Friday, December 23, 2005

Catching up from Dallas


Finally I have time on my hands to catch you up on what’s been happening in my life this week; I am sitting in a departure lounge at Gatwick waiting to get on a plane where I will sit for a further ten hours, so I have the time on my hands to do a bit of reflection.

This morning was a dreadfully early start; 05:30 wake-up for an 06:30 car to the airport. We didn’t get to bed until nearly 2am so, as you can imagine, I am not at my best this morning. I pity the Brett’s family who will have to deal with me at the other end of the ten hours in an economy class seat (no exit rows available, dammit!).

Brett has headed off to shop for ‘baby gifts’ for some of the younger nieces and nephews – and, I suspect, to get away from my periodically singing excerpts from the Finzi piece and now ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ which BAA are thoughtfully playing in the background to remind me of last night’s show.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here…


Tuesday was another deadly dull day at work, although I did manage to agree with my boss to take Thursday off as I am seriously unprepared for going away. Tuesday evening I was singing with the Chorus at Selfridges. I managed to get there in time to hear most of the previous set and, while the boys sounded great if you were standing nearby and could hear them, it all sounded pretty ropey through the PA as they only had eight uni-directional mic’s and not everyone was singing at the same distance from them, so some voices came over a lot stronger than others.

Some of the guys, Brett included, had already done the three previous shows that day, so the atmosphere in the ‘dressing room’ was fairly weary. There was minor concern on my part when I realised that ‘Seasons of Love’ was included on the running order; I learned the song as a Tenor and have had trouble fixing the Baritone part in my head now that I’ve changed sections. Luckily John W, Rich C & Jerry H all knew the Baritone line well enough that they were happy for me to belt out the Tenor part beside them.

The stage (a small balcony, three-quarters of the way up the atrium in Selfridges normally occupied by no more than a couple of mannequins) was a fairly tight squeeze for sixteen guys, a conductor, pianist and piano but, hey!, we’re professionals darling and we coped.

The set went fairly well from a performance point of view; I just hoped we sounded better over the PA than we had in the previous set. Either way, I came away from it with the knowledge that Selfridges were happy with us and I’d helped earn the Chorus a decent amount of money.

After the show, John & Rich joined us for a bite to eat at Wagamama. It was a nice chill-out session catching up with each other’s plans for Christmas and Chorus gossip. (It’s one of the problems with the Chorus; as you approach a show, you spend large amounts of time with the guys but, because you are focussed on rehearsing or performing, you don’t talk beyond exchanging hellos and musical notes!) After the meal we headed home to make nominal attempts at clearing the house up and organising for the trip.


Wednesday at work (well, actually, only Wednesday morning) was spent clearing the decks ready for going on leave; checking Rav has everything in hand for the year-end backups; making notes to leave him and Sid in case anything comes up on the stuff I’m working on while I’m gone; setting out-of-office notes on my phone and email. It all gives me a nice sense of closure for when I walk out of the office around 2pm and get on the Tube up to Barbican.

The Barbican is quite a nice venue; reasonably modern and with all the dressing rooms right behind the stage, so there’s no long trek from one to the other as there was in Brighton and Birmingham. The acoustic is a little dry; like Brighton, it doesn’t give you anything back and, because of where I was standing (end of the front row) I didn’t get much value out of the stage monitors, so could only hear Russell and Rich C who were standing nearby.

The tech rehearsal went relatively smoothly, the only incident was Matt V, the lighting designer, having a bit of a hissy-fit when the chorus asked him to turn off some extremely bright footlight type of things which were in our eye-line and flashing manically while we were trying to watch Charlie. He’s a good lighting tech, but also well known as a HUGE drama queen. When he’d finished throwing his toys out of the pram, the entire Chorus responded with a hugely girly ‘Ooooooooooohhhhhhhh!’ and the incident was over (and the lights off!)

[Airborne now. A nice Boeing 777, so the economy seats are bearably sized and spaced.]

