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Catching Up With… Andy Williamson

Andy Williamson profile image

Jamie Harber catches up with promoter and Arts Director at Ashburton Arts Centre in Devon, Andy Williamson.

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

How did you begin your career as a jazz promoter and what do you love the most about your job?

I became a jazz promoter by accident – I’m really a musician (saxophonist, singer and MD). This happened towards the end of 2010 when my old friend Sue Edwards called. She’d recently started managing a new trio called Phronesis, and I’d recently moved to Ashburton in Devon. She was planning a South West tour for the band and had a couple free dates in Feb 2011. She asked if I knew any venues in the area. I’d heard that St Lawrence Chapel in Ashburton contained a decent piano, so I looked into it, discovered it could hold 100 people, and indeed there is a Yamaha baby grand there (it’s the area’s ABRSM exam venue). There was a lovely feel to the >700 year old place, and I decided to hire it and put the band on there.

A couple weeks later, their album won the ‘Best (Jazz) Album 2010’ awards in Jazzwise and Mojo magazines, and they started getting a lot of press coverage (a lot for jazz anyway!). Some combination of the award being all over the poster I made, plus the novelty of such a thing happening in this sleepy town made it a sell out. The record label, Edition, advertised the tour extensively in various national press, so I started getting approaches from other touring bands from London and around the country asking if they could come and play, so ‘Ashburton Live’ was born as an irregular series.

There were a few more gigs each year until by 2018 there were 39! That year was also when I helped launch Ashburton Arts Centre in the town’s old Methodist Church. We bought this amazing building at auction in 2017 with money donated and loaned by people in town (but that’s another story!). Since then we’ve had over 200 gigs and other events, including some of the best music in the world – jazz, folk, classical and all sorts of stuff, from touring and local professionals, and community groups and amateurs of all ages who live around here.

It’s easy to fill a venue for an artist who’s a household name, and those gigs can be wonderful. What I really love is seeing a room full of people watching a performance by people that they’ve probably never heard of before, and loving it. Being part of that atmosphere where the whole audience is completely fascinated and absorbed in what is happening in front of them, and knowing that I enabled it to happen is an amazing feeling. Often the hardest part of the complex equation that gets you to that point is working out how to persuade people to buy tickets and come out to be present at a gig, when there are so many competing attractions. I love it when I feel like I’ve worked out a way to crack that! Sometimes it’s made easier by an artist providing great images or reviews; others I need to find the right way to prompt people to give something a try. Unfortunately, I often don’t manage it, and we have an amazing performance to a small audience. That always feels like a failure, but the buzz when it all works is just great.

Is it a career? I don’t think so, at least not yet, but if it is, it all started when I discovered Darlington Arts Centre as a teenager, and saw the Contemporary Music Tours of the 1980s there, and people like Doctor John (even though I had no idea who I was watching at the time!). Something about that made me want to put on gigs, and I’ve been doing that ever since.

Who have you been listening to recently?

The AKU Trio from Glasgow (where I was born) jumped out at me the other day. I listened to the band’s new album, Blind Fury on Bandcamp and loved it. Then today the Tom Ollendorff Trio has been keeping me company in the form of a preview of a great album due out this year. Others that have been caressing my eardrums lately have been Billie Bottle and the Multiple, Jonathan Gee, Hugh Nankivell and there’s a superb young trio from Ashburton that goes by the name of This Ain’t Jazz who mix jazz and hip hop influences in a great way.

How has the promotions industry changed for you this year?

Well, I’ve seen a lot more of my wife and daughter! My version of the ‘promotions industry’ is to try and make good things happen in this community arts centre where I run the programme. In the last couple of years a lot of that has been putting on great musicians from wherever who might be passing our way.

Since the first lockdown eased in September, but still in a way where there was no way to make plans further ahead than a few days or weeks, I’ve found I’ve been trying harder to put on gigs by musicians who are based around here in South Devon – and there are loads! So if it all gets cancelled again, it’s not such a big deal for everyone, risking money booking transport or accommodation, or publicising a big tour. We’ve had some superb nights out of that. I hope we can do more as soon as possible.

Another thing that’s changed has been sorting out live streaming of events. This started without an audience with Sam Walker, the Haldon quartet and a new monthly poetry night. Discovering that with my Zoom H4N, my laptop and the Arts Centre’s WIFI, we could do a half-decent job of this was a revelation, and it’s clear that getting even better at doing this especially when a live audience is also there is going to have to become a permanent fixture. The camera couldn’t really cope when Nigel Price brought his quartet in November, with Vasilis Xenopoulos but a shimmer of light in the middle of the stage. But capturing the moment when Craig Milverton joined the band to trade solos on two Hammond organs (we have one!) with Ross Stanley (who brought his own) was all worth it.

Moving forward, what advice do you have for fellow promoters adjusting to the new normal?

