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!
Oh my goodness it’s all happening! October has been a busy month. We’ve been inspired by the London Mayors tree planting initiatives at LFT Productions where I am currently Creative Director and we’ve been honoring our pledge to, ‘Brings forest magic to the inner city’ with the LITTLE FIR TREE PROJECT.
This is a project that links the Arts and the Environment with the aim of increasing awareness of the importance of trees in our cities.
As part of the ten free ‘Tree Awareness’ workshops that Alan Rickett (pictured here) and I have been presenting outdoors for Islington Primary Schools, we then head inside for hot chocolate and to hear music and some bits of the story from the new family musical called LITTLE FIR TREE based on the Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale The Little Fir Tree, re-imagined by myself and my co-writer David Stoll.
...And that’s just the start. A staged concert version of our musical is to be premiered at two Gala concerts on December 18th 2018 at Kings Place, London as part of their Christmas Celebrations with an orchestra, high profile cast and star narrator.
This Gala evening is being supported by the Woodland Trust. You will be hearing more about it in the coming weeks…
We’ve just got our celebrity narrator on board, but I’m not allowed to tell anyone yet!!
Photo: Kim Appleby and Megg.
On Saturday I went to see my friend Kim Appleby perform at the ‘Let’s Rock’ 80’s retro music festival in Clapham Common.
I was really excited because I had never seen her sing live before. I was also a little nervous for her because it had been twenty-six years since she had performed her hits like Respectable …without her sister Mel beside her. (Mel having sadly died of cancer when they were at the height of their career).
So joining this show was a big moment for her and she had her doubts about doing it. As she said to me previously,
“I can’t go back in time and recreate something which was unique to ‘Mel & Kim’ and I really don’t want to sell my sister short by playing the nostalgia card and dressing up in the gear with the bolero jacket and stuff. If I’m going to do this it has to be how I am today and somehow at the same time celebrate what Mel and I did"
There was a lot riding on this performance. It had to satisfy not only the 80’s retro crowd but also Kim’s high expectations of herself and of course her desire not to let Mel down.
I’m happy to say she needn’t have worried, ‘cause from the moment she walked on that stage Kim nailed it. What a class act! I was watching first hand someone remembering just how much she loved performing. She radiated warmth and Bon Ami. The crowd loved her and the twenty–six years just melted away as she sung her heart out while her fans danced and celebrated with her.
Kim was back where she belonged…on that stage living life out loud!
Invitation to schools
When I read in the local Islington newspaper last year that Caroline Russell our Green Party Councilor say ‘Out of the twenty–five schools in Islington, only one came within the ‘safe’ pollution limits’, I was horrified.
We all know that living in a city presents problems in terms of the air we breathe, but to hear that, ‘Almost all school locations tested were exposed to “illegal air” – some almost twice the legal limit….’ was completely shocking to me.
Now as a Songwriter the one logical thing I might have done at that point would be to write a protest song about it and leave it at that.
However, David Stoll and I just happened to be working on a new family musical called Little Fir Tree, re-imagined from Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale.
In our version Little Tree, is not chopped down and disposed of at the end of the story (as in the original) but dug up and replanted as a symbol of growth reminding us all of the value in preserving our woodland areas.
It occurred to us that perhaps inspiring future generations to think about the air we breathe, was not about preaching to them but about finding a way to connect that we all can relate to. And what better way to do that than through a good story with music.
Hence the LITTLE FIR TREE PROJECT was born and this week letters are going out to every Primary School in Islington from www.lftproductions.co.uk inviting them to take part in ten free outdoor Tree awareness workshops in the Autumn, where the LITTLE FIR TREE story and music will feature and also at the same time support the Woodland Trusts Urban Tree planting strategy.
It feels important that we all do our bit for the planet …don’t you agree?
I had some wonderful times touring with Spike and his lovely wife Sheelagh, when I was with the "Spike Milligan and Friends" Tour / West End show. There were so many laughs and stories it's hard to know where to begin. We even did a Royal Command performance for Prince Charles. Spike called him "Trainee King", much to our amusement, throughout the whole show.
