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Thursday, 5 April 2012

Top 10 April Fools

When I was a teenager my twin sister and I went to different sixth forms.  We always wanted to swap schools on one April fools day, but on neither of the years did April 1st fall on a school day.   A wasted chance!  So I’ve had a look for the best and worst April fools this year.  I can’t take credit for this list as it’s not my own, but Mobile mag has a pretty good list:

Sector7: Doing Europe

Outside the Jazz Cafe POSK. I don't think that piano gets played.

I have often been told about the delights of a European jazz audience by various bands that have toured the continent.  I have had some experience in this myself when performing in Lithuania, and finding that the local jazz club was packed with people - many young people amongst them - which is quite different from a typical jazz club in the UK.  This may have been that the jazz club in this particular town was the place to be, in a town that didn’t offer much else in the way of nightlife.  In our country it’s difficult to attract large and new audiences, I think partly because of the lack of funding in jazz and possibly the comparably large amount of funding for other art forms which present competition for audience members.  Whatever the reason, it’s notable to a lot of British Jazz musicians, that European audiences are surprisingly young and enthusiastic. 

So our first “European” experience was in Hammersmith(!), at the Jazz Cafe POSK.  This is a jazz club in the basement of what seems to be a Polish community centre, and it was such a busy and buzzing night, packed full with a fantastic audience.  

A fan's photo
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The following weekend we set off for Germany, to play at a festival in Reutingen, which is a few miles south of Stuttgart.  We had originally intended to be going to compete in a Young Jazz Ensemble award at the Burghausen jazz festival that week, but unfortunately hadn’t been invited to take part in the live rounds, which was a disappointment, but one of the emotional risks you take when entering a competition.  Nevertheless, we still had a gig that I had arranged a while ago when planning our competition trip.  

This concert was at Jazz in der Mitte, which is a popular club that is 50 years old this year, hence holding a festival to celebrate this anniversary.  Sector7 was one of 3 British bands invited to play during the month-long festival, the others being Portico Quartet, and John Law’s trio.  

Excellent service on BA

We set off from Heathrow T5 at lunchtime on Saturday and arrived in South Germany with a bus ride to the jazz club to look forward to.  Being in a foreign country is exciting, and somehow less stressful than being at home, because all the jobs and endless things that you have to do as a self-employed musician disappear, and are replaced with stresses about where you should be going, and how you’re going to ask for directions when you don’t know a word of German!  But with six other friends to help out, it becomes a team experience.  

The drama started with our first bus journey, where the driver hadn’t got a clue what I was talking about when asking if an overnight return was available, and he resorted to asking a random passenger in the front of the bus to translate for us!  We eventually worked out that we could only buy singles, so piled on with all our equipment.  I wonder what the locals thought of us siting there for almost an hour bursting into song every so often (this seems to be a regular Sector7 occurrence, with more than one extroverted singer in the room)!

Looking surprised that we made it all in one piece.

Arriving at Reutlingen, we found it to be a lovely little town, with a bustling high street, down which we hoped to find a jazz club.  The trouble with travelling to gigs is that you rarely have time to explore or enjoy the area, which can be seen as a good thing because it means that you don’t have time to spend your gig fee on food/drink/useless things!  But it is a shame to travel so much, but only really see the inside of a gig venue and hotel room.

Jazz in der Mitte is a great little place, cramped into the cellar of a club, with chairs and tables squeezed in as tightly as possible to maximise the use of the minimal floor space.  The intimate stage barely fit seven people on, but we managed.  The club has done a terrific job of making a great experience for all audience members - half of the club is seated side-on to the stage, but cameras, speakers and a large TV-screen mounted on the wall means that all punters can share the same experience.  

Sound check on the very small stage.  I'm standing at the back
of the club here!

The gig was brilliant - we were warmly received, and enthusiastically applauded at every turn of genius from soloist or ensemble.  It was so motivating to perform well, to have that level of appreciation.  At the end of the concert we did a fairly lengthy encore, and then trooped off-stage upstairs to our Green Room.  Overwhelmingly, I could hear unceasing applause, so realised I should probably go back onto stage.  As I returned through the bar, the applause became uproarious!  I’ve never experienced such a reception!  Sadly for the crowd, three of the band had already escaped to the toilet and I knew I wouldn’t be able to get them back down, so I merely plugged our CD again.  Must have worked because we sold 34 - wow!  

As I’ve already mentioned, the audience were fantastic - young and enthusiastic, which generally you don’t tend to get in this country.  To illustrate this, there were a couple of girls - students - who got chatting to the band, and it transpired that they had just been looking for something entertaining to do on a Saturday night, and had opted for a jazz club!  If only the culture in this country promoted this sort of activity rather than preferring to stay in in front of the X-Factor.

