Got Bits of Shell In It
At the start of the summer in 2018 I decided to write a show. I get all excited even writing that sentence, thinking back to when the various nebulae of ideas first started to coalesce into individual clumps, which began to build themselves up using their own gravity, and the clumps of ideas revolved around each other neatly in their own little system.
Like any universe, it was always going to be difficult to make because I had no idea whether it's something sentient beings would want to come and populate it, and whether the numbers will add up and so you don't end up in a Big Crunch. (That's enough tenuous astrophysical analogies now, Charlie). And in case you can't be bothered reading the rest of the blog post, the long and the short of it is that it went fine and many people asked me to let them know when the next one was going to be.
Audiences are happy to turn up to watch me play in a bar they like, and they will make agreeable noises about my music over a pint or three. But would they have any interest in me putting some wholly untested new material together in an unfamiliar and larger venue? That was the million-dollar question. Actually, it was an eight quid question, but you know what I mean. It felt like a vastly ambitious experiment. So I had to give it a go. I wasn't concerned about the attendance numbers particularly; creating the show was the means as much as the end in itself, insofar as I didn't make an outright loss on the night (amazingly, I actually made enough to start funding my next project. Hurrah!).
In some ways, the show was easy to write, as it was very much like cataloguing how my brain understands music. In other ways, it was a very difficult thing to create. Like the fact that I realised, two weeks before the show, that Bill Bailey had already written and performed most of my ideas in a much more amusing way. So I re-wrote the whole thing, this time trying to be even more original. I wasn't convinced of any of it, and ended up re-writing the entire first half again the night before. And then finished re-writing the second half with a five hours to go. I was still making up lines during sound-check. So by 7.30 I was fairly well-prepared.
The theme of the show was a little difficult to describe: I was to explain through the music how the content that held the show together was itself referenced in the music. Hence, Got Bits of Shell In It, some confusion, and an abstract reference to Tyrian Purple.
So how did the ideas come together? I have a reasonable solo repertiore to select pieces from, and a generous range of different styles to play in provided by the different cultures of the world. So I just mixed them all up in ways that were specifically designed to not quite work properly.
One of the things I love about art is that by combining disparate concepts that shouldn't go together, you get something interesting and new, like - I don't know - Robbie Williams and Jazz. (It turns out that idea wasn't very original, either). Actually, there's some debate in the arts world and the engineering world alike as to whether arranging existing things in a surprising way counts as "creating something entirely new". I found it interesting that the pieces that I had designed to be amusing - being texturally and contextually inconsistent, anachronistic and just daft - were considered as works in their own right, especially as they were being performed in a novel situation and the setting of a 17th Century chapel.
Anyway, I loved doing the show, I loved the fact people enjoyed the music for what it was, for how it was created, and said very nice things afterwards. And, of course, my eternal gratitude to everyone who helped, influenced, and coerced me on my way to making it.
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