Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Happy New Year! I am very glad to be in a new year, with a fresh start and new beginnings, 2012 felt like quite a slog. There are lots of lovely things in store for 2013, particularly for Metamorphic; the second Metamorphic album, Coalescence, is coming out on the F-ire label in April and we're also doing a UK tour in June with the wonderful Norwegian vocal trio Royst (www.myspace.com/roystmusic), both of which will be supported by Kerstan Mackness of Riotsquad Publicity, who also looks after Roller Trio; there are some other really nice gigs coming up for Metamorphic before that too, such as at the Jazz on 3 night Jazz in the Round on January 28th alongside Gary Crosby's Groundation (feat. Nathaniel Facey) and Matt Bourne, a double bill with one of my favourite bands, Snorkel (www.slowfoot.co.uk) at the Vortex on February 24th, and a gig at Jazz at the Oxford on April 1st. Also very much looking forward to doing a gig with the improvising big band I run with bass player Seth Bennett at Seven Arts in Leeds on March 1st, with vibes player Corey Mwamba sitting in, alongside Martin Archer's improvising anti-choir Juxtavoices (in which I sing too, when I can get over to Sheffield). 

The women in music theme is gathering steam: Seb Scotney posted a link to it on his excellent LondonJazz blog (londonjazz.blogspot.com) which was very kind. See below for post #3 by vocalist Sarah Dacey, who sings in Juice Vocal Trio. It is very interesting to read about Sarah's experiences within the Classical Music industry, especially as it is an area I don't have much involvement with personally as a musician. 

Here is Sarah's response to my question: As female musicians/composers/radio presenters, how do you feel your experiences as women in the UK music industry have contributed to or influenced - if at all - your music, creativity and career choices today? 

'I work primarily in the Classical Music industry, an industry which has always felt to me to be in constant battle with itself, having to please different generations of listeners in different ways. It also has to cover such a vast time period of musical styles. Marketing all this to the modern listener is extremely difficult. The ‘Classical Brit Awards’ are the worst case in point for how marketing exploits the female image in making classical music palatable and ‘approachable’. I have actually had people say to me things like ‘oh, you should try and market yourself like Kathryn Jenkins’. Needless to say, these are not people who work in the industry but it seems as if society accepts style over substance. I’m not sure that men come across the same barriers, although it’s true that Il Divo probably wouldn’t have done quite so well were they not the classical version of the Chippendales…

I’d like to say that those I’ve had to audition to or request work from would have always seen me as a musician foremost. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. I was once in the middle of an audition to one conductor, whose response to my apologies for sounding a little ‘chesty’ (I’d just recovered from bronchitis) was to look directly at my chest and reply ‘hmmm, well you look alright to me.’ Criticisms of some early music ensembles resembling “Take Your Daughter to Work Day” (http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/classical/reviews/prom-26-royal-albert-hall-londonsusanna-ilford-festival-wiltshireprom-21-robert-albert-hall-8007527.html) are not entirely unfounded. I was once warned by another singer that once you took time off to have a baby, one director just stopped hiring you or would just never think to ask you again in the future as he assumed that you had other priorities. 

Reputations of directors/conductors certainly influence my career decisions. If I have heard rumours about somebody’s terrible behaviour towards the opposite sex (sexist comments for example) I tend to avoid working for that person. That may seem naïve and counterproductive considering I’m self-employed but if I can find other work with somebody who respects everyone equally, then I’d rather work for them. 

Being a member of juice vocal ensemble, I think that we sometimes come up against preconceptions of what’s expected of the ‘female voice’. Audience members often come up to us after a concert to say that they were blown away, saying things like ‘I wasn’t expecting that!’ I think people see three young women and expect us to sound feminine, pretty and delicate. They don’t expect us to do impressions of rats, play Vietnamese mouth harps, smash crockery, pop balloons, stamp, shout and generally sound fairly raucous! I’m not sure they would think the same way if we were three young men. 

