Wednesday, 31 October 2018

A meat pastie and a bomb scare

Yesterday was something of a day! Rehearsals went well. We’ve been running the show for the last couple of weeks now, but yesterday morning was the last time we’d have props and bits of set in the rehearsal room. At lunch time, they were all packed up and put onto a lorry to be taken to the venue, so, for the rest of the week, until our tech begins on Sunday, we’re back to using plastic chairs and our imaginations! It’s good for us.

There was quite a todo at lunchtime, when I took myself off to Greggs for soup and a pastie. I asked the lady behind the counter if they had a vegetarian soup and she said they had tomato, so I asked for a cup of that and a cheese and onion pastie. As I placed the soup in the carrier bag, I could see that there was a suspiciously meaty looking blob on the side of the pot, so immediately looked inside and found, to my great dismay, that she’d given me some kind of chicken broth.

I immediately went back to the counter, but the girl who’d served me had gone into the back room. The man who’d replaced her looked quite appalled and, after searching for the girl for way longer than it would have taken to simply replace my soup, he returned and gave me a pot of tomato soup, and I took myself back to Mountview.

I saved the pastie till last. There are few people in the world who don’t love a Greggs cheese and onion pastie and I was really looking forward to it. I took a bite. It tasted weird. There was something gritty and fibrous in my mouth which I pulled out. She’d given me a chicken bake...

I didn’t actually know whether to feel sick or furious. I opted for both. It’s deeply traumatic for any vegetarian to eat meat by mistake, let alone one, like me, who has been a strict vegetarian for 37 years.

I took myself back to Greggs to complain.

The girl behind the counter seemed altogether not bothered. “Oh,” she said, “I’m sorry. It must have been because you were on the phone whilst you were ordering that the order got mixed up...” And in saying this, she told me all I needed to know. She’d plainly taken umbrage at the fact that I was on the phone whilst ordering and had, very deliberately, decided to punish me by giving me two portions of meat as punishment. I told her I was disgusted. “What do you want me to do about it? I’ve apologised.” “I want you to give me a full refund. I want you to give me a proper pastie and I want you to look like you’re sorry...” She walked away...

Cue some rough fucker in the queue stepping forward, “here, you have no right to talk to a lady like that. Would you talk to your wife like that?” “I’m gay” I said. “Would you talk to your boyfriend like that?” “Husband” I said, “and yes, if my husband fed me meat without telling me, I would talk to him like that... in fact, I’d be a great deal more shouty.” This was a red rag to his bull and he rounded on me, “get out of the shop. You’re not welcome here.”

I felt threatened enough to heed his advice and left the shop without the refund or a cheese and onion pastie. The incident was witnessed by a Mountview student who found me later in the day to ask if I was alright and say how shocked she’d been by the way I was treated.

Obviously I instantly took the matter up with Greggs customer services and had to get pretty heavy-handed with them to make them understand that feeding meat to a life-long veggie was a fairly outrageous act. Some serious retraining of that staff member needs to happen. Greggs have subsequently offered me compensation. And so they should. It was a horrible experience all round.

After rehearsals, I went to London Bridge to see my dear friend Nat performing in a play, Pack Of Lies, directed by another dear friend, Hannah Chissick. It was actually dear friends all round because I went to see the play with Anabelle (who plays Kirsty off of the Archers) and Nic (another stunning actress.) We also met up with Tom beforehand who was meant to be seeing the show with us, but, well, that’s a long story...

Anyway, the play, which was at the Menier Chocolate Factory, was wonderfully acted and, of course, directed. It’s a thought-provoking, gently funny piece about a pair of communist spies in Suburbia, which, I discovered afterwards, was actually a true story. Natalie was brilliant, as ever, in the piece. She’s such an intelligent actress.

It was exciting biting (as my dad would say) when a stage manager came onto the stage, asked the actors to leave, and then informed us that we ALL had to leave the theatre, specifically NOT via the entrance we’d come in by. A flustered usher ran out as we were leaving via an emergency exit and started saying “this way out, please, ladies and gentlemen.”

We ended up in an alleyway behind the theatre, actors and audience both in the cold, autumnal air. Nat sidled over and told us that we were in the midst of a bomb scare, and that a bag had been found front of house with wires sticking out of it. It was a surreal experience. The actors weren’t sure whether they ought to be hiding, or somehow maintaining that sense of aloofness, but, in the end, everyone adopted a war time spirit and we all giggled, and huddled like nervous penguins, waiting for the explosion.

The Boys in Blue arrived very swiftly, and stormed dramatically into the building, and rather soon after that point we were told that everything was okay. One of the audience had left his bag in the bar with a phone attached to a charger of some kind. So we all went back into the theatre and the play continued where it had been paused.

I rushed home afterwards after a quick hug with Nat. It was gone 11 and I have another big day today. It did, however, serve to remind me that we’re living in jumpy times and furthermore that places, like theatres, where large numbers of people gather together in small spaces, are vulnerable when it comes to potential acts of terrorism. So the next time someone asks to check your bag as you enter a theatre, hand it over willingly!

Monday, 29 October 2018

Society disintegrates

I wore a jacket this morning for the first time since about last March. It’s funny: I’ve not really noticed Autumn creeping in this year. I haven’t been for nearly enough walks on the heath and the tree outside our kitchen window is always the last to shed its leaves. It was back-lit by the sun this morning and looked lush and tropical. It might have been the height of summer. But, when I stepped outside, there was a distinct chill in the air.

Of course my jacket made me sweat profusely on the crowded underground, which seemed even more crowded than usual this morning. I find myself going very still and withdrawn during my morning commutes. I’ve found it’s best to pretend you don’t exist when things get stressful!

Shul went by without too many hitches on Saturday. That said, on one occasion, we sang a long and somewhat elaborate Amen rather brutally out of tune. I don’t think any of us knew how to remedy the problem, so we all adjusted our tuning in different directions, which meant, as the Amen continued, it became more and more catastrophic. Ah! The joys of singing unaccompanied!

