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How to Get Results

The other day I moved my bag from the floor, onto a pile of blankets, which were on a chair.

I did this so that I would have room to lie on the floor as part of my daily Alexander technique.


I lay down and thought no more about the bag I had placed on the chair.

My routine involves a lengthy period of lying still without external distractions.

Occasionally I move limbs into different positions to allow gravity to perform different stretches.


Having done this for about eight years now my awareness is quite finely tuned to register all the subtle changes that occur in my body while I’m doing this.

It’s very absorbing as a result.


At some point my bag fell forward slightly.

It seemed stable when I put it down but after a while it had fallen forward for no apparent reason.

Nothing I could easily discern had changed and yet it had moved.

Seemingly on its own.


Then it didn’t do anything else…


for ages..


then it did it again…

…but not as much.

Seemingly on it’s own.

Erosion. from a great height

The reality is that a huge number of things had been going on.

Cause and effect had been taking place.

The weight of the bag, the angle I had put it down at, the properties of the surface it was resting on and so on were all slaves to gravity.

The fact that all these elements were interacting beyond my perception did not mean that they weren’t taking place.

Having happened once I was the attuned to the possibility of it happening again. I EXPECTED it to happen again. Eventually it did. Not at a time I was able to predict or as much as the first time though. I had witnessed a result but had no comprehension of the factors operating that caused the result. As such it was a kind of mindless if briefly stimulating blip to me. I enjoyed seeing the result but was not involved in the processes leading up to it. I couldn’t personally replicate it.

It seems to me a lot of people approach education like this. Some surprising or pleasing result appears, seemingly out of nowhere, everyone gets excited and says “Do it again, do it again”. But little attention is paid to how the result was arrived at. Then when either it doesn’t happen again, or does but isn’t bigger and better, there’s a feeling of disappointment and interest wanes.

I think of those people that can balance stones. That looks like magic to me. I understand vaguely that it’s probably something to do with centre of gravity but I can’t do it. That doesn’t mean I think I couldn’t learn to do it, or that I think it genuinely is magic, but I’m aware that I’m not motivated and won’t learn to do it. It will remain looking like magic to me.

When I started studying Alexander I didn’t have any comprehension of what I was getting into.

I had RSI. I was in pain. I wanted it to stop.

At first I made progress during lessons. Being shown directly by someone else what the likely causes of my pain were and what to consider to relieve them helped. The relief would last for a while and then the pains would gradually return – apparently for no reason. I’d need to go back after about three weeks to repeat and gradually expand my understanding of the process.

The real reason my pains returned was because all my existing habits would reassert themselves and the new information would fade from my mind.

Learning to focus on that process meant that gradually I could learn to control it. The results would become more predictable and therefore manageable. In this instance I’m glad it doesn’t seem like magic to me.


As a musician I’m flattered to be praised on my playing ability or compositions from time to time. Usually it’s along the lines of :


“That’s amazing, you have a natural talent”.

“Well, I’ve worked hard at it for a long time. Hopefully I keep getting better”

“Yes, but you have to be talented to start with”

“Well, there’s patterns to everything – it’s never too late to learn”

“No, I could never do what you do”


I usually give in around then.

A habit of believing you will be unable to learn is a hard thing to beat.

On the other hand…

Deciding that you are happy to stop enquiring before you see past the magic is an ok position too.


Ideally you should be aware that it’s a choice you can make between the two


If you really want to learn something you need to accept that results happen. Results can be desirable or undesirable depending on your point of view. Understanding why and how to achieve or avoid them can be much more important than what eventually happens.

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The Value of Restriction (part 2)

Before I had access to a video recorder of my own, back when there were only three and then four TV channels, I had to watch what was on or do something else. I’m a TV addict, and have been since an early age, so I watched what was on. I watched black and white films, plays, subtitled foreign films, cartoons, quizzes, sitcoms, pages from Ceefax and adverts – whatever was going. I didn’t feel deprived I just devoured whatever was there (except the sport – never could get on with sport). I didn’t necessarily get the benefit of repetition but I did learn to enjoy variety well beyond the level of experience I would have chosen if I had had the option to watch purely cartoons and sitcoms. It’s still a form of restriction but applied from a different angle.

