 of your own heart-beats to, well beat, to get as many questions right as possible. It's an interesting gimmick because, of course, the more you panic, the faster the heart ticks and the less time you have to think...

The stroke of genius is that a live string quartet plays suspense-filled music at the tempo of the contestant's beating heart: Speeding up and slowing down accordingly. When a contestant gets into a tizzy, the music they hear makes things infinitely worse. All good so far...

...And then you meet the quartet: Four white dolly birds, wearing short dresses... And bang, we're back to the late 1990s where no Westlife performance on Top of the Pops was compete without a string quartet played by these sorts of women. I hate it for many reasons. Firstly, I think cellists look ├╝ber-trashy wearing mini-skirts, with their bare legs wrapped around the wood of their instrument. Secondly, it's not just sexist, it's agist and racist. I would far father look at a mixture of men and women of different ages and colours than I would the female extras from the Benny Hill show. It makes string players look like bimbos. It re-enforces the kind of prejudice and bullying I faced as a young lad when I was told that the cello was a "girly" instrument and, and this is the most controversial thing I'll say on the subject, I think sexual politics means that mixed-gender string quartets play better than single gender ones. I know! Get of the fence, Till, say what you really mean! Every single quartet I've ever booked has deliberately had a mixture of men and women in it. There's a relaxed banter which kicks off in mixed company, and a healthy frisson in the air which, I'm convinced raises people's games. I also think the visual aesthetic of a mixed quartet is better.

So there we have it: If you're a television exec thinking of booking some string players, remember it's 2015, not 1999, that funky string players come in all sorts of colours, sizes and genders, and that the pretty young white girls with thin legs aren't always going to be the best players!

I came to Hove today and took the opportunity to call in on my friend and life-long mentor, the writer Sir Arnold Wesker. We spent a few hours together talking about art and music and theatre. 'Nold has Parkinson's which means he's basically unable to walk, but he's as sharp as a pin and, as always, remarkably fine company. Whenever I talk to him and his wonderful wife, Dusty, I rue the fact that I never got to experience the hedonism and political shenanigans of British theatre in the 1960s; the time when the Workers Revolutionary Party was in full swing and playwrights occasionally ran onto the stage during performances of their own shows to urge the audience to stop watching! Ah! Those were the days.

Of course the sadness is that fewer and fewer people are around these days who remember those days. Our conversation often entered a cul-de-sac which ended with the words "dead now." When does it happen? When do we become so accustomed to death that the news of the death of a friend is met with a deep sigh and the words "who's next?"

I walked down to the seafront feeling contemplative; a feeling matched by the weather which was hazy like summer was dying as opposed to only just begun. When I was a child, on nights like this, there would often be tall black mushroom clouds in the sky, a result of farmers setting fire to the cornfields. Little black strands of ash would fly around in the air and attach themselves to car windscreens. The big excitement was hoping the drive home would take us past the fire itself. The sense of disappointment which cane when the plume of smoke appeared in the back windscreen was tangible.

Happy summer solstice, folks. I hope you all made the most of the light! It's the best you'll get for another year, and who knows where we'll all be then?


Saturday, 20 June 2015

Glorious

Today's been a horrifyingly lazy affair. I have done very little except sit on a sofa in the sitting room, waiting for an Andy Murray tennis match at Queens which didn't happen. I don't really like tennis. I simply like watching Murray matches to see the Union Jacks flying in the crowd. I'm a patriot at heart.

I learned today (whilst obsessively watching television) that a new series of Celebrity Master Chef is about to start. I do wish they'd learn to put the word "celebrity" in inverted commas for these types of programmes. It would make us all feel a lot better about not recognising any of the contestants!

There was a freak rainstorm at about 5pm, just as I was coming back from the gym. Part of me welcomed the rain. Our car was covered in a sticky mess which had dropped from the trees above the space where we park. The car was so sticky this afternoon that my back windscreen wiper got stuck mid-wipe. The rain will undoubtedly have washed some of the mess away.

What is less exciting about the rain is the water which poured through our sitting room roof as a result. It seems we have the same problem every time there's a downpour after a relatively dry period of weather. It's annoying. Our landlord sends friendly fellas up onto the roof to fix it, they clear the guttering, and then we're back to square one within a few months!

I watched some kind of gardening show presented by Monty Don today, who talked about the summer solstice tomorrow. Tonight is, of course, the shortest night, and at 10am, as I'm writing this, it's still pretty light outside. Anyway, Monty Don made an impassioned plea for everyone watching to go out and enjoy the light, even if it's raining, and I thought how wonderfully right he was, so when Nathan returned from work at 8.30pm, I drove us up onto the Heath so that we could watch the sun setting from Parliament Hill.


Of course, the moment we reached our destination, the heavens opened and North London became engulfed in a curious, yet somewhat romantic, grey mist. Suddenly, through a tiny gap in the dark clouds, we could see the sun. It was quite unlike I'd ever seen the sun before; a fuzzy white disc in the sky... But boy how it developed...


First the tips of the clouds in the Eastern sky turned pink, and then, as the rain started to clear, the sun got brighter and brighter, eventually melting into a glorious fire, with great diagonals of smudgy copper cloud shooting towards the heavens. 

