So much for a quiet summer

August is usually one of the quieter months for me, as most of my regular activities take a summer break.  I love this opportunity to live life at a slightly more relaxed pace for a few weeks, especially as September (along with December) tends to be one of the busiest months.

This year, however, my August seems to be quite busy, especially in contrast to the last couple of months.  In particular, I have quite a few gigs – almost as many, in fact, as I’ve had so far this year.

On average, I probably have about two gigs a month, and that pretty much amounts to some months with no gigs at all and some with 3 or 4, but rarely more than 5.  This month I have a grand total of 9 gigs, with two (or three, depending how you count) different bands.

The August gigging calendar started last Saturday, playing bass (or tuba, as it’s known outside the brass band context) with the Menai Bridge Brass Band at the National Eisteddfod (a Welsh cultural phenomenon that you can google for yourself if you don’t already know about it).  This was a competition, with 5 bands competing in our section.  We came 3rd but, more importantly, we felt that we put in a very good performance.   The first two pieces (out of our programme of 5) were televised on S4C; we start about 39 minutes into the programme and the clip should be available to view until about the end of August.  I found it particularly interesting to watch that clip, as the pieces sound completely different when heard from outside the band than when you’re hearing them from in the middle of the action.

My second gig was on Sunday evening with the Rice Hooligan Orchestra – my “demented Western Swing” trio, with whom I play upright bass (we don’t currently have a website).  We were playing for a hog roast at the Marram Grass café in Newborough, one of our favourite venues and the site of most of our recent gigs.  We’ll be back there on Sunday 30th August (probably from about 7pm) so if you happen to be in the area you may like to drop in and see us; I’m not sure how much it costs to participate in the hog roast (as performers, we get it for free) but it’s excellent food to go with, hopefully, pretty good music.

This coming Saturday will be my busiest day musically, as I have two separate gigs.  In the morning I’ll be playing trombone with the Menai Bridge Intermediate Brass Band at an event in Pentraeth (I think it’s their village fair) and then in the afternoon I’ll be heading off to the Conwy valley to play for a wedding party with the Rice Hooligan Orchestra.  On Sunday afternoon, I’ll be out with the Menai Bridge Intermediate Band again, this time at a First World War memorial concert in Menai Bridge.

The rest of the month’s gigs are all with the Rice Hooligan Orchestra.  One of them is, like this Saturday’s wedding, a private party (towards the end of the month).  The others are both public gigs – one is at Y Fricsan in Cwm-y-Glo (near Llanberis) on Friday 14th and the other is at The George in Bethesda on Saturday 15th.  I’m not yet sure of the exact details of either gig but if you’re up for coming along to one of them, give me a shout and I’ll try to find out for you.

I’m anticipating that September will be a fairly busy month, as usual.  On the gig front, though, it’s likely to be considerably quieter than August; so far I don’t have any gigs lined up for September and I certainly don’t expect to get anywhere near 9 of them!

Jazz (K)nights

Jazz is one of my favourite kinds of music, both for listening to and playing, although I don’t often get opportunities to play it these days.  Therefore, I was delighted to be offered a jazz gig (as a bass player) this coming Saturday night.  This evening I met the rest of the band (for the first time) for a practice, which went pretty well.  There won’t be any further practices before the gig.

The band – The Jazz Knights – is newly formed for this occasion and (apart from me) is made up of members of Holyhead Jazz Club.  It is currently a six-piece band, with a line up of tenor sax/clarinet (doubling), soprano sax, trombone, guitar, drums and bass.  The programme for our concert on Saturday says: “Our music ranges from Traditional [jazz], through Swing, Bossa Nova and Tin Pan Alley/Show tunes”, which seems to me to be a fair description.  The plan seems to be to keep going after this gig and maybe try to get a regular residency (perhaps once per fortnight) at a local pub.  Hopefully I’ll get to be a part of all that too.

We have a set list of 22 pieces for this particular gig.  I have probably played about 7 or 8 of them before (including a few that I’m very familiar with, like Summertime, Satin Doll and Autumn Leaves) and I was at least vaguely familiar with about half the others.  Amongst the tunes that are entirely new to me is a bossa nova piece called Wave (by Antonio Carlos Jobim), which I particularly enjoyed playing this evening.  We didn’t have time to play through the whole set at our practice, so there will be a few that I’m sightreading on the night (which is just the way I like it).

To make matters even more exciting, I am playing this gig on a borrowed bass ukulele.  This is a small instrument (roughly the size of a viola) with polyurethane strings, which plays at the same pitch (and in the same tuning) as a bass guitar or upright bass.  When amplified, it sounds remarkably like an upright bass but is significantly more portable (and easier to fit in small bungalows or on cramped stages).  The only downside is that the scale length is very short (certainly compared to most bass instruments) and therefore it takes some getting used to the different finger spacing.  It’s probably just as well that it’s a fretted instrument I’m borrowing!

The gig on Saturday is a charity gig on behalf of the Anglesey Centre of Mission.  It takes place at St Anne’s Hall, Dale Street, Menai Bridge, starting at 7:30pm (and going on until about 10pm). Tickets cost £6 and should be available on the door, although it’s a fairly small hall so space is limited.  The Jazz Knights will be playing most of the music but there will be an interlude with music from a quartet drawn from the Menai Bridge Brass Band (as it happens both Tim, our trombone player, and I also play with the Menai Bridge Band but we’re not in this quartet).