This is a question we always ask, what are your earliest memories regarding being attracted to the arts or music?
As far as I remember when I was little I couldn’t get to sleep unless my parents played George Harrison’s “Got my mind set on you”. Apparently that song made me relax and eventually I would drift off to sleep. It had a sax solo in the middle of the song so that might have meant something early on.
That was in Glasgow where I was born, my dad is Scottish and my Mum is from County Down, Bangor; we moved to Northern Ireland when I was two years old.
There was always music in our household and records being played, Van Morrison; my mum listened to Paul Simon.
You come from a musical family?
Yes, well a family that love and listen and appreciate a lot of music!
I took up Irish dancing when I was a child and I loved that and later I auditioned at Primary School for an instrument, the clarinet, at school but I was rejected.
You were rejected?
Yes. There weren’t enough instruments for everyone so you had to audition and I was told that I couldn’t get a sound out of the clarinet.
I fiddled around with other instruments, recorder, violin, and various things. I learnt to play tin whistle for a while and that was great because you didn’t need to read music. I learnt to play using numbers.
Eventually when I got to high school I auditioned for another instrument; I was very determined and I was offered “the big bass instrument.” This was in Lagan College, and the big bass instrument was in fact a Tenor Saxophone and that has been my instrument ever since. I was around 11 years old when I started. Gary Myles was my teacher and he was fundamental in me learning theory and the rudiments of Music.
You kept learning all the way through high school?
Yes, I also play piano. My mum got a secondhand piano which was about a tone out of tune, but I loved it and I had a very good teacher, Sharon Forte. Piano and Saxophone complimented each other well and both of my teacher’s styles were relaxed and fun. I played in the school band, at assemblies and in the South Eastern Concert Band under the direction of Bob Dawson. I was always looking for opportunities to play.
I studied music. I did GSCE and A level music and during that period my Dad suggested I listened to Duke Ellington for a project I was working on and that blew my mind! Hearing a big band like that and in terms of my musical education! My Dad also took me to loads of gigs, the Guinness Spot (which we still really miss!), festivals and performances – my Dad is still my number one person to go to gigs with!
You studied music?
Yes, I have a BA in English Literature and Music from Bath Spa University and an MA in Community Music from The Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at The University of Limerick. In my undergraduate a wrote my dissertation on ‘The Symbiotic relationship of Poetry and Jazz. Primarily studying the work of Langston Hughes, the Harlem Rennaissance and Beat Poetry.
You are known for being a Jazz musician?
Not necessarily – I love Jazz but first and foremost I am a Community Musician who plays Saxophone and Piano in a variety of styles. I just love a good tune! At the moment I play with a number of groups, TS4, the Tony Strickland Quartet with Colin Reid, ‘Dirty Words’ Colin Hassard’s project – the performance poet which makes a nice connection to my studies, DANI – local singer songwriter and The Vintage Revue swing band.
I have been playing with James Joseph Downey a young singer songwriter, and I play with other musicians when I get an opportunity.
I haven’t been writing a lot lately because I have been juggling so many projects and work as well but I hope to do more writing in the near future – I have lots of ideas! And as a Saxophonist I am often improvising on the post but not writing it down!
You worked with the legendary Belfast Jazz musician, Jackie Flavelle?
Yes. I met him in Donaghadee and we built a friendship and we played together as well. He was inspirational, had an incredible history and we worked well together. He also helped me develop as a musician and that was something that meant a lot to me.
part two of this interview is here