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
Photo: Kim Appleby, Barry Mason, Megg Nicol, Pete Woodroffe
Last week was a roller coaster for those of us involved in the song-writing community and it seems that we could be fastening our belts for the next white-knuckle ride as soon as #paywhatsduetube starts trending on twitter. So if you are reading this, please look out for it.
Walking into prison voluntarily to mix with the clientele is probably not most people’s idea of a good time, but as I discovered this week there are those who are positively drawn to doing just that.
I first heard the song ‘Lord Franklin’ when Nick Keir and Tony Ireland played it on a Highlands & Islands tour I did with the folk rock band Finn MacCuill in a show called ‘ Envoys & Exiles’ for Pitlochry Festival Theatre in the early years of my music career.
One thing that nobody can argue with is the fact that the Entertainment Industry is unpredictable. Things happen and they are not always good.