I don’t really feel qualified to be giving out ‘advice’ to promoters, and I don’t think anyone knows quite what the ‘new normal’ is going to be just yet. I think that it’ll involve a lot of live streaming alongside live gigs, now that so many of us have worked out how to do that – though as soon as we get to where people feel relaxed about being in the company of strangers indoors, and we can get live audiences back, I think there’s going to be a clamouring for people to be in the same room as the performers – at least I hope so!

What’s your favourite venue in the South and why?

When I lived in Bristol, I sang with the Exultate Singers who did regular concerts in St James’s Priory, a medieval chapel in the shadow of the bus station there – that’s a special place.

What’s your favourite gig that you’ve promoted?

That’s really hard! I’m going to cheat with two. Last year a highlight of our Tinners Moon Festival was a percussion concert, by the Arx Duo from Seattle. The star of the show was the ‘Harmonic Canon’, two long bells joined together back to back, and mounted on a frame so that they could revolve when being ‘played’. This huge thing (which weighs a ton – literally) was designed by Marcus Vergette, a fine South West bass player and sculptor. You can see it ending the show, and hear it if you listen carefully here.

And then in March 2018, before we were really up and running properly at Ashburton Arts Centre, I saw a plea on Facebook on Monday for a French band whose gig in Brighton had been cancelled on Wednesday, and could anyone help. The logistics seemed to work, so I offered to put them on and we managed to scrape together an audience of about 25 people, and we were treated to a beautiful night. We hadn’t yet managed to acquire the lovely old Bluthner piano we have now, but had just been given an upright piano that was more or less in tune. My wife, who’s not always a big jazz fan was there and wrote an ecstatic review of what we witnessed. The last ten minutes are here.

Any livestream concert recommendations?

When we did our first live stream I noticed that the fact that it was coming from a ‘proper’ venue was a big improvement over many of the live streams I’d seen musicians doing from home. It seemed to be a combination of the ambience of the venue, and the effect this had on the performers. Though I’m sure that over the last six months musicians have got better at putting on a great show online, wherever they are.

Towards the end of 2020, I watched several gigs that had been live streamed from Ronnie Scott’s – the quality of the sound and video there – and of course the music – was exceptional. A genius musician who’s definitely mastered it is Adrian Cox. He’s an extraordinary clarinettist and has brought his magic to Ashburton Arts Centre every year since we opened. He’s been doing a weekly ‘Sunday Service’ which I’d highly recommend.

As a promoter, what would you like audiences to embrace?

Haha! I can only imagine it’s the same for everyone: I want the audience to believe me when I say “this is going to be great – please come!”

I genuinely try to be as truthful as possible when publicising concerts – if it’s something in the more esoteric realms of contemporary music, then I’ll say so. If I say “this is the sort of jazz that even people who ‘don’t like jazz’ will love”, then they almost certainly will! Take a chance – bring your wife/boyfriend/parent/next-door neighbour, and they’ll be really glad they came. I’ve lost count of the number of times someone in the audience has said to me, “why isn’t this place packed? This is so good!”

Have a little faith and try something you’ve never heard of. Going out to see live music is a bit like doing exercise. You can always think of reasons not to do it, but once you do, you very rarely ever regret it! Yes it’s the music, but it’s also the unpredictable things that happen – the chat in the interval that leads to a new project,  the time you have just to open your mind to the music, and to whatever else might slip in when you least expect it.

You can follow Andy Williamson on Twitter at @bigbuzzard and follow Ashburton Arts Centre at @ashburtonarts

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Catching Up With… Rowan Porteous

Trumpeter and composer Rowan Porteous

Sophie Wales catches up with trumpeter and composer Rowan Porteous. 

We’ve been checking-in with artists 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?

Not long after I started learning trumpet, when I was about 8, my dad got me a cassette of Louis Armstrong. After that I kept asking him for more cassettes and I think I was on Miles and Dizzy within a few weeks. Bitches Brew had a huge impact on me. I was also lucky that he took me to quite a few gigs as well, including Arturo Sandoval, Roy Ayers and Mike Gibbs at Grimsby Jazz Festival, which was a real formative experience.

Name a track you wish you’d written.

The tune from the Fererro Rocher ad, because it instantly stamps itself on your brain whether you like it or not, and thrillingly, it has no beginning and no end.

Also, ‘From the Green Hill’ by Thomasz Stanko. That doesn’t begin or end either.

Also, ‘Winter Memories’ by Billie Bottle and the Multiple.

Who have you been listening to recently?

I enjoyed Randolph Matthews piece on Jazz South Radar Sessions. I’ve also been having a bit of a techno resurgence. Jazz and techno are linked for me, and I really love people like Jeff Mills. Lately I’ve been getting into Nina Kraviz and Paul Kalkbrenner. It’s incredibly powerful music.

