UNKNOWINGLY HEROES - MARTIN WILSON
One of the lovely things about having a bit of free time recently is that it has enabled me to do things I’ve wanted to do, but never really had sufficient time. Cycling, keeping fit, practising… and writing. For many years, I’ve wanted to put together a series of in-depth interviews with trombone players who unknowingly have had a big impact on my own personal playing. Trombone players that have inspired me to perform to a higher personal standard – players who play the instrument as I think it should be played.
The first of these is Martin Wilson. Martin is currently principal trombone with the Ulster Orchestra and has, since the early 80’s, been a player I have admired greatly.
NH: My first recollection of your playing was way back in the 1980’s through the Best of Brass TV series. I remember these recordings were done at the Assembly Rooms in Derby and every band had to feature a soloist as part of their programme. I recall watching you play Czardas and thinking to myself it was simply the most outstanding trombone playing I’d ever heard. And all produced with such ease. If memory serves me correctly, it was with the Whitburn Band? Is that where you started playing? Tell us a little about the early days and who/what inspired you to play the trombone.
MW: Well, first of all Nick, may I thank you very much for inviting me to participate in this questionnaire! I’m cognisant of the other trombonists whom you intend to interview as part of this series and their magnificent profiles and statures. I’m just surprised, glad, and flattered to be included!
I’m originally from West Lothian in Scotland, which is around half way between Glasgow and Edinburgh along the central belt. When I was growing up in the 1970’s, the area was thriving. Mostly a blue-collar community with many factories and coal mines. There were many brass bands of varying standards. I started playing trombone aged 10 when the local education authority introduced free instrumental tuition for those primary school pupils who would be interested.
To begin with, I shared an instrument with a fellow classmate. I would have it for a few days and then the other chap would have his turn! Soon afterwards I joined West Calder Public Band, a second section outfit with whom I played, happily, for about three years. The band hall was a few miles from where we lived, so I used to travel by bus to rehearsals twice a week. The band hall was a dilapidated old school building, which these days would have been condemned under health and safety restrictions.
Kenny Crookston – later to become editor of The British Bandsman and the holder of other, lofty, positions within the brass band scene – played cornet here. I was in awe of Kenny at this time because he was able to do two things I couldn’t. He could triple tongue and play a top ‘C’! Now decades later I see him, occasionally, and he chuckles when I recall this.
The band supplied me with a Boosey & Hawkes “Imperial” trombone, which I looked after and was extremely proud of. I remember my dog Misty snarling at me disapprovingly and his barks seemed to suggest that I ought to find a substitute method of enjoyment!
Those were good years and I gradually improved, enjoying my music making, and being introduced to much of the traditional brass band repertoire. Gordon Langford’s arrangements and compositions were popular at the time, and I remember “Cossack Patrol” and “Greensleeves” which contained a solo for trombone. The band entered contests performing Eric Ball’s “Morning Rhapsody”, Percy Fletcher’s “Labour and Love” and one of my favourite pieces to this day, “Kenilworth” by Arthur Bliss.
The conductor at that time was Paul Dickens, a great musician and a person who I reminisce as being really influential at a ‘delicate’ stage of my training. I recall presenting my first arrangement, for band – of Michel Legrand’s “The Windmills of Your Mind” – at a rehearsal one evening. As you might expect, the effort of a 14-year-old was clumsy to say the least but the experienced Mr Dickens didn't dismiss my work or disillusion me in front of the other players. He waited until the practice was over and took me aside and suggested some minor modifications!
The band would also enter some of its players for various solo and quartet competitions around central Scotland and I began to get ‘the bug’. I remember performing Arthur Pryor’s “Love’s Enchantment” at one such contest, attempting to end the piece on a high ‘G’. The note was full of air, and er… mechanics of playing. The unsympathetic and unimpressed adjudicator scribbled “Last note very squeezed indeed!”
