Why We Must Tell Everyone That Streaming Music Is Not Enough

Music is among the most ephemeral of all arts. When it is written down, it’s in code, a code only understood by the kind of people who made the stuff in the first place, and that might explain why most music in most cultures is not written down with any real degree of precision. The thing only exists in the air.

It is air. Moving air.

We need air to breathe and we need air to hear. I recently discovered that the Italian verb sentire means both to hear and to feel. You could say hearing is feeling with ears, but new revelations indicate that sound acts on our whole bodies. Hearing and feeling become one in the same.

Music inhabits the air, but that air becomes thick, thick like gravy from the seventies, like the smell of a thousand perfume counters. The air from the speakers of your phone is not big enough. You would not date someone an inch high: don’t listen to music through phone speakers. Where is the love?

Headphones can make you feel surrounded by music, but you are then cut off from people around you. It’s a solitary experience, and it’s one I like a lot, but….it’s not a gig.

Recently I made some notes about a gig I was at. I had some fleeting observations, you know, mostly about why one note or gesture over another….but the shaking air all but smashed them and I wrote nothing down. Music is not an absolute, at least it wasn’t that night. Music is the people that it gathers together. To listen to a record is simply to imagine such a crowd around you. Tonight they are here. Sometimes music seems to play time backwards, the people that come somehow summoning the sounds. It radiates experience outwards into memories but with a seasoning of the new. Ghosts live and breathe. If you were there you would know, tonight you would know.

I stream music. A lot. I did a whole series of solo gigs in lockdown where my source of tunes was mostly from a streaming service and a search engine. Streaming is like looking in the footnotes of the Mona Lisa, like sky diving by sitting on a chair and having a friend scroll drawings of the sky past your face. It’s an indicator of a future experience. When you make a lot of money, you say: “I don’t know what I want to do, but when I do I’ve got the finances to pay for it.” The problem is, the finances pile up and the dreams fade away.

We have become used to an all-or-nothing approach to everything. It’s either all live music, wax cylinders and crackling vinyl or it’s a brave new world where music of the future will be released in a gas through the streetlights and suburbs of cities, towns and villages, perfect, odourless, soundless. And it will probably be Beethoven, James Brown and Neil Young because new music will be too expensive to record. Perhaps….we already have enough of it. I mean, how many “playlists to aid work concentration” does a person need?

But we only “have enough” if we regard the final “product” as the thing that matters. But it’s not. It’s the making of it, and the witnessing of that making by the people who crave the soul-comforting, mind-sharpening, puzzling sound of air moving through the world. Music is still communal, and all those people sitting in front of you on the bus with their earbuds in, they are longing for it too, but they are, in the meantime, making do with what has been made convenient. Music’s online availability, utopian perhaps in its early days, has removed the glamour of its scarcity. Rareness breeds value, but music is now lying half eaten in the street, a bag of chips discarded because the prospect of a sausage is a new taste sensation.

It’s not enough.

Love Letters

When I was about ten, I pulled a poster down from my wall, wrote “I Love Sally” on the back, and put it back. Nobody had known my guilty secret, and now, following this confession, I knew it. It was real. Signed, sealed and, until now, never delivered.

Pen on paper, feeling the contour of the lines, the resistance of the paper against the felt tip, you have to push the pen, gently ease the words into existence. It was real, real but protected by a photograph of the Chelsea squad circa 1970 that originally belonged to my dad. A firewall for the old century.

Perhaps I wanted, one day, to be discovered, then someone else could spread the rumour, take over the administration of this devoutly wished-for union. And maybe Sally had her own scrawled secrets beneath the bedroom blu tack. I liked to think of our posters talking to each other, meeting in some kind of virtual union of unfulfilled actions. Safe, secure.

Either way, I am glad there were no home computers, let alone internet, available to me then. Printed words, like these here, carry a kind of authority for me learnt from childhood. Print meant books, newspapers, magazines. The effort of putting something into print meant that somebody somewhere meant what they said. You couldn’t have five pints in the pub, become melancholy and morose and publish an article for publication five minutes later. Even newspapers, working on a very fast turnover, required witnesses (editors) to filter the content and, in the meantime, you could sober up clutching your head thinking “Why did I write that?”

