Hereward Kaye composer singer song writer title
Hereward Kaye composer singer song writer title

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Hereward Kaye

The Ship Hits the Fan




The Ship Hits the Fan

The small man crossed the opulent carpet, hand outstretched.
“At last,” he declared dryly, “we meet.”
“We have met before,” I replied, smile fluttering on my face.
“ I know,” he replied, visibly racking his brain, “but I’m trying to remember when.”
“Rocky Horror Show, ten years ago. I was an understudy.”
“God, yes.”
“You, me, Richard O’Brien and Ziggy Byfield singing Alma Cogan in the back of the bus.”
“My God we were pissed for a week do sit down.”
“Coffee, tea?” gushed permatanned Nick Allot, Cameron’s affable number two.
“Two sugars!”
“No milk!”
There were three sofas to choose from, framing a giant green glaze coffee table. I sunk into one of them, though not quite as deeply as Robert, who was drowning in a quicksand of cushions next to me. Agent Orange and our solicitor Tina grabbed another, shuffling pert buttocks to accommodate Nick Allot. Cameron was left with no option but to sit next to his brother, something he managed rather ungracefully.
Awkward silence.



On the walls, theatrical landmarks. Cameron with Royalty. Cameron receiving awards. Behind us, a grand piano. Andrew, d’you think?….possibly tickled?…
“Tee?” called Cameron.
“Coffee!” I cried involuntarily, again.
Tee Hesketh, Cameron’s private secretary entered, bearing bone china and biscuits. I sunk further into the cushions.
“Seen the poster?” chirruped Cameron, “I think it’s rather good, actually. I put a lot into it. I’m pleased as punch.”
Before us, upon the sheen of green glass, lay the most expensive poster I had ever seen or had my name upon, the poster of our new show.


Cameron picture for moby dick the musical


Then we were talking percentages. West End. Broadway. Japan. Coffee table book rights and secondary royalties from amateur productions around the world. I felt like I’d been mugged by the Outer Limits; removed from the street outside to gaze into a chandaliered future. Headlines twirled like the cream on my coffee:
‘Kaye & Longden Storm The Musical Stage!’
‘Kaye The New Lloyd Webber!’
“Of course,” Cameron snapped, “I may see it and say ‘very nice, chaps, but it’s not for me’.”
Before I knew it I was back on the street.


Moby dick the musical


I strode up York Way in search of the rehearsal room. It wasn’t difficult to locate. Snippets of my songs merrily rolled along the road, calling me like a siren onto the rocks. Slipping in through a side door I entered a bisexual’s paradise; harems of pretty boys and beautiful women. Utterly self possessed dancers, models and drama students threw shapes and leapt like gazelles, jabbered at no one and posed, trilling at the ceiling or declaiming out loud.


Dance routines broke combustively around Anthony Lapsley, a silver haired choreographer shouting numbers. His moustache was immaculately groomed and he looked quite startling in his leggings, as if he were female from the bum-cheeks down. Five muscle-bound men practised raising Jayne Collins above their heads. I realised these must be the Bodyguards, a recent invention, along with their exotic charge, an African princess.

Robert had slung them in for good measure to perform a late striptease, in the absence of the London Broncos and a firework display. The Production Team ranged themselves around the perimeter of our peacock pen: Martin Koch the Musical Director, Wardrobe, Stage Management and Robert, directing. Suits hovered by the door taking mental bets, well placed to nip out the door to mythical meetings should there be nothing to get excited about.

Ten days later we relocated. Oxford University was closed for the summer and the student population gone. I slept on campus in a tiny cell with the rough grey blanket pulled up to my chin, the roars of the Bodyguards and the screams of the Swarm echoing down the corridor as they rioted around the empty building. Robert was up the road in a swanky house with his most favoured principals.

We worked in The Firestation, Cameron’s ‘try-out’ theatre. It was busier than an anthill before the rain. Other tugboats had joined the slipstream of our ship in full sail. Lighting designer, sound engineer, stage manager and band all went through their paces with a low undercurrent of urgency underscoring their work. Lamps were focussed and lighting states re-examined, throwing the auditorium into a variety of moods. ‘Can we have some light on the stage please?’ came the inevitable cry. Sound effects cascaded from the ceiling – deafening surf, violent storm, cracking mast and crashing wave. ‘Can we have some quiet please?’ came the invariable bellow. Props were invented and smoke machines blasted. The Band went through their paces at the expressive hands of Martin. As dance routines were clattered through and the Swarm swarmed in a sea of dry ice, all around them construction went on, instructions yelled, metal welded, the Set hammered together.

Into the teeth of this seething firestorm walked Cameron, Daniel-like, his old school chum Melvin Bragg at his side. He’d come to take his first look at the piece. Individual performances, of course, went from pissed off skulking behind pillars, to ‘look at me! I’m over here!’

We ran the first act - horribly prematurely - and Cameron sat beside me to watch. He jabbered into my ear incessantly.
“Cut the overture, it’s ordinary. It’s ‘Joseph’. Thirty seconds of school piano, and into the hymn. Save the real music for the musical.”


