June 6, 2011
We Are Cunard
Cunard Entertainment Planning Manager
Last month Cunard launched a cutting edge new entertainment programme, unlike anything else in the industry, and I was lucky enough to be part of it right from the start. Double Ivor Novello winner Chris Difford, and one half of the founders of Squeeze, came up with the interesting idea of running songwriting workshops on board. This featured an opportunity for Cunard guests to write, record and perform the songs they wrote whilst crossing the Atlantic. Travelling on Queen Mary 2 offers inspiration to awaken any muse. On this crossing the muses had no time off, as creativity brought about beautiful, touching, personal and funky tunes.
Chris was joined by six talented musicians and songwriters including Matt Deighton, Clare Deighton, Chris Sheehan, Kate Harwood, Simon Hanson and Emma-Jane Thommen. Seven of them in total, making a major scale, up through the fog and into the sunshine.
Embarkation day, spirits were high and the writing team raced around the ship, excited to see their beautiful home Queen Mary 2. On the first day we were overwhelmed to welcome around 80 guests into the grandeur of the Queens Room. Chris introduced the songwriting course and how we would work together during the week. The team made the guests feel relaxed and reassured them about the workshops being for all ages, levels and abilities. Whether you wanted to just write the lyrics, or play one of the beautiful Fender semi acoustic guitars, or if you had a catchy tune that needed turning into a song, or experience how a song is recorded – this was the place to be.
Throughout the week, the team worked with groups of around 10-15 guests each, breaking their groups down further into twos and threes and helping them bring together their song ideas. The variety was incredible and as our amazing guests told their stories, songs began to come together. Inspiration for lyrics was gleaned from loved ones, parents, children, regret, building bridges with friends and family, life lessons…there was even a song about keeping healthy!
As a talented musician and songwriter, Chris Difford is no stranger to putting together groups of people to collaborate over new songs. What made this event so special was Chris’ ability to bring together a solid team with all the right skills to work with guests, some of whom had never had the experience of writing songs. As an award winning enrichment programme Cunard Insights offers guests experiences which perhaps they may not have the time or the opportunity to experience at home, and for many this was certainly the case.
As a surprise for the launch of this spectacular programme, Chris Difford, hosted a very special guest – a singer, songwriter and member of one of the greatest bands in the world, The Who’s very own Roger Daltrey. Inspiration was never in short supply on this crossing but Chris Difford hosted an amazingly and touching interview with Roger Daltrey on board the ship, was a once in a lifetime opportunity – which could only have come about by Chris Difford’s insightful questions.
Roger spoke about how he had a difficult time at school and quickly became disenchanted when a teacher spoke about Elvis as “trash”. This quickly turned him off school and he was soon expelled. The intimacy of hearing about Roger’s home life in London, with a big family, lively Christmas parties with over 80 family members and his uncle who awakened in him an early interest in Hank Williams was touching. Guests were treated to a number of country songs including Johnny Cash’s “I Got Stripes”, “ Folsom Prison” and “There You Go” and he sang a song for his mum “Goodnight Irene”. Stories of Keith Moon made the audience laugh and when a guest thanked Roger for all his hard work for Teenage Cancer Trust, he spoke caringly about giving back time to a cause about which he felt passionately. A member of the audience asked how the song “Who Are You” came to be used as the CSI theme tune and later Roger invited him up on stage to sing backing when the band played the song live. There have been many moments on this trip I will never forget and this was one of them. It was definitely a ‘goose bumps’ occasion and the audience loved it. It was a memorable end to an amazing gig on board Queen Mary 2.
Most of the crew didn’t get to hear the interview and gig in the Royal Court Theatre so at the suggestion of Harry, Roger’s Sommelier in the grill, the band agreed to play at a special party in the crew area. The atmosphere was electric, the band went up to play before inviting Roger to join them and already the buzz of excitement and the heat of the moment made everyone happy. With a crew as committed to guest enjoyment as those working for Cunard, Roger and all of the band, were determined to put on a show no one would forget and that is exactly what they did. Emma-Jane on keys ran over with a sailor’s hat for Roger to wear and the roar of appreciation from all the crew was heart-warming. Some of them approached us personally to express how much it meant for them to host such an amazing band with Roger Daltrey at their own private party.
After a quick audition, stage left, Kelley our Chief Sommelier was invited on stage and asked if he knew Pinball Wizard. He said he’d spent 35 years rehearsing it. He gave a spine tingling performance and Roger beamed with the rest of the band as Kelley rocked the show.
Following on from this could have been a difficult act, but Chris Difford made us all listen and laugh as he talked about his days in his incredible band Squeeze. Stories of how the band came together, meeting his writing partner Glenn Tilbrook, intertwined with balancing family life, stories of holidays in Northern Ireland and the antics of a rock band had the audience gripped. Chris has been generous with his time to a fault, making sure every aspect of the song writing programme went smoothly. Finding song writing mentors for the guests to work with and offering stories of encouragement made this a very special time on board.
The guests spent the next few days rehearsing their songs readying themselves to record them and perform them at their final concert. Chris Sheehan, guitarist and songwriter, worked with them endlessly, giving them the experience to put on the headphones, sing with top quality recording equipment kindly supplied by sE electronics for the microphones and sE reflexion filter. It was thanks to Rupert Neve Designs were were able to make this happen and create professional level recordings with the amazing Neve Portico 5017 recording all 16 songs written by the guests. To lay down all the songs, was an amazing feat of engineering! A special well done and thank you to Chris Sheehan for putting all the guests at ease and making the recording aspect of this week such a wonderful experience.
Towards the end of the voyage, guests started to rehearse their songs in preparation for their performance on stage. Simon Hanson’s group made an amazing video – coming soon to this blog – and all the groups readied themselves for a theatre of full of 800 guests to give their live show. It was an incredibly emotional experience, funny at times and moving at others. Guests had crafted a range of different songs from a ballads about love to a jazz standard written by Gerry one of our talented guests accompanied by Russell Holmes one of the on board pianists. Kate Harwood, our sharp eared singer-songwriter had immediately heard the potential for this song and asked Russell to accompany Gerry for the live performance. Matt and Clare Deigton’s group had several amazing songs, including one about bio-engineered spare body parts, which had guests crying with laughter. The RADA actors worked alongside the guests offering musical support and ideas and their assistance was very much appreciated.
The audience loved all the songs and were in raptures by the end of the show, there were tears and laughter and everyone was moved. With a rousing ending from all of the participants singing “Oceans View” the performance ended on a high. No one wanted the song writing course to have ended, everyone hugged and hung around the stage wishing the voyage would carry one with more of the same. Who knew we had such talent amongst our guests? What a fantastic start to a fabulous project. I do have the best job in the world!
Please watch out on this blog for more photos and updates of the song writing course and future courses on board Queen Mary 2.