Thursday, 29 March 2018

4th anniversary

It would appear to be my fourth wedding anniversary, and I’m in Manchester. More specifically, I’m in a Travelodge in Northwich in Cheshire. Life can be terribly glamorous!

I’m here, today and tomorrow, to edit my Em films. I flung the dates into my diary in January without really thinking about the fact that they would clash with my own wedding anniversary. It would be really lovely to be at home today with my husband, but we’ve said we’ll have a terribly fancy takeaway meal tomorrow when I’m back. And we’ve got the weekend...

There have been a couple of congratulatory messages posted on Facebook, which have been lovely to read. There’s a general “time flies” theme to most of them, but actually, it feels like a decade ago! So much has happened since, including Brass, Em, Nene, Beyond the Fence, three trips to America, releasing three albums...

This time, four years ago, Nathan, his sister Sam, and I were probably getting into a taxi and traveling up to Alexandra Palace. It was unseasonably warm, and all the blossoms and flowers were out. Alexandra Palace was flying the rainbow flag, which we found hugely moving. We took photographs of ourselves holding a big bouquet of flowers which had very kindly been sent to us by the performer Katie Melua. We’d also just opened a card from Michael Stipe, lead singer of R.E.M. It was all terribly surreal.

I remember walking into the space and seeing how beautiful they’d made it look. Just for us. It was possibly at that point that we realised what was happening. I think, up until then, it had felt like we were rehearsing for some sort of theatre show. But arriving in the space suddenly made us realise we were actually getting married.

And the rest is history...

What I do feel very angry about is that they’ve chosen this date to exit the EU next year. March 29th was a day of great hope and unity: the day that gay men finally had the chance to get married. How dare that grotesque cow May turn it into a day of separation and anger?

It’s all go at the moment. It’s amazing what a nice, relaxing trip to the countryside will do to you. I’ve basically done nothing but rush about missing meetings since arriving back here. It’s like I suddenly can’t manage my diary any more. You take your foot off the merry-go-round for a single second and you are sent hurtling off into the abyss.

I think I have rather too much to do. I have to start planning 100 Faces, and there’s an abnormal amount of work to do on that. Unfortunately, it’s proving a little tricky to get the story out to the Jewish press who are, necessarily, somewhat focussed on reporting antisemitism within the Labour Party at the moment. It’s not a new story, and I’m surprised leaders within the Jewish community have put up with it for so long. It’s always been my major concern with Jeremy Corbyn. The last general election was dreadful. I had to choose between a homophobe leader of the Lib Dems, and an antisemite leader of Labour.

Anyway, the other thing I’m trying to do is release the Em album. There’s press releases to write and send out. Being forced to release two projects simultaneously is always complicated. Half the time, you want to send information to the same people, but can’t because people can rarely get their heads around someone promoting two projects simultaneously unless they’re actors who happen to have two films being released at the same time, which, for some reason, people seem to understand.

So, I’ve had a shower, and my free cup of Travelodge tea, and two Weetabix which I ate from a mug because I couldn’t find a bowl for sale in the local Co-op. This Travelodge doesn’t have a restaurant, so I bought my own food with me to avoid a dreaded “breakfast box.” On second thoughts, it’s not really the best place to be on a wedding anniversary!

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

West Sussex

I’m back in London after a somewhat magical trip out to West Sussex. It was Michael’s birthday yesterday and one of the people from Shul very kindly offered him the use of their spectacular county abode. It’s one of those houses that you only really see on films. The most beautiful grounds lined with daffodils and primroses, a little lake, an entire barn dedicated to table tennis, snooker and table football, and a glorious indoor pool. We were staying in the gatehouse, a timber-framed barn conversion on the edge of the grounds. It was a wondrous place, with implausibly high ceilings. The owner, Toni, is a hugely generous soul who plainly knows she has a beautiful second home and wants to share it with people she knows will benefit from it. I felt immensely privileged to be there.

It really was just a day of relaxing. We played pool and then swam all morning. There was a wonderful jacuzzi which pummelled away the stresses of London. We sat on a roof terrace and ate a lunch of bread, soup and cheese whilst the Spring sunshine warmed our faces. We were profoundly lucky with the weather. Had Michael’s birthday been today, we would have been huddled indoors listening to the roar of rain hurtling down on the roof. But yesterday was the first official day of Spring, and, for some reason, the weather seemed to agree.

A last-minute fit of pique saw us taking ourselves off to Devil’s Dyke in the afternoon. The house is essentially in the middle of nowhere, but, because the address was West Sussex, until I looked at a map, it hadn’t occurred to me that we’d be just a half hour drive from Brighton.

