Sunday, 31 January 2016

Hunting for Wogan in Warwickshire

We're at Brother Ted's house watching an ancient episode of Treasure Hunt from 1985 which was filmed in Warwickshire at a time when all my relatives who once lived there were still alive. The last clue was found in Wilmcote, where my wonderful Auntie Gill used to live. Edward and I went on a lengthy trip down memory lane as we watched it, looking down at the deep green trees and pinkish Warwickshire earth from Anneka Rice's helicopter! What a great show Treasure Hunt was (with the best theme tune in the world!)

I woke up early enough today to spend some time orchestrating Beyond the Fence, before heading off to NYMT auditions, which were happening in London. There are a huge number of London audition dates this year, all of which are over-subscribed to the extent that more staff have needed to be brought on board to deal with the demand. For the first time since I've worked with the company we split the auditionees into four groups instead of three. I sat in on auditions for the two older groups and we met some very interesting young people.

The room was full to the rafters with three of this season's show's musical directors, the director of brass, and two young lads who were auditioning to be part of the music team. When we walked in the space, the kids were standing around the piano doing a vocal warm up and there was something of a carnival atmosphere going on.

We heard some great singers and recalled a good number of them. There's a tendency for people to sing musical theatre songs in American accents, which means I don't have a clue if any of them can do a convincing Yorkshire accent. I find American accents in general rather off-putting when people are singing. I think people spend too long fussing over them to the extent that they threaten to stop people from engaging in true emotion. Most of the time they're utterly unnecessary in terms of the song's story and they usually force the singer's voice up into their nasal passages!

Speaking of true emotion, I was incredibly sad when Fiona greeted me this morning with the news that Terry Wogan had died. I have always considered Wogan to be a legend, not just because of his associations with Eurovision but because his voice and his radio show were such an enormous part of my childhood. My parents had tapes of pop music they'd recorded on his show. He used to play a lot of ABBA, which I think he called Grabba. I remember him cheekily calling Chiquitita "Take You teeth out." I always thought he looked like my Dad. They both had dark hair and lamb chop side burns. Actually, I think I used to wonder if my Dad and Wogan were the same person, in the way that my Mum apparently used to think her Mum was Vera Lynne! Fiona also used to think that her Dad was Terry Wogan... Popular figure. Anyway, his wit and warmth be deeply missed.


I left the house this morning at 6.30am exactly. The sky was pitch black with no hope of light, even in the eastern sky. Archway Road was already busy with cars and the dawn chorus was in full flow. Everything felt a little topsy-turvy.

The tube arrived as I entered the platform at Highgate. It smelt of vitamin B12, but it moved speedily to Euston Station.

I fell asleep at 10.30 last night, which has to be some sort of record, so waking up at 6 was a bit odd, but nothing like as gruelling as it might have been.

I queued for an early morning tea in a thick cloud of diesel smoke at the station. God knows what they do at 7am on a Saturday to cause so many noxious fumes, but it was definitely creating an atmosphere from which I needed to escape. A cluster of Virgin train staff were standing in the midst of the haze checking tickets. "I bet you're glad you're standing here!" I said, sarcastically. He rolled his eyes, "yeah, I get all the good jobs..."

The sun finally came up as our train passed through Milton Keynes. The sky became an impressionist masterpiece of baby blues and chocolate-coloured wispy clouds.

As we arrived in Manchester I realised I'd lost my train ticket. I rushed back into the train to find the contents of my carriage had been emptied into a bin bag by a man who wasn't paid enough money to give a shit; "have a look in that bag" he said, and I found myself hastily rifling through old banana skins and greasy sandwich wrappers. All, of course, to no avail. I threw myself at the mercy of the people on the ticket barriers and, fortunately, they let me pass. As I get older, I find people tend to be more lenient. I fit the profile of a fair dodger less and less!

The NYMT auditions in Manchester happened at Chetham's school of music, which is like Hogwarts in the city centre. We saw around sixty young people, and, with one or two notable exceptions, the over all standard of singing was a little shaky. I think perhaps mediocrity breeds mediocrity. If the kids don't spur each other on and strive for excellence, then the overall standard drops. I say this because the acting sessions later on in the day were much better than the singing ones, which may have been because we started with an exercise which demanded bravery. Whatever the reason, very suddenly the whole group came alive. The issue, of course, is that, if they've scored brilliantly well for acting and not so well for singing there's no way you can justify calling them back for a musical. I was tough on all the kids. I overheard one group in the lunch break saying how intense the session had been. I don't hold the punches when I run these sessions. The right piece of advice at this stage of a young person's career can make a huge difference. It's up to them if they listen to me or not...

We had a lot of fun, as always. As we came back, the start of the day in those clouds of diesel fumes felt like a life time ago. When you fill your day, as we have today, life moves much more slowly. And that suits me rather well.

We arrived at Euston Station at 9pm, and I took the tube to Bethnal Green where I got a bus to God knows where in East London to attend the after party of my mates Julian and Carla's wedding. Julian is my long-suffering, patience-of-a-saint record producer, who has engineered many a wacky project over the last twelve or so years. Someone once described us as behaving like a married couple in the studio. Now we're both actually married, we can decide whether that was or remains the case!

I met a rag-taggle bunch of old friends there, and couldn't work out why they all knew Julian until I realised he'd introduced me to most of them! Jim Fortune and Vic were there. Paul from Sonica. Lovely Ivor, who's played guitar on pretty much every recording I've ever done. Fiona was there too, and has come back with us to Highgate to sleep in our loft.

...And that's where we are now. Not in the loft. In the sitting room, wrapped in blankets, listening to stories of Fiona's recent trip to Bangkok.

Friday, 29 January 2016


I managed to polish off a full orchestration today, which has given me hope for the future in terms of getting this beast into the hands of musicians. It still feels a bit like an uphill struggle, though. I'm literally running on empty.

I tend to sit in front of my lap top at a little table in the corner of the rehearsal room so that I can be on hand for anyone who needs me. One of the music staff will occasionally sidle over and make a suggestion for some underscoring or a change in accompaniment or harmony, and director Luke will sometimes ask us to clarify the intention behind a certain line.

At the end of the day there's a de-brief, which gives us all a chance to talk about what's happened during the day. The process works well. On a new show, particularly one with such a curious genesis, there will always be one or two teething issues, as everyone discovers each other's eccentricities, working methods and how best to effectively interact, but I think we've started to find a good rhythm,
The cast made huge leaps forward today, managing to stagger their way through to the end of act one of the show. There's still an enormous amount to achieve, but I kept catching little glimpses of what the final show will look like, all of which were accompanied by little tingles of excitement.

I hate the commute to and from the rehearsal space. The tubes are always ram-packed, and at the end of a tiring day, when you know you're going home to continue working, a face full of someone's enormous back pack is unpleasant, bordering on traumatic! Londoners put up with a hell of a lot of nonsense on a daily basis.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

That Michael Jackson...

As I walked to the tube this morning, I discovered that the whole of Archway Road had been closed to traffic due to an "incident." A brief chat to my friend who runs the coffee stand ascertained that the "incident" was, somewhat predictably, someone jumping from Archway Bridge, known in these parts as Suicide Bridge. Despite the local council's desperate attempts to prevent people from being able to jump from the edge, it remains a Mecca for those who are struggling with life. The Archway Road towards Archway itself runs through a gully, which means, by mid way up, it's about thirty metres below Hornsey Lane, which passes above via an old metal bridge. Those who jump assume if the fall onto Tarmac doesn't get them, then a passing car will...

It's a nasty business. Whereas I have a great deal of compassion for those who become so depressed they want to end it all, the greatest chunk of my sympathy rests with the drivers and pedestrians on the A1 underneath who have to deal with the (for want of a better phrase) fall out. It's incredibly sad.
Speaking of fall out, I've seen that newspapers this morning are filled with the news that posh British (white) actor, Joseph Feinnes has been cast to play Michael Jackson in a crazy sounding road movie set at the time of 911. People are up in arms about the concept of a white man playing a black legend.

Here's my take. The film is set in 2001, when Michael Jackson was arguably at his most extreme when it came to skin peels and bleaches, plastic surgery and weird behaviour. Michael Jackson did everything he could to appear white. He may have been a hugely proud black man, but, if he was, from about 1982 onwards, he never told his face. So from a purely aesthetic perspective, I sort of feel that it would be easier for a white man to pull off the role...

I have a feeling we need to be a little more consistent in the way we respond to casting decisions of this nature. Two years ago, a straight man was cast in the role of Alan Turing, a man revered by my community. Benedict Cumberbatch will surely never know how it feels to be a gay man - particularly not one who was chemically castrated - but he won awards for his acting, because, when it comes to gay characters, the world is happy to acknowledge that acting is pretending.

Of course the more subtle, or convenient argument against casting gay as gay, is that gay people may feel differently, and act differently, but they don't LOOK differently to straight people, and therefore, it ought to be easier for a straight man to impersonate a gay one. The continuation of this argument is that using prosthetics to make a white man appear black is gruesomely insulting. I agree. But Jackson didn't look black.

Then we must look to other casting decisions which, though hugely insulting to certain cultures, do not create headline news. About ten years ago I worked in the casting department on the film Brick Lane. We did an enormous amount of outreach work in the Bengali community searching for a young lad to play a radicalised Muslim. In the end, despite our hard work, the producers cast a mixed race Irish/ Indian Hindu to play the role. Did Hollywood go mad? No. He looked right... Apparently.

In 1999, I worked on a production of Madam Butterfly. Our USP was that we had an "authentic" Butterfly in the lead role. As we all know, Madam Butterfly is a Japanese woman. Our Butterfly was Chinese. The audience lapped her up. They thought she was amazing. She was. But, from a Japanese perspective, I'm sure she was about as inauthentic as Feinnes playing Jackson promises to be. The opera singer in question paid no attention to Japanese culture. She just sang the words beautifully and shuffled around in a kimono emoting wildly.

Adrian Leicester played Henry V in 2003 to great critical acclaim. The real Henry V, of course, could be called many things, but black isn't one of them. I totally applaud Leicester being cast in this role. But colour blind casting has to work all ways. If an actor puts enough work into his characterisation to make her performance feel authentic, then I don't have an issue with it.

I'll end on one final point. On another film I worked on, a certain black actor, who will remain nameless, came into audition to play the role of a black man in the film, and said in his casting that he wasn't prepared to "black up" for a role. He wanted to play the film's lead because he didn't see why the role shouldn't be played by a black man. He was right. There was no reason on earth why that role shouldn't have been played by a black person other than that it had already been given to someone else! As we move into a world where producers and directors are rightly encouraged to think out of the coloured box when it comes to casting, it's worth remembering that someone still has to play the black roles, and if we won't allow that to be white people, where on earth has the logic disappeared to?

There's not a lot to say about rehearsals today, other than that we were there and they happened. We were interviewed by a charming journalist and I continued to orchestrate music, getting a little irritated at the sheer number of interruptions... There was a very surreal moment when I tried to escape distraction and sat working under headphones in the kitchen of our rehearsal space. I could hear two separate rehearsals taking place, both involving our music, which got louder and quieter as various doors were opened and closed. It was most peculiar!

I came home this evening and worked until 10.30pm. Now I watch Ru Paul. Can I get an amen?!

Wednesday, 27 January 2016


We arrived late at rehearsals this morning simply because we couldn't haul our sorry arses out of bed! Both of us are still full of cold and utterly exhausted.

It was a rather bitty day. Members of the cast kept having to leave rehearsals for costume fittings, so there always seemed to be key people missing from the scenes that were being rehearsed. Our stage manager and assistant director were kept incredibly busy, rushing about, filling in for the missing people. It's a pleasure to see the actors starting to find their characters, however. There are some really clever performers in the cast.

I had another massive computer crash today which sent me rushing back home to make phone calls to the technical support people in America. If I'm honest, the number of computer music software malfunctions I'm having on this project is making me a little twitchy. I have an obscene amount of work to do, and am very much aware of the clock ticking down. Right now I'm only able to appear calm and in control when everything goes to plan. The moment I get bowled a googly, I instantly go into melt down. 

I suspect there are going to be a lot of late nights in the coming week as I attempt to get myself back on schedule. 

I ended up having to call the people in America twice with two separate catastrophes. I could tell the first guy who dealt with me was going to be very helpful but that I wouldn't hear sight nor sound of the the women whom I spoke to on the second occasion probably ever again. I think she got really insulted when I had to keep asking her to repeat herself. I couldn't make head nor tail of her accent and she kept using Americanisms which I'd never heard before and couldn't decipher. The clincher was probably when I asked if she could get back to me really quickly because I had a very pressing deadline which was freaking me out. I could tell by her response that she couldn't give a shite! So as I go to bed, I'm still waiting for her to get back to me to tell my why, when I input drums into my system, I hear the sound of blinking whistles! My drum charts sound like a Pride parade!

I would just like to say that since starting work on this computer musical I have NEVER had so many computers crash on me!

Tuesday, 26 January 2016


Golly. Everyone in the Beyond The Fence camp is utterly exhausted today! There have been meetings, gruelling singing rehearsals, dance calls... All this time I've been trying to orchestrate an incredibly fast-paced number which is making my eyes bleed. Apparently this tiredness is quite normal for this stage in rehearsals: everyone has suddenly realised quite how much there is to do and, as a result, the brain's capacity shrinks exponentially! 

Slowly but surely everyone else in the company is getting the same cold. Without going into a great deal of detail, it involves a heck of a lot of mucus and quite a number of trips to the loo. Nathan has it as well.

The company is a happy one. Everyone gets on very well and we all have a good sense of what we personally need to do to make the show extraordinary.

I've heard that some former Greenham women have decided to publicly boycott the show. Frankly, I don't give a damn if they don't much want to see it, but I think it's a little harsh for them to speak of actual demonstrations before they have any idea what the show is actually about! I'm afraid I actually get the impression they're boycotting merely for the sake of something to be angry about. The stumbling block for them, I suspect, is that two men have written the show and this is something they'll struggle to see beyond. I say three things to that:

1) It was computers which took us to Greenham, so even if we'd wanted to write about something else, the experimental nature of the project dictated that we shouldn't...

2) As the son of a CND woman, I refuse to apologise for being interested in this particular subject.

3) If a Greenham woman, or any woman for that matter feels THEY ought to have been the one to write a musical about Greenham, then they've had thirty years to get their act together! I'm hardly jumping on a band wagon!

I had a similar issue when I wrote A Symphony For Yorkshire and the Yorkshire supremacists started getting arsey because I was a Midlander, and a work with that title ought to have been written by a man born in Yorkshire. It wasn't as though the BBC had over-looked a load of Yorkshire composers in their rush to commission me. The symphony was my idea! Besides, the irony was that the list of composers and film makers which the supremacists were suggesting do it instead, would have been way way too expensive to book!

Right. Bed time. Well maybe an episode of Ru Paul's Drag Race first!

Monday, 25 January 2016

Equal Ever After

I woke up this morning with a cold rattling through my body like wind howling through an empty house. My nose is runny. My tummy's funny. I need lemon and honey, mummy!

Actually what I need is a bit of sunshine or a really intensely snowy period like they're having in New York at the moment. My friends Cindy and Jem over there are sending me photographs of the mayhem. Jem, who's up in Queens, sent me pictures of snow literally piled up against his windows like an old duvet. I would like a bit of weather like that, please. Instead, we're told this storm will bring us floods. Just what we need.

My back was really painful this morning as well, so I left it as late as I dared to head to rehearsals in an attempt to miss the rush hour crush and perhaps find a seat on the underground. No such luck. The tubes were jam-packed. #londonisbroken

I went to the first part of rehearsals before slipping away for an appointment with the osteopath via Somerset House, where Nathan and I met Michelle of the Turkie for lunch. She was, as always, a luminous ray of sunlight. We sat outside in the courtyard. The sun was stupidly hot for this time of year, but things got rather chilly when it vanished behind the clouds again. The little cafe we drink in serves freshly squeezed juice from blood oranges, which is a glorious shade of red and has a real kick to it. 

The osteopath said my lower back was incredibly knotted, but did a grand job of loosening things off. The route from Borough back to rehearsals in Pimlico ought to have been simple, but, instead of changing lines at Stockwell we managed to travel back the way we'd come. I hate the south of London!

