I was recently asked whilst chatting with a colleague of mine in music tuition “What first got you interested in music production and recording?”
I’d never really thought about that. But it was certainly an intriguing question, and I thought about it a deal more over the next few days. I realised the reason I hadn’t considered that before was that it had always felt like a perfectly natural thing for a working musician to be be involved in. Almost like asking a taxi driver what first got them interested in steering.
The music world is becoming more digital – more online – all the time. In fact, you can remove the word ‘music’ from that statement altogether. Technology is a fact of life in every business, including ours.
I like to think that, throughout my career, I’ve tried to take the approach that if somebody asks you to do something which you don’t currently do, you can choose to turn it down and stay in your little niche – or you can choose to learn how to do that thing, and expand your skillset and add another string to your bow. You never know where that might take you.
When I was asked to run a line-up of Ultra ‘90s a couple of years ago, I knew nothing of programming lights for stage, nothing about DMX, or MIDI control of DMX – but I took it on, and I learnt. Now I’m doing lighting hire gigs for other people – for gigs or events where I’m not even playing at all. And I’m programming the MIDI-triggered lighting cues for other artists and other shows, like Jade MayJean’s performance at O2 Academy in Islington earlier this year. Looking back to 2017, none of those opportunities would have come my way if I hadn’t chosen to branch out into new areas, and say yes to something which – at the time – I knew very little about.
I’ve always been of the opinion that musicians have to diversify to survive. In such a famously ephemeral industry, the ability – the willingness – to adapt and grow to meet new challenges can often be what determines success. These days, being a musician without at least a rudimentary understanding of sound technology and the attendant processes is not dissimilar to being a footballer who can’t head the ball.
Which is not to say that people who have no interest in this side of things can’t be very fine musicians. But personally, I have always tried to be as well-rounded and versatile a musician as I can be; I would feel the same way about being unable to sightread, or unable to improvise, or unable to tune my drums properly…
Of course, it helps that I have always been a gearhead. I have always been interested in the technological side of things, in computers, and in how things work. I can see how recording studio work – or live performances to click and track, etc. – might not appeal to everybody as strongly.
From its humble beginnings years ago, literally mixing inside a cupboard at my dad’s house, building my own recording studio into what it is now – and honing the tools and the skills to make it another significant and worthwhile area of my business – has become a labour of love for me.
But in short, I guess the answer is “out of necessity”.
I don’t usually write about my personal life on this site. Anyone keeping an eye on the Calendar page might have wondered why I wasn’t gigging as regularly as usual during August; my summer this year looked a little different from normal, as I took on the role of being my sister Kerry’s “Maid Of Honour” for her wedding on 24th August. That may have been a weekend without a gig, but that was a wonderful day and I wouldn’t for the world have swapped my chance to play such a big part in it all – nor to see my little sister look so happy.
But I wasn’t going to let a Saturday night go by without doing at least some DMX lighting production!
One of the things Kerry asked me to do for the wedding was to bring some drama to the cake-cutting ceremony – so I had the chance to put spotlights, moving heads, colour washes and a layer of haze into the incredibly characterful old crypt underneath beautiful 12th Century Langley Abbey where the wedding reception was held. It was a gorgeous space to work with – and the textures in the walls and the shape of the ceiling really lent themselves to creating interesting and atmospheric lighting scenes. The amazing pictures by Tim Stephenson really help to capture the effect.
As I’ve expanded my portfolio of audio and lighting equipment, I am really excited to start moving into more lighting and/or sound install work for weddings and other events. It felt fantastic to be able to use the skills and equipment that I have built up over my career to make my sister’s wedding day extra special for her and her new husband.
If you want to bring a bit of extra theatre and excitement to the décor of your event, feel free to contact me about lighting hire.
You may have noticed that the Studio page of this site has been down for the last couple of months – with just a placeholder image teaser and no information… I was hoping to have everything completed before now. But things get in the way! However, the last few months have seen some pretty radical changes in my little studio space, and I am so happy with how it’s all coming together that I am very excited to reveal the new look to you all.
My workspace has expanded, and now fills a little alcove one side of the chimney breast. I have a wonderful new desk to sit and work at; this desk was custom-built for recording studios by my friend and colleague (another Ultra ’90s drummer!) Curtis Aaron, with built-in racking for studio rack gear and a large surface area to work on. The addition of an external GPU has allowed me to move to a three screen setup when working at the computer, giving me extra flexibility for working on studio projects. And the mix position has been treated with acoustic sound absorbers and bass trapping (also made by Curtis) to help me to get the best-sounding mixes possible.
My 40-channel Soundcraft MH3 analogue console has become the hub of the whole studio – not just for audio input but also during the mixing stage, allowing me to make the best use of my high-end analogue outboard effects units, like the Neve 33609 stereo compressor.
And a fully acoustically-treated sound booth for live recordings – built by my ever-resourceful neighbour Glen ‘Woody’ Jordan from natural materials, and fitted with high-end acoustic foam cladding and corner bass cone – has been installed in the other half of the room. With sixteen audio inputs inside the booth, and separate headphone mixes available both in the booth and in the control area, the new setup can comfortably accommodate recording a drumkit or small ensembles playing or singing together.
With a wide selection of the highest quality microphones, a variety of vintage and analogue synthesisers, outboard compressor and graphic EQ units, an acoustic upright piano, a 4.2-octave concert marimba and a range of drumkits and cymbals all available to work with, I am extremely proud of the recording and mixing setup I have assembled here in the heart of rural Norfolk. (A full gear list is available on request.)
