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!’
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 .....!