Now there is no hangover, but there is the rage and counter-rage of the internet. Momentary thoughts slip through our fingers into the public space, unedited but presented in the flawless fonts that pass for a measure of quality. You’d think twice about that passing comment if you’d had to chisel it into a stone tablet. Today’s Moses would likely have had another couple of hundred commandments saved as drafts in a separate folder.

Landlords often stipulate that no blu tack on the walls is allowed. I used to think it was to avoid damage to the inevitable magnolia paintwork. Now I know: it’s to force our secrets out into the real world. You cannot hide anywhere except, for now at least, in your mind.

I won’t be tagging Sally in this post. Her Facebook address is safely hidden under a firewall on the long since corrupted hard drive of my memory.

Andrew Woodhead:”Pendulums”

Here’s some liner notes I wrote to Andrew’s new record for bell ringers, improvising ensemble and electronics, “Pendulum”. It’s a great record, the best record for bell ringers, improvising ensemble and electronics I’ve ever heard. Go and buy it on Bandcamp!

Andrew Woodhead: ” Pendulums”


It’s funny how we “prepare” ourselves to listen. Knowing a piece of music will be a certain type, we somehow “brace” our ears for it. I was sent this album as an online link, so I just opened the page and had it on in the background as a first listen. My first response was to look out of the window. That’s where bells are. Outside. They don’t come from our stereos, our streaming services. We don’t “listen” to them like that. They go with white dresses and confetti, they are timeless and immovable, parts of the landscape.


“Pendulums” for bell ringers, improvisers and electronicsis a fascinating exploration of extremes. On the one hand we have a group of improvisers, six musicians swerving nimbly between the free and the composed, noise and pitch, turning on sixpences. Then there are the bell ringers, pulling ropes attached to tons of immovable heavy metal that, once set in motion, gradually, will not stop until gravity slowly decrees it. You don’t start the bell ringing lightly. It’s the equivalent of a band of unicyclists with an ocean liner. 

Between these two factions are Andrew Woodhead’s electronics, a kind of sprawling sketchbook of bells recorded on field trips, mixed in with other sounds captured peripherally, ice cream vans and ambulances, bicycle bells – the stuff, like the church bells themselves, that we hear but perhaps don’t listen to as hard as we might. They could be seen as a kind of commentary on the piece as a whole, sounds set in stone that can nevertheless be manipulated at will, nature sucked into the funnel of a machine and spat out in beautiful arcs. It’s a striking contrast to the large ensemble, and offered the conductor a break from arm waving and a chance to “get stuck in”.

In a piece like “Ring Up: Plain Hunt” contrast is key, thetwo main groups make no attempt to blend – it’s a kind of “laying out” of the palette. But this doesn’t last long:“Sideways” finds the horns imitating the bells in their building up of layers, harmonics hanging in the air. It’s a strangely moving experience, as if the players are trying to fit in with the archaic methods of the bell ringers, who remain absent, perhaps looking on with mild bemusement.

“Changes” opens with solo electronics, and we hear bells compacted, reversed, sped up yet always somehow recognisable. The long reverberation of the St Paul’s tower bells can nevertheless be snapped shut, and we experience a kind of combination, the best of both worlds perhaps, the speed of improvisation coupled with the languorous echoes of the environment. When the real bells join in, it’s a moment of exquisite strangeness, like a table full of children’s model animals joined by a real snarling tiger. The altos join the ensemble, and for a brief moment, all three elements are playing together before the electronics retreat, and we hear, in these two distinct spaces, what eventually emerges as a multi-layered groove. A groove using church bells. That’s worth thinking about for a second.