A mad Heath woman strode over to us and complimented me on my umbrella, which has an enormous poppy on it. I bought it at Thiepval in April. The mad woman told me I looked like Audrey Hepburn holding it, which I wasn't sure was exactly a compliment. Then she started talking about her Motorola phone, whilst her dog stole a small child's frisbee further down the hill. As the child tried to wrestle the frisbee back, the mad woman started shouting at the child; "no, don't let the dog jump, you mustn't let the dog jump..." Like it was the little girl's responsibility that the dog was out of control!



We walked into a wooded area and noticed how the sunset shone through the leaves of the trees and left bright orange fire pits in the puddles below. The air was musty with the smell of woodsmoke. I felt genuinely happy to be outside, marvelling at nature. So thank you, Monty Don.


One of the puddles...





Friday, 19 June 2015

Apology

It seems that my blog from yesterday was one of two halves. The first half made people gasp and the second half made people laugh enough to forget what I'd written in the first half, which I've now removed...

This is an official apology for anyone who was offended by the remarks I made. I'm afraid when I wrote them (flippantly and without thinking), I had no idea that the motive for the shooting in South Carolina was race-related. In fact, I didn't realise that black people had exclusively been killed. It's a terrible thing to have happened, and I certainly don't condone it.

There are various journeys which I realise I still need to go on in my life, one of which is to temper my fanatical and blind hatred of organised religion. I'm afraid I've always blamed it for the wrongs in the world and resent it for systematically demonising and persecuting my people. I realise, however that, in the process of pouring scorn on its head, I am guilty of making rash statements and offending people whom I love. In this particular instance I was cack-handedly attempting to open up a debate about the relationship between religion and death. Are deeply religious people any less effected by death, because of their belief in heaven? Is that not what triggers the rashness of suicide bombers?

Anyway, my good friend Carol points out that there is enough hatred in the world without my own brand of intolerance stirring things up, and she is right, so I apologise unremittingly, and ask for the forgiveness of anyone who was offended. I don't think my blog would be at all interesting if it wasn't a little controversial, but I'll be the first to admit when I've gone too far albeit partially unwittingly. 

After writing all that, it doesn't feel like there's much else to say today. So I'll leave you with a series of images of animals photobombing:







Thursday, 18 June 2015

Here is the news

I’m a little bit stressed tonight. I’m stressing about the Pepys Motet, about the fact that I spilt more soy sauce on the carpet in the sitting room, and that I suddenly feel there’s a million things to do, and no time at all to do them in. There’s dry skin peeling off my palms. None of these things ought to be presenting me with stress. They’re silly little pointless worries, but I guess the definition of stress is not being able to find a way to prevent oneself from sweating the small stuff. I think what I need is a holiday!

Today is one of those days where there’s really not a great deal to say. I had a look at the news to see if anything there would trigger a thought…

  • The Houses of Parliament is apparently falling down, or at least sinking into the Thames. MPs have been told they may have to move out for a period. I suggest we turn the entire building into affordable housing which Russian oligarchs are banned from buying, and set up an English Parliament in the City of York. 

  • A load of posh people are wondering about Ascot in fancy hats today. Apparently there’s been a trend for wild-life inspired head gear this year. Sadly, the women on the pictures I saw all looked like complete nincompoops with enormous teeth.

And that concludes tonight’s news. I leave you with a picture of a capybara eating sweetcorn. 



A capybara mustn't be mixed up for a cassowary, which is the evil, prehistoric Australian bird who tried to kill my friend Philippa.




This is capoeira



And this is the sinister Katoo from the children's programme, Playschool:





Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Muggy discrimination

It's so ludicrously muggy today that I'm currently looking at a giant rainbow hovering over Oxford Street, which doesn't seem to have been triggered by actual rain! The air is plainly laden with moisture. Surely we're due the mother of all storms? The sky is every colour from white and cornflower blue to brown, yellow, grey and black.

Quite a lot of people I'm passing are wearing suits and not looking like they need to be rinsed out. How does that happen?

I've just been to a focus group with PRS, a society which collects royalties on behalf of songwriters and composers. As you might expect, it's the songwriters who work in the pop industry who do the best out of PRS. The rest of us are rather over-looked, particularly theatre writers, because the cabaret venues where our songs are most often performed, aren't expected to submit lists of the music played, so we tend to not get paid. I was a bit of a whinging old nelly at the meeting and I'm sure the woman running the session got bored of my chipping in, saying "and another thing..." I was like a pull-string doll!

I learned today that there's actually a classical music representative at PRS. One of the girls sitting around the table today said that this particular representative had followed her burgeoning career and been to every single one of her premieres. I should point out that nothing of the sort has ever happened to me! The composer at today's meeting also said that the PRS Foundation, (who've turned me down for everything I've ever applied for) had been "very kind to her." The elephant in the room was the fact that the composer was female... and black. Now, I'm sure she's absolutely brilliant at her job and that she writes wonderful, wonderful music, but one has to wonder whether there would have been quite so much vociferous support for her had she been male and white, like... Well, like me. I hate myself for even thinking these thoughts and I know a lot of people reading this will be screeching at the computer, accusing me of being a bigot and saying that positive discrimination has to happen if minority communities are ever going to feel accepted. All of this, of course, is true, and it might have been just one of those things that I've been overlooked, so you'll have to decide for yourselves whether what I'm writing has any validity. What I would say is that it doesn't feel very nice to feel discriminated against... for whatever reason.

