Category: Interviews & Features

Catching Up With… Billie Bottle

Billie Bottle, composer, musician and singer with her own band, Billie Bottle & The Multiple and various projects with Kate and Mike Westbrook including the Jazz South commissioned Granite Band.

Sophie Wales catches up with Billie Bottle, composer, musician and singer with her own band, Billie Bottle & The Multiple and various projects with Kate and Mike Westbrook including the Jazz South commissioned Granite Band. She is based in Devon.

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?

In terms of improvisational spirit, I believe children are pre-programmed to it. Chomsky spoke about language being innate; I think this applies equally to the urge to make music. Practically speaking my pathway was through other related musics; 90s pop bands like Deee-lite and Jamiroquai on the one hand, and Kevin Ayers and Soft Machine leading to the endless chambers of the Canterbury Sound on the other.

Another formative event was hearing Van Morrison’s ‘Snow in San Anselmo’ – this fusion of choral music and hard swing blew my mind – and makes me think of what Kamasi Washington is up to now.

Name a track you wish you’d written.

The one I haven’t written yet? Pretty much all of Hatfield and The North and National Health’s albums are the tightest, intricate and most humorous writing I know, especially ‘Mumps’ from the former’s ‘The Rotter’s Club’ album.

These 20 minutes manage to combine space-rock with melodic neo-classicism. It’s a kind of jazz and prog yet neither of these things.

Who have you been listening to recently?

My listening habits are as varied as ever though I do go through phases where it’s not preferable to listen to anything but the music I’m making – those vibrations can be fatiguing!

When I do it’s recently been Thundercat, Galliano, Cardiacs, The Foreign Exchange, Meredith Monk, XTC, Kavus Torabi, Maxwell, The Orb, The Shamen and the birds outside the window.

Favourite gig you’ve ever been to and why?

Gosh – too many to list really. For music the ‘Soup Songs’ project which played the songs of Robert Wyatt is ‘up there’. So much range as a band and I particularly love Janette Mason’s piano playing.

For pure performance, Peaches last year at the Royal Festival Hall was incredible; a big, playful, ensemble show. Meanwhile, almost literally in a world of their own are Magma who have to be seen to be believed. Carl Orff meets John Coltrane – oh, and they sing in their own invented language!

Any livestream concert recommendations?

I haven’t really got into livestream concerts though I have been enjoying Mr C’s live stream. He always plays such interesting house music, shot through with invention, depth and groove.

Every Friday morning, my long-time bandleaders Kate and Mike Westbrook put out a new weekly video from their seemingly bottomless vaults. Always different; always Westbrook.

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

My personal recipe is a combination of routine (whether practically or in psychic intention), raising energy by dancing even when alone, collaboration with other musicians and artists, experiencing nature and regular walking.

Have you been working on any new material recently?

Yes – just a bit! I have just finished mixing our long-awaited album ‘The Other Place’ with Lee Fletcher which will be released in the new year. Meanwhile, our single, ‘Cogs’, will be released on November 6th by Bad Elephant Music.

Lockdown saw the start of a new project, The Temple of Shibboleth, with long-time collaborator, flautist and co-writer Viv Goodwin-Darke. We are currently sharing a house together and have just started rehearsals at a local stately home’s wonderful seventeenth century music room.

I’ve also been working at a distance with trumpeter Rowan Porteous in our eco soul jazz-hop project, The Other Way and continue my bass duties with Kate Westbrook’s Granite Band’s new recording, ‘Says The Duke’, which was kindly funded by none other than Jazz South!

What are your post-lockdown plans?

I’ll be continuing to write and record. When gigging is possible again, I’d love to put on an event which combines art, jazz, rave and circus…

To hear more from Billie, check out her bandcamp page and website.

Our next ‘Catching Up With…’ will be posted on 4th November. Follow the series on our social media: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Sign up to our mailing list to get our latest Jazz South news and opportunities direct to you inbox.

Catching Up With… Karen Wimhurst

Karen Wimhurst, composer, clarinettist, and educator.

Sophie Wales catches up with composer, clarinettist and educator, Karen Wimhurst, based in Dorset.

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? 

Well, I was a very late starter! I grew up in the world of classical music and in my early twenties went to San Diego to study with the composer Pauline Oliveros. However, she had moved to New York (no one thought to tell me) so I found myself tossed into the world of free improvisation instead with Anthony Braxton and other fabulous players such as trombonist John Silber.