I scribbled his ideas down in the dark.
Then: “Why is she singing this? I don’t understand. You haven’t taken us with you. Bring on a blackboard to set her up. Who is she?”
I was getting nervous. Then he started to get into it, sniffling and snorting with mirth, weeping and shouting out uninhibitedly, like one of those odd kids you get at a bus stop. When we came to the bodyguards stripping off and a schoolgirl parading before them with a sign reading: ‘The Chipolatas’, he went quite boggle-eyed. I thought he’d swallowed his tongue. He was halfway under his tip up seat emitting gurgling noises.
He stood up at the end of it and announced to the cast obediently ranged across the edge of the stage: “I’m a friend of Romance Hologram’s…” (this was the name of the production company we’d formed, Romance being an anagram of his own name, for at this stage he demanded anonymity - and Hologram because we never saw him) “… and I know,” he paused triumphantly, “she’s going to love it!”
Everyone applauded him as he exited.

Extract from Robert’s programme notes:

‘A strange man swept into the theatre smelling of Concorde. Bang-wallop – I walked straight into Cameron. What followed was for me the best part of the experience. Here was a massively enthusiastic, relentless bully who was so excited by the whole thing, and so bombarding me with notes, I thought I might have to buy a box of earplugs. But I rose to the occasion, as did my drinks bill at the bar, and each day I sat rewriting, creating reams of notes and demanding pre show changes which continued until the matinee of the final day of the run.’

From moby dick the musical

Cameron never let us alone. As Robert worked with the actors and I worked with Martin and the band, he was in your face, spittle flying, cross eyed with enthusiasm. He turned up with someone different every time, anyone who’s opinion he trusted or valued. Some were wildly enthusiastic, others not (most notably Philip Hedley, artistic Director of Stratford East who clearly loathed it).
There were minor crises as Robert cranked up to tension factor ten. Jayne took it upon herself to soothe him with her constant attention, as if she had a personal franchise on him; as if she somehow wasn’t a member of the cast. She was, but obviously as Cameron’s sister-in- law she felt she could pull rank. Robert wouldn’t have thought twice about swatting her away, but it made him feel more DeMille like to have Jayne soothe his tortured brow, under her husband’s omnipresent gaze.
Then there was the girl he wouldn’t stop victimising because she wouldn’t stop chewing.
“Dani!” he’d roar, “take that gum out of your mouth.” She’d scowl and giggle and chuck the soggy gum into the wings. Next time it came to her big number she was chewing again. It wasn’t deliberate; she was nervous about singing, that was all.
“Get off my stage and out of my company!” roared Robert, outraged. “Don’t come back till you’ve had an attitude transplant!”
Dani exited the stage with a defiant toss of her beautiful mane, walking till she reached the bus stop over the road. I found her sitting upon the wall, cursing and crying.
“He’s a shit! I’m not going back in there. He’s horrible.”
“Don’t do something you might regret, Dani.”
“Fuck him. He’s a creep.”
“I know he was rude…”
“Bloody rude!”
“He’s stressed. Do the big thing and walk back in.”
She sat chewing furiously and swinging her gorgeous legs.
“Dani,” I said, “How old are you?”
“You’re just starting out. What’s the point in making a fuss? This show could go West End next year, who knows how things might go?”
She turned and looked through the curtains of her hair at me.
“Dani,” I said softly, “You could need this show, it could be very useful. You could have a great career ahead of you, if you just make the right decision now.”
She turned her head sideways and whumphed the gum out of her mouth. Then a bus slid up and she got on it.
“See ya!”
“Dani Behr!” I yelled as the bus receded, “You’re making a big mistake!”

The actors broke for lunch and all the suits who had been quietly observing proceedings now burst into interactive dialogue. Cameron and his brother Robert, a producer from Polygram and I stood in animated discussion in front of the stage. Then came Robert’s terrible roar from the stalls: ‘Silence in my theatre I’m trying to work!’ There was a moment’s appalled pause followed by a bout of furtive eyeball rolling. Even Cameron was momentarily cowed. We slid off to the bar, embarrassed. But as I sat staring into my drink, remembering our beginnings, I understood Robert’s current anxiety, even if it was goose-stepping around the stage. Since Robert and I first worked on this show, a whole lifetime had slipped under the bridge. I’d gone from spring chicken to rock dinosaur. Robert had gained eight stone. Our confidence was vitally holed below the waterline. The golden apple of recognition had swayed tantalisingly beyond our reach. Now we were being given another chance. Here at the Firestation in Oxford, under the demanding gaze and patronage of the biggest producer in Theatreland, we were being handed an opportunity to make sense of the whole journey that had gone before.
It was win or die.
  Opening night was upon us. We weren’t ready, but what the hell. Virgin Sewing Kits awaited on every other seat, alternating with condoms. Pat turned up, dressed as a schoolgirl, as if my blood pressure wasn’t high enough already. DeWynters – responsible for the artwork – presented me with a huge lifebelt, bearing the legend: ‘THE SHIP HITS THE FANS! – 23rd SEPTEMBER 1991’
Cameron gave me a very nice card, in which he’d written ‘Thankyou for letting me tune up your Dick!’
I sat tucked away on the balcony with Robert, who giggled and gurgled into a very large whisky. The sound engineer hadn’t had time to learn the show and had far too much to do. After the first missed cue, I went into shock. I remember absolutely nothing of the performance. As they filed out at the end, each member of the audience – and there weren’t that many – was given a badge: ‘I’VE BEEN DICKED!’ I wore one myself, with feeling. But then Cameron introduced me to his mother as “the Composer.” Nobody had ever called me that before. I found I liked it a lot. Then Barbara Windsor scuttled over.
“I didn’t understand a bleedin’ word of it!” she declared, “But I had a lot of fun.”
I stole a glance at her tits. I’m sorry, anyone weaned on Carry On films would have done the same.
“Barbara Windsor!” I marvelled. “You were part of my childhood…”
She was off. She didn’t want reminding of her age.
cameron mackintosh note
The run continued, and continued to improve. So did the audience. After a while they were walking in wearing the ‘I’VE BEEN DICKED!’ badges.