It was Saturday night before I found out what had happened in the synagogue in Pittsburgh. It took me a long time to process the information, largely, I suspect, because there’s still something in me that doesn’t understand anti-semitism and, as a result, don’t quite believe that someone could hate Jewish people enough to do something so grotesquely inhuman. Knowing that he chose a baby-naming ceremony and that an elderly married couple and a 97-year-old holocaust survivor were among the people killed reenforces my belief that there’s a disconnect in society at the moment. The dual-headed beasts of Trump and Brexit have legitimised these extreme, xenophobic views. Listening to Trump blithely describing himself as a Nationalist was chilling in the extreme. “It’s an old-fashioned word,” he said, “which doesn’t get used any more.” More chilling, of course, are the faces in the crowds at his rallies, gurning and grinning like he’s the answer to their prayers. Not a thought between their ears.

Of course, the terrifying thing is that these sorts of attacks have the nasty habit of generating copycats. The shooting at my school when I was 14 was a direct response to the Hungerford massacre. I can guarantee that there will be someone out there, bolstered by Trump or Brexit - or possibly even Corbyn - who believes some convoluted, nonsensical conspiracy theory about Jewish people and decides to have a pop. Of course he may have similarly bizarre views about another minority group. He may not attack a synagogue. He might choose a mosque. A gay bar. A women’s refuge. The frightening thing is that it’s not a matter of “if”, it’s a matter of “when” and “where.”

Friday, 26 October 2018

No roof

You know when you realise you’ve reached the end of your tether? The feeling when you wake up without having caught up on enough sleep? When you walk down to the tube in the morning, dreading getting on a train because you know you’ll have to stand for an hour when you could be sitting down, having a little sleep? The absolute inability to be anything other than deeply ratty and irritable in the face of the tiniest problem? The feeling when your bones creak, your eyes are bloodshot and your mouth is full of ulcers? That!

This year has suddenly caught up on me. My body is screaming for a break. My brain just wants to shut down. I realised there was a problem last night when we went to Julie and Sam’s after rehearsals. Nathan wanted to give them both copies of his book on account of them being the people who got him into knitting. We’d apparently last met up on my birthday, just before Nathan went off on his round-the-world odyssey. I wracked my brain and realised I couldn’t actually remember what we’d done on my birthday this year! It took me a long time to bring the memory back into my head. That is surely the sign of a brain which is over-full!

I guess it never serves one well to complain, because the universe has a habit of really getting stuck in when you whinge! This afternoon, as I left rehearsals, feeling tired and sorry for myself, I had a call from Nathan to say they’d ripped the roof off our house and that our loft was now open to the elements! In a way it’s a good thing because it means the house is finally being fixed, but the photos Nathan sent are surreal - made even stranger by the deep blue sky which was showing through the giant gaps between wooden slats.

They’ve simultaneously also re-plastered the sitting room roof, which is great news, but for half a tonne of dust which has apparently appeared in the process. So when I get home, we better start digging!

I just hope we haven’t got more cowboys coming in.

Monday, 22 October 2018

The Subway Game

My job at Mountview would be perfect if Mountview weren’t in Peckham, or even if Peckham were a tad closer to Highgate. There is something horrific about needing to get up at 7.30am for a job which starts at 10am. I have a bath, eat my breakfast, take a deep breath and then head down to the tube.

I have not yet manage to reach the rehearsal room in anything other than a mega-sweaty mess. There is something deeply dehumanising about being crammed into a boiling hot, moving metal box, filled with passive aggressive people. If I hear one more person saying “could you move down a little bit please?” to a person whose only crime is not to wanting to spend a journey locked in an embrace with a stranger, violence could erupt.

It is, of course, a great deal worse when you have a cold and you really just want a lovely lie-in! I spent much of my journey this morning trying to remind myself that London’s transport infrastructure problems were not the fault of the woman sharpening her elbows to my right. We were both in the same boat, and it was sinking fast. Best to blame Europe!

The dot matrix machine displaying much-needed information about tube trains leaving London Bridge station is presently broken, so every time I stand waiting for the Northern Line, I’m accompanied by some poor LU staff member, talking into a mini-tannoy, telling people which type of train is coming next. The woman who was there tonight was plainly incredibly bored of having conversations with irate customers, so opted to deliver a non-stop monologue:

“Customers are asked to check the destination on the front of the train. As you can see, the sign is broken. We have no idea when it will be fixed. It’s been like this for three weeks, so I’m not holding my breath. I’ll probably be old and on crutches by the time it’s fixed. And I’ll probably still be here delivering this message. Once again, only God himself knows when this sign will be fixed...”

She riffed a bit on the theme and then started all over again.

I was introduced to the Subway Sandwich game by Teri, one of my cast members, a few weeks ago. This won’t appeal to anyone who is not familiar with this particular fast food chain, but, in a nutshell, customers are always met with a bewildering number of questions when they reach the counter. “What sort of bread do you want that sandwich on?” “Do you want a 6” sub or a foot long one?” “Would you like the bread toasted?” “Which salad vegetables would you like with that?” “Can I offer you any sauces or dressings?” “Do you want the meal deal?” “Which drink would you like with that?” And so it goes on...

Anyway, the Subway Sandwich game involves predicting every question you’re going to be asked and ordering your entire meal without once being asked one by the person behind the counter. Believe me: it is far more difficult than it sounds. They always sneak in a little question which blindsides you.

I tried it last week and lost when the server asked if I wanted a single or double portion of cheese. You’ve got to be on it like a bonnet to win the Subway Sandwich game. Try it one day...

Sunday, 21 October 2018

ELO again...

I have just been to see the Electric Light Orchestra playing at the O2, which means I’m in a crush of very happy people trying to leave North Greenwich tube station.

