Bringing a Little Drama to Roxanne

Friday was Sam’s practical music test for the Junior Certificate exam cycle.

It was held at the school. The set-up is fairly straightforward. A visiting music examiner comes in and hears all the music students play four pieces. Then she (it was a she) goes away again and grades them. The practical is allocated a good-sized percentage of the final grade, I can’t remember exactly how much.

On Friday morning, as all the other students were arriving in with their instrument cases and such, Sam arrived with his two-cars-full of equipment. Yup, as you may already know, Sam is the Drummer of the family.

I’m not a musical/techie type person but, over the last few years, I’ve had to be ‘acting roadie’ from time to time, carting the kit around, getting it set up, all that jazz. This time had an extra layer of complexity though. Sam was playing with a keyboard-toting mate of his for one his pieces (Take Five) but the other three pieces involved playing along with drumless tracks. To the uninitiated, these are music tracks by artists, often covers of the originals, where the drums have been taken out. These tracks had to be played loud enough to be heard over the live drum kit, which, let me tell you, is rather loud. Sam also had to be able to hear the track. All this had to be done without deafening the examiner, which never reflects well in the grades.

The solution was very much a 'gaffer tape' one, involving a guitar amp plugged in to a laptop as well as a pair of headphones for the drummer. The examiner would get to hear the track via the amp and Sam would get it from the headphones. 

I’m making all this sound far too easy. Between getting the kit loaded up, unloaded, disassembled and reassembled and then getting all the sound stuff working passably well, there was over two hours of amateur roadie sweat used up.

When we had it all set up, we asked the music teacher to come and assess what we had done and whether it would pass muster. She seemed to like it, in fairness. 

Then she did a nice thing, as she often does. Sam and I had been a little isolated in the Library, getting everything set, while the other students had been communing in the music room, playing for each other and hanging out. What she did was gather all the students in the library to hear Sam do his thing. She also rounded up a bunch of the final year music students to come and listen too. So, all of a sudden, there was quite a gathering of music students amassed in the room and sat waiting to be impressed.

Rewind to the evening before.

Sam and me were busy trying to work everything out. Sam’s last track was to be a drumless version of ‘Roxanne by’ The Police. When he played it, it sounded a bit wrong to me. We talked it through. It turned out that Sam was doing some pretty nifty drumming right from the first minute of the track, quite a bit more than Copeland was doing on the original. The thing was, it didn’t sound quite right. 

We thought about it for a while and concluded that people are so familiar with the track that the busy work Sam was doing from the get-go just didn’t seem to fit. I suggested that he take it easy for the first 60 seconds at least, until we get out the back of the first chorus.

We tried it. It sounded better but that simplified first minute didn’t sound like much in the way of drumming. It was fairly straightforward. Maybe that would be a problem.

That’s where my theatrical head kicked in . Let’s use that. Let’s work it. We bumped Roxanne from the end of the set list right to the front. The idea being that the listener (examiner) would be lulled into a sense of slightly bored security in that first minute (not too much to see here) and then get hit pretty hard when the heavy drumming kicked off. It seemed a bit risky but it also seemed like a plan.

So here we were then, next day, in the library, with all of the examination-class music students gathered. 

Roxanne kicked off, sounding a little muddy through the guitar amp but passable. Sam started drumming, tight and good but not too showy. I watched the audience, as I always do. Attentive, relaxing a bit, glad to be missing a class... 

And then the first chorus ended.

And the real drumming started.

And it worked. Oh man, it worked.

The audience sat up, leaned forward, looked at each other, smiled, whispered. Sam had lulled them and then had amazed them. If he had amazed them from the first moment, if wouldn’t have been so good. 

Perhaps the point of this is that I’ve picked up a few theatrical moves down through the years, an instinct for what works well and what works less well.


It’s not about that. If you think that’s what this post is about then you’re a bigger fool than I am.

Sam rocked the show. He’s a great drummer.

This, here? This is simply a Proud Dad post.

No more, no less.

My Writing is Like a Crossword Puzzle

I don’t often write about the writing I do. There’s a couple of reasons. 

Firstly, if I write in any detail about something I’m currently working on, I’m afraid I’ll jinx it. 

Well, not ‘jinx it’ exactly, that just sounds silly and superstitious and it’s not that. It’s more that the exposing of my idea to any kind of atmosphere, other than the rarefied oxygen-deprived one in my head, will cause it to rapidly wither and die away.

Secondly, if I leave off writing about it until after I’m finished, I’ve completely lost interest in doing that and have moved on somewhere else.

