Hello Strangers.

It’s been a while, and for that I apologise. I have been incredibly busy, and I’m loving it! There’s been gigs, socialising, studying, jamming… It’s been a rollercoaster. So, let’s dive straight in and catch you up with my experiences in Leeds.

Jazz Poster october

Way back on the 3rd October, I went to a pub called The White Swan where a quartet of Lecturers from LCoM were playing. They were Steve Fishwick, my Harmony lecturer; Jamil Sheriff, the head of Jazz and my Clapping Club lecturer; Sebastiaan De Krom, a drum tutor; and Sam Vicary, a bass tutor. The gig was all about Steve Fishwick – his playing was brilliant. They played two sets of standards, my favourite of the evening being ‘Body and Soul’ – they were swinging hard. It’s a really lovely piece; the melody really flows and there’s a beautiful modulation up by a semitone which brightens the mood perfectly. The best moment of the night however, had to be Sebastiaan’s solo on a piece towards the end of the evening. The pub was packed full of people, everyone enjoying themselves and being rather loud. Sebastiaan did something incredible: he began his solo by grabbing everyone’s attention and showing off some brilliant chops. Once people were starting to listen, he began a snare roll which went on for a rather long time, during which he slowly brought the volume down to barely nothing and managed to silence the bar. Not a single person was speaking; everyone was focused on him. He then brought the level back up before a stop to cue the rest of the band back in – it was better than any dubstep drop I’ve ever heard. His control of dynamics was expert, truly outstanding.

In the world of LCoM, the intensity hasn’t diminished. Clapping Club is just getting harder, Transcription is getting even more complex and Harmony is becoming more extended! I still find myself coming out of each lecture saying ‘he is definitely my favourite lecturer’, before I go to another class and I change my mind yet again. I did have to admit to my Dad the other day that, although I moaned throughout my two years of classical harmony education, it’s really helping me to understand jazz harmony! My Pop ensemble is becoming really fun, our first assignment – to write a song (without anymore direction than that) – was really quite hard because we were all still getting used to each others’ playing and styles. We’re working on our second assignment now which is to write a song inspired by a sample of something. This means taking a pre-recorded sound, be that speech, music, sound effect or whatever, and use it as inspiration for an original song. We decided to take the the sparkly synth at the beginning of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Everywhere’ and re-harmonise it. When I played the band the track I’d put together, they loved it, something clicked and we’re now writing some really cool music.

My one-to-one guitar lessons have stepped up a gear in the last two weeks and they’re becoming a great challenge. Last week I was told to arrange a solo version of ‘Misty’ by Erroll Garner and the results can be seen below. This week, I’ve been given two pieces to learn and two solos to transcribe. My favourite of the 4 is Wes Montgomery’s solo version ‘While We’re Young’ which I haven’t quite perfected yet, so I’ll leave that demonstration to Wes – he is the king. His playing is so simplistic (yet it’s super tricky to learn), he leaves lots of space and uses some gorgeous voicing.

In between all the learning and practicing, I’m going to jams quite a lot of the time with as many different players as possible. It’s really great to be getting into all kinds of musical situations; there are some where I’m comfortable like a funk jam and others where I’m being roasted alive like in the straight ahead jams! It’s this kind of experience that really helps you prepare for the real world – you have to be ready to take any kind of work there is and be able to cope with and ace every situation. I’ve also been working on some new music which I’m ready to take to a band. There’s so many gig opportunities in Leeds and I want to start taking advantage of them!

The last two weekends I’ve had visitors in town, which has been lovely. Two weeks ago, my girlfriend, Ellen, came up to visit. I had such an amazing time, catching up with her and showing her the sights and sounds of Leeds. Two sights I enjoyed in particular were The Dry Dock, which is a pub inside a boat, in the middle of a roundabout and the Town Hall, which is very large in the picture below compared to Ellen. She got the proper uni experience when I had laid out a romantic dinner in the communal kitchen right before my flatmates and their entourage rocked up, rather drunk, and somewhat changed the dynamic of our evening. Nonetheless, we had a lot of fun at our mini flat party!

