Thursday, 19 October 2017

Racial hatred

I witnessed something very unsavoury and unpleasant in Crouch End today, as Julian and I returned to his studio from lunch. We were walking along the pavement towards Cecile Park when we became aware of a smallish car tearing up the hill from behind us. It screeched around the corner without indicating and almost ploughed into a man who had stepped off the pavement to cross the road. The car slowed down and the passenger shouted out of his window, "get out the road, you black bastard." Julian and I were profoundly shocked. Although I'm sure this is a tragically familiar occurrence for people of colour, it's not something I have witnessed very often. In fact the last time I saw anything comparable, I was so incensed that I rugby tackled the bastard who'd spat at an Asian family to the floor in the ticket hall of Tottenham Court Road station.

It is official. There has been a thirty percent rise in hate crime since Brexit, and today I saw it with my own eyes. I heard June Sarpong speaking with great erudition on the subject on Radio 4 yesterday and she pointed out very sagely that successive governments had managed to get us to a point where people knew they weren't allowed to say those sort of things, but that hearts and minds haven't yet been changed, which was why a torrent of ugly hatred washed over the country like a tidal wave after Brexit.

Of course the car was moving so speedily that we couldn't get its number plate in time, but I'm semi-proud to say that, although we were powerless to report the crime, the four people who'd witnessed the event immediately rushed over to the guy who'd been abused and poured as much love as we could onto him. I hope it helped a little.

Troubling times...

Am I the only one who gets a bit irritated at the Facebook trend where people seem to be displaying all sorts of profound inanities in giant letters on brightly coloured backgrounds? Surely you'd only decide to do this if you felt you had something really important to say? We are genetically programmed to notice things which are displayed in this manner and if we're going to teach our subconsciouses that words in big letters on brightly-coloured backgrounds aren't important, then how will we ever stop at a stop sign or know that hazardous chemicals are lurking within the boxes we open at work?


How about we save this treatment for statements we genuinely think are important, or really REALLY funny? Otherwise, maybe stick to the normal-sized fonts?

Love Oscar The Grouch.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Me too

I've been following with great interest the "me too" threads on Facebook, slightly shocked and deeply saddened by the high number of my female friends who have endured unwanted sexual advances from men. I certainly hope that women find solidarity in the process of sharing their stories, and my thoughts are with anyone who has been affected by this sort of thing. We should never forget that the innate aggression within some people manifests itself in many ways which can be distressing and life-shattering to both sexes. Countless men are beaten to a pulp on Saturday nights merely for looking at someone the wrong way, and many of them are just as frightened to come forward because masculine pride tells them they should have been able to look after themselves. Men can also be sexually abused by men.

Initiatives aside, I have always believed that it's only possible to stamp out inappropriate behaviour by being brave enough to confront it as and when it happens. I'm not altogether sure that any of the dinosaurs or misogynists, who still believe that it's appropriate to treat women like objects, are likely to read a "me too" post on Facebook and suddenly have an epiphany about their behaviour. A policeman turning up at their door, however, is an altogether different prospect.

My worry is that "me too" actually enforces the notion that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. From a gay man's perspective, one whose friends are almost exclusively female, I'll confess to finding the campaign a tiny bit alienating because it seems to generate them and us battle lines. I have seen some distressing examples today of men being shot down in flames for questioning the logic of the idea. I sometimes think if we were to digest everything written online about the subject of equality, we'd conclude that men were simply incapable of getting it right. I can't tell you the last time I read a post on Facebook which applauded a man who'd made a woman feel empowered. Why don't I see posts about the good guys? Sometimes refusing to see the good in people, and instead bashing them with a stick, ends up reenforcing behavioural patterns. And sometimes, in the process of attacking, you miss, and strike someone who doesn't deserve to be hit. The LGBT community couldn't have got over the damage done by HIV/AIDS without straight allies, but, at the time, I'm sure it felt as though we were accusing every heterosexual of being homophobic. How could they ever expect to understand how it felt to be gay? I sometimes felt as though we were waiting for someone to slip up simply so that we could say we told them so.

For this reason I'm hugely grateful to the friends of mine who, instead of simply writing "me too," were brave enough to explain the story behind their statement. I know that it's not always possible to do this. Some stories are too traumatic and raw to share on an Internet forum. But by saying THIS man treated me badly because he did THIS to me, they're potentially making men more aware of the scale of the problem and the myriad things we do which women find inappropriate. That's something we can all learn from, and sympathise with, without feeling bad simply for being male.

