Wednesday, 31 August 2016

A bit embarrassed, really

I worked up in Costa Coffee in Highgate this morning. I had hoped to go to the cafe at Jackson's Lane Theatre, but the place is running limited hours. The entertainment industry rather disappears in August. All the actors and theatre people go to Edinburgh and the TV execs head for their villas in the hills of Tuscany!

I was working underneath a giant mirror in the cafe and was horrified when one young girl, who looked a little like Princess Beatrice, decided to stand right above me, staring into the mirror whilst trying to squeeze a spot inside her nose. In the end she failed, and went back to her Mum saying, "I couldn't get to it, it's too deep." I'm not exactly brimming over with decorum, but that was too much even for me.

Elsewhere, a woman seemed to be having some kind of religious crisis. She was white but wearing a headscarf which made me think she was a Muslim convert, but the girl sitting opposite her was talking almost obsessively about Judaism and Jerusalem. The woman in the headscarf was being very unpleasant to the girl and telling her off almost as though she were a five-year-old. At one point she made the girl sit in front of her muffin for ten minutes without eating it because "you've just had a sandwich. You need to let that go down first." It was all very weird. Then they sat in silence for half an hour whilst the woman in the headscarf played with her phone and the girl sitting opposite sat and fiddled with her boobs.

Back at home I carried on writing all the way until Nathan came back from work. It turned out that it's The Great British Bake Off tonight and I got it into my head that we needed to make some biscuits to eat whilst watching the show. We ran to the shops to buy the right ingredients and were most amused by the guy behind the counter randomly, and at high speed, tapping made-up numbers into the till. He looked like a child pretending to type. He ended up over-charging us by the best part of £4, so we made him add everything up again. Slowly. Gloriously toe-curling.

I tried to make twelve uniform biscuits, like they do on the show, but I only had one baking tray so the rest went into a Yorkshire pudding tin. To make matters worse, it turns out that our oven has broken, so now, if you try to cook something, it grills it instead. So basically I grilled my biscuits until the ones on the top shelf in the Yorkshire pudding tin burned, and then Nathan set fire to the chocolate that we were going to melt onto the top. Great clouds of acrid smoke came out of the microwave. I burned my finger and then singed all the hairs on the back of my hand. All in all it was a fairly huge disaster, although one or two of the biscuits were almost edible, which I think is one of the most important things about baking. The ones which hadn't burned had a very weird taste about them, however. They tasted a bit floury and a bit salty. Maybe I should have washed the baking tray before putting the biscuits on it?

That's all there is to say about the day. I'm a bit embarrassed, really...

Audience reviews

I came back down to earth with a bang today and spent the day working. I have been arranging my new song, Warwickshire for the National Youth Music Theatre's new writing cabaret, which, for the record, is happening at St James' Theatre on Sunday 2nd October. Please come. I think there might be two of my songs in the show. Both are from my new musical, Em.

There are other dates for your diary as well. On Saturday 8th October, another new composition is being performed at the Irish Centre in Camden by the Shame Chorus, who are affiliated to the London Gay Men's Chorus. The song I've written is called What Are You Doing? It's a verbatim setting of an account of someone in the chorus' experience of coming out. I don't know the name of the person. I only know that he's Scottish. Perhaps he'll come and introduce himself, or he may decide to remain anonymous. When I work with personal material written by the Fleet Singers, I feel very strongly that they should have the right to remain anonymous. Anyway, my song for the Shame Chorus is funny and up beat... The very antithesis of Brass!!

I did a lot of admin today which included posting some Pepys CDs off to those who have pre-ordered copies. I then did a Skype interview with a really charming and well-prepared blogger called Mat Smith, who is writing about the album. It is always a pleasure to talk to someone who has such a good grasp on what you've been trying to achieve. In the middle of the interview he suggested (in a most friendly manner) that I had an obsessive mind. It was always something which people said about me when I was a kid. I'd immerse myself in a project so thoroughly that I'd almost disappear inside it. I suspect the same is true these days. I do get very obsessed about the projects I'm working on. Mat couldn't believe that we'd genuinely risked our lives recording 200 individual church bells for the Oranges and Lemons project or that each singer in the Pepys Motet had been recorded in an individual booth in the recording studio. Paul Kendall, who produced the album, has posted some images of the pro tools sessions for the project, which look like a giant, colourful mathematical puzzles. The fact that we took every singer in turn and polished their vocals until they shone like glass also seemed to add credence to his belief! Guilty as charged.

We had the "audience club" reviews back from Brass today. People in the audience club get cheap tickets to see shows and, as payment, are encouraged to give little reviews and rate the show they've seen out of five. These are really important reviewers because they're members of the public without any preconceptions of the show. They don't know any of the cast or any of the creative team. Some of the comments were so lovely they made me cry. We were reviewed by 19 people and scored one 3/5, five 4/5s and a staggering thirteen 5/5s. This gives us an average rating of 4.6/5. Pleasing statistics!

My favourite review was somewhat verbose and a little pretentious, but rather beautiful:

"ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC .... What a difference a day can make. The evening previous I had seen the US musical Children of Eden and there can be no question but that it was entirely dimmed in its own generic cleansing in the edifying face of the thrilling heart of this BRASS - both in terms of the music - which is vividly varied and as far from generic as Cadbury's is from Hershey's - and as clear in its dramatic narrative as another war time musical treatise, Les Miserables is not. Humane treasures enrich the very heart of NYMT's BRASS.

The army of young people - both on stage and blissfully in the magnificent pit - are OUR children and they sing of our forefathers who dreamed and fought for their own Eden. I'm not always in favour of the ubiquitous standing ovations so prevalent in American climbs, but when this very British audience rose - to a man - to their feet in celebration of our own last night, I stood alongside and clapped, cheered and stomped with the best of them.

Brass - and this extraordinary assemblage - not only DESERVE our respect, they - through their artistry - DEMAND our pride. There is no greater gift. Theirs is an Olympian achievement: Make no mistake. Bravi!"

Monday, 29 August 2016

Happy anniversary

It's our 14th anniversary today. This time 14 years ago, Nathan and I were working on Taboo. I was rehearsing him into the show, having just returned from a five-day trip to the south of France, the only holiday I was able to take in the entire period I worked on the musical. I was still sporting war wounds. My back was red raw and burned from a terrible incident involving Immac and my forehead had a massive gash on it where I'd hit my head on a wooden beam in the middle of the night when our building was struck by lightning.

It was my first day off in what feels like an age today, so we did very little. Highlight of the day was a trip to the Holloway Odeon to watch Finding Dory. The film was okay. It ticked all the boxes and did what it needed to do without setting the world on fire. I had a lovely little sleep in the early part. The Holloway Odeon is a grotty cinema. The loos smell terrible and all the chairs are threadbare. It's such a glorious building, however, with the most amazing grand staircase in the vestibule, so I hope they're not running it into the ground before closing it down.

We had pasta for tea in front of a mountain of reality TV. Watching Bake Off was particularly thrilling. It's always strange when the X Factor starts up and you realise that, by the time it finishes, the year will almost be over.

The cast of Brass are all on a terrible come down at the moment. They're all posting sad messages about what a wonderful time they've had and how desperately they're going to miss their new friends. I remember those days so well. Such joy-filled, heady, endless, emotionally-intense times. When an era ends, it genuinely feels like the end of the world. I thought my heart was going to break at the end of some of the tours and Edinburgh festivals I performed at in the 1990s. When you're that age, you meet kindred spirits for the first time and have the capacity to make life-long, incredibly meaningful friends. I'm still in touch with all the people I did student drama with.

Five star review

I woke up this morning to discover that Brass had been given a five star review by Musical Theatre Review. Reviewer Craig Glenday describes the show as one of the theatrical highlights of the year: "The show’s lead creative, Benjamin Till, is responsible for the holy trinity of book, lyrics and music, and his writing is monumental – an audacious combination of Oh What A Lovely War and Les Miserables. Every song hits the mark and is perfectly placed, the ebb and flow of the numbers ensuring a rollercoaster of a ride. From the triumphant and celebratory to the heart-wrenching and devastating, each number is absolutely compelling, and Till deserves to be seated at musical theatre’s top table for his efforts.

Brass is a truly epic musical event – I can’t think of a better British score from recent years – and it has just added itself to my list of top five shows of 2016."

So that was a rather nice start to a day which could have been a tad deflating.

As it happened, there was work to be done as well which kept me occupied over lunch. I went to Julian's house with Abbie and Nathan to record a few demos for a pitch I'm about to deliver. Both tracks turned out rather well, as it happens. Abbie, in particular, sang beautifully, particularly when it came to a rendition of a little folk melody I'd written. I can't actually imagine anyone singing it any better than she did.

After finishing in the studio, we jumped in the car and drove down to Brighton, well, Hove, actually, stopping en route at a Little Chef. Old School. The food was dreadful. I had a vegetarian cottage pie which was actually solid. I've never eaten cottage pie with a knife and fork before.

The purpose of our trip to Brighton, well, Hove Actually, was to attend Janie Ranger's housewarming party in her new flat on Palmira Square, which is one of the most beautiful homes I've ever seen: Tall ceilings, huge rooms, stunning cornices, amazing original features. I instantly fell in love with it.

The party was a lot of fun and we played a mega game of Meryl which took us through to about 1 in the morning. Meryl, for the record, is often called the Name Game. Everyone writes five names on little pieces of paper and takes it in turn to pull them out of the hat, describing each one. The same names go back into the hat for round two, and people have to describe the names with just one word, and then, for round three, just by miming. It's hysterical. I laughed a lot.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

And just like that it was all over...

Today was a very special day which saw us performing the last two shows of Brass. I feel rather empty and bereft as a result and would love to take a day off tomorrow. Or at least have a lie-in. The fact of the matter is that I'm in the studio recording a demo at 11am tomorrow. There's no rest for the wicked.

