Community Recording – The Spring Heeled Jack CD

Theatre

File 29-05-2015 11 18 07

I previously wrote a little post about a show I worked on last year (which you can read here) but as an addendum, we decided to record a CD for the project that could be sent out to everyone who took part.

There was a very wide range of songs for the show with a combination of both young and old(er) musicians in different ensembles; which of course meant organising a recording session was quite a challenge. But after a few days scratching my head trying to plot some sort of recording schedule everything went off without a hitch!

10390414_10203371835231799_8801219574503892882_n

Hot off the presses, we just sent out the CD to all the community centres / community groups that took part as well as all the actors, designers, and technical team that made the show.

A huge HUGE thanks to the many talented musicians that kindly donated their time to record on the CD as well as Stephen Hull who lent a hand overseeing the session, our fab mixing engineer Jason Neal, and Montse Gili at Hope Street Limited.

Race Against Time

Theatre

 

Now for the third show I worked on whilst at Hope Street, we brought new meaning to the idea of ‘immersive theatre’. Somewhere between a play, a video game, and a film; the show mainly consisted of four hours of orchestrated mayhem that had audience members being chased through various famous Liverpool locations whilst solving clues and being fed pieces of narrative and performance along the way…

It was without a doubt the most ambitious and challenging projects I have been a part of, we had three weeks to devise and produce the show. There were lots of different media forms that needed music in the show, so I wasted no time getting stuck in as musical director, starting with:

 

The Band

Very early on in the process Adam McGuigan (the director) was keen to have some sort of live music in the show. Knowing this would be one of the more problematic and challenging aspects of the show, my first task was forming a band.

10151777_914860215210317_4511756973530526838_n

As the show was set in the 1950s, it seemed fitting to have a little jazz band. With a meager budget I decided to aim for horns, drums, guitar, and vocals. Luckily a few of the actors were fantastic singers so I enlisted the vocal talents of Elouise Bracewell, Dora Colquhoun (who also wrote her own fantastic song for the show), and Frankie Panchoo. The fact they were also in the cast meant I could write songs that suited their characters and were linked to the show’s narrative. Initially I wanted a double bass as well (because what 1950s jazz band doesn’t have a bass?) but with a meager budget and not that much time, as I still had to work on other aspects of the show, I didn’t have much luck and it was back to the drawing board for a little rethink.

Instead of admitting defeat, I specifically composed and arranged music that transferred the bass guitar duties to electric guitar. Even though it wasn’t ideal, I think it made a great substitute given the circumstances and for a five piece band we had a surprisingly large sound! As well as vocals, I had the fantastic Edoardo Vittori on drums, multi-talented Edward Feery on trombone, Mycroft Milverton on sax, and little old me playing electric guitar. We played a few opening songs at the start of the show (as the audience had a lot of dull forms to fill in given the amount of participation there was in the show) and we also serenaded the exhausted audience and performers at the show’s speakeasy afterparty. Unfortunately, there isn’t a recording of the band in action but I made a mockup recording (with added bass and piano) of one of the show’s songs which you can listen to in the player above.

10653663_10204621080150237_2095387403685684730_n

 

THE FILM

Before the audience got out of their seats, the show started with a film premiere like no other. They began watching a film (we had made from scratch) but then before they knew it, the film seeps into reality and the film director is shot at the premiere in front of the audience (it made me jump and I knew what was coming!). I wrote all the music for the film which was a big undertaking in itself, it was great to try and emulate some of my film composer heroes, particularly Bernard Herrmann. You can view the whole film online on Vimeo, although luckily you don’t have to get out of your seat and solve an entire murder mystery at the end of the film this time!

 

THE SHOW

As well as the film and live band, there were additional pieces of music I wrote and selected for the show to accompany the action. I wanted the film score to seemingly follow the audience around the different locations as they essentially became more and more embroiled in their own film noir adventure.

As the audience ran out of the film premiere at the start, they encounter the menacing antagonists for the show “the greys”. They were standing on the steps of Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral threatening the audience and confusing wandering tourists and bystanders. We had concealed a speaker behind the audience so I wrote some accompanying film music that continued where the film left off, blending the end of the film into reality… kind of. I was really pleased with how effective it was, the audience by this point were well and truly immersed!

