I spent yesterday being a fly on the wall at the orchestration trials for Stiles & Drewe’s new show Wind in the Willows. I’ve been on a couple of orchestration & arrangement courses in the past as it’s something that really fascinates me but unfortunately the teaching has always ultimately been disappointing. To have someone talk you through the finer points of orchestration without experiencing the sound is a bit like Dumbledore taking you through the finer points of an awesome spell without ever showing you the magic. This was so different. I spent my time either sitting in the studio listening to Simon Lee conducting the live orchestra or in the control room listening to George discussing the arrangements with his two orchestrators, Chris and David. The attention to detail in the textures of the music was the thing that jumped out at me the most and the incredibly varied colours that certain instruments could produce. The difference that a quaver rest could make and the fact that these guys could all hear that it would make a difference was really eye opening. The music was spine tinglingly thrilling and audiences will be in for a real treat come October.
I probably learnt more in those three hours just sitting in that room than I did on all of my orchestration courses.
So today we flew out from Stansted Airport to Brive in the South West of France. Fortunately I double checked my ticket before I left otherwise I would have been flying out from Luton Airport to absolutely nowhere. I did not, however, double check that I had packed any underwear. It’s one of the only times I’ve been thankful for an extended security check (they always stop me because they think my guitar capo might be some sort of brutal instrument of death - which some would say it is). On repacking my stuff, it turned out that I had left undergarments off my list. A quick phone call with my lovely lady and I just had time to pop to NEXT to purchase some exciting boxer shorts before hurrying off to the plane where I found George just in front of me in the queue.
After a short and uneventful flight, during which we spent a large proportion of the time delving into the depths of the human psyche and insulting each others work, we were met at the airport in stifling heat by Ants and his beautiful dog Sixpence. We drove through the countryside, over the gorgeous Dordogne river, eventually arriving at a tiny village in a wooded valley.
It was surreal seeing the village of The Wicker Husband pop vividly into life in front of my eyes. Suddenly I was driving past the old stone houses of our characters; the brutish cobbler and his beautiful but unsatisfied wife, the slothful innkeeper and his hard working, long suffering partner. The Ugly Girl’s shack on the outskirts. We drove down the small lanes and over streams, the darkness of the wood ever close by on all sides. The location couldn’t have been more perfect. Ants and George (with their brilliant assistant Lettie) had booked us into a Gite. Basically a small holiday chalet in the village within walking distance of Ants’ place. It’s a beautiful old stone cottage, with gorgeous exposed timbers, shutters and fireplaces and plenty of room to relax and spread out my new underwear. It also has a lovely garden with some creaky swings and outdoor furniture with beautiful views. The Stiles & Drewe Award certainly knows how to put you up in style!(s)
We dropped off my stuff and we drove off through the village (stopping to meet several of the villagers on the way) and then up through the wooded hillside right to the top of the hill where I was greeted by one of the most stunning views I’ve seen in a long time. I won’t gush but basically Ant’s house is incredibly beautiful. It’s the kind of house that my mum is always looking at in her Gardening magazines. The kind of house my girlfriend would love to live in. We ate some fruit picked straight up off the ground and five minutes later, Ants was preparing his signature Toulouse Sausage dish (delicious) and I was floating in the hilltop pool surrounded by silence until George turned up on his hot pink inflatable and ruined it. We talked about various things as we floated in the sun including the art of critique, the orchestration from the day before and what exactly is inside a Toulouse Sausage.
When dinner was ready, we sat outside with some wine and ate the fruits of Ants’ labour. I’m not entirely sure but I think I might have eaten approximately half of everything that was available. To their credit no one said anything about this. Although I’m sure that Sixpence eyed my waistline as I reached for another helping of potatoes. In my mind she was saying “You really think you need that?” For some reason, in my head she sounds a bit like Arethra Franklin.
Over dinner, looking out over the gorgeous countryside we talked about many things relating to the business side of musical theatre that were really eye opening. Phrases I had not heard like “secondary rights” and other professional sounding things were used. It was great. I felt a tiny bit like that girl in The Secret Garden. Except instead of being scolded by a hunchback uncle, I was being invited in by these two delightful fellows. And I’m not a girl I kept reminding myself. I’m a man.
The conversation soon turned to The Wicker Husband and the journey that we were about to embark on. It was really lovely to hear both of them speak with such passion and insight about the story and the characters. And already on the first evening I could feel some light beginning to penetrate the murky wood of our musical adventure.
Ants’ drove me back to the Gite about 11pm, apparently we can see the International Space Station as it flies by. The stars are incredible. I went to bed and then woke up at 4am too excited to sleep. That’s where I’m writing this… at 4am in an ancient cottage in the South West of France… Isn’t life funny sometimes?