Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Not for the squeamish

Another day, another quiz, and I’m currently heading home from Central London on the Victoria Line, which is one of those epic tube lines which goes like the wind and cuts people’s journeys in half.

I’m sitting opposite a drunk man who is plainly trying very hard to stop himself from a) falling asleep and b) vomiting.

I’m quite convinced that, any moment now, a huge torrent of chunder is going to roar out of his gob and coat us all.

I once went to France in a cross channel ferry in very bad weather. The boat listed from side to side perilously and I ended up the only person in my class who didn’t vomit. I didn’t half feel queasy, however, so took myself onto deck and leaned over the railings into the soothing, drizzle-filled, salty air. I was aware that my face was suddenly much wetter than it had been a few seconds before, and turned around to see that the bloke standing on deck next to me had vommed over the side of the boat. Sadly, it also became clear that the wind had brought it all back into my face. The poor bloke was a shade of green. He looked at me, terribly ashamed. “Sorry. I’m really sorry.” With that, he vomited on his shoes. Under normal circumstances I would have laughed uncontrollably, but I was too shocked!

Horrified, I ran to the loos to wash my face, but the sinks were full of huge piles of sick. The place stank to high heaven. It was as though someone had thrown half eaten bowls of Weetabix against all of the walls. The floor was covered in the stuff as well, and, as I turned around to run out of the hell zone, I tripped, slid and then skated across the floor, landing on my bum in a big heap of boak.

And that’s my story about sick. Enjoy your breakfast!

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

No loo for me!

I did an interview tonight for the BBC’s Georgey show, a national programme which gets rolled out across the network of local radio stations of an evening. She’s a really lovely presenter, and the interview, which was about my Nene composition, went very well. I did it “down the line” which means, by the magic of technology, she was able to interview me from a studio in Leeds, whilst I sat in the swanky New Broadcasting House in London.

The problem with the BBC these days is that, unless you have a proper pass, it’s almost impossible to do any business within any of their buildings without being chaperoned like some sort of 18th Century virgin!

I arrived in plenty of time for my interview, got myself signed in at reception, and then sat, like a muppet, on one of the Beeb’s non-functioning sofas, waiting for someone to come and collect me. I waited. I waited. I huffed a bit. I chatted to the lovely lady who puts bags through the airport-style security barriers. Eventually, a man came rushing down; “we didn’t know you were here!” I explained that I’d watched the woman behind reception calling someone to say I was there. He seemed genuinely apologetic, but not apologetic enough to offer me a glass of water or a cup of tea, which would have been nice, but at least I was in the building.

By the time I got into the studio, I was receiving worried calls from the producer in Leeds. As it turned out, everything was okay. They shuffled the order of the show around. I got to listen to I’m So Excited by the Pointer Sisters as I waited my turn. I had a lovely chat with Georgey, who was witty and charming. And that, I thought, was that… 

As I left the studio, the man who’d shown me in came running over to take me out of the building again. As we reached the giant revolving doors which separate the special BBC employees from us hoi-polloi, I told my guardian that I needed the loo. “When you pass through the doors,” he said, “turn right, and then it’s the first door on the right…” He shook my hand, said goodbye and headed back into the fortress.

I went through the doors and the security man grabbed the temporary pass I’d been given. “Oh,” I said, “don’t I need that whilst I’m using the loo?” He gave me a somewhat smug look, “you can’t use the toilet here. You’re only allowed to use the toilet if you’re accompanied by a member of staff.” “Then can YOU take me to the loo?” I asked. “No. You cannot use the toilet.” I tried to explain that using a loo was a basic human right. What if I had a medical condition? What happens when my prostrate blows up like a balloon? What if I were a pregnant woman? He was having none of it. I genuinely felt like some sort of terrible criminal.

I went up to the reception and asked if there was anything they could do to help. “Sorry sir” (she was very polite) “you need to be escorted.” There was a fair amount of buck-passing and “don’t shoot the messenger”-ing. I let out an enormous, desperate for a wee sort of sigh and said, “okay, could you get on the phone to the man whose task it was to escort me around the building, and ask if he’d come back down here?” She picked up the phone. At this point, the security guard behind her took pity on me. “I’ll take you through…”

And so it came to pass. I was, of course, hugely grateful to the kindly security guard who deigned to take me to the loo, but absolutely furious with the one who’d made me feel like some sort of worthless animal for asking if I could go. In my view there is absolutely no way that this should have been allowed to happen; not to anyone, but particularly not to someone who's just given his time to speak as a guest!


Gosh, what a busy day! I am presently in a train which is steaming its way through Hampshire. There’s the mother of all rows happening between the train guard and two passengers whose young person’s railcard is so worn down that they’re being charged a full-price ticket because the tickets they bought with the card are not considered valid. The argument seems to be whether the faded writing says January or not. The guard stood her ground and has won. The passengers are incredulous. And sad. I actually believe them because they’re still looking sad and anxious despite the guard being long since gone.

I’ve been in Southampton all day, chatting to people in a very splendid theatre down there, which I hope to have a chance to work in at some point. It was a lovely day: cold, but relentlessly sunny.

It was my first visit to the city. I’m not sure why I’ve never been there before. It might be something to do with being from Northampton and getting very bored of people asking me whether Northampton is “anywhere near Southampton?” Yawn.

