The audience is suddenly thrown into darkness as the song (‘The End’) is cut short. From among the throng, a group of singers has arranged itself in the centre of the space. Using their phone lights, they illuminate music sheets and begin to sing a slowly-evolving, ethereal chant.
Around them, dancers emerge from within the audience. They too light up the space, their torch beams following the movement. Singers and dancers are locked together in overlapping, repeating phrases. These slowly cycle, in and out of phase, until revealing themselves as being strands of one harmony. The text is ‘Come together, Sing as one’.
The underlying message of the show is to make the most of our interactions while we can. We regularly neglect those that mean most to us. And we often miss the opportunity to let those that have inspired or helped us know how we feel about them.
We each have our own independent trajectory. But these interweave with one another, combining in ways that may be abrasive or beautiful. It is up to us all to make the most of our interactions, whether planned or chanced upon. Together, we can make something quite magical.
When you take away the stage lights, PA, seating and physical distance from a performance, we are all just people in a room. What then matters is how we interact with one another. I now join the audience as we all sing and move around the space together.
Now all barriers between me and the audience have been removed. We are all, quite literally, now on the same level. It’s a little difficult to hear the song via the hand-held camera’s microphone, over the audience’s spontaneous clapping. But you can certainly make out the ‘whoo-hoo’s!
After a time, a conga breaks out, audience members clap, sing and generally enjoy the mayhem. Until, suddenly, it’s all over. Or is it?…
Now, even the cameraman has to pack down his tripod, so we get a slightly disconcerting view of the rapidly deconstructing performance. The audio is also just from the hand-held camera, so we are very much ‘in the room’ with no enhancement…
As a student, I was introduced to theatre by the amazing director Andy Burden. We became close friends and when he moved back to his home city of Bath, I visited him regularly. As well as directing, Andy also wrote and performed songs. Together, we played many of Bath and Bristol’s most popular venues and I realised this was somewhere I would be happy to live.
A few years later, I moved to Bath – together with my wife – and quickly became established within the local creative scene. When we then started a family, some friendships became a little overlooked. As a parent, you inevitably have to re-prioritise and it can be difficult to find time and energy to socialise.
So, even though we now lived within the same city, Andy and I saw less of one another and our gigging together was curtailed. Fast-forward a few years and now we are in the era of social media. One day, Andy posted that a lump had been found on his neck. It was thought to be a benign tumor but turned out to be cancer.
There followed a period of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Andy was hit hard by these but, when I visited him, he still managed to play host, rather than ‘the patient’. Eventually, he posted on social media that the treatment was over: “they’ve cut me, they’ve burned me’ they’ve poisoned me”, he wrote; “Now, let the healing being!”
It struck me that this sounded like one of Andy’s songs. Beneath his post, friends and family had written all sorts of beautiful and moving comments. So, I set about creating a song, in the style of Andy Burden, using both his words and those of his loved ones.
Time is pushing on and the sound man is keen to pack down the remaining microphone. The PA and stage lighting has now gone. The audience is still standing, following ‘Life Begins’ and I continue my story without staging or amplification…
To celebrate my 40th birthday, I gathered friends together for a camping weekend near Bath. This prompted me to contact Fergus Read – who’s was the first friendship I struck up as a student in London. Fergus was an amazing musician and played just about every instrument you could think of.
Through Fergus, I got to collaborate with some of London’s finest jazz players. During our time as students, I was lucky enough to play gigs with the likes of Jean-Marie Fagan, Alan Barnes and Malcolm Earle-Smith. And being accepted into such exulted company went a long way towards helping me overcome some deep-seated self doubt.
Fergus declined the invitation to my party. After I described the planned children’s games, tai chi, yoga, barbecues and campfire sing-alongs, he declared that I was a f**king hippy and that he would not be attending. He said he would, though, come and visit (together with his wife, Ulfet) me and my family at our home in Bavaria.
