Saturday, 31 May 2014


I finished the script of Brass today, which felt like quite a milestone. I decided to take myself to Rustique cafe on the Fortess Road for old time's sake. It's where I finished one of the drafts of my last stage musical, Blast, so it felt rather appropriate. It's also a lovely cafe which always welcomes writers. I was one of about eight people sitting behind lap tops today and can guarantee not a single one of them was doing their accounts!

I'm quite enjoying my daily jaunts down to Kentish Town at the moment. I go to the gym and then do an hour's work in the cafe whilst drinking tea and feeling my heart beat returning to a normal pace!

There's not a lot more to be said about today. Nathan injured himself on the set of South Pacific after slipping on a piece of wood which hadn't been cleared of slime after all the rain they've been having in the swampy forest they call a theatre auditorium. He was sent to a physiotherapist this morning (well actually he was sent to a wrong address some seven miles away from where the physio was based) but when he was eventually seen, they diagnosed whip-lash, which is a bit random... Anyway, as a result of his appointment, he's feeling a great deal better, and had his first night tonight, during which one of the other cast members did something awful to their knee and had to be carried off stage.

I think Lynne Faulds-Wood would probably say something about a "potential death trap!"

I spent the night thinking about new ideas for TV musicals, and unearthed a load of really interesting rushes we shot on the streets of Soho a couple of years ago... At a time, it turns out, when I was slim and handsome. This is the shape I must return to before turning 40, when my body will plainly immediately fall apart!

Thursday, 29 May 2014


I had a lovely lunch today with Uncle Archie and John Hay from Channel 4 in a restaurant in Soho. It was an Otto Lenghi place, which meant vegetarians are properly looked after. I don't know if John specifically chose the place for this reason, but I was either touched, grateful, excited or all three. We had all sorts of experimental food, including, for me, a liquorice sorbet, which was, quite frankly, all shades of wrong, in a sort of right way! I had a "non-alcoholic" cocktail, which I swear made me drunk... That, or I'm coming down with a cold, because I felt considerably little light-headed on my way back to Highgate.

The ghastly rain hasn't helped. There was a glimmer of sunshine this morning, which made me feel rather excited, but as we exited the restaurant, it was absolutely siling it down!

I came home and worked all evening, finishing off the tenth orchestrated song for Brass, and beginning a last pass of the script, looking for a few extra line trims and potential typos before the script goes to print on Monday.

We have new neighbours downstairs and I helped them to carry an arm chair into the flat. It's always a little odd for me to go down there as it's actually the flat I worked in when I was casting feature films with Shaheen Baig. Sometimes I forget that I did that job for more than a year. Enough time to play a major part in the casting of quite a number of feature films including 28 Weeks Later, Brick Lane and Control.

Our new neighbours, Little Welsh Natalie and her partner, Rich, are actually old friends, proving that it's always worth putting a post up on Facebook when a neighbouring property comes on the rental market. It'll be lovely to have neighbours we can sit in the garden with on warm summer nights. Natalie is a gifted artist, so the house should begin to feel like a hub of creativity again.

Right. Time to get back to work. I know it's late, but I've a pitch to write, and, after chatting to Nathan on the phone, I have a rather good idea...

Know your composers

I spent a disproportionately large amount of the day trying to "unsubscribe" myself from spam emails. Periodically I get the impression that my inbox is drowning under the weight of these communications, and have found that a little diligence in the field of removal can work wonders, although sometimes it feels like an uphill struggle... And the way those bastards disguise their "opt out" buttons is somewhat legendary (if indeed a bad thing can be legendary...)

I continued with the process of orchestrating Brass, although I hit something of a wall in the late morning. The early stages of grunt-work on any song can be mind-numbing in the extreme, as note after note is inputted into the score. It's only when the process of finessing kicks in that it becomes even remotely bearable... And then in the back of the mind there's always the nagging voice which informs you there's still another ten numbers where those ten numbers came from... And I've now orchestrated all my favourite songs!

I returned from the gym and cooked myself a "meal of sides" which is what Nathan often accuses my vegetarian dishes of being. I had potatoes, corn on the cob, broccoli and sweetcorn, which I guess feels a little lacking in a foodie star turn! It looked wonderfully colourful on the plate however...

I ate in front of Britain's Got Talent and immediately became incensed by the pretty "opera" singer who, of course, was lorded by the panel as the most talented person in the country... Ever... Fact... World class... She gave it 110%... How she managed to over come those bullies and the death of her Grannie, I'll never know!

It wasn't her slightly slow vibrato, however, which incensed me... It was the fact that she didn't know who'd written the piece of music she was performing. Firstly, that's really insulting to the composer. Secondly, if a performer enjoys a certain song, it's worth seeing what else the composer's written because they might enjoy that as well. Not knowing who wrote a song comes across as either really arrogant or ludicrously ditzy, and neither are exactly good traits in performers.

It's something I tell the young people who audition for me. On and on I go about it. Respect the work of composers - particularly living composers - we could all do with a little more respect, and without us... Well there's no new music, is there? Fact. 110%.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014


On my way to Camden today I stopped off at the little cafe kiosk at the back entrance to Highgate station. The Algerian chaps who work there are ludicrously friendly, and, as a result, I often go out of my way to give them custom.

The guy who served me today, Samir, seemed a great deal less cheery than normal. I watched him as he prepared my cup of tea, engulfed by sadness, and came to the conclusion that he must be in mourning. This isn't something I usually decide about someone and it was some time before I realised the actual truth...

My perception of the what I was looking at had been entirely altered by the music playing on Samir's radio! I'm not sure what it was. It was probably from a film; something mournful and repetitive played on solo piano, but I realised in retrospect that it had started as Samir stood up from his chair to serve me, and that the entire transaction had taken place with that going on in the background!

Then it struck me how we're all hugely influenced by music in ways we don't even realise; not just in obvious cases like films, where incidental music tells us how to feel, or when we start walking in time to music playing as we pass a shop. This is, of course, why they play soothing classical music at rowdy tube stations and why, at the end of a club night, the chill-out music informs us that it's time to stop taking drugs and go home!

Of course, it's an oft-debated concept; very much a chicken and egg sort of thing. Do we associate minor chords with sadness because early writers used minor chords to denote tragedy? Or is there something inherently sad about the interval of a minor third?

It's fascinating to me that music can be used - in isolation - to represent almost every emotion; danger, loneliness, comedy, intrigue...

I'm aware this philosophy is central to GCSE music and that I'm ridiculously late to the party in discussing it here; but I suppose I've never been quite so subconsciously drawn in by the eerie wiles of music!

I was heading to Camden to have our wedding photographs printed yet again. I feel if I'm going to throw my money at Snappy Snaps, they can at least print the pictures properly. I sat writing in a cafe waiting for them to be developed whilst drinking more tea. I've had tea coming out of my ears today and am feeling somewhat jittery as a result.

By the end of the week I shall be half way through the process of orchestrating Brass. I have to say, it's fairly heavy going. My heart sinks when I'm faced with a blank manuscript at the start of a new song. By the time the underscoring goes in, I'll have orchestrated up to two hours of music, which is by far my longest ever composition. It's exhausting. Genuinely.

I collected the pictures in the midst of a rain storm. They hadn't been done brilliantly, but there was a noticeable improvement from the last lot. I find this weather more than a little distressing. It is, of course, the fault of the Chelsea Flower Show, which I've noticed always brings with it buckets of rain. But this is cold rain. The sort of damp rain which gets into your bones. Hideous.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Two blogs in one

Sunday 25th May, 2014 and Bank Holiday Monday...

It seems, for the first time in my life, I forgot to write a blog yesterday, so today's entry will need to be a two-partner.

Nathan returned very late on Saturday night, on mini-break mid-way through his gruelling 9-day technical rehearsal in a swampy forest in Leicestershire.

He'd had drama on his journey involving an exploding tyre, which had literally blown-up in his face. He was more shocked than injured, but it wouldn't take a fool to realise he was lucky to escape that one with just ringing ears from the loud bang and a face splattered in mud and tiny fragments of rubber!

