Monday, 23 October 2017

The triangle

Today was meant to be my last day in the recording studio working on Em. Music should, by now, have been fully mixed and heading off to Scotland for mastering. Obviously I knew this wasn't going to happen, which is why I haven't booked the album in for this crucial next stage. You learn to take one step at a time in a recording studio and never to give yourself unrealistic expectations in terms of delivery dates. Who was it who once drew a picture of a triangle for me, with three words written at each of the corners? "Cheap. High quality. Quick." The point of the diagram was to show that any two corners of this particular triangle in combination would always block out the third. So, you can have something which is high quality and delivered quickly, but it won't be cheap, you can have high quality and cheap, but it won't be quick and you can have cheap and fast but it won't be high quality. In the case of Em we're aiming for cheap and high quality, so delivery won't happen any time soon!

Actually, I think we may need as many as two extra days in the studio, which is a bit of a bummer, as studio days are really expensive. At the same time I can't deliver something which is not as brilliant as it could be, simply because I've skimped at this final stage.

On the tube this evening I had to deal with a man who was so blindingly drunk that he was, in my view, a danger to himself. Watching him, and the way that people were interacting with him, I was suddenly struck by how people have a tendency to leave men to simply get on with it when they're in obvious peril. I'm fairly convinced that a woman in the same state of inebriation would have been rather speedily rescued. Maybe there's a sense that a drunk man would potentially get violent. I watched as the guy lurched, like a pinball, from one side of the corridor to the other, and then as he slipped down a flight of stairs, only narrowly avoiding losing his footing entirely and therefore injuring himself really badly. When he started listing towards the track on the platform itself, I was forced to intervene, grabbing him by his arm and steering him to the wall.

I asked him where he was going and ascertained he was heading for Marble Arch, so got him onto the tube. He folded up like a little piece of origami once inside and I was forced, yet again, to grab his arm to stop him from toppling out of the tube when the doors re-opened. I forced him to look into my face and asked if he was okay, and explained to him that he needed to be extremely careful when he got off at Marble Arch because I wouldn't be there to keep an eye on him and he was very drunk and likely to hurt himself if he didn't try very hard to sober up. I asked if he knew where he was heading and he seemed to, so I said he needed to try very hard not to walk into the roads because even though his legs were behaving like rubber, he wouldn't bounce like rubber.

He seemed touched and tried to give me his card but couldn't make his fingers work to pull it out of his wallet. It was a sorry sight. I hope he made it home.


conquering conkers

It's a lovely autumnal morning. Many leaves have fallen off the trees in London during the couple of storms we've seen the tail ends of and because there's been no rain, we've had perfect conditions for leaf-kicking. I'm rather pleased to have seen many children enjoying this particular pursuit. What is far less acceptable is the number of fine-looking conkers that you see these days lying pathetically under horse chestnut trees. In my day, kids were so keen to get conkers that they'd throw sticks into trees or risk life and limb climbing over walls into gardens where a fine crop had been spotted. Nowadays, young people are too busy in a world of virtual reality, over-stimulated by technology and shallow impermanence. Online conkering could well become the next fad, with conkers which look so real, you'd almost think you were holding them. As I type, the word "conker" is being autocorrected to the word "commerce!"

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Dream Girls and Mez

It's been a long day today and I have spent the majority of it in agony on account of having decided to wear a pair of new shoes which, I realised, rather too late, were a size too small for me. The pain was so intense that I was forced to take them off and walk in my socks for one period of the day! We live and learn.

The day started after way too little sleep at Shul where we performed quite a lot of material I'd not sung before. It turns out there's an almost limitless supply of Jewish liturgical music, much of which revolves around settings of the same few pieces of religious text. It took a bit of learning. I dedicated much of yesterday to the task, but it's really only when you hear your own line in context, that the music truly makes sense. I was a bit of a shambles in the rehearsal as a result, but it was enough to focus my brain and I nailed the actual gig, but for a few rough corners. Of course, if it were up to me I'd have rehearsed and rehearsed beforehand but the other choristers are pros who just want to run everything once. When I asked to run one of the pieces a second time, one of them said (possibly only half jokingly) "there's some grapes in a bowl over there. Would you like us to peel them for you?"

