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Songs, stories & stardom - Tom Clarke discusses We'll Live & Die in These Towns

Posted on 23 September 2018

Over ten years after The Enemy’s meteoric, mid-noughties rise to fame, songs from the Coventry band’s number one debut album will be reimagined like you’ve never heard them before in a gritty new musical drama opening at the Belgrade Theatre this weekend.

Telling the story of a young rock musician, Argy, who sits on the cusp of stardom, We’ll Live and Die in These Towns sees former Enemy frontman Tom Clarke make his theatrical debut as musical director.

In between rehearsals for the show and a separate solo acoustic tour, Tom Clarke took some time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about the show.

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“Right from the off, I’ve been hugely impressed by all the performers,” he says. “I thought we might have to make some compromises with the music, but actually, they’re nailing the parts. I’ve been really positively surprised by how much everyone has really done their homework.”

Given that the story is about a rock singer and guitarist, the music has been equally as essential to the story and characterisation as the script. As such, the cast are not only excellent actors but also superb musicians and singers too, with Tom Milner starring as fictional frontman Argy.

Already, there’s a crackling energy between Milner and his bandmates Andy Burse, Meg Forgan and Molly Grace Cutler as they recreate familiar numbers – an experience that’s been both thrilling and and also slightly odd and uncanny for Tom Clarke.

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“They are a fictional band, so they’re not necessarily trying to sound like The Enemy. But just by virtue of having learned the parts in such detail, they do actually sound a lot like we did, which is really weird and interesting for me, bearing in mind I’ve never seen The Enemy play,” he explains.

“For example, Andy, who’s the drummer, has come in and learned every single part perfectly, and because Liam (Watts, Tom’s former bandmate in The Enemy) is such a technical drummer, in order to hit the same things he did, you have to make all the same shapes. So I keep seeing him out of the corner of my eye, and in my peripheral, it’s like Liam is there from ten years ago.

“And then Tom Milner, who’s playing Argy, his vocal range is very similar to mine on that first record, so I think they’re doing really good, honest versions of the songs.”

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It’s not the only thing that’s taken some getting used to. He’s also had the forms and conventions of theatre to get to grips with, as well as the sheer number of people involved in a production on this scale.

“I was completely intimidated at the beginning. In the music industry, you tend to work really closely with a small number of people – in my case just two. So to suddenly be surrounded by all these expectant musicians and to have to formulate a plan without really knowing them or their capabilities was quite daunting!

“My previous theatre experience pretty much consists of going to see Billy Elliot in the West End once, so walking into rehearsals, I didn’t really know what to expect. But luckily, there is a kind of universal, unspoken language of nods and head movements and weird hand gestures that all musicians seem to understand – particularly the type of musicians we’ve selected for this show.”

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Despite the similarities in sound between The Enemy and the on-stage band, the songs from We’ll Live and Die in These Towns naturally take on new meanings within the context of the script. Written by acclaimed Coventry playwright Geoff Thompson (whose 2012 play Fragile has recently been adapted into a forthcoming feature film, Romans, set to star Orlando Bloom), the story opens with singer and guitarist Argy backstage at a massive, Ricoh Arena-style concert venue, where he’s preparing for a huge homecoming gig that will be the biggest show of his career so far.

Faced with the prospect of playing the famous rock star in front of those who’ve known him all his life, however, Argy finds himself suddenly paralysed by fear, questioning his right to be there representing his community to the world.

Deciding to take some time out before the show, he heads off into the city, where revisiting old haunts and familiar faces help him to make important decisions about his future.

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“It’s quite amazing that the songs are ten years old now,” says Tom. “For me, every time I listen to the original recordings, it’s like a time machine – I’m back there in the studio and I can almost taste what I had for dinner that day.

“I’ve been through phases where I was so bored of them I thought I never wanted to hear them again, but through this process, they’ve been completely transformed and given new life – which is really nice for me because now I love the songs all over again.

“It’s been an incredible experience and every weekend I just can’t wait for Monday to come around so we can get back to work on the show!” he adds.

We’ll Live and Die in These Towns makes its world premiere at the Belgrade Theatre Saturday 29 September until Saturday 20 October. Tickets are available to book now.