In early 1977, Don Lusher, the great London studio player, was every young trombone player’s hero and had a great influence on all of us. Jack Parnell and the Big Band Show was on TV once a week and Don would be featured regularly. Also, the classic “Black Dyke Plays Langford” with the “Rhapsody for Trombone”. Wow. Lusher had set the standard – and style – for every brass band trombonist. We were all using slide vibrato, suddenly. He rewrote the rule book!
With financial assistance from my father, and with the addition of money I’d saved from my morning newspaper delivery job, I decided that in order to be just like Don, I’d better get myself the same make of instrument that he played. Kitchens of Leeds was a major music store at that time and I managed to get a good discount on a King 3b. (Don’t forget I’m a Scotsman!) I was becoming ever keener on the brass band scene and buying and collecting as many records of the great bands as I could. I managed to secure tickets for the British Open contest at Belle Vue, Manchester in 1977 and my Dad drove the long journey for us to hear the country’s finest bands’ interpretations of “Diadem of Gold”. What a wonderful piece of music! Still one of my favourites and made even more enjoyable with the additional “oohs” and “ahhs” when a soloist fluffed a note or the gasps of admiration at a player’s excellence.
I left West Calder band shortly after this and joined Whitburn on second, second trombone. This was a massive step up for a 15-year-old lad to one of Scotland’s top bands. There were some excellent players there, including Sandy Smith, later to become solo horn with Black Dyke and Andrew Duncan who would play tuba with the Halle Orchestra. Allan Street was the professional conductor during that period and would be followed later by Derek Broadbent and Major Peter Parkes.
After a while, I was appointed as first trombone of the band and started having lessons from Bryan Free of the Scottish National Orchestra, who encouraged me to switch to a larger instrument than the 3b, so I plumped for the medium large bore Vincent Bach 36G (gold brass bell and lightweight slide) – which even had a leather-effect case cover! This was shipped over from Giardinelli’s famous instrument store in New York. I remember the exchange rate was around $2.50=£1, meaning the total cost of the instrument, including customs charges, was slightly under £500!
Major Parkes started to feature me regularly as a soloist and the band went from strength to strength and won a hat trick of Scottish Band Championships from 1980 to ‘82. As mentioned earlier, Don Lusher was prominent on the scene and many players performed his “Concert Variations”. I remember performing the piece at the Rothman’s Brass in Concert competition in Darlington in 1980.
1981 was a good year. Whitburn band were taking part in the BBC TV Best of Brass competition and, as Scottish champions for the previous two years, we were confident in taking on the top English bands. It was a ‘knockout’ format, each band offering a 15-minute programme for the adjudicators' consideration. We were drawn against Leyland Vehicles band in the first round and, although underdogs, won. Yorkshire Imperial band were to be the opponents in the semi-final. At that time, “Imps” were the British Open champions and had a great outfit, including Ian Bousfield on trombone. This was a real David and Goliath: the footballing equivalent of, maybe, Manchester United v Cowdenbeath FC! Whitburn played first and opened with a march. Then I was the soloist in Gordon Langford's Rhapsody for Trombone and then a finisher. The band played a blinder and Yorkshire Imps looked a little nervous as they took the stand knowing that this wouldn’t be the walkover they had perhaps expected. After their programme, the adjudication process was tense but... Whitburn were declared winners by a single point! We had beaten the British champions! It was a huge result and the band bus was jumping on the road back up to Scotland!
Now the band really was at its peak, untouchable in Scotland. The mere sight of our maroon-coloured jackets struck terror into the hearts of our opponents, rendering them impotent, and guaranteeing us victory!
Around this time Frank Berry, the great first trombonist of Black Dyke Mills Band, was about to relinquish his position there. I vividly remember one day Major Parkes sounding me out to see if I would be interested in succeeding him. I had already accepted an offer to start at the Royal College of Music in London shortly afterwards, so was unfortunately not in a position to accept the role if it had been offered. I still wonder to this day, though: “What if?”