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Last weekend, my parents came up to visit. The first thing I wanted to do was utilise their car and get out of the city to find some trees! We went to Roundhay Park, 15 minutes outside the city centre and we were blown away – it was gargantuan (brownie points for the person who can name the movie reference). The colours of the trees were a really vivid mix of greens, yellows and reds. It is the perfect quick getaway from the city.

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We also went out on the town and found ourselves at Sela Bar where there was a Bowie tribute night. A DJ was spinning some fantastic tunes and the vibe was rocking. I’m always amazed at festivals and tribute events like this, by the overwhelming sense of community and love as well as the effort that people go through to dress up – everyone looked fab! After singing along to most of Hunky Dory, we then moved onto The Domino. This is a really cool bar, in the cellar of a Barber Shop, with live music. We had missed the evening’s headline act but got to see the house band play some really mellow Badu-esque numbers. They also did a fantastic cover of Bill Withers’ ‘Lovely Day’ which was actually more similar to Robert Glasper’s version. I’m going to stick it below because I love it!

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This week, flatmate Sam and I ventured into the Market opposite our apartment building. Within 30 seconds of being there, I had purchased a huge bag of onions for £1. Pictured here is me scrubbed up, ready to chop what must have been 50 onions for freezing. 

Seeing Ellen and my parents was really lovely but also made me realise how much I miss home. I’m writing this, however, on a train back to London as it is reading week next week. I’ll be spending the week practicing lots in my room and catching up with some mates. I can’t wait! That said, I am already wanting to go back and jam some more. I’ll have to meet up with The Conscious this week to satisfy my playing needs!

TTFN x

P.S. SofaTime (the YouTube channel I set up with Luke MacGregor Phillips) is now under new management and I’m proud to announce that the first episode of Season 3 is out now! Produced by Ellen Berry, Matt James, Freya Turner and Joss Malcomson.

Jazz… Nice.

Following last week’s post exhausting my anthology of adjectives, I’m sticking to Louis Balfour’s simple collection with which he uses to describe jazz… great. If you don’t get that, maybe I can try a Bee Movie reference? Please carry on reading, I’m trying really hard.

The first week of lessons and lectures has been intense! It’s also just been really good fun. I started the week with some practical lessons and I’ve now got a tonne of scales, arpeggios and standards to learn. One of my lessons was with a group of six other guitarists, where we worked through the changes of a jazz blues. It was really great to meet other students who play your instrument; we were able to talk about players we love, our struggles with technique and help each other out with new ideas and approaches to playing. Seeing other amazing players also really encourages you to get practicing even more.

I also had an audition this week for the Contemporary Jazz Orchestra here at LCoM. In preparation, I spent the afternoon leading up to the audition attempting to sight read the guitar parts for some Gordon Goodwin arrangements. It was a rather strange affair for someone like me, who has zero experience in playing in a Big Band. The tutors auditioned a specific section along with a rhythm trio in each group; I went in with the Saxophones along with a drummer and a bassist. In front of each player, other than myself, was a full part written out for their specific instrument of ‘Bohemia After Dark’ by Cannonball Adderley (I hadn’t heard this piece before this point, but it’s a really great tune and you should give it a listen below). All that was in front of me, was page three of the piano part. The leader spent about five minutes going over the first few bars, which were tricky for the saxes, before playing through the whole piece. When the band got to what I assume was my page three, the leader pointed at me and shouted ‘solo’. I really had no idea where I was on the page, only the vague feeling that we were in G minor, so I really couldn’t do myself or the changes any justice. It’s strange, I had expected that a Big Band leader would be looking for players who could read well and follow a chart; I was caught out when he asked for a solo. After the audition, my flat mate Sam and I sat with some third years in the SU bar. It was really great talking to them for a few hours – I learnt so much about jazz, LCoM and student life in general! They were all horn players and at one point there was a rather heated debate when Sam confessed that Miles Davis wasn’t his favourite player. Sorry Sam, the whole world knows now. This debate did also spark a lot of stories about Miles and his antics in the 40s. He was living the life of an absolute rockstar, hanging out with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk. I think I’m going to get his autobiography to find out more about his incredible life.