Having embraced a world of abstract electronic composition, this gave me a pathway back to playing the clarinet again.

Name a track you wish you’d written.

So many great tracks of course but what comes to mind right now is the really loud, left of field big band extravaganza version of ‘New York New York’ by Django Bates. It’s just such a witty, crazed, irreverent and masterful decomposition.

Who have you been listening to recently?

This week I’ve been listening to the Swiss clarinettist Marco Santilli, CheRoba (Lorenzo Frizzera, Ivan Tibolla, Fulvio Maras), lovely playing and carefully composed alongside Martin Speake’s Trio ‘Always a First Time’ (Mike Outram and Jeff Williams).

In the stress of Covid-19 I’ve been drawn to the mellow tracks on each album to keep calm! I’ve also gone unseasonally for Ešenvalds’ ‘Passion and Resurrection’, just for the beautiful choral writing.

Favourite gig you’ve ever been to and why?

I find it impossible to select one. However, in reflecting on this question, I found myself being drawn way back to seeing Astor Piazzola in the Tramway Glasgow 1989, just a few months before he suffered a heart attack.

It was just so extraordinary listening to the New Tango Sextet, musicians who had collaborated together for so very many years, performing with such passion and virtuosity! The gig was only half full as the extraordinary sweep of his fame didn’t really hit the UK until after is death. It inspired me to head to France and take some lessons with the composer Gustavo Beytelmann who spanned the tango/jazz scene in Paris.

Any livestream concert recommendations?

Well, during lockdown I loved John Law’s gigs, a lot of his original material and such a wonderful player. The last one I caught up with was at the Soundcellar in Poole. The singer Helen Porter is also bringing out a new solo set which is sounding great.

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

For me, the usual fine balance of being creative and earning money just went up a notch stress wise although, in my experience living has always demanded working with what ever is coming over the horizon at the time.

I did hear someone point out that this is a good time to take a Zoom lesson from one of your true hero’s/heroines! That seemed to be a very positive take on the situation!

Have you been working on any new material recently?

Well, I’m just starting working on an improvised solo clarinet piece with backing called ‘Jump’ with the entomologist Peter Smithers. I’m experimenting with the calls of grasshoppers and crickets in the soundtrack amongst other things. It’s just something I hope I can perform to very small audiences and will take me through the semi-lockdown days.

I’m also getting Synthetica (a chamber opera) online in the face of gigs cancelled.

What are your post-lockdown plans?

Hmmm. Up until Christmas I’m just sketching out thoughts and ideas in a fairly non specific way so as not to get over excited.  Paul Hutchinson and I are working on a second album ‘Pagoda‘ having had our Australian Tour scrapped this summer.

I’m also reflecting on the philosopher David Abrams’s work ‘Spell of the Sensuous’ and ‘Becoming Animal’ as the basis of a work for voices and band. How to be in this time of Climate and Ecological Emergency…….that’s what’s on my back I guess. Bandwagon is on the tip of my tongue as a new band idea!

Follow the series on our social media: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Sign up to our mailing list to get our latest Jazz South news and opportunities direct to you inbox.

Catching Up With… Roxana Vilk

Roxana Vilk, British/Iranian artist who works in music, film, TV, and live performance.

Sophie Wales catches up with Roxana Vilk, British/Iranian artist who works in music, film, TV, and live performance.  

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? 

I grew up in Tehran, Iran, surrounded by lots of family. I lived with my siblings, parents, grandparents and my great grandmother all in one flat! We all loved dancing; most Iranians, generally love to sing, and dance. ALL THE TIME.

My Iranian grandfather Baba jun, LOVED music. He had a shiny record player and I have wonderful memories of dancing around to jazz records he would play. It was an incredibly inspiring time musically for jazz in Iran in the late 70’s, as musicians and bands were mixing eastern instruments and scales with western jazz motifs and creating crazily original sounds. True experimentation.

Pre-Revolution and pre-Iran/Iraq war it felt like anything was possible. Everything changed for the music scene after the 1979 Iranian Revolution of course, but that is another story…

Name a track you wish you’d written.

