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Pianos, performance and Peter Gabriel: an interview with Will Lawton


Playing Arlington Arts Centre on Thursday 11th February, Will Lawton is a pianist and songwriter of outstanding quality. We chat to him about family legacy, bizarre instruments and his one man quest for the perfect sound.

1) I’ll admit, I had to google “hang” when you first mentioned it as one of your key  instruments. It’s a rare concept, a “rare” instrument. [The hang was produced by a company in Switzerland who were only producing around 80 a year, you had to write directly to them to explain why you wanted to buy one. They are no longer in production] What drew you to it, and how would you describe the sound?

The look of the instrument first drew me to it.  I saw one hanging on a friend’s wall in his house.  I didn’t get the chance to play it but was so intrigued that I ordered one before playing it.  I knew it was both melodic and percussive and played by fingers and hands so my piano skills would hopefully be transferable.  It had a very mystical feel about it.

The sound is vaguely similar to that of a Caribbean Steelpan perhaps mixed with an Indian Tabla.  I play the central bass note in a sort of African Djembe style.  It is a very unique sound.  The tuning is roughly in Dm but not in perfect pitch and there are a couple of notes in it that you wouldn’t usually associate with a Dm scale.

2) In a beautifully written recent blog post, you credit your Grandmother, Mary Louise, with the beginning of the musical legacy in your family. What effect did she have personally on your musical journey, and how do you think she felt about your work?

The most significant thing she (and her husband) did was to buy a new, upright piano in the 1950s and then encourage my father to learn how to play the piano.  She used to get him to play the new songs from America, published in ‘The News Of The World’ on a Sunday so that family and friends could sing along to them.  As a result, my father learnt how to play the piano using his ears and by chords rather than from scored music.  This talent was passed to me during my early years.

My grandmother used to sing a lot to the classic, wonderful tunes from the wartime era.  They are very simple songs, with simple messages and lovely chord progressions – something I try to bring into my own compositions with varying degrees of success.

She was always very supportive of my music work.  She didn’t question it, just accepted that that is what I did – like she did with my father too.  She understood the power and importance of music.


A “no frills” tribute Will recorded for his Grandmother when she passed away recently. 

3) What would you say have been the highlights of your career so far?

I love playing real pianos.  So performing on a real grand piano in a venue with good acoustics is my perfect gig.  I opened the show for my friends ‘Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin’ a couple of months ago at The Chapel Arts Centre in Bath playing a beautiful grand piano.  That was a real treat and it was an honour to open their first gig touring a new album – they are two musicians that I really admire.

My recording highlight must be recording an album in Peter Gabriel’s ‘Real World Studio’ in Box, Wiltshire.  My band, ‘The Home Fires’ secured funding for the album through an online crowd funding campaign which in itself was a huge achievement.  The reward of then spending a week at Real World was pretty special.  We recorded an album that I am very proud of and I felt very privileged to be given the opportunity to record in such a magical environment with such a professional sound engineer as Patrick Phillips.

4) You bring your own upright piano to gigs – what do you feel this adds to the performance?

Ha!!  I DID bring my own upright piano to gigs for a number of years.  Unfortunately I recently cracked the sound board on the back of my upright gigging piano.  I think I dragged it through one too many fields and up one too many sets of steps.  Pianos are not really designed to be treated as roughly as I treated that poor thing so alas I now tour with an electric stage piano when the venue does not have the real instrument in-house.

When you sit at a real piano, you are totally engulfed by the sound.  The piano vibrates as the hammers hit the strings and it makes the wooden casing sing.  This is a lovely space to be.  When I sing, my voice locks into these vibrations and I give a more natural and enhanced performance.  When I play an electric piano, the monitor mix is often several meters from me and is often quite trebly which feels less natural to play and sing along with.  However, I just have to accept that many venues do not have real pianos these days and if I only play real pianos then I limit my opportunities of performing live.

5) Is there anyone you’d really love to collaborate with?

I have been blessed to play with some amazing musicians, almost all have been pretty unknown and undiscovered as there are many seriously talented musicians around that don’t really venture in the limelight.  I have always enjoyed collaborating with Bethany Porter (Cello) and would like to work again with Phillip Henry (Slide Guitar).

In terms of someone new, and well known, I would love to work with someone who can add beats, drum and bass to my music – such as LTJ Bukem or Nitin Sawhney.  This is a direction that I am yet to properly experiment with taking my music in.