It's difficult to think how today could have gone any better. Great audiences. The cast were marvellous. The last performance was particularly astounding. The orchestra play out, led by Alex, Zach, Stef and John, was electrifying. The audiences ran to the front of the auditorium to look into the pit whilst cheering and clapping, before forcing the band to play it all again. I looked up to find the entire circle dancing. It was a joyous and wonderful sight.

There were one or two hairy moments. The matinee went up late, with the pre-show starting five minutes after the show was meant to start, which meant the audience sat in silence watching something which was meant to be ticking away as they walked to their seats.

There was a terrible sound cue in the middle of a hugely intimate scene featuring Alf and Tom. I'm not sure what the sound effect was meant to be. Bird song perhaps? But actually what we got was the sound of a shell explosion which was so loud that it made Oscar and Ben physically jump into the air.

At the end of the matinee there was an incident in the wings involving a great amount of vomit which apparently had the cast running for cover. By the time we'd dealt with all of that and I'd written cards for all the cast, it was time to start all over again. It was a highly stressful break as a result and I didn't manage to eat any food which meant I ended the night with a lack-of-food-induced headache.

We had drinks in the pub next door after the show. It was loud, hot and rather claustrophobic, but lovely to see this year's cast mixing with the last lot, who'd come to support the show. I felt very strongly tonight that there's a Brass family. Once you've joined the team for any part of the show's journey, you become part of this ever-growing clan. It did feel very strange, however, to have two Bickerdykes and two Wilfreds in the same bar. I can't imagine how odd it most have felt for them to be watching the show. So familiar and yet so unfamiliar.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

The London Premiere

I arrived in Hackney this morning to be greeted by the all-pervading stench of skunk. Mind you, Highgate was high with the smell last night. Perhaps the hot weather brings it out of people's pores. Perhaps I'm smelling some sort of tree pollen!

We've had an insanely busy day. We finished tech'ing the show in the morning and spent the afternoon doing a dress rehearsal of Act One. All went well. I have seldom been happier working on a show. The very fact that the entire creative team spent the lunch break happily eating sandwiches on the steps of the town hall, joking and laughing, probably tells you as much as you need to know. Hannah, Sam and Alex have been genuinely fabulous to work with.

I got very nervous before the show tonight, partially because we'd not managed to do a dress rehearsal for act two, and partially because I was feeling the enormity of the occasion. I couldn't eat. I got all jittery and turned into a right Chatty Cathy. I drank a gin and tonic to calm myself down. I shan't make a habit of doing that when I'm feeling on edge! I'll feel awful tomorrow.

As I've come to expect from this astounding cast, they all rose to the occasion during the performance to an almost epic degree. I have seldom seen such a high degree of focus from a group of actors. Ben Jones' Brass stopped hearts. Laura Barnard was subtle, nuanced and sang like a bird. Kitty Watson literally shone with the sun. Spin destroyed large swathes of the audience. Matt Pettifor made me proud to be a Midlander. Anna Cookson made me cry. Everyone was brilliant. I was relieved and grateful. The audience responded wonderfully. There were riotous cheers at the end of each of the numbers. You could have heard a pin drop in the quiet sections, and there was a stunned silence as we went into the interval. I don't think I've ever felt such shock radiating from an audience! The only other sound coming from the crowd was the sound of sniffing, and, at times, open weeping!

The theatre felt packed and there was a spontaneous and full standing ovation immediately as the show ended. Hilary was in the audience and said that she'd never felt so compelled to leap to her feet at the end of a show. It was incredibly moving to look up at the circle and see everyone up there on their feet as well. As the band played out, a surge of people rushed to the front of the auditorium to look into the orchestra pit and applaud the players. These kind of shows can so often become about the cast, but the quality of musicianship bursting from those young players is so high that they become every bit the stars of the show as well.

Tweeted plaudits started to pile in immediately after the curtain came down. James Hadley, from MTN said "Brass had the audience weeping before and after the interval. What an incredible WW1 tribute."

Jonathan Baz, a top critic, said it was "fine and stirring."

Mark Shenton, who is probably the most influential musical theatre critic in the UK, described the show as a "magnificent miracle of a musical" and instructed people to "run not walk" to the Hackney Empire to see it. He went on to tweet that "Brass is one of the best musicals from the front line I've ever seen. An evening of gripping power. Stunningly performed."

So I reckon we've all done pretty well and can take a big old pat on our backs. A massive thank you to anyone reading this blog who has helped with Brass at any stage along its journey. Now if we could only get that west end transfer organised. I might start to feel big headed if my T-shirt didn't smell of biscuits again!

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Hottest tech in the world

I woke up in a foul mood today. I'm not really sure why. I stayed up late last night trying to work on a pitch for another project which is a million miles away from Brass, and has to be finished by Sunday. The whole thing is stressing me out royally. I'm trying to write the music on trains and tubes, but they're always crowded and deeply uncomfortable, even late at night, and the journeys are too short to achieve anything meaningful. The curse of the freelancer is a complete inability to relax. I'm always forced to keep one eye on the future. One eye on the next potential project.

I arrived in Hackney bright and early this morning and was cheered up considerably by an Asian shop keeper. "Have a nice Thursday!" He said, handing me my change. "You too," I said. "Let's start the party!" He said. What a lovely man.

Hackney Central is a funny old place, which reminds me enormously of New York, especially in all this hot humid weather. There are date palm trees in the town hall square and everyone lazes on the grass underneath.

The area has a very large black community, which makes a refreshing change from the waspish hinterlands of Highgate. There are many, many nutters hanging about outside the theatre, however, all of whom seem to gravitate towards Hannah. We ate sandwiches sitting on the steps of the town hall and one bloke started shouting at us, telling us, I think, that talking was banned on the town hall steps. All very strange.

We were teching all day today. Or should that be tech'ing? I have a similar dilemma with the word micing (mic'ing? miking?) We made a slow start, but the pace increased throughout the day, taking us from a state of all-out panic to somewhere which felt really quite calm by tea time. By the end of the day we were about half way through act two, so we may even manage a dress rehearsal, which would give us all a lift. It's very odd to think that, by this time tomorrow, our first performance will be done. As Hannah said today, "it's so weird to do all this work on something whilst knowing it'll be done and dusted by Sunday." That's theatre for you! It's one of the reasons why I've always slightly preferred working in recorded media.

Today's star performer was Robin, whom I couldn't take my eyes off in the dance numbers. The commitment and energy he was putting into every move was quite extraordinary.

That said, everyone was brilliant. Callum, bless him, went home last night to attend his Grannie's funeral in Wales, and was back for 4pm today. Now that's commitment! ATech'ing a uniform show on the hottest day of the year is the most insane thing one could ever expect to do. I feel very sorry for Anne-Marie and Claudia in the costume department who will literally be rinsing the sweat out of the shirts.

I was quite enjoying peering into the orchestra pit today to see our insanely large orchestra doing their über talented thing under the more-than-capable baton of Alex Aitken. As you might imagine in a show called Brass, there's a lot of metal glinting down there in the pit. Eight players sit surrounded by a sea of brass instruments. They're doubling, tripling, quadrupling. Trumpets, cornets, flugelhorns, tenor horns, French horns, trombones, bass trombones, euphoniums, tubas... I asked for a total count-up of individuals instruments and we stopped at 20!

We have a company mascot. He's a Minion. His name is Melvyn. He lives on the conductor's stand. Sometimes he jumps around in the auditorium.

My train home smelt of Frankincense. Bit weird, I thought. But everything's weird in Hackney!

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The dreaded tech begins

Rehearsals this morning took place at Mountview School, meaning I was able to walk to work, which felt rather lovely in the beautiful sun. My route took me through Queens Wood and along the New River footpath which smelt like the causeway behind the house I lived in as a child. The smell was an odd combination of heavy earth and sticky leaves with a background hint of white dog poo!

The New River itself smells of silt and algae. I've never really walked along it before. It's a rather strange, very shallow, very straight man made stream which, if you drive around north London, will pop up occasionally. It runs through Islington and Stoke Newington, through Finsbury Park and up, via Palmers Green to Enfield. A quick Google reveals that it was opened in 1613, to supply the city of London with fresh water from the River Lea. It was apparently an engineering nightmare because the entire river relied on gravity to flow, and needed to follow a route which adeptly followed the most appropriate contours of London's landscape.

Being back at Mountview, the drama school where I trained as a director, was very strange. I sat waiting for the team to arrive in the car park outside, which was, by chance, also where we rehearsed Letter to a Daughter back in 1998 before some of the cast of Brass were actually born! Memories of Arnold came flooding back, as did a dream I'd had about my Grandmother whilst we were rehearsing the show, which I remember sitting on the wall and describing to Fiona. The dream remains in my mind even today. Beautiful, surging music was being played by a string orchestra, and I could see my Grannie on a distant, white mist-covered hillside, scooping up autumn leaves with a pair of dinner trays. She was piling them up onto a bonfire. My Grannie was always making bonfires. It was all incredibly beautiful, yet something of lucid dream because there was a crazy running commentary going on in the back of my mind which said, "this is a dream. You're dreaming this because you know that everything returns to the earth. One day your grandmother will also return to the earth, as indeed you will." It was very strange, but devastatingly emotional. There are very few dreams which have such an impact that they journey with you through the decades.

The room we rehearsed in was coincidentally also where our director Hannah was working when she heard about the 911 attacks, so I wasn't the only one on a nostalgia fest!

We travelled back down to Hackney at lunch time and saw the inside of the theatre for the first time. Hackney Empire is an iconic place. Charlie Chaplin and Marie Lloyd both performed here in its early days and it's one of the largest and most beautifully-appointed theatres in the world. The auditorium stretches endlessly upwards, with tier upon tier of seating. The ceiling is crowned with fabulous twinkling stars. When you come to see Brass, look up as you take your seat and you'll know exactly what I mean.

It was a joy to watch the cast standing on the stage for the first time, looking excited, scared and enthused. I entered the space to the sounds of the pit orchestra playing through the musical's eponymous song and Ben Jones giving it large. One of the band told me she'd been star struck when she heard him singing the song for the first time, having apparently listened endlessly to the cast album. Ah! To be 20 years old and already have a torch song.