But the sonic strangeness is only part of what makes thismusic so compelling. Bell ringing has a whole mathematical side to its composition, elegant and logical patterns that can be re-interpreted away from its original context: the “Plain Hunt” series here demonstrates how the same source material conjures up vastly different sounds and atmospheres, whilst “Partials” I and II and “Formation” use pitches derived from the bell sounds themselves as material for more freely written episodes. “Sideways” and “Diagrams” treat a bell ringing “chart” as a score in two very different strategies. “Waves” interprets the visual pattern of a series of pendulums at varying tempi, and here the bell ringers are required to play together, which in traditional bell ringing is known as “firing”(and is very definitely a mistake when it happens). It takes the musicians right out of whatever comfort zone there might be in such practices. The sound of mathematics is never more evident than in the slowly collapsing unisons of the bells and instruments alike. It’s another instance of Andrew’s deep thinking around the possibilities of the instruments and their interaction.

So there’s a lot of calculation, extrapolation of ideas, re-interpretation of traditional methods. But you don’t have to worry about all that. You can hear that something is going on, some process is working itself out. You can hear the work that has gone into it, admire the ambition of combining such disparate materials into a coherent whole. You can hear a kind of English folksiness that occasionally fractures as abackwards ice cream van sample drives its diesel enginethrough the green and pleasant land. But eventually, inevitably, we are led back to the pure sounds of the bells. In “Plain Hunt III: Ring Down” the instruments unmistakably mimic the tolling of the bells, then blend in with them as the “ringing down” closes the piece, the bells lowered to their resting place, closing the ritual that began with their raising. In the final phrase, the six bells sound slowly and distinctly, as if to say, that was all that was there, everything you hear comes from these simple sounds. In the directness of the improvising, the slow unfolding of the writing, the raising, tolling and lowering of the bells, the primacy of process forms the centre from which this remarkable work emerges.

Thinking About Re-Training

In the beginning we were told that retraining was the best option. This was never going to work: this is not a case of swapping the printing press for the digital domain, or the book for the e-reader. This was not an evolutionary step where the medium of communication changes, but a suggestion that the thing itself, music, was somehow superfluous. This is replacing therapeutic sound with a deadening silence.

Music is a great profession, an even better hobby and, more and more it seems, a trifling distraction open on a spare window to make “real’ work more bearable. It floats on air like a smell. We forget it’s origins. We forget who is doing, who has done, the work.

On the other hand, we have more than enough music to last us, there’s already so much of it. Can’t we just stop making new stuff and live off the old? It’s all available for ten quid a month anyway. Who needs more? Let’s face it, Charles Ives was an insurance agent, Prince was a bin man and Miles Davis read horoscopes for money (one of these statements is true). Can’t musicians just get another job and carry on their hobby without burdening us?

I don’t think so. I think we need to witness music making in its live, living form to appreciate it. Records, streaming, all of that, are a kind of reminder of the experience in person. We imagine that it is made immortal by preserving it in digital amber. It is no more immortal than a stuffed moose head on a Trump lover’s dining room wall. Reminders are not enough. I am not against electronic music, ambient music, any music at all. Music that is determinedly artificial can reveal secret emotions in the zeros and ones: but it doesn’t pretend. Hologram Frank Sinatra is an interesting sidestep, but a little goes a long way. We must not be fooled into thinking what sounds live is.

If you play the trumpet, you have to play long notes for two hours a day just to keep in shape. The body is altered. Real life musicians are little athletes of the fingers and thumbs, the mind and hand, the heart. And after a year indoors, you can’t quite jump as high.

I am a pianist and I’m very lucky. I’ve been able to make music and send it into an illuminated rectangle, down the internet pipe and gushing out into the waiting homes of those who choose to listen. My neighbours don’t mind too much. My wife has been a big help in keeping it publicised. The piano can give you the whole anatomy of a tune on its own…so far so good. But I’m on my own.

It’s like writing this blog. This is not a conversation. This is not socialising. This is not making me feel connected to other people as much as I’d like it to (although being an introvert, I won’t go too far the other way).

And for some people, music is the main way they do this. I prefer a bandstand to a crowded room (and by crowded I mean more than two or three people). The government’s initial talk of “retraining” was more like re-wiring, or, more sinisterly, re-programming. The equivalent of sending your son to Summer Camp so he can “like girls”, it’s taking a tree and removing the bark, the sap, the branches and trying to make a rabbit out of it.

