Taking the time

I really did go to a terrible school with bad teaching (with few shining exceptions) and terrible facilities. One of things that always both bemused and annoyed me was when an OFSTED inspection took place. No maintence work was done to our school all year but soon as the inspection was announced walls were painted, pupils work was suddenly displayed, signage was put up and uniform standards were monitored. The week after the inspection the usual drab standards returned.

When I worked for the Wales Millennium Centre maintenance work was always being carried out but due to the busy nature of the building it was always a losing battle. I was part of nine Royal visits and everytime a Royal came we would paint the route they would walk and make sure it was as imaculate as possible. You would also have every manager in the building on duty where as on a normal shift you would never see them (or expect to see them).

Pulling out the big guns or decorating for a special occasion is a normality of life in an institution. But on a personal level, we sometimes let ourselves live by varying standards.

I’m not talking about making sure your clothes are ironed and your kitchen is clean and tidy. I’m talking about always responding to situations in a way that reflects the person you are. We’ve all done things and said big things that we regretted but there are small things in life which are just as important as well.

On every given day we have a chance to make somebody’s life better. Working in the theatre there would be people who mistakenly turned up on the wrong day, month or even year for the show they were meant to see. If the person had missed the show, it may suprise you to find out that in cases of genuine misunderstanding several theatres across the country including WMC would try and accomodate audience members. There’s no official policy on this but there are managers who understand such a gesture can change a very upsetting experience to a suprisingly happy one. These small acts of kindness have a ripple effect.

When I was starting out in my career I would e-mail other artists an ask for advice or if we could support them at a concert. I don’t believe that I ever received a response in several cases. I never had a problem with a politely worded rejection email, but a wall of silence could be really soul destroying.

So now, whenever possible we try and answer every tweet and message and offer advice anytime we can. If we can get someone into a concert we are hosting then we will try and do that as well. Helping people is not a sign of weakness and can inspire people.

Kevin Costner at age of 22 found himself sitting across from Richard Burton on a plane. The now world-famous actor was filled with internal conflict about if acting was his true calling. When he saw Burton on that plane he approached Richard Burton who convinced Costner to do more than dabble in acting and go for it! This is another great example where Burton easilely could have said “please go sit back in your seat and leave me alone, that’s why I bought all these seats around me, so no one would talk to me”. Instead he inspired that young man to go and pursue his dream.

Be the change you want to see and always keep your standards high. Help cut someone a break anytime you can.


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’