Vlog 1 – The Collection

Our very first Vlog sharing our autograph collection.

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Depression

I have been asking friends over the past few weeks if there are any particular topics that they would like to see me cover in these blogs and the one that kept coming up time and time again was related to depression. I must admit that I have stalled on writing a blog on this until now but I am going to give it my best shot.

Before I write anything I just want to say that even though times can get very hard there is always someone out there who will understand and you are never alone. I think music in many ways is the best therapy because there is a song written about virtually every subject matter we could possibly come up with. Someone else has tread the boards before us and we can take a lot from that.
I think depression in general is on the increase but in the arts it is something a lot of us share. It is never a sector that you can rely on for stability and the constant not knowing where the next job is coming from is a massive struggle. You also have the massive highs that come from performing and then massive lows that often follow the next day or in coming weeks when it is all over.

The biggest struggle I face personally is with myself as I have an inability to switch my mind off from overdrive. There is always some battle going on in there and I am always finding something new to worry about. I find it very hard to just sit in one place and be completely relaxed. I am constantly concerned about something and that is at the root of my personal anguish. I can feel fine one moment and the next feel awful and it often doesn’t make any sense.

I also set myself exceptionally high targets or standards and the pressure that I put to get there often ends with me being dissatisfied or deeply frustrated . I often go through times when I think not one person in the World would want to hear anything that I have created and that I am simply good for nothing.

This often ends with the time I call ‘Falling Off The Edge of the World’ where you don’t want to see anyone, speak to anyone or even go outside. You simply cannot face yourself so you in many ways cease wanting to live for a period of time which can last for hours, days, weeks or even months. You can struggle through and continue day to day but sometimes it can just get to much and you become a recluse. You just want to hide away! and not infect anyone with the poison that feel has taken over your life.

Simple things can trigger these moods to come to an end. When they end I often feel creative again or have come up with a new project to keep me occupied, focused and inspired. I have an obsessive nature and I have to be obsessed with something.

The industry is set up to be hard to break and it can come with great times but everyone at some point suffers the down side. There are amazing charities out there and amazing people who can help you wherever you are in the World. Nobody should ever feel alone and there is always someone will help.

Being depressed or suffering from anxiety can give people thoughts that they no longer want to be here anymore. If you ever feel like that then you must reach out because you are very special and have something incredibly unique to give to this World. You must find the strength to continue and make the best out of the mess to find the best version of yourself. Be kind and look after yourself always.

The opportunities you turn down are just as important as the ones you seize

‘The opportunities you turn down are just as important as the ones you seize’ – President Bill Clinton

I spend a lot of time contemplating how making different decisions at cross roads in my life could have taken me down a dramatically different path. There are decisions that I have made that I have come to regret but it would be impossible to say that things would have turned out for the better.

Jim Carrey starred in a movie called the ‘Yes Man’ which was about a man who is unable to say no to anything that is asked of him. He ends up having to yes to things like giving people money and working the weekend at work, which in turn leads to a promotion for his perceived commitment to the job. I often wonder how life would be if you just said yes to everything and what experiences you would actually have. The closest that I have ever got to this is leaving the house without a plan and doing things on a whim. One Saturday we ended up seeing a lunchtime concert, adding drawings (not a skill of mine) to a big piece of art that was being created in a church and walking around parts of the City Centre that I had never been before.

I think we all self-censor our lives, set ourselves too many boundaries and in someways can stop living. It is very possible to be alive and breathing but just going from day to day without doing anything you enjoy. Working full time is massively draining and it takes so much mental and physical effort. I remember accepting a job where the pay was good but it was basically putting an end to my dream of working in the arts. In the end I had to leave because I just knew there was so much more out there for me. The biggest lesson that I ever learnt from working was how everyone is replaceable. My mentor in the job left and the company was never the same and a much worse place without them, but everything just keeps moving on. I was told never to put work first in my life and to enjoy it for everything it was worth but find what makes me happy. I believe you judge your achievements in a job not on your day to day activities but on what you did to personally make the company or guest experience better.

Pursue your dreams and never ever let someone tell you that you are not good enough. So many negative comments come from people’s own demons, own insecurities and own jealously. Be the person that you want to be and start today because tomorrow you could be just that much further down the line. It is never too late.

Learning the only way – first notes

One of the regrets of my childhood was not learning to play the piano. I did go for a few lessons but never kept it up. Ever since I can remember I have had melodies pop into my head and occasionally I would record them into my mobile phone or call my grandparents answerphone and sing them in and I cannot tell you how many laughs that caused when picking up voicemail messages.

My first experience of actual song writing was with a friend of mine Daniel Newman,  we sat with some lyrics that I had written and created a few songs that I can still remember some of to this day. I always wanted to be able to write down exactly what was in my head but I had no way to do this and it caused me a lot of frustration.