Devil’s Dyke is a very impressive spot. It’s a deeply atmospheric ravine which slices through the Southern Downs. It was one of those Victorian destinations which, at one stage, featured a vertiginous and rickety-looking cable car which dangled perilously above the valley. With the Victorian inclination to faint at the drop of a hat, I’m pretty sure it would have been a somewhat hopeless proposition for most of the people who dared to get on board.

We walked along the rim of the ravine, making ourselves absolutely parched in the process. We passed a little farm at one stage which had a cafe in it on every day other than Mondays. It was a cruel blow. A cream tea would have made the day perfect.

The light was spectacular. At this time of year, the grass takes on metallic hues which the treacle-coloured sunlight turned into something from a 1970s photograph! It was all very delightful.

In the early evening we popped into Brighton. Blink, and you’d have missed us. It was a quick stroll down the Laines and a hot cross bun in a little cafe where the early evening light streaked through a wooden window. We were back in West Sussex by eight for another swim and a lovely meal in a pub which smelt of wood smoke.

For me, this is what getting out of London is all about. As we re-entered the pollution and mayhem this morning, I realised I’d started to cough rather badly. Proof, if proof were needed, that we’re all screwed in this city!

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Counting steps

I’m presently on my way back from singing in the synagogue choir. I decided to walk down the stairs at Holland Park tube. It gets the blood flowing. There’s always a sign at the top and the bottom of the staircases in tube stations which says how many steps there are. As one of those people who almost obsessively counts things, I’m often horrified about how off the mark the step counts actually are. That said, Holland Park correctly advertises 123 steps, so I’m not sure why I’m recounting this story!

I think I’m right in saying that Covent Garden tube is the deepest of all the stations on the London Underground, and therefore is the one with the largest number of steps: one hundred and ninety three, if Wikipedia is to be believed. I discovered this to my cost, as a teenager, on my first trip to London without parents. I came here for the day with school friends, Tammy and Natalie. We’d have trained it down from Bedford. I can’t remember anything about the day other than that it was my idea to exit the station via the stairs. I still have a photograph of the girls looking incredibly grumpy - about half way up! They were furious with me.

I think we went shopping in Oxford Street. I have a vague memory of going to Top Shop by Oxford Circus and being astounded by how big it was. I’d never seen a shop so large. I was such a hick from the sticks!

Singing in shul went by without major incident. There were two singers there who I didn’t really know, one of whom was a bit of a stickler when it came to the pronunciation of Hebrew. He picked me up on something I was singing, and I felt slightly embarrassed.

We were performing some repertoire from the “Blue Book”, which is the Orthodox Jewish equivalent of Hymns Ancient and Modern. The book was collated and published in the 19th century but, unlike its Christian equivalent, it’s never been updated. This is an issue for several reasons, the first of which is to do with the page layout. In order to conserve space, those paper-conscious Victorians made the decision to cram the words in all over the place, none of which are below the bass line, which makes sight-reading near impossible. The other issue is that the pronunciation of certain Hebrew words has morphed over time. Many o’s (but not all) have become a’s and t’s occasionally migrate to s’s. So the task of the chorister becomes that much more difficult.

Passover starts on Friday, so we were also singing repertoire associated with this festival, one of which had been arranged by a former cantor at the synagogue who was a little, shall we say, slap-dash with his writing. The arrangements he turfed out were always very poorly executed: badly-voiced and confusingly laid out on the page. I once picked him up on the fact that he hadn’t written any words below the bass line, despite the bass part singing entirely different rhythms to the rest of the ensemble. “What would you like me to sing here?” I asked. “Sing what you want” he answered snappily, “I don’t care.” I can’t remember what I said in response, but it was plainly incendiary as it rapidly escalated into an argument where he petulantly felt the need to point out that he wasn’t being paid to do the arrangements which, of course, was like a red rag to a bull for me. A self-respecting composer should do their best regardless of whether they’re being paid. If choristers are handed a hot mess of a score, then they will be unwilling, and, in fact, unable to perform to a high standard. And so it came to pass today with his dreadful arrangement, which descended into chaos because the music gave us no clues about what it wanted to sound like!

Thursday, 22 March 2018

100 Faces

I appear to be staggering across London with a massive backpack and a suitcase, upon which is stacked two incredibly heavy cardboard boxes. Ah! The life of a Quiz Master! The boxes contain pens and reams-upon-reams of paper. I have perilously attached them to the suitcase with gaffer tape. They are wobbling. Any moment now they’re going to topple off the top and there will be a pencident involving six hundred biros spinning across the tube station floor. Someone will trip. I will be sued. I can sense it all coming.

I had my second injection to inoculate me against the HPV virus today. Most women are given the injection whilst they’re still at school, but it’s something they don’t tend to inoculate men against, except, I’m told, in Australia. There are reasons for this to do with cervical cancer, but there’s compelling evidence to suggest that the HPV virus isn’t a lot of fun in a man either. In fact, I believe it’s responsible for my cousin’s cancer. So, anyway, the gay community, with our propensity to visit sexual health clinics for regular MOTs, make perfect guinea pigs for things the government are thinking about rolling out, and, because I don’t want warts and can’t spell “human papilloma”, I said “yeah!”

