Frogg Moody in conversation with Francesca Stout, July 2003
I first became interested in the subject of Jack the Ripper from watching Jack the Ripper, a BBC television series shown in 1973 in which the case was investigated by modern detectives, popular TV characters Barlow and Watt. Following this I was given a present; Stephen Knight’s book Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution, which at the time I couldn’t put down.
In 1996 I started a CD project with scriptwriter David Taylor. The main reason for putting it together was my fascination with the subject of Jack the Ripper, and so I decided to do a concept album. After about a year of research, we retired to the studio and put the whole thing together. The CD started to attract good reviews, and it was Dave Taylor who said, “Do you realise that we’ve got a show here?” These words set us on a roller-coaster that became the Midnight Theatre Company and the rock musical, Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper.
The first show at Salisbury Arts Centre in 1997 was fantastic and the audience response was electrifying, but it was over so quickly, as the material on the CD only gave us a 45 minute show. So we decided to add more material and make it a full-length show. This meant going back to the drawing board, writing more factual narrative and extra songs.
On hearing the CD, Stewart P Evans was impressed enough to offer to write this glowing review on the CD’s front cover: ‘Highly Recommended, an authoritative historical narrative of the Ripper story set to music that will appeal to all.’ Stewart’s partner Rosemary Howells was at this time organising the (1998) Jack the Ripper National Conference in Norwich, and invited the Company to perform Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper as the Saturday night highlight. Again we could only perform the 45-minute version, as research was still being carried out to make the show longer. That said, the show went down a storm and received a favourable review in Ripperologist. The cast at this time consisted of only eight people, and we knew after this performance that bigger and better things were to come.
1999 was a busy year with good reviews for the CD coming in thick and fast, including a thumbs up from Ripper Notes in the USA. The show continued to tour extensively including a four-day stint as part of the Salisbury Festival, and was enhanced by the superb vocals of new lead singer Alan Marsh. David Taylor and I had also finished extending the show into its present 90-minute formula.
Perhaps the strangest performance we’ve ever given was at the request of the Gatehouse Masonic Lodge in Redhill, Surrey. We could hardly have turned down such a request given the conspiracy theories involving Jack the Ripper and the Freemasons. Before the show we spent an interesting hour or so talking to the Grand Master about the subject. He was relieved, by the end of the performance that the old conspiracy theories were not relived, and that the show was based on the true facts of the case.
By the year 2000, the show was going from strength to strength, and we were invited by Christopher T George to take part in the first ever American conference, Jack the Ripper… A Century of Myth, held in New Jersey. By now, we had acquired a full backstage crew, Backstage Antics, and they performed a minor miracle in transporting scenery, props etc. across the Atlantic. The show was regarded as the highlight of the American conference and many new friends, fans and contacts were made. Before leaving for America, we staged a press conference and photo call in the London Dungeon to launch our transatlantic adventure, which led to my appearing on the radio programme London Today with Julia Somerville.
We realised that a show about Jack the Ripper, being synonymous with London, should be performed there, so after a prolonged search of suitable venues we hit upon the Wimbledon Theatre, which suited our musical requirements. And so we ended that year with our London premiere of the show, a five-day run which attracted good audiences and much press coverage.
When performing the show, one of the musical highlights was the song Only a Violet sung by Sue Paramor. This song was reputedly sung by Jack the Ripper’s last victim, young Mary Kelly, shortly before she died. Andy Aliffe, a distinguished Ripper researcher who had now by now joined the cast, found the sheet music for this song and enabled us to include it in our production. I had now realised that there was potential for our musical in the world of film, and after much wrangling with the landlord of the Ten Bells in the East End we chose this song to feature as our first video. We continued touring with the Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper throughout 2001, and by now the cast had swelled to fourteen, with a backstage crew numbering seven. After many successful performances, including the Theatre Royal, Portsmouth, we found ourselves back at Wimbledon Theatre by popular demand.
When Sue Paramour sang Only A Violet in the Ten Bells it was probably the first time that the song had been sung in the pub since the night Mary Kelly died and this not only had an emotional impact on everyone there, but also inspired me to write the Angels of Sorrow CD. This focused on the plight of the victims. My own musical reflection of each victim’s character being set a narrative supplied by five well-known Ripper authors: Paul Begg, Martin Fido, Stewart P Evans, Robin Odell and Donald Rumbelow. The CD was recorded, sold well and raised enough money for me to send a cheques to the Tower Hamlets Victim Support Group in the East End, to help today’s victims of violence. We continued to sell this CD at our shows, raising funds.
During the Autumn of 2007 we made a short documentary film about the show. Six years had now passed since the show was first devised, and I decided to reflect and discuss with the company how the show could evolve in the future. We decided to put touring extensively on hold and instead work on a new look for the show, including costumes and set. We also decided to define the character of the Ripper’s victims in more detail. We now feel that we have a show that has moved on both musically and visually, and this has been helped by the recruitment of Richard Clarke, who acts as director and narrator.
And so to the future. A new recording, Hell to Stage – Live, captures all the atmosphere of last year’s performance of this critically acclaimed production. This CD us being released to coincide with this year’s Conference in Liverpool. It is the first time that music from the whole show has appeared in full and it surpasses all previous live recordings.