Date: 2018-03-18
Author: Colin H
Author URL: http://theafterword.co.uk/author/colin-h/

Article Index

PART 2: MAKING OTHER ARRANGEMENTS

CH: Which brings me to the new album, ‘Making Other Arrangements’ – it’s obviously a huge labour of love for you, a huge project for you in many ways, and it can’t have been cheap…

Well, it was very expensive. I didn’t get any sponsorship or anything and it’s cost me over 25 grand to make but it’s been something I felt had to be done at this stage of my career, because I’m 53 in a week or two and with the pressure of the day job – being a university lecturer, and it really is full-on – I’m probably not going to get technically better on my instrument, although my ideas might develop. I’m probably not going to have the range, tone, sound, agility in the finger-work and so on in two or three years’ time that I do have now. So, I thought, ‘This is the time to do it, when I’m still ‘hot’ in terms of my technical ability to play’. So that was the first consideration. The second consideration was that my whole career has been inspired by seven or eight different musical events – usually [vinyl] records, sometimes CDs. The most significant one ever for me was a Red Rodney/Ira Sullivan Quintet that I saw in Cork and an album called ‘Sprint’, and that was the one that changed everything for me, ‘cos I had to be a musician – and unconsciously or subconsciously, one of the earliest things I did in jazz was put together a quintet, and that became what my normal thing would be. Looking back now, I realise that subliminally it was the impact of ‘Sprint’ by the Red Rodney/Ira Sullivan Quintet, which I’m sure I’ve played in excess of two or three thousand times. I can still now sing you every single solo on that album. That album was from 1983 and at that stage Red Rodney was quite old but the playing… Garry Dial on piano, Jeff Hirshfield (drums), Jay Anderson (piano), who I met in New York over the summer [past] and fulfilled a life’s ambition… So that was a really big thing. The other big thing was an album by Freddie Hubbard called ‘Ride Like the Wind’ (1982), and one of the things I really like about Freddie Hubbard is that he was not someone who just played jazz – he played, for example, the solo on Billy Joel’s ‘Zanzibar’, and he had a pop sensibility to his playing, even though he was a real serious bop head. And, you know, I like to think I’m quite a good bop player but I’ve also got a pop sensibility…

CH: Absolutely – ‘The Sidewinder’ and ‘Norwegian Wood’ on your first album…

That’s it. So, whenever I heard ‘Ride Like the Wind’ with Freddie Hubbard on it with a large ensemble, woodwind and strings, I thought, ‘Okay, this is really interesting…’ There’s a tune on it called ‘Brigitte’ which I rearranged for this album, so I could safely say that that was the album that inspired what I’m doing now.

CH: So, recording a large ensemble album must have been a dream for years?

It has been but I was wise enough to wait until I could play properly, because basically there’s a different approach…

CH: Really? If you’d had the money 10 years ago you wouldn’t have risked it?

Well, if I had it would have been a mistake, because there’s a lot more goes on with a soloist in front of a large ensemble than there is with a soloist in front of a quintet. The key component for success is patience. On an album like this the melody has to survive….

CH: It’s a very melodic album…

Well, the arrangements were done to create the bed for the melody and although I do use some bop language and I do improvise with some approaches where informed listeners would say I’m using a language which is outside that, there’s still a very, very strong respect for the arrangement in the improvisation that I do. 

CH: Tell me how you worked with Cian Boylan, the arranger:

Well, I gave him very strict parameters to work to, because I knew what I wanted – I had stuff in my head – but he still managed to surprise me. He’s a great friend. He did the Master’s with me in 2008.

CH: So, he caught what was in your head?

Yeah – that was his big success in this project, he got exactly what I was looking for. To be fair, he only played the arrangements to me the week before we started recording…

CH: Wow. That must have been quite scary…

It was, actually. They might not have been as good as I wanted them to be, and that was a risk, I guess, but I trusted him. People have asked me, ‘Why didn’t you do the arrangements yourself?’ And it’s a great question. The only way I can answer it is to say that it wouldn’t have been true to my career, because my whole career has been based on doing stuff in teams, where I book people to do things that they do best.

CH: You would never have a dog and bark yourself…

Well, this is it. So, Cian was a great arranger who had done lots and lots of arrangements, of pop and jazz, and a lot of orchestrations. And I thought, ‘Well, I haven’t done any. So, wouldn’t it be much better if I give the template to him to do what he does and then I can do what I do?’ I can book the sax players and let them do what they do, and I can book the strings and let them do what they do – and it kind of worked!

CH: Given that it was such a long-time dream project, and quite an expense, was it nerve-wracking to be in the studio actually doing it?

