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Happy World Book Day!

Old V New in the World of Books

Posted 417 weeks ago

Sing Your Way To Better Health

Does Your Fitness Routine Include Singing?

Did your New Year resolutions include joining a gym – again?  Is the thought of buying all that keep fit gear, doing exercises or even the thought of actually going to the gym, putting you off – again?  Then consider joining a choir instead.

Expert are lining up to convince you that when it comes to giving you a top-to-toe tune up there’s nothing better than a good sing-a-long. For example, do you know how singing can reduce your stress levels or how good it is for your heart and lungs?   And if being able to tone your upper body and sorting out your posture wasn’t enough it’s also going to put a few extra years on your life.

All this from the humble past-time of singing?  

Apparently so.

According to Professor Graham Welch, Chair of Music Education at the Institute of Education, University of London, singing will give you a physical and psychological boost.   For the past 30 years he’s studied the developmental and medical aspects of singing.  

And he states.

“Singing has physical benefits because it is an aerobic activity that increases oxygenation in the blood stream and exercises major muscle groups in the upper body, even when sitting. Singing has psychological benefits because of its normally positive effect in reducing stress levels through the action of the endocrine system which is linked to our sense of emotional well-being.”

So singing is an aerobic exercise.  Well if you have no desire to travel back to the 80s.  Or if you’ve never had a fondness for legwarmers, Lycra and fluorescent sweatbands, then here’s a much cooler alternative.  If only someone had told you sooner.  

Group singing is even better for you

Singing can even help you live longer especially when you join forces with others.   According to the findings of a joint Harvard and Yale study choral singing increased the life expectancy of singers in New Haven, Connecticut. The report concluded that this was because singing promoted both a healthy heart and an enhanced mental state. Another study at the University of California has reported higher levels of immune system proteins in the saliva of choristers after performing a complex Beethoven masterwork.

That explains what happen at a one of my voice workshops recently.  One visitor had this to say about her experience, “Who would think that breathing and singing exercises could be so tiring, my muscles hurt from inside.” I did panic a bit here because I don’t want to wear people out and put them off singing.  I was pleased that her next words were, “Had a lot of fun, thanks for great experience.”  Phew!

Thank goodness she got some of the psychologically benefits as well.  She went on to say, “The breathing exercises, tuning into the moment (when focusing where the sound vibrates), plus not feeling cautious how you sound gave me such huge sense of freedom and being in the now.   I think people like me who are constantly busy would appreciate the opportunity to pause for the moment and sing their heart out.”  And finished by describing the session as ‘Exercise for the soul.  So spiritual benefits too it seems.  I’ll have to look into this a bit more.

So sing..sing..sing.

If you don’t feel ready for the choir thing, then start by singing along with your favourite tunes.  Doesn’t matter what you sound like. The singing fairy doesn’t care.  She’ll bestow her blessing on you no matter what.

If you do want to improve your voice then take a few lessons or join a choir that teaches you how to sing.  They don’t all do that apparently, so make sure you ask before you join.  And remember the main point of all this is to have fun.

Give it a go.  I’d love to hear how you get on.

Posted 422 weeks ago

The Easiest Way To Improve Your Voice

Posted 425 weeks ago


What Is Art For?

The School of Life’s take on the meaning of art.  Whimsical and not to be taken too seriously.  But a nice little beginner’s guide to art appreciation.

Posted 436 weeks ago

Don’t Judge A Library By Its Cover

I’d like to join the friends of Birmingham Central Library in mourning the passing of this highly emotive city landmark.  The building has sat empty since 2013, having been replaced by the Library of Birmingham, which is situated in nearby Centenary Square. Despite all protestations, campaigning and calls for alternative uses for the building the bulldozers have finally come to put the old place out of its misery.

The Birmingham Central Library building has always courted controversy and divided opinion.  The old Library, which dominated Chamberlain Square was opened, by then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, on a sunny Saturday morning in 1974.  Little did anyone know that the strength of feeling against the building would mean it would struggle to reach its 40th birthday.  

Prince Charles famously described it as looking like a place where books go to be incinerated and a former Birmingham director of planning labelled it a ‘concrete monstrosity’.  But there were many, including Turner prize winning artist, Jeremy Deller, who understood its appeal.  And so the battle raged between those who saw it as a blot on the landscape and those who believed its stark British Brutalist architectural style should to be honoured.

It’s worth noting that Birmingham born architect, John Madin, had no intention of building a 'concrete monstrosity’.  His original plans were for the building to be clad in Portland stone or Travertine marble.  But Birmingham City Council were reluctant to foot the bill and the concrete exterior was used instead.

Admittedly the library’s sub-Bauhaus design isn’t even my kind of thing, but I’d grown to like it.  Besides I wasn’t into it for its looks.  It was what lay within that sparked my interest.  Within those grey walls lay books that helped me get the life I truly wanted, rather than the one others thought would suit me best.  It contained a wealth of knowledge I couldn’t get anywhere else.  Without it I would have struggled to find the inspiration I needed to pursue my career in the arts.  