I’m also into Soul stuff like Robert Glasper and Hiatus Kaiyote. Van Morrison has had a huge effect on me and I think he’s influenced the way I play trumpet. I’ve also been listening to my friend Marco Piccioni’s album ‘Far’, which is different music again.

Favourite gig you’ve ever been to and why?

Without a shadow of a doubt, Wayne Shorter and his quartet in London in about 2007. I was so inspired by his approach and his whole attitude on stage that I started getting into Nichiren Buddhism, which he practices, and I’ve been practicing ever since.

He just radiated this total honesty, openness, and courage, and that came across in the music. He put out a book of dialogues with Herbie Hancock and Buddhist teacher Daisaku Ikeda, which is an amazing introduction to both jazz and Buddhism.

Any livestream concert recommendations?

Randolph Matthews on Jazz South.

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

Don’t! There isn’t! It’s like asking the trees or the air how they’re going to adjust. We shouldn’t adjust to any current situation at all. The situation should adjust to us. Nietzsche observed that “without music, life would be a mistake.” Nobody wants to be miserable, so society must organise itself in a way that supports music.

As musicians, we just have to determine to keep going no matter what. We also need to make sure, first and foremost, that we truly value the work we are doing. If we can truly value it and see its crucial importance, then we can become part of a change towards a society that supports it, and do whatever is necessary for that goal. My Buddhist practice helps me to keep on seeing it like this.

Have you been working on any new material recently?

Yes, including this new one ‘Home‘ Billie Bottle on keys and vocals and me on trumpet.

After a long period of either being a gigging musician or working in nature conservation and education, or just being depressed, I suddenly found that I had original music to write a couple of years ago. This culminated in my band ‘The Other Way’ which would have had its first proper gig in March this year. I’ve now written two albums for this project, plus a lot of other songs that don’t exactly fit into an album. I’m determined that at least one of the albums will be completed in 2021!

Since the lockdown, I’ve been working on music I can do on my own with a small electronic setup, as well as writing new material and collaborating remotely. I’m lucky that my uncle Martin Pavey is a brilliant producer, so he’s helping me with that.

All this music is a response to the ecological crisis, with a kind of groping towards a new spirituality. I call it ‘Dystopian Soul’.

I often work with multi-instrumentalist and singer Billie Bottle, who puts a different spin on things and has been an inspiration since we met on tour with the circus last year. We also work with great drummer Emma Holbrook. However, due to the complications of the “current situation” I’ve just done a livestream with a totally new lineup, featuring Zora Dryadic on vocals, Tim Funnel on keys, Pasquale Votino on bass and Andy Meredith on drums. I was excited to do this and to be able to get these great musicians together.

What are your post-lockdown plans?

Gigs and hugs! The point of being a musician is to play gigs, and get hugs. There are various ideas floating about as to how to make gigs happen, including playing on the roof of my boat. The hugs will come after the gigs. Or before, I don’t mind.

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Catching Up With… Kate Gamm

Kate Gamm, music progammer at Calstock Arts and presenter on Phonic FM, Exeter's Sound Alternative.

Sophie Wales catches up with Kate Gamm, music progammer at Calstock Arts and presenter on Phonic FM, Exeter’s Sound Alternative.

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

How did you begin your career as a jazz promoter and what do you love the most about your job?

When I moved to Calstock ten years ago, a converted methodist chapel in the village became available as a venue to promote gigs. One thing led to another and before I knew it, Calstock Arts was formed and I booked Empirical to play here.

This led to a group of us setting up the Calstock Jazz and Blues Festival, which hosted Matthew Halsall, Femi Temowo and Polar Bear amongst others. That’s one of the most enjoyable things about what I do – approaching musicians that seem out of our reach – and then having the satisfaction of seeing them on our stage.

Who have you been listening to recently?

A range of jazz (and other genres) to include in my radio show on Exeter Phonic FM. Michael Kiwanuka has shone since winning this year’s Mercury Prize. I’m also enjoying Nubya Garcia’s new album. She too is having a moment, which is lovely to see since we had Nerija play at Calstock Arts early on in their career.

How has the promotions industry changed for you this year?

It’s been a time of reflection for me, particularly after ten years. It has been strange to adjust to having a lot of approaches made to me, to very few. And of course livestreaming has taken off very quickly and we are now investing in this at Calstock Arts. So a new musical landscape awaits and with it some new challenges.

Moving forward, what advice do you have for fellow promoters adjusting to the new normal?

Don’t be afraid to ask for performers who may have previously seemed out of reach. This is also the time to support emerging performers, especially as I sense that funding streams will favour them once live touring is feasible again.

What’s your favourite venue in the South and why?

It has to be said that Calstock Arts takes some beating – it’s large picture window beyond the stage, overlooking the Tamar Valley, is well known amongst jazz musicians.

