Monthly Archives: June 2013


Last weekend I attended Sherlock Holmes Past & Present, two days of academic papers and sandwiches at Senate House. It included some very esoterically titled papers (“Biopolitical Sherlock: Information Technology and Liquid Modernity at Risk”), which inevitably turned out to be more accessible than their banners suggested. I enjoyed actor Richard Burnip on “Holmes and his Contemporaries” – looking at the other detectives who appeared in Strand Magazine -and Nathan Murray on Dorothy L Sayers and her Holmesian scholarship. Thanks to a misbehaving car, I missed Sarah Weaver on “How Smart is Watson?” and Jonathan Cranfield on “Sherlock Holmes, Sport and Masculinity”, but I will catch them in the anthology of papers. For my part I gave, inevitably,a talk on Dead Man’s Land (& Dr Watson), which featured some wonderful slides of nurses and VADs in World War One, loaned by Sue Light (, like the one below, which inspired the character of Miss Pippery in the novel.


I shared a platform (all right, a room) with writer Jonathan Barnes who creates high-quality audio drama for a company called Big Finish. His take on Holmes is to find the gaps in the chronology, the ‘interstices’ in Conan Doyle’s timeline, and to insert new tales in there. There is, he said, plenty of these gaps to play with. Last year he wrote The Adventure of the Perfidious Mariner for Big Finish, which assumes that Dr Watson’s second wife died on the Titanic (having presumably survived the plane crash I arranged for her). The tale features the haunting of J. Bruce Ismay, the chairman of the White Star Line, owners of the Titanic, by a waterlogged female spectre (Ismay is notorious for having left the sinking ship in a half-empty lifeboat) who is out for revenge. The tale has a genuine Conan Doyle feel, suitably fruity dialogue, familiar and welcome Holmesian tropes, an ingenious method of murder and a cliffhanging ending – what terrible mistake did Holmes make that drove him to retirement and bees on the South Downs? All will be revealed in the four-part The Ordeals of Sherlock Holmes, due out later this year. I’ll be downloading it. See



That Obscure Hurt, which premiered at Snape Malting, on June 12  is on iPlayer, here:

The programme notes are below this post.

And here is Kurt Elling in rehearsal at Maida Vale Studios:


You can just make out the great Italian alto player Rosario Giuliani behind the pianist (that’s Jim Watson on the keys, who has been playing with Manu Katché) and to Rosario’s left is Benjamin Herman, also on alto, also a great sax man and winner of the Dutch GQ Best Dressed Man Award.

And at Snape Maltings the stage looked like this (again at rehearsal; photograph by Laura Mitchell). The BBC Concert Orchestra on the left, Guy Barker jazz Orchestra on the right.

GuyBarker12June (1) LMitchellWhat the radio couldn’t show you was the funky frugging of Janie Dee in her slinky backless dress during the Powder Monkey reprise. I think admissions spiked at the cardiac ward in
Ipswich afterwards, as pacemakers overloaded among the audience.

For Those Listening To Radio 3 @ 7.30pm Tonight

These are the notes the audience at Snape will have as a guide to the piece’s structure. It is based on The Jolly Corner by Henry James, but is set on a Transatlantic ship, New York in the late ’40s and Soho present day. Spot the Benjamin Britten references (because there’s none in the music).


Music by Guy Barker.

PART ONE.  Prologue: An Atlantic Overture.

Early 1950s. The English musicians of Geraldo’s Navy arrive at the docks in awe at the size of their ship, the SS Lucretia. As they board the ship, the captain and the crew bark at the disorientated new hands, sending them this way and that, looking for their cabins, their instruments, their gig and then, as they set sail into rough seas, the newcomers try unsuccessfully to find their sea legs. Eventually, they locate their berths and settle into work and, over the sounds of the ocean, we hear the strains of the dance band and we find ourselves momentarily in the Verandah Ballroom before the skyline of Manhattan makes in appearance. The excited musicians drop their instruments and scuttle ashore. They take in the sights, sounds and throbbing energy of the city – exciting and intimidating in equal measure. They find themselves on 52nd St.