We spent the day running errands, printing photographs and the like. I had my second attempt at printing the wedding photographs at (another branch of) Snappy Snaps, and yet again they were done incredibly badly, all milky and pale and with no contrast and in many cases with the tops of heads cropped off the photographs. I don't actually know what to do to get these special pictures printed properly. As Nathan points out, we've really gone backwards in the field of photographic printing. The quality of the work of places like Snappy Snaps is so terribly low; one assumes a reflection of how few people actually require photographic prints. Most these days are happy to look at things online and when they do have photographs printed are content to look at poor quality in the same way that YouTube or camera phone footage to many young people is every bit as good as film. I have now wasted £150 in my quest. Baring in mind that I'm a pretty decent photographer with a finely-tuned visual eye, can any one recommend somewhere that actually cares about quality?

We spent the evening at the cinema. We'd not been for years, and of course Sod's law dictated that there was nothing on apart from ghastly action films and a few silly rom-coms (or as my spell check seems to want me to write, rom-comas!)

We opted for something about Drew Barrymore going on holiday to Africa. With Americans it's always "Africa"... That's about as specific as they can get. No doubt if they opted to go on holiday to "South Africa" one of their viewers would explode or learn too much about other cultures.

Today we went to Julie's house to eat quiche and watch Britain's Got Talent. We played my favourite game; let's see how long it takes the contestants or judges to utter one of that lengthy lists of pointless platitudes or cliches that are reserved solely for this genre of telly...

"I want this more than anything in the world."

"You gave it 110%"

"I didn't like it... I loved it"

"That was a world-class performance"

The list is endless, but I was particularly impressed to hear a girl in the line-dancing troop listing off six in a row. That's pretty astonishing even for BGT!

I did my weekly shop en route and treated myself to a watermelon and lime jelly from Sainsbury's. It's only a little snack tub. But here's a thing. The jelly apparently includes 33% of my recommended daily intake of sugar... And, wait for this... 8% of my recommended daily intake of SALT! Surely this is insane?

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Proud to be a Londoner

My parents were down in London today to watch Angela Lansbury in Blithe Spirit. I'm slightly jealous, of course, but met them for tea with Brother Edward, Sascha and Daniel, who I recall being with me when I wrote my first blog four years ago.

We went to Bill's in Covent Garden, which is a lovely place to eat, although someone should have told that to the Hen party on the next door table, who were all decked out in Claire's Accessory pink, but were eating in absolute silence, which was a most curious sight! Sometimes I think the majority of things associated with weddings are merely done because ever-evolving, yet brutally-prescriptive tradition dictates it should be done that way. Why feel the need to go out on the town and have a riotous time if it's only going to make you miserable? Why have an event which excludes friends of the opposite sex, if you have friends who are both male and female? Why separate yourself from your spouse and all of their friends with you could all have a jolly time together?

Speaking of weddings, I did a little search yesterday to see what the bottom-half of the internet were saying about our wedding, and was thrilled that I needed to look rather hard to find anything hugely negative. What I DID find came mostly from the gay community, touting that tired old line about how getting married in a musical was a camp stereotype which has pushed gay rights back by years. Obviously I opted not to respond with quotes from the hundreds of messages we received from people whose lives were changed for the better by seeing the show, but one of the most vociferous demonstrators was a particularly tragic case. When I looked at his twitter picture the irony of him accusing us of setting the cause back by years became deeply apparent. There he was dressed in electric blue, latex rubber fetish gear. I THINK he was rocking a sort of masculine look - in the same way that the Village People dressed as policemen - but surely if anything is stereotypical, it's members of my community who shun their theatrical and camp brothers for these ridiculous displays of "masculinity" which end up seeming even more camp than the truth they're too scared to embrace! I don't think anyone should feel the need to be anything other than honest with themselves. If you want to dress like a giant Smurf, do it. Enjoy it. If you want to sashay down Old Compton Street with your elbow surgically attached to your ribs, then good luck to you. What we must never do is criticise others for doing things their way.

Speaking of Soho, after depositing the family at the theatre, I walked back to the tube through Soho Square, and it all looked rather glorious bathed in evening sunshine. It was a true hive of activity, filled with all sorts of people having great fun. In one corner, two young people were teaching an elderly Chinese couple to dance salsa. In another, the council, or whoever owns the space, have set up outdoor ping-pong tables which people were happily using. I felt a sudden rush of pride to be a Londoner, which doesn't happen hugely often. I maintain, however, that, when London gets it right - The Southbank, Hampstead Heath, Soho - it is the best city in the world.

As if to prove this point, as I exited at Highgate Station, I was reminded of the hugely charming thing which happens up in this neck of the city. There's a wooden door which tends to slam shut at the top of the single-person escalator which takes people from the ticket hall up onto the Archway Road. The tradition is to hold this door open for the person behind you... It's a tradition which can go to great extremes. Some people will hold the door open for someone who emerges from the escalator ten or so seconds behind them. Basically, if there's anyone in sight, universally people will hold the door open for them. Isn't that lovely? And so un-London!

Saturday, 24 May 2014


Crumbs, I'm out of condition! This afternoon, I nearly killed myself walking up the steep hill from Tufnell Park to Highgate. In fairness, it's a two-mile walk, on an unrelenting gradient, I was carrying two enormous bags and talking to Fiona all the way, which, with my sudden bout of hayfever meant I wasn't exactly regulating my breath. I'd also just been to the gym, and it was incredibly hot this evening, but as I arrived in Highgate village, I almost caved in, which can't be good!

I spent the day orchestrating Brass. I also had a meeting at the BBC with the lovely Emily Mckenzie's sister, who, comically, is called Julia Mckenzie. That's right... Just like the actress who plays Miss Marple! Fortunately she works in the comedy department of the Beeb, so is obviously aware of the humerous potential of her name. I went to school with a bloke called Michael Jackson... I wonder what happened to him?

The actress Julia Mckenzie is known to certain theatre people as Hoolia Macanazie. I'm not sure why. I think it's a camp humour thing. I don't even really know why it's funny. It sort of just is. The same people call Judy Dench, Hoody Donch. Again, no idea...

This morning, over breakfast, I fetched my CDs down from the roof and did that old-school thing of playing them on a proper 20-year old CD player, made in the day that electronic was built to last. I listened to Olivia Newton John and the War of The Worlds soundtrack, which made me dance. I played the latter very loudly on the assumption that my neighbours would appreciate a blast of retro joy! No one ever minds hearing a bit of Jeff Wayne... "The chances of anything coming from Mars is a million to one... Yet still they come..." [epic string break]

On that note, what on earth happened to Julie Covington who sings on the recording? Does she still perform? She used to be quite a well-respected actress at the National and Royal Court. I think she did a fair amount of Carol Churchill plays back in the day. I'd love to know if she still sings because that woman had a terrific set of pipes.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Why I've been disenfranchised

Well, for the first time in my life, I'm proud to say that I've actually been disenfranchised in the truest sense of the word. I took myself down to Jackson's Lane community centre like a good boy this morning to register my vote, but was horrified to discover that no record of my living at my address existed. This is despite the fact that I have voted in every election since 1997, local, European, mayor, general, referendum or otherwise.

A lengthy discussion with a silly woman at the polling booth established that, at some point, a letter would have been put through my door explaining that no known people lived at our address and therefore that the people who used to live there (ie us) were thought to no longer exist or have moved on.

Now, I'm quite sure that I exist. I feel very much alive: I have a strong presence on the net, I write a daily blog, and 823 people on Twitter appear to be convinced I'm not some kind of computer-generated avatar. I'm also convinced that I still live in Haringey. I pay council tax to its council and recently got married in said borough in front of my local MP and 1 million TV viewers!

In the good old days, I'm pretty sure that someone remained registered at an address until they pointed out that their address had changed, and therefore that they needed to be registered elsewhere. After all, it's surely important that a person has the right to vote at least somewhere? Every time I've received a letter of this nature from the council before, our full names have been written on the form and we've been instructed to ignore the wording if the information is correct. At what stage did someone think "he appears to have voted in every election since he's lived in our borough; but let's take him off the register?!"