I wasn’t there for long enough to get a sense of the place. I ended up in a ghastly shopping centre, with terrible floor tiles, looking for somewhere to have a healthy lunch. I failed, and ended up in a chippie, which plainly viewed itself as a cut above the rest, because it had a board on the wall which told customers where the potatoes and fish had been sourced. The fish came from the Faroe Islands, which struck me as a little tragic for a chippie in a sea port. Surely fish should be fresh and locally sourced?

I enjoyed listening to conversations in the shop. The local greeting seems to be “how are you doing, alright?” To which the appropriate response is “how are you doing, alright?!” I was desperately hoping the phrase was going to turn into some sort of crazy endless loop, but it seems once both people have asked the question, nothing more needs to be said!

I was immensely cheered up by the sound of a carrillon coming from a tall council building, which I assumed was some sort of town hall. I recognised the melody the bells were playing, but couldn’t for the life of me bring the tune’s name to mind.

The rest of the day has been spent doing radio and TV interviews. Some have been about Nene. They made a film about my walk along the river and the performance of the composition at the Albert Hall, which was aired in the Eastern Counties last night, so there’s a lot of interest all of a sudden. I’ve also been asked to talk about cuts in arts-related subjects at secondary state school level, which is happening with frightening regulatory these days. It makes me want to weep. Art mustn’t become the terrain of the posh and the wealthy. So much is being written about lack of opportunity for women and BAME people at the moment, but let me tell you, the massive injustices in this world come from where you’re born and the level of wealth you’re born into. Regardless of colour or gender. By and large, city people have far more access to arts initiatives because the major cultural institutions are based in urban centres and have public funding which is (rightly) reliant on their doing outreach work in the local community. The answer to our woes certainly isn’t solved by lazily handing out opportunities to women and BAME people from privileged backgrounds. In my view this simply exacerbates the problem and creates an ever-widening chasm between those who have and those who have not. Until someone has the guts to tackle this problem head-on, I think we’re going to continue to rush about in circles getting absolutely nowhere.

I’m meeting up with Fiona later on, which I’m very much looking forward to. I’m hoping for one of our epic walks across Central London.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Radio Three initiative

BBC Radio 3 are presently running an initiative to attract female composers. This particular drive is as old as the hills. There’s really nothing new about trying to get more women writing music. There were scores of similar initiatives when I was a student composer. Whether they’re ever more than gimmicks, however, I’m not sure and, already, the BBC seems to be heading at top speed down gimmick highway. 

It appears that the BBC is planning to spend a day patting itself on the back, playing music by female composers, which, in itself is wonderful, but, are they serious about finding and nurturing genuine talent? Are they planning to play material written by the composers they choose long into the future? Or will they choose a load of crap which merely reenforces the out-dated notion that women can’t compose?

Yes, it’s noble that they want to attract previously unheard composing voices, but there are so many reasons, beyond gender, why composers find themselves unable to break through. Social background, schooling, location, lack of confidence, being endlessly in the wrong place at the wrong time, or writing music in a style which doesn’t fit into the narrow box defined by Radio 3 (who are their own worse enemies in this respect.)

How about a call for unpublished composers? Or a call for writers who went to state schools? Or one for composers who write cross-genre music and haven’t had radio play as a result?

Anyway, the hideousness of the whole initiative is bailed out by the photograph they’ve used to promote it, which features a pair of headphones sitting on a piece of paper covered in a load of guitar tabs. It’s almost as though the organisers are assuming that women won’t be able read or write proper music scores, so need to be patronised by being shown that they can enter if all they know how to do is strum a bloody guitar.

No! This is Radio 3. If you can’t read or write music, you shouldn’t be having your music played by the station. And as a person who has spent thirty years honing my craft as a composer, I would even go as far as to say that if you can’t read or write music, you have no right to call yourself a blinkin’ composer at all. And there are certainly plenty enough brilliant undiscovered female composers out there who do NOT need to be patronised in this manner!

On a far happier note, my godson, Will, has another sibling. Raily gave birth to little Lola on Friday night, and sent us all the most fabulously Pre-Raphaelite image of her breastfeeding the little lass just minutes after birth. It was a home birth, entirely natural, with no pain relief whatsoever, and I am so very excited to meet her.

Friday, 26 January 2018


So, yesterday, I launched a crowd funding initiative to pay for a run of physical albums for Em. Having them all made up in advance means that every single sale of the album can go straight to charity, which, in this case, is CoramBAAF, who deal with issues relating to adoption. As Em tells the tale of a forced adoption in the mid 1960s, it felt appropriate to work with that particular organisation.

Anyway, we set what I thought would be the rather difficult target of £1500. Some years ago, Nathan and I tried to do the same thing with an EP of songs which we released for the Kaleidoscope Trust. Our target was lower, but it took us four weeks and a lot of hassling to reach. All of those panicky thoughts ravaged my brain as I hit send on the crowd funding site this time round. “What if no one donates?” “What if everyone hates me for going to them, cap in hand?” I became determined not to obsessively check the total, and got on with my day, pretending it wasn’t all going on in the background.

I am somewhat staggered to report that we reached our target in just 24 hours! In fact we were told that the campaign was “trending”, whatever that means in crowd funding circles. A large amount of thanks has to go to Nathan’s podcast followers and fans of all things knitty, who were responsible for a massive spike of donations during the night. Most of Nathan’s people are Stateside, so this explains why their activity was all apparently nocturnal.