So what am I saying? This is a wonderful initiative if it's giving women the strength to say "enough is enough, let's take positive action to stamp this behaviour once and for all." If, as a result, just one woman has the courage to tell a man that she finds his gaze or his actions inappropriate then it will have been successful. But I would love to see another initiative, with a positive spin, which, instead of reenforcing what seems to be a widening chasm between men and women, actually empowers the men who get it right. And yes, women have an absolute right to be treated properly and I'm not advocating that any woman should feel the need to thank a man for not breaking the law. Neither am I in any way trying to undermine the very serious crimes which are presently coming to light, or suggest that the "me too" initiative was anything other than a great thing, but we live in aggressive, frightening times, and we have to keep remembering that there is much good in the world and that the bad stuff tends to happens when we feel divided.

My sincerest apologies if this post has offended anyone. Please let me know your thoughts on the subject.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Ruby and the sickening yellow light

I feel like the last two days have somewhat rolled into each other to the extent that they've become a sort of amorphous blob of time. At some point yesterday - don't ask me when - I drove up to Manchester. It always takes longer to get there than you hope. I think it's something to do with the fact that Manchester is not actually on the M6, so you exit the motorway only to find yourself on another flamin' motorway.

I went up to Manchester to record Ruby singing the role of Em on the album. She's currently doing a rep season at Bolton Octagon and her first show opens tonight, so it was impossible to get her down to London to record her vocals.

We ended up taking a punt on a studio in a grimy Victorian warehouse on the edge of the city centre. It was the sort of run-down place which will be gentrified at some point, but definitely not in the very near future! It took ages to find the entrance. A walk around the back of the building revealed the sound of a rock band smashing the hell out of their instruments.

Ruby had already managed to find her way into the studio by the time I'd arrived and was warming up in a room which smelt of BO. I'm used to scuzzy recording studios. It rather goes with the territory and I genuinely think it aids creativity if you don't think you're trashing a place when you spill your tea everywhere in the heat of the moment. The loos always leave a lot to be desired though. These are no places for those with OCD!

Ruby was on great form and we were able to do complete takes of all of her songs, which means there's a real flow to her vocals. She acted them all beautifully. That's the style of performer she is. Very intimate. Very breathy. She falls off notes. She speaks some notes, and sings others. It's a breath of fresh air in a world where many young performers belt the hell out of songs without really thinking about the words they're singing or the dramatic intention behind them.

We finished late in the studio and the journey back down south was punishing. I'd decided to break the journey in one of the Premier Inns in Northampton, but blithely drove to the wrong one, which wasn't my finest ever hour. The woman behind the reception looked at me like I'd gone mad when I told her angrily that I had a booking...

The drive back this morning seemed to take forever, with horribly slow-moving traffic around Luton. I popped my head into the cinema in East Finchley where Natalie Walter and Ben Caplan were filming trailers for Michael's UK Jewish film festival. I'd suggested both actors, so I suppose you could call me the casting director. I thought I'd pop in to offer moral support and see how they were both doing.

Just as I exited the cinema on my way to Julian's studio, all hell broke loose. Nathan, who flies to America today, called to say he was at the airport but had left his passport on his desk at home. It's the stuff of nightmares. I instantly rushed back to the house, grabbed his passport, and started tearing along the North Circular towards Heathrow. In the meantime, he was in a taxi heading towards me. We met at a filling station on the A40, just west of Hangar Lane. I stood by the side of the road, his taxi slowed down, the window opened and I threw the passport in.

Sadly he just missed the flight, and they charged him £150 to get on the next one, which has only just taken off. The taxi cost £50. The poor thing started crying when he told me that he'd only gone to Heathrow by tube to save a bit of money. Now he's £200 down.

I was with Julian by midday, which was when the weird "end of the world" sun appeared which has had social media aflutter all day. We're told it was caused by a sandstorm, which is somehow linked to the arrival of storm Ophelia in the U.K. It was certainly the most eerie sight. It was bright orange, and it reflected in the windows of Crouch End like some sort of halogen light. The clouds started bubbling up over lunch, and then, at about 3pm, the sky turned a sickening shade of yellow. It was almost as though I'd put a pair of weirdly tinted sunglasses on, or that the world was suddenly lurking behind some sort of sepia filter. There was a strangely charged quality to the atmosphere which made my fingers tingle, like I'd been fiddling about with a Van de Graaff generator. I didn't like it at all. It made me feel really uneasy. Brother Edward texted, "is it me or is this light really scary?" Brother Tim, in Manchester, was writing about it on Facebook. The birds in Julian's garden started making really strange noises. Every time I tried to take a picture of the weird yellowness, my phone corrected the colour and made the sky white. The wind got very strong and Julian's house, which is a creepy old Vicarage, started creaking and moaning. It was a surreal and somewhat scary period!

