Sistema In Norwich Performance Project featured on Sistema Europe website

A recent article on the Sistema Europe website has put the spotlight on Sistema In Norwich’s ‘Performance Project’ – a brand new Sistema initiative for 2018-19.

Over the course of 12 concerts and just under a year and a half, Sistema in Norwich will engage with circus groups, the Norwich-based Vagaband, fellow Sistema-influenced groups and established musicians and composers from across Europe.

The project also provides the young musicians involved with the chance to compose for a variety of scenarios and formations, with pieces for soloists, ensembles, brass and wind sections all finding their way into the schedule.

The Sistema Performance Project thus increases Sistema in Norwich’s social impact, provides its students with additional performance time and accelerates their personal development, promoting self-confidence, resilience and leadership – all while building upon Sistema in Norwich’s existing connections both at home and abroad.

Sistema Europe website

The circus performance in collaboration with Lost In Translation – which took place in October of last year – was an exciting and innovative project, expanding our students’ horizons and bringing them into contact with other forms and settings of orchestral performance.

It is always gratifying to gain the recognition of the international Sistema community for our work, and it is an honour to be a part of a global musical movement with the history and pedigree of Sistema.

And with eight more Performance Project concerts scheduled throughout this year, there’ll be plenty more opportunities to check out the great work of Sistema In Norwich for yourself. Head to the NORCA & Sistema In Norwich website for full details of dates, venues, ticket prices, etc.

Ten Year Challenge

It feels like only yesterday that I wrote a ten-year retrospective, looking back on a decade of working in music. But that was, in fact, a whole two years ago!

But over on social media, the #TenYearChallenge is all the rage. Clearly, I have always been ahead of the times… But I thought I would jump on that particular bandwagon, of an evening, and see where it takes me.

It’s actually been a lot of fun, looking for photos from gigs and sessions from ten years ago – just marginally before smartphones were ubiquitous, and everybody began to photograph everything – thinking about what has changed in that time, and what has stayed the same.

I still have the t-shirt I’m wearing onstage with Witchers at the Cambridge Haymarket in 2009 (although the arm tattoo visible in the 2019 picture is a much more recent addition). The orange Premier Series kit moved on a couple of years later, when I became an official Carrera Drums Ambassador in 2011 – but I’m still rocking the unusual ‘equilateral triangle’ drum kit setup on the majority of my gigs, and I am still a proud endorser of Pellwood Drumsticks.

Playing with Cardiem was the first time I ever sang with a band – backing vocals, and then some lead vocals too. When the other guys decided that a song I had written for the band, Tongue-Tied Lullaby, should be one of the five we selected to record for our first EP – and that I should sing it – I was both flattered and extremely nervous, and I think the photo from the session in 2009 captures that.

I never intended to sing with Cardiem at all, or to write lyrics, but Jamie was insistent that every member of the band should sing and more-or-less bullied me into it.

Fast-forward ten years (although the photo above is from November 2018, as we’re only a month into this year and no photos of me on vocals currently exist), where lead vocals are a regular part of most of my gigs – and, although we haven’t gigged together since 2015, Jamie is still sending me song demos he wants me to write lyrics for – and I am very glad that he did.

A lot has changed in the last ten years. But underneath it all, everything feels the same. From the desire to keep learning, keep playing, keep singing, and keep moving forward – to the bizarre array of faces I apparently can’t stop myself making when I play the drums.

In 2009, I was still wondering whether this crazy idea of making my living from music would even work out for me at all. I dreamed of doing gigs and tours all over the country; of having my own recording studio; of having students with their own success stories.

I remember talking to seasoned pros about life in the music industry, and hearing their tales of how touring wasn’t all glamour and fun – the late nights, the bad load-outs, the travel, the food… I remember wondering how anyone could possibly complain about living the dream! These were problems I wished I had.

“God, if I can one day prop up a bar telling impressionable, wide-eyed young musicians who want what I have with every fibre of their being that gigging every night ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, then I’ll know I’ve really made it!” I thought.