My dreams were kept alive by a Library that became my second home.  Inside I discovered the writings of great philosophers, historians, dramatists and political thinkers.  But it was when I came across the books on art that my life changed.  There were beautiful images of the great master’s finest works.  And I found information about influential past and contemporary art movements.

This was all before the internet, so without these books I would never have been able to find any of this.  I was inspired and soaked up all the knowledge I could. Those days, pouring through volume after marvellous volume, shaped how I viewed the world and how I saw my future.  

As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be an artist.   

Pursuing that particular path is tricky enough nowadays, but back in Birmingham in the 1970s I might as well have said I wanted to be an astronaut. I was two years out of school before I even found out there were art schools in Birmingham.  I’ll share that story with you another time.

Once I did find out about art schools I ditched my job in engineering, enrolled in Bournville School of Art and signed up for the artist’s life. There’s more to that story too and I’ll also share that with you another time.  

Occasionally I’ll walk into a gallery and find myself standing in front of one of the paintings I gazed at with wonder in my youth.  Once I get over the initial rush I smile and thank the Birmingham Central Library for what it gave me all those years ago.

 Out With The Old, In With The New

I paid a visit to the new Library of Birmingham last year.   I like it.  It was more like coming home than visiting a new building.  For a start, it’s attached to another of my old stomping ground, the Birmingham Rep.  When I reached the art department and found some of the books that I was inspired by are now on the new library’s shelves I felt a sense of continuity.  I was filled with hope that some young kid wanting to follow their chosen path would also be inspired.

Attitude to the creative industries is slowly changing.  The last few years as seen it become one of UK’s major growth sectors.  But there’s probably a young person somewhere having a hard time convincing people that they want to follow their dreams.  

 So before I go.  Is there something you need to know?  Are you looking for a nugget of wisdom that will transform your life?  If so, there might be a book on the subject available, for free, at your local library.   So why not pop down and see.



Posted 441 weeks ago

TateShots: The Lovers

I love art and I love storytelling so I was really please to be a part of Tate Modern’s Valentine special.

Man Ray originally created The Lovers (1933) in the aftermath of his passionate and sometimes volatile relationship with the beautiful American photographer and model Lee Miller. The lips painted onto the lead piece are said to be those of Lee, and the artwork is considered evidence of his continued longing for Lee after they parted. To celebrate Valentine’s Day we invited couples into the gallery to contemplate the work, the lovers’ relationship and how art can inspire, ignite and torment.” (Tate Modern, Feb 12 2015)

Posted 471 weeks ago
Posted 481 weeks ago
Posted 492 weeks ago
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Here’s a story I told to Emily from ‘Stories From Strangers’ about some of the trials I went through putting my latest show together. But the Story Gallery is up and running, so all is good.

Stories From Strangers

Norman Bailey tells a story about the lengths of wood and summer rainstorms that tripped up his latest exhibition at the Hornsey Library in Crouch End.

Posted 493 weeks ago

7 Proven Ways To Get Boys To Love Reading


How many time have you thrown your hands up and said, “I give up”?    

For many people, those who care about positive child development, giving up isn’t an option.  

Think about how your life would be if you had no access to the written word.  This is a reality for many people. For some it’s a physiological issue other it’s psychological.  There are also those who by not understanding the importance of reading never bother to develop the skill sufficiently.  Until it’s too late.

So what does it take to get a young man to put down his Playstaion and pick up a book?   There will be those who say that maybe it’s best not to buy one in the first place.  But that isn’t always as easy as it sounds.  Some parents bribe their kids with games times as a trade off against time spent reading books.  The danger of this is that reading then becomes the opposite of things that are fun.  That’ll set the ‘Reading for Pleasure movement’ back a bit.

So what do you do?  I know teachers, parents and carers who have come up with some clever little ways of getting boys to see reading as a positive force in their lives.  Whether it’s as a pleasurable distraction or as a way to gather a wealth of useful information that they can use to enhance their lives.    These are some of the insights I’ve gathered.  I’ve also thrown in a few that have worked for me over the years.

So here they are, in no particular order.

7 Tips for getting boys into reading:

1.   Tell them a story

If it’s a short story, tell  it to them.  And I mean tell them rather than read.  There are a number of reasons why I say this but I’ll expand on that another time.  Telling a child a  story might sound obvious to some but there are people who are little reluctant.  People often think that if you tell a child a story they won’t read it for themselves.  But you wouldn’t think that if you knew how much the book sales of the Hunger Games went up after movies came out. 

2. Tell them about a story

If it’s a long story, tell them about the story.  Be a kind of trailer and get them excited about finding out more.  Ok, this might take a bit of practice.  But watch TV and movies trailers and have some fun with it.

3. Let them see you reading books.  

Read More

Posted 497 weeks ago

About Me

War Horse Musician Lose Court Battle Against National Theatre

Posted by Norman Bailey on Friday, April 18, 2014 Under: Theatre

Being a theatre director I will be following, with interest, the recent developments on the National Theatre’s London production of War Horse.

