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Riley Music Academy Music Cast: The Beautiful Game

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Continuing the theme of passing on my thoughts of memorable moments within the week, in this blog I would like to share my weekend with you.

I played 2 separate gigs on Saturday with two great bands. The first was with an amazing saxophonist who is briefly back in the country after studying at the Manhattan School of Music in New York. I was a bit anxious sharing the saxophone duties with him as not only are his chops formidable but he’s 10 years younger than me and he’s a really nice guy. Makes you sick doesn’t it?! The other highlight was playing with a singer I’ve wanted to work with for some time; he’s a bit of a legend.

So that was my busy saturday and then on Sunday I played Pie Face and sat with friends whilst they watched and discussed a game of football on the telly. I was fascinated with the depth of knowledge they had about the game but I didn’t exactly feel ‘involved’ in the conversation! As I drifted off I started to think about how the players in the team worked together to play the game and win the match. It was similar to my experiences of the previous day.

Being a session musician requires you to change pace, style, tactics and delivery. You suit the music to the occasion and try to build the best collective sound possible.

Long ball to the striker

This method could be used to make full use of an exceptional talent within the group. It’s nice to offer the player a chance to stand out. This works great with singers. I always make sure they have space and it amazes me that singers often comment how much they appreciate it and how many times other players play too much. If there’s a singer in the band then they need to be heard and it should be all about them. Wait for a gap or a solo break and take over when necessary.

Pass it around

Communication within the band is, for me, the most fun part of being a musician. I love the dialogue that takes place mid gig and this is why I tend to fall into the jazz scene as it has far more opportunities to exchange improvised ideas. Once again though, its important that once you have offered a musical contribution, you shut up to listen for the answer!

Eyes on the ball

Knowing the form, keeping your place and having a level of professional concentration is important. Whilst you can cover up the odd mistake, like coming in at the bridge in the wrong place, to have false starts or complete train wreck moments is embarrassing! Luckily, I don’t have many “I wish the ground would swallow me up” moments these days. As a side note: perhaps my most memorable lack of professionalism story goes back to playing student night at the Jam House in Birmingham. A girl came over to ask a request of the band mid song and whilst leaning over, fell out of her dress. Every single player in the band immediately stopped playing and had to collect their jaw from the floor.

Laddish Immaturity 1 – Professionalism 0

The set piece

The downside of improvised music is that its sometimes difficult to offer any rehearsed motifs. I like to have a certainly flexibility within the song but then hit the audience with something tight, controlled and rehearsed. It shows the audience that the band has a secure sense of congruence and it breaks up monotony. My favourite experience is when players have a telepathy and can create improvised phrases that link up. This can sometimes happen with certain pairings of musicians but tends to increase in frequency the longer the musicians work together. Its a bit like having friend that finishes your sentences for you…only less annoying!

Keep formation

Knowing your role in the band is crucial for a good group sound. Its only the Jaco Pastorious’ and Stanley Clarke’s that can play so much on the bass guitar and it still sound awesome! Don’t over play and if its your job to hold things together then…you hold things together!

There you have it. My tenuous analogy to the beautiful game and a sport I know very little about (I did play for my college team but instead of half time oranges we had a cigarette and a can of Scorpion Lager).

Here’s a thought…if all musicians were paid £100k a week then would the world be a better place?

Answers on a postcard…. (or simply post a comment here)

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