I was teaching in Sligo, as I do every year – the Sligo Jazz Project, the last week in July – and I’m quite a big part of it, because I do quite a lot of the entertaining at night in terms of introducing the acts on the main stage, etcetera, and giving information out, so I’m quite a big personality in Sligo and this year was my fifth or sixth year doing it. And on the second day I had what can only be described as the nosebleed from hell, and I was hospitalised. My wife [Maggie] had to come down.

CH: Some kind of psychosomatic reaction to the impending studio sessions?

No, I think it was quite simply a burst blood vessel. I’d been doing a gig with the Commitments the weekend before and I’d had a nosebleed then…

CH: Must have been some blistering playing…

Well, the Commitments is a beast of a gig – it’s all high, loud and fast. It bled quite badly during their gig but I thought it was okay [after that]. But the second day in Sligo my nose burst, literally, and I was hospitalised. I had to pull out of Sligo and I was actually back in the hospital for a few days. So, whenever I got back, I hadn’t played for a week and I thought, ‘My God, I’ve got this album at the end of August – let’s get myself sorted out’. So, I actually went back to basics again and did little flexibility exercises and warm-ups, being careful not to burst anything again – and then built myself into a really heavy routine. So, for three weeks before the album I was literally either gigging or practising eight hours a day. Even the weekend before the recording started I deliberately scheduled lots and lots of gigs, and I think I did a recording [for someone else] as well – just so the mouthpiece was on my face more or less all my waking days.

CH: But you can overdo it, surely…

You can, but whenever I walked into the studio on Monday morning my lip was just so well-tuned. I guess it must be what these great athletes feel on the day of a big race, when they’re ready to go – track suit off, fire that gun, let me at it! It felt a bit like that. But I have to say, a lot of the players that I’d picked for the record are people that I love very much – they’re very, very close friends, who’ve been with me for many years on different projects. And it was a really emotional thing to be in there with Cian and the guys and achieving what we were doing as we went along. The vibe was just phenomenal. There was a guy called Conor Brady and he was the engineer, and he *made* it. The planets aligned. Two weeks later was strings day. We did everything else [first] – four days of drums, bass, guitar, keys, saxes, woodwind, singer and me and then the fifth, two weeks later, was the strings. And I’m not ashamed to say that a lot of that day I was crying…

CH: Wow – it was that bad?

No. (laughs) It was just emotional watching all the string players getting their instruments out, and then all the chaos, this awful noise of a big string section as they tune up – every player managing to switch off from even the person next to them as they blarge through whatever warm-up they do, and it just sounds like a whole sack of cats! And then the conductors says, ‘Okay, bar one…’ and whatever you imagine God would sound like – if he played the violin – happens, and tears begin to flow. Most of the day I was like that except for one track, track 4 [on the album], which is an Earth, Wind & Fire song we’d arranged, and it’s just trumpet and strings.

CH: Did you record that live with the strings?

We had two or three goes at it. The strings were in one big room and because of the mic sensitivities I couldn’t be in the same room as them, and I couldn’t get a clear line of sight [from another room, with headphones]. So, after two or three attempts at that we abandoned that idea and, for the sake of time as much as anything, Cian conducted the strings and within minutes I threw my part on top.

CH: When you say you ‘threw’ your part on top…

‘Blew’ my part on top! (laughs)

CH: Was it a few takes? Your playing on that one sounds really controlled and measured…

No, it was just one take, if I remember rightly. This guy Conor Brady, whatever way he did it, the setting in the cans was just so real… The chairs were still set up for the strings, I’d moved into their room – they’d gone home – and I was still in the presence of them in my head, it just felt like they were still there, and I just nailed it.

CH: Brilliant. Tell me about the song choice for the album…

Well, this is where you’re going to get the coup, because nobody’s going to ask me that question – and I’m not going to answer them if they do! You’ve asked the correct question in a more amazing way than you know, in that they are *songs*. Almost every single song that I decided to do was because I was inspired by a singer singing it – ‘What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?’ by Liane Carroll, James Taylor’s ‘Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight’ – James Taylor did that one with Brecker and Herbie Hancock…

CH: They weren’t available for your session…?

They weren’t, no – but I was quite happy with who I got! The one that Dana Masters sings [on the album], ‘Louisiana Sunday Afternoon’, that was a Diane Schuur thing that I was inspired by. So almost in every case except for ‘Brigitte’ the songs were inspired by somebody else [singing them]. And then there was this magic thing that happened… Basically, I’d bought my wife a guitar a couple of years ago and she’s really into it. She’s an editor for music on BBC Radio Ulster and is surrounded by music. She’s dedicated most of her life to making musical events happen for people in general – whether it a Hugo Duncan thing [Country’n’Irish], a jazz thing, an orchestral thing. She’s been behind outside broadcasts bringing big events to Northern Ireland and she’s got an overview for music. So, the music is very much in her and whenever I bought her a guitar it came out. I think whenever she knew I was doing this project she had it in mind to write a song for her sister [titled ‘Carmel’]. She didn’t put lyrics to it but she did write a melody and a chord sequence and she let me hear it. I played it and said, ‘Actually, I really do like that…’ And then she did a tiny bit more work on it than I’d expected her to do – she formulated where she thought an arrangement would go; she had an idea what instruments would do what. And she was able to articulate it sufficiently for Cain and I to arrange it and put it on the record.

CH: Her tune is very redolent of Bacharach – which is meant as a great compliment, especially for someone who’s just written their first song…

Yeah, I think you’re right. The thing I like about it is, for someone who’s not as musically trained as Cain and I would be, she’s managed to find a melody that is quite active intervalically – it’s not just something that moves between simultaneous notes a tone apart; it’s quite an active melody in terms of its construction and there is a resolution. I’m sure she wasn’t thinking of that when she presented it, but when she did it felt like a very natural thing to put it on the record.

CH: Fantastic. Will you get an opportunity to present this music live?

Seven dates in the book already. Four with the full orchestra. The first is the Bray Jazz Festival, May 5, and then May 9 in Belfast at the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, and then September 22 at Limerick Jazz Festival and then October 27 Cork Jazz Festival – so there’s four with the full band. And there’ll be three in England, which will be Cain and I working with musicians who are over there.

CH: Are you hoping for more opportunities in Britain?

I think there’ll be limited opportunities for me to put the full Irish ensemble out – I’d say maybe once or twice a year after this year. But there’ll be opportunities for Cain and I and possibly one or two or the album players joining us. It’s always been about playing it not recording it, for me. Recording it is just a way of getting it out but, yeah, I intend to play it a lot, hopefully, over the next 10 years. I still think my small band stuff is good and I’ll probably do something [on record with it] again – I have some very special friends who I’ve met through Sligo: Adam Lisbon, a drummer, would be one; Jay Anderson, who’s my all-time hero – the guy who took the bass solo on that ‘Sprint’ album that made it all happen for me, because I fell in love with music through his bass solo. So, I think I’ll be working with them in the next couple of years and that’ll be a different kind of project, a much smaller ensemble. 

CH: So, you’re creating a repertoire of projects to keep dipping into periodically in live performances?

Well, I’ve always done that. I’ve always been looking for opportunities to play.

CH: Given that you now have a solid income with the university teaching, that gives you the summer free, and the resources, to consider higher-profile projects…

Well, that’s one way to look at it. I think the other way to look at it is that lecturing at university has a research requirement, and this is research for me – this is very, very much research into methodologies to develop not just me but other players. A lot of the methodologies I’m developing to make these projects happen are methodologies that could be applied to other players, so they become part of a big research pedagogy that I’m feeding into. 

CH: So, really, the people at Ulster University who monitor what the staff are doing – they won’t be listening to this album and thinking, ‘Linley Hamilton – he’s just sitting at home watching ‘MasterChef’ all day…’?

(laughs) No!

CH: Final question, maybe for a bit of a laugh: your best and worst gigs?

(ponders for a minute) Best gig ever… I was doing a gig at Jenny Watt’s in Bangor in the, let’s see, late 80s – I’d have been 23 or 24. It’s still running, believe it or not. It was a Sunday lunchtime gig and I’d replaced Dermot Harland. He was still alive but had decided not to do the gig anymore, so I was covering him on the gig. And there was a guy…. I can’t remember his name, but he was quite an unusual character, maybe 15 years older than me, and loaded. He was like an adventurer. Where most people would play golf on a Saturday, he would fly to Nepal and do an 800 metre stretch of Everest and then come back – he was that kind of a guy. I remember him coming up to me as I was packing my instrument away, on a Sunday in Jenny Watt’s, and he says to me, ‘Are you free next week? Can you put a band together for 4 o’clock on Sunday?’ And I said, ‘Er, what kind of thing are you after?’ He says, ‘It has to be really heavy jazz’. So, I said, ‘Well, this band isn’t really heavy jazz…’ He says, ‘No, I have people in mind, like Neil Everett (piano)…’ So, I said, ‘Okay, let me sort it out’. So, I booked the best people I knew – Neil Everett, John Trotter (trombone), myself, a guy called Charlie Burton on drums and Trevor England on bass, a guy who was very generous to me and instrumental in my development.  To cut a long story short – and it *is* a long story (laughs) – the guy said to me, ‘Meet at Donaghadee Harbour at 3.30 – but it has to be formal attire’. So, I made it clear to everybody they had to bring tuxedos and bow ties. I had a PA, and I had a butterfly collar and shiny patent shoes – and this guy arrives at the harbour in his shorts and rather expensive-looking summer boating shoes and a magnificent rugby shirt with a very fancy collar. He says, ‘Right, this way…’ and we all hawked everything out of the cars and headed down to the harbour thinking ‘Where’s the gig?’ And he says, ‘Load the stuff on to the boat’. There was a cabin cruiser that just about held us all, so we packed our stuff into the thing and sat out on the cab – and he never said anything at all. And we took the boat to one of the Copeland Islands [uninhabited islands off County Down] and he moored the boat off one of the islands, because of the propeller, and we formed a line, rolled up our trouser legs and handed all the gear over to the island.  He had a generator and he had a number of poles and people’s coats on a tarpaulin thing to block the sound of the generator – and nobody said ‘boo’; not one of us said, ‘What the hell’s going on mate?!’ We were just in such shock that we went and set up in front of this generator, in tuxes, and there were eight or nine of his friends in shorts and T-shirts and swimming costumes eating a barbecue while we were playing ‘Impressions’ and ‘Giant Steps’ and stuff like this, and really knocking the stuffing out of it, taking no prisoners, in tuxedos. We did they gig, they said, ‘Here’s the cash’, we said, ‘Right’, they said, ‘Do you want to have some barbecue?’  So, we were eating this barbecue, and then we loaded our stuff back on to this rowing boat to get back on to the cabin cruiser – and Neil Everett, a lovely guy, phenomenal player, but quite small muscles, let me put it that way, decided he wanted to row the boat. And he had to be rescued, because he was rowing the boat in circles and the tide was taking it out. I think it was John Trotter who swam out to rescue Neil, to then row the boat over to the cabin cruiser. And then the guy drove the cabin cruiser, we all loaded our stuff into our cars and said goodbye, took the cash and drove home. I lived in Bangor at the time and I remember being in the house about half an hour when the phone rang and it was Charlie the drummer: ‘Hi Linley, how’s it going?’ ‘Great Charlie, did you enjoy that today?’ He said, ‘I just wanted to confirm that it happened’. And I got a second call for the same reason, somebody asking, ‘Did we just do that?’ ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, I was just a bit shy about saying no…’ 

CH: And the worst gig?

I don’t think there is a worst gig – but there is a ‘special’ gig, which most people would think was really bad. For me, it’s a special place in my heart. I used to row at Queen’s [University]…

CH: Hang on a second – why weren’t *you* rowing the boat back from the Copelands?!

Good question! I rowed at Queen’s, played in that Bob Dixon Jazz Band with these older men, all in their 60s and 70s and I was like 21/22. And I put this jazz band on at the Rowing Club on a regular basis, because I was in it, and they got it cheap and they all danced and we did fundraising and so on. There was this particular gig where we were setting up – we’d done it seven or eight times that year and people loved it – and there were these two hairy DJ types who were just the salt of the earth, and they had big beards and long hair. They had their DJ system set up and we’d set up our gear alongside them, with music stands, cos it was six horns and a four-piece rhythm section doing kind of Jimmy Lally arrangements – it was great stuff, really great craic. But this day the drummer never arrived and he was always on time, normally the first there.  He wasn’t there… he wasn’t there… and the guys said, ‘He’ll be here any minute’. I started to panic and rang his house. He says, ‘How’s it going?’ I said, ‘What? What do you mean how’s it going? Why are you in your house?’ ‘Is it not next week?’ ‘No, it’s this week…’ So, he couldn’t have made it in time. We had six horns, piano, bass, guitar… and no drums. The lead singer/clarinet player, who was around 73, called Bob Dixon had a leather bag which he brought to every gig, and in the bag were six plastic hats that we put on during one of the numbers, and two maracas and a tambourine and, I swear to God, these two DJs played these maracas and tambourine till their fingers bled. (laughs) They played them for two hours, and every time I looked round at them they were crying with pain and too embarrassed to stop ¬– a bit like us on the Copeland Islands. They played for the whole gig. There was just something about that – I thought it was epic. A great example of how musicians just get on with it and do their thing. If you’re a pub-type musician, there’s honour in delivering your gig!