“It’s the same tune,” he told me yesterday at the Tower of London, “I just brushed it up a bit, because I thought: They’ve had it for five years now. I didn’t want to have an outcry from all her fans if I changed it too much.”
“Probably wise,” I said. “There’s an awful lot of them and anyone connected to Janey is possibly dangerous.”
On Monday, I had not been able to go to the launch party for Paul’s latest music album One Night Stand.
“It is,” Paul told me, “subtitled The Best of Paul Boyd, Volume 1 – I made them put Volume 1 in case anyone thought I had died.”
The launch party had included performances by some of the artists.
“It was really strange,” Paul told me, “to hear my songs sung out of context and not within the confines of a show. This is my 7th album but all of the previous ones have been cast recordings.”
“How many shows have you written?” I asked.
“22 musicals, 35 scores for plays that have toured nationally, 2 water spectaculars and hundreds of songs for cabaret, concerts and so on.”
“You did two water spectaculars?” I asked.
“They’re very big,” said Paul, “in Japan, Taiwan, Serbia and Denmark.”
“You did two water spectaculars?” I repeated.
“Huge water spectaculars,” he replied, “that I co-wrote, scored and co-directed. One was called The Little Mermaid and the other one Sinbad. Boats were coming on. It was crazy. I really loved it.”
“Serbia?” I asked. “Before, after or during the war there?”
“After the war. In Belgrade, there were lots of bullet holes in the walls, but I grew up in Belfast in the 1970s, so I was the only one not phased by any of it. There were about 2,000 people a night coming to see it. We were staging the show in the Olympic swimming pool which had become a bit dilapidated since 1984, so there was a real sadness to the place.”
“Maybe the swimming pool was a bomb crater?” I suggested.
“No,” said Paul. “It survived, weirdly. But there were little things like they didn’t have enough diesel to heat the pool to the standards we required because, when you do water shows, there are so many rules and regulations about the amount of chlorine and so on and the temperature dictates the costumes your actors wear. So, in Serbia, we had all the costumes re-designed, made out of neoprene – the stuff you get in wetsuits – which has a slightly insulated quality. But we had to have two mermaids because they got too cold if they stayed in the water too long.”
“You are,” I said, “from Belfast, but the name Boyd…”
“… is Scottish. yes. I’m from the Royal House of Stuart – well, a servant of… maybe we scrubbed their steps… There is a rumour that the Boyds were kicked out of Scotland for flirting with the King’s men, which is a family trait I like to keep going. Now I’m working with the Beefeaters…”
“Which is why are we meeting at the Tower of London…” I prompted.
“Yes. because I’m doing auditions for chorus members here today. Next February – the 13th and 14th – there’s a variety show – Live at The Tower – it’s Valentine’s Eve and Valentine’s Night – which Historic Royal Palaces have asked me to direct.
“Like all royal palaces, the Tower of London needs to raise money every year to keep going – I think they need to raise something in the region of £2 million a year just to keep the gates open and keep everything functioning. We’re hoping to raise money for St John’s Chapel, which is the oldest Norman church in England – it’s in the White Tower. Lots of people were dragged out of there to meet their deaths. It needs a bit of tender loving care so we’re going to raise a bit of money for that.
“The Beefeaters themselves – the Yeomen Warders – came up with this idea – Pete McGowran and Moira Cameron – the first and only female Beefeater. We didn’t know what kind of show to do so I thought a variety show. I love variety, music hall. The Royal Variety Show is the kind of feel we’re looking for and that’s the kind of audience who will be invited along to pay the sort of prices we want for the tickets.”
“Televised?” I asked.
“Not this year. Fingers crossed for future years. The idea is we launch it next year and see what happens.”
“It’s in the White Tower?” I asked.
“It’s in the New Armouries building – There’s a huge banqueting hall on the top floor which has the White Tower as the backdrop.”
“That’s in February next year,” I said, “but, before that…?”
“I’m directing my first panto.”
“Blackpool, the home of variety. At the Blackpool Grand.”
“That’s gigantic,” I said. “And it’s your first panto?”
“Yes,” said Paul. “A lot of my shows started off as Christmas productions, like Alice: The Musical and Pinocchio and Hansel and Gretel, but I’ve never written a panto ever.”
“Oh yes you have,” I have.
“Oh no I haven’t,” said Paul.
“What’s the panto?” I asked.
“Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs starring Sue Pollard with real-life little people. A lot of pantos don’t do that now. A lot have children with big heads and pre-recorded voices. And some just have people on their knees. We’re very fortunate. We have a very good-quality cast.”
“Pantos,” I said, “are very restrictive, but in a good way.”
“Yes, there are all the rules and regulations. Things like the good fairy always enters from stage right and the bad fairy or Wicked Queen always has to enter from stage left.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Oh yes,” said Paul. “If you ever see a panto where the good fairy comes on from stage left, it’s wrong.”
“Any trouble with Disney?” I asked.
“I imagine there’s always trouble with Disney. But I think the only thing is, with the dwarfs, you’re not allowed to call them Sleepy. Dozy, Doc, Bashful and so on.”
“There was,” I said, “the porn film Snow White and The Seven Perverts and, when Disney threatened to sue, the distributors changed the title to Some Day My Prince Will Come.”
“I remember reading once,” said Paul, “that someone was doing a panto of Beauty and The Beast – which is a Disney stage show as well as a film – and they had to have their posters approved by Disney in case they infringed any Disney rights.”
“You are very prolific,” I said, “but you have not done a new musical this year.”
“I did have three shows lined up,” explained Paul, “which all fell apart. We have had a really dodgy year in Theatreland this year.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Well, there’s a lot of people running venues in London who just really don’t know what they’re doing. That’s the honest truth. I work in Rep theatres all over the country and other theatres all over the world but in London – particularly on the fringe – the lunatics are running the asylum.”
“Can I quote you?” I asked.
“I think so, yeah. Though make sure you say there’s some lovely lunatics, because some of them I get on with really well. But I’ve had a couple of run-ins with people who’ve taken shows almost to the point of production and then turned round and decided they’re going in another direction. You don’t do that. I’m not used to that. A lot of faffing around. There’s no malice in it at all. A lot of people just don’t know what they’re doing and I think a lot of us, as writers, are finding it frustrating when our only outlet is the fringe and off-West End.
“One of the shows I had lined up with one of these fringe venues that didn’t come off this year, we’ve decided to do next year and I’ve just started to co-write it with a very well-known, award-winning TV scriptwriter who is venturing into theatre for the first time. He’s bringing a lot of cachet with him and a lot of people with big names want to be involved in it now. So having it fall through initially has actually helped the show.”