That is such a hard question, as I don’t wish to have written anyone else’s track really. I believe that inspiration for songs and ideas go to who it’s meant to go; I have a spiritual take on it…

But, in terms of how a track makes people feel it’s got be Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s ‘Mustt Mustt’ (recorded at Real World in 1990). He starts off deep and low in his voice, getting you into the Qawwali hypnotic rhythms and then his voice opens up  and soars to the high notes, right up to the sky, the moon and the stars, and he takes you to that place of true magic. What a gift he had.

Who have you been listening to recently?

SO much! I’ve been getting really into switching off my phone and listening to the whole album by an artist, playing both sides of the vinyl and really immersing myself in the sound and storytelling of the album form.

The albums I have been getting into recently are ‘Chicago Waves’ by Carlos Nino and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson on the incredible International Anthem label; Melody Gardot’s ‘Currency of Man’; ‘Thunderbird’ Cassandra Wilson; Yussef Kamaal ‘Black Focus’; Anouar Brahem ‘Barzakh’…I could go on.

Favourite gig you’ve ever been to and why?

It was recently: our friends Dubioza Kolektiv when they played Bristol at The Fleece in February just before lockdown. Their live shows are insane! Their energy on stage is so infectious that the audience goes wild. Plus they use humour and wit in such a great way.

We know some of the band from just after the war finished in Bosnia. We were all working, playing music together and hanging out in Mostar and Sarajevo when we lived there. To see how far they have come since those tough post-war times, and how dedicated they are to their music journey is TRULY INSPIRATIONAL. I love them.

Any livestream concert recommendations? 

YES!!! ACT4music jazz concerts set up during lockdown by the brilliant music genius Anthony Tidd, (bass player and producer with Steve Coleman and The Roots).

ACT4Music is an artist-centric organisation, dedicated to the furthering of creative music and the uplift of the many musicians who contribute to this community.

We were lucky enough to play a gig for the festival curated by Eugene Skeef. There are literally hundreds of jazz concerts you can listen to through their website that showcase and celebrate jazz music from all over the world.

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

There is no doubt about it, this is a really tough time for all of us in our community.

I remember right at the beginning of lockdown, when everything came to a grinding halt, I applied to the Musicians Union hardship fund. When I got the email saying my application had been successful, I burst into tears.

It was such a relief to know that I wasn’t alone and there was a union and support system. Even though the fund wasn’t a huge amount, it was the fact that there was a union, and other organisations like Help Musicians and Jazz South there that I could reach out to and talk to.

My advice would be don’t suffer alone, even though most of us creatives are probably introverts at heart and crave the quiet time to be creative. This is also a vital time to reach out, join a union, talk to other musicians, create a dialogue and talk to loved ones about how you are really feeling. We will get through this together.

Have you been working on any new material recently?

Yes! I write music with my partner – drummer, guitarist and producer Peter Vilk, and together we have a new Vilk Collective album coming out in early 2021!!

What are your post-lockdown plans?

Get playing live gigs again and go dancing!

Our next ‘Catching Up With…’ will be posted on 21st October. Follow the series on our social media: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

And sign up to our mailing list to get our latest Jazz South news and opportunities direct to you inbox.

Catching Up With… Ruth Hammond

Performer, composer, improviser, and educator Ruth Hammond.

Sophie Wales catches up with Ruth Hammond, performer, composer, improviser, and educator, 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 encounter with jazz?

Jazz was played at home when I was very young – Night Train, Ella and Basie, Stan Getz with the Oscar Peterson Trio. I ended up stealing the CDs and listening to them on rotation, singing along to all the solos.

I was really lucky to have a thriving youth music service in our area when I was growing up; it was a massive part of my life and I played tenor sax in the big band. From there, I got invited to play in some of the other big bands in the area, the average age of the players was around mid sixties, with me maybe at 14. I was playing with some fantastic older pro players, who I was lucky to be around….

Also, from that age I was travelling up to the junior department of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama every weekend. It was there that I first got some tuition from top jazz players like Tim Garland and Matt Wates. I started hopping on the tube to Kings Cross for rehearsals with the junior NYJO band and it all grew from there.

Name a track that you wish you’d written.

That’s really hard to answer. In terms of a song that I feel a real kinship with, perhaps I’d say ‘Touch her soft lips and part’. I think William Walton composed it for strings, but I first heard an arrangement of it on a Peter Erskine album called ‘Sweet Soul’,  and then again on ‘As It Us’, a John Taylor trio album. It’s a heart stretching piece of music for me.