So (if you read part 1 first) now I seem to be directly contradicting myself.  Didn’t I say (or at least heavily encourage you to infer) that repetition was better? Well. Up to a point. In terms of developing pattern recognition through constant repetition then yes. That’s something you’re just not going to get by being constantly bombarded with new things. If you want a deeper relationship with or fuller understanding of a specific thing repetition is the only way to go. You also have to make a choice at some point as to when you have got enough from it. It doesn’t have to be a full stop. You can always go back and re-evaluate.

So if sometimes repetition is good and sometimes it isn’t how are you supposed to know which is which?

That’s basically up to you.

Some restrictions are essential of course. Don’t drink bleach, throw yourself off a cliff etc. Where a restriction places your life in danger or would have an adverse effect on your health or of those around you it is wise to avoid it.

The Beacons

Many restrictions are simply habit or convention however.

Social perceptions create all kinds of invisible restrictions which we unthinkingly obey. In extreme circumstances choosing to ignore those restrictions might place our lives in danger but often they don’t matter nearly as much as we think.

In the UK It’s expected that we should wear black at funerals. That we shouldn’t just lie down on the floor in public spaces. In some people’s houses we’re expected to take our shoes off, in others it may be considered out of place if we make that decision on our own without the request of the owners.

It can be tremendously liberating, exciting and joyful to decide to free ourselves from day to day restrictions. Perception is all that holds many of these things in place. We expect children to obey less restrictions than adults on the whole. If a child wants to skip, play or sing we generally let them get on with it. When we try to stop them they can put up a fight. It takes a while to learn which restrictions apply in which situations and to agree to comply with them. Put adults in a situation where restrictions are outside their expectations and they will quickly become uncomfortable and either try to exit the situation or discredit it. Freedom comes through learning which restrictions are there for reasons of personal safety and which are purely social.  Once we understand the difference we can have more choice over how we behave. We can also have a lot more fun.

Leaving to one side our ‘essential restrictions’, the ones that stop us coming to harm in some way or harming others, our ‘chosen restrictions’ can be very valuable. So long as they are varied and serve some purpose for us. Don’t necessarily always place the same restrictions on yourself. It’s good to review our restrictions to check that we have good reasons for them from time to time. No one likes to feel ‘stuck in a rut’. Not everyone understands how they got there when it happens. Not everyone understands that they can change it if they wish.

Take a mental step back now and again and think about which things you do out of habit and which are genuinely out of necessity.

Reach (In or Out)?

For example :

I always catch a ball with my right hand. I’m not good at catching a ball with my left hand. I have a negative restriction (based on my perception) in place that stops me using my left hand. If I choose to reverse it by always catching a ball with my left hand then my ability with that hand will improve over time. If I persist with that restriction for long enough the positive effects of restricting myself to my left hand will start to be outweighed by a loss of ability with my right hand. Before I get to that point I would want to review the restrictions I have put in place. By consciously reviewing and adjusting my restrictions I could gradually become ambidextrous. If I leave it to chance and habit then I’m very unlikely to do so.

Once we start to look at restriction in that way it becomes apparent that it can a very positive thing too. It’s usually framed as ‘things not to do’ but restriction is really about choosing parameters. The  value of restriction is in choosing which things to do when.

Learning when to be consistent and when to adapt is a very key survival instinct. Try asking yourself these questions :


Could you change the way you go about things to make things seem fresh?

Would your life improve if you chose to make some changes?


Be prepared to say yes or no to those questions and feel comfortable with your answers.

Ask yourself those questions about any aspect of your life whenever they occur to you.

Feel comfortable when the answers change from time to time.


The value of restriction is in choosing the parameters that work best for you.

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The Value of Restriction (part 1)

It’s become accepted wisdom that more is better, and where more isn’t appropriate then new is better. Advertising depends heavily on it. The less restrictions we have in our lives the more choice we have and that’s a good thing. But is that really true?


I’ve just cancelled a subscription to Sky. Leaving aside the arguments as to who profits from it and their moral dubiousness the service was good. Lots of channels, live pause, the ability to record a huge amount of stuff and even download more stuff that I might have forgotten to record and store.

I not only had access to Sky but Netflix too and all the DVDs I’ve bought over the years. I should be spectacularly entertained and well informed 24/7.