I also like the intimacy of the North Devon Jazz Club, housed in The Beaver Inn at Appledore. Their Monday night jazz gigs attract some great performers for such a small venue, thanks to the commitment of their promoter, Peter Hames.

What’s your favourite gig that you’ve promoted?

That would have to be The Printmakers, who have appeared twice with us. Norma Winstone has been my favorite singer for a long time. I just couldn’t believe that I was seeing her on our stage. And they are an outstanding band.

Any livestream concert recommendations?

I’ve really enjoyed the regular gigs from Ronnie’s, especially Liane Carroll. Maybe this isn’t quite jazz, but Anoushka Shankar and Manu Delago’s BBC Proms gig at the Royal Albert Hall back in September was a delight. And a hidden gem was the interview between John Etheridge and Laurie Taylor at The Vortex as part of this year’s London Jazz Festival.

As a promoter, what would you like audiences to embrace?

Embrace the music venue you currently support, particularly if it’s in a rural area. And think about volunteering there too.

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

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Catching Up With… Julie Sheppard

Julie Sheppard, independent promoter and Director of Jazz Jurassica festival based in Lyme Regis.

Sophie Wales catches up with Julie Sheppard, independent promoter and Director of Jazz Jurassica festival based in Lyme Regis.

How did you begin your career as a jazz promoter and what do you love the most about your job?

I started running Lyme Regis Jazz & Blues festival five years ago when it had run out of gas – dwindling audiences, a tired programme and mounting debts.

I’m not a musician, or a venue owner but an unpaid volunteer, so taking on the festival was a huge personal commitment….and challenge. I’d never worked in the music sector or even organised a festival before. I could see the problems but also enormous potential – what could possibly go wrong?

With the benefit of ignorance, I decided to broaden the music on offer and change the name to Jazz Jurassica. I wanted to attract jazz fans, of course, but also those who wouldn’t normally go anywhere near a “jazz” festival.

Overnight we went from trad jazz, marching bands and umbrella parades to a spicy gumbo of acid jazz, blues, soul, latin and funk. Plus, a new free festival along the seafront showcasing emerging young talent. For some festival-goers it was a shock too far and they never returned, but thankfully new audiences came to replace them.

It’s been really satisfying turning it around. And we now make a small operating surplus, without any external funding support.

My mission is to attract new, different audiences, bringing together, say, fans of hip hop and Miles Davis, into one musical community #onenationunderagroove. For me, nothing beats the adrenaline rush of standing in a packed house pulsating with excitement as some cracking performers give it their all on stage, and thinking “I’ve made this happen”.

Who have you been listening to recently?

I’ve retreated into my comfort listening zone in lockdown delving back into Weather Report, Miles Davis, George Duke and Jill Scott. Also, listening to lots of original Stax recordings as I’ve been reading Stuart Cosgrove’s trilogy on soul.

How has the promotions industry changed for you this year?

We had to cancel this year’s festival in May and a subsequent series of monthly jazz gigs.

Not being able to plan ahead has been the biggest frustration. If you cancel an annual event you don’t get another bite of the cherry for 12 months. And you need a 6 month lead in to promote the programme and put tickets on sale. I can’t really do that with any confidence in the current climate as who knows where we’ll be in May. It’s a waiting game.

It also means that all the 2021 slots are already full as they were automatically offered to this year’s cancelled performers. It means more disappointment for the next crop of hopefuls as the submissions for 2021 keep rolling in – awful for them.

Moving forward, what advice do you have for fellow promoters adjusting to the new normal?

I refunded this year’s ticket holders in full rather than carry over tickets to next year. It’s given us the flexibility to remodel the festival should we find ourselves in different operating conditions. So, keeping nimble, not locked into fixed ways of doing things, will be key in future.

I’ve decided not to go down the virtual route as it requires significant investment to achieve the production values to make events really compelling. I also detect some digital fatigue setting in. For us, it’s either live or bust next year. I may live to regret this stance!

What’s your favourite venue in the South and why?

I love Marine Theatre here in Lyme Regis. It’s an iconic 1930s building right on the seafront. It’s intimate with good acoustics and seems to bring out the best in artists and audiences alike. The dressing rooms have the best views in the country – overlooking the sea – stunning. We’ve had some great nights there!

What’s your favourite gig that you’ve promoted?

Oh, that’s a tough one! Can I nominate several, for different reasons?

Chris Barber – an absolute legend and totally charming. I was somewhat awestruck to meet him in person.

James Taylor Quartet – an explosive gig, with me behaving badly, dancing on a seat at the front of the auditorium – got my knuckles rapped for that!

Powerhouse Gospel Choir – a packed house of normally reserved individuals, on their feet, waving their hands in the air, singing their heads off, in an extraordinary outburst of exuberance. I stood at the back of the auditorium and thought “what on earth are they on”?

