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News of projects in 2008...

3rd November 2008

Once again many thanks to the kind folks who have made use of DeeP Music Services over the first half of this Autumn Term. In addition to ongoing projects at Mileham, Walpole Cross Keys and Yaxham Schools in Norfolk, I've had the opportunity (thanks to projects set up by Norfolk Music Works) to work in the Sheringham area several times. The High School organised a day of samba workshops and performances for Y9 pupils. I was impressed with the way two groups remembered the details for performing in the afternoon what we'd only learned that morning.

A few weeks later Sheringham High School was the centre for a vocal project led by Jane Wells and me. We worked with a number of schools in the area and on Friday 17th October we had about three hundred people crammed into the hall to perform a concert of rounds, roots and rock songs to an audience of parents and friends.

Balfour Junior School in Brighton invited me back for another day of DeeP Sound Show workshops. This year's compositions by the Y3 pupils can be heard here.

Again, thanks to Norfolk Music Works and Breckland District Council, I spent part of the hal-term holiday in village halls in the Breckland Area of Norfolk, running samba and singing activities for children on holiday from school. Sadly the numbers were small, but further activity will be explored for the Spring half-term 2009.

Performance opportunities have come up with Peach Fruit, Hodmedod and Beatroot. Beatroot will soon have a new mini cd available. The music was arranged and composed by Ivan Garford. Other musicians on the recording include Paul Keeler, John Preston, Sarah Garford, Steve Pitts ... and me. Catch examples of the music on Beatroot's MySpace page.



1st September 2008

Is it really the beginning of the Autumn Term and the new school year already? Happy New (Academic) Year to all school based friends and may all our tribulations be self-inflicted ... at least we have a chance to do something about those!

La Tour Au Loup's performance of Murmure de Fée had its full fortnight's run with less interruption from the weather this year. An outdoor spectacle is at the mercy of the elements. This year I believe the show not only covered its costs, but was able to make a small contribution to repaying debts outstanding from previous years' weather-related losses. My music featured in a dreamlike sequence in the second scene depicting devilish giant heads, a dragon, a cast of about sixty idolatrous villagers and an amazing and truly scary "god" which grew out of the backdrop. I'm sure I don't need to point out that this was a work of fiction devised by the newly elected mayor of Fillanges, Bruno Forel, rather than another day in the life of French countryfolk, but I'll mention it, just in case I'm accused of adversely affecting local tourism.

Weird scenes seemed to be the order of the season this summer. The News of the Victory was delighted to have been asked to play at the outdoor festival organised in Great Massingham at the end of July. The ceilidh attracted 200-300 villagers and the band was well looked after by the organisers. People were dancing and everything was going fine until the final dance of the evening when everything suddenly cut out and the equipment began to disappear off the back of the stage. You know what's it's like when you encounter a phenomenon for which there is no apparent explanation? Suspecting young people at play I yelled and chased round to the back of the stage to be confronted with a scene of unexpected havoc. The fish and chip van that had been keeping the dancers fuelled all evening had shut up shop and, rather than drive off the green and on to the road via the shortest route, decided on a scenic circumnavigation which took in the backstage area and took off with the mains electricity supply lead which was suspended high over the path to the nearest house ... unfortunately just not quite high enough. The route from the stage to the rear of the van took the equipment across the bonnet of my car. I'm wondering whether to add a diagonal scratch going across the other way and pretend I'm from Scotland.

I ran a day of junk percussion mayhem at Cromer Carnival children's day again this year. The organisers very kindly arranged for me to be far enough away from other activities, which might have been disturbed by the noise in a new tent they'd erected specially. Unfortunately the wind had other ideas and took my tent over the cliff, so they set me up elsewhere on the site. Fortunately no one was inside the tent when it flew! Again thanks to the organisers who worked hard to make the day a success. Some children visited long enough to give my barrels and bowls a cursory bash while others stayed for a couple of hours at a time just playing the same rhythm repeatedly on the plastic rainwater tubs. Don't parents give their kids upturned saucepans and wooden spoons any more? The day was incredibly busy with six hours of non-stop percussion. I'd apologise to the bouncy castle/slide people next door, if I hadn't nearly asphyxiated on their generator's fumes and had to play against the noise all day. I guess we deserved each other. (ps If the above link fails to bring up photographs of the day, use the side bar on the carnival website to locate "Photos 2008". Then click the link to "children's day" in the main window. However, don't look for photographs of the percussion workshop - it's mostly thrilling motorbike leaps and slobbery dogs.)