The injection hurts a bit! It goes into the muscle at the very top of your arm. That said, I loved my doctor. She was quirky and a lot of fun to chat to.

Last night, I went to a very lovely evening sponsored by UK Jewish Film. It was here that I learned that I have been awarded the prestigious Pears Short Film Fund. Readers who have known me for some time will remember that I made a film for the BBC in the North East called 100 Faces. The premise of the film is very simple. There are 100 Faces belonging to 100 people who are born in every year for the last 100 years. I made the film in 2012, which is within the lifetime of this blog, so feel free to read back over my accounts.

Anyway, I have long felt that 100 Faces didn’t make enough of a splash. It’s a beautiful film, but it was only screened by the BBC in a very small area of the county. In more recent years, as many readers of this blog will be aware, I’ve been dipping my toe into the murky waters of my Jewish ancestry and have very much enjoyed meeting the community I’ve discovered. It occurred to me, about a year ago, that a brand new version of 100 Faces, featuring some of the wonderful, diverse, mystical, fascinating, funny and vibrant Jewish people I know to exist, could be a deeply moving and hugely inspiring film.

British Jewish people, it strikes me, are never really allowed to shout about themselves in the way that American Jews really do. When did we last see a Jewish family on Eastenders for example? Was it Dr Legg? He died years ago!

Scratch the surface and most people’s idea of a Jewish person is either someone with a hat and ringlets, a sort of Maureen Lipman figure who makes chicken soup and can’t let go of her children, or a dark, underground network who control the media. That’s when we’re not using any debate about Jewish people to condemn the perceived human rights abuses happening in Israel.

When do we ever stop to think about the difference between Reform and Liberal Jews? Or the difference between Orthodox and Haredi? Or Ashkenazi and Sephardi? When do we celebrate the fact that same-sex couples can get married in at least fifty percent of British synagogues. That’s gay men marrying in a British place of worship. This is a forward-thinking community.

And it seems that the wonderful jury for the Pears Fund agreed. I am making the film. My quest to find 100 Jewish people of 100 Ages begins tomorrow. Please wish me luck.

And if you’re Jewish, and reading this, whether you’re religious or entirely atheist, please do get in touch.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Er ner mer sner

Highgate is still under a bit of snow. It was a fairly surreal moment when I drove back from Peterborough yesterday to find piles of virgin snow on the steps up to my front door. 

I was back home at 8.30am, which was also bizarre. I’d got up at 6 to drive to an interview in Winchester which was frustratingly cancelled because of the bad weather. I’d only actually managed about three hours’ sleep after the adrenaline rush of the Peterborough Cathedral experience, and had the interview been cancelled the night before, I’d have been able to have a lie-in and breakfast with my family.

In the end, I went for lunch with Michael in Brook Green, a rather charming, and very quiet largely Victorian residential area which runs between Shepherd’s Bush and Hammersmith. We had pizza and salad, which has to be one of my most favourite food combinations. So, actually, the day was salvaged and became very pleasant.

I was back in Highgate in the early evening, just in time for another tip-down of snow. Driving along the North Circular with snow rolling in circles around me was a somewhat epic, film-like experience. The snow in Highgate was glinting magically in car headlights and street lights. All weather manages to look rather romantic in Highgate. Particularly mist, which makes the village look like something from a Sherlock Holmes novel. Not that I’ve read a Sherlock Holmes novel. I’ve actually only read ten novels in my life. Most of them by George Orwell.

Today was all about admin. Admin and more admin. I had long a list which I slowly worked my way through. I didn’t feel I’d made much of a dent on it, but I did do all the paper work related to officially releasing the Em album on all the online sites, which was a weight off my mind.

Nathan arrived back from the Edinburgh yarn festival last night with absolutely no voice. He can only whisper. He’s gone and got himself a dose of laryngitis, which is ironic because he looses his voice every time he goes to that particular festival. The last time was because he shouted so much during the ceilidh! I felt incredibly sorry for him as it’s his favourite yarnie hangout and not having a voice definitely compromised his ability to enjoy himself.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Peterborough’s Neeeeeen

Yesterday found me braving the snow and heading up to Peterborough for the final performance of Nene. It was a magical and very special day.

The journey up was far less complicated than I’d imagined. There was a good covering of snow on the car when I started my journey. It’s that rather strange icy snow which has been falling lately: the sort of powdery snow which gets everywhere, yet doesn’t seem to make anything particularly wet. It simply brushes off surfaces. I used an Enya CD to scrape it off all the windows and then went on my merry way, listening to Em on the car stereo. It sounded good. I felt excited.