You can book tickets to see Will Lawton on Thurs 11th February, 8pm by clicking here. Or you can call the box office on 01635 244 246 between 10am-4.30pm Monday-Friday.

 

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5 Things We Didn’t Know About The Kinks

To celebrate our upcoming date with The Kast Off Kinks (all former members of The Kinks: Mick Avory, Ian Gibbons, John Dalton, Dave Clarke), on Friday 29th January, we’ve been delving into the surprising history of one of England’s most influential bands…

1.Legend has it drummer Mick Avory (founder of The Kast Off Kinks) auditioned for The Kinks dressed up as a Boy Scout. Mick disputes the claim, insisting he went as a Girl Guide.

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Mick in full regalia at one of Ray’s gigs.

2. Nobody seems to know who came up with the name. Ray Davies apparently picked it to the utter horror of his bandmates, who objected to being called “kinky” – at least in broad daylight. Ray, in interviews, lays the blame at Larry Pages’s feet claiming “I never liked the name”. Other sources say the whole band was inspired by an episode of The Avengers. Presumably a one off special with questionable themes.

3.Want to replicate that fuzzy guitar rift? Health, safety and a live music venue’s preciousness towards equipment prevents us from fully recommending the method: but Dave Davies was known to kick, puncture and slash his amp’s speaker cone to achieve the perfect effect.

4.Mick Avory played with The Rolling Stones in their early days. Having never envisaged doing music full time, he didn’t made it to any of their gigs. He has no regrets though, as two years later he joined The Kinks!


5.The band was banned from travelling to the US in 1965 in the midst of their battle with The Beatles for Top Ten spots, and there was never an official reason why. Speculators have suggested everything from the Davies Brothers’ fiery reputations, to corrupt American promoters. Whatever the cause, the four year ban is known as one of the great What If’s of musical history.

The Kast Off Kinks will be at Arlington Arts Centre on Friday 29th January, 8pm. You can book& find out more here, or by calling 01635 244 246.

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What’s On JANUARY

January sees us broken back in with largely school productions; Park House, Trinity and The Downes will all be exhibiting dance, music and drama across the month.

On Friday 29th Jan the season gets going with gusto – The Kast Off Kinks are not a tribute band, they are made up exclusively of former The Kinks members. The line up has consisted of pretty much every member of The Kinks there’s ever been (including Ray Davies himself) and currently sees Mick Avory, Ian Gibbons, John Dalton and Dave Clarke belting out all the classic.

Tickets can be booked by click here, or you can call us on 01635 244 246 (Between 10am-4.30pm, Mon-Fri) or email us a reservation request at boxoffice@arlingtonarts.co.uk.

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What’s on OCTOBER

Krapp's Last Tape PEO image
Krapp’s Last Tape

Theateregoers this month is for you: Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape (Thurs 1 Sept) as performed by Tom Owen (Last Of The Summer Wine) tells the tale of Krapp, an irascible chap who spends each of his birthdays recording a tape to himself. Join him as on his 69th he listens back on the follies of his prideful youth. As can be expected from Beckett, a witty and thoughtful tale. Our other one man show has less to say on the pitfalls of aging and is much more riotous in its humour – Will Seaward’s Ghost Stories (Thurs 22 Oct) will be arriving at Arlington with bags of ghouls, gremlins and growls for a halloween dreadtacular.

Fans of the folk will do well to check out up-and-comers The Rails (Fri 2 Oct). Giving off the vibe of a London pub in summertime (this does seem to be where the majority of their videos are filmed) the duo have been signed to the same label (it’s Pink) that gave us records from Nick Cave, John Martyn and Fairport Convention. At the less rocky end of the spectrum are The Shee (Fri 16 Oct), a sextet of folk aficionados featuring harp, fiddle, mandolin accordion and flute for a gaelic & bluegrass fusion. Mixing even more genres together is the Urban Folk Quartet (Fri 30 Oct). Back on the Arlington stage their influences are too numerous to list, but you’ll find it hard to miss the distinct middle eastern and afrobeat vibes. Put all this in context with Simpson & Flemons (Thurs 8 Oct) as they take you on a journey through England & America’s shared folk traditions. Comprised of English guitarist, songwriter and multi-award holder Martin Simpson, and American guitar, banjo (and bones!) player Dom Flemons, of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, present the unsanitised bigger picture.

