“With a move back home to Bristol now complete, slowly and surely I began to concentrate more and more of my time to composing TESS. Having planned Tess’s final song, knowing what the love song would be, having ideas for the d’Urberville theme and also sketching out a possible death theme, it was about time I tackled probably the most difficult number of the whole show. The opening. Musicals live or die by how they start. You either win an audience over quickly or you struggle till the interval where you face the possibility of people voting with their feet. I had made a number of false starts when tackling the opening months before, but then came the light bulb moment. Follow the ‘bible’. Mike had laid out the action for me in our story-planning stage, so all I had to do was follow that musically. With so many themes already fleshed out, it was time to knit everything together with the corollary of introducing ideas for later development.
Now I know it sounds bleedin’ obvious to “follow the bible” and be guided by Mike’s plot-line (forgive me, I am prone to ‘blonde’ moments), but that philosophy took hold. No more thinking about standalone musical moments, just follow the path we had laid out when structuring the story. So, as soon as the opening was done, on I went to the recitative that leads into “In My Hand”. Which then leads on to music for Prince (the horse, not the artist-formerly-known-as) getting killed, which leads on to… Well, you’ll just have to see the show to find out what we did next. By July 2014, via a brief hiatus of me quitting work on the show, Act One was complete. Yet I couldn’t rest. So on it went. Follow the action. Realise it musically. By November 2014, via a brief hiatus of me moving into a flat, TESS was musically in its first draft.
And that is the end of the TESS herstory. Musically speaking.
But whoa whoa whoa… “What’s with these hiatuses?” I hear you cry. Quitting? Moving again? All I can say is even the best writing partnerships have their testy moments. And as for moving again? Well, I do have something of a wandering spirit. I didn’t even mention the third hiatus… No really. We found out that another musical adaptation of “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” was taking to the stage, which made us ask ourselves whether we should continue or not. We quickly came to the conclusion though that having come so far it would be a shame to quit. It would just have to rank as another tussle à la the Phantoms of Ken Hill and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Now, before I go, I’m aware that during this 5-part Herstory there hasn’t been much discussion of the process we went through to create the show. This is mainly because I’m never much interested in how people have made things. I can admire the craft of a watchmaker, but I don’t need to know about or see the components of the watch. Unless I want to make a watch. In that case, tell me everything! So, for those of you who would like to write a musical, here’s how we did it:
And then, 5. With the your first draft complete, go on to the second draft. And then the third. And then the… You get the picture. With your bright and shiny final draft in place, be prepared for some really hard work. It’s all about publicity and producers from now on!
And so to the future. You may have just clicked over to this page to see a video. And hands up all of you who skipped all the words to get to this bit… I know I would! Well, here’s our latest vid telling you what we are going to be up to in 2016. It’s not long. Promise. And we are VERY excited. Thank you for following TESS and for all the lovely comments we have been receiving from you. It’s making two middle-aged men very happy. Now, here’s the vid…”
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We’d love to hear from you :)
Next time on d’Blog… New Year News. We’ll be keeping you up-to-date with all the latest developments in our quest to bring TESS from page-to-stage. Things are about to get busy…
“So, what next? Well, there were two over-riding and competing thoughts that began to take hold. One was the need for change and to simply run away, the other was to continue with TESS. Soon after the events of that August, a friend mentioned the possibility of my renting a cottage on a remote Scottish island, which had an enormous attraction. After long and hard consideration, only one thing was stopping me from “doing a Peter Maxwell Davies” – TESS. Such a move away would surely put unnecessary strain on the working relationship with Mike and I wasn’t prepared to let that happen. However, I wanted to move. The following months were then spent preparing my house for putting on the market and, whenever possible, spending fleeting moments composing. If not a very productive time in the Tessie gestation, those few months yielded 2 love songs, a draft dairymaids’ number “Have You Ever?” and Alec’s fiery sermon “The Greater The Sinner, The Greater The Saint”.
But wait a moment. TWO love songs? Whether it was because of the grief or that a set-piece love duet is an easier compositional feat in the scheme of things, I’d drafted two ballads – “The One” and “One Look Of Love”. I just couldn’t decide which ‘one’ I preferred. It’s like asking me which song in TESS I like the most. I just can’t do it. To paraphrase Rufus Wainwright, it’s like asking me “to pick my favourite child. Impossible!” To help me in my “Sophie’s Choice” moment, I turned to Mike and, smart chap that he is, he went with “One Look Of Love”.
In December, I then came up with two possible numbers (don’t sigh) to open Act 2. And, you guessed it, I couldn’t make up my mind which one I preferred. So, true to form, I recorded both and sent them off to Mike for him to have the final say. And, smart chap that he is, he went with “Confession” (you can hear the opening to Act 2 in our promotional trailer - oh go on, click the link. You know you want to...).