Both Nathan and Fiona are in the air at the moment, which I don't like on a night like this. Nathan has already been told to expect turbulence. Fiona, who is flying to Glasgow, seems to be heading for the eye of the storm. I shall be pleased when they're both safely down.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Vocal sessions

We had a mega day in the studio yesterday recording ensemble vocals for the Em album. I invited twelve singers to perform, all of whom I've worked with before at various stages in my career.

It was a long, somewhat brutal day. This was always likely to be the case because we had a lot of very complicated material to cover, all of which needed to be spot on. An ensemble vocal is next to impossible to tune or tidy up in post production so what gets recorded goes straight onto the album. If one of the twelve singers makes a mess of just one of the bars that you're recording, everything has to be done again. The level of concentration required is therefore intense. Performers are literally singing non-stop. It's utterly exhausting.

At the last minute I asked young Harrison if he'd conduct for us. I hadn't initially thought we'd need a conductor, but both Hilary and Nathan passionately disagreed so when Harrison offered, I was rather relieved! He did an astonishing job, and made a massive difference to the session. He's apparently in pain this morning after waving his arms around so frantically.

We recorded some great music and achieved perfection on a number of occasions. We had a few rather hairy moments, particularly towards the end of the session when we started to run out of time, but that's the nature of the beast.

I was hugely grateful to all the vocalists for their commitment. No one moaned about being tired, vocally or physically. Everyone simply got on with being fabulous. It was a joyous session.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Llio and Chris

I read my news feed this morning to discover that yet another well-known figure (in this case Harvey Weinstein) is being trialled by the media before any court of law can do its job. Our capacity to be titillated by tittle-tattle never ceases to amaze me. We just love to hear about a full-scale fall from grace. We look at pictures of Weinstein and say "oh yes. He's definitely dodgy. I always thought he was dodgy." I was sent a petition today which demands that he be "removed and banished from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for life." But should we not be waiting to see if he's found guilty before entirely wrecking his career? What I find most bizarre is the queue of male celebrities wading into the mess to distance themselves from Weinstein just so the world knows they're decent, kind and not misogynistic.

In my view, anyone accused of a crime should have the right to remain anonymous until they're actually found guilty. I can't see any reason why this wouldn't be the case. Being falsely accused of anything is hideous enough without journalists actively looking for every piece of dirt they can find on you, and exes coming out of the woodwork spilling the beans for a bit of extra cash. And even if someone is found innocent (which the press never seem to report), the tendency is still for people to say there's no smoke without fire. And of course, by this point, a million deeply personal and highly-embarrassing things have been revealed.

We did another day in the recording studio today, which started with Llio finishing off the session she started yesterday, which timed out as I legged it off to Greenwich. She was, predictably, wonderful. Beyond wonderful, actually.

This afternoon, Chris McGuigan came into the studio. I asked him to sing the role of Illya in something of a panic yesterday after being let down badly by another vocalist. I'll confess that I didn't actually know Chris' voice particularly well, but have always considered him to be good people, so felt, if nothing else, we'd have fun in the studio. It turns out that he's a wonderful, moving and hugely versatile singer, whose voice suits the role and the musical material down to the ground. He performed some sequences with an almost breathtaking fragility and others with exciting virility, growling his way through the rockier numbers. I was, thrilled beyond words and left the studio feeling greatly relieved. It's all coming together.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

The charge of the women

Today marked the arrival of the women on the Em soundtrack, and my GOD they arrived! 

We essentially spent the day recording Jackie Clune and Llio Millward and both were on sparkling form. I haven't seen Jackie for many years, not since I directed her in Taboo more than fifteen years ago. She was pregnant at the time, and managed to give birth to four children in the space of two years. Her first son was followed by triplets eighteen months later. Imagine that?! I can't imagine how upside down her life must have been turned.

