Upcoming gigs – a trombonist’s perspective

bb king


Farewell, Mr BB King – making people happy with his music¬†from the 1940s till the end of time…

This week’s post is entirely self promotion I’m afraid.¬† Lots of gigs coming up which I’m looking forward to playing and I reckon would be of interest to¬†a number of you.¬† So please take a little gander and make a note of the dates and hopefully I’ll see you at some of them.

One of the joys of playing the trombone is, whilst never particularly being in the limelight, it is one of the few musical instruments that can have a place in almost any style of music.¬† The gigs coming up are a good reflection of this so I thought, as well as giving you a rundown on them I would also write a few words on the different approach each of these gigs require.¬† Warning – it may get a little bit brass player geeky – but I know that at least¬†some of you might appreciate a bit of geek…


Saturday 16 May – “Bring on the Swing” – Bulls Head Pub, Handforth, Cheshire

Bring on the Swing are a 9 piece jazz/swing band based in and around Cheshire that I have been playing with for the last couple of years.¬† They have quite a following and play a mix of parties, functions and informal gigs.¬† We have a semi permanent residency at the Bulls Head and, I have to say, our evenings there are always really lively and fun.¬† The Handforth audience are always up for a great night and we always have a good night with them.¬† Key to the band’s success is our fabulous front man, Mr Loz Beverley who sings a wide variety of Sinatra classics as well as all the Michael Buble, Robbie Williams and Amy Winehouse numbers you would expect from this type of band.

I’ve talked a little about differing playing styles and different choices of instrument dependent on context in post To Alto or not to Alto¬†and, as you would expect the way I would tackle the music in a swing band is somewhat different to the way I would play in the symphony orchestra.

Firstly, choice of instrument –¬†for trombone geeks out there, in this type of music¬†I use a King 2B, (Jiggs Whigam signature mode) with a Marcinkiewicz 6 1/2 AL mouthpiece.¬† The narrow bore gives me a brighter edgier sound than my symphonic trombone which blends better with the saxophones in the band without swamping them.

Secondly, playing style.¬† Yes, jazz and pop styles of music do allow me a little more freedom in terms of the sound I am expected to make.¬† The orchestra expects a certain purity and beauty of tone, whereas in the jazz band there is more opportunity for tonal tricks like growling, flutter tonguing, glissandos, stopped notes and¬†muted notes.¬† It’s a fine balance, on a noisy instrument like the trombone – the key is to make it jazzy, NOT music-hall vulgar!

However, ironically, when the horns play as a section, the musical restrictions put on us are just as great as they are in any symphonic work.¬† The effectiveness of this music is very much down to following the arrangers’ markings to the letter.¬† Big band arrangements give you a lot of information on articulation of notes.¬† Often every note is marked with a different type of accent,¬†staccato, slur, gliss or ornament and we spend a lot of time in rehearsal making sure sure that everyone is adhering to the instructions in order that we obtain that classic big band “tight” sound.¬† Ironically, for this type of loud strident music we spend a lot of time trying to play as quietly as we dare and building the numbers to their inevitable noisy climaxes.¬† A common problem with¬†less technically proficient and inexperienced¬†swing bands is the tendency for everyone to belt everything out at full volume all the time, resulting in a noisy mess.

Pop down on Saturday and find out whether we follow our own rehearsal advice, or whether the excitement of the live gig gets the better of us!



Saturday 6 June – Wilmslow Symphony Orchestra, Wilmslow Leisure Centre, Wilmslow, Cheshire

Copland ‚Äď Fanfare for the Common Man

Gershwin ‚Äď Cuban Overture

Bernstein ‚Äď Symphonic Dances from West Side Story

Barber ‚Äď Adagio for Strings

Bernstein- On the Waterfront

And as if to underline my points made in the paragraphs above, here we have a concert where an entire symphony orchestra of 80 or so players has to mimic the sound and precision rhythmic writing of the jazz/swing band.

This is a great programme coming up – and one that I would heartily recommend to anyone who loves the sound and power of the symphony orchestra , but can’t be bothered to sit through all that lengthy self-indulgent romantic¬†guff they tend to play.

