Martin Roberts-Jones Musical
|I learnt to play a cornet in Michelmersh Silver
Band starting at the age of 13 and worked my way down through the band (having
by passed by the tenor horn and trombone section) to find myself playing BBb
tuba some 20 years later. The band was very busy we rehearsed twice a week and
usually had twenty to thirty performances during the summer months. I found the
most enjoyable were the ones where we were playing to an appreciative audience,
the least enjoyable were the contests once or twice a year.
The band owned a complete set of instruments so it was simple to try something different when a vacancy/opportunity arose. British brass bands treat all instruments as transposing instruments so that the same note on the music corresponds to the same fingering on the instrument making it easy to change instruments, only the note produced is different. (This was a direct result of Adolfe Sax "inventing" the saxhorns which were a complete range of brass instruments that formed the basis of the British brass band sometime in the 1860's or thereabouts, the only instruments currently in use that resemble the saxhorns are the tenor and baritone horns)
I decided to try and broaden my musical horizons and bought myself a trombone and attempted to master it. Unfortunately in the big cold world all music for brass instruments, with the exception of the trumpet/cornet, is written in bass clef (trombones sometimes get tenor clef ), so not only did I struggle with an instrument that can produce an infinitely variable wrong note but I was also trying to learn a foreign language.
At the same time I also played in various pit orchestras for productions mainly put on by the Romsey Amateur Operatic and Dramatic society pantomimes and other theatrical productions such as "Nicholas Nickelby", "Lock up Your Daughters", "Red Peppers", and with the Midanbury Players in the "Hadforth Band" in a production of Alan Ayckbornes "Confusions". I played a mixture of Trombone, Valve Trombone and Euphonium. The Euphonium is very useful in this setting as its tone and extended lower range enables it to play tuba parts.
Having always liked jazz but never having the opportunity of finding out how to play it, I enrolled at a Jazz Improvisation evening class. Here I discovered the mysteries of chords, arpeggioís, blues sequences, pentatonic and blues scales, (in the brass band world you play the dots and any deviation is a cardinal sin).
This took time to assimilate, and, for a while I played trombone with some of the local rehearsal big (swing) bands which is a totally different discipline to a brass band as you actually get space for improvised solos. However, I found that reading the bass clef trombone music with all its ledger lines took the enjoyment from the actual playing, but I learnt a lot about big bands (I may write a page on my view of the rise and fall of popular music forms, one day). During that period I also got involved with a function band and, a "Blues Brothers" type band, both were very short lived!
This and other excursions lead to me meeting various people playing various types of jazz. Eventually after surveying the scene, in 1995, I decided that my best course of action, to get any regular gigs, was to buy a B flat sousaphone (which is similar to a B flat Tuba the lowest brass bass but wrapped up differently), and work on my chord reading. This revealed the next problem when starting out it is exceptionally difficult to find the chords and what keys tunes are commonly played in, more often than not it is different to the available sheet music and most people have compiled their own chord books.
There are plenty of published chord books but you often find the compiler played things in an odd key (often the "correct" key depending on viewpoint) which isn't the common one also the commercially available books may have several hundred tunes in them of which you will probably only ever want to play ten. I have now built a library of chord books and Iíve made an easy to read sousaphone friendly chord book of my own this is an ongoing project as tunes are always being added to the repertoire. It is good how other rhythm players are willing to share chords as many of the lesser known early jazz numbers donít appear to be in print any more (if they ever were).
The first jazz band I regularly played with was the New Orleans Jazz Quartet (NOJQ) which had a life of about 9 months and consisted of Trumpet, Clarinet, Banjo & Sousaphone the repertoire of 30 tunes consisted mainly of George Lewis numbers. This played several pub gigs and private parties during its short life but the trumpet player decided to devote all his time to running his business.
In 1996 I started playing with the Oxford Street Stompers (so named because it started its life playing at a pub/restaurant called 25 Oxford Street in Southampton - we couldn't work out if four gigs there were worth one at the 100 Club!). This band usually plays around the Southampton area but we have been as far away as Portsmouth, Hook and Christchurch (Dorset not New Zealand).