Along with along all the jazz this week, I had my ensemble workshop which makes up the Popular music studies part of my degree. This was yet another opportunity to meet even more students from the other side of LCoM. We were put into groups and I found myself in a room with 3 singers, two bass players and a keys player. It was going to be an interesting band with that line up. One of the bassists could play guitar but that didn’t solve the issue regarding the severe lack of drummer. Still, it was great to hear some new music, show off our own and discuss our mutual love of The 1975. We jammed for a few hours and made plans to meet up after we’ve done some song writing – our first assignment is to perform an original song in two weeks’ time! At the end of our session, we discovered that we were missing a member of our group and that a drummer would be joining us next week. Phew!

On Thursday night, I booked a room for the Jazz students to meet up and jam. It was my first opportunity to play some proper jazz with other people and it was marvelous. We played through some standards, Snarky Puppy and Stevie Wonder for three hours. I still can’t believe the amount of amazing players I’m surrounded by here at LCoM. Most of us then headed back to our flat to listen to more jazz and talk about our favourite players, it was lovely.

Friday was my favourite day this week – I had a lecture with Jamil Sheriff to begin with. The other lecturers call it ‘Clapping Club’, which doesn’t really do it justice, although we did spend an hour clapping so I see where they’re coming from. Clapping is easier said than done, however; try clapping a hemiola whilst tapping your foot on the beat and shouting ‘1, 2, 3, 4’ – it’s really hard! We also looked at Dexter Gordon’s rendition of ‘Society Red’ and man, Dexter Gordon is the most awesome dude. He is the definition of cool, calm and collected, and he also has a sweet tone.

Next, I had a really interesting transcription lesson in a rather small group. Our homework this week is to learn by ear ‘Lester Leaps In’ (Count Basie) in 5 different keys. In the afternoon Jamil had organised for ‘Perpetual Motion Machine’, who have just finished their UK tour, to come in and give a workshop. They have a really interesting line up of two guitars, two tenor saxophones, bass and drums. They’re all graduates of LCoM so had a lot of advice for us. They played some of their pieces and answered a lot of our questions. A couple of first years got up to jam with them including a bassoon player! I have to admit I was blown away by their music so was a little too nervous to get up and play myself. I’d describe their music as a hybrid between John Scofield and an instrumental Screaming Headless Torsos. Check out my favourite track of theirs below.

This weekend, the freshers’ flu that seems to be going round the whole of our apartment building managed to catch up with me. So, my Saturday and Sunday has consisted of sleeping, moaning, sneezing, practicing and the occasional wander into town. Now though, I’m recharged and ready for another crazy week!

TTFN x

Bear With Me, Guys.

I’m afraid my A Level in English is not going to make me an instant blogging superstar. I’m sure this page is going to be a disaster for a good long while before anything interesting is created, but I have to start somewhere, right? So, I’m going to start with a little bit about me… before I then go on to talk about me some more. I’m a guitarist starting my first of three years at Leeds College of Music, studying Jazz with Popular. I come from Surrey where I studied 3 A Levels in Music, Music Technology and English. I spend most of my time playing and writing music, in my free time, I listen to music and if I’m not preoccupied with any of those activities, I’m probably talking to someone about music. Although my hobbies aren’t eclectic, my taste in music is; I listen to Rock, Pop, Jazz, Indie and have even been caught listening to Orchestral music from time to time. Playing wise, my three biggest influences are Snarky Puppy, Stevie Wonder and Mark Lettieri. I also really dig Michael Jackson, Nile Rodgers, Jimi Hendrix, Quincy Jones, The 1975, Everything Everything, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Esperanza Spalding, Bill Laurance… the list is never ending.

