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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.
Hello again and thanks for reading the latest d'Blog.
Here at Tessie Towers we were hoping to share with you a review of the first ever public performance of "One Look Of Love". Well the revelation is... It didn't happen! I know! Due to last minute changes to the programme, our song was one of those that just has to be saved for another time. That's showbiz, kid.
In other revelatory news, some of the songs from "Tess" will be played on BBC Radio Northampton with the 2 Michaels (Blore and Davies) being interviewed live on air on Wednesday 17th June. We say "will", but you never know when those last minute changes may strike again! So if you are in the area, please give us a listen from 2pm on the John Griff show.
And, if you are not already aware, those same 2 Ms (M&M? Eminem?) will be interviewed for a series of articles and features on www.carnstheatrepassion.com - a site dedicated to supporting new writing as well as giving you the latest news, views and information on all stage-related matters. The site is managed by Caroline. We like Caroline :-)
We hope you've been enjoying our most recent song "One Look Of Love" and thank you for all the likes, shares and comments you have been making. It really does help us on our journey to getting "Tess" up where she belongs. On stage.
Thanks again for reading.
Next time on d'Blog... Tess - A Herstory (Part 1). Join us as we begin the tale of how "Tess" came to be written.
Hello again and welcome back.
Let's talk love. It's a many splendoured thing, don't you know. To be more accurate, let's talk love at first sight. That moment you feel an instant, extreme and ultimately long-lasting romantic attraction for a stranger on first seeing him or her (take a bow Wikipedia for the description). The same attraction that Tess Durbeyfield has for Angel Clare when they first meet one May Day in Wessex - an attraction that comes back to her later in life when once more she encounters Angel who offers to carry her over a puddle (it was the nineteenth-century after all). To know more about how their love story unfolds (if you don't already know) why not come along and see the show! Which hopefully won't be too far away in the future...
In the meantime, you can always take a listen to our love duet "One Look Of Love", which will be coming out in a few weeks' time on Facebook, YouTube and the twitter sphere.
But if you can't wait for that day to arrive, then we have something very exciting to tell you. The first ever public performance of "One Look Of Love" will be taking place in London on Thursday 4th June. The wonderful Joanna Strand (Phantom of the Opera) will be joined by award-winning bass-baritone Rodney Earl Clarke (Porgy and Bess, On The Town) to perform songs and duets by Gershwin, Porter, Rogers and Hammerstein, Bernstein, Cy Coleman and... us! I know! We're thrilled! To find out more about the event at the lovely cabaret venue The Crazy Coqs near Piccadilly Circus, click on over to www.brasseriezedel.com/crazy-coqs/joanna-strand-and-friends
Oh and by the way, our second song "I Always Get My Way"? It's going to be released. Very soon...
Next time on d'Blog... Reviews and revelations
Hello again and welcome back.
Now, as you may already know, we are in preparation for releasing "I Always Get My Way" - the second song from TESS to be made public. And what a journey we've been on to get it ready for you to hear. What with backing singers, performers getting flu (did you have it? Nasty, wasn't it?) and the recording of over 30 individual parts, it is something a little different from our first song "In My Hand".
Taking the lead in this number is the superb John McLarnon. Full of devilment, charm and passion, he not only gave us the voice we were after, but also blew us away with his characterisation of Alec d'Urberville, which is no mean feat. He's a tricky character to pull off. There's the repulsive aggression of the man, but at the same time something vaguely attractive. We long ago came to the conclusion that a 2-hour show of Alec just being a brute was not the way to go. Hence there's the bullying message of "I Always Get My Way" delivered in a style that is somewhat unexpected. Anyway, see what you think. In the meantime, if you fancy taking in a West End show, we would strongly recommend you go and see John McLarnon in "The Commitments". Great show, great performer.
And that's that for now. Thank you for reading and following.
Oh, and yes, over 30 parts. It's going to sound BIG!
Next time on d'Blog... it's love at first sight as we bring you "One Look Of Love".
Let's start at the very beginning. Oh, go on then... "A very good place to start".
Hello! And thank you for your visit.
Sometimes that'll be me saying it - and other times, you never know, it may be the other Michael offering you his salutations and keeping you posted on the most recent "TESS" news.
Which brings me to the reason for writing. It's all about the girl. Our Tess. She's doing well (thanks for asking).
Next week we're back in the recording studio with the wonderful Joanna Strand, who will once again give our girl her voice. And what a voice! We're still overcome with the emotion of recording with her on "In My Hand" (what do you mean you haven't heard it yet?!) and thrilled she's available to provide the female vocal on our love duet "One Look Of Love".
I'll let you into a secret - we've already recorded the male vocal. I know! The wonders of technology. Still, if Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion can do it then why not us, eh? That's right. The male voice is in the bag. Can. You know what I mean. And again - what a voice! Take a bow Antony Lawrence. And that's what you'll find him doing most nights of the week in "Matilda - the musical" at the Cambridge Theatre in London. Catch him while you can. He's terrific - and a lovely guy to boot. Not literally "boot", but...
And that, lovely reader, is the first blog. There'll be more. And no doubt ones better written than this (now there's a clue as to who is typing this) with a lot more detail about the process we've gone through to get this far in the journey from page to stage.
For now, thank you for reading and following.
Next time on d'Blog... we travel to the dark side and introduce you to Alec d'Urberville.
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