Sebastian interviewed Neal Richardson, whose debut album as leader, Better Than the Blues (Splash Point Music) , will be launched at Pizza Express Dean Street tomorrow night Tuesday 11th February:
Sebastian Scotney: Before settling back in the UK you worked on ships, travelled the world right?
Neal Richardson: Yep. I don’t know where it came from but I’d had a very specific dream of wanting to play drums on a cruise ship in the Caribbean! So, that’s where it started… needless to say I soon learnt that it wasn’t as idyllic a job as it sounded! We were backing dodgy cabaret shows every night and it wasn’t great. However, that first job was the catalyst for me to swap instruments to piano, so that Sue and I could be more “portable” as a jazz Duo. We spent 5 years working ships – from the worst to the very best – and doing 3-month hotel residencies from South Korea to New Orleans, Norway to the Antarctic!
SS: What was shore-leave, knowing you’d be straight off again?
NR. When we were “home” for a week (i.e. sleeping on someone’s sofa), I’d get as many piano lessons in London as i could, record them, then spend the time away transcribing and practising like mad! It was a great way to learn and get some facility going – doing 4-hour gigs every night and practising for 3 hours every morning.
SS. And some experiences from that era have found your way into the album?
NR: Oh yeah! You can’t help but be affected by being immersed – even if only briefly – in other cultures, climates and societies. I know I’m a bit intense so things do tend to get under my skin and get me thinking. My two biggest musical “born again” moments are in there – i.e. experiencing real, raw samba bands at the foot of the favelas in Rio; and the similar raw mind-blowing heaven and hell of post-Katrina New Orleans. Plus of course the usual life-events of divorce, love, depression, bereavement, mid-life crisis… and some cheerful stuff too!
SS: It’s taken you quite a while to produce this first album as leader. What’s the story?
NR. Leaves on the line, wrong kind of snow, indolence, sloth… and I took a bit of a 10-year detour by starting a record label! As a small company, it takes a huge effort to make records well, for me learning how to be a Producer as I went along, playing in Sue’s band, and continuing my jazz studies. My long-term plan was always to get the Label established first, and hopefully garner a good reputation and fan-base for it and its artists… before daring to expose myself (so to speak) musically! I think there was a bit of Wizard of Oz hiding going on! But in the end I’d played on or produced over 20 albums for other people and I could stand it no longer! That was the idea of the peacock cover really – me at last showing my wares! And I have had amazing support from my favourite musicians friends – not least Claire Martin encouraging me through the vocal recording.
SS: What got you into music publishing?
NR: Pragmatism really. It seemed that nobody in jazz really knew what it was, and I felt that all the original tunes that my artists were coming up with really should have a decent home, and be administered properly! It’s still a huge problem in our industry I’d say, with only a minority of venues submitting PRS returns, and musicians not really bothering either. We’ve made some headway – and soon had people clamouring to sign up for us to help them – especially I suppose when they heard that Claire (Martin), Ian (Shaw) and Liane (Carroll) were entrusting us with their compositions I put together a fab team, and got myself semi-trained as a music lawyer so I’d have half a clue of what’s going on (The man with one eye being King and all that) – and I spend a fair bit of time – with some success – pitching for TV and film synch deals here and in Hollywood… but I haven’t bought the yacht yet!!
SS: And you’ve made a book and CD, what influenced your decision to do that?
NR: It is, as they say, my life’s work and my life’s dream… with a fair-sized side-order of belligerence! As physical CDs decline, and everyone’s dropping their prices or manufacturing costs… I thought I’d go the other way! Having waited several decades to make my debut, I wanted it to be something to be proud of, not just musically (hopefully) but also visually and tactilely (Is that a word?!); in other words make a high-end product that people might actually want to have around the place rather than consign to a box in their loft. My idea was to make a CD for your bookshelf rather than the other way around, and when the opportunity came to work in conjunction with such a highly-regarded photographer (Peter Prior), it all came together.
SS: How does that work, who’s been involved in putting it together, and might you take this kind of product further?
NR: The idea is I give one sentence about each song, plus the lyrics, then the accompanying pic is his response to the music, with a similar brief explanation. The layout of the book was my idea, which was then magically and intricately put together by my two designers – Sue R and Jo Coles. If the gamble pays off – and I’ve already had VERY positive feedback from people saying they just want to stroke it (!) due to the finish we used – it could be a possible model for future albums, e.g even download-only music could still have a beautiful accompanying book. I just think people like to have something to touch, feel, read and pore over while listening to music. We’ll see!
Sebastian Scotney: And now the world tour?
Neal Richardson: Who knows. I’ve had all the usual paroxysms of angst, but in the end I can honestly say the objective has been achieved: I’ve made something I’m proud of and I did my best for my songs. Of course I’d like it to be well-received, but actually I really am viewing it as an end in itself – whatever happens now is a bonus! I’m aiming to take it on the road in decent venues as much as possible… but as any musician knows, an 8-piece band ain’t gonna be cheap to cart around!