Frankly, if it's this easy to disappear out of the system in Haringey, I am beginning to understand why the borough's record with social care is so woefully and famously inadequate.

So much debate has recently gone into discovering why there's always such a low turn-out at British elections. How can we raise the number of people wishing to take up their constitutional right to vote? How can we make it easier for young people? Should we be able to vote in supermarkets? Or clubs?  Or online? What no one is considering is just how easy it is to lose your right to vote, and quite how many people like me are similarly disenfranchised, simply because they never received the prerequisite letter through the post, or weren't at home when the electoral people paid them a visit.

Being sent away from the poling station with my tale between my legs was both mortifying and incredibly annoying. As a law-abiding British citizen, it is my absolute right to vote.

Mind you, I suppose, on the bright side, not actually being allowed to vote takes away the need to make another pointless decision. Now that there is nothing to distinguish one major party from another on a national platform, voting in local elections is basically an exercise in choosing which person's name you like the best! It's pretty much that arbitrary. I've never met her, or seen her canvassing, but there is a Lib Dem councillor who lives on my street. I was drawn to her, simply because she might have more of an idea of how it feels to live in my neck of the woods than some of the other councillors who seemed to live in Finsbury Park. Besides, it's always nice to give our wonderful constituency MP, Lynne Featherstone, a bevy of councillors to keep her feeling like she can do her work. But other than that, I was drawing a blank. I had no idea which box I was going to tick. A poling station is not allowed to display party-partial literature, so you can't find out what any of the politicians actually stand for. Voting in a local election has merely become a random box-ticking exercise with a rather dangerous consequence: ethnic minorities and those with surnames further down the alphabet do less well than those with WASPY surnames beginning with A or B, regardless of ability or outlook. You might as well ask people to choose their favourite colour or pick names from a giant tom-bola.

We have become so genuinely apathetic about politics, and our politicians have become so astonishingly complacent, that part of me hopes UKIP wipes the board today, so we all get to experience how genuinely dangerous this combination of apathy and complacency is.

If the people at Haringey council are so deeply inadequate or lazy or underpaid or overworked to the extent that they can "lose" one of their residents, let's see how they cope when UKIP withdraws funding from all but the most essential council offices, and lowers the quota of ethnic minorities that Haringey is allowed to employ.

What saddens me, I guess, more than anything is that 2 months ago, when people like me were finally given to right to get married - the right to enjoy freedom - I felt validated for the first time. I felt like a proper citizen. And yet, all of a sudden, I've had my right to vote removed...

My friend, the bee

It's been a long and somewhat lonely day, during which I've spoken to absolutely nobody in the flesh, and only left the house to run down to Crouch End to drop the latest draft of Brass through Sara's letter box.

Printing the script out for Sara proved to be an unnecessary nightmare, which involved broken computers, ink running out, repeatedly printing the wrong draft and the general gnashing of teeth!

Still, it got done, and the run up and down the incredibly steep Shepherd's Hill was very good for my general levels of fitness! It's good to be eating sensibly again as well. Food tastes so much nicer when you can see all the ingredients!

It's now raining heavily, and I'm staring out over the Archway Road like the focus of some sort of Edward Hopper painting! The halogen street lights are reflecting on the rainy Tarmac like sheets of highly-polished bronze.

I spend the mornings these days sitting at my kitchen table orchestrating Brass. I have a new friend; an enormous bumble bee who comes to visit and likes to play a little game with me. He flies through the open window, realises he's made a mistake and then gets trapped on his way back out. At this stage, I appear with a glass, the bee climbs inside, and I send him on his merry way. This happened four times yesterday and six times today. He's certainly an inquisitive fella, and I could swear he's no longer frightened of being scooped up by my glass. Mind you, if he's capable of learning through repeated exposure, you'd think he'd learn not to fly into the kitchen in the first place!

Wednesday, 21 May 2014


Last night was a desperate trial. Just after writing yesterday's blog, Nathan and I, flushed with a sense of invincibility, decided to have one last attempt at getting rid of the ridiculous accumulation of emails on my iPhone. Bizarrely all 4000 managed to come across into the new phone when we backed it up.

We tried every suggestion from every little spod on the internet but every time we deleted all the mails, they simply popped back into the phone in a sort of insane Ground Hog Day scenario.

Nathan's last ditched attempt was to go onto his computer and delete the emails from the server. I was simultaneously looking at emails on my computer, and the unthinkable happened... All my emails, every single one of them, one by one disappeared without trace from my inbox. All my emails about the wedding. All my emails about the Requiem. All the emails with receipts on them which I'd carefully put in a separate folder for tax purposes. The whole lot. Vanished. One per second. I turned into a Munch painting!

Poor Nathan got very upset. I was, of course, similarly horrified, all sorts of things flash through your head when something catastrophic like this happens, but seeing him in pieces made me realise that we've become way too dependent on technology. When something like this happens, we can fall apart, or choose to view the problem as a much-needed liberation from the tyranny of First World problems.. And that's where I decided to go...

Bizarrely, emptying the server of all my emails, has actually still not got rid of the emails from my phone! So actually, many of the ones that vanished still actually exist, just on the one device we didn't want them to be on!

There's little else to say about today. I did orchestrations for Brass in the morning, went to the osteopath, came home and implemented Philippa'a changes to the script before heading up to the loft at midnight and writing by candle light for an hour. It's where and how I do my best work, but I can only do it when I'm alone in the house, else I become highly self-conscious!

I'm alone, of course, because Nathan has gone to Leicestershire... I didn't like saying goodbye to him one little bit!

Monday, 19 May 2014


It's almost 9pm and it looks as though my technical issues may finally have been resolved! It's also still light outside, which I also find a little noteworthy...

I've spent much of the day unable to communicate with the rest of the world, frustrated with myself for having become so astonishingly reliant on my iPhone. It was a little odd to get a text message from Philippa at the start of the day which, because I had no contacts in my phone, merely showed up as from a number I didn't recognise. I had to ask who'd sent the text.

Still, when you're deep inside an orchestration, there's not much which needs to go on in the outside world.

Technology continued to break around me all day. Just before lunch, I managed to take out a self-service till at Sainsbury's, seemingly just by wafting a tub of soup across the lasers. It's an art-form, it really is...

After lunch, I took my computer in to be de-virussed by a lovely man at PC World whose accent was so impenetrable I simply had to nod and hope for the best.

Whilst waiting for him to work his magic - which he did in spades - I went to the gym, and sat in the car park for thirty minutes waiting for a space. They've started running swimming classes there for the wealthy kids of Highgate, who plainly need to be driven everywhere by their yummy mummies, so the car park these days is always filled with Chelsea tractors.

By the time I'd returned and sat down for a quick cuppa, it was time to retrieve my computer from Friern Barnet, which we did shortly before taking ourselves off to Brent Cross (again) to buy Nathan some shorts for his tour to the Midlands, which starts tomorrow. He's in South Pacific at Kilworth House in Leicestershire. For the second time in as many days we were the last to leave John Lewis. Being thrown out of a shopping centre two days running is the height of tragedy. Particularly when it's Brent Cross.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Thank God for the parakeets

Sundays are meant to be relaxing aren't they? The sort of days when you breeze out of bed, drift off to a lovely cafe for brunch, wander round the shops, maybe picnic on the Heath... And actually I did all those things, but in between all hell broke loose...

We had guests to stay last night: wonderful friends of Nathan, who were delightful company and took us out for breakfast to say thank you this morning. For the record, the old spoon, just off the Broadway in Muswell Hill, does a veggie breakfast with halloumi, so if ever anyone wants to take me on a cheap date, look no further that that place! We strolled around the shops, happy as Larry, buying trinkets for birthdays and enjoying the balmy weather. 26 degrees in London today.

