New sites for Voltaire’s Meteor and Cross Road Blues

New sites have gone up recently for my plays Voltaire’s Meteor and Cross Road Blues. You can head over to www.voltairesmeteor.com for news about forthcoming productions of this latest wee creation of mine. And likewise you can go to www.crossroadblues.net for info about my venerable script about Robert Johnson and the devil, including a small gallery of cool Robert Johnson tattoos based on the play’s poster artwork.

Lots of stuff happening

Lots of stuff is happening this year, me-wise, so I thought an update here was well overdue.

The highlights at the moment are:

  • 3rd August, 2pm, Cockpit Theatre, Marylebone – The first public rehearsed reading of my play North of the Sunset will take place, with Julian Joseph playing the part of Thelonious Monk, both acting and playing piano. Send me an email if you’d like to come to this one.
  • 19th–28th September, Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich – The new full-length version of Now Is The Hour is getting a two-week run at the Maddermarket in Norwich. To be directed by Stu Dennison, if he makes it back from Istanbul.
  • TBA, TBA – We have recruited a director for Horses in the Rain and will be agressively pitching it to theatres very soon. Watch this space…

Idea for a theatre festival

I had an idea yesterday that goes like this: get a designer to create a set, giving them more or less free rein. Install it somewhere and then commission writers to come along and view it, then create plays that would use the set, and put them on as a short festival. They could end up being incredibly diverse. As well as being an interesting artistic exercise – I personally love having this sort of arbitrary creative stimulus – it’s also very economical: the productions save a whole lot of money on design, construction, get-in/get-out etc. Anyone think it’s an idea worth pursuing? Or know if this has been tried anywhere before?

Horses in the Rain – first workshop


Yesterday we had a workshop to run through a new script that I’ve been working on for the best part of a year. It called Horses in the Rain after a song by Django Bates and Sidsel Endresen (on YouTube here), a title that represents loneliness and the search for inner strength, which is kind of what the play is about, but not quite so exactly. It’s about two friends who drift apart but keep clinging on for one reason or another – and in that respect it may be a more universal theme than I first realised. Everyone afterwards had a story about a friendship in their lives that somehow paralleled the story.

Pictured are Beth Munro, directing, and Angela Koo and Emma Perry acting.

Here are some more photos:

Lonely Woman lyrics

For no reason in particular, I recently decided to put some lyrics to the Ornette Coleman tune “Lonely Woman”. Of all of Ornette’s compositions, it’s the most naturally singable (though you’ll need quite a large range and a sympathetic key), and I wasn’t aware of any existing sung versions. (I believe there is a fairly obscure one out there, but I’ve refrained from listening to it.)

So here is my stab at it. I’ve interpreted the title fairly literally, with an anonymous, single female protagonist. Where the two horns play lines in harmony on the original recording, I’ve put this in a narrator’s voice. Where the sax plays solo or takes the lead, I’ve switched to direct speech, which felt like a natural interpretation of the music to me. There’s an improvised break at the end of the bridge, where I’ve let the singer improvise their own fill on the syllable “oh”.

I’ve fallen into the old habit of writing in a slight Southern States period dialect, and setting the song in that world by implication, but I hope it doesn’t come across as hackneyed as a result. I hope the lyrics contain as much truth, is what I mean, as if I’d written about my own world.

Here is Ornette playing the original piece, with Don Cherry (cornet), Charlie Haden (bass) and Billy Higgins (drums), from the album The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959):

Here is a transcription, so you can play along at home.

And here are my lyrics. Enjoy.

On her way to church one morning
She hears her mother’s song
Rising like heat from the ground:
“Little honey bee,
Seize ev’ry sweet day softly
And hurry back to heaven.”

In that tender voice, unfolding,
Fresh as the summer corn,
Dark as the sleek nevermore,
“When they buried me,
Nobody cried like you babe,
Oh nobody looked so frail,

Thinking of your life,
With all of your bright lights,
And all of your blue nights.
Oh, oh, oh…”

In the greasy heat of evening,
Up from the earth below,
Devilment tightens her jaw.
“Who will walk with me?
No one to hold my cold hands.
Oh nobody to save me.”