And so they did. It transpired they had both become quite serious wine buffs since we last saw them. They arrived in a car laden with everything France had to offer, from fine wines and cheeses to – ahem – fois gras. Every night became a banquet and the proposed one-night stay extended to eight.
After this, our friendship was rekindled. So too our working relationship. Fergus helped provide the expertise for a ‘vintage-jazz’ track I composed for a short animation. On it, he played – with skill and expertise – guitar, piano, trumpet and clarinet. Fergus’s dear pal Malcolm played trombone; tuba was provided by our mutual friend Sarah Waterhouse… and I hit some things.
The following year, Fergus and Ulfet reprised their visit to Bavaria. During that stay, Fergus made me promise I would visit when over in England for an up-coming theatre production. This I did – but, when I got there, it was clear something wasn’t right. Fergus’s speech was slurred and he revealed he had undergone a biopsy.
Shortly after, Fergus was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He declined quickly and by the time I was next in England was already in a hospice, barely able to communicate. The chemotherapy and radio therapy did give him a reprieve. However, on my next and final visit to see him, he was once again in decline and now in denial about his situation.
So, I never got to tell Fergus what he really meant to me. It is a source of lasting regret that I hadn’t forced myself to say how grateful I was to have known him, both as a friend and fellow musician. So, of course, I wrote him a song. Actually, I wrote the bulk of it in the departures lounge of Saltzburg Airport, waiting for my flight over to see him. But, of course, he never got to hear it.
As I neared the end of my 30s, the idea of turning 40 felt like a daunting prospect . However, once that milestone was passed, it seemed as though I had a new lease of life. Self-imposed boundaries began to ease and a renewed sense of possibility set in.
It’s now quite a while since the ‘show’ has finished. The venue staff is keen to get everything packed away. The audience is, therefore, asked to stack the chairs at the back of the auditorium. So, the literal deconstruction of the performance environment continues.
And with that comes the further removal of barriers between performer and audience. Now, people are free to move, mingle and dance. They get involved with the song and one group improvises a refrain, along with the guitar riff.
Freed from the constraints of sitting in rows, the public now enjoys a sense of release. But with that comes uncertainty. Now the rules of engagement have been broken: where will this show take them next?
On a trip back to the UK from Germany, to work on a film project, I visited our old neighbour, Hersey, in Bath. She asked me if I had heard about Barry, who lived across the street. Barry Maunder was transport manager for the Environment Centre in Bath (then’Evolve’). There, he was instrumental in setting up Car-Free Day. This was taken up all over Europe but soon dwindled in the UK.
Hersey explained that funding for Barry’s job at Evolve had been cut. I thought this strange, since he was the Transport Manager, arguably the most vital role within that organisation. Having said that, Barry was not always popular, since he regularly stood-up to local traders, who were often unable to see beyond the bonnets of their customer’s vehicles. So I had my suspicions as to why he, in particular, had been seen as dispensable.
Hersey then explained that Barry had become very ill, after losing his job, and then died. This was, naturally, a huge shock. As far as I had been aware, he was fit and well the last time I had seen him, only a year or so previously.
Barry lived for his work and was a tireless campaigner, during a period in which there was a lot of apathy and indifference towards environmental concerns. Could it be that, now Barry’s purpose had been taken away from him, he had somehow lost the will to live? Or was it just a cruel coincidence?
Whatever the cause and effect, I wondered whether we could reinvigorate car-free day in Barry’s name. This being a time before Social Media, my efforts to whip-up support for the idea, once back in Germany, didn’t get very far. But I did write a song…
Not long after our daughter Mari was born, my mother-in-law had some heart problems. This led to her needing a double bypass, and uncertainty as to how things might progress from there. After a time, she and my father-in-law decided that the family home was now too much for them to look after. So, they found a suitable flat nearby.
We now had a second child, a son ‘Florian’, and our small 2-up-2-down was beginning to feel a little cramped. So, when my in-laws suggested we come and live in their house in Germany (where my wife had grown up), it seemed like a great opportunity. Except that, for me, things had been going very well indeed where we were, in Bath.