This evening we went to the book launch of Lynne Featherstone's "Equal Ever After", which charts her almost single-handed quest to make same sex marriage legal in the UK. Lynne used to be our local MP, and I was incredibly sad when she was ousted last year, particularly as she'd done so much important work during her time in office. She was also a brilliant constituency MP. She's now in the House of Lords, and hopes one day to vote herself obsolete!

Lynne's book mentions our wedding, which she attended. In fact, she talks about it in great detail and quotes many of the lyrics from Changing Expectations, the song our mothers sang. Lynne was introduced tonight by Nick Clegg, and made a wonderful little speech during which she mentioned us again. It made me feel incredibly emotional, and an overwhelming sense of gratitude towards her. She also paid homage to the many LGBT people who suffered on the journey towards equality. I've always felt incredibly proud that Nathan and I were able to place the final cherry on the cake of British LGBT equality, and hugely grateful to the men like Peter Tatchell who regularly risked their lives to enable me to marry the man I love.

Oddly, as we arrived at the launch, a tweet arrived from a young lad who'd just seen our wedding for the first time and described it as "the most beautiful thing" he'd ever watched. It astonishes me that people are still discovering it two years on.

Paul Gambaccini was also there this evening. He and I hung out together a few times almost twenty years ago when my partner at the time was elected as an MP. I didn't expect him to remember me in the slightest, but he immediately beamed and said, "I remember you well. You were writing a musical weren't you?" He was talking about an angst-ridden show called Blast which never made it to the stage, but I was hugely impressed that he remembered. He was (and still is) a gracious and incredibly charming man and as we parted company he said, "it's always lovely to meet someone twenty years on..." And I started to wonder when it was that I became so old!

Sunday, 24 January 2016


The hotel room I was staying in in Leeds was on the eighth floor of a tall building, which meant, when I woke up this morning, I was able to look out across the entire city. I love Leeds. It's got such a fascinating skyline. We were staying in the part of town which flooded really badly just after Christmas, and the area outside the hotel was being entirely repaved. I genuinely can't imagine how high the river must have been in order for that area to flood. It's very scary.

We were running auditions at the Northern School of dance. One of the rooms we were meant to be using had been water damaged, so acting auditions were held in a separate building across the street. Fortunately I was running music auditions today, so I got to stay in the main building and didn't have to chaperone young people to and fro.

It's always great to be back in Leeds, and we met some wonderful performers today. Leeds is obviously the home of Brass and it's such a thrill to hear that wonderfully familiar accent. Sally, who was in the show last time, was auditioning again today. She's a far more assured and mature performer than she was when I last saw her. I do worry for the older girls who are auditioning this year. Competition for roles is going to be huge. I could already cast Brass three times over, and we've not been able to recall performers who, when we last did the show, would have easily have been good enough to be in it. I try to recall as few as possible. I want everyone who comes back to have a fighting chance of getting a role.

There was a lovely chap there today who seemed a little older than the other lads. It turns out he's a chemistry teacher and that, in the last year he's eligible to do NYMT, he's finally in the financial position to be able to afford to do it (should he be lucky enough to get a role.)

He came up to me after the auditions and said, "I've a funny story about you..." My heart started pounding as I worried what he might be about to say, but the story was just lovely...

More this two years ago, Jezza and I had gone up to Leeds for the day to look at the City Varieties theatre as a possible venue for the first run of Brass. On the way up, I'd got chatting to a young lad, who must have told me he liked acting, because I'd suggested he audition for Brass. I remember the conversation vividly. I'd thought how interesting he looked and hoped very much he'd turn up to audition. He didn't, and I subsequently forgot all about the encounter. Until today, when he finally turned up to audition for the show! How wonderful is that story?

Brass is happening at the Hackney Empire Theatre for just three performances at the end of August. I personally suggest you book to see all three. The production is going to be extraordinary. I mean extraordinary! I'm very excited.


Today started at shit o'clock once again with a gripey stomach and a tube journey to St Pancras train station. A man was "vaping" in the carriage which I found a little disconcerting in the same way that it gets a bit weird when an audience in the theatre is engulfed by clouds of fake smoke, which always has that slightly sweet, somewhat floral aroma. I'm all for vaping as an alternative to smoking. It's surely got to be a lot better for you (until they discover, of course, that it's slowly sending people mad, or giving them cancer) but I'm still not sure I want to sit in a confined space in the middle of a cloud of whatever the hell comes out of those things.

We took the train from St Pancras to Leicester and walked from the train station to the Curve Theatre where around thirty young people were auditioning for this year's NYMT season. At first glance I wasn't sure that many of them were going to stand out, but as the day wore on I became more and more impressed. A couple of the girls were terrifically amusing and it was lovely to see Jo, Harry and Matt, all of whom were Brassers and did really well today. Young Harry, particularly, made some very interesting, brave and insightful acting choices.

I ran acting and singing classes and hope I was able to impart some of my accumulated theatrical knowledge to the youngsters. They certainly seemed very attentive..,

I always feel a little bit odd when I'm in Leicester. It will always be a the place where I was forced to take someone to court: a period which remains one of the darkest and most devastating of my life. I think one day I will be able to laugh at the lunacy of the whole experience. There are some images in which stick in my mind as being thoroughly ludicrous in an amusing way. As I arrived at Leicester Crown Court, for example, I was greeted by an entire flash mob choir who sang a peace song angrily at me as I walked in. It was deeply surreal. Those who feel I must live my life in a Musical are right!

We travelled from Leicester to Leeds this evening on a train packed with Stoke City footie fans who'd been in Leicester for a match. I'd say, by their somewhat edgy behaviour, that their team had lost. There were police everywhere, even on the train, and there was a really nasty atmosphere, like anything could have kicked off at any stage. A man was bundled off the train at Derby and heavy-handedly arrested by way too many coppers.

We changed trains at Derby, a city which is surely only famous as the location of Simon Groome and Goldie the dog's farm off of Blue Peter. We arrived in Leeds at about 8pm.

As I approached the ticket barriers a woman's voice started shrieking in my ear; "well that wasn't very gentlemanly was it?" A rather stentorian woman then ticked me off for "pushing in front of her." I had, of course, done nothing of the sort.

We ate tea in the city centre surrounded by Leeds' finest, two of whom had inadvertently dressed respectively as a carrot and a pumpkin tonight. Same dress. Different builds! Leeds attracts some rather special people on a Saturday night, none of whom were wearing coats...

We're staying in the famous Ibis budget hotel tonight, which is renowned in these parts as a knocking shop. The rooms have something of a "wipe down" quality to them... The sort of rooms which get disinfected rather than cleaned. My wifi doesn't work. Nor does my telly, but the bed's lovely and comfortable so I'll sleep well tonight!

Friday, 22 January 2016

Day 5

I've been dealing with a cold throughout the day today. I've been knocking back the Lemsip, so it hasn't hampered me over much, but I'm pretty shattered as I head home this evening. Rehearsals have been going well. I've been observing them from underneath headphones, occasionally tuning in to what's being said or sung. There was an odd moment today when I found myself working on orchestrations for a song which was being rehearsed in the room at the same time. It was a phasing nightmare, although very useful in many ways because it meant I could get a sense of how the actor wanted to sing the number; where he was giving it welly, and where rhythms were being pulled around.

I taught Llio her big number today, which I think is going to sound extraordinary. She's one of that rare breed of singer to whom you can hand any piece of music (in any key) and she'll perform it magnificently. She has an enormous vocal range which she has spent her life honing so there are no bumps or gear shifts between different registers. The song covers more than two octaves. When she's added tricks and flicks, I think we'll be nearer three!

It's so lovely to see things slowly coming together and incredibly surreal to hear the cast and director talking in depth about words and phrases that Nathan and I carefully chose. It's pretty cool as well to hear vocal harmonies drifting up from the downstairs studio which were nothing more than dots on a computer screen a week ago.

Day 4

I was up before it got light this morning. Okay, I realise this is part of most ordinary people's daily regime, but when it happens to me it always seems a little bit wrong. I stumbled around in the bedroom trying not to wake Nathan up whilst looking for socks and things to wear that didn't clash. Who am I trying to kid? I only have brown and black clothes. I was actually simply trying to work out whether the clothes strewn on the bedroom floor were clean or not!