In January 1997 I joined the Wild Rooster Jazz Band (a six piece band, Trumpet, Clarinet, Trombone Banjo, Sousaphone & Drums) which has a varied repertoire played in a variety of styles. We were very busy and had a wide variety of gigs, pubs, fetes, corporate functions, steam fairs etc but it never achieved its full potential, so after the drummer was sacked the other 4 of us left. In October 1997 with a different trumpet player we formed Just Jazz (another six piece band, Trumpet, Clarinet, Trombone Banjo, Sousaphone & Drums) playing the music of the Louis Armstrong Hot 5 & 7 with other contemporary and revivalist tunes. after a fairly long period of inactivity Just Jazz played their last gig on 23 April 2000.
In parallel with all this I was running Acoustic Jass (which actually started during 1996) to cater for the repeat gigs that arose from the NOJQ and any other quartet/quintet/sextet(6 piece) work that arrives. We now have an extremely wide repertoire of numbers up to the late 30ís and tailor the band according to the event. We had a monthly gig at the Railway Inn, Gosport which stopped in January 1999 due to a change of landlord. Otherwise we have played at corporate family fun days for the likes of Ericsson and Lotus (software not cars), and the Great Dorset Steam Fair and with the odd shop opening (B&Q & Alldays) thrown in.
Unfortunately in early June 1999 while returning from a gig we went water-skiing on the motorway and ended up writing off the car and sousaphone, a 1964 King with character (battered) so I had to hunt around and find another one, not easy. I found a B&H York International that had been languishing in a music shop for about 10 years (it was made in 1986) so I had to get used to the foibles of another instrument. I played it on a gig the first night I had it, not a good thing to do but unavoidable, everything settled down and it was business as normal after a few weeks.
1999 saw the expansion of activities with Acoustic Jass in April we made a professionally recorded demo tape which seemed to help us get more bookings. We had enough tracks to make a tape for sale this was to cover the cost of making the recording etc. We played at many wedding receptions, parties open air shows and funerals. In October we played for the reception after Clive Jenkins funeral (the well known leader of ASTMS trade union during the 70's and 80's). Towards the end of 1999 I got the King sousaphone rebuilt and got a hard case for it unfortunately I can't get the case in the back of the car with anything else so it does not get out a lot! One might say it was the millennium bug but our gig on New Years Eve was cancelled but after a slow start things seem to be picking up.
Things went reasonably smoothly in 2000 with Acoustic Jass playing over 60 gigs. We've had some changes, our original banjo player decided to form his own band and dropped out at the end of March his replacement stayed with us until November when we had another parting of the ways! We are lucky now to have sorted that problem although I now have a long list of banjo players! Our gigs have been split between various Shows/Fetes, wedding receptions and Corporate Functions and the odd funeral. They were scattered throughout the south of England although we seemed to get a higher proportion of local ones this year. We even got to play before Royalty, but we had to stop when Princess Anne arrived.
The web site has played a part in getting the gigs as 30% have originated directly from it and we now send out demo CD's. We still have not got a regular venue and at the end of the summer there were three possibilities but they all fell through. We have added striped jackets and boaters to our uniform, and many new numbers to our repertoire including Abba's "I do I do I do" for a wedding reception. We started playing on a trade stand at Olympia when we got asked to stop by the BBC trying to record an interview on an adjoining stand, I'm waiting to see it on Aunties Bloomers. However we did get some praise from Conti Candoli when we were playing a Marlborough Jazz Festival in July (See the letter on our thank you's page).
The year 2001 started fairly slowly however it picked up again with the same mix of gigs although we've appeared at three jazz festivals this year and managed to produce a CD entitled Festival recorded at the New Forest Real Ale And Jazz Festival, Sandy Balls Holiday Park and the Lyme Regis Jazz Festival, The Pilot Boat Inn, we lost half the material from the the New Forest due to rain flooding the floor and switching the power off, otherwise we would have called it "Acoustic Jass Plays Balls" maybe next year if we are invited again. We also played for the Abbey Road Studio's summer barbeque but we resisted the temptation to have our picture taken on the Zebra crossing, we clocked up 68 gigs in 2001.