By the time I’d reached Peterborough there was no sign of this second Beast from the East. In fact it was sunny. Freezing cold, but sunny. 

The parents had booked us all into a hotel in the centre of the city, and we had a light lunch in the bar before heading out for a stroll. Peterborough, it turns out, is a rather lovely place. My only real experience of it in the past was waiting for trains at the rather uninspiring station and going there for shopping-cum-skating fun as a teenager. For some reason it was my form at school’s preferred away day, and we never ventured further than the soulless shopping complex.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, to find that the city has a medieval square, quite a lot of which is intact. And the cathedral is something else! It’s quite low-level and French-looking. There’s no massive spire or tower, but it’s profoundly beautiful. The ceilings are exquisite, carved from stone and wood. I don’t really know why it’s not better known. I don’t think there are many people in this country who would think to list Peterborough Cathedral alongside York, Canterbury and Lincoln. I’m not even sure that most people know that Peterborough even HAS a cathedral. 

It’s actually the burial site of Catherine of Aragon. My Mum had popped in the previous day and stumbled upon a woman at her tomb, weeping and wailing. It’s astounding how figures from the past can generate such hysteria.

The cathedral also once housed the body of Mary Queen of Scots, which felt rather appropriate as one of the sequences in Nene is a setting of a poem that Mary wrote in Fotheringhey, shortly before her execution.

I met some of the young people who were going to be singing. The music school has been hugely careful about sharing out which school does which concert, and this performance favoured schools from the north of the county, Rutland and Cambridgeshire, but I was a little sad not to have my posse from Higham Ferrers junior school there. They sent me a card after the Albert Hall production with a picture of them all. It sits proudly on my mantle piece.

Nemo, the bath-tub water sculpture, which has become something of a talisman for the piece, wasn’t actually being featured in this performance, but had come to the cathedral to keep us company. It was lovely to see him again.

Brother Edward and Sascha arrived and we had a little walk around the city. Edward bought himself a “healthy” smoothie with grains and soya milk and all sorts of horrors inside. It tasted like the mushy relic of a Weetabix bowl and sawdust, and it had the aftertaste of raisins. Literally ghastly. It also caused an unpleasant row in our hotel bar when we were asked to lose the drink or leave. Charming for residents, we thought...

The concert itself has imbedded itself in my mind as a series of little snap shot.

There was a queue when we arrived which snaked out of the cathedral all the way into the market square. I didn’t feel grand enough to skip it, so, because it was cold, I walked up and down to see who was there. Little Michelle and Ben, Debbie, Tash, two of the Angelas I went to school with... it was a joy to see them all. 

Seating was unreserved, so there was a bun fight going on. I was more than a little relieved that four seats at the front had been set aside for me. Enough for my guests Debbie, her husband Chris, and my Mum. Sitting on the front row is always a bit of a double-edged sword. You feel rather on display!

The first half included a contemporary dance piece performed by a group from Peterborough, which I found noble and impressive, yet a little bewildering. I wasn’t sure what expression to wear on my face. 

The County Youth Choir, on the other hand, were extraordinary. Debbie, Brother Edward and I were all founding members of the group in 1990, and all three of us oscillated between being hugely moved and highly proud. They performed Sleep by Eric Whittaker with almost breathtaking precision. Sitting in the front row, was a surround-sound experience. It was like we were wearing the choir as a warm cloak!

There was a disconcerting, giant bronze Jesus on a cross hanging above our heads. The cross was red, which meant the holes in Jesus’ eyes were glowing like some sort of devil. I kept looking up and wondering if anyone else had noticed this particular fact, or whether the sculptor had meant it to be like that!

I was a little disappointed to see so few lads in the performances. None of the dancers were boys, girls far outweighed boys in the massed choir, and even the percussion ensemble had more girls than boys. This, in an era where much is being made of the need to have more women in music.

There was a tremendous moment at the start of the concert when Peter Smalley, who was presenting, told the children in the mass choir that they could wave at their families in the audience. I turned around to look down the nave of the cathedral at the audience - all seven hundred of them - to witness a sea of waving hands. I don’t know why I found the sight so moving. Perhaps because it meant that I’d brought families together through my music and given them memories to cherish.

I was interviewed before the performance of Nene. I don’t actually remember what I said. I had wanted to suggest that Peterborough be re-annexed by Northamptonshire. It was, after all, part of the county until 1974. I’m not sure that would have gone down any better than my insistence that Nene be pronounced Nen, the Northampton way, rather than Neen, the Peterborough way!