Who have you been listening to recently?

I found that I stopped playing or listening to music for quite a while during early lockdown. Then I sorted myself out, got a decent pair of headphones and have been tramping through the woods listening to all sorts…. Jazzwise, lots of sax players lately. Tim Garland in his trio with Gwilym Simcock and Asaf Sirkis, Joshua Redman, Joe Henderson, Joe Lovano, Josephine Davies’ trio Satori and the Tori Freestone trio. I’m getting into the pared down trio sound.  In the last few weeks,  I’ve been listening to Tim Garland’s ‘Refocus’, a new orchestral tribute to the Stan Getz ‘Focus’ album.

I’m also loving discovering new music through shared playlists that friends and other musicians are putting up on Facebook and Instagram…. so much music, so little time!

Favourite gig you’ve ever been to and why? 

Agh too hard! Anything involving Larry Goldings has to be right up there, he’s pretty much my favourite musician on the planet. He’s been to the Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival in recent years and I’ve seen him at Ronnie Scott’s a few times too.

Honourable mention would have to go to a couple of others ….. at the age of 11, I got the chance to see Michael Jackson at Milton Keynes Bowl and then a few weeks later, the London Community Gospel Choir. Both gigs have really stuck in my memory – I vividly remember how they blew my tiny little mind!

And I also have to mention seeing Oscar Peterson at Birmingham Symphony Hall, it was towards the end of his touring years, I felt pretty emotional just to be in the same room as a true jazz legend that I’d listened to all my life.

Any livestream concert recommendations? 

Tiny Desk home concerts, the Ronnie’s livestreams, Liane Carroll’s regular Facebook lives have been brilliant. In Bristol, we’ve had great support from some of the live venues. For a lot of lockdown, the Bristol Fringe put on live-streams almost daily. I took part early on in lockdown.  It was a lovely feeling of connection at such a weird time. I’ve loved seeing friends doing their thing online.

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

I’m figuring it out daily along with everyone else!! All I can say is what I’ve been doing to help me stay positive when things are in such a state of flux, not just as a musician but as a human…. taking care of my mental and physical health, staying connected to people I love, keeping an open mind on ways to use my skills to earn money, within music or otherwise (I’ve upped my teaching a lot, brushed up my tech knowledge for teaching and recording, smartened up my website and I’ve been seeking out new commissions and funding).

I’m also trying not to worry when I feel like others are being incredibly productive and I’m not…… Just trying to focus on what I can do each day to adapt.

Have you been writing any new material during lockdown? 

I’m just putting my own originals trio together, with multi-instrumentalists Nick Dover and Scott Hammond. It’s a vocally led project – so I’m getting my head around writing lyrics again, it’s been a while!

What are your post lockdown plans?

I’m looking forward to writing some new tunes with guitarist Matt Hopkins and drummer Scott Hammond, for our organ trio, the Hopkins Hammond Trio. We played a gig at Peggy’s Skylight in Nottingham a couple of weeks ago, our first gig since February. It fired us up and we’re aiming to get a little more original material written and to record our first album soon.

I’m involved in a project commissioned by Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival – a celebration of female composers called ‘What she said’. We were due to launch it last March at St George’s Bristol and tour it this October. I’m so looking forward to being involved in that again and performing with a fantastic group of musicians, including Rebecca Nash, Katya Gorrie, Sara Colman and Tammy Payne.

I’m also looking forward to getting started with the new trio.

Our next ‘Catching Up With…’ will be posted on 14th October. Follow the series on our social media: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

And sign up to our mailing list to get our latest Jazz South news and opportunities direct to you inbox.

Catching Up With… Steve Banks

Guitarist, composer, and educator Steve Banks.

Sophie Wales catches up with guitarist, composer, and educator Steve Banks, 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? 

As a teenager I bought ‘Kind of Blue’ from my very small local Virgin music store and listened on repeat until I could sing all the solos! I had a brilliant guitar teacher who explained harmony and introduced me to improvising guitarists including Scott Henderson and Wes Montgomery.

I also went to summer schools at Leeds College of Music where I met and played with jazz musicians for the first time, which was incredible.

Name a track you wish you’d written.

That’s tough. I’d say ‘Endless Stars’ by Fred Hersch, it’s beautifully conceived in so many ways. Fred is such an inspiration to me as a composer.