Jackie is perfect casting to play the landlady in the show. She's always had one of my favourite voices in the world - not dissimilar to Karen Carpenter - but she's also from Irish stock, which is perfect for the role of Mrs Fitzsimmons. She made me cry whilst singing The Morning Always Comes, which is the final song in the show and on the album. Every time I write a musical, I try to recycle a song from my extensive bottom drawer of previously-written material which I've always felt deserves a wider audience. In Brass this song was Shone With the Sun, which couldn't have found a more perfect home, despite being fifteen years older than any of the other songs in the show. I wrote The Morning Always comes in 1999, and it was originally demoed by Sara Kestelman and Nathan in 2003. The song was subsequently performed at my friend Kevin's funeral, which gives it an added significance. It didn't quite land in the performances at Central, largely because I'd split it into two separate songs, but it's now become a single, charging, epic number which drives forward for seven minutes, changing key a whopping eight times! It's nice when a song finds its feet in this manner.

Llio absolutely aced her vocal sessions. She was on remarkable form, belting notes I didn't know she was capable of belting. The song Delusion now bristles with energy and life. The strings have lifted the song somewhere very special indeed and Llio's voice sails, diva-like, over the top. By the end of the session I'd become so excited, I started dancing!

I literally ran from Crouch End down to Greenwich. The tubes were arriving just that little bit too infrequently and I made the mistake of taking the Victoria line to Euston in order to change onto the Northern Line, a journey which involves travelling through Kings Cross twice! I felt really very silly.

The class went well, but I over-ran slightly and ended up eating into my time with the Show Choir. The students brought some tremendous material with them. Some of the girls, in particular, utterly aced the tasks I'd given them. One of the lads, at my request, sang in Welsh. He probably could have been slightly more imaginative than singing Ar Hyd Y Nos, but it had me choking back the tears. I'm trying to encourage all the Celts and Midlanders in the class to embrace their souls. It's gonna be hiraeth all round next week!

We now have three songs up and running in Show Choir. A bit of private practice may well mean that we can have some fun finessing the material in our last session next week. I don't mind saying how blinking lovely I Miss the Music is sounding!

Star spotting and insomnia

We had a very busy day in the studio today which started with a string quartet session. It was a very happy session and we achieved the vast majority of what we needed to achieve. Rachel, the lovely viola player, brought vegan flapjacks (delicious) and all four players brought their A games. The session lasted three hours and we recorded music for six of the album's tracks.

Fiona stayed behind after the session to record some fiddly-diddly Irish folky violin which we added to the landlady's song. James Fortune, whom I see way too seldom, popped in just after lunch to add some penny whistle to the same track. Penny whistles only really come in the keys of C and D, which is fine for the first part of the song, which is in D. Unfortunately the second part of the song is in E, so James was forced to do all sorts of weird and bizarre fingerings just to get the necessary extra D and G sharps. He did a sterling job.

The afternoon found Ben Jones adding his lead vocals to the mix, and we were joined by young Harrison who kept me more than entertained by showing me films of goats making strange noises which genuinely made me cry with laughter.

This evening we went to Channel 4 to bid a fond farewell to the commissioning editors responsible for Our Gay Wedding: The Musical, which I'm pleased to report is one of the ten shows of the last seven years which the station are proudest of. It was featured in a special film package along with the Paralympics and Educating Yorkshire. Jay Hunt told us afterwards that we'd "changed the world" by making it.

We very much enjoyed star-spotting at the party. Blue did an impromptu performance and all the great and the good of Channel 4 were there including the Bake Off team and many comedians.

It's 3am and I can't sleep. At 1am, I was awoken by a text message which informed me that someone who's meant to be performing on the album wanted to postpone his session on Friday because he has a press night on the same day for which he wants to be in good voice. Rule number one about professional conduct: do not make your employer aware that you're over-stretching yourself. It is wholly unacceptable to ask me to change my plans to facilitate an actor being in good vocal health for someone else's gig! That's just madness. That's an actor inadvertently telling a writer that performing on his album isn't even the most important thing he's doing that day, which is plainly not something the writer, who has spent two years on his project, wants to hear! Thirty six hours before a session... via text... and at 1am! When I made my feelings clear, I got an astonishing text which said "well what do you suggest I do?" The truth? Don't shit on my doorstep!

I once assisted the director Phyllida Lloyd on an opera at the Royal Opera House. I accepted the job despite having already accepted a job directing another show at the weekends in Oxfordshire and simultaneously being resident director on Taboo. I just didn't feel I could say no to it. I was so tired that I regularly fell asleep in rehearsals and brought absolutely nothing to the table in the four weeks I was contracted. Inevitably, the clashes started to happen in the later stages of rehearsal. They decided to run a dress on a Saturday, but I was already committed to rehearsals in Oxfordshire that day. For a time, I simply hoped the clash would go away. If I kept a low enough profile, perhaps no one would miss me if I didn't turn up to the Opera House. And then, of course, I was given a task which meant I could pretend no longer. I took myself to Phyllida with my tail between my legs, hoping charm and a genuine sense of shame would get me off the hook and stop her from hating me. She taught me a very important lesson that day: "if you're telling me that you're not coming to the dress rehearsal and that you've made sure everything is going to run smoothly in your absence, then thank you for letting me know. If you're telling me that your absence is going to drop me in it, then that is not okay. Not at all. Go away and think about that." 