As soon as I arrived in rehearsals I realised there was a major issue with my music writing software. All of the playback sounds were at randomly different volumes to the extent that it became impossible to do any arrangements. It is incredibly stressful to get so close to a show and realise that you can't do the task you desperately need to do because technology has ceased to serve you properly. What a ghastly irony for a show which relies so heavily on computers!

I was forced to leave rehearsals before lunch time to come home and deal with everything. As I travelled back to Highgate I could feel my stomach churning as I tried to think through all of the issues that were presenting themselves and the various ways I might be able to work around them. There was a pathetic hope bouncing around in the back of my brain which promised me if I called the Finale music software help line, some extraordinarily amazing geek in America would solve all my problems.

As I sat on the Northern Line, I got a little horrified by the sight of a bloke with an earlobe stretched so large that you could have run a sausage through the hole. I genuinely don't know why people mutilate themselves in this manner. When extreme piercers take the structural earring out, they must surely be aware of the terrible withered ear lobe which is left in its place, like some drooping old man's nipples. What does it achieve? Is it a form of self-loathing? Do you think they regret it?

So I got home and battled through the afternoon waiting for 8.30am in the Mountain Time Zone when I could call the help line in America. The man was calm, which I liked. He told me there wasn't a cure all, and that Finale were aware of the issue with their samples, but took me through a variety of different processes, some of which helped a little. I'm always amused by the concept of the Mountain Time Zone. It seems such a curious concept. I'm not sure I could name a single city which falls into its clutches. Places like Salt Lake City, I assume?

The day got a little stressful towards the evening as I started to buckle at the realisation of how much there still is to achieve on the show in terms of orchestration. I have also developed a shocking cold, so another layer of coping mechanism has been stripped back. My back has gone into spasms as well, so all in all I'm a bit of a physical mess, which is why I'm sweating the small stuff.

In the words of Julian of Norwich: "all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." Julian of Norwich was a woman, by the way. This was a fact I knew, but I did a little reading on the subject to discover that she was actually the first woman to write a book in the English language. What a blinkin' legend! I love the fact that she is known as a "mystic." I reckon this world could do with a few more mystics!

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Day three

I noticed a newspaper article this morning on the tube into work which spoke about the fact that this year's lists for Oscar nominations in all acting categories are completely "lily white." Out of the twenty actors nominated there is not a single person of colour. And this is the second time this has happened in as many years. Not good.

It's so difficult to know what can and should be done to improve this particular situation.

My major worry is that I don't know how the situation can be made any better without entering a no-win cul-de-sac. Obviously, the reason why women never feel hard done by (when it comes to acting at least) is because men and women are on separate lists. Whatever else happens, by the end of the evening, two actors and two actresses will have won a major gong. But plainly it's both patronising and pointless to award a "best BAME actor" Oscar. Likewise, if an official (or unofficial) quota system is introduced which suggests at least one person of colour needs to be nominated in each category, we potentially end up with cries of political correctness, and people suggesting that actors aren't there through merit. A very similar thing happened with Blair Babes after the women-only shortlists in the 1997 general election.

Personally speaking, I would far rather win an Oscar for being the best composer rather than for being the best gay composer, although one could argue there's no such thing as a straight one!!

So how do we get actors of colour winning more major awards? Do we encourage Oscar organisers to bring a quota of respected BAME film people into the judging panel to ensure that stand-out performances by black actors are rewarded? Does the black community need to educate academy voters, helping them to understand that great performances from black actors don't just happen when the actors are working on issue-based films? Your thoughts please...

The area we're rehearsing in at the moment is an interesting one which feels genuinely very mixed. On one side of the street, huge stucco-fronted Edwardian villas stretch off into the distance looking fabulously grand, whilst on the river side, block after block of decaying council estates burst into the sky. This all means that the little shopping arcade where we buy lunch is full of extremes. I have seldom heard so many obscenely posh people, nor walked past so many rough diamonds. Someone randomly called me a c**t yesterday!

Still, the area's got a bit of a buzz about it which I like. There's a man who sells fruit and veg from an old-fashioned barrow. He had a sack of new potatoes this morning which looked delicious covered in soil. New potatoes in January would have seemed so peculiar thirty years ago. I remember when the Jersies came into season, and we'd buy them from the green grocer in Potton, pick mint from the garden, and actually wish on the first one we ate. It was that much of an occasion.

We've been rehearsing all day and, for the first time this evening, the cast put some of the first number on its feet. I've been under headphones all day, orchestrating songs from the show.

There's another group of actors in the building. They're rehearsing a straight play and seem rather serious and "method." They talk a LOT about themselves and the work they've done. There's a huge difference between musical theatre actors and straight actors in the way they approach their craft. Go back stage into a straight actor's dressing room mid show and you'll find a lot of people sitting in silence with their eyes closed or jogging up and down on the spot whilst rubbing their eyes to create some sort of "authenticity" as they walk onto the stage. A musical theatre actor's dressing room is full of people shouting, laughing, playing practical jokes and arguing. Straight actors are more likely to be straight. Musical theatre ones are more likely to be gay (or at least act that way!) I think I know which dressing room I'd rather be in!

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Second Day

I spent the morning writing in one of our rehearsal studios today. I'm trying to complete the show's final song which is proving to be trickier than I'd hoped. The cast was learning music downstairs, so I headed to the upstairs studio where the stage management team was marking up the space with tape so that everyone knows how big the acting area's going to be when we start to put the show on its feet. The Arts Theatre has a rather small stage, so knowing its exact dimensions is vital. We'll need to use every inch of available space.

There was a lovely calm atmosphere in the space: Luke, the director, was discussing props. Winter sunlight was streaming through the windows of the room, and at one point everyone suddenly started glowing rather magically! It's so lovely not to need to worry about things like props. I don't need to worry about what the chewing gum looks like, or how the candles are going to arrive on stage. There's a team of hugely capable people in charge of that... All I have to do is write some music!

Brother Edward popped into the rehearsal space this afternoon and found it rather surprising that the two of us weren't rushing around, running rehearsals and getting our hands a lot dirtier. He's obviously far more used to my normal projects, which often see me juggling eight balls whilst attempting to walk on a tight rope!

Instead, we had a nice cup of tea, looked at the costume designs and the model box of the set and then stuck our heads into the note-bashing session to listen to the cast learning a song called Penetrate the Base (fnah, fnah). Double entendres aside, they sounded brilliant!

We're coming home now to have a stir fry and continue working. There were a lot of distractions today, so I didn't achieve nearly enough.

Monday, 18 January 2016

First day

We had our first day of rehearsals for Beyond The Fence this morning in a little church hall in Pimlico. It was very strange: I hadn't been in that part of town for twenty-two years since we rehearsed Big Book For Girls in that very space. Memories came flooding back of the cast sitting outside, eating sandwiches at lunch time. We'd sometimes pop to a local cafe or have a drink after rehearsals in a nearby pub. I was commuting on a daily basis from Essex at the time. In those days you could get a weekly ticket from Bishop's Stortford for some hugely reasonable amount which made commuting a genuine option for a student with no money in his bank account.

On one occasion, the train I was travelling on caught fire and we were evacuated along the tracks. When I finally made it to rehearsals, the director tore a strip off me, telling me he'd wanted me to rehearse music that morning and how dare I be late and force him to change his plans. This was long before mobile phones, so I explained to him what had happened, and that I was feeling a little shaky about everything, and was astonished when he said, "well don't do it again!" In retrospect I realise he was a fairly unpleasant sort who seemed to like the sound of himself shouting, but at that moment I saw red and barked back: "Are you serious!? Frankly, If another train I'm travelling on has the misfortune of catching fire, I'm plainly going to be late for rehearsals again." In fairness, he probably assumed I was lying through my teeth to justify having a lie-in. These days, of course, I would have shown him my Twitter feed, which would almost certainly have been filled with the tweets of disgruntled fellow passengers!

It all feels like another life time ago, really. As I entered the building I wondered what advise I'd have given my 19 year-old self. Funnily enough, the first person I introduced myself to was our show's assistant director, who is a young lad at the start of his career. He's like a mini-version of our actual director. Shorter and younger, but essentially the same look. I wondered what was going through his mind.

Anyway, I felt proud as punch to sit down today, surrounded by the fabulous cast and wonderful artistic and stage management teams. We've finally made it to rehearsals... The show will go on!

