Remembering Tony Burns: Blues in Time

One of the ideas informing my dramatisation of the Resnick novel Darkness, Darkness for Nottingham Playhouse was that while we ourselves are alive, the dead – the dead that we know – never quite die. The plot is set in motion by the discovery of the body of a young woman who disappeared during the Miners’ Strike, some thirty years before; what the story then does is revisit the significant moments in that young woman’s – Jenny’s – life, showing them in juxtaposition to the present. To Resnick, who knew her only slightly and is now investigating the circumstances of her death, she was little more than the memory of a bright, lively and outspoken young woman, a firebrand, and during the course of the play he gets to know her more clearly, more roundly, so that, in the scene towards the end [possibly my favourite scene of all], when she visits him in his house where he is getting dressed ready to go to her funeral, it is – bar a quick and instant frisson – no real surprise. She talks to him and he answers, much as he would if she were still alive, much as we hold conversations (inside our heads, more usually, rather than out loud) with those we knew and maybe loved long after they are gone. Much as Resnick, in the play, holds sometimes grudging conversations with the strike leader whose funeral he has attended just before the action opens and who, like a somewhat guilty conscience, comes to haunt him – haunt, the word is correct here, I think – as the play progresses.

That I’ve been thinking about this at all was not sparked directly by the Playhouse/New Perspectives production of Darkness, Darkness [though it does tend to haunt me, both by what was and, perhaps even more strongly, what later might have been] but by the gift of a CD, a remastering of a session by the Gerry Mulligan/Paul Desmond, originally recorded and released in 1957 and sometimes titled simply Quartet, sometimes Blues in Time.

Mulligan 2

Listening to it now I am back in the home of my friend Tony Burns, the back bedroom of a house in Finchley, north London, both of us in our late teens; Tony is learning the saxophone – the alto, initially – and I am, less methodically, less seriously, learning to play the drums. Desmond, who plays alto, most usually in the Dave Brubeck Quartet, is probably Tony’s favourite player at this time, though he likes Mulligan too, and, like Mulligan, will play baritone – only finally settling for tenor some good few years later.

burns-2-4-img

Tony Burns

By profession a tailor, Tony continued to play jazz semi-professionally, only stopping a relatively short time before his death in 2013. By some quirk of circumstance, I was lucky enough, using a borrowed set of drums – my daughter’s – to play with him on a number of occasions in those later years, evening sessions in a pub near the Archway, each one for me a joy. Tony had a way of making you sound better than you really were.

Here, in the final section of a longer poem from Out of Silence called Winter Notebook, are the lines I wrote shortly after Tony died …

My friend, Tony, with whom I first listened,
really listened to jazz, the two of us practising
in his parents’ bedroom, he on saxophone,
me drums, rustling brushes in four-four time
across the top of an old suitcase –
my friend Tony is in a hospice:
the volunteers at the desk welcoming and polite,
all chemo stopped, the carpet deep, the furnishings
not too bright; visiting, we keep our voices low,
talk around you, and just when we think
you’ve drifted off to sleep, you rebuke us
for some mistaken reference to a recording
you know well, Brubeck, perhaps, Mulligan or Getz;
and when Jim retells a joke you first told him
many years before – its punchline too crude
to be repeated here – how marvellous to see
you throw your head back and laugh out loud.

For now I sit alone with you and watch you sleep,
breath like brittle plastic breaking inside your chest,
and, for a moment, without feeling I have the right,
reach out and hold your hand.

One day soon I will push through the doors,
present myself at the desk, only to hear the news
we know must come. It happens, no matter
what expectations we have, fulfilled or not.
And not dramatically, like some monster
rising from the marsh to seize us, drag us down,
but deftly, quietly, like someone switching out the light.

There … you’re gone.

… but not forgotten.

Version 2

Tony with, to his right, our friend Jim Galvin

 

Advertisements

Resnick on Radio, Stage & TV

600x600-3-fit-jpgt

David Fleeshman as Charlie Resnick & Simone Saunders as Catherine Njoroge in the Nottingham Playhouse/New Perspectives production of “Darkness, Darkness”

DARKNESS, DARKNESS
Act 2, Scene 15

CREMATORIUM. FADE DOWN ORGAN MUSIC AS RESNICK WALKS AWAY FROM THE CHAPEL INTO THE GARDEN, CATHERINE, PATCH OVER ONE EYE, COMING TO JOIN HIM.

CATHERINE: God, Charlie! I hate funerals. Hate them more and more.

RESNICK: You’ll come to mine, all the same?

CATHERINE: You, Charlie? You’ll be here forever.

RESNICK: I doubt that.

THEY WALK ON.

I don’t know about forever, but the old boy does keeping popping up, this week especially.

First there was the realisation [they never let you know in advance!] that my three-part dramatisation for radio of the third Resnick novel, Cutting Edge, was being repeated on BBC Radio 4 Extra.

