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Remembering John and Margery Styles, founder members of Smith’s Academy.
02 September 2022
Rossini Rides Again!
“The humour of Rossini’s music is irresistible, as is the lyricism, the drama, and the passion. At the first rehearsal everyone just fell about laughing. The arrangements sounded terrible, but we knew all would be well”( ‘Travels with Rossini’ SAI No 95 July 2013)
On the eve of performances in Cambridge and Lugo, Italy, of Rossini Re-Loaded Mike Westbrook sketches in the story of this much-loved project.
In 1984 Kate and I formed a street band (two tubas, trombone, tenor horn, percussion, sopranino and alto saxophones) to play an extended version of Rossini’s William Tell Overture for a William Tell Festival in Lausanne. Later we expanded to programme to include material from The Barber of Seville, Otello, La Cenerentola and The Thieving Magpie, introducing vocals and occasionally piano. There were performances in France, at Roccella Jonica, on the toe of italy, and at the André Previn Music Festival in London.
Re-formed in 1986 for a tour that began with festivals in Prague and Paris, Westbrook-Rossini went on to become one of our most successful touring projects, playing festivals, theatres and concert halls throughout Europe into the 1990s. We recorded both concert and studio versions in Zurich, for Werner Uehlinger’s HatART label.
In 1987 I had the chance to write a big band version of the piece for the NDR radio band in Hamburg. I added accordion and cello. Kate and I did some touring with the NDR band in Germany and in 1992, on Rossini’s birthday, shared the Hamburg Opera House stage with a symphony orchestra and operatic singers, alternating between classical and jazz interpretations of well-known arias. In 1991 we had also toured the Scandinavian countries with the excellent Swedish big band Tolvan.
I re-formed my own Orchestra in 1992 for a tour of French Maisions de la Culture followed by performances of Big Band Rossini at a number of major European festivals. These included the Mike Westbrook Music Festival in Catania, Sicily. In London we played a week at Ronnie Scott’s.The touring culminated in a historic performance in the BBC Proms at the Albert Hall, at the instigation of the director, the late John Drummond, the first time a jazz ensemble had been presented in the main programme.
In 1993 Kate, Chris Biscoe and I travelled to Australia for concerts at the Brisbane festival, with the specially formed Brisbane Biennial Big Band. The Orchestra’s last performance of Big Band Rossini was in Athens in 1995.
The current revival of the work, for the Uncommon Orchestra, began in 2013 in the West Country. For a performance in Canada the Ottawa Jazz Orchestra had retitled it Rossini Re-Loaded, and that’s what we called our new version. In 2018 we reassembled for what turned out to be one of our most memorable concerts - a performance in the annual Rossini Festival at the Teatro Rossini in Pesaro, the composer’s birthplace. As if that were not enough excitement, after the Cambridge concert the Orchestra will be back in Italy on October 6th to present the opening concert of a Rossini Festival in the newly restored Opera House In Lugo, near Ravenna. How to follow a gig like that? The Great Gioacchino is sure to have a few more tricks up his sleeve.
THE UNCOMMON ORCHESTRA
Kate Westbrook voice Mike Westbrook piano Ben Cottrell musical director
Graham Russell Robin Pengilley Andy Hague Sam Massey trumpets
Pete Whyman Chris Biscoe Sarah Dean Alan Wakeman Ian Wellens saxophones
Joe Carnell Sam Chamberlain-Keen Stewart Stunell Ashley Nayler trombones
Karen Street accordion Frank Schaefer cello
Marcus Vergette bass Coach York drums
Tuesday 27th September 2022
Rossini Festival Lugo
Thursday 6th October 2022
see diary for details
The First Jazz Night at the Proms
Moving Picture Show 24
Moving Picture Show 60
Once Upon a Time
13 September 2022
Remembering Trevor Tomkins
1941 - 2022
Our first gig with Trevor Tomkins did not go well. It was the mid 1970s and the Brass Band had been going for a couple of years. The line-up of five horn players - Phil, Kate, Paul Rutherford, Dave Chambers and me- had evolved, without drums as a versatile, acoustic and mobile unit. As such we made our first album For The Record.