Hodmedod played for a ceilidh at this summer's Green Man Fayre in deepest Suffolk. Thanks to the sound guys who helped things move along pretty efficiently. I'm sure we weren't the only people not deemed photogenic (ie young) enough to be included on their website photo-diary, but click this link to see photographs of what looks like everyone else! Apologies for laughing at the people who couldn't say the band's name and for whom we shall ever be forgotten as Hogmedog ... Curious that a celebration of the pagan Green Man tradition couldn't also acknowledge East Anglian rusticism.

Probably the weirdest of the summer's projects was Crossing the Line. Blame the Olympics. Breckland District Council invited Norfolk Music Works to come up with a project that would embrace the arts and sporting achievement. Crossing the Line turned into a mad, multi-disciplinary show featuring the work of Jane Wells (composer, artistic director and also working in this project as choral director), Les Chappell ("soundwaves" music from found objects and processed sounds), Derek Paice (samba-ish percussion), Liz McGowan (visual artist working on flags and floating objects). The Dereham Otters, the local swimming club were the "dancers" on our stage ... Dereham Leisure Centre's Swimming Pool. Yes, folks, the performance took place in, around and under the water. We were also fortunate to be able to work with members of the City of London Sinfonia, Peter Harvey and Douglas Coleman (trombones) and Gary Kettel, renowned percussionist who has played not only with the CLS, but also with the likes of Michael Nyman, Mike Oldfield and Karl Jenkins. Simon Elliot was there in a filming capacity and Mark Fawcett took care of the live sound desk. For my money the iconic image of this project will be Richard Hall in a dinner jacket who remained, with his trombone, in the middle of the learner pool throughout the show and, for the most part (until required to play) utterly motionless. I felt that being privileged to hits bits of yellow pipe with table tennis bats, alongside Gary Kettel and other participants, as we dipped them into the pool to change the pitch of the sound, while a fully clothed Les and his "soundwaves" group gargled, screamed and blew bubbles underwater into special hydrophonic microphones was a career highlight. The performance was probably one of the most extraordinary shows ever to have taken place in the middle of Norfolk, although the jury is out as to whether the idea was more or less mad than the attempt we made to relay and process the sound from the top of Swaffham's infamous wind turbine a few years ago with composer, Duncan Chapman.


21st June 2008

Things have been happening, but it's a bit embarrassing to realise I haven't written anything on here for three months. Again, many thanks to the primary schools in Mileham, Yaxham and Walpole Cross Keys for continuing to employ DeeP Music services. Additionally I have ventured out into deepest Leicestershire and Northamptonshire and have made return visits, after many years, to schools in Sheringham, Upwell and Welney.

Some time over the past few weeks has been taken up with composing music for this summer's community show in Regnier, France with La Tour Au Loup.

The News of the Victory has had a quiet time as the other groups, Beatroot and Hodmedod, have all been busy. With the summer coming up we are looking forward to summer weddings and celebrations. The ceilidh at the Dereham Festival was a resounding success. There's something about a room that's so crowded there's barely room to dance, but it was a great atmosphere, much enjoyed by the band and it seemed, the audience of enthusiastic dancers. Hoofbeat also played earlier on in the festival where we premiered some new music.


21st March 2008

The school term has flown by and it's already Good Friday. Many thanks to the pupils of regular schools, Mileham, Yaxham and Walpole Cross Keys for rising to meet the musical challenges they have been set during the term.

Greetings to new clients Queens Drive Infant School in Peterborough who made me very welcome during a day of African drumming, songs and stories. I received a very nice collection of thank-you letters from some of the pupils and I would like to thank Mrs. Richardson for making the day run smoothly.

I was pleased also to renew my acquaintance with Westmere School in Long Sutton who invited me in during their book week celebrations to work on original compositions based on books they have been enjoying.

Likewise, congratulations to the Y9 and GCSE pupils at King Edward VII High School in King's Lynn for some great percussion playing during our day together a couple of weeks ago.

The composing continues apace with new pieces for Hoofbeat and The News of the Victory.

Hoofbeat will be performing at this year's Dereham Festival on Saturday, 10th May. The News of the Victory play at the same festival the following week.

