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Category Archives: Gigs

Open Mics?

This week I went on a bit of a mini-tour of some open mic sessions, performing with Jacqui Sampson as our new folk ‘band’ The Wildest Way.  We had a great couple of nights playing to some great crowds at a couple of marvellous venues in the South East of England.  The tunes we played went down really well (I think!) and we had a wonderful time listening to the other performers around us.

Highlights:  There were some great moments of proper music that it was a joy to be in the audience for.  The best things were the unexpected and quirky things that we wouldn’t have seen at a ‘normal’ gig.  The Schubert lieder performed beautifully on the pub piano, the bizarre but perfectly unanticipated keyboard electronica performance with equally perfect growled vocals, the proper blues played on harmonica and slide guitar showing that melancholy doesn’t have to be sentimental.

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Leider at The Brunswick, Hove

Lowlights: The plague of singer / songwriters with mock melancholy angst… [ find yourself another outlet for your therapy! ], The scariest of prima donnas shouting abuse at people closing a door slightly too noisily as they came in to listen during her exquisitely painful creations.. [This could have also been a highlight, as it had Jacqui and me giggling in terror throughout the rest of her performance!]

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Great session in action at The Trolley Stop, Tooting, London

I’ve been playing regularly at various open mic sessions for the last 18 months or so.  The first one went to was down in Cornwall a couple of years ago, where I went down and didn’t dare to get my banjo out to play on. [things have changed a bit there...] In my mind I didn’t know of anything like this that happened near me and it was a wonderful part of the Cornish folk thing…. I have since learnt that there is so much of this happening on my doorstep that I had just not realised was there before.  On any weekday night there is a plethora of different venues with various styles of sessions going on with a wonderful cast of local musicians sharing the stage together.

However there are issues that people raise… about how open mics devalue music…  Pubs and venues get used to paying for a single person to run things and bands then miss out on bookings.  But on the other hand bands are expensive and if having an open session means that a pub can actually get live music in this way rather than none surely that is a good thing!  These sessions are also fantastic in that they give a beautiful chance for people of all walks of life to get up and perform in front of a friendly audience. Performers who couldn’t manage (or have no urge to put on) a whole gig can perform and more experience players can try out new material, network and get better known by venues.

I think the issue with open mics is more subtle though.  For me its more about the platform that these sessions create.  Our pubs and the music we play in them should be more shared, and we shouldn’t need a special night, a PA system and a stage to make this happen.  All we need is musicians who are willing to perform in, and with, their community and venues to have the confidence to make it happen.  Pubs should have pianos that are open and encouraged to be used, pub goers should turn up with an instrument and expect to play it.   Everybody should have their own song and be encouraged to sing it!

I have blogged previously about professionalism in music here. Maybe I’m hankering after some rustic idyll that can’t exist in our society, [but if it does let me know! ] but for me the Open Mic session promotes the idea of the professional performer rather than detracting from it.  Musicians end up doing mini gigs, with mini sets of their own music, rather than something collaborative.  The open mic is somehow too much about the ego and not about the musical experience.

I’ll still be going to the sessions near me.  There are some great ones in local pubs and I love performing alongside the other musicians there.  I do love these sessions, both watching and playing at them, but somehow I feel that they and the musicians at them could offer more!

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Posted by on February 22, 2015 in Gigs, Performing

 

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After Supper

Performing with Straight No Chaser Big Band, at The Brunswick in November this year.

Count Basie / Neal Hefti classic  After Supper

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2014 in Gigs, Pics / Vids / Audio

 

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I Can Play The Big Bass Drum

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At the weekend I was lucky enough to be a part of the the audio visual spectacular that is Lewes Bonfire Night.

I was away from my normal instruments and instead had been promoted to playing bass drum with the Mid Sussex Brass Band.  It was a great night, frosty enough for you to appreciate the fires, but not cold or rainy enough to be unpleasant marching around the town for 6 or so hours.

It truly is a completely mad affair, with health and safety seemingly having been thrown by the wayside in a totally brilliant manner.  Bangers and fireworks going off in the streets, fire everywhere, and then of course the 4 competing firework displays on show on each side of the town.

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Playing bass drum was great!  I felt in many ways like I was really leading the band, driving it along, and of course I am sure it looked great too!  I was playing with a group of brass musicians, most of which I hadn’t met before.  But there were a few familiar faces, particularly the wonderful Paul Homewood, who has organised the band at this parade for many years.  There always seems to be a last minute panic getting this band ready, but it always comes together in the end.

