Category Archives: Thoughts

Article: 10 things I learned as a tour manager

© 2015  Robbie Elford. All Rights Reserved.
© 2015 Robbie Elford. All Rights Reserved.

Recently, guitarist and composer Maciek Pysz completed an 18-date tour of England and Wales. I arranged most of this tour and helped out with PR and tour management. Here are 10 things I learned, they were published in London Jazz News on 7 December 2015.

http://www.londonjazznews.com/2015/12/feature-ten-things-i-learned-as-tour.html

 

Impressions: The Necks: 3 November 2013 – Birmingham Town Hall

The series was called Risk.  Enticing.  So I took a risk and didn’t do my ‘homework’, I didn’t listen to anything by The Necks before their gig at Birmingham Town Hall.   The organisers had taken a risk and turned the almost overwhelmingly cavernous Town Hall into a cosy venue – we sat on all sides of the band, on the same level. No lofty stage. We sat so close I could almost gently nudge a sliding cymbal back into place.  They captivate by their stillness, slight figures in black, only the occasional gentle glance at the audience by the drummer indicated they knew we were there.  Everything about them is spare, taut and precise.  Painters with a blank canvas, surgeons ready for an operation but unsure what they might find after the first incision.  In profile the pianist Chris Abrahams reminded me of an intaglio, an engraved gem of precious stone, frozen in time.  Only his fingers moved, gently, so gently the keys seem to depress themselves by thought not action. Could a piano be played so quietly?

Did the drummer touch his drums at all?   Instead we heard tiny sounds and scrapes, a cymbal ticked and tapped delicately for what seemed like hours. The bass player toying with the idea of using his bow, putting it away thoughtfully and returning to his few insistent notes.  After just a few minutes I realised I was not hearing anything that reached back to the European tradition I was familiar with. This was Australian impressionism, its own tradition, unapologetic and unique.  In my mind’s eye I sensed huge empty spaces, felt scorched by heat, strained after trains clanging in the very far distance (leaving without me, oh, nightmare), was suffocated in a dust storm, dodged hissing rattle snakes, gasped for air as they built up the emotion so intensely I wanted to cover my ears, to block the waves that crowded my brain. How would they end, how could they end?    How did they take us from minimal notes to this vast canvas?

Then it slowed, some imperceptible sign, and just the drummer was left.  They became human, arms moved from instruments, they straightened up,  eyes refocused and the spell was broken. But we dared not applaud, not yet, not for a very long beat. It seemed almost wrong to break the silence.  And we went into the night bewitched, shaking our heads at the distance we had travelled.

The Necks
Chris Abrahams, piano
 Tony Buck, drums
Lloyd Swanton, bass

Mary James, 4 November 2013

In praise of regional jazz clubs… revisited October 2013

It is three months since I first sang the praises of regional jazz clubs and their vital place on the jazz scene as platforms for all levels of talent.  I have been thinking, and I admit, worrying, about their future.  Neil Yates announced the end of Jazz at the Cayley in Rhos on Sea in October.   Personal phone calls and texts to regulars could not save it, numbers declined and so it closed.   I have often asserted that jazz holds itself far too cheaply, that some people wince at paying £12 for a ticket yet will spend nearly that on two glasses of wine whilst there. I am coming to the conclusion that if we are going to save our small jazz clubs then we all need to band together to help each other and be more vocal about the good things we offer.

So I was heartened to read about the recent creation of the Jazz Promoters Network (in the UK). I will join and will state on our application that we can offer the network decades of experience (between us anyway), boundless enthusiasm, genuine love for the music and its musicians, and the desire to learn – learn how to grow our audiences, learn how to offer opportunities for new work to be commissioned, learn how to support other jazz clubs and not compete with them, find sources of funding.

And then I look at our schedule at Stratford Jazz for early 2014:

  • Alan Barnes on 8 January to blow away the cobwebs;
  • TG Collective on 22 January, guitar-led ensemble;
  • Bryan Corbett Quartet on 12 February, a local trumpeter with a haunting sound;
  • Duncan Eagles/Mark Perry Quintet on 26 February, exciting young saxophonist and trumpeter, making waves in London;
  • John Law’s BOINK!  on 12 March. This is John’s move in electronica, subtle and clever as ever; and
  • Maciek Pysz Trio on 26 March, my favourite guitarist with his life-enhancing, stunningly good trio of Asaf Sirkis and Yuri Goloubev, playing compositions from his very well -received album Insight.

I would travel, and have travelled, to London to see these bands and here they are, gracing our small jazz club! Our evenings have two sets – great value for the audience and an opportunity for bands to experiment with new material, safe in the knowledge they have two hours of performance time.  We have an attractive venue with a bar, nice subtle lighting, decent sound, a big screen on which artists can project their own films or images, so adding another visual stimulus.  Sadly we have no piano. But we are a place where you can hear exciting new work in a very intimate environment.  We listen, we are appreciative.

Take the example below by John Law – his Boink!  project  – we are so lucky to be able to present John Law’s latest project next year. This is a sound that will project as well in our small room as in a larger venue and I for one am already wishing the time away til his gig.

