How did you start out playing?
My mum liked Acker Bilk. At junior school, when I was about 10, I had this teacher Mr. Green, he got everyone on recorder, which I got really into, so my mum got me a clarinet, and made me play Stranger on the Shore every time someone came for dinner. By the time I was 12 I had a saxophone. A guy who was in the Royal Engineers taught me, and he was very ‘read the music, play the tunes’. I got a bit bored of it all, as you do when you’re a teenager. I didn’t get back into music until I was 21, and then decided it was what I really wanted to do. That was when I did all my proper practice and got into jazz.
So, how did you come up with the idea for your band Barnacles?
I always liked writing my own stuff and up until that point it had always been quite studio-based, using conventional line-ups, some kind of chordal thing, beats and the horns, and often changing who was in the horns. But then we did a couple of gigs with my Barnacles repertoire. We had double bass, keys, drums and me on tenor with a trombonist. So it was a bit more conventional. I found that having a chordal instrument, where they decide to go is where everyone else goes. So not having that chordal instrument gives it that ambiguity.
Barnacles came about because I decided to give the whole drums and horns thing a go. I did some arrangements. I’d met Peter Adam Hill through playing swing and realised that he loves to play everything else other than just swing. He really loves modern beats and he turned me on to the sorts of drummers that he was listening to. So I was like ‘yeah, this is gonna work’.
The idea for the group just grew out of my curiosity and wanting to experiment with different sounds and how they fit together, but then still having the freedom to improvise. I really like the group improvisation. It might sound hectic but it sounds less harmonically messy.
The ideas for the music come from me. I really like the rawness of just horns and drums. Every time I write a new tune, it’s usually a blank slate. There might be an idea that I want to create.
Tell us about the recording that you’re releasing, from the very beginning of the process.
I’d got a set of tunes together and we’d done a few gigs with the lineup and it was definitely time for them to be recorded. We recorded them before my son was born and he’s now 3, so the album’s been kicking around for a while now.
The process was to get the songs sounding quite solid in a live environment. We went to Metway Studio, The Levellers’ place over in Kemptown, and recorded there, all live. We just used different rooms to get a bit of separation so we could treat things, add a bit more warmth to the mix. My friend Alex Banks is an EDM producer and I managed to convince him to come and be the producer and do all the mixing for me. We had one day in Metway, recording all the tunes that are on the album.
Alex got the mixes together, then I met up with him and spent a couple of evenings just doing the more creative mixing, the balances and reverb. On the drum sound we used one room mic that was through an old valve compressor, really crunched up, with needles on max the whole time, so it gave quite an analogue, distorted sound which we used on the drum mix – so they sound pretty filthy. The only other thing we did was Greg’s baritone – we put an octave sub effect on it. That’s had quite a good knock-on effect for playing live. Greg went out and bought an octave pedal to use for live. There’s that nice thing of how recording can influence live, and live can influence recording. It’s best not to have too many preconceptions.
And after the recording process?
Why was the album sat around for so long? Learning to be a dad takes up quite a bit of time. I’m really making a big push the rest of this year to get all of my original music out there. I’ve got a bit disheartened in the past from putting something on the internet and then not really seeing anything happen with it, not really having anyone listen to it. I’m starting to realise that’s because I’ve never actually done anything to make sure people see it. I just need to get over that whole fear of social media and just embrace it and get on with it. That is the way, if you want to get record sales these days you need to get on top of social media, get out there, do interviews.
The album artwork is a photo of the Guggenheim by photographer David Clapp. He’s a stunning landscape photographer. We got in touch with David through a friend, he really liked the album and was happy for us to use it. So he basically gifted us the album cover, which is amazing. Not only that, he got so into the music, listening to the album that he got in touch with me and said he’d really like to come and take some portraits of the band. We managed to find, literally, a 2 hour window where we could all get together in Brighton and David came down and shot the pictures. It was his idea for us to have our eyes closed, it’s actually brilliant. Because the eyes are closed there’s this vulnerability to the face. You almost feel that you can study the face more and they have a nice intimate kind of feel to them. Then we totally used those pictures for everything, including profile shots, the Facebook banner etc. We’ll see how much mileage we can get out of those.
What have you been working on recently with Barnacles?
We’ve been experimenting quite a bit with the movement of the band. Horn players are very mobile, so we can move around. Brighton Dome used to run Site & Sound where they would fund a video that showed off different aspects of the Dome building. We did one where I start playing in the entrance hall and then walk into the Corn Exchange where the band are. It’s a one-shot video. No room for error, it’s real, what you end up with is what happened.
I started to come up with an idea of taking that another step further and see what happens with the whole instrument and a dance improvisation. You’ve got movement from the dancer and the music from the musicians and that interaction. So this year for Kemptown Carnival we managed to get some funding to work with a choreographer, four dancers and build a special drum platform that could be pushed. So there’s a drum platform with pneumatic wheels that two people pushed. We managed to change the sonic perspectives. I think that really draws the listener, or viewer, really in, and into what they’re hearing.
We love doing a straight stage show, all playing, but this whole new experiment with movement and dance, I really want to continue that. I’d love to be able to put together a fully-immersive show where you walk in, there’s no stage as such, you’re just in a room, dancers and the musicians occupy different spaces at different times and you end up with 20-30 minutes of being immersed in a performance. You won’t know where to look. You could watch the same thing straight away again, and you’d get a different experience of it. I love that kind of thing.
Thursday 10th October, 2019 at Rose Hill, Brighton. Tickets here.
The Barnacles album And so we begin is available on Bandcamp and vinyl.
Interview: Charlie Anderson
Photo: Lisa Wormsley