I spent the rest of the day starting an application for a bursary from the Arts Council. The irony of the fact that one of the first questions you're asked on the form is whether the project is beneficial to people from minority backgrounds was retrospectively not lost on me. I wanted to scrawl "it's musical theatre, it'll make the gays happy" but sexually is not one of the boxes you get to tick. I dunno, eighteen years of homophobic bullying in a Midlands Town and still I don't get to tick a box!

We've started work on the Pepys Motet album again, which is due for release at the end of August, way over two years since the first sessions on the piece took place. By the end of next week, it will be theoretically ready to go off to the masterer, so I'm off to see PK in Worthing on Monday. I'm desperately hoping the experience will be less horrifying than the final week on Brass, but just in case it's not, I'm going to spend the next few days preparing myself mentally!

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

A bursting boil

There's an awful feeling which dawns on me when I wake up early in the morning to go to a meeting in town, namely that I'm going to have to get on a packed tube and deal with people pushing and shoving and tutting and swearing and sweating and smelling like wet dog, old ashtrays and garlic. Being on a tube when you can't even open a newspaper feels like the biggest waste of time.

I read an article over a woman's shoulder about tornadoes and, once again, ingested the bizarre statistic that, by land mass, Britain experiences more tornadoes than anywhere else in the world. Apparently the majority of them are on the M4 corridor between London and Reading. I can only think that the type of tornado we experience is considerably less serious than the one that took Dorothy to the Land of Oz! I remember a tornado about ten years ago making a bit of a mess of a Birmingham street and a load of shell-shocked Brummies saying "Oi thought the end of the world had come, frankloi..." Tornadoes aren't exactly big news over here. Maybe they should be!

So, the unthinkable happened today and, in a meeting with Channel 4, the lump inside my eye burst! For about five minutes I was forced to take a piece of tissue out of my pocket and continually dab my eye like one of those old ladies whose eyes permanently run. The lady I was meeting must have thought I was mad... Or really grotty. Philippa, who was also in the meeting, said she didn't notice, but when I looked in a mirror afterwards there was a sort of crusty smear on my cheek. Mortifying. Still, I no longer have pain in my eye, so I reckon whatever burst has burst for the good!

I had a lovely sandwich from Greggs for lunch whilst sitting in the searing sun by the fountains in Somerset House, which are like geysers bursting out of the ground, some to a height of ten feet. I longed to be four again. I feel sure my mum would have allowed me strip to the waist and run through them like a bikini-clad model in a slasher film!

I met Michelle of the Turkie for a post-lunch Orange juice, which was an unexpected surprise. We quickly put the world to rights and caught up on about three months of gossip. She looked really well and is enjoying her new home just outside Oxford. She's going to come and stay the night at ours at the end of July so we get a chance to really catch up.

My second meeting was in another cafe at Somerset House (who'd have thought there could be so many!) with the lovely Lisa from Chichester Theatre. It was a "hello, what's new?" chat rather than anything specific. I last saw her in the flesh when I was a bar man at the Royal Court theatre in 1999. I think she was the casting director for the theatre back then. It's so long ago I can hardly remember, but they were fun, carefree days. Stephen Daldry ran the theatre at the time, and took great care of his staff. Every year, at Christmas, he used to organise a massive treasure hunt through the streets of Central London. It was the social event of the year.

I walked from Somerset House to St Martin's Lane for a meeting with a charming lass who's in charge of dealing with alumni from the University of York. I think she's hoping to create more of a network of us, but was surprised about some of the people she hadn't realised had attended York, like Baroness King and Simon Stephens, who is big news right now after winning Tonys galore for the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, which has to be one of the most confusing titles ever written.

I was hugely impressed by her general knowledge, however, and she'd REALLY done her homework on me, which is always flattering. She handed me a booklet about the music department at the university, which celebrated its 50th birthday last weekend. Within the booklet was a timeline of key moments in the department's history and I'm proud to report that one of perhaps only 20 entries from over the years was the fact that the university chamber orchestra had played on my film about the A1. I don't know why I was quite so touched to be mentioned. I suppose I've always felt a little like a poor cousin to all of the academic and technically-gifted "proper" classical composers who have emerged from the department over the years, to whom I've never felt I could even hold a torch.

It was a fun experience, however. I placed the entire orchestra on the enormous heaps of coal at Ferry Bridge Power Station and got loads of little yellow dumper trucks to drive up and down behind them. I hope that's an experience which a fair number of them will remember fondly.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Gypsy

So, today I cut my hand on an AIDS ribbon and burned my fingers on a baking tray, whilst trying to oven roast some vegetables. I'm not altogether sure whether I'm becoming more clumsy, or just going through an unlucky period! My eye continues to hurt. There's now a very clearly defined lump under the lid which feels incredibly scratchy. Boo!

On the bright side, the plaudits for Brass continue to trickle in. I had an email from the head of musical theatre at the Arts Council today who said he thought Brass was one of the best British musical scores in many years. Of course, this piles all sorts of pressure on me for the next one. Em has to be good. In fact, it has to be better than Brass. It will actually be my fourth stage musical, if you include Letter to a Daughter and Blast, but it feels (as Nathan suggested last night) like I'm embarking on that tricky second album...

I finished the first draft of the synopsis today, however, and sent it off to Philippa, who, I'm excited to report, has agreed to dramaturge this project. Next week will start with the slow process of creating the show's book, which I expect to take about three months. Only when I think everything is ready, and when I'm literally itching to do so, will I allow myself to actually compose music!

This evening Nathan and I went to see Imelda Staunton in Gypsy at the glorious Savoy theatre. I'm always amused to note that anyone who plays the part of Rose in Gypsy is billed as having been "born to play the role", whether it's Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters, or the third year student, whose name I've forgotten, that played it at Mountview when I was studying there... That said, Ms Staunton is extraordinary, and it was an absolute treat to see her playing the iconic role. It's the first time in this country I've ever witnessed an entrance round of applause for a lead actress. It's happened on almost every show I've ever seen Stateside, but over here we tend to be a little more reserved, and save our appreciation until the end. I guess it's an indication of the fact that many people in today's audience had come specifically to see Imelda playing the role she was born to play!

The only character that came even close to upstaging Staunton was the extraordinary orchestra - essentially a stripped down big band with added elements - who were tight and hugely authentic. Some of the saxophone and trumpet playing was quite breathtaking. It's a beautifully scored show.

...and yet the songs themselves, in my view, never quite hit the spot. I think there's a reason why so few of them are known outside of the show. The melodies just aren't quite strong enough, and many of them seem to sit on a generic Broadway "oom-chink" accompaniment.

But that's a small thing in a show which is otherwise wonderful. And frankly, if you go for no other reason, go to see Imelda. And to hear that extraordinary band!

Sunday, 14 June 2015

The Jew detector

So I read today that scientists have discovered that there are five tell-tale physical attributes that might help us all to spot a Paedophile. We're told that Paedophiles are shorter than average, have high palates, physical abnormalities including misshapen ears and lower than average IQs. We're told they're also likely to be left-handed. Basically, the bloke I saw in the gym this afternoon is definitely a Paedophile!

To me this is perhaps THE most worrying article I have ever read on the subject; an indication that we are living in an age of hysteria which is no different from the era of Salem Witchcraft trials.

Max Frisch's seminal play, Andorra, which is set in a fictional European country during the Second World War includes a character, the Jew detector, who maintains he can tell a Jewish person just by looking at his feet and to me, the recent research is as ludicrous... And as dangerous... As this.

Frankly, if you haven't read Andorra, there's probably never been a better to time read it.

I met my dear friend Lli today, who's slowly emerging from a hideous ME episode. It's a terrible, debilitating, frightening condition and my heart goes out to anyone who has it. My Dad had ME in the 1980s when it was considered a crack-pot illness which no one could do anything about. I'm not sure there have been great leaps forward in the understanding of the condition since then but Lli tells me things have improved, with clinics opening up specifically to treat the sufferers.

It was lovely to see her again, and she looked incredibly well. We sat in the window of "our" cafe in Muswell Hill, at the table we always sit at. It's such a treat to sit there, by the enormous window, watching the eccentrics, the Jewish housewives, the school children, the fabulous old ladies and the glorious freaks of the world passing by.

We had two pots of tea and then strolled along the Broadway, stopping and sitting on a little wall by the church which is now a pub.

Llio dropped me off at the Woodman Pub at the bottom of Muswell Hill Road, and I sent her off down Wood Lane, which snakes through the middle of Queen's Wood in a most confusingly un-London-like manner. The road is like some kind of Devonian Lane. I hope Llio managed to find herself back to civilisation!

There's not a lot else to say other than that I made Yorkshire puddings today and that they were so delicious I had them for both lunch and tea!

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Phosphorescence

We've just spent the day at Julie and Sam's house doing craft and cake. For the record we were fed Lemon polenta cake and strawberries from Julie's allotment, and scones with cream and homemade raspberry and apricot jam. (Just a bit of food porn to get your digestive juices flowing!)

Throughout the day I've been suffering enormously with my left eye. When I lean forward, the pressure is intense, and every time I blink there's a sharp pain. I don't think I like Blepharitis very much.

Craft and cake was fun, however. Abbie and Michelle did cross stitch, Nathan, Julie and Tina knitted socks and Sam was using tiny little needles to knit a beautiful peacock green scarf for his fella. I was craft-less but cheered everyone on. I must remember to take photographs with me next time to stick in an album.

We went to look at Julie and Sam's allotments, which are through a gate and out the back of their garden. Julie has planted all manner of fruit trees and bushes, most of which are under a huge tent frame covered in netting. There are pears, plums, black currents, red currents, tay berries and something called sun berries which I've not even heard of but seem to be a cross between raspberries and blackberries.

Sam grows more savoury crops, although I did notice some gooseberries which looked like they were coming on nicely. The middle of his plot is a riot of poppies and cornflowers, which are actually my two favourite flowers. The whole place was idyllic in the sunshine and covered in bees and butterflies. For the first time in my life I actively wanted my own allotment! Although I reckon I'd only want it for potatoes, carrots and strawberries... And obviously a beehive!

I bumped my head on the corner of a shed and drew blood, which I reckon officially makes me in the wars right now! I also seem to have hay fever.