My pork did not come coated with
French fries.  Disappointing.

I must say that we had been so well looked after - after the concert, we returned to an excellent hotel (we had been treated to a fantastic, typically German, evening meal before the concert) and rose for breakfast at a reasonable hour before our afternoon flight.  A brilliant experience.  I would go back there in a minute.

Interestingly, the promoters for each of these gigs seemed to have some trouble with the name Sector7 (let’s face it, it’s a bit of a nonsense name and even I’m not entirely sure what it means!) with Jazz Cafe POSK seemingly reluctant to just use the word Sector7 and instead insisting on calling us variations on “The Sector7 Band,” and Jazz in der Mitte printing a contract in the name of “Select7.”  Maybe I should change it - I quite like the concept of “Select” 7!

Select 7?

Blackpool Sunday

The March gigs came to an end with two concerts in Blackpool - one at the Art Deco Cafe, and one at The Sands venue.  Two very different venues and two very different jazz experiences.  

The weekend was amazingly sunny, and brought a large crowd of ice-cream seekers to the Art Deco Cafe at lunchtime.  They didn’t get their food for such good value as the 1973 prices unfortunately!

I have played at Art Deco several times before, and it’s a lovely little gig, entertaining the Sunday afternoon tea crowd.  This time I was playing with guitarist Willy Fluss who I haven’t played with since I lived in Lancaster in 2004.  It was great to see him and play with him again.  

I had a couple of hours to kill before the concert at The Sands, so wandered down to the seafront to enjoy the sea on such a beautiful day.  The Sands venue is right on the Promenade, and has an amazing first-floor restaurant which looks out over the coast - which in Blackpool is impressively straight.  I’ve only seen this view before from one other place in Blackpool which is from the top of “The Big One” at the Pleasure Beach!

Blackpool Tower
Looking out over a hazy seafront

It was indeed a pleasure to be back, because the last time I performed at The Sands venue, I had a frantic train ride there, and arrived after dark (it was in February).  This time, the 5pm band call still left a couple of hours of daylight to enjoy, so I was reminded of how much I liked Blackpool when I lived in nearby Lancaster at the start of the millennium.  I hope to be back again soon.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Going Home

I grew up in Hitchin, North Hertfordshire, where my parents had moved to in the '70s pursuing a job of my Dad’s.  We lived in a small but spacious house - I say spacious because, even though there were 6 of us(!), we still managed to house a piano and various other musical instruments including a drum kit, several trumpets and more recorders than you would know what to do with.  And on top of that, we managed to find space to practise daily without annoying each other (I think!)

Encouraged by Mum and Dad, we each learnt three instruments - mine being flute, piano and recorder, and later the voice - and would fairly regularly deliver family concerts to raise money for various charities, usually at our local church.  

So it was this history that led my Dad and me to plan a concert at Christchurch, Hitchin, earlier this month.  (Read a review of the evening here).

My Dad did an amazing job of advertising, and inviting all the musical people I used to be involved with.  My secondary music teacher was there, and even my French and English teachers who I hadn't seen for 15 years.  Family friends and friends from Christchurch, and the North Herts jazz contingent all helped to make this a memorable evening.  

Despite having recorded two CDs with my jazz quartet that I try to promote as much as possible with gigs up and down the country, I wanted a more intimate sound for this concert, so chose to perform as a duo with Will Bartlett on the piano - one of the best pianists I've ever worked with, and certainly the best at playing any song in any key, and sometimes one song in five different keys!  We can also exploit the fact that I play the piano too, and have a party piece or two pour piano รก 4 mains.  (Book us for this extravaganza by clicking here!)

Overall, it was a fantastic evening, and a lovely way to spend a Saturday night.  I'd like to thank a few people for working hard to make this gig such a success:
* John Hamblin, who turned up at 4pm to make the church look fantastic with brilliant lighting.
* Paul Arnold, whose expertise with sound made it such a comfortable acoustic to sing and play in.
* Anna Hughes for providing the most sophisticated bar you've ever seen in a Methodist church (complete with percussive interludes while shaking cocktails!) and also for singing with me at the shortest notice possible (During the applause for a song, I announced that Anna would be singing the next two with me, and that was the first she'd heard of it!)
* My Dad for ensuring a fantastic audience were there, helping to set up the church, and washing more table cloths and glasses than I can count!
*Stuart Gwinett for taking the pictures.

Anna looking surprised at being asked to sing
If you missed it, or want another installment, I'll be singing next on Thursday 19th July at The Sun Hotel as part of the Hitchin Festival.  This will be with my full band.  Tickets are already available for sale either from my Dad, or from the Hitchin Town Centre Initiative office: 01462 453335