Any livestream concert recommendations? 

I’ve dipped in and out of livestreams  – sometimes for pure pleasure, other times scouting for new talent (not mutually exclusive!). The streams from Ronnie’s have been uniformly good and I really enjoyed London Jazz Festival. One unexpected bonus is binge-watching TV and films – everything from the recent BBC series such as Soul America, through Jazz 625 to films on Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald and Miles Davis.

As a promoter, what would you like audiences to embrace?

I’d like them to embrace an attitude rather than a particular slew of artists or genre. Sometimes you need to switch the brain off and just listen, without preconceptions. So many times, people who’ve been prepared to do that have said “oh, I didn’t think I’d like that, but I do”. Yes, music should surprise and excite you.

Our next ‘Catching Up With…’ will be posted on 9th December. Follow the series on our social media: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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Catching Up With… David Mowat

David Mowat and harpist Emmy Broughton

Sophie Wales catches up with David Mowat, composer, musician, Chai For All and BEJE band leader, and promoter. 

We’ve been checking-in with promoters 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?

‘Fuzz’ Townsend, a Latin teacher at Sevenoaks School taught me the blues and chemistry teacher ‘Willie B’ Bleyberg taught me Thelonius Monk tunes and took me to see Eddie Thompson at Colchester Jazz Club in about 1972. My big brother’s generation then were into Miles’s ‘Bitches Brew’ album.

Name a track you wish you’d written.

‘Blue in Green’. The chord sequence mood and circular feel perfectly fit my intuitive, eyes-closed approach to trumpet playing and my inner melancholia, a place I’m at home in. It’s like I’m inside Miles in a timeless way (on a good night).

How did you begin your career as a jazz promoter and what do you love the most about it?

‘Career’ is a big word. I began it through loosing confidence as a small-band leader following a marital break up and three years of development work with hill farmers in Nepal when I didn’t touch my horn much; it was easier to be a facilitator than a front-line player.

First in 1999 I co-founded the East Bristol Jazz Club. Out of this came King Cotton, a massive jazz and blues community big band project which featured in its heyday (a sell-out ‘Bristol Beacon’ gig formerly known as Colston Hall) Dennis Rollins, Alphonse Touna (Helele), Ben Baddoo (Baraka) and harpist Johnny Mars. Since 2009 I’ve promoted gigs at Saint Stephen’s Church (40+ a year), the highlight being a freeform jazz festival called ‘Gateway To Another Dimension’ headlined by Stephen Grew, Trevor Watts, Maggie Nichols and Keith Tippett in 2017.

More recently I’ve been putting on gigs in Bristol care settings during lockdown. I love bringing diverse people together and raising consciousness, for instance the way spirituality experienced in music transcends religious boundaries.

Who have you been listening to recently?

I’m working with kora player Moussa Kouyate again this year after a break and have his music in my head, as I work out an improvised jazz approach. And this year I met Mohamed Errebbaa, a Gnawa Master gimbre player and singer from Morocco whose music is uplifting and inspiring.

Moving forward, what advice do you have for fellow promoters and musicians adjusting to the new normal?

See your work as one of service, not as a commercial proposition. I was lucky to get the various grants on offer, the emergency ACE grant, the self-employed scheme and Help Musicians monies and have this feeling that the state indirectly is recognising the value of my role. So I don’t stress (at the moment) about earning little, but do what you can to keep the show on the road.

Obviously within that statement I recognise my privilege. I can afford to take that line and plenty of promoters, let alone musicians, cannot. I strive to find the opportunity in the crisis rather than waste energy on lamentation. Right now I’m putting on single-musician gigs in a care home car park because the rules allow for this. It’s what you can do that counts, not what you can’t do.

What’s your favourite venue in the South and why?

Taunton CICCIC because Richard and Andrew are dedicated and flexible, understanding the nexus of live music, visual arts, a big bar and good lighting. Plus there’s a great curry house round the corner to feed the band after the sound check. My band BEJE has had several great gigs there, notably with Yunmi Kang and Sangyeon Park in 2019.

What’s your favourite gig that you’ve promoted?

There’ve been so many! Perhaps the African Roots of Jazz night with poet Edson Burton and Dennis Rollins’s Griots to Garage show at Seymours Family Club c 2002.

Any livestream concert recommendations? 

To be absolutely honest I haven’t listened to livestreamed concerts other than listen back (critically) to those I’ve been involved in. A wonderful new collaborator, Emmy Broughton and I did a perhaps rather niche story-telling gig with which ends with a tribute to my mentor Keith Tippett here. More accessible is the Bristol Refugee Festival Moussa Kouyate gig: Celebrating Sanctuary at Home : Moussa Kouyate and his band.

As a promoter, what would you like audiences to embrace?