As we dropped the girls off at the train station, I began to realise that my iPhone was going a little gaga, refusing to delete emails and informing me, somewhat inexplicably, that I'd no more memory space. We decided the time had come to ditch the dreadful thing, upgrade it to something infinitely more awesome, and then maybe spend a few hours with the wealthy Hindus and Jews at Brent Cross Shopping Centre spending some of the lovely John Lewis vouchers we'd been given for the wedding.

All that was left to do was make a quick stop at the house to back up my phone and then we could ride off into the happy-ever-after sunset. I wish there was a single word to sum up the farting noise they play when a contestant says something silly on Family Fortunes. That's the distressing sound which kept searing through my ears for the rest of the afternoon.

I plugged my phone in. My computer crashed. My iPhone went into recovery mode, refused to work until we'd restored all factory settings, and then iTunes started refusing to acknowledge it, or any of my Apple products. So there I was at 2pm, with a completely empty phone, and not a hope in hell of getting any of my contacts, calendars, photos or messages back on. In fact, as I write this, all that information is locked in my computer's iTunes and no-one knows if we'll ever be able to get it back. Epic Fail! The nice man at PC World thinks I have a virus, which will no doubt mean that my entire computer will also need to be wiped tomorrow... Then I shall have nothing but two entirely empty virtual shells... and a broken heart.

So, we went to Carphone Warehouse and, much against my better judgement, I signed up for another contract with EE, who provided me with a lovely shiny new phone, which sadly didn't seem to want to send text messages from my number. Every text I sent was registered from a random, entirely different number, and when I phoned the help desk at EE, they informed me that it was "out of hours" and therefore that I'd need to pay 50p a minute for help! Desperate.

So I did what I find myself forced to do rather a lot at the moment, pretended there wasn't a problem, and went to Brent Cross with Nathan, bought some new bedding and a brand new pillow (which is fabulously exciting) and then went and sat in the yellow evening sunshine in our new favourite spot on the Heath, surrounded by our new friends, the parakeets. We saw more than 40 today. They seemed particularly active, making a right old racket and hanging out in massive groups. Great lime green flocks flickering like spring leaves in V-shaped formations in the bright blue sky.

Thank God for the parakeets. Thank God for nature, really...

Saturday, 17 May 2014


I don't know what's wrong with me! I've just watched my second West End show of the day!

The first was completely unplanned. Philippa's Dylan called at noon to ask if I'd like to see a matinee Matilda with his family, and the answer was obviously yes, not least because it's always lovely to see my God-family, but also because I've been wanting to see that show ever since Nathan sneaked in without me and came home saying he'd cried like a baby throughout.

I hastily finished off orchestrating the song, Billy Whistle, jumped on a tube, and within an hour was weaving my way through the hordes in Seven Dials. There was some sort of street festival taking place, and they'd pedestrianised the whole district and filled it with all sorts of stalls, which were proving incredibly successful. There was a queue of 80 people for the fancy ice cream truck. Add the word organic to any food type and wealthy Londoners will climb over each other to sample it. Throw the name of a suitably rustic-sounding county into the equation and fights will break out! "Made with Shropshire cream." Bingo. Or should that be "ker-chingo!"

They'd created an enormous circular lawn out of astro turf around the monument at Seven Dials itself and hundreds of people were enjoying its novelty value. Sadly, by the time we emerged from the theatre, the Camden borough health and safety bods had moved in, and the whole lawn area had been surrounded by red and white plastic tape, which was ghastly beyond words. Thank God they're on hand to stop someone tripping over on the astro turf! Very dangerous stuff, astro turf.

Matilda was, as expected, a great joy. It is such a relief to know that there are still great musicals being created in this county which don't rely on the back catalogue of a failing rock act. I sense a sea-change across the board in this respect. I think this year's Eurovision will end the nonsense of people like Bonnie Tyler cashing in her withered chips and demonstrating to the world why people lost interest in the first place. Likewise, the death of crap like Viva Forever versus the success of Matilda (with its noticeable lack of faded pop stars and ex-X Factor contestants in the cast) will hopefully prove to the world that a well-written show/ song performed by genuine talent is the only winning formula we need search for.

Speaking of which, the second show or the day was The Pyjama Game - or as the Americans spell it, Pajama, which to me just looks like a canal.

This show was filled with genuinely talented music theatre performers. You know the sort. The ones with stage presence, and schtick. The triple threats. The ones who can do a full eight-show week without getting ill or developing a nanti claque. The ones who sing in tune without the aid of special technology.

Joanna Riding, Michael Xavier, Peter Polycarpou, Claire Madchen... The cast was a Who's Who of those who Could Could. The show itself is a touch "old school meh", but it was a thrill to watch such genuinely classy performers. If you like a bit of Broadway 1950s escapism, head straight to the Shaftesbury. Sadly, with that theatre where it is, you're unlikely to be passing by...

Friday, 16 May 2014

Women artists

I think I went slightly mad today, cooped up inside the house, sitting at the kitchen table, orchestrating Billy Whistle from Brass. I haven't left the house, I haven't spoken to anyone. I've simply stared at a computer, finely tuning about half of the ten thousands dots in this particular document.

When Nathan got home this evening from rehearsals, I did nothing but talk at him for about thirty minutes. On and on I went, relieved that I'd finally found an opportunity to exercise my mouth, which had hitherto only been engaged to scoff large quantities of food. I can well understand why some lonely people in under-populated areas rush out into the street and try to engage random passers-by in chat!

We had tea and then sat down to watch a documentary about female artists in medieval times. It was really quite fascinating, but full of the type of conjecture which irritates me with these sorts of historian-led documentaries. I find discussions about women's roles in society and the arts, often conveniently overlook the question of childbirth, and how that can take a woman out of society for a large chunk of her potentially most productive years. Of course the problem was a great deal more intense in the past, but there's no question in my mind about the link between the relatively high degree of female creativity in medieval religious institutions and the lack of children in those places.

Much as it's unfashionable to say, I maintain that certain of the more passionate vocational careers, which are based on sparks of genius and long days of hard, hard slog, are necessarily compromised by children? Perhaps I'm not the greatest person to forward this argument. I am a self-confessed workaholic, but am aware that this is born more out of necessity because I'm not one of life's most naturally talented diamonds.  I can claim with certainty, however, that I simply wouldn't be doing what I do now if I had children. I wouldn't be able to provide for them for starters.

That's an incredibly contentious thing to say isn't it? I'm sure there are many readers who will instantly claim I'm being anti-children, or worse still, anti-woman. I'm equally sure that there are many supremely talented women who buck the trend. But, as a rule, I'm just not altogether sure it it possible to be a truly successful, part-time creative...There simply aren't enough hours in the day!

In The Heights

Llio, Nathan and I have just been to see In The Heights at The Southwark Playhouse, and in the process proved, if proof were needed, that all the exciting things in musical theatre these days are happening underneath the radar.

As we sat waiting for the show to begin I tuned into a conversation somewhere behind me where a woman was whinging about the fact that no one gets paid properly to do fringe musicals. Her suggestion was for writers to write shows for just five performers and I almost swung around to say, "no one wants to see a musical with a tiny cast. Musicals are there to transport us to another world. Name me a smash hit musical written for a cast of five!" But instead I just decided to enjoy the show.

Nathan and I saw In The Heights on Broadway about six years ago, and were so excited by its energy and drive that we made a special trip up to Washington Heights to take a look at the curious Spanish-speaking world where it's set.

In the Heights is a non-stop fusion of rap and Latin music and tells the story of a group of people living in Manhattan's most colourful district. Think Rent with Salsa dancing. It is, without doubt, one of the most luminous and engulfing works of musical theatre ever written and I was lucky enough to meet its writer at the opening night of Shrek on Broadway.

The production at Southwark is probably more of a powerful experience than the Broadway version because of its intimate setting. Performed in the three-quarters round, no audience member is less than about five feet from an actor. I was on the front row, so at times felt as though I needed to move my feet to avoid one of the cast tripping over my shoes.

