Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Rock Around The Clock

Bill Hayley and the Comets had an upbeat view of life.

One, Two, Three o'clock, Four o'clock rock,
Five, Six, Seven o'clock, Eight o'clock rock.
Nine, Ten, Eleven o'clock, Twelve o'clock rock,
We're gonna rock around the clock tonight...
I’ve been trying to emulate them.  I hired a trumpet on the weekend to prepare for an audition.  Having not picked up a trumpet for the best part of ten years, it was the first tune which came to me.  I seem to remember learning Rock Around the Clock at boarding school to annoy my teacher, who thought I should pay more attention to the Hadyn Trumpet Concerto I was soon to perform for the Music Examinations Board.  Despite the disadvantage of not being able to sing at the same time (or, for that matter, talk) I did like the instrument.  But the teacher had greasy hair and the salacious way he licked the mouthpiece was too gross for a fifteen year old girl who may have had promise as an orchestral soloist but who frankly was more interested in boys (without greasy hair) and scoring the lead in the school play.

Nevertheless those years of study provided a good grounding in an instrument which complimented my love of the piano.  It also helped me get the part of Miranda in the Australian production of Return to the Forbidden Planet; one of the first musicals where the actors were also the band.  Anyway last Friday I took the hired trumpet home and did my best to revive my lip.  Apologising to my lovely neighbours in advance, Jim asked “did you get a mute?”.   “No” I replied, “it cost me fifty-five quid as it was, so I’ll get a mute if I score the part and have to keep practising”.  “Oh right” he sighed in a sweet Scottish brogue, “well, if it gets too much I’ll buy you a mute”.  Can’t argue with that.  

I thought it a good sign when no parcel appeared on the doorstep – though perhaps their little children helped mask the noise – and the audition went well.  I rocked around the clock and enjoyed myself despite badly splitting a top F in the middle of a lyrical Beatle’s phrase.  Doh!  That’s the lack of fitness in my embouchure… about which the panel were kind, saying my tone was good.  I was in strong voice too, a little Cilla Black appropriate to the genre of the production, so I left the room feeling I’d done my part of the job and it was up to them to decide if I matched whoever else they might be thinking of casting.  That’s always the thing of course when balancing an ensemble cast, and in this case covering all the instruments as well as the characters.

I was on a bit of a high and had some time to fill, so arrived at Shepherds Bush and headed to the food court.  Over a tasty Indian snack and a glass of wine I chatted with a nice guy on a late lunch break from the BBC – a Neighbours fan as it happened – then went in search of an Italian coffee.  By the time my date arrived I’d been treated to a complimentary lemoncello and had my hand on top of the glass to stop the friendly waiter from giving me another.  It’s all very well to rock around the clock but it was only 5pm and I didn’t want to miss a nuance of the Bond film I’d been hanging out to see.  

Skyfall.  Wow.  What a terrific movie - all the suspense, stunts, glamour and indulgence of all the James Bond films, with added depth of characterisation, relationships and plot.  Victor and I loved it, and adjourned to a bar outside Westfields to curl up on a comfy sofa, drink red wine, and analyse all the features we most admired. I was sad about the ending (which I won’t give away) but it was beautifully handled and must have made the actors and director (Sam Mendes) very satisfied.  The end of an iconic era, and moments later, brilliantly edited, the launch of a new one.  Don’t you just love it when you sense $ signs ringing at the same time as artistic integrity?  I’m dead jealous of those actors.  Who isn’t?!

