Saturday, 28 July 2018


A fact I forgot to mention in yesterday’s blog is that, of the nine people (conductor plus eight singers) who recorded The Blue Book yesterday, five were ‘cellists! And not just “I-used-to-play-at-primary-school” ‘cellists. I was probably the least capable of all five. Two had diplomas in the instrument. All five of us had our grade eight. They do say that the ‘cello is the closest instrument to the human voice - particularly the male voice - and I wonder if this has some bearing on things. Are ‘cellists marginally more likely to sing, I wonder? Were those of us who could sing well in early childhood offered the ‘cello to learn? Perhaps being a ‘cellist encourages a certain sort of mellifluousness in ones voice?

What’s certainly the case is that when I’m sight-singing, I often find myself doing ‘cello fingering with my left hand and, when I want to sing in tune, or when I’m deeply engrossed by choral music, I often move my arms about. I realised yesterday that I was air bowing!

The older I get, the more I learn that I pretty much owe everything that’s good in my life to having been a ‘cellist. It was the ‘cello which gave my young self extraordinary opportunities to travel and perform in exciting and life-changing locations. It made me want to compose. It introduced me to the people at the music school who gave me broader horizons. It allowed me to play in countless ensembles. It got me into York University. Selling my fancy ‘cello paid for my drama school...

I still remember the moment my junior school music teacher, Chris Twell, came to our class and said “who would like to learn the ‘cello?” I shot my hand up. It was the instrument that Julie off of Fame played (although, come to think of it, she was no singer!) I still remember Mrs Twell looking at me rather seriously and saying, “you want to learn it do you, Ben?” I like to think it was a look of the penny dropping. It was an important moment.

I spent the morning yesterday with the writer, Bernard Kops and his deeply charming wife, Erica. We are going to try and write a piece together about the Battle of Cable Street, which Bernard himself actually witnessed. It’s very wonderful to simply sit and hang out in their garden flat in Swiss Cottage. They remind me of so many of the Jewish intellectuals I’ve known over the years, all of whom have made me feel incredibly welcome and very much at home.

We talked a lot of about Soho in the 1950s. The two of them lived there during this time in an assortment of rooms, usually rented by Greek Cypriot women. They talked about the incredible energy generated by the melting pot of different cultures present in the district from Italian to Afro Caribbean. There was a sense that anything went in Soho. Bernard was drawn into the area by the sound of singing. Isn’t that amazing? He walked into some sort of bar-cum-cafe and knew he’d found his misfit tribe. He and Erica used to sell books from a giant barrow which they’d wheel to different central London pitches. They told me all about the characters from the time: what drew them to Soho. How they’d lived. And often how they’d died.

We talked for a while about one of their friends who was an early proponent of the Orgone Box, which he used in an attempt to cure himself of his homosexuality. If you don’t know about Orgone Boxes, I suggest you have a quick google. They’re fairly bizarre!

I went back home and sat, comatose on my sofa, as the rain pelted down outside. It was a relief to feel the rain, but I was sad it had come yesterday, because it meant I missed the sight of a blood moon in the evening. It also managed to still be raining when I left the house, so I got utterly soaked on my way down to the tube.

In the evening I met Llio in Covent Garden to go to Ian’s 50th birthday party. It was only as I took out my phone to find the number of the flat in the courtyard behind Upper St Martin’s Lane I’d confidently walked us to, that I realised the party was in a completely different part of town. I pretended we were simply going around the corner for the next half an hour, in an attempt to save face. By the time we’d reached the obscure corner of Bloomsbury where the party actually was, I think Llio was ready to punch my nose!

Fortunately the party was wonderful fun. It took place in a penthouse flat with commanding roof top views over London and a cooling breeze which eventually dried the shirt I was wearing!

Lli and I stationed ourselves by the food and met a multitude of fascinating people from an old Jewish American who talked obsessively about Angela Lansbury and a bloke who’d taken a few too many drugs, to a lovely actress and her paramedic husband who we simultaneously described as being wonderfully present - possibly in direct contrast to the person who’d been hammering the drugs who was definitely not present. Someone suggested I was wearing a waistcoat because of Gareth Southgate. The idea that I would do anything to copy someone else (lest still a football manager) is deeply insulting! At school, we used to call that “stacking” and I am no stacker!

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