The words are copyright obviously, but don’t let that stop you. If you’re a singer or a student and you want to have a go at these, be my guest, and please send me a link or let me know how you get on. I’d love to hear the results. My friend Aisling is going to have a try as well, I think. Results will be posted here soon, maybe.

If you want to record or release them commercially though, then sure, let’s talk. And good luck to you.

Comparison of UK crowdfunding sites

I was helping out a friend today by researching some of the UK-friendly crowdfunding sites, with a view to getting funding for a non-fiction book, hence these details are tailored towards that end. Having done the legwork, I thought I’d share the results here in case anyone else is in the same position. All data represents the state of the sites as they appeared today. Accuracy is not guaranteed.

I hope this is useful and relevant to somebody else. I’ve basically cut and pasted this from what I sent to my friend today:

Choosing a crowdfunding site

Kickstarter requires the project funder to have a US bank account, so it actually would rule you out. There are a number of UK-friendly alternatives, including:

  • Crowdfunder.co.uk
  • Pozible.com
  • Sponsume.co.uk
  • WeFund.co.uk
  • PleaseFund.Us

Analysis of publishing projects on these sites

Specifically comparing publishing projects on the above sites (all Davids to Kickstarter’s Goliath). These generally include magazines as well as books in their publishing category. I am also including Kickstarter itself by way of comparison.

site no. of live projects highest current total FB fans commission[1]
Crowdfunder

6

£285

n/a

5%

Pozible

48[2]

£3,708[3]

7,836

7.5%

Sponsume

5

£1,315

2,682

4%

Wefund

0

(£5057)[4]

6,562

5%

Pleasefund.us

10

£15,325

19,140

5%

Kickstarter

119[5]

£12,087[6]

227,897

5%

Methodology

I’m comparing the highest total currently raised, whether that project is likely to be successful or not, as it is a clearer indicator of spending than either the success rate (which is hard to establish in most cases, and dependent on the targets) or the targets themselves (which might be unrealistic in some cases).

Facebook fan numbers are there as a broad comparison of the sites’ popularity.

The number of live projects is self-explanatory, though it’s worth noting that the categories used differ on the different services. Some bundle book writing alongside theatre, others bundle it with journalism, or keep it separate.

Commission is generally taken off your total when you receive the funds.

Recommendations: Pozible vs. Pleasefund.us

Having ruled out Kickstarter, there are two clear winners in the analysis: Pozible and Pleasefund.us.

Of the two, Pozible is probably the better, with the sole and possibly fatal disadvantage that it’s based in Australia and all funds are in $AU. There are plenty of foreign (and even foreign-language) projects there, but they’re a minority.

Pleasefund.us is equally impressive as a site, as well as featuring the highest-funded project of all those sampled: an activity cookbook for children. It’s just a bit smaller in reach.



[1] does not include PayPal fees (an extra 3% or so)

[2] includes theatre projects

[3] converted from $AU

[4] not current; this finished almost a year ago

[5] non-fiction books alone. Total books many times greater. Total “publishing”, greater still.

[6] converted from $US

A cowboy song

This is just for fun. Seven years ago I came to Paris. I was travelling alone and had a country and western song stuck in my head, originaly sung in Luxembourgeois by an outfit called the Eschville Ramblers, which had been playing in the restaurant where I’d been working in the South of France. I started writing my own English words to the tune, imagining a lonely would-be cowboy wandering the streets of Paris. After a couple of days I met some really cool people, started having a lot of fun and largely forgot about the song.

I’m back in Paris now (sitting in Café Delmas in Place de la Contrescarpe as I type this) and I decided to finish the song. It goes like this, a kind of Jacques-Brel-meets-Johnny-Cash pastiche, maybe. The first two lines are phonetic approximations of the original:

Down and Out

I haven’t been to Nashville,
I’m still sleeping by the Seine,
But every time my luck’s run out
It’s run right back again.

