Keyboard Camp 2017 a huge success!

10 Years Of Keyboard Camp! (Photo: Will Jones)
10 Years Of Keyboard Camp! (Photo: Will Jones)

The first time I’ve got ’round to sitting down to write about it, even though it was now three weeks ago… (After Keyboard Camp finished, it was straight into four gigs over three days that weekend; an exhausting four-day studio refit; another weekend of gigs right down in the toes of Cornwall; and a day of PA system setup in readiness for new ventures this summer… More on all of that soon enough!) But I am delighted that the tenth anniversary of the (by now) famous NKO Keyboard Camp was such a success!

With music drawn from the material we have learnt as an orchestra over the previous nine residentials (plus some new music thrown in especially for this year) – as well as party games, birthday cake, a nostalgic photo slideshows from Keyboard Camps gone by – and culminating in an evening performance showcasing all the hard work and preparation over the past four days, the tenth Keyboard Camp was a true celebration of what makes it special, and exciting.

Sectional rehearsals in The Big Room at How Hill
Sectional rehearsals in The Big Room at How Hill

I have always been proud to be associated with a residential music course which is always evolving and improving, and where the students keep coming back year after year (for nine years in a row, in some cases!), and still want more…

As well as sectional and full orchestral rehearsals covering a wide range of musical styles, students at Keyboard Camp are treated to workshops which allow them to be more creative, and work with music in other formats; this year’s Keyboard Camp workshops touched on arranging music and songwriting techniques – and, for the most advanced students, a technology-rich session on creating a remix of a hit song.

Remix workshop at Keyboard Camp (Photo: Hannah Brigham)
Remix workshop at Keyboard Camp (Photo: Hannah Brigham)
Remix workshop at Keyboard Camp (Photo: Hannah Brigham)
Remix workshop at Keyboard Camp (Photo: Hannah Brigham)

Non-keyboard based musical activities have formed a larger and larger part of Keyboard Camp as the years have gone, and this year saw us attempt some of our most ambitious projects yet – our ‘Tin Can Orchestra’, taking on the Heinz Can Song Challenge, and our ‘Rain Choir’ singing in four-part harmony – with great success.

It is the ever-increasing focus on providing this well-rounded musical experience which helps to make Keyboard Camp unique; giving our students the opportunities to express themselves and make music in different ways ensures that they are not only developing their keyboard skills over the four days they are with us, but also their overall musicianship, cooperation and ensemble skills, and general understanding of what being a musician is really all about.

'Tin Can Orchestra' rehearsals
‘Tin Can Orchestra’ rehearsals

And of course, no Keyboard Camp would be complete without the team Quiz, and our world-famous Talent Show (which, this year, saw the Staff team enter a cover of The Bangles’ ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’, to universal acclaim).

Quiz night at Keyboard Camp
Quiz night at Keyboard Camp

Since the course ended, we have had all kinds of lovely feedback from the students who attended this year’s Keyboard Camp – showing once again what an incredible difference this yearly event in music education, and what a positive impact it can have on the students who come back time and time again.

Remix workshop at Keyboard Camp (Photo: Hannah Brigham)
Remix workshop at Keyboard Camp (Photo: Hannah Brigham)

And it is never too early to register your interest for next year’s Keyboard Camp! In 2018, we will return to How Hill for the sixth time (it will be the eleventh Keyboard Camp, in total) for more musical fun (on keyboards and off them!); more games; more whacky talent show entries; more late-night hot chocolate; and more opportunities to enjoy learning about music, and progressing as a musician alongside other like-minded young keyboard and piano students.

Conducting the Keyboard Camp 'Rain Choir' performance, outdoors in the sunshine! (Photo: Will Jones)
Conducting the Keyboard Camp ‘Rain Choir’ performance, outdoors in the sunshine! (Photo: Will Jones)

Ten Years, No Day Job

March 2017 is something of a landmark for me, so here is a short piece of writing (and a few old pictures) all about it.

Cardiem live on BBC Radio Norfolk, 2009
Cardiem live on BBC Radio Norfolk, 2009.

It was back in March 2007 that I officially declared myself ‘a professional musician’. Nothing materially changed for having said it, of course – I was still doing one gig every few months, teaching two or three private students, and earning very little – but it meant something to have said it, to have ‘made it official’. It was a line in the sand.

'Loading' the van – on tour with Axel Loughrey, 2010
‘Loading’ the van – on tour with Axel Loughrey, 2010.

I registered myself officially self-employed not long later (although it would be another couple of years before I was earning enough for that to have any real tax implications), and I joined the Musicians’ Union. And I resolved not to give in to any of the pressures to get a ‘real job’ (even just while I was building up my income from music).

In the ten years since then, I have gone from intermittent gigs and two or three students to having a thriving business gigging, recording, teaching, writing and arranging music (and – yes – doing actual tax returns).

Crystal Bats at Norwich Arts Centre, 2013
Crystal Bats at Norwich Arts Centre, 2013.