While life may have been a little quiet for The News of the Victory these past few weeks Hodmedod and Beatroot have both been busy. Hodmedod played at the Keir Hardie Ceilidh in Norwich this week. I decided to attempt calling an evening of dances that were new to me. My thanks are due to the kind dancers at the ceilidh who bore the evening with grace and good humour!

Speaking of Hodmedod and Beatroot, both bands are beginning to introduce more original material (the composers being John Preston, Carol Hunter and Ivan Garford) into their set lists. With The News of the Victory now playing almost exclusively original music I find this the most exciting prospect. There may be a place for tradition, but there will always be a place for creativity, which clearly is alive and thriving in the most popular ceilidh bands based in West Norfolk and Fenland.

News just in ... The News of the Victory will be playing at this year's Great Massingham village festival in Norfolk on Saturday 26th July.


6th February 2008

Today is the final preparation day for teachers taking pupils to the BBC Concert Orchestra "Making Tracks" concert at the Norfolk County Showground in March. I'd like to thank everyone I had the opportunity to meet in Great Yarmouth, North Walsham and King's Lynn and I hope that the sessions are helping you prepare your pupils for the concert. Enjoy the show!

During the current block of class composing workshops in Walpole Cross Keys the key stage two class has been working through the exercises I put together to explore "Trépak". Full details are here. Being a mixed age class of pupils from Y3-Y6 it has been interesting to notice who finds which activities the most challenging. So far we have "steady progress"!

Other school workshops this term have included return visits to Yaxham and Mileham schools. Older pupils are building a class composition and arrangement that has grown out of a two-chord improvisation. I have also had the opportunity to do a one-man band act supporting the structure with guitar and bass drum. Some of the pupils have had to learn particular instrumental techniques to be able to play the music. For example, a number have been working on using standard fingering patterns for piano and keyboard chords. It is interesting how many have wanted to follow the example of the first Queen Elizabeth and play only with fingers 2, 3 and 4.

Younger pupils in both schools have been working on telling stories with musical accompaniments.

The King's Lynn Community Samba Band has been going through a bit of a rebirth this term. So far we have seen increasing numbers at rehearsals in our new practice room at 32 St James' Street, King's Lynn. We are now well into double figures and long may this level of interest last! We now have secure bookings for three local carnivals in the summer and are looking forward to playing in Downham Market, Northwold and Wisbech. We heard the news recently that Arco Iris, the samba band from Cambridge, is unable to participate in Eastern Bloco events this year. Representatives from the remaining participating bands will be meeting shortly to shape this year's programme.

Thanks to Norfolk Music Works I had the opportunity to renew my acquaintance with members of the King's Lynn Asperger's Group recently when I was asked to lead another samba workshop. Greetings to all my friends there and well done, everyone, some good playing! I'm hoping to see a couple of people turn up at KLCSB rehearsals.

Likewise the invitation was extended to many of the 170 teachers who attended the professional development day in Hunstanton at the beginning of term. Apart from back-to-back samba workshops they enjoyed workshops in storytelling, 2D and 3D art, dance, Indian music and Jewish family life. I can't believe I was encouraged to recreate the 2-person version of the famous Norfolk Brush Dance, which I haven't tackled for many years. The conference organisers actually went out at lunchtime to buy brooms from Woolworths for Deborah and me to use. Of course, we knew nothing about it until they arrived back and the session was about to start! Thankfully I managed to do it without pulling any muscles.


23rd January 2008

Lots of things happening this term.

The BBC Concert Orchestra is coming to town ... Norwich, that is. At the last count I think about 8,000 school pupils and staff from Norfolk and Suffolk are going to be attending the series of concerts in March. I am delighted to have been commissioned by one of the partner organisations involved in the project, Norfolk Music Works, to prepare and lead a series of workshops for teachers around the county. This professional development will be taking place in January and February. If any teachers plan to attend the concerts and have lost their notes from the preparation sessions, you'll find them here.


3rd January 2008

The winter holidays seem to be the time for tales of mystery and horror on the television. Here's one from real life. This one has a moral. Don't get caught out like I did!