The comment has haunted me for the past fifteen years. But I'm a better person for having had it said to me.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Lady Muck

A lie-in! A lie in I say again, excitedly! Until 9am. And then I stayed in bed, pointedly, clutching a cup of tea until 11. I felt like Lady Muck. All I needed was a box of chocolates and some sort of bed jacket to complete the look!

The afternoon became about manic admin. I paid a load of invoices and set things up for the recordings for the rest of the week.

I then took a tube to King's Cross to do some research at the British Library. I wanted to find newspaper headlines for a little radio broadcast I'm mocking up to create atmosphere on one of the songs. Quite specifically, the song is meant to be sung on February 15th, 1965. I opted to find headlines in the Guardian, as it seemed the paper which the character who sings the song would most likely read. I was astonished to discover that the Conservative leader's desire to ENTER Europe was the main headline. How hugely ironic!

"Britain in Europe was revived as a Conservative theme by Sir Alex Douglas Home when he spoke at the National Conference of Young Conservatives at Friends' Meeting House, London, on Saturday. Not since the collapse of the Common Market negotiations when Mr MacMillan was Prime Minister has a Conservative leader so eagerly revived the theme."

On page two, a headline read, "Britain must not shirk role in Europe's destiny." Fifty two years later, I find myself quite agreeing!

I watched a shocking Panorama this evening which showed what an enormous spike there's been in race and religious hate crime since the Brexit referendum. Shockingly, bar far the largest spikes came in areas which voted leave. It's difficult to know what to say about that other than that not everyone who voted Brexit was was racist but that all racists voted Brexit. So if you voted Brexit, many thanks for doing your part in stirring up that particularly hideous hornet's nest.

I went into Covent Garden to see if I could get my phone fixed and my laptop injected with more memory. Unfortunately the two issues can't be sorted by a single staff member, so I added myself to a 2 1/2 hour queue to sort the first of my problems and was advised to book online for the other issue.

Michael met me for lunch and we sat in Cafe Rouge, both of us pretending to relax, but secretly doing loads of admin in our heads.

It turns out that my phone can't be fixed for free because it's out of warranty. Apple are sneaky little bastards with their planned obsolescence. The battery life basically started to majorly die a few months after the warranty ran out. It's definitely no coincidence. Nor is it a coincidence that I stopped being able to hear calls properly at the same time. Very poor form.

To make matters a little more frustrating, EE, my mobile phone provider decided to pack up today. I could neither make nor receive calls. I popped my head into an EE shop to ask when they thought the service might be up and running again, and the man took me over to the counter to "find out more information for me." Minutes later I realised I'd been hook-winked, and that he was trying to get me to take out an early renewal of my contract with the company, offering me a brand new phone and a package which included better storage and calls to America. I stopped him in his tracks, "I'm not sure today is the best day for me to renew my contract with you guys... you may recall that I only popped my head in the door to tell you that your network has gone down." He blushed. I said I'd have a think about his offer. Sadly I may not have a choice!


Monday, 9 October 2017

Sonica

Wow, this morning was tough! I woke up after far too little sleep with my right eyelid glued shut with blepharitis gunk. It was desperately painful. The pain has eased considerably during the day and I'm not sure it looks anything like as bad this evening which is a relief because yesterday it was noticeable enough for the entire Em cast to ask what the heck was wrong!

I travelled down to Clapham today to record in one of my favourite studios, Sonica. It's always good to be back. Over the years I've recorded a fair amount of material there including sessions for The Busker Symphony, Four Colours, Songs From Hattersley and all of the Pepys Motet. I think Mat and Paul who run the studios think I'm insane. The sessions I've done with them have always tended to be on manic and somewhat ambitious side... particularly when it came to Pepys. There has been a fair amount of ranting, raving and gnashing of teeth within those four walls!

Sonica was the place where I recorded Tanita Tikaram singing on the London Requiem which ranks as one of my all-time favourite sessions. She had always been a hero of mine, right from my childhood years, and she turned out to be so sweet and funny and generous. It's lovely when life turns out like that.