Who have you been listening to recently?

Quite a lot! Walter Smith III ‘Twio’ and John Scofield ‘Combo 66’ for the lyricism, groove, and ensemble interplay. These bands are so free in their improvisations and constantly taking risks, creating an honesty, focus, and excitement in the music, which is inspiring for me as it reflects what I’m aiming for myself.

Maria Schneider ‘Data Lords’ was released recently. I’m a big fan of the rich harmonies, melodies and arrangements of Maria’s music, alongside her approach to creating music and the music industry. Oh, and plenty of Charlie Parker . . .

Favourite gig you’ve ever been to and why?

Another tough one! John Scofield Trio with Larry Goldings and Greg Hutchinson at Colston Hall as part of Bristol Jazz Festival could be it . . . I think we’re really lucky in Bristol to have Fringe Jazz run by Jon Taylor. I’ve seen some incredible music there including bands led by Jason Rebello, Iain Ballamy and Andrew Bain.

Any livestream concert recommendations? 

Local musicians including Jason Rebello, Huw Warren and Iain Ballamy are streaming concerts. It’s worth investigating jazz festivals and venues across the UK as many are promoting concert series. Patreon sites including NQ Jazz have plenty of music on offer.

Sara Colman and I performed a duo concert as part of Around The Houses online festival which presents an impressive list of artist performances and raises money for Help Musicians charity.

You can also tune in to major US and European venues. . . a good place to start is investigating favourite artists via websites and social media to see what they’re up to as many are also doing their own thing alongside offering tuition and a window into their creative process.

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

Creating, collaborating and connecting through online performances can offer new ways for musicians to develop their careers. This can be through live streaming or pre-recorded concerts, perhaps offering a Q&A option to connect with the audience, online lessons and courses, etc.

Musicians now have a potentially unlimited audience and can play with, participate with and learn from musicians online in ways that were far less available pre-lockdown. The world has become much better connected and musicians, venues and organisations are supporting one another as they share common experiences. There is an opportunity for us all to find out how we can take part.

Have you been working on any new material recently?

I’m always trying to become more fluent through practicing, as a player, composer and educator. I’ve developed some great new resources for private students, which has been fun.

I’ve been working on music for a new trio with Will Harris and Andrew Bain alongside plans for my regular quintet with Rebecca Nash, Nick Dover, Jules Jackson and Mark Whitlam.

What are your post-lockdown plans?

I’m planning an exciting collaboration with my quintet and Chris Lucas, a local videographer/artist involving recording a suite of new music with live video, images and animation for 2021 release. I’m also looking forward to playing Greg Cordez’s new music from his upcoming album recorded with a band of stellar US musicians.

The Sara Colman Band (sextet + string quartet) will be releasing music celebrating Joni Mitchell, which was recorded at Real World Studios pre-lockdown. It sounds incredible and live-streamed performances are currently being planned. It will be wonderful to be on stage again amongst those sounds . . .

Our next ‘Catching Up With…’ will be posted on 7th October. Follow the series on our social media: Facebook and Twitter.

And sign up to our mailing list to get our latest Jazz South news and opportunities direct to you inbox.

Catching Up With… Pete Cunningham

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.

And sign up to our mailing list to get our latest Jazz South news and opportunities direct to you inbox.

Catching Up With… Florence Anna Maunders

Florence Anna Maunders, composer and musician based in Berkshire.

Sophie Wales catches up with Florence Anna Maunders, composer and musician based in Berkshire.

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? 

I’m not sure for certain when I first encountered jazz, but I have some great memories as a kid of being taken to endless trad nights in village pubs across Norfolk, where I’d abandon my mother and take my coke to sit right up the front so I could see every note the clarinet player was playing. I’d talk to the musicians in the intervals or between songs, who were all fairly old guys and they must have been amazed that this kid was talking to them about Sidney Bechet and Acker Bilk.

Then I started to badger my parents for a tenor sax so I could join a “proper big band” – they got me one after years of borrowing an enormous (for a kid) baritone from the county music service. I still have a soft spot for Arty Shaw and Benny Goodman and all those great trad players.

Name a track you wish you’d written.

