Speake-ing aloud

As regular readers of this blog will know (well, maybe both of them will…), I’m a fan of British saxophonist Martin Speake, having written about him here and here when his playing has been broadcast on Radio 3; and I am Very Excited to announce that the Martin Speake trio will be coming to the Colyer-Fergusson Hall in March.

Speake freely

Speake freely

Speake has been a vital part of the British jazz scene ever since bursting onto the musical map as founder-member of the ground-breaking, ofttimes blistering sax quartet Itchy Fingers during the 1980s, a period which witnessed something of an explosion with groups like The Jazz Warriors and Loose Tubes and the arrival of Courtney Pine, Cleveland Watkiss, Django Bates and Andy Sheppard. A fertile period for British jazz, which had rather languished in the doldrums during the 1970s, and a time when that giant of British pianists, Keith Tippett, said he had to pick potatoes in order to make a living.

Emerging as part of this renaissance of British jazz, Speake forged a path which later saw the creation of the Martin Speake Group, with the album ‘Change of Heart’ released on that bastion of jazz record labels, ECM, in 2006, on which Speake partners the great pianist Bobo Stenson, bassist Mick Hutton and drummer Paul Motian. Active as a performer, he also teaches at Trinity Laban and the Royal Academy of Music.


Speake’s playing is at once effortlessly lyrical and restlessly, dextrously inventive, and is wholly accessible without being predictable or trite; it’s always subtle, assured and with a deft ear for melodic line. I’m ecstatic that the trio is bringing its current UK tour to the campus. Catch them live in the concert-hall on Wednesday 2 April at 1.10pm; admission is free. This is one gig you definitely won’t want to miss…

In Pictures: the University Big Band Swing-along-a-Santa

Images © Matt Wilson / University of Kent.

Santa’s nearly here…!

Conductor Ian Swatman on the perils of organising a Christmas gig from the safety of Easter, who’ll be Santa on the night and what’s in store…

20131130-130300.jpgBack in the deep, dark days of March, a ‘Swing – along with Santa!’ concert seemed a long way off. ‘What a great idea’ were the words uttered from the powers that reside on top floor of the CFB as they gorged on the last of their Easter eggs. Little did anyone realise the festive, musical juggernaut that’s been created!

There was frenzied debate into who would play the role of Santa, whose appearance would be the crowning glory in what will be the musical highlight of the year… How about Sophie? No, she’d be too busy rehearsing for the much-anticipated rendition of ‘Santa Baby.’ The Christmas tree is bushy and it’s ready for a trim… Would it be the svelte, sophisticated Mr Harding? Unlikely, as he’s in a heightened state, polishing his latest copy of the Michael Bublé Christmas album ready for his own Christmas jazz extravaganza. Surely our esteemed leader would not be up for this prestigious role? Hot off the press, I can officially announce that Sue has taken herself off to a secluded musical sanctuary for the following two months as she prepares the bass clarinet part for Sparke’s ‘Orient Express’ to be aired in February. Santa’s up for grabs, if all else fails there may be a lone tuba player that could be tempted by a moment in the limelight and a bottle of Prosecco…?

On less serious matters, the bands have produced a tremendous term with application and commitment that, as I’ve said many times, leaves me enthused and feeling young (ish!) Ravel, Sparke, Fauré and before it sounds like we’ve become too serious, Earth, Wind & Fire and a bit of Stevie will be thrown into the eclectic musical pot.

20131130-125805.jpgI realise this ‘blog’ has been penned with sophistication previously unknown but you do have to realise that I am now representing Hull, The 2017 City of Culture and the bar has been raised! I’m hoping as I’m from the land of short people it’s not too high…!

The February concert will be challenging, varied and a musical feast but first it’s Santa. If you haven’t got your tickets you could be too late. A jingle, jangle musical feast followed an equally frenzied assault on the mince pies and mulled wine. What a night and what an end to term! Merry Christmas!

Big Band Gala: what’s in store

This year’s Big Band Gala, on Wednesday 5 June, is going to be a particularly exciting occasion; conductor Ian Swatman explains why…


The annual Big Band Gala – what a finale!

swattersThe end of the academic always comes around so quickly and, this year, as with every year, there’s an element of sadness as we say goodbye to various players.

