Music’s power to heal

After the abhorrent terrorist atrocities of the last few weeks, I wanted to write a little about the One Love Concert held at Old Trafford and the We Stand Together concert held at Bridgewater Hall.  The latter organised by the Hallé, BBC Philharmonic and the Manchester Camerata and featured 100 musicians on stage plus special guests included fine mezzo soprano Alice Coote, Elbow frontman and Radio 6 DJ Guy Garvey and myself performing to a full and appreciative Manchester crowd packed with music lovers of every sort.

The programme was wildly eclectic and hugely emotional.  Conductors Sir Mark Elder, Stephen Bell and relative newcomer to the Hallé family, assistant conductor Jonathan Heyward guided us through the selections where Elgar, Holst, Ravel, Mahler and Stravinsky mingled with Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Kern, Rodgers and Hart, Hal David and Burt Bacharach.  Fellow BBC broadcaster Petroc Trelawny presented the evening brilliantly.

I usually fail when I attempt to put into words how live music makes me feel and why I believe it is such an important part of our psyche, enabling us to celebrate various cultures and histories a massive key to unlock emotion and memory.

I was trawling the internet when I came across an article written by Juliet Kuehnle entitled The Power of Live Music.  It starts with a quote from Plato “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” If that’s not enough to make you start reading!?

Juliet writes so eloquently about how music stirs your soul, that its emotional expression affects our brains in a similar way to speech.  She talks about, the value in allowing ourselves to be activated to feel and to express and react to those feelings.

I’m not saying for a second that music makes up for any of the terrible things that have happened just that it is a fantastic tool to bring communities together in an uplifting and way

On Sunday night I had the delicate task of picking up live transmission on Radio 2 from the Manchester One Love concert.  What an incredible show it was, full of empathy and love, never once patronising or fake. I think all the artists were terrific and if we could only bottle Ariana Grande’s heartfelt positive energy, wouldn’t the world be a much better place?


Fatbergs for beginners – all you need to know …

Yesterday I found myself volunteering to help unblock an outside drain – oh the glamour.  Having never had to do anything of this nature before I was totally unprepared for what lay ahead.  I won’t go into the gory details (in this paragraph) suffice to say neither will I be at the front of the line next time somebody asks.

If you’re eating stop reading this now.  We’ve all heard about these double decker sized fatbergs in the newspapers but I thought they were mainly found in big city sewers, not round our way but there I am up to my armpits down a kitchen drain outside a regular house, scooping out great whodges of I do not want to know what into into a bucket.  I emerge looking like James Herriot’s stunt double in the infamous calving episode circa 1978 – Marigolds don’t really cut it, but I’ll say no more.

I’m browsing an article how to prevent fatbergs for beginners.  Refrain from chucking the following down your sink, pasta, rice and potato peelings – definite culprit cloggers, as is oil, which of course solidifies, next on the list coffee grounds and eggshells, then it’s seeds and grains with a side order of stringy or fibrous foods such as celery and asparagus.  All the while I’m thinking don’t these people have a bin?

It’s not just sink wars, in a bid to clamp down on the disgusting mounds of fat and filth clogging up the nations sewer arteries water suppliers are crying out for flushable wipes to be banned or at least renamed un-flushable wipes.  As if that isn’t bad enough, fatbergs the size of boulders are washing up on our shores full of the afore mentioned gloop with an added dose of toxic palm oil, these ‘bergs’ are particularly hazardous to dogs and other animals as they are drawn by their diesel-y smell.

All this talk reluctantly makes me think it’s perhaps time to tackle my own personal fatberg, the one which seems to have accumulated about my person over the last year or so, I don’t think a pair of rubber gloves and a push with a poker is going to shift that!  Don’t get me wrong I’ve had a marvellous time putting the weight on – it’s all bought and paid for, but it’s back to celery sticks and long walks reading packets and counting calories for the foreseeable.



The Basie Bonus

Last week we took our Mini Big Band up to the beautiful Harrogate Theatre, I’d been looking forward to it for ages, guttingly a few days before the performance I was struck down with the return of the ‘orrible bug I thought I’d got shut of two weeks previous.

Cue endless hours of steaming and epic consumption of ginger tea and chicken soup.  By D Day I felt that the lurgy gods and I had reached a fair compromise and that providing I didn’t go mad I’d be able to deliver the goods.

Our mini big band comprises seven of the most wonderfully talented musicians, each able to not only read the dots but also improvise at a seconds notice, which is just as well as by middle of the second half the old pipes were flagging or perhaps needed lagging.   I looked at the next song on the list – a massive yet delicate and tricky ballad and thought – No I’m going to have to pass on this one so with the applause still in the air from the last number I turned to the band and asked for help.  Whilst I explained to the audience that I was going to take a moment to regroup said pipes, the chaps hatched a plan, taking all of 12 seconds to decide on Secret Love in Eb.

Here’s the thing with seven musicians on stage you’ll appreciate it’s tricky to expect them to perform something together at a seconds notice without a proper written arrangement, but off they went into the great unknown pouring out the most wonderfully exhilarating music along the way.  The tune was bounced around the players like a big volley ball, and when not soloing the guys worked together adding impromptu backings wherever necessary.

It made me think of the early days of big band with the likes of Count Basie in Kansas leading his first proper band creating ‘head’ arrangements of tunes on the stand with not a sheet of music in sight.  Each night the arrangement would grow and grow becoming more and more polished.

Not surprisingly the audience went crazy – they absolutely loved it and so did I – but then who wouldn’t?  How often do we get to the opportunity to experience something so brilliantly spontaneous? From now on a slot will be left in the second half we’ll call it – The Basie Bonus.


We’ve all seen many changes since April 2007 …

Muddy recently asked how long I’d been writing for The Yorkshire Post. My first column appeared exactly 10 years ago.  At the time I was signed to Sony and as part of a six-week album campaign, they asked the good people at the YP if I could write a few pieces and you’ve been stuck with me ever since, all 173,200 words of me to be precise!

We’ve all seen many changes since April 2007, and from a purely arts related point of view I’m gutted at the thought of schools cutting arts and in particular music from their curriculum due to lack of funding.  It’s going to have a devastating effect on the musical landscape, something must be done before it’s too late.

On Friday I had the pleasure of co-presenting Radio 2’s Young Brass Award with Frank Renton at the Royal Northern College of Music, or Royal College of Northern Music as I’ve heard it affectionately called.

The competition is open to brass players between 16 and 21. From those initial entries eight are selected for the semi finals, four of whom go on to perform at the final.

The standard of playing was jaw-droppingly good, and what a fantastic opportunity for any musician to be accompanied by the world famous Foden’s Band, under the baton of Michael Fowles.  Foden’s have been entertaining audiences for over a hundred years and a nicer bunch you’d struggle to find.

First up was Ellena Newton on trombone who will be taking up a place at RNCM in September. I’d have been quaking in my boots but she took to the stage with aplomb and delivered her 2 pieces brilliantly, as did all the finalists. Next on the block James Nash delighted us with a stunning Philip Nash work Moon Song Sun Dance on flugel horn.  Third to the stand was traditional brass band instrumentalist Siobhan Bates doing marvellous things with tenor horn and finally Isobel Daws took on a fantastic and difficult composition written by Gordon Langford for the great Don Lusher – Rhapsody for Trombone.  This unassuming young woman treated us to her phenomenal rendition with effortless skill, technique and beauty.  After much deliberation from the judges Isobel scooped the coveted Radio 2 Young Brass Award.  I felt as I drove home that the future of music was safe in the hands of these talented youngsters but for how long?