Tell us a bit about how you got into playing drums.
I started playing the drums quite late for a kid really. I started in secondary school when I was 12. I was lucky to be taught by Dave White who ran an amateur swing band, so when I got a bit more advanced, he got me into that. He let me just come along and play through the charts, it’s all with ex-marine players, doing all classic tunes, like big band charts, y’know, Splanky and things like that; really, really fun tunes. So that’s how I first got into jazz. I stayed with that until I was 18. I did about 5 years, then was lucky enough to get a place on the jazz course at Trinity, which is now Trinity Laban. There I got more into small group playing. I really enjoyed the interaction between small groups of musicians and I liked trying to play the melody on the drums. That was something that really, really interested me. I started listening to Ed Blackwell, probably in about my second year of four years there on the BMus undergraduate course. There was just something about his playing that I thought was quite magical. Over the years I’ve been thinking about getting this project together, which is now my latest album release. It’s kind of been with me for a long time, the concept behind the album.
In terms of putting the album together, tell me a bit about the other musicians.
Well, firstly, Liam Noble who is the pianist, actually teaches at Trinity. I went on a couple of summer schools where he was teaching and I was kind of an apprentice if you like, helping him out. We chatted a lot there and I talked about the project to him. I’ve always absolutely loved his playing, I played with him on Christine Tobin’s album previously to recording my album and I had him in mind first to play on the album. I thought it would just be great, so I got the courage to ask him to do it, and luckily he said yes, which is fantastic.
We’ve also got Paul Michael on bass. Now, Paul and I both come from Kent. We met at Trinity, but we actually played in the Kent Jazz Orchestra before that, probably about two years before we properly met at Trinity and became house-mates. We’ve been playing together ever since. I think he’s got a very unique style on the electric bass, and we’ve done a few other musical projects together, including an indie band project. We’ve got a good connection, and quite a good history of understanding each other’s musical needs and being able to communicate ideas effectively, which I think is really, really important when you’re doing a project like this, so he’s been a great help in the project.
And then Binker Golding. Paul and I actually first met Binker at Spice of Life in London, doing a Sunday afternoon jazz jam session. It was one of those things where we were just the house rhythm section and various people came up to play. There were a few different horn players, and there was Binker. He just absolutely blew me away, the energy in his playing was wild, it was just so, so good, and I remember thinking ‘who is that, who is that? I must get his number and have a chat with him after’. Then we worked together on and off; Binker played on my final recital at Trinity, that was now quite a few years ago, 2009. We’ve done things on and off since then, but this really is the first time I’ve got it down.
How did you choose the tunes?
When I was at college a few years ago, I was listening to quite a few different things and I came across Ed Blackwell. It was The Ed Blackwell Project, so it was his last two recordings. It was the two CDs that he basically is on the front of, it was his project. Quite a few of the tunes, for example a song called Pentahouve (by Mark Helias) is from that album. I liked the tunes and I wanted to try and represent them in a different way, and also to bring bassist Paul Michael’s influence into it, just to give it more of a modern feel.
I felt a lot of the tunes had got in my head, they had quite a hook to them. I found myself singing them in the car after I’d only heard them once or twice. Pentahouve’s a prime example of that. The other tunes: obviously I couldn’t do an album without doing an Ornette Coleman tune, Blues Connotation. Again with that one, I just had a little play on some figures at the front and, again, put a bit more of a modern feel on it with just the usual bop, going into the high energy bop, which I really, really enjoyed playing. I’ve played a few times at the Ronnie Scott’s jam session and the late shows, and I really enjoyed doing the high energy jazz like that. It’s really fun.
And then obviously we’re going for Mopti which is a Don Cherry tune. This one I really enjoy as the kind of afro feel and the kind of afro playing. I studied a lot of Blackwell’s patterns and I’ve transcribed a lot of his playing. In my practice I’m taking little segments of that and trying to regenerate it, put my own personality into it as well. That comes back to a lot of playing with the melody, as Blackwell is very, very melodic in his playing. Even when he’s playing a groove, you can hear all the different voices of the kit like the high tom, the snare with the snares off; you can hear all these different voices working together and balancing, pushing and pulling. So I found that really interesting, and Mopti is a great tune to mess around with that on, and there’s a bit of cross-rhythms at the start on that one, like 3 over 2 sort of thing which again, Paul is playing over.
The penultimate one sums it up. Again, that’s off the album The Ed Blackwell Project, one of the last recordings Ed Blackwell did in 1992. With that one I’ve gone with some of my more rocky roots as well and put a bit of a rock straight-eighth driving rhythm over the front of it, and just having a bit of fun with that ‘cause I know Binker enjoys playing in that style and it really brings out his really energetic playing. Also Paul, coming from a bit more of an indie background as well, and studying jazz. So we had fun with that tune, and again that goes into a really fun afro bit as well.
The last one to talk about is Dakar Dance, which is actually the first track on the album. I have probably studied this piece the most. It was the first thing that I heard of Ed Blackwell’s, and it’s by Karl Berger. It’s actually got Dave Holland on bass on the original, and I was lucky enough to meet Dave at one of the summer schools with Liam Noble and I got to talk to Dave about this tune, which is absolutely great because Ed Blackwell’s playing on the original track from the album, Transit by Karl Berger. It sounds like there’s an off-beat sort of cowbell in it. There’s basically a hundred things going on at once, I listened to it first and just thought ‘what an earth is going on here, I must learn this and I must do it my own way.’ So that’s one of the first tracks I knew I would like to record and have a go at.
Where would you like to go to next? Are there other drummers you’d like to do a project on, or perhaps focus on your own music?
I think after this album I would definitely look towards doing some of my own tunes. There are a lot of compositional elements in these pieces that we’ve added on to that, I think, have legs to go a bit further and go into original compositions. And I’d certainly be looking at using Paul Michael for that project because I feel that we have more to share after this album.
Is there anything you do outside of music, such as hobbies?
Yes, I like to bake cakes, and I do wedding cakes. I used to provide cakes to a local cafe in Margate, where I grew up, but mainly I just bake for fun.
So, what’s your favourite cake?
That’s a good question. I have to say a sticky ginger cake.
The Brunswick, Hove
Sunday, 7th November
Interviewed by Charlie Anderson.
Photo: Auriane Defert.