To discover something new, to transcend what you think you know, or you like, and fall in love with everyone there and not there. The performers are only ever a means to this deeper reality. Well you did say ’embrace’.

Have you been working on any new material recently?

Yes, constantly. I’m always trying (and failing) to master 19th century etudes in my trumpet practice. In my project with Moussa Kouyate we’re trying something difficult, a fusion between the Coltrane-ish jazz ecstacy that BEJE (Bristol European Jazz Ensemble) has sometimes touched on, and the sweet vibe of the Malian kora.

This year I’ve explored spoken word, beat poetry you might say, and I hope to write something about Moussa now, a griot in Bristol this last twenty years. It’s early days in this November lockdown, but as we’re a pro band, we’re allowed to rehearse and are working on it.

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

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Catching Up With… Philip Clouts

Philip Clouts, promoter, jazz pianist and composer, based in Dorset. 

Sophie Wales catches up with Philip Clouts, promoter, jazz pianist and composer, based in Dorset. 

In this new series, we’ll be checking-in with promoters 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?

On the record player when I was a child my parents had Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra and some South African jazz records. When I was a teenager I saw a TV programme with Stan Tracey improvising at the piano in his spiky, very physical style and that set me on the jazz path as a musician.

Name a track you wish you’d written.

Again thinking of pieces I discovered as a teenager ‘Andromeda’ by Chris McGregor, with its interlocking riffs and horn lines; and ‘The Windup’ by Keith Jarrett for its exuberance and propulsive energy.

How did you begin your career as a jazz promoter and what do you love the most about it?

I think there’s a long back story which paved the way. I spent many years playing in a six-piece worldbeat jazz band called ‘Zubop’, and we did a lot of touring. I did most of the administration and bookings and found out early on that pretty much everyone involved in jazz is there out of love for the music, and it is in everyone’s best interests to make every performance a success for the audience, the band and the promoter.

During that time we also met a few people who had moved from being musicians to promoters (‘poacher turned gamekeeper’ as one of them put it) which made it seem possible, though it was only much later that I thought of doing it myself. Interestingly one of those promoters was at Bridport Arts Centre where Zubop was playing a concert, long before I moved to the South West myself.

I think being a musician really informs how I communicate with the bands that I put on as a promoter, and I’d like to think that my performing experience helps me anticipate what they will need and want to make for a good evening.

A few years back I had an opportunity to start a small scale ‘jazz café’ series in the café space of Bridport Arts Centre. Later I was able to start a similar one at another local venue, the Marine Theatre in Lyme Regis. The Bridport ones are now in the main theatre space, and in Lyme I’ve sometimes put on larger events as well. I love being able to offer a space for a wide variety of music to happen, and the personal bonus is that I get to hear all of these performances myself!

Who have you been listening to recently?

There are a couple of Latin American pieces I have particularly enjoyed, having heard versions performed by vocalist Tatiana Parra: ‘Milonga Gris’ and ‘Choro Meu’. They are both real gems that pack a lot of beauty and complexity into a short space of time.

Moving forward, what advice do you have for fellow promoters and musicians adjusting to the new normal?

I am lucky in that we were able to put on live music at Bridport Arts Centre in October to a socially distanced audience. Of course our November event has had to be re-scheduled due to the current lockdown, but hopefully the December one will be able to go ahead.

I’m afraid that generally there’s no easy answer and we are facing very tough times for all of us. However I see a lot of adaptability, and venues and musicians doing everything possible to get the music out there.

What’s your favourite venue in the South and why?

I have fond memories of the times I have played at the St Ives Jazz Club. They have a nice grand piano, and it really felt to me like a more intimate version of Ronnie Scotts. And Ilminster Arts Centre, again with a great piano and also very special acoustics in their church space.

What’s your favourite gig that you’ve promoted?

There are many musical highlights; what comes to mind now is an ‘against all odds’ appearance when vocalist Rosalie Genay and pianist Rebecca Nash were touring their arrangements of Leonard Cohen songs a few years back.

They were booked to play on Valentines night, so all good, except it turned out to be the night of the biggest storm to hit the South West that year! They were travelling down from London, and incredibly managed to make it, despite road closures and fallen trees, giving a great performance to a very appreciative audience.

Any livestream concert recommendations? 

I’ve been enjoying Liam Noble’s live streams on Saturday afternoons from the piano at his home-a great variety of material, beautifully played.

As a promoter, what would you like audiences to embrace?

I think it’s become clear that there is a great appetite for music, and I think audiences are currently seeking it out wherever and however they can. Generally as a promoter I think one is often doing a dance which includes one’s own personal passions as a listener and also what time and experience shows audiences respond to the best. Luckily there is always a sweet spot in the centre of that notional Venn diagram, and room for excursions into the other areas as well.

Have you been working on any new material recently?

