Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Northampton and the Somme

I wish Theresa May would just shut up. All this rabbiting on about a "clean" Brexit. No "half in, half out" measures from the turncoat who campaigned to stay in Europe during the referendum. I am far more respectful of a politician who understands the power of their convictions and doesn't cave in to the whims of the media-led masses. Many of the reasons why certain laws exist are to protect the common man from the braying mob. The majority of people in this country would still bring back the death penalty (naturally for kiddy-fiddlers rather than murderers, because we all know that Rolf Harris is far more of a danger to society than Denis Nilson ever was.) In my opinion we need politicians who are ahead of the game, not reacting to it. We need politicians who forecast high winds rather than allow themselves to be buffeted by them. We need to ditch the politicians who don't care how gormless and destructive the people who follow them are, just as long as there's marginally more of them left when the war of attrition is over...

It was a beautifully, crisp, sunshine-laden day today which started, for me, with a glorious walk from Camden to Chalk Farm. Now is as good a time as any to announce that third year musical theatre students at Central School are performing Em as their third term show in June this year. I'm thrilled to announce that Hannah Chissick will be directing. Hannah directed the most recent production of Brass and I've been itching to work on another project with her ever since. I am, of course, also hugely excited about the prospect of working with Central students. There could be no better way, in my view, of launching this hugely personal show.

I drove up to Northampton this afternoon, straight up the M1, with a glorious amber sun setting on my left hand side and creating a strobing effect in the trees. I was listening to the epic, mystical masterpiece, Eagle, by ABBA. It was a truly wonderful moment. As the wintry sun sank into the flat, dark green fields of Buckinghamshire, I was reminded of the front cover of the Arrival album. And, sure enough, just as this particular thought occurred to me, a helicopter came hurtling through the sky. I wondered if ABBA were on board (and before you all start writing in, demanding I return my ABBA fan club card, I'm aware that Eagle isn't on the Arrival album.) Actually, the original concept for the Arrival front cover involved the band flying up to the Arctic Circle - it's why they're all dressed in white - but when it came to it, Agnetha was too scared to get into the helicopter. Or so the story goes...

I was in Northampton to give out awards for a composition competition which I'd judged. It was a brilliant initiative which gave school pupils from the county the opportunity to set sequences to music from some of the silent documentary films made during the Battle of the Somme. The project was run by the charming Laura Rossi, who was commissioned by the Imperial War Museum in 2006 to write an orchestral accompaniment to the most famous of the Battle of the Somme films, which, I learned today, was seen by 20 million British people, all, no doubt, trying to catch sight of a loved one on the front line. Many of them will have been grief-stricken at the time. The film held the record for the most watched film in UK film history until Star Wars was released some sixty years later. I've still not seen Star Wars! It was released in the same year as Grease, Saturday Night Fever and ABBA: The Movie. What do you think I was doing?

The standard of the entries in today's competition was brilliant. There were some incredibly well-considered and mature compositions. Laura ran an excellent workshop beforehand, talking about writing music for film. All in all, it was a hugely inspiring day.

Fiona was decorating her parents' house in Northampton, so was able to pop up to the music school to say hello and watch the ceremony. Debbie was also there. Some of her students at Guilsborough School had entered the competition. It was fabulous to see them both, in the very room where, twenty-four years before, all three of us had had compositions performed by a scratch orchestra we'd assembled. It was good to catch up with Peter and Beth at NMPAT as well. The last time I saw them was in Peterborough, mid-way through my epic walk. I actually drove over the Nene on my way into Northampton today. It was a section of the river I'd walked along on my first day. I was exhausted at the time, and seeing the spot again made me feel very odd indeed!

I went for chips after the ceremony with Fiona, and we talked about how inspiring the Upper Hall at the music school is, and whether it was possible for a building to somehow generate inspiration. That's the room where we rehearsed the Mendelssohn octet for an entire year. The room where saxophonist, John Harle played music I'd written. The room where we rehearsed the youth choir, the room where composer, James MacMillan taught me about heterophony. Surely some of that positive energy has seeped into the walls? I've always felt that energy somehow remains in a space. When I worked as a stage door keeper I could always tell whether a show had been happy or sad by the energy in the auditorium. An echo, in our view, only continues as long as it can be heard by us, but surely it continues for a great deal longer getting quieter and quieter. What if it lasts forever? What if the Upper Hall at the music school vibrates with every chord which ever sounded in there? I think perhaps it must do.

I shan't talk about my journey home; about the twenty minutes I was forced to sit on a petrol forecourt at Toddington Services whilst the staff there "changed shift." Who would have thought, in this day and age, on the M1, that they could refuse to serve petrol for that long a period? It's apparently company policy, which apparently means the staff are allowed to get belligerent with anyone trying to fathom what's going on... I filmed a woman for four minutes whilst she studiously ignored me!

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