I absolutely adored working with Spike. Not all actors did though because he was so unpredictable. For me that was all part of the fun, you never knew what he would do next and no two shows were ever the same. I met Spike through Ed Welch our musical director, when I was asked to sing on a Demo of a Christmas musical they had written called ‘Joseph I’m having a Baby!’ In true Spike fashion it was brilliantly funny. When shall we see that on stage I wonder?? Anyway when I was asked to do Spikes tour I jumped at the chance. We didn't rehearse a lot, normally it's six weeks for a West End Show then a few weeks previewing out of town. We did one week in Torquay at a friend of Ed's studio and then we opened in Dublin-with a sound check only! Talk about flying by the seat of your pants. We must have been ok though because the ‘house full’ notices went up almost immediately and we went back to Dublin ‘By popular demand ‘ later on before opening in The Lyric on Shaftesbury Avenue.
Yesterday I was chatting to Andy East my good friend and colleague about the Music Industry and all the changes that we’ve seen. If you’ve followed any of my blogs you will have noticed that were both were part of the team lecturing on the MA Music Management & Artist Development Degree at London College of Music with great success. (In fact Andy set up the whole thing up)
In my Module, which was A&R, I tried as much as possible to keep it completely relevant to what was happening in the industry today. However, in Academic terms this was sometimes quite difficult because the Academic content agreed by the Degree Boards could not keep up with the rapid changes in the Music Industry. So basically an assignment that might have been cutting edge last year could be pretty old hat this year.
To keep it relevant in any sector of the industry whether it’s Publishing, Recording, Performance, Songwriting, the first question is always; where does the ‘power’ lie? Then, ‘follow the money’ and that basically tells you everything you need to know.
That formula works just as well in a historical context too. A few years ago in a paper I wrote, I looked at the question, “Did songwriters of one hundred years ago earn more than they do today?’
While I was investigating the subject I came a cross a Publisher, Songwriter and Entrepreneur called Lawrence Wright who set up the Melody Maker in 1926. The Melody Maker merged with the New Musical Express in 2000. When I heard about the NME stopping it’s printed edition last week Lawrence came to mind.
He was a really talented man, who knew how to play the Music Industry Game. He knew exactly who had the power at any one time and following the money was what he did best!
I found this old newspaper clipping of him.
David and I were highly delighted when Jubilee Opera said that they would like to stage our opera as their main production of 2015. The opera was written very much with a company such as Jubilee Opera in mind. However to have it staged in the Jubilee Hall with such a prestigious company was a delight
“The Jubilee Hall in Aldeburgh, Suffolk has become well known for staging the first performances of some well -known operas. The premières of Britten’s opera A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Little Sweep..... Appropriate then, that the première of Jubilee Opera’s Little Drummer Boy of Waterloo by Megg Nicol and David Stoll should also première in this theatre”. Martyn Harrison - Seen and Heard International
It was the iconic image of a ‘drummer boy’ that can be found in many cultures right into the 19th Century that first caught our imagination when we came to writing the opera. Who were those boys? Where did they come from?
As we began to learn that the drum was seen as an important part of battlefield communication, with different drum patterns being used to signal commands to the soldiers in the field, the idea of writing about a drummer boy became irresistible. It was then our drummer boy took on a life beyond the battlefield.
Edward was apprenticed just like them from the Poor House, yet he ended up as a Drummer Boy Mascot for the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. This made him a hero in their eyes...
It was also great to see the Waterloo Committee take an interest in what we were doing too and they really enjoyed the production.
“It was wonderful to see a sold out audience for The Drummer Boy of Waterloo. The play, the sets, costumes and music were all first class, as was the singing and acting, and you all deserve a huge congratulation for creating a great show!” Alice D Berkeley (Waterloo Committee)
Our working day , whilst writing THE DRUMMER BOY OF WATERLOO, always started with tea for me, coffee for David and a quick chat and catch up. Then before starting to write anything new we would sing through the opera playing all the parts ourselves until we arrived at the section we wanted to work on... improvising and feeling our way to an emotional response from our characters. What were they thinking now? How should we express it?
This practice actually stood us in good stead since David and I performed it all, just the two of us, ‘ Karoke’ style to Jeni- Wake Walker the Director of Jubilee Opera and Ann Barkway in the office of Novellos when it was being considered for this years production in November...and happily they liked it!
All photos on this page courtesy of David Hermon