Shakespeare’s 400 years gone (23 April), the Queen is 90 years alive (21 April), Roisin is 1 year with us (20 April) and Nina West…
Looking to promote Made Up The REP asked if this was our first all female cast, the reply was simple – “no but it is our first in 20 years”. That show was Ocean of Storms and Ocean of Storms as Nina West reminded me recently, was the first Stan show for which she created the music, so Happy Anniversary to her.
The story of how Nina joined Stan’s Cafe is a neat one. For the previous five shows we had collaborated with the composer Richard Chew, an old friend of Graeme’s and an amazing classically trained talent. The time for a shake up had come and I was on the hunt for a new sound for a new show set in space.
I began buying likely / unlikely sounding records in the hope they would help, including Detonator by a band called Moonloonies I’d heard on John Peel’s show (welsh psychedelic space rock as it turns out), nothing seemed right. Then I was at a party in Manchester when a track started playing that was very peculiar, but very wonderful. It was hypnotic and playful, full of absurd vocal effects and somehow very spacious. I was sure whoever wrote this could write Ocean of Storms – if they could be found and persuaded. I asked who this weird record was by and was shocked when the answer came back “my friend Nina”.
The go-betweening was done, I made a phone call and then drove to Stockport and met Nina and her partner Jane and they wrote the soundtrack to Ocean of Storms, it was wonderful, deep and still and strange. Sarah, Amanda, Paul and I were continually shocked on that tour that audiences didn’t rave about the soundtrack. Of course they didn’t mention it because the soundtrack was so perfect they didn’t hear it, it didn’t draw attention to itself, it was indistinguishable from the show.
The next show we worked with Jon Ward but shortly after that we made It’s Your Film for very nearly no money. We couldn’t afford an especially composed soundtrack so we cheekily asked Nina if we could give her £20 and use 270 seconds of the Ocean of Storms soundtrack. She said yes and we used it more than 2000 times over the next 10 years.
We knew we wanted to work with Nina again when the time was right and in 2001 the time was right. Lurid and Insane required a band and Nina was drafted in to play guitar, help write the songs and even do a bit of acting. Her love of performance came to the fore.
In 2004 we asked Nina to create the soundtrack for Be Proud of Me. She did a great job and demonstrated her ability to think laterally, wrong footing by suggesting the show contain a song. It’s always a good idea to try implausible ideas, we did and it works. Around this time I asked Nina how she composed for our shows, she described a process of watching a scene in rehearsal then in her studio using an abstract element of that scene and respond from that. A couple of years later she wrote and essay about her approach for our website.
In 2007 Nina composed what is probably her masterpiece. In previous shows Nina had been trammeled by having to work around or beneath text. In The Cleansing of Constance Brown the whole audio field was handed over to her, a show with no words, just visuals and music. With this in mind we purchased four big speakers and a hefty four channel amplifier. So the audience could be surrounded by Nina’s stomach churning, ear tingling noises.
The soundtrack to Constance Brown is extraordinary, Nina is the only member of cast or crew to have been present at every performance of this show and she has been honing the soundtrack throughout this time, ever more detailed changes. The cast have grown so familiar with the soundtrack that they can modulate their performances to the soundtrack like dancers.
Intriguingly things didn’t start smoothly for this soundtrack. Nina, excited to have such a free reign on such a big scale, was desperate to do a great job but her early sketches weren’t working and we both knew it. Independently and secretly we both started to get worried. Then I remembered our conversation around Be Proud of Me. I recalled her process for that piece and compared it with how she was working on Constance Brown, for which she was using a camcorder to video rehearsals and compose to those images. I banned the camcorder. Working from her imagination Nina delivered the goods.
Nina’s talent is partly this imagination and partly her complete lack of ego, she instinctively knows how theatre scores need work they shouldn’t be boring or bland, but they should also not draw attention to themselves too much. This lack of ego was evident in The Anatomy of Melancholy. Nina was asked to make a soundtrack for the show but after working on the show for a while she concluded the show didn’t need a soundtrack so she suggested she stop working on it. She was right.
Fortunately later that year we were able to give her a huge challenge as compensation, a soundtrack for another show without words but this time 4 hours 15 minutes worth of show with no rehearsals just a timetable. As if to crank the pressure up further Nina got the gig because we were kicking Wagner off the gig. The show was our adaptation of Gotterdammerung, Twilightofthefreakingods. Her extraordinary tour-de-force carried the show and remains supercharged on the cinematic version of the show which we are still trying to find a way to disseminate.
When not composing for Stan’s Cafe Nina flexes her muscles re-soundtracking classic silent films, including, most memorably Das Kabinet. We used this experience in 2015 when Nina put music to the film at the heart of A Translation of Shadows.
Nina currently is hard at work with Craig creating a fake radio channel for Made Up.
Although she is steeped in contemporary popular music I nevertheless regard Nina’s as outsider art. Outsider Art is a term that describes artists whose practice is pursued without commission, is untrained and not influenced by an existing tradition or school. The first and only musical qualification Nina has is her certificate for completing a course in studio engineering. It was a compilation of recordings from that course was playing when I attended that party in Manchester, Compress Ma Pantalon. I find it extraordinary / outrageous that she doesn’t do more work for performing arts companies – though secretly I am also really pleased that we have almost exclusive access to her talent as a signature of the companies work.