My Dad, Eric, was 18 and had composed an operetta, which the Theater An Der Wien were considering for production, when Hitler marched into Vienna and Eric had to get out.
Born in Hammersmith in 1951, from the age of four I was taught piano and songwriting by Eric and violin at school from the age of six. My Mum, Margaret, got me interested in theatre and art.
At Holland Park Comprehensive School, I became soloist with the choir, leader of the first orchestra and conductor of the second orchestra.
I also studied harmony and orchestration at Trinity College of Music on Saturdays.
Whatever else was gong on, from the age of 15, I was always writing and composing. I am indebted to Eric and Margaret for these enduring passions.
1969 Completing my A level music on the friday, by monday I was acting and playing violin in the premiere production of Forty Years On at the Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London (with a stunning cast, including John Gielgud, Paul Eddington and Alan Bennett).
1970 Lived in Vienna, where I wrote a song cycle, a rather bad novel and caught fleas.
1971 – 2 Ran an art agency and silkscreen printers to promote the work of young artists and helped set up the Woodfoot Craft Centre in Dumfriesshire. (Incidentally, the reason we started the art agency was because we’d met John Hurford and assumed, wrongly, that there would be hundreds of other equally brilliant artists.)
1973 Marriage to Sara, travelling through Southeast Asia, where she left me and I wrote another bad novel.
1974 Co-editing and publishing an underground comic magazine called It’s All Lies.
1975 Formed a band called The Hi-Tones (Drums, guitars, piano, cello and violin) for which I wrote and arranged the songs, got the gigs and printed the posters.
1976 Composing songs for another band, China Red. Also songs and incidental music for the premiere production of Dusa Fish Stas And Vi by Pam Gems at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
1977 Another band, Quill, which I didn’t run, but which actually made money, allowing me to pay my debts. Also soundtrack music for a series of educational films and jingles for advertisements (Guinness etc.).
1978 – 82
Formed Theatre Soundtracks with brother Richard and began writing scores for fringe shows, including:
The Greatest Story
and other shows for the Albany Empire
Angels Descend On Paris
for Gay Sweatshop
Kept In / Kept Out
Songs for Avon Touring Company production, directed by the late, great Nancy Diuguid
Gypsy music for Hampstead Theatre production, directed by Nancy Meckler
How I Got That Story
Vocal quadraphonic sound score, mixing live and recorded effects, directed by Nancy Diuguid, Hampstead Theatre
Rock panto with Alfred Molina, directed by Rob Walker, New Half Moon
For Maggie Betty & Ida
Songs, score and incidental music for harp Women Live at Drill Hall, Albany Empire and other London theatres
and other shows for the Actors Touring Company, world tour and Donmar Warehouse
Whilst working for the Actors’ Touring Company, I auditioned and fell in love with Denise Black. When she went off on their “world tour”, I got depressed and broke my ankle.
1983 – 5
songs and endless tours with Denise, various combos and bands
A one woman musical, Soho Poly Theatre
Songs in a Spanish folk style for the music drama (based on the life of Civil War leader, Dolores Ibarurri) by Pam Gems, Newcastle Playhouse
On “Pasionaria” (Denise playing the title role), we met Josie Lawrence, Kate McKenzie and formed “Denise Black And The Kray Sisters”.
1985 – 7
Denise Black And The Kray Sisters
3 shows (1 each year) for Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh Festival and tours Regular contributor on TV and radio including Start The Week (BBC Radio 4), Josie (Channel 4), Friday Night Live (LWT), Anything You Can Do (BBC 1), Live In Concert (BBC Radio 2)
1988 – 92
While our children, Sam (born 1988) and Dandy (1991) were very young, I taught singing and composed a musical, commissioned by Ian Kellgren of the Liverpool Playhouse, which became “Mad And Her Dad”.
1993 – 7
In 1993 I threw myself back into writing and composing for theatre:
Lyrics and music for a comic operetta based on stories by Brecht Opera Circus, European tours & Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh Festival 1997
Out Of The Blue
Libretto for a music drama by Shun Tokura launched at the Riverside Studios and transferred to the Shaftesbury Theatre
Mad And Her Dad
A through-scored musical comedy for 4 performers and string quartet Produced by Miracle at the Lyric Studio Hammersmith Subject of BBC Radio 2’s 1997 series “In Company With Sondheim”
La Dolce Vita
Lyrics and music for a musical based on Fellini’s film Produced by the David Glass Ensemble at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith
Libretto & score for a chamber opera based on the 18th century play by Carlo Gozzi Opera Circus, World tours & Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh Festival 1997
TV musical comedy short starring Denise Black, Josie Lawrence and Jules Holland. Miracle Productions (‘if it’s good it’s a Miracle!’)