PART TWO. Prince At the Pagoda.

Early 1950s. The jazz club on 52nd St where the musicians listen in rapture to host Harry Prince as the band plays a roaring be-bop piece that incorporates passages from the solos of the great modern jazz maters of that era: Bud Powell, Fats Navarro and even a four-bar quote from Dizzy Gillespie’s “Ow”.

PART THREE. In Darkness.

Present Day. Spencer Bryden is watching CCTV from a remote location and sees the ‘ghost’ haunting his club (Gordie’s or AMJG) in Soho, London. An account of the encounter is read out by Jennifer Muldoon, an investigator into psychic phenomena.

PART FOUR. Opus 50/ A Time There Is

Present Day. Spencer, still reeling from the images he saw on the CCTV, visits the Soho jazz club (Gordie’s, above) he inherited from his father, which is in its final week of operation before its proposed sale.  Harry Prince Jr – the son of the man Spencer’s father saw in NYC all those years ago – sings a song about the passage of time.

PART FIVE. Powder Monkey.

1960s flashback. Harry Prince Jr, with a little help from Alice Staverton, the club manager, evokes the sounds of the club in its sixties heyday.

PART SIX. Notturno.

Spencer is alone in the club after hours, the room silent and deserted, the tables with empty glasses, the walls slick with 60 years of smoke and sweat and the echo of all the music that has been played and is about to disappear forever.

PART SEVEN. A Kind of Ghost.

Spencer becomes aware he is not alone. He glimpses a figure. He chases him backstage, terrified but determined to confront the spectre. But the ghost doesn’t want to be caught – it is elusive and playful, giggling, darting and dancing (in one instance to a tango) through the club, shredding Spencer’s already taut nerves, until, finally, an exhausted Spencer manages to corner the phantom. When he finally does confront the ‘ghost’, he realises he is looking at a different version of himself. This was the terrifying image he saw on the CCTV.  This is the man he would have been, had he not left London for exile. But this ghost is suffering – he has cancer, is constantly chewing nicotine gum to suppress the urge for the cigarettes that have killed him. He has come to warn Spencer. And enlighten him.

PART EIGHT. I Hid My Love.

Spencer reels yet again at the revelations from his other self (musically, the brass chorale in Opus 50 reappears, but this time played on the strings). The ghost departs and Spencer discovers cans of old film from the days when his father was alive. He plays the super-8 movies and sings a song about the love of his father (and Alice), and how he denied it. This piece is designed to echo ‘the sounds of the era of ‘The Great American Songbook’.

PART NINE. Alice’s Gift.

Alice finds Spencer passed out in the club. She wakes him. He reveals what the ghost told him- that Alice has paid off the gangsters who had been threatening him and that she has saved the club – if he wants to keep it, he can. Alice makes a speech explaining herself and finally declaring her love for Spencer. He realises he has been a fool – he can have the club, and Alice too. With thanks to Henry James and his friend Edith Wharton.

PART TEN. Floods of Noise.

The spirits of every musician who has ever played the club celebrates including a reprise of Powder Monkey.


I just spent most of the day at the BBC’s Maida Vale Studio, where Guy Barker was rehearsing the BBC Concert Orchestra and his own big band. Kurt Elling joined for the afternoon, straight off the plane from Miami, with one and a half hours sleep under his belt, and began to sing the ballad from That Obscure Hurt, the piece being rehearsed. He was singing my words and I was reminded of a quote from maverick producer/writer Kip Hanrahan on his music : “Sometimes it doesn’t mean anything more than handing rolled steel to Jack Bruce and watching as he turns it into gold in front of thousands of people.”
Well there weren’t thousands there today, but you can catch Kurt do just that same alchemy by listening to That Obscure Hurt on Radio 3 on Wed. 12th June at 7.30pm or, better, seeing him do it live at Snape Maltings in Suffolk at the same time (see