Brighton pianist Mark Edwards talked to Charlie Anderson about his latest album, In Deep, and his ensemble Cloggz.
What first drew you to the piano as an instrument?
“I don’t remember a time when playing the piano was not a part of my daily life. It was there in the home. My dad loved music and played by ear. He never performed in public. So the idea of just sitting down at the piano and picking out popular tunes or improvising for fun was the most natural thing in the world from day one. And he praised me for it and encouraged me so much, I am so grateful to him for that.”
“It was some kind of magic, the sound of that old out of tune upright. And wherever I went, on holidays, school trips, other people’s homes, if there was a piano about I’d be drawn to it. It was just playing to me, the best fun. I must have been so annoying.”
“My dad had some Liberace records, and Charlie Kunz, and I played them to death. Oddly, those guys were my first influences. I was doing a gig with Bobby Wellins recently and after I played a particular run he leaned over and whispered into my ear ‘that’s a Liberace lick’. Busted!”
Tell us about your album In Deep. How did that come about?
“Over the last few years I have done quite a few sessions for the (grammy nominated!) producer James McMillan. He is an extraordinary musician and truly lovely person. He has also been a great encourager to me. As musicians we really need that sometimes!”
“James started his own label, Quiet Money Recordings a while back, and has put out a couple of albums for Liane Carroll. These have been extremely well received, and won her some well-deserved awards. When he offered to produce and release a record for me on his label, I jumped at the chance. We wanted the album to be about songs, and to make something heartfelt and beautiful. I feel really privileged to have some hugely talented and generous friends, singers and musicians on the record with me.”
“There are incredible performances by Carleen Anderson, Claire Martin, Ben Castle, Priscilla Jones and of course Liane. And in the rhythm section, the influential genius Martin France on drums and Andrew Cleyndert on bass, whom I have been lucky enough to play with a lot with over the last 20 years.”
“The material is largely taken from contemporary artists; Tom Waits, Rufus Wainwright, Ennio Morricone with a few original tunes of mine thrown in. It’s been really rewarding to receive positive feedback about the record, and we’ve had a surprising amount of airplay, not least from Jamie Cullum.”
You’ve done quite a lot of traveling and touring. What are your favourite places?
“Yes, it’s a great perk of the job to travel, and I love touring. Sometimes it’s the old “hotel, dressing room, tour bus“ routine without getting to see much of the places you’re in, but then every now and then you’ll get a break somewhere really great, sometimes made all the more special by the fact that it’s unexpected.”
“A few highlights over the last few years have been South Africa, where at the end of the tour I went on Safari! And Australia, where we played all the main cities in two weeks, and most recently, stunning Norway, my first time in that beautiful country. I have also always found Eastern Europe fascinating, and am looking forward to playing in Russia, Estonia and Lithuania in a few weeks’ time.”
“But I’d also have to say I love Brighton, I’ve lived here for 25 years now. I’ve had some very enjoyable local gigs recently. Small intimate club gigs with lots of friends around can be very special. Sometimes those are the situations where I feel the most connection with the audience. I really like living by the sea; and walking the dog on the South Downs, or in Friston Forest, and being with family and friends, it’s pretty hard to beat, that’s my favourite place.”
Cloggz is a unique band with a unique sound. How did that band come about?
“I had the idea of Cloggz running around my mind for a couple of years before it became a reality. I had the sound in my mind of accordion, violin, clarinet and rhythm section, playing some of the most beautiful compositions that have touched me. There’s a lot of scope with that instrumentation, you can draw from many genres; klezmer, folk, tango, jazz and film music.”
“I wanted the band to be very much about melodic ensemble playing, and to include, but not rely too heavily on, improvisation.”
“Cloggz is very much about making an emotional connection with the audience, moving people. Music has such a power to touch us deeply, to enrich, heal and repair. That’s what we’re trying to tap into. A lot of that is do with choosing really beautiful compositions, playing quietly, not forcing anything, but letting the music happen in its own time.”
“Another important aspect is that we are all very close friends, that makes for great music, and on a practical level we all live in or around Brighton so we’re able to rehearse together a lot. So many projects I have been involved with never reach their full potential because of a lack of detailed rehearsal.”
“We have several talented composers in the band, and have almost completed a 5-track EP of original music which I am really excited about. Our next live show is at Eastbourne College on April 16.”
What projects are you working on at the moment? What can we expect in the future?
“Aside from Cloggz and In Deep, I have recorded two very different projects with my great friend and collaborator Ben Castle, for release later this year.”
“One of those is a reinvention of some jazz standards, but fusing rock, lounge music, electronica and whatever else came up. This features the amazing Tim Harries on bass (Brian Eno, David Holmes, etc.) and three drummers! Bryan Spring, Troy Miller and Richie Stevens. All playing together on one or two tracks! We recorded this nine years ago, but only just got round to mixing it.”
“The other project with Ben is completely improvised. All first takes, and all the instruments played by ourselves, apart from a few tracks where Troy Miller joined us. We filled the studio with every instrument we could lay our hands on, chose one each and began improvising, sometimes on a loose structure but with no prescribed notes. In this concept it doesn’t really matter whether you can formally play that instrument, it’s just about trying to make something musical with what you have in your hands.”
“Then we picked up another couple of instruments and layered on top of that, and on and on, just reacting to what’s there. I’m really pleased with the results, and enjoyed working in this way so much, it’s a complete liberation to the usual way of recording.”
“At the moment I’m producing an album for Stuart Townend, a great friend of mine and fantastic singer/sonwriter and musician from Brighton.”
“And then I’m going back out on the road with Katie Melua for a month around Eastern Europe and the Netherlands. We’re playing one show in the UK at The Chapel Royal in April. I have been playing in Katie’s live band for the last year, touring mainly in Europe. This time it’s a simplified 3-piece band with Katie, Tim Harries on bass, and myself on piano, organ and synthesizer. We’ve just started rehearsing, and it’s going to be lot of fun.”
The album In Deep is available now on Quiet Money Recordings.