We watched a programme about fireflies in Japan last night. What magical creatures they are! I understand they only live on fresh water, which makes them even more charming in my view. I've found pictures of fireflies in Germany, but do we get them in the UK? Nathan thinks it's highly unlikely. Has anyone reading this ever seen one? Or a glow worm. Pepys talks about glow worms in his diaries, so they must be a British thing. Your stories please!

I'm lucky enough to have seen phosphorescence. I've probably written this in the blog before, but Philippa, Sam and I were in Nerja in the South of Spain. We went down to the beach at midnight and decided to lie naked on the seashore like fabulous bohemians. We could see a little pool of greenish light about ten metres out to sea, which we initially assumed was something to do with the moon's reflection, but as we lay there watching, it got closer and closer. With one last wave, the green glowing water rushed over us, and for some reason we instinctively all stood up. The water, which by now looked like a million glowing crystals dripped down our bodies and back into water. It was, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most extraordinary displays of the beauty of nature I've ever witnessed.

Philippa drew reference to the event in the screenplay for her exquisite film Little Ashes, in the scene where Dali and Lorca jump from a rowing boat off the coast of Cadaquez and swim in a sea of phosphorescence.

Happy days!

Friday, 12 June 2015

London Road

I woke up this morning looking like I'd done ten rounds in a boxing ring. There was a big puffy bag under my left eye...

I took myself back to Moorfields and it was an entirely different experience: friendly staff, large numbers of doctors on duty, far shorter waiting times. I couldn't believe I was standing in the place which the night before had been like a scene from Apocalypse Now!

I passed the visual test with flying colours, which made me rather pleased. The nerve-wracking bit was the part when you stick your chin on a stirrup and a woman sits opposite, shining different coloured lights into your eyes, periodically saying "look down" and scrawling things on a piece of paper with drawings of an eye on it. She squirted strange coloured drops into my eyes, which made everything a little woozy and yellow, before telling me that she could see a lump and that my eyes had different "pressures." She cleared off to find a doctor, saying, "it's not a big problem, it's a mild problem..." The wait was excruciating. What problem was she talking about? Why did my head feel all woozy and why was everything still bright yellow? It was like being in a sepia photograph.

It turns out that I have a condition! I know! Fancy that! It's chronic, which means it could return at any point but it's not serious, just annoying. It's called Blepharitis and I'm told it's a fairly common inflammation of the eyelids. I've been put on a regime involving warm flannels and weird eye massages which feel like I'm actually pushing my eyes back into my head.

I felt pretty wiped out by the end, so treated myself to lunch at Shepherdess Cafe on the City Road, which has to be one of the loveliest cafe's I've ever visited. It looks really eccentric and quirky - like a 1950s road side cafe - but the woman who runs it is something else. I assume she's Greek Australian. There's an antipodean burr to her voice, laced with something Mediterranean. She offered me halloumi when I walked in, so I assumed Greek! She plainly takes great delight in feeding her customers and making sure they have something they genuinely want. I asked for an omelette and checked if it came with salad, "yes it comes with a little salad" said she, "but I'll make sure you get more..." I then heard her shouting through to the kitchen, "Greek omelette - extra decoration." She came back to me; "what about drinky-pinkies?" I laughed hysterically, "just a tap water please." She winked, and talked to me conspiratorially: "Do you want to make it a bit more glamorous with some ice?" "Yes please..." "I'll see that you get a good portion of ice..." She shouted into the kitchen, "water on the rocks and don't spare the rocks!" And then she was off, showing the "delicious gammon" the bloke behind me had ordered to every other table in the cafe! Charming. Genuinely.

I spent the afternoon blowing bright yellow snot out of my nose which must have been a result of the dye that got squirted in. I guess what goes in must come out, but it's an interesting indication of how all of those organs are linked together.

There was a somewhat amusing event on the crowded tube home when an obviously very pregnant lady got into the carriage. I was appalled to see how many people sitting down looked up at her and then pretended not to have seen the bump. In the end, an old lady towards the other end of the carriage got up for her, but as the pregnant woman made her way to the vacated seat, another old lady with a stick hobbled over to it, assuming the seat had been vacated for her. At that point an old man jumped up to give the pregnant woman his seat and she waddled over to that chair just as someone jumped up to give the old man a seat. It was a proper game of underground musical chairs!

We went to the Art House cinema in Crouch End for the first time tonight. It's a fabulous little cinema in an old chapel with a little bar area out front. As we sat waiting for the film to begin, they played Mr Blue Sky on the sound system, and (what seemed like) the entire bar burst into song. It was one of those moments where music links everyone together. People were looking around the space, almost to see if they had permission from everyone else to join in. Some danced. Everyone joined in with the chorus.

We were watching the film London Road, which is utterly extraordinary. Utterly. I never saw the stage show. Nathan did, and raved about it so much that I was convinced I was going to hate it because nothing could ever live up to that amount of hype, and, furthermore because every time I released a film people asked whether it's going to be like London Road, which was sort of okay whilst it was just a stage piece, but when it became a film I ought to have been a little miffed... But I'm not at all because it's magical. Clever. Witty. Complicated. Remarkable. Heart-warming. Deeply moving. I was transfixed from the moment it started to the very last bar of music.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Moorfields and Mountview

I'm writing this blog from the A and E Department at Moorfields Eye Hospital. There seems to be a huge number of people in the waiting room. I could be here for some time...