The performance itself was really wonderful. I think the orchestra played it better than ever before, and, of course, that booming cathedral acoustic was generous. Some sequences really landed. Mary Queen of Scots’ poem reverberated around the space like something sent from heaven. The sequence about the ghostly hunt was also suitably chilling. It actually describes a haunting in the cathedral itself and I told the choir before that if they sang it really loudly, we might encourage the ghosts to come back! 

It’s a curious space which doesn’t exactly lend itself to performance. The choir and orchestra were a good thirty meters away from the front row of the audience, and we could only just see the conductor and a few bows moving about. There were screens in the space which showed us close-ups of the action, but, it wasn’t quite the visceral experience of Derngate or the Albert Hall. It was more wistful. Distant. Which sort of worked. I hope the audience towards the back of the space were able to hear enough of what was going on.

After the piece finished, I was engulfed by lovely people wanting to shake my hand and have their programmes signed. People were incredibly kind about the piece. Most used words like inspiring, filmic, epic...

It was probably the performers themselves coming up to me afterwards which was most gratifying. Many wanted to tell me the chord progressions they’d loved most. One lad said there was a passage which always made him smile no matter what sort of mood he was in. And many thanked me for including the sequence with a lad singing about his love for another lad. I think the section genuinely spoke to many of them and, for that alone, I felt hugely proud. One had a six coloured rainbow on the back of his phone which he told me his parents didn’t approve of. I felt sad.

The evening ended back at the hotel with Tash, Debbie, Chris, Anthony and the family. A wonderful night.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

The minging generation

I saw a poster today for a cleaning product (at least I assume that’s what it was for) which simply said “microwave ming?” I assume the poster was asking passers by if we felt that our microwave ovens were smelly, dirty, or, as we might have said when I was at university, “minging.” I haven’t heard the word shortened to “ming” for many years. “That thing mings!” we’d say, or “that is ming!” If you were feeling particularly fancy, you might have said, “that’s ming-de-mong-de-wacky-de-honky.” Don’t ask me why! 

Anyway, it suddenly struck me that I’d never seen the word “ming” written down in any other context than Chinese dynasties and fancy vases. Seeing it on the billboard really took me back. But do the kids still refer to things as ming? Or is this an example of an advertising person trying to hit on a wave of nostalgia from the much-maligned and utterly inconsequential Generation X, who have had their babies now and are now obsessing about the mess their soon-to-be-teenaged-children are leaving everywhere?

I’m ashamed to admit that my generation hasn’t really offered a great deal to the world. Our talented people were silenced by moguls like Simon Cowell and replaced with pretty people who briefly captured the zeitgeist, generated money for the generation above and then disappeared from sight. Our politicians created Brexit and then pretended nothing was wrong. We can’t afford houses of our own. We don’t have proper pensions. All we’ve really got to offer the world is a mass market for cleaning produce! Perfect.

God bothering

A woman approached me at Borough tube yesterday. As she walked towards me I was thinking what a lovely scarf she was wearing and wondering if it was hand-knitted. The nearer she got, the more I realised she was a proselytising Christian. She had that glazed-look which I’ve come to associate with people who stand on street corners promoting the word of Christ. And sure enough, she handed me a small, square piece of paper and told me that Jesus loved me. “Oh, no” I said, as politely as possible, “please don’t hand me one of them.” The paper felt dirty in my hand. I tried to hand it back, but she wouldn’t take it, so I threw it on the floor. There followed a fairly unpleasant scene which involved her informing me that I was a sinner, which made me see red: “I don’t think it’s your place to call a stranger a sinner. You shouldn’t be doing this. The fairy tales you believe in are entirely your own choice, but it’s not for you to tell me how to live my life. I’m a gay man...” “that explains it” she said. So I shouted at her and she started shouting back in a strange high-pitched voice. I didn’t like it at all.

I genuinely think any attempt to convert someone to religion should be viewed as grooming. Worship whichever deity you feel like worshiping but it is wholly inappropriate to approach a stranger in a public place. Time and time again it’s vulnerable people who are attracted to religion, pulled in by unscrupulous people who then turn lives upside down by making moral judgements about lifestyles. I have no idea why anyone would consider the practices of certain religious people any more appropriate than abusers. Yes, to me, these street preachers are simply irritating and tragic, but to someone with mental health issues, depression, or those who are grieving or in trouble, they can be deeply dangerous and I personally believe we need laws to stop them.

Yes, the majority of Christians across the world are good, kind, loving people, but religion is also twisted and used as an excuse for persecution and highly dubious behaviour on many levels from war-mongering to subtle mind games. I am convinced, for example, that Tony Blair’s religious conviction played a part in the questionable decisions he made to take action in the Middle East. I also believe it’s highly dangerous that Theresa May prays to God for answers to our country’s troubles.