We had a read through and Nathan and I busked our way through some of the numbers to give the cast a sense of what was heading their way. It wasn't ideal: I got painfully embarrassed singing out loud and, because all the songs are all in women's keys, everything sounded pretty awful in our voices. We'd also not practised anything, so neither of us knew which harmonies the other one was going to sing! Still, we got there, and I think the cast and team found it a bit useful.

I can't really say too much more about what happened in the rehearsal room as it will potentially spoil your enjoyment of the show when you eventually either see it on Sky Arts or, preferably, live at the Arts Theatre in central London in the last week of February and first week of March. You will all try to see it won't you?

Sunday, 17 January 2016

These dreams

I've been having some classic anxiety dreams of late! I always know something is stirring in my subconscious when my dreams take me back to school and university. Two nights ago, I went with my friend, Meriel to the university house we'd lived in together. We were really surprised to find that it had doubled in size. I suspect that's my subconscious acknowledging how distant some of my memories have become. We lived in that particular house twenty-two years ago, and, though I always prided myself on having a razor-sharp long-term memory, certain memories have started fading into a hazy mist. Occasionally I look at a photograph and can't remember how I ended up in the place where the picture was taken!

Last night I dreamed that I was performing in my school's production of My Fair Lady. I was playing Alfred Doolittle, but walked onto the stage without knowing a single line. I put a script on the piano and managed to blag a full-cast sing-a-long of Wouldn't It Be Loverrrrly whilst feeling a crippling sense of mortification. I caught my Dad's eye in the audience and felt ashamed for forgetting to learn my lines!

The scene after the song was a wash-out. The other actors on stage spoke so quietly and incomprehensibly that I didn't know where we were in the script. There was a huge pause, it was obviously my turn to speak, and I frantically looked down at my script to find all the words had turned into mathematical equations! At that point the cast started giggling, and I felt ludicrously angry with them for being typical teenagers. Then I looked in a mirror and my face was covered in welts and I was trying to work out if the red splodges were just tricks of the light. And then I started talking to the audience and asking them if they thought Holst's Planets Suite was the greatest ever composition by a British composer! The audience started throwing shoes at me, and that's where the dream ended...

The last part of the dream came as a result of my listening to Neptune as I drifted off to sleep. I'd forgotten quite how impressive and moving the heavenly choir in that movement is. We once performed the piece at York Minster, with its ten second echo acoustic, and the boys of the Minster choir sang from the other end of the transept behind a giant rood screen which was decorated with carved stone angels. It was an absolute coup de theatre. It struck me last night that The Planets has shaped almost every piece of music relating to outer space which has been written since. From Star Trek and Star Wars to conceptual album tracks by ELO!

There was snow on the roof tops and trees in Highgate this morning. It hadn't really bothered to settle anywhere else, but it was a joy to see. Nathan spent the day in Stoke On Trent where he tells me there was rather a lot of snow.

I've been at NYMT auditions for most is the day today. I really only popped in to meet the show's director, but obviously ended up staying the day. There were some particularly talented kids there, a surprising number of whom were either from Yorkshire or played brass instruments, which was great for us. Three of the original cast were there, Ruby, Ben and Robyn, and all three did marvellously well. It was lovely to see them and I felt stupidly protective of and proprietorial about them. I felt proud as punch when Robyn sang Could Have Been, the song she sang in the show.

It was so peculiar to think about meeting them for the first time two years ago and thinking how they've grown up in the meantime. They've all become hugely accomplished performers. Ben played the cornet as well: the same piece as he'd played at his original audition in Manchester in 2014, which moved me so much it inspired me to write the show's title song. I remember the moment so clearly. Jezza Walker, who runs NYMT, was there on both occasions, so it really was a serious blast of déjà vu.

What happens in Vegas...

I sat on the tube today looking at a rather dubious poster selling holidays in Las Vegas, which ran with the tag-line, "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas," or words to that effect. It feels like a rather nefarious way to sell a city. Am I the only person in the world who thinks Las Vegas looks like a hell zone? Every time I see another photo of the place my sphincter tightens. It looks entirely fake. And not fun in any way, shape or form. If anyone reading this has been and cares to give me a different perspective, I'm all ears...

Nathan is away this weekend recording choir music in a studio with a bunch of friends. I wish I was with them but I've had to stay behind to work, which is not much fun. I decided to give myself a bit of time off this evening and sashayed to the kebab shop for some kind of halloumi in pitta experience. Sadly, the bloke behind the counter decided to cook the halloumi on the same grill as the largest splat of dodgy-looking meat I've ever seen. It was like looking at road kill. Like some kind of shredded badger. The man prodded the meat with the same tongues he was using to impatiently turn my squeaky cheese. I tried not to look, knowing it would only put me off my food, but my eyes kept drifting back to the horror...

I try not to be a prissy vegetarian. If something has been cooked with animal fat, gelatine or rennet I'm usually simply better off not knowing. Unless I can taste it on my lips afterwards. Animal fat leaves a residue like some kind of ghastly lip salve.

I stayed in tonight, working a bit and watching rubbish telly whilst the snow swirled around the lamppost outside my window. It's not settling, sadly, but it looks rather impressive. At one stage I turned all the lights off and watched it, somewhat transfixed, like ash falling from Mount Vesuvius! Did anyone else used to play The Last Days of Pompeii in the playground at school, imagining the falling leaves in autumn were lava flows? Just me? Okay...

Saturday, 16 January 2016


I was watching a recruitment advert for the teaching industry on telly last night which included a reference to what newly qualified teachers earn. It turns out it's more than I earned last year. In fact, it's more than I've ever earned in a year baring the time I made ghastly films for HSBC which none of the staff of the bank could be bothered to watch! That's quite something, isn't it? I'm a BAFTA nominee, and I earn less than a newly qualified teacher! I'm not complaining, of course. I chose this illogical path and, besides, I think I'm one of about six musical theatre composers in the UK who actually manages to make a living out of writing. It's the people in Arts Admin and marketing who tend to make more impressive sums of money in my industry.

People are always astonished when they find out how low our combined earnings are and ask how we manage to go on holidays and do such exciting things. I'm pretty sure the answer is simple: we've never had debts and we don't have children. I think children must be incredibly expensive to run. Most of the ones I know are fuelled on pricey hypo-allergenic pets and food, and seem to need an endless supply of new shoes. They grow out of old pairs like my Triffid-like plant, Isadora does with her terracotta pots!

I think other people take more taxis than we do as well...

I went to the hairdressers today and stared into the mirror at the bloated, addled, haunted-looking man I've become in the last four months. My hair is now speckled with grey on the top as well as at the sides. Rather interestingly the grey bits come in little half centimetre long blocks half way along the length of the hair, so an individual hair is black either side of a little grey fleck, almost as though the hair grew grey for a while and then decided to get some pigment again. I find that utterly extraordinary and think it might be the product of stress. There are reports of people's hair going grey over night when they were subjected to a period of great distress, and I'm wondering if the same happened to me, with the hair pigment literally saying "fuck this for a game of soldiers." Nathan says it is completely impossible for hair to suddenly go grey: hair is apparently dead so would not be able to change colour like that, unless chemically enhanced!

I continued to work on songs today, at the kitchen table, and even to and from the hairdressers. I've hit a stumbling block in the end number, which is detailed, long, and not quite there yet. And then there's the matter of this extra song which Nathan gave me the lyrics for yesterday. My body says stop.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Three songs left

I was incredibly sad to learn about the death of Alan Rickman today. I was lucky enough to spend an evening in Mr Rickman's company just before Nathan and I got married two years ago. We went out for a meal together, which he paid for as his way of saying congratulations to us both. He was a deeply charming and amusing man and I can imagine that his loss will bring a huge amount of pain to those who are close to him. It seems that cancer is just about everywhere right now. David Bowie, Lemmie, Rickman... It just goes to prove that whatever the level of your wealth and however good your doctors are, it's either going to get you or it's not. It makes me very sad.

We worked like the clappers again today which felt like a little bit of a roast. I didn't sleep much last night. We received another bizarre email yesterday and although I fell asleep fairly promptly, I woke up screaming in terror half an hour later. Nathan tells me I was actually pulling his hair at the same time!

I went into the sitting room where I sat for an hour or so formatting a response to the email, which, of course, I'll never send. I watched 4 am come and go, accompanied by Phil Spence on the telly, who, it turns out, is much shorter in real life than you'd expect him to be.

