I am a very lucky man; I have been working in music and music-theatre for over thirty-five years; writing, composing, directing and, for the last sixteen years, running the wonderful company that is Nitro. Whilst I am not a millionaire I have been able to support my family through being an artist and that is a most remarkable and satisfying thing. It has been a long journey: my parents, immigrants with a strong work ethic mixed with an equally powerful desire to integrate with the suburban middle classes of the 1950s, warned me that a life in the arts was at best precarious and at worst socially damning, “We come in de people country for a better life, you t’row away your grammar school to go and play guitar?”
How were they to know that such a life could be so rewarding? This is not to say that working in the arts doesn’t have its faintly ludicrous moments: no one ever stood up and applauded my father for completing his work at the end of each day in his office at the Department of Social Security (what might he have done if they’d demanded an encore?); no critics ever wrote and published in the Guardian a two-hundred word review of my mother’s child-rearing skills and no one who knew me from my early years as a failing rock musician, a die-by-night stand-up comic or a rather less-than-dedicated music-teacher would ever have imagined that I would be honoured with an MBE.
I noted the citation, “For services to Music Theatre”. The word, “Black” was absent; a significant step. When I was in my twenties, playing in bands, I was known as a guitarist, occasionally as a singer; then later as a song-writer; after that, thankfully fewer people knew me as a stand-up comic but that was what I was. Then I began to work in the subsidised theatre and suddenly I was recognised as a Black playwright, a Black composer, a Black lyricist. Definitions are often useful but they can also become a straightjacket. Now don’t get me wrong, my race informs my work, very much so; I may be a BME MBE but my race has to compete with other influences: my age, my gender, my sense of parenthood, my political views, my passion for stories, my love of music. So it was gratifying to see simply, “music theatre”.
There are many people I’d like to thank at this time: my long-suffering wife who runs her own theatre company and still finds the time, space and energy to support me; my two fabulous boys without whom I would have written most shows much faster but without the level of understanding they have brought to my life. Significantly however, the citation also read, “Artistic Director of Nitro”, and I know that without Nitro this honour would not have happened. So I would like to thank all the staff throughout the past sixteen years, yes even the ones who messed up and I would like to thank all the board members who have put their names and their valuable time to the service of the company during those years, yes even the difficult ones who didn’t understand the difference between Governance and Management…. And I’d like to thank in particular those members of the board who, in 1996, decided to take a punt on me as their new Artistic Director. Allowing for a few bumps along the way, it has been the best job in the world (just nosing it with that of BBC Test Match Special commentator or Manager of Fulham) for the last 16 years and I hope it will continue to be so for a long time to come.