Which brings me to Christmas 2013. The first Christmas without John. Needless to say, all TESS work had stopped. A move back home to Bristol was on the cards and I was planning a first ever trip to Australia and New Zealand at the start of the New Year. To satisfy the need to flee, I was taking the 5-week journey Down Under alone and didn’t envisage doing any work on the musical while away. But there is something about my musical mind that just won’t rest. And so I found, on a remote beach on the South East coast of Australia, in February 2014, that I was singing into my recording app Tess’s Act 2 lament “The Wrong Side Of The Door” (one of the few songs where lyrics came before music). Take a listen here. I’m all sotto voce in swimming trunks!
Who would believe that 9 months later the entire show would be composed? Then again, who would believe many of the things that were happening at that time. As someone much cleverer than me once said, “No matter how many plans you make or how much in control you are, life is always winging it.”
Thank you for reading. Please feel free to leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you :)
Next time on d’Blog… Techie Tales. Audio engineer, Sunim Koria, talks about his TESS studio days.
Hello again and thanks for clicking over to d’Blog.
In “Tess – A Herstory (Phase the Third… Phase? Check out Hardy’s novel for the reason)”, composer Michael Blore reflects on his initially slow musical progress and a personal tragedy.
“Aside from the “love that book” response and having the long-standing ambition, there were other reasons for wanting to take on “Tess”. One of these was its theme of love and loss. It chimed with me because of the experience of losing my partner, John, in 2000. I had written “Trekkin” for him and we were planning on the next musical venture together when he so tragically and unexpectedly died. It is true to say that writing a musical was for me then unfinished business.
My composing “Tess” was also being encouraged on the home front by my civil partner (another John!). His reaction on hearing this news? “Yeah… that could work”. Not being one for moments of gushing excitement, it was encouragement indeed from someone who had spent most of his life either acting in or directing musicals and knew a thing or two about what it takes for a show to be successful.
So it was with high hopes and trepidation (as well as some degree of emotion) that I took along some songs for Mike to listen to at our very first planning meeting (April 18th 2013 for all the a-Tess-ciondas among you). We’d agreed beforehand that if my compositional style didn’t match his vision of the sound world for the show then “Tess” would be a non-starter. He was after music with heart to support his writing that, as he described, was all “head”. His reaction to my songs? He had a tear. Result! We were as one. “Tess” would be a musical in a classically Romantic style with a majestic score full of lush harmonies and beautiful (as well as hopefully memorable) melodies. Blimey! Now I had to write the thing!
I was buzzing with ideas. Most of those springing from long walks with my two dogs, Jack and Tess (yes, really – though she was born way before our musical baby was conceived). However, all musical ideas were kept in check as we set about shaping the story and characters to fit our theatrical purposes. There was another reason for initially slow musical progress. Life. I had a job – as an actor – and was about to begin rehearsals on a play to tour the UK.
Still, the dog-walking song was taking shape and gained an encouraging “That’s nice” from John when I first played it to him. The song? “In My Hand”. Oddly enough, having the “Hello to Tess” song quickly led on to sketches for her farewell number, which would become “Guardian Angel”. In hindsight, having the finale mapped out from the outset was a great help in planning the whole route of the show’s musical journey.
The next few months were taken up with sketches for a dairymaids number and by July I had drafted a setting of the Lord’s Prayer, but Tessie time was very limited as I was now on tour with the play “Up4aMeet?”. I was beginning to wonder whether this was going to be too much of a commitment for me. There was no pressure from Mike, just my own sense of bitten-off-more-than-I-could-chew. Then while on tour, I got the news that my partner John had been taken to hospital. Within 5 days, he died. My life and that of “Tess” was about to change forever.
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Next time on d'Blog… Love songs and Australia.
Hello and thank you for checking out d'Blog (d'Urberville? d'Blog? I know. Inspired!)
In this second part of the Tessie Tale, composer Michael Blore shares his memories of stalking a lyricist as ideas begin to take shape.
"OK, it wasn't actually stalking. You see, the day after our brief chat in the hospital canteen there was a performance of Mike's award-winning play "Rasputin's Mother" and I decided to go along. On the face of it, I'm just going there to support a colleague and cheer at his success. But underneath the mask of camaraderie lies my true intent - to check him out. You know, see if he's much cop as a writer. Consider furthering the "I've always wanted to write a musical" conversation.
Looking back, what an arrogant position to take! Are you good enough for me? After watching his play, I quickly realised it was more a question of "Blimey, would I be good enough for him?". Beautifully crafted dialogue, coupled with meticulous research and structuring with a dash of wit providing light to moments of shade. Memorable - and not just because someone passed out in the audience (but that's another story).
Banishing my insecurities I broached the "musical" subject in the theatre bar after his play's (award-winning, remember) performance. Once again I asked him "What next?" and once again he replied, "I've always wanted to write a musical".
