Public Description caught up with the multi talented playwright and singer Valentine Guinness shortly after the stage reading of his upcoming new play ‘Christine’ at The Tristan Bates Theatre, directed by Nickolas Grace.
Read on to learn about Valentines’ latest projects and what has been keeping him so busy:
How did you first get started into becoming a playwright?
I was always interested in drama when I was at school. I did a lot of acting in those days. I kind of had a choice, when I was at college, whether to go down the drama line or carry on with my singing and song writing. Somehow it felt that it was almost too much to do both at the same time.
While I was at Uni, I had a band and we actually got a record deal, and it was all looking very very good so I thought that was going to be my future. I did that for a while, but then the band I was in broke up as they often do. After a while everyone starts arguing, ha-ha, so I thought well, what am I going to do. So I had always wanted to try my hand at writing drama so I just sat down and I said to myself I am not going to do what I did with the music which is try to please people. I am not going to sit down and try and write a play that is just going to please the critics. I’m saying to myself if I went to the theatre, would I enjoy this. Would I feel I had spent my money wisely on this? So I wrote Helping Harry it was a few years back now in 2001.
I believe Nickolas Grace was involved with Helping Harry?
In those days, I lived in Bayswater and I knew he was a neighbour of mine, I had got to know him and I was always a great fan of Nickolas Grace from his old days in Robin Hood and Brideshead Revisited. I was a bit star struck actually. So I used to bump into him in the newsagents and we got chatting, and knew that alongside his acting, he also taught at Drama College. So I thought the first person who I am going to get to read this play is NG as I am sure he will give me an honest opinion and he was really nice about it. So we started work on it, we sat on many occasions going through it, and he helped me a lot change it and cut it. Then we did a rehearsed reading at The Tristan Bates Theatre, and Harold Pinter (the playwright) came to see it. A bit scary and he wrote me a letter to say how much he really enjoyed it. So all really happy with that, so then NG and I went ahead and produced it. We put it on for a month at the Jermyn Theatre. We got amazing reviews for the entire month.
Unfortunately we couldn’t extend it, because in those sorts of theatres, you have taken your month and someone is coming in immediately after. So NG and I tried to transfer it to a bigger theatre in the west end, but that is a very difficult thing to do. Ass what you now have to do to transfer something into the west end, is you have to get a major film or TV star in it, especially if you are an unknown writer. So it is a difficult one as the theatre owners and the producers will say we can’t sell this unless we have a household name in it. It’s annoying.
So this play Christine has been knocking around in my head for some time, and so last year I said to myself I really want to knock this together so I got together with NG again.
Christine is based on these four characters that have run away from their life, and find each other; not really a refuge but it is still a very claustrophobic existence. I based it a little, on my summer holidays that I used to spend in North East Spain region. It was sort of the end of the line and one of those places that all these wandering people turn up to and never leave.
What else has been keeping you busy?
Well, I wrote the screen play of George Orwell’s novel, Burmese Days which I got the permission from the estate to do. So I have spent a lot of time on that. It is still yet to be made but my screen play is out there if anyone wants to make it.
Then there is of course the band I am in with Loyd Grossman. The New Forbidden. I have been very busy with the band, so the play writing has at times gone on the back burner.
Another thing I am in the middle of doing is, I am working with Julian Fellows (Downton Abbey) on a television series which we are trying now to get commissioned by one of the broadcasters, and it is called Love Lessons. It is based on my aunt Joan Wyndham. My aunty was a 19yr old during the 2nd WW living in Central London and she wrote these fantastically funny diaries of what it was like being that age, just between a teenager and a woman, and growing up when the war started, and the bombs started falling and everyone was being taken off to war. But the stories are warm and funny. Its light comedy but all true.
She had a journal under her bed, and lived with her mum just off of Fulham road. One of her comments from her journals was ‘I wonder if I am going to lose my virginity first or get killed by a bomb’.
She hanged out with painters, and sculptors, and disreputable people, bohemian, and they all tried to seduce her one by one. It’s a very funny but heart-warming story.
Joan, rebelled against her strict catholic upbringing and led this fun bohemian lifestyle
She died in 2007, but I had already started working on it with her. I used to sit in her kitchen, and talk through her journals which I knew better than she did as she hadn’t read them in quite a long time.
I approached Julian Fellows as I felt he was just the person to do this justice, and I gave him the book which he took with him on holiday and Julian told me he laughed out loud the whole time he was reading it. So that’s a good sign.
I am also releasing a solo album this year, if there wasn’t enough to do. The album has been done with this fantastic producer Geoffrey Haslam who also worked with us on the band. The style with be much more introverted, slower, romantic and more acoustic which we would never do in the band. So I got together with Geoff and we put nine of mine and 2 other tracks and recorded them. A few of the tracks are from my old bands which I thought were too good to leave behind. Geoff has been fantastic and he has produced it so beautifully.
So the track we are putting out as it were is called ‘Good Morning London’. Next month we are going to do a video of it and You Tube it. It’s a happy summer song and we are going to try and make an interesting video to go with it ha-ha.
I’m also working on a sitcom. It’s in the early stages. Basically based on me ha-ha. What I have done over the past years is I have collected every strange incident that has happened to me and there has been a few and I have written these down. I thought the character in the show his son would be in a terrible bad. So we have written a pilot of that. I think it might work.
So there’s a lot bubbling around.
So tell me more about The New Forbidden?
Well we were very lucky as we have been invited to play back at Glastonbury for the 4th time this year. We have such a great time there. We started off with very low expectations.
How would you describe the music genre?
We are not a punk band. It’s fast guitar rock, with catchy tunes. Our influence is Lou Reed, even The Killers. I have two daughters and at first they were worried dad would embarrass them, but they started listening to our music and playing our stuff to their friends so they then had to admit it was alright ha-ha.
Describe your musical influence?
I grew up listening to The Doors, the Velvet underground, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. Then in the 80’s when I was in my 20’s I guess I was really into The Smiths. I thought their song writing was excellent. But now I am really into The Killers.
Where was your first live gig with The New Forbidden?
We did quite a few warm up acts before our big one in Blackpool. So our first live gig together as a band was on Friday 13th June called, so I will never forget the date, at The 12 bar club in Denmark Street. It was absolutely packed, but it’s not very difficult to pack The 12 bar club ha-ha.
When producing music, where do you get your inspiration?
I have stacks of lyric ideas which I will either scribble down, and then I will then just pick up the guitar and leaf through the sheet of lyrics and try one of them to a guitar sequence. Sometimes you go down a dead end, and an hour later, you say to yourself, ‘no, I’ll try again tomorrow’ ha-ha, but sometimes suddenly there’s the chorus and the title. I usually start with the title and work backwards.
You have so much going on, how do you prioritise all of this?
I have always run my life as if I was at school and you had to write an essay, and you always do it at the last minute ha-ha. It’s probably not such a good idea to think about it all of the time. Just concentrate on one thing a day.
Yourself and the band are crazily busy but do you think there might be an opportunity for an interview and for you to perform live at the Phoenix FM studios in Brentwood?
Definitely. Loyd and I could definitely come down. An interview definitely.
Thank you for kindly sitting for this interview and we wish you much success with all your projects.