On this page I detail some of the many music theatre pieces I composed or collaborated on as a performer during the 1970s and 1980s, plus a few later forays into the genre. (Click on titles for further information.)
Michael Hall’s book Music Theatre in Britain 1960-1975 (Boydell Press 2015) includes a full chapter (chapter 11: Musica Poetica) on the innovative music theatre created by composers at the University of York during those years. Hall offers some quite detailed descriptions and critical comment, based on information supplied to him by the composers he consulted and his own, sometimes rather speculative, analysis. It is far from a complete account, and there will doubtless be some who feel under-represented by it. Michael could only work with the material he was able to collect, and it should be noted that he was very ill at the time of writing, leaving the final editing of the book to his wife Brenda after his death in 2012. Nevertheless, this publication is a gratifying recognition of a quite remarkable period at York, on which those of us who contributed look back with some pride.
In 1976 I was awarded a two year ‘Harkness Fellowship’ at the Center for Music Experiment, University of California, San Diego, before returning to the UK in 1978.
1980s (Keele University)
In 1978 I took up a position at Keele University where I remained for 10 years. I tried to recreate a creative environment there like the one at York, with some limited success. It was limited not by the quality or willingness of students, but quite simply by the elaborate timetabling regime of a university which had pioneered combined honours courses, together with subsidiary courses and a ‘foundation year’, which meant that all students were studying in more than one – often four – different departments. Whereas at York we could assemble a group of music students and ask them to dedicate themselves to a project for hours, days, weeks on end,- at Keele we were lucky if we could keep an ensemble together for more than two hours at a time. Nevertheless some remarkable things were achieved and we were ambitious. Music Theatre became well established and we took shows to Huddersfield on more than one occasion. I began to receive regular commissions, and where possible I angled them towards the theatrical.
Pas de Cinq by Mauricio Kagel
1990s (University of York; Midland Music Theatre; Black Hair ensemble)
In 1988 I returned to the University of York as a lecturer. I was able to mount full scale music theatre programmes as adjuncts to teaching, both through the ‘Practical Project’ (see here) and a regular course entitled ‘Contemporary Music Theatre’. Outside of teaching, Anna Myatt and I directed Midland Music Theatre, originally set up by Anna in Birmingham. We performed a variety of programmes around the country for a number of years. Then in 1995 we formed the ensemble Black Hair, taking advantage of some amazingly talented musicians at York. Primarily a contemporary music ensemble, we increasingly focused our work towards music theatre.
Sozu Baba 1996