1 July 2019

Theon Cross Interview

Tuba player Theon Cross has always had an interest in superheroes and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). “I’m big into the MCU”. Interviewed the day before he goes on tour, if he had a superpower it would be to shrink his tuba. “If I could easily shrink the tuba and put it in my pocket when I wanted to, just to get around when I’m not playing, that would be amazing.”

Theon started playing music in primary school when his parents signed him and his brother up to brass lessons. “I started on an instrument called the tenor horn. It’s an instrument that I didn’t take to straight away, but when I got bigger, in secondary school, I picked up a slightly larger version of that called the baritone horn. Around 12 or 13 I joined a marching band called Kinetika Bloco. It was a carnival band that used to play at Notting Hill and Thames Festival, we used to wear costumes and I really started to enjoy music through that. That’s also where I met a mentor of mine, Andy Grappy. He introduced me to the tuba about age 14, and I just fell in love with it. I really started to love and enjoy playing the instrument. He introduced me to a lot of tuba players from New Orleans, for example, and a lot of music where the tuba was first in the bass role. So I just started to enjoy it.”

From there, Theon went from Kinetika Bloco to Tomorrow’s Warriors, who also ran workshops at the South Bank Centre. “I used to do a lot of workshops there, and eventually I got into Guildhall School of Music. The rest is history I suppose. That’s where I met a lot of the musicians that I play with now.”

Despite the size of the instrument, Theon is keen to express why he loves the tuba so much. “It’s a warm instrument. It’s got a very warm tone and a very warm sound. I love how diverse it can be. Because it’s a horn, and a bass instrument, it can do rhythm section stuff and more frontline, more melodic stuff. It’s a very versatile instrument.”

This love of the tuba contrasts with the public perception of an instrument associated with traditional brass bands but Theon sees things improving. “I think people’s perceptions of the instrument are changing. A lot of great bands utilise tuba. People are starting to see the instrument outside of a simplistic role and other tuba players are doing more experimental stuff. Through my actions and through my music, I aim to change people’s perceptions about what musically can be done with the instrument.”

Theon released his debut album, Fyah, in February this year to much critical acclaim. A standout track on the album, Radiation, features a pumping bass line and a call and response section with Nubya Garcia. “It was just an idea that came to me, and a really catchy bass line that I thought would work. Then it just needed a melody to complement it. The mixing process for that track was that I wanted it to be like really gnarly, very hip hop, very effects heavy, and very experimental. Although I created it with just tuba, saxophone and drums, I wanted it to sound really big, and powerful, and more than that. So I used effects and pedals which was something that helped create the radiation.”

Theon is set for a busy summer of festivals and touring, setting aside time to compose new material. “We’re doing quite a few festivals, like North Sea, Love Supreme and various others like Jazz Re:Fest. We’re also going to Canada as well, which is amazing. At the same time I’m working and touring with Sons of Kemet. I’m also working on new music for the next record, I’m in the process of writing for that. I never really make music and think it’s going to be an album. I kind of just make music and compile it as it goes, so hopefully if it’s not an EP it will definitely be another full-length album.”

Looking to the future, Theon is optimistic with a clear idea of what he wants to work on in the months ahead. “I’m definitely working on incorporating more electronics in my music, and working with more producers. Definitely, on the next record there will be more collaborations with vocals, ‘cause obviously Fyah was an instrumental album. Where I’d like to go next, my sound is very rap influenced so I think it’s only logical that I work with some rappers for the next project that I do.”


Theon Cross

Love Supreme Festival 2019

The Arena Saturday, 7:45pm


Jazz Re:Fest

Brighton Dome

Saturday 27th July, 2019


Interview by Charlie Anderson

Photo: Andy Earl

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