A year later, in 2010, I got to see probably my favourite band of all time – The Hold Steady – live for the very first time. They were touring the UK promoting their latest studio album, Heaven Is Whenever. The fifth track on the record was the spookily apt Rock Problems.

She said I just can’t sympathize
With your rock and roll problems
Isn’t this what we wanted?
Some major rock and roll problems

The Hold Steady – Rock Problems

Ten years on – and only a few weeks out from going to my fifth The Hold Steady show – I still come back to Rock Problems any time I’m driving home late at night; or being woken up too early in a budget hotel; or tucking into yet another overpriced motorway service station sandwich; or sharing an airing cupboard-sized dressing room with eight other performers, a tarantula, a lizard and a meerkat. “Isn’t this what you wanted?” I ask myself.

Here’s to ten more years of rock and roll problems.

ButeFest 2018

Back in summer 2018, I had the pleasure of playing drums with Jade MayJean and her fantastic band at ButeFest on the Isle Of Bute, performing songs from the album 20SIXTY which debuted last year.

Despite the weather – just an hour or two after Jade’s set on the main stage, the festival site was formally closed due to high winds making it unsafe! – it was lovely to see people come out to watch the show, and to get so much brilliant feedback afterwards about Jade’s original music.

Here’s a brief video clip from Jade’s Facebook.

Exam Success: Christmas Term 2018

I am delighted to be able to report another term of exam successes for my students – with candidates taking exams on piano and on drums, ranging from Initial Grade up to Grade 5, with a 100% pass rate once again.

Big congratulations to all my students for their hard work and perseverance, and for their fully-deserved exam success. Now, keep practising – and onto the next exciting new challenge!

One last party for Gillingham’s Excalibur Nightclub

Delighted to be back at the King Charles Hotel in Gillingham tonight, to celebrate the legacy of the legendary Excalibur Nightclub – which, in its heyday between 1989 and 1998, hosted artists such as The Prodigy, Salt N Pepa, Rick Astley and Bros, amongst others.

Ultra ’90s will be onstage from half-past-ten, to give the Excalibur Nightclub the send-off it deserves.

Drums and synths onstage at the King Charles Hotel, Gillingham

The Pisces Rising at Summer In The City

I am delighted to announce that I’ll be playing percussion in a live orchestral performance for The Pisces Rising – a popular YouTube channel which re-orchestrates well-known theme tunes into large, epic-sounding masterpieces – at this year’s Summer In The City YouTube festival at the ExCel in London.

The performance will be on the main stage at half-past-five this Saturday, 11th August.

Lack of updates…

I don’t generally make ‘New Years resolutions’ – but one thing I did want to do as of the start of this year was to update this page more, and be more active here. So far, not so good…!

So what has been going on? Lots of work with Sistema in various local schools, which I am still enjoying and finding really rewarding. And lots of gigs with Ultra ’90s – in all it’s various flavours (Original, Fresh and Jam), both on drums/percussion and as a keys player and MD.

And in between all of that, we have had the eleventh annual Keyboard Camp this year, just one week ago. (More on that in a later post…) And I have been trying to get my studio setup and fully functional at my new house!

Beginnings of the new studio
Beginnings of the new studio

Having moved house at the end of summer last year, it has taken a little while to move all my gear across and start to get myself familiar with the new studio space. The big plan for this year is to get my recording work properly up-and-running, so I am going to try and start pushing that online a little more as I get everything finalised. Expect pictures and sound clips from the new studio sometime later this year!

Soundtrack recording session on marimba
Soundtrack recording session on marimba

There are also a few other exciting gigs and other opportunities coming up soon, which I shall be writing more about due course. I am currently writing this in a Costa just off the M5, on my way to another run of gigs in Devon on drums with Ultra ’90s – I’ll be home on Thursday night for a day or so, before heading straight back out on the road.

And as the year goes on, I hope that I’ll be able to stick to my ‘non-resolution’ of writing here more – and uploading ‘on-the-go’ a bit more! And, most importantly, that I’ll keep playing, keep teaching, and keep learning.