Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The ghost of Maurice

I'm returning from central London to Highgate after an evening at the new writers' cabaret in the Phoenix Artists' Club, better known to people my age as Shuttleworth's.

It's such an important evening. It's essentially an opportunity for writers to try new material out without any pressure or any sense of not being good enough performers. Some are better writers than they are pianists or singers, others are brilliant pianists and not the best singers in the world, but the important thing is that there's a community of us who are out there, doing stuff, flying the flag for contemporary British musical theatre. It's such a supportive atmosphere. Everyone cheers and claps, and then hangs about afterwards saying lovely things to one another. I'm pretty convinced that the only way we're ever going to raise the profile of British musical theatre writing is by events of these nature. We need to form a united lobby and tell the world that we're here, we're fierce and we're not going shopping. Okay, I'll work on the slogan!

I took Ben Mabberley with me to sing the titular track from the song Em. I borrowed the word titular from one of the other writers who mentioned the word when describing his song. It made me laugh because it has the word tit in it. It's also quite a useful word. I might have used "eponymous" to describe the song in the past, but have only heard that word in association with central characters rather than songs. In a pop album, Em would be known as the title track.

Anyway, Ben did a brilliant job. That boy has a fine, fine set of chops on him, and I always enjoy introducing him to new groups of people. He told me he'd had a lovely evening and loved meeting the gang, so that was good. We rehearsed during the afternoon at my house and everything went rather smoothly. Sadly, this evening, I was ropier than I've been at previous similar cabarets in the past. It's a more difficult song, but, by this afternoon, I had it completely under the fingers. Sadly, the piano at Shuttleworths is a different beast to mine at home. It has an extra octave at the top, and the keys are higher. I know, I know: a bad workman always blames his tools. If truth be told, I got a crippling case of the heeby-jeebies and spent the entire performance focussing on overcoming my nerves instead of playing the notes I'd practised. I was disappointed with myself.

Hysterically, one of the other writers, a hugely charming Eastern European fellow, has written a show called "N"! So M followed N! This messed with the heads of anyone in the audience with OCD!

The lovely Siobhan from BBC Coventry and Warwickshire came and met us at Shuttleworths for a high-speed catch-up before the cabaret started. As ever, it was truly wonderful to see her. I reckon me and Shiv could take over the world if we put our minds to it. She is one of those incredibly rare BBC producers who is deeply creative without being stifling or patronising to the creative people she works with. She was talking today about the need for people in her position to try to understand the mentality of an artist. Creative people don't always behave in a corporately appropriate manner. We don't always understand or even respect the rules or etiquettes of the institution we've been brought into, and we don't approach work in the same manner - often taking things a great deal more personally than the people they're working with. We allow ourselves to be walked all over because we don't want to lose the contracts, but the moment we raise concerns, we're described as difficult. So often employers will inadvertently make us feel like they're doing us a favour by employing us. It's all too easy to accuse a creative person of being difficult when actually they're behaving in a way which is actually symptomatic of the way they're being handled. It was rather lovely to hear someone saying some of these things.

The charming staff at Shuttleworths got chatting to us, and I mentioned the olden days when the irascible Maurice, former owner of the place, would drag up and perform eccentric lip sync'd dance routines to musical theatre songs. He died four or so years ago, but his ashes are still in an urn in the building! He's also rumoured to haunt the place. The bar staff have all heard strange noises and seen weird shapes floating about in their peripheral vision. To me, having known Maurice in life, it doesn't surprise me whatsoever that he would haunt the place after his death. He was synonymous with Shuttleworths. That building creaks under the weight of its theatrical significance.

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