Can you tell us about your new album?

Road to Anywhere is largely a vocal swing album, with forays in to bossa; jump jive; blues and gospel; and a shot of US ‘70s country rock for good measure.

 

It’s a love letter to life: as a songwriter at 62, I’ve drawn on (hopefully less than) three-quarters of a lifetime of experiences, both my own and those of my friends and co-writers. Whilst one could never hope to capture life in all of its infinite dimensions in a collection of nine songs, it’s a start!

 

It’s also very much a love letter to the composers and lyricists of the early part of the 20th century, when Tin Pan Alley was at its peak and the bulk of the Great American Songbook was created, and in that respect, it’s been my songwriting apprenticeship.

 

I have always been taken with lyrics that show a level of wit and play in their composition, initially through pop singers such as Martin Fry, Lloyd Cole, Tracey Thorn & Paddy McAloon; but increasingly through the lyricists of the early 20th century. Those songs gradually revealed themselves to me through my consumption of the black and white movies of the Marx Brothers, Fred Astaire and others; through discovering Miller; falling in love with the work of Riddle and May; then Ellington; on to Simone and many more.

 

So when it came to actually writing songs for the first time, I set myself the not inconsiderable task of emulating those masters of word and melody whose work I had so admired.

 

When it came to arranging the songs, I went with my favourite band line-up: a quartet of drums, upright bass, semi-acoustic guitar and piano; and this line-up is very much the core  of the album.

 

I needed a producer who understood jazz and live recording, and Julian Hinton completely fits the bill. Although he has been working in the pop world for a couple of decades, he started out in a local youth jazz orchestra, and is thoroughly imbued with all aspects of jazz. He’s a consummate keys player; and is endlessly creative; so he was the perfect person to get involved in the project.

 

We agreed that we’d use the arrangements that I had worked up and I foolishly said that I’d put together the lead sheets, which took me forever. Having finally overcome that self-imposed hurdle, we got things together quite quickly and spent two days in a large live room tracking the band, running each song over and over until the band was locked together.

 

This meant that the bedrock of each song recorded would be one live take. Following that, we recorded my vocals over the course of the next few weeks, then put together the horn arrangements and recorded those in a couple of hours one winter afternoon. I recorded backing vocals in my home studio and we then sent the files off for mixing and mastering. Overall, the recording process took nine months.

 

What other projects are you currently involved with?

 

I’m promoting the album with occasional live performances and have a launch show at Pizza Express, Soho on 12th March. The band I’m working with are absolutely amazing: my producer Julian is MD and keys; Brandon Allen on sax; Ben Somers on bass and Dave Storey on drums, so I’m very excited to see where the live adventure takes us.

 

Otherwise, In 2018 I decided it was time to reawaken my wish to live a life of music, so I dug out my bass guitar and told absolutely everyone I met that I was looking for people to play with. Soon I was in two bands that I was rehearsing with regularly. In 2019, I bumped in to a former neighbour who showed me how to write songs and that’s what started this whole thing.

 

So having disappeared down the production rabbit-hole for a year or more, I’m now looking at doing exactly what I did in 2018, to get out there and get involved, in particular to help grow the jazz scene local to me in the Windsor, Ascot, Bracknell, Maidenhead and Camberley area, so please – any of your readers based in those towns please get in touch…

 

What are you currently listening to and what was the last CD or download you bought?

 

I’m currently listening to a lot of Bill Withers. We’re both baritones and I love his relaxed soulful style of writing and singing. His work will probably be the inspiration for my second album. He’s certainly inspired a lot of my songwriting since this one.

 

The last piece of music I bought was on vinyl, the debut album of vocalist Tina Carr, called “Songs for Curly”. It pays homage to both her Grandfather – the Curly of the album title – and her jazzy musical roots. I came across the album as Tina and I both work on our vocals with the amazing jazz singer Emilia Martensson, formerly based in London, now in Berlin. Tina has a haunting voice and the album is beautiful, well worth tracking down on Bandcamp.

 

What is your all-time favourite album and why?

 

I’ve never been able to single out one particular album as my all-time favourite. I love so many different genres of music, all which evoke different emotions, however, of the jazz albums I own, I can narrow it down. I have a Dave Brubeck compilation on vinyl which I picked up in the early 80s – largely the Time Out album with a couple of additions, which I absolutely love… but in my mind compilations don’t count, and even if it did count it would still come second to 1963’s Getz/Gilberto for introducing me to bossa nova’s ambiguous chords and wistful melancholy.

 

I remember it being name-checked by Tracey Thorn (or was it Robin Millar), perhaps in a 1984 interview in The Face magazine, and this enabled me to find a space in jazz that wasn’t defined by my father’s tastes, which were mainly New Orleans/Chicago trad.

 

Who has caught your attention recently that we should be listening out for?

 

I’m really enjoying the recent work of Emma Smith and Jo Harrop, two exceptional vocalists with very different styles. Smith’s latest She Sings Sinatra project with Callum Au sounds very exciting to me; and Harrop has just released a new single, She Carries On, written with LA-based producer Chris Seefried and long-time collaborator Paul Edis. It’s fabulous. I can’t believe we’re going to have to wait for 2025 before the full album is released!

 

I’m also loving the projects of the musicians involved either in the recording of my album or working on my live project. Guitarist Denny Ilett’s Electric Lady Big Band is such a cool project celebrating the work of Jimi Hendrix – I can’t wait to see his show at Ronnie’s; and Brandon Allen has been touring in Europe with the Kyle Eastwood Quintet, performing excerpts from Kyle’s father’s movie soundtracks. With the orchestral accompaniment they sound wonderful.

They’re coming to the UK in the Spring, so I’ve got my tickets sorted, again at Ronnie’s. Brandon’s Groove Band project is also very cool.