However, what better way to say goodbye than by playing some great music with three of London’s top players. I’m so pleased to announce that joining us for our Gala performance on Wednesday 5th June will be the tremendously talented and incredibly groovy Deptford Rivieras.

Led by Jools Holland tenor player and arranger, Phil Veacock, with Gary Baldwin on Hammond organ (rated by Time Out magazine as “..the Grand Master of the Hammond Organ..”) and Alan Savage on drums, these players have the dream musical CV’s.

deptford_rivierasRanging from BB King to Al Green, George Benson to Freddie Mercury these guys have played with the best and now it’s the UKC Big Band’s turn!

The Deptford Rivieras have just been in the studio completing their first album and Phil is producing some Big Band arrangements to provide a fitting finale to another tremendous year here at the University. I can’t wait!!

Tickets go on sale very soon – don’t miss out….

Bond to Basie: nearly there! The conductor’s view

Conductor of the Concert and Big Bands, Ian Swatman, looks ahead to Friday…

swattersYes, it’s nearly here!! When we set off on the musical journey for 2012/13 back in the distant days of September, Friday 15th March seemed a long way away, but now a mere four days separate us from what, I’m sure, will be a memorable evening.

Variety is the spice, as they say, and Friday will present no less than 16 new additions to the Concert and Big Bands repertoire. Wednesday nights have been productive!

The Concert Band will meet the challenge of Paul Hart’s Cartoon head-on, alongside another performance of Platform One, once again in the presence of composer James Rae. Gospel tones will be present in a Canadian Brass arrangement of Amazing Grace, which gives various soloists in the band the chance to shine in a New Orleans street parade style!  These works alongside, among others, a tremendous Sweeney Todd medley will complete the first half.

Music from jazz and Big band legends will fill the Colyer-Fergusson Hall in the second half.  The swing of Basie, Satchmo, Ellington will be blasted from ensemble and soloists alike. Steph Richardson will sing like Ella and provide that much-anticipated touch of Bond!

I would just like to take this opportunity to thank all involved with these ensembles. The efforts of all enhances my musical life and I’m eternally grateful.

It’s Bond to Basie; it’s Friday night – don’t miss it!!

Ian Swatman

More details about the concert online here.

Lyricism at the heart of Trish Clowes live at Pizza Express

Trish Clowes’ unique blending of lyrical jazz with an ear for classical forms and textures is given an expressive outing in a broadcast on Radio 3’s Jazz on 3 from her live gig at Pizza Express, recorded last month.

trish_clowesNow one of BBC Radio 3’s New Generation Artists, the set features the great James Maddren on drums and Gwilym Simcock on piano (the latter also a former Radio 3 NGA himself) in the rhythm section, enlarged by the addition of a string quartet which, later in the gig, provide some ravishing colours of which Ravel would have been proud. (I’ve written previously about Trish here and also here.)

Trish’s sinuous, accomplished and always melodic improvisation dominates throughout, and the gig includes a complete performance of her Iris Nonete suite. Towards the end of the suite’s first section, the whole ensemble starts to take wing, and you feel as though you’re listening to a neo-Classical incarnation of McCoy Tyner’s 1978 live album, The Greeting. Interesting stuff…

Catch the gig on iPlayer here for the remainder of the week.

Singing up: Steph Richardson

Third-year Drama student, member of Chamber Choir, conductor of Sing!, a former conductor of the University Chamber Choir,  and now singer with this year’s Big Band (phew), Steph Richardson, on her favourite music and working with the Big Band this year.


I have been an adamant lover of jazz from a very early age. Ella Fitzgerald was, of course, my first port of call, but now my slightly more attuned ears can bear the wild scats of the great Sarah Vaughan – although I would be pushed to perform her crazy version of Perdido in public. I am all too keen to listen to the 1000th revival of Miller’s In the Mood and am almost too prepared to drop anything and dance whenever the drum introduction of Sing! Sing! Sing! is heard.

