20 April 2020

Isolation Interviews: Simon Beck.

Next up on the Isolation Interviews series I have Simon Beck. Simon is a conductor, singer and mentor. He has worked on numerous shows in the West End, on tour and internationally. He's worked on productions in Rocky Horror Show, Spamalot, Sweet Charity and The Boyfriend. In 2015 he released an album entitled The Courage of a Dreamer. You can find out more about Simon and the services he provides by visiting his website http://simonbeckmusician.com/

- What was the first piece of theatre that you remember seeing?
A - I’m reliably informed that the very first piece of theatre I saw was The Sooty Show when I was 2 years old! I remember being taken to local pantos (Belgrade, Coventry & Birmingham Rep) very early on, but my first West End show was 42nd Street at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London. I choose to mention this because it starred Catherine Zeta-Jones, recently promoted from understudy. Jane Hanna was playing the French Horn in the pit, Gareth Valentine was the onstage pianist, and it was conducted by Kevin Amos. All were names I didn’t know at that time, but all are people I have gone on to study/work with (except Ms CZJ). That show had a profound effect on me in so many ways!

- What inspired you to get into theatre?
A - As soon as the curtain went up on 42nd Street I knew I had to be involved in some way with theatre. I saw the conductor ‘waving his arms’ down in the pit and felt a connection deep in my soul … even though I had no idea what was actually happening, nor what that man’s job literally was.

- What is your favourite musical movie?
A - This could change on any given day, but today’s favourite? Beauty and the Beast! Disney’s original animated version. It is one of the most perfectly crafted pieces of musical drama. A truly great score by Alan Menken, with wonderful lyrics by Howard Ashman. Voiced by Broadway actors!

- What are your favourite show tunes? (You can pick up to 5 songs)
A -Again, this list is ever-changing … today’s favourites ….
1 It’s Today (Mame)
2 Spread The Love Around (Sister Act)
3 Sunday (Sunday In The Park With George)
4 As We Stumble Along (The Drowsy Chaperone) I can’t get enough of Beth Level singing this! I’ve watched every video!!
5 Somewhere (West Side Story)

- If you could tell your younger self something what would you tell them?
A - You ARE enough!

- If you could have dinner with 3 theatre-related guests (doesn't have to just be performers). Who would you invite and why?
A - John Kander (composer) - to talk about his musical influences, and hear his stories about his experiences!
Bernadette Peters (performer) - she is so kind. I met her very briefly once and she was as interested to hear about me as she was forthcoming about herself. Generous! I’d like to chat more!
David Krane (arranger/conductor) - I have been inspired by this man’s arrangements for years and would love to chat with him about all things musical, and life. The two go hand in hand I think. He came to a performance of The Boyfriend (Menier) and introduced himself. So humble and generous. I’d enjoy the full conversation …
I think these three people would get on around a dinner table!


- Was being a musical director/musical supervisor something you'd always wanted to do?
A - Yes, when I was 10 years old I knew it was something I WOULD do. And in London. Precocious much?! How could I have known …?

- How was it to be one of the youngest assistant “choreographers” (presumably you mean “conductors"?) in musical theatre when you joined Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard when you were aged 20?
A - I was the youngest. I’m very proud of that. And very grateful to David White for taking the risk, and giving me that opportunity. It was a crazy time for me! I knew nothing about the business, and had everything to learn! I had never been in a professional rehearsal room before, never mind conducted a performance. Most of the company were supportive, but there were definitely some troublesome personalities to navigate!

- You released your first album, The Courage of a Dreamer, back in 2015. How proud are you of that? (it's brilliant by the way!)
A - Thank you for your compliment! I am incredibly proud of this album! It’s very personal. It was born of a show I created in 2005, under the same name, but with some alternate material. I booked Angel Studios and my musicians, hired an orchestrator, fixed my singers, and off we went! Another huge learning curve! I never actually meant to release it. It was only meant to be a ‘learning project’ for me. The unmastered tracks sat on the shelf at Angel for 8 years before someone encouraged me to listen to them again. That same someone offered to mix the tracks so I could hear them as they were meant to be. We decided there was something there, so I had the album officially mixed and mastered, and finally released it! After the initial reactions from listeners I realised that my song choices perfectly mirrored my life up to that point. The final track The Chance To Sing was my Dad’s only request for his funeral service.

- You've been lucky enough to work in venues all around the world, which of those have been your favourites?
A - The Birmingham Hippodrome. It was my ‘local’ big theatre, and it is beautiful. The Theatre Royal, Newcastle has huge significance for me as it’s where my parents went on a first date, and I got to conduct West Side Story there. I conducted Sinatra in Symphony Hall, Birmingham. That hall is perfection. The sound is incredible. And the history of world-class artists who have played there before and after. The Coliseum, and Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in London are absolute Meccas of showbusiness. I am incredibly proud and humbled to have played those two venues. Onstage featured/solo pianist for Barbara Cook’s 80th birthday concert at the former, and for Sondheim’s 85th birthday at the latter.

- You offer sessions in conducting and vocal coaching as well as general sessions where you offer to help 'life coaching'. How rewarding is it to give back to others and help them going forwards?
A - It is hugely rewarding. I love to see the progress in the individual as they realise the talent within themselves, and develop their new skills in order to make full use of it. I have been vocal coaching since the beginning of my career, and my clients include musical theatre performers, pop artists and classical recording artists. The variety of styles is exciting. Working with my conducting students is particularly rewarding as this craft is all about THEIR feelings and interpretations of music. Learning how to express themselves fully in order to communicate their interpretation to others. We often get to know each other well and form strong bonds through this work, which leads to lifelong professional friendships. That’s the reward! To watch them shine, and to enjoy the friendships around the world.

- Away from the theatre what are your other favourite hobbies?
A - I love food! Cooking, creating, eating! I also love walking in nature. I am very fortunate to live near open fields with stunning scenery.

Q - Can you tell us something we wouldn't know about you?
A - I used to play the French Horn.

I'd like to thank Simon for his time and for taking part in this interview. Please visit Simon's website http://simonbeckmusician.com/ to learn more about Simon, his career and what services he provides. You can also follow Simon on Twitter https://twitter.com/SimonGBeck

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