INTERVIEW: Ben Cottrell (reflections on Beats & Pieces' North American tour plus new album/DVD launch at mjf)

A few Beats & Pieces in Canada
Photo: Daniela Gerstmann

Beats & Pieces Big Band celebrated its 10th anniversary with a North American tour and is about to play a birthday gig (and a live album/DVD launch) back where it all began, at Manchester Jazz Festival. Ben Cottrell tells Sebastian all about it:

LondonJazz News: This was your first time in North America. Which cities did you play in?

Ben Cottrell: First gig was in Montréal then we drove over to the US to play Rochester International Jazz Festival as part of the Made In The UK programme, before crossing back into Canada (via a Niagara Falls stop off!) to finish the tour at the Toronto Jazz Festival.

LJN: Where was the biggest audience?

BC: All gigs were busy which was really pleasing for our first tour over there. Biggest audience was probably in Rochester – the venue is a really beautiful church that holds 450-500 people, and each night there are two shows. Both were completely full and with people queueing outside, apparently, which is always good to hear!

LJN: And what were the biggest surprises about the gigs?

BC: Possibly the biggest surprise was that playing in a big church wasn’t an acoustic disaster! We were worried a 14-piece band with pretty full on and complex arrangements might be a bit much for such a big and boomy space, but in the end we were pleasantly surprised when we did the soundcheck and all really enjoyed the gigs – the acoustic actually meant that some of our more chilled moments (tracks like broken or fairytale for example) were even more special.

LJN: Did you get some compliments?

BC: It’s always great speaking to the audience after concerts, especially when we’re outside of the UK – I don’t think we’ll ever stop finding it amazing that people so far away from home are even aware of what we’re doing, never mind being interested in it and really into it. We did get lots of compliments as well as some really positive press and radio coverage which was of course really nice, and lots of people asked us to come back to tour again soon – hopefully we can make that happen…

(Some examples of that press/radio coverage – mostly from Rochester – are hereherehere and here)

LJN: And how were the logistics of 14 people into buses?

BC: We flew into Toronto as flights were loads cheaper than to Montréal, then hired three people carriers at the airport and drove ourselves around in those for the rest of the tour (just under 1,500km in total!). For each car we had three of us named on the insurance to drive so we could share the driving between us, and everything worked out pretty smoothly actually… American cars seem to be so much bigger than in Europe so there was loads of space and we were all pretty comfortable, although fortunately we weren’t touring backline otherwise it would have been more of a squeeze!

LJN: And did you get any time for sightseeing?

BC:  With the long drives the schedule was often pretty tight, but we decided to leave Rochester really early en route to Toronto so we’d have time to stop off at Niagara Falls which was pretty cool. We also had some free time in Montréal and in Toronto at the start and end of the tour, so most of us went up the mountain in Montréal for example, and then in Toronto a few took the ferry out to the islands in Lake Ontario and went for a swim in the lake. Being away with your mates is one of the best things about being on tour (for me anyway) – we don’t all live in the same place anymore so pretty much the only time we’re all together is when we go on tour, and it’s nice if there’s time in the schedule to just hang out.

The view from the drum chair
Photo: Anton Hunter
LJN: What other things are you doing to mark this 10th year of B+P?

BC: The North America trip was probably our biggest undertaking of this year, or any year for that matter, so that took up a lot of our time! We also showcased at Jazzahead! in Bremen in April which was fun and hopefully will lead to some new opportunities over the next 12-18 months, and before that we did some UK gigs in January including kicking off the anniversary celebrations on New Years’ Day with a three-night residency at Ronnie Scott’s where we also invited some Efpi labelmates (Let Spin, Johnny Hunter Quartet and Paradox Ensemble) to come play with us. Each one of those gigs sold out which was a really nice way to start the year!

LJN: Anything in the past 10 years you'd like to rewind and do diffferently?

BC: There aren’t any major regrets or anything; of course with the benefit of hindsight there are lots of things we could/should have done differently though. But whenever we’ve felt like we’ve done the wrong thing or things haven’t gone as well as they might have, we’ve tried to learn from the experience and not make the same mistake twice. We’re still making new mistakes of course but I think that’s to be expected when anyone tries to do new things.

LJN: And there is an album. New material old material or a mixture?

BC: Yes, it’s a live album with accompanying DVD to mark the 10th anniversary, and we’ve simply called it ten. We recorded it on 27 January 2018, in the same rehearsal space at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester where we’d gathered for our first rehearsal session ten years to the day previously. On the recording day we did two shows for small invited audiences of friends and family, so it was a really nice atmosphere and hopefully that comes across in the performance. The album has ten tracks – three each from our first two albums Big Ideas and All In, three brand new tracks (including recent single time) and a tune called toan which was the very first piece that I brought to the band in that first rehearsal. Previously that track was only recorded for our very first EP that we released in 2009 (now long-deleted) but the track has always stayed in the set and is often an audience favourite, so it’s been great to make it more widely available on ten. The album is released on 20 July and available to pre-order from our bandcamp site at music.beatsnpieces.net now.
Here is the first video:




LJN: And is there an album launch?

BC: We’ll be launching the album with a hometown gig/birthday party at the Manchester Jazz Festival on 27 July which we can’t wait for… We played our first ever gig at mjf 2008 and the festival has been a big part of the band’s history and our individual careers since then, including offering myself and our guitarist Anton Hunter incredible opportunities to launch new projects through the amazing Irwin Mitchell mjf originals scheme. As always, Steve Mead and the team have put together a really cool programme for the festival this year and we’re delighted to be part of it.

LJN: And you will be touring in the UK – where/when?

BC: After mjf our next UK gigs will be in October – so far the gigs that have been announced are in Nottingham (11 Oct), Marsden Jazz Festival (13 Oct), Glasgow (18 Oct – our first ever Scottish gig!), and Middlesbrough (19 Oct). We’re also doing a day-long workshop in Huddersfield in conjunction with Marsden Jazz Festival on 7 Oct which will be a lot of fun – that’ll be led by me, Anton Hunter (guitar) and Anthony Brown (saxophone).

LJN: Who will be new to the band when it tours?

BC: Nobody is brand new, that’s one of the things that really makes this group what it is. About half the band on ten were at that first rehearsal session ten years ago, and most of the others that weren’t there that particular day were still in the same circles of students in Manchester at the same time so were still our mates. Even when we occasionally have to get deps in (which is inevitable considering how busy and in-demand all the individual musicians are) they’re almost always people we know well that have done many Beats & Pieces gigs over a number of years and/or who we’ve played with loads in other projects. A few people have moved on to other things since we released our last album All In in 2015, but again the people we brought in were all obvious candidates – they were people we knew well, who we loved playing with and hanging out with, and in most cases already knew the music as they’d been deps for us before.

LJN: And I'm guessing there are a few people you need to thank!

BC: I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who made this North America trip possible, in particular our manager Daniela Gerstmann who put countless hours of time and a huge amount of effort into making this a reality. Also thanks to Sue Edwards for her work with the Made In The UK programme, to Heidi Fleming at Famgroup in Montréal for all her help, and to PRS Foundation and ISF partners and Arts Council England for their support.

LINKS: Beats & Pieces Big Band website

The mjf gig

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