Yes, I have written what you could probably consider a ‘lockdown’ piece, with a lyrical, meditative quality to it-at the moment I’m playing it as a solo piano piece. I’ve also done a composition which uses ideas from twelve tone music, which I am arranging for my quartet.

The Philip Clouts Quartet performed at London Jazz Festival on the 15th November. If you missed the performance, you can watch it here.

On Thursday 19 November at 8.15pm Philip will be taking part in a live stream presented by the Sound Cellar, Poole. This is part of their current online series “In Our Own Space – Music and Conversation direct to your ‘own space’ via Zoom.”

Philip will be playing a set of his jazz compositions at the piano (including a new meditative piece written during the past few months) followed by  a Q&A session where the floor is open to the online audience. More information and tickets can be found here.

Our next ‘Catching Up With…’ will be posted on 25th November. Follow the series on our social media: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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Catching Up With… Marianne Windham

Marianne Windham, bass player, teacher and jazz promoter based in Guilford.

Sophie Wales catches up with Marianne Windham, bass player, teacher and jazz promoter based in Guilford. She is also the Chair of Guildford Jazz, and a co-founder and resident bass player at Fleet Jazz Club.

In this new series, we’ll be checking-in with promoters throughout the South to see how their lockdown experience has been, and how they’ve been adjusting to the new normal.

How did you begin your career as a jazz promoter and what do you love the most about your job?

I had a previous life, formerly as a software engineer, then eventually as director of software consultancy, which I left 10 years ago. I’d started playing the double bass 4 years earlier, after going slightly-by-accident to a jazz weekend workshop, and a few years later I quit work so I could spend more time learning how to play and studying jazz.

I got into promoting rather by accident too – I’d just given up my job, and was told that the landlord of a local pub was keen to put on some live jazz, so I popped in to have a chat with him. He was very enthusiastic, and he’d recently had a room refurbished that he was very proud to show me.

I guess it triggered something in me – there was no-one else doing this locally as far as I knew and I thought it would be great fun to try it out, and to learn some new things in the process. It was a bit of a leap in the dark to be honest! Anyway it just grew gradually from there. I really love bringing people together and trying to give everyone a great evening.

Who have you been listening to recently?

I’m listening to Joe Henderson while I’m writing this, in preparation for a live streaming gig with Nic Meier and Greg Heath on Thursday. Keith Jarrett has been on my playlist a lot this week too, and Mingus. And I’m never far away from recordings of Ray Brown…

How has the promotions industry changed for you this year?

Like everyone else in the performing arts world, we hit a brick wall when live performances were cancelled in March – particularly frustrating as it was just days before our inaugural Jazz Festival. After a couple of months of rearranging things, we went online, initially with a Zoom event with Art Themen for our members, then a couple of live streamed gigs at the Boileroom music venue in Guildford (those recordings are online here).

In August we held a couple of outdoor events, first a “’Jazz in the Garden’ gig in collaboration with the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford , then our annual afternoon event on a local village green raising money for a local disabled children’s charity, Challengers (with an amazing audience of over 300 people).

Since then we’ve been back to twice-monthly live indoor gigs in a couple of new venues – running these events has involved a lot more work than normal but it’s been a complete joy to be able to make them happen.

Moving forward, what advice do you have for fellow promoters adjusting to the new normal?

I know a number of clubs have been trying to find ways to adapt for their own circumstances. We’ve been thrilled at our audience’s enthusiasm, and I’ve been determined to try and keep going as much as we can, putting on gigs in venues that able to accommodate us in a safe environment when we’re allowed to have an audience, and looking for ways to move it online when we can’t.

We’ve had enormous support from local venues and companies, as well as from the audience and musicians. It’s been good to talk to other clubs too, and it would be great to keep that conversation with other clubs going.

What’s your favourite venue in the South and why?

Gosh, that’s a hard question! I really enjoy visiting other jazz clubs as an audience member and getting to know other promoters. The Watermill is probably the nearest venue to us and I’m a big fan of Kathryn’s programming there. I also like to go and see our friends at Jazz in Reading when I can.

As a musician it’s been wonderful to visit some of the other venues in the South and South-West like the Concorde Club, Bridport, Chichester, Marlow, Ashcroft…. I’m looking forward to visiting again when we’re all able to reopen!

What’s your favourite gig that you’ve promoted?

It’s hard to choose, there’ve been such a variety of memorable gigs over the last nearly 10 years, at Fleet Jazz which I help to run, as well as Guildford Jazz.

Our first fund-raiser for Challengers in 2014 with Alan Barnes and Bruce Adams was maybe the moment when I felt the club was not only really established in itself, but had the possibilities of a wider reach into the community. It also very much involved my saxophonist friend Cheryl who we have since sadly lost but remains very much part of us in spirit.

Any livestream concert recommendations?