I’m not saying it’s not fun challenging all these preconceptions. I enjoy the work that I do immensely. I enjoy singing music that provokes extreme reactions from people and stimulates discussion and debate. But I do think it is hard to work as a self-employed musician in a seemingly unregulated industry. You cannot speak out against the behaviour of others for fear of not being booked again.'

Vocalist Sarah Dacey studied at the University of York and the Royal Academy of Music, graduating with Distinction. Awards include the Lady Lyons Millennium Scholarship, Sir Richard Stapley Educational Trust, the Arthur Bliss Prize and the Van Smit Prize. She performs regularly with professional ensembles including the BBC Singers, Synergy Vocals, Philharmonia Voices, Okeanos Ensemble and The Octandre Ensemble. She has performed in the Tete-a-Tete Opera Festival, at the NT Studios, Sadlers Wells, Bauge Opera Festival, Purcell Rooms, QEH and RFH. Recent projects include ‘Nixon in China’ at the Proms and in Berlin, conducted by John Adams, collaborations with ‘Fretwork’ Viola da Gamba player Liam Byrne and performing in an ‘Aphex Twin’ gig at the Barbican. An advocate of new music, Sarah has worked with many of today’s finest composers including Robert Fokkens, Anna Meredith, Paul Mealor, Gavin Bryars, Errollyn Wallen, Mica Levi and Dai Fujikura. She has sung in countless UK premieres including those of Stockhausen’s Litanie and Xenakis’ Idmen. In 2010 she performed in the Macedonian premiere of Xenakis’ Nuits.

Operatic roles have included Amor (Orfeo ed Euridice – Opera Baugé), Abra (Juditha Triumphans – En Travesti), Belinda (Dido and Aeneas – Kingston Festival) and Sister Constance (Les Dialogues des Carmélites – RAM). Oratorio performances include The Creation with Benson Choral Society at Dorchester Abbey, Poulenc’s Gloria with the Thames Philharmonic Choir, Handel’s Messiah with Derby Choral Union in Derby Cathedral, Mozart Vespers in Merchant Taylor’s Hall, Bach’ s Christmas Oratorio , B Minor Mass and Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu Nostri with the Sweelinck Ensemble, Bruckner’s Te Deum and Dvorak’s Mass in D Minor with Kingston Grammer Choral Society, Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana with St. Helen’s Choral Society, Hadyn’s The Seasons with Hillingdon Choral Society and Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man with the BBC Concert Orchestra at the De Montford Hall, conducted by Karl Jenkins.

Sarah is a member of ‘Juice’, a critically acclaimed female trio specialising in contemporary music. They have performed at the Purcell Rooms, the Wigmore Hall, the Roundhouse, St. John’s Smith Square, live on Radio 3 and Radio 4′s Woman’s Hour. As well as commissioning new works, juice also write music for themselves. Sarah’s own arrangement of a traditional ballad, Cruel Mother, described by the Daily Telegraph as “musically ingenious”, features on their debut album, ‘Songspin’, which was recently awarded Best Contemporary Classical album in the Independent Music Awards in the U.S. 

Sarah is currently Assistant Lecturer at the University of Kent and also teaches singing at Junior Trinity Greenwich. 

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

December 18th 2012

Post #2: Kate Westbrook. I found Kate's words very moving; this is her response in its entirety. I felt humbled to receive such a thoughtful and comprehensive response from such a wonderful and respected musician, for whom I have great admiration and have listened to for many years. 

My question was: 'As female musicians/composers/radio presenters, how do you feel your experiences as women in the UK music industry have contributed to or influenced -if at all- your music, creativity and career choices today?' 