It seems a long time ago that Sunak first implied that music was a transferable skill, that we would all be dancing between job sectors like a ballerina on a hot tin roof. This isn’t true. Music isn’t my job, it’s my life. That isn’t melodrama, it’s just science, so don’t @ me as they say. Music, we must remind ourselves, was here long before governments were, and arguably before humans themselves.

We are lucky to be musicians, but for me that means being lucky enough to have found a way to deal with that bright glare of “the real world”, the blinding lights of small talk, networking and a million other interactions. Music making eases the strange tightness in the body that sometimes accompanies these everyday moves. (If something breaks in our flat, I will basically try and cack-handedly take the whole building apart before asking advice from a “helpline”. Strangers on a phone, who’s idea was that?) It’s….medicinal. You wouldn’t let me out without my pills would you?

So for some, music is the actual world we inhabit. When we talk about saving the world, I am thinking as much about that metaphysical one as the physical world, the one where I am lucky enough to get out of this car and buy food, facing the stranger on the checkout so we don’t die of hunger.

My gigs online are archived here:


Donations are possible if you are rich and wondering how you can help:


Men And The Swings.

We arrive, after a long slow walk, at the swings. It’s not too cold that you can’t enjoy yourself, but we both have hats on. There’s no one else around. I lift him into the swing and start pushing. I’ve got a couple of tricks. I push, then I run around the other side and push him from the back. After initially finding this distressing and thinking I’d disappeared forever, now he finds it funny. For a while at least.

I can see a buggy approaching. Another man with a beard, younger, gets his son out and puts him in the swing next to us. They both look quite cheerful. The kid is clad in something so thick he can barely move, but he’s happy. The visible part of his head is smiling.

They start pushing, but this guy has some moves. He turns around as the swing comes back towards him, resulting in him receiving a firm kick up the arse from his son, who erupts in exponentially increasing fits of laughter with every new punishing blow.

Lorenzo looks on, curious, brow furrowed. He’s still happier on the swing than on the ground, but I suspect he senses that he’s missing out here. I continue the running around schtick, we do some counting. But he’s seen something better, like a Mars bar nestled in fresh salad. Me and this guy haven’t spoken. He looks quite outgoing and friendly, but he perhaps senses a lack of those qualities in the person next to him. Our conversation consists of a kind of call and response of awkward silences, as if we expect the kids to introduce us. I hate parties.

Time passes. It’s probably too late now to suddenly talk, although the pressure to do so is increasing. (In my head, a graph – time on one axis, pressure on the other). At some point he says, louder than perhaps is necessary: “Shall we go on the slide now?” They leave, the adults manage a kind of exchange of glances with eyes raised and awkward smiles, Lorenzo points at the kid and says “Baby!!!”

The next day there’s no one around again. We seem to have found the sweet spot in the timetable. I lift him into the swing. Another dad approaches with his daughter. Out of the corner of my eye, I think he has a beard, and definitely a hat. He starts to push his daughter, who is quietly content with the situation.

The two swings have somehow become synchronised. I’ve established my rhythm now. I muster a big push, Lorenzo shoots backwards and, on his return, as I suddenly turn my back on him, he kicks me up the arse. I jump. Lorenzo laughs. We do it again. The higher I jump on impact, the more he likes it. The daughter points and makes noises. From my peripheral vision, I think the other guy is watching me.

What’s Your Chosen Noise?

People just make noise. We like to think it’s more than that, but it isn’t. My son is fifteen months old and he makes noises. They aren’t specific yet but everything else is there, ready to go. I think a room full of toddlers might be having deep conversations that they understand, perhaps berating the necessity for a language that can be written down and used against them in the parking fines of their future. But in this gibbering soundscape can be heard a kind of phrasing, something that feels like sentences. There’s a kind of urge to speak running through them, with intonation that implies a question or a statement depending on the upward turn at the end. They are imitating us, and mostly they have us down pretty good.