When I was a teenager coming to terms with my sexuality, a very close friend of mind told me, just after I’d had a car accident and turned to her for emotional support, that she was “really pleased I didn’t die” because she “wouldn’t have been able to deal with the fact that I’d gone to hell.” Now if that statement was in line with the teachings of Christ, I’ll find a bible and eat it! Using hell as a threat is nothing but abuse.

By chance, I came home and watched a programme about Roman Britain from the air. An expert was talking about Roman religious worship and the fascinating number of deities and rituals associated with that ancient people. At the end of the segment, the presenter, Christine Bleakley, felt the need to say, “I’m not keen on Roman religion. It sounds a bit like black magic to me.” And I thought, “sod you! I’m watching this programme to learn about the Romans. I don’t need your modern day religious judgements.” Can you imagine if the continuity announcer after Songs of Praise said “I don’t like these God botherers. That church feels like a cult?”

Why is it that we feel we can openly condemn paganism, ufology or Wicca whilst turning a blind eye to the horrors associated with organised religion? Because God is Love? Pull the other one!

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Mary Magdalene

Last night saw me attending a screening of Philippa’s stupendous Mary Magdalene film. I had hitherto thought that I’d be the quintessential anti-audient when it came to a film about Jesus, but it I found the experience utterly transporting. The story, as you might guess from its title, is told entirely from the perspective of Magdalene, a figure whose fundamental importance has been suppressed by Catholicism for the best part of two thousand years. It’s only relatively recently that revisionism has taken place. I actually had no idea that, within the last two years, the Vatican had actually upgraded her status to that of an apostle/ disciple, which strikes me as pretty big news. I don’t know a great deal about Christianity, but it’s always fascinated me that an entire religion can be based on the concept of resurrection without whole-heartedly celebrating the person who Jesus first appeared to in his zombie state. Surely, this fact alone makes Mary Magdalene of crucial importance to the faith?

The other thing which I’ve never been able to reconcile is the role that Judas plays within the religion. Judas, it strikes me, did only what he was destined to do. Without Judas, there would have been no crucifixion and because Jesus needed to die in order to be resurrected, anyone, from Herod to Pilate, who played a part in the great order of things, should, by rights, be up there in heaven with the main man. For this reason, I was hugely impressed by the portrayal of Judas within Philippa’s film. They gave him a back story which offered a reason for his fanaticism and ultimate betrayal, and he was really sensitively played by a North African actor with a luminous, kind face, which was a million miles away from the brooding nonsense we tend to associate with portrayals of that man.

The film was exquisitely shot with a massive emphasis on faces and eyes. It also felt surprisingly wintry, with rolling mists sliding down hillsides, and dark, brutal winds rustling hair and scarves.
Philippa’s writing is moving and self-assured, and I sat in the audience, a really proud man.

I took Abbie with me, as I felt, of all of my friends, she was likely to get the most out of it. I’m therefore very pleased to report that she loved it as well.

There was a Q and A afterwards with Philippa in one of the hot seats. The audience, many of whom were religious scholars, were very warm, although I got a bit angry when one of them started banging on about her issues with a white actress playing “a woman of colour.” Mary Magdalene was Jewish and Middle Eastern, which, as far as I’m concerned, means she could have been anywhere from very pale skinned to North African in appearance. It is as legitimate to have her played by a white woman as it is to have her played by a black woman. If the actress chosen had looked like Agnetha from ABBA, I might have taken issue with the casting, but I was really happy with the way that the actress looked. Actually, a much more interesting debate might have been about the visual authenticity of Jewish and Palestinian actors being cast in central roles, against the barriers that opposing personal faiths might have generated in this regard.

There’s little else to say about yesterday, as I spent the entire day packaging up CDs to send off to people who had preordered copies of Em. I walked into the post office with ninety padded envelopes and I could see the woman behind the counter mentally preparing herself for a long haul! Largely as a result of Nathan’s knitting fans getting behind the project, I was hugely excited to be sending packages to USA, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, Germany, Spain, Iceland, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and Switzerland. What a small world we live in!

Sunday, 11 March 2018


We went to Raily and Iain’s house today to pay homage to their new baby, Lola, who seems to be a rather happy little tyke. She’s got a fine head of hair on her, which always makes for an interesting looking child. The majority of babies look like slugs at her age.

We took ourselves to a little collection of farm buildings on the outskirts of Aylesbury which have been turned over to a series of artists’ studios. Most were closed, sadly, including a big yarn and fibre craft centre, but we had a good look around a shop which sold paintings and all kinds of lovely things made from glass and metal. In these instances, I always find myself looking for cufflinks. There were a pair, but they were made from miniature books - and paper cufflinks have about as much practical use as cakes made of concrete.

We came home and ate lovely food. There were home-made veggie burgers for lunch, with a delicious pomegranate and tomato salad, and garlic potatoes for tea with halloumi. Word seems to have escaped within my friends that I am addicted to halloumi. People even send me pictures of battered halloumi. It’s like porn for me!