Print

Originally broadcast on Radio 4 in 1996, Cutting Edge features Tom Georgeson as Resnick. Tom Wilkinson had played him on radio the preceding year, in my adaptation of Wasted Years, which, like Cutting Edge and, in fact, all of the radio Resnicks, was produced and directed by  David Hunter. In doing so, Wilkinson, of course, was reprising the role he’d earlier played on television, in the versions of the first two novels in the series, Lonely Hearts and Rough Treatment, both produced by Colin Rogers for Deco Films & Television and the BBC.

resnick-r-treatment

Come the time to record Cutting Edge, he was otherwise engaged, so Georgeson, who had appeared on the other side of the law as a burglar in Rough Treatment, stepped into the Inspector’s shoes, bringing the residue of a Scouse lilt with him as he did so.

Resnick’s most recent incarnation, in the stage version of Darkness, Darkness directed by Jack McNamara for Nottingham Playhouse and New Perspectives, saw him being tellingly brought to life by David Fleeshman.

DSC_0159JPG

David Fleeshman getting in some Resnick Research in Nottingham

Now, Claudia Ferlisi of New Perspectives has assembled an absorbing “storify”, in which the history of the production is traced through a selection of photographs, video, blog extracts, tweets and so on. You can – and should – look at it here …

Delving further back, Colin Rogers  alerted me to a review on the Letterboxd site of the 1992 television adaptation of Lonely Hearts, starring, as has been said, Tom Wilkinson, and directed by Bruce MacDonald. Quite why the review, by Mark C., has appeared now, when no official DVD of the programme is available, I’m not sure. A DVD was advertised as forthcoming on Amazon.com some time ago, but since then there has been no news as to when – indeed, if – it might actually become available. What’s holding things up, I have no idea. Nor do I know which copy Mark is reviewing … but what he has to say, is, I thought, really interesting. Here’s a sample …

It helps of course that the author himself, John Harvey, adapted the novels for TV. But crucially the director of Lonely Hearts, Bruce MacDonald, understands the material beautifully and gives us something unique that still stands out as a distinctive piece of drama some twenty-four years later. Crucially MacDonald’s style, combined with his knowledge and understanding of Harvey occasionally somewhat fragmentary writing style, works in close harmony to deliver an deeply atmospheric piece. Like the jazz beloved of our central character, Harvey’s writing often strays from the narrative through line to provide quirky and unusual flourishes or glimpses of other themes. This is best exemplified in the way that we see the team at Nottingham CID (which includes a youngish David Neilsen before he headed to the cobbles of Coronation Street, looking rather different with short hair and a military moustache, and actor/writer William Ivory as a scene-stealing leery, neanderthal cop who despite his blunt methods gets the job done in a way we cannot help but admire) involve themselves in other secondary cases or how we catch references to their home lives. All of these instances help lend a sense of multi-dimensionality and authenticity to the proceedings.

You can read the review in its entirety here …

Darkness, Darkness Soundtrack

Anyone who saw the recent production of Darkness, Darkness at Nottingham Playhouse will have been aware of the importance of music and sound in the creation of mood and the reinforcement of meaning. The soundscape – incorporating, in addition to  everything from police sirens and gun shots to the chants of Notts County supporters and striking miners, no less than 23 pieces of music – was created by sound designer, Drew Baumohl, working closely with other members of the design team, including filmmaker and video artist, Will Simpson, who was responsible for the projection design.

The initial idea of using the noirish slowcore music of the German band, Bohren & Der Club of Gore and the ambient post rock of the Canadian Godspeed You! Black Emperor to provide the atmospheric interludes and backgrounds, came from the show’s director, Jack McNamara, while the more obviously jazzy selections were mine. I think they work well together.

Here, for anyone wishing to follow up, is a listing of the music used …

Bohren & Der Club of Gore

  • Midnight Black Earth
  • Vigilante Crusader
  • The Art of Coffins
  • Grave Wisdom
  • Maximum Black
  • Skeletal Remains: all from the album, Black Earth
  • Cairo Keller: from Gore Motel
  • Im Raunch
  • Fahr Zur Hollie : from Piano Nights
  • Staub: from Dolores

Godspeed You! Black Emperor

  • Moya: from Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada
  • Asunder, Sweet: from Asunder, Sweet & Other Distress

Thelonious Monk

  •  (I Don’t Stand) A Ghost of a Chance With You: from Thelonious Himself (1957)
  • These Foolish Things: from Thelonious Monk Trio (1954)

Billie Holiday

  • These Foolish Things: from The Quintessential Billie Holiday, Vol 2 (1936)
  • For All We Know: from Lady in Satin (1958)

Joe Temperley

  • I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart: from Easy to Remember (2001)

Coleman Hawkins

  • One Note Samba: from Desafinado (1963)

Pablo Casals

  • Suite No. 1 in G Major, Prelude
  • Suite No. 1 in G Major, Allemande: from Bach Cello Suites (1939)

Cyprien Katsaris

  • Waltz No. 10 in B minor, Op. 69. No. 2: from Chopin-Waltzes

Human League

  • Together in Dreams

Frankie Goes to Hollywood

  • Two Tribes

 

 

 

Darkness, Darkness in Review

So, one week in and one to go, and personal comments, tweets, emails and audience reaction aside, there have been reviews a-plenty, ranging from a miserly two stars out of a possible five in The Times to a resounding thumbs up The British Theatre Guide – “one of the best pieces of theatre I have seen in years.” The truth, to my mind veering strongly towards the latter, lies somewhere between the two.