Oh gosh, there’s so many! I think that’s my default response to hearing a tune that I love – to wish I’d written it. If I had to pick just one though, it’d probably have to be either a blues standard like ‘Black Coffee’ (imagine how cool it’d be to have your chart in every Real Book) or something timeless and amazing like the Weather Report’s ‘Nubian Sundance’ or Herbie Hancock, ‘Butterfly’.

Who have you been listening to recently?

Nubya Garcia finally released an album last month which is (unsurprisingly) totally incredible – not just her playing, but the percussion has this beautiful kinda afro-cuban flavour which is soooo good. The opening track is this expansive odyssey of sound, it’s about 12 or 13 minutes long and it just keeps getting better and better. Also Sons of Kemet – any of Shabaka Hutching’s projects really are amazing, but the combo of him and Theon Cross on tuba is so sick.

Also a great new album by Lara Jones which is just her on sax through effects pedals and electronics – totally my jam. And I just picked up a compilation album on the Nonclassical label which features some awesomely uncategorised music.

Favourite gig you’ve ever been to and why?

OMG it’d have to be the EP release gig from Northern Contemporary Collective one freezing January night in Leeds. The gig was about 8 hours long, and featured soloists, the wonderful electronic artist Luna Pine, a 24-piece Sun Ra tribute band (complete with the costumes) and huge long extended improvisations from graphic notations and art projected onto a hanging gauze curtain.

The whole thing was in an unheated brick block somewhere on an industrial estate in Leeds. Everyone had a great time, I crashed on a sofa, and made some fantastic friends who are wonderful, beautiful people. Oh also my first gig post-coming out, so an evening to remember!

Any livestream concert recommendations?

I recently watched a stream of a completely improvised session from Cafe Oto with Charles Hayward, Evelyn Glennie and Kuljit Bhamra – a real feast of cross-genre improv. There’s also a complete recording of Frank Zappa’s legendary 1982 Barcelona concert on a certain well known streaming site which should be compulsory viewing for anyone interested in contemporary classical music, jazz, RnB or rock.

Also I’d really strongly recommend trawling through the Montreux Jazz Festival‘s back catalogue – there’s over 50 concerts to stream direct from their site, including the totally surprising festival visit of the Wu Tang Clan. Awesome.

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

I’m really lucky that I’ve been able to continue most of my teaching work online, and now starting back into face-to-face sessions. I think this is an enormously difficult time for performing musicians around the world – the gigs really are all gone at the moment, and online performances are neither attracting large paying audiences or really giving a full live music experience.

My advice is to use this time for practice, for catching up on listening, for trying new materials, and getting awesome sets ready for when music making resumes. This is a great time to build a network so when we’re back out there playing regularly, our friends and fans will be informed about the music and itching to come hear it!

Have you been working on any new material recently?

I’m always working on new material! I’ve just been accepted into a couple of composer schemes, which I can’t say too much about yet, but that’s really encouraging, and I’ve also got a small stack of commissions for various groups around the world to work through.

Then there’s the jazzstep-choose-your-own-adventure online opera project, which is really exciting, and my own ongoing material for (electronically modified) clarinets and electronics – I’m working on some stuff influenced by North African music, especially the voices of women and the LGBTQ+ community there who are extremely marginalised (and in most states criminalised too)

What are your post-lockdown plans?

I don’t know. I have some pretty un-fun mental health issues so planning ahead like that isn’t really my strength, but I do have some things I really hope to do, including a trip to Amsterdam to work with Black Pencil Ensemble (postponed from April 2020) and I’m creating material for a solo (clarinet & electronics) set that I want to tour around UK venues.

There’s also some people and groups I’d love to work with as soon as we can get face-to-face in the same space.

Our next ‘Catching Up With…’ will be posted on 23rd September. Follow the series on our social media: Facebook and Twitter.

And sign up to our mailing list to get our latest Jazz South news and opportunities direct to you inbox.

Catching Up With… Mermaid Chunky

Freya Tate and Moina Leahy Walker of Mermaid Chunky.

Sophie Wales catches up with Freya Tate and Moina Leahy Walker of Mermaid Chunky, based in Stroud, Gloucestershire.

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?

Freya: Probably through listening to Amy Winehouse, as she became famous when I was in my early teens. Then I worked my way backwards to Billie Holiday. Teenagers love cheerful music, don’t they?