The June concert is a programme of American composers’ music, including at it’s heart two fantastic Bernstein¬†scores –¬†his music from the 1954 movie “On the Waterfront” and his Symphonic Dances from his musical “West Side Story”.

From a trombonist’s perspective this concert is a tour de force.¬† It is also extremely demanding.¬† From a physical perspective, the sheer number of notes the brass have to play in this concert means that just getting through it all with out running out of “lip”¬†can be touch and go.¬† I’m already getting into training – blowing through the entire programme on a regular basis in order to build up my stamina. I don’t have the luxury of the little trombone this time.¬† Whilst the music swings hard, the parts definitely require the sound of the big brassy symphonic trombone section (for the geeks, I play the classic Conn 88H, the standard instrument of most British and American orchestral trombone players). Check out the distinctive beautiful burnished red-gold bells of the trombone section the next time you catch an orchestral concert on the TV.¬† I tend to play a larger than average mouthpiece – Vincent Bach 4G – which allows for a richer sound with less tendancy to break up at the louder volumes.¬†The disadvantage is it requires more stamina and is harder to “ping” the high notes out – so I am allowing myself the luxury of a slightly smaller mouthpiece in the “Mambo” section of West Side Story.

Musically speaking, I also think that West Side Story is technically one of the most demanding pieces in the regular symphony orchestra repertoire.¬† As well as¬†expecting all¬†80 players to swing, fast and¬†together¬†with the ease of a single jazz drummer, Bernstein’s melodies are also extremely angular and awkward to play.¬† Have a go at singing “Cool” in strict tempo and bang in tune, or¬†something as deceptively simple as “Somewhere” and¬†you begin to get the idea of some of the orchestra’s pitfalls.

Having said all this, it is music that is extremely fun to play – and Wilmslow Symphony always rise to the challenge of a difficult programme, particularly under the tutelage of our lovely conductor Juan Ortuno.

There’s also great music – a lot of it recognizable – by Copland, Barber and Gershwin, so do pop down in June for an enjoyable night.



Saturday 20th June, Cheshire Sinfonia, St Michael’s Church, Bramhall, Cheshire.

Faure- Pavane

Vaughan Williams- Symphony No. 3 ‚ÄúPastoral‚ÄĚ

Beethoven- Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral

A lovely programme featuring 2 symphonies with the subtitle, “Pastoral”.¬† One extremely well known by Beethoven, the 2nd less so by Vaughan Williams.

I’ve waffled on about the quality of ¬†VW and¬†his Pastoral in previous posts.¬† I’ve yet to see what the trombone parts will be like to play, but I do know there is some wonderful writing for my fellow brass players, namely the effective¬†use of the natural harmonic series, including (deliberately) out of tune notes in offstage solos for trumpet and French horn.

Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony is almost certainly one of his most well known pieces.¬† It is also one of the earliest examples of use of the trombone in a symphony – and is like no other trombone part I have seen. It’s¬†as if¬†he knows he wants to use the instrument, but doesn’t quite know what to do with it.¬† For a start, he only uses 2 trombones (rather than almost universal 3 player section), including the notorious alto trombone which he doesn’t use until the climatic storm sequence of the symphony, where we get to play one (yes, count them) note!¬†After a¬†few more chords, where bizarrely we are asked to play higher notes than the trumpets,¬†the piece is all over.

Don’t let the trombone writing put you off though!¬† Pop down to hear 2 beautiful summery pieces played, on hopefully a beautiful summer evening.

(NB Рfor trombone geeky completeness, I play a Yamaha Alto Trombone with a Dennis Wick 10CS mouthpiece.  If there are any trombonists reading who have any advice on something better, do let me know Рbut it just about works for me on this notoriously awkward instrument.)



Friday 19th June, Lostock (funk band), Night & Day Café, Manchester

Saturday 4th July, Lostock, afternoon gig, somewhere in Trafford I think!

Update – It’s at Golden Hill Park, Urmston and we’re on at about 1 30pm!


