Andy suddenly felt very warm... he looked at the two artistic directors, they weren't happy, they uncomfortably shuffled on their seats.
'It's just this idea you've sent us.' said Morag.
'And thank-you for sending it in...' added April.
'Yes thank-you, it's just.' Morag took a moment to search for the words. 'It's shite.' a little glance up. 'In our opinion of course.'

What was that sound? It was the sweat dripping from the palms of Andy's hands. 'Oh.' was about all he could muster. 'Sorry to hear that.'
April smiled encouragingly. 'Do you have anything else?'

Andy took a moment... should he mention the idea that ha
s been floating around in his head for a while? No... he won't want to embarrass himself.

'We want something original and out there, like Vinyl Idol, people really enjoyed that show.'
'Ok... right...' sod it, here goes nothing. Andy took a deep breath and blurted out 'So I have this idea about a guy who becomes a drug lord after discovering if you mix knock off iron brew with chips you create a drug with a high like no other.'

'Excellent.' smiled Morag. 'Can we book you into the Oran Mor for June?'

And that was the beginning of Spuds. That was all I had, a little idea that was like a surreal take on Breaking Bad. Thank goodness the good people at Play Pie and a Pint had enough trust in me to let me have a go at it, as the amount I've learned - and the amount of fun I've had- through making Spuds has been ridiculous.

I love stories that follow the 'Good Guy Falls' template (think Macbeth of The Godfather - sometimes referred to as the Riches to Rags story arc) and here was an opportunity to write one with my own... somewhat choice... sense of humour thrown in.

The original cast of Spuds, during a photoshoot.

I set myself a challenge for the show. It was going to be through-sung, maybe peppered with lines of dialogue, but pretty much 55 minutes or so of back to back music. I wasn't going to take the advice of many an artistic director and "do something serious" - I wanted as many laughs per minute as I could fit in, whilst also making the music catchy and the story compelling (you might agree or disagree if I achieved of these things!).  Before I could do any of that though, I needed to flesh my story out.

I began in earnest, writing out the plot like a novel. All of a sudden these ridiculous characters jumped off the page, Toni the chip shop owner whos dirty fryers somehow hold the secret to Spuds (that was going to be the name of the drug and the show), the protagonist's daughter Daisy, who in my original draft had a very different ending to the one that you will see tonight. And lots of strange people appeared, some of them - such as Jonathan Smith the reporter from the Daily Record - took 4 years to fully flesh out, but most of them were there in that first couple of sheets of A4.

I then set about writing the music. I love musicals that have recurring themes, that feel like they are one piece consisting of different parts. So if I came up with an interesting little tune, I'd try and find other places to fit that in, and slowly the thematic life of the music came to be. I'd sit at my piano, reading the story I had written and thought... 'what style of song?' or 'what would the title be?'. Always considering what the dramatic action of the scene is. Though Spuds is a ridiculous show it has real thought and considered construction in the way it was planned and written.

My first drafts are always very messy and done extremely quickly. I'll get an idea then record myself playing out of time, hitting lots of wrong notes but it reminds me of what I'm trying to do and is the basis for everything else to come. Here's an example of a first draft of a key part of the show and what it ended up sounding like. You can hear the ideas are all there, it just needed time (and the skill of others) to make it as good as possible.

Demo of What a Feeling - 2017

Cast rehearsal recording of What A Feeling - 2021

I then sent those files to my good friend Debbie Hannan who worked as a dramaturg, she read my ideas and came up with the big twist at the end. I was really struggling with what happened in the final act, I had a song that I liked but it was a big soppy ballad and David kinda faded off into this was a big relief to me, to have a final song that was surprising, fun and rewarding. I think I wrote that song, 'I'm Sorry, I'm Not Sorry' the day before rehearsals began (or perhaps they had already begun) at first I wasn't too sure about it, but now it's one of my favourite numbers.

I auditioned the actors, Darren Brownlie I had worked with before, same with Joanne McGuinness but Richard Conlon was new to me. As I explained the idea to him in the audition he dryly noted 'You're not even blushing...' His singing was great and he clearly got the humour of the piece so that was me all set. We also had Gavin Whitworth as musical director. Gavin is so key to this show's success, he has the amazing ability to read the roughly written score that I've made for him and turn it into something complex and fun and absolutely tied to what the actors are doing on stage, it looks like what he is doing is effortless but believe me it takes a whole lot of skill and talent - he is playing, singing, triggering backing tracks and sound effects, setting props and wearing various costumes throughout the piece!

The 'read-through' for Spuds on day one was nerve-wracking. Sung through musicals aren't really done in Scotland (to my knowledge) and the actors had not heard any of the music, so it was just me singing all the parts, desperately trying to explain what I saw happening visually. 'Very ambitious' was the feedback! And I was left to it. Oh what a joy, to be left in a room with some actors and a brill musician, knowing you have two weeks to make a new hour long musical. I was more than up for it, and thankfully so were the actors!

I had arranged a community chorus to help us create the scale of the spread of Spuds, and this worked a treat. Having so many people on the Oran Mor's tiny stage was exciting and gave the piece an extra burst of energy.


The Community Chorus rehearse 'I'm Sorry, I'm Not Sorry'

We really didn't know how the show would go down when it opened at Oran Mor. It was a weird idea for a show and it could have gone either way really. But, to my surprise and delight, the audiences loved it. They laughed at bits I forgot were funny, they were clearly engaged with the story and we received a few 5***** reviews for good measure.

Two years later we were absolutely delighted to be asked back as one of the audiences favourites of the 500 plays that Oran Mor had produced. This restaging gave us the opportunity to have a new design that was more in keeping with the humour of the show and to add more detail to the music. We had a new Daisy in Dawn Sievewright and having that fresh voice in the room helped develop the piece even further. We had brilliant reviews again and, when Creative Scotland announced their touring fund, it felt like Spuds was worth a pop.


Dawn Sievewright sings 'I'm Sorry, I'm Not Sorry'

That takes us to this iteration. We were meant to go out last September but there was that little pandemic you might have heard about, so here we are now, minus the community chorus. Other commitments meant we lost Darren and, after auditioning what seemed like hunners of actors (all of whom were brilliant and offered something unique to the part of Toni), we found Ewan Somers - again having that new voice and personality in the room has really changed the piece and moved it on.

I have written a whole bunch of new stuff for the show you're about to see (or have just seen). I wanted to make David's journey to the dark side a little more justified (in his mind) so wrote the song My Legacy - which we turned into a sort of Les Mis pisstake. I also wanted to do something more with Jonathan Smith the reporter, so the middle section of the show regarding him is brand new. The nature of his death still tickles me... I don't know what that reveals about my personality... let's move on.

Towards the end of rehearsals I felt that Daisy and Toni sort of disappeared for a while and we didn't really know what they were doing, so I wrote No More Crying - a pastiche of a modern musical theatre ballad. It's now one of my favourite moments in the show, it slows everything down and, very strangely, is quite moving!

I really hope you enjoy(ed) the show tonight. It is a labour of love from us all. I can't tell you how hard a sing it is for the actors, for them to be so funny and ALSO in tune and ALSO bring on the right props at the right time and ALSO play various characters... it's quite the feat! 

Here's hoping we see more musical theatre in Scotland, there is a wee group of us trying desperately to unshackle the form from the chains that Scottish theatre has held it in for too long, audiences love 'em, actors love being in 'em and people like me love writing 'em, so Bring It On!

Richard Conlon sings 'Bring It On'

Thanks again for coming along! I hope to see you at our next Sleeping Warrior production. 

Andy McGregor - 9/09/2021

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