Ben was followed by Kitty, who blasted out Shone With the Sun like her life depended on it. The orchestra is so impressive. You'd have to be made of steel not to want to raise your game whilst singing live with all that going on to support you.

The set looks great, the lighting looks great. Sound is already better than it was at Leeds. The costumes are lovely. The lassies look very fancy in their little jaunty hats and brightly coloured skirts and the men look very dashing in their uniforms, none more so than Oscar, who plays the role of Tom exquisitely. We're in a good shape.

Technical rehearsals are, however, desperately boring, sweaty, energy-zapping occasions. Many of the male cast spend the opening of the show with full First World War uniforms underneath woollen suits. I literally can't imagine how hot and itchy that must be. It is my idea of hell, and they spent about three hours trussed up in this manner. I guess it could be worse. Nathan spent two days of the tech for Mary Poppins with his body contorted into a doll's house on the fly floor of the Bristol Hippodrome. There's always someone worse off!

Monday, 22 August 2016

The last day at Sevenoaks

Yesterday was our last day in the NYMT house, and today I'm back in London, desperately catching up on admin, which has included sending out 21 pre-ordered copies of the Pepys Motet, for which I made 21 re-enforced envelopes out of cardboard to avoid spending huge quantities of money on more official stationery. Nathan created a lovely little document for me which shows, at a glance, who earns what when an album is sold. The proceeds of the album are being split between the performers, all of whom performed on the album for nothing. That's why I'd like it to sell lots of copies! To say thank you.

If you're reading this, and you'd like to pre-order a copy, you can do so by going to:

Try before you buy. You can hear excerpts from the CD by going to:

The above link will take you to the fifth movement of the motet, the one which features the saucy accounts of Pepys' highly-charged relationship with his maid, Deb Willet. It's probably the rudest text I've ever set to music! You may well blush at the odd word...

Do buy a copy. Please! It is the most daring and ambitious piece of music I've ever written, and it's actually the reason why I write the very blog which you're reading.

The last day in Sevenoaks was triumphant. Sort of. The sickness bug continues to ravage the cast. Lucy Crunkhorn was back, but Adam, who plays Wrigley, was sent home. I'm told our choreographer has been struck down today. It's plainly something very virulent. I'm blaming the Swedes. I don't know: they come to this country, spreading their finely-tuned pop music, their blonde hair and their flu like viruses...

We ran the show. It was a little scrappy, and too long, but we got through it without anyone feeling uncomfortable. The cast decided they were going to put their heart and souls into the run, which was a great relief, because it meant we knew where the actual issues were, rather than trying to second guess which of the mistakes would come out in the wash when the cast were feeling more focussed. Processionals might have been tempted to use a first run like this to show us that they didn't feel on top of things enough to give us anything other than half-baked, "marked" performances. The Brass cast never does anything by half measures.

The day ended at 4pm. Nathan came to pick me up and we drove back to London. I was utterly exhausted. Too tired, really, to enjoy a lovely evening off. We ordered pizza and watched Ru Paul on the computer. Then I woke up and it was 11am...

Sunday, 21 August 2016


I woke up yesterday and peered at myself in the mirror to discover the darkest rings under my eyes. I imagine I'll soon be looking like one of those characters in the Victorian seaside post cards who's had a practical joke done on them involving a telescope and a bottle of ink. Bizarrely though, despite being exhausted, and bloated due to the copious amounts of food I've been shoving into myself, as I wake up on my last morning here, and dutifully strip my bed, I find myself not that keen on leaving. It's possible to become a little institutionalised during these courses. Yes, it's a gruelling and exhausting regime but it's become the norm. I'm wondering if I'm not suffering from the NYMT equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome!

We worked our way to the end of the show yesterday, which felt like a somewhat epic achievement. The end of Brass is devastating. I think you'd have to be made of stone not to be moved, largely because we know that going over the top was something which happened to so many men in real life. It strikes me that I'll go to my grave not really understanding why the generals chose to fight the Battle of the Somme in the manner in which it was fought. It feels barbaric in an almost medieval way. The concept of a generation of men being told that they were merely born to suffer goes against everything we've subsequently learned about human rights and entitlement. A staggering and almost comic level of efficiency went into planning the battle. White tape was laid across No Man's Land in the run up to the battle which informed each battalion the area of land they had to stay within. The poor Bradford Pals were sent out a few nights before going over the top to cut the grass in No Man's Land so that the allies could see what was going on. Reports from the time indicate that the allies' biggest error was instructing its men to walk across No Man's Land rather than run. If we'd have run, the Germans would undoubtedly have been overwhelmed. The more I think about the Battle of the Somme, the more angry and upset I become.

As the writer of a show it's rather difficult to have a private little cry. Very often, just as a sequence finishes, someone comes up to ask a question, or someone will feel the need to publicly address the fact that the writer is in tears. Crying in rehearsals is something which is very rare for me. Normally speaking I'm way too busy orchestrating, panicking or thinking about technical stuff to have the time for that footle. The fact that I'm regularly found blubbing away on this project is absolutely down to the extraordinary creative team and strength of the cast. They have ensured that I don't have anything to worry about, so I can sit back... And let my guard down!

The cast are so conscientious. Last night, after rehearsals ended, I thought they might make a beeline for the pub, but, as I sat in the television room at the halls of residence watching the fascinatingly bizarre spectacle of jujitsu at the Olympics, all I could hear were little bits of my music drifting around the house. The cast was still rehearsing. As I went to bed, a group of girls were sitting around the kitchen table, marking up their scripts with highlighters. I honestly think that many of the pros I work with could learn a thing or two from these young people's work ethic.

...And yet still there seems to be time for them to be gracious and caring. I emerged from the canteen yesterday to find a group of them, with the stage management team, feeding sugar water from a metal spoon to a tired bumble bee. You'll be pleased to hear that the sugar syrup perked the little fella up and he flew off happily after his lovely meal.

Last night we did the first part of the sitzprobe. For those who don't work in theatre, the "sitz" is the highlight of most people's rehearsal period. It's when the band and singers finally come together to showcase what they've been doing separately. Everyone sits down to do it (hence the name) and it's always very exciting. It can be brutally stressful for a composer. This one wasn't. The band are really on it, and we're in a far, far better place than we were at this stage when we did the show in 2014.

Saturday, 20 August 2016


We're slowly getting there! Yesterday we got up to the beginning of the show's penultimate number. An astonishing amount of kudos has to go to Sam Spencer-Lane who has now choreographed five high-quality dance routines in as many days. The same amount of kudos must go to the cast, who have spent every last minute of their spare time assiduously going over the steps. It's an astounding machine, really. Sam feeds the steps in and the cast process and package them before Sam adds a bit more sheen.

None of the pros I have worked with seem to have this much commitment. Something happens to actors very early in their professional careers where they start to feel a sense of entitlement which seems to slightly override the desire to get a show right. It's almost as though the belief becomes that if it can't be taught and learned within an Equity-structured rehearsal period then it's everyone else's fault. Obviously I would never advocate doing 12 hour rehearsal days with pros, but, that said, there's something very special about an immersive and exhausting rehearsal period. Brass is almost an hour longer than Beyond the Fence, and in eight days of rehearsals I genuinely feel we've achieved more than we did on that show in four whole weeks. Aside from anything else, we're not wasting endless hours doing table readings and arguing about motivation and feminism vs sexuality! Everyone in this space is simply getting on with the task in hand and making wonderful theatre.

The chorus sound in this show is excellent. Alex the MD has done an absolutely fabulous job on the musical side of the show. To compound my joy, the band has already started running the piece and have worked with an almost forensic level of detail. I may even be due for a sitzprobe where I hear all the keyboard patches. That would be new ground!

So yesterday we just kept on working through the show, and by 9pm when we finished, we only had two more numbers to stage. We worked on Emmie's death, which pretty much finished me off. Love and loss in any story telling always gets me. Particularly when I allow myself to think about Nathan.

There were lots of notices at the end of the day. Lots of business. Han and I have a running joke that, if you work in theatre, whenever a director or a playwright delivers any form of motivational speech, a stage manager or a techie will always jump in and kill the mood dead by saying something practical like "can you all make sure you leave your pants in the washing bins provided?" So, after the technical speech, I decided to make another inspirational speech so that everyone could go to bed feeling upbeat. It felt much needed after a day when there had been tears, meltdowns, frustration, a bit of moping and more than a whiff of illness in the cast. I suddenly realised that the cast don't hear when Hannah comes up to me, pretty much constantly, saying, "I think she's brilliant" or "you could put him on a professional stage and he wouldn't look at all out of place."

My little speech went down well and earned me a friendly hug from the lovely Camilla.

I went back to the house and realised that there was a telly in a room we don't usually sit in, so Charlie and I watched the wonderful hockey final in the Olympics and very much enjoyed seeing the women winning gold. I have to say, the pride I've felt to be British as a result of the Olympics has been a proper tonic after the hell of Brexit. I personally believe that the England football team could learn a great deal about penalty shoot outs from the British women. Actually, I don't know why we bother to pay footballers. The England squad does nothing but let us down. It makes a change to watch British sports people in matches, games and finals that they actually have a chance of winning!

Friday, 19 August 2016

The final march begins

A few drops of rain fell as I was walking into rehearsals this morning. I was under trees at the time, so I heard them, but didn't feel them. They're the first spots of rain we've had since we came to Sevenoaks. The weather has been truly beautiful all week. At 9pm, after rehearsals, we walk, in a giant crocodile, back across the fields to the boarding houses. There's always the last remnants of a sunset against an electric blue sky and the air smells of grass and late summer flowers. It's really very idyllic here.