At some point someone suggested that we try working with a drummer, and we asked Trevor to join us. Our first concert together was at Riverside Studios, Hammersmith. The mere presence of a drum kit on stage was a shock to band devotees. In the interval we were berated by outraged fans who objected strongly to this addition. They felt it changed the whole character of the band and its music. They were right. Up till then the rhythmic basis the music had been implied, felt rather than stated. The use of drums, however well played, made it sound obvious, predictable. It threatened the very dynamic of the band.
Yet ‘Tommy Trevkins’ (as Paul called him) had endeared himself to the band and become indispensable. We weren’t ready to give up. Over subsequent gigs Trevor left more and more of his kit at home. He wound up with one tom-tom, which he could up-end as a bass drum, with pedal, snare drum, one cymbal and a tambourine. He played standing up, and could march with the rest of us.
So the Brass Band moved into its next phase, and began touring more extensively in Europe. We were something of a hit at Willisau Festival, though Carla Bley commented that it was the clumsiest band she’d seen, with music stands collapsing and music scattering on the floor. Charles Mapleston’s Arts Council Film Music in Progress captures the band around that time. The band got involved in many different situations, some of them quite bizarre. Whatever the musical challenge, Trevor was always always happy to adapt his playing.The only exception I can remember is the collaboration with Henry Cow. Half way through the first rehearsal of what was to become The Orckestra he quietly packed up his drums and left.
For a great drummer, and Trevor certainly was a great drummer, it must have been a sacrifice to play with such a restricted kit. But if he minded he never showed it. His attitude reminds me of the late Jon Hiseman’s maxim for drummers ”Don’t just play the drums, play the band!”
Trevor’s resolve must have been sorely tested when in Festivals we were up against more conventional bands. One festival in Germany had clearly been sponsored by one of the major drum companies. All the latest percussion equipment was on show. Star drummers of the day such as Alphonse Mouzon took turns on a massive kit that had numerous extra tom-toms and cymbals, to bombard us with their virtuosic displays. We went on stage with Trevor and his small stand-up kit. It was as if he had one hand tied behind him, but he left us in no doubt who was the creative musician.
Things moved on. George Khan joined the band. We made the Goose Sauce album. Our rather ramshackle repertoire was giving way to a more themed approach. A set devoted to William Blake songs is a case in point. Performing Blake at the Rote Lieder Festival in East Berlin was one of the more memorable gigs. By this time Chris Hunter was in the band. The next step was an integrated show with original music and lyrics, the Jazz Cabaret.
Trevor was involved in the creation of Mama Chicago and played the opening performances. We were about to begin a tour starting with a week in a dodgy sounding club in Paris, - and dodgy it proved to be. Trevor opted out. By then we had done many gigs around Europe and Trevor had proved an excellent ‘companion of the road’. He was ready with a joke, or a story, even at the most trying times. He even devised a colour coded system to deal with all the baggage. But in the end the vagaries and insecurities of the touring life were not for him. He didn’t need it. By then he was well established on the London scene. He nominated Dave Barry as his successor in the drum chair, and another chapter opened.
Over subsequent years Kate and I rarely crossed paths with Trevor. We were aware of his many and various activities, of his being the driving force behind some of the most successful groups of the day and his support of many leading artists. Latterly we were saddened to hear of his long and painful battle with illness.
As the Brass Band’s first drummer, coming in at a crucial moment in its history, Trevor made a considerable mark on our music for which we are ever grateful. The cruel cull of jazz musicians of the 60s generation continues. Musicians like Trevor Tomkins embody heart and soul, the very lifeblood of the music. It was a privilege to have travelled the road and shared the bandstand with Trevor for those few years of dedicated work, of comradeship and crazy music. Rest in Peace.
Goose Sauce - Mike Westbrook Brass Band
The album 'Goose Sauce' is available to buy as a download.
Charles Mapleston’s Arts Council Film Music in Progress can be seen here.
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