It was, as always, a delight to spend time with Raily and Iain and their brood. Jeannie has grown up massively recently. I think having a baby sister will do that to someone. She’s become very conscientious and spent ages in the car coming up with ingenious ways of stopping Lola from crying.

We came home and Nathan called his mother for Mother’s Day. I appeared in the room and sat next to him and overheard a brilliant interchange: “I’m going to Yoevil tomorrow” said Nathan (who genuinely is off to Yoevil tomorrow for a photoshoot.) I heard his mother’s response, however, “you’re going to yodel, tomorrow?”

It wasn’t that weird a retort: Nathan is a keen and rathe fine yodeller, but it made me howl with laughter, almost as much as my learning today that my godson has someone in his form called “Shitaj” whom everyone has to called Neil. I haven’t laughed so much since a good friend told me he had a friend at school called Fuquanisha. Her name was actually banned. Everyone had to called her Nisha! Beats my old mate Sue Perbe into a cocked hat!

Friday, 9 March 2018

Lazy snorers

We had the workshop showing of our new musical at Mountview this afternoon. We spent the day doing last-minute rehearsals, which included a full run of the piece this morning. We’ve achieved so much in two weeks. We walked into rehearsals with almost no material prepared and, this afternoon, presented 45 minutes of material, which the students had learned by heart. Everyone bought lots of imaginative bits of costume from home, and they all looked utterly tremendous.

There’s some real talent in that room, including, I’m proud to say, three Midlanders (one from Leicester and two from Northamptonshire). Emily in the cast actually comes from Irthlingborough which was just over the Nene from Higham Ferrers. She went to Huxlow School, where I was taught A-level Geography. Her accent is so familiar to me. There’s a moment in the piece when she calls Mr Gum a “lazy snorer” and the way she said it took me right back to my childhood. She doesn’t even think she has an accent!

The audience consisted of the students on the foundation course at Mountview who had been working on an altogether different piece of musical theatre, written, in part, by this year’s British Eurovision hopeful (which I still haven’t heard.) Their piece was very dark and emotional and was the absolute antithesis to the profound silliness and subversiveness of ours.

It feels a little bit odd that it’s now all over. I shall miss my little walks to Mountview every morning, and the feeling of camaraderie in the rehearsal room. It is, I realise, when I’m in a space like that, inspiring young people, that I’m at my happiest.

Thursday, 8 March 2018


I watched a tiny bit of breakfast news this morning and was horrified to see that Theresa May has got into bed with Saudi Arabia as part of her post-Brexit-let’s-make-Britain-great-again strategy. This strategy will, of course, see her doing similar deals with countless other countries in the world with ghastly human rights records.

I woke up yesterday with giant black smudges under my eyes. This morning, after only four hours’ sleep, I’ve progressed from fight victim to panda.

I was rather pleased to have turned the telly on, however, as I got to see Zoë Ball talking about her cycle ride from Blackpool to Brighton for Comic Relief. I’ve always liked Zoë Ball: she’s such a consummate professional, and seems to specialise in remembering people’s names. She also talked about the fact that she’s specifically fundraising for vulnerable men, and, in a world where men are increasingly demonised by women, I find that profoundly moving. Men are vulnerable too... Even on International Women’s day...

It’s been an insane week. Utterly manic. I’ve had rehearsals at Mountview from

10-5 every day, and major events every single evening, which have been followed by long evenings of writing into the very wee smalls. I am craving a lie in...

In the mid afternoon, Danny-Boy Carter and Nathan picked me up from Mountview and drove me up to Northampton. We were heading to the Derngate theatre to hear the premiere of my Nene composition. We popped into the rehearsal briefly to say hello to Beth and Peter, before heading to ASK pizza for a bit of food.

We were met at the theatre in the evening by Michael, Fiona and her Mum, Barbara. I was amazed by how many people in the audience seemed to recognise me as they came in. This was undoubtedly as a result of the film they recently screened about the piece on the BBC.

The performance was tremendous. They’d shifted half the seats in the auditorium back so that seven hundred or so performers could fit on the stage. It was an extraordinary sight.

I was interviewed by the presenter beforehand. I have no idea what I said, although I’m pretty sure I came across as endearingly clumsy. I also got a bit political about the need for music in schools. #GiveTheManAPlatform

I was hugely happy with the new sequences I’d written for the piece. The section evoking a ghostly hunt rampaging through Peterborough Abney, was particularly exciting and there were stunning solos by Zoë Eaves, who was singing the last poem written by Mary Queen of Scots on the banks of the river, and Freja Leveritt, who reprised her role singing the sad story of Molly. They were stationed in spot lights high in the roof of the building. But it was Michael Needle’s solo as a gay First World War soldier singing a folk lyric from Woodford which broke my heart. It broke my heart for many reasons, firstly because he took what he was singing very seriously, performing the music with great dignity and love, when he could have made it horribly tongue-in-cheek to show us all that he wasn’t necessarily feeling the emotions he was singing about. It was also very emotional to think that, when I was young Michael’s age, Clause 28 would actually have meant that it was illegal for a young male performer to sing a love song to another man within an educational framework.