10402767_914860028543669_1969639171294391543_n

And another moment from the show (as there’s so many to list) was from the finale. Here all the audience members congregated again, and witnessed the final interactions between the actors before everything goes a bit crazy with a spectacular projection sequence developed by the show’s visual masterminds Draw & Code. You can listen to the music I wrote for this final choreographed sequence in the music player above (fittingly titled finale). It was a great chance to blend together all the character melodies from the show and pay another homage to Hollywood film music.

10420389_914855198544152_6806976826616150309_n

I still can’t quite believe we managed to pull it off, the sheer ambition of the show wouldn’t have been feasible without the talent of director Adam McGuigan. It was a tiring and exhilarating ride (both for us and the audience) but a great example of what can be done with a talented, focused team, and a bit of movie magic.

Check out this great show video Draw & Code produced which has footage of the whole show, and hopefully gives you a better idea of what on earth I’m talking about!

 

Photos courtesy of Jonathan Wyn, Draw and Code, and Hope Street Ltd.

 

Spring Heeled Jack

Theatre

 

The second show I worked on at Hope Street, Spring Heeled Jack, was entirely different to the previous in almost every aspect. Led by former Hope Street’ers Andy Gledhill and Tessa Buddle (aka Suitcase Ensemble), the idea was to create an outdoor procession and show that brought together various community groups surrounding Everton Park.

As musical director I worked with Andy at Suitcase Ensemble to co-ordinate what ended up being a very music-led show. There were lots of little bits of music so we needed to make sure it all somehow linked together and told the story of Spring Heeled Jack in an interesting way. Seeing as there were so many bits of music, probably best I break things up a little…

 

Street Theatre

Stopping the audience in their tracks to sing my song and sell my wares.

Stopping the audience in their tracks to sing a song and sell my wares.

To start the show off, we had various pieces of street theatre / walkabout performances that the audience could watch. I decided to get stuck in and do a bit of performing myself which involved a slightly dodgy character trying to sell his ‘multi-lyrical dreamcoat’ for the troubador that keeps forgetting their lyrics.

Unfortunately, no one took me up on the offer.

After trying to sell my coat and singing a few songs, I worked with actors Natasha Patel and Elouise Bracewell where we performed on a mobile music hall stage. I strummed along to four songs that we wrote together, explaining the love / hate relationship between the two singers and Spring Heeled Jack. Here’s a photo of us in action with the beautiful Liverpool skyline as a fitting backdrop:

 

The Procession

After the crowd had been thoroughly entertained by the walkabout lot, we gathered a little further up the park to begin a procession – there was dancing, puppets, a giant speaker / trike thing, and of course music! We had a small band heading the procession with some jaunty tunes (one of which we recorded and you can listen to in the music player above). As well as playing guitar in the procession, I wrote bits of recorded music that were featured in other sections of the procession through speakers. It was loads of fun, check out some of the pictures below:

 

The Finale

The procession led the audience (and us) to a small carnival site we had prepared with some tents featuring static performance and some of the wacky street theatre performers returned for an encore as well. We then took to the stage and played some music to welcome the return of the man himself, Jack, as a massive green smoke spewing puppet!

 

This was a really fun project to work on, not just because of the music but the fact I was fortunate enough to work with lots of young (and old) community groups from Everton. Normally quite a close knit area with an incredibly rich and at times troubled history, it was fulfilling to see the young performers take part and enjoy the show. A number of people also approached us towards the end and were overjoyed that something like this brought the community together and was a cause for celebration. Hopefully we can do something similar in a few years time, it was ambitious and hard work but the positive impact and reception made it one of the most fulfilling projects I’ve had the opportunity to work on!

Thanks to Hope Street Limited and Jonathan Wyn for the fantastic photos.