Awesome Pencilcase

The reality is that I usually only watch things once, possibly not at all. It takes advantage of my constant craving for novelty – to which I’m a willing and enthusiastic victim. Why watch things again when there’s probably something better around the corner that I haven’t yet seen? If I don’t have time to watch it now then I can store it and abate the worry that I might miss out on the greatest thing I’ll ever watch. Once I’ve done that though the novelty craving kicks in again and I’m onto new things. Which I may or may not get around to…

Victims of More

Admittedly, as I get older I’m better at spotting patterns and digesting things quickly. I don’t necessarily need to watch series or films over and over again to enjoy them.  But in part that is down to having had restrictions in the past. Before the whole multi-channel, infinite storage capabilities became the norm I used to watch the videos and DVDs that I’d bought. I couldn’t afford as many and so I would watch and re-watch them because I had less facility to endlessly obtain new things. As a result I know the setup and punch line to pretty much every joke on Friends & Seinfeld. I know every nerdy film and TV reference from Spaced and can sing along with the scores from Excalibur, Brazil & Jesus Christ Superstar.

Now that I can fast forward to the action in everything I’ve recorded I never need to watch another advert. But I also don’t know the theme tunes, any of the character’s names or the names of the actors that play them. In the past I could have told you all of that and sung along quite happily. I’m saving relatively little time but losing a lot of information in the wake of convenience too. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe I’m able to make people laugh because I learned something from watching the same jokes being set up over and again. Maybe I learned something about dramatic potential and emotional effect from hearing the same pieces of music over and again that feeds into my own compositions…

My friend Kimwei recently posted a vlog on the value of restricting herself to just one guitar. She made a deliberate choice to avoid ‘aquisition syndrome’ as she refers to it. Too much variety too quickly interfered with what she really wanted to focus on.

My own experience was similar, although not a conscious decision, and I appreciate it in retrospect.

I had the same electric 4-string for about 25 years before I started getting other types of bass (fretless and more recently a 6-string). I’m never as comfortable playing other people’s instruments because the dimensions are not the same. Neck width, depth, string distance, pickup placement, string gauge, string type etc all make a subtle but enormous difference. Familiarity or lack of it are a really important consideration in our ability to be able to totally focus on the music or risk being taken out of it by mechanical considerations. As I’ve added new instruments (including double bass) I’ve had to approach each one as a ‘new’ instrument. Learning afresh all the mechanical elements to be able to interact with them fluidly. The upside is that I have a lot more tonal versatility as a result. Because of the clear aural differences I’ve also been encouraged to spend long periods of time with them. This is probably easier because it’s a form of adapting from a really strong initial place though rather than creating confusion by trying to learn several different but similar instruments simultaneously.

So what I’m saying is that it’s best not to have too much variety all at once and focus on a small number of things to get the most out of them…? Well, sort of…

See you for part 2!



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The Aware Musician : Better


Better is what you make it..

Better  could mean all sorts of things…

Bristol Graffiti 3 - Unknown Artist

It doesn’t inherently mean faster, more complicated, louder or more expensive.

It doesn’t inherently mean slower, less complicated, quieter or cheaper.

It doesn’t inherently mean more familiar.

It doesn’t inherently mean less familiar.

It can mean any of those things to individuals , small groups of people or large groups of people but I’ll stick my neck out and say not everyone at once.

All of those things are probably going to be considered better at some point during a person’s life with regard to something.

The important thing is that it must create a perception of increased value to the person taking the measurement.

We like to think that there are ‘absolute’ measurements for perceiving ‘better’. We set rules in place to decide this for us and often accept them unthinkingly. There are places where this can work but breaks down fast once there’s a disagreement about what better means. In the end it’s entirely subjective

Welcome to ten minutes inside my brain…

Since I’ve sat here I’ve had to make decisions about which coffee would be better, whether to sit downstairs or upstairs, where to sit when I get there, whether to ask the guy who brought my coffee how to log on to the wi-fi, whether to write about those thought processes in this article.

Unfortunately for you I have…

The where to sit one was pretty complicated.

Trapped in Light

Of limited seating, because the place is busy, I opt for a low table with a sofa. It has a socket next to it. If I choose to plug my laptop in that would be better.

