Just call me Andrew Lloyd Webber

Just call me Andrew Lloyd Webber

There were many reasons for me not to write a musical:

  • I don’t know how to do it
  • No one will come and see it
  • I’m not funny enough
  • It’s a waste of time
  • It’s a waste of money

Despite this, I quite fancied the idea. The seed was first sown when I was making music for a ‘career’. Although I wrote pop songs, they were always… excessive. Lots of unnecessarily lavish instrumentation, spurred on by the “more is more” mantra that Dan (my producer) and I swore by while recording.

The press noticed. Drowned in Sound gave my 2007 album Fan the Flames a whopping 3/10 review, saying: “The turd of his leaden base material is by no means redeemed by the cleansing wipe of equally leaden extraneous instrumentation.” Given my penchant for excess, perhaps it was inevitable that I ended up writing a musical.

Rehearsals feat.  Hyko

Rehearsals feat. Hyko

I first floated the idea with my friend, Jean, when we worked together in 2013. Slaving away in a startup that did ridiculously startup things (like hiring a castle for our 2013 Christmas party) was all the inspiration we needed to start cooking up a startup-themed musical. Every day — and every company-wide email — provided new material.

But, as with so many glorious ideas, it fell by the wayside. We both became busy and didn’t have room for a musical in our lives. (Jean’s written a book, though. You should check it out.) All that remains from that time is a sad Google doc, last edited in 2013.

Four years later, I found myself working at another startup. This one didn’t hire a castle for its Christmas party, but it did have a sauna in the office. (Despite loving saunas, I never used it. I still regret that.) Shortly before my contract was abruptly terminated, I asked Lily if she’d like to write a musical with me. Lily worked in HR but moonlighted as a director, improviser, comedian and other things. She had all the skills I didn’t. And she was very, very funny.

Thankfully, Lily agreed to help me fulfil my musical dreams. Over lunch in a Georgian café last autumn, we started piecing the plot together. We knew the musical was going to be about a startup but we didn’t know what the startup was going to do (fictionally). About halfway through our sandwiches, we realised that despite the existence of apps for sending photos, voice messages, videos — even vibrations — there wasn’t one for sending smells. At least, not yet…

noseR was born.

Lisa, no doubt saying something very funny

Lisa, no doubt saying something very funny

We went to an exhibition about scent. Lily started writing the script. I wrote some songs. Then we asked people to audition, and were staggered when people actually wanted to be in it. I thought we’d barely scrape together six people to bring it to life, but we had to hold five rounds of auditions — and were spoilt for choice with the talent on offer.

Since then, things have snowballed. We found a scent company to provide some olfactory delights for the show. A friend offered to make some props. I pieced together an all-star band. Two guys offered to record us rehearsing and performing the show, which we’ll turn into a mini documentary. Matt made us a beautiful poster. And we applied to perform the show as part of Camden Fringe, were accepted, and now find ourselves preparing for four nights of startup-inspired nonsense in a gorgeous little theatre in Highbury Corner.

There have been lots of times over the past year that I’ve wanted to give up on noseR. Bringing any creative project to fruition is hard work. But Lily and I agreed that if it ever wasn’t fun, we’d stop. And despite the tough parts — like the pain of navigating eight people’s diaries (and a successful World Cup tournament) to create a rehearsal schedule — it’s remained fun. Very fun.

I’m trying to get better at bringing projects to life. Those ideas that nag away in the back of your mind. The ones that seem uncertain, or like hard work, or maybe pointless. As we’ve kept going with noseR, it’s been amazing to see things fall into place. To see something fun come from a tiny seed of an idea, something that might bring a little laughter or joy to the (hopefully) 200 people that cram into a tiny theatre to see us perform.

Tom’s just thought of something

Tom’s just thought of something

The musical might well be a flop. We might misjudge the amount of fart smell to feed into the theatre and accidentally gas everyone (spoiler alert). The songs might be nowhere near as good as I think they are. But at least it won’t be in my head anymore, nagging away. It’ll be on a stage, alive, there to be consumed by other people. And then my brain can start worrying about the next project, rather than wondering why I never finished that musical.

noseR: The Startup Musical is on at The Hen & Chickens, London, from August 6th-9th. Tickets cost £8.




Luke Leighfield