Sonica's only problem is its location. If Highgate is twelve o'clock on a map of London (which it pretty much is) then Sonica is at 6 o'clock. It could be worse: The two locations are, at least, on the same tube line... but at the two opposite ends, with an hour's journey in between.

I stood up for most of the trip down there, boxed into a corner by angry commuters. Fortunately I was by an open window, which meant I could stare into the faces pressed against the window in the next door carriage, and then out into the alluring gloom of the dusty tunnels where, I've heard, an entire sub-species of mosquito has evolved. Someone also once told me that there were scorpions down there. Surely a rumour?

The session went well. The studio engineer was a lovely chap called Sam, and Ben Holder played brilliantly. We rocketed through songs, particularly in the second half of the day when the pressure was on. We realised after lunch that we had just thirty minutes allotted time on each track, which is nothing when you realise that the instrument you're recording almost never stops playing!

Clare Chandler from Edge Hill University popped into the studio, and brought with her, as usual, an enormous blast of sunshine. I shall be working with students at the university at the start of November on an Em album-related project which I'm very excited about. Loads of them are genuine Scousers, so I can think of no better group of students to be involved.

I am thrilled to report that I get a lie-in tomorrow. Not a massive one - I have huge amounts of admin to do - but the idea of not having to set an alarm when I fall asleep tomorrow is almost too wonderful to comprehend. I'm going to eat takeaway in front of the telly tonight by means of celebration.

Quizzy rascal

I opened a tin of tomato soup a couple of nights ago, very excited about the prospect of light snack at the end of a tiring day. I took the lid off the can, and was slightly horrified to find something light-coloured which looked a little like a finger nail inside. A bit of digging revealed it was actually a baked bean. And not just one baked bean. It was a full tin of Heinz baked beans! How bizarre is that? One wonders how many other tins have been mixed up in this manner. More worryingly, it occurred to me that someone might one day open a tin of vegetarian soup and find a meat-based soup inside. We were with my Mum last night, and, as I recounted the story, she chipped in: "I've opened a tin of baked beans before and found sausages inside! In fairness, it did say 'baked beans with sausages' on the label..." The point of my story seemed to be slightly lost on her!

I met Little Michelle in Cambridge yesterday and we had a lovely little drift around the shops together. We found ourselves somewhere near Magdalene college and it suddenly struck me that we might be able to visit the Pepys Library. It's so rarely open, but a quick check on the website revealed we were in luck. Michelle has sung both versions of the Pepys Motet, so was the perfect person to drag along.

The Pepys Library consists of the large collection of books which Pepys bequeathed to his old college when he died. It's a hugely important resource which features an esoteric and highly eclectic set of books including a series of incredibly rare medieval manuscripts. It's astonishing that the collection has survived for over 350 years entirely intact. They even survived the Great Fire of London. The books are still in the cases that Pepys himself designed and had built by navy carpenters. They are actually the first example in the world of adjustable shelves. Fact.

Nathan picked us up from a pub near Lammas Land and we drove down to Thaxted for a ten-minute cup of tea and slice of cake before hot-footing it to a community centre in a deeply rural village near Bishop's Stortford, where the phone reception was non-existent.

We were doing a quiz. It was a quiz for fun rather than a quiz for work. It was one of those quizzes where the quirky personality of the quiz mater shines through in an occasionally brutal manner. There were all sorts of super hero questions and questions about Star Trek and Lego. It was a real geek fest. There was a music round, but it revolved around male vocalists from the 1970s, which was so specific it hurt. It was one of those quizzes which I started to lose interest in towards the end, which is really very rare for me.

This morning we woke up and tidied the house for a major rehearsal for Em. Twelve of my favourite people gathered in our front room at 1pm and we went through the ensemble vocals for the album whilst drinking copious cups of tea and eating biscuits and sweets. I think people in the room were differently prepared, shall we say. Some were rather too reliant on those who were better prepared. It was a fairly gruelling rehearsal but at least everyone now has a sense of what they need to go away and practise! There's a lot of material. Next Saturday in the studio will be exhausting unless everyone brings their A game. But what a treat it was to have all of those wonderful people together in a room. It's like a little family. A lot of the singers were in Brass at some point along its journey. Others have come on board with Em, premiering songs at various cabarets or, in the case of the hugely luminous Maeve, reading the script and providing Irish know how! I always feel a bit like a mother hen in those circumstances.