The guy arrives with my coffee and I ask how to log on to the wi-fi.

(In the previous place where I ate I wanted water but didn’t want to buy any. I could see they had glasses on the side but also water for sale so I was unsure whether tap water was an option. I chose not to ask thinking it would be better not to open myself up to the potential embarrassment of asking for something that wasn’t on offer. I hoped that I would be able to deduce an answer from the behaviour of other customers. This didn’t happen though and one person was using a provided glass to drink purchased coke from – furthering my uncertainty. On my way to the toilet as I was leaving I noticed a fridge containing the bottles of tap water I had been unable to discern during my meal. My life would have been better if I had just asked)…

In this fresh situation I have asked. I feel my choice was better than last time and, temporarily at least, I’ve become more like the sort of person I would like to be. In brief – better.

Shortly afterwards more seating choices become available.

I now have a choice of :

Staying where I am – the least hassle but I am slouched over the laptop and sat at an angle because of the camber of the cushions. This is uncomfortable but I’ll also lose access to the socket…

…Moving to a table with regular chairs but next to a group of reasonably noisy people. The chairs  and the higher table will be better for my posture but the noise made by the people will be more disruptive to my thought processes…

…Or move to a small table in the window with a stool. I choose this option because I fancy looking out of the window. I perceive this as better than not being able to look out of a window. Once I’ve moved my stuff and sit down I realise that the table legs are really close together and I can’t squeeze my legs underneath. I can rotate the table though so now I have just one leg in front of me and I can put my legs either side of it comfortably . This is better. Doing so also reveals that the table is wonky and dips under pressure to one side. Overall though my position is better than it was a few minutes earlier despite not being better to the degree I had anticipated.

Hardly mind blowing stuff and I feel you’d be quite fair in telling me that it was outright boring. A great many people would probably go on to tell me I’m WAY over thinking it all and my life would be better without doing so. My position is that I’m doing all that thinking anyway on a subconscious level and I’ve just chosen to bring it to the surface as an awareness exercise. Which, to me, is better than not doing so. On this occasion anyway…

However, all of the decisions I’ve just described about making my life better are subject to this particular instance. If I came back tomorrow my decisions might well be different – I would need to adapt to a slightly alternate set of parameters. Another person in the same situation would probably make different choices. They would still perceive themselves as making choices to better their experience though, consciously or not.

Crop Circle Outside Electric City

So how does any of this help in situations that actually matter to me?

I’m a musician. I want to be a better musician. I have an idea of what I’d like to sound like, the sort of music that I want to play, the sort of musicians that I’d like to play it with, the sort of venues that I’d like to play in. All of these things give me something to aspire to. They are also fluid. Until I achieve any of these things they provide a whole canon of things that I perceive I need to work towards to achieve them.

Today it might be working with a metronome in this way, or that way, or another way. Tomorrow it might be working out exactly how I want to play two notes in succession – using my fingers, index first, middle first, pull- off, slide in, slide up to both notes, use a pick, swell into the first note etc. In those instances I’m going to work on my consistency and range of options.  I can probably transfer those skills to a range of different styles of music.

If I want to work on my jazz though I’d be better off working on this chord change than that one. That tune, rather than this one. Listening more to this player than that one.

All of that is cool for me being a bedroom musician but I need real world experience too. Can I function in the same way with the stress of an audience watching me? Now that other musicians are involved can I still do the things that I practiced or are they going to put me off? Can I work out how to adapt the ideas I worked on so that they fit better with what the other players would like to do?

I might be great at those things but no-one has ever heard of me outside the one pub I get to play at in my home town so I need to work out how to address that. I could build a website, go to a jam session, pick up the phone and hustle for a gig, make a youtube video, put up posters in the library. All of those things would help make me better achieve my goals too. All of those things also require a huge number of skills that I can slowly work on to make me better.

Do I want to specialise in some areas or get a grasp of a wide range of things. Which options do I think are better?

Am I at exactly the same stage as I was yesterday with everything or did I work on one (or more) of all the many, many things I said I wanted to achieve in my life?

Are you better than you were yesterday?

Better is what you make it.

What can you do to be better today?

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To Play or Not To Play


When will you play?

What will you play?

Why did you play?

