This was also published in The Court magazine.
As a professional musician there are some gigs that seem to be born to me. Others I acquire through my business acumen but last week at Barkston Gardens, there was one that was thrust upon me. The Earl’s Courtiers decided that Twelfth Night, perhaps more than any other Shakespeare play, should have music. If you’re wondering why, the clue is in the play’s first line.
I play spanish guitar and along with trumpeter Barbara Snow, lead a latin jazz cabaret band called Chico Chica. We are lucky to number one Larry Pryce, an Earl’s Court resident, as a friend, champion and agent. It was he who suggested to the director that Chico Chica be given the honour of providing the food of love. My experiences in music theatre have given me such fond memories that I jumped at the chance.
The cast’s final rehearsal was our first. Toby Brown, the director, talked us through what was required. We felt in safe hands. He seemed authoritative though that could be because he was wearing a crown (he played Count Orsino) and he was gracious enough not to roll his eyes when I asked stupid questions. We were to play our latin-inspired music to set the tone as the audience arrived and during the interval. The entertainment and hospitality started as soon as you walked through Barkston Gardens’
wrought-iron gate. There were songs to accompany: Your Song, I Want To Break Free and All You Need is Love as well as fanfares, flourishes and incidental music. For the sword-fighting scene we played Casa Flamenco, a dramatic instrumental which will be on Chico Chica’s next album.
A problem I have with Shakespeare is when the words are spoken too quickly. My poor modern brain can’t take in the complexity of the language. Luckily for the likes of me, in this production, the words were spoken clearly, slowly and with enough expression to carry the story. Sitting through one rehearsal and three performances allowed me to get to know a play which I had only seen once before and that was as a school boy.
On the opening night it poured but there were brollies and gazebos to hand. Amazingly, the cast carried on with duck-like nonchalance and more amazingly still, the audience stuck around to watch. Barbara and I were able to sit under a tree for those parts when we were not needed. It was on the second day that I learnt that the company was called the Earl’s Courtiers and that it was amateur. This came as a surprise because of the standard of the performance and general production. Radio mikes are notoriously erratic but here they worked perfectly with no minicab controllers interrupting intimate love scenes. Toby Brown’s Count Rossini, Tony Richardson’s Malvolio and Melissa Woodside’s Viola were especially memorable and characterful performances.
For one day a week, I teach guitar at the nearby London Oratory School so ended up bumping into pupils and parents from the school, including one cast member so for Chico Chica it was a great social occasion. After each show we met at the Mansion Bar across the road and on the final night, went on to The Troubadour which was where, in 2012 we launched Mélangerie, our very first album.
We hear so much nowadays of people being overworked. They say we can no longer get our iPhone-addled brains to concentrate or have the time to read long literary novels, yet at Barkston Gardens last week were a group of busy young Earl’s Court residents who took the time to learn their parts and then to rehearse them to create a three unforgettable nights and I leant later, to raise funds for the St Cuthbert’s Restoration Appeal.
It was inspiration to all those like me who have taken the difficult road of a career in the arts never to lose that sense of fun and adventure that the Earl’s Courtiers showed us.
Chico Chica will be bringing their distinctive collection of original songs and spoken word to The Crypt, St Martin’s In the Field, Trafalgar Square, London on Wednesday 13th August 2014.