Music

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Lancaster Jazz Festival, 2013, photo by Richard Davis

As in playing music, and writing it, not writing about it. I’m a semi-pro double bassist, playing jazz and improvised music, writing a bit, playing locally for my own pleasure. Here you can find out about my musical history—bands and projects I’ve been involved with in the past, over 30+ years—as well as my current music. Scroll down and you’ll find information about my playing in the following places and times:

  • Norwich 2016-
  • Lancaster 2010-2015, with my new bass
  • Lancaster and the north-west, 1990s-early 2000s
  • Glasgow, late 1980s- early 1990s
  • Norwich 1980s.

Also below are some images of bands I have been in—and occasionally out of—over the decades. There are probably a few more to be added… Recognise yourself? Do get in touch. I can safely say that almost all the musicians I’ve ever been lucky enough to play with I’d be pleased to hear from, really. And only one ever was a prize asshole, that I can remember.

I moved from playing acoustic guitar when I was 14 to bass guitar aged 16 in the mid-1970s to double bass at the age of 23, and have stuck with double bass ever since (and indeed the same instrument for over a quarter-of-a-century until 2010). To a large extent I am self-taught, except for my weekly training when I worked with Community Music East in the mid-1980s, and a regular arco lesson with terrific cellist Maja Bugge in Lancaster for a year or so around 2013. (I would really like to spend a year or two with a double bass tutor working on arco technique, reading and jazz theory, if I could find a really good player and teacher around Norwich, please.)


Norwich 2016-

piano + bass, little scratch ensemble, Old Chapel, 2016

Having moved (back) to Norwich in late 2015, I began looking for some interesting music and musicians to play with, a band or two to join or form. I found a local luthier who rehaired my bow (it was practically bald), and I put some brand new strings on the bass in preparation. Been itching to play some gigs!  Started rehearsing regularly with three new bands—lift-off imminent … oh hang on, got some gigs now, the lift-off seems to have already happened. All three band below are available for booking, folks, you just got to get in touch: Punch House Band, Joey Herzfeld Trio, hymn.  

Some gigs …

  • October 21 2016: Joey Herzfeld Trio, Jurnet’s Bar, Norwich
  • December 4: piano + bass duo, Old Chapel, Park Lane, Norwich
  • December 21: Punch House Band, The Dog, Norwich
  • January 9 2017: Joey Herzfeld Trio, Cactus Cafe Bar, Norwich
  • February 3: Punch House Band, Milkmaid Folk Club, Bury St Edmund’s
  • February 11: Joey Herzfeld Trio, Cactus Cafe Bar, Norwich
  • February 24: Joey Herzfeld Trio, Jurnet’s Bar, Norwich
  • March 4: Punch House Band, Freemasons’ Arms, Norwich
  • March 27: hymn, Norwich
  • June 30: Punch House Band, Jurnet’s Bar, Norwich
  • July 2: hymn, Wymondham Music Festival
  • July 14: Joey Herzfeld Trio, Wymondham Music Festival.

punch-house-band-logoThe Punch House Band

is named after an old-now-no-longer-there pub by the marketplace in Norwich. It’s a fairly acoustic folk band, specialising in traditional and original songs about East Anglia. The five-piece line-up is as follows: acoustic guitar, lead voice, banjo, hand percussion, double bass, with some doubling and harmonies/shared vocals. Bit of a new thing for me, playing English (well, any) folk music—I really like it in this band. (Of course, perhaps the fact is that I am just trying to channel the late Charlie Haden here.) When I heard some of main songwriter Tim Lane’s own songs and traditional repertoire about Norfolk life I thought I want to play that, and now there is a band. We did a few private party gigs as part of the rehearsal process and there were some public ones in late 2016—St Andrew’s Hall during Norwich Beer Festival in October, the folk club in Bury St Edmund’s in November—and we plan expansion in 2017. Find out more on the band’s Facebook page.

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Punch House Band, 2016 (4/5ths of)

 

hymn 

is a composed and improvised band featuring Chris Dowding on trumpet/flugelhorn and effects, Dave Ross on analogue effects/percussion/mouth harp/various things and me on double bass. We’ve mostly been rehearsing Chris’s lovely spacey, empty tunes of heads and then seeing where each takes us. I’m delighted to be playing with these guys, whose soundscapes are warm and inventive. More to follow … there’s more at the band’s page on Chris’s website here. Here is a very short piece, featuring percussion and bass: 

 

Joey Herzfeld Trio

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Joey Herzfeld Trio, 2016

feat. Joey on accordions, piano, voice, Chris on trumpet, me bass, playing Joey’s songs, which I am describing as sort of English/Jewish folk, with improvisations. He calls his music ‘horror folk’. I’d say with added semi-tones. Here is a photo of us playing recently in one of those extraordinary medieval undercroft bars Norwich can surprise you with, Jurnet’s on King Street, and, below, a video of us doing ‘Play with fire’, early 2017.

 


Lancaster 2010-2015, new bass: Swerve Trio, Adverse Camber

Adverse Camber (c) Richard Davis 2012

Adverse Camber at Sunderland Point, me with new-old bass, photo by Richard Davis 2012

In 2009-2010 I changed basses—I wonder if that was a bit of a lightweight mid-life crisis, I suppose, approaching 50 and all that. I determined to find for myself a really nice bass, and spent a year doing so. (Also I’d had  a number of years, realistically approaching a decade, where I wasn’t really doing much musically—the day job, family life, as well as a health crisis that knocked me off track, other things taking up my time and energies. I had to decide whether I really was a musician any longer.) I sold my old one to a local orchestral player. So now I have a mid-19th century German or just possibly English bass, which has a great sound I think, pizzicato or played with my Alfred Knoll bow, and Thomastik Spirocore light strings. What a burst of energy that old instrument has given me, generously making me sound good (to my ears)! I am musically revived. There was quite a bit of work to be done on the bass still to get it back to top form, so I visited my luthier at the Violin Shop in Blackpool quite regularly during this period.