The choreography is definitely one of the stars of this particular production, which is a great relief because it was done by the fabulous Drew McOnie, who also choreographed our wedding. There were remarkable performances from Sam MacKay, who portrayed Usnavy with as much coolness as charm and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt who knows her Latina schtick, and played the crowd like a set of star-struck bongos. Throw into the mix a brilliant band, a wonderful cameo performance from David Bedella and you have a deeply entertaining, joy-filled, toe-thumping evening. I nodded my head like a two-bit bass player throughout the night.

The question, of course, becomes will it - or maybe COULD it - transfer to the West End? It certainly ought to, but this show is aimed at two communities; young, cool people and the Hispanic community, neither of which are renowned for their presence in British musical theatre audiences. In fact, I'd be a little surprised to discover there even IS a Hispanic sub-culture in London.

I'm convinced, however, that it's initial run at Southwark will sell out within seconds of the first reviews being posted, so if you want my advice, pick up the phone, and book yourself in for a treat! Musicals of this quality don't roll round too often.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014


I wrote most of the day, finished the seventh draft of the script of Brass in the morning, worked on orchestrations in the evenings, and in the afternoon, I disappeared into the loft and took my first tentative steps into the crazy world of Invisible Voices, which I’m not ashamed to say is freaking me out somewhat. I’m not sure I’ve written anything useful for it as of yet, but at least pen has been applied to manuscript paper and one or two little musical dots have appeared.

In the late afternoon, frustrated by my inability to write anything meaningful, and hot and bothered and aching on account of having been in the loft for a little too long, I took myself to the gym for the first time in like sixty years and went for a swim. My osteopath has banned me from running this week, and suggested swimming instead, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. I decided not to cane it (my usual approach to anything remotely health and fitness-like) and did about 40 lengths staring at a poster on the wall which said “Butterfly? I dare you!” Every time I looked at the picture I became a little more angry. As if anyone would be allowed to do the butterfly in that tiny pool. It would be a health and safety catastrophe. There’d be some kind of tidal wave, and a small child having a swimming lesson would drown.

As I dried myself off in the changing room, I became aware of an enormously fat, but very cool black man strutting about. There was something incredibly filmic about the scene and it was only when I tuned into the music on the radio that I realised why. They were playing an obscure track by Barry White!

On the way back from the gym I called Nathan, and asked him to come down with a few snacks to take onto the Heath. The weather was so glorious, it seemed a shame to waste it. In England I think you have to make the most of good weather when it comes, and the joy of being freelance is that you can do just that. The heath looked glorious, bathed in extraordinary early evening sunshine. We ate the remnants of Saturday’s party; cheese and bread, a few little treats. Hampstead Heath has become the favoured spot of one of the rare British colonies of parakeets. It’s such a strange sight to see the curious bright green birds squawking and flitting around in the blue sky. We actually saw more parakeets than all the other birds put together! I was reminded of a time in a lazy San Francisco Square, some 15 years ago, when I lay on my back and looked up to see a flock of brightly coloured parrots roosting in the trees above me. I remember thinking what an astonishing sight it was, and how I rather wished we had native parrots in the UK. I’m not sure I could ever have predicted that they’d arrive in my local park!

It felt rather good to make use of the last bits of party food, particularly after a huge disaster at lunchtime when I decided to make a soup out of a plate of withered salad vegetables. I think my big mistake was throwing the last burnt portion of vegetable lasagne into the pot, thereby creating a caramelized, stodgy, mushy mess which looked like diarrhoea and tasted a little like sick! Needless to say it all went in the dustbin.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014


I started writing at 9 this morning and worked rather solidly until 11 tonight, primarily on the seventh... (That's right, seventh) draft of the script for Brass! I spent the last two hours of the day orchestrating I Make The Shells on the basis that a change is as good as a rest. It's a song which has caused me an abnormal amount of bother over the last few days. I've been on it since Thursday, chipping away at it bit by bit. I thought the process would be a great deal speedier, as the song initially wrote itself in about two hours flat just before Christmas. It's quite a fragile song with delicate dissonances which begin to sound insane, when you start layering them up with brass instruments.

I escaped for a few hours at tea time to meet Fiona and Nathan in Camden for a quick stroll and a bit of Italian food.

They've put the most tragic piece of street art on the pavement outside the tube which appears to be a load of giant multi-coloured drinking straws hanging above a box covered in astro turf. We decided it was going to look lovely at night time, but when we returned from tea it looked even worse!

There's very little else to say about the day. It seems I've drunk at least ten cups of tea and been sitting at the kitchen table for hours upon end. By the end of the week my body will have become kitchen-chair shaped!

Is it a Monday or a Tuesday today?

Monday, 12 May 2014

Emergency osteopathy

I had a fairly unpleasant start to my day. There'd been some tube problem at Kentish Town, and I stood on the platform at Highgate waiting for what seemed an age whilst people tutted and stormed about, shouting at station staff. I'm usually the one doing the shouting, so it was quite interesting to passively watch the process of someone blowing a gasket! I suspect it will make me less likely to blow one in the future!

My back was absolutely killing me. Since last Wednesday, I've been in rather constant pain, which hasn't done a great deal to alleviate my ever-growing stress levels.

To add considerable insult to injury, a  young couple had decided to stand in the middle of the platform snogging. And I don't just mean snogging. We're talking tongues-down-throats-get-a-room-you-mucky-buggers snogging. I'd had the misfortune of following them down the escalators, and they spent the entire ride entwined most inappropriately. It was, however, their decision to continue their make-out in the middle of the platform, where people had to pass either side, which made me feel positively furious. It was desperately inappropriate.

With public displays like that, I often feel that passers-by should attempt to join in. If people insist on bringing their sexual activity into a public forum then they need to expect people to treat them as though they're fair game at an orgy!

I walked from Old Street to meet Philippa in a cafe in Shoreditch. Whilst in transit, I booked myself in for an emergency appointment with my osteopath. At one stage I passed a street cleaner pushing a large wheelie bin, which had been decorated with a collection of cuddly toys, no doubt things which he'd picked up and felt bad about throwing away. I like to think he was displaying them all in the hope that the children who'd dropped them would recognise them and take them back home.

The meeting with Philippa was about Brass. We're looking at the story arcs within the piece and trying to make sure the character of Alf, who's the work's protagonist, has a clear journey through the piece. The thought of writing another draft of the script fills me with horror, but it's a necessary evil.

On the way to Borough I was charmed by the woman sitting next to me on the tube. She was a delightfully glamorous Chinese lady, who was humming a song from Blood Brothers in a glorious soprano voice. I think she must have been off to an audition because she took a big file of music out of her bag and started flicking through it.

I had lunch in a cafe around the corner from the osteopath. It's one of those places which serves "mixed leaf" salads. I took a punt on one the last time I was there and was sorely disappointed. I hate faffy food. Lettuce is lettuce in my opinion; the blander the better. It's only going to end up tasting of dressing. This place offered up a series of inedible and jagged bits of green stuff, some of which were incredibly bitter, some of which looked suspiciously like coriander. Most horrific of all were the little leaves which looked like geranium plants. Not appropriate.

The osteopathy went well. My new osteopath collects shoes, so it's always interesting to see what he's decided to wear.

I feel a lot better this evening, and came home for a second session with Philippa on the script, this time on Skype. I think we're there now, and all remains is for me to slowly work my way through her thoughts.

I say all that remains.... There's a lot to get through. So many words, so many musical notes, so little time...

Sunday, 11 May 2014

So here's what you guys think it means to be English

Friends of mine on Facebook will have noticed the astonishing amount of comments which have been posted as a result of the question I asked in this blog two days ago. My question was about the nature of 21st Century England and what sets it, and the English apart from the rest of Great Britain. I have attempted to gather up all the comments and emails I’ve received  and turn them into something coherent. Much of this is, of course, conjecture, based on people’s thoughts and instincts, and a brief attempt on my part to group the comments which were made into a series of headings which I will nevertheless share with you now.