After Shul, Michael and I went across Hyde Park to the V and A museum to meet Meriel and the gang who had gathered to celebrate her birthday. It was a sizeable group which included Hilary and her brood, Raily and co, Sam Becker (whom I was seeing for the first time since we trekked across America) and even Sam's delightful sister, Katie, who was there with her lot. We spent ages in the jewellery room, which is stunningly presented. Giant glass cabinets are filled with sparkling gems from across the ages, each of which is individually spot lit so it literally shimmers and glows.

We went to the theatre exhibition, which is full of fascinating ephemera, including an ancient star trap from Drury Lane and a jacket that Björn from ABBA once wore.

We had cream teas at Pat Val, before Mez and I headed to the West End to see Dream Girls at the glorious Savoy Theatre, which is, without a doubt, one of the most beautifully appointed theatres in the world. It's genuine Art Deco heaven.

Less heavenly was the show itself. I'll confess to having been a little disappointed after hearing such amazing things about it. Meriel, a massive Glee fan, was rather disappointed to discover Amber Riley wasn't performing, and I would certainly have been interested to see what she was like, but know you often get a better performance from an alternate when a big name is involved.

I think I'm just not the target audience for a show like Dream Girls. I'm not a fan of soul music and I've always found the music for this particular show splashy, dirge-like and ultimately forgettable. This includes the over-sung "And I'm Telling You", which seems to be top of every indulgent singer's set list. The show feels like a juke box musical. There are way too many songs with a profound lack of narrative drive and the plot is flimflam. I genuinely had no interest in the plight of the central characters and felt I was being shouted at by the actors who belted endlessly, doing every vocal trick in the book, till I just wanted them to shut up. It felt presentational. Empty. Impressive, of course, although the lead actress was plainly doing herself some serious vocal damage - but I'm bored of performers who mistake "souling it up" for anything other than deep indulgence. The sound was awful. Loud and tinny. My ears bled.


Thursday, 19 October 2017

Racial hatred

I witnessed something very unsavoury and unpleasant in Crouch End today, as Julian and I returned to his studio from lunch. We were walking along the pavement towards Cecile Park when we became aware of a smallish car tearing up the hill from behind us. It screeched around the corner without indicating and almost ploughed into a man who had stepped off the pavement to cross the road. The car slowed down and the passenger shouted out of his window, "get out the road, you black bastard." Julian and I were profoundly shocked. Although I'm sure this is a tragically familiar occurrence for people of colour, it's not something I have witnessed very often. In fact the last time I saw anything comparable, I was so incensed that I rugby tackled the bastard who'd spat at an Asian family to the floor in the ticket hall of Tottenham Court Road station.

It is official. There has been a thirty percent rise in hate crime since Brexit, and today I saw it with my own eyes. I heard June Sarpong speaking with great erudition on the subject on Radio 4 yesterday and she pointed out very sagely that successive governments had managed to get us to a point where people knew they weren't allowed to say those sort of things, but that hearts and minds haven't yet been changed, which was why a torrent of ugly hatred washed over the country like a tidal wave after Brexit.

Of course the car was moving so speedily that we couldn't get its number plate in time, but I'm semi-proud to say that, although we were powerless to report the crime, the four people who'd witnessed the event immediately rushed over to the guy who'd been abused and poured as much love as we could onto him. I hope it helped a little.

Troubling times...

Am I the only one who gets a bit irritated at the Facebook trend where people seem to be displaying all sorts of profound inanities in giant letters on brightly coloured backgrounds? Surely you'd only decide to do this if you felt you had something really important to say? We are genetically programmed to notice things which are displayed in this manner and if we're going to teach our subconsciouses that words in big letters on brightly-coloured backgrounds aren't important, then how will we ever stop at a stop sign or know that hazardous chemicals are lurking within the boxes we open at work?


How about we save this treatment for statements we genuinely think are important, or really REALLY funny? Otherwise, maybe stick to the normal-sized fonts?