Why didn’t you play?

What effect did that have?

In my previous article I described my RSI experience and discovery of the Alexander Technique.

The thing I really connect with in the Alexander Technique is that it is a toolbox: there are a set of underlying principles that work together to produce whatever results I need – just as there are in music. As I recovered from RSI I was forced to re-evaluate everything about my playing from the ground up.

One of the advantages of going back to basics is that you spot fresh relationships between things you already know, reinforcing & refining them at the same time. The process of teaching someone else is also very helpful in doing this.

For a lot of people the act of music making begins with “what style of music do I want to play and how do I play the notes that make me sound like that?” That’s a great place to start when you first encounter music but can be limiting later on if you want to create something of your own. Even if you don’t there may be levels of subtlety to the music you are trying to emulate that you haven’t yet realised. If, like me, you would like to explore ways of refining your music making process then read on…

Having asked ourselves some fairly fundamental questions at the top of this article let’s have a think about what they really mean.


When will you play?

Choosing to play or not to play, whether traditional musical notes, phrases or sound effects should always be a conscious decision.

It might be your own decision or you might be following direction from someone else within the ensemble or a conductor.

It might be a decision that you need to reconsider from moment to moment or you might make one decision that lasts for several bars, a section of a whole piece or the whole piece.

Don’t assume that the decisions you make on one performance will be perfect every time as there are a lot of factors to consider (see What Effect Did That Have).



What will you play?

This is obviously the BIG area but even before we get to thinking about the “what style of music do I want to play and how do I play the notes that make me sound like that?” there’s a whole load of stuff that can come into play whether you realise it or not. For that reason I’m going to leave the specific mechanics of note choice for another article but in the meantime how about this :

Silence – sometimes the best thing to do is nothing. This could be for a variety of reasons :

  • Thinning the texture – your part has sonic weight, while you are playing you add something more than simply notes. When you choose not to play you don’t just take something away, you allow whatever else is going on to breathe. This might be other instruments, it might be the tail end of a lengthy reverb, it might be nothing at all – which will build tension all by itself as the expectation of something happening becomes more palpable.
  • You are unsure what to do – If it’s an improvisation situation then playing without listening or responding can easily clutter or destroy a mood. If this is the case then wait, listen and respond when you genuinely feel you have something to contribute but not before.
  • You are lost – If it is structured music requiring reading then sometimes it is best to stop playing and wait until you can hear where to come in again.

Effects – Sometimes atmosphere is more powerful than traditional note production. It can be used to augment other instruments or in isolation as pure ambience. Effects might be produced purely with your body (e.g. hitting the body of your instrument, blowing air through your instrument with no mouthpiece, string muting, waggling your sax keys for percussion) or with the aid of tools (e.g. FX pedals, plectrum, ebow, capo, bow, mute, ‘prepared piano’)

Pitched Sounds – This is the area that everyone wants to get at and can be the most complicated to control if you are going to do it well. I like to think of every note & sound having 3 stages (Start / Transition / End) and they all need your attention if you are going to be stylistically recognisable.

Start – What decisions can you make in advance?

Dynamics – how loud or soft will your sound be?

‘Prepare’ the instrument –

  • Pre-bend the string
  • Prepared piano
  • Purposely detune
  • Palm mute
  • Left hand mute
  • Cup mute / plunger etc
  • Harmonics (natural or artificial)

How will your note physically begin?

  • Hit the string from a distance with right hand
  • Left hand hammer-on
  • Right hand hammer-on
  • Plucked by finger at rest on string
  • Plucked with a plectrum
  • Plectrum scraped along string
  • Thumb slap
  • Finger pop
  • Hit body of guitar
  • Bowed
  • Blown into
  • Strike mouthpiece
  • Hit with a mallet
  • Hit with a drumstick
  • A finger press

Transition – What will you do with your note once it is sounding?

  • Let it ring
  • Tap a harmonic
  • Increase in volume
  • Decrease in volume
  • Maintain a consistent volume
  • Bowed Tremolo
  • Picked Tremolo
  • Strummed Tremolo
  • Add vibrato
  • Slide to a different pitch
  • Pull off to a different pitch
  • Bend to a different pitch
  • Blow continuously while waggling keys / valves
  • Add an external effect to process the sound in some way (Reverb / distortion / volume pedal / pitch shift/ delay etc)

End – How will your note / sound finish?

