Bear with Me is the sweetest show your bear will ever see. It’s very much a hybrid of music and theatre, and took Tyrone and Lesley to very new places. In terms of how it was made, it was music-first. It started with songs, became a setlist, which turned into a script, which then asked for more songs.
We made an album of these bear songs and released it with little fanfare in 2013. We didn’t call it a children’s album, we just put the music out there. Mainstream expectations of children’s music are very low, and I didn’t want to play that game. This music, and the show we built around it, have proven very popular with children, adults and bears. Here are some notes on where the songs came from.
The connection between a bear and its bearer is something this show is built around. Attachment. I came to the song with the musical idea of a tension and release pattern: a floating verse and a flying chorus. Sam found its perfect musical expression. The audience sings with us in this song also. On the recording Kylie Southwell (who’s also on Hello Bear) sings their part.
Bear with Me
This song pre-dates, and indeed inspired the show. It soundtracks a magical moment in the performance when the stars come out, the night goes blue and the children put their bears to bed, tucking them in with a tea-towel. This is a moment where the bears do what bears do best: enable a kid to perform as an adult and a child, simultaneously. Allowing the ‘cared for’ to become carer. It’s hard to do, but clearly this is a role a teddy bear can perform in its sleep. The stars of this video are knitted bears made by the ladies of the Red Cross.
A songwriter’s cliché: ‘I wrote this on tour in a hotel room’ happens to be true in this case. At the 2011 New Zealand Ukulele Festival, I’d just seen 2000 children playing and singing Avalanche City’s ‘Love Love Love’. It was gorgeous. I sat down to write something simple and memorable, celebratory, accessible. It sounds like a primitive rock song, with a white keys melody, because it is.
The lyrics, however, sum up the conceptual drivers of the show and as we worked to improve the performance for its first tour, we incorporated a down-tempo reprise of the tune at a key ‘dramatic’ moment which revealed its sweet passion.
The Marching Teddies
This is similar to a song I used to sing while bathing my own child: I incorporated it into the show because it needed a proud, nostalgic sounding song to soundtrack a moment of communal action: a roomful of children making their bears march, and a hit parade of the famous bears of page and screen.
I wanted the audience to sing with us, and I also knew I wanted to use only original songs. We needed a song of greeting and welcome, and I wondered if a Minnie-the Moocher style call and response might be the go. I wrote these lyrics. Four words. Sam wrote the music. It’s hard to write things this simple.
Bearing Up (the Mountain)
This is a game song, sound tracking a bear climbing a mountain. Sam’s composition on this miniature not only expresses this trajectory musically, but does it only on a ukulele bass. Quite an achievement. Naturally the tempo increases as the game gains momentum. I thought this would look good as a little animation, but only got a as far as a draft.
This was a playful tune off our first album Ukulele Heart that seemed apposite as we depicted a mock lecture about the body parts of the Bear. This was one of the first ever Tyrone and Lesley originals.
Someone once compared this tune, again off our first album, to a Randy Newman song. It’s a very special piece of music. It can also be found on Ukulele Heart, which was recorded live by Tom Green, who adds French horn to the song.
Where’s that Bear?
This one is rather nuts, and our audience knows it. It’s very Dada, closer to performance art than music in some ways.
This tune’s a cousin of another Tyrone and Lesley song called ‘Old Fashioned’. It soundtracks that most sophisticated of occasions – a tea party with bears – an event the children devise and perform during the show. I like how the music evokes the connections between two beings sharing a meal.
Sleepy Song (instrumental)
The script called for some ‘woozy music’ as a bear fell asleep and the ‘bear experts’ in the audience prepared to bed them down. It features my only attempt at slide ukulele, and Brett Collery recorded and mixed it like a latter-day Tom Waits tune.
Bear Relaxation and Bearport
These are album tracks only; they both re-purpose some moments of pre-recorded underscore for the live performance. Bear Relaxation takes an instrumental called ‘oops’ and turns it into a meditation so relaxing even its narrator falls asleep. Bearport is a demonstration of the slippery slope of bear puns (aeronautical in this instance) which is laid over the closing music of the show.