The Private Archive

March 25th, 2012

As some of you may have seen, the long-awaited shop on the website has gone live. Acqiure is a simple division of available recorded output into two pages: Publicly Available and Private Archive. The former is comprised of officially-released recordings, either as a leader/collaborator/sideman – listed in reverse chronological order. Hopefully you will find this straightforward and easy to use.

The latter Private Archive page will be devoted to making available a back catalogue of private recordings, (including a large number of solo piano concerts recorded in Europe over the last ten years or so). I intended to sort all this years ago – as I felt that none of my own work was being heard beyond the albums that I featured on as a collaborator or sideman. Sure, the press were quite happy to personify me as some kind of award-winning maverick/wildcard/avant-garde/enfat terrible/controversial/unpredictable character – but had NO records of my own to show for it. This was rectified somewhat by the release of The Molde Concert on Foghorn Records in 2007 – but this appeared without any previous contextual material for anyone to compare it to (and it was recorded in 2005, already making it something of an archive recording on its eventual release!); there was nothing to show for how I had arrived at this place, no map of the journey for anyone to follow.


The main problem for me (and any record label) was the use of uncleared samples. I assumed that no one would be interested (with the above exception) so, with no product to sell and as much of my solo work was confined to one-off festival appearances sur le continent, I gave up on the idea of trying to put anything out there, got on with the shows, recorded them, wrote about some of them in my PhD and just tossed each new recording onto a ever-growing pile of minidiscs, DAT tapes and CDRs in a box at the back of a cupboard.

My approach to the Private Archive (assuming anyone’s interested) is to map out the journey of a whole period of my life as a musician that I felt was important to me (and in some cases to the other musicians also involved). Each release will be issued in chronological order (as far as possible), announced via the news page, newsletter and, if further explanation is needed, this blog – so don’t forget to subscribe.

Forgotten tracks from group projects such as The Electric Dr. MDistortion Trio and Bourne Davis Kane will aslo be made available alongside the solo work and other, one-off tracks that are important pieces in the jigsaw puzzle. I am proud of these recordings – even the ones that don’t work, the ones where the ideas don’t really come off that well, the uncomfortable and misogyny-laden concert from Gaume Jazz Festival in 2003; and the Dublin concert where after only twenty-five minutes, stopped playing to sing Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Love Changes Everything – self-interrupted with voilent screams due to utter despair and loneliness and NOT because I thought it was a good idea at the time…

Much of this solo work IS about intuitive, gut reaction experimentation – not for experimentation’s sake or because I was deliberately looking to create controversy but because I heard certain things working together and used the vehicle of improvisation as a tool to combine different elements together and to learn about myself more than anything else. It must also be stressed that there are many things that couldn’t be heard, things I didn’t hear, things that only became clear through the act of performing (and on reflection through listening/analysing the recording(s) afterwards) – pushing the limits to find out what lay dormant (and although the use of the sampler has been shelved for the time being, this still holds true).

Listening back to the recordings was a little like having a psychotherapist uncover some hitherto unknown truths about who I was and what the FUCK I was doing: venturing out into dark rooms in search of acceptance from ever-dwindling groups of strangers (that’s paraphrased from a passage in Stewart Lee‘s incredible 90’s Comedian DVD).


I digress. First up from the vaults is the performance that began my decline, 0504012030 – for John Zorn & Mike Osborne. Put together specifically for the Perrier Jazz Awards in 2001, I intended the fifteen-minute time restriction of this event to show the maximum that I could cram in. I’d been working in a trio with saxophonist Petter Fadnes and drummer Nick Katuszonek (who with bassist Colin Sutton had formed the band Metropolis together in the second year of college along with guitarist James Shipway). As a trio we received insightful guidance from Jonty Stockdale, and began to think about concepts of structuring performances beyond traditional methods, leading me to switch my piano allocated lessons to sessions with Jonty for philosophical and conceptual discussion.

Radical juxtaposition of musical ideas, creative staging, aspects of theatre, challenging audience expectation etc. – all of this became absorbed and I adopted this approach for 050401… My obsession (aided and abetted by Geoff and Judith Wills) with the work of John Zorn (the opening figure of his piano piece Carny is quoted at the start of the performance) and an ongoing love of the passionate playing of the late, great British Saxophonist Mike Osborne were core influences – adding Anthony Newley and Lesley Bricusse’s Pure imagination from Mel Stuart’s film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as the final piece in the construction. I bought the film and transcribed the song but I became so transfixed by Gene Wilder’s portrayal of Wonka and other snippets of dialogue that I thought why not sample some of this dialogue, put the samples onto a minidisc, insert some blank tracks and use it whilst playing the tune? It seemed to make sense somehow…

I’d also added the use of a hotel reception bell – this idea was stolen directly from Mark-Anthony Turnage‘s Sarabande for Soprano Saxophone and Piano that I’d played with Damien Cook in one of Graham Hearn‘s New Music Ensemble concerts. I used the bell to punctuate/use as marker points between the end of one section and the beginning of another (or whenever I got bored of what I was doing). Leeds-based saxophonist Rob Mitchell kindly lent me his keyboard, where one of the patches was an assortment of random sound effects (listen out for them over Lionel Ritchie’s Easy).

Anyway, to cut a long story short – I did the gig and then chatted to Jonty and other friends and musicians. What I wasn’t prepared for was the nature of the comments I received from various people. It was as if I’d done something other than play music. I didn’t really get it. They weren’t really “cheers, mate – great gig” comments – more like “how the HELL did you come up with that?!”. I still didn’t really know what they were on about until several weeks later when the recording arrived on my doormat. With dread and anticipation, I listened. As soon as the sampled dialogue began, right up until the end of the piece I knew that something else had happened and that maybe, just maybe I was onto something that had some personal resonance not just to me but to others, too. The combination of visual imagery and music together shifted the axis of my work from being just ‘gigs’ to encompassing a whole journey that I was only at the beginning of and which I had time yet to explore.


Aside from the semi-finals of the competition, this was the first occasion that I had played solo piano to a significant public and the first time I had ever used sampled dialogue. The recording is, musically speaking, rough and ready, opening with a fumbled and scrappy reading of Michael Brecker’s Not Ethiopia, this isn’t a highly-polished performance by any means. But it’s a start, and I was glad to have got the gig at all. I was just trying out some ideas – and whilst everyone else seemed to know what they were doing – from pianist John Pickup‘s incredible improvising and original compositions to listening to the amazing James Allsopp and meeting Gwilym Simcock for the first time; I felt like I was doomed to humiliation and failure. Maybe I was.

You be the judge….

0504012030 – for John Zorn and Mike Osborne (Gene Wilder Edit) by Matthew Bourne