Also I don’t rate writing advice terribly highly. Strike that too. I don’t rate any individual persons writing advice all that highly. I love to read what people have to say about their writing and their methodology but I find only the smallest proportion of what they say is actually applicable or useful to me. Thus I read lots of stuff and only hold onto the bits that suit me. It’s like asking all the writers to throw strands of their cooked spaghetti at me and see which bits stick. Okay, it’s not like that at all.

Having said all that, it should be clear that I don’t expect anything I might say about my own writing to be of very much use to you. In fact, I’d be disappointed if it was. I think we all need to find our own way with the stuff we do and if your way is the exact same way as somebody you’ve read about, then maybe you haven’t quite uncovered that truth about your own writing yet. Maybe you have. Maybe that’s just the first strand of my bullshit spaghetti advice.  

Emmm… I can’t remember what I wanted to say now.

Oh yes. 

I’ve just started writing a new full length play and I’m very excited about it and it’s going rather well… and all that jazz. It just struck me that I naturally go about it on a rather odd, haphazard, sort of a way. I thought this might be worth mentioning because I reckon there are people out there who may feel, deep down, that they don’t deserve to get their play written if they don’t do it by the book, step by step, stage by stage, until it’s all neatly packaged up and done. That’s where I thought this particular strand of Fettuccini might have some value to .03% of some as yet undefined collective of writers.

If I were to try to do my thing by the book, I would have a few weeks of head scratching and frustration by which time any enthusiasm for the fledgling idea would be cold and dead and I would throw it by the wayside and trudge on to the next failed attempt. Mostly failed because I tried to do it somebody else’s way.

The important thing is to get it done. Whatever way you can. Get it done.

If I were to sit down, with my precious germ of an idea, and try to develop it into a synopsis, a treatment, God help us – a series of cue cards, I would not get very far. I know this because I’ve tried. Robert McKee in one hand, cards in the other, I’ve neatly written stuff on postcards, spread them on the floor, and taken a photo of them to show myself what I good kid I am. 

So that do I do? What is my great secret to success?


I sort of… dick around.

If I’ve only got a germ of an idea but, crucially, if it’s coupled with that tingling in the back of the neck that implies there’s something developable there, then I dick around with it. 

Bear in mind it’s only a germ, a seed if you will. If it’s going to grow I need to lay it in some fertile soil and pour water on it. I need to read and  view stuff related to the idea, the more obtuse the link the better. I need to think about it.

But most importantly, and here’s the rub, I need to write whatever I can about it. This could be anything, a note on staging, a bit of business, a scrap of dialogue, a phrase, a joke and bit of music… anything that adds another molecule to the idea.

It’s a random process with little notion of a start, middle or ending. Bits of stuff are dicked-around-with and added to the germ and, bit by bit, the germ grows. It sprouts little weak yellow shoots. I keep dicking and adding and eventually, it finds a form.

There will be 'Eureka' moments and there will be 'Fuck' It moments but the thing will continue to grow.

It’s quite like the way I might do a crossword puzzle and how you might do it better but that wouldn’t work for me. You might start at one across and solve it and then do two across and then three across and you might get them all. Then, when they’re all done in fabulous order, you start on one down and fill them in. 

With me, I don’t have a clue what one across is. Not a clue. But there’s a three letter word in thirty-one across that I think I know and the letter ‘n’ at the end of that three letter word might give me a hint about thirty-two down and now I’m stuck again but, wait, doesn’t five across look teasingly gettable?

I can finish the crossword too. Maybe not as impressively or even as easily as you can but the end result will still be a finished crossword. And the picking around, the deciphering and the general sorting-out can be fun and fulfilling to do. 

I suppose all I’m saying is this. If you feel you have a play in you or a story or a poem, you don’t have to start at line one or even at any line at all. Spend time with your germ. Write whatever you can around it and, I promise you this, every little thing you write will open up another line in towards the centre of what you are trying to do. 

Then, one day, the thing reaches critical mass. Suddenly there is enough to work with, to write with and the flow, the wonderful flow, can begin.

The secret. The thing that makes this process work. Is that you have to be willing to throw lots of stuff away. As the germ grows and strengthens, it will naturally start to shed lots of stuff that you tried to put on. Don’t try to keep it there with spit and glue. Let it go. I think some people fail by being over reverential of the stuff they dream up. Learn to step back, recognise the lesser parts of your creation, and let them fall to the ground.

Hark at me, almost sounding like I know something of which I speak.

I don’t.

That’s the point.

I don’t have to. 

Seen That, Read That

I watch quite a lot of stuff, movies and TV and such, and I read quite a bit too but I don’t usually go overboard with telling people what I thought of them. Occasionally, there might be a spare tweet. “I liked that” or “That was good.” 

