Thinking outside the box is a skill that we ‘creatives’ like to pride ourselves in. And never has it been so important as now.
In March my good friend Dr. Jacqui Norton invited me to join her in recording a short Music Industry series for HMP at WayOutTV studios, called ‘ The Lyrics, the Music and the Money’. This was her brain child and it was designed to offer guests at Her Majesties Pleasure the chance to learn about the process of making music and perhaps even earning some money from it.
When the first lockdown came, naturally we thought the whole thing would be postponed. But no, we were wrong! Along came Zoom and miraculously it presented us with a whole new way forward.
Jezz Wright, who is head of Digital Learning at WayOutTV explained how to record in our own virtual studios; Jacqui in hers and me in mine. We encountered all sorts of hilarious difficulties, like Jacqui’s teeth suddenly turning blue in certain lighting conditions. But what we have learned from the whole process is enormous. I, for instance can now do some basic film editing and I can even solve the odd technical problem or two. Things I could never have done before.
Who could have predicted that technology could be this much fun! I can’t tell you how much we enjoyed the whole process.
So here we are...da da...we have completed all six programmes and they are due to be launched tomorrow in all of Her Majesties Prisons across the whole country.
This light hearted educational series, is being endorsed by De Montfort University in Leicester. There is a workbook to complete and a certificate will be given when the course is finished. The lessons are aimed at individuals who already have experience of performing/composing their own music, or for people who enjoy listening to all genres of music, although you don’t actually have to have experience of performing or recording to complete the course.
Dr. Jacqui Norton has been involved in the Music Industry for a number of years from music publishing, production music (music for tv/radio/films/games) artist management and live. She now lectures on that subject area and in fact that is how we originally met, when we were both lecturing at The London College of Music.
It’s been great fun working with Jacqui, she is one of those inspired people who has passion and drive for all her projects and working with those behind bars has driven her philosophy of rehabilitation. It is exactly with that in mind that I take my hat off to her and I am very proud to join her in this part of the journey.
Alan Rickett and I started LFT Productions (a not-for-profit company) in Islington where our children went to school. It's a fairly leafy inner city part of London and a nice place to live. Well that was what we thought until we discovered the whole Borough had been declared an Air Quality Management Area. It had concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM 10) that exceeds the UK air quality standards. Rather worrying!
So here we are in the ninth week of ‘lockdown’. The Zoom rehearsals are wearing a bit thin and it would be so nice to see our band, Lot 49 , in person again and hear us all playing in the same room....together.
Our guitarist, Max grins at the screen and tells us that he is doing some blinding riffs...But of course we’ll never know. ‘Hey Great Max, sounds fabby!’
Another body blow for creatives in the music industry took place a couple of days ago, the second one in a matter of weeks. The first was at the end of January when the Government announced that is has ‘no plans’ to comply with the EU Copyright Directive after the country leaves the European Union via Brexit. This has huge implications for the music industry.
Photo - New Strictly dancer Johannes Radebe.
On Saturday, I really Iucked out. I was at the Strictly Studios in Elstree as the guest of my good friend Kim Appleby. And of course because she is who she is...we had front row seats. So thank-you Kim!
Every year as the date of September the 11th rolls around, I think of my own strange ‘other worldly’ experience as I reluctantly found myself in a re-enactment documentary being filmed just nine months after the terrible tragedy of the Twin Towers in New York.
Versatility has always been an essential ingredient for a career within the Arts but the ability to think outside the box is even more important today.
So when one opportunity goes cold you are already thinking about the next one. Of course that means that you have to be alert and aware of trends within the industry as well as having the foresight see into the future.
When I was lecturing on the MA Music Management and Artist Development degree at London College of Music as I introduced myself I would always say to the students.
‘I guess you might be wondering, if I am so successful, why I am actually lecturing to you guys. Well, the answer is simple, I am here to pick your brains and to learn from you, because you are the future and if I want to continue to do the job I love, I need to know how you think and what’s important’
Usually this made them laugh, but I was deadly serious.
Weirdly the current climate of seeming chaos is not such an unfamiliar one to anyone involved in Entertainment and we are better equipped than most to deal with it. Our industry is full of ‘ duckers and divers’ and personally ....I’m proud of being one of them.
One of the most valuable things that a lecturer at Drama College ever said to me was.
‘In the Theatre dear, always remember the word ‘NO’ doesn’t exist. If someone says ‘ can you ride a horse? juggle ? tap dance ?......the answer is always ‘YES’. Then you bloodywell learn how to do it!’