You asked about “Czardas”. Well, I was searching for something a little different to play around the beginning of 1982 and eventually decided on this as it displays two contrasting styles of play. A slow and lyrical melody to start and then lots of notes to fly around with! I added a cadenza to begin with for dramatic effect. Once again I had changed instrument – to a large bore Co
nn 8h – and I have used this, mostly, ever since. The band played the piece at a few concerts prior to the performance later that year at the BBC Best of Brass competition in Derby. I was pleased with the result that day and it seemed to come across well on television. Last time I looked, it had over 1.6 million views on You Tube!
NH: When did you realise that playing trombone is something you wanted to do for a living? Has it always been the career path you’ve wanted to follow?
MW: I used to enjoy and very much look forward to my weekly lessons with Bryan Free. We had progressed from the usual teacher/pupil relationship and the distance that can sometimes ensue and became firm friends. Mostly we got together on Friday lunchtimes and Bryan introduced me to different material from that which I had been used to. Studies by glamorous composers such as Blazhevich… and Kopprasch! Wow! I really felt that I was getting somewhere. Afterwards Bryan would invite me to attend the afternoon rehearsal by the Scottish National Orchestra at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh, prior to their evening concert. Sitting directly behind the trombone section, I was transfixed by the supreme standard of playing and I could follow their parts and sometimes counted the bars’ rest along with them. I couldn’t understand how all three of them would come in, playing together perfectly, when I still had an extra bar to count!
I remember being conscious of my own modest background and my Dad's gruelling job as a coal miner, thinking to myself, amid the chandeliers and plush surroundings of the auditorium, how wonderful it must be to have a profession like this, and be paid for simply enjoying yourself! I would come to realise later in my career that the illusion doesn’t always match the reality of the situation.
In those days, a massive gulf existed between professional music and the brass band scene. Nowadays brass band music, and instruments, are acknowledged and taught in the conservatoires but during the late 70s and early 80s this was certainly not so, and brass banders were frowned upon, dismissed by snooty, intellectual types. I remember when I landed my first professional theatre contract; around this time, the contractor (fixer) told me to “keep quiet about the brass band thing” when providing details of my experience for the production programme, as if it was some sort of disease. I also recall enquiring to a tuba player soon after, at the RCM, if he had ever played in a brass band. “Good grief, no!” he sniffed, “I like music”.
Television variety shows of that period would usually have a studio orchestra, and while watching Morecambe and Wise and The Val Doonican Show I would look eagerly, hoping to spot Don Lusher and other ‘session men’ as part of the line-up. It looked great. You get to dress up in a jacket and bow tie, appear on telly playing the trombone, and then… somebody gives you money! “What’s not to like?” I said to my 18-year-old self.
NH: You disappeared from the brass banding scene not too long after the Best of Brass TV series, so I assumed you must have furthered your trombone skills to an even higher level somewhere else. Where did you study and who were your main influences throughout your college years?
MW: I studied on a scholarship at the RCM from 1981 to ‘85 and only then became seriously interested in orchestral music. Prior to this, I didn’t know much about classical music and couldn’t have told you how many symphonies Tchaikovsky had written… and I would have supposed that ‘Bartok’ was conversation in a pub!
When originally applying, there was a question as part of the application process asking, if successful at audition, which choice of professor (teacher) would I prefer? The three were John Iveson, Peter Goodwin (later Bassano) and Arthur Wilson.
John was very well known, having been featured with the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble, so I was tempted to tick the box next to his name. Nevertheless, I left the place blank, fearing that if the other two were present at the audition, they might be offended at my apparent doubt of their stature and teaching abilities.
On the first day of my course, I discovered that I had been allocated to Peter who, at that time, held the position of second trombone with the Philharmonia Orchestra alongside Dudley Bright and Ray Premru (what a section that was!). I found Peter to be an excellent and dedicated teacher. My playing had many rough edges then, and I found the production of quiet, long notes difficult (I still do!).