We suggested various different levels of donation. £15 pre-ordered a copy of the album, £25 bought the album and a set of downloads of backing tracks and £40, our highest donation, included physical copies of my other albums. I was therefore stunned when people started putting £50 in. And then £100 from Philippa, Michael, Peter Smalley from NMPAT, and Nathan’s wonderful sister Sam. And then, early this morning, Lisa chipped £200 in, saying “I hate seeing your talent and spirit squashed by something so crass (but necessary) as money...” I am so so grateful to everyone. And thrilled at the outcome.

I am entirely in love with the album. It has been stupendously mastered by Denis at Skye Mastering, who actually mastered all of those great musical theatre albums in the 1980s like Cats and Phantom. He wrote to me, saying, “I hope you don’t mind me telling you this, but Em reminded me of those albums.” “Mind?”, I said, “I’m thrilled!”

Of course, if you still wish to donate or pre-order, we’re now at the stage where everything beyond the amount we needed will go direct to the charity. It’s rather exciting to think that I’ll be able to give CoramBAAF a donation before CDs have official gone on sale.

And if you want to read about the charity, here’s their website:

I’m a happy and very relieved man, as I really didn’t know how I was going to afford to get those CDs made.

So now starts the lengthy process of working out what needs to be said in the album blurb. I actually want to keep the CDs very simple: probably in black and white in a classic, probably matt, cardboard sleeve, so it looks like one of the photos my Mum has from that period of time. I think this approach will lend it a classy, vintage quality.

If you fancy making a donation, or preordering, you still can, and please do. All the information you need (and a lovely little video of Ruby Ablett singing) can be found by going to:

Love you all.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Nene tickets go on sale

I discovered today that tickets for the full version of my Nene composition have gone on sale. Those who follow this blog will no doubt remember that the piece was performed at the Royal Albert Hall in November. The Northamptonshire Music School subsequently commissioned a new version of the piece which is twice as long as the first and has some hugely exciting new sections including the musical evocation of a ghostly hunt charging through Peterborough Abbey in the Middle Ages and a setting of the last poem that Mary Queen of Scots wrote before she was sent to the block at Fotheringhey on the banks of the river.

Performances of the piece are happening at Northampton Derngate Theatre on March 8th and at Peterborough Cathedral on March 17th.

THESE SHOWS WILL SELL OUT! There are more performers on the stage than there are spaces in the audience, so if you want to come, please book, and do so speedily.

Over and out!

Monday, 22 January 2018

Mind the Gap

I walked through Soho this evening, winding my way through the streets from Old Compton Street to Oxford Circus. It’s such a wonderful part of London, hidden away from all the tourists who bustle and screech around its outer rim. It makes me very sad to see the gentrification: the “boutique” chains, the fancy pads, the shiny hetty bars, where once grubby all-night cafes and ramshackle gay bars stood.

There was still a vestige of the old Soho magic there this evening. The streets were dark. People were drifting at a country pace. Arriving at Oxford Circus was like descending into Dante’s Inferno. A massive swirl of people on the pavement was attempting to push its way down into the tube. It was such a horrifying sight that I simply kept on walking. There was no way I was ever going to willingly put myself into such a dangerous and claustrophobia-inducing crush of people. I certainly wasn’t prepared to PAY for the privilege.

Instead, I walked back to Tottenham Court Road and browsed around Foyles bookshop, which was a delightfully calming experience. I bought myself a copy of When the Wind Blows. I initially tried to find it in the children’s section but when I asked the woman behind the counter, she shuddered, and said, “it’s the saddest graphic novel in the world, I just don’t think it’s going to be in the children’s section!” She was right. It was up with the graphic novels for adults.

...And that was my little trip around Soho. There’s a memory there on every corner of every street, from outrageous nights out with Philip Sallon and the cast of Taboo, to midnight demonstrations and vigils against homophobia. I still remember the excitement I felt on seeing a row of gay bars for the first time in my life, and the terror I felt that spring afternoon in 1998 when the nail bomb went off at the Admiral Duncan, less than two hundred meters from where I was working.

Those streets certainly hold more than their fair share of memories.

Speaking of memories, I read a rather charming story yesterday about the “mind the gap” announcements they used to play on the Northern Line. They were recorded, some forty years ago, by an actor who recently died. His widow, missing him terribly, would often go to Embankment Station, and sit waiting for the trains to rush into the station, so she could hear her husband’s voice. One day she waited for the announcement to discover that it had been pensioned off. She was devastated.

When Transport for London heard about the sorry tale, they instantly changed their minds and decided to keep the actor’s voice, just at Embankment, until his widow had died and no longer needed to hear her husband’s voice. And if you don’t feel moved by that, you’re made of stone!

Sunday, 21 January 2018

The Green Belt

I’ve been very dormant for the last couple of days, but for a quiz in a golf club in the Green Belt around South Mimms last night. It’s always a bit odd to be in the Green Belt. It can be really very rural in those parts and yet you’re never far from a city view or that curious orange halogen glow which hangs from the clouds in London. I drove home with thick mists swirling around the car.

