Vocalist Dave Williams talks to Charlie Anderson about his love of music and his new seven piece swing band.
Tell us a bit about yourself
“I’ve lived here all my life. Predominantly I’m a businessman and I’ve got my own heating business which funds the singing business. I used to play trumpet when I was at school so I’ve always read music as well as piano. I’m not a pianist or a trumpet player. I could be if I studied it but I haven’t got time. I study music so I am the deal as far as the musicians go. It’s important for me to get the respect of the musicians whenever I sing or perform. So I can read music, it’s not a problem, I can transpose to different keys. If I need to sing a song in a different key I can just sit at my piano and work it out. I’m very lucky, very very lucky.”
“I got divorced a couple of years ago. My wife couldn’t really handle the music because you’ve got to be totally absorbed in it, which is what I am. I’ve got my day business but with singing you’ve got to live and breathe it.”
“I’ve always loved singing. My Dad was Welsh and I’m half-Welsh so it’s in the blood to sing. Basically, I now have two voice coaches. I’ve got a good team. One is Mark Turner who does my voice placement. Because I’m a bass baritone and I’ve lived quite a heavy life, really. I haven’t done drugs or anything like that, but I’m quite obsessive so if I did I’d be quite worried. I used to smoke and drink but now I don’t smoke and I drink in moderation, because it’s all geared around the voice. I try and eat the right things, drink the right liquids, the right teas and what-have-you.”
“I try and make sure the vocals are as good as they can be. I’ll be 53 this year so I need to move on this. I keep fit by going boxing and training twice a week when I’ve got time. That keeps everything moving and keeps the weight down.”
“Mark Turner my voice placement coach, I’ve been going to him for about four years. He used to train Paul Young and work with Paul McCartney so he knows his stuff. He’s a guitar player and he’s done hundreds of gigs all over Europe. I’m lucky to have him.”
“The other jewel in the crown, for me, is Lawrence Jones. I’m his only pupil nowadays. Mark and Lawrence are very similar. They’re both older than me, I respect them totally and they really want me to get up there. And the only way for them to do it is for them to keep me down there and be real with me and be truthful with me, which they are. They don’t hold back. And a lot of the time I feel like sh*t after I’ve been with them but I know that the end result is good. I rehearse every day, vocally and musically because they demand it. I do pay them, obviously, but you have to invest in yourself.”
“There have been many stepping stones for me. I met Lawrence at boxing and we got talking. He goes boxing training as well. And he took me under his wing, basically. He’s been very supportive. He’s tough, but he’s very supportive. And he’s a genius and I’m learning so much.”
“I was at The Bristol Bar last night and I got great comments from Terry Pack and Will Gardner said ‘you’re sounding as good as you’ve ever sounded’ but whatever jam that I’m singing at, I may make the odd mistake but I prepare what I do. Last night I sang Foggy Day. I prepare the key and know the tempo and I know before I get there what I’m going to do and how I’m going to end it. That’s what I do: it’s all about preparation.”
“I go to all these jams as much as I can because it’s all experience and I like hanging with the guys. I love listening to the music and it’s something that’s in my blood now. Music has always been there but jazz, in the last few years I’ve just got into it. And especially with the type of music that I sing, the tongue-in-cheek Dave Sinatra. Everyone knows me as Dave Sinatra. They call me it now, even though I’ve tried to lose it. I don’t think I’ll ever lose it. But I am Dave Williams and that’s how I’m known now.”
“Dave Eastman, who used to run the Brighton Big Band, saw me at The Bristol Bar and invited me to come along to some rehearsals last year. Now I’m their male vocalist. We’ve got six or seven gigs this summer and lots of rehearsals. The other spin-off from that is my seven-piece band, which is very exciting. There’s John Lake on piano, Matt Casterton on bass, Simon Cambers on drums and we’re very lucky to have Paul Nieman on trombone and Dave Moorhouse on trumpet (or Chris Smith, they alternate). The two sax players are Philippe Guyard and Alex Bondonno. It’s an incredible line up! And of course to add flavour we’ve got Jackie Sampson who comes down from London. She’s a big band singer and she’s gorgeous. She can sing and we’re just like that, we just bond, and it’s brilliant.”
How did the seven piece band come about?
“I just had this idea. I went up to Ronnie Scott’s and I saw Frank Sinatra Jr. and he had a ten piece band with him and I thought that’s something that I’d like to do and, lo and behold, it’s happening now. The sort of show that we’re putting on is slightly different to what he does. It’s my own take on things but it’s a similar show. I’ve got Jackie adding flavour to the whole thing and it works. We did a big show at Stoke Poges Country Club back in January and that went down really well. That was quite a top end gig. We got well paid for that, which is what I’m aiming at for the guys. I’m not so much worried about myself. Obviously it’s nice to earn money but I think it’s important for the musicians to be recognised for all the hard work that they do. This is where I’m coming from. I go round all the jam sessions and I see all this talent. Massive talent in Brighton. We’re just so lucky. And these guys, like myself, just play for nothing. I would rather play at a jazz jam with a discerning crowd for nothing than sing one of my rat pack gigs to a load of pissheads in a pub that don’t know what they’re doing. That’s where I am now. We’re shortly to be filming our seven piece band and take it to a higher-end make, if we can. That’s my plan.”
What other things do you do?
“I’ve also got the Railway Club on the last Friday of every month, up at the Seven Dials with Lawrence Jones. We do that together. We’ve got John Lake, Matt Casterton and Loz Thomas. We do that once a month and we’ve been getting 80-100 people there the past couple of times and it’s been great. We get all these different guys come down – I try and headline different people each month. Jackie Sampson was last month. Katrina Casterton, Matt’s wife, is a terrific singer before that. And I’ve got Sara Oschlag and Roy Hilton in June. We get lots of vocalists, so many in fact that I hardly get to do my full bit, because I like to share it out.”
“All the jazz jams that I go to, they’re all different. They’ve got their own thing. There’s room for everything. And it all works. There’s lots of different personalities and that’s what makes it work, in my opinion. Lou Beckerman said to me ‘it’s like a family, a jazz family’. And it really is. The music scene in Brighton. I don’t think it’s ever been better. The jazz scene is quite incredible.”
“I’m just so happy. And it’s got me through a lot, like my divorce troubles and now, dare I say it, I’m selfishly a musician because every night music is the primary thing for me. Whether it goes nowhere, but it might go somewhere. That’s the beauty of it – I don’t quite know.”
“I also do a Ratpack show with a pal of mine, Joe Dellow, who is a great vocalist. He does a lot of solo vocals and vocals with a guitarist, Wayne Barker, who is another friend of mine. We do our rat pack show now and again but most of my stuff is live band work now.”
“Most of the time I just want to get better. I really want to improve all the time. I’m always listening to music. I’ve got Smile FM which is a great radio station, it’s nothing but music, there’s no talking. And I learn so much from that.”
“Singing with the seven piece band with such great musicians: obviously you’ve got to be cool, you’re just there to sing but when I look at them I just want to go ‘Ohhh! I’m so excited!’. Inside I’m bursting out! It’s great and we just have fun.”
The Dave Williams Swing Band perform at The Verdict in Brighton on Saturday 13th June.
You can also see Dave perform at Brighton Railway Club on the last Friday of every month 6-8:30pm.