  • Your instrument will have a natural decay time if you leave it ringing.
  • Wait it out until the full natural decay ends.
  • Stop the note during the decay at a moment of your choosing.
  • Press slowly against the string for a buzzing effect before it stops.
  • Physically hit and mute the strings.
  • Stop blowing suddenly
  • Gradually decrease breath until the sound is no longer audible then stop blowing.
  • Fade out with a volume knob.
  • Fade out with a foot pedal.
  • If you have fed your sound into an external processor the same considerations still apply –
  • Natural decay or artificial?



Why did you play?

I get the sense with quite a number of people that this isn’t an area that always gets as much thought as it should. Here’s some of the reasons why I think people play :

‘Good’ reasons

  • I had something to express
  • I felt I could add something
  • I thought I could help
  • Because it’s fun
  • I wanted to rehearse with others
  • I wanted to work with more experienced players to help motivate me to practice on my own
  • I want to improve 

‘Bad’ reasons

  • I wanted to show off
  • I wanted to practice over others
  • I wasn’t listening
  • I wanted to force a change in what someone else was doing by playing their part over them
  • I was impatient to get started



Why didn’t you play?

‘Good’ reasons

  • I wanted to provide textural variation
  • I missed a cue and thought it better to wait for a part of the structure where I would add something instead of simply sounding late.
  • I had a clear cue from another band member / conductor to drop out
  • I didn’t think I would be adding anything of musical value at that point.

‘Bad’ reasons

  • I couldn’t be bothered
  • I lost interest
  • I wasn’t listening
  • To annoy the soloist or show them up



What effect did that have?

Probably your first thought is going to be along the lines of ‘I had a great gig, rehearsal, recording, practice session etc’ or ‘I had a terrible…etc’.

Your next thought needs to be concerned with ‘why?’

Whatever decisions you make about when, what and why you played are going to have a big effect on how everyone feels about the results. It’s important to realise that you aren’t all necessarily going to come to the same conclusions. If you can develop a habit of conscious critical reflection then you will notice that you start to have more consistently good experiences. Learn to read the other players, and your audience, to see which things produce positive and negative effects. Over time you will start to spot patterns that you can use to your advantage if you are observant!

Here are some things to consider that might help in recognizing those patterns.

  • The tempo. What sounds great at one speed might not work at another so don’t be afraid to think of something new.
  • The size of the ensemble. A smaller ensemble has more sonic space so you can inject more notes or cover more of the frequency spectrum. With more instruments the sonic clutter builds up more quickly so you might need to drop out more often, play fewer notes, double another’s part, play within a small frequency register etc
  • The personnel. People play differently. One change in the ensemble lineup can drastically alter the feel / mood / tempo either through the way they perform or because they have different tastes and requirements of the players around them.
  • The acoustic. You can’t play the same way in a drama studio as you can in a cathedral. Reverb has an enormous effect on the clarity of rhythm; a single note can sound amazing due to the characteristics of one room but would be gone in an instant and sound small in another. A listening audience allows for much greater subtlety than a noisy pub. Adjust accordingly and you can have amazing gigs, fight it and you’ll probably go home depressed!
  • Your instrument. Different instruments are good at different things, try to make the most of them. An electric bass has different qualities to a double bass, an organ is different to a clavinet etc. Alternately you might have had to borrow an instrument – if it’s not as good as yours then perhaps rein in your playing to do the things you can do well on it rather than going for broke and sounding bad.
  • The mood of the audience. Sounds simple but I’ve played with a lot of people that ignore this one. If they ask to dance don’t play ballads at them, if they ask for background music don’t crank the amps… If they are listening and have paid to see you then why not challenge them a little and see how it goes?
  • Something unexpected has happened. Maybe there was a powercut, someone broke a string, an amp blew up or just a mistake in the music – these are all great opportunities to improvise, for something new and unplanned to happen. Don’t just stop playing if this happens – you signal to your audience that it went wrong and you look bad, whereas if you bluff it out you can raise smiles, possibly hit on something wonderful & have an anecdote for later.