Eccentricity/ Individuality/ Pragmatism:

English people are viewed as more individual and often more eccentric than their neighbours. This may have its roots in Common Law, described by many Scots (who are governed by Roman law) as the “finest system of judgement in the world.” In simple terms (and please forgive me; I’m no lawyer)  one of the many differences between the two systems is that Roman law tells you what you CAN do, whereas Common Law tells you what you CAN’T. It could be argued that this subtle distinction encourages individuality because it means that those living under Common Law are freer to push boundaries. The English are, after all, renowned for their slightly left-field, anarchic, rule-breaking humour and approach to the arts. We cannot ignore the ground-breaking contributions to world pop and rock from the likes of Bowie, Kate Bush, The Beatles and Queen; all specifically English, despite Kate Bush’s proud Irish heritage and Freddie Mercury being born in Colonial Africa. I’m going out on a slight limb here, but perhaps there’s more of a tendency for the Celts, who tend to veer towards the group, to respect the laws and safety of their own folk arts?

The celebration of individuality in England may also explain why the English tend to lean to the right in political terms when the Scots and the Welsh tend to lean more to the left. According to one friend, the Scots have a keener sense of the group consciousness; more of a desire to fit in and a tendency to place an importance on being “down-to-earth.”

English Regionalism undermining Englishness.

There is a definite lack of a sense of what Englishness is. Part of this, I would argue, is to due to the perceived (and actual) supremacy of London, which is seen as a quintessentially English city. Many criticise our London-focussed government for basing its laws on the interests of Londoners and not the will of those who live in the country’s regions. It doesn’t recognise, for example, the individuality of Yorkshire, or Manchester. Homogenisation leads to a mistrust of London and a sense that Englanders feel more pride in being Northern or Lancastrian or West Country folk, than they feel in being English. England in terms of accents, dialect and even topography is a great deal more diverse than any of its neighbours. Diversity isn’t just about racial minorities in inner city districts and many English people feel that successive governments have forgotten this fact.

The rural idyll.

This is not just an American fiction. Thatched houses, rolling hills and village greens with duck ponds are a definite and unique part of the English countryside. It’s the thing which English composers and poets picked up as quintessentially English at the turn of the 20th Century and it remains an important part of the make-up of this country. The Scots and Welsh tended to build houses out of more available substances like stone rather than wood, which means the chocolate box timber-framed houses we associate with England are indeed more likely to appear in England. In brutal terms, the reason why so many Elizabethan houses have survived in England is due to the wealth which rolled into the country during that particular era, which led to houses being built to last for the first time. It’s also worth pointing out that the English didn’t really want to annex Scotland under the Stuarts. Elizabeth I did much to unify the English, and give them a real sense of who they were based on the Arts and exploration. For the first time in history, English people under Elizabeth felt unified and patriotic. Ask them what it meant to be English, and everyone would venture an opinion.

The embarrassment of the invaders.

So much of Britishness is defined by the Empire, which ultimately collapsed after the Second World War and led to a crisis of British identity which was only briefly revived in the 1960s. There’s a sense that the English, as the guys who started the business, need to go down with the sinking ship, whilst the Celts get to say they never wanted to be part of it in the first place, and celebrate a new dawn; a phoenix rising from the ashes of disaster. The Scots ,of course, are accused of wanting this to all happen on their own terms, as one reader said, “it’s like the woman in the divorce demanding the house, the car, the pension, the kids and a monthly income.” To an extent, the post-imperialist English were forced to keep their heads down and put up with a degree of bashing from the Scots. But after many, many years of being told we CAN’T celebrate being English, because being English is wrapped up with an innate sense of superiority and failed supremacy, the English have started to lose their love for and pride in their country, and in the process their sense of national identity. My Dad reminded me of a headline in The Times in the 1890s which read; “fog in the channel. France cut off.” That superiority is a far distant thing, but there remains a hint of it in the English, who I still believe, in many ways think we can still punch above our weight. It’s a little sad. When I think about being English, part of me feels like a half-coloured-in cartoon, or a faded photograph.

Immigration altering the perception of Britishness.

There is some sense that waves of immigration and invasion have left us with a watered-down sense of identity. There is also a sense that the rapid immigration witnessed in recent years has led to a lack of integration of immigrants, and therefore England has become defined by a series of ghettos of alien cultures, which weakens its over-all cohesion.

The effect of Thatcherism:

England was plainly more affected by Thatcherism than the more naturally socialist-leaning Celtic nations. So, if you asked a pre-Thatcher England what it means to be English, their response would almost definitely include discussions about class; stiff upper lips and all that. Thatcher, however, replaced class-obsession with an obsession with money without really changing the language. Posh people were suddenly the ones driving around in Porches and carrying mobile phones rather than those who had been born with a silver spoon in their mouths or those with certain values. However we defining class these days, England, in many people's opinions remains more class-obsessed than its neighbours.

So those are my thoughts. In no particular order. I am pained to point out that they are just my views based on what people have written to me in the last 48 hours. I am more than happy to be shouted down, or told I’m talking stereotypical bullshit, but I rather like the debate the question has opened, and would love to hear more thoughts on the issue.

The best result

It's 3am and the party is still going. There are seven of us left from the thirty or so who came to ours to watch Eurovision. We're playing Meryl; a game which people call many things including The Name Game and Who's In The Hat? It's riotous. We're all pissed, none of us can remember the rules and Dan keeps playing odd noises on his iPhone and dropping his trousers. I haven't had a party like this for years. I feel 22 again!

We're all thrilled with the result of the Eurovision Song Contest, which was won by Conchita Wurst, the bearded lady from Austria, who made a deeply stirring acceptance speech which concluded with the phrase "we are unstoppable" as one in the eye to Russia, and the people who tried to ban her performance because she represents a community which some people still deem unacceptable. Has our wedding taught them nothing?!!

Speaking of Russia, the entire live audience boo'd when the bimbo from that hateful country appeared to read their scores. I'm also told that during the Russian entry (which was actually quite a strong song) a sea of rainbow flags was being waved in the stadium, but this was all edited out by the programme makers who obviously felt it was too much of a political hot potato.

Brother Edward and Sascha were there in the crowd and periodically sent texts and called us with updates. Apparently there was an incredibly electric atmosphere on Eurovision Island and everyone's thrilled that the competition went the way it did.

The giant wall-mounted scoreboard made out of brown paper in our sitting room has become an ode to Conchita, with her scoring 100 points more than her nearest rival in our own poll. When she won, everyone at our party stood up and applauded. Very moving, really.

Anyway. I'm exhausted... And slightly drunk. I better post before I fall asleep. I haven't been to bed this late in an age.

Friday, 9 May 2014

What is England?

I had a meeting with Uncle Archie at Wingspan today and we talked about the possibility of making a film about England. Specifically England, you understand. Not Britain. A musical journey which attempts to analyse what it actually means to be English. If indeed it means anything at all.

I've been a little perturbed of late by the sheer amount of time we spend as British people discussing what it means to be Scottish, Welsh or Irish. I've said this many times before - it's one of my soap box issues - but calling oneself British is a curiously English phenomenon. We use the phrase to be inclusive, and to make the countries we brutally annexed feel like part of a team. But, with the possible exception of some of the more loyalist factions in Northern Ireland, I don't think British is a phrase which carries much weight outside England. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I've never heard a Scottish person outside politics calling him or herself British. Even Americans will describe English accents as "British" accents, yet, still refer to Scottish people as Scots.

All of this leaves us English people with an issue. We don't get to celebrate our specific identity. We don't get to crow about our beautiful country or celebrate our own folk arts. If you're a shanty singer from Essex you can forget about being taken seriously, but don an Aran sweater and sit on a windswept beach in Scotland and you've got a permanent slot on the BBC! In fact, worse than this, by calling ourselves Brits, we're subconsciously acknowledging
that our country is only great with the Celtic regions attached!

So I want to celebrate England... but unfortunately this can't happen until I get my head around what it is which makes the English different to the Scots, the Irish and the Welsh. We know what Britain is... but what IS England? Are we more eccentric than our neighbours? Are we more reserved? Are we less down to earth?

So this blog is something of an appeal. Can anyone answer this question? Does anyone have any thoughts? If you're Scottish or Welsh, what is it about being you which is different to the English? If you're one of my Canadian, American or Australian readers, how would you define Englishness?