I've often hankered after doubling on another bass instrument, I've never had any success with strings, but I did have a brief flirtation with a flute but traded it in for a Valve trombone. So I decided that a bass saxophone may be the answer to my prayers. After searching the internet and finding that new ones were a) rare and b) cost upwards of £8000 (you could buy a small car for that but you couldn't get your £8000 instrument in your £8000 car) I started looking for a baritone when at the end of September 2001 I found that Myatts were selling Harry Gold's bass Sax for him so I bought it. I've now entered the twilight world of "is it me or is it the reed" but after 5 months I'm able to play it on our simpler/commoner numbers. The surprising thing is that for a Bb instrument it is easier to play in C & F but I am still learning and will be for sometime yet.
2002 like other years started very quietly with very few bookings until the Queens Golden Jubilee in June then all hell let loose culminating with us doing 66 gigs, the mix of events was similar although we did lead a funeral procession in Portsmouth that got us good coverage in the local paper. We were booked because the deceased who we didn't know had left our details with instructions that we should play. We also played for two Christening parties. My attempts at playing the Bass Saxophone are slowly getting better but because most of our gigs are outdoors and not in a formal setting it doesn't get out much. Towards the end of the year we played at some of the Hampshire Farmers Markets which brought in several bookings and we sold several CD's at each this goes to help the "Band Fund" which is the amount I'm not out of pocket running a the band.
As a spur of the moment decision my wife and I decided to go to the New Orleans French Quarter jazz festival in April, we went with Ashley Tours and stayed in the Dauphine Orleans Hotel on Dauphine Street and had a wonderful time. The music that really struck me was the Brass Bands - nothing like UK brass bands - these have real rhythm and play for the people. The interesting thing about it was the way that musicians play in the street with no hassle and no licensing, a far cry from the UK.
In November 2002 I had decided that the B&H York International sousaphone had not worn well and I started to look for a replacement but there was nothing in the UK of in good enough condition so I started looking at American shops on the internet but I also started watching Sousaphones on Ebay. I had started a dialog about a Conn 20K in a shop in New York State, thinking that it might be possible to collect it when I saw a very nice King Sousaphone on Ebay (Harves Happy Horns) at a price that I could afford- there were big pictures so that I could see the the condition - so I clicked the Buy it now button and hey presto I was the proud owner of a new (to me) Sousaphone (For Hey Presto read two weeks later, the British Customs took a five days getting to inspect it, Bax Global the freight forwarders were very good). I also bought a new gig bag, from Thomann in Germany, which comes with rucksack type straps which makes it really easy to carry. I sold the B&H via Ebay - there's not much call for Sousaphones in the UK the chap that bought it lives in north Wales!
We played our first New Years Eve gig 31 December 2002 which went well until we switched on BBC Radio 4 for the chimes of Big Ben and were met with silence so we played Auld Lang Syne and every one was happy which brings us neatly to 2003.
January 2003 started with us playing for a shop opening at Weybridge were lucky that it was a mild day. In mid January our trumpet player decided to retire, this left me with a dilemma but Don Richards who has depped with us over the years agreed to join the band and after an initial period of revamping the repertoire we have now settled down into a routine - if a gigging band can be called routine. In February we played for a birthday party on HMS Victory in the Rates Mess - I had to sit down and play carefully positioning the bell between the beams- we had an excellent guided tour, but it was a freezing night and we really felt for the sailors at sea in temperatures like that.
We were invited to play at more of the Hampshire farmers markets, about one a month, and they did provide a good showcase, and my wife recycles the fees back to the farmers but the food is good. On 27th April 2003 we played the first concert of the year on the Romsey Bandstand, it was a bit chilly and the wind was strong but for some reason I decided to record the event and it turned out rather well, and sounds almost as if it was recorded inside, so I made it into our latest CD appropriately called "Bandstand". We played for two Summer Balls one for the Inner Temple Students Association the other for King Alfred's at Winchester. Then in June and July we got into the wedding season again playing in many different venues, and different people, reinforcing the view that although there are similar plans each event is different. We played for a wedding at the Weald and Downland Museum, Singleton (which is a collection of historic buildings) where we felt that maybe we were a bit modern.