What they don’t do is labour intensively at one word, remaining silent until it is perfected before moving on to the next. Yes, there are occasional words that pop out, words they pick up and repeat, that will eventually become absorbed into the stream of verbal noise and sidle up to our adult language. But there is no struggle for perfection (such as I am currently experiencing with the Italian indefinite article rules): just a kind of river of sound that picks up real words and carries them downstream.

Jazz students and teachers, you probably know where I’m going with this. Get in there and make noises. Eventually, like developing toddlers, you’ll get impatient with them and need to refine things, move the notes around, make cadences and all that. But it can wait. With no sound, with no “urge to speak”, you will be tied to the paper and what it tells you to do, all the pipework and no water. Don’t be like that, it’s no fun. God knows we need some of that right now.

My Week With Madonna

It was not undertaken lightly. Playing Madonna songs solo is toying with people’s memories of teenage snogging at parties and remixing them through an Edwardian parlour instrument. The piano is designed to cope with complex note combinations (as are the fingers), but not such sumptuous layers of production as are found in Madge’s back catalogue, where two notes can be souped up into a cathartic rush of adrenalin.

In the more recent albums this production took on its own life, swallowing up both song and singer in a cloud of generic noises. (I wouldn’t, for instance, go near “MDNA” if I were you). But there are plenty of meaty things to get stuck into in the earlier stuff. “Like A Virgin” slowed down to a kind of Motown/Don Cherry feel, and the later “American Life”, just on the edge of her robotic future, has some nice angles on what is nearly a blues. “Ray Of Light” seems to hit a perfect balance, her voice sounds great, and is sympathetically framed by William Orbit’s lush layered grooves. That’s the key for me, the framing of “the voice”.

I was surprised at how much I liked her singing. She has a great voice. She’s not a great singer. Pop doesn’t care about “chops”, but she delivers everything with a kind of heightened emotion. Its like when you play in a musical pit band, and somehow the sentimentality that is compulsorily sniffed at completely overwhelms you by the closing night. (It was a relief to escape to the less draining world of improvised music, where a moving experience can at least be supplanted by another the next night.)

Madonna is so rich and famous, no one could ever deserve it. Early glee at this situation gives way to self parody later (“Material Girl” to “American Life” is quite a journey). I always felt she was sending up her life in the same way Prince seemed to.

She’s an easy target for mockery, envy, and shrugging ambivalence. I must say I never really bought into the whole bra thing either (a shame, those shares would have got me through the nineties quite nicely). But aside from the wave of nostalgic flashbacks her music triggered for me, it was an edifying experience to dig into the music and find some gold there. And while I don’t really feel like playing jazz just yet, the world of “other music” is as good a place to stick the shovel as any.

Should you listen?


Life is full of ritual and repetition at the moment. Breakfasts, nappies and baths, novelty Italian pop songs and nursery rhymes for comfort, and bedtime stories. “Giraffes Can’t Dance” is intoned nightly, like three junior “Hail Marys”. The unlikely story unfolds at the “Jungle Dance”, where animals normally seen tearing each other to pieces gather instead for a friendly (but lightly competitive) boogie. Gerald the Giraffe, enormous, initially all flailing legs and buckled knees, learns to find his own personal dance music in nature’s own sounds after consulting a cricket with a violin the size of a shirt button. It’s a great story. When you read something every night, if it’s not very good it gets old pretty quick. And though its appeal to a one year old is mostly about the sound of rhyming couplets, I hope something of the message might get through.

Music and nature have always been close, the former often leans on the latter for meaning. There are symphonies of the sea and the mountains, idealised flashes of cod nightingales, “The Planets” (no link, you know at least some of it). All of this is beautiful of course, after seen as some kind of pinnacle of artistic achievement, but for these composers the raw sounds of nature themselves were a step too far. Music was about large scale structures evolving with moving parts that corresponded to rules of combination played on instruments using a man made system of tuning in order that these rules could be flexible enough to sustain the scale of its ambition. It’s not “natural” so much as people trying to formalise nature (and doing it very well let’s not forget).

Nightingales, on the other hand, were like crickets, something to sit about with, a relaxing noise. “Unspoilt”.

