Tag Archives: jazz

Guitar Lullabies

Being a father of two small boys (aged two and three) we have always tried to exposed them to good and varied music. Their musical life is very important to us, and hopefully they may play an instrument when they are a little older, possibly even the guitar. The benefits of making music for small children are well documented and include social, emotional and cognitive benefits. When I’m not teaching the guitar or performing I help run a small business (Music For Baby) with my wife.

Music For Baby is a specialist record label producing music for very young children, along with running baby music classes. We have a range of CDs covering different aspects of a child’s development. Part of our catalogue is our music for sleep range which has proven to be very popular.  Sleep is an important issue for every new parent and it can sometimes be challenging to help a newborn settle into a sleep routine.  Research has been proven that using gentle music as part of a routine can help babies settle for sleep, and eventually the music will start to trigger sleep.  Lullabies with their simple melodies together with a steady tempo set about the speed of a resting heart beat are particularly effective in helping to settle baby.  As I am a guitarist I thought it would be nice to record a selection of lullabies on the guitar.

Guitar Lullabies consists of 25 tracks of traditional and original lullabies played by a soft classical guitar duo simply but with all the charm and nuances of the acoustic guitar. Guitar Lullabies can be downloaded from Itunes

London Palladium – Animals & Musicians

I’ve worked at the London Palladium many times over the years playing for different artists and in many musicals – Show Boat, Joseph, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Saturday Night Fever to name but a few. When a new production of Oliver opened at the Palladium in the 80’s I was asked to dep by a friend of mine who held the guitar chair.

The music for this show was more contemporary than previous productions and so it made the guitar part a bit more interesting to play. There were some nicely written classical guitar lines together with electric guitar and also a guitar synth. The guitar synth was mainly used to play a bass guitar sample although it could be unreliable. Early guitar synth technology was such that however carefully I picked the string, very occasionally a note would screech out at a much higher octave and this particular part involved playing steady even quarter notes. The random screeches usually happened in the really quiet passages so it caused orchestra members and sometimes the conductor to look at me as if I’d played a wrong note even though it was due to the technology and beyond my control.

Playing in a show, recording, or on live TV usually puts a musician on edge but if something goes wrong with your equipment during the performance it’s one of the most stressful things that can happen. I’ve experienced my amp popping very loudly during the quiet love scene on a show, my amp has blown 2 minutes before curtain up on another show (turned out to be the fuse) and whilst I was playing an out door concert once I looked to the side of the stage to see my guitar case on fire, I think someone had lent my case against a stage light.

In the Oliver Twist story there is a character called Bill Sykes (the baddy) who owns a dog called Bullseye. This production used real dogs during the show who were trained to run on and off stage amongst other things. These dogs had to be kennelled somewhere in the Palladium and so a vacant room was proposed by the theatre staff. When animals or children are involved in any sort of production certain officials have to be informed and strict checks carried out. I heard afterwards from one of the members of the orchestra that a representative from the RSPCA came to inspect the proposed room for the dogs and concluded that the room was not fit for them as it was a bit damp and smelt. A subsequent inspecton revealed that there was a problem with the sewerage in the toilets so a more suitable room was found for the dogs.

The musicians were given their band room and it was the smelly damp room that wasn’t fit for the dogs. The sewerage was eventually sorted out some time later, but only after numerous complaints from the resident members of the orchestra and their deps. As a working musician, you very quickly learn to know your place, I think the order of importance probably goes like this, leading artists, remaining cast, animals then musicians!

 

London Symphony Orchestra – West Side Story

As it was the 50th anniversary of West Side Story at the end of 2011 I thought I’d share my memories of this great show. Performing with the LSO at the Barbican Centre London was one of my first experiences of working with a professional national UK orchestra. I can’t remember exactly how old I was but I’d have been in my early 20’s. A good drummer friend of mine who did a lot of work with them passed on my details to their fixer so I got the call – no audition, no references requested, just word of mouth. That’s how it’s often done (once in a blue moon a disaster happens). Coming from a rhythm section background I’d not had nearly as much experience working with a conductor as say a violin or cello player would have, so whilst I had worked with conductors before they we’re mainly from the west end, and these type of MDs tend to have a very different style to the classically trained orchestral conductors.

