Welcome back Autumn

And so it is on this grey and dreary day that we welcome back our wandering friend Autumn, with a wan smile and a misty ‘hello’. We bid adieu to the green leaves,  blue skies and sun-stroked picnics of August as we stoke the fire, dust off the stripey scarf and hurry to a warm embrace. Pray we to the glacial god of winter for a white blanket on Christmas, not a blizzardy burial.

What better a way to celebrate today than with a themed album release! Earlier in the year, I worked with composer Louis Mander on this set of original compositions and arrangements, largely inspired by the English folk tradition and, of course, this beautiful country in autumn. It was also the first opportunity I had to bring my new instrument, the ‘Sympolin’, to the outside world. This very special violin, commissioned by me and designed by David Bruce Johnson, is based on the Hardanger fiddle of Norway and the viola d’amore: whilst it plays like a modern violin, it also has 8 sympathetic strings which give it a ghostly, glassy sound.

So, without further ado, please allow me to present to you ‘Autumn Twilight’ (also available in the Discography section):

On the jazz side of life (always look on the jazz side of life), I was very privileged to be invited to play with Tobie Carpenter‘s group ‘The Lobbus’ last week, featuring the incredible emerging talents of Chris Young, Nadim Teimoori, Lluis Mather and Hamish Livingstone. Here’s a little snippet from the beginning of the gig:

Sheep, glorious sheep

Although you may field that this baaahhlog entry ought to be solely on the subject of one fluffy farmyard critter, I’m afraid you are baaahing up the wrong tree.

Enough of dreadful puns and eggceptionally bad jokes (so what if sheep don’t lay eggs). Neighver again (so what if sheep aren’t horses) will I make you, devoted reader, work this hard to read my news. Dig out the mosquito oinkment, wiggle into those wellies, grab your crook, and cock-a-doodle-don’t dally whilst I transport you to the Isle of Coll to briefly recount my recent moosical adventures.

We, The Park Quartet, were invited to the aforementioned island to take part in the Tunnell Trust‘s yearly music festival, alongside wind quintet The Aquilon Ensemble, Catalan piano trio Hyagnis Trio, and piano/cello duo Y-Squared (a talented bunch and all delightful people). With a stunning view over the water, we rehearsed daily and received some smashing tutelage from the likes of Charles Tunnell, Richard Deakin, Jeremy Young and Neil Black. After one week of blood, sweat and tears (quite literally), we gave our first performances of quartets by Beethoven, Vasks and Haydn. Despite there being fewer than 300 people living on Coll, we saw at least fifty enthusiastic islanders at each of the three concerts, cheering us on.

Coll itself is an unusual place, less than twelve kilometres from one side to the other and with scarcely a tree to shelter you from the bitter winter wind which rears its ugly head in November, according to the locals. However, the sea views, rocky terrain and nature sanctuaries made for a peaceful, if not occasionally lonely, retreat. The swimming was invigorating (/numbing), the walks were humbling (/muddy), and the sheep were plentiful (/fertilising). Even if island fever occasionally set in, there was always a friendly face nearby waving good-morning and stopping for a chat (a real shocker at first, as those of you who live in London will understand).

So all in all, I recommend a visit to this alternative Eden, and a big thank you to the Tunnell Trust for having us. Click here to read the festival’s blog, with a cameo entry by the quartet.

Isle of Coll

Back to the other end of the British Isles where my jazz quartet has just released a short video promoting our first EP ‘Live at Trinity Studio’. You can watch it right here, right now:

And on a final note, I graduated last week from the Royal College of Music with a first class honours degree. Here’s to a great four years (although not without its up and downs) and to an exciting fresh start. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to Malta and Dorset (not simultaneously) to swim, sunbathe and get better acquainted with Wagner and Verdi. Toodle-pip!

Mander ‘Da Man’ Session

U kno wut Iym saying lyk dere iz gud fings on da horyzan n shizle.

Sorry, just had to get that out of my system. Anyway, to translate: I would just like to share with you, my friends, that there are exciting things on the horizon, and shizzle (that last word is lamentably untranslatable). I joined Jane Wilkinson (soprano) and Tamara Young (harp) today to record an album of the music, and folk-song arrangements, of Louis Mander, a talented young composer from London. With a folky English feel, these works delicately bridge the gap between the rich musical heritage of this wonderful country and its exciting contemporary scene. We were lucky enough to record in a beautiful house opposite Christ Church, Spitalfields. It is the first opportunity that I’ve had to share my glorious 12-string violin (sympolin) with the world, and I’m very excited to hear how it sounds on record. More to come soon!

Recording Mander's music, Spitalfields

On another note, my quartet (the Park Quartet) performed Lutoslawski’s String Quartet on Monday at the Purcell Room, Southbank Centre. It is a difficult piece to get to grips with, but incredibly atmospheric if you are willing to accept its unorthodox nature. Click here to read a delightful review of the concert.

Fortunately the Park Quartet came through unfazed in this respect – teasing out the initial subtleties of detail, before investing what follows with a surging expressive charge which was then carried over into the prolonged leave-taking with its vestigial allusions to earlier and dimly remembered events.

Charming message from afar

A young lady (from Hungary it would seem) handed me this little note whilst I was busking last week. So sweet! Thank you, whoever you are.