Sunday, 31 January 2016

Manchester

I left the house this morning at 6.30am exactly. The sky was pitch black with no hope of light, even in the eastern sky. Archway Road was already busy with cars and the dawn chorus was in full flow. Everything felt a little topsy-turvy.

The tube arrived as I entered the platform at Highgate. It smelt of vitamin B12, but it moved speedily to Euston Station.

I fell asleep at 10.30 last night, which has to be some sort of record, so waking up at 6 was a bit odd, but nothing like as gruelling as it might have been.

I queued for an early morning tea in a thick cloud of diesel smoke at the station. God knows what they do at 7am on a Saturday to cause so many noxious fumes, but it was definitely creating an atmosphere from which I needed to escape. A cluster of Virgin train staff were standing in the midst of the haze checking tickets. "I bet you're glad you're standing here!" I said, sarcastically. He rolled his eyes, "yeah, I get all the good jobs..."

The sun finally came up as our train passed through Milton Keynes. The sky became an impressionist masterpiece of baby blues and chocolate-coloured wispy clouds.

As we arrived in Manchester I realised I'd lost my train ticket. I rushed back into the train to find the contents of my carriage had been emptied into a bin bag by a man who wasn't paid enough money to give a shit; "have a look in that bag" he said, and I found myself hastily rifling through old banana skins and greasy sandwich wrappers. All, of course, to no avail. I threw myself at the mercy of the people on the ticket barriers and, fortunately, they let me pass. As I get older, I find people tend to be more lenient. I fit the profile of a fair dodger less and less!

The NYMT auditions in Manchester happened at Chetham's school of music, which is like Hogwarts in the city centre. We saw around sixty young people, and, with one or two notable exceptions, the over all standard of singing was a little shaky. I think perhaps mediocrity breeds mediocrity. If the kids don't spur each other on and strive for excellence, then the overall standard drops. I say this because the acting sessions later on in the day were much better than the singing ones, which may have been because we started with an exercise which demanded bravery. Whatever the reason, very suddenly the whole group came alive. The issue, of course, is that, if they've scored brilliantly well for acting and not so well for singing there's no way you can justify calling them back for a musical. I was tough on all the kids. I overheard one group in the lunch break saying how intense the session had been. I don't hold the punches when I run these sessions. The right piece of advice at this stage of a young person's career can make a huge difference. It's up to them if they listen to me or not...

We had a lot of fun, as always. As we came back, the start of the day in those clouds of diesel fumes felt like a life time ago. When you fill your day, as we have today, life moves much more slowly. And that suits me rather well.

We arrived at Euston Station at 9pm, and I took the tube to Bethnal Green where I got a bus to God knows where in East London to attend the after party of my mates Julian and Carla's wedding. Julian is my long-suffering, patience-of-a-saint record producer, who has engineered many a wacky project over the last twelve or so years. Someone once described us as behaving like a married couple in the studio. Now we're both actually married, we can decide whether that was or remains the case!

I met a rag-taggle bunch of old friends there, and couldn't work out why they all knew Julian until I realised he'd introduced me to most of them! Jim Fortune and Vic were there. Paul from Sonica. Lovely Ivor, who's played guitar on pretty much every recording I've ever done. Fiona was there too, and has come back with us to Highgate to sleep in our loft.

...And that's where we are now. Not in the loft. In the sitting room, wrapped in blankets, listening to stories of Fiona's recent trip to Bangkok.

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