Yesterday was perhaps even more difficult than Wednesday. A few of the cast have come down with a sickness bug. Sally spent the afternoon in bed. Coraleigh lost her voice entirely and inexplicably. It suddenly reappeared in the evening. All very strange! Still, we're on the homeward straight as of tomorrow, so everyone's got their heads down and we're pushing through. We shall emerge triumphantly like a glorious army from the mists of battle. Rehearsals are still a heck of a lot of fun. If anything I'm laughing more than I was yesterday. Although that might be hysteria...

One of the young stage management team came up to us yesterday brandishing a letter which he was checking was okay to be used as a prop in the show. He wanted to know if we needed the letter to look a bit more stained and bashed up. "Would you like me to do some tea-bagging?" He asked. I quietly turned purple.

We had an amazing session yesterday on Could Have Been with Robyn, Spin and Laura. All three are heart-breakingly beautiful actors with extraordinary instinct. Robyn's voice is remarkable. At the end of the session, Hannah turned to them and said, "I don't think you'll find a set of actors in the world who could have done that scene as well as you guys just did."

The cast are remarkably committed to the material, particularly the cast members from Yorkshire. I overheard Lucy Carter saying that the further she gets into rehearsals, the prouder she feels to come from Yorkshire. It was genuinely the most heart-warming thing I've heard this week.

I spent the day yesterday bare-footed - bohemian style. I always direct theatre and film barefooted, but because I'm not the director of this show, I've fallen into the habit of wearing shoes, which is an experience I genuinely don't overly enjoy. I find it very restricting for my enormous Hobit-like flat feet! Walking around barefoot is an extreme sensory experience which I'd recommend for anyone. I think my feet are frightening the cast a little. Laura calls me a hobgoblin and T'other Lucy pointed at my feet and said "that big toe is enormous. It's like a head."

Half of the cast left us at lunchtime yesterday to travel up to Leicester to see the NYMT's production of Spring Awakening which is running at the Leicester Curve until Saturday night. I'm rather glad that not everyone in the cast decided to go as the journey was a long, tiring one, and we had enough people left behind to do some good work. We mostly worked with the girls whilst outside the boys ran through dance routines and the band ran sequences with some of the actor musicians. We're certainly working in a level of detail which is very exciting. As with every project I've done, I wish we had just one more day to finesse things properly.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Is it Wednesday or Thursday? And what is my name?

I've reached the stage when I'm beginning to forget what is actually happening here on a daily basis! The days are all blending into one and it genuinely feels like we've been here forever. It's like we're living in a crazy Nania-esque alternative reality. I feel like I'll return to London, twenty years older, but that no one will notice I've been away!

Nathan was with us for much of yesterday. He told me last night on the phone that this place, these rehearsals, have started to feel like a second home. He arrived two nights ago and was incredibly touched to be greeted like an old friend by Robyn and Laura, who were the first two people he bumped into.

Yesterday felt like the day when people started hitting walls. The Wednesdays and Thursdays of any NYMT rehearsal period are apparently somewhat renowned in that regard. There were a few little flurries of tears with people suddenly realising how much further we've yet to journey.

There was a lovely moment when we went out into the grounds behind the place where we're rehearsing and found the girls in the cast practising the instruments they've learned for the show. They don't have to be that good, but it's vital they at least know how to get their fingers around the instruments. It was such a lovely sight. Zach, who leads the trumpets in the pit orchestra, was giving the girls a masterclass and the sun was glinting on all the instruments and making Eleanor's brilliant auburn hair glow like a field of electric poppies.

We worked on the song I Miss The Music, which is the moment in the show when the Pals sing about the brass band they used to play in, and how much they miss playing together: "I feel the crackle of a gramophone, the soft hum of a baritone and then I fee the chill. In battle every sound can kill..."

Poor Callum in the cast lost his Grannie yesterday and spoke about the Welsh word hiraeth, which he felt summed up the song. Hiraeth is reckoned to have no direct English translation, but in broadest terms it's a form of homesickness, which is tinged with a deep sadness. Callum right. Hiraeth sums up the song perfectly.

The lads did such amazing work. Anyone who comes to see the show should always find time to carefully watch the sterling work which is going on within the ensemble of this show. Jack, for example, is a deeply committed actor.

We waved a fond farewell to Nathan after tea (which was a barbecue out on the grassy courtyard behind the refectory.) I didn't much like saying goodbye to Nathan. I very much enjoy him being around in rehearsals because he grounds me. And I miss him.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

What day are we on?

Nathan came to Sevenoaks to surprise us all last night. His timing was impeccable. We were very close to the end of the day, and had just worked on the Shone With The Sun sequence, which had destroyed most of the cast, and his lovely bearded face appeared like a beacon of deep joy. I was in pieces. Kitty's rendition of Shone had made me think about Arnold Wesker who wrote most of the lyrics for the song. Curiously, I'd just taken a phone call asking me if I'd perform the original version of the song at Arnold's memorial at the Royal Court in October, so he was very firmly on my mind. I had a rather sudden realisation that he'd never see Brass and that I'd never see him again and all of that stuff was all whirling about in my head and making me feel very sad. There was also a rather weird sense of guilt which came from watching the cast in floods of tears. Should I have written a show with such highly charged emotional material and blithely expected young people to perform it? Battle of the Boat only killed off a mouse! Brass kills off most of its cast! (If you're thinking of coming, bring a tissue!)

The days are all rolling into one at the moment, and because I'm leaving it later and later before posting blogs at the moment, I'm forgetting what's happening on a day-by-day basis. We're all so so tired. I've started breaking out in spots and keep having to remind myself to drink water because I'm in a permanent state of dehydration. When I'm not crying like a Tiny Tears doll in the corner, I'm laughing hysterically. Almost anything will set me off these days. The two Lucys in the cast seem to have the capacity to make me howl with laughter, whilst Coraleigh and Maddie are some of those glorious people who seem to simply love to laugh. It's incredibly infectious. Last night, after rehearsals, a big gang of us went back to the girls' house and sat doing face swaps for most of the night. A "face swap," for those who haven't come across this rather peculiar iPhone app, allows two people sitting next to one another to take a picture which merges their facial features. The results can be extraordinary! For the record, the combination of my face and Robin's face creates an East German porn star from the 1980s, and egg-headed Jewish bloke with a face ravaged by bad plastic surgery! Nathan merged with Hannah the director produces the Hairy Bikers!

Anna in the cast plays the role of Titty, a love-sick teenager who is completely besotted with band-leader, Alf. She spends all of her scenes either talking about, or staring at, Ben Jones who plays the object of her affections. She came out with a classic line last night: "You know I stare at Ben a lot in this show? Well this morning I closed my eyes and he was still there!"
Now, that's what I call method acting!

We had a journalist from The Guardian with us yesterday who is writing a piece about Harry in the cast, a trans actor who's playing his first male role in Brass. I think the journalist was rather excited and amused by the concept of Harry playing a soldier, but I was able to tell her that, in all honesty, Harry has both the lowest voice in the cast and the best facial hair! Hannah gave him the role without knowing his history and actually said in his audition that she wanted him in the cast because of his fabulous "masculine energy." I do hope there comes a time in the not-too-distant future where no one feels the need to discuss trans "issues," but am aware that, until we reach that stage, it's really vital for people like Harry to be as visible as possible. He talks openly and with humour. He's a brilliant role model.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Day four in the school house

I woke up this morning to find the whole of Sevenoaks wrapped in a heavy autumnal mist. You could tell that the sun was dying to burst through but that it was somehow just taking a few more minutes than normal to get its act together. This morning, I suddenly knew how it felt! On Saturday, I was eating my breakfast at 8am on the dot. This morning I was leaving the boarding house at 8am, wondering if I'd make it through this punishing week without falling asleep at the wheel. God knows how Hannah feels. She's the only one of us who can't actually leave the rehearsal space. I spoke to her yesterday and she's bearing up incredibly well. She said her only issue is that there's no time to not know the answer to questions. In a four week rehearsal period, a creative team can park ideas and come back to them. They can experiment wildly and then scrap ideas that don't work. We have to get them right first time.

Working with the cast continues to be an extraordinary experience. Nathan asked me on the phone last night who I was enjoying working with the most, and I wasn't able to offer just one name. I listed about ten names before Nathan said, "so everyone then?" I am thoroughly enjoying watching them peeling back the layers and becoming the sort of cast that any professional producer would kill for. Hannah says she actively looks forward to getting in in the mornings. I feel the same.

The youngest member of the cast, Spin, is only just sixteen. He's playing the role of Morrie, who is based on a real life Leeds Pal who signed up at the age of fourteen. For such a young performer, he has extreme maturity. He takes notes like a pro and is a offering up a heartbreaking performance.

I was tough on young Callum yesterday, who has the capacity to be so so good if only he'd knuckle down and start trusting his ability to be wonderful without defaulting to silly schtick.

We worked very hard yesterday and got all the way up to Billy Whistle, which felt like an old friend when it arrived. There's something rather special about rehearsing a show which already exists. People have their favourite songs and a clear sense of the nature of the beast we're aiming for. There isn't the feeling of panic within the cast which I'm pretty sure existed two years ago. Everything feels controlled. The mighty beast is moving inexorably forward.

I've spent a lot of this rehearsal process simply feeling really proud. Proud to have written the piece. Proud to hear different people all over the building playing and singing music which I've written.

The girls have started learning brass instruments which they have to play (badly) in the show, which means, periodically, from the upper windows of the building we're rehearsing in, we hear these curious strangulated, somewhat farty comic noises. Elsewhere in the building the pit orchestra are now rehearsing, so we're also hearing the most delicious, surging noises breezing through the corridors.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Day three in the school house

Our third day of rehearsals was every bit as lengthy as the second one. It may even have felt a little longer. I'm pretty sure everyone's beginning to feel a bit dishevelled after three successive early starts.

One of the joys about NYMT is the fact that it's fully catered. We have all our meals provided for us, so when we start to flag at the tale end of a session there's the promise of hot food waiting, which at a certain point becomes unnaturally alluring!