I completed work on another two of the songs from the show today, which leaves me with three to finish before rehearsals start on Monday. Two of the songs are essentially written and drafted. They just need a bit of TLC to make them pop. The third song is not yet written, although, I'm thrilled to say that, at exactly 10.31pm, Nathan arrived in the sitting room, looking a little over-come and tearful, to say that he'd finished the lyric. And it's brilliant.

To celebrate we're taking ourselves to the local shop to buy some soup for our tea.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Ballet class

I went to Jackson's Lane community centre to work this morning. There's a lovely whole food cafe there, which can be a wonderfully relaxing place to work.

Imagine my horror, therefore, when a group of women with pushchairs appeared en masse and started pushing tables into long lines whilst their children ran about screaming. Literally screaming from the bottoms of their lungs. I'm not very good at counting kids (they move too fast) but there were at least ten of them, plus as many mothers. Their pre-ballet class tea party turned the cafe into an obstacle course of prams and high chairs, with plastic toys and little pink highly-flammable tutus strewn carelessly across the floor. At one stage they all started playing hide and seek. The levels of excitement reached fever pitch and I found myself looking around in case Harry Styles had just walked into the building.

Sometimes I'm astonished what Mums talk about with one another. I always get the impression that they're in a massive competition with one another to see who can give the best outward appearance of coping. They talked about allergies, the dangers of sugar, nannies and losing weight... But then, I guess it doesn't matter what they talk about: none of them are listening to each other, they're merely watching their children in peripheral vision whilst nodding appropriately.

I was touched to see a lone Dad in the crowd. He arrived after everyone else, sat down at a table with me, and took ages carefully putting his daughter's hair in a little pony tail for her ballet class. None of the women spoke to him, and he sat, drinking tea whilst trying to look friendly. After the class the ballet teacher came out and pointed out (rather humourlessly) that he'd managed to put his daughter's ballet shoes on inside out and that her tights were all wrong. He was so apologetic that I actually started to feel quite tearful: "her Mum's back next week" he said... "It will all be back to normal then..."


I watched a BBC news broadcast this morning which involved "throws" to a series of local reporters across the country. In my mind these little segments absolutely proved why positive discrimination in the TV industry has reached a point of, well, pointlessness. 

I have watched it heading in this particular direction throughout my career. An edict passes through the ranks which suggests TV needs more women and more ethnic minorities. Loose targets are set, and shrewd bosses realise they can kill two birds with one stone if they find a woman who also belongs to an ethnic minority: ideally one who also seems middle class and intelligent enough to present the news...

So, increasingly, our local TV screens are filled with somewhat vacuous, posh women from ethnic minorities, who are shipped up from London to learn their craft reporting on local issues. 

It actually makes my blood boil. These women usually have Sloanney accents and positively reek of public school privilege. I'd be surprised if a single one of them came from a council estate. Few of them probably even need to work for a living! By hiring these women we are doing nothing to address inequality. In fact, we're simply being hideously patronising and undermining women from ethnic minorities with genuine talent who have worked bloody hard to get where they are in life. 

The problem with quotas is that they can be massaged. Genuine diversity is should revolve around access. Your colour, sexuality or gender shouldn't matter. Whether you have had access to opportunity should. I'm sorry if this offends anyone. I am a genuine believer in equality. I just believe it's important to first ascertain what inequality actually means. 

We worked for twelve solid hours before making a quick stir fry, taking ourselves for a walk around the block and settling down in front of the telly to watch Derren Brown's fascinating and somewhat chilling new show on Channel 4 plus one. Nathan continued to format scores, but banned me from working because he says I don't know how to relax. So I wrote this blog in the advert breaks instead! 

Tuesday, 12 January 2016


We've just been for a walk around the block in the crisp evening air, which, for the first time this winter, feels a little, well, nippy. I can't wait for it to get cold. Especially in Highgate, which looks so amazing in the snow.

We have worked all day at the kitchen table, give or take a few moments when we had conference calls, and, at one point, an audition in our bedroom! It's always a little embarrassing when you have to traipse a young actress you've never met through your flat and into your bedroom where the piano is! I wondered what on earth was going through her mind as she came in and suddenly felt the need to go all camp so that she knew Nathan and I weren't a pair of dodgy blokes! "Just slip your top off, love..."

We worked on the show's script today. Very hard. Most of our time was spent on lyrics. At 8pm we read the entire thing out loud, searching for typos and formatting problems. We finally finished at gone 11.

Tomorrow we go back to the scores. There's no rest for the wicked. When will Nathan ever finish knitting his lovely pair of brown socks?

Monday, 11 January 2016

And rattling on the roof

It's been an incredibly tough day. I've basically spent the last fourteen hours formatting music for Beyond The Fence. Nathan has been making structural changes. I've no idea if his instincts are good ones. All I know is that we don't really have the time to do them and I must have let my guard down or something because I've been on a remarkably short fuse all day. There's no room left in my head to deal with this project. It's literally stolen everything from me.

I went out for a drive at about 10pm and took myself off to Gateway Services for a cup of tea. I was a little surprised when the man in Starbucks actually boiled a kettle! I'm not sure what was wrong with his hot water machine, but he didn't seem to think it odd at all that it took five minutes to make me a tea. Imagine trying to do that in the rush hour! He stood over the kettle impatiently waiting for it to boil. I might as well have been in my own kitchen.

The service station was absolutely empty. As it got closer to midnight, it became like a graveyard. I worked for two hours listening (when not plugged into headphones) to the rain tapping on the roof and the sound of a faulty electric light buzzing and zipping it's random rhythms. I think there was some music coming out of a distant speaker. I'd occasionally zone into a tune I recognised. I barely recognise any pop music these days. I never thought that would happen to me...

As I drove home, the heavens well and truly opened. The roads took on the quality of black glass and every street lamp and car light was reflected brilliantly. The road was glaringly red, then white, then orange and then blue for a fleeting moment of ecstasy as an ambulance sped its way northwards. It was mesmeric. Great lakes started forming on the Tarmac. The car in front of me, with its little Christian fish symbol on the rear bonnet, decided to drive through every puddle. Great waves of water would fly up on both sides. Maybe the car's owner was imagining how it felt to be Moses parting the Dead Sea!

I parked up outside our house and sat in the car for a moment, dreading the idea of leaving the car and getting soaking wet, and thinking about life and the universe whilst remembering the time Tammy, Hannah and I, as sixth formers, slept the night in our conservatory. We slept in a line. It must have been Hallowe'en because we'd carved out some pumpkins and went to bed with them protecting us like faithful dogs. I vividly remember the sound of rain on the roof: that feeling of being wonderfully warm, all wrapped up in a duvet, whilst nature ran riot outside.

My mind then placed the Abba song The Day Before You Came on a loop, allowing it to infiltrate every corridor of my brain, obliterating any other thought I had: "And turning out the light, I must have yawned and cuddled up for yet another night. And rattling on the roof I must have heard the sound of rain, the day before you came."

Mood: definitely wistful!

Sunday, 10 January 2016


We had a lovely lie-in this morning, largely as a result of not having slept a great deal last night. I had lots on my mind.

We worked through the day. I don't feel I achieved enough, but we're slowly inching forward. The end of this first writing process is definitely in sight.

Fiona came over this evening and I cooked us all a roast dinner with a whole host of vegetables including, for the first time in my life, kale, which I steamed and then fried in a pan with a bit of halloumi. It worked rather well. I know, I know: welcome to the party. Most of my friends will no doubt have been cooking kale for years. We had peas, sweetcorn, carrots and broccoli and I cooked them all in the same water which I then used as a stock to make a gravy with port. We have all sorts of bottles of alcohol in our cupboard which get left at our house when we have parties. Fiona will sometimes have a glass of red wine when she comes over, but, because we're not drinkers, the rest simply gets used for gravy. Nathan thinks it's an astonishing waste to use expensive alcohol in this way. I think it's got to be used up somehow.

We watched a couple of episodes of Ru Paul and then episodes of Ricky Jervais' Extras, which I've only hitherto dipped into. It's a brilliant series which is utterly painful to watch at times. I'm a late convert to Jervais' charms. I never really got him when he did The Office, but his work in Derek was so extraordinary that I started to see him in an entirely different light.