(I took his word for it and actually I once got a West End role that involved tap dancing by doing the one and only tap dance step I knew wearing a huge grin and giving it lots of welly)
And now? Well, I’m not about to give up now am I? Of course not. There’s lots going on and this is when ‘thinking out of the box’ is essential.
So what’s out there? Where does the next opportunity lie and who are the ones trying to make things happen and take those chances?
Clue...they are young. They are talented. They have a passion that lies beyond making money. They meet in a warehouse in Dalston and they try out their Art. It’s not safe...it’s a bit messy. You can make mistakes and they are all willing to listen and learn. I am probably the oldest person there and I only qualify because I have spoken to various inanimate objects as part of my career as a Children’s TV presenter and now I want to know what gives inanimate objects life.
This is ‘Puppet Jam’ , a group of people who are breathing life into Puppets , objects and ideas, who want to share their passion with others.
You will hear more about them soon.
DO YOU HEAR THE PEOPLE SING
The power of a great song has never been so aptly illustrated as it was last Sunday in Hong Kong as two million protestors took to the streets singing the song from Les Miserables ‘ Do You Hear the People Sing’ lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer.
Do you hear the people sing ?
Singing the songs of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
The song seemed to give them a strength and courage as they stood up for their rights against Communist China which is trying to force a new extradition bill on Hong Kong that could consign anyone living in the in the Territory to the so called Chinese ‘justice’ system. The song was banned in China when the Les Miserables hit the West End stage 33 years ago so it must have been particularly irksome to hear it sung with such oomph and defiance during the protests. Actually the song has become an anthem for protestors everywhere from Venezuela, Taiwan, Turkey.
But isn’t it interesting how the Chinese Government all those years ago recognised that those words and music could be potentially dangerous to their existence.
As Herbert Kretzmer, the lyric writer said, “It demonstrates the power of words when set to inspirational music, has the power to mobilise millions , silence guns and lay down weapons’
‘Do you hear the people of Hong Kong? They are standing up for their rights. He said, “At ninety -three I can only be with them in spirit . But my words are on their lips....and I’m singing with them too”
Hear hear Herbert, we’re all singing with them .....!
Oh my goodness I can hardly believe that it is almost the end of February. How the time has flown. We’ve been very busy following up the contacts we made from the two concerts at Kings Place in London this December of Little Fir Tree, the new family musical I wrote with David Stoll.
It was so exciting to hear the music performed for the first time with such an amazing cast led by Sylvestor McCoy as the Narrator. The show was directed by David Ian Neville, and our musical director was Stephen Clarke.
So far the comments on the Concerts have been very positive and there was a nice quote from Michael Simkins in The Times regarding shows he’d seen over Christmas, saying that he "was enchanted by a children's musical, Little Fir Tree, at Kings Place".
What we are really hoping for is for a full –scale production for Christmas 2019/20. So fingers crossed.
Our designer Claire Lyth, came up with some imaginative visual ideas to bring the stage to life and she crafted some stunning slides of a fairytale forest in different hues to create an atmospheric glow. It would be so nice to be able to give her head and let her create a proper set. For the concert we had to keep the staging and costumes very simple, but Claire set up a mini light box in the foyer to demonstrate how the show might look in the fully staged version.
Read more about the show here.
Oh it’s getting so exciting! It’s only nine days away until the musical that David Stoll and I have written called LITTLE FIR TREE premieres at Kings Place on 18th December in London, as a staged –concert. Sylvester McCoy who is well known as the Seventh Doctor Who and The Hobbit Trilogy plus loads of other things, is our Narrator.
Sylvester has been extremely busy filming YOU in Dresden, and in fact has he has just returned to London, but he still found time to make a surprise visit to see us during rehearsals this week in Islington. He even posed for photos with the superbly friendly ladies of the Community Centre, where we are based.
We are now in the last week of preparations before our two concerts at Kings Place. The atmosphere at rehearsals has been very jolly thanks to our Director David Ian Neville, and Musical Director Stephen Clarke, but there is no way round it, it’s always a nerve racking experience staging a new work!
That said we are greatly aided by having a very talented cast ready to tackle anything with a can-do spirit.
Also, I must say that I am completely knocked out by the beautiful designs that Claire Lyth has done to bring the stage to life. She has crafted some stunning slides of a fairytale forest, a couple of which I have included in this blog. (By the way, Claire also did the set for our children’s opera THE DRUMMER BOY OF WATERLOO, which premiered in Aldeburgh in 2015).
So if you’re reading this and happen to be in London on December 18th 2018 do come along to one of the concerts, there’s still some seats left and here’s the link. We’d love to see you!