It was a last-minute offer from Philippa, who texted at about noon to ask if I was free because her friend Vanessa had a spare ticket. Obviously I said yes without a second thought!

I did manage to catch ELO playing here a couple of years ago. It was Nathan’s Christmas present to me and I thought at the time I would never get another chance to see a band performing live who had played such an important role in my childhood and teenaged sound worlds.

I knew the band was touring again, and my friend Julie had offered to go with me, but the tickets were very expensive and I decided to ring fence my extraordinary experience with Nathan as a never-to-be-repeated chink of joy.

...until today!

...And how thrilled was I to be back in that space hearing all those tunes again? The ELO back catalogue is astonishing by any standard. Philippa and Vanessa couldn’t quite believe how many songs they either recognised or loved on hearing for the first time.

I, of course, was in seventh heaven. I knew every word. Every vocal lick. Every string riff. Every harmony. And, of course, every song has a memory for me, mostly associated with sitting with my brother in my bedroom listening to albums on my little record player, or driving around the Midlands countryside as teenagers with Fiona and Ted Thornhill looking for places to busk. Sweet Talking Woman and Last Train to London remind me of driving up the M1 with the aforementioned and Fiona laughing at me because I used to drive at the speed of the songs!

Wild West Hero reminds me of my Dad. I can see him now, sitting on the sofa at Hind Style, eyes closed, nodding his head appreciatively to the beat. And Telephone Line reminds me of my Mum. I can see her dancing to the song in that same living room. I cried during both songs, remembering the person I was.

The band play brilliantly and Jeff Lynne still has a full set of pipes. He occasionally hands the odd verse over to a highly charismatic backing vocalist, but, otherwise, his voice is no different to the voice which recorded those legendary albums over 40 years ago. There were about twelve band members in total and I was trying to work out how much was being played on click track. The songs sounded remarkably similar to the album tracks. For a long time I thought the symphonic string sound was pre-recorded, until I noticed a keyboard player at the back sitting in front of the three live string players, doubling everything they were doing with highly nimble fingers, so it’s possible that considerably more than I’d initially thought was happening live.

Sadly, I’ve come down with a cold. Something’s been doing the rounds in the Brass company, as is always the case when actors rehearse a play. It started at lunch time with a hot face and an itchy throat, and, by the time I’d reached the O2, I was curiously hungry, my nose was running like a tap and I was sneezing every couple of seconds.

But hey, I went to see ELO playing live tonight! Who cares about having a cold?!

Demos and Patti Lupone

Yesterday started, as Saturdays so often do these days, at 7am with an alarm which made me jump out of my skin. I am rather grateful to the days when I’m singing at shul because they stop me from a languishing start to my weekends.

I love the journey in. The tubes are always very quiet, and, I can sit, looking through my music, with a lovely cup of tea.

The ensemble yesterday was a good one, and featured young Jack Reitman, who, it happens, is also in the cast of Brass at the Union. Probably as a result of being engulfed by rehearsals for a 3 hour epic, he was a little underprepared for shul, and spent the service looking a little like a rabbit in headlights! I personally breezed through the material until the very last number, when a badly-written-out setting of the Adon Olam caught me entirely off guard. The words were a million miles away from the bass part and the moment I opened my mouth, I realised I didn’t have a chance of sight singing it effectively. The noises I was making were so awful that I instantly had a fit of hysterical laughter, the sort of uncontrollable, inappropriate giggling which is usually reserved for school assemblies and funerals!

Michael and I walked across Hyde Park in glorious sunshine after the service, carrying the wonderful anti-Brexit placard which Little Welsh Nathalie had painted for me so beautifully and left on the stairs up to my flat. She couldn’t make the march herself but wanted to do her bit, so asked me what slogan I’d most want written. I considered all sorts of angry, sweary phrases and puns based on the idea that EU sounds a bit like “you”, but in the end, shot from the heart and asked for it to merely say “musicians love Europe.” I don’t know any that don’t.

The march itself was a major event. We’re told some 800,000 people headed for central London, all, seemingly, with good-natured, kind, attractive faces. I very much felt as though we were marching with our tribe. Nathalie’s placard went down brilliantly. Scores of people came up to me to ask if they could take my picture. She’d painted it in appropriate blues, whites and yellows, so I wore my royal blue suit.

We met Brother Edward, Sasch, Sylvia and two of their Eurovision friends on the corner of Piccadilly. They all looked utterly resplendent in blue and yellow feather boas. I always feel particularly proud when marching alongside my brother. My parents also nearly joined us, but my father is ill with the flu. The four of us wouldn’t have marched together since CND marches in the early 1980s. I know Brother Tim would have been marching with us in spirit as well. Having an entirely pro-European family means so much to me.

The most moving sight on the march was an old woman staggering along on a pair of crutches. Even if it took her forever, she was going to show her solidarity.

We broke off the march at Jermyn Street. The rallies which follow these marches are always for the politicos. You can never hear anything which is being said.

Michael and I instead went window shopping. For a suit lover like me, Jermyn Street is something of a punishment. If I could, I would have bought something in every shop. But I’m not a millionaire. We can but dream.

We went to the Groucho club and sat in a pair of very comfortable leather arm chairs and both of us immediately fell asleep like a pair of old men. I don’t know how long we were asleep for. All I know is that I was awoken by someone gently tapping my leg and saying my name. It was Philippa. I think she was a little confused because people don’t usually go to the Groucho for a shluf, but it was delightful to see her. I always bump int someone I know at the Groucho Club. Usually Philip Sallon. Yesterday I also bumped into Richard Le Coq and the wonderful singing impressionist, Christine Bianco.

