TO DO. TO BE. – The Music of Tim Prottey-Jones
Tim Prottey-Jones is a popular West End performer with an impressive range of credits from Jesus Christ Superstar to the bang on trend Kinky Boots. Obviously not satisfied that these alone are platform enough for his talent he also has a repertoire of self-penned musical and film scores to his name. This is a smart move for someone whose offstage talent is clearly as strong as that displayed whilst treading the boards. Prottey-Jones has showcased his compositional offerings on two previous albums (More With Every Line and Surrounded by the Sounds) and his offering, available as a CD or download, sees him returning to the studio with an impressive array of familiar performers and a great contemporary sound.
To Do. To Be. is a tasting tour of songs from three stage musicals (After the Turn, Equally and The First Last Kiss), two musical films (Down Flew the Doves and Standing on the Edge) and one play with music (Exes). Each song offers some intriguing glimpses into their full length sources and when the album works it certainly whets the appetite.
The tracks from the stage works fare best with ‘Have You Ever?’, ‘Kiss ‘Til You Can’t Kiss Anymore’ (The First Last Kiss) and ‘I’ll Be With You Always’ (After the Turn) being driven by strong musical and narrative themes. Jacqueline Hughes’ performance of the latter song is particularly touching. There are moments that command your full attention, the listener cannot help but stop and listen. Hughes’ voice is entrancing and is a natural companion to Prottey-Jones’ plaintively anthemic melody, providing one of the album’s most pleasingly musical theatre style tracks.
Equally is given the lion’s share of the album and struggles to warrant the space. Described in the sleeve notes as “Once meets Closer, a musical with a lot of heart”, the Irish musical’s inspiration is clear throughout the six tracks. However, the recordings struggle to make any sense out of the lyrics and the folk-rock score seems forced upon the songs, rather than being the natural accompaniment. ‘Robert Louis Stevenson’ is the stand out number from this show, given a closely harmonised working by the Paper Hearts; whilst elsewhere Joe Tracini and Ambra Casserotti’s tracks, especially, require significant repeats before they’re fully understood.
Part of the problem with To Do. To Be. is that, out of necessity, it is a hybrid between a pop album and an original cast recording. This leaves some of the artistes in a hiatus between giving a performance worthy of the Official Singles Chart and fully engaging with the dramatic function of the song. Given that the source material is inherently theatrical a lot of the tracks would benefit from stronger acting performances, which would consequently help make sense of some of the less coherent, sometimes weaker, lyrics.
Laura Pitt-Pulford’s work on ‘Nothing’ from Down Flew the Doves is the perfect example of what the album needs. Lounging at the end of the album, Pitt-Pulford suddenly makes you sit up and listen again with a performance that soars dramatically and hits every beat. It is a stand out performance; so too is Paul Ayres’ cheeky ‘Song of Sin’ (Exes): both songs present Prottey-Jones as a clever and interesting musical theatre composer.
To Do. To Be. is an exciting album that proves its creator is an exciting voice in modern musical theatre. The strength of talent present on the recording is testament to the industry’s belief in Prottey-Jones’ work and the production makes it easily accessible to a much more important audience: irregular theatre goers. Throughout there are hints of popular pop acts Mumford and Sons and Paolo Nutini but the overarching sound is unique. It will be exciting to see how these three shows will translate into full scale productions, if the work sampled on To Do. To Be. Is anything to go by they will surely be innovative and interesting.
By Robert Pearce