Look at “Blackbird” by The Beatles. What a great song about a bird. A bird that wants to be free, that also possesses a song of mind boggling complexity, a litany of obtuse angles and gritty clusters, swoops and bleeps of unimaginable dexterity. There are no familiar phrases, no repetitions (and some would say, therefore “no melody”) and tomorrow when you open your window it will be different again. And The Beatles, well, you have to give them credit,  the actual bird makes it on to the record. Just. And then the song comes crashing back in…but for a moment the two combine, and those avian psychedelic lines start dipping and diving around the earthbound chords. The song wins in the end of course, scales and arpeggios must triumph….nature, we can elevate you to art! The blackbird, “waiting for this moment to be free”, waits still. (It’s reference to the civil rights movement of the time seems even more appropriate over 50 years later).

Olivier Messiaen took the birds themselves a bit more seriously, and his attempts to capture their various songs seems an honest stab at the impossible, which then produces a kind of parallel art of almost equal complexity. Like a high end twitcher, he produced several volumes, catalogues of the stuff. It’s as if he is listening to the birds, taking instruction, a student of nature, acknowledging that in some way these animals are the original composersAs with any form of tribute, the greatest compliment is to come up with something new in response and so the birds inspire, but again are absorbed into a relatively mathematical world of post-war complexity (the “alpine chough” doesn’t actually sound like that) and western structural ambition. Again, this is transcendent music, but you can still only play it with practice and careful rote-style learning.

With John Cage, we start to see the idea that music is what we say it is. We put a frame around it, we listen as opposed to hearing. Cage is unbothered by coincidences, mismatches, accidents…he relinquishes control. He accepts whatever happens, and makes it music by the level of attention given to it. For Gerald the Giraffe, the way into music is to stop searching for soul in Scottish Reels and simply listen to the wind through the trees. (Shakuhachi music from Japan often incorporates this sound as a real musical element, as if nature envelops the notes, or rather that they emerge from it). 

I’ve had to get rid of my fair share of western music thinking just to get to something else (I also kept a bit). When I improvise, I often imagine the way elements of nature appear to interact, grass  waving against immovable mountain, a cat hiding in a bush, Incy Wincy spider making her way up the water spout. This is necessarily the same when listening, as improvising is both playing and listening in the same action. As a player, I am simply a listener who can choose to contribute, and sometimes that is to let the fingers “blow” across the keys like leaves in the wind, the body following a natural impulse, the sounds landing where they will. Perhaps if we allow these sounds to become music, something like this can be seen by more of us as a natural way of making art. Like Gerald The Giraffe, you just need to put a frame around it.

(Thanks to “Giraffes Can’t Dance” by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees for the above quote and photo.)



Cats And The New Normal

Poor thing, I thought, that swelling looks painful. It’s right where you don’t want it, where the sun don’t shine as they say. He’s skinny and ginger, a mouser I reckon (perhaps the occasional lizard when rodents are scarce). Too thin for a domestic cat, although he looks well on it. But that lump….it looks serious.

It’s not. He isn’t ill. He is, in fact, is very well. Very well indeed. He jumps, he positively bounds. He’s full of beans. He has, actually, balls, the balls he was born with, which explains the lump. So yes, he’s very well indeed. What would T.S Eliot have said? Was MaCavity neutered?

This cat’s illness is no worse than that occasional malaise and misfortune that goes with possessing a full set of genitalia, a condition with which those of us thus blessed are more than familiar. Growing up in England, I realise I’d never seen balls on a cat. A cat in my world was usually fat, ate processed food and had nothing to lick but its arse. Cats must have sat in suburban rooms watching all those documentaries on lions, tigers and other “big” cats with David Attenborough and thought, is this where our great heritage has led us? As another huge and majestic animal sinks its claws into a defenceless antelope, Tiddles thinks to himself: this the end of the line?