Less delightful was the phone-call I received from Little Welsh Nathalie telling me that her bedroom ceiling had caved in. That’ll be the bedroom ceiling directly below the floor of our bedroom. The photos looked dreadful. Huge chunks of plaster had fallen from the roof onto her bed. Had she been asleep in there, she could have been badly injured. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

I had to spend the rest of the day wondering whether her ceiling had caved in as a result of something awful happening in our flat, but it turns out it was the product of a build up of water coming through our roof, seeping down the walls of our flat and being sucked into the floor boards. Our entire building is a mess. It’s a massive lesson for our landlord in the “stitch in time saves nine” philosophy.

The yo-yo went flying back up this evening with a trip to see Company in the West End, in the most amazing seats, curtesy of wonderful Felicity. It was so so exciting to be there, and see Patti LuPone singing Ladies Who Lunch: a treat I’m very unlikely to forget. This, of course, is the gender-bending production of Company where Bobby is being played by a woman. I saw the show with Adrian Lester playing the title role about twenty years ago, and have to say it works remarkably well done this new way.

The production is exquisite. The set is remarkable. The cast is brilliant. If it doesn’t transfer to Broadway, I’ll eat my hat. It’s not my favourite Sondheim musical. It’s somewhat flawed in my view, largely because you don’t really get much of a sense of Bobby going on a journey. The piece feels a touch vignettey, almost review-like. The songs are, of course, cracking. But some feel a tad crow-barred into the script. But these are small things in the light of such an epic production which I was pleased as punch to see.

Friday, 19 October 2018

The blue book

I had a fairly delightful day away from the intensity of the Brass rehearsal room yesterday. I left Simon, our wonderful choreographer, in charge, and headed to New West End synagogue to spend the day recording music.

The afternoon session was spent working on three pieces written by Trevor Toube, who is one of the stalwarts of the community there. He’s actually a very interesting composer and one of the pieces, dedicated to his grandson, Josh, was absolutely exquisite. It had an Eastern vibe, and yet it was somehow imbued with the expansiveness of Copland. Very impressive.

He didn’t half test us, though, in the piece he’d written for his grandson, Ben, which had a Microcosmos quality with octotonic runs alternating from tone to semi-tone. It took us a while to buffer that particular sequence up, but we got there, and I hope we’ve done him proud.

The evening session was spent recording four final tracks for our Blue Book album, one of which was a re-recording of a song we’d done in slightly too much haste in the studio in July. Was it July? It was very hot whenever it was!

It is an absolute joy to record in the synagogue. The acoustic there is second to none. If you stand in the middle of the space, performers can hear each other perfectly, and the sound wafts up into the ceiling, and then parachutes back down like a cascade of butterflies!

There is nothing like the sensation of performing with a group of top-notch singers. There are eight of us, and we sing two-per-part. My “desk partner” is James Mawson, who’s basically the fruitiest bass in the world. He thinks nothing of popping down to a bottom A - which I personally find deeply emasculating! Our voices blend together very well, however, largely because I am more than happy to play second fiddle and make it my primary objective to provide him with tonal re-enforcement!

I think it’s going to be a rather fine album.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018


I have to say, I am loving being at Mountview directing again. Directing theatre was always my great passion. It was what I wanted to do, and what I spent the first ten years of my career actually doing. At some point along the way, I fell into making films, and then the composing work slightly took over, but there’s something exciting and hugely meaningful about being in a rehearsal room, leading a team of people, all of whom have the same goal.

Obviously it helps that we’re breathing life into my own material. It is such a huge privilege to be able to enthuse young people with material I’ve crafted myself. And I have a joyously playful cast who are committing to every aspect of the process. We’ve done the majority of the technical work on the show. We’ve choreographed 95% of the dances, most know the music, the words and their characters, so we’re free now to play and work in minute detail. The girls, who, in fairness, probably have a slightly easier track in the show on account of having fewer massive production numbers, feel like they’re slightly further ahead. They are really enjoying the freedom that being on top of material brings. They almost feel like they’re beginning to think collectively. One of them bowls a googly into the group and the rest go with it. It’s massively gratifying to see them growing in confidence every day. I feel like a proud dad.

It’s a very emotional story, and not a day goes past when the entire room doesn’t get flooded by a swimming pool of tears. Catharsis is good, and as the cast commit more and more, I find myself increasingly emotionally effected. There is much of me in that show. Sometimes it feels like my soul will live on through it. There are so many lines which remind me of friends and family members, and transport me to different moments in my life. Today, as we dealt with the death of one of the characters, I remembered my Grandmother. In other scenes, I see the faces of previous Brassers. I’m frequently reminded of the magical day when we took the 2016 cast to the trenches in France. I remember the laughter we had in the boarding houses whilst rehearsing the NYMT productions, the dreadful sound of the fire alarm at 6am and the sight of choreographer, Matt Flint, wrapped in a duvet, waiting to be allowed back into the boarding house after a fire drill. I think of Sara Kestelman telling a cast member that he really was a wanker, and Hannah Chissick saying “that’s literally my favourite moment in the show” ...every five minutes! I think of the day that Ben Mabberley auditioned for the show by playing “Orange Juice” on the cornet, and feeling so profoundly moved that I wrote the song Brass especially for him and remember the day we went to Birmingham to see young Harrison conducting the show with exquisite precision.

At each stage of the journey, people feel like they’ve fallen deeply in love with the show. Only today, one of the actresses in the production tweeted “I've honestly never loved a show as much as I love Brass.”

Crumbs, I feel proud to have brought it to the world.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018


I hosted the MMD new writers’ cabaret last night, which is a monthly event for new writers of British musical theatre. The evening gives writers the chance to try out new material in front of a supportive audience. I attended every session for a full year whilst writing Em. It was a fabulous way to force myself not to write “also ran” music. I tried my hardest to write a song each month which topped the last one, and I would learn a great deal each time about what I’d written based on the audience’s collective response.

The evenings were always well-attended and very lively, and, although I haven’t attended myself for a year or so, I was thrilled to be asked to compere last night’s.