Being dislocated from our adopted home, I became prone to bouts of bad temper and anger. I was worried about how this might affect our son in particular. These were his formative years and his sister had enjoyed a much calmer version of me during hers. However, when he was 3 years old, he let me know everything was OK.
Mari had just turned 5 and we were having a birthday party for her. Some of her friends from Kindergarten were invited – both boys and girls. The girls played happily together in the kitchen, face-painting and making pictures. The boys, meanwhile, just wanted to rough and tumble.
So I engaged the boys in play fighting. Which was fine, until Florian saw them apparently attacking his Dad. And he was having none of it. Two years younger and outnumbered as he was, Florian fought off these little thugs, with a look of thunder on his face.
My heart filled with love, admiration and a little relief at Florian’s heroic defense of his old man. And, of course, I wrote a song about it…
When you become a parent for the first time, it feels like a tremendous responsibility. It’s also incredibly exciting. Suddenly, you are aware of the enormous potential in life. Your child could grow up to be anyone and do anything. And you will have a key role in shaping that journey.
So, it feels really important to keep on growing yourself. Now, you must face your own prejudices, desires and disappointments. How can you be the best possible role model for your child? Can you maintain your own integrity whilst putting the needs of your family first?
For me, it was an exciting time, personally, when my daughter was born. I was beginning to make connections in the creative world and finding new opportunities. In the midst of all of this, a chance encounter on a train threw everything into sharp relief. And gave me the chord structure for a new song…
The gig is over, the band has left the stage and then returned to pack up. But the audience is till there. Awkward…
So, we look at why it may be that endings can be uncomfortable and it is not always easy to leave a given situation. Perhaps this reflects our fear of leaving altogether? Why are we so reluctant to talk about that – to engage with the topic of death?
When I was 25, I had my first encounter with bereavement. A good friend, who had been an inspiration to me, died in a car crash. Alistair had been, somehow, ahead of the curve. He was a free spirit, well-traveled and highly intelligent.
We had recently resumed contact after a period during which we had both been away. I was excited for Alistair to see where I was now living and to meet my friends. It had taken until into my 20s before I had begun to understand how I fit into things and really wanted to share this with him.
When Alistair died, I wasn’t well-equipped to deal with it. I went, with a friend, to his funeral but felt awkward and out of place. Not joining his family for the wake was a mistake. But… I did write a song.
This song was originally used as a pre-recorded playout track at the end of ‘Think of a Song’. It has no particular relevance or meaning but reflects the overall sentiment of the trilogy. It’s about a festival experience, at which I let go of my innate self-consciousness and – with a little help from my friends – cut loose.
It’s inclusion here is for continuity. It represents the ending of the second show ‘Think of a Sequel’, in which it was performed live. This time, the audience come in as the track is played. This is the ‘end of the concert’, after which the band and I leave the stage. As you will see, we then drift back on to pack up. At this point, I notice the audience still in place and things progress from there.
The show seeks to pose questions about endings and departures. Specifically, it deals with death and renewal. We ask ourselves why endings are so uncomfortable and daunting. And we explore the notion that perhaps the end isn’t really as final as we may think.
On drums is the multi-talented Dom Bailey. Dom is a producer, keyboard player, guitarist, drummer and sound engineer. He mixed and produced my recent album ‘Invisible’, soon to be re-released under my ‘a Band named Brian’ moniker, at his Nine Volt Leap studio. The synths you hear come from the album version of this track and were synced to the live performance by Dom.
Daniel Whiston is on bass. Daniel is a writer, graphic novelist and bassist for the inimitable band ‘Mighty Dynamite’. Our connection comes via Mighty Dynamite’s former drummer Jason Albarin, who is name-checked in the song. The festival in question was Sunrise, at which Jason and I played in two bands: Plucky Purcell and Thompson’s Lovechild.