I was still very interested in solo playing, but Peter was persistent and determined that I only do the basics for a while. Long notes with no ‘wobble’ and soft tonguing, with a breath attack, in an attempt to refine the ‘immature’ sound I was producing on the instrument. One day, during a lesson, I remember being frustrated after fluffing many notes and, in an effort to justify my incapability, I pleaded to him in exasperation, “Well, I’ve always been more interested in extending my technique!” Mr Goodwin shook his head slightly from side to side and knowingly sighed, “Martin, you don’t need much technique in a Brahms symphony.”
The majority of lessons with Peter started with 20 minutes or so on the Max Schlossberg “Daily Drills and Exercises for Trombone”. Although taxing on concentration, they were certainly beneficial, and I got used to warming up with these studies every day, prior to doing any serious
playing on the instrument.
There’s an interesting story which details a different professor’s take on this. When studying at the RCM one day, I had a lesson with John Iveson scheduled for 11am. I strolled into college about 10 and saw John in the foyer. “Ah... Martin”, he said, “can you come for your lesson now please as the student I should have hasn't turned up...”. I thought for a couple of seconds and knew that I wanted to play at my peak to the demanding Mr. Iveson, so replied that I hadn't yet had a warm up. He sighed, looked me up and down and said... “Martin, think about it, if you have to do something else before you do what you do, then you can't be doing what you do very well...”
I enjoyed my time at the Royal College of Music. I made some good friends, got involved in co-forming a successful brass quintet and trombone ensemble, and treated my time there very seriously. I attended all lectures and lessons and won all the honours and prizes that were open to me. But – as I would learn very soon after – as nice as the pieces of paper looked framed on the wall, they weren’t worth very much and wouldn’t pay the bills or provide me with a roof over my head.
NH: I remember you featured on a trombone quartet recording back in the 80’s with the London Trombone Ensemble. I virtually wore the cassette out I listened to it so often! This was my first real exposure to quality trombone quartet playing. It was a sound that blew me away and really got me hooked. The standard of playing is simply incredible, even today. Tell us a little about the project, the players and how it all came about.
MW: The London Trombone Ensemble, affectionately known as the LTE, was formed in 1987 and included four of my fellow trombonists from the Royal College of Music: Jim Casey, later to become first trombone player at the BBC Concert Orchestra for many years, Pat Jackman, bass trombonist at the Royal Opera House, Steve Bainbridge and Simon Gunton.
As an arranger, I knew that by having five players in the group, as opposed to the more traditional trombone quartet, it would present many more possibilities to create interest and excitement regarding harmonies and range. A dominant seventh chord, for example, could be fully sounded while one player was resting. This would be important for passages requiring extended stamina.
The two main arrangers for the group were Vic Bainbridge [father of Steve] and me. I knew by this time that when scoring for a brass group, without the additional luxury of a rhythm section, the choice of material and the key were of paramount importance if you accept that the bass line, melody, rhythm and harmonic inner parts all would be delivered by only five players. The four standards on the recording arranged by me (“Love for Sale”, “Laura”, “All the Things You Are” and “I’ll Remember April”) all have interesting, and quite complex, chord progressions. This is crucial because the listener’s attention can be subconsciously diverted from the limitations of the instruments and directed towards the quality and colour of the melody. For example, there’s a 14-bar section during “All the Things” where only three players are used but you would hardly notice because the harmonies are strong, and the listener is transfixed by the gorgeous playing of Steve during the introduction of the main tune.
We took about four months to make the full recording. I remember driving my old beat-up Wolseley – sold to me for £250 by Owen Slade, tuba player with the LPO – from my digs in Harrow, West London along the A40 and the North Circular Road to the studio in Islington. The place was tiny and primarily used by pop groups who would invariably record and use the venue during the night. When the five of us arrived in the morning to set up and rehearse, the debris of cigarette ends, discarded beer bottles and strong aroma of illegal substances was all too prevalent!