Extract from Robert’s programme notes:

‘As we worked relentlessly on the show in front of paying audiences, their friendly bemusement turned into enthusiastic focus. By the end of the second week I witnessed my first queue around the corner and promptly had a photo taken of it.’

Still Cameron wasn’t sure. “I’ve never produced a show in the West End,” he agonised in the bar, “that didn’t have a following first. Who’s going to come and see it?”
“All those people who go and see Cameron Mackintosh Musicals in the West End.”
“This isn’t a ‘Cameron Mackintosh Musical’!” he exploded. “That’s why I like it. It should have a following first. It should be a best kept secret. It needs to become a cult at somewhere like Stratford East and then I could bring it in. But I brought Philip Hedley along to see it, “ he pouted, “and he hated it!” Cameron fixed me an accusatory glare, like a kid of ten.
“All I know,” I said, fixing him in the eye, “Is that there’s only one producer in the world for this show, and that’s you.”
He nodded gravely. He too knew there was only one producer in the world. Despite his misgivings, however, the word of mouth was good and the audience continued to grow. Cameron kept bringing in friends of great repute for their valued opinion. His own reputation was too good to sacrifice on our anarchic show, however much he may have grown to love it. Whilst Robert and I turned inside out wondering whether the adventure was to continue, Cameron’s advisors, it would seem, were telling him what we wanted him to hear – either that, or, despite himself, he ignored their cautionary advice. Whatever, at the end of the second week of the run, Cameron picked up the Option!

Agent Orange grabbed me as I walked in and ushered me through the bar into an alcove where Robert sat, bemused, before an ocean of vellum, dark suits at his shoulder. The worsted sea parted to let me in. I took the proffered fountain pen, and side by side we signed. After years of being stuck in the penalty area, suddenly the game had opened up beautifully before us. Robert had a glorious week ahead of him visiting the three West End theatres vying for our show. We were to open in the spring. We were in the other penalty area for once, theirs; the world at our feet and a great open goal before us. All we had to do was stick the ball in the net.

  From Cameron’s notes:
‘For the first ten days in Oxford we grabbed people off the street to make up an audience, then suddenly word of mouth got going and the show took off with queues down the street. The exuberant girls of St Godrick's were ready to chase Moby Dick to London.’

  Moby Dick at the Piccadilly Theatre  
‘On my fortieth birthday my agent informed me that Cameron had decided to take up the option of producing the show in the West End. I had been given a break by a seriously serious impresario; I had been writing for 25 years and for the first time in my life someone was genuinely interested in it. That’s a long wait. I was in a prolonged dream. The iceberg of neglect and indifference to our twenty year old writing apprenticeship was beginning to melt. Like the whale, I felt I was on my way to being saved’.

Letter from Tom Robinson:
‘Just a note to drop you a few lines of heartfelt congratulations after seeing Moby Dick at the Firestation, last night. I went with Colin Bell (Head of London Records) and a friend of his called Jane who’s a high powered casting director and already had an idea of how good the show was from the West End grapevine.
H, I was stunned. I was prepared for something good, but the show exceeded my wildest expectations. Everything about it – script, casting, design, direction, lighting, production values, musicianship, but above all THE SONGS – left me completely floored. My only first hand experience of musical theatre is ‘Cramp’ - and comparing that with Moby Dick in terms of a vehicle for your talents is like comparing a Datsun CH with a Boeing 747. These are not only your most potent, focused songs ever, but they hit the bullseye time and again. And ‘Love Will Always’ is a hit if ever I heard one.
I always thought your talents were a key that would sooner or later open the right doors for you, and last night I heard the unmistakable sound of locks turning in the latch. Unprompted, Jane ranted on about the show’s wild originality and great, great songs, while Colin was willing to bet money on it being a resounding smash within weeks of opening. The last time I smelt impending success this tangibly was – gulp – just before the release of ‘2-4-6-8-Motorway’.

I’m jealous as fuck and pleased as anything at the same time. May success come thick, fast and furious. I can’t think of anyone who deserves it more!’


Web design and occasional backing singing: Nicky Furre - See