Sunday, 10 June 2018

Stiles and Drewe Award

Another weekend and another Saturday morning spent in shul. I was singing with a chorister called Joey, whom we worked out, I’d met in the late ‘90s when I was going out with Stephen Twigg, Joey’s MP at the time. I didn’t quite know how to process the information that Joey was ten at the time! I feel that many people are being placed on the earth these days simply to make me feel like an old man! 

It was a good choir. Our voices blended very well and the pitching felt relatively precise. I had a bit of a brain fart in one of the numbers, but, fortunately, was standing next to Gabriel, who seems to have a permanent ear fixed on what’s going on around him. If you make a mistake, you can rely on him to point it out, which is, of course, a double-edge sword! There’s a slightly odd tradition within choristers which involves raising a hand in rehearsals when you make an error to show everyone else that you’re aware of it, and that they don’t need to point it out. It’s never something I got into, largely because I don’t come from a choral tradition, but also because I worry that if I got into raising my hand every time I made a mistake, I’d not be able to prevent myself from doing it in performance! Anyway, Gabriel’s third ear was very useful today as he immediately realised I’d sung myself into a musical cul-de-sac, and was able to briefly sing my part until I was able to reverse out of it again! 

I strolled down Old Compton Street for the first time in an age on Saturday afternoon and was rather thrilled to see two large rainbow flags billowing outside one of the gay pubs. It must be Pride Season because, I’ve been rather horrified at the complete lack of rainbow flags being displayed on on London’s gayest street in recent years. It’s absolutely indicative of the death of Soho, and the fact that the area has become a grotesque theme park for heterosexuals wanting a taste of something a little bit naughty. One assumes that rainbow flags might dissuade punters from parting with the vast sums of money required to pay astronomical rents in the district and this makes me really sad. I loved those streets when they were seedy. When tourists were too scared to come in, and they belonged to us. There were no edit suites or fancy chocolatiers. There were sex shops, brothels, jazz venues, theatres and anything-goes-gay-bars. And the place thronged with a remarkably special energy. 

I spent yesterday night at a quiz in Thaxted. I have now been a professional quiz master for a year, but am not sure my general quizzing knowledge has improved.  I pulled a few astonishing facts out of my arse, but actually, it was Helen and Sascha’s random knowledge of fashion which brought the largest reward. Ten out of ten! We scored five on the history round, and two of our team are history teachers! In the end what did for us was the picture round, worth a quarter of the overall marks, which featured nothing but images of male sporting captains from the twentieth century. It was one of those rounds which made me want to cry. Six members of our team immediately disengaged, leaving my Dad and Stuart to cobble the answers together. I was hugely proud of them for getting 26 out of the forty answers correct. One of the other teams - a mass of middle-aged testosterone - scored 38. How can you compete with that?! 

I drove Helen back to London in a weird, somewhat spooky, muggy mist, which had been generated by a brief rainfall whilst we were quizzing.

Today saw Nathan and me trekking down to the Savoy Theatre for the Stiles and Drewe Best New Song competition. The song Brass was highly commended last year, and this year, Shone with the Sun, met a similar fate. I would love it to have won, largely for Arnold Wesker, who championed the song from the moment we wrote it in 1998. He even picked it as one of his Desert Island Discs on Radio 4, but sadly never got to see it in its home in Brass, and didn’t live long enough to know that people sing the song in auditions and cabarets across the country. 

It was performed in the contest by Amara Okeredo, an Arts Ed graduate, who’s just gone into Les Mis playing Cosette. Not a bad first job, I’d say! It wasn’t a surprise for me to learn that she’d landed such a big role. The girl is profoundly talented, both as a singer and as an actress, and she sang Shone with such profoundly and panache, creating an incredibly special moment, which made me brim with pride. 

There was an empty seat next to Nathan, in an otherwise packed theatre. I wondered at one point whether Arnold was sitting there, smiling, every bit as proud as me. He said on his Desert Island Discs that he’d “included the song, to remind himself that he had a talent.” 

Not a day goes by when I don’t think about that man, desperately grateful for everything he gave me. He encouraged me to be a composer when all I wanted to do was direct, and he taught me the importance of loyalty and integrity. 

Thank you, Arnold. And thank you Amara. 

The student singer of the yet award went to Alex Cardall, who was in the original cast of Brass. He has turned into a remarkably fine performer

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