Pete Cunningham, DJ, multi-Instrumentalist, and leader of the Ishmael Ensemble.

Sophie Wales catches up with Pete Cunningham, DJ, multi-instrumentalist, and leader of the Ishmael Ensemble who is based in Bristol.

We’ve been checking-in with jazz artists and musicians throughout the South to see how their lockdown experience has been, and how they’ve been adjusting to the new normal.

What was your first ever encounter with jazz?

My Grandad had a great record collection from the classics of Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Louis Armstrong, to more obscure (to my young ears) stuff on ECM like Don Cherry & Art Ensemble of Chicago. My parents also used to take me to the Nunney Jazz Cafe sessions in Somerset hosted by Pee Wee Ellis. Watching him play certainly ignited my love for the saxophone.

Name a track you wish you’d written.

I think Talking Heads: ‘Once in a Lifetime’. I’d love to choose something more esoteric but i think there’s a lot to be learnt from perfectly executed pop music. This era of Talking Heads is my favourite, probably due to Brian Eno’s production.

Who have you been listening to recently?

Lots of stuff! It took me a while to feel inspired to listen to anything new at the beginning of lockdown but I have since been on a bit of a binge. SAULT are, in my opinion, making some of the most important music in the UK right now, they’ve released four incredible albums in less than two years. I’ve also been a bit obsessed with Lankum (‘The Livelong Day‘ blew my socks off) and the wider Irish scene including the ‘Make Me An Island‘ podcast.

Favourite gig you’ve ever been to and why?

That feels almost impossible to answer, however, every time I leave a Sun Ra Arkestra gig I have the biggest grin on my face, it really is a life affirming experience. I’ve seen them twice now at Fiddler’s in Bristol, the venue is like a bizarre old football team’s club house which certainly adds to the surreal experience of seeing 96 year old Marshall Allen on stage in all his shiny regalia blowing into a synthesizer.

Any livestream concert recommendations? 

Hmmm I haven’t watched loads if I’m honest, however, I’ve enjoyed Ríoghnach Connolly’s Facebook streams after discovering her through Alabaster dePlume. I’ve also enjoyed some of NPR’s Tiny Desk at home concerts, in particular Lianne La Havas and Little Dragon.

What advice do you have for fellow musicians adjusting to the current situation, and the new normal?

I guess just try and be open to the idea of a very different future. In some ways I think this is perhaps easier the earlier in your career you are. I think it’s a dangerous and unhealthy perspective to try and claw things back to where they were last year.

Have you been working on any new material recently?

Yes! We’ve very nearly finished our second album which will hopefully be out early next year!

What are your post-lockdown plans?

The Ishmael Ensemble stage show is quite a big technical endeavour so it’s not really in our nature to do pop-up or jammed gigs as some bands have been doing. We’ve been rehearsing when possible and will be ready to play when the time’s right, however, I’m trying to remain patient. Who knows what the future holds…

Our next ‘Catching Up With…’ will be posted on 30th September. Follow the series on our social media: Facebook and Twitter.

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