I am sure like many people during lockdown music has played an integral part of daily life. From my sons Hip Hop, to my daughters Indie, to my life long love affair with Jazz. Music has always been a vital part of the Idiot world, and we have been lucky enough to collaborate with some wonderful composers, including Zoe Rahman, Iain Jonestone, and Alicia Martel. In theatre music can be a seductive and powerful element, and can make poor material appear stronger than it actually is. We don’t rush to include music but try to let it in gradually, as ever remaining conscious of juxtaposition and surprise. I thought I would share ten iconic tracks that have featured in our work over the past twenty seven years. Enjoy.
Paul Hunter, Artistic Director, Told by an Idiot

 

TRACK 1: LA POUBELLE CUISINE- Gabriel Yared (soundtrack to Betty Blue)

We used this in our first show On The Verge Of Exploding (1993-95- Edinburgh Festival, LIMF, Scottish Highlands, Romania, South Africa) inspired by two pages in One Hundred Years Of Solitude. We had created a penultimate sequence that had all the physical and emotional desperation of farce. This involved the character of the young girl Meme desperately trying to find her lover Mauricio (a humble chicken thief), and warn him not to visit her at bath time that night, as her Mother had locked herself in the bathroom. The two lovers kept missing each other as they hurtled around the auditorium, and the stern faced Matriarch waited by the bath. The scene culminated in Mauricio dancing naked outside the bathroom with some bananas, and the Mother emptying the contents of the toilet bucket over the poor chicken thief. We wanted to find a piece of music that had the pulse and rhythm of farce, whilst at the same time working within the context of the show alongside the live accordion we were using. We felt La Poubelle Cuisine worked perfectly, it was also not an easily recognisable piece of music which helped. If we are using music from a film, we have always tried to avoid anything too identifiable, if you go for something well known this can make the audience blip out of the world you have worked hard to create.
 

TRACK 2: A QUOI BON (1995) by Les Negresses Vertes

This track was written and recorded by French band Les Negresses Vertes. Their cabaret like performances mixed punk, folk, reggae, ska, funk, flamenco, Algerian rai, Latin, and more. Laurent Marceau the French music producer described the band thus: "Imagine Edith Piaf jamming with the Pogues and playing some sort of Latin music, not taking themselves seriously and just having lots of fun."
We used this track in our second show I’m So Big (1995/1996- UK tour, BAC, Lulea festival Sweden). Inspired by Emir Kusterica’s extraordinary film Time of the Gypsies (1988), I’m So Big was a brutally comic fable that told the story of a young gypsy boy (Fredo) who was seduced by the city, corrupted by life, and betrayed by his family. In the prologue of the show Fredo is singing with his Grandma and trying to get some money from the audience. Suddenly they hear moaning and discover a man lying injured on a rock. To their surprise it is Fredo’s older brother Maximo, as the family are briefly reunited, Fredo becomes fascinated by the gun Maximo is carrying. Grandma tries to get Maximo to put the gun away but it accidentally goes off killing her. In that moment A Quoi Bon kicks in and its wild pulsing energy supports the dying Grandma as she begins to pull the huge cloth that has been covering the stage creating a rocky landscape. She keeps pulling until she has revealed an urban landscape comprising a real caravan, some battered old car seats, a tawdry fridge and half of a billboard poster advertising a better life. Grandma finally had hold of all the cloth, and disappeared off the back of the top of caravan, and our story began.
The music was perfect and the fact that the title translates as ‘What’s the point’ felt entirely appropriate.

 

TRACK 3: SOME OTHER TIME by Bill Evans

Bill Evans was one of the most influential jazz musicians of all time. He was part of the Miles Davis band, and appeared on the iconic album Kind of Blue. After leaving Evans began his career as a leader, with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motion, a group now regarded as a seminal modern jazz trio. Evans recording of Lenord Bernstein’s Some Other Time continued to be a touch stone recording for him for the rest of his life, appearing regularly on his albums (notably on his duet record with Tony Bennet).


We used this track in our 1999 show Happy Birthday Mr. Deka D (Edin Festival, UK tour, Lyric Hammersmith, Berlin Festival). This was a new play we commissioned from acclaimed Nigerian playwright Biyi Bandele. The play was an elliptical chamber piece and a moving and comic look at the nature of love, and the affect that the past has on the present. As I lay under the floor of Naomi Wilkinson’s extraordinary set every night, I would listen to the haunting and beautiful piano of Bill Evans. It felt like the perfect introduction to our short fractured love story, and something of the atmosphere of this wonderful track seemed to imbue the whole brief evening.

 

TRACK 4: IN THE MORNING by Nina Simone

Nina Simone was one of the most eclectic artists of our time. In an age when placing a performer in a neat pigeonhole makes for easy reference, she was an anomaly. Exactly where did she fit in? Was she a jazz singer? A folk and blues gospel diva? A supper club chanteuse? She was all of these and none of them. You could never predict what you might find on a Nina Simone album, material could include compositions by George Harrison, Burt Bacharach, and Bob Dylan alongside Hoagy Carmichael, Jaques Brel, Jim Webb, Aretha Franklin and even Ike Turner. This kind of unpredictability has always appealed to us at TBAI, and Nina Simone’s extraordinary way of treating cover versions has influenced our approach to adaptation. In The Morning is itself a cover of a Bee Gees track. It is a beautiful version of the song, which Simone famously played at her concert on 7th April 1968 in New York the night after Martin Luther King was assassinated.


We used this track in our show A Little Fantasy (2002/3- UK tour, Soho Theatre, LIMF). Set against the back drop of the Great Depression, the show explored a certain type of Americana influenced by the wonderful short stories of Flannery O'Connor. At the heart of it all was an intense friendship between two women who lived outside the law. At the end of the show one of them appears to be lost in the ocean and Iain Johnstone’s wonderful score played through a final coda. As the audience left we played In The Morning, I firmly believe that the experience is not over until the last audience member has left the auditorium, and we spend a lot of time considering what music the public will leave to. In The Morning felt exactly right, it’s beautiful feeling of optimism cutting against the poignant ending of a relationship.