OK, I know what you're thinking - "Oh for goodness sake, JUST DO IT!" - but this was the start of our courtship. That whole "I see you, I flutter my eyes, you give a coy smile and look down... (though usually in my case "you give a grimace and walk off") type-thing". To break our doe-eyed silliness, we have Mike's wife to thank. Five days later and on another corporate role-play gig she said to us both "Don't just sit there talking about it, do it!" and that supportive kick in the ribs set us on our way to beginning discussions about writing together and, more importantly, what to write.
So why "Tess"? Well, for me, it goes back to that moment in the hospital canteen and my "I love that book" reaction to Mike's suggestion. Though we were bandying around other possible subjects for turning into a musical, none gave me that same feeling. And if I'm going to commit so much of my time to a project, it needs to be to something for which I have a passion. And with "Tess", I had that passion. And for that reason, I've always felt this could work on stage. You see, I'm a fussy so-'n-so when it comes to musicals. I could be listening to the most sublime music, performed by the most wonderful actors and still leave the theatre with a sense of "so what". To hit my musical theatre sweet-spot, I have to care, which comes down to characters and their story. And with "Tess", I care. And judging by its continued popularity (still making it onto lists of all-time favourite novels), so do many of us. I was only relieved that it wasn't my job to adapt Hardy's wonderful novel into a 2-hour script for musical purposes. I was also relieved that that job was in the hands of someone I respected, trusted and admired. Michael Davies. The question was, did he feel the same way about Michael Blore?"
Thank you for reading :-)
Next time on d'Blog... Slow musical progress and tragedy strikes.
So, how did this all come about? What made the Michaels - Blore and Davies - dedicate over 2 years (and counting) of their lives to writing and composing “Tess”? And what has been their journey in getting to this stage of the musical’s development?
In this series of blogs, both writer and composer will give their side of the “Tess” story – offering different views and memories of creating a musical out of Hardy’s classic novel.
So, sit back, relax and keep on scrolling as we begin our Tessie tale through the words of the composer, Michael Blore.
“It wasn’t my idea! Blame the other guy! Me and Michael (let’s call him “Mike” – much better than “Michael Words”) had known each other for years as jobbing actors, but our story really begins when we had a random conversation on a corporate gig at the Birmingham Dental Hospital in February 2013. After a morning of bad teeth acting, we were at lunch with Mike’s lovely wife, Tricia, in the hospital canteen and we were discussing the success of Mike’s play “Rasputin’s Mother” that had just recently won a national award. I said, “So, Mr Award-Winning Playwright, what next?” and he said, “I’ve always fancied doing a musical”.
Well, folks, it was like a dying ember had been stoked within me. Little did he know that that had been a long cherished ambition of mine from way on back in my A-level days at college in Bristol. An ambition that had turned into reality in my twenties when I wrote, “Trekkin”, performed at the Questors Theatre in London… What do you mean you didn’t see it?! But this was a play with music, not the through-composed, fully-formed musical of my dreams. There were then several other attempts through the years (“Joan of Arc”, “The Elephant Man” and more recently “Don’t Look Now”), but the more I tried, the more I became increasingly aware that I was in need of something major – big – important. I needed a lyricist.
Step forward, Michael Davies. Mike. Mr Words.
Now that makes it sound much easier than it actually was. The truth is it didn’t all fall into place over a jacket potato with beans and a Cheddar cheese topping in a hospital canteen. Oh no. He did mention “Tess” as a possible subject (and takes the honours for being the first to do so) and I do remember saying how much I’d loved reading the book as a teenager, but we were a long way from agreeing anything and sealing-the-deal. Yet remember this conversation I do. Which sounds very Yoda-like, but I do. You see, that dying ember had been stoked.
So what happened next? I stalked him.”
Thank you for reading :-)
Next time on d’Blog… Stalking and talking as ideas begin to take shape.
FROM STUDIO TO STAGE
HOW WAS IT FOR YOU?
MASTER AT WORK
INTERVIEW WITH A COMPOSER
ANOTHER MICHAEL'S STORY
THE LAST 5 MONTHS
LONDON STUDIO DAYS
A DAIRYMAID'S DIARY
IN THE STUDIO WITH TAM MUTU
THE ADVENTURE ROLLS ON
IT'S PRE-PRODUCTION TIME!
WHERE ARE ALL THE D'BLOGS?
A HERSTORY (THE FINAL PHASE)
A HERSTORY (PHASE THE 4TH)
THE LYRICIST SPEAKS
RECORDING TESS - THE SINGER
A HERSTORY (PHASE THE 3RD)
A HERSTORY (PHASE THE 2ND)
A HERSTORY (PHASE THE 1ST)
REVIEWS & REVELATIONS
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT ALEC
ONE HELLO IS HOW IT STARTS