It was a bit of a flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants scenario, as I had no time to prepare any schtick, so was essentially merely saying, “this is x, who’s written a song called x, which comes from a show called x...” I decided to keep the writers on stage afterwards to ask them a little bit about themselves and what they were hoping for. Occasionally I’d try to throw in a bit of advice, as I was aware that I was perhaps a little bit further on in my career than most of the others... and I think we all have a duty in the industry to support each other where we can. Largely, my message was for them to keep on writing. There were lots of young writers there - and our industry’s future sits firmly in their hands.

The set up in the UK is not geared towards the nurturing of musical theatre talent. There’s an amazing 18 year-old writer called Charli who would benefit enormously from studying on a high-quality musical theatre writing degree course. There are many such courses in the States, where amazing musical theatre writers like William Finn and Stephen Schwartz regularly teach. You literally learn from the best. The UK doesn’t have any such courses, however. The only option for a wannabe musical theatre composer is either to train as a performer and learn his or her craft by osmosis, or to study composing as part of a classical music degree, where musical theatre is often looked down on. There are song writing courses for pop music and jazz in some institutions, but, so far, in this country, the only courses specifically for musical theatre writers, I believe, are very part time or postgraduate courses, and you can count them on the fingers of one hand. There’s one at Goldsmiths, but, when I last discussed it with someone who’d been on it, I was somewhat horrified to learn that it wasn’t recognised by the music department, which meant the students couldn’t use equipment or university practise rooms. The musical theatre writers apparently wandered aimlessly from classroom to classroom, carrying the course keyboard on a trolley. It sounded bleak and undignified. I’m sure things will have improved. They have to have!

Anyway, my great sadness last night was that there weren’t more people in the audience. This was not the bustling event I remember from the past, where sometimes I’d worry that there might not be a slot left for me to perform my song in. I think perhaps only 8 people performed, and very few writers had turned up merely to support. It’s made me resolve to go more often because I feel it’s such an important event. And if any musical theatre writers are reading this blog. Go. Attend. Show solidarity. Us musical theatre writers need to raise our heads above the parapet.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Magic of the ancestors

There was an all-too-familiar, last-minute panic this morning as Nathan set sail for New York. His phone had somehow managed not to charge overnight, his 6.30am alarm hadn’t gone off, and he was woken instead by my 7.45am soothing iPhone arpeggios on a fake harp. The taxi he’d booked for the airport had come and gone, and there was much rushing about and cursing. This time last year, when heading off to the same Rhinebeck Yarn Festival, he left his passport at home and I had to drive like a maniac to Hangar Lane to get it to him.

I guess no one could be entirely blamed for messing up an alarm call after the night we’d had. We went to bed at about midnight. It was a muggy night as a result of a sort of misty, moisty mizzle in the air, so the window was open. I was drifting off to sleep to the sound of the Tallis Fantasia and rain trickling over the roof tops, when my ears tuned into a sickeningly familiar sound within our flat... namely the dull thud of water dripping onto our living room carpet.

We leapt out of bed and ran around in a mad whirl, moving furniture and sticking buckets underneath the places where the water was coming through - which, it turned out, was absolutely everywhere. We ran out of buckets and quickly moved on to dustbins, fruit bowls and towels. I’m not sure anyone should be expected to live in these conditions, let alone pay rent to do so.

I spent the weekend in Thaxted at another quiz. Did I ever mention in this blog that I’m quite partial to a quiz? This one happened in a village hall on the winding country road towards Great Dunmow where, on some nights, a strange optical illusion involving light and mist occurs, which makes drivers on the road think there are ghostly hares dancing on the tarmac.

One of the things I love most about Thaxted is the way that it wears its folklore on its sleeve: whether that’s its thriving Morris Dance and folk music scene, curious pentagrams scratched into the doors of local churches to ward off witches, or talk of strange, lingering fingers of smoke hovering over the lanes. Life would be very dull indeed without the promise of magic. I am a rationalist, but there are things which, in my view, shouldn’t be swept aside or undermined with brutal logic. I would not compose music, or write stories if I didn’t believe in certain myths or the all-encompassing power of nature. I certainly think there are skills and perceptions which human beings have lost as we’ve evolved. Apparently we used to be able to smell water from great distances. How we know this, I’ve no idea. I think we were probably able to sense different types of energy as well. I have nothing to back this theory up apart from the extraordinary pyramids, monoliths and perfect stone circles built by our ancestors.

...We came second in the quiz. By one-and-a-half points. Beaten by our mortal quizzing enemies. If Sally had been more certain that the song had been sung by Credence Clearwater Revival, and I’d have remembered that Carol Lee Scott had played Grotbags in the Pink Windmill, we’d have won. Actually, if Nathan had been on the team, we would have won, but he banged his head in the loo of a local yarn store, so was dispatched back to London for a much-needed night of r and r!

Saturday, 13 October 2018


“This is your Northern Line via Bank train,” says the announcer at Highgate Station. As it happened it WAS the train I wanted to take, but that still didn’t make it MY train, and fifty per cent of people waiting on the platform were waiting for the Charing Cross branch. What’s wrong with “this is A Northern Line via Bank train?”

This sort of ghastly misappropriation of the English language is plainly part of an attempt to make official or formal language seem more cozy. Sadly, to my ears, it’s just as jolting as someone using “myself” to sound fancy when they simply mean “me.” “Who can I talk to about this problem?” “You can talk to myself.”

A rather unpleasant woman decided to squeeze herself into the tube carriage behind me as I made my hour-and-a-half commute to Peckham yesterday morning. She seemed entirely unaware that the space in front of me was being filled by my suitcase, but clearly felt I ought to be standing further forward, so kept thrusting her belly into my back and bum, which I found highly aggressive and, actually, a bit repulsive. I wondered how she would have responded to a man standing behind her doing what she was doing to me. Police have been contacted for lesser issues...