With the refit nearing completion, the studio is now available to hire at a competitive day rate. Whether you’re a songwriter or composer looking for ‘remote’ sessions on keys, drums or percussion; an artist or a band looking for somewhere to record; or a fellow producer needing a space to work in… Please feel free to contact me to discuss bookings.
After working with Sam Coe for the first time at That Music Thing at Epic Studios last week – a gig which was very favourably reviewed – I am delighted that I’ll be back playing keys and organs for her again at the launch of her brand new solo album, entitled ‘Comeback Queen’.
Redeﬁning British Country Music, Sam Coe sheds a new light on the musty, tinged world of traditional country. Raw, gritty and honest. No pretence, just her gutsy truth colliding with the music. Following previous critical acclamation and success as both a solo artist and with her band, The Long Shadows, 2019 sees Sam Coe heading in a fresh musical direction. Ready to start a new UK Country scene that draws upon, rather than tries to replicate, the American scene we know and love, Sam wanted to embrace being an unashamed British artist, and bring some sincerity and soul to the UK industry. Heading back into the studio, she began recording her debut solo album under label GingerDog Records. Inﬂuenced by the sound of throwback instrumentation like the Fender Rhodes, the new record is heavily piano driven, while combining tremolo guitars, hammond organ and her beloved Gibson with an emotional and raw vocal. Inﬂuenced by artists such as Brandi Carlile, Margo Price, Larkin Poe, First Aid Kit, Bonnie Raitt, Patty Grifﬁn and Emmylou Harris, Sam’s songwriting reﬂects 33 years of her self-confessed ‘shit storm’ of a life. Struggling to achieve the next step both personally and musically and striving to leave her mark on the world. ‘If you get to the end of the line and look back, I would hate to feel like I had any regrets – have fun, chase every adventure, leave your legacy.’
The album release show will also be at Epic Studios in Norwich, and takes place on Thursday 28th November. Tickets are available from Epic, or online. It will be great to see as many people down at Epic for this show as possible, so I hope to see you there! In the meantime, here’s a few great snaps by Gordon Woolcock, from the last gig I played with Sam…
I am very excited that I will be playing drums with Jade MayJean and her band for the big Christmas Lights Switch-On event in Ipswich town centre on Thursday 21st November this year.
Jade and the band will be performing a mixture of original songs from Jade’s album 20Sixty and classic Christmas crowd-pleasers from five o’clock on the main stage outside the Town Hall & Corn Exchange.
The full set I played with Sam Coe at Norwich’s Epic Studios last night:
In September 2011, I wrote about how proud I was to have joined an El Sistema-inspired music education programme in my home city of Norwich, working with students in inner-city schools teaching orchestral percussion an general musicianship. The project — then called In Harmony Norwich — was one of three trial nucleos setup by the UK government in different cities, and was just entering the third of its three years of funding when I came on board as one of the percussion tutors.
A lot of change has happened in the years since I joined the programme back in 2011 — including a rebrand as Sistema In Norwich. But the one thing which has always remained the same is the steadfast determination of the programme directors and the team of tutors to bring music education to children who might not otherwise have had those kinds of opportunities available to them.
This coming Friday 11th October, a performance by Sistema In Norwich students and tutors at the University Of East Anglia In Norwich will celebrate ten years of Sistema’s presence in the city. I feel extremely honoured to have been involved with Sistema In Norwich — in its various guises — for eight of those ten years, and it will be a privilege to walk onstage on Friday evening with my colleagues and students from the Sistema programme to celebrate this landmark anniversary.
Sistema Fiesta will take a look back over the last ten years, including highlights from the Performance Project (for which the concert is also a finale) and it will look forwards, with new repertoire that will include nods to Venezuela, our carnival work, East Anglia and a big piece from the classical canon. The concert will feature the Colegate Nucleo Orchestra, alongside children from across the programme, tutors and some special guests.From the NORCA & Sistema In Norwich website
The evening will conclude with music from the Sistema in Norwich tutor band, guests and friends. Join in the Sistema party and help us celebrate a programme that is changing lives, as we look forward to another 10 years of making a difference.
I will be playing piano with Jade MayJean live on Essex radio station Phoenix FM this coming Sunday 15th September as part of The Sunday Sessions.
Tune in to 98.0 fm in Essex and East London — or listen online here — from eleven o’clock on Sunday morning to hear acoustic versions of Jade’s original songs from her recent album 20Sixty.
Huge congratulations once again to all my students who took music exams during the summer term exam period. With entries spanning all levels from Grade 2 to Grade 8 – across piano, drumkit, music theory and music production exams – it’s been another successful academic year, with a 100% pass rate yet again.
I feel very privileged to work with such a talented and dedicated group of students every single week – and to be able to share in celebrating these successes – and I am extremely proud of all of you.
I’d like to make a special mention of Jonah Williams, who achieved Grade 8 music production with a merit, and is now heading off to the University Of Liverpool to continues studying music and music technology at an advanced level. Jonah has already begun playing pro-level gigs, and is a passionate and intelligent musician; I have no doubt that he is going to make a success of this next stage in his musical journey as well. To see students I have worked with going on to forge their own careers and their own lives in music is a source of huge pride for me, and of course I wish Jonah all the best at Liverpool.
The new school year begins in September (full term dates are now available on the Student’s Page) and I can’t wait to see what exciting new challenges this term will bring!