There's nothing to worry about, I'm sure. I think I might have some grit or glass in my eye, or some kind of infection in the eye lid. Basically there's a pain in the lower left hand side of my left eye, and because it's getting worse I've decided to try and nip it in the bud. It's always difficult to know where to go with eye problems. A GP will either tell you to go away for two weeks and come back if the pain hasn't subsided, or he'll refer you to an eye specialist. An optician would doubtless charge silly money to give you a quick once over.

It turns out the one place NEVER to go with an eye problem is the A and E department of Moorfields Eye Hospital.

The waiting time was five hours! Five flippin' hours! The waiting room itself was packed out, and boiling hot like a terrible sauna, the triage nurse was next to useless and flicked a cheap plastic torch across my eye (the sort you might find in Halfords). He proceeded to write a zero on my form and sent me packing without offering any sense of what might have been wrong. So basically, we decided to go home. Nothing is painful enough to need to be remedied by that dreadful, dreadful, Third World sort of a place.
It's been another busy day which started in a Pret A Manger in Bond Street, where we met Cat and Uncle Archie before heading to an agent's offices where we interviewed a director for the project we're doing in the second half of the year. I wish I could say more, but that's the nature of a top secret project!

We went from Bond Street to Piccadilly to see our friend Emma Fraser performing in her Mountview drama school agents' showcase at the Criterion. Mountview aren't my favourite drama school at the moment, despite my being an alumnus. They've turned down some of the more extraordinary performers from the Brass cast, which seems rather short-sighted, particularly considering the mediocre standard of many of the kids who were on the stage today.

I'm proud (and greatly relieved) to say that Emma shone. She played sax. She sang beautifully. She got laughs. She acted well. I overheard people talking about her in glowing terms... Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.

Many of the other performers were, well, just a little bit unremarkable. There were far too many songs performed in cod, rather nasal American accents for my liking. There were no book scenes. Just song after song sung in that generic "off Broadway" manner, which prevented many of the performers from standing out. I see it every time I go to a cabaret. The cookie American accent gets dusted off and, as a result, there's an immediate disconnect with the material. I take it for granted that all actors can sing in an American accent. I want to be presented with something I'm not expecting when I go to a showcase. There was no grit. Nothing edgy. I didn't hear a single regional accent. Just blandness, really. If that were an audition, I'd have written NFM (not for me) at the top of pretty much every page. I was hugely disappointed. 

...apart from with Emma, who was wonderful. And if I'm honest there were at least two or three others who did themselves proud, so it wasn't a complete wash out!

We walked from Piccadilly to Oxford Circus to drop off some CDs at the BBC before walking to Covent Garden to pick up my computer from the Apple Store. I was rather impressed by the speed with which they dealt with the repair and the handover of the repaired machine (which has a replacement screen.)

We came home and I went to the gym before settling down to do some more work on the synopsis of Em.

And then my eye started hurting a lot, so we went to Moorfields, had the horrible experience I've outlined at the start of the blog, discharged ourselves and came home feeling annoyed with ourselves for going on such a wasted journey.

Moorfields: sort yourselves out. You're a dreadful shambles.





Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Postman's Park

Don't you just hate stupid people? I particularly hate stupid people whose job title includes the word "genius." At 10am this morning, I queued up outside the Apple Store in Covent Garden in the hope of being able to bag myself one of their oh-so-prestigious walk-in appointments. The doors opened and people literally started elbowing each other out of the way and running up the stairs. I half expected to find a set of cheap designer wedding dresses on the upper floor, but actually what I found was another blinkin' queue!

When I got to the front of the queue I explained, as I have to perhaps twelve Apple employees, that I was in the middle of a commission and that I was desperately hoping that we could find a way for me to be without my computer for as short a time as possible. "Well our turnaround time here is 3-5 days" said the man. I told him I understood that this was the case, but that other staff at Apple stores had told me that I might have been able to bring the computer in when it was expected to reach the front of the queue, rather than to have it sitting, unused in some warehouse. I explained that several people had told me that the part I needed replacing would be in store, so it was likely to be a same day fix. "If you bring your computer in at another time it will still be a three day wait. All our customers are treated the same. You can't jump the queue..." "I'm not asking to jump the queue" I said, "I'm simply trying to establish whether there's any way I could keep the computer whilst it's queueing." "It doesn't matter when you bring your computer in, it will still be a 3 to 5 day wait..." He plainly hadn't listened to a word I'd said and I was obviously wasting my time trying to negotiate with him, so I found myself saying something that I don't often say in these situations... "Never mind."

So, anyway, I was sent away and told I'd receive a text when they were ready to see my computer, so I sat in a cafe, where the delightful Eastern European lady behind the counter engaged me in conversation about how curiously empty the cafe had been today: "usually we have queues right out the door..."

I received the promised text and returned to the Apple Store where my trust in humanity was restored by a lovely chap called Rico, who listened, sympathised, experimented and then told me he could get the computer fixed by tomorrow; "it would have been today, but lots of people are off sick. It's something that tends to happen when the weather starts to improve..." I can certainly cope with a couple of days without a computer. I've got pen and paper, after all... And an iPhone.

I went to the gym before lunch on my way back from town and ran a lot and swam a bit. I was going to walk home up the hill to Highgate, but I got too hungry!