As I’d heard it was a difficult score to play I contacted the LSO’s librarian a few days before rehearsal began so I could have a look through the music. I’m very glad I did because the guitar parts were really quite tricky. There are lots of different intricate rhythms coupled with some very exposed high fiddley jazz guitar lines written in unison with vibes which are very exposed. I think I spent the next couple of days looking through the parts arriving at the Barbican for the morning of the rehearsal still wishing I had a bit more time to spend on them.

I set my gear up on the Barbican stage, said hello to a few people I knew and in no time at all the American conductor appeared. He was a very young chap, looked mid twenties, not that much older than myself which surprised me. I later found out that he was one of Leonard Bernstein prodigies and watching him interact with the violin section he seemed like a nice chap. I’d worked with American musical directors and conductors before and some of them can be a bit brash. (I saw things get very tense on a later recording session I did with the LSO where the American conductor said to the strings after a difficult morning of recording that he wanted them to “Swell” a certain passage, not “Smell’ and it all went down hill after that. Hell hath no fury like a string section scorn!)

So the start of the rehearsal goes like this. Conductor stands on his podium, orchestra stops tuning, eye contact made between conductor and orchestra, up beat then down beat, guitar plays then the orchestra. What I know now but didn’t back then is that symphony orchestras play very behind the beat. It was a horrible moment for me, it seemed like everybody on stage knew something that I didn’t. I very quickly worked out where the down beat was and by the end of the first rehearsal was pretty much ok. During the break and before the afternoon rehearsal whilst I was fiddling about with my equipment on stage the conductor walked towards me. My heart sank as I thought he was going to tick me off or even send me home (I have seen musicians sent home for various reasons before). Instead he smiled at me, introduced himself and shook my hand, made reference to the beginning of the rehearsal and that we weren’t all together and that he hadn’t been clear enough with his down beat. He demonstrated to me the quality of a great musical leader by shouldering the blame (even though we both new it was my in-experience) so as to not destroy my confidence and improve the overall sound of the orchestra. I don’t know what became of him but I imagine he went on and is still doing great things. For me it was a a lesson in how to get the best out of people. Musicians are creative artists and a negative comment or even a look can destroyed their ability to perform, sometimes with lasting effect.

The concerts went well and Leonard Bernstein himself attended, I heard later he was very pleased with the orchestras performance.

The other nice thing for me about this early experience was that it was the first time my grandmothers had seen me perform in a professional capacity. Prior to this I think they thought me wanting to play the guitar for a living was just a phase and that I would grow out of it and get a ‘Proper Job’.

National Youth Jazz Orchestra

The fortuitous opportunity of the guitar chair in the National Youth Jazz Orchestra came my way in 1986. The guitarist I was taking over from, Chris Watson, had held the chair for many years so it was quite a coveted position by many of the guitarists starting careers at that time. Chris decided to move on around the time I was the right age and of a good enough standard and I was very lucky to get to take over from him. Apart from being able to play jazz the other essential qualification for being in NYJO was being able to sight read to a very high standard. Thanks to the fact that I had taken lessons from session guitarist, Len Argent when I was about 12 I was a very capable sight reader, He had imparted to me the importance of reading if I wanted to be a professional musician, He taught me to read and read well which has enabled many work opportunities to come my way since.

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I held the guitar chair for 2 to 3 years, and during that time I played with many incredible artists including Dame Cleo Laine and John Dankworth, and even the legendary guitarist John Williams, and we also performed at events such as The Royal Variety Show and got to meet the Queen.

Playing with NYJO was really a stepping stone for my career, it was an excellent grounding in jazz technique and style, it meant I got to know many other up and coming young players of other instruments, and it gave me a showcase for my playing leading to other professional work when I left.

Bert Weedon OBE

An amazing man has just passed away, and I thought I would write a short post about him, and share with my guitar students some of his brilliance.

As well as being a great guitarist of the 50’s and 60’s playing he is famed for his work in guitar teaching.  He brought guitar playing to the masses with his tuition book ‘Play In A Day’.  He is cited as an influence by many famous British guitarists.. Brian May, Eric Clapton, John Lennon, Keith Richards, George Harrison to name but a few..

I played with him when I was a guitarist on the QE2, and found him to be a wonderful man and an inspiration as a player. He was very gracious to myself and the other young musicians in the band allowing us all to shine during his act. He was able to project his guitar sound as well as his personality through his playing which is something I try to impart to my pupils today.