We're sharing the school this week with the illimitable Swedes, who are a permanent fixture of the NYMT's summer. I think I'm right in saying that they're all sponsored by Benny from ABBA, which feels almost too cliched (and fabulous) to be true! They come for a week, and are taught by NYMT staff, usually putting together a series of little show montages. We don't have much to do with them. We're busy in rehearsals and they're doing their own thing. We were merely aware of an influx of insanely blond(e) people who speak the most perfect, accectless English and don't know how to queue in the canteen!

We're working our way sequentially through the show, running what we've done up to that point first thing in the morning. We got as far Keighley yesterday, which someone told me is a quarter of the way through the show, a fact I slightly struggle to believe, but if it's true, it's great news.

I have been deeply and universally impressed with the cast. They're a tremendous and fascinating set of young people with brilliant senses of humour and a great collective work ethic. Many of them have little books in which they're keeping copious notes. I spent my day yesterday paying particular attention to the ensemble performers, all of whom were doing a grand job. The energy and precision coming from Frankie and Elliot in particular was quite extraordinary. That kind of commitment to the cause never goes unnoticed.

I did a soft launch on the Pepys Motet album yesterday afternoon. I sent out some emails and put the video up online to give anyone who was interested an opportunity to pre-order a copy of the album. So if you're reading this, and you want to hear our beautiful creative endeavour before its official release on September 2nd, why not buy one?

Making the album was such extraordinary hard work. I started writing the piece more than six years ago. It's the reason why I've been writing this blog every day for six and a half years. So handing it over to the world feels a little frightening, and hugely emotional.

So if you're reading this blog, humour me, take pity on me or love my music enough to buy a copy!

I know people don't tend to be that interested in buying music any more. Most people seem wants to download stuff for nothing. But it's a tenner, and for that you get a wonderfully presented CD with a lovely booklet inside. You'd spend that on a bottle on wine, and the warm feeling you'll get from hearing the motet will hopefully last a little longer!

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Day two in the school house

Yesterday started with a fire drill, which is the thing I dread most of all whilst doing these courses. The alarms are always right above the beds and the drills routinely happen at 7am. It's brutal. One moment you're sleeping soundly and the next you're screaming!

This morning's drill was considerably less horrifying than I've known them to be in the past. They've changed the alarm sound to something less terrifying, so I spent the day feeling a great deal less traumatised!

Breakfast happens every day at 8am and we have an idyllic walk from the boarders' house where we're staying to the school itself. The walk takes us across hilly, tree-lined playing fields. Sevenoaks is the sort of school which makes you realise quite how well the other half lives. There are countless theatres and rehearsal spaces, rows and rows of practice rooms, a swimming pool... I think perhaps all schools these days are better equipped than they were in my day - one of the positive legacies of Tony Blair - but these private schools are something else. My taxi driver on Friday told me that, until relatively recently, the students here wore straw boaters in the summer. Part of me thinks if you're going to to step up to the fanciest bell in town, you might as well ring it like a proper posh git. And spend a childhood getting beaten up so they can Lord it over everyone else in their adult years!!

Rehearsals start at 9, and yesterday we basically spent the day working our way through the musical's new prologue, which already feels like it sets the show up more convincingly than the last one. It's a lengthy old sequence: at least fifteen minutes long, with scores of different set ups, all of which need a great amount of work. I'm loving working with the creative team. Hannah is a joy. She's really laid back, but works in an extraordinary level of detail handing the cast plenty to work with. Sometimes I think she must be in my head. I'll be making a little list of notes which I might take to her at the end of a rehearsal, but just as I write something down, more often than not she'll say it out loud to the cast.

Sam the choreographer makes me laugh all the time. She's a fascinating woman, who has been in the industry for a long time, with experience of working in television on some of the most iconic light entertainment shows from the 80s. I wish I could impress on the young people in the cast quite how important it is to sit people like Sam down and ask them about their life and work. I gained so much from asking Arnold Wesker about the theatre scene in the 1960s. There's so much to understand about people which comes from appreciating how they did things in different eras.

I spent the day smelling of biscuits. There's definitely something wrong with my washing machine. That, or I need to acknowledge it's time to throw away a load of T-shirts!

The cast held up well throughout the day, although if it were me, my brain would have been dripping out of my ears by 9pm. Young Frankie took an elbow to the head towards the end of the day, and the poor lass spent the night with an ice pack pressed to her head. For a laugh, Alex the MD was holding fingers up in front of her face: "how many fingers?" He asked. "Friday" she responded. No one knew if she was being serious! I'm glad to report that she seems to be fine this morning!

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Day one in the school house

Waking up felt kinda rough this morning. I felt like someone had spent the night chucking bricks at my head, like the little old lady who lived on the A6 in Higham Ferrers, who was regularly carted off for lobbing things at the cars outside. I think I was having some kind of sugar hangover. I ate a lot of sweet stuff yesterday. It's the first time I've ever started to associate eating badly with feeling unwell.

I got very irritated at Charing Cross by a man wearing a South Eastern Trains uniform. "Is this the Sevenoaks train?" I asked. "It's the Tunbridge Wells train." "Oh! Does it not stop at Sevenoaks?" "Yes it does..." "So it IS the Sevenoaks train." "No, it's the train to Tunbridge Wells." His eyes glinted cheekily. He was making a little joke. Twat. I realised at that point, as I began to get incensed with the world, that I hadn't slept properly!

The first day of rehearsals at Sevenoaks went well. The weather was almost comically lovely. For much of the day Hannah, the director and Sam, the choreographer, sat on benches outside planning the show, and, during the breaks, we all rushed to catch a few rays of sun. This is summer like summer always used to be! A giant half-moon started rising at 4.45pm, pretty much when the sun was at its hottest, which seemed quite bizarre. For the longest time I thought it was a wedged-shaped cloud.

We spent the day working through vocals in the show, and pretty much covered all the ensemble material. The cast have retained it well enough, but it still feels like there's a huge mountain to climb!

For the next couple of days, we're sharing the school with the cast of Spring Awakening, which follows Battle of the Boat as the next show out of the proverbial NYMT blocks. It performs this coming week at Leicester Curve under the direction of Nikolai Foster and ought to be quite stupendous.

The "Spring" cast are a very different bunch to the Brass lot, with a different energy, which is, no doubt, born out of the differences in the two shows. The Brass lot always come across as a bit studious and intense, which I love of course, and the Spring cast seem a bit livelier and fun-loving although they're working round the clock. Wherever I looked yesterday, a group of kids was practising choreography, or sat in a corner with Dougal the MD running through sequences of music. I very much enjoyed sitting outside at one point, listening to an acoustic guitarist strumming chords in the distance.

I don't altogether know if the Brass lot will know what's hit them this week. We have a show to stage in nine days and will have to work every hour of our 9am to 9pm allotted time.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

The Battle of the Boat

Nathan and I are currently driving through the empty streets of South West London, having just seen a brilliant production of The Battle of the Boat, which is this year's NYMT new commission. And what a show it is! Ethan Maltby and Jenna Donnelly have written a dark and brooding, deeply heartwarming piece which features some of the most beautiful sequences of music I've ever heard in musical theatre. It's such a treat to hear an orchestral score, particularly one performed by such an enormous band. I sometimes think that people should stop looking to the West End for new musical theatre, and turn their attention instead to the National Youth Music Theatre. That's where you're going to hear the good stuff. The stuff which breaks new ground.

The cast was sensational. All nine of the show's leads were brilliant performers. All brought something special and unique to their well-drawn characters.

Maltby's music washes over his listeners like a thousand gentle waves. It's engulfing, filmic, folk-inspired. The story of the show is really very lovely. It tells the tale of a group of young kids during the First World War, who watch a propaganda film about the Battle of the Somme and become determined to find a way of getting to France to help the war effort. In the end they build a boat and decide to sail across the Channel...

It's been dubbed "mini-Brass" because the age group of the cast is one below that of our show. Both shows are about the First World War, and there are similarities in the timbre of the music, but actually, after seeing the piece, I genuinely welcome any comparisons! There's a musical storm sequence which actually took my breath away, and Maltby's writing for percussion instruments is in a different league to mine.

I'm actually rather proud to say that Ethan and I actually played in the same youth orchestra as young lads. We toured Canada and played on Blue Peter. I still have the video! Perhaps there's something in the water in Northamptonshire which breeds this folk-inspired orchestral theatre music.

So if you're reading this, and you can get yourself to the Rose Theatre, Kingston before the show's run ends on Saturday, I urge you to go. Go. Just go. Go and support British writing talent. I'm bored of people trying to justify ghastly juke box musicals, or, worse still, saying that we need to innovate musical theatre by engaging non musical theatre writers to write new shows. The talent is out there. It just needs to be nurtured. If you genuinely like musicals. And you genuinely care about the future of the art form, get off your harrises and see this marvellous show!

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Above The Stag

Today was another scramble, essentially to achieve very little. I seem to be spending all my time at the moment jumping on tubes and heading to meetings and appointments which are nowhere near Highgate. There's a huge amount to achieve before rehearsals for Brass begin on Friday, but, for some reason, I'm spending all my time editing the Pepys Motet film, which, of course, has to be done, but does it need to take this long to do it? As of this evening, however, I'm relieved to report that my work on the project is almost done. I've even given the film a little grade, upping the contrast in some of the shots, and making others a little lighter. The only problem is that I'm waiting for Carmen in the US to film and send me her little segment, which she's going to do with her fiancé. As soon as I have that, I can get the film online, tell everyone about it, and forget all about it. Until then, I'll feel the project hanging over me like a rotten vine. I find it quite difficult to move onto pastures new whilst the fields behind me haven't yet been harvested!

I went for osteopathy this afternoon, and stayed in town to meet Nathan and Carey for lunch. We sat in the churchyard behind Central St Giles, an incredibly peaceful spot which very few people appear to use. The others ate food from a rather fancy place called Pod, where I could find nothing which didn't either come with lashings of coriander or have the calorific content of air. I just can't be doing with the whole wheat-free, carb-free, sodium-free, fat-free, taste-free vibe.