If you have listened to the clip and enjoyed it as much as I do, then maybe you will see regional jazz clubs in a new light – as places where you can see boundaries pushed, which don’t just rely on a diet of standards. We are as hungry for new music as fans in cities. Where world class artists seek us out. Time to stop bemoaning our lot and time to shout very loudly ‘We are a great night out, come and join us, hear fabulous music close up, pay a little bit more  – because we are worth it!’.  Do you agree?

http://stratfordjazz.org.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/stratfordjazz.org.uk

https://twitter.com/StratfordJazz

http://www.shakespearestreet.co.uk/

Mary James

Brecon Jazz Festival roundup: 10 -11 August 2013

On Twitter a few days before Brecon Jazz Festival, Mercury Prize nominees Roller Trio promised they would be playing all our favourites at their gig at the Guildhall on Saturday night. So they started with Deep Heat, Roller Toaster and The Nail That Stands Up and then played us a few new tracks that had no name but had been saved by their recording engineer as Doris and I hope their new album has a track called Doris, there is something direct and no-nonsense about this band. My notes refer to Dalek music. This is music that Daleks would like if given half the chance. It is exciting, edgy, overwhelming, physical and above all, tuneful. They are fabulous, like a workout with no effort.

No old favourites for Phronesis earlier that afternoon. An excited full house at the Theatre (the queue to get in snaked for several hundred yards) were mesmerised by a set of new compositions, at least five of which had never been heard before outside of rehearsal. The set list included the sinister Urban Control, the haunting Lost Nomads, Life to Everything, the affectionate Herne Hill, Fraternal, Behind Bars, Fly on the Floor, two others with no name and an encore of Suede Trees. If we were guinea pigs for new sounds, we passed the test, the buzz afterwards was ecstatic. There were unmistakable signs of the wisdom and confidence gained from world touring, a vast auditorium-filling sound produced with seemingly minimal obvious effort, so relaxed is their partnership. Did I detect more arco than previously from Jasper? It felt very lyrical at times. There was an almost pastoral feel to one of the compositions. Now we all have to wait, patiently, til November when these gems will be recorded at the Cockpit and released on Edition Records.

The contrast between well estabished and new continued on Sunday – trumpet player Laura Jurd gave us a very complex and confident set at the Cathedral. The Cathedral’s acoustics provided the ideal place for her clear sound and for John Surman who followed. The John Surman Trio – a supergroup comprising Chris Lawrence on bass and John Marshall on drums – treated us to a largely improvised set of compositions inspired by the Cathedral and sunshine. The jewelled light from the stained glass and the cavernous space prompted huge, dark and sometimes scarey sounds, like vast flocks of birds speeding across a dark sky. The compactness of John Marshall’s technique (ex Soft Machine and Nucleus) produced lots of noise with minimal movement, an interesting comparison with powerful drummer Luke Reddin-Williams of Roller Trio whose theatrical gestures were as eye catching as they were effective.

My festival ended with another supergroup, the Anglo-American The Impossible Gentlemen, whose confidence and good humour provided the perfect prelude to leaving Brecon. We heard tracks from their upcoming album Internationally Recognised Aliens. I preferred their quieter compositions, notably the beautiful Ever After by Steve Swallow and Gwilym Simcock’s bluesy Barber Blues. which I had heard before, with Lighthouse in the same venue last year. If anyone can play a piano and make it look as if he is skimming across hot coals it is Gwilym. He is quite breathtaking and very engaging. And that was the magic of Brecon.

Mary James

In praise of … regional jazz clubs

I want to sing the praises of regional jazz clubs in general and one in particular that is now close to my heart – Stratford Jazz. That’s Stratford-upon-Avon, not East London or Ontario. Many times I have sat in the cosy upstairs room at The Chapel No 1 Shakespeare Street, enjoyed the gigs, discovered new sounds, loved old ones, made new friends and never once thought about how it all comes together, the hard (but enjoyable) unpaid work that goes into making a gig happen. Well, now I have an idea. Stratford Jazz has been in existence since 1986, its gigs since 2003 set out here. The most cursory glance at this list reveals people who are now established, such as Andrew McCormack and Michael Janisch, the latter now running a record label. Which brings me to the point of this post. Regional jazz plays a crucial role in an artist’s development. By all means live in London, record in London, play most of your gigs in London, but small jazz venues exist to provide you with an appreciative audience and we don’t forget you.

Stratford Jazz is at a crossroads. Our mainstay, Roy, is planning to hand over the running of the club. An open meeting conjured up volunteers to set out chairs, man the door, take money, produce flyers, man the sound deck, run the raffle, help with the website and social media. I have the latter role. We still need help with booking bands and paying them, running a membership system, drafting press releases etc etc.

So if you would like to help us please follow us on Twitter @StratfordJazz, please “Like” us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/stratfordjazz.org.uk and best of all, please come to our gigs. In the next few months we host Chris Bowden, Marco Marconi, Casey Greene, Tom Hill, Greg Abate, Ben Markland, Ed Jones and Alan Barnes. We are a small club but each event is special. People travel from miles. You won’t forget it.

And anyone with ideas of how we can attract young people, please let us know via our Facebook page or tweet to us. We want to survive for at least another 27 years.

Stratford Jazz