And yes, I know there are good reasons why cats are neutered. They go at it like rabbits (I’m not sure if this is a reference to favoured positions, elaborate courtship rituals or simply the drive to produce more and more other cats). But the modern domestic cat is a radically sanitised animal, a shadow of its wilder ancestors. It’s not “normal” but is rather a synthesised hybrid. Instead of prowling around for a mate, it eats dried biscuits from a plastic bowl and plays with mice because eating them has become largely superfluous.

Boris Johnson said in July that we’ll be back to “normal” by Christmas. “Normal”. A cat with its balls cut off. I can’t think of that word any other way now.

Solo-tude: Performing in Lockdown.

Ten minutes before I start, there’s the pacing around. I used to think it was the people in the room, the building, the expectant promoters, that made me do that. Instead I have my own living room, the background slightly altered to remove broken pens, piles of shit and other objects of distraction whilst remaining kind of homely. My wife Elena is in documentaries, so she knows how to do all that, to remove the clutter of typical peripheral vision. She set the frame and now I can just about remember where it goes. And still I pace.

My audience are accessed through laptop; I can see their chat in one window, my grimacing bonce looking back at me in the other. The mouth moves, jokes and anecdotes get as far as the glass of the screen. I hope people are listening. Various messages on my screen tell me they are. Twelve gigs in, I can almost feel them there. Human beings are funny like that, we tell stories to ourselves where necessary. I wonder if they are telling themselves something similar?

If doing solo gigs makes you feel naked and exposed, then doing them in your own house on a rented piano (chosen for its ease of transport through narrow doorways over sweetness of tone) adds a new level. Here is my music, here is my living room. Elena and Lorenzo are upstairs, the former watching remotely, the latter distracted by the surrealistic loops of “In The Night Garden”. I bet Horowitz never had to do this.

And yet there’s something I really like about these gigs. Apart from camera I am speaking to, the other is on my hands, and if I had to keep only one I would lose the talking face in the blink of an eye. Whilst YouTube searches serve up a series of views of the back of my head, as if looking for a good barber, now at least my best side is on view. Hands are where it happens for me: the audience sees what I see. That feels more intimate and means I don’t have to project in that operatic, classical way. (9 foot Steinways boom and resonate in big rooms, but in solo settings I like everything in close and dry). It’s almost my ideal setting…a couple of people on the sofa watching would edge it past the “almost” I think. I remind myself constantly that I’m lucky to have this instrument, to be able to play something in this stifling solitude; most instruments need company to function. Yes…I’m lucky.

It’s a kind of lonely intimacy, not quite a gig – something else. As the lockdown has eased, so too has the audience, but I’ve got some loyal followers that will sit for an hour and a half and listen. Often it feels like a radio broadcast, a journalist out in the field at home. A job I gave myself with no compunction to travel, no dealing with rejections, no competition….no other people. 

The choice of music is different too. I don’t feel like a jazz pianist in this context; for me jazz is an ensemble music, you need people, at least that’s where the sweet spot is. There are curveballs and surprises, ebb and flow, the intrusion of other people’s ideas being the best thing. This is different, it’s going back. Back to the piano as social hub, replaced successively by the radio, the television, the computer and the smart phone in successive leaps. As the outside world reverts to its re-wilded self, so I feel the piano regressing, an Edwardian music box straining under the weight of music produced in the studios of the future. 

I’ve slashed and burned my way through Black Sabbath, Prince, Katy Perry and The Eurhythmics, walked on the eggshells of Giles Farnaby and Robert Schumann. Stuff I would only do at home (maybe not even there) just because it’s fun to try, and because I want to offer people something they might know, and something they won’t, or mayn’t. Tying each gig to a theme, with transcribed music rushed out often unpracticed between childcare duties, has given the whole thing a kind of headlong amateur momentum, as if to say “it’s not official, not like a proper concert”. It’s like public practice, but without the endless repetition towards perfection.

It’s stripped back. The piano reduces everything, takes out the polish of production, the colours of orchestration: all that’s left are notes and how they move. There’s always a question of whether it all hangs together, some gigs go better for me than others, but I always have a beer on the go to take the edge off that feeling. It really helps, makes it a social offering rather than a demonstration of some kind of excellence.

I mean, it’s not “going to the pub” but…it’s getting there.