By David Hennessy
Stuart Sharp has endured years of hardship that included the break-up of his marriage and family and having to sleep rough on the streets. It was all in pursuit of a dream to convert angelic music he heard in a dream into a symphony in honour of his dead son, Ben.
Stuart’s aim would have been ambitious even for a skilled composer or musician while he had no musical training. Making it even more outlandish was that he wanted it to be recorded by the renowned London Philharmonia Orchestra. Demanding their time is the reserve of the biggest movie and music moguls with unlimited budgets but no other orchestra would do for Stuart.
Nevertheless, it became a reality because Stuart worked for almost forty years to make it so. Unsurprisingly, he has been hailed a musical genius by an industry that struggles to understand how someone with no prior musical experience could have created the powerful Angeli Symphony. His story, told in his new Kindle book “The Snow People An Anthology”, has inspired many and illustrated that something positive can come out of dark days and dreams can be achieved.
Stuart tells The Irish World that his story has recently been optioned by a Los Angeles film producer with the intent of turning his story into a feature film.
The story that has taken Stuart to this point began in 1975 when he ran a pub with his mother in Leicestershire where he lived with his wife Jo and their daughter Emma. He and Jo were pleased to be expecting their first son but there were medical complications during the delivery. Ben died and it was touch and go whether Jo would pull through. She was kept in hospital for almost a year following several horrific operations before returning home.
“For me, the trauma was different to that of my wife because she was unable to attend the funeral. She didn’t know the kind of distress I had when I was burying him in a tiny coffin and we couldn’t discuss or grieve properly.”
“One minute I was cooking for a Christmas party. The next, life had disappeared. My daughter Emma was crying: ‘Where’s Mummy? And where’s the baby?’ The trauma never left me so I tried to do something positive with it.”
The night of Ben’s funeral, Stuart had a dream that would change his life. In it, he saw his baby son rise out of his coffin towards the skies. He saw an angel come down and tell him that Ben was safe now. Stuart also heard wonderful angelic music that he had also heard a snap shot of as a child. Being an atheist it was not the kind of dream that immediately made sense but it profoundly affected him.
“The moment this music came back on the night of Ben’s funeral, I saw the future before my eyes. It was amazing how I remembered it. The year Jo was in hospital, I was still working as the pub cook cum barman. I never had a night off. I would be slaving over the hot stove and heard the music again and again. It played constantly in my head day and night and I got the message from that: If you do not produce this music, we will plague you until you do.”
From that moment, Stuart knew he had to bring that music from his dreams into reality. He had to get it written and recorded, whatever the cost. This meant leaving his wife and daughter and moving to London. He waited over a year to break the news to his family and when he did, they did not take it seriously. When he made the move to the capital, his wife gave up waiting for him to return and eventually remarried.
“My wife came out of hospital but I couldn’t just say ‘I’m off by the way’ because she wasn’t well and I had to look after her until I felt she was strong enough. Then I had to find a way of telling her and I’m ashamed to say it was after a few whiskies I plucked up the courage to blurt out ‘I have a dream and I’m going to make a film about it’. She didn’t rate that too highly so I didn’t blame her when she divorced me but I was devastated. I thought with what we had gone through that she would say: ‘Okay, go off and do that. Let us know how you’re doing, send us some money’. That was delusional on my part. She needed someone to be there for the children and I don’t blame her for that.”
Having arrived in London, Stuart was sleeping in his car and was waiting for instructions from the same divine place that had brought him the music. However, instructions didn’t come. He found himself on the street, staying in squats and a hostel for the homeless.
One day, Stuart was walking past a second hand furniture shop when he saw a guitar in the window. He wanted to buy it but he didn’t have the £5 at which the instrument was roughly priced. However, when the dishevelled Stuart explained to the shopkeeper why he wanted it, she was moved enough to let him have it for the few pounds he had left. Now he had an instrument to begin work on his music. Being a non musician and not being able to play the guitar the learning curve just to master complex chords was very great for Stuart.
Recently he discovered that shop belonged to the parents of Pete Townshend of one of the UK’s greatest rock bands; ‘The Who.’ This came as a profound surprise to Stuart as in the late sixties he was a great fan and played The Who’s world wide hit “Pinball Wizard” in the kitchen while he cooked and cavorted with the customers. It was this song that inspired Stuart to write and record his own rock album, excepts of which are on his web site under ‘Incidental Music.’
In the early 80’s he was squatting near the BBC TV Studios in Wood Lane, London and working out the angelic music melody that was in his head. A chance encounter would take him closer to his dream. A passer-by was interested in what he was doing and was intrigued by his tale of his dream to create a symphony without any musical experience or knowledge. He was Anthony Wade, a jazz musician and he invited Stuart to his home in order to help him develop it. It was a kind offer but one that infuriated Anthony’s wife, however he stayed with them for six weeks. During that period they created a piano version of the melody.
