Sold-out crowd (Photo by Steve Elsom)

Ultra ’90s at Boston Gliderdrome

Barely seems like a week ago that we were playing Ultra ’90s at the iconic Boston Gliderdrome… In fact, it was late February – and it’s now the start of April! Where does the time go?

Still, what an absolutely fantastic gig to look back on now! To play at a venue with so much history – and such an incredible atmosphere – is definitely something which stays with you.

As ever, huge thanks to everyone who came out to the show, and to our brilliant photographers who captured the totally electric feeling of the night wonderfully. So here is a selection of some of my favourite images from the Gliderdrome.

Ten Year Challenge

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.

Ultra ’90s Jam – Thomson Holidays Reunion 2017

We had a great time headlining the Thomson Holiday Reps’ big reunion at the Irish Cultural Centre in Birmingham.

All photos by Waltham UK Photography.

Sold-out crowd at The River Rooms (Photo: The River Rooms)

Ultra ’90s at The River Rooms, Stourbridge

Pictures from Saturday night’s sold-out gig at The River Rooms in Stourbridge – on keys and vocals with Ultra ’90s, in preparation for the launch of Ultra ’90s Jam this coming weekend…

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

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)

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

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.