Drawing: Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell – America

Autographed drawing of musicians Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell, 'America'

The band AMERICA, formed in London in 1970 by high school mates Gerry Beckley, Dewey Bunnell and the late Dan Peek, sons of US Air Force personnel stationed in the English capital, returned to the city for their only UK gig last month at the London Palladium. It was one of the best live concerts I have ever seen. Their music was a big part of my teenage years.

Managed by the legendary George Martin, AMERICA, known for their close harmonies and light acoustic folk rock sound had a string of hit albums and singles throughout the 70’s culminating in one of my all-time favourite records, which instantly went platinum, HISTORY: AMERICA’S GREATEST HITS featuring their first international number 1, “A Horse With No Name” and “Tin Man” written by Dewey and Gerry respectively, along with “Sister Golden Hair”, “Sandman”, “Daisy Jane”, “Ventura Highway” and Dan’s “Lonely People.” In fact the albums pretty much made up the set list for the Palladium gig plus their great cover of the Mammas and the Pappas classic “California Dreamin'” and a salute to George with the Beatles cover of “Eleanor Rigby”.

I left this quick sketch of Gerry and Dewey at the Palladium Stage door and was very happy to receive it back signed. A very nice memento for a very memorable evening.

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Drawing: Nana Mouskouri

Autographed drawing of singer Nana Mouskouri

Nana Mouskouri returned to London last month for a special concert at the Royal Festival Hall. The 84 year-old Greek singing legend and global music star was celebrating sixty years as a performer with her recently released album ‘Forever Young’, featuring covers of songs by Leonard Cohen, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Amy Winehouse and many more.

Because of her varied and multilingual repertoire, being fluent in many languages, Nana has become one of the biggest-selling female recording artists of all time, often called Europe’s answer to Barbara Streisand. Her distinctive voice is a product of having only one functioning vocal cord, ranging from a ‘ husky dark alto to a ringing coloratura mezzo’. Nana is also a UNICEF ambassador and from 1994-1999 was an elected member of the European Parliament.

I left this sketch at the Royal Festival Hall for Nana to sign and a few weeks later it arrived back from Greece, signed and dedicated. Bravo!

Drawing: Alexandre Desplat

Autographed drawing of composer Alexandre Desplat

The first time I met French composer Alexandre Desplat was at the opening night of fellow Parisian Michel Legrand‘s THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG at London’s Gielgud Theatre in 2011. I asked him for an autograph and he was apologeticly reluctant to oblige because of the highest esteem he held for the legendary Michel, who was also in attendance and signing only a few feet away. He waited until Michel had gone into the theatre and then was happy to my accommodate my request. I admired his class and courtesy.

Since then Alexandre has gone on to establish his own niche in the history of film composition. After his Hollywood breakthrough in 2003 with the musical score for GIRL WITH THE PEARL EARRING, he has won every accolade going, including two Academy Awards for THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014) and this year, THE SHAPE OF WATER. He was also nominated for THE IMITATION GAME in 2014, so the odds of winning his first Oscar were greatly enhanced. He repeated his success at the BAFTAs as well as THE KING’S SPEECH in 2011 and has also added two Golden Globes and two Grammys to his awards cabinet.

I think it won’t end there. Alexandre was part of the industry programme at this year’s BFI London Film Festival. I was lucky to meet the charming Frenchman afterwards at the Picturehouse Central Cinema earlier this week, where he signed my portrait.

Drawing: Michel Legrand

Autographed drawing of composer Michel Legrand

In musical terms there are few bigger names than Michel Legrand. The celebrated Frenchman, known for his ‘often haunting, jazz-tinged film music’ has composed nearly 200 movie scores, winning every accolade going, including three Academy Awards, 5 Grammys and a Golden Globe.

One of my favourite songs, ‘Windmills Of Your Mind’ from THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR and sung by Noel Harrison, won the Best Song Oscar in 1968. He seems to have worked, at one time or another with practically every figure of consequence in popular music and film since the end of the Second World War. His theatre work has also been recognised with a Tony nomination for AMOUR and he even has an asteroid – 31201 michellegrand – named in his honour.