One of the things that #meToo has triggered in me is a desperate desire for parity in the way that we respond to issues relating to gender. These things have to work both ways. Yes, men CAN behave terribly, but, despite being pretty sure the woman’s motives yesterday morning were aggressive rather than sexual, I still felt a little violated by what she was doing.

Women can also be bullies and, in fact, throughout my career, I can pinpoint several times when I’ve been bullied by women, and actually fewer times where I’ve been bullied by men. I remember, on one occasion, a female executive producer literally screaming at me on the phone as I was trying to enter a recording session for the film we were working on. She shouted so viciously that I entered the studio shaking so much I had to sit down. The same person was thrown out of our sound edit for violently throwing books at the equipment when she didn’t get her way.

Strangely enough, I’m not sure I recognised that I was being bullied back then. I knew it was unreasonable behaviour and I knew it made me very distressed, but I don’t think it would have occurred to me that women even COULD have bullied men. In fact, I think many people, women included, still believe it’s impossible for a woman to bully a man. Men don’t have feelings, after all...

Within the last few months I experienced another dose of bullying from a woman, and, for the first time in my life, I called her out on it. She was utterly incensed, but, rather tellingly, instead of apologising, or asking what specifically she was doing which made me feel bullied, she instantly went on the attack and played the gender card: “if a man had said the same to you, would you have accused HIM of bullying?” Did my comments stop the bullying? No. They made it considerably worse.

And that’s how the viscous circle begins. A man is told that he can’t possibly feel bullied, and the bullying continues until he can bear it no more, and he puffs himself up to full size and growls like a lion. At which point he is instantly told he’s a bully!

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Brass, brass, still more brass

Peckham is a very Christian area. There are several shops in the area which blare out religious songs on tannoy systems and there’s a newsagent with a banner on it which says “Jesus is Lord, Phil. 2:1.” I’m not sure who Phil is, but, then again, I often feel that Christians talk in code to feel like part of an exclusive club. There’s all sort of stuff about the Lamb of God and phrases like “accepting Jesus into your life” which I find very bizarre.

That said, I quite like being able to travel across London and find myself in an area which feels so very other worldly. The deep, rich aromas of Caribbean and African cuisine fill the streets. People sit in little kiosks selling off-cuts of fabric, hair weaves and curious fruit and vegetables. I’m not sure the area is quite ready for the high octane energy of a musical theatre drama school! The Mountview students stand out. You can smell them a mile off!

The area is obviously changing rapidly, and it’s rather sad to think that, in a few years’ time, a lot of its quirkiness will have been swept aside by rising rents. They’re already building stacks of fancy-looking flats along the high road, and the area around Queens Road station is full of artisan bakeries and fancy bars selling micro brewery beer.

It’s probably about time. I remember going to Julie’s house on the train about fifteen years ago, and passing through Queens Road Peckham and being absolutely horrified by the state of the station, which was covered in graffiti and metal grills. It felt like something from the Bronx in the 1970s: the sort of thing which would periodically turn up on an episode of Cagney and Lacy when a homeless man gets murdered in a cardboard box.

The production of Brass at the Union Theatre was announced yesterday, which means I can now talk openly about something which has been brewing for the last month or so. I was in a production meeting for the Mountview version of the show when my publisher got in touch to say that the rights had been requested and, as ever with these things, you smile and wave, thinking that it’s entirely unlikely anything will ever get off the ground. Particularly with such a short lead time.

But in fairness to them, they’ve got it together, and rehearsals for their version started on Monday with, I’m rather pleased to say, young Jack Reitman in the cast.

It is entirely surreal to not have anything to do with this particular production. I just have to trust that they’ll get on with it, work hard, be truthful to the characters and play them with love, great affection and a huge dose of Yorkshire wit, grit and pride.

The fact that there are two productions running simultaneously in London is, of course, more than a little exciting. Add to this the news that a choir in Red Hill are singing three songs from the show in a major concert down there and it starts to feel like this precious child of mine, which I’ve nurtured for four years, is finally learning to walk unaided. The path I’ve chosen for myself in life has often felt like a brutal, uphill climb, but, just occasionally, it all seems worth it. Perhaps most gratifying of all is the sheer number of people who are coming forward to say what a profound effect Brass had on them when they saw it, or performed in it before.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Wounded soldier

I injured my head yesterday. We were part way through our customary Monday morning run of the show and I realised I was desperate for the loo, so bolted upstairs to the staff toilets. I’m not entirely sure I know what happened, but as I pushed the door to the staff corridor open, my forehead was greeted by something hard, sharp and wooden. I immediately realised I had done something silly because I could see blood on the doorpost. I did the thing they do on movies and brought my hand up to my face to realise I was, indeed, bleeding, just above my left eye.

It’s funny the things that go through your head when you injure yourself and go into slight shock. I took myself first to a loo cubical. I wanted to hide away whilst I worked out what was wrong. It’s an animal instinct. What you don’t want in these instances is someone fussing or panicking. I had my wee, but suddenly noticed I’d started to wee on my foot, which made me realise I wasn’t entirely firing on all cylinders! 

I remember pressing loo paper against my head and realising there was a fair amount of blood, but that it wasn’t gushing from me, so I decided the best thing to do was to make a cup of sweet tea whilst I formulated a plan which didn’t involve staggering into a rehearsal room and freaking out my cast.

As I walked away from the kitchen and into the giant fancy atrium at Mountview, I was hugely relieved to see our company manager. I pointed at my head and told him I’d hurt myself, and he instantly whisked me into the staff room to apply first aid. It turns out that he’s a designated first aider.

It took about five minutes to clean me up and stick a couple of plasters on my face. The wounds are fairly superficial. I’ve taken a chunk of skin off in a few places but I didn’t feel woozy, so probably didn’t have concussion of any sort. As the adrenaline drained from my body, I started to feel a little shaky and the wounds started to sting a bit, but I consider myself to be rather lucky not to have taken a considerably bigger hit.

