|Square One. Back L to R: David Bowden, Stephen Henderson, Peter Johnstone.
Lower step: Joe Williamson
If being invited down to London to play in the auditions for the Peter Whittingham Jazz Awards last December had been an unexpected pleasure for Square One…then the return journey following the event had an even bigger surprise in store. Rob Adams explains:
It was while travelling back to Glasgow by train that the quartet Square One heard the news that they had been selected, alongside the Patchwork Jazz Orchestra, to receive the top prize in the Peter Whittingham Jazz Awards, of £5000. In music industry terms this may be a modest sum but it’s been a game changer for Square One, enabling them to record their first album, In Motion, which they are touring to promote in the UK from October 4 with a series of gigs in Poland in between two dates in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and a final date in London at the Vortex.
“As well as the financial aspect, the award has been a fantastic boost for Square One,” says guitarist Joe Williamson. “It’s really raised the profile of the band, and helped to get the attention of promoters – it’s great to have so many gigs on the album launch tour as a result. As well as the album we were also able to make some videos, which help to promote the band, and being able to afford the luxury of two days in a state of the art studio, Castlesound in Pencaitland, near Edinburgh, allowed us to take our time and get the music sounding the way we wanted.”
All four band members are graduates of the jazz course at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, although they were part of three different in-takes and got together on a more social basis away from the course. Pianist and former Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year, Peter Johnstone is the senior member and had already graduated when Square One began to play informally in the local scene in 2014.
“The nature of the RCS course is that, although it’s quite small, you get to play with lots of people and various bands come together among the students actually within the conservatoire,” says Williamson. “The four of us – Peter, David Bowden [bass] and Stephen Henderson [drums] – had played together a lot in various different line-ups, and found that we enjoyed playing each other’s music, so we wanted to take it a bit further. Very quickly, a style began to emerge, and as the sound began to develop we were able to start writing specifically for Square One.”
Most of the music on In Motion has been composed by Williamson, Bowden and Henderson, with Johnstone contributing ideas and suggestions for edits and arrangements. Already, though, there’s a unity of style. The key component for Williamson, who cites the Impossible Gentlemen in general and Mike Walker’s playing in particular as primary influences, is melody.
“We all play in other projects away from the band,” he says. “And we all bring different styles into the music. Peter, for example is a very accomplished classical pianist and is about to take a doctorate in performance back at the RCS. Stephen’s really into Steely Dan and the fusion side of things and also plays in a folk-rock band, and David’s interested in song-based compositions and has a very lyrical approach. At the same time, though, we all have the same mind-set as far as what we want to play as a band is concerned and I think that makes us well-balanced and keeps us focused on not just melody but in creating dynamism and drama within the arrangements.”
For Williamson, who was commissioned by Glasgow Jazz Festival this year to write an extended piece for the band, In Motion marks a staging post in Square One’s music. The album tracks are still evolving since being recorded and he’s looking forward to taking the music on tour.
“We feel that every time we play the music develops, so it’s going to be really exciting to go out on the road and play almost every night,” he says. “It’s great playing with Pete, David, and Stephen, as they always discover something new in the music every time we play it. It’s very exciting for us – we hope audiences will feel the same!’’ (pp)
4th Oct – The Spotted Dog – Birmingham
5th Oct – Dempsey’s – Cardiff
7th Oct – St Christopher’s Church, Haslemere
9th Oct – The Phoenix Inn, York
10th Oct – The Wonder Inn, Manchester
12th Oct – The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh
20th Oct – Harris Piano Bar, Krakow, Poland
22nd Oct – Dali Club, Krakow, Poland
23rd Oct – Theatre in the Castle, Przemsyl, Poland
1st Nov – The Hug and Pint, Glasgow
29th Nov – The Vortex, London