To be treated seriously as a chamber group, we all understood that we would most definitely have to perform some original music, so during some of our concerts we included the Globokar “Discours 2”, “Aria and Dance” by American composer Thom Ritter George and piece by Leonard Salzedo specially-commissioned piece by the Arts Council, “Sonata for Five Trombones”. When we completed the recording, it was produced on cassette tape and, in an effort to create some work, copies were sent to various agents and players, including Jay Friedman, who was principal Trombonist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Shortly afterwards we were all delighted, in 1988, when the LTE was invited to travel to America and become the first British players to perform at the prestigious International Trombone Association’s annual convention at Nashville, Tennessee. This really was an honour and we would be in some great company. Christian Lindberg was present and performed a fine recital, including Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” arranged for trombone and piano. The Airmen of Note band directed by Dave Steinmeyer and I heard JJ Johnson, live, for the only time. The highlight was when JJ played an unaccompanied version of “It’s All Right with Me” dedicated to his friend and fellow recording artist, the late Kai Winding.
Our performance at the ITA was received very well and the Americans were keen to speak with us Brits and congratulate us afterwards. Sadly, the group’s existence was relatively short-lived. As young, ambitious men, we were compelled to progress in our own direction and concentrate on our individual careers. Only a few-hundred copies of the recording exist but even now, after all these years, I’m surprised and delighted by the interest it has created. Many trombonists have approached me, with a smile on their face, saying that they’ve heard it, think it’s fantastic, and would like to know more about the LTE!
NH: What happened after you graduated; were you lucky enough to land an orchestral job straightaway?
MW: I graduated from the RCM in 1985 and posed for photographs, smiling, clad in academic gown and hood, clutching my Class 1 Diploma and enjoyed the wild party after!
Then… nothing happened.
I’ve shared my experience with a great many since and while agreed that the ‘system’ may very well teach you how to play and improve on your instrument, the hard reality is that pieces of paper with lofty signatures and seals of approval aside your name are worth very little. The Academies and Conservatoires do their job then that’s that! You’re left like a fledgling peering its head from the nest for the first time. You’re on your own. Get on with it!
In recent years, student work experience schemes have been successful in addressing this problem in providing a helping hand – a bridge – for graduates to move forward into the profession. This is good. It’s an overcrowded business and when I was young and trying to get started, I witnessed clear cases of favouritism and bias when it came to the allocation of work.
I did a West End show for a couple of months and some out-of-town semi-pro work, but the freelance orchestral career I craved didn’t materialise. Despondent, I decided to admit defeat in London, and return home to Scotland to apply for a job in Woolworth’s or become a petrol pump attendant. Anything but trombone playing. I needed to clear my head!
On my return, I made contact with my friend and former teacher Bryan Free for a chat and to let him know that I was around.
I promptly commenced working, the following day, with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and very soon later with the SNO, BBC and Opera. I hardly had a day off for six months and wondered why I had wasted so much time after leaving College in London, wishing that I had left much sooner.
I feel my experience demonstrates that if you know someone already in the business who is willing to take a chance and help you get started and support you along the way, it’s a big advantage. For this reason, when I observe young players just beginning to make advances in the profession, I endeavour to support and help them, remembering the struggle that I endured many years ago.
NH: How long have you been with the Ulster Orchestra now? Again, if memory serves correctly, didn’t you take over from Andy Berryman? Who was in the section when you joined and how did you find it fitting in?
MW: I was appointed as principal trombone of the Ulster Orchestra in August 1989, filling the chair vacated by Andy Berryman, who filled the chair vacated at the Halle Orchestra by Ian Bousfield. The section at that time included Steve Barnett, on second, who was formerly a member of Besses o’ th’ Barn band and Adrian (Benny) Morris on bass trombone, famed for his marvellous performance of “Wandrin’ Star” with Leyland Band at the Granada Band of the Year contest during the mid80s.
This really was the Orchestra’s heyday. The young, charismatic French conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier had recently taken up residence. I had known him previously, during my time with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and he was part of the audition process and instrumental in my appointment.
