thoughts on the North
How I put the last few days into words? It's a tough job, but I think an appropriate summary would be: wow.
Let's talk about Leeds first. After Derby, I made modifications to the
scores: from a mixed graphics and text layout to a pure textual one. As I had originally written them, this shouldn't really have been too much of an issue, and it wasn't in a way; but it was a bit of a disappointment for me as I thought I'd hit on a decent way to lay out the music I wanted to hear. And the problem with lists [as Arun and I discussed the next day] is that when people are assigned instructions in a list format, they tend only to look at the instructions for them.
This quite natural and logical method of processing a list goes contrary to collective music however, so I needed a way to ensure that didn't happen—or at least that the musicians were aware that it shouldn't happen.
I jiggled about with various configurations, and settled on listing the instruction first, then the initials of the musician second; this of course does nothing on its own, so I took the curious decision, rare in most bands I lead, to tell them what I thought.
This worked wonders, and the new layout made the scripts more immediate for reading [not necessarily easier to play]. Leeds got another change in that we did some total improvisations whereas in Derby it was all composition based. And if you're going to have five of the most talented improvisers in the country in your band, this can only be a good thing! So by the second half of the gig, it turned from us smiling at the way we were gelling together to my shouting while the group got wilder to a hot mess of deep groove and apocalyptic sound. In a word, DARK. We had got to the point where we sounded like six musicians working together—and what was really gratifying for me was that the original intention of the compositions were still coming through—what I wanted to be said in music was happening on stage!
All this was borne out by the audience response, which was really positive; and it was great to see some of the guys from the Leeds scene there, like TrioVD and Rinkadon. The night itself was set up by that flawless drummer Joost Hendricx—The Spin Off has a real buzz about it, shows great
duty of care towards the musicians and brings in an adventurous, listening audience that puts nights in other certain big city venues to shame. A fantastic night.
A day's travel back; and the realisation that something was wrong with my back. A visit to the doctor told me what I didn't really want to hear: rest, REST... there were other words like stretching and strengthening but I didn't mind those words. It was good advice of course: the pain had spread to my ankle and left arm and the back is very important, but the timing was dire. I had to make the decision as to whether I was going to play for the Schmazz gig, or just go to hear the performance.
I used the time between Leeds and Newcastle making small revisions to the existing charts, idiot-checking the new work for Newcastle, and making more notes about the writing method/process [I'm not sure what to do with those notes yet, but perhaps I'll put them up on the Heralds mini-site]. And I obviously came to the conclusion that I had to go and play on the gig—I'd written the work with the collective voice in mind: and in this case, part of that collective voice included my own with the people I'd chosen to be in the group.
So I took great care not to lift the vibes too much and got to The Cluny in good time as per. Yet I was actually not the first person in the band to arrive: Alex Bonney had got there a few minutes before me, thus breaking a pattern that has lasted for about five years! I got him a drink to celebrate, then we sat and waited for everyone else. A short sound check and then the instruments were put down and the actual rehearsal [i.e. talking through the charts] began over food. Then we began. Paul Bream noted that the Guardian Guide had described the band as a jazz standards group, an assertion so false it was funny [and that's from the
jazz-friendly paper: goodness knows what the others might have put if they did listings outside London. Which they don't]. But still, it did not put us off from what we went up there to do; the guys really lifted the music off the page and made it tangible.
Normally I get a chance to look out into the audience to see how people are doing; but I had to focus entirely within each piece for all three gigs. Newcastle was treated to a full new work called The Worm, based on the Lambton Worm legend; and I really felt we gelled even better than Leeds, which I think was some feat! And once again the Cluny audience was warm and engaged. Schmazz is one of the best nights to play in the country for modern creative music.
With Newcastle, the tour ended. I met up with artist Dawn Felicia Lehrer the next day; she does deeply involving work and it looks like there could be some really exciting collaborative work to do with her and the Lit and Phil, which pleases me immensely.
But Heralds? I have no idea. I have been bitten by a bug to continue with it, although putting together gigs for a sextet is a lot harder than a trio [and that in itself is proving difficult!]. But there are more stories to read and express, so I am working in every way to get this group out again as it was thoroughly enjoyable.