This is Kate's response:

In 1974 I joined the Mike Westbrook Brass Band on tenor horn and piccolo. Since then I have become more of a librettist and a vocalist than a brass player.  We toured with that band to the end of the decade, through the 1980s and in to the early 1990s. We had success particularly in Europe (more than in the UK) and in Australia. I was also in the Mike Westbrook Orchestra and, together with Chris Biscoe, Mike and I formed The Westbrook Trio.
We did tours regularly in the Spring and in the Autumn and always did a few big Summer jazz festivals.  For us it was a great time for constant work, we were doing lots of gigs in the year. It always struck me at the big festivals how few women there were overall (I was often the only one) and how rare it was to come across a band run by a woman who wasn’t a vocalist, - exceptions of course, including Barbara Thompson, the Feminist Improvising Group, Carla Bley, Deidre Cartwright, Lindsay Cooper- but predominantly it was a male preserve.

During this period I did quite a few ‘high profile’ performances in the UK (the Proms, Edinburgh Festival, the Barbican with the LSO…). I really don’t want to claim the high moral ground, but my instinct was always to move on to the next creative challenge rather than consolidate any career benefit I had gained.

I formed my own band in the 1990s called Kate Westbrook and the Skirmishers. The group performed at the London Jazz Festival with ‘Revenge Suite’ and later with “Cuff Clout’ at the Chard Festival of Women in Music.  Having got a small Arts Council grant for  Cuff Clout, I commissioned 5 women and 3 men  composers each to write a piece on my texts for  the show. We made an album (with funds from a private trust) which got very good reviews.  Richard Cook gave it 4 stars in the Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD and said 'It's all stirring and moving stuff, and one looks forward to seeing it staged'. However it became increasingly difficult to get gigs. I do feel this is partly due to an anti woman bias in some promoters and on the part of some sectors of the jazz public.  Also I realize I am of a generation where women on the whole did not head up countries, banks and bands, and my deeply ingrained sense of the old ways in society perhaps made me a poor fighter.

I have worked with the ‘contemporary music’ composer Michael Finnissy and there are more women in that world it seems to me. Having worked with European jazz composers the picture seems horribly much the same as here.

With the Westbrook Trio we are celebrating our 30th anniversary this year. I write texts for and perform in Mike’s current bands, and he and I have written several operas,  music-theatre pieces, and many songs together over the years.  I am fortunate to have a platform working closely with my husband.
I see former students of mine who have hoped to live a life playing music, losing heart and going in to other professions in order to live. This applies to both sexes, but I still feel it is harder for women.   It is particularly difficult for anyone working at the experimental end of the spectrum- Are we really back to glamorous girls doing standards nicely?  Certainly in jazz, the climate is such that almost everyone is having a struggle, just a few ‘names’ earn a lot and play as much as they choose to. 

Not long ago after a gig at the 606 Club in London, as I was coming out at the end of the evening I was stopped by a young woman. She asked me how she could get started as a singer with a band. My reply was ‘Marry a band leader’. Only half joking I’m sorry to say. Of course there are the many hours and years of very hard work, but it gets us nowhere if we don’t have a platform.  

I wish I could have been in a position to have done more for the many talented women I have come across in the jazz world.  Currently I work with the accordionist Karen Street, with alto saxophonist Roz Harding, both brilliant musicians and both having a monumental struggle to get their music heard.

Mike and I tend to think that best of all is to be able to get to the next writing project, and to perform live one way or another. However difficult things have been, I have always written lyrics and worked at the music. While both Mike and I have done odd bits of teaching in the past, primarily we have earned a living by art, the priority has always been the art.

Kate Westbrook was born in Britain but spent much of her childhood in the USA and Canada. Educated at Dartington Hall School, in Devon. Kate went on to study Fine Art at Bath Academy of Art, Corsham, and at Reading University, before returning to live and work on the East and West coasts of America, and travelling in Mexico. The first solo show of her paintings was at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, California, in 1963. On returning to the UK she continued to exhibit her work and she taught at Leeds College of Art, at that time in the forefront of experimental theatre and performance art. Kate's musical career began in the mid '70s when she joined the Mike Westbrook Brass Band, and gave up teaching to concentrate on the dual career of painter and musician.