The 86 year-old performed for the first time in the UK last month at the Royal Festival Hall, when he conducted and played the piano with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, or as it was dubbed on the night, the ‘Michel Legrand Big Band,’ celebrating 60 years of his most cherished film scores.

In his review for London Jazz News, Andrew Cartmel summed up the experience in one paragraph, “ICE STATION ZEBRA demonstrated the mastery of film composition that Legrand had achieved as early as 1968. The pointillist mystery of the introduction, comprising cross-hatched strings and glockenspiel, yielded to supple shoots of wood winds springing up, subtly and adroitly conjuring the mood before the brass section injected a stab of menace… Legrand’s music remains compelling, absorbing and masterful.”

It was an honour to have Monsieur Legrand sign my drawing at the venue.

Drawing: Martin Kemp in Chicago

Autographed drawing of Martin Kemp in Chicago at the Phoenix Theatre on London's West End

Spandau Ballet bassist and actor Martin Kemp made his West End debut early last month, taking over from Cuba Gooding Jr as the nefarious lawyer Billy Flynn in the London revival of CHICAGO at the Phoenix Theatre. No stranger to the stage, Martin was last seen in the capital as the legendary record producer Sam Phillips in MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET at the Royal Festival Hall in 2017.

While discussing his CHICAGO gig in an interview Martin said the playing the West End was always on his list of things to do. “It’s nice to be in the centre of town”, and it’s the first time he’s sung in character on stage. Did Cuba give him any advice? ” Yes , he said,”watch it as many times as you can.”

Although Martin’s ‘Billy’ is a little different than Cuba’s. “That’s the beauty playing Billy Flynn, we all interpret it differently and agrees it’s such a great part. “Billy commands the stage and everything’s in my key. He’s the devil that gets the girls to sell their souls.”

I met him arriving at the stage door on Saturday, where he signed this sketch. “Thanks man,” he said. Martin is scheduled until early September.

Drawing: Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement – Flight Of The Conchords

Autographed drawing of Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement Flight Of The Conchords

Self-styled as New Zealand’s ‘fourth most popular guitar-based digital-bongo acapella- rap-funk-comedy-folk duo’, and ‘retired sex symbols’, Flight Of The Conchords, Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement are, by global consensus, one of the most successful musical comedy bands on the planet.

As fellow Kiwis… actually as a members of the human race we had to see them perform live, the first time in eight years in the UK. We managed to get tickets to see them at London’s O2. However their big comeback, sold-out arena tour was postponed after a couple of dates, when Bret fell down a flight of stairs, breaking two bones in his hand, “a very rock ‘n’ roll injury” he wrote on his Instagram post.

Bones fixed, the bona fide rock stars rescheduled, adding extra shows. We finally got to the O2 gig on 22 June. “Sorry we’re three months late,” they said in typical Conchordian laid back schtick. Jemaine also apologised for looking ‘older and dustier’, but Bret pointed out that the audience have also put on some years since they last toured “So we’re even.” In London, they did three sell-out shows at the O2 and four at the Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith.

The O2’s a fortress and nigh impossible to meet the artists let alone get stuff signed. The Apollo isn’t much better, with a reinforced gate protecting the lane to the stage door, but it has an opening. I had also heard that sometimes barriers are erected for after show signing and selfie sessions. I decided to go with an entry rather than exit option and quickly did this sketch, arriving at the said gate just as it was closing after Bret and Jemaine had passed through in a big black van and down to the stage door.

However, while I was muttering the typical antipodean expletive, ‘bugger’ or something stronger, a very accommodating gentleman with a lanyard approached me and asked if he could help. I explained the situation and he promised to pass it on. A month passed, nothing returned. Then yesterday this arrived back in the post. Apologies for thinking the worse of said accommodating gentleman with lanyard… in fact ‘thanks.’