This evening we came to Above The Stag in Vauxhall, which is London's only LGBT theatre. I'd never been there before. I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I didn't even know it existed. I'm told it used to operate above the pub next to the Victoria Palace Theatre until the whole area was knocked down, I think, for Cross Rail. Vauxhall is, of course, after the death of Soho, London's only gay district, so it made sense to relocate the theatre there.

I like Vauxhall. I don't know it at all well, but it's got a really nice, quite American vibe. It's a district where old and new rub shoulders rather convincingly. There are countless, somewhat dingy, Victorian railway arches, but look up and you'll see a plethora of shiny chrome skyscrapers. Much of the gay scene is situated within the darkened, twisting warrens of former railway-owned property. There are gay bars, saunas, shops, cafes as well as the theatre, and on a summer evening, like tonight, it buzzes like a district of Miami, with fabulous bears spilling out onto the streets!

We were at the theatre to see the handiwork of photographer, Gaz Sherwood, who'd taken pictures of us singing as part of his "Sing Out" project, which focusses on LGBT people working in the musical theatre industry. His latest set of portraits are being displayed on the walls of the theatre bar, and tonight was a sort of launch event. I'll be honest and say I felt rather proud to have my portrait hanging on the wall of a theatre. I'm sure it's a pretty common experience for an actor, but it's very exciting new ground for me, which instantly took me back to myself as an eight-year old, staring longingly at the glamorous head shots of actors working in Northampton's Royal Theatre.

Gaz is a wonderful photographer. His work is incredibly detailed and the pictures are crystal clear. He presented us with a pair of prints of the images he'd chosen which were printed on water colour paper, which looked fabulous. I wish I could have used mine for my driving license!

How the other half live

Today I learned what a profoundly useless organisation the British Post Office has become. After yesterday's ludicrous queuing incident, I went back to the Highgate branch and, as I handed my package over to be stamped, I realised the tape around the edge of the package had started to come unstuck. I noticed a stapler on the server's desk and asked if I could borrow it quickly to staple the corners together to prevent the CD I was sending from falling out. "I'm afraid I can't let you use that," said the woman. "Really? Why?" I asked. "For health and safety reasons..."

This afternoon I had the misfortune of visiting the "Post Shop" in Greenwich, where all the members of staff looked like they'd been slapped about by large wedges of camembert. All I needed was a passport photo for my driver's licence. They had a photo booth. The only trouble was that it cost £5 and only accepted coins. I went up to one of the counters, clutching a £5 note, waiting for the woman behind the counter to draw breath whilst talking to a friend, and asked if she could give me change. "No, sorry" she said, politely enough, "I don't have that much change in my till." I wasn't sure I believed her. She sent me to the counter opposite where there was a massive queue. After five minutes, I was served. I asked for change and the woman sighed the sigh of a martyr, took my fiver, and handed me five £1 coins, her lips sagging with the weight of her generosity.

I had my photo taken in the booth. It took a while to get the hang of the weird spinning seat thing. A slip of a button later, and I'd ordered one large copy of my chosen image rather than 4 small ones, so that was instantly £5 down the drain.

I spoke to the woman at the till again, and explained that I'd pressed the wrong button and that I didn't have any more cash. Could I perhaps pay with a card? She ushered me to the back of the post office and told me I could get cash there. She didn't tell me she meant over the counter. That took a while to work out. Then there was another five-minute wait in the queue...

The man behind the counter duly gave me £5 in £1 coins and I went back to the passport machine, posed for yet another picture (feeling increasingly self-conscious) and pressed the button for four smaller shots. In the meantime my "large portrait" picture came out of the machine, all fuzzy-edged with a great big purple blob on my forehead which made it look like I'd badly dyed my hair. The four shot then came out. It had cut the top of my head off and the purple blob this time was across my forehead. Plainly there was something wrong with the printing process!

I went to the counter and asked if I could possibly have a refund. "You made a mistake and pressed the wrong button," she said. "That's very true" I said, "but the purple splodge on the photograph would make this photo unusable even if I'd wanted a photo this size." I handed her the other photo: "And there's purple all over this set as well. I've spent £10 now and I still have nothing for my driving license!" She looked at the four smaller photos, "well you can't use these ones for a driving license because you've cut the top of your head off..." "But these pictures are purple, and I would hazard that they'd still be purple even if I spent another £5 making sure the top of my head wasn't cut off! Your machine is faulty!"

So I was sent over to the manager, which involved standing in yet another queue. She looked at the pictures and pointed at the full-sized shot, "I'm prepared to refund you on that one, but not the other one. You've cut your head off on the other. I can't be held responsible for that." Feeling like a broken record, I mentioned the fact that I felt pretty confident that, if I did take another photograph, and sat properly in the chair, I'd still end up with a purple splodge on my forehead. I asked if this would cause an issue with the passport office. "Go back to the booth and take another photo making sure your eyes are level with the markers on the screen. That's the only advice I can give you... Or speak to the lady over there who can take you into the back room where they have a studio that does all that stuff properly." The lady she pointed at was the first woman I'd spoken to. The one who didn't have change! The one who, it turns out, could have saved me money and time by telling me that she had an on-site business which specialised in the very thing I was looking for. But no. She was too busy talking to her mate to want my custom.

The manager took the photos from me, handed me a refund and I went back to the photo booth only to realise she'd given me a refund which included a £2 coin, which I couldn't use in the machine. As I emerged, red-faced and angry looking, a lovely American lady came up to me: "if you're looking for passport pictures, there's a wonderful chemist around the corner where they do a great service." So I left the Post Shop and went there instead. She was right. The lady in the chemist who took my picture complimented me on my odd socks, put me at my ease, took the picture without any fuss, delivering four individually cut photos five minutes later.

It's been a genuinely frustrating afternoon. I was filming Rebel Chorus member, Mel for our Pepys video in the Greenwich foot tunnel. The last time I went down there during the day it was entirely empty, but today, probably because it's the school holidays, the place was humming: absolutely rammed with people, all of whom seemed desperate to rush into the background of the shot and do that stupid rabbit ear thing with their fingers that Japanese teenaged girls do. Why do people do that? Do they think it will improve the image? Do they think I won't notice and they'll end up a YouTube sensation? Do they think they're the first people in the world to play that oh-so-funny practical joke? One group of kids heard the music we were playing as a guide for lip-syncing and decided to join in. Singing became shouting. Shouting became yelling, and before we knew it, the entire foot tunnel had become a high-pitched, echoing scream-fest which lasted three minutes and became so loud and grating we were both forced to block our ears. It was so, so horrifying.

I went into Soho later on to discover that the lovely little cafe on the corner of Wardour Street and Old Compton Street, in which I've spent many a happy end of ending, has closed down. Another casualty, one assumes, of rising rents and impending Brexit-related recession.

I was somewhat cheered by the sight of a man walking a ferret down Lower St Martin's Lane, and a lovely early-evening drink with our friend Carey from New York, who kept us thoroughly entertained with stories from Broadway.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Happy unbirthday

My birthday started rather badly. Nathan went to work. I had my evening plans cancelled and I ended up home alone. It was all a little desperate. I sat in front of the telly editing my film whilst wishing I'd thought a little harder about what I might do today.

Nathan, bless him, must have texted some of my friends, because I had a series of lovely messages, many of which took the form of little films and photographs. My favourite came from Goddaughter Deia, who was on a trampoline. Her head kept bouncing into shot whilst she sang a deeply scatalogical version of Happy Birthday. There was also a photo from my cousins Matt and Boo, which their three children in Stockholm holding a sign which read "Happy Birthday Ben." Lovely. People are so kind. And inventive.

I spoke to my Mum at lunchtime who suggested I took a trip up to Thaxted, and it struck me that this was the right thing to do. If in doubt, head to the parents! I tried to post some letters before leaving. The queue for the Highgate Post Office stretched out into the street, just like it gets in the run up to Christmas. I hung around, ineffectually hoping it would miraculously disappear if I muttered swear words under my breath. Peering into the shop I noticed that the man at the front of the queue was sending scores of parcels, so I gave up, and decided to go to Muswell Hill en route. I'm not sure what it was about Monday August 8th, but that branch was similarly chocka. I'd paid for 25 minutes' parking, and, after twenty, was no nearer the counters, so gave up and drove to Thaxted in a foul mood.

Thaxted provided me with exactly the tonic I was looking for, not least because my parents' old friend, Mo was there. Mo was a colleague of my father's at the school he taught at and I went to, so she's known me since I was perhaps 8 years old. She lived in Crouch End whilst I was at Mountview and used to take me out for cups of tea and chocolate croissants to make sure I was okay. She sat on the front row at our wedding and is in a lot of the shots. She looks a little like my Mum, so I assume the TV people thought she was my aunt. Frankly, she might as well be. She's an absolute riot and has always reminded me of Joanna Lumley. In the last year she's lost a phenomenal amount of weight after being diagnosed with type two diabetes, which she's actually managed to reverse. There is a revolutionary new treatment plan which the university of Newcastle has created involving fast weight loss which genuinely seems to work. If the body is shocked into eating its own fat reserves, it will, apparently, swallow up the thin layer of fat on the pancreas which prevents insulin being created. I think it's the pancreas, but I'm no biologist. I did single integrated science at GSCE like a proper thicko! Whatever the science behind it is, it seems to have worked a treat with Mo. Her nurse calls her a miracle, and she looks a million dollars.

We strolled down to the magic place and communed a little with nature. It felt powerful, somehow. My friend Jo tells me that amazing energies are heading towards Earth at the moment which I reckon we could all do with. And I guess that believing they're there is half the battle. If we start to expect happiness, we'll start to notice it more when we feel it. We'll smile more and happiness will spread. I'm sure the same is true of negativity. Surely the strength of a recession, for example, is governed by how consumers respond to news that there might be a recession? Or am I over-simplifying things? I can sense Brother Edward reading this and hanging his head in shame!