Kate has toured widely throughout Europe, and as far afield as Canada, Australia and the Far East. She has broadcast on radio and TV and has recorded more than 20 albums. Her vocal range embraces Contemporary Music, Opera, Music Hall, as well as Jazz and Popular Song. She has sung the role of Anna in The Seven Deadly Sins by Brecht and Weill with the London Symphony Orchestra, arias by Rossini with the Mike Westbrook Orchestra in Big Band Rossini at the BBC Proms, and songs by the Beatles with the Westbrook Band in Off Abbey Road. With fellow vocalist Phil Minton Kate has sung the poetry of William Blake ( Mike Westbrook’s settings) in many countries and on two albums Bright as Fire (1980) and Glad Day (1997) She multi-tracked most of the roles in the television opera  Good Friday 1663 (with libretto by Helen Simpson), now released on  Jazzprint. In the Contemporary Music field, Kate has performed Frederic Rzewski’s Coming Together and premiered Phil Clark’s All The Rage. Kate was a featured soloist in the first performance of Michael Finnissy's The Transgressive Gospel in the 2009 Spitalfields Festival.

In her recording project Cuff Clout, (Voiceprint) a neoteric music-hall, performed by her group The Skirmishers, featuring vocalist John Winfield, Kate's lyrics are set by eight composers from the worlds of pop, rock, jazz and classical music. On her solo album Goodbye Peter Lorre (also Voiceprint) she is accompanied by pianists John Alley and Mike Westbrook and the vocal group Fine Trash. Other albums include Music For Other Occasions with Lindsay Cooper and the Duo album, Love Or Infatuation with Mike Westbrook, based on the Hollywood Songs of Frederich Hollaender.

On her album The Nijinska Chamber a celebration of the life and work of the dancer and choreographer Bronislava Nijinska , with music by Mike Westbrook, Kate is joined by accordionist Karen Street.

Kate sings in Italian, French and German. She was guest soloist in a series of performances in the Christus Pavillon at the Expo 2000, Hannover, in a work by composer Heribert Leuchter, KlangWeltReligion. In 2002 she collaborated with Heribert on a music-theatre piece, Reich durch Arm, commissioned by WDR, and premiered in Aachen. Kate makes a guest appearance on Leuchter's new Trio album Reset.

Kate Westbrook's work as a lyricist has encompassed everything from cabaret songs to opera. She wrote book and lyrics for the music theatre piece Platterback, performed by Westbrook & Company.  and the Westbrook Trio's 20th anniversary album L'ascenseur / The Lift (both on Jazzprint). Also for the current Westbrook project ART WOLF, based on the life and work of the Alpine painter Caspar Wolf (1735 - 83) released on the Swiss label altrisuoni. She has co-written two works for voice and brass sextet, which she performs with the recently formed Mike Westbrook Village Band,  Waxeywork Show  (CD on jazzprint) and,  the latest,  English Soup, or the Battle of the Classic Trifle, shortly to be released on DVD.
Kate wrote texts for Chanson Irresponsable (Enja Records), one of many collaborations with Mike Westbrook, which include settings of European poetry, as do such concert works as The Cortege and London Bridge is Broken Down. She wrote the libretto for their opera Jago, and Turner in Uri, a celebration of the painter JMW Turner's travels in the Alps, commissioned by the 2003 Alpentoene Festival. The Westbrooks' one-woman opera CAPE GLOSS, Mathilda's Story, for soprano Marie Vassilliou, commissioned by NOC, was premiered in Plymouth in February 2007.

Kate is featured with fellow vocalist Phil Minton in Glad Day, The Choral Version of Mike Westbrook's settings of William Blake. She appears regularly in Duo with Mike Westbrook and in The Westbrook Trio with Mike and saxophonist Chris Biscoe. With the Mike Westbrook Band Kate is currently performing material from the latest Westbrook album Fine 'n Yellow and a brand new work for voice, percussion and saxophone quartet The Serpent Hit.