In the early 90s, the orchestra had a contract with Chandos and was one of the UK’s most recorded. Many works that contained extended solos for trombone included Daphnis and Chloe by Debussy, Saint Saens 3rd Organ Symphony and Ravel’s Bolero. I remember the sessions to record Bolero one day were from 10-1 and 2-5. At the break, the recording producer congratulated us all and announced that we were finished with the Ravel piece and would move on to the other pieces, which I considered to be fairly easy.
As was customary in those days, the brass section congregated to the pub and, relieved at having finished with the challenging solo, I rewarded myself with one or two drinks. On returning for the afternoon session, the recording producer casually announced that there had been some external noise on the mornings recording and we would have to do another straight run through of Bolero. “My goodness!” – or other words to that effect! – when I knew that I would be required to play the solo again, starting on a top Bb, while feeling ‘light headed’ after having been in the pub at lunchtime. Fortunately, it sounded fine as my confidence was fuelled, and I think that this was the take that was eventually used on the recording.
NH: The Ulster Orchestra have got a very fine reputation indeed. I have some great vinyl recordings with Bryden Thomson at the helm – no doubt before your time? Do you still get a buzz from playing with such a fine band or has it become just a day-to-day thing? Tell us about some of the highlights of your career since you’ve been there.
MW: As I said earlier, the early 90's really was a great time to be in the orchestra. We were recording and playing large-scale works at concerts and toured Britain, Europe, the Far East and America. Being paid to visit exotic, foreign places, perform in beautiful concert halls and travel on jumbo jets was a major perk of the job. I remembered my early days travelling by bus to the decaying band hall in West Calder and shook my head, smiling.
There’s an interesting and amusing story that I know my late friend Benny would not mind being recalled: In 1991, the Orchestra was touring South Korea, and when in Seoul during some free time, myself, Benny (who, if you don't know, was a large, portly gentleman) and a few others were on walkabout doing some shopping. Almost every shop we passed in the main streets, Korean shop owners would spot us westerners and run towards us offering to sell us leather jackets at discounted prices. The unit of currency in Korea is ‘Won’: 100 Won, 50 Won and so on. A few shop owners would beckon me, also Steve and others, to enter their premises with ever-decreasing prices. “Jacket for you, Sir. 80 Won! Too much? Okay, 70 Won... 60 Won”, etc. But none of these eager salesmen seemed to approach our rotund bass trombonist... until a little later when one small, excited shopkeeper ran towards Benny screaming at him the immortal line which nobody who was present will ever forget... “SIR... I have a jacket that will... FIT YOU...!”
We all wandered into his shop and descended to the basement, where the shopkeeper unveiled a massive but beautiful quality leather jacket to Benny. “For you only today, Sir... 100 Won...” Benny tried the jacket on and found that it was slightly too BIG and shook his head at the salesman. The little guy, sensing his opportunity, knew he just had to sell this jacket to our bass trombonist because it would be a long time before another westerner, Benny's size, would appear. “Okay, Sir... I like you, so for you, 90 Won...” Benny made negative sounds. “80 Won then, Sir”. Again, the portly bass trombonist shook his head. The rest of us present were sniggering at this amusing scenario because the Korean was becoming increasingly exasperated! “Okay, Sir... How much you wanna pay?” After some more bargaining, Benny walked out of that store with a smile on his face and a top-quality leather jacket for next to nothing!
NH: I know from our brief exchanges over Facebook that playing jazz has become a major interest for you. Has this always been the case or is it something that you needed to do to keep the creative juices flowing? Who were/are your main influences and mentors in the jazz field?
MW: Aged 16, I was astounded on hearing the “Tutti’s Trombones” record for the first time, and quickly undertook a lifelong obsession listening to and collecting records, and anything else I could find, relating to the great Frank Rosolino. At this time, I was using my King 3b with a Denis Wick 5bs mouthpiece and could hardly pitch a top ‘C’ without difficulty. Even today, I remain staggered by the phenomenal range, technique, and confidence he displays on just about everything he recorded. The originality and unpredictability of his magnificent solos, for me, remain unsurpassed.