I dived back into "Em" after lunch, and started hacking the first draft of the synopsis apart, cutting most of the last four pages because they seemed to take the piece in a new and somewhat rambling direction which felt unnecessary, even though large chunks of it were fabulous. There's a saying in this industry: "sometimes you gotta kill some of your darlings so that the rest of your loved ones can breath." In my experience they're far better killed off at an early stage, than by a producer on the last day of rehearsals!

I came into the City this evening to sit in on a rehearsal of an amateur choir. It was incredibly windy, and within about five minutes of exiting Moorgate tube, my eyes were full of grit and bits of plane tree!

The church that the choir (who were excellent) were rehearsing in, is right next to Postman's Park, which is one of London's hidden gems. Postman's Park is located on Little Britain (yes there is a road in London which shares its name with that irreverent TV comedy show starring my mate Matt.) It's what city dwellers might describe as a "pocket park;" no more than about an acre in size, with a beautifully manicured lime-green lawn protected by a number of ancient conker trees. What makes the park interesting - and a little surreal - however, is its wall commemorating acts of heroism in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. These glorious enamelled tiles all feature lengthy inscriptions, which tell the tales of those who died attempting to save the lives of others... Perfect fodder for the Victorian era which placed a great emphasis on dying a "good death." The language used on the plaques is pompous, and really quite amusing to our 21st Century ears. In fact, one of the plaques is featured in my London Requiem and describes the death of a young Jewish lad in the East End who rescued his brother from the path of a tram. His final words were said to be; "mother I saved him but I could not save myself."

Another plaque is dedicated to "Sarah Smith, Pantomime Artiste, at the Princes Theatre" who "died of terrible injuries received when attempting, in her flammable dress, to extinguish the flames which had enveloped her companion. January 24th, 1863." A little bit more research reveals that Smith was actually a 17 year-old ballerina, that the accident happened live on stage during a performance, and that she managed to save the life of the dancer whose aid she rushed to. Brava Sarah!


The rest of the plaques follow a similar formula. Some of the the martyrs died rescuing children from icy ponds, some were struck by runaway trains. Many of the tales beggar belief!


I had no idea Postman's Park was so close to the Barbican, as I've always accessed it from St Paul's. It's amazing how London can be such a jigsaw; a single piece links up so many different locations, which hitherto seemed unrelated.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Crapple

I did a morning's work today on my new show, which has the working title, Em. I like my one-word titles - and am going for the record of the shortest ever musical title. I'm reliably informed by people on the internet that there are no one letter musical titles (although I'd happily be proved wrong by anyone reading this.) The jury is out as to whether we can include Jason Robert Brown's 13 as a two-letter title. I guess there's also Nine, but I've never seen that written in numerical form.

A title, I believe, should be as unpretentious as possible, and, at the same time, say as much about the show as it can. The story I'm telling is about a girl called Emily, whom everyone calls Em, so the title feels appropriate enough.

I had to go into town to visit the Apple Store in the afternoon. My computer is faltering. There's something wrong with the screen and customer services hadn't provided me with the greatest number of options to remedy the situation speedily. Sometimes I feel that Apple are too busy feeling you should be grateful for choosing them to be that fussed when something goes wrong. It took me the longest time to find a contact number. It obviously didn't help that I was searching for Mac makeup by mistake!

When I arrived in town, Nathan informed me that "backing up" my computer was a process which involved something called Time Machine, rather than the simple act of saving files individually onto my LaCie drive which I'd hitherto been doing. So I sat, first in Stock Pot over lunch, and then in Starbucks, backing up 241GB of previously un-backed up material. It took two hours. I felt like a little old man whom the world had passed by, and was particularly embarrassed to have to walk down the street holding the computer open everywhere I went.

The highlight of the day was sitting on the platform at Highgate station and one of the lovely staff members there making a point of coming up to congratulate me for being on BBC Breakfast on Sunday. "I don't want to embarrass you" he said, "but I did want to say well done for the award... I said to my fiend, "I know that person..."

I called in on Jeremy in the late afternoon to sign a copy of Brass, and discover that we've already sold approaching 200 copies of the CD, which I consider to be very good news.

I went from Pimlico to the Oxford Circus at 7.30pm. It turns out that getting your computer fixed by Mac involves a series of lotteries. When I turned up at the store this evening one of the pretty people who waft around in T-shirts informed me that I would need to join a lengthy queue, the purpose of which was to discover whether I'd be seen today or have to come back to queue another day. I pointed out that it seemed a bit "Russia c. 1982" to have to queue for such a nebulous purpose. He had a walkie-talkie: perhaps he could establish whether or not someone was likely to be served before they stood in such a long queue. "Oh, they don't tell us anything" he said, "would you like to talk to a manager?" I nodded and he trotted off. Whilst he was gone, lots of the other pretty people in T-shirts came over and asked me if I was okay, which I thought was a bit of an inflammatory question to be asked by someone powerless to do anything but waft. Ten minutes later the original wafter returned and said his manager would be over in "like ten minutes." Having spent an hour on the phone to Apple in the early afternoon and then more time speaking to several of their "approved suppliers" none of which could help, I'd officially run out of patience, so took my phone out, started filming and asked the pretty boy to repeat what he'd just said. The camera coming out was like a red rag to a bull and he immediately scuttled off to tell what turned out to be an off-duty manager that a disgruntled customer was doing the unthinkable and filming inside an Apple Temple!