Joanne Shaw Taylor
Joanne Shaw Taylor

Moving away (sort of) from the folk we’ve got International Guitar Night (Thurs 15 Oct) bringing together luminaries from across the globe to play solos, duets and quartets. Like the A-Team of the guitar scene, the night will feature Brian Gore, Mike Dawes, Lulo Reinhardt and Andre Krengel. Another guitar star Mark Nevin (Sat 24 Oct), of Fairground Attraction, will be performing his beautiful collection of narrative driven songs towards the end of the month, and Joanne Shaw Taylor (Fri 23 Oct) is a firecracker of a blues guitarist that we’re thrilled to finally have with us.

Double headliners The Christians & Roachford (Sun 4 Oct) are already a very popular choice too, for good reason. The infectious melodies and warm harmonies feed on accusations, protest and despair and strike a deep chord to listeners. Joined by long-time friend Andrew Roachford best known for hits “Cuddly Toy” and “Family Man”, Roachford has something of a maverick take on the singer-songwriter genre.

Tom Robinson (Weds 28 Oct) is back in the studio after 20 years since 2-4-6-8 Motorway and Glad To Be Gay. Inspired by the acts he’s encountered whilst presenting for BBC 6 Music and BBC Introducing, Tom’s new album features full band and all of his raw spirit. Finding innovative ways to collaborate between disable and non-disabled artists, Stopgap Dance (Mon 12 Oct) company also make their debut at Arlington Arts with their show Artificial Things. Slowly suffocating in each other’s company, a group of individuals seek escape in a bash of riotous rock-n-roll.

Stopgap Dance
Stopgap Dance

To find out more or book online click here. Or call 01635 244 246 between 10-4.30pm Monday-Friday.

Krapp’s Last Tape – Thurs 1 October 8pm, £12 (Concession £10, School Groups £8)
The Rails – Fri 2 October 8pm, £12
The Christians + Roachford – Sun 4 October 7.30pm, £27.50
Simpson & Flemons – Thurs 8 October 8pm, £16
Stopgap: Artificial Things – Mon 12 October 8pm, £14 (Concession £12, School Groups £8)
International Guitar Night – Thurs 15 October 8pm, £15 
The Shee – Fri 16 October 8pm, £14
Will Seaward’s Ghost Stories –  Thurs 22 Oct 8pm, £11
Joanne Shaw Taylor – Fri 23 Oct 8pm, £20
Mark Nevin – Sat 24 Oct 8pm, £13
Tom Robinson Band – Weds 28 Oct 8pm, £20
Urban Folk Quartet – Fri 30 Oct 8pm, £12

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Interview with The Rails

Kami Thompson & James Walbourne took some time out to answer some questions about their experiences as BBC Folk Award Horizon Award winning band – The Rails. They’ll be playing Arlington Arts Centre on Friday 2nd October 2015.

“Fair Warning” combines the traditional and contemporary, do you have a vision of how folk might continue to develop?

Folk is developing all the time. It’s in everything from Grime to top 40. It’s all just telling a story. In terms of ‘traditional folk’, i’m not sure. A lot of it is extremely twee these days and not to our tastes. You still have the Eliza Carthy’s of this world pushing the envelope though.

Island’s Pink Label handled arguably some of the most formative folk acts of the 60’s and 70’s (Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, John Martyn). Do you feel any particular pressures or expectations as the first artists on this newly resurrected label?

No. It’s just a label.

You both seem to have been exceptionally musical from a young age, did either of you ever consider, however fleetingly, a career outside of music?

James – Never.

Kami – I consider my options daily.

Do you feel the comparisons drawn between The Rails and Kami’s parents are accurate, or inevitable?

We set out wanting to make a classic sounding folk rock record so it was inevitable, really. It’s as much a pop record as it is a folk record – much like Kami’s parents, I think.

What about your family James – are there many creative types to be found there?

My dad was a major influence. He doesn’t play a musical instrument but took me to see everyone from Frank Sinatra to Stevie Ray Vaughan  when I was a kid. I attended more gigs than days at school. My brother is also a great all rounder and has played with me for many years.

Speaking of family, your support act is Zak Hobbs – Kami’s nephew- could you tell us a

Zak Hobbs
Zak Hobbs

little bit about his style?

Sort of barber shop Raga…..no not really. He’s a great guitar player – definitely one to watch. He’s sort of in the mould of Bert Jansch and the 60’s guys. You saw him here first!

Thankyou, Kami + James!

Tickets to see The Rails are £12 and can be brought via the Box Office on 01635 244 246, or by clicking here.