I took the plaster off this morning, and it’s not the most attractive sight. A flap of skin is hanging off which I don’t want to pull at. I equally feel the wound needs to dry out in the air rather than fester behind a plaster.

So, the wounded soldier limps on. And so I should. In a show with a body count as high as the one in Brass, I merely count my lucky stars not to have been born 100 years earlier.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Country air

The tubes were all broken when I reached the underground this morning. There’s a horrible moment, as the tube doors open, when you realise you’re in for a rough journey. A haze of sweat rolls out of the carriage and it becomes obvious that the group of individuals within have become an amorphous mass, with faces and arms crammed into every single corner. It’s a terribly depressing way to start the week.

The weekend was rather relaxing. It kicked off with a synagogue service. Michael is away in Italy at the moment, so we were without a conductor, but it was an experienced bunch of singers and we blended well. We always have such wonderfully erudite conversations whilst we’re on our tea break. We regularly talk about religion, culture, politics and the murky world of gender and sexuality. On Saturday, we discussed generational divides in the way that people perceive, and respond to, mental health issues. There is a Jewish tradition of debating in synagogues. We may not be discussing the finer points of the Torah, but we always do our bit when it comes to talking about the big issues.

I went home for a while and entered a sort of reverie, staring at the television, wondering if I should have a sleep. Nathan was due to arrive back from Northern Ireland on a late night flight into Stansted, so I called the parents to see if they were free to take a visitor whilst I waited to pick him up. As it happened, they weren’t, but they were planning to go to a quiz, and didn’t have enough people on their team, so I jumped into a car and joined them at the Thaxted bowls club, which is actually in the middle of a darkened field with no discernible front door.

The quiz itself was aimed at a different demographic, with the music round dedicated to songs from the 50s and 60s.

Despite not being a massively useful team member, it was hugely gratifying to look around and see that I was the youngest person in the room. That doesn’t happen very often these days! The quiz master was somewhat lacking in charisma, and showed such personal bias in his questions, that the team with his wife on ended up winning, but it’s easy to underestimate how difficult and thankless writing and running a quiz can be. Simply for getting off his harris and doing it, he deserved a hearty round of applause.

Nathan was kind enough to take an Uber from Stansted to the bowls club to enable me to keep quizzing, and when everything was over, and we’d come a miserable third out of five, we headed back to the parents’ house to watch Strictly. Obviously I’m still supporting the iconic Faye off of Steps, so it was pleasing to me that she did so well.

We ended up staying the night in Thaxted. I went out like a light and slept like the dead and we managed a Sunday pub lunch before heading back to London. I worked the entire afternoon and evening putting final touches to the new orchestrations for Brass, which I finally sent off at about midnight, feeling as relieved to have finished as I felt resentful that they’d taken so long!

Friday, 5 October 2018

Week two

It’s the end of the second week of rehearsals for Brass, and I am very pleased with the direction we’re heading in. There’s still a veritable mountain to climb, but we’ve put a lot of layers down. We’ve had a few little blips during the week, a few panics, a few people losing confidence, but I don’t think anyone is scared of the show any more, which, for a piece the size of Brass is fairly surprising. My task for next week is to slowly chip away at the unexplored edges, so, by the time we run the piece a week on Monday, everyone is aware of what they at least should be doing at every stage of their journey.

One of the slightly eccentric aspects of Brass is that most of the big production numbers are performed by the men, with the women baring the brunt of the solo work. Perhaps if I had my time again, I’d have shoved a big, upbeat showstopper into Act II for the girls to perform which mirrors Barnbow Lassies. And yes, I’m aware the show is plenty long enough already, so no one should feel the need to write in!

We have a dead rat in our kitchen. (There’s a rat in me kitchen what am I gonna do...) She is wrapped in a towel, bless her, and I basically need to work out how and where to bury her. She needs to have dignity in death, so I refuse to throw her casually into a dustbin. As a rat fancier, the irony hasn’t escaped me that we have chosen to kill this little lass, after sharing our lives very happily with similar-shaped creatures in the past.

This weekend, after shul, is all about a) relaxing and b) tackling a veritable mountain of admin relating to Brass. I have to invite industry types to see the show. I have to invite my friends to see it. If you’re reading this blog, and you don’t yet have the dates and such, here’s the science:

Shows are all at the Bernie Grant theatre in Tottenham and I urge you to book because it WILL sell out.

Thursday, 4 October 2018


The first mists of autumn were swirling this morning. It’s a strange old time of year. The evenings are closing in at a fast rate of knots. We get a little reprieve when the clocks go forward... or back... or whatever it is that happens in a few weeks’ time, and then it’s the slow march towards winter and we all wonder where on earth the year went and why we suddenly feel so cold. (Unless you’re a hairy old bear like me of course, when you start to feel an ordinary temperature!)

I find Autumn a very inspiring time, which almost certainly has its roots in going back to school and the fresh beginnings and opportunities a new term always promised.

But re-birth also carries the weight of death.

I had a rather distressing phone call from Nathan yesterday, who told me that he’d seen the rat. Actually, the news came in stages, over a series of phone calls. Firstly he’d seen a loaf of bread which looked like it had been gnawed at by a rat. Then he saw the rat scuttling about in the dustbins. Then he called to say that the rat wasn’t running away from him any more and that she’d started to get sluggish. It soon became clear that the rat had eaten the poison which the man from Rentakill had put down earlier in the week. 

It is hugely distressing to see an animal suffering, particularly when you know it’s something you’ve sanctioned. Nathan decided to wrap the creature in a towel to make her as comfortable as possible in her last few hours. When I got back from rehearsals, her little head was poking out of the towel. She plainly couldn’t move, but her eyes were alert, staring up at me. It was awful.

I don’t think she made it through the night. She’d disappeared into the towel by the time I woke up. I could see a patch of her back, a little flash of her grey, silky coat, but it didn’t seem to be moving.

