So those of you who have been following this blog for a little while are already acquainted with my massive ego Jasper Mountbatten III. He's an extroverted, irrational, volatile personality but he can also be entertaining in party situations. Sometimes he's inspiring (albeit in a rather bullying "Finish the whole keg you frickin' democrat!" kind of way) which can be helpful at those moments when you do actually need to finish the keg. Other times he's like a hurt little child and can sulk in the toilet for days at a go. But whatever the situation, Jasper's reaction is inevitably active. Even the sulking is an active kind of sulking. And his reactions are those of either extreme joy, or extreme injustice and anger. You'll forgive Jasper if he has a rather inflated view of me as a person, that's kind of what his job is.
Today though, I'd like to introduce you to another aspect of my personality. He's related to Jasper, although you would hardly guess it to look at him. When Jasper is the one at the party entertaining everybody with a hilarious story about the time he fell asleep in a river, his cousin Derek Bluebottom is the one that everyone is desperately trying to avoid. He's the guy at the party who looks like he was forced to come by his mum. He's the one in the kitchen standing by the fridge. You know, the one who you need to politely ask to move in order to get another beer. It's not an accident, he's standing in the way deliberately. Just so that someone will be forced to interact with him. Deep down he wants to connect, but instead he just kind of looks at you with nothing in his face. Pretty soon, word has spread through the party that there's a weird sad guy next to the fridge, and people start going to the off-license instead of to the kitchen. Derek has that effect on people.
If I'm perfectly honest though, the last place you would ever find Derek is at a party. He's more likely to be found at home on the sofa, sitting in the dark (having been unable to find the will to turn the light on) scrolling meaninglessly through an endless pit of despair until his phone runs out of battery, gradually sinking lower and lower until he can't feel anything anymore. Not joy, not sadness, just an infinite bog of numbness.
Say hello to Derek Bluebottom, my depression. Or perhaps don't bother, he's not likely to hear you.
You might wonder why I'm introducing you to Derek at all. He's not exciting like Jasper (or arguably normal like me), he's a bit of a pariah...
There are many times in my career so far that Derek has come to visit me. I must say I don't particularly look forward to his visits as I never really know how long he's going to stay. He came to stay after I got fired from Fantastic Mr Fox, actually he was a fairly regular visitor in the weeks leading up to that moment.
He also came for regular holidays during my very early years as a composer/lyricist, whenever I didn't get anywhere in a competition, whenever I didn't get a job, whenever I wondered what the hell I was doing with my life and what the damn point of any of it was anyway. Interestingly enough, although they make fairly strange bedfellows, Derek usually comes to visit with Jasper. But, you don't always know that he's there. He slides in the door behind Jasper and sets up in the spare room before you've even realised. And the most important difference between Jasper and Derek? Jasper always leaves as soon as the cocaine runs out, whereas Derek lingers long past his use by date.
So of the two, who is the more dangerous? Jasper for his outbursts, and volatility? Or Derek with his quiet numbing?
For me, the answer will always be Derek. But why am I talking about Derek now?
Because he's in my spare room... and I'm terrified.
I have recently gotten an amazing commission which I will be able to tell you about as soon as it is announced, basically it's an opportunity that has been one of my secret goals ever since I started off on this crazy theatre journey. So naturally when I found out, Jasper turned up at the door with a bottle of expensive champagne and a pound of heroin. It was great. I was so distracted for the two days of Jasper's hardcore party visit that of course I didn't notice Derek as he slumped through the door behind Jasper and headed straight for the spare room.
And then of course, Jasper left.
And now I'm left with Derek. Occassionally he comes out of the spare room, and pads gently through the hall, sometimes he'll sit next to me on the couch. He has a presence that infuses everything near him with an overwhelming sense of meaninglessness.
But the most difficult thing about Derek is his diet. As much as his presence is disturbing, it's his diet that is really dangerous for me. You see, Derek doesn't bring things to eat with him when he visits. He feeds on what is available to him. And his favourite food?
Derek eats my confidence like there's no tomorrow, for breakfast (when he can be bothered to have it) lunch and dinner. And the really sad thing about Derek is that eating my confidence has absolutely no effect on Derek. He can eat it all and never put on weight, it's like it disappears down his throat into an endless black hole.
And Derek doesn't even need bad reviews to start eating. All he needs is my imagination. My perceived thought that I can't do this job. This is what is happening right now. This commission is a great opportunity and already Derek is thinking about how badly it will turn out.
I have come to realise over the past year, that actually I really need a lot of confidence in order to do my job well. If I am to create good work I need to be able to trust in my ability to create good work. Especially in the theatre I have to be confident enough of my own worth as a composer/lyricist in order to be able to express my opinions and thoughts to my collaborators. I have to believe that my contribution is worth something. And the moment that I stop doing that I can't function effectively as an artist.