Lesley, who I was assisting, is the big boss of the company. I like and respect her enormously. QuizQuizQuiz is a large and successful operation which she’s built up from scratch. For one of the questions she played Wuthering Heights backwards and then astonished me by singing along to it, with every backward inflection observed perfectly! She also introduced me to The Shepherd Tone, which is a curious spiralling phenomenon in music where a descending chromatic run appears to get higher and higher or lower and lower without actually moving more than an octave in pitch. It’s all to do with the use of octaves and the volume at which the notes are being played at. I guess it’s the musical equivalent of a möbius cowl!

It snowed in Highgate all day today but the snow had turned to horrible, cold rain by the end of the night. I understand it’s been snowing fairly heavily elsewhere in the UK. But I want it to settle!

Friday, 19 January 2018

A gap too wide?

I washed myself with ‘Lynx Excite’ today which bills itself as “a body wash with a fragrance so tempting that even angels will sin for its heavenly masculinity.” What?! Now, those who know me well will know that I’m not averse to a bit of hyperbole, but I find myself wondering what on Earth went on during the branding meeting when they came up with that nonsense!

I personally think it’s best to keep away from religious iconography when trying to sell every day items. In fact, it’s best to stay away from religious iconography for anything other than religious purposes. Surely those of us who don’t believe in angels will consider the comment to be non-sensical, and those with Christian or New Age beliefs run the risk of being offended. The one thing we can all agree on is that the statement is a baffling lie. It’s a lose-lose situation.

Quite recently, I met a woman who’d written a musical about a fifteen-year old convent school girl who mysteriously falls pregnant. The girl is an atheist, but it turns out she’s actually given birth to the son of God. I felt compelled to ask the writer who she felt the show’s audience was. Atheists watching would, of course, be gunning for the central character, viewing her as one of them but if the show’s twist is that they’re all wrong and God exists after all, they’re going to be a little miffed. Similarly, I can’t really imagine Christian people being hugely impressed at the idea of God choosing a 15-year old atheist as the vessel from which the Second Coming springs. When it comes to religion, people can get quite touchy and if you’re going to use religion out of context, you really have to know your stuff. I still remember the Christian Union at York University demonstrating outside our production of Jesus Christ Superstar.

I went to Mountview School today for a meeting, and decided to walk there in what turned out to be the most stunning morning sunshine. It was icy under foot and the journey took me through all sorts of pocket parks and leafy causeways. Google Maps doesn’t have a “prettiest route” function, but if it did, and I’d selected it, I’d have felt pretty happy! The squirrels were out in force, digging up their carefully hidden stashes of winter food and lining their nests for another couple of months’ hibernation. They can make some rather peculiar noises, the most surreal of which is a bird-like squawk. I sometimes hear it coming from the tree in our back yard. It took me ages to realise the noise was coming from a squirrel.

The calmness of my walk was temporarily interrupted by two young teenagers sauntering along the path in front of me in a particularly quiet spot by the New River in Hornsey. They were all swag and juvenile aggression. I felt very uneasy as I passed them, particularly at the moment where I could see their long shadows stretching out on the pavement in front of me, despite my having overtaken them. I watched the silhouette of the taller of the two nonchalantly forming the shape of a gun with his hand and casually miming shooting me in the back of the head. It was genuinely quite shocking, to the extent that I immediately turned around to check if he was actually holding a real gun.

...And it struck me that, whatever initiatives we invest in, we still have a very long way to go when it comes to living in harmony with those who live around us. I’ll confess, I felt uneasy the moment I saw those lads. I didn’t like the fact that they weren’t at school. I didn’t like the language they were using or the way that they were walking. I found it threatening and suspect I would have felt the same way had the lads turned out to be the nicest kids in the world. That’s my prejudice. But similarly neither of them had any respect for me. If they had, they wouldn’t have tried to intimidate me and certainly wouldn’t have mimed shooting me in the head. So how do we bridge these gaps?

Thursday, 18 January 2018


Was it me or was there a mega gale blowing in the night? Nathan got up in a bit of a trance to close the window and promptly fell asleep standing up. He made a proper clatter as he fell against the wall. The jolt woke him up again.

There was a beautiful clean, orange light across London this morning which made waking up quite a treat. I understand it’s been snowing up north again. Fiona sent me pictures from Glasgow which looks like a winter wonderland. I instantly felt a pang of envy. I love snow. It was impossible to enjoy the one day of it we had in London this winter because we were stuck in a car, panicking!

I’ve applied for a proper grown up job! It feels very strange because it will mean an end to my writing career, at least for now, but there comes a time in everyone’s life when the future has to be considered. I’m sure this job will have a pension, holidays and tax taken out at source, and these are basically the things that I crave. Of course I may not get it. I may not even be interviewed. Sometimes - possibly usually - these jobs have already been given to someone else and they’re only advertising because protocol insists on it. But I’ve opened up more options, and that feels like an important step.

I don’t think there’s a great deal more to say about the day. I’m helping out in a quiz at a school tonight and I have to take my passport to prove who I am. It makes me sad to think that we’re living in such times. And it’s not just schools. Our synagogue is crawling with security people who will regularly stop and question anyone who’s even passing on the street outside. Whilst waiting to get in one day, I was quizzed at length about my credentials.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018


Is it really bad to say that one of my pet hates in this world is people who say “bless you” when you sneeze? By and large, I like to keep my sneezes fairly private. I’m not one of those sneezers who likes the world to notice their pleasure with great guffaws and shrieks. Actually, when I sneeze, I find it quite intrusive and more than a little embarrassing when a stranger says “bless you.” Why do we do it? Do young people still do it? It seems so Victorian! 

