The Cloggz Interview

    The Cloggz were formed around five years ago, and grew out of the Jazz Charity Roar Ups that were hosted by pianist Mark Edwards at The Brunswick in Hove. “I just had this idea for this tango line up with the accordion, clarinet and violin for a while and then meeting Ben Sarfas (the original violinist) and another old friend of mine, Neil Corrin, who was playing more and more accordion. It just came together, that we’d actually got the people around to do this. As for Dave Trigwell, Julian Nicholas and Neil and I have known each other for twenty plus years, and we’ve been working together a long time. It’s all come out of this lovely community of people that I’ve gotten to know and work with living in Brighton, for the last 20 plus years. Including Colin who is managing us and Nick who is doing lights, it’s all just come out of a community of friends.”

    Describing the music of The Cloggz is a difficult task: it’s an eclectic mix of sounds performed by some of Sussex’s most successful jazz musicians. “I had the idea for this repertoire, some film tunes and just really beautiful melodic tunes and that instrumentation and we just tried it out on one of these charity gigs and just had such a good time, and decided to pursue it.”

    “Musically it was very much this sort of European pavement orchestra, with a little bit of tango, a little bit of world music but taking material from any genre and just bringing it into that instrumentation and then as we started to write there were bits of the circus elements came into some of the music and slightly humorous stuff and then you start to write for that line up and the sound starts to develop and become more defined.”

    Multi-reedsman Julian Nicholas remembers that Mark “wanted to look at the detail of how we deliver the music, because in jazz we tend to input a lot of improvised material, which is incredibly detailed, but to actually capture that in the arrangements and evolve in rehearsal and writing relationships, like co-writing relationships. And then settling upon detailed ideas about instrumentations and voicings and adding ornamentation around everything so that there’s this sort of depth and layering. We do do it in jazz but we don’t capture it necessarily and crystallise it and reproduce it reliably. Whereas with Cloggz, Mark always said that he wanted it to have that kind of intricacy.”

    Mark points out that Julian and himself had previously performed folk music in different bands. “I love that idea of playing unison lines and intricate ensemble passages in music. So we wanted that. Also, just by a lot of jazz groups that I’ve played in, a lot of bands over the years never have quite reached their potential. It’s always a couple of hours rehearsal before the gig, and everyone lives so far apart. A big part of it is that whole Brighton community and that we’d be able to rehearse a lot, more than you’d generally get to do with bands for practical reasons. So that’s been a big part of it – the relationship has been a big part in it. That everybody was so willing to give their time and  because we all love playing together and the long established relationships meant that everyone had that commitment to really put the time in to make the band reach its potential.”

    Julian remembers the discussions that took place within the band about letting the acoustic instruments keep their natural sound and how this resulted in a much more quieter sound. “The dynamics were always a really important thing. It’s one of those elements of intricacy that again you don’t get to explore on pick-up gigs whereas The Cloggz always go into a venue and go ‘how can we start with as natural a sound as possible?’ and we still do that, so that we can gain dynamic range.”

    Mark Edwards agrees and says “We play as quietly as possible, and that’s a lot to do with Dave Trigwell and his incredibly sensitive drumming. ‘The Human Sparrow’ as he was called after a gig. Somebody just came up to him after a gig and said ‘you play the drums like a sparrow’. So that’s where that came from.”

    “I love playing acoustically and just as quiet as possible, and letting the music happen. Start out gently and don’t try to wow people or try and impress people. I think you’ve got to try and move people and draw people in to the music as the set develops.”

    “My feeling is that most live music is just too loud. And people try to mix jazz like pop gigs. Recent experience has borne out at Love Supreme where people struggled with the sound. I always think that when you see a classical concert, I’m always struck by how quiet it is, even if it’s a whole orchestra in the room, within five or ten minutes you’ve adjusted and you’re drawn into it and it’s perfect but it’s often underwhelming at first. At our gigs I always want it to be a bit quiet when they come in, then you suck them in rather than hitting them over the head with it.”

    “We’ve had a fantastic guy doing sound for us, Colin Walker, since the beginning. He mixes all sorts of people, Art Garfunkel at the moment. He’s amazing.”

    Bassist Terry Pack agrees on these points and adds “A big thing for me was when the vocals started to come in, and the voice being part of the instrumentation, not just featured and Imogen’s capacity to sing very difficult lines in unison with the others.”

    Mark Edwards was also inspired by working with Duke Special. “He came and did The Old Market gig. Touring with him, he’s a fantastic collaborator and the whole scene in Northern Ireland (he’s from Belfast) is a very collaborative thing. But people are just champions of each other and songwriters. Because it’s more about that tradition of songwriting and a mutual respect of songwriters. It’s less competitive and insular than say the music scene in London, that’s my perception. And people are always working together and collaborating. He’s always collaborating with film-makers and poets.”

    Mark is also keen for the band to continue developing and going into new territory. “We’re all just evolving musicians. I’m listening to different things now, than I was five years ago and I think what’s great is that with these new shows we just want to do something quite new and quite different. There will, obviously, be a fair amount of the old material but we just want to move on and explore different areas of music now and there’s such a wide range of influences and skill base amongst the musicians and lots of different instruments that we can employ that it’s great to be able to draw on music from anywhere. So we are using some more keyboards and electronica, and just exploring different sorts of grooves, some different cover songs.”