Monday, 8 August 2016

hot, dry gales

It would appear to be my birthday! Just. As of thirty minutes ago, I'm 42, which I'm told makes me the meaning of life, the universe and everything. I can think of worse things to be. My 43rd year had better be more productive than my 42nd year. Last year was brutal...

Today was all about a glorious lie-in. I haven't had a lie-in since before we went on holiday, and it was just wonderful to cuddle Nathan whilst drifting in and out of consciousness.

We had lunch in the greasy spoon and then went up to Friern Barnet to collect some props for a filming session I'd booked in for this evening. Who knew it could be so difficult to find flammable material in a B and Q? I wanted to create a miniature bonfire so needed the sort of thing you might throw onto a barbecue. I found nothing of the sort. Apparently the barbecue season is over... I would have thought that the barbecue season ran seamlessly into the bonfire season and that flame accelerants might therefore be an all-year-round essential product. Nope.

So I bought a metal dustbin and went to Tesco for a couple of throw-away barbecues. Bad choice. I needed fire, not smouldering coals.

Still, whilst we were up in those parts, we took a trip to a hand car wash place, and got all the sticky stuff that falls from lime trees around our house water-blasted from our roof and windscreen by a clutch of fabulous immigrants wearing wellies.

I came home and started editing together my little film. The majority of footage is now in, and it's good to get a bit of a shape. There's so so much admin to do before we start rehearsals at Sevenoaks on Friday, however, so heaven knows when I'm going to get it finished. I have pages and pages of admin to do. Email upon email to send. I picked up a speeding fine whilst driving home from Northumberland, which is £100 and three points on my license. This is, of course, bad enough, until we factor in the fact that I'm about the only person in the world who only has a paper driving license, which I've somehow lost. So tomorrow I've got to try to sort all that nonsense out. Is it even legal to only have a paper license?

The filming session this evening was with Llio in her garden. Llio has a solo in the fourth movement of the motet, which includes some of the most famous lines that Pepys ever wrote. In the midst of the mayhem of the Great Fire of London, Pepys rushed around his house throwing his most valuable possessions into a cart, and burying some of the others: "did dig a pit, and put our wine in it. And our Parmesan cheese!" As it happened, when Pepys returned to his house after the fire had finished raging, he found it still standing. The wind had changed direction at the last moment, which meant the far south-eastern corner of the city including the Tower of London was saved.

The weather today was very unusual. Hot and dry with high, rather tropical winds. Exactly the sort of weather, in fact, that caused the Great Fire of London!

Saturday, 6 August 2016


We've been in Cambridge all day today celebrating my birthday, which, incidentally, is on Monday. It always feels a little fraudulent and previous to celebrate one's birthday before the actual event, but I felt like doing something with a bit of a crowd, and today was the nearest Saturday.

We went there by train, and met at King's Cross just before 10 this morning. The whole of the Northern Line was down, and, by the time Nathan and I had got our acts together, there wasn't enough time to get a rail replacement bus. We booked an Uber car, which felt incredibly decadent. Nathan and I are not taxi users. They're far too costly. But sometimes needs must. Sadly our driver was awful. He kept ignoring the sat nav and making us later and later as a result. Sitting in laborious queues of traffic at the start of a day which is meant to be relaxing is not a lot of fun. But we got there. Just.

My travel companions today were Tina, Sam, Matt, Abbie, Ian, Ted Thornhill, Nathan and Julie Clare. We met up with Brother Edward, Sascha and my parents in Cambridge itself.

These days are always fairly formulaic. We've been doing the same thing, pretty much every year since my 13th birthday. We walk from the train station to Marks and Spencer on the market square to buy a picnic lunch. We stroll around the market itself and buy strawberries, sun glasses and all the things we suddenly think we might need for the rest of the day. At that stage, half of us disappear with my brother to King's College, where we hire a punt. My brother was a student at this particular college, and alumni here get huge privileges, including being able to hire college-owned punts at very special rates.

We went through the college, showing Tina and the gang the amazing dining hall where the students eat decadently (in the style of Harry Potter) and then punted along the backs towards the rest of the group, who were waiting at Scudamore's, the official punt hire place. It's rather nice to be able to punt along the backs in Cambridge. Our trip always takes us up the river and away from the city towards the village of Grantchester, so a few glimpses of some of those iconic sights, like the sublime King's College chapel and the wooden mathematical bridge, is always a bit of a treat. I'm not sure Tina quite felt it was a treat. She'd never been punting before and has a pathological fear of water. She spent most of the first part of the journey clinging to the sides of the boat, expecting the whole thing to capsize.

The Cam in the direction of Grantchester is on a higher elevation, so the punts need to be dragged over rollers by the side of a weir. Whilst the others got on with heaving our punt up the hill, I joined the other group at Scudmore's and we set off down the river in tandem.

Sascha greeted us with the news that he'd seen Stephen Hawkins rolling along the side of the river whilst he'd sat waiting for us. The two gays from Gogglebox were apparently also in the vicinity. They'll almost certainly have caused more of a splash!

The trip up to Grantchester was as it always is. The sun was hot. People swam in the rivers. Young people swung from trees. We were visited by an inquisitive swan. Nathan climbed out of the punt and over a footbridge and plonked himself back inside the boat on the other side. He always does that. There's something pleasingly predictable about the trip to Grantchester. The only difference was the high number of canoeists on the river. Those little bastards can be incredibly irritating. There's a tendency for them to travel in packs, and, whilst they ought to have been fairly nimble and able to navigate the meanders of the river with ease, most were completely incapable of steering, and simply got in the way of the punts. One woman had a right go at us, suggesting we "stopped to let her pass." She'd already crashed into us about nine times, and, on one occasion caused a major pile up of several punts, about nine canoeists and an inflatable dinghy!

We picnicked with my parents in a field half way between Cambridge and Grantchester. We ate too much. We always do.

Upon arriving in Grantchester, we took ourselves to the Orchard cafe, where people eat cream trees under apple, pear and plum trees. It's an iconic location. Virginia Wolf, TS Elliot, Keynes, Brooke and Wittgenstein were all regular customers there in the early 20th Century. One assumes the deck chairs are some of the only things which have changed since those heady days. We bumped into Helen Acton. It was so lovely to see her. I shared a cream tea with Nathan. The sun was incredibly hot. I could feel my forehead burning to a crisp.

We returned to our punts at about 6pm. It's really rather lovely that you can simply leave a punt moored up against the river bank with all of your possessions inside without any fear of things being stolen or trashed. The light was glorious. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. We threw ourselves into the river and had a lovely swim in the reed-infused waters. People have been swimming in Grantchester Meadows for years and years. People have swum on my birthday trips to Cambridge for as long as I can remember. I love tradition.

We sang as we punted back to Cambridge. We always do. We sing in multipart harmony. We sang rounds. We sang folk songs. We sang ABBA, The Beatles, The Mammas and the Papas and loads of show tunes. People seemed rather thrilled to hear a boat load of people singing whilst drifting down the river. It's certainly a somewhat eccentric sight.

We arrived back in Cambridge at about 8pm and had a drink outside the Mill pub whilst watching a group of fully-clothed nutters launching themselves into the Cam from the bridge by Queens College.

The train journey home was accompanied by a glorious sunset which seemed to fill a great swathe of the fenland sky before melting into a ribbon of tangerine-coloured fire on the horizon.

The only thing which was less than perfect was the rail replacement bus ride from kings Cross back to Highgate which took far longer than it should have done, threw us about and then deposited us unceremoniously and without reason at Archway. London can be very boring sometimes!


We drove down to Somerset yesterday to attend Nathan's cousin's wedding. It was actually quite a stressful journey from about Bristol onwards on the M5. The traffic got heavy and we suddenly realised that the journey to Taunton was considerably longer than we'd thought it was. Nathan got so anxious at one point that I couldn't even calm him down with ABBA!

As it happened the wedding kicked off a little late, so we made it with five minutes to spare. The bride looked radiant. The groom looked handsome. The bride's brother sang beautifully. No one could hear the registrar. The happy couple's very cute daughter read The Owl and the Pussy Cat, and taught the registrar a thing or two about projection!

The ceremony took place outside, which was really very lovely. The grounds of the "castle" where the wedding took place were decked out to resemble a church fete. There was a bouncy castle, a giant Connect Four, a "splat the rat" and all manner of things like ice cream stalls.

It was a rather charming day all in all. The bride's father delivered a very moving speech. The food was a Greek barbecue as a result of the groom being Greek Cypriot. Lots of his family seemed highly perplexed by Brexit. I felt embarrassed all over again.

We slipped out early so that we could get back to London at a decent time. Today is a big day. We're celebrating my birthday!

Friday, 5 August 2016


I had a classic anxiety dream last night. I think it was a response to all the admin I'm doing at the moment, and the fact that we go into rehearsals for Brass and I feel there's a ludicrously tall mountain to climb before any of that can happen. There's also anxiety attached to not being in work and needing to be in work. Call it a post-holiday come down.

The dream was very bizarre. I'd gone back to visit my old music department at the University of York and was trying to find my composition tutor because I wanted to give him a copy of the Pepys album. When I found him, I realised I'd forgotten to bring any copies of the album with me and asked if I could send it through the post. He sucked his teeth and looked embarrassed. "Thing is" he said, "I'm not really that interested in hearing it. You were a fairly promising composer, but your laziness has stopped you from amounting to anything." I tried to remonstrate and was about to tell him that Our Gay Wedding had been BAFTA nominated but then a weird woman came into the space. She started talking over the top of me about the fact that she'd bought a lovely pair of shoes because she was so miserable in her marriage. My tutor stopped looking at me and started to sympathise with her plight. I stood there for a while and then started to feel like a bit of a gooseberry; "I ought to be going..." I said to my tutor. "Okay" he said, "great to see you..." And then I left.

This morning I went to see Philippa and my two god daughters, who were having a play date with Lily and Jack, who live around the corner. I think it's fairly safe to say that I was well and truly godfathered.