Nic Meier’s weekly online concerts are great and it’s been nice to dip into the Ronnie’s livestream gigs. I guess we’ll be listening to more livestreaming concerts again now but I’m also looking forward to getting back to more practising too.

As a promoter, what would you like audiences to embrace?

I’m gradually trying to widen the envelope of what people listen to, but as a promoter I think it’s my job to try and make sure everyone who comes to our events has a great time and I enjoy programming with all that in mind. I really enjoy going to other clubs and seeing how they run their gigs and to listen to other artists too.

Our next ‘Catching Up With…’ will be posted on 18th November. Follow the series on our social media: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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Catching Up With… Tim Hill

Sophie Wales catches up with Tim Hill. Tim lives in Somerset and makes a lot of noise. He creates music for outdoor shows and celebrations, runs an improvising orchestra and plays baritone sax, sometimes he even plays a few jazz tunes.

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 1976 at seventeen I brought a second-hand copy of Ornette Coleman’s ‘Live in Europe’. I had been reading Amiri Baraka’s ‘Black Music’ and the ideas of 60’s free jazz offered strange liberating ideas to a white seventeen-year-old clergyman’s son.

Coleman’s music was my first encounter with these new sounds and it was at first too much for my innocent ears. But one track, the ballad ‘Sadness’, and the keening sound of Ornette’s alto was compelling and entranced me, opening up a whole new world of sound and possibilities.

Ornette’s sound led me to Albert Ayler, Sun Ra and the extra-ordinary generation of British free jazz and improvised music pioneers like Evan Parker and Derek Bailey.

Name a track you wish you’d written.

How about ‘Brooklyn’ by the Youngblood Brass band, wonderful, in your face, brass writing and riffing with a political edge.

Who have you been listening to recently?

I have been rediscovering Ben Webster, his gorgeous tenor sound and sense of melody and timing. I love the sound and the cry of jazz. The sound of Ornette, Hodges, Dolphy, Harry Carney, David Murray et al.

The intricacies of much modern jazz doesn’t do it for me; I want to be swept away in sound. During lock down I also listened to the sedge warblers out on the Somerset levels, the John Zorn’s of the bird world full of mad leaps and quick changes, noise and melody.

Favourite gig you’ve ever been to and why?

I first saw Sun Ra and his Arkestra at the Venue in 1980; an extra-ordinary cosmic carnival with explosive solos and guided group improvising, chants and dancing, synth storms, free jazz apocalypses blended with classic big band sounds.

We just had to stay to the end and then ran back to Paddington to get our train. The new album from the modern version of the Arkestra lead by Marshall Allen is wonderful too

Any livestream concert recommendations? 

I have been really enjoying the domestic insanity of Czech noise maker Petr Valek and his barmy machines and improvisations with amplified objects.

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

Much of my playing is out of doors, in street bands and making music for outdoor theatre and celebration. The world desperately needs music at the moment and we should be out there playing whenever we can. It’s our role in the world and it’s great to get out there and play for people.

It’s tough of course earning a living and keeping our families safe but we need to lift people spirits. I loved the early days of the ‘Clap for carers’ when we got out there and made a noise with our neighbours before the controversies kicked in.

Have you been working on any new material recently?

I have been working on the Wye Valley River Festival for many years and this year, despite the curtailed live programme, came up with the idea of a band lost in the woods. The band is called the Wodwos, and I wrote some music and arranged some folk tunes for it, the band also features the young drummer Jo Meikle and the wonderful trumpet player Stuart Henderson. We did some ‘long distance’ recording to develop the idea, which is nice but it’s not the same as playing together.

I did a recording session just before lockdown with live sound manipulation of my baritone sax by Colin Potter from Nurse with Wound and DroneCore veteran Jonathan Coleclough. I have been mixing and editing this material over the summer and will be putting it out on my bandcamp site this week together with the sketches by the Wodwos

It was also the chance to work on some of the research I do around outdoor music, seasonal celebration and the ways humans use noise in ritual. I did an online talk on expressive noise and wrote some stuff around the social history of Mayday and the ‘Thursday Clap for carers’.

What are your post-lockdown plans?

At the start of lockdown I lost my recording and practice space, and my wife had to work from home, so I mainly practised classical clarinet for the first time in over 40 years and played pretty tunes, no noise.

I have been busking with a great local street band called the Little Big Horns but the chance to get back to being a noisy monster again would be wonderful and also do some real improvising with other musicians. Web based music making leaves me cold.

I have been developing new ideas for an outdoor band, a sort of secular ‘gospel’ band, playing tunes for these times and called the Instruments of Joy. I am also very keen to get the Hullabaloo Orchestra back together; it’s an improvising orchestra open to all based at the CIC Centre in Taunton.

There’s nothing like the ‘aliveness’ of being in the middle of an improvising group.

To hear more from Tim, head to his bandcamp page or website.

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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.

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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!

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