I've been persevering with the bass sax and getting a lot better but still requiring more actual playing rather than at home although it is getting more outings. The year ended with us playing New Years Eve at the same venue as previously this time we took a recording of the Big Ben Chimes and it all went well.
So to 2004 again the first gig was outside on a warm January day in Southampton we have a few bookings for the year ahead and one for 2005. My wife and I went to the New Orleans French quarter festival again in April as we didn't get round to having a holiday in 2003.The trip to New Orleans was with the Ken Collier Trust and we got to see a very different selection of bands and trips and was extremely enjoyable again. The year proceeded to be one of the best for gigs, ninety two in all with twenty eight weddings and three funerals (could make a long winded film?). This was helped considerably by the farmers markets acting as a showcase for the band as well as being twelve gigs in their own right. We finished 2004 playing new years Eve at the Travellers Rest at Hythe again with own chimes and it was an enjoyable evening especially as we were home by 1:30am.
2005 came and went with the usual mixture of gigs - farmers markets - weddings - birthdays to end up at seventy seven gigs including twenty two weddings. We actually started a residency at the Travellers Rest at Hythe once a month starting in November. We went on Holiday to the San Diego Thanksgiving Jazz Festival. It was huge very good bands and it was nice and warm. I got an opportunity to play in the jam session on a borrowed tuba. The year finished with New Years Eve at the Travellers Rest again.
January 2006 started with six gigs (which to date 2010) is the most we've had in a January. Unfortunatly our monthly residency finished in May when the pub was sold (a pretty extreme way of sacking a band!), in July we played for three days at the CLA Game Fair that had returned to broadlands estate in Romsey (we had previously played there in 2002).
We went on a Jazz Cruise leaving New Orleans in November this gave us two days to see the devestation that Katrina had caused 15 months on and there had been very little done the buildings had watermarks in the walls. There had been some amazement on the news channels that the French quarter had not been flooded, they forgot that the first settlers had sailed 90 miles up the river to find the first sizable piece of dry land to build a town which became the French Quarter of New Orleans. The cruise was around Gulf of Mexico visiting Mexico Guatemala and Belise, the Jazz was a little on the modern side for us.
2006 didn't finish with a new years eve gig but we had done some ninety gigs including farmers markets and playing on Southamptons Palmeston Park Bandstand, twenty of them were wedding receptions
2007 started very quietly as we weren't booked for the farmers markets (they could get sponsorship for cookery demonstrations) so that was our best showcase gone however that had led to being booked for the Longstock Park Plant sales May bank holiday which has proven to be a good showcase its still going on as I write (2010), it was also noticeable this year that the number of public gigs, bandstands & town centres was diminishing usually due to reducing funds.
There was a very wet theme to the year starting mid June with many gigs having to resort to the if wet plan. One wedding was in a marquee on a sloping field and there was water running across the floor and some time before we arrived the bride had adopted green wellies they all seemed very happy though.
We were booked for a lunchtime BBQ near Wantage on the 20th July on the way there it started to rain very heavily and the A34 road was flooded at the intersection with the M4, we arrived just in time to play, fortunately the event was at a pub so we played inside. When we left, it was to find flooded roads and traffic jams, so ignoring the satnav and using a good old Ordnance Survey map we managed to navigate through the side roads to get back to the less watery places, at one point the road surface had been washed away. The following day we travelled through the same area, there were lots of cars in ditches, we were lucky not to get stranded.
At the end of September I tried to get a six piece band band running in a local pub which does mainly meals but it didn't pull sufficient people to make up for the table space we took up.
We played for about seventy four gigs of which thirty two were weddings the last one of the year was a concert for the ladies of the Trefoil Guild who were staying in Lyndhurst for the Christmas/ New Year period which thurned into a chat about Jazz and its roots punctuated by tunes.
2008 started slowly again with four funerals and a party at HMS Collingwood The party was to demonstate organisational expertise at the end of a course - seems like a good idea.
To see where I'm/We're going to play go to
To see where I've/We've played go to Where We've Been
This is a continuing storyÖ..Last updated 01 March 2011