If you are fresh to this way of thinking there’s no way to suddenly take all this information on board, don’t try. Read it through – think about just a small portion of it now and again when you have a moment to yourself. Do it regularly and come back for more when you forget or want something new to think about. Try recording yourself playing – see if you can spot your own habits. Which things do you tend to do most often? Which things do you never do? Do the same thing with your favourite records or at gigs that you go to. Over time all of these things will occur to you very quickly. This will help you to adapt to and make the best of any situation you find yourself in as well as increasing your variety of responses.

The information in this article is based on my own experience and observations. If you have other things that you’d like to add, feel I missed out or would like discussed further then please let me know. I’m still learning too!

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Blue Vanguard : Theo Travis

Blue Vanguard Jazz Club

6th October 8.00 – 10.30 £10 (£8)

Gipsy Hill Hotel, Pinhoe, Exeter

Theo Travis

(Saxes and Flute):

Theo Travis was born in Birmingham and moved to London in 1992 where he soon established himself as one of the finest tenor sax players on the British jazz scene. He has led his own jazz quartet for over 20 years, recorded ten albums as leader having composed, arranged and produced the material and performed all over the UK as well as at Ronnie Scott’s Club in London over 75 times. He is increasingly known as one of the top saxophone and flute players in the world in Progressive music and has appeared as featured soloist on over 120 albums. With guitarist Robert Fripp he formed Travis & Fripp in 2007 and the duo have toured internationally and recorded 4 albums which Travis co-wrote and produced. In 2006 he became a member of Soft Machine Legacy, taking over from the late Elton Dean, and since then he has co-written and co-produced their 3 albums as well as toured Europe, Japan and Brazil. Travis has performed and recorded extensively with Steven Wilson as featured soloist, and they have worked on 23 albums together. Travis also was a member of Gong from 1999 to 2009 and in 2015 he joined David Gilmour’s band for the ‘Rattle that Lock’ tour. Travis has also performed and recorded with David Sylvian, Bill Nelson, The Tangent, Roger Eno, Keith Tippett, Harold Budd, John Foxx, Steve Hillage, John Etheridge, Cipher and Mick Karn. In 2014 he wrote his first book ‘Twice around the world’, a diary of blogs from the Steven Wilson world tours of 2012/13 and he has appeared as a walk on artist in film and TV such as ‘Notting Hill’, the Bond movie ‘Die Another Day’ and ‘Foyle’s War’. In 2015 he released his latest solo album ‘Transgression’ (Esoteric). He lives in London with his wife, son and 16 saxes and flutes.

Theo Travis Official Website

Theo will be accompanied by the Blue Vanguard Trio :

Craig Milverton – Keys / Al Swainger – Bass / Coach York – Drums

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Blue Vanguard : Brandon Allen

Blue Vanguard Jazz Club

8th September 8.00 – 10.30 £10 (£8)

Gipsy Hill Hotel, Pinhoe, Exeter

Brandon Allen (Sax):

Born in Perth, Western Australia, Brandon has been based in London for the past 16 years. Since arriving in the UK, he has worked with a host of major names, and works regularly with the Kyle Eastwood Band, Paloma Faith, Alec Dankworth’s World Spirit, James Torme, the Alex Garnett Sextet, the Gareth Lockrane Big Band, Sax Appeal, the Clark Tracey Quartet, as well as leading his own projects, teaching, and running the Highgate Jazz Festival.


You can see video, listen to music and get further info about Brandon from his Official Website

Brandon will be accompanied by the Blue Vanguard Trio :

Craig Milverton – Keys / Al Swainger – Bass / Coach York – Drums

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Grice : Prog Issue 66

Prog 66Quite cool to be featured alongside Grice, 05Ric, Richard Barbieri & Hossam Ramzy on the cover mount CD of this month’s Prog magazine. The track ‘Eclipse’ from the Grice album Alexandrine can also be heard on BandCamp here.