The off-duty manager was really heavy-handed and threatening, although before laying into me he did make it clear that he was off duty, which I took to mean I needed to feel incredibly grateful to him for telling me off in his spare time. He told me, very aggressively, that if I didn't delete the film I'd just made, he was well within his rights, by Apple law, to refuse to cooperate with me. I asked him to show me evidence that filming was illegal in the store. He told me he didn't need to. It was horribly unpleasant, but it did the trick, because a manager, who DID understand customer service was dispatched immediately to talk to me. He kept things pleasant and chatty and, more crucially, listened to me.
I made a point that the distribution of staff in the store seemed all wrong. There aren't enough workers there to meet the demand of customers who need their computers and phones repaired and way too many pretty people in T-shirts with no discernible skills, or more accurately, no discernible ability to help. "There's staff members here who just seem to stand there being" I said. He quite rightly immediately tried to justify their presence. I pointed over the balcony at a group of five staff members in a circle doing nothing but chatting to one another. He took my point, got very embarrassed and immediately dispatched someone else to tell them off.


So the gist of my chat with the nicer manager was that booking an appointment with a Mac engineer is a lottery which can't happen for at least six days. My only option for a fast turnaround is to come back into the shop at 10am tomorrow and hope that not too many customers are in the store to take advantage of a "walk-up" appointment system. They won't stay the world's number one computer provider for long with repairs procedures which are based on lotteries of this nature!

Monday, 8 June 2015

Teddy

I started working on the synopsis of my new musical today, in amongst writing half a tonne of emails to people who'd kindly got in touch to say that they'd seen me on the news yesterday morning. I'm genuinely shocked to discover that anyone was awake at 9am on a Sunday, but it's great to know that so many people were watching.

This afternoon, after going to the gym, I took myself down to South Kensington to meet Uncle Bill and her son, Jago at the National History Museum, which I realised I'd not stepped foot in since my extreme childhood. The brontosaurus skeleton which snakes its way through the main hall is as iconic and impressive as it ever was. It seems to me a great shame that it's destined to be replaced by a giant whale. That said, I have no concept of the actual size of a blue whale, so perhaps it will open my eyes to something extraordinary.

I was a little perturbed to find policemen holding guns standing on the street opposite the museum. Great big modern black rifles and little hand guns strapped to their thighs like something out of an action movie. Police carrying guns is not normal in the UK, or at least it wasn't until relatively recently, and I still find it a somewhat troubling sight.

We walked with Jago from the museum to Hyde Park, where we visited the Lady Diana Memorial Fountain. It was horrible and grey - the weather and the fountain, really - but little Jago changed into his shorts dipped his feet in the water and had a fabulous time watching feathers and sticks being carried in circles by the fast-flowing water.

A man in high-viz was there to ensure that no-one actually paddled in the fountain, despite that being the architect's very vision for the monument when he designed it. Too many people were apparently slipping on the concrete, so a ludicrous health and safety law was invoked and hundreds and thousands of pounds of tax payers money has subsequently been ploughed into staffing the fountain. Yawn...

One of the trees in the complex was shedding a substance like cotton wool, which, when the wind got up, was blowing around in the air like a snow storm. Frankly, at one stage it got so chilly that I began to wonder whether we were experiencing an actual blizzard!

We had noodles for tea, and then I took the tube to Southwark, crammed like a layered sardine into the carriage. The rush hour in London is brutal.

Still, I got to walk down Union Street to Borough this evening, which is a surprisingly charming walk in a somewhat eccentric part of town, filled with Victorian warehouses and curious little red brick buildings with archways leading to courtyards stuffed with cafes, junk shops and 1950s placards. It's like stepping back in time.

Speaking of which, this evening we saw the show Teddy by Dougal Irvine and Tristan Bernays at the Southwark Playhouse. It was produced by our mate Jim Zalles, known to my Mum as Christmas Jim on account of his having come to Thaxted for Christmas about five years ago.

Folks, it's a tremendous show! Genuinely. Get yourselves down to the Playhouse to see it before it sells out. The piece, set on the Walworth Road and scored for two actors and a rock 'n rock band, is about the edgy underground Teddy Boy culture in London in the late 1950s. The two actors play a variety of roles as seen through the eyes of a pair of teenagers, whose love of the American rock star Johnnie Valentine turns them into Bonnie and Clyde figures, running riot amongst the bomb-damaged buildings and deprivation of the post-war capital. Both actors are extraordinarily powerful. Joseph Prowen is sexy and charismatic and stalks the stage like Elvis on acid whilst Jennifer Kirby fizzles and pops like a fire cracker in his tall-quiffed shadow. The script could have been written by a Cockney Alan Ginsberg.

The rock band, playing Dougal's energetic and hugely authentic-sounding songs, are a four-piece of brilliant oddballs who play the music from memory and inject large doses of Viagra into the on-stage performances. Everything just works.

The show ends and the stage immediately becomes a pop-up bar. The band continues to play and the audience, many of whom are dressed in 50s clobber, start to dance. If you like burlesque, 50s underground culture or rock 'n roll, book your ticket, dress up, and you'll have a ball!