Saturday, 9 January 2016


We ran a set of auditions today at Cecil Sharp House, home of British folk music, today. It's such a special place. There was a moment when an almost mystical light started shining through an Arts and Craft circular window in the room we were in, and cast an extraordinary almost metallic pattern on the wall next to where the casting director was sitting. I love it when nature reminds us how impressive it is, and how architects from bygone eras prove that they knew how to build much better buildings than the tat that gets thrown up these days. I daresay Cecil Sharp House will last for many years longer than 90% of the buildings they sling up this century.

The castings went well. We met some lovely actors, some of whom were a lot better prepared than others! It's very interesting to observe a casting from this particular perspective. I watched actors walking into the space and getting themselves roles, and others coming in, looking promising and then messing everything up for themselves. They'd all been sent the script and asked to chose a section of it to look at. Some of them had obviously read it thoroughly, and gone away and done a load of research, not just about Greenham, but about the accents mentioned in the scripts. Others had barely read it, and didn't seem to even know the premise of the experiment. It taught me one thing: the privileged, pampered actors in this business who don't try hard enough aren't necessarily the ones you might expect them to be...

I came home and continued working on the protest song... And worked late into the night.

There's little else to say. We've binge-watched a few episodes of Ru Paul's drag race, which has given us a rather lovely counterpoint to the evening.

Thursday, 7 January 2016


We had lunch in the local spoon today. Frankly, it's nice to be out of the house, but we were also both celebrating sending our tax off for the year. It feels wonderful to not have that hanging over our heads any more.

The cafe is run by a group of fabulously friendly Turks, only one of whom speaks good English. There's a charming older lady there who has obviously been told to say "enjoy" when she hands food over. Amusingly, she's obviously decided that "enjoy" is one of those catch all words like the German "bitte" which can mean all sorts of things. So, not only does she say enjoy when she hands you your food, she says it when she takes your food away. Today she used it as a greeting instead of the word hello. I suspect it might be the only English word she knows.

We watched Ru Paul's Drag Race this evening and I was quite horrified to hear all the drag queens using the word "fishy" to mean "feminine," which, to me is a little bizarre, bordering on offensive, despite the fact that they seem to be freely using it as some sort of underground compliment. There's obviously a whole new language associated with the American drag scene. At one point they talked about "sissying a face." Dorothy, I don't think we're in the land of Polari any more!

I shivered at the kitchen table all day today. I got cold and stayed cold. I probably needed a jumper, but I don't have one because jumpers itch me. I had to have a bath to warm myself up. I wasn't feeling too inspired if the truth be known, so it all felt a little bit too much like pulling teeth. We're currently working on an anti-nuclear protest song, which, it turns out, is the purest song in the entire show when it comes to computer-generated material. That song has barely been touched by human hands!

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Mad mcMad

I think we might have gone mad! We've been cooped inside the house all day, sorting out this year's tax. There were times today when I thought I might have been drowning in receipts. There was a pile like the beginnings of a bonfire in the middle of the room. I got in a panic at one stage because I genuinely didn't think it was possible to finish.

Of course I've learned a million lessons, the same lessons I learn every January when I promise to sort out my receipts in equal instalments throughout the year rather than waiting to do them all in a state of extreme panic at the end. It is mind-numbing work, though. As Nathan said, as we finally staggered out of the house for a midnight kebab, "imagine how it feels to be an accountant with this sort of bullshit every day of your life!" No wonder they are paid well! Are they paid well? They must be.

Our only respite from the all-consuming fiery hell was a brief trip into Muswell Hill to buy expandable files and highlighter pens, and an hour in the early evening when we both wrote a song... It's amazing what extreme pressure can do for creativity!

Oh yes. We also spent an hour pouring over the legalese of a contract. That was hell as well!

Nathan's gone cross-eyed. We've asked for a kebab without any money in our pockets. I have no idea what my name is. Nathan was horrified with me earlier because I called a woman in a bakery, "Chunkas", a term of endearment from my childhood which occasionally slips out of my mouth. He thinks it sounds a bit rude. I think my mate Tammy would be proud!

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Squirrel whisperer

I sat at the kitchen table pretty much all day today. I've been working on an arrangement of one of Nathan's songs which is called Bouncing Back and is, without question, the campest song in the show! I think, whatever the subject matter, there's always room for a light-hearted romp of a tune, even if it's part of some kind of nightmare sequence!

My other task today was to put the final touches to the fourth draft of a big argument song in the show, which I wrote before Christmas and Nathan developed yesterday.

We still have three songs to write, including one which we're in complete denial about. I can almost guarantee that this one will be the last song which gets written, and only out of complete and utter necessity because everything else has been done. The creative team will be literally spitting blood to get it from us.

The terrifying news for me is that once a song is completed as a tune for piano and vocals the hard work really begins because it all has to be orchestrated. That's when the musical colours start blending in fabulous ways...

Scoring this particular show will be the antithesis to scoring Brass. Where the latter features a 23-piece orchestra, Beyond the Fence is scored for just six musicians, which means I have to think really hard about the instruments I have and the different timbres I can eek out of them. Brass was orchestral, Beyond the Fence is band-based. Chalk and cheese. Actually, I don't really know why chalk and cheese gets said. Cheese and concrete would probably be a better comparison for two things which perhaps look similar on the surface...

There's not a great deal more to write. When I'm holed up in the kitchen composing, words largely vanish from my mind.

We went for a little stroll to clear our heads before lunch and found ourselves gambolling through Queen's Wood, which, today was full of hundreds of frolicking squirrels - all in pairs. I wondered whether they were courting. The sun was shining and I have a horrible feeling they think it's spring and that a cold snap in February could make it very hard for them to bring up their young. Call me the squirrel whisperer.


It's been a long old day and we've been working very hard. It's the first day back for everyone this year, so all sorts of people are coming out of the woodwork answering emails which were sent way before Christmas.

Nathan has had a recent spate of very moving emails from people who have seen either the wedding or his knitting pod casts. Many of them come from mothers of gay people in America and they're usually fairly gushing. They thank him for being open about his sexuality and then tell him some awful story about how their son or daughter was persecuted by religious intolerance. They're always fairly painful reading, but I feel it's so important that these messages are being sent. The women who send them always tell Nathan that they themselves have had a big turn around in the way they feel about their children's sexuality and that Nathan, for them, merely reinforces the fact that it's okay, in fact, perhaps even good to be gay.

I have also received a whole slew of messages recently from people who have seen the wedding. I don't know how they're still seeing it. I don't think it's been repeated, but it is the gift which keeps on giving.

We went out to buy breakfast cereal this evening and found the streets littered with discarded Christmas trees. It's such a horrifying sight. The trees still look pretty healthy and beautiful and I find it awful to think about how long they'll have been growing proudly in the wild, sucking in carbon dioxide, only to be chopped down and strangled by gaudy tinsel for twenty days before being left to rot on a landfill site. There's something really wrong with that! I guess, in this country at least, they're sustainably farmed, and creating livelihoods for those who grow and farm them. And the likelihood is that most fake trees come from sweat shops in China. Ooh, it's a proper dilemma!

I had osteopathy today and got really tearful when the osteopath started a discussion about my anxiety levels. He cracked my back like some kind of crude percussion instrument and I suddenly felt all floppy. I've been given a stress-busting breathing exercise which they apparently use in the marines. My osteopath drew a helpful little illustration on a post-it note to help me to remember what to do. As I left the building he came running after me. I'd left it in the treatment room. Along with my wallet...


Sunday, 3 January 2016


A crescent moon was still glowing behind misty clouds when I left the house this morning. It is a deeply surreal experience to be up before the birds, particularly on a Sunday, when it can feel like you're alone in the universe. I imagined the stories attached to the few cars and busses whizzing along the Archway Road. How many bus passengers were staggering back from a night on the tiles? Were they lolling in and out of sleep, desperate for their beds? Were the car drivers making an early start? Heading off to see relatives? Going on holiday? Going to work and wishing they weren't on the soddin' Sunday rota?

Of course, when I arrived at Highgate tube it hadn't yet opened. For the record it opens at 7am on a Sunday... And here was me thinking we were about to (or already had) 24 hour tubes on the Northern Line.

