Why did no one warn me musicals were so addictive?
It’s the weekend. I’m in the kitchen. I have some writing to finish. ‘Will you stop singing?’ my wife asks. ‘I’m working’ I say. ‘So, why are you singing then? It sounds like you’re killing the cat’. In the background, Dorothy’s following the yellow brick road at full tilt. Alexa! Stop! I shout. Alexa stops. Dorothy stops. ‘Just don’t be so bloody enthusiastic then’ my wife says, as she exits the madhouse.
This weeks track submission is a tough one. It’s a song from a musical. I’m in the kitchen because that’s where Alexa lives, and I’d really hoped that she could help me out a little in the inspiration department. There’s a problem though. Musicals are so addictive that I’ve just spent half the morning singing along to 'Musicals Greatest Hits Vol 1-3'. This has not been helpful. My deadline’s a distant memory, and all I have so far is a pressing requirement for throat lozenges.
I think I’m going to stick with the Wizard of Oz thing a little longer. I know I used it last week too, but it’s such a powerful allegory, full of little hidden meanings and large conspiracy theories. And, just like Dorothy’s friends, the writer of a musical is also basically searching for the same three things; cleverness (brains), emotion (heart), and the nerve to do something excitingly creative (courage).
The art of telling stories through song is probably as old as my next door neighbour Mr. Jones. Yes, it’s true. Right from the days of ye olde worlde minstrel, by way of a thousand jaunty singer-songwriters, hundreds of opulently oversized opera singers, and of course 'Ubiquitous Lloyd Webber' there’s always been someone somewhere telling tales set to music.
So, let’s crack on. Robert Maitland’s musical extravaganza ‘Taking Care Of Business’ is set in a post-war 1947 Edinburgh. It’s the year of the very first international music festival. Global conflict is over, a new era of hope is dawning, and the spirit of God is again moving upon the water. However, darker forces are abroad at the city’s newest nightclub TCB’s: where love, hate, and revenge are the heady cocktails on offer.
’Surprised’ is the work’s torch song. It’s an account of long-hoped-for love arriving unexpectedly and out of the blue: fragile, yet powerful and full of promise. The potential of new beginnings are mirrored both in the song and in the setting: it's a brave new world, whether personal or political.
Surprised beyond all expectations, unprepared for the body blow.
Unaware that the day would bring me, the love I came to know.
But there it was in a moment, what a beautiful surprise.
Seeing all that lay before me, dancing in your eyes.
There’s some skill involved in writing hooks and memorable melodies: and more so when weaving them into the fabric of a coherent and captivating story. A timeless moment of musical magic, this song is testament to such skill. It’s also testament to that priceless moment in your life when you realise that a person you love feels the same way too.
The singer on this track is Laura Donnelly, of Glasgow band Laki Mera, a sort of downtempo precursor of another Glasgow band Chvrches. The band were working on Robert’s demos when serendipity struck and wizardry won the day.