Love Oscar The Grouch.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Me too

I've been following with great interest the "me too" threads on Facebook, slightly shocked and deeply saddened by the high number of my female friends who have endured unwanted sexual advances from men. I certainly hope that women find solidarity in the process of sharing their stories, and my thoughts are with anyone who has been affected by this sort of thing. We should never forget that the innate aggression within some people manifests itself in many ways which can be distressing and life-shattering to both sexes. Countless men are beaten to a pulp on Saturday nights merely for looking at someone the wrong way, and many of them are just as frightened to come forward because masculine pride tells them they should have been able to look after themselves. Men can also be sexually abused by men.

Initiatives aside, I have always believed that it's only possible to stamp out inappropriate behaviour by being brave enough to confront it as and when it happens. I'm not altogether sure that any of the dinosaurs or misogynists, who still believe that it's appropriate to treat women like objects, are likely to read a "me too" post on Facebook and suddenly have an epiphany about their behaviour. A policeman turning up at their door, however, is an altogether different prospect.

My worry is that "me too" actually enforces the notion that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. From a gay man's perspective, one whose friends are almost exclusively female, I'll confess to finding the campaign a tiny bit alienating because it seems to generate them and us battle lines. I have seen some distressing examples today of men being shot down in flames for questioning the logic of the idea. I sometimes think if we were to digest everything written online about the subject of equality, we'd conclude that men were simply incapable of getting it right. I can't tell you the last time I read a post on Facebook which applauded a man who'd made a woman feel empowered. Why don't I see posts about the good guys? Sometimes refusing to see the good in people, and instead bashing them with a stick, ends up reenforcing behavioural patterns. And sometimes, in the process of attacking, you miss, and strike someone who doesn't deserve to be hit. The LGBT community couldn't have got over the damage done by HIV/AIDS without straight allies, but, at the time, I'm sure it felt as though we were accusing every heterosexual of being homophobic. How could they ever expect to understand how it felt to be gay? I sometimes felt as though we were waiting for someone to slip up simply so that we could say we told them so.

For this reason I'm hugely grateful to the friends of mine who, instead of simply writing "me too," were brave enough to explain the story behind their statement. I know that it's not always possible to do this. Some stories are too traumatic and raw to share on an Internet forum. But by saying THIS man treated me badly because he did THIS to me, they're potentially making men more aware of the scale of the problem and the myriad things we do which women find inappropriate. That's something we can all learn from, and sympathise with, without feeling bad simply for being male.

So what am I saying? This is a wonderful initiative if it's giving women the strength to say "enough is enough, let's take positive action to stamp this behaviour once and for all." If, as a result, just one woman has the courage to tell a man that she finds his gaze or his actions inappropriate then it will have been successful. But I would love to see another initiative, with a positive spin, which, instead of reenforcing what seems to be a widening chasm between men and women, actually empowers the men who get it right. And yes, women have an absolute right to be treated properly and I'm not advocating that any woman should feel the need to thank a man for not breaking the law. Neither am I in any way trying to undermine the very serious crimes which are presently coming to light, or suggest that the "me too" initiative was anything other than a great thing, but we live in aggressive, frightening times, and we have to keep remembering that there is much good in the world and that the bad stuff tends to happens when we feel divided.

My sincerest apologies if this post has offended anyone. Please let me know your thoughts on the subject.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Ruby and the sickening yellow light

I feel like the last two days have somewhat rolled into each other to the extent that they've become a sort of amorphous blob of time. At some point yesterday - don't ask me when - I drove up to Manchester. It always takes longer to get there than you hope. I think it's something to do with the fact that Manchester is not actually on the M6, so you exit the motorway only to find yourself on another flamin' motorway.

I went up to Manchester to record Ruby singing the role of Em on the album. She's currently doing a rep season at Bolton Octagon and her first show opens tonight, so it was impossible to get her down to London to record her vocals.

We ended up taking a punt on a studio in a grimy Victorian warehouse on the edge of the city centre. It was the sort of run-down place which will be gentrified at some point, but definitely not in the very near future! It took ages to find the entrance. A walk around the back of the building revealed the sound of a rock band smashing the hell out of their instruments.

Ruby had already managed to find her way into the studio by the time I'd arrived and was warming up in a room which smelt of BO. I'm used to scuzzy recording studios. It rather goes with the territory and I genuinely think it aids creativity if you don't think you're trashing a place when you spill your tea everywhere in the heat of the moment. The loos always leave a lot to be desired though. These are no places for those with OCD!