Drawing: Stephanie Corley, Quirijn de Lang and Zoe Rainey in Kiss Me Kate

Autographed drawing of Stephanie Corley, Quirijn deLang and Zoe Rainey in Kiss Me Kate at the London Coliseum

Opera North’s award-winning production of Cole Porter’s Broadway comedy classic KISS ME KATE has just completed it’s very brief one-week run at the London Coliseum. The West End debut was also at the same venue, opening on March 8 1951, after premiering at the New Century Theatre on Broadway two years earlier, winning 5 Tony Awards.

This farcical battle of the sexes is set both on and off-stage during the production of a musical version of Shakespeare’s THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, revolving around the tempestuous love lives of actor-manager Fred Graham and his leading lady and ex-wife Lilli Vanessi. Add to the mix, Fred’s current paramour Lois Lane, her gambler boyfriend Bill and a couple of pursuing gangsters and you have the perfect set-up for ‘showbiz shannagians’.

After an initial run at the Theatre Grand Leeds in May, this production transferred to London and is now at the Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre. This ‘jubilant marriage of Porter and the Bard’ had the critics buzzing. The best comment was in the Guardian’s five-star review – “So hot, it’s practically a fire risk”.

Acclaimed opera singers Stephanie Corley and Quirijn de Lang play the lead roles-Lilli/Kate and Fred/Petruchio respectively. West End star Zoe Rainey is Lois/Bianca. I left this montage sketch at the stage door and it came back yesterday, signed and dedicated.

Drawing: Joyce DiDonato

Autographed drawing of opera singer Joyce DiDonato

One of the world’s most celebrated opera singers, American lyric-coloratura mezzo- soprano Joyce DiDonato returned to Covent Garden earlier this month for a one night only recital with the Royal Opera’s music director, Antonio Pappano.

For Opera-lite people, like myself, a ‘lyric-coloratura’ has a light, agile singing voice with a great range, that can reach a high upper extension capable of a fast vocal coloratura, which refers to the elaborate ornamentation of a melody. A ‘mezzo-soprano’ simply means ‘half soprano’, pitched between a soprano (high) and a contralto (low).

Described as a ‘gilt-edged opera star’, Joyce is notable for her interpretations of Handel, Mozart and Rossini, composers who included many roles for lyric-coloratura mezzo-sopranos in their operas. Winner of two Grammy Awards, she made her Royal Opera House debut in 2013 as Fox in Leos Janacek’s THE CUNNING LITTLE VIXEN and later that year performed in THE LAST NIGHT OF THE PROMS at London’s Royal Albert Hall, that included leading the audience in the traditional patriotic piece, ‘Rule Britannia.’

Joyce signed my sketch at the Royal Opera House before the June 4 recital.

Drawing: Krisztina Szabo

Autographed drawing of opera singer Krisztina Szabo

Hungarian-Canadian opera singer Krisztina Szabo made her Covent Garden debut last week in George Benjamin and Martin Crimp’s latest collaboration, LESSONS IN LOVE AND VIOLENCE at the Royal Opera House. The mezzo-soprano, who has performed extensively in both North America and Europe, appeared as the Angel and Maria in Opera Philadelphia and the Holland Festival’s productions of George and Martin’s previous worldwide hit WRITTEN ON SKIN. After its brief London season, LESSONS will embark on a European tour, including another debut for Krisztina at the Netherlands Opera in Amsterdam. Her style is described as “exemplifying today’s modern singer- vocally versatile, excellent stage prowess, painting vivid character portraits.” Krisztina signed my drawing at the Royal Opera House this week.

Drawing: Itzhak Perlman

Autographed drawing of violinist Itzhak Perlman

Itzhak Perlman is the epitome of the word legend. I know I use it often, and have been very fortunate to spend brief moments with a few who have kindly reciprocated by signing one of my scribbles. But Itzhak is undeniably the reigning virtuoso of the violin – the world’s greatest living exponent of the instrument. The 71 year-old Israeli-American
has won 15 Grammy and four Emmy Awards among countless other accolades.

When I found out he was doing a one-off appearance in London to conduct the Mozart Requiem with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus at the Royal Festival Hall last Sunday I immediately put pencil to paper and did this montage sketch, which he signed and dedicated. It’s one of my prize possessions.