Sadly, I had to dart off before the end of the rehearsal to mark another quiz. It was was in a liberal synagogue in Knightsbridge and went very well. I'm officially exhausted, though. My enormous puffy eye is an indication of how run down I am, but I certainly feel like I'm living life!

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Blepha-what?

I'm currently on a train bound for Cambridge. The automated woman's voice has just said "welcome to this.... service... to Cambridge." The curiously unrealistic pause before "service" makes it sound like she's putting the word in sarcastic inverted commas. Like she's only calling it a service because she's been forced to!

I have blepharitis. For the uninitiated, blepharitis is a rather painful infection of the eyelid. The whole thing has gone all puffy and I look well dodgy. Like someone who's been in a fight.

I walked up to King's Cross station this morning from Covent Garden where I've unsuccessfully been trying to get my iPhone fixed. Central London was full of horrible-looking, ageing skin heads. Many were carrying union jacks and some were walking bulldogs, which were also wrapped in flags. Plainly there's some sort of right wing march or protest going on. They were behaving really aggressively, shouting at each other in the street in broad Essex accents with no sense of decorum or how other people might be intimidated by them. I find it profoundly depressing that my country's flag has been misappropriated in this manner. I feel ashamed enough to be British at the moment without this added joy.

I officially hit the wall yesterday morning. That's a silly phrase isn't it?! I didn't physically hit anything and there was nothing official about my waking up so knackered that the alarm clock actually made me scream! It took me thirty seconds to realise where I was, and what on earth was going on! I A lot has been written about sleep cycles. Recent research suggests that we have two of them per night, so it's actually easier to function on just one, than it is if you're woken up mid-way through the second, which is plainly what happened to me yesterday.

Still, the weather was so beautiful as I walked along Parkland Walk to Julian's that a lot of my woes instantly evaporated. The sun was low in the sky, so low that it often blinded me. Great columns of trees were lit up so brightly that they glowed lime green. It seems that very few of the leaves on the London trees are in any hurry to turn brown. I wonder if they've already turned in Scotland?

We finished the guitars in the studio and I'm really pleased with how the songs are shaping up. I feel we're consistently recording to a very high standard, and this makes me very happy, blepharitis or no blepharitis!!

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Recording days

We spent all day yesterday in the recording studio. All the way from 10am until 10pm, recording drums and bass. It was a really good session. We worked hard, stuck to time, and got everything done that we needed to do. Nick the bassist and Martyn the drummer played exceptionally well. I was really thrilled. There was a slightly irritating moment when the studio engineer announced we'd have to stop recording for an hour and a half as a result of a church service going on next door. I guess that's one of the perils of recording in a studio which was once the crypt of a (still-functioning) church. I was told it's a bit of a happy clappy church these days, so was quite surprised when clouds of incense stared wafting up the stairs. I don't associate incense with the "shake-your-tambourine" brigade.

Ben Jones and his mate Dan came to hang out in the studio in the evening. It was lovely to see them, and watch them appreciate the musicians and the set up in the studio.

I couldn't sleep last night, and lay, pathetically, worrying about things I couldn't do anything about at 2am. When my alarm went off at 7, I felt like I'd done several rounds in the ring, a sensation which worsened throughout the day!

I switched the news on and immediately learned what a profound dick Theresa May had made of herself at the Tory Party Conference. She may be a deeply religious person but Big G plainly doesn't approve of her antics. The tragic attempts that the Tories are presently making to attract young people are nothing short of laughable, and to see any Tory promising to build new council houses seems utterly bizarre. They sold them off in the first place. Does that mean they're finally acknowledging that Margaret Thatcher was evil beyond words?

The studio went well today. It was guitars from 9am. The lovely Thomas brought a veritable Aladdin's Cave of instruments with him: Acoustic guitars, electric guitars, a twelve string, a slide guitar, a mandolin...

He was on fire and played track after track exquisitely. As I dashed off to Greenwich, an hour before the end of the session, I was surprised to discover that we were already ahead of schedule. Julian and Thomas stayed on to finish another number, which means we've finished eight out of the thirteen songs with another day to go.

Julian, I discovered today, suffers from a condition called misophonia, which means he gets uncontrollably angry upon hearing certain sounds. The condition is also known as "sound rage." One of the sounds which makes Julian flip is the noise of someone slurping tea - which is something he accuses me of doing all the time. I have some sympathy for him. Some people make the most God awful sounds when they masticate!