I’ve been doing my taxes over the last couple of days. It’s one of those hideous jobs you have to do at this time of year if you’re a freelancer. It can be really depressing when you start to look at your bank records and begin to feel the panic that you felt when you looked at them at the time and saw the money literally draining from your account like the sands of time in your life. I suppose the only benefit about doing taxes is that you’re looking into the past. However bad it got then, you know you’ve survived at least another eight months!

I am rather ashamed to say that 2016/17 was my lowest EVER earning year. I’m actually to embarrassed to say how low my earnings actually were, but the figure is considerably lower than £10k. I earned more the year I left drama school! And yet, during the year in question, I wrote Nene and Em, I had Brass performed at the Hackney Empire (to rave reviews), I released the Pepys album and wrote a composition for the Shame Chorus. All of this makes me want to question why. I guess the simple answer is that there’s been a shift away from people wanting to pay writers. There’s an assumption that we’re all hobbyists and writing for the joy of being performed. There is no other industry where people will so willingly work for nothing. To make matters worse, more and more creative people are undercutting each other these days. Someone’s always got a mate who says he’ll do it for less, which almost invariably means whoever does the undercutting will deliver something substandard which performers will need to justify cleverly.

In terms of other factors, Brexit, and a ten-year recession have not helped my industry. Money goes less far. Rents are out of control. My generation became experts in their fields just as no one could afford experts any more. There’s also been a shift towards needing to justify public arts funding by ticking boxes, which does mean that the white man has to fight that little bit harder for funding. That’s not sour grapes. It’s just the way it is. I can’t change the fact and I don’t think there’s an argument in the world which would change anyone’s views on positive discrimination, but it is an added factor. One which I have to consider.

So that’s my lot. It’s sobering, but also heartwarming because it makes me realise how well I’ve done when it comes to managing my finances. I can make a meal out of odds and ends. I don’t spend obscene amounts of money on clothing, alcohol or fancy holidays. And I’ve never been in debt.

I just wish I had a bit more money...

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Barnum and sausages

Hilary came to stay with us last night and we took ourselves on a charming walk up to Ally Pally and back home, via Marks and Spencer where I discovered quite how awful their range of veggie sausages are. I know they like their own brands and things, but no one wants sausages which look like blocks of Edinburgh rock!

So we trolled off to Planet Organic organic instead, where I had a very strong allergic reaction to the shoppers inside. They were all posh women dragging children called Tarquin around, saying things like “shall we get you some trail mix, darling?” Everything in that shop is deeply overpriced, largely, one assumes so that those inside can Lord it over the rest of us: “look at me affording all the best quality, organic products for my children. I’ve banned sugar from my house, you know, and we have a goji berry shake for breakfast every morning.” It all made me feel incredibly angry. Privilege like this is the red rag to my particular bull. And I guess I feel more strongly about this particular issue as I was brought up on whole foods when eating them wasn’t a status symbol. In fact, everyone thought my Mum was crazy for feeding them to us. She didn’t take us to Daily Bread in Northampton to show off. She took us there because buying in bulk was cheap and because it sold really healthy food at very low prices.

In the end we bought veggie sausages at our local Sainsbury’s and had them, swimming in gravy, with mashed potato and peas in giant Yorkshire puddings.

After tea, we walked down the Holloway Road to the Odeon at Nag’s Head to see The Greatest Showman. It’s a wonderful film, which loosely tells the story of the famous 19th Century American circus entrepreneur, Barnum. It’s a strange choice for a musical film. The stage musical, Barnum was, after all, about the life of the very same man! I kept wanting Barnum’s wife to burst into a rendition of The Colours of my Life. (Do you remember when Torvill and Dean did Barnum on Ice?) They made the very brave decision to keep the music feeling highly contemporary, which, bizarrely, worked.

They opted to play Barnum himself as a relentlessly fabulous individual and papered over some of the less reputable aspects of his character. I’m not sure his Circus freaks were meant to have been treated hugely well and he had some pretty hard-core views. After going into politics, he actually became the legislative sponsor of the 1879 Connecticut anti-contraception law. That said, he was also an anti-slavery campaigner. The merging of fact and fiction led to a fairly confusing end card which said something along the lines of: “these characters are based on real people, but any similarity to individuals living or dead is purely coincidental.”

But it’s a fabulous film. It’s everything a musical film ought to be. Escapist. Great music. Energetic. Magical. It lacked a bit of an emotional core for me. I like to weep like a baby when I watch a film and would like to have cared more, and learned more about the assortment of oddballs he hired to work as performers. I think they missed a slight trick there. But ultimately that didn’t matter. I had a wonderful night.

The only trouble is that the cinema smelt of urine. Odeon cinemas always feel so uncared for, when compared to the somewhat fabulous Everyman Cinemas which are replacing them.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

False alarms

Ooh, this cold is a humdinger! Singing yesterday was a proper trial. I had absolutely no control over what my vocal cords were doing and felt like someone had packed a great big dollop of cotton wool behind my ears. The only enjoyable aspect was finding myself with the sudden addition of about a minor third at the bottom of my vocal range. I was popping out bottom Cs and Bs purely for the fun of it, like some sort of crazy Russian bass. The coughing, however, has not been fun at all, and neither has the constant hunger which often accompanies these sorts of head colds. I am trying to fight the urge to eat the stuff I’m craving, which is all high carb, high fat nonsense like chips. Surely my body ought to be forcing me to eat healthily and overdose on oranges? But instead, as I’m writing this, I’m craving a toasted sandwich from Sam’s lovely toasted sandwich maker.