The reviewer for The Times, opts to judge the play primarily as a police procedural and as such finds “little to distinguish it from any number of mediocre TV cop shows”, and although she recognises that other elements exist – the Miners’ Strike, issues around gender and social inequality – chooses not to allow these the significance I believe the play accords them. As anyone who’s read my novels, or, indeed, seen this production, might attest, the nuts and bolts of the plot – the who did what to whom – are not what interest me most. [Perhaps I should have taken up another line of employment.] I want the mechanics of plot to work, surely, but what I’m more interested in is the why – motivation and characterisation – and, perhaps just as importantly, what the telling of the story allows me to say about the society and values of the world in which its taking place. So it is exactly the Miners’ Strike and its legacy that I’m interested in here, as well as, yes, gender and social inequality, and, running through everything, the persistence of memory. And if those elements don’t come through for the majority of the audience more strongly than they did for The Times then, as a writer, I’ve failed.

What clearly hasn’t failed – even for The Times – is the production itself …

The good news is that Jack McNamara’s production, for Nottingham Playhouse and New Perspectives, is supremely stylish.

Ruth Sutcliffe’s design of gliding black panels and Azusa Ono’s arresting lighting conjure up a murky unease as the plot stops across decades. Figures lurk in shadows or in the sickly yellow glow of streetlights, jazz music curls like smoke around scenes of tense domesticity or police interrogation. Monochrome video imagery flickers – fingerprints, X-ray images, miners on the picket line hemmed in by battalions of uniforms.

Sounds good to me.

And what doesn’t fail – even at those moments – a few, but they’re there – when the script falters – are the actors, whose work has been universally praised and who can, night after night,  even knowing the piece as well as I do, make the back of my neck tingle, my heart beat faster, reduce me to tears.

You have to be a subscriber to read The Times review on line, but for anyone wanting to track it down it was in the Friday, 7th October issue. Links to other reviews follow.

I was grateful, of course, for Steve Orme’s wholehearted response in The British Theatre Guide and particularly enjoyed reading the piece by Emma Pallen in Impact, the University of Nottingham’s Official Student Magazine. And I was especially delighted – nay, thrilled – to have the play’s authenticity attested to in the Traffic Light Theatregoer blog by Francis Beckett, who, together with David Heneke, wrote a history of the Miners’ Strike, Marching to the Fault Line, published by Constable.

http://www.britishtheatreguide.info/reviews/darkness-darkn-nottingham-play-13546

https://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/2016/darkness-darkness-review-at-nottingham-playhouse/

http://www.thereviewshub.com/darkness-darkness-nottingham-playhouse/

http://exeuntmagazine.com/reviews/review-darkness-darkness-nottingham-playhouse/

http://www.nottinghampost.com/murder-and-miners-darkness-darkness-at-nottingham-playhouse/story-29779840-detail/story.html?gvc

http://trafficlighttheatregoer.blogspot.co.uk/

Darkness, Darkness in Production

The Nottingham Playhouse/New Perspectives production of Darkness, Darkness, directed by Jack McNamara, began its two week run at the Playhouse on Friday, 30th September. The set was designed by Ruth Sutcliffe; the lighting designer was Azusa Ono, sound designer, Drew Baumohl and projection designer, William Simpson. The final performance will be on Saturday, 15th October. All production photographs © Robert Day.

600x600-5-fit-jpgt

The body of Jenny Hardwick, who disappeared during the Miners’ Strike, is unearthed after 30 years.

600x600-3-fit-jpgt

David Fleeshman as D.I.Resnick & Simone Saunders as D.I.Catherine Njoroge, both very much on the case

600x600-fit-jpgt

Elizabeth Twells as firebrand supporter of the striking miners, Jenny Hardwick

600x600-1-fit-jpgt

John Askew as striking miner, Danny Ireland

600x600-7-fit-jpgt

Chris Donnelly, as Jenny’s former husband, Barry, facing up to some probing questions

600x600-4-fit-jpgt

The older Danny under interrogation

600x600-6-fit-jpgt

Martin Miller as retired P.C.Keith Haines & Emma Thornett as his wife, Jill

600x600-8-fit-jpgt

Catherine enjoys a reunion with her former boy friend, Adam, played by Jonathan Woolf – or does she?

600x600-2-fit-jpgt

Resnick and a fellow Notts County supporter at Meadow Lane