I ended up in Kentish Town High Street after the meeting, which, after I'd got myself all excited about the concept of Englishness, was a bit of a fall from heaven. Police were milling about everywhere, because some poor woman had been stabbed in a nearby house, and a poor old bloke was in a right old state outside Gregg's. He seemed to be holding a Stephen King book with one hand and with the other was trying to keep his trousers on, which has split so badly at the back that they wouldn't stay up on their own. He was muttering to himself. I think he was trying to flog the book to a passer-by and wanted 20p. Everyone was ignoring him and then he burst into tears. It was hopeless.

And I hope it wasn't a sign; the universe trying to show me what being English is actually about.... Come on, readers. We can do better than that!

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Why Austria needs to win Eurovision

My back hurts today. I wonder if it's because I've done too many stretches. I went running before lunch and the whole of my lower back went into spasm. What's that all that about?

I've spent the day orchestrating Brass. It's mind-numbing work, which I have to do at speed to get my mind to a stage where I can focus on Invisible Voices. The process of orchestration for me is a series of stages, the first of which is to get everything splurged onto the page. That's the process which is the most tiring. Sometimes you get on a roll, and can't get the notes down quickly enough. Other times I realise I'm just marking the bars with any old rubbish.

After this stage, things become a great deal more refreshing as everything gets finessed, and slowly comes into focus. The third stage is to put the piece away, ideally for as long as possible to gain a bit of objectivity, because the fourth stage is thinning things down. Making sure there isn't a single bar which isn't necessary;  not a single note which is in conflict with any other. The earlier you do stages one to three, the better the work becomes in the long run. And Brass needs to be perfect.

It was the second semi-final of Eurovision tonight and I was looking forward to it all day. Jem came over to watch it with us and we looked very carefully to see if we could see Brother Edward and Sascha there in the actual audience in Copenhagen.

The stand out performance was plainly Austria, which is being performed by a bearded trans-woman with a fabulous look and a devastatingly beautiful voice.

I think it would be surprising if she didn't win. Russia, Ukraine and Belarus are all trying to schedule advert breaks to coincide with her performance, because the promotion of a trans-person goes against everything their arcane laws stand for. The question, of course, becomes, would one be allowed to vote for a trans-performer in Russia, because surely voting for one is tantamount to promoting one?  Will police track down all the names of people who voted for Austria and try to arrest them I wonder?

Never underestimate the power of Eurovision. Just as you thought it was becoming an out-dated camp-fest, it becomes a political hot potato, and the battle lines this year have been well-and-truly drawn.

I'd go as far as to say that Austria NEEDS to win this competition; not just because it's a great song, sung by a country which has never won before, but because the win would send an incredibly strong message to Eastern European countries who ought to be dragged into the 21st Century. And be under no illusion, countries like Russia and the Ukraine set great store by their performance at Eurovision. When the iron curtain existed, the competition was seen as a shining example of the unified, free West and Russia watched on with great envy. If Austria wins, Russia recoils.

So even if you don't watch the show itself, I do suggest you vote. This is another one of those landmark events where, if Austria wins, you'll always remember where you were!

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Salt and vinegar doughnuts

We've just returned from Tesco where I bought myself some salt and vinegar flavoured mini-doughnuts. I kid you not. They sell them. And they're absolutely disgusting. In fairness, they were going out of date and were being flogged off for 30p a bag, so they were probably more stale than they were meant to be. It was like biting into salty plastercine.

I also bought some Wrights Traditional Tar soap, which I discovered almost instantly is the smell of my Grandmother's House. I took one sniff and was instantly transported to her blue bathroom with its fluffy pedestal mats, its curious dusty bottles of perfume and the little dollies sitting on crochet-covered loo rolls. It made me nostalgic and a little sad. Isn't it astonishing how a smell can trigger such a strong reaction?

Today has been all about orchestrating Brass. I finished Shone with the Sun, and got most of the way through the first draft of When You're a Pal. It's hard work. There are nineteen different instruments in the orchestra pit! I basically spent a day wearing headphones listening to my heart beating when I wasn't hearing music. It's a curiously disconcerting experience.

I went for a run around the woods just before lunch, but it became somewhat disastrous when it transpired that my earphones didn't fit properly. They fell out every ten paces which became the most frustrating experience in the world.

I had my first strawberry of the year this evening. It wasn't very nice.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Autistic needs

This afternoon I met an incredibly charming women. Her name is Sharon, she's from Romford and I was interviewing her as part of the Invisible Voices project. Sharon's story is simple. Her 24-year old son son is autistic and gay. He knows he's gay. She knows he's gay, but the authorities won't acknowledge the fact. And therein lies a hopeless problem, which triggers an important debate fuelled by a simple question: Does a person have a right to sexual intimacy?

Sharon's son is very lonely, and he tells this fact to anyone who'll listen on any manner of online chat rooms. But in the process he's putting himself at terrible risk...

In the past he's been attacked, chased and beaten up in local parks and subjected to brutal online bullying which led to his being sectioned at the age of 18.

If he gets chatting to a man online, who shows even the remotest interest, he'll more often than not immediately change his Facebook status to "engaged" because he doesn't understand the intricacies of social convention. This terrifies people. Others take advantage of his trusting nature.

Sharon, of course, longs for him to be happy. She longs for all the things that any mother would long for; the top of the list being for him to have "someone to cuddle at night." She knows the situation is hopeless, however. Who could love her son despite his problems? And if there's a man out there who might, where would she find him? In the meantime, does she acknowledge his right to sexual gratification, even though this has got him into terrible trouble in the past?

Could or should these uncomfortable questions ever be answered? In Holland they have special sex workers who deal with these situations, but Sharon worries that this would give her son an insatiable appetite for something which he'd ultimately not be able to control. There used to be an online, very carefully monitored and chaperoned, dating service for gay people with special needs, but the funding was, as ever, pulled, and besides, Sharon's son doesn't perceive himself as being different to the majority of people. Lumping all sorts of random mental and physical health issues together under the single umbrella of "special needs" leads to particular confusion and distress with autistic people because they can't understand why they're in any way the same as people with more obvious physical disabilities. In fact, they are often repulsed or frightened by what they see.

With so many issues in life, there's a clear black and white answer which a bit of common sense or government investment would yield. In this issue, I find myself stumped...

The only thing that strikes me is that it's a very real problem which needs to be examined and addressed by people with open minds and a desire to protect the needs and safety of young people who, through no fault of their own, don't quite adhere to conventional behavioural models. I don't even know who to lobby about this, but feel I must...

Boring Bank Holiday

Nathan and I are watching episodes of Modern Family on the television at the end of a rather dull, slow-moving bank holiday Monday.

My Mother summed it up perfectly yesterday when she said, "I hate Bank Holidays - everyone always has a place to go to... Except me."

I realise this is how I've always felt about Bank Holidays as well. The only benefit to bank holidays is that when I work through one, as I have today, I feel like I'm somehow one step ahead of everyone else.

Nathan was called into a rehearsal of South Pacific today, which I thought was a little tough considering that it's not just a Bank Holiday but a day which was meant to end with large-scale tube strikes. (I've no idea why they're striking. I barely care!) Nathan's call today consisted of a costume fitting followed by a two-hour military boot camp in a West London Park. He's playing one of the GI's in the show, and they want them to be military fit, which apparently involved a gruelling afternoon stood underneath a plane tree whilst, first hay fever, and then a migraine developed. Oh the glamour of acting!

When he got back, we went for a walk up to Waterlow Park, which looked liked something from a Merchant Ivory film. One woman had brought her own Edwardian flat-backed chair to sit on on the grass. A little eccentric, we felt. Still, the park was lovely in the sunlight. Like a Seurat painting. In the last few days I've become hugely aware of how green everything's suddenly become. Spring can be rather lovely can't it?

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Mother Nature

We've been in Thaxted today. I woke up this morning feeling incredibly stressed with a sense that the world was on my back needing things from me that I didn't have the strength to give it. I answered a few emails and made some phone calls, with a horrible pounding, nervous sensation in my stomach. Stress, of course...

