This week, I was lucky enough to attend the 2nd annual edition of Acteon’s ‘Speak to the Human’ conference. Acteon are a consultancy that do all kinds of interesting and innovative things. Like creating a health and safety campaign for Channel 4 which was also a Barry-White-style music video. They contacted Joe and I last year because they had wanted to create a piece of music that would capture the spirit of their conference. I knew immediately that I was going to like these people.

When we explained that we could improvise songs live on the day live in response to what was happening, there was some disbelief and (I think fair to say) distrust. However, after some reassurance that I have done this once or twice before (In the West End with The Showstoppers, concept albums with Fred Deakin of Lemon Jelly, and of course The Maydays’ Happily Never After), Acteon took a leap and let us bring the music. 

As the title of the conference was ‘Speak to the Human’, we wanted to show the power of music to do just that. This is a subject very dear to my heart. From when we were very young, my Dad would record songs intros onto a cassette so we could play ‘Name that tune’ in the car. That love and curiosity have always stayed with me. I see life events through the lense of music; heartbreaks and triumphs have a song attached*. I hear conversations musically, looking for changes in dynamic and rhythm, trying to find my place in the orchestra, not dominating or disappearing. And having done so much musical improv means that I sometimes imagine an underscore in some real-life situations. Music, and the language of music, is everywhere for me. Not just what I do, but in the way I see the world. 

Back to this year’s conference. With the audience, we reimagined the James Bond theme as a Nursery Rhyme and the Shake’n’Vac jingle as thrash metal. Later in the day, we transformed people’s group work into a mini-musical, and then rounded off proceedings with a song based on the delegates’ word cloud of the day. It left me with lots of food for thought about how I might continue to use music to speak to the human and how music speaks to me. 

(It also reminded me that after last year’s conference, I had a conversation with public speaker and improviser Steve Bustin. Steve had the great idea of doing an audio ‘audit’ (an audio-it?) for organisations; what do people hear when they walk into your building? What’s your hold music? What’s the acoustic like in your regular meeting room? We’ll come back to that.)

Part 2 of this blog will explore this year’s conference theme ‘Harnessing Disruption and Navigating Change – which I believe improvisers know one or two things about.


*Below is a short selection from the soundtrack of my life. In no way is this comprehensive (a full list would be weeks long).


Bobby’s Girl – Susan Maughan

Grandma Jean Urquhart singing while cooking. She had a belief that pop music wasn’t real music but made an exception for this song.

Woodpeckers from Space – Videokids

Saturday afternoon Scotland living room dancing and thinking this song was the funniest thing ever.

Captain Dread – Dreadzone

School Camping Trips. Dorset, always Dorset. Once I peed in my tent and didn’t tell anyone.

Teardrop – Massive Attack

Late teen late night after parties from raving in Sussex Fields. Mind altering substances may or may not have been involved.

Pitseleh – Elliott Smith

A painful break up that I thought I’d never recover from. Tried to escape by running off to Japan and this was the only album I had to listen to on my mp3 player.

Wraith Pinned to the Mist and other games – Of Montreal

Living above pub days with my friend Matt. Lord Kitchener also gets an honourable mention here.

One of those days – The Electric Soft Parade

Fondly remember singing on this track and doing a live session for BBC Radio 6 #humblebrag

I hope that I don’t fall in love with you – Tom Waits

The song that I listened to when Jules and I were getting together.

Something Stupid – Trashpour4

The song I listened to after Jules and I got together

Fancy – Iggy Azalea

We listened to this at bathtime every night for the first year of Iggy’s life. I’m pretty good at the rap now.