Inside the Music of the Award-Winning Calendar Girls the Musical

Calendar Girls Interview

Calendar Girls the Musical

2003 film Calendar Girls is the subject of a recent award-winning stage adaptation. With music and lyrics by Tim Firth and Take That frontman Gary Barlow, the musical is based on the true story of a group of middle-aged women who produced a now infamous calendar to raise money for Lymphoma Research. The show is heart-warming and hilarious in equal measure.

We were lucky enough to catch up with Gary Barlow and Tim Firth recently to learn how they both started out in music, the writing process behind Calendar Girls and their musical influences.

Download the official composer-approved Piano, Vocal & Guitar sheet music for Calendar Girls the Musical

Interview with Calendar Girls writing team Tim Firth and Gary Barlow

Sheet Music Direct ("S"): Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions amid your busy schedules! Firstly, can you tell us when each of you wrote your first compositions?

Tim Firth ("T"): I started as a playwright, aged 5, and it was all to do with love, not art. I fancied a girl who fancied my best friend so I wrote a play in which she was cast as the princess, I was the prince and my best friend was the arse of the dragon. For one brief moment she stared into my eyes and I felt the potential power of theatre. My first songs were written for me to sing in the middle of the set of someone else's country and western band in the working men's clubs in Runcorn (Cheshire). I'm not sure the audience quite knew what was going on when I trooped up with my guitar and my brother and a mate of mine with a flute. But they did listen.

Gary Barlow ("G"): I started writing pretty much at the same time as I learned to play the piano. There was one reason for this. My mum would send me off for a lesson. And I would just want to play pop music and solos and not learn any of the theory. So when I'd get home my mum would say "what did you learn then?" I'd immediately make up some music – right there on the spot – and my mum would love it. "What a lovely song" she'd say – and I'd think to myself, "mmm there might be something in this!"

S: Can you tell us how the Gary Barlow & Tim Firth writing team first came about?

G: Hard to pinpoint an exact time. We'd been talking about the prospect of writing together since before Take That when I was still at school and Tim was still at university but I think the first time we actually put hands on a keyboard was when we started creating the pool of songs for Calendar Girls.

T: Yes, it's hard to recall now exactly when this was as it began such a long time ago. The creation of that pool of songs lasted a couple of years and accounted for well over 80 songs and sketches. Writing isn't a thing you can choose to do for a season. It has to be an ongoing part of your life, a continuous and imprecise harvest.

S: What can you tell us about the writing process for Calendar Girls? How did it differ from writing pop songs?

G: Writing anything that involves a story means your greatest duty is to the story, not to the song. Unlike the creation of an album, no matter how good a song it is, if it doesn't serve the narrative then you have to leave it out and that's a tough thing to have to do. One of our initial bankers for Calendar Girls never made it into the show. We tried to prod it in but every time the show threw it off. It's still there on the shelf, miserable and lonely and waiting its day.

S: And do you guys have a favourite musical number from the production?

T: A musical is eventually judged in moments rather than individual songs, whether the song and the moment it articulates have a perfect congress. It's like hitting a tennis ball at exactly the right point of the swing and at exactly the right position on the strings. The moments of "Kilimanjaro" and of "Dare" in the conference always feel like they get closest to this.

S: Who do you consider to be your biggest musical influences?

T: I think there's a line of very unapologetically English songwriters who have forged an honest, unadulterated voice. Something witty, esoteric about their writing has always appealed to me. This line includes Bricusse/Newley, Gilbert O'Sullivan, David Ford, David Gray

G: I think we're all influenced by what music is played in your house while you're growing up - in my case it was a jukebox of uplifting pop songs. ABBA, The Beatles, Boney M, Elton John and so on… thank you, mum and dad.

T: I agree, what we hear as kids cannot help but form the culture from which your music will spring. You don't get a choice in it. Twenty years later, sit at a keyboard and you're playing echoes, whether you like it or not. I've got my dad to thank for a Yorkshireman's choice of classical and brass band music, my mum to thank for Methodist hymns, which (often as purloined folk tunes) are usually fantastically sing-able, and the pair of them for Gilbert & Sullivan, some of which is purely beautiful, funny and very English.

S: What advice would you give to aspiring theatre composers?

T: Write as many songs as you can, melodies, ideas of lyrics, amass them in one huge sweet shop and then start writing the story. Let the story choose the songs, not the other way round. Trust it. The story always knows best.

S: And are you able to divulge what's next for the two of you that we can look forward to?

T: We've had a huge amount of fun writing some songs for Gary's next tour and are already amassing the next 80 songs for the next musical idea.

S: Thank you both for your time!

Calendar Girls is currently on tour in the UK. Purchase your tickets here.

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