“Could you write a short note for the new “Cats” production – shouldn’t be too much trouble?”. This was the gist of my producer’s communication; “Fine”, I replied, “It will be with you at once”.
So why have I been staring at a blank sheet of paper for an hour now, wondering where to start? Writing about “Cats” should be easy. There’s volumes to say. “Cats” changed not just my life but that of so many people close to the show so profoundly that three of us, me included, married girls in the original cast.
I suppose after everything that’s happened with “Cats” that it is hard for me sometimes to remember how it began. It started as a personal experiment to discover if I could set existing words to music. Up until 1978, when I first falteringly tried to set T S Eliot’s timeless cat poems, I had composed the music for the shows that I was involved with first. Then my lyricist would put words to my musical offerings.
True, we agreed the storyline together in advance but, be it Tim Rice or Don Black, the music always came first. So I started writing music to T S Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” primarily to see if I could work the other way round.
Soon I began to realise that these poems, poems that my Mum had read to me when I was a little boy, were very special. Their irregular, even angular meters were like lyrics (I was later to learn from Eliot’s widow Valerie that her husband was a huge lover of contemporary popular songs).
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I began to think of “Cats” as a concert piece for children, a bit like Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf”, but something nagged away at me. I sensed that …