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This year was particularly close to the edge… in that we didn’t have a snare player, until about and hour in, when we met a guy on the street with his own marching snare, who was just joining in with one of the samba groups for kicks.  A few coaxing words later and we was part of the crew, and a great addition to the group too.. even if he was wearing a Guy Fawkes mask rather than a regulation blue blazer.

The sounds going on that night were amazing, be it the carnival mix of samba, drum corps, brass bands, trad jazz… all to the chaotic beat of gunpowder going off all around.

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A fantastic experience and I really hope to be part of it again next year….even if I was rather bruised and sore from marching with that drum all night… apparently I was meant to have a tiger skin or something… (or vegetarian equivalent)

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Posted by on November 11, 2014 in Gigs, Pics / Vids / Audio

 

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Straight No Chaser: It’s Oh So Nice

Recorded at our regular gig at The Hassocks Hotel, West Sussex, Sunday 2nd November.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2014 in Gigs, Pics / Vids / Audio

 

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New Straight No Chaser Music

David Beebee has taken up the challenge of arranging some new material for the big band… he has some big shoes to fill on that score.

We have played some of Dave’s pieces in the past and they have been great, but his new tune is a real gem.  Really looking forward to playing more of Dave’s compositions in the future.

In the mean time please have a listen to the live recording of Dave’s new piece:  Nuance

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2014 in Gigs, Recordings

 

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Inspiring Young Musicians

Inspiring Young Musicians

Well last week was rather manic!

Over the past couple of years I have set up concerts in partnership with local schools featuring the wind band I conduct: SESAW (South East Surrey Area Wind band) and last week we put together 2 huge days of music for the local area.  4 bands, 8 schools and about 450 children were involved in the events!

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When I took over the band it was really struggling with numbers of players, so I started working with the local schools, setting up joint concerts, trying to get more children to know about the band and hopefully inspire others to start taking up instruments too. Through doing this I set up some larger scale concerts at the Harlequin Theatre in Redhill. The first year we managed to join up three primary schools with a very musical secondary school and my bands. In the second year we aimed higher, putting the event on over 2 nights and doubled the numbers involved. This year we moved to an even bigger theatre, trying to include even more children over two nights.

It took a lot of organising but these events are really worth while. The highlight of each evening is the joint item where we get all the children on stage performing and singing together. Choosing the right material for this is the key, previous years we’ve gone with Abba and Stevie Wonder Medleys, and this year a combo of some (surprisingly?) almost current pop with  Moves Like Jagger, Party Rock Anthem and Have a Good Time.

The show this year was great in lots of ways, but particularly because we got a few schools involved who are normally really hard to get to join in with events such as these.  One of the highlights was seeing other music teachers taking the lead and taking groups of schools off to work together during rehearsals.

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Overall a fantastic event that has left me feeling more motivated than ever to get young children involved in music from as early an age as possible.


 

 

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2014 in Gigs, Teaching

 

Love Supreme

Love Supreme

What a fantastic weekend of music at Love Supreme jazz festival!

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I hadn’t managed to make it down to the last year, but we managed to somehow sneak Straight No Chaser onto the bill for this years event and I am so glad we managed to hustle for the gig!

Lots and lots of lovely music from so many musicians. It was all too much in a way because you start to choose not to listen to some bands that normally would have been an amazing night out on their own, but then again there is only so much jazz that you can take in one serving…

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I’m really pleased with our big band set. The guys played amazingly with some blistering solos and finely tuned ensemble sections, despite the wind gusting and blowing sheets of music around before us. I know there were several videos being made of our playing so I hope to share them soon. I’ve already seen one of Susanna Alce singing with us and she was being a star as always, perfectly underplaying the soul in the music.

We chose a set of quite complex arrangements including several of Simons charts, which was a good decision. The crowds seemed to be drawn to the interesting and intriguing music… I’m so glad we didn’t sell ourselves out with a standard repertoire of Gordon Goodwin and Nestico. We did ourselves proud and I think waved a good flag for local Brighton talent at this prestigious event.

So what was the highlight of the event?

Well Jamie Cullum it has to be said was immense. I didn’t think I would have ended up watching him but he played like a complete star with a band to match.

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Who else, well there was Laura Mvula with her soul diva voice, but a band she has taken in different direction with strings, harp and arrangements to die for. And of course Courtney Pine, who must have been put on this planet to play festivals in the sun like this. (I’m sure he physically made the sun shine with his music today!)

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Snarky Puppy was also up there at the top of my list, complex and soulful but intensely funky. And Slowly Rolling Camera who provided me with the perfect hangover cure.

Really looking forward to this event again next year, definitely hope we can get the band there again too!

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2014 in Gigs

 

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