Recording samples of real analogue bass synth sounds from the iconic Moog Voyager and Moog Little Phatty synthesizers in the studio last night, for use in live shows and sample packs.
It has been a pleasure to play drums and percussion for Ultra ’90s – the hugely popular, one-of-a-kind ’90s dance tribute show show from PX Productions – for several years now; and when the show expanded in 2015 to include two lineups, I was delighted to be included as the original percussionist for the new incarnation of the show, Ultra ’90s Fresh.
Now, with demand for a good, healthy dose of old-fashioned ’90s dance music still outstripping supply, PXP are expanding the lineups once again…
As well as continuing to gig on drums with Ultra ’90s, and on percussion with Ultra ’90s Fresh, I am proud to say I shall be taking on the running of the third new lineup – which has been dubbed Ultra ’90s Jam – as the musical director, keys player and male vocalist.
I am very excited to have the opportunity to further expand my work with such a highly professional and well-regarded outfit as PXP – and I am always grateful for the chance to develop new skills (such as learning to program DMX lighting in ChamSys MagicQ), to learn to work with new equipment in different environments, and to push myself further as a performer.
It is an honour for me to have been trusted with this important role, and to continue to be such a central part of the ongoing success of Ultra ’90s.
I am looking forward to the first show under the Ultra ’90s Jam banner, at Hopton Holiday Village on Saturday 6th May – and to many more successful gigs beyond that… As ever, keep an eye on the Calendar for gig dates, so you can catch Ultra ’90s Jam at a venue near you.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
A few pictures from last night’s awesome Ultra ’90s gig on keys and sax at The Harlington in Fleet.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.