Sometimes the best thing you can do when that sort of thing happens is take a deep breath... And run for the hills!

So we jumped in a car and found ourselves in Thaxted. The journey there was a little complicated. They'd closed off the main road into the town and the diversion we took, via single-track country lanes which snaked their way through ancient meadows, eventually brought us back to exactly where we'd started! Still, it was lovely to see a bit of rural Essex. It's wonderful, really; you're only five miles from Stansted Airport, but you could be in Devon. Here and there a half-timbered house covered in clematis sitting by the side of the road with pheasants and rabbits and things running around in the front garden. When you get into those seriously rural parts of Essex, you begin to understand why the area is so associated with witchcraft. I think I'm right in saying there was a famous witch-hunter who plied his trade in the area in the 17th Century, causing considerable mayhem. I bet the area is incredibly eerie when those Fenland mists roll in from the North East.

We ate at The Swan. I had a veggie roast which arrived looking dry as toast. "Is there a veggie gravy?" I asked. "We could do you some" said the lovely young waiter, as though I'd asked for something really unusual, like a jug of cream, or a vat of custard to pour onto my roast dinner.

The gravy arrived and everything was suddenly very good with the world.

We went for a glorious walk across the fields, my Mum taking us to a little spot underneath some wildly susurrating trees which she is convinced is the perfect spot for a bit of communing with the universe. There was certainly an extraordinary calmness in the area, despite the whispering trees, and the hackles on the back of my neck were suddenly standing to attention. I had a little chat with the powers-that-be. I shan't lie! Actually, I had a little chat with them about a good friend of mine who could do with a little love right now.

As we continued our journey around a field of rape, we were joined by hundreds of butterflies dancing and fluttering in the breeze. I've seldom seem so many butterflies in so many beautiful colours. Peacock. Red Admiral. Cabbage White. And then something rather glorious whose wings looked like they'd been dipped in amber. Nature can be rather spectacular, can't it?

We went back to the parents' house and sat in the garden drinking tea in the sunshine, only retiring in doors when the sun dipped behind the trees.

My only sadness is the fact that my neck is currently in spasm; no doubt in response to the stress I experienced this morning. I was aware all the way through the night that I was grinding my teeth but when I got up to get my special gum guard for such occasions, I couldn't find it. Ho hum.

come Dine With Me

Nathan and I have just sat with Abbie in our front room watching a little bit of our wedding on telly. Channel 4 sent a copy of the film through the post to me today, so essentially we just wanted to check it was okay, but were obviously instantaneously pulled into a watching coma. It still feels a little surreal. I can't quite believe the person in that film is me, and that I was actually getting married whilst singing all that pretty music!

Nathan and Abbie sat on the sofa knitting lace-work whilst I scoffed a bit of chocolate. It's my last indulgent hurrah this weekend before going on the diet I promised the cast of Brass I'd go on, if they promised to get themselves really fit, for what will be an extremely physical production.

I'm a little angry with myself for doing very little today other than staring at the telly and making a start on the orchestrations for the song Shone With The Sun from Brass. I guess we're all due a day off from time to time, but only, I think, if we use the day off to garner new experiences. I should have walked in the woods or taken advantage of the beautiful sunshine in some way. Instead, I watched five episodes of Come Dine With Me filmed in Dublin and ate beans on toast. As Tony the Tiger would say, "grrrreat." (Except he wasn't being sarcastic!)

Saturday, 3 May 2014

I Can't Sing... Or can I?

We went to see I Can’t Sing tonight. For those that don’t know, this is the X Factor musical, written by the zanily irreverent comedian Harry Hill. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t have touched it with a barge pole. I don’t approve of Simon Cowell’s “get-in, get-rich, get-out” philosophy and certainly don’t want to line his enormous pockets with any more money. It was also one of those shows which semi-marketed itself (very unwisely in my view) as an “anti-musical.” Anti-musicals don’t attract new audiences. They put off those who like musicals and those who don’t aren’t fooled by the hype.

I was horrified when I heard that Cowell had pulled the show after just six weeks, taking with it the dreams and wage packets of performers, musicians, stage hands and front-of-house staff, who no doubt felt they’d be on guaranteed salaries for at least six months when they heard that they were working on a big West End show. More worryingly, rumour has it that the powers-that-be actually wanted to pull the show on the very night they’d decided it was doomed, but were forced to give the cast a 2 week notice period. When a show gets pulled it’s worth remembering that the cast and crew don’t continue to be paid. The show comes off, and, apart from a little bit of holiday pay which they may or may not be eligible for, that is the end of their money. No gardening leave. No compensation. No redundancy package. It’s a perilous industry.

So, when Nathan’s ex-partner, Billy, one of the leads in the show, managed to bag us a couple of comps, I somewhat begrudgingly agreed to go. If it was as shocking a spectacle as a show which closes after six weeks ought to be, it was going to be worth a trip, for no other reason than to say in ten years’ time that I’d seen “that dreadful flop.” [I find myself very jealous of Nathan for having seen The Fields of Ambrosia, although I did see Romeo and Juliet, which defied description...]

But you know what? I loved it! I LOVED I Can’t Sing! Sure, it’s just a bit of fun. It doesn’t make any grand statements about life or the world. It’s not worthy. It’s not political. But it’s escapist, it’s witty, it’s grand, tuneful, well-acted... In fact, it’s all the things that you’d look for in a good musical. It plainly doesn’t deserve to go down in history as a disaster and I think its producers made a very big mistake in taking it off quite so early. They should have had faith in the piece in my view, and stuck by it.

Thursday, 1 May 2014


There was a slightly frightening moment earlier when the doors of my train from Hove to London stopped working just after the first keen rush of passengers had leapt onto the platform at Victoria. I was (and always am) amongst the breed of passenger who relishes a railway terminus because it means we don't need to panic about getting our belongings together. I like to sit for a few seconds to collect my thoughts, unplug my computer, save what I've written and pack my bags.

Unfortunately, I suddenly became aware of the only other person in my carriage banging on the door, and asking me whether I thought we'd be back in Hove before the doors were released. Others passed through our carriage in a similar panic, which became something of a stampede as people rushed to the front of the train, one assumes to try to contact the driver.

It was a good five minutes before the door lights went back on again, by which point I'd resigned myself to a yoyo-style journey back to Clapham Common and opened my computer again. I have never rushed quite so fast to re-pack my belongings however, in the terrible fear that the same thing would happen again, and I'd be the last person on a train that ended up in a railway siding!

So today with PK, we finished off the Pepys Motet and dug out all the interesting soundbites thus far collected for Invisible Voices. There's actually a great deal more than I'd expected. It's really difficult to know quite what to do with then just yet. I'm hoping PK will work some kind of extreme sonic magic which will lead me into a form of musical epiphany. I have certainly never created music in this manner before, and am actually not sure any one has! Very exciting.

I went back to Fiona's last night to find the lady herself, back from this leg of her world tour, listening to Steve Reich whilst preparing us a delicious lentil and chicory salad to eat for tea. The Reich made me feel a little emotional. It reminded me of being a sixth former; listening to Reich in my brother's university halls and with Sam Becker at Paradise Lane. In fact, it transpired that it was reminding Fiona of a similar period in her life; a period more than half our lives ago when we'd only just met. I'm not sure I actually particularly remember a time without Fiona in my life. I remember plenty of things before I was 14 or 15, but I'm not sure I associate those memories with being me. I'm sure that statement makes very little sense, but something happened to me when I started attending the music school in Northampton. It was as though everything suddenly came into colour and the early memories of that set, and all that extraordinary music, feel like part of a continuum of me that I recognise today, A lot of water has flown underneath our mutual bridge.

Fiona and I had much to catch up on. When I last saw her, I was an unmarried man and she hadn't played to hundreds of thousands of Placebo fans in countless South American countries. We filled in most of the biggest blanks before sleep overtook us, and I went to bed with a busy mind, thinking about a million projects, the slightly crazy worlds of Brass and the Pepys Motet colliding like a giant game of Space Invaders in my mind!