Bess – A new pop musical
20 June 2019
Bess-A new pop musical
When I was 12 at my secondary school. They called them comprehensives back then. So this was called Highfield Comprehensive in Felling, Tyne and Wear. I wonder if its still there? I didn’t attend that often so this was a rare visit I guess. I had two or three teachers that got me. But not many did. To be honest I never learnt anything at school. Everything I did learn happened at home through my older sister and brother through records and books and the TV. School was a drag and to be frank a bore. A chore.
Anyway on this rare visit to school I had to do an assignment. Chose a subject matter and be a good little boy and learn about it all and prepare a dossier, a project, for teacher and class. Two hours a week to do your own thing I guess. Most of the boys chose Bruce Lee who was hip at the time. My first choice was Adolf Hitler.
My mam persuaded me to consider Queen Elizabeth the 1st. I wasn’t convinced. At first.
Then my mam got me a folder in Newcastle, from a cool shop called Mawson Swan and Morgan, a file that contained authentic info and documents about Elizabeth R and I watched Glenda Jackson playing the Virgin Queen. Something happened. It resonated. I GOT history.
I never looked back. The research I did as a nipper on Elizabeth led to more ambitious projects down the line such as a musicals on Mata Hari, Byron, Cleopatra-Queen of the Nile and even movie screenplays on Dickens- Mr Tringham and an exciting period drama, a true story called Murder at the Savoy. And of course a little musical called, From Here To Eternity.
But it all really all got cooking as a bairn with that project on Queen Elizabeth the 1st
Whizz forward a lifetime and in March 2019 I got itchy to do a new musical. Bonkers really as I’ve written more musicals than probably anyone alive. Or dead for that matter and I’m still completely unknown. Probably as I’ve not had one major interview on telly, radio or a serious article about me though I’ve been doing this music lark since the late 1970s. Crazy huh? And I’m British. We do have a problem in this country promoting and supporting our own. Sad but true. Or maybe its just me?
Anyway, in March I had a zany idea. How about a time travelling musical. I could see how the youngsters now dug the 1980s. Like my generation dug the 1960s even though we weren’t even born then.
So I thought what would happen if a kid of 2019, who like me was bored with his time wanted to time travel using his iphone back to the 80s to meet his idol, David Bowie. But, being a bit crap he got it all wrong and went back to the 1580s! And took Bowie ala Serious Moonlight, Let’s Dance Bowie, back with him! To the court of, yes you guessed it…Elizabeth the 1st!
I wrote a synopsis and found a batch of old unheard pop songs from my vast back catalogue and soon I had a new show which I called BESS.
I thought this was or had the potential to be more of a movement based dance piece than previous work so I sent the synopsis to Bird College in Kent, who I knew had a good reputation in this area.
And waited. To be honest I didn’t wait long. In a few days I was meeting the head guy of Bird in Paddington for a coffee in between a slew of meetings for Pink Angora Sweater.
He got it and within a week or two I had a college and a week with twenty students and a great choreographer to stage a world premier of Bess. A new pop musical as I labelled it.
All fine and well but I hadn’t exactly written it. Only six or seven pages to be exact. Oh well. Not to worry. If its meant to be it will happen.
And it did.
But only a few days before we were due to begin rehearsals of Bess. And only roughly a week before we were due to present a workshop of Bess to the industry.
Now lets make this clear this was not because I’m lazy. Anyone who knows me will testify that this is not the case. Unless its a 9 to 5 job or fixing a plug, lightbulb or cooking a meal. Then I’m officially Britain’s laziest Chap. But writing is different. I don’t believe in working at it and I don’t worry about doing it last minute. Its has to happen naturally and in its own time, it can’t be forced.
And this was a comedy. I knew writing something funny must just roll off the pen. Be one long stream of consciousness. And so I left it until this happened.
Dangerously late but after three full days I finished the book of Bess the weekend before we were due to kick off at Bird college.
I think its one of the best things I’ve written. But most importantly the whole idea feels…timely. Now.
The week at Bird was a dream. The sun shined every day in Sidcup, I even found a great pub near to the campus, The Alma folks, a lovely pint, atmosphere and a mean ploughman’s.
And the students were all amazing. AMAZING. So much raw talent and the movement and choreography top notch. In fact it was hard to believe sometimes they were so young. And goosebumps. Lots of them. As the songs were put up on their feet my arm and neck was basically a sea of shivers time after time. A good sign.
The performance date came to quickly. I’d have loved a month or two to explore it all even more. But the Friday arrived and we put most of the first half of Bess on its feet and presented it to what was 70 per cent a young crowd. Bairns.
I introduced the piece honestly by stating it was a joy to finally finish that project on Elizabeth I’d began as an unimpressed teenager. And also get David Bowie to sing a few of my songs!
I also made a pact with the young theatre students watching that if they wanted to do new work and supported me I would write them new musicals and support them. I hope we both honour that pledge.
And so began the first ever Bess. Only a few days after I’d written it. Even by my standards it all happened fast. But boy was it fun. And boy did it work!
I don’t think I’ve enjoyed myself so much in a such a long time as I did that week with Bird. And Bess?
I think the future looks bright for the original Queen of Rock. As I said in the blurb England will never be the same.
Thanks for the tip Mam.
You see I was listening…