Kate continues to exhibit her paintings in Britain and abroad. 

Kate’s latest release is The Westbrook Trio anniversary album which was launched at the London Jazz Festival, and in Paris a few weeks ago: www.westbrookjazz.co.uk/westbrooktrio/index.shtml 

Monday, 17 December 2012

Monday December 17th

I interviewed my 93 year old Granny today, Eileen Cole, for Radio 4's Listening Project. It was amazing. She is such a resilient woman, with so much to say about her past, which she can remember in extraordinary detail. One thing I would like to share is Granny telling me about taking a cup of tea up to her father, Sidney Walker (who was a silent film pianist and violinist) every morning while he lay bedridden with TB for a year, never again to get to his feet, dying at home from the disease at the young age of 44; and her father saying it was his 'little cup of gold'. I just find this so heartbreakingly poignant. So beautiful, and so sad.

Today I am also publishing the first post -in what I hope will be a series, featuring women musicians/composers/ radio presenters talking about and sharing their experiences- by eminent composer/musician/blogger/music educator Kerry Andrew. 

My question to the people I approached was this: 'As female musicians/composers/radio presenters, how do you feel your experiences as women have contributed to or influenced -if at all- your music, creativity and career choices today?' 

I have had a largely positive reaction from people I've approached, who in the main are potentially happy to share their experiences. Some people have raised some interesting questions that have really made me think about the role of gender in music though- is it right to highlight it or not? Is this kind of question highlighting differences rather than focusing on the shared experiences of ALL musicians? Some people responded by saying they would love to be involved but were not sure anyone would be interested in what they might have to say.. well for a start I would be!! Even more so because they feel this way!

Following some of this feedback, I have therefore decided to also ask the same question of male musicians in the future, to hear from a male perspective. My aim is not to be divisive- I just thought it would be really interesting to hear and share what female musicians/composers (particularly as I am one myself!) have to say about their experiences, from their own unique perspectives, and decided on this angle.

Here is Kerry's  response:

"First off, I don't feel that I have ever received anything in the way of prejudice personally as a composer or performer. I have never had anyone stand in the way of my success and feel that I've been able to make choices based on my skills.

However, it is noticeable that there is a lack of female music-makers (creators in any genre, instrumentalists in pop and jazz) which I feel is simply something to be aware of, particularly in encouraging younger women to be successful in the industry (See my Guardian article www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/feb/08/why-so-few-female-composers)

I don't feel that being a girl particularly influences my music or my creativity. Once you get into this topic, you need to start talking about transgender musicians! Where does their music sit if there's such a thing as 'male' and 'female' music?

I dislike the media looking for 'female' angle. simply because they don't look for 'male' ones. I hated that 'feminine' and 'motherly' comment in Jazzwise about you Laura, although I know you don't feel the same way. I feel that denigrates you as a musician first and foremost. They'd never say that about a male musician, that he led the band in a 'fatherly' way so why say so for ladies?

I think my article says plenty about what I think.."

Kerry Andrew is a freelance composer/performer and music educator based in London. She specialises in experimental vocal music and music theatre with a twist of pop, jazz., folk, world music and everything in betweem. She is a published choral composer with two large-scale choral releases on Boreas Music. Her choral and experimental work has been heard on BBC Radio 3, BBD Radio 4, 6Music, ClassicFM and national news channels. She won a British Composer Award in 2010 and is 2010-12's Composer in Residence at Handel House Museum. Kerry performs with award-winning experimental vocal trio Juice, chamber jazz/classical, rock collective DOLLYman, prog-jazz crew Metamorphic and as alt-folk soloist You Are Wolf. 