During a recent Hoofbeat performance I was impressed by a double goosenecked music stand light produced by an American company called Mighty Bright being used by one of the other musicians. I was so impressed that I immediately scoured the internet to buy one. I found the company's website, ordered and was amazed even more when it arrived only two or three days later ... all the way from Santa Barbara in California. It cost me $24.99 plus $20 postage and packing. Translated into sterling this comes to £22.78. It is a bit expensive for a torch, but looked jolly useful. I was less impressed when I later chanced upon Black Cat Music and noticed that they were selling them in the UK for £13.50 each, plus £3.00 delivery. Today, I am even less impressed to have received a demand from FedEx for payment of VAT and an administration fee totalling a further £17.58 ... more than the value of the goods. That means I have had to pay £40.36 for goods I subsequently found available in the UK for £16.50.

At what point does naivety become stupidity?

Here endeth the lesson!


Happy New Year for 2008!

1st January 2008

I hope you all had a peaceful and happy holiday. The turn of the year brought in a couple of performing jobs and as the week goes on the workshops begin again. The King's Lynn Community Samba Band starts again on the evening of Thursday, 3rd January in its new rehearsal space. I look forward to meeting and working with some of you during the coming year. Best wishes to you all.

Towards the end of 2007 I had an unexpected phone call. It was Roy Waller from BBC Radio Norfolk. Apparently he had found this website and thought it looked interesting enough to invite me in for a chat about my work in schools. Naturally flattered, intrigued and concerned I put the date in my diary and the thought to the back part of my mind where upcoming events have a chance to churn around while I process what to do about them. The day before the proposed interview, and still having no real idea what would be required, I decided to prepare a cd of recordings of some of my recent projects. I selected a range of projects including structured classroom percussion improvisations with pupils from Reception, Y2 and Y6 classes, cut-and-paste DeeP Sound Show electronic soundscapes with Y7 and the more rehearsed structure of Latin Grooves. I also found a recording of an Anglo-French choral composition I undertook a couple of years ago with pupils from four schools in the West Norfolk Marshland and one school from Millau in the Midi-Pyrenees. I also prepared a quick sheet of information and ran one off for each of us. I thought that I was as well prepared as it was possible to be under the circumstances. For good measure I also took a copy of NotV!

Having left in plenty of time I was, half an hour before the appointment, stuck in stationary traffic in Norwich city centre and it was clear I was not going to get parked in time. Eventually I extracted myself from the queues and headed back out of the centre in search of somewhere to park. Amazingly I still managed to walk back to the station before five past two. Staff at Radio Norfolk were very friendly and I was taken up to the studio. Introductions made I was shown into the studio where Roy Waller was doing his thing.

I've had very little to do with radio in the past. However, each time I have been into a radio studio I have been unnerved by the differences between that and a recording studio. It is weird knowing that there is an live audience that you can neither see, nor hear, nor respond to. Several anxieties crept in. I realised that I didn't know the microphones they were using, so where should I sit in relation to them (on axis, off-axis, how close was going to be too close …? Oh a little knowledge is certainly a dangerous thing!). I'd heard my radio voice in interviews before and I have been horrified at the boring monotone that purported to be me when what I was really projecting was an understated, slightly breathy (and naturally utterly sexy) cool. This time I had already resolved to use my middle register and attempt the well-modulated (if somewhat artificial) voice one subconsciously associates with radio. I was determined to steer this discussion into areas I wanted and make it sound like I was born to broadcast.

Funny how the best-laid plans have a way of working out. I don't know how this normally works, but what seemed clear to me was that, the presenter having spent the best part of the morning "on location", this show was going to be done on the fly, with the barest of guidelines on a printed sheet. I originally thought I would take the opportunity during traffic news, trails or records to determine where we should take the discussion next, but placed on the spot I didn't want to be responsible for disturbing this popular broadcaster's train of concentration. I didn't know the etiquette of the studio. Consequently, I'm fairly certain that this "interesting man" (as I was announced in the pre-programme trail) turned out to be a very uninspired and uninspiring guest indeed. I did not manage to introduce the Norfolk radio-listening public to the joys of new music, nor even guide the choice of clips played on air to make it sound like I did anything other than crash, bang and bong in the classroom.

Much as I have fantasised in the past, I doubt that my future lies in radio broadcasting. However, many thanks to Roy Waller, to Amy and to Kevin, who did their best to make me welcome and at least make me feel for a while that my work was interesting to a wider public. My esteem for the professionalism of the experienced radio presenter may have gone up a few notches, but I think I probably cope better with two-way communication that also includes instantaneous feedback in a teaching or performing situation.