A few hours later our conversation turned from frivolous matters to the bereavements we had each experienced in the previous year.  We bonded; our talk interspersed with hugs.  Then I went upstairs to the bathroom, and upon my return found Victor talking to a northern Irish lady called Rosie.  She’d been sitting opposite in an arm chair, writing in a journal and enjoying a couple of pints.  Unable to avoid hearing some of our conversation she felt compelled to join, and we learnt that in a similar period of time she had lost her twenty year old son and her husband.  Her son had drowned trying to save someone else’s life while on holiday in South America; and cancer had taken her husband in six vicious months.  I have intimate experience of the destruction of cancer, but the former hinted at a pain so horrendous it could only be made worse by learning this young man had also left behind a devoted twin brother.  Within minutes of this story we were all crying.  And soon after laughing, telling stories and drinking more red wine.  Where would the world be without the Irish?  Where would Australia or the United Kingdom be?  I’m proud of my Irish heritage and adore every crazy, passionate, expressive drop of the spirit which is quintessentially Irish and admirably warm and resilient.  Need I say, the craic that evening was grand.  We rocked around the clock until the last bus.

The next morning I had to shake off my sluggishness to spend a few hours baby-sitting Kate and Mike’s two and half year old daughter, Scarlett.  She was delightful after getting over an initial shy spell, a precious bundle of curiosity and assertive opinion; advanced for her age because of her older brother and sister, sensible parents and natural intelligence.  It took me three hours to woo her to sing, after which she only complied when I carried a high stool up stairs to the landing where she fashioned a make-shift stage – me sitting below to clap or sing as instructed.  Two year old Scarlett going on twelve is a case in point for the discussion about a broadly defined and imaginative UK Baccalaureate.  For seriously, how could you establish standards which would crush intuitive imagination?  Or as James Bond said to Q in the National Gallery (I paraphrase): age is not a determinate of skill or competence, nor youth a guarantee of innovation. 

That evening, sitting in a pub in the West End, happily enjoying a pre-show meal with a family friend from Australia, Marilyn said to me: “Julie it was a watershed moment in my life when you told me that my sons were not interested in learning to play the piano, that what they wanted to do was play rugby”.  And apparently I went on to say “it’s you who are interested in the piano, Marilyn, so why don’t you learn?”  I remember her lessons clearly, a baby girl rocking in a basinet beside the grand piano, and I remember how proud we all were when Marilyn faced her first exam and came out with Honours.  What I hadn’t appreciated was how important it had been for her to do something unexpected, to try and succeed at something she loved, despite it having no other logic or long-term rationale.  And the fact that she thinks so fondly of this experience still, that it deepened her confidence and character, confirms again that a creative education doesn’t mean everyone is going to be a professional artist but that, if encouraged to express what is uniquely true to themselves, they have a better chance of contributing positively to society, whatever the scale. 

Then after this touching moment we headed off to Haymarket to see the National Theatre’s One Man Two Guvnors.  Talk about laugh!  We were six women in total, cackling and spluttering in the front row of the Upper Circle, with Marilyn and I laughing especially loudly every time the immensely talented and inventive cast made wise-cracks about the tragedy of having to immigrate to Australia where they’d be forced forever to enjoy “beer, BBQs and opera”.  I’m a big fan of Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters, but Richard Bean’s play based on the same premise is equally clever.  Nicholas Hytner’s production set in 1963 in Brighton is hysterical; Owain Arthur, Tom Edden, Daniel Ings, Ben Mansfield and Jodie Prenger particular favourites in a musical and theatrical ensemble of real excellence.  The energy coming off the stage from every performer was electric, leaving even someone accustomed to an eight show week wondering how they’d recharge sufficiently between a matinee and evening performance.  Hytner clearly works well with his fight director, physical comedy director, choreographers and designers as each element hits a special note, tying together into the most wonderfully chaotic harmony.

So if you want to get rocking around the clock this winter, get yourself to One Man Two Guvnors in London or on tour, or to the Southbank to see The Magistrate which is sure to follow in its footsteps. 

And that’s the thing about London: you can’t go and lie on a sunny, sandy beach… but there’s a pulse, a beat, in which you can endlessly indulge your creativity…

We're gonna rock around the clock tonight,
We're gonna rock, rock, rock, 'till broad daylight,
We're gonna rock around the clock tonight.