“The new issue of Prog is on sale today. We pay tribute to the life and music of the late KEITH EMERSON, with contributions from Carl Palmer, Greg Lake, Lee Jackson, Tony Banks, Geoff Downes, John Wetton, Steve Hackett and more. Plus exclusive interviews with Hawkwind, Big Big Train , Lazuli, Official Frost*, Katatonia, Steve Thorne, Hexvessel, Ihsahn -Official-, Mantra Vega, Se Delan, Symphony X, Sunn O))) and Brian Pern. And Big Big Train, GRICE, Tiles, Landskap and kore on the CD…”

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Blue Vanguard : Dave O’Higgins

Blue Vanguard Jazz Club

19th May 8.00 – 10.30 £10 (£8)

Gipsy Hill Hotel, Pinhoe, Exeter

Dave O’Higgins (Sax):

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Dave played various musical instruments from the age of 7, finally settling on the saxophone. He moved from Derbyshire to London in 1983 to study music at the City University. Whilst still studying he started his own jazz quartet and began gigging with NYJO, John Dankworth & Cleo Laine, & Icelandic jazz-funk band, Mezzoforte.

Over the years Dave has won various accolades from the British Jazz Awards including Best Tenor Sax. Sketch Book (Jazzizit) is his 10th solo cd, featuring Dave alongside one of New York’s finest tenor saxophonists, Eric Alexander. Dave regularly features as a part of the Ronnie Scotts Allstars & the BBC Big Band.

Fast Foot Shuffle (Candid) & Push (Short Fuse) were conceived for the jazz dance market and have become favourites in clubs like London’s Jazz Café. The track North Station is also on compilations Brasilia Slim & Messin’ Around. Dave can be seen on many festival stages internationally performing with the breathtaking Jazzcotech Dancers.

Dave has played over the years with “everyone and their auntie” from Martin Taylor, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra & Matthew Herbert to Salif Keita. He has also done a fair amount of studio work (jingles, pop stuff, films, library) and composes & arranges for jazz ensembles of all sizes. Dave has also taught at Leeds College of Music, Goldsmiths College and acts as an external examiner for Birmingham Conservatoire.

“A stunning player in the neo-bop vein, with an apparently effortless flow of coherent ideas, beautiful time and a highly developed harmonic sense.” JAZZ GUIDE

“one of the most vigorously compelling tenor players on the UK scene, and on this wholly enjoyable, powerful album, he nods to the great saxophonists – Charlie Parker, Coltrane, Dexter Gordon chief among them – who so clearly influenced him, without unduly compromising his individuality; In the Zone is archetypal O’Higgins: unpretentious, accessible, no-nonsense acoustic jazz addressed with skillfully controlled energy.” CHRIS PARKER reviewing In the Zone (Jazzizit)

You can see video, listen to music and get further info about Dave from his Official Website

Ant will be accompanied by the Blue Vanguard Trio :

Craig Milverton – Keys / Al Swainger – Bass / Coach York – Drums

Check out podcasts from previous guests by clicking this link

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Monkey’s Uncle : Live at CICCIC

Monkey’s Uncle Live

“pure molasses…sweet sounds…too engrossing to think of pigeon-holing genres.”

ciccic jazz club with monkeys uncle


Ottone Caretta – Sax


Jesse Molins – Guitar


George Cooper – Keys


Al Swainger – Bass


Gary Evans – Drums



Monkey’s Uncle return to CICCIC Taunton on Friday 13th May 7.30pm – 11.00pm (£8/£7) with their programme of all original compositions.

Fran Pitt’s review from our last visit to the CICCIC :

“Al Swainger’s and Jesse Molins’ bass and guitar riffs were like catching up with a long-missed best friend…complex, uninhibited conversations on everything. Both obviously lived every note, Al silently mouthing a scat accompaniment, whilst Jesse’s grimaces looked like chewing wasps. The elegant, rangy figure of Ottone Caretta perfectly matched his lyrical and enticing sax playing, whilst the talented fingers of pianist George Cooper sensitively caressed the keys. Meanwhile Gary Evans’ sticks ‘n skins kept it all together with exceptional versatility, perfectly matching the various moods of the guys’ intricate compositions.

The evening was so toe-tapping, joint-loosening good and the atmosphere so intimate I virtually trickled off my CICCIC-trademark sofa at the end of the evening. One of the best jazz nights ever: I felt privileged to be there. And what a coup for CICCIC!”

Read the full review here :

Monkey’s Uncle – Jazz…and You Better Believe it!

“like catching up with a long-missed best friend…complex, uninhibited conversations on everything.”