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Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Maltese Photography

The hotel's own Riviera.  (We didn't stay here!)

Palm tree shadows.

Not a bad place to eat lunch.

Looking down from our host's balcony to neighbouring swimming pools.

An evening stroll.

Sunset divers (Are they mad?!)

Our friend's cat taking a swift sip.

Fish in a gorgeous coloured sea.

"The Blue Lagoon."  Yes, the water was actually that colour!

Choppy seas in the morning - this is the day we chose for a boat trip!

Squeezing under a precarious-looking bridge.

Top 10 UK Jazz Festivals

May signals the start of Jazz Festival season - although some festivals are programmed for February, and some continue into November, most people wait until the weather improves (or does it?) to entice the jazz crowds.  Here's my top ten of UK Jazz Festivals.

1. London (November)
Sector7 performing at The Green Man in 2011.  Photo by Dave Ohm.

The London Jazz Festival is a local celebration of jazz on an International scale.  It attracts more than the usual punter to each and every jazz venue in this city (which is a lot!) and turns London into a hub of quality music for much of November.

2. Scarborough (September/February)

I performed last February at Scarborough's "Coastival" - a weekend arts festival.  My quartet was supporting Denis Rollins, and I was thrilled to be involved in the very small jazz allocation.  This year, Sector7 will be performing at the dedicated jazz festival on Sunday September 30th.

3. Marlborough (July)

Each July, the small, sloping Wiltshire town of Marlborough is transformed into a hub of musical excitement.  We performed there in 2010.

4. Imperial Wharf (September)

The Imperial Wharf Jazz Festival is just what a jazz festival should be: a well-constructed stage in an area of London surrounded by shops, restaurants and stalls, creating an inviting atmosphere for music fans and passers-by alike.  We played there in 2010, and the video above is of our last tune, which includes a bit of dancing from the Jazzcotech dancers - amazing!

5. Southport (May)

Southport Jazz Festival 2010

We played in Southport on a surprisingly warm May day, compounded by the fact that we were in a beautiful Victorian shopping arcade with a glass roof!  Southport provides lots of free jazz during the festival which is great for its large quantities of tourists.

6. Swindon (June)

"The jazz festival that discovered Jamie Cullum" - according to the promoter.  We played here during our 2010 album tour and it was one of our best gigs.

7. Pontypool (September)

The photographer clearly had an eye for Tom!

This festival used to be outside in the park (and was appropriately named "Pontypool Jazz in the Park," but has since been moved inside following a flood incident a number of years ago.  We played here in 2011, at the start of our second album tour.

8. Hitchin (July)

Not really a jazz festival, Hitchin Festival encompases a wide range of arts including theatre, music, literature, and a range of activities to interest people in the town, including Hitchin walks and tours of museums.  In the middle of this festival is "Rhythms Of The World," a musical extravaganza that started life on constructed stages through the pedestrian areas of the town, but has grown so large that it now occupies the grounds of Hitchin Priory.  We will be performing during the festival part (after Rhythms has finished) on Thursday 19th July at The Sun Hotel.

9. Gateshead (March)

This festival has made it to the top ten, because it's one of the highest profile International festivals outside of London.  Sector7 will be performing at The Sage (where the festival is held) in December with Ian Shaw.

10. Jersey (April)

For a small island, Jersey is an advocate for live music and entertainment, and the Jersey jazz festival is one of two annual music events - the other being the Liberation Festival in May.  I'm hoping to perform there myself next year so watch this space!


A modern classical piece of music?  An experimentation of the vocal chords' capabilities?  A score which stretches the ranges of even the best bass and best soprano?  8 classical voices and a beatboxer?  
On paper, it shouldn't work, but this new composition by writer Chris Lewis, has got me enjoying making music in this way.  I am no advocate for modern classical music: as a flautist, I prefered the scale-based runs of a Mozart overture, or the lush harmonising of a Rachmaninov concerto.  (I disliked modern classical compositions so much that once I used my tendonitis - which was a real problem for me as a teenager - to get out of playing a particular section of a new piece with my orchestra, despite the conductor signalling that he was ready for my piccolo solo!  I still feel bad about it to this day!)

However, I have so enjoyed performing this piece of music, and feel delighted to have been asked to be part of the group.  It’s been great to meet some different singers from a different scene, because I usually spend my time with jazz musicians, so working with different people has been great.

The piece has been generating quite a bit of attention - from being featured on BBC breakfast on April 22nd to picking up a following on YouTube and facebook.  The facebook group is here, but even better, have a look at the debut show on YouTube.  We have another show this evening at the Green Carnation in Soho.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Sector7 - reviews and news

Sector7 will be performing live on Jazz FM on Saturday 19th May.  We'll be interviewed by Bob Sinfield, then we'll sing a number of songs.  Catch it live at 1pm.

The following evening we'll be performing at The Boaters in Kingston.  It's a free entry gig, and starts at 8:30pm.

