In a year when giant political shifts and the deaths of iconic figures have dominated the public consciousness, it would be easy to fall into the trap of believing that celebrating anything this year is a sort of act of futility. Not so. Perhaps the best remedy for the “post-truth” nonsense that fills the air with as much joy as a mariachi bagpipe act in a broken lift is to have a look back at what really happened as individuals and take the positives from that and fortunately, there’s a lot to be happy about.
Starting with the creative thing dearest to me, it’s been another fantastic year for Operation Lightfoot so only fair and proper to start with a heartfelt thank you to the musicians that I’ve had the pleasure of sharing it with. The project has continued to evolve and the amazing line-up of special guests have delivered some truly high calibre performances. We kicked off this year with a commission to compose and record new music to accompany a scene from Metropolis for Imaginary Worlds at Morcambe Variety Festival. It was a great opportunity to experiment with more electronic sounds and mix them with effects that don’t normally get to feature in our music. After this, all efforts were directed towards our annual Threshold performance, again taking inspiration from the festival’s theme (Alchemy) to produce new collaborative work that incorporated dance, poetry and visual elements. Our newest co-writer, Kath Porter, featured on the only vocal track out of the five pieces and was accompanied by a dance piece choreographed and performed by Rachael Mellor as one of the highlights of the performance alongside Mike Neary’s off-stage reading of Rebecca Sowray’s poem, written especially for the event. Unfortunately illness struck two of our planned guest singers, however Jo Bywater kindly agreed to play a few of her own tunes to an enthusiastic audience. “Alchemy” was the most ambitious of our Threshold performances to date and not without its challenges, however all of these helped shape the performances that followed to ensure a much smoother operation all round.
The next Operation Lightfoot performance was the premiere of Peninsula, a series of ten pieces inspired by the history, places and people of Wirral. The work was a collaboration with Chester Poets and commissioned by Wirral Festival of Firsts, featuring new and especially reworked material performed at Hoylake Chapel. To date, this has been the only Operation Lightfoot performance to feature just one guest vocalist, FABIA, who had worked on co-writing the material. Following this was a return to Wirral Earth Fest and then a return to Telfords Warehouse in Chester to perform at the 25th Anniversary concert of Nirvana’s Nevermind album for Chester Fringe. The exciting prospect of reworking Smells Like Teen Spirit, Come As You Are and Lithium resulted in performances that were a thrilling little departure for us and after the success of this one, we’re hoping to follow this up for a similar event next year celebrating Radiohead’s OK Computer! November included working with Jazamin Sinclair on a new video for our collaboration with Jo Bywater – Sharks. The process felt almost effortless and the first draft was premiered (in sync to the track) at our final performance of the year at the Liverpool Acoustic Songwriting Challenge. We opened both halves with a short set including past winners Vanessa Murray and Jo Bywater, as well as challenge judge Kaya. We also had another special guest in the form of harpist Alice Kirwan, who performed on our track Solfall as a subtle tribute to the late Stan Ambrose. We’ve delighted to have accepted our invitation to perform for a third time in 2017, by which time our debut selection of collaborations entitled “Alignments” will have been completed.
As wonderful as all of the above is, it’s actually just accounted for a small portion of the music related activities that have made the year so enjoyable. From my music theory student passing his Grade 8 exam through to one off performances, stage managing and arrangement work, there has been no shortage of variety. I’ve also worked with some great MD’s and musicians performing in a variety of different theatre shows (including two different productions of The Last Five Years, with another on the horizon in a few months making it my fourth time playing cello in that musical!). I’ve also been working on arranging strings and putting together scores for a new musical by an emerging writer, Luke Montague. No spoilers, but I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of the show develops after finishing the first act’s songs.
Another particular highlight has been working with a singer-songwriter who I’d watched a couple of years ago and have since recorded cello and double bass with on his latest EP. A couple of the tracks have since had airplay on BBC Radio 2 and it’s really nice to see an artist putting in the time, effort and hard work into the craft of achieving what they set out to. His name is Alx Green – go and have a listen!
After a number of years as living as a Scousewegian, it was bittersweet news when Kaya Herstad Carney told me that she and her husband Chris were moving from Liverpool to London after being offered an exciting role at the Academy of Contemporary Music. This year has seen a couple of my favourite performances with Kaya in Science of the Lamps, including an energetic set at Threshold and an equally well delivered, but less raucous outing at Cheltenham Jazz Festival. I have a funny feeling that a Liverpool homecoming gig of sorts will be on the cards in 2017 and hope it’s going well for them both in London.
Almost the whole of August was spent in the company of one of the most amazing groups of people I’ve ever worked with – Hope Street Limited’s Emerging Artists. After coming into the fold not long before the month long project began (thanks again Kaya for the recommendation!), I was responsible for working with and mentoring a young composer and musical director – Matt Fairrie – to put together live and recorded music, sound and a host of other elements in place for an immersive theatre game called The Last Utopian. This featured around twenty actors, volunteers and around a dozen teams playing across venues in Liverpool city centre before meeting at a grand finale event. The project was both intense and incredibly rewarding seeing actors devising new scenes with the director, watching fight scenes being choreographed, characters being developed, design elements being revealed and also the technical side of the production being drawn together. Matt’s approach and technical understanding was matched by a commitment shared by all of the emerging artists to deliver something bigger than the sum of its parts. For me, there was also the opportunity to delve into something I hadn’t done before – sound design – and I’ll be looking out for a chance to do that again, I loved it!
As a performer, the rest of the year was a really nice mixture of events, ranging from the annual Chester parades, a little festival at Chester Zoo, wedding bookings and even an awards ceremony. I’m looking forward to expanding on all of this in 2017 and working in closer partnership with some of the people that have made the last year (or in some cases, several years) so productive and rewarding. Looking ahead, the smattering of work that is already booked in throughout 2017 covers a nice variety, especially where performing is concerned, with a couple of weddings, private parties and theatre shows already pencilled in amongst the plans for developing, writing and recording original material.
Finally, perhaps the biggest thing in 2016 was moving to Liverpool (finally!) after having spent such a huge chunk of my musical life up here over the last decade. I can’t wait to start 2017 here, ready to see what’s around the corner!
Thank you to everyone that made 2016 so wonderful.
Happy new year!