The choir rehearsal this evening at Trinity was a lot of fun. And thankfully we had more men! It's so lovely working with those young people. Some of them sit there, staring up at me, with big smiles on their faces. Some of them make my day when I see them immersed in song. They genuinely seem to embody the notion of singing for joy. We did a big old improvisation and I introduced them all to the concept of heterophony, which strikes me as an evening well spent!

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Drums and bass

I did half a day in the studio yesterday. Julian, my producer, came down with a chronic migraine during the morning, so we had to call a halt to proceedings, which was a terrible shame, as I felt that we were destined to end the day ahead of schedule and we now seem to be behind. Poor lad could hardly see the computer screen. We were attempting to record me playing the melodica. It's quite a piercing sound which can't have helped Julian's head. When I started practising the night before, Nathan was forced to leave the room!

Today is a big old day. It's the first point of no return; the stage at which we have to commit to keys and tempi for all the songs. The session involves recording drums and bass. We layer songs from the ground up. After drums and bass comes the guitar, then piano, then strings and then finally, the vocals. As you journey through the various sessions, the songs start to come to life.

So in the absence of a session yesterday afternoon, I did a heap of admin. There's still a heck of a lot to sort out. I'm still trying to track down two performers for the album (a cellist and a singer) and don't really have enough time to deal with the questions which have started to come thick and fast from the performers I've already booked.

I'm very much enjoying being in Crouch End, however. It's such a genteel place to mill about in, and there are some wonderful little cafes and restaurants. The place is laced with memories for me. I lived here, a life time ago, in 1996 and it really hasn't changed that much. It was a funny period in my life. I was at drama school and living in a miserable bed sit. I had a little fridge, a sink, a baby belling oven and a mattress on the floor. The bedsit was in the attic of a rambling Victorian mansion. Bathrooms were shared. An enormous window looked out towards Ali Pali and I used to sit and enjoy watching the tiny matchbox-sized busses passing in front of the building.

I was desperately lonely. Coming to London is a a major shift for anyone. It comes with the sudden realisation that you are utterly insignificant in the world. I used to walk down to the 7-11 (now a Costa) just for something to do in the evenings. I also used to listen to late night radio, and for the first (and last) time in my life, I understood how some people become obsessed with radio presenters, and start to view them as their friends.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Guns will tear us apart again

The scenes from Barcelona on the news this morning were incredibly distressing. Seeing images of women being pulled from voting stations by their hair and people desperately trying to hold onto ballot boxes which are literally being ripped from their arms by riot police is something which cannot and must not be ignored by the rest of Europe. Article Seven of the European Union treaty suggests that any member state found to be using violence against its own people should be suspended. It has never yet been triggered, although Poland and Hungary have sailed fairly close to that particular wind, the latter for its treatment of migrants.

Of course the issue of Catalonia is a complicated one. I'm sure many Catalonians want to remain a part of Spain, and an independence referendum with a turn out of considerably fewer than 50% needs to be treated with caution. But the Spanish government's brutal response to the referendum is an absolute own goal. If I were Catalan and in two minds about whether independence was the right thing, I would almost certainly think it was now. The Spanish leaders, probably out of fear, have shown complete contempt for their own people, and a flagrant disregard for the democratic process.

...And then there's what happened in Las Vegas last night. A group of young people at a country music festival simply mown down. No doubt it will do nothing to encourage the Americans to tighten gun controls. I am astounded that they appear to be so collectively incapable of seeing the irony here. Americans are utterly obsessed with terrorism but apparently happy to equip their own people with the tools to tear each other apart, seemingly without the excuse of a religious ideology.

In other news, I started recording Em in the studio today. We're working at Julian's wife's vicarage in Crouch End which I can walk to. It's actually a most agreeable walk. We both live within a stone's throw of Parkland Walk, a fabulous nature reserve which follows the route of an abandoned railway line which once ran from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace via Highgate.


Sunday, 1 October 2017

Getting it right

I watched Strictly Come Dancing this evening, and, apart from being utterly in love with Debbie McGee and terribly

impressed by Alexandra Burke, it struck me what a fabulous display of equality and diversity that show is. Two female presenters. A judging panel which is equal male and female where both males are gay. An openly lesbian contestant. A black woman dancing with a paralympian. Asian, Latina and a multitude of dancers from European countries... old and young dancing together. It's extraordinary.

...And even more extraordinarily, it doesn't feel forced. I haven't often felt like patting the BBC on the back recently. All too often, in my view, they have seemed to want to play it safe to the detriment of art, but this show is, in my view, still getting it right, and it's no wonder that it's still a ratings success.

That's really all I have to write about tonight.