In the gloopy cauldron of artistic cross-dressing, whereby someone famous for one discipline decides to embrace the passion they "really" wanted to pursue, many bad eggs bubble sulphurously. Actors who want to write, singers who want to act, footballers who want to try poetry. Poets who, Lord save us, want to play football.
One of the more historically successful categories of this cross-dressing, though, involves writers who want to get involved with music. Novelist Jonathan Coe, music-lover and frustrated pianist in real life, is the latest, having written a... well, not a musical, exactly: but his words, in the form of a play, are spoken, while the music of cult pop band the High Llamas plays in the background. Say Hi to the Rivers and the Mountains is the result, and it really does sound intriguing. Coe attempted to explain how it wasn't really a musical, nor a concert, not a play, but more of a something else.
Not a musical, so what, exactly?
There's not really a term for it, so I'm calling it spoken musical theatre. Three actors perform basically a play, but my thinking is probably closest to the way language and music relate to each other in films. I listened to the High Llamas' back-catalogue - I've been a friend of [the band's songwriter] Sean O'Hagan for 10 years - and then wrote, timed, structured the monologues and conversations accordingly, dependent on much going on in the music. So, in a way, a play, but the speech is notated to match the Llamas' playing.
What are your musical influences?
When the music all went a bit wrong in the 80s, I turned of course to the Smiths, Prefab Sprout. Then, along came the High Llamas... all of that, and more, seeming to incorporate Ravel, the Beach Boys, Frank Zappa. it was like I'd discovered the world's most perfect band.
The show is a tale of a love affair, over 40 years, between someone growing up in the grim Sixtiesness of London's Robin Hood Estate, and the daughter of one of the architects responsible.
How would you describe it?
There is loss. There is regret. There is, of course, always the music, which is ultimately uplifting.