Tim Gilvin and Friends
19th July 2017
This was a welcome opportunity to get better acquainted with the repertoire of one of the country’s brightest and most interesting new songwriters. Tim recently attracted attention through winning the S&S Award for a new musical with ‘Stay Awake Jake’, a one-man-show that won the prize through the performance of Norman Bowman, and was workshopped at Leicester Curve and then produced at The Vaults Festival last year with Jamie Muscato. It is a technically brilliantly executed short story about a man at the wheel of a car, driving through the night, reflecting upon his troubled relationship. Perhaps the care lavished upon it doesn’t quite find a matching reflection in the simplicity and ordinariness of the characters and their rather simple and ordinary situation, but the professional skill employed is laudable and admirable. Tonight, we discovered that there’s a lot more where that came from.
This evening we got to hear from singers Jonathan Andrew Hume, Kate Marlais, Laura Jane Matthewson and Calum Melville, who gave us a mixed bag of a dozen of his numbers from a clutch of different shows and projects he is currently engaged with writing. The action was deftly directly by Natalia Scorer, and presented here at the intimate venue by Rachel Kraftman Productions. The platform was also graced by Jonny Wright, who is collaborating with Gilvin on a new show about Henry VIII, and also by Alex Young, who came along to perform a number from the show she in turn is writing with Kate Marlais. Given that Gilvin was at the keys, MD’ing the show, you get an idea of the closely-knit, very supportive and appreciative atmosphere of the occasion.
In fact, the mood generated reminds us very strongly of the key venues for the promotion of new musical theatre writing in the States, like Below 54, for example. And there is something of the same approach to musical expression here, with a dominance of gentler, more delicate, reflective numbers, something of an antidote to the bangs and crashes of big venue rock-influenced scores. And there is clearly a good audience for such entertainments: the venue was filled to capacity and the audience loved what they heard.
Gilvin remains the master of mood, with song after song creating an exquisite ambience, beautifully articulated, elegantly phrased, with pleasantly catchy melodic ideas and often surprising harmonic patterns to enliven their effect. As if often the case at such events, the songs had a tendency to sound rather alike, with many lying in the same range, using the same formal structures, and – above all – having a ‘generalised’ approach to lyric writing: ‘Jake’ succeeds so well because of the very particularity of the lyrics, something that we would love to hear reflected elsewhere in his writing. Here, even the occasional up-tempo number, like the rabble-rousing ‘Song of Hope’, while sounding sincere and well-meaning, didn’t quite give us the specific reasons which we really need to find that optimistic mood.
Nonetheless, he writes handsomely for voices, and drew the best performances from his panel of vocalists. It is particularly good to see a now established West End player like Young adding her talents to encouraging a still emerging writer, and what better way to do it than to show that she is also new to this game and working to make something exciting and interesting for audiences to appreciate.
Marlais was in fine voice, and has the kind of poise and credibility on the platform that makes the most telling impression. Matthewson’s vocal shine and depth continue to mature, and she is gaining in strength all the time, and it was lovely to hear her again. Melville was a new presence to me, and a welcome one, while Hume has an earthy robustness that enabled him to make the part of Jake entirely his own. And it was great to hear Wright’s rapping adding an unusual lustre to the 75 minutes or so of the show.
It is particularly heartening to see Gilvin stretching his talents to encompass a broader range of sounds; although he is equally at home sitting on a stool with a guitar, and can charm a crowd in seconds with his genial, amusing banter, it is plain he is striving for more enduring achievements, and this happening was another welcome step towards them.