I was horrified to hear about the ballistic missile false alarm texts which were sent out in Hawaii yesterday. It’s difficult to know how terrifying it must have been to receive a message which read, “ballistic missile threat. Inbound to Hawaii. Take immediate shelter. This is not a drill.” TV and radio broadcasts were even interrupted with the message. People went running for cover. Parents stuck their children in bath tubs. Students sent panicked messages to loved ones. It’s astonishing that something like this could have happened. It just shows how edgy we’re all feeling at the moment.

State governor, David Ige has apologised, saying it was mistake caused by an employee “pushing the wrong button.” To me it’s astonishing that a text with such wide-reaching and horrifying consequences could be sent out universally without a cascade of checks and balances. Surely there was a follow-up message which flashed up saying “are you sure you want to send this?” And what set of bizarre consequences leads to someone pushing the wrong button of this nature?

It apparently took eighteen minutes for the statement to be retracted, and then this only happened by email. It was another fifteen minutes before a follow-up text revealed it had been a false alarm.

I am reminded (in a much smaller way) of a recent train journey which took me through London Bridge Station. As we passed through, an eerie, echoing tannoy announcement was blaring out to all and sundry which said, “would Inspector Sands please report to the ticket office.” It was accompanied by a somewhat discordant electronic alarm. These days, we all know that Mr Sands indicates that there’s some sort of fire in the building, so it’s not a message that any of us likes hearing. My favourite part of the shenanigans, however, was the fact that after every announcement which instructed Inspector Sands to head to the ticket office, another tannoy announcement echoed trough the station saying, “this is a false alarm.” People in the station were looking considerably non-plussed!

Perhaps I’m being a bit simplistic here, but isn’t it time to deactivate the Inspector Sands message?

Saturday, 13 January 2018


I tell you something: waking up on a cold, winter Saturday morning at 7am, before it’s light outside, is not the most thrilling thing, especially when you have a raging cold.

As predicted, exactly a week and a half into my new health and fitness regime, I’ve come down with a cold. I wonder why it happens? It always happens... Singing at synagogue today is going to be a trial. Thank heavens I’m singing bass.

Donald Trump is all over the news. I keep wondering whether we’re all going to wake up and realise he was some sort of Hallowe’en joke that we all fell for.The latest double whammy, where he seems to have described about half the world as “shit hole countries” and then decided not to come to the UK later this year because he doesn’t like the American Embassy he was due to open, is absolutely bizarre. Not that I hugely blame him for not wanting to come to the UK. People would have thrown eggs. I would have thrown eggs. I’m totally with Sadiq Kahn when he says that Trump’s finally got the message that he’s not wanted in London, that he’s at complete loggerheads with the multy-culty spirit of Londoners. That other tit, the ludicrous engineer of Brexit, Boris Johnson, has, of course, leapt to Trump’s defence, by describing Kahn as a “pompous popinjay,” which basically tells us all I know about who’s more in touch with the British people. But then again, I sort of feel that we’re going to wake up and discover that Johnson and Brexit was all a joke.

But can we wake up from this nightmare soon please?

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Never again!

Please remind me never to do what I’ve done today again! I have not left the house. Instead I have sat, semi naked, on the sofa all day finishing parts for Nene. I haven’t eaten lunch, I’ve just hidden away from the world on this ludicrous mission. It’s a mission, I’m pleased to say, that I achieved. But I’m wondering at what cost to my sanity!

Our car has broken down. There is something very wrong with the back wheel. It has been making funny sounds for months and suddenly, two days ago, it entirely froze whilst we were trying to reverse. The tyre skidded across the gym car park like something from The Wacky Races. Our garage is permanently engaged, so we can’t have it fixed!

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Forbidden fruit

I’ve been to the gym six days in the past seven and have eaten healthy food, low in fat, low in sugar and high in fibre, since New Year’s Day. My body is certainly thanking me. My skin feels really smooth and already I can feel that I am far less bloated. Hurrah.

I think the key to dieting is making nothing entirely off bounds. I am trying not to eat chocolate until Easter, for example, but if someone offers me a small amount or has gone to the trouble or baking a lovely chocolate cake, I’m not going to turn my nose up. Entirely forbidden fruit always tastes so much sweeter. Just as long as I can always tell myself, hand on heart, that I’m eating less and exercising more, I should be alright.

I’ve certainly had to hit the ground running this year with heaps and heaps of formatting to do on the new version of my Nene composition, which is being performed at Peterborough Cathedral and the Northampton Derngate in March. I’m currently trying to create a piano reduction for rehearsal purposes. It’s a real chore. A piano reduction is never actually ever performed, so there’s next to no point in writing an astounding and wondrous piece of music. It just needs to be enough for the choirs to find their notes and get a sense of the orchestral accompaniment. That said, pride usually kicks in and I work around the clock creating something which feels pianistic and appropriate.

There’s little else to say. I think we all turn into boring bastards in January, and with the weather like it is, I reckon I’m fairly happy staying indoors.