I am officially a murderer.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Code 5!

I’ve really got too much going on at the moment. I should be coming home from rehearsals and getting on with an ever-growing list of non-Brass-related things, but life keeps getting in the way.

On Monday night, I just wanted to spend a bit of time with Nathan, watching Strictly and catching up on Bake Off. I feel everyone’s entitled to a night like that sometimes. We ordered pizza and I slowly drifted into a coma, truly knackered after my weekend in Belgium.

Last night I went for dinner with Michael in Liverpool Street. We caught up on everything relating to the world of 100 Faces, and I realised, with great horror, how many terrible clashes I have coming up in the next month or so. You know what they say about busses? Well, it’s that and some!

Rehearsals for Brass are ticking along nicely. For shits and giggles, I did a run of the show on Monday morning. We haven’t done any blocking, really, or very much choreography, but I wanted to stand the show on its feet to see how everything felt. They’ve done all the character work now, so the opportunity to put everything into context turned out to be rewarding for everyone, including me. I, personally, was able to see the areas of the show where energy starts to sag, and therefore where we’re going to need to work that bit harder to keep the audience engaged.

Six of the roles in the show are double cast so that everyone gets a fair crack at the Bosch (to use an appropriate metaphor.) For some time they’ve known which dates “cast 1” and “cast 2” are performing, they just haven’t know who is in which cast, which means their family and potential agents can’t book tickets. I’ve been watching them over the last week to see where the chemistry sits and have spent a long time thinking about the combinations which would best allow individual actors to shine. I hope I’ve got it right. I think I have.

A double-cast show is incredibly tiring to rehearse. You crack it with one cast, and then the work starts all over again with the other, just as you let your guard down and start to think you’re motoring forward.

The commute to Peckham is pretty full-on, and involves quite a lot of rush hour shenanigans, including a change from underground to overground at a highly-crowded London Bridge, which is the part I hate. They’ve obviously updated the “Mr Sloane” language they use over the tannoys to describe suspicious packages, suspected fires and the like. This morning I heard talk of one “Norman Gates” reporting to such-and-such a location “urgently.” Until the word urgently was used, I didn’t think anything of it, but the announcer sealed the deal by calmly adding, “this is a code 5.” Hysterical. I wonder how serious code 5 actually is...

Monday, 1 October 2018

Broken infrastructure

As predicted, we arrived in the UK last night and were instantly subjected to the sort of travel chaos in which the Brits seem to absolutely specialise.

The plan had been for Fiona to drop me off, where she picked me up, at Maidstone East, but when I started looking into train times, it immediately became apparent that rail replacement services were being operated, that there didn’t seem much hope of my reaching the capital before 1am, and that I would be arriving at Victoria Station at said time, which isn’t exactly a breeze to get to Highgate from at shit o’clock in the morning. Yawn.

Anyway, one of the reasons that the rail replacement service was destined to take so long was that the busses were taking passengers in the opposite direction from London so that they could pick up Eurostar connections from Ashfield International.

Fiona and I therefore decided that the best option was to drop me off at Ashfield, in the process circumventing the need for a rail replacement bus and an extra two hours on my journey. Our Chunnel train got into Folkestone at 9.50pm, the last train to Kings Cross from Ashfield left at 10.43pm, the estimated journey time was 20 minutes. What could possibly go wrong?

I’ll tell you what could go wrong. The UK’s astoundingly shitty roads, and our government’s complete inability to outsource repair work to private companies who actually give a stuff about ordinary people.

So, about two miles shy of the M20 turn off for Ashfield, we got stuck in completely stationary traffic, and watched helplessly as the sat nav’s estimated time of arrival got later and later, and eventually went spinning off into the world of “ain’t never gonna happen.”

We investigated half a dozen plan Bs. Fiona could drive me to Croydon, perhaps? That journey would take 1 hour and 48 minutes, which would mean taking the last train from Croydon to Blackfriars, where I would find myself at 1am without any other option than to walk half an hour to a 43 night bus, or an Uber back to Highgate. 

All the other potential options led us into a similar cul-de-sac of frustration. Our only option, genuinely, was for me to go back home to Hove with Fiona, and take an early train into London for rehearsals.

With all other options taken away, we hit that sort of calm space where you just have to accept the situation, so we stopped at a Motorway Service Station on the M25 for some late night food. Sadly the only food available was at MacDonalds.

We sat, eating our cardboard libations to multinationalism, trying to comprehend the ineptitude of the British transport network, wondering how the Brexiteers could blame this shit on Europe, and whether making Britain “great” again would include ploughing any extra money into transport, and furthermore, whether any of said extra money would be spent on anything other than lining the pockets of hopeless fat cats who run the ludicrous companies who couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery.

MacDonald’s decided to add an extra layer of hideousness to the proceedings. I don’t know whether anyone reading this has ever sat in a MacDonald’s late at night, when the bustle of life subsides into relative silence, but behind the counters in a MacDonald’s all you can hear is beeping. One assumes the different beeps inform staff that various bits of inedible shite have finished “cooking.” Or maybe they’re designed simply to keep the members of staff awake, but the beeping never ends. High pitched beeps. Low pitched beeps. Beeps which change in pitch. Long beeps. Short beeps. Loud beeps. Quiet beeps. Beeps in rhythmical patterns. Fast. Slow. Fast again. It was, without a shadow of doubt, the most stressful attempt at unwinding I have ever embarked on. All because of the beeps...

We reached Hove at about 12.30, I assume. The moment my head hit the pillow, I fell asleep. Deep sleep.

And actually, this morning, my journey into London was good. I had a seat. I did some work. I made my connections. Perhaps there is a travel God after all!

I did, however, have to jump the barriers at Queens Road Peckham, on account of my ticket not working and no members of staff being around to talk to. I felt a rush of adrenaline. I rather liked it. I might become the sort of old man who shop lifts for shits and giggles!