I’ve had a lot of requests for more info on upcoming gigs from my funk band, Lostock (more info at this post ), so please take a note of the dates above.¬† The first is our return gig at the famous Night and Day Caf√©, and this time I’m glad to say that they have asked us to headline on a Friday night.¬† The 2nd, I have very little info on, but I’m pretty sure it’s outdoors, in the afternoon and has a fundraising for the NHS aspect to it – more info when I get it – but definitely a date to keep free.

Oh – and we’ve started to put together some nice studio recordings and there should be a website on it’s way too.¬† Check out one of the songs below:


Final bit of trombone geekery – a request for advice from any other trombonists out there – I’m really not sure which instrument to play this type of music on.¬† My fellow band members prefer the sound of the 88H, so that’s what I’m on at the moment – but its seems odd to me to be¬†playing the noble Conn in the ¬†pub!¬† Then again looking at photos, it looks like it may be¬†the instrument of choice for my favourite trombone player, THE funk trombonist, Fred Wesley (although his instrument appears to sport a funky black lacquered bell).

fred wesley

Perhaps I should playing my 40th birthday present instead.


It’s most certainly purple, and it’s definitely funky!


There’s no business like….

keith harris

With sad news of the death of Keith Harris this week (a childhood staple of anyone my age in the UK), my thoughts have turned again to my time working on the cruise ship MS Westerdam.¬† My last post on this subject, “Back to Rydell High,” talked about the musical acts I had the chance to perform with in my first week on board.

This time I’d like to turn my attention to some of the variety performers I met and worked with during my time onboard ship. They ranged from¬†comedians to¬†ventriloquists and¬†magicians.¬†¬† We’re forever being told that variety is dead, but whilst the performers don’t get the same column inches as rock stars and movies actors it’s still an immensely popular form of live entertainment.¬† I think this is particularly the case in the United States where the vast numbers of Vegas style venues, cruise ships and clubs suit these performers and their audiences down to the ground.

One of the striking things I found when working in an environment like a cruise ship was the feeling that I was living my whole life in miniature.¬† Imagine – everyone lives in this relatively small environment where people come and go from week to week.¬† Life is intensified into this short timescale where you will find yourself having the deepest of emotional experiences with people and then they get off the boat…and you never ever see them again.¬† It’s like a lifetime of holiday romances!¬† Bear in mind that I worked on the ship pre-Facebook (imagine that, a world without Facebook!) so keeping in touch still required a bit more effort than just posting a baby photo on your wall…

Anyway, I have chosen to talk about three individuals who¬†were most definitely wonderful friends of mine whilst on board, but since that time I have had little or no contact with them.¬† It’s been a pleasure looking up their various webpages and youtube clips to¬†see how they’re getting on.¬† Unlike me, who slipped back into civilian life post-cruise, they all continue to make their living from that glorious business known as show…..


Michael Ziegfeld (comedian, ventriloquist, puppeteer, writer, actor)

I met quite a few ventriloquists on board the ship during my time, and to be frank – and as one might expect – a lot of them are rather odd. We certainly had one who completely missed the point of the ventriloquist act – he would try to chat up girls after the show by talking to them without moving his mouth.¬† …”Oh my gawd, that’s amaaazing!…err…excuse me, I think that’s my friend over there…”¬† The point of the ventriloquist act is not to freak-out/chat-up girls, more¬†to make the puppet so dynamic, real and funny that no one’s looking to see if your mouth is moving anyway.

Michael (“Ziggy”) Ziegfeld’s¬†mouth¬†definitely did not move.¬†He¬†managed to have an act that combined sophisticated observational humour which was also family-friendly (extremely important for the cruise ship crowd),¬†with very funny and believable puppet characters.¬† My personal favourite was Nadia Coma, the world’s oldest athlete. I hear she may have retired now.