1998 – 2001
Having not seen enough of my children, I decided to give writing for theatre a miss for a while. I concentrated on cab driving, writing 2 novels, teaching singing, violin and piano.
Worst cab driver in Croydon, that was me. We’d just moved. I didn’t know any of the streets. Furthermore, I could no longer read the small print in the A-Z, but wasn’t willing to admit it. I lost money and some of the customers were rather angry. Good job for story-writing though.
World Of The Wicked
a fantasy novel with a twisting, multi-layered plot
The Andy Parvin Story
a comic novel, set in ‘swinging’ London of the 1960s, about a dozy bloke, strangely similar to me, and his helplessly trendy friends
Webber Douglas Academy Of Dramatic Art, London
Vocal Presentation Course to students in their final year
every saturday I taught my children and others piano, music theory, improvisation, group singing etc.
vocal coaching to boy-bands, girl-bands, boy-and-girl-bands, solo artists, musical theatre performers, children and anyone who loved to sing
Also violin and piano tuition, mainly to children
2001 – 6
Head Of Music, Michael Hall
In 2001 I got a call from Michael Hall, the Rudolph Steiner school my kids had just started at. Would I consider applying to become the music teacher? Well, I had no qualifications, no school-teaching experience. There was no way I was going to get the job. And, despite our poverty, I didn’t want it… I remember entering a dark hall where all the teachers sat in a circle, staring at me. I said “This isn’t the most intimidating entrance I’ve had to make. I once had to go onstage after a female poet had ended with the line: All men are rapists”. To my surprise, the teachers laughed.
Weeks later, hurrying down the stairs to my first lesson, I suddenly realised: I’m going to have to face CHILDREN. I’m going to make a fool of myself… And I did. And I fell in love with the kids. And for 5 years we made music…
I did write one choral work, about the life of the renaissance sculptor Benvenuto Cellini (1500 – 1571), as told by Benvenuto himself.
2006 – now
Moved to Brighton. Children now young adults. Got a lovely little terraced house with a sea view. Mid-50s, time to do what I want. What’s that? Fuck knows. Started with The Sand Band.
The Sand Band
Double album with Denise Black (vocals) and Hedi Pinkerfelt (bass). Also Patricia Calnan (violin), George Robertson (viola), Jane Panayi (woodwind), Dandy Sand (vocals). We performed a series of gigs in the summer of 2006.
This was great, except we ran out of money, in fact we were deep in debt. So I started giving one-to-one lessons from the studio at the end of my garden.
Singing, Piano & Composition Lessons*
There’s something about Brighton. Seaside, but not sedate or posh. I’ve never known a place so full of talanted singers and musicians. I take allcomers, from seven to seventy, from beginners to professionals.
(Having set that up, I wrote a bad whodunnit The Painkiller – needs chucking in the bin.)
Aged 57, I started researching what became The Whole Shebang.
The Whole Shebang
a 365-page adventure into reality. I studied the sciences, every discipline and perspective that might shed light. It gave me back my sense of wonder at the world and my love of verse. It also took four years.
(Wanting to keep writing, I penned an awful fantasy novel, ‘Over The Moon’ – should be called ‘Into The Bin’.) So, needing to redeem myself, I wrote two one-woman shows
Birth Of The Musical (2013)
a musical journey through the dazzling twenty years between the two world wars,
from the roaring twenties to the great depression and the golden age of Hollywood,
with new songs telling the story and old songs bringing it to life.
It was premiered in London in november, with Denise Black (singer, mistress of ceremonies and our leader), Graeme Taylor (banjo, ukelele, mandolin, guitar) and me on the old joanna.
Friend Tracy Coleman saw the show and commissioned me to write one for her.
Pack Up Your Troubles (2014)
This show takes a whistle-stop tour of the first two decades of the 20th century.
It’s really a story of how the old world of kings and queens explodes in a war that kills millions and the modern age is born. Again, new songs tell the story, old songs bring it to life. It stars Tilly Crumb (alias Tracy) and its first performance was in september 2014.
Whatever Next ?