When things are disappointing, I tend to shut up about them. It’s only my opinion, after all, and if it’s negative, why bother sharing it?

 At best, I’ll put you off trying something you might like and, at worst, I’ll start some heated discussion that I haven’t the least bit of interest in.

This week, though, as I’m trying to get my head out of the world of theatrical fun and back into the real world of trying to get the next stuff written, I thought it might be a sort of a palate-cleansing exercise to at least mention some of the bits and pieces I’ve been looking at and reading. I like it when other people do it because I often see them mention something that I think might be interesting and that puts me on to it. So I thought I might give it a go myself.

Anyway, enough already, here are some things…

Revolutionary Road: This is the novel, not the film, though I’d like to see the film now. This was a bit of an odd one for me. I read the first quarter and was greatly admiring the writing, the insight, the ‘aptness’ of it all while, conversely, the book itself wasn’t doing it for me. All that good stuff just didn’t seem enough to keep me rushing back to a story that was so patently of another time. However, taking encouragement from some respected Twitter folk, I stuck with it. I’m glad I did. It’s a truthful book and it is also a sad and a hard book. But life can be like that, sad and hard, and maybe we need to see it reflected in the things we read sometimes. Every page seemed to say something real and true (I know, I sound like ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ now). As a document of disillusionment and disappointment, I’d find it hard to beat. That’s maybe not the most marketable review ever but there you have it.

Inside Llewyn Davis: The Coen Brothers film. Gosh but I liked this and so did my son Sam and he’s got excellent taste, much better than mine. It belongs to the ‘odd’ part of the Coen Brothers catalogue, I reckon. Llewyn is a man chasing his fate and his fate is Folk Music but, like that guy in that song about Rock N’Roll, he always seems to be one step behind the wave. There is a cat which drops in and out of the film at various times and it seemed clear that the cat was a metaphor for something or other. So, as I do, I spent some time after the film trying to see what that metaphor might be. So, getting a bit SPOILERtastic here, for a moment, I came to the conclusion that the cat represents Llewyn’s singing partner who had died or, more specifically, Llewyn’s guilt over the loss of his singing partner. He chases the cat, loses it, and chases it again. It is only in the penultimate scene where he kicks the cat back into the apartment, finally leaving it behind, that a new opportunity and a new potential may show itself, there in the darkened basement of the famous New York folk club. But, hey, that’s just me. I like a film that gets me thinking and that one did.

Cachet: My son had to watch this one for a paper he was writing. I watched it with him. This is a good few months ago now. I loved it. It’s obtuse and tricky but it’s all in there if you pay attention. It’s French and Michael Haneke directs. Keep an eye out for it.

The Hateful Eight: Watched this last night at home. As an aside, I’d like to assure you, gentle reader, that I paid full price for the privilege of watching it and I always do. No judgement implied. I was looking forward to this one, it’s my idea of an event. Tarantino and a big ensemble cast. I loved the look of it. The 70mm aspect ratio is beautiful in the external shots and the long indoor periods are set in a space that seems carefully designed to play to the wideness of the canvass. I loved the set up, the looking forward to seeing this meaty cohort facing off to each other both verbally and violently. I thought the violence almost veered into high comedy and I also thought that the writer/director must have had some unusually higher intent that I haven’t yet quite managed to fully grasp. If he didn’t, then it all seems so ‘gratuitous’ but it’s not that, at least I don’t think it is. There is something there about not believing all the stories we are fed and that someone is not necessarily good just because everyone perceives them as bad… like I said, I don’t know yet. I thought the script missed a trick or two, revealing something that would have paid off better had it been left to the end, where it was oddly revealed all over again. Certain things seemed carefully set up, a line painstaking created through the storm from the haberdashery to the outhouse, which seemed set for something wonderful and then which hardly featured at all. The business with the door was great though, it made me laugh, and the snow bound wooden crucified Christ in the title sequence, coupled with Morricone’s sombre fog-ridden score was filled with the best kind of cinematic anticipation. 

Is that enough for one post? One more?

10 Cloverfield Lane: Fun. Closed-in, tense, and 80% satisfying with John Goodman playing an absolute blinder. Sam and I had fun. We better not say any more about it. It deserves to be seen clean.

Oh, ‘Fingersmith’ by Sarah Waters, if you fancy something in the storytelling style of Dickens with a little added sauces. Rogues and villains, ladies and old perverts, betrayal, abandonment, love and lust and treachery and revenge and that’s just the first part.

At the moment, I’m reading The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro and maybe I’ll tell you how that goes, another time.