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Sunday, December 9th

I have decided I would like to share some thoughts and experiences of other women musicians and composers as part of this blog, as informal interviews, looking at their personal experiences as women involved in music-making in the UK today; am getting a really positive response from the women I've approached which is great. More on this in the next few days: am currently in agony with a torn ligament in my back which I need to try and remedy first. 

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Wednesday November 28th

Things I have been thinking about/enjoying/listening to in the past week..

Reading Ted Hughes's book The Iron Man to Martha at bedtime, what a pleasure to rediscover this story again; finally getting some dates in the book for the Metamorphic/Royst tour in June 2013, especially in my hometown, Sheffield, at the wonderful Lantern Theatre on June 17th; working on -  and endlessly listening back to in an attempt to try and get it right- my new composition, Dark Thundering Moon, in collaboration with Martha, who's writing a story with the same title; mulling over the presence of women in jazz and the music world today, especially instrumentalists, and wondering about approaching some women musicians to interview about this; watching Martha ride a bike all on her own for the first time; rediscovering Ahmad Jamal's album The Essence which I used to listen to a lot in Paris, an album which epitomises my time living in this beautiful city, a city I still miss; and enjoying the sun when it appears, shyly, after the deluge. 

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Tuesday November 20th

I've been to some really nice gigs in the past week. The first was Shabaka Hutchings premiere of his piece Babylon with the BBC Concert Orchestra, Sons of Kemet/Jason Singh/Leafcutter John, followed by a short but incredible set from Sons of Kemet. I really liked the textures and layers of sound in Babylon, and I was blown away by the huge energy, fantastic vibe and killer grooves of Sons of Kemet. Next was the Brad Mehldau Trio at the Barbican. This was harder to enjoy as we were sitting so far away from the stage, but it was still a treat to see this trio, especially Mehldau's amazing left hand, although I missed Jorge Rossy on drums. Then onto the Leaf night at The Hyde Park Cinema. Despite some sound issues, this was a really interesting night of film and music, the highlights being Tony Morley's Kubrick soundtrack to the beautiful film The Red Balloon and pianist Matt Bourne improvising to Le Chien Andalou. Wow. As I later said to Matt, I find listening to pianists accompanying silent films- especially when the pianist is Matt!- really moving, as my great grandfather Sidney Walker was a silent film pianist, and violinist, who died at the age of 45 from TB. I am going to dedicate the second Metamorphic album Coalescence (out on the F-ire label Spring 2013) to him. Then last night, my favourite trio Troyka kicked up a storm at Sela. A great gig. We had the idea of gig hopping over to the Brudenell to see Trio VD later on but that turned out to be ambitious and I really didn't want to miss any of Troyka's set. Shame that the programmers couldn't have organised it differently. It was really nice to hang afterwards with Kit and Chris and Thea and their friends, nice chats were had. Thea asked how I got into jazz and it got me thinking about it again and remembering. It was a moment. The moment when my piano teacher put on the Keith Jarrett Trio playing God Bless The Child from Standards Vol. 2 for me. Having previously studied classical grades, after this moment I was completely hooked,  and remember clearly thinking, now THAT'S the music I want to play. 

And here I am years later- after the road taking me down some unexpected forks and presenting me with some dead ends; after retracing my steps; after standing still; after edging backwards; after running forwards; after facing crossroads; after tripping and falling but finding my feet again somehow; - doing just that. I feel so humbled and grateful that I am able to, after the twists and turns that this road has thrown at me, and will continue to. The road has become part of it.  

Monday, 12 November 2012

November 12th 2012


I have decided to start a blog to share some thoughts and feelings on music, creativity, motherhood, womanhood, friendship, love, mental health, or whatever feels important the moment I decide to write a post. A little window on stuff I think about.

My thought today is that windows have many meanings/functions: they enable you look out at the world; they enable the outside world to look in; they reflect while being transparent; they can be open and they can be closed; they can be shut out from the inside; they let in light and shadows; they allow us to observe without being observed; they can have cracks; they are ultimately fragile yet vital.