We caught up with guitarist Nigel Price in the midst of his latest epic tour of the UK that also sees the launch of his latest album.
You’ve got a new album out in November. Tell us about Heads and Tales (Vol. 2).
“I have never been so pleased with a recording. Matt Home, Ross Stanley, Alex Garnett and Vasilis Xenopoulos did a fantastic job and all the the tracks were recorded in either the first or second take. I released the first volume of Heads & Tales in 2012 and the format proved to be very popular so I’ve made another! This time it’s out on Whirlwind Recordings. I’ve known Mike Janisch, who runs Whirlwind, for many years. I always thought my music would be too ‘straight ahead’ for the label but he disagreed and said that he was just into putting out music that’s ‘good at what it does’. Well. It swings. Hard. It’s not a reinvention of the wheel or ‘genre busting’. It’s jazz. Dirty, low down jazz with lashings of blues feeling that is totally unapologetic for what it is and I have had nothing but praise for the music, the concept and….the cover. It’s actually worth buying for the cover alone. You’ll see why if you buy one…”
“I chose nine standard forms and wrote new tunes or ‘heads’ over the structures and had the organ trio plus the addition of tenor saxophone in mind to bolster the melodies. Choosing between Al and Vas was impossible so I asked them both to play on the record and two of the tracks have them playing together. It’s incendiary stuff!”
“Using familiar tunes is a good way of keeping one foot in the past and one in the present. Audiences and musicians have reacted well to it and I’ve also found it to be a creative way of composing new music. Rather than simply construct a new melody I like to involve the whole band so there are some tight, punchy arrangements on there. I think the trick is not to overwrite this sort of thing. Whilst an audience likes to hear that we know what we’re doing (!) through the use of syncopation it would be wrong to break up the grooves too much so it’s wise to take a step back and think of the bigger picture in this way. The second CD presents the same standards but this time with the original written melodies and performed either as solo guitar pieces or guitar overdubs, which I have always found extremely fulfilling. I did my utmost to keep it interesting and have made sure that the keys and /or feels differ from the first disc. I spent about a week on this and used my new guitar, a blond D’angelico NYL-5. I’d only bought it a couple of weeks beforehand and it was a great way to get to know the instrument and to check out how it sounded. I didn’t get anything recorded on the first two days as, well, I just expected myself to play better! But it had to be done as the snowball had already started rolling so I just relaxed, tried not to think about whether it was any good or not and just did the job. Several people who have the CD have contacted me and told me they’re knocked out by the guitar CD so I guess it must sound ok!”
Tell us about the latest tour with your quartet.
“The tour is 56 dates long and covers as much of the UK as possible. I managed to find some funding, where possible, for local young jazz musicians to play short support sets before us and this has proved to be a huge success as these bright young things bring so much enthusiasm as well as a new generation of jazz fans to the gigs. I also found funding for 15 jazz workshops which take place just before the gigs which has also boosted attendances. I have consciously sought out some of the clubs that might be ailing to try to give them all a shot in the arm. Some of these places are just a few badly attended gigs from closing so there’s a real emergency out there.”
“I’ve had the band going for fifteen years now and it’s become a draw for many venues which is a fantastic position to be in as I feel that I can help get a few more bums on seats. I’m lucky to have two of the greatest UK jazz musicians with me:- Matt Home on drums and Ross Stanley on the organ. Ross brings a real B3 Hammond and Leslie speaker out on the road and audiences love to see and hear the real thing. It makes travel slightly harder and more expensive but it is totally worth it. Either Alex Garnett or Vasilis Xenopoulos are augmenting the band on tenor saxophone where a quartet is required. All these guys have great personalities and its been a right laugh out on the road.”
“We’re playing music from all five of my releases as well as tunes we’re into at the moment. I’ve arranged some other material with the organ trio in mind too so there’s loads to choose from. Whilst it’s good to play the same material a lot and watch it develop there’s the chance that this can eventually lead to some of the tunes feeling a bit staid so I try to keep a constant stream of new fodder coming through. It’s hard to find the time though. We have about 150 pieces in the pad so we could probably play 20 gigs without repeating ourselves.”
“Venues don’t tend to want you back for about two years so I organise a tour pretty much every two years. It’s really expensive to travel and fund accommodation so it makes a lot of sense to group as many gigs together as possible, a tour…, and try to get some some funding to help towards these costs.”
What’s your experience been with applying for Arts Council funding?
“In the past it was possible to seek Jazz Services funding for smaller tours but the ceiling for funding was £2500 which I soon realised doesn’t really go very far when you’re organising tours with upwards of 20/25 dates. So the Arts Council has been a real lifeline. It’s not a given that you’re going to be successful in your application which can be extremely stressful, especially if you just spent 18 months going through the utterly gruelling task of putting a huge tour like this together. I suppose that was also part of wanting to make absolutely sure that I ‘got over the line’ with tour, and a major factor in why it ended up as extensive as it is.”
“I don’t even want to think about what would have happened if I’d been unsuccessful. Let’s not go there…Suffice to say I’ll be forever indebted to the Arts Council for their invaluable help and for making this mammoth tour possible.”
Tell us about some of the other projects that you’re involved with.
“I live just outside London so I’m on call to dive in and play whatever jazz gigs I’m asked to. There’s a huge scene and thousands of jazz musicians in London so it can be quite competitive, I suppose, in the sense that you have to have your shit together to be at least somewhere toward the top of the list for these calls but it’s always friendly. It’s through working like this that you end up forging relationships and I’ve enjoyed a decade or so of working regularly with the classy vocalist Georgia Mancio and have been working closely with Vasilis Xenopoulos with whom I’ve formed a quartet with a view to recording and touring next year. We get on like a house on fire both musically and socially and when a bond like that comes along it makes sense to capitalise on it. We have the legend that is Steve Brown on the drums and the fabulous bass player Dario Di Lecce who’s fairly new to the country (on loan from Italy).”
“I fairly recently recorded with the fabulous Exeter based pianist Craig Milverton and wonderful bassist Sandy Suchodolski. We are all big fans of Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown and Joe Pass and it’s been a lot of fun going out and playing that music. There is talk of more but we’re all busy as hell! I hope it happens and I’m sure we’ll do it all again if our dairies match up…”
“Aside from that I already have bookings for the trio into 2017. For the future I’d like to start exploring a lower dynamic. Although I’m generally known for being a guitarist who’s not shy of really going for it (!) on the bandstand there is another quieter, more thoughtful side to my playing which few get to hear so I’d like to find a musical situation that would allow this side to flourish. But at the moment I need to get stuck into this tour. What’s the time? Jeez. I have to run:- I have to be in Streatham in three hours from now and I’ve barely rubbed the sleep out of my eyes from last night! No rest for the wicked eh?”
Nigel Price Quartet appear at The Verdict, Brighton on Friday 7th October.
Heads and Tales (Vol. 2) is released on 11th November but advanced copies can be purchased on the night.
For more details on Nigel, the latest album and the tour: