Music, Performances, Open Mics, Jazz Workshops, Record Producer

Weekend Warriors - How to form a live Band in Six Weeks

I had always fantasised about playing in a “live” band, and in 2001, I signed up for the Weekend Warrior course with ICMP London – The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance

The ICMP was originally known as the Guitar Institute and has modern offices with professional studio facilities and classrooms for music students, and is situated in Dyne Road London NW6

One of the courses they ran was known at the time as “Weekend Warriors”, and my fellow group of applicants included amateur singers, guitarists, bass guitarists, drummers and some keyboard players. The organisers then formed a number of complete “bands” from amongst the applicants by matching instruments and talent.

Once you had your fellow band-members. it was then up to each band to decide on four or five “numbers”, and then perform those songs in The Luminaire, a “live” venue, which was a well known music club close to the studios. Each band had six weeks to rehearse and practice, and could use the studio facilities at Dyne Road and get professional advice at any time from the resident musicians. I was on rhythm guitar and vocals

It was another very interesting experience for me, and highlighted some of the problems which can arise in music when there is a “team” situation, and differing levels of skill, but we got through to perform the numbers together at the venue, and I have a Video evidencing the performance. Let me just say that I have not played the Video for many years, and I think I could probably do a better job now! But I had crossed another “to do” item off my list, and it had been very educational!

Open Mics and Why they are Important

In my opinion, open mics are the “life blood” of amateur music, and the definition given by Wikipedia is pretty accurate in my experience.

In the SW London area, there were a number of open mics available to attend and perform at, and the venue was usually a pub. Most of the audience are either fellow musicians or friends, and generally very forgiving, and very generous – however bad the rendition – and they understand that open mic performers are not professionals!

The plus point for the performers is that it gives one the chance to perform new or old songs, with their own unique arrangement and style, and it provides the experience of, and adrenalin rush involved in, a “live performance”.

Because I had previously invested in my own audio equipment – speakers, amplifiers microphones etc. – so that I could practice at home, I was in a position to set up an independent “open mic”, and so I did, and it ran for a year or so – starting at the The Coach and Horses Pub in Barnes.

This was a very friendly pub, and had a separate private room large enough to be used for events like the open mic. Just down the road in Barnes were other popular pubs, some of whom also provided “live music” – the Bull’s Head being one example.

So I became the “roadie” and organiser for the “open mic” and invited friends from both BCP and Andy Walpole’s RACC workshop to attend. It was held once a month and great fun to organise and perform at.

A little later, I moved the venue to the Richmond Lawn Tennis Club, which was also more convenient for the guys and gals from RACC. After a year or so, I had other priorities: with no-one available to take over the organisation of the open mic, I closed it down.

One long established open mic is the Teddington Acoustic Music Club, extremely well run by Jeff Porter, and I attended and performed there on a number of occasions.

My chum David Day had his own favourite “watering holes” which encouraged live music, where he would perform Jazz songs with a group of jazz musicians in the Open Mic style, and these pubs included the Brewery Tap in Brentford. I did participate very occasionally!

Shireen Francis - Singing Classes and Workshops

Shireen Francis is an accomplished professional jazz singer who has performed regularly at London venues – quoting from her own website: “London based jazz vocalist Shireen Francis has developed her own unique blend of jazz with flavours of gospel, blues calypso and reggae.  Performing with some of the country’s top jazz musicians, the combination of Shireen’s stunning expressive voice coupled with her natural musicianship has delighted audience all around the world”.

I can confirm that she is not only a talented singer, but also a very nice person and a very good teacher. After teaching jazz singing via workshops at the RACC – I did not attend at that time but I had heard about her workshops – she started her own singing courses and workshops in 2008 using the idyllic Barnes Green Centre in Barnes as the Venue, and Michele and I started classes with her in about 2009/2010.

By this time I was a little more confident about my own singing abilities: her class consisted of mostly women who had much more experience than I did! Shireen made her courses extremely interesting: apart from the songs chosen for us to perform (mostly jazz based) – there was always a professional musician in support, sometimes a pianist, sometimes a double bass player and sometimes a drummer. At the end of the course, we had all three – a full professional trio to back our songs – just like one’s own band! 

Apart from learning more about the particular instruments and their role in a jazz trio, Shireen also explained how to “count in” the band and how important it was to discuss beforehand – as examples – the key, the tempo and the style you wanted as the singer, and how to maintain the “connection” with the musicians.

I learnt a great deal from Shireen’s workshops, and appreciated her professionalism, which undoubtedly helped me to better understand what was required in order to become a more competent musician.

How I Became a Record Producer

Some time in the early ’80s. I was on holiday in Ibiza with my first wife Rosie and my son Russ. We met another family at the time, Len and Carol Hawkes with their three children – Chesney, Jodie and Keely. Len “Chip” Hawkes was both vocalist and the bass player from 1965 for the well known Pop Band The Tremeloes, who probably achieved most fame for their UK Hit Single “Silence is Golden”

We got on well – Carol was very attractive, and I think Rosie had a crush on Len, who was most charming. After we returned to the UK, we were invited to their home in Sunningdale, Ascot, which was a very expensive house that Len afforded through the Band’s earlier success. At this time in his life, Len was out of work – in other words, not in a working Band – as we would say today “asset rich, cashflow poor”. 

Amongst his many talents, Len had a gift for songwriting, and he had recorded a few new songs in his home studio that he wanted me to hear. Amongst these new songs was a number called “Seventeen” and to cut a long story short, I agreed to finance him and try to get the new song “into the charts” as an independent label. The record was to go out with the singer as stage name or  pseudonym “Maxwell Silver“.

We formed a company called Broomfield Music Ltd, with the record label also as Broomfield Music, cut the Master Tape for the song and went into limited production with several thousand record “singles” for distribution and marketing to local radio stations etc. The printing process, where the records were pressed and labelled, was a new and interesting experience for me.

The key to the success for any new song at the time lay in “plugging” -i.e. persuading radio show presenters and other music outlets to play the “indie” record “on air” – and this area of marketing was very much down to Len’s own contacts built up through his years in the music industry.

Unfortunately, the song did not make the charts – although I did think that it had a chance: but without a very large budget for enough plugging/marketing it is rare for any song to succeed.

After this, our friendship and relationship fizzled out, although I have watched with some interest the progress of each of the talented Hawkes children, and Len’s own recent “comeback” tours.

Making Music in a Private Recording Studio

One of the things on my “to do” list was to record some songs with the help of a professional musician. After I had been in Crete for one or two years, I met up with Phil Harrison, who was exactly that – a professional musician. Not only was he living locally, but he owned a 160 Track Recording Studio, and his fees were very reasonable.

I gave Phil a list of songs that I had always wanted to record – most of them “Golden Oldies” where the instrumentation was pretty basic – and we set about recording the songs, with Phil providing the arrangement and the vast majority of the playing (he is proficient on most things including Guitar and Keyboards). After each session he would mix the tracks and add harmony and whatever else he thought necessary: if he thought I should re-record a vocal, I would do so until it sounded reasonable.

I should say again that I do not think I have any great talent as a singer, and for these particular recordings, my aim was to sound like the original artist rather than try to impose my own style.

Many many thanks to Phil Harrison for such a professional job.

Song List (also on SoundCloud under domain buddy)

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