I've talked about this before but I hadn't realised what a huge part confidence has to play in the role of a creative in the theatre (as in many industries). When I was starting out I thought that it was talent and who you know that determines whether or not you succeed in this business (whatever your definition of success maybe). But I have come to realise that confidence plays an immense part in the whole process. For without it, any talent you possess is meaningless. If you are unable to express that talent and contribute your thoughts and ideas you might as well be back home in the spare room with Derek.
The good news is, that now I've started realising when Derek is on his way round...
So I start hiding his favourite foods from him. As with many things, I have noticed that simply being aware that Derek is coming over is half the battle. Just knowing that he will be there, and that he will be eating on my confidence somehow makes me feel better, and conversely it also makes me feel more confident that I can handle it.
I can prepare to a certain extent for his visits now and I also know that eventually, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next week, but some day...
I'll wake up...
go to the spare room...
open the door...
and Derek will be gone (at least for now).
I don't think I'll ever get used to his visits, and I don't think we'll ever particularly get on. But at the very least he has made me aware of my own confidence in myself and for that he deserves a bit of thanks.
See you next time Derek.
Ah, I can almost hear the dulcet tones of Michael Buble and Cliff Richard ringing through the air. Ok, it's not quite Christmas yet, but there are some Christmas things that need a bit of preparation...
About four years ago my girlfriend decided she wanted to volunteer for an event that Iris Theatre were putting on called The XMas Factor... She didn't know anything about it, but assumed that as it was a Christmas event there would probably be mulled wine and so she signed up. When she came home that night she told me that it had been a competition for new song writing and that I would have really enjoyed it if I hadn't been busy sitting in my pants on the sofa.
I didn't really think about it again until the following year when (as I slowly became more hooked in to the new musical theatre scene) I heard about the event and a deadline for submission. It turns out it wasn't far away and I didn't have a Christmas song to submit. So I did what any songwriter would do. I wrote one and submitted it. I then forgot about it as I often do and went on with various other things until I received a lovely email from Iris Theatre saying that they would like my song to be in the final of their XMas Factor. I was stoked. That year I attended the competition, together with Amanda, and was delighted to win the Iris Panel Award and the Audience Runner Up Prize with my song The Angel at the Top of the Tree. That song served me well as it has gone on to be sung by quite a few people and also won a special runner up Prize at the Stiles & Drewe Best New Song Competition. The song also gave me the basis for an idea for a full musical based on the life of Christmas decorations...
From such pine needles do mighty Christmas trees grow.
It's now been three years and the XMas factor has given birth to two more of my songs, The Little Match Girl (Audience Award Runner Up) and The Beautiful Game (Audience Award with brilliant lyricist Richy Hughes. Not only that but the XMas factor has been a huge boost for my confidence as a writer and has given me an audience for my work as well as a large amount of mulled wine.
For those of you who haven't been, The XMas Factor really kicks off your Christmas. It's a beautiful venue in the Actors Church in Covent Garden and the festive spirit is alive and well with guest bands, brilliant singers, a wonderful host and of course lots of brand new Christmas songs.
But this year is going to be a bit different...
Laura With, the genius mastermind behind the whole concept has created:
XMAS FACTOR: ALL STARS
This year, the winning songs from the past four years (panel award and audience award + some favourite wild cards) will go head to head in a brutal contest to the death. As Christopher Lambert said in Highlander many years ago... "There can be only one."
But that's not all... in a whole new initiative, Iris Theatre is producing a Studio Recording Album of the winning songs, sung by brilliant singers and played by brilliant musicians. For me this is literally music to the ears.
As a new writer, you are represented by the quality of your work and you want to show it at it's best to potential producers and companies who might want to work with you. As it is costly to get high quality studio recordings of your work produced we often have to rely on live recordings, which, whilst wonderful simply can't capture the same nuance as a studio recording.
As well as being a damn fine album of brilliant new Christmas songs, this will also give the writers an opportunity to have their work recorded and hopefully help them find an audience far beyond the lucky audience who are able to attend the concert in person...
But, the thing is that these recordings cost money, even when people give up their time and expertise for them, studios are often expensive.
To this end Iris Theatre have begun a crowdfund on Kickstarter. They don't need a huge amount... only £2500. And £600 of that has already been raised...
I know that many people have supported my work in the past, and I don't expect you to give to every project I'm involved in, but these guys really deserve some moolah and help. If you have anything spare at all then please do give what you can. There are many new writers who need your support and if the world wants new music to listen to then this is one of the ways in which you can help that happen! There are some great perks available and I promise that the quality of the songs will be worth it.
Here is the link, please do take just a couple of minutes if you can, find your debit card and donate to a Christmas that won't be dominated by Michael Buble and Cliff (we love you guys!).
You can have a listen to the three songs that I wrote for XMas Factor here... thanks to all for supporting!!