Godfathered (verb): Possessing a weakness not present in actual parents or professional carers which tolerates (and encourages) a level of bad behaviour in children to the detriment of the godfather's appearance, health or dignity.

I got covered from head to toe in face paint. I got swung in a basket until I nearly chundered. I got embroiled in a plot to lock Philippa out of the house and then was prevented by force from opening the front door to let Philippa back in. It was a lot of fun!

We ate at the Hackney City farm, which is a charmingly ramshackle place in which to have lunch. Much or most of the food is vegetarian. I had the most delicious plate of food: Scrambled eggs on sour dough bread with avocado and Halloumi. The kids ate pasta with pesto.

We then went plum-scrumping in Haggerston Park. I have no idea why that participle park is filled with plum trees. I can only assume there was some kind of post war initiative to bring fruit to inner city kids. The trees are simply laden with fruit, and there aren't any wasps about at the moment to make a mess of them. We were mostly picking up windfalls, but I also got a big stick and gently encouraged a few more down from the trees. Philippa regularly goes searching for plums in the park, with which she makes lovely crumbles and beautiful tarts.

When I arrived at the house, the kids were all under the conservatory table searching for dead insects. They found a cricket, a wasp and a bluebottle, prompting one of the visiting kids to say, "oh my God, this house is so creepy!" Deia looked at her friend and agreed, "they fall down from the spiders' webs in the roof."

I had to come home with my face and hair covered in pink, blue and purple face paint. No one on the tube seemed to find it remotely funny, although I could see everyone staring. The assumption in London is often that a person who looks a little eccentric is extremely mad and must be avoided at all cost. Someone came up to the person sitting next to me on a bench at Old Street to ask a question about the Northern Line. When I answered instead, she refused to make eye contact with me. Maybe she saw the bright purple nose and immediately assumed I was an alcoholic?

This evening we drove into central London and parked up on the South Bank somewhere near Lambeth Palace. We were filming yet another set of sequences for the Pepys video, this time with Trevor, a Canadian opera singer with one of my favourite voices in the world and Abbie, who hugely generously came along to record a few more sequences which would have been done by members of the Rebel Chorus who are out of the country at the moment.

We filmed opposite Big Ben, realising in the process quite how much of the beauty of Central London we take for granted. It's a stunning city and we are incredibly lucky to live here. As ever, with this film, we had a riot playing around with fire, and the four of us made a rather brilliant crew. We all performed in front of the camera, Trevor and Nathan did lighting, Trevor, Abbie and Nathan did sound. Nathan managed the pyrotechnics. Who needs a gaffer and a dolly grip when you have four musicians?!

We filmed Abbie near the London Eye, and were somewhat astonished when, mid way through her shot, a fox appeared from the bushes, found a half eaten ice cream, and sat, very happily tucking into it no more than a metre away from us. Nathan shone a torch on the little fella, and he seemed more than happy to let me film him for a while. He may well appear in the film!

The day ended on Leake Street, that fabulous graffiti-lined street behind Waterloo which basically runs underneath a series of railway arches. It's open day and night, and is always full of rather edgy looking people, but the place provides a lovely looking backdrop for any film you might want to look a bit urban and gritty. I was particularly pleased with a shot we did of Abbie there, walking along with a lantern in her hand, Nathan creating a pool of light on the floor in front of her with a torch. Very beautiful. I hope they all edit together well because I'm very pleased with a lot of what we've shot.

I have three more people left to film...

Wednesday, 3 August 2016


Another day of non-stop admin, except today I was exhausted because I hadn't slept very well, so I'm not sure I achieved as much as I could have done! There's not much else to say about the day other than that Nathan came back from his trip on a Latvian ferry. It seems like he's had the most amazing time. He was literally buzzing. Born to cruise, that one!

I drove to Heathrow to pick him up. The weather was very odd and went from hot sun to weird tropical gales to heavy rain to that sort of bright orange, very clean light you sometimes get on summer evenings after rain.

We had pizza for tea to celebrate Nathan's home-coming... And watched Ru Paul.

There's still a big pile of human poo in our alleyway, which still smells four days after it was deposited. Two days of solid rain has not managed to shift it. Typical, eh? The rain was forceful enough to come through our roof in three places, and yet that steaming turd was impervious to it.

I better go to bed.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

The rain, the blinkin rain

Oh my God the weather today has been shitty! It has rained almost constantly. It's the sort of hot rain which gets under your skin and there comes a point at which you think you might be sweating as well as wet, but there's no way of knowing where one type of moisture finishes and the other starts. There was no breeze to cool me down, my moustache started drooping, so I've simply spent the entire day feeling utterly sorry for myself and trying not to expend any unnecessary energy. Then of course, in the street, you have to deal with the umbrellas everywhere. No one seems to want to look where they're going under an umbrella. They simply plough on. Unaware. Umbrellas pointing in front of them like polyester battering rams.

I had my hair cut earlier and the barber had to dry my face and hair with a paper towel before he could start cutting. The shame of it! Everywhere I went, I looked around me to see if anyone else was showing the signs of melting. Apparently not!

I spent the morning doing some of the painstakingly dull admin associated with releasing an album. Every single performer attached to a CD has to be registered as part of PPL, which means, if the album goes mega (which of course it won't, but if it did) all the performers would be able to collect royalties associated with tracks being played on the radio and TV. The problem is that singers don't tend to be members of PPL, and of the thirty or so that I've registered today, only one was actually a member. And because you have to be a member to collect PPL royalties, my task felt both time-consuming and pointless... Of course it's not. Because I've registered the singers, if the album does well, the singers can join PPL and get a bit of money. But what a faff! There are a million processes similar to this one, some of which I've been trying to do simultaneously so that when one becomes too dull, I can switch screens and do something equally boring, but at least different! I phoned Fiona to have a good whinge and she was very sympathetic, reminding me that a record company would have a specific person whose job it was to input all this data. Self-releasing an album is a dull old game!

I got so obsessively engrossed in my mind-numbing tasks that I quite forgot I had a lunchtime meeting with a production company. Fortunately the bloke I was seeing texted me to change the venue, so I was shaken out of my reverie with enough time to hot-foot it into Soho.

We had lunch somewhere a bit fancy. I forget that some people do okay out of the arts and can afford to eat in nice places where the lighting is low and the waiters wear waistcoats and are overly attentive! I had some lovely soup and a bowl of macaroni cheese. For some reason the vegetarian menu was separate and I had to ask for the waiter to give me a copy. It made me feel a bit odd. Like a leper. I wondered if they were going to ask me to move tables and sit with the undesirables. Surely there are quite a few meat eaters out there who might fancy a bowl of macaroni cheese? The joy about vegetarian food is that it can be eaten by anyone. I know Nathan often chooses a vegetarian option...

Anyway, I found the meeting very inspiring. I'm never happier than when throwing ideas about with someone who understands how to make good telly and challenges me to think out of the box. My tendency when making documentaries is to want to create artistic "vignettes" without too much over-arching narrative. Good programme makers like the chap I met today will always encourage me to reappraise that particular desire.

Rain and filming

I've had a bit of a headache today, which I sincerely hope is not me coming down with the dreaded lurgy that my godson and Meriel had on holiday!

Today has been spent travelling up and down London on tube trains. First up was the osteopath. After last time's less-than-satisfying session with a female osteopath, I had a chat with the receptionist and we decided it wasn't sexist or misogynist of me to request a male osteopath in future. When I said I needed someone who wasn't sacred to pummel me, she said she knew exactly who to suggest, and, today, I was greeted by a 6'6" Bulgarian man mountain who went by the name of Ivan. Ivan had hands like upholstered metal deckchairs, and a steely blue-eyed air of menace. You would not want to come across Ivan in a dark alley, or on a rugby pitch. I bet Ivan doesn't cook the meat he eats... Or hear the cries of his patients. Ivan is fabulous! I emerged from the session cross-eyed, with tears streaming down my face from giggling like an imbecile whilst he used his elbow to literally squeeze the air from my body. I walked past the receptionist on the way out and got the knowing look of someone who knew I'd been Ivan'd!

From Borough, I went back up to Kentish Town to visit the gym and then the dentist who told me she'd seldom seen teeth as good as mine. She said she felt it must be a good diet mixed with the fact that I neither drink nor smoke. They might be gargantuan in size, but they're apparently made of strong stuff. I felt pathetically proud as I walked to the tube and immediately texted my mate, Raily, who never misses an opportunity to tell me I eat too many sweeties!

I went from Kentish Town back to south London, this time to meet a lovely lady from the Lesbian and Gay switchboard. We met in an "Eat" by the side of the Thames. Eat, it turns out, has a very poor selection of vegetarian sandwiches. Had I not been so hungry, or busily talking to Nathan (who's in some Lithuanian town) I might have had a word with the staff. But then, what would they have been able to say? The meeting went well. It was really just a "hello" and a bit of an explorative chat. I've got an idea for a film which I'm tentatively trying to work up into a pitch. As with all of these things, it's unlikely to come to fruition, but if I thought this way about everything I did, I'd never achieve anything!

It started raining in the afternoon. Really horrid, non-stop pissy rain, which made the tubes hum and steam.

I had a few hours at home in Highgate to do some frantic admin, and then jumped in the car to drive through heavy rain down to Peckham where I met the lovely Jana from the Rebel Chorus. We were filming her singing a few lines from the Pepys Motet for the video we're making to accompany the album's release. She looked fabulous in a shiny, figure-hugging dress, but, by the time we'd started filming, the rain was bucketing down, so we filmed her in her coat! Candles, cameras, electronic equipment and rain on a dodgy street in Peckham late at night are not the best combination. Heaven knows what we've managed to capture! Rain is a double-edged sword on a film shoot. It can look incredibly atmospheric, and it reflects light in a magical way, but it means everything has to be done repeatedly, and, of course, you run the risk of destroying your kit!

Still we got there, and I was safely home before midnight.

It continued to rain long into the night and I fell asleep with the sound of water dripping into pans in the sitting room and loft...