Now, onto the important bit: why am I blogging? Well, I think it’s important to record the next three years, which I have been unanimously told will be the best of my life. Another motivation is that I know a lot of friends and have students younger than me who will be embarking on this journey very soon. When I started looking at universities I had a lot of friends older than me who gave me lots of help and advice which really influenced my decisions about whether I chose the university path or not. One particular experience was when my friend Ben, now in his second year studying music, showed me around the students’ Manchester and the delights of how cheap the SU bar was! I want to record the ups and downs, the thoughts and feelings, the trials and triumphs of being a student in one of the most intense study environments – a conservatoire of music. On top of that, I’ve got so many other relatives and friends asking about my life in Leeds, I think it’s probably easier to write what I’ve been up to here, rather than them get an unenthused, grumpy Ben at the end of the phone, as my Mother experienced this week when she called me at 1pm. Don’t you know that’s the middle of the night here, Mum?! Student Leeds is so far north that the time zone is very different.

So, here we go: Freshers’ Week! After an excruciatingly long and rainy drive to the north, I dumped all my boxes of cables and suitcases of clothes on the floor in my new room before going for my last pint with my Dad and Step-mum in The Wardrobe, across the road from Leeds College of Music (LCoM). I then went back up the 9 flights of stairs (yes, I did climb them) to meet my new flat mates! There’s six of us in our flat and everyone is lovely – I felt so welcome the minute I walked into the kitchen. I also started to meet people from various other flats and something that struck me very quickly after arriving here is that I was now surrounded by people like minded and musical. Suddenly, all these ‘weird’ artists I’m into weren’t weird or unusual. Everyone loves Snarky Puppy! On Saturday evening I was rather nervous – my first night away from home wasn’t easy. So when the flat suggested we go down to the SU bar, I was very much up for getting drunk. And I did. I can’t remember much of the jam session we had when we got back to the flat that evening, but seeing as I had forgotten my Real Book (an essential for every jazzer), I can’t imagine my sight transposing from the Bb version was very good at all.

Sunday was the first day of freshers’ events put on by the fantastic SU at LCoM. We went to a place called ‘SELA’ where the Jazz Tutors were jamming. We got to see the people who would be teaching us next week do what they do best and it was incredible. I also got to meet more of the people on my course and some second and third years, all of whom were lovely. Once the jam was over, our flat joined another and we ventured across town to a club. Up to this point in my life, I’d had a very shadowed experience of clubbing, that being the one local club in my hometown. However, ‘Mission’ in Leeds put ‘Mishiko’s’ in Reigate to shame. It was so much fun, and WKD was £2.50. Yes I drink WKD, it’s tasty and I have zero shame.

Monday consisted of a rather horrible hangover before ‘Mojitos and Burritos’ with comedy in the SU. The Mojitos and Burritos were top class, the comedy not so much. Still, it was another great opportunity to meet more students and network. After that our flat family wandered down to The Wardrobe where the SU had organised a gig. This is where I first got to witness some of the talent of the students at LCoM and it was outstanding. I’ve never been so inspired to get practicing as I was that night. I really wish I’d written down some of the names of the bands I’ve seen this week so I can share them here. As and when I find out who these bands are, I shall definitely be letting you know. After the gig had finished, we returned to our flat for a slightly more sober jam session and, yet again, I was bowled over by the talent I am surrounded by at LCoM.

Tuesday night, we went to a club called ‘HiFI’. This is the best club I’ve been to yet due to me recognising 90% of the music they played. I’m talking James Brown, Chic, Stevie Wonder and then, out of the blue, AC/DC. It was awesome! I was out rather late that night and the walk back consisted of new friends, Sam and Niles, attempting to jump up and climb a massive road sign and then me trying to do what my family refer to as a ‘Jack Bauer’ over the railing surrounding our apartment building, only to end up face down on the floor.

