Composer Glyn Bailey and ‘Lawrence - the Musical’

Glyn Bailey

Glyn Bailey - Credit: Archant

Mike Smith meets writer, composer and performer Glyn Bailey

Bart Shatto as Lawrence and Lindsay Hamilton as Frieda von Richtofen

Bart Shatto as Lawrence and Lindsay Hamilton as Frieda von Richtofen - Credit: Archant

When I met Glyn Bailey at his home in the village of Lower Hartshay, near Ripley, he told me of his fascination with the life of DH Lawrence, which began when he was studying Sons and Lovers as an A-level student in Nottingham. Realising that the novel is largely autobiographical, he had been able to identify with Lawrence’s love-hate relationship with Eastwood, the Nottinghamshire town where the author was brought up. He said, ‘My feelings for Nottingham were similarly mixed, because my affection for the place had been soured at the time by the experience of being beaten up when I was walking with a girlfriend through a park in the city.’

A scene from Lawrence - the Musical featuring the burning of Lawrence's book 'The Rainbow'

A scene from Lawrence - the Musical featuring the burning of Lawrence's book 'The Rainbow' - Credit: Archant

Like Lawrence, Glyn left his home town while he was still a young man and has spent much of his life travelling from place to place. His love of performing and writing songs has taken him to all parts of the world and it was while he was working as an entertainer on a cruise ship that he had the idea that Lawrence’s life would be the perfect subject for a musical. The hope that he might use his talents to make that dream become a reality has been a constant obsession over the last two decades.

Glyn discovered his love of singing and acting while performing in ‘The Mikado’ at school. After completing his A-levels, he was awarded a place at the prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where he received vocal training and pursued studies in piano, music theory and opera. On leaving the college, his intention was to become an opera singer, but this aim was shelved when he was offered a part in Cyril Fletcher’s production of ‘Cinderella’ at the Cheltenham Everyman Theatre.

Other roles followed thick and fast, including pantomime with the incomparable Basil Brush, a ten-month tour with the Black and White Minstrels, Old Time Music Hall with the likes of Beryl Reid and Arthur Askey, a summer season with Ivor Emmanuel and two seasons with Mike Yarwood. He also teamed up with his friend Keith Thomas to form a cabaret vocal duo called Bailey and Thomas.

Now well and truly hooked on musical theatre rather than opera, he was lucky enough to land a role in ‘Evita’ at the Prince Edward Theatre. Looking back on his experience in a long-running production, he said, ‘Director Hal Prince always made the point that most members of the audience are watching the musical for the first time, so the actors need to perform as if it is their one and only performance, even if they have been playing the same role night after night, but I found that the need to maintain this freshness was becoming tiresome after three years and I began to look for a break.’

That break came with the offer of a six-month contract as a performer on a cruise ship undertaking a world tour. When his initial contract was extended indefinitely, his six-month respite from performing on stage on dry land turned into a 15-year career at sea as the headline act on cruise liners. Recalling one very special evening, Glyn said: ‘I was playing and singing in the cocktail bar when a lady walked into the room. My eyes fell on her and I remember saying to myself that she was exactly the kind of person I would like to marry. The lady who had caught my eye turned out to be an American called Anne from New Orleans. We did get married, exactly as I had hoped, and we set up home in New Orleans, where we still have a house. I became a cruise director and Anne worked with me for two years as a social director.’

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The couple’s two children, who have British and American nationality, attended St Elphin’s School in Derbyshire for a time, but they also lived in New York when Glyn was working as a headline cabaret act for a cruise line providing nightly three-hour cruises on the waters around the city. It was during this period that he set up Cruise Artistes International, a talent production company specialising in entertainment for high-end cruises. Glyn runs the successful company to this day, with the help of Anne, but he has also been preoccupied for the past two decades with the other great project that is very dear to his heart: the creation of a musical based on the life of D H Lawrence.

Recalling his first attempt at staging a musical biography of Lawrence, he said, ‘I wrote the music and the lyrics for a dramatized concert which I called “Country of My Heart” – the phrase Lawrence had used to describe the countryside around Eastwood. Appropriately enough, it was first performed in Eastwood in 2000, with my old friend Keith Thomas directing, Carol Lehan penning the narration and Garth Bardsley and Christiane Noll in the leading roles. Although it was very well received, we knew we needed to develop the script, so I asked Theasa Tuohy to help in writing the book.’

This first shot at a public performance of a musical version of Lawrence’s life was followed by a long period of workshops, further development and re-writes, with Keith Thomas joining in with the book-writing. By 2006, no fewer than six years after that first performance at Eastwood, Glyn had a full-blown musical, which was re-named ‘Phoenix’ and staged at the Guildford School of Acting.

Subsequently, further changes were made and the show was re-named yet again, this time with the eye-catching title of ‘Scandalous!’, complete with exclamation mark. The musical was performed at the Nottingham Playhouse in 2008, where it received nightly standing ovations and was said by the critic of the Nottingham Evening Post to have ‘all the hallmarks of a musical masterpiece’. In the following year, ‘Scandalous!’ was staged at the Jefferson Performing Arts Theatre in New Orleans, where Glyn is a composer in residence. Bart Shatto and Lindsay Hamilton took the leading roles and the composer received the Marquee Theatre Award for ‘Best Original Musical’.

Having attracted praise from many leading figures, including Ben Elton, who felt it ‘told a complex story very winningly’ and Alan Gershwin, son of the legendary George Gershwin, who spoke of its ‘really beautiful songs’, the musical was given a five-day run, in October of this year, at London’s Bridewell Theatre. Because Glyn had been horrified to learn that another musical had the title ‘Scandalous’, the show had been re-named, yet again, as ‘Lawrence – the Musical’, with a strapline containing, not one but three exclamation marks: ‘Scandalous! Censored! Banned!’.

The exclamation marks are entirely fitting for a description of Lawrence’s controversial life, which saw him abandon his childhood sweetheart, who had helped to launch him as a writer, run off with his professor’s wife, Frieda von Richthofen, who had three children, have his books burned, having been labelled as a ‘peddler of pornography’, be accused of spying and hounded out of the country, and be compelled to live a peripatetic existence before dying at the age of 44.

These are the very reasons that made Glyn believe that Lawrence would make an ideal subject for a musical. As he gave me an impromptu performance of the songs he has written for the show, I could sense his justifiable pride, but I expressed amazement that his enthusiasm had not been dampened by the many years spent on development. ‘Not at all,’ he said. ‘The normal gestation period for a musical is ten to fifteen years. In fact, I’m now working on another musical.’

This new composition will be based on the life of George Mallory, the mountaineer who never gave up on his ambition to conquer Everest. Mallory is a fitting subject for Glyn, who has never given up on his own wish to see ‘Lawrence’ performed in the West End. Boosted by encouraging comments from a London director, he is already planning improvements. Glyn is absolutely determined to try and try again until he sees ‘Lawrence’ performed in the West End.