In June, we have a performance at new jazz venture Ziggy's World Jazz Club, where we'll be featuring a new vocalist Fini Bearman, who performed with us at last month's show at the 606 Club.  It was such a fantastic gig and it's great that Fini can do some more work with us.  Check out her website:

Five sevenths of Sector7 at the 606 Club

Bonded Warehouse Jazz

A gig at the Bonded Warehouse came about because the promoter was unable to fit me in his program when I was doing my album tour last year.  Despite not being officially 'on tour,' it's good to continue to travel the country to perform at different venues, and it's good to be able to give some work to my band!

Darren and me, ready to explore Stourbridge.

The Bonded Warehouse is on the canal in Stourbridge, and is an interesting setting for a monthly jazz night (surprisingly, Jazz at the Bonded Warehouse).  Being a Friday, we didn't want to get caught up coming out of London, so arrived in enough time to explore Stourbridge.  After 10 minutes, I think we'd seen it all!  We found a lovely little cafe (Egyptian, I think) for a cup of tea, then sound check, then the performance.

An Egyptian cup of tea.
The Bonded Warehouse does not have a bar (I think this may be the first ever jazz club gig I've done where alcohol has not been on sale!) and it was amusing to see that as soon as our last song of the first half ended, out came the lunch boxes and flasks, and the experienced audience helped themselves to their pre-packed refreshments.

Under the low beams at JBW.

Crystal Palace Jazz

The Grape and Grain in Crystal Palace is a powerhouse for jazz.  Sunday lunches are accompanied by duos from the London (mostly local) jazz scene, Sunday evenings host a residency for Hugh Simmonds and his quartet, and Monday night is Big Band night - where the Big Beer band play for listening locals.  All this jazz is free.

I went along on a Monday to the big band night, where they were hosting an 'open mic' for big band singers.  This is a quarterly event, and is so popular that the pub is always jam-packed.  As with any open mic, there can be hits and there can be misses, but this particular night had more hits than not.  One of my favourites was the landlady who threw caution to the wind with her rendition of All That Jazz, and the delightfully understated jazz voice of Sue Rivvers.  I got a couple of songs in the set, and will be performing again at The Grape and Grain's popular Sunday jazz lunch in... November!  Keep your eyes peeled for this listing!

An April Fool

April 1st brought two firsts: singing with the Duncan Fraser Big Band, and eating rabbit.  The second first was at The Old Red Cow, a 'proper' local pub - in the sense that it serves local food and drink.  I was confused by the wierd-shaped bone that I was nibbling on until I remembered that I was eating the leg of a rabbit!  But rabbit wasn't the reason I was there - I was performing on one of Barry Green's jazz nights, which are free entry every Sunday night to the intimate upstairs room of this jem of a pub and feature the London scenes best vocalists on a rotational basis.

Smithfield's local pub

The first first was a fantastic experience: Duncan Fraser is a trumpeter who is greatly influenced by the work of Kenny Wheeler, someone whose music I have hardly listened to.  So the Duncan Fraser Big Band uses a similar format of band to that of Kenny Wheeler's larger ensembles: with flugelhorn and voice as two lead instruments.  In the process of learning the repertoire and practising the demanding vocal lines, I had the chance to listen to and be inspired by this music - something which hasn't reached me before, and something that I blame partly on the fact that I didn't go to music college, and therefore wasn't exposed to a great deal of jazz that didn't fall into the Great American Songbook category.  But having heard and played this style of big band jazz, I will certainly be learning from it and writing one or two pieces in this style for my own big band.

So, thank you, Duncan, for booking me to sing in your band, and in your way influencing my own work!

The Duncan Fraser Big Band - CD available from  Esteem Records

A Crooked Spire

The Parish Church of St Mary and All Saints, Chesterfield.

I had first seen this spire when I was nine years old, and on a school trip to Derbyshire.  Our teacher - arts, drama, and interesting buildings enthusiast - had requested that we take a detour through Chesterfield to look at this spire (out of the coach window: no time to stop!)  I remember being distinctly unimpressed, well, I was nine!

There are many theories as to why the spire is crooked, one of the most likely being that for 300 years the spire was made of wood and when lead tiles were added, the weight of them, and the fact that one side got more sun, caused a gradual twist of the spire.  But this is my favourite: "In common folklore, there are numerous explanations as to why the spire is twisted. One is that the spire was so shocked to learn of the marriage of a virgin in the church that it bent down to get a closer look. Should this happen again, it is said that the spire will straighten and return to its true position."  So that's a comment on all women who get married in that church given that the spire is still crooked!

I was in Chesterfield to perform at the Pomegranate Theatre, to play at the "Arts in the Bar" series, which is a monthly gig on a Monday night for local jazz performers.  I was playing with my 'northern' quartet - Dan Whieldon, Gavin Barras and Dave Walsh.  I'll be performing with them next in Leyland, Lancashire at a new jazz club on Tuesday 5th June.  And I'll next be in Chesterfield to perform at the Chesterfield Jazz Club for their Christmas Show on Thursday 20th December.

Outside the Theatre.  A great picture, but not a great picture!