Sense & Sustainability

Theatre

We’re wrapping things up this week at Hope Street Limited after an intense five month programme. I was fortunate enough to work as composer / musical director (and occasional performer) on four theatrical projects utilizing unusual performance spaces, audience immersion, and an innovative mix of audio, visuals, and performance. It’s been fantastic! And I just want to thank all the wonderful people I’ve worked with over the past five months who’s generosity and talent at what they do is truly inspirational.

Anyway, it’s been so busy I haven’t had chance to update my blog (oops), so over the next few days I’m going to write a little bit about each of the four projects and also post some samples of music I wrote. Starting with quite possibly the strangest project I have been lucky enough to work on (which is saying something) Sense & Sustainability:

 

Led by directorial tag team Cocoloco and Liverpool music legend Andy Frizell (is there an instrument he can’t play?) we took over the historic Bluecoat building to create an immersive theatrical experience exploring climate change in a fun and engaging manner. Given the scope of the project, me and Andy shared the workload with him focusing more on the songs sang by the actors and me writing the music for the various audio-visual installations. One such installation was a video set in a carriage made out of cardboard, combining the two themes of the show (Jane Austen / sustainability). This installation was a collaboration with digital artist Jordan Rodgers and sound designer Stephen Hull:

 

Playing some homemade vegetable instruments, they were surprisingly loud, tuneful, and made great soup after the show.

Playing some homemade vegetable instruments, they were surprisingly loud, tuneful, and made great soup after the show.

Early on in the R&D for the show I fell in love with the idea of using recycled / sustainable instruments for the show, particularly turning various veggies into instruments. However, it turns out it’s really hard to make a carrot toot… After three weeks of experimentation (not unlike this video), just a day before the show Andy came up with a winning combination. It wasn’t an exact science at all, we had no way of tuning them (although for some unknown reason they tended to be in the same key), but they were surprisingly loud, tuneful, and tasty!

As well as sustainable instruments, full cast songs, audio-visual installations, and three classical pianists my favourite room for writing music was without a doubt the “hedonistic room”. It was meant to represent the rampant indifference towards climate change with piles of rubbish, corporate messages, and pounding rave music that throughout the course of the three hour show got more and more warped / intense. I worked with the show’s sound designer, Stephen Hull, to create about half an hour’s worth of audio content that incorporated original music, spoken word, and warped remixes of existing tracks. The initial direction from Cocoloco was that it needed to be uncomfortable for the audience, the loud and dissonant music (we often had more than one song playing at once) represented information overload.

It sure was a big contrast for the audience, one minute walking through a tranquil Jane Austen-esque scene with classical piano to a modern day rave. This was one of the biggest challenges working as a musical director on the project, coherence. With so many genres and aesthetics, I decided to reuse melodies and themes from Andy’s cast songs in the other installations to tie the whole piece together. Also using similar instrumentation in the different areas of the show helped subtly bring everything together even if the musical genre was different.

The show itself was an absolute blast! For the first time in a long long while I performed live, we had planned every moment of the three hour show precisely but wanted an organic feel as actors sing a song and then suddenly wander off to another scene on the other side of the building. I played guitar, melodica, carrot recorder, and a couple of times conducted the actors (who despite their reservations did an amazing job singing an acapella choral piece). I’m not really used to performing music I have worked on, but it was great fun and I hope to do more of it in the future. It was a mad three weeks, but we pulled it off, and put on an incredible show!

Thanks to Jordan Rodgers and Hope Street Limited for these fantastic photos of the event, check out their respective pages for more info.

Hope Street – Week 3

Theatre

Just beginning week 3 of my time making music / noise at Hope Street It’s been a varied few weeks to say the least involving:

– a melodica / folk inspired play based on Star Wars
– a failed attempt to play Star Wars on the piano
a groovy skiffle band
– tea and cakes
– research into a show that combines Jane Austen with climate change
– two broken guitar strings
– a rare outing for my ukelele
– more tea and cakes

I don’t think I’ve ever been in a room with SO MANY talented people. It’s wonderful to turn up to work every day only to be constantly amazed and inspired. It’s going to be a fun few months!

Check out this year’s blog to follow the team’s progress on each show.