The show was pretty much a runaway success; the audience was almost a capacity crowd and they were very much up for our style of show; laughing out loud at ‘Coming Out For Christmas’ and enthusiastically jumping up and down during the audience-participation ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ Our sound was good and we were very together. The only cock-up was during ‘Silent Night’ when our boy soprano pre-empted the rest of the Chorus’ by coming straight in with his closing ‘sleep in heavenly peace’ before we had a chance to bring the mood back down from ‘Gospel rock’ to ‘King’s College.’ But as ever Charlie at the piano coped fine and brought the music to a timely close. Simon, who was conducting, simply raised his eyes heavenward and gritted his teeth.

The whole ‘boy soprano’ idea seems to have been a lot of trouble; I know that Gubbay (the promoters) were not keen on us having him; probably worried about the outrage of the Middle-England crowd who can’t get their heads around the idea that gay men aren’t paedophiles. Then there was difficulty getting him to the Brighton and Birmingham shows, which ultimately didn’t happen so our own guys did the solos there. And, while he looks angelic enough for the part, his singing was perhaps not all we had hoped for. Certainly not the soaring soprano of Aled Jones which, for me, will always be associated with ‘Walking In The Air.’

I’m finding I have difficulty in picking a favourite piece out of this repertoire; I like several of them a great deal and it’s almost impossible to pick one over the other as they are all quite different from each other. The classical, almost oratorio, piece by Finzi; ‘In Terra Pax’ I enjoy because, although it is enormously long, it is a haunting and dramatic piece. I especially love the evocative Baritone opening of the canon where reach up from some tricky detailed singing into the pure descending scales of ‘Glory to God in the highest.’ Then there’s ‘Over The Skies of Yisrael’ where we have some lovely melodies and, as one of our audience pointed out, Simon R and the Small Group, bring tears to the eyes with their moving Hebrew prayer.

There is also the camper side of the repertoire too; ‘Coming Out at Christmas’ certainly seems to be a crowd-pleaser but, while amusing, it’s not my favourite; I prefer the other Small Group number; a variation on ‘Winter Wonderland’ and the lovely arrangement and staging of ‘Mad About The Boy’ – although I agree with some of the comments I’ve heard that having Rula sing it rather took the impact away in an LGMC context. It would have been much more ‘us’ if we’d had a relatively butch male compère to sing it with us.

So anyway, we gave them a good show and the audience had no hesitation in their standing ovation after ‘Bootylicious.’ What a blast!

After the show we stayed for a while to have aftershow drinks with the boys and yet again the Barbican hadn’t listened to what we told them about LGMC audiences; they only had two bar staff on and it took me twenty minutes to get served! There was the usual round of bonhomie and we had wonderful feedback from Nick B, who had also been in the audience for Brighton and was very enthusiastic about how much better we had sounded tonight.

I fear I was a little high by the end of it all, between the light dinner, show adrenaline and then the beers afterwards, I was pretty jolly as we did the rounds; flirting outrageously with both Scott L and Nick B who both gave as good as they got.


Thursday was, in theory at least, a day set aside for getting ready to fly to the States. The flat was a mess, with dishes to wash, laundry to do and general clearing-up required. Unfortunately, after the previous night’s exertions we were rather sluggish. I had a lunch appointment with Ping too which rather broke the day up, but it was good to see him. He’s been quite quiet lately; claiming he’s going into Christmas Hibernation. He’s working on developing a new property, so there was talk of some of the issues he’s facing as well as his emotional ups and downs.

After lunch, Brett and I managed to get a bit more organised and at least sort out what we are taking with us. I fear we are going to get charged excess for the case full of presents for the nephews and nieces; even after weeding out everything that wasn’t to or from us!