First Lady of Jazz at Kent: Steph Richardson

First Lady of Jazz at Kent: Steph Richardson

This being said, while the UKC Big Band’s wide repertoire this year includes some classics, it is also incorporating a few newbies which suit the genre so much – I daren’t give the game away, but as the gig is called ‘Bond to Basie’ I don’t think it will be too much of a shock to reveal that it’s not Samantha Bond’s theme tunes that will feature heavily in our performance… I am very excited about the UKC Big Band gig approaching.

As someone who rebelled ruthlessly when I was told by my singing teacher at the age of twelve that I was too young to sing Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, I am so happy that the music department are including me in the Big Band scene this year! I have sung in a six-piece jazz band for 6 years now in Berkshire, but have only had the opportunity to perform a few songs with a Big Band. It is such a different way of both rehearsing and performing. Unfortunately for me, unlike in a session jam, if I go wrong I can’t just turn around and shout to three-dozen musicians ‘Just do the chorus again!’ – but it’s a learning curve.

Everyone in the band is so friendly and has been very welcoming to the new singer this year. However, I’ve found that it doesn’t matter how many times you have performed in your life, rehearsing a new song with thirty accomplished musicians staring at you is still quite nerve-racking.

The sound we are creating is super, and thank goodness Ian is keeping us on our toes with constant changes to this bar and that bar. He has really made the repertoire entirely unique to us, which will be a treat for those who come to listen on 15 March. The only shame is that there is no dance floor in the spanking-new Colyer-Fergusson hall. Oh well, maybe in the next building…. 😮

Steph Richardson

Departing from Platform One

The University Concert Band gave the première performance of James Rae’s Platform One to an enthusiastic reception, in the first of two appearances at the Gala opening weekend.

A packed Colyer-Fergusson concert-hall greeted conductor Ian Swatman and the composer himself with extended applause after the première on Saturday afternoon, and again on Sunday night after the second concert as part of the Gala celebrations.

All aboard at Platform One…

After an heraldic fanfare-like opening, there was musical activity aplenty to follow, highlighting the skills of the whole ensemble, concluding with a return to the opening idea, which, as the composer indicated in the programme notes, was ‘designed to evoke the spirit of a grand occasion:’ which it certainly did!

Full steam ahead with conductor Ian Swatman

Following the Saturday performance, audience members were then invited to tour the building, and to listen to Ian leading the ensemble in an open rehearsal.

See more images from the Concert Band’s performance, and other photos from the Gala weekend, on our dedicated Pinterest board here.

Bravo to all the performers; next term sees both the Concert and Big Bands in their own concert in March. Stay tuned…

Rae of sunshine

There was much excitement in the new building last night, as composer James Rae was in attendance at Concert Band to hear his piece, Platform One, in rehearsal.

Ian Swatman (left) and composer James Rae

The piece is a commission from the University, to celebrate the opening of the new music building, and will be performed at the gala concerts next weekend.

The composer conducts

James himself remarked:

Wow, what a building! As well as looking terrific, it also has a lovely ‘feel’ to it. Can’t wait to see it full and buzzing next weekend. Ian has once again done a first-class job with the bands. I feel very proud and honoured to be part of the project.

See you all at the concert!

May we present: this year’s Big Band singer

After two rounds of closely-contested auditions for the post of singer with the University Big Band, we’re delighted to announce that it’s Steph Richardson who will be gracing the stage with the band throughout this year.

First lady of jazz: Steph Richardson

Steph is a Music Scholar at the University, in her third year reading Drama. She sings with (and has conducted) the University Chamber Choir, and has been a regular performer at the Jazz @ 5 series. Added to which, she has begun a three-part harmony group here at Kent called The Canterberries and is also conducting the student-led group, Sing!

She has always been active in her musical interests, performing with amateur dramatic companies, and is the lead singer of a small jazz band in Berkshiren and she is delighted to have been given the amazing opportunity to sing with the Big Band this year.

Steph’s lyrical, warm-toned singing will be familiar to anyone who has ever been to a ‘Jazz @ 5’ gig over the the past two years, and we’re very excited at the prospect of her performing with the Big Band: watch this space!

Photo: Mick Norman