I walked away feeling proud and immensely grateful to NMPAT for commissioning the piece, and for continuing with the extraordinary work they do in inspiring young musicians in an era where music has dropped to the bottom of everyone else’s agenda.

I drank two gin and tonics this evening. #alcoholic

Monday, 5 March 2018

Time for a cuppa

Having worked non-stop all weekend - writing, quizzing, writing - I have woken up this morning utterly shattered without the strength to face another ludicrously busy week. I also seem to have a cold. Fiona, who’s staying with us at the moment, appears to be similarly afflicted. My mood was not helped by a small child’s decision to ram raid the suitcase I drag to work with his silly little scooter. His ineffectual, “my-child’s-the-centre-of-everyone’s-universe” mother didn’t see fit to apologise to me, opting instead to attempt to reason with the child as I limped away. Honestly: bring your child up however you please, but when they injure a complete stranger, you have got to go in hard - with your apology if nothing else!

So, by the end of this week I will have 

- Watched to the premiere of the longer version of my Nene composition at the Derngate Theatre in Northampton
- Recorded a new song as part of a pitching process for a new musical
- Workshopped material at Mountview from a new children’s musical
- Sung in shul
- Run another quiz
- Pitched for a big film project
- Written three new songs
- Passed out

Time for a cup of tea!

Friday, 2 March 2018


Today found us battling through the snow to get to Stratford East Theatre Royal. It was the second day of BEAM: a festival of new British musical theatre which happens every two years. I had been invited to do a “pitch” which means I was given a ten minute slot on the main stage to sell myself as a writer. Instead of sticking to songs from Em, I was encouraged by the organisers to sell my back catalogue of work, so I wrote a medley of songs from Brass, Beyond the Fence and Em, which Llio, Laura, Abbie, Jack, Chris, Michael and Alex performed with gusto and great joy. I was so proud of them. I didn’t get a chance to see many of the other pitches - we spent the day rehearsing and being ferried around by stage managers - but I would say we were definitely one of the most professional teams. Clare Chandler bounded up to me afterwards and said “now THAT’S how to do a pitch.” Yet again, I felt proud. And so grateful to my musical family, who, it seems, are always there for me.

I delivered a little bit of a political speech beforehand. It was more of a rallying cry, actually, but I also made the point that people have got to stop looking for the next Hamilton. Hamilton has happened. We should focus on discovering and promoting the next great show. “Support us whilst we write from our British hearts” I said, “and we will reward you with gold. Let’s go out there and change the world with musical theatre!” Sometimes I wish I had more of a platform to instigate change. I passionately believe that there are writers in that space - Chris Ash, Dougal Irvine, Craig Adams, Eamonn O’Dwyer and many more - who, with the right level of funding could invade Broadway. But we’re all too busy teaching, scraping a living and worrying about being old. 

So that’s another ticked box. Another thing achieved in my three-week period of utter mayhem.

My back aches, I am so tired that my eyes are bloodshot, but I go to bed a very happy and grateful man.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Beast from the East

I’m somewhat amazed by how disorienting heavy snow can be. When everything is white, you suddenly realise what a huge emphasis you place on the natural colour of things. On two occasions today I found myself on woodland paths in places I know like the back of my hand, only to discover I was in an entirely different place to the spot I was expecting to be in!

Londoners presently await the now-fabled, end-of-week blizzard which the weather people have been hyping for days. I’d like to suggest that it’s going to be a damp squib - these adverse events are usually the creation of bored media types - but I have important stuff to do tomorrow, which I don’t want to be wrecked by anything (either actual or perceived) so am burying my head in the sand and pretending everything is just fine.

It was fine at Mountview today. All the students made it in and no one was sent home. I have no idea when we started to get so lily-livered in the UK. If we name it, we’re allowed to panic about it. “The Beast from the East?” I ask you. I had to go to the bank in my lunch break, but it was closed, largely, one assumes, because bored workers couldn’t be bothered to come in. Schools everywhere have been closed down. I remember those heavy winters in the 1980s when we battled into school whatever the weather. My mum pulled us there in a sledge on one occasion and my dad reminded me today that he’d once been part of a chain gang of teachers and support staff who actually dug our school out of a huge drift! Where’s the wartime spirit?

I’ll tell you where it is... Lincolnshire! My mate Lucy has just sent me a picture of a car literally buried in snow.