Anthony told him that to do his music justice, it would need to be recorded by the world’s best orchestra. He broke the news that Stuart would need orchestrators, arrangers, the best studios, a rehearsal orchestra and a million other things if he was to make it a reality. In fact, he would need to earn at least £1 million. Instead of being devastated, Stuart was excited. He knew what he needed and set to work on achieving it. Anthony said his goodbyes and wished Stuart the best of luck.
“I took on many commission-only jobs and 15 years later I amassed the £1m Anthony said was necessary. I offered him a permanent position with me to begin the almost impossible task to develop the music to stage where it could be presented professionally”.
It took an unnerving five years of working every day for the new musical team to create an electronic version of his whole symphony that he eventually presented to the conductor of the London Philharmonia Orchestra. Listening to Stuart’s story, conductor Allan Wilson was sceptical. He did not see how a man without musical experience would ever be able to compose anything remotely good enough for the London Philharmonia Orchestra. Allan delayed listening to it because he dreaded telling Stuart the bad news that he had wasted so many years in his musical endeavours. But when he did hear it, he rang Stuart to say it was so wonderful and emotional that he had burst into tears.
Stuart had to earn more money. The piece had to be scored again and then, he was told by the conductor that it was ready for the London Philharmonia Orchestra. Allan Wilson said, “It is a truly remarkable and unprecedented musical journey. One that has never been undertaken before. Stuart would call me at midnight with parts of the symphony he wanted included. He would sing them down the phone to me indicating the instruments required. I asked him to slow down as I scored the parts at the same time. I knew that we were on the verge of musical greatness and I was totally stunned that a former homeless non musician could be doing this. Recently he has scored, arranged, orchestrated and recorded then final movement of the Angeli symphony. Added to the previous movements Stuart believes it will make an powerfully exciting concert at The Royal Albert Hall! How can I not believe this will happen too.
The symphony was finished with the contribution of legendary Irish pipe player Tommy Keane, recorded in a forest by Galway Bay, Ireland. Stuart’s insistence that such a recording was part of his dream went against the advice of all professionals who didn’t think recording outside in a forest would be possible. “I am paying for it so we have to do it,” said Stuart emphatically, continuing, “I will bring a film crew to make sure there is documentary evidence.” Not only was the impossible possible but film of this event is on a video link in his Kindle book.
“I was drawn to Ireland to finish the symphony. I’ve loved Ireland for many years, so when I had this dream of the pipes, I saw it in a pinewood forest in Ireland.”
“My mother introduced me to Ireland after telling me she was an acrobat, aged 13 in the 1920s, in a troupe called The Five Figaros, who travelled around Ireland in horse drawn wagon. I couldn’t believe that my lovely mother, now in her 80’s was such a trouper. From that moment I took her on many trips to the Emerald Isle and she insisted that when she died her ashes should be scattered in the Irish Sea. However, when the time came, I couldn’t have her cremated as I wanted a grave where I could visit and pay my respects.
Stuart’s story has already been told through many media outlets and it was a piece in the Express that led to him being invited to America to let a whole new audience hear it. When a Chicago-based producer who was in London looking for the world’s greatest true stories happened to pick the Express article he made an approach to Stuart. The regional radio interview got a great response and Stuart was invited to be interviewed on NPR which would go out nationally in the US. Stuart said that the response was overwhelming and spent weeks answering the thousands of emails of support.
Stuart’s dream included a song called “Nowhere without You” and he spent years looking for great young talents to record it.
Eventually after many false starts he found the stunning vocal talents of Jeff Anderson and Louise Emmanuel. Jeff, from Belfast was a contestant on ITV’s Superstar and will guest with Tenors of Rock who have impressed The X Factor judges. Jeff blew Stuart away when he auditioned to sing the male vocal.
It is only now that Stuart has fulfilled his dreams of becoming a composer/author and that his family is beginning to understand why he had to leave them like he did.
“Now the family is just coming back together again. It has taken them 40 years to understand. Jo was a wonderful mother. She didn’t deserve what I did under any circumstances, because she married me as a pub cook and accepted that. The family is starting to see everything more clearly now, but it’s taken a long time.”
“No one thought what I was doing was possible at all, I lost my family over it, living rough, living in hostels with homeless and crazy people.”
Stuart is now a patron of Canaan Trust, a homeless charity, and has supported a disabled project in Africa for many years: “What I think my ex wife was pleased about most of all was that I didn’t use Ben’s death to make money for myself. Over the years, she has seen how much work I’ve done in Africa and for the homeless in the UK.
“I could have kept the money I earned and my bank manager wanted me to retire and enjoy myself. I told him: ‘That’s not what it’s for. I can’t start doing something for my son and then change my mind later.”
“The Snow People an Anthology”, which also includes a book of poems and a play is available on Kindle through Amazon and is out now for a promotional price of $6.00 or £3.64 in the US.
It is unique in literary publishing as it includes links to music videos and video testimonials ranging from a pop start to a president.
For more information, you can go to: www.thesnowpeople.info.