Moina: Yes Freya! Riding that cheerful wave of emotion. I was definitely in the same boat though it was Corrine Bailey Rae for me. My first jazz mum. Her sound brings the nostalgia of pop and jazz together in such a wicked way. I feel she taught my 8 year old self a lot about young love and romance. Efficient lessons for the playground. Not that I would act on them, just think about them whilst sitting next to the dinner ladies.

Name a track you wish you’d written.

Moina: So I’ve never thought about this question before but my gut reaction is ‘Boy for Sale’ from the film Oliver Twist. If you don’t know the song then you will absolutely love it. It is constantly whirling around in my head and I often surprise myself breaking into song on a baron high street or at a club night, singing it very loudly in quite an amazing operatic way. Doing this does affect your chances if you’re looking to pull that night, it can go one of two ways.

Who have you been listening to recently?

Freya: NTS radio is my go to station. I whack on the dance music and do an experimental work out in my bedroom. Other than that, I’ve been listening to classical music including Bach, Ravel, Beethoven, or watching YouTube videos of the pianist Valentina Lisitsa on repeat (probably crying).

Moina: I really love this about Freya, there is a kind of warming feeling I get from her constant and committed relationship to Bach. It fills me with joy and makes me feel calm whenever I witness or hear about it, especially over lockdown.

So over the past months, I have been really into the jazz heavy soundtrack of the film ‘Queen and Slim’. It is such a masterpiece, a massive 5 stars from me. I have also become a big fan of pop chart music videos on YouTube. Like many people, I’m really needing the lift and energy that pop can give you. Doja Cat is an artist I’m completely obsessed with, she’s got amazing musical and visual prowess. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Kah-Lo and Nadia Rose, favourite track being ‘Life’s a Treat’ from the movie Shaun the Sheep 2, thoroughly recommended.

Favourite gig you’ve ever been to and why?

Freya: My favourite gig has to be seeing Kraftwerk. I remember feeling totally transported. It was a really great example of a complete audio visual experience for me. Making the audience all part of one giant generator, with a big full moon in the background. Very, very good.

Any livestream concert recommendations?

Moina: We’ve been really enjoying doing DJ sets and live performances on Deepbed Radio, which you can find on their listen again page.

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

Freya: I think lockdown has made it very hard for musicians, especially when there are very few avenues to make money now, apart from gigs. Internet radio is really on the way up and there are some really exciting scenes. It’s important to keep working within your power to accept what works and what doesn’t.

Have you been working on any new material recently?

Moina: Ahh yes we have, lots of stuff up our sleeves. We are going over to Margate soon to do a music residency at PRAH, both very excited to strap some new tracks down by the sea. Also our first ever single ‘Gemini Girls‘ is coming out on the 18th of September! And last but not least, we’d like to announce that our debut album ‘VEST’ is launching on the 6th November 2020!

Freya: I’ve also been learning the trumpet.

What are your post-lockdown plans? 

Moina: A Mermaid Chunky real life gig is coming up on the 24th September at MOT Unit 18, South London. It’s going to be intimate as there are only 50 tickets on offer and an amazing line up featuring Phil Mfu and Susumu Mukai (from NAVO /vanishing twin) as well as a bespoke performance from Kenichi Isawa. We are both very excited to climb back into the real world as we really love it a lot.

Our next ‘Catching Up With…’ will be posted on 16th September. Follow the series on our social media: Facebook and Twitter.

And sign up to our mailing list to get our latest Jazz South news and opportunities direct to you inbox.

Catching Up With… Mark Cherrie

Catching Up With… Victoria Klewin

Vocalist and songwriter Victoria Klewin.

Sophie Wales catches up with vocalist and songwriter Victoria Klewin, 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?

It was probably through watching old musicals. Many of the jazz standards from the Great American Songbook were originally from musicals. When I was a kid, sitting me down in front of anything with singing and dancing was a guaranteed way to keep me entertained (but not necessarily quiet!) for a while, so my parents did it quite a lot! My Dad in particular has always exposed me to a wide range of music, both live gigs/concerts, and at home.

I was also lucky enough to live next door to a pub that had a jazz club when I was in my teens. That’s where I started singing jazz properly. The landlord set me up with the house trio when I was about 14, and I was hooked!

Name a track you wish you’d written. 

For the royalties, I’d have to say ‘Yesterday’, The Beatles! But for the artistry and lyrics, ‘Buckets of Rain’ by Bob Dylan; Erroll Garner’s ‘Misty’ for the beautifully constructed melody and harmony. Ooops, sorry that’s three!