UPDATE 1! My new bass is now (May 2011) completely and wonderfully restored, thanks to the work of luthier Simon Speed at the Violin Shop. I am quite thrilled with the way the bass sounds and looks, really, and cannot recommend Simon highly enough for his sympathetic and dedicated work.

UPDATE 2! I have fitted the new bass with a new pick-up (September 2011), a David Gage Realist pick-up. What a difference to particularly the quality of depth at the bottom end it makes. Hit bottom E, F or G and the room rocks like a BOOM-SHANKAH!

UPDATE 3 (last one. No more money)! I have replaced (December 2011) my 30-year-old Polytone MiniBrute bass combo, with all its interior shaking around D and E flat, with a Gallien Krueger MB150 III combo, the lightweight aluminium-cased one with a powerful punch. Now, new bass, pick-up and amp, I am completely set up for the phone to start ringing again. As my dad used to say when his phone rang, quoting alto saxophonist Mike Osborne who he’d got to know following Ozzie’s retreat from the London scene to Norfolk to try to sort himself out, ‘It’s a gig! It’s a gig!’

For the final, most recent bands, in Lancaster— these were Adverse Camber double bass duo (later trio with drums), Swerve Trio (soprano sax, drums, bass)—see the dropdown pages under this Music section. I do other things too, and look for interesting invitations, deps (occasionally), collaborations. The film below shows part of one such, an ‘improvatorio’ for voices and strings, freely improvised, by Deep Cabaret Vox (aka Steve Lewis, the one in the colourful shirt), from Lancaster Jazz Festival 2011. I was part of the bass section for this, great fun, with Ken Johnston and Dave Tomkins. To my great pleasure one of the singers Steve invited in was my old CME pal Mary Keith, lovely to see and play with her again.


Lancaster and the north-west 1990s-early 2000s

In a book I co-edited a few years ago with Pete Moser from More Music, Community Music: A Handbook, there’s a great chapter by Martin Milner on ‘Bandwork’. It opens with the observation that ‘Bands are a vital part of our culture, and … they constitute one of our most persistent contemporary models of music-making’. At the end of his chapter Milner suggests that musicians produce what he calls their ‘personal bandwagon’, a list of the bands you’ve been in over the years, with a bit of description, possibly including an effort to articulate what you got out of it and put into it. He writes that this is a specially useful exercise ‘for those musicians who are (as actors say) “resting” between gigs and bands–think of it as a morale booster rather than a litany of failure though…’.  In many ways this is my personal bandwagon. And I agree with Milner’s conclusion: ‘When I think about these bands, and my part in them, I realise how much I got out of them, how many switched-on people I met through them and how much I learned about myself and others, above and beyond any musical learning’. TBC…

 


 Glasgow 1980s-1990s

I was (back)  in Glasgow in the late 1980s / early 1990s, doing my PhD at the university. Played a lot of music there, leading a quartet and a duo under my own name, and as a bassist in others’ bands too. For the quartet I ended up writing much of the material, some of which wasn’t bad. In fact, I’ve gone back to that book of compositions in the past year or two to play in new situations. Glasgow was European City of Culture in 1990 so there was a bit of work around for everyone.

One of the main bands I was in was called Atsimevu, a drum ork, with me on bass, talking drum and balafon; I remember one year we did a community tour of Glasgow estates and processions during Mayfest, and we played some big venues too—the Tramway on the South Side, and Partick Town Hall. I was bassist for John Longbotham for his trio for a while too (with George Burt on guitar)—he was probably technically the best alto player I’d ever played with, and wrote some fabulous music, when he was on form and balance.

 


Norwich 1980s

I worked as a community musician in the mid-1980s, originally one a government scheme to reduce the unemployment figures. Working with Community Music East I did learn about music of course—particularly how to count, and how to listen, and just benefitted from the general discipline of regular playing to sharpen up the chops—but also I learned about teaching, how to teach, that was important bearing in mind me going on to become a university lecturer. I was in the first tranche of people employed by CME, and worked alongside good and wonderful musicians—they were all better than me by far—like Ben Higham (trumpet, tuba), Mary Keith (flute), Gill Alexander (bass), Sian Croose (voice), Will Lorenzo (drums, RIP), Pete Beresford (piano), Pete Kitson (drums), Steve Clarke (tenor sax). Some, er, characters there too, you know.

Apart from all the stuff with CME, some of the main music-playing memories I have from those days are from playing with my dad, also George McKay (RIP). When we played together he was mostly on alto, bari and flute. I really loved playing with him, he was such a forceful player—by which I think I mean that his tone, especially on alto, was both forceful and lyrical. His solos sometimes blew me away, just as they’d done when I was a kid and would listen to him practise (there was no escape). With hindsight I wasn’t really then quite good enough to play with his bands during these years, but we’d do gigs, quintet, quartet, duo (bari and bass was so great). I learned on his stand.

I was bassist in the Simon Youngman Quintet too, playing modern standards, and had a sax/bass duo with Steve Clark from CME, and I ran an improvising club called The Melting Pot for a while, and I had a reggae/blues jamming band with old north Norfolk mates called The Last Blast that actually did play a gig (yes, one). I’m sure I’ve photos of most of these somewhere, will add them when I can.

 

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