I have had some amazing opportunities, and met – and worked with – some incredible people. From my work with the Sistema programme, and the chance to travel to Europe and perform at iconic venues like Milan’s La Scala, to touring with Axel Loughrey, Ultra ’90s, Crystal Bats, etc…

I have learnt a lot, improved as a person and as a musician, developed new skills, and done things I never expected I’d be able to. And along the way, I have played some huge shows, made some really fun records, I have recorded tracks at my own studio, and seen my students go on to study music at university and start to build their own successful careers in the industry.

Showing the Carrera Cherry Custom at London Drum Show 2014
Showing the Carrera Cherry Custom at London Drum Show 2014.

Obviously, I am hugely grateful for everyone who has been supportive over the last ten years – especially right at the start…

Too many people to mention have helped me, supported me and given me advice in that time. But a few who deserve mentioning in particular are Rory Marsden, Simon Dring, Chris and Kelly at PXP, Ivan at Pellwood Drumsticks, and Dave Carrera.

Recording keys for Jamie Roe Band, 2015.
Recording keys for Jamie Roe Band, 2015.

There is so much left to do, and so many more goals I want to achieve… The last ten years have been hard work, incredibly difficult at times, and the whole thing has often seemed hugely daunting – but most of all, they have been more fun, and more rewarding, than I could have ever hoped. Which is why I can’t wait for the next ten years.

Production Rehearsals with Ultra ’90s

I have played drums for Ultra ’90s almost since the show’s inception in 2008 – and more recently, I have played percussion with the new Ultra ’90s Fresh lineup as well. However, with the popularity of Ultra ’90s expanding quicker than ever, I am very excited to have been offered the chance to take on a new role, leading yet another lineup as an MD, keys player and vocalist.

So despite playing hundreds of Ultra ’90s gigs on drums, I am spending four days this week at Thatspace in Rochdale with Chris and Kelly from PX Productions, relearning the set on keys and programming my synth rig with the correct sounds and samples – plus developing new skills, including working in Chamsys to patch and programme lights, and rapping!

Synths with Ultra '90s
For the gear nerds… Synth rig with Ultra ’90s: Nord Stage2, Nord Wave, and Moog Little Phatty

The rehearsals are long days –there is a lot to get through in a ninety-minute show packed with high-energy ’90s dance classics – but I am relishing the chance to push myself to be better and become and more versatile, more well-rounded musician with a plethora of skills to offer.

I will still being gigging with Ultra ’90s and Ultra ’90s Fresh as a drummer and percussionist this coming year as well, but I am enjoying seeing the show from a new angle, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to gig a set I know well in a totally different way.

There will be ‘official’ publicity shots for the latest incarnation of Ultra ’90s online soon, and I will be posting the dates of my first shows as MD when I can – so keep an eye out for all of that… In the meantime, here is a gallery of shots from the first couple of days in rehearsal.

Ten years of Keyboard Camp

Keyboard Camp – the exciting four-day residential course for keyboard and piano players, held every Easter in the heart of rural Norfolk (first at Wymondham College, and subsequently at Whitwell Hall and now the How Hill Trust) – is turning ten years old this year! First held in 2008, this year’s Camp marks the ten-year anniversary of what has become the highlight of the musical year for many young keyboard players and pianists in the area.

Sectional rehearsals in The Big Room at How Hill
Sectional rehearsals in The Big Room at How Hill

Organised and run by the team from the Norfolk Keyboard Orchestra, Keyboard Camp is a great opportunity for students of piano and keyboard of all ages and stages to come together and enjoy making music in a fun and social environment. As well as sectional rehearsals (with parts tailored to suit different playing abilities), and full orchestral playing, there are a variety of other workshops (on topics ranging from different styles of keyboard playing, to using technology in music and writing your own compositions), and opportunities to have fun learning and making music together – plus games, quizzes, ‘tuck shop’, and the inevitable talent show.

Synthesis and technology workshop
Synthesis and technology workshop

This year, we return to the How Hill Trust in Ludham, to enjoy a selection of brand new repertoire and old favourites (all especially arranged for keyboard ensemble) in this beautiful country setting.

If you, your children, or your students are interested in Keyboard Camp, please contact Rory Marsden for more information, and to book your place on this amazing ten-year anniversary edition of the much-loved course – or download the application form here to ensure you don’t miss out.

Composing and using technology
Composing and using technology

Working with samples and Nord keyboards in the studio

Spending a lot of time in the studio, working with the Nord Sample Editor to get my Nord Wave synth ready for some new upcoming projects this year.

Jamie Roe Band’s ‘Reach For The Tide’ streaming now on SoundCloud

Slightly belatedly, Jamie Roe Band’s 2015 EP ‘Reach For The Tide’ is now available to stream in full on SoundCloud.  Recorded and produced by blues recording maestro Lee Jacobs (Ron Sayer Jr., etc.) at Tide’s Reach Studios in Lowestoft, the record is a collection of four songs showcasing the Jamie Roe Band.

I co-wrote all four tracks with Jamie and the band, and contributed piano, Hammond organ and backing vocals on the recording session.

Listen here:

Ultra ’90s in Kessingland

A few pictures from my gigs with Ultra ’90s this July.