I have walked the road from Vicksburg
Down to Tenessee
Up and down this lonely river
Chained to old Par-ee.

  Oh come you rhapsodies,
  Storms and symphonies,
  Come the morning calling out my name.
  On the western breeze,
  From the balconies,
  Won’t somebody holler out my name?

I was high-brow to my first wife,
I’ve been low-brow to the rest.
They bought me books and cowboy boots
Now they’re all that I’ve got left,

And a suitcase full of memories,
And a wilderness of dreams,
And faith that life won’t leave me here
After what it’s done to me.

  Oh, it’s no good for me,
  I need company,
  Just to hear somebody call my name.
  On the western breeeze,
  From the balconies,
  Won’t somebody holler out my name?

When my wandering days are over,
When the whiskey starts to burn,
I will strap myself to a big balloon
Straight out of Jules Verne,

And if they don’t arrest me,
By God I’ll try my best
To unlive everything I’ve done
And dream myself back west.

  Oh come you rhapsodies,
  Storms and symphonies,
  Come the morning calling out my name.
  On the western breeze,
  From the balconies,
  Won’t somebody holler out my name?

The tune is quite jolly, a bit like “Flowers on the Wall” by the Statler Brothers. There’s a website where you can download it, but it requires signing up, and as it’s been in my head for seven years anyway I’m disinclined to fork out for a subscription.

If you’re a country singer yourself, or you know someone who is, and you think these words could be put to any use, please feel free to get in touch. I’d love to hear them sung, silly though they may be.

Comments are welcome.

Phone conversation, just overheard in the street

(very camply) “No I’m going to have to sack her … because she’s broken her contract … she’s in the union, you know I don’t employ union people … I don’t see the point in any of this union bullshit … honestly, if any of them go out on this demo I’m going to sack them all … it’s my business … look Paul, you know my motto … yes, ‘if people upset me they get the sack’ … right … and I don’t employ Americans either … bunch of loudmouth fuckers … honestly.”

Robert Johnson tattoo

Towards the end of last year I got an email from someone I had never met, who had never seen any of my plays, but had come across the artwork somewhere on the internet for Cross Road Blues – specifically the poster design used for the production at the Hackney Empire in 2009.

He was looking for the images used in the posters and hoped I could help him. He needed a hi-res version of the picture, because he wanted to get a tattoo done.

The rest is history I suppose. I could easily help him out: the poster image was based on a photo taken for the show by Magnus Arrevad, and featured Chris Clyde Green, who performed in the show. All photoshoppery was done by me, so yeah, no problem, I had the original colour pictures and files for the posters as well.

I’m massively flattered of course. It’s just one guy’s left arm, but it’s a hell of a tribute to some artwork which I always liked but never thought would be around in any form that might last a lifetime. And it’s a tribute to the enduring draw of the blues and its iconography as well, and to Robert Johnson (100 years old this year, by the way).

And as for Chris, who was in the original photo, he’s seen it but I haven’t heard back from him yet. I don’t know how he feels about it but I reckon the word “stoked” has probably never been more appropriate. That and probably a bit bewildered.

Anyway, it’s not Chris, it’s Robert Johnson, and it looks like he’s got some serious walking to do.

Here’s the original poster image alongside the tattoo (which is not quite finished in fact, and I’ll post the finished article up here when I get it):


Original photography by Magnus Arrevad.

See more at crossroadblues.net/tattoos.

The Sinking of the Laconia

A couple of years ago now, Lynne Walker wrote in the Independent about my play Now Is The Hour:

The incident is soon to be dramatised by Alan Bleasdale for BBC television, but it’s unlikely to have half as much heart as this poignant production.

That day has finally come, and this Thursday the BBC is going to be showing the first part of Bleasdale’s drama about the sinking.

I’ll be watching, hoping that the reviewer’s prophesy comes true, and no doubt envying the budget, with which they’re presumably going to recreate the sinking of a liner as well as the surfacing of a U-Boat, while we were once quite content with “a fractured lifeboat on a shiny floor against a marine backcloth.”