When I got up very early on Wednesday morning for our induction, I discovered that all the stalls and the sofa in our kitchen had been turned upside-down. Clearly we found this very entertaining the night before. Sam and I moped down to a speech from the head teacher about how much money is being invested into LCoM to make it even better than it is already! I then slept for the rest of the day before going to Burger, Beer and a pub quiz in the SU. Everything was fab other than the fact that our team wasn’t very good at any of the questions! The SU had then organised some busses to take us to the ‘Brudenell Social Club’ on the other side of town. We got the full tour of the motorway that runs through the heart of Leeds before arriving in the student town – the place to move to in your second year around here. Ahead of us was another night of amazing student bands – one in particular where I was blown away by the guitarist, before finding out he was only a first year! I then got to jam with him when we got back to the flat, which was great. The SU Big Band were the headline act and they were brilliant! Just amazing arrangement after amazing arrangement, my favourite being their version of Chick Corea’s ‘Spain’. The whole night was for an organisation called ‘Love Music, Hate Racism’ and the family feel that runs throughout LCoM was at its strongest here. After the gig I discovered the revelation that is takeaway food that is both cheap and tasty (you get either or where I’m from).

Thursday, we had a speech from the head of Jazz, Jamil Sheriff, who I saw play keys at the jam on Sunday. He was really cool and completely acted like a musician rather than a teacher. He talked about all the ensembles to sign up for and what we’ll be studying this year. I’ve signed up to audition for the Contemporary Jazz Orchestra (Big Band) and the Generation Big Band; this is made up of Saturday School students, undergrads, postgrads and professionals. By Thursday afternoon I was shattered and made the call to have a night of rest. I used the time to talk to my family and have a nice long chat with my girlfriend. I’m really starting to miss them all, lots.

On Friday morning, I had a tour of the library, built new for this year. They have everything; it’s marvelous (I’m running out of adjectives). Books (funny that), CD’s, LPs and lots of different cool study spaces. In the evening, I managed to get the rest of my flat to dress up for the 60s and 70s night downstairs in the SU. I was channeling my inner Austin Powers in my purple DJ. The party was hilarious and went on until 3am! I’ve discovered a new way of bonding with Jazz students here through ‘the lick’. ‘The lick’ is a really smooth phrase that countless musicians have used when improvising without realising. Of course, now every occurrence of ‘the lick’ has been edited together by some magician on YouTube and has become a meme. If you sing it around and about college and someone replies, you’ve found a fellow jazz student.

Saturday, the last night of our freshers’ week, was spent back at ‘HiFi’, our new favourite club. It was really entertaining watching everyone else be a lot more drunk than me (for once)! We left the club at about 2:30am and, oh my, oh my, oh my, Leeds is a different place at this time of night. I’m not quite sure how to describe it. There are bouncers on every fast food place, and for good reason, because the people from Leeds are pretty rowdy. I witnessed one group of lads break out into a fight about Gavin and Stacey, there were ladies of all ages falling over their high-heels wherever you looked, someone asked me if I was selling cocaine, about five minutes later someone asked me if I wanted to buy some cocaine; it was, in the simplest terms, manic. Please don’t be worried, there was no buying or selling of cocaine in our group. We stuck together and found a chicken shop, I ordered 6 wings… they were burnt. I shan’t be returning to ‘Chiko’s’ anytime soon. Especially after passing a man on our way back home who, mid-vomit, told us “this is what Chiko’s does to you”.  We went back to another flat for a while, so I didn’t actually make it to bed until 4am.

So, there we are. Freshers’ week completed and I’m still standing. Leeds hasn’t defeated me yet! I’m now sitting on my bed, looking at the pile of washing I have to do before another crazy week starts. My first one-to-one lesson in Guitar is at 9am Monday morning, so I better get practicing!

TTFN x

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Right to left: Myself, Sam and Niles. This is the most decent photo I have of the whole week!