Five musicians have failed to win a High Court order against the National Theatre (NT) after being made redundant from the West End production and replaced by a prerecorded soundtrack.

The NT said the decision to cut live music from the show was made for artistic and financial reasons.  Very interesting!  War Horse is one of the National's most successful productions in recent years, having been seen by more than 2.5 million people worldwide.  But could it be feeling the pinch at a time when many other West End productions are experiencing a boom in ticket sales?trans.gif  

On the Artistic front they believe that as War Horse is a play with music rather than a musical production it doesn’t warrant a real orchestra. 

So should musicians be worried about this latest development?  

Until these sackings the London production of War Horse, Currently running at The New London Theatre, was the only version worldwide to make use of real musicians.   This latest move puts War Horse London in line with other 'play with music' productions that have opted for backing tracks.  However, This might be one of the first to decide, after a 5 year run, that it's better off without live music.

Theatre - a tough old business

As a theatre director myself I know tough decisions have to be made.  The Last play I put on, Where's Norman Beaton Gone?, was also a play with music.  On that occasion I used prerecorded music.  This was the first run of a new play by a new writer.  So finding musicians who would play Ska, Reggae and Soca music on the budget we had was going to be a stretch.  Plus, one of the Off-West End venues it played, the Lion and Unicorn Theatre, wouldn't have been big enough of house a band and the 10-strong cast.  Strangely it was a potential backer who suggested that taking it forward we should use live music - they're usually looking to the pennies and keeping the costs down. 

The play I'm currently working on is also a 'with music' production.  It's set in the1950s against the backdrop of the New York, Jazz and Blues scene.  The question is; Will producers out there think, as the National do, that retaining artists is an unnecessary expense? Only time will tell.

The War Horse Musicians Fight on

The musicians, in the case of War Horse, took legal action last week following the theatre's decision to call an end their contribution. 

Neyire Ashworth, Andrew Callard, Jonathan Eddie, David Holt and Colin Rae - who had been with the hit show since it's opening in 2009 - had their roles cut back in March 2013 to just a few minutes per performance. Their contracts were terminated last month when live orchestrated music was cut from the production. The five had continued to show up for nightly performances but were turned away.

David Reade QC said the theatre was entitled to terminate their contracts as there was no longer an orchestra in the production, saying War Horse was a play that featured music - rather than a musical production.  He added, "The orchestra was not an integral part of the play. The Theatre is said to be delighted with the High Court's decision.

The NT felt it necessary to emphasise that War Horse has always been, and will continue to be, a play in which music plays an integral part, with a recorded orchestral under-score and central roles for folk musicians who perform live folk songs and choral numbers.

The musicians' Union,  which is providing legal support to the five performers said it was “disappointed”  by the outcome.  Horace Trubridge, MU assistant general secretary, said "The fight was far from over" and added, “Had we won the interim injunction, we would have established a new legal precedent and this was possibly our best chance of ensuring our members’ contracts were honoured.

Is This The End of The West End Feel good Era?

Surprisingly West End Shows have been having a right old time thanks to the economic downturn.  People in search of some relief in this time of woe have been seeking solace in live theatre.  And West End Theatres have seen their coffers swelling.  According to Society of London Theatres figures (SOLT) gross box office returns rose to more than £585 million, up 11% on 2012.  Attendances also increased, by 4%, up to 14.6 million. Could it be that that War Horse is feeling the pinch when other West End production are benefitting from a boom?

Maybe the musicians' £1,200 - £1,500 a week salary was taking too big a bite out of War Horse's £1 million budget.  Well they seem to think so and I couldn't possibly comment.  However, less understandable are the artistic reason's.  An NT spokesperson, states that the producers and directors of War Horse did not believe that the musicians could contribute positively to the play and that it was "better off without them".  They've obviously had a big change of heart since they first mounted the production, which originally sported a full orchestra 

They added: "The National Theatre's artistic judgement, made by those with the expertise to assess such matters, is that a live band does not provide the same quality and impact of performance as can be produced through the use of recorded music and professional actors."

What's The Future For Live Music In Theatre?

The question is, will the NT and others continue to use live music or take to the current trend of using backing tracks?

I've seen a few productions recently that have featured live music.  A couple were at the National.  One being Elmina's Kitchen, directed by artistic director Nicholas Hytner and, more recently, the James Baldwin Classic The Amen Corner directed by his soon to be successor Rufus Norriss.  In the case of The Amen Corner, which has often been mistakenly categorised as a musical,  the live music was a key element of the piece.  But as I sit and think about it now, I'm sure that had the production transferred the same financial and artistic dilemmas would have reared their heads.

For me, it's sad that, in the performing arts, performing artist are always the ones who suffer in these matters.  Jobs in the industry are hard to come by so anything that cuts down on the possibility of a creative individual earning a crush will always hit hard. 

Before I go - I thoroughly enjoyed War Horse when I saw it a few months ago.  If you haven't seen it yet I'd encourage you to get along to see it before they decide they don't need puppets or actors.

In : Theatre 

Tags: "war horse" "national theatre"