    For their upcoming gigs at The Brunswick and the Under Ground Theatre in Eastbourne there’s some new material. As Mark point out, “There are three new tunes and three new covers. I would love to do 50% new material in these shows, we might not quite achieve that, but we just want to keep surprising people and it’s about this collective of musicians more than it’s about a particular style or genre. And I hope that will always evolve and be an ongoing changing thing, as life goes on, as we discover new things.”

    “I don’t want to repeat ourselves and get stuck in a particular image or style. There are new things coming. There’s been some new material on the last few shows. I think we’ve already got half of a new album. We’ve got the bones of half a new record there. Later in the year we’ll start recording some stuff.”

    Julian Nicholas is clear about what Cloggz is about. “Cloggz is more than the sum of its parts. Everyone brings their own thing to the table and it all gets included. And that genuinely gets across to the audience that everyone’s there for each other and it’s not about any particular thing. It’s just a unifying effect.”

    It also challenges both him and the other members, “It’s constantly asking us to be more questioning about how we put music together, the musical journeys that we are asking an audience to go along with. How do you switch expectations within a number or from number to number?” Terry Pack has similar thoughts, “You’re putting a show together and the music is thematic and it’s hoped that people will actually sit down and listen to it and not be able to just ‘tune out’.” Vocalist Imogen Ryall agrees and points out that “some of the jazz clubs that we’ve played, Steyning and places like that, the audiences generally like quite mainstream jazz, have all really liked it. And the people that come up to us afterwards often say ‘oh, I wasn’t expecting that’ and ‘that was great’.”

    Julian Nicholas, who has been on the scene for a number of years, is realistic about the musical environment that the band is in. “The thing is, we’re not in London. We are in a different microcosm or musical community. In a way, we’ve got the luxury of having that extra little bit of space to perceivably get an overview of the music. And we all bring that to the table, in this band. We all want to expand as individual artists, we know that this is a really important area for all of us. That we explore compositional possibilities and instrumental combinations.”

    Mark Edwards is keen to explore those compositional possibilities and is always keen to learn new things. “I’ve been listening to a lot of classical music at the moment and trying to learn a little bit more about composition and twelve tone music and tone rows so there’s a new piece that we’ve got that incorporates some of that. But it’s very simple rhythmically, and something that I’m interested in. With jazz what often loses people is the rhythm or complex harmony or melody, and a combination of all those three. I like the idea of quite simple rhythm and pulling from indie and pop music but with more complex harmony and melody. If you present things in that framework you can put a lot more harmonic and melodic information to people and it will still be accessible.”

    “With that new piece, I was just working with a few tone rows, and listening to Schoenberg and Webern and things like that. I don’t know anything about that music, it holds great mystery to me but also listening to Grizzly Bear and some indie music and thinking what about the idea of commanding these two, very diverse things that you’re listening to and trying to pull them together in one piece. It’s a lot of fun.”

    There are also lots of other new elements that are being devised for the upcoming performances. “We’re going to have some new projections, a new show. We thought long and hard about where to do these gigs as well and thought it would be nice to do them somewhere intimate. The last one was obviously at The Old Market and that was amazing to get a few hundred people out and was the culmination of a lot of work and really four or five years of gigging in Brighton and building up to that via the Brighton Emporium.”

    “One, we’d like to do a slightly smaller venue and be able to play more than one night. Also we just like that room and the intimacy of that room so it’s going to be interesting to try and build a bit of a set and how we can use projections when we’re a little bit more limited for space so it’s very much about trying to be creative with the whole evening and every aspect of it. Hopefully there will be a few surprises. I’d just like to make the whole evening a multimedia experience.”

    “Everyone is working on their own projects, which feeds into this. Imogen, Julian and I are doing a trio record which came out of a gig we did last summer at All Saints so that’s been really lovely, we’ve been recording that in Hastings with James McMillan so we’ve got a few more tunes still to mix. There’s a new duo thing that I’m doing with Ben Castle which is the same week as our Cloggz gigs, which is obviously going a bit more electronic. And Terry is doing a lot with Trees.”

    Terry Pack also attributes The Cloggz with helping him set up his large ensemble Trees. “With The Cloggz what it did was it proved to me that you could get very, very good people to come and play music if they felt that the music was valid and if the human relationships were good. And I think that actually the human relationships are more important than the music. Because things flounder, don’t they, quite quickly, and groups are always beset by conflict and difficulty and the music won’t hold it together unless those people want to be with each other.”

    “It’s interesting though because if people knew that this group functioned the way it does and that Trees functions the way it does, that somehow the music does get written and played, actually it might inspire more people to form groups. Because I know a lot of Brighton musicians who don’t play in groups.”

    Mark Edwards is also keen to express the fun element of performing with others, “Playing with The Cloggz, it’s just so enjoyable to play the music. And actually we just play a tune again just for the fun of it. It’s not just about getting match fit but also just enjoying that aspect of it. That’s that thing of reaching the full potential. It’s only playing the music in and then again and again and paying that much attention to detail.”

    

 

The Cloggz are performing at The Brunswick, Hove on Saturday 12th and Sunday 13th August

and on Thursday 24th August at the 606 Club, London

and on Saturday 30th September at the Under Ground Theatre, Eastbourne. 

 

The Cloggz album Sawdust and Spangles is still available.