Monday, 8 January 2018

Hell, fire and toasted sandwiches!

Nathan and I went to Julie Clare’s house last night and played Cards Against Humanity till quite late. Sam, who lives with Julie, but only appeared right at the end of the evening, has recently purchased a vintage 1960s toasted sandwich maker which took me very fondly back to my childhood. At one point everyone had one of them, usually at the back of a cupboard caked entirely in sticky grease next to the soda stream and a potato ricer. We were obsessed with ours for at least a week. We tried most combinations of food inside. Cheese and baked beans. Mars bars. Actually that’s probably the long and the short of our imagination...

Sam’s sandwich maker was made by Boots. I had no idea that Boots had made electrical equipment like that. It certainly made delicious toasties. Back then, of course, things were built to last - even the things they sold in Boots. This one was made in stainless steel, so it’s probably no surprise that it was still in working order. I made a sandwich with cheddar, pesto and halloumi, and one with cheese and chutney. They felt decadent and exciting. I reckon I could open up a cafe selling them. If I referred to the sandwiches as “retro” and said they were filled with “Somerset aged cheddar” and “deluxe, wild basil pesto”, I’d be able to triple the cost and sell them to yummy mummies in Hackney for four times the amount. Making money in the world of food is all about the adjectives you use.

We talked about the fact that there’s a school now charging its pupils to do GCSE music because funding for education from the disgraceful government is now reaching a crisis point. We talked about the fact that most people are now predicting a massive brain drain in this country post Brexit, and the fact that the bankers (who we seem so desperate to keep here) have already oiled their escape routes and added down to their nests in Ireland, France and Germany. There’s predicted to be a major flowering of the arts, in places like Berlin, caused by a huge exodus of British creatives with tragically no other option but to leave these shores. For the first time I wondered whether it might be quite an exciting adventure to go myself, leaving the hell of Brexit and endless Tory cuts behind. If Colman’s mustard can move to Germany, then maybe so can I!

I went to the village of West Wycombe on Saturday afternoon with Michael to visit the really spooky Hell Fire Caves: a series of long, underground tunnels which were dug in the mid 18th Century as a sort of subterranean pleasure garden. They were used as a meeting place for the shady “Hell Fire Club”, a group of society figures who met for bawdy parties which involved all sorts of curious pagan rituals and, probably, quite a lot of sex. Women were allowed to attend, although they wore masks and were only invited if they had a “cheery disposition.” Which probably meant loose morals. Women of the night dressed as nuns were also a feature of these gatherings.

There are all sorts of underground chambers down there, where revellers would gather, including a dining room with an impressive domed roof, maybe 30 feet high.

My favourite part was the inner temple, a much smaller chamber at the very deepest point in the complex, which is, apparently, directly underneath a church on the hillside 100 feet above. To gain access to the temple, you had to cross over the “River Styx”, a man made pool which looks like an eerie underground river. The attention to detail is astounding. The bloke who commissioned the building of the caves in the 1700s even asked the people who dug it out to create stalactites to hang over the water. 

The complex is said to be haunted by two ghosts, one called Suki. The “Most Haunted” team (Yvette Fielding’s lot) spent a night down there and were apparently greeted by orbs of light and the sound of children laughing. They also said that it was the darkest place they’d ever visited... whatever that means!

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Derry Girls

I tuned in to the much-trailed Channel 4 comedy drama, Derry Girls, last night. It is, I suspect, the finest first episode of a comedy show I have seen since Catastrophe.

The show is set in a girl’s convent school in Derry, in the 1990s, at the height of the troubles. I suspect I’m always going to be a fairly difficult audience member to win over when it comes to anything set in that particular part of the world because of my fundamental issues with Northern Ireland and its backward policies on abortion and gay marriage, but I was utterly entranced.

The joy about this piece is that the troubles rumble along in the background as more of a nuisance than the huge trauma that most of us in Britain probably imagine they must have been. I’m sure we all tend to forget that young Northern Irish people simply had to get on with living through that era. They went to school, had crushes on older boys and dealt with bullying, hard-core, humourless nuns as best they could.

It’s beautifully, and atmospherically shot, and the writing, by Lisa McGee, feels fresh and incredibly witty. There are some absolutely killer one-liners, many of which come from the school’s acerbic head teacher. There’s a wonderful little repeated device which occasionally happens where we’re led to believe we’re hearing the voiceover of the central character but it turns out to be her cousin who has got hold of her diary and is reading sections out to anyone who will listen!

The four main girls are naughty, but deeply likeable characters, exquisitely acted. They defend each other in a world where adults are, largely, imbecilic, over-religious dinosaurs. The show’s lead, Saoirse Jackson, is an absolute diamond with deeply funny bones who genuinely lights up the screen.

Dropped in amongst the Irish girls, like a pig in a slaughter house, is a young English boy called James, who appears to be the product of his mother going over to London for an abortion but changing her mind and bringing him up instead. She has now returned to Derry with her son, but there are such fears for the safety of an English boy at the local school for lads that he’s been sent to the girls’ school where no one can understand what he’s saying, and there’s nowhere for him to go to the loo!

This is a fresh, funny, fabulous show, which I urge you all to watch.

