Friday, 23 July 2010

Twitter makes me a lazy blogger

I have come to the conclusion that Tweeting makes you lazy as a blogger. At least in my case it does. I think, “Oh I just Tweeted” so I think that’s all that’s needed. On top of that, I’ve been so busy lately that a proper longish blog has been hard to get around to. Please excuse the fact that the sentence before this ended with a preposition, something I’m not proud of. So how far back can I reasonably go without boring the crap out of you, but still spilling the beans on life at Batt Battlements and beyond to an extent that will quench your thirst for the detailed machinations of my life, dreams, hopes, favourite colour, recipes for fish pie and more?

Ok, so we shot Katie’s video (“A Happy Place”) in Berlin. That was a laugh. I’d long had this idea that the Radio Berlin headquarters’ lifts (called Paternoster lifts, after the catholic Hail Mary-type beads) – would be a good location for a video. They have no doors, and continuously go up on the left and down on the right, like a fairground ride. You just step onto the next one that comes along. Very dangerous actually, and it’s illegal to build them these days. So I went out a few days ahead of the shoot, to do a recce, and to recruit a crew. The lifts pass through 4 floors so I wanted a camera on each floor, to catch Katie and other characters moving around in the lifts in real time. We used these fantastic newish cameras called “Reds” which behave like film cameras but are really HD video cameras. They have a narrow depth of field, and if you want a “film” look you use Prime lenses. Really great cameras. Anyway, our night shoot was, shall we say, interesting. It was the most hurried and stressful shoot I’ve ever directed – we only had 5 hours of shooting overnight, due to miscommunications with the art department and lots of things going wrong from start to finish. We were blessed by many really talented people, - from Christian Valle, our Brazilian/UK choreographer, to Quin Jessop, our UK Director Of Photography(operating camera one) and a crew of very good German camera operators and focus pullers. The dancers (auditioned in Berlin 3 days before the shoot) were absolutely terrific. The result is a weird video that I admit is not everybody’s cup of tea, but a lot of people love it,- and I’m fine with that.

It’s certainly unusual. I think some people have objected to Katie looking so “Extreme, - and one guy (I hate this kind of ignorant comment) said “money-grabbing Dramatico have made Katie do this” – or words to that effect. Everything about Katie’s slight shift in musical and visual emphasis has been led by her, with me and others advising from the sidelines. She is as, or more deserving of the credit (and blame) for what she is doing than anyone else in the team, including William Orbit and Guy Chambers. It’s always hard for an artist to make artistic progress without upsetting a few people. In this case, most of her fans have remained loyal, and a whole “flood” of new ones has appeared including critics and TV/radio producers who never “got” her before. Anyway, nobody died, so if you don’t like it, - I’m sorry, and you’ll get over it! Maybe the next album will be her singing the great American songbook with the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra. (Or maybe not!).

The album shot straight into the number one slot of the European chart Billboard figures) on the week of release, - which means she had a lot of high chart positions around Europe, like number 4 in UK, number one in several continental countries. We are very proud of her. (Again!)

About the same time – in fact exactly on the day of “The House” being released,- I had my concert at the Cadogan Hall. It was a huge thrill, - and I’m definitely going to do more shows like that. (in fact I did a similar thing in Stuttgart last week, which I’ll come to in a minute). Cadogan not a big hall, about a thousand people, - but a beautiful place - and we had a big orchestra (“The Secret Symphony Orchesta” my new, 55 piece session/concert orchestra available for weddings, bah mitzvahs, highly paid corporate events, etc) and Florence Rawlings as chief backing vocalist and star of two songs. We had Kruky (Michael Kruk) from The Planets on drums and Jono (Hill) from The Planets as leader of the orchestra (first violin). I conducted, sang and played the Joanna. Sarah Blasko lent me her guitarist, Ben, who was a great addition – a perfect combination with Louis Ricardi on lead guitar and Matt round on Bass. We made a lot of noise. I always enjoy doing “The Ride To Agadir”, which goes well because with Florence “leading” the BV’s and me, Louis and Ben, we had a pretty good vocal harmony block. We’ve recorded it for TV etc but won’t have time to edit it for ages. Just filmed it for posterity really, so when I’m an old man (in a few months’ time) I can look back and kid myself I was famous once.

This year I was Artistic Director of the Stuttgart Open jazz festival, - and we did a big concert called “Starry, Starry Night” - which was originally going to star Katie Melua, Jessye Norman, Curtis Stigers, Til Bronner, the Stuttgart Philharmonic Orchestra and moi. I found it very difficult to communicate with Jessye Norman about the repertoire she wanted or didn’t want to sing, in the weeks leading up to the gig. Quite honestly, I found it impossible; it was spoiling the whole gig for me. By pure coincidence however, she developed an eye infection on the day I left for Stuttgart and she pulled out. Although I was sorry to hear about the eye infection which I hope is now better, it was like a weight being lifted from my shoulders. I immediately rang my old (young) friend, Soprano Anna Maria Kaufmann, and although she was busy on the Saturday and the Monday, doing concerts, she very kindly agreed to step in for rehearsals on the Friday and the show on Sunday. I didn’t have time to worry about someone dropping out, I had a prime time gala TV concert to put on for five thousand people (at the Porche arena) . It was a joy to have Anna Maria, who is helpful, pretty and a beautiful singer.

We had loads of orchestral rehearsal time but not much with the actual “stars” who mostly arrived the usual 24 hrs ahead of the concert, so the last rehearsal on the Sunday afternoon was a big panic. I had done a special arrangements of “All You Need Is Love” for the orchestra and ensemble – as a finale, plus one of Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) which we had to abandon because we never got around to rehearsing it properly. You can’t rehearse a three hour concert in two hours! But “All You Need Is Love” turned out to be a huge hit with the audience.

Anyway – it was a triumph. We are now huge fans of Curtis Stigers – whose combination of a great voice and a fantastic attitude – not to mention being a brilliant sax player – give him a star quality that added so much to our concert. He’s on at Ronnie Scott’s in a week or so and my wife and I are going down to catch his set and be fans.

Another great addition to the concert was trumpet maestro Till Bronner, - one of the best jazz talents to come out of Germany in the last ten years. He’s another impressive character who made a kind of pair with Curtis as our two cool jazz dudes. They already knew each other, so that helped. Katie had to arrive from Montreux on the afternoon of the show so we had minimal rehearsal time with her; but she was a pro, as usual, and pulled it off with aplomb. So many people were full of high praise for Anna Maria Kaufmann. I’ve recorded her before and would love to do so again some day. The 90 minute TV show goes out nationally – as I said as a prime time Gala, on ARD I think, but I don’t know the date yet.

So now I’m here in Mallorca with my family, staying with another family who are great friends and have a really lovely villa. I can see out across mountains and sea. Yesterday we went to a beautiful tapas place in a courtyard. I don’t take a lot of holidays but that just makes a week away all the more enjoyable. Katie is currently enjoying a week off, with her family, after a round of summer gigs, and my concert last Sunday.

So that’s the latest. Not funny or clever, just true. Hope you enjoyed reading it.

More soon.

Peace and love