When I first met Laura she had a digital piano which was the very first time I had any kind of piano in the house. I used to walk up and play a random selection of notes on the piano and say ‘there is something in that!’ thinking I had struck something brilliant (believe me it wasn’t). Despite numerous offers from Laura to teach me, I found myself being a complete pest and just had to do things my own way. It took me just a year to learn to play and during the course of learning and the first melody I wrote was for ‘A Miner’s Song’. I don’t read music but I learnt to play chords which meant I had the tools to bring the melodies to life!

Eventually we bought a real piano and I never looked back. Today we have just part exchanged the piano for a baby grand piano which we have named ‘George’ after George Gershwin and we look forward to seeing what songs can be created on this piano. The lady who owned it cherished it and was a musician but sadly arthritis made it too difficult for her to play. I have always wanted a baby grand piano and we will look after it very well for her.

Myself and Laura write music in an unusual way – but it works for us and I think that is because of the fact that we are married and have a real understanding. Normally I write the basis of the melody and some of the lyrics from the outset. I will then hand over the song to her and she will pour some magic into it and embellish and alter some melodies, as well as comes up with an introduction and instrumental. We often then have a domestic as we both battle to alter or keep the parts we like. (Laura nearly always wins) and we then work on the song together again to finish it.

Sometimes people have a dream which seems impossible based on their circumstances, and for me that dream was to be a composer without being to play a note on the piano and having little musical training. I spent many hours of serious frustration literally shouting at myself for making mistakes on the piano.  I was determined with every piece of me to learn and see if I could actually write songs (will leave that one for you to judge) but I strongly believe that if you want something enough you can do it. It may not happen overnight but you will get there.

I was asked recently about somebody’s chances of making it in the industry. They were very talented but here is something that is true. Just by preserving and not stopping at the first hurdle you have out-done 99% of people because not very many find the guts to stick with their dream. Find what it is that makes you want to wake up in the morning and then do everything you can to reach for it. Always push yourself to be better. Ramin Karimloo is storming Broadway at the moment in Les Miserables and he has found his own way of playing Jean ValJean and in doing that unlocked some of the character that has not been seen before by audiences. It doesn’t matter what has been done before, you can sing to your own tune. To quote Ramin ‘you have nothing to prove, only to share’

Calling it in!

I often get asked what made me want to work in theatre and for me, it is the magic of the stage. From the audience perspective normally you will have seen some form of marketing surrounding the show and decided to book tickets. You arrive at the theatre and take your seat and are whisked away for a few hours to a place where your own troubles don’t exist. There is nothing better than that. 
 
What I particularly love about the theatre though is what it takes to make that experience. Going all the way back to the concept and then all the work that goes into writing, directing, producing the show. The hours and hours of rehearsals not only for the cast but the technical staff. Then you have the theatre and all the staff it has taken to market, sell tickets, manage the front of house experience. All of those elements and so many more go into making that perfect night for the audience. 
 
Working for a theatre can make you take it for granted. I remember going to see the original production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the London Palladium with Michael Ball. I was completely captivated by how they made the car fly across the theatre. Years later when the show came on tour I had my chance to sit in the car and fly. I remembered back to how I wanted to know how the car worked and yet when I saw the brilliance of the most expensive piece of set ever created I discovered I would have prefered never to have found out as it took away the magic for me.
 
I remember seeing one production 17 times whilst working as part of the front of house team and I know many staff in London theatres will have seen shows hundreds if not thousands of times. From an actors perspective it can be very very repetitive if you don’t continue to push yourself, care about your own performance and what you are delivering to an audience. Some of our greatest performers get very, very angry at seeing other actors ‘calling in a performance’ which means just turning up and going through the motions on auto-pilot. There is nothing worse than turning up to a show and the performance being completely flat and uninspired. I have seen shows back to back nights and had a completely different experience. Tiredness and audience response makes a massive difference but I think everyone sadly will have been to a show and understand the experience I am writing about. 
 
I have stood by the side of the stage and seen casts who have been doing a show for over sixth months embrace each other every single night and wish each other well. Every single night each actor took the time to focus on giving their best performance. Sadly I have also seen casts who literally moan about having to go and do the performance seconds before curtain up. Of course being a performer is a job like any other and on a day to day level most people complain about their job no matter what they do. However; in this industry there are thousands of people who would die to get the chance of just performing once in a production. Keeping our standards high and ensuring we never lose track of why we started in the first place is all important.
 
From personal experience of performing or writing I am inspired at every concert by those incredible people who have bought tickets to allow us to perform and do what we truly love. To quote someone who inspired me the great tenor Mario Lanza ‘You should sing every song like it was your last on earth’