Ruby was on great form and we were able to do complete takes of all of her songs, which means there's a real flow to her vocals. She acted them all beautifully. That's the style of performer she is. Very intimate. Very breathy. She falls off notes. She speaks some notes, and sings others. It's a breath of fresh air in a world where many young performers belt the hell out of songs without really thinking about the words they're singing or the dramatic intention behind them.

We finished late in the studio and the journey back down south was punishing. I'd decided to break the journey in one of the Premier Inns in Northampton, but blithely drove to the wrong one, which wasn't my finest ever hour. The woman behind the reception looked at me like I'd gone mad when I told her angrily that I had a booking...

The drive back this morning seemed to take forever, with horribly slow-moving traffic around Luton. I popped my head into the cinema in East Finchley where Natalie Walter and Ben Caplan were filming trailers for Michael's UK Jewish film festival. I'd suggested both actors, so I suppose you could call me the casting director. I thought I'd pop in to offer moral support and see how they were both doing.

Just as I exited the cinema on my way to Julian's studio, all hell broke loose. Nathan, who flies to America today, called to say he was at the airport but had left his passport on his desk at home. It's the stuff of nightmares. I instantly rushed back to the house, grabbed his passport, and started tearing along the North Circular towards Heathrow. In the meantime, he was in a taxi heading towards me. We met at a filling station on the A40, just west of Hangar Lane. I stood by the side of the road, his taxi slowed down, the window opened and I threw the passport in.

Sadly he just missed the flight, and they charged him £150 to get on the next one, which has only just taken off. The taxi cost £50. The poor thing started crying when he told me that he'd only gone to Heathrow by tube to save a bit of money. Now he's £200 down.

I was with Julian by midday, which was when the weird "end of the world" sun appeared which has had social media aflutter all day. We're told it was caused by a sandstorm, which is somehow linked to the arrival of storm Ophelia in the U.K. It was certainly the most eerie sight. It was bright orange, and it reflected in the windows of Crouch End like some sort of halogen light. The clouds started bubbling up over lunch, and then, at about 3pm, the sky turned a sickening shade of yellow. It was almost as though I'd put a pair of weirdly tinted sunglasses on, or that the world was suddenly lurking behind some sort of sepia filter. There was a strangely charged quality to the atmosphere which made my fingers tingle, like I'd been fiddling about with a Van de Graaff generator. I didn't like it at all. It made me feel really uneasy. Brother Edward texted, "is it me or is this light really scary?" Brother Tim, in Manchester, was writing about it on Facebook. The birds in Julian's garden started making really strange noises. Every time I tried to take a picture of the weird yellowness, my phone corrected the colour and made the sky white. The wind got very strong and Julian's house, which is a creepy old Vicarage, started creaking and moaning. It was a surreal and somewhat scary period!

Both Nathan and Fiona are in the air at the moment, which I don't like on a night like this. Nathan has already been told to expect turbulence. Fiona, who is flying to Glasgow, seems to be heading for the eye of the storm. I shall be pleased when they're both safely down.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Vocal sessions

We had a mega day in the studio yesterday recording ensemble vocals for the Em album. I invited twelve singers to perform, all of whom I've worked with before at various stages in my career.

It was a long, somewhat brutal day. This was always likely to be the case because we had a lot of very complicated material to cover, all of which needed to be spot on. An ensemble vocal is next to impossible to tune or tidy up in post production so what gets recorded goes straight onto the album. If one of the twelve singers makes a mess of just one of the bars that you're recording, everything has to be done again. The level of concentration required is therefore intense. Performers are literally singing non-stop. It's utterly exhausting.

At the last minute I asked young Harrison if he'd conduct for us. I hadn't initially thought we'd need a conductor, but both Hilary and Nathan passionately disagreed so when Harrison offered, I was rather relieved! He did an astonishing job, and made a massive difference to the session. He's apparently in pain this morning after waving his arms around so frantically.

We recorded some great music and achieved perfection on a number of occasions. We had a few rather hairy moments, particularly towards the end of the session when we started to run out of time, but that's the nature of the beast.

I was hugely grateful to all the vocalists for their commitment. No one moaned about being tired, vocally or physically. Everyone simply got on with being fabulous. It was a joyous session.