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A harrowing night out…

Most shows aren’t sold on the basis of being “harrowing” but Badac Theatre Company  are unlikely to let a little thing like unsettling their audience get in the way of a quality production. They have an aim, and that aim is to explore not just what human rights abuses are, but what they mean to the individual.

The show Badac are bringing to Arlington on Thursday 24th September is The Flood. Presenting the tale of a love affair between a WW1 soldier and nurse, all things vicious, visceral and banal are brought to life through an assault on the senses in the style of Antonin Artaud.

artaudEmerging from the surrealist movement of the 1930s Artaud included sound, light and smell not just as add-ons to his scripts but as a constant and often overwhelming integral part.  Artaud’s written theories were not always easy to translate to performance, which is largely why his fascinating school of thought has not been explored as much as it should have been in the years since his death. With over a decade of experience under their belts, Badac stage his concept with beautiful simplicity; the countless soldiers injured on the frontline are rendered by bloody pieces of not-so-fresh meat which are (literally) hurled into the fray, machine gun fire is replicated by an incessantly chopping knife and so on.

Once you have an understanding of their approach (which they term “theatre of cruelty”) what is  gained from performances like these? Surreal – yes, intense- sure, but also enlightening and, many find, a way of unburdening the subconscious. The intention is not to be sadistic or gratuitous, but to stimulate honest reactions from the audience.  This is not a frivolous evening out to the theatre, we’re happy to make that clear. You won’t come away with a fleeting joie de vivre – but bewilderment and adrenaline are a heady cocktail.

Please note: As this is a site specific piece in Arlington Manor Cellar, the performance will only be accessible via a flight of stairs. Arlington Manor Cellar can become quite damp, so we would recommend dressing with this in mind.

Tickets can be booked here or via 01635 244 246 between 10am-4.30pm, Monday to Friday.

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Newbury’s Pick of the Fringe

With 50,459 performances of 3,314 shows in 313 venues across Scotland’s capital city, the Edinburgh Fringe truly is biggest festival of its kind anywhere in the world. Showcasing brand new work from artists, companies and entertainers from across the globe, success (or lack of) at the festival can make or break careers.

I have been fortunate enough to visit the fringe for sixteen consecutive years, in which I try to see as much as possible in one week – literally running from one venue to the next, seeking out new and exciting theatre, music and comedy.

Tatterdemalion
                           Tatterdemalion

In 2012 Dr Brown received the Edinburgh Comedy Award for his show Befredth, which previewed at Arlington Arts that July. Subsequently there has been an encouraging growth in highly playful and hilarious comedy/theatre shows without words. Notably Trygve Wakenshaw’s Nautilus, which I’m sure, will be up for a nomination for an award this year.

The day after seeing Nautilus, I managed to catch Henry Maynard in Tatterdemalion (which has already received a number of 5-Star reviews). It is brilliantly good fun – a friend and student of Phil Burgers (Dr Brown), Maynard captures that inventive sense of playfulness, innocence and mild malevolence which makes his show a wildly entertaining hour of sheer joy – roll on 19 November at Arlington Arts.

Will Seaward Image 1
Will Seaward’s Ghost Stories

I stayed up late to see Will Seaward’s Ghost Stories (midnight at the Gilded Balloon). Will’s natural charm and rich, deep voice has had him described as the love child of Stephen Fry and Brian Blessed. His show is great fun and creepy at the right moments, making it a perfect advent to Halloween when it comes to us in late October.

I spent a good deal of time at The Summerhall, which has fast established itself as a hub for contemporary performance at the fringe. In fact StopGap dance are scheduled to perform Artificial Things there during the last week of the festival, before bringing it here in October.

Every Brilliant Thing

Sited at Summerhall was Paines Plough’s ingenious pop-up venue The Roundabout, in which I saw Lungs, a captivating, tender two-hander about the dilemmas of modern living, modern relationships and parenthood. Also in the Roundabout were Jonny and the Baptists, who played here last spring, their new show about global warming is doing very well, so I’d hope to welcome them back soon.

Jonny was also performing solo in Every Brilliant Thing, which will, along with Lungs, The Human Ear and Our Teacher’s a Troll be moving with The Roundabout, to The Corn Exchange (9-13 September). I would thoroughly recommend a visit.

With everything that we have between Arlington Arts and The Corn Exchange, I would say we have the pick the Fringe coming to Newbury – but then with the Fringe being the size it is, there’s always the next big thing just around the corner waiting to be discovered…

by Tony Trigwell-Jones