I stood outside the station watching the coffee man diligently setting up his truck. First the little metal chairs and tables came out and were placed evenly against the fence, then the sign with the prices on it was displayed, and then all the little cakes and pastries were proudly placed on the counter. I can't imagine he makes any money at 7am on a Sunday morning in the winter, although I have seen people sitting on his chairs and tables very early in the summer months, happily sipping espressos whilst reading the morning papers. It's all rather continental, cultured and al fresco down there.

Everything began to unwind when I realised the first train left Highgate at 7.08am and that it was the wrong one to get me anywhere useful. I had to be at Paddington at 7.30, which is a hopeless station to get to.

I eventually found my way onto a tube full of rather strange people. One man was in football kit, another was in a pristine suit - both sartorial choices felt slightly unusual for that time in the morning. I had a cup of tea, which was spilt all over me by a very rude man rushing through the carriage. I shouted at him. He refused to acknowledge responsibility until the man opposite me confirmed that he'd caused the mayhem, at which point he apologised sarcastically.

I took the tube to Warren Street and decided to dive out and get a taxi. There were no taxis. I got on a bus instead. I made the decision that it would move fairly swiftly along the early morning empty roads. I wanted to talk to the driver to see if I could get him excited enough about my predicament to step on the gas - you know, like they do on the movies, but I assumed he'd merely turn the engine off and tell me to get off the bus. Night bus drivers very rarely have a sense of humour! I eventually reached the station huffing and panting at 7.45am. My train to Bristol left five minutes later.

The journey took forever, and we had to change trains somewhere. Who knows where. It was wet and grey.

It was raining horribly when we arrived at Temple Meads: Great big splotches of shite dropping from the sky. Just getting into a taxi made us wet through.

Today's auditions happened at Bristol Old Vic drama school, where they display an enormous board of former students they're particularly proud of. I learned today that Christopher Biggins and Brian Blessed are both alumni of the school and that my old mates Gyuri and Richard are both considered worthy of display.

The standard of the kids today was pretty good. Bristol is probably the least likely place to generate actors for Brass. Many of the auditionees, when asked, didn't seem to even know what a Yorkshire accent sounded like! Mind you, many also said they couldn't do a West Country accent, which was considerably less excusable.

I hope the young people I worked with had fun and that they picked up some useful hints even if they're not recalled for a show this year.

We got a bit giggly at certain points. When I'm running auditions, pretty much anything will set me off. It's a bit like the urge I used to get to laugh in assembly!

Auditions ended at 5.30pm and our train back to London left at 7pm. The homeward journey felt like an abnormally long one. I swear the trains to Bristol at weekends take longer than it would normally take to drive.

I reached Highgate just before 10pm feeling like I'd been wiped out by a comet. But it's a good tiredness. I like these audition days.


I woke up this morning and watched a cookery show which features Janet Street Porter and a chef called Brian travelling around the country. The two of them turn up in an area of Britain and Janet goes off to explore its cultural and historical significance whilst Brian finds out about the local cuisine. At the end of the show, they head to an al fresco setting and Brian cooks Janet some food.

The incredibly boring, long-running gag is that every time Brian adds butter or cream to the food he's preparing, Janet starts screaming like a fish wife, making digs about the fact that he's creating a heart attack on a plate. On and on she goes like a broken record to the extent that I'm pretty sure Brian would like to throw the whinging imbecile into a vat of cream cheese. It's not a format I enjoy. But then again, I wouldn't enjoy anything which featured a Loose Woman.

I had a relaxing morning. More accurately, I had a morning where I couldn't get off the sofa no matter how hard I tried. In fact, I spent most of it wrapped in a towel. I must have watched at least three cookery programmes.

After lunch (a piece of toast), I hauled myself down to Pimlico to call in on the first day of auditions for this season of the National Youth Music Theatre. I'm proud to say that one of the shows being presented is the new, improved version of Brass, which will mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

It was lovely to see everyone again. NYMT is a like a giant family. Nikolai Foster the director and Dougal Irvine the composer were both there. They're working on one of the other NYMT productions this summer, a production of Spring Awakenings, which promises to be absolutely brilliant. Under normal circumstances we'd be in direct competition for young people, but it genuinely seems like they're looking for edgier, rock and pop performers, which leaves the older kids with legitimate voices for Brass. Hopefully there won't be too many rows when it comes to the final casting.

There were some great kids there today and I stuck about at the end of the day to make sure that the ones who felt like Brassers were recalled for the show.

I made my way back to Highgate in horrible mizzle, which made me feel sweaty and irritable.

Nathan came back from work and we ate pasta and salad and found an episode of Glee on his computer which neither of us could remember if we'd seen or not. We watched it all the way through and still didn't know if we were seeing it for the first time. That's how disposal the telly we watch is!

Friday, 1 January 2016


We woke up - rather late - at Lisa and Mark's house, very grateful not to be starting 2016 with a hangover. We're knackered, however, and I don't get any sense of renewed vigour with the rolling in of another year, but our year did start with a lovely cuddle in bed! I've decided that a year which starts with cuddles, ends the same way, and with so little certainty in the world right now, I think someone to love is about all we can ever hope for. Our only mutual revolution is to make sure that the nonsense which gets thrown at us this year will serve no other purpose than to bring us even closer together. In fact, that's true of everyone around me. I'm going to be a proud and loyal Leo the lion this year.

We went for a bracing walk in the woods around Hinchingbrooke House this afternoon to blow away a few cobwebs. It was the first day of the winter which has felt remotely chilly, although, God knows it wasn't that cold. I wore a jacket and a waistcoat rather than a coat.

It was rather lovely to be in the grounds of Hinchingbrooke House. These were the water meadows where Pepys walked when he went to visit his cousin, "my Lord," the Earl of Sandwich who lived in the house. On our way to the car park we drove past the cottage where Pepys himself was born and visited often throughout his life. It was in that garden where his father buried a load of treasure and promptly forgot where he'd put it!

There's a lovely play area in the grounds which includes a mini-zip wire which we all had a razz on. All except Lisa who has damaged her neck showing. She was apparently doing a backward roly-poly. That's what happens when you're our age, Ladies and Gentlemen... Unless you do yoga or front bottom Pilates. Whenever anyone mentioned Pilates, they talk about their front bottoms!

We sat down to watch some telly tonight but the listings were full of films, and list shows with ludicrous numbers of adverts in between. I am genuinely not sure how many more list shows that we as a nation can put up with. They're the cheapest type of shows to make, they go on forever, they're always out of date and the "talking heads" people sit in front of ludicrous backdrops which, when you start to notice them, get incredibly irritating. We were once asked to appear on a list show about "the most outrageous weddings ever," which we politely declined. Heaven knows if they actually made the show... My mate Matt told me they'd feature our wedding regardless of whether or not we appeared on the show. He said the format meant that half the people interviewed would slate it and the other half would say it was hugely moving. Just like talking heads on the BBC news then!

As of today I've been writing a daily blog for exactly six years. That seems proper crazy to me!

Happy New Year

We're in Huntingdonshire with Lisa, Mark and the kids. I've had my nails painted orange and gold by young Poppy, who is actually ten today. Little Rosie seems to be hell-bent on staying awake, despite it being about six hours past her normal bedtime!

We've just popped round to one of their neighbours where we sang ABBA's Happy New Year and watched the extraordinary fireworks from Central London on the telly. I have to say, the shots of Big Ben and the London Eye made me feel rather proud to be British. I think you would struggle to find a more iconic landmark.

Brother Edward and Sascha are in South Africa, so we were a little surprised to received a New Year's greeting what seemed like two hours early!

We have sung a lot today. We've just done a three part harmony version of Let's Go Fly A Kite. How strange and disappointing life would be without singing.

We have also danced to Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush. Poppy came down stairs wearing a white nightdress and started dancing ballet so it felt rude not to.

We've written two lists each on two pieces of paper, one which casts out the nastier elements of 2015, and another with our hopes and dreams for 2016. We screwed the first up in a tiny ball and threw it into a fire and then allowed the aspirational list to float up the chimney. I'm simply hoping 2016 is going to be a little less stressful. As my Dad says, "just say no..." Actually, I think it was the kids from Grange Hill who just said no.

And what did the Kids from Fame say? High Fidelity?

Anyway, readers: have a wonderful and happy New Year. Stay happy. Don't be lonely. Don't be frightened to ask for help if you need it. See friends often. Look after loved ones. Be healthy. Don't be right wing. Love and be loved.