Who have you been listening to recently?

I was listening to music pretty much constantly during lockdown, revisiting old favourites, and finding new ones. I’m into a lot of different genres really, but jazz-wise I am utterly in love with American singer, Veronica Swift. She is just phenomenal! Her tone and feel is just so authentic, she’s really got jazz in her bones and sings with wonderful humour and conviction. I couldn’t believe it when I found out she was contemporary.

I also love Laura Mvula, Melody Gardot, and Lianne La Havas – as a songwriter I find these three particularly inspiring to listen to and I love the production and orchestration of their records. I am always cycling back through the discographies of the jazz greats too, there’s always something new to find. Artists like Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Nancy Wilson, Blossom Dearie, Mel Torme, Nat King Cole and Sarah Vaughan are pretty constant companions!

Favourite gig you’ve ever been to and why?

So not jazz, but I saw IDLES at a festival while on tour in the Netherlands. Such a powerful live band, with important things to say… and they’re Bristol boys too! Also, Lake Street Dive who are an American band with great songs, vocal harmonies and a lead singer (Rachel Price) has the most insane voice and technical ability.

Any livestream concert recommendations?

Jon Cleary has been doing a sterling job with his Quarantini Happy Hour gigs and live piano lessons. I love him so much. I’ve also really enjoyed the live streams from Ronnie Scott’s. It wasn’t live, but I did an online session for Brecon Jazz Festival. They did a great job of adjusting to the situation and putting the whole festival online. I did a set of tunes from my Blossom Dearie project with Denny Ilett on guitar and Chris Jones on bass. Do check it out and support Brecon Jazz as they do an amazing job for jazz in the UK.

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

Oh God. I really don’t feel I’m in a position to advise anyone about anything! It’s been so so tough for all of us. I’ve got through it by trying to focus on the positives and work with what I do have rather than pining over what I don’t. I’ve been relatively time-rich because of having no work, so I’ve tried to utilise that time to learn new things and invest in my technique and promotional materials.

Don’t give up hope. As hopeless as it may feel and as much as the music and arts industry is suffering, music itself and art will always survive. People value the arts. Music brings immediate joy, solace and distraction to people, and that’s vital, especially now. You do matter!

I’d also say, as we emerge from this crisis, be even more wary of people offering sub-standard fees and trying to take advantage of your work. Just because you haven’t gigged for ages, don’t accept ridiculous fees, because you are doing yourself and other musicians a disservice and perpetuating the problem. We need to stand together. This may even be the perfect opportunity to collectively reset our standards in that sense…

Have you been working on any new material recently?

Yes! I’ve been in the studio working on some of my unreleased originals which I am hoping to continue with and release, as soon as finances allow. There is years worth of material waiting to see the light of day! My last release was in 2016, so I’ve developed a lot since then and really focused in stylistically on jazz.

What are your post-lockdown plans?

Just to get myself back on my feet really. I need to find somewhere to live, get the diary filled up, and SING; I certainly won’t take a full diary for granted ever again. I also need to record and release a new album of my own. I’ve spent much of the last few years touring as a session musician and writing for other artists, so now it’s time for my own work…it’s long overdue.

Our next ‘Catching Up With…’ will be posted on 2nd September. Follow the series on our social media: Facebook and Twitter.

And sign up to our mailing list to get our latest Jazz South news and opportunities direct to you inbox.

Sign me up to the mailing list

  • Please fill in your contact details.
    UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHAMPTON (TURNER SIMS) PRIVACY NOTICE Jazz South is a jazz development programme servicing the south of England (excluding London), led and hosted by Turner Sims, nationally renowned concert hall and live music-producing organisation. The three-year programme is funded by the Arts Council’s Ambition for Excellence scheme. Turner Sims is also an Arts Council Funded NPO (National Portfolio Organisation), and part of the University of Southampton. View Turner Sims Privacy Notice and the University of Southampton’s Data Protection Policy https://www.turnersims.co.uk/privacy-notice/
  • Optional questions

  • The following three questions are optional. You can complete them or head straight to the end to submit the form. This information helps Jazz South gain an idea of its community of interest, so that we can report back to our funders and tailor our programmes. Any information shared will be anonymous and in-line with our privacy policy.
BACK TO TOP