I would tour record stores, scouring the jazz and big band sections, and eagerly part with my money to secure anything with Frank, either in his own name, or as part of other leaders’ bands. A massive regret is never getting to hear him live as I did with my other great trombone heroes JJ Johnson, Urbie Green and Carl Fontana.
When I was 19, jazz was healthy and thriving in Edinburgh and I would travel and ‘sit in’ with many of the bands on the afternoon and evening sessions. Improvisation can feel daunting to many who have relied completely on the written note, as I had in those days. So, I would sneakily practise and learn entire choruses of certain tunes at home and then volunteer to the podium, claiming that my music had been instantaneously invented. I learnt one item at a time, with me always calling the tune, and then after a while felt comfortable to play just about anything.
When studying at the RCM, I had to remain silent concerning my interest in jazz, because at that time it was very much frowned upon – some people even claiming that the performance of this ‘trivial’ and ‘worthless’ music was detrimental for your playing. It really was the Royal College of Classical Music. Nevertheless, during my first two years there, I would sneak out and attend the Saturday morning rehearsals of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra at the City Literary Institute and did a few gigs with them.
I had to make a decision whether I wanted to be a ‘jazzer’ or a straight player. I chose the latter, believing that there was more security in orchestral music, especially if you managed to win a full-time contract job. Once I had secured a full-time contract job, I knew that I would be free to resurrect my great interest in jazz. I formed a group with the standard rhythm section of bass, drums and keys, with myself and trumpet or sax in the front line. The band was very successful for many years, working at regular residencies and also club dates, weddings, etc. Alas, when karaoke and backing tracks burst onto the scene, it became increasingly difficult to persuade clients to engage a five-piece band when they would have the much cheaper option to hire one guy with a microphone and a box of tricks behind him. (This actually happened). One time, when my band arrived at the venue for our weekly session, we were aghast to find that a scruffy unshaven ‘musician’ clad in a Glasgow Rangers shirt was in position belting out Country and Western songs. The proprietor had fired us without notice. I wouldn’t have minded but it was doubly insulting as I’m a Celtic fan!
NH: I guess someone with a full-time playing job needs time and space to chill out and take your mind away from the stresses of day-to-day performances. I love your Facebook shots of your garden. Have you got green fingers? It looks like you enjoy it.
MW: I find gardening, like music, is therapeutic. If all else fails, the crazy world we inhabit is tying knots in your spirits, you might seek solace in the bottle or, alternatively, pick up your trowel and hoe. It’s a bit like your trombone practise. Planting is essentially an act of faith in the future and you get out of it what you put in. A real case of ‘tall trees from small acorns grow’. A freshly-mowed lawn or a meticulously-edged border can sometimes provide as much enjoyment and pleasure as a well-played trombone solo.
NH: I have to ask the geeky question all trombone players will want to know: are you still a Conn man? What gear works for you?
MW: The Conn 8h is a beautiful instrument exhibiting a striking and proud masculinity. The industry standard. I have played many other makes over the years but always return ‘home’ to the 8h with Vincent Bach 4g mouthpiece. I hardly ever play a trombone with a valve – only when it’s absolutely necessary (I remember going to see Bill Watrous live in London during the mid-1980s and being staggered, like all the other trombonists present, to hear him playing all the notes from low E in seventh position to pedal Bb in first, precisely and with rapidity, on a Bach 16. No need for a valve for him!)
When I feel I’m playing well on the instrument, it’s like a friend. Either when entering, quietly, on the top ‘A’ in Brahms 1 or at the other end of the spectrum on the low-register work on Mahler 3.
Paradise, for me, would be stepping out of a Chevrolet Corvette with Raquel Welsh on my arm sipping, contentedly, some Courvoisier and then proceed to opening the case of my Conn 8h.