Then it was time to head back to the Barbican to do it all again. The notes session started earlier than planned, so we were actually a bit late and missed the warm up, but got most of the singing done. Charlie wanted to re-run a couple of the slacker numbers. The joy of a second night, though, is that these things are so much shorter than the first night; there is no tech run to do, no entries and exits to plan, so before you know it you’re off munching on sandwiches waiting for the call to warm-up.

Tonight’s show was both better and worse than last night’s. Better, because several people I spoke to (and myself) got the choreography to both the finale numbers down pat (at LONG last!) but worse because in a couple of places we were more relaxed and let the diction slip. My sister and Andy were in the audience (front row, staring straight at me!) and she commented on that. I particularly noticed the cut-offs in ‘Silent Night’ were hopelessly ragged; everyone was in full ‘gospel choir’ mode and not paying any attention to the conductor.

While the audience felt a bit more staid than last night’s, we did get them warmed up in the end and we had another standing ovation. It was also another almost full house which, by my rough-and-ready reckoning means we’ve entertained 5,000 people in the last week. Wehay!

After the show, we had one beer in the bar and made very quick rounds to wish everyone well and a happy Christmas, before accepting a lift home from Rosie & Andy. Rosie was thick with cold but wanted food on the way, so we stopped off at KFC and picked up a bargain bucket or somesuch. They came in to Wimbledon to eat with us before returning to Camden. They are driving to our parents tomorrow around about the same time we are heading to the airport. In the end the food served us well because Brett and I were up for at least another couple of hours before we were sorted.


To bed at 2ish; alarm at 05:30; drag ourselves out of bed, shower, close and lock cases and it’s already 6:30 and time to go. En route to Gatwick I started feeling queasy and was worried I’d picked up whatever my sister had been suffering from last night, but in the end it was just hunger. A decent breakfast sorted me out.

So here I sit, just over halfway through the flight now, having eaten lunch, watched a movie, slept a little and listened to some music. It’s now 10:40am Dallas time (16:40GMT) so we have about three and a half hours to landing and I haven’t yet lost my rag. Maybe I’ll survive with my sanity in tact. That said, I am definitely feeling the wear of recent weeks; my eyes were really filling up during one of the scenes of ‘Mrs Henderson Presents’. When I start getting emotional swings, that’s a sign that I need more sleep. I’ve also been listening nostalgically to the latest Chorus CD (i.e. last year’s Christmas repertoire), rerunning the melodies from this year’s repertoire in my head and getting all gooey about Mark G & Chris M who are signing their civil partnership today.

I actually felt rather guilty last night as they are doing it purely as a legal formality, with no fuss or ceremony, and had been keeping it fairly quiet, but I (and several others, to be fair) mentioned it to Greg B backstage and he included them on the announcement he made just before we sang ‘Something Inside So Strong.’ When pointed out and applauded by two-thousand people, Chris blushed bright red and Mark just gave a big smile… which I learned later from the guy standing next to him was him gritting his teeth while swearing fluently… As it happens, they are going to be in Texas at the same time as us (Chris is Texan), but unfortunately our itineraries don’t meet up.

Anyway, it looks like it’s going to be a pleasant climate in Dallas. I checked the forecast on the BBC and the next five days’ weather varies between Sunday (High of 16C and low of 6C) and Tuesday (High of 25 and low of 14) so I haven’t packed a winter coat, just enough t-shirts and sweatshirts to layer if needed.

I don’t think we really have much planned at this stage; we are in Dallas for Christmas and at some point will hook-up for lunch with Alex W, whom we got to know at Montreal last year and has since moved from Kansas City to Dallas. Then on Thursday we’re off to Austin to visit Rich M and some of Brett’s old haunts. We are going to a charity ball/dinner thing with Rich for New Year ($75 per plate apparently, eek!) so I have got the full highland rig packed to dazzle Austin social set. We will probably swing via San Antonio on the way back to Dallas on the 2nd of January so Brett can show me his Alma Mater.

Still another three hours to landing. Hmm.

5:30pm: Made it okay. Now about to head off to the family's restaurant for dinner before I wilt.

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