The first time that I saw Come From Away at the The Phoenix Theatre in London, I could only get a ‘standing room’ seat. It was just as well because I was so inspired by the show that I couldn’t sit still anyway! Also weirdly I think when you’ve been a performer, you are used to standing and watching from the sidelines and waiting to go on that it felt really normal.
For those of you who haven’t seen this musical yet it tells the true story of what happened when 38 planes were ordered out of the sky on September 11th 2001 after the Twin Towers tragedy, and they had to land in the small town of Gander in Newfoundland. That was more than 6, 600 passengers and crew which was the equivalent of 66% of the population at the time who were all forced to stay in Gander for the next six days. The locals gallantly stepped up to the mark and took them into their homes to feed and look after them.
The characters in the musical are based on real Gander residents as well as some of the 7,000 stranded travelers they housed and fed.
It’s an extremely uplifting show that is a timely reminder than even in the darkest of times the capacity for human kindness surpasses that of any act of hate.
September 11th 2001 is one of those dates that everyone remembers where they were at that moment. I was in a studio in Soho recording US voices for cartoon series. The recordings stopped when the enormity of what was happening in New York came to light and we were all sent home.
However later on I had a strange experience related to that terrible day. I wrote an article about it that was was published in Healing Today. Since this is the twentieth anniversary of that awful day, I'd like to share it with you.
So here we are one year on and we are still experiencing Lockdown. Personally I am looking forward to getting back on a tennis court again ...not long now.
Although I really have enjoyed walking through the ‘frozen in time’, deserted London Streets. Its so quiet in town that you can really get a good look at the wonderful architecture that normally we would be rushing past on the way to somewhere else.
So stopping...hasn’t been all bad.
Actually with the appointments and meetings gone or transferred to zoom, there has been much more time to get on with writing and thinking about new projects....or even bringing them to fruition.
I was lucky enough to do a series of six Music Programmes on zoom as you can read below in another blog with Dr. Jacqui Norton called The Lyrics , the Music and the Money.
Also I got to work with a great friend and creative partner of mine , David Ian Neville on a short drama called ‘Secrets’ which we wrote together and David directed. The rehearsal took place on zoom and the actors videoed their performances themselves and sent in the recordings which David then edited together.
It was part of an amazing project called Talent Unlocked that happened when all theatres and entertainment venues had been locked down. This opportunity to work and do something useful was a lifeline to those of us in the Arts. It involved beatboxers, dancers, musicians, actors, artists, poets...all giving their time and work free of charge. Creatives locked down, linking with those who were locked up.
This was the biggest and possibly only arts festival ever staged for England’s prisons and it was launched on December 31st 2020 for eight weeks. It was the brainchild of my friend and colleague Dr. Jacqui Norton from De Montfort University in Leicester and it was screened by WayOut TV, an in-cell TV channel for communication and education in prisons, across 50 establishments in England, aiming to reach potentially 37,000 residents.
You are probably wondering why you are only hearing about it now? Well believe it or not there was ban on talking about it in the press until the Ministry of Justice said it was ok....
This didn’t happened till December and most people were gearing up for Christmas...hey ho!
The reason I am talking about it now is that the whole festival is being repeated and on Sunday night and our short drama’ Secrets’ will be screened again.
So one year on marking the anniversary of ‘lockdown’ it seemed like worthwhile project to give a little ‘shout out’!
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!’