Friday, 5 January 2018

built to last

I was astounded to arrive at Tottenham Court Road this morning to discover buckets collecting water pouring through underground ceilings and little pieces of yellow and black tape marking trip hazards on the floor. If this were one of the old tube stations desperately in need of renovation, I might be inclined to feel sympathy, but this is the flag ship station in the new Cross Rail and it’s only been open for a couple of years! To me it’s a true indication of modern day style over substance. We live in an era where seemingly nothing is built to last. Apple have finally admitted to “planned obsolescence” with their iPhones, and I wish architects would follow suit. People literally had to fight to keep the iconic 80s Paolozzi mosaics in Tottenham Court Road which look as fresh today as they did there they were made, but many have been ripped out or covered over with shocking pieces of shiny plastic and untreated “industrial chic” concrete, which cost a fortune, look fabulous for a few weeks before becoming tragically tatty and gnarled.

When those beautifully-tiled, Art Nouveau tube stations were built in the 1880s and again when they built the fabulously futuristic buildings at the end of the Piccadilly Line in the 1930s, people wanted architecture that would still be there in a hundred years. And they got it... with style icons being created in the process. It’s almost as though modern day people don’t think the world has a future. And with Trump sitting with his finger on the nuclear button you can’t really blame them!

Tuesday, 2 January 2018


After a glorious roast dinner at Lisa and Mark’s yesterday, which must have featured vegetables of every colour of the rainbow, we did something of an emergency dash to Aylesbury, where my godson, Will had been rushed into hospital. There’s not a great deal to say about why he’s there. Until the doctors have done the necessary tests, all we can do is wait. Besides, it hardly feels appropriate to be speculating here.

Knowing that no one knew what the problem was, and that tests were going to take a few days to happen, it struck us that it might be a good idea to simply turn up at the hospital yesterday, to create a cheery distraction for the family as they waited for news. Will is obviously very poorly, but he perked up considerably when he saw us. Because he’s already had some investigative keyhole surgery, he’s been banned from laughing, which, of course, makes laughter the forbidden fruit which you crave more than anything else. It’s like being in assembly as a kid. And I couldn’t help trying to make him laugh...

Raily and Iain are obviously a little anxious but they are being honest with Will and sharing news as it comes in so he doesn’t panic when he sees doctors talking in little huddles and hushed voices a few feet away from his bed. Will is an exceptionally bright lad so I think they’re exactly right to treat him like an adult in this respect.

After he’d been tucked up in bed in the hospital, we went back to Raily and Iain’s house and talked quite late into the night about anything and everything whilst drinking cups of tea, which, incidentally, spent the night working their way through my body. I must learn not to drink tea past about 8pm!

I’m sure Will’ll be absolutely fine, and that yesterday’s madness will slowly sink into some sort of dramatic anecdote, but it was certainly a sobering start to the year, one which reminds me of the importance of human contact and the well-being of one’s family and loved ones. Nothing else really matters does it?

Monday, 1 January 2018

And a happy new year to you all

And a Happy New Year to you all! I’m in Huntingdonshire at Lisa and Mark’s. I’ve just looked out of the window across a somewhat windswept countryside. The colours of nature in these parts feel terribly familiar. We’re actually only 11 miles away from Higham Ferrers where I grew up and the earth round here must have a similar clay content.

I have been chuckling to myself all morning about an article in the Standard about a fare dodger getting his penis caught in ticket barriers at Covent Garden tube station! A large crowd apparently gathered as London Underground staff and police tried to free him. A passer by was heard to say “butter him up, butter him up.”

We came here yesterday in the late afternoon after spending a lovely few hours with Llio and her Mum, Silvia; two women it would be difficult for me to adore any more thoroughly. We drank tea and shared music. Llio has written some blinking good pop songs lately, one of which, I’m quite sure is a bone fide hit. I have told her I will not stop nagging her until she gets it into the hands of a top producer.

It was a wonderfully quiet New Year. Just Lisa, Mark, Nathan and their charming kids, Poppy and Rosie. Rosie is only 5. There was a long period of time when she was sitting incredibly quietly in the sitting room whilst we were all in the kitchen. After a while the silence became concerning and Lisa popped her head next door to see if she was okay. We were all astounded to discover that Rosie had found the Mac computer, donned a pair of headphones, opened up a new project on Logic and somehow managed to input some sonic data. It was an incredible sight!

We played Articulate and wrote cards with our highlights and lowlights from 2017 and our hopes for 2018 which we then sealed. Lisa has suggested looking at them again in ten years’ time. I don’t really want to think about ten years’ time. Everything is so up in the air at the moment. Brexit. My career. The health of loved ones. For the first time in my life I have no concept of what the next ten years might bring. Right now, I’m quite certain I won’t still be writing music. It has become painfully clear to me this year that it is almost impossible for a writer to maintain a career in writing for theatre. And everyone I know in the Arts in general seems to be struggling bitterly. The odds are entirely stacked against us.

So, for the record, 2018 for me is about finding clarity and meaningful employment. I suspect none of this can start until I’ve lost weight, so if anyone reading this sees me stuffing my face with chocolate before Easter, gently remind me of the fact that I’ve made this particular resolution! And please don’t offer me cake... however much my eyes look at you pleadingly like hungry Bambi.

I hope everyone reading this has a hugely healthy 2018, filled with love, laughter and friendship. If you feel lonely, reach out to existing friends, or put yourself in different worlds where you can meet new people. Don’t rely on social media. We all need, and deserve human contact. Remember that.