We in the band had great fun with Ziggy, a lot of it trying to subtly subvert the cruise ship management, rules and regulations.¬† Ziggy had a (real life actual!)¬†Muppet on board with him and I do remember a drunken evening chatting away to it in his cabin,¬†totally oblivious to the performer operating it a foot away. Such is the power of expert puppeteer and ventriloquist’s art.¬† Another time we bought a joke shop remote-control fart machine from a shop in Juneau, Alaska.¬† Ziggy would have the remote in his pocket whilst he was performing on stage.¬† The loud speaker would be located under our bass player, Herman’s, chair. He would wrinkle his nose in disgust every time¬† Ziggy set it off, the audience completely oblivious to the fact that 2 comedy shows were going on at once…

Checking out Ziggy’s website, I see he now goes by the name Michael Paul, and he really is a true showbiz polymath with a lengthy CV of his achievements in all mediums. You¬†may¬†even have heard of some of it in the UK!

This polymath approach he reckons is part of the reason for his¬†relative lack of fame! ¬†He has just released his autobiography – “Breaking out of Showbusiness – What I’ve discovered by not being discovered”.

I’ve bought a copy.




Chris Pendleton (comedian, musician)

I had so much fun with Chris on board the Westerdam Рa lovely lady.  We both had similar backgrounds, had studied biology at university and were keen musicians.  Chris had taken the plunge away from science teaching, and was now forging out a successful career as a standup comedian.  Her witty and surreal observational humour, including subject matter that really only a woman could get away with in front of a family audience, was extremely popular with the cruise audiences.

Chris also played the violin in the show in a number of comedy musical sequences and a couple of little Scottish references crept into some of the songs as a little tribute me!¬† Yay!¬†¬† She would also¬†include a rendition of¬†that song “Feelings” by Morris Albert, universally¬†known to be the worst song ever written.¬† She reckoned a song¬† I had written sounded remarkably like it – thanks Chris!

A photo of me and Chris still adorns my office wall, of us posing together at a clothing optional beach on the island of St Martin – we opted to wear clothes.

And, I did get to meet up with Chris again, a few years later for a lovely evening at her apartment in LA, enroute to Disneyland.  Hopefully catch up again Chris!



Darren Romeo (magician, singer)

He¬†won’t mind me saying this, but on paper Darren’s act shouldn’t really work.¬† Though come¬†to think of it, mashing up musical theatre and large scale magical illusions didn’t do Phantom of the Opera any harm.¬† What really made this show work was Darren himself who whilst being annoyingly talented and handsome was just extremely personable both on and off stage (imagine John Barrowman with less cheese).¬† It therefore felt like the most natural thing in the world to watch him singing rock n roll whilst making a girl disappear, to doing some close-up magic with audience members and then finish off with some large scale illusion whilst belting out a Broadway showstopper.

The magicians on the ships often tended to stay on board longer than a lot of the other performers, often simply due to the fact that they had so much more gear to bring on board for their acts and it was impractical to do short runs.

I got to know Darren really well over the weeks he was on board and whilst our backgrounds were extremely different we a had a lot in common.¬† In particular we both had a real passion for music theatre and both had dabbled with a little writing.¬† Darren listened to a lot of my ideas and gave bits of opinion and advice on songs.¬† In return I spent time listening to some of his songs and even transcribed a couple for him as he wasn’t a music reader.

One of the most special times on the ship was when¬†Darren and the band¬†gave the first live performance of one of the songs from my show Once Bitten during one of¬†Darren’s shows.¬† Darren decided he liked the song I played to him¬†Silent Cry, he quickly went away and learned it and I quickly wrote some band arrangements and we performed it later that week.¬† Good times!

I haven’t seen Darren since the ship.¬† We did exchange a few emails and he sent me through his CDs, including those songs I transcribed but since then have lost touch.

It looks like he’s still going strong headlining ever more extravagant and epic shows throughout the US.¬† It looks like he’s currently in the middle of a long run in Tennessee.

I also found this clip from a pilot episode of the Darren Romeo TV show – The 8th Effect.¬† I don’t think it’s made it on to the BBC yet, but I’ll keep my eye out….



So there you go, a little window into some of  my experiences on the edge of the showbiz world.

Anyway before I sign off, lets all spare a thought for little Orville the duck.¬† Perhaps he’ll finally achieve his dream of flying. ¬†Excuse me I better go now, I think I’ve got something in my eye…. (sniff)