Gateshead-born guitarist and composer Chris Montague was a founder member of the trio Troyka with Kit Downes and Josh Blackmore. His new trio Warmer than Blood, with Kit Downes and Ruth Goller, is releasing its debut album with Whirlwind Recordings this month.
First album you purchased as a “jazz musician”?
I bought a John McLaughlin compilation when I was just browsing in an HMV in Newcastle, I was about 14/15 years old. I’d heard his name mentioned by other guitarists older than me and thought I’d take a punt and didn’t know what to expect.
I remember some players older than me who were getting into jazz talk about him and Holdsworth as being ‘the best’, and I just wanted to get all the music I could with great guitar playing on it. I remember being knocked sideways by the first track, Birds of Fire, its angular, unapologetic dissonance and the brashness of his playing. It felt like a completely different aesthetic to the other stuff I’d been into which was much more blues/rock oriented. I was struck by the wildness of his tone and improvising, it was unlike anything I’d heard before. It felt ugly and beautiful at the same time.
Have you discovered anything new since being in lockdown or revisited old favourites perhaps?
I’ve been listening to some Mary Halvorsen. I’ve been a big fan of hers for a few years. I remember seeing her play at a festival in Trondheim, Norway, in 2015 when Troyka were there. I think she is an incredible player, but has also built a world around her with composition that is completely unique and fascinating.
Have you done or watched any livestream gigs/events since lockdown?
I haven’t watched any.
Do you feel it’s a good or a bad idea?
I feel like the livestream thing is a poor photocopy of the real thing. I was ready for a long break from playing/travelling and I think the lockdown has been a good opportunity to take stock, re-group and come back with a new love for music and realise how utterly brilliant playing and seeing live music is. I don’t mean that to sound negative, I’ve found this whole experience to be unexpectedly refreshing and good for me. I can see the reasons for doing livestreams and I have no doubt that some people will be sounding amazing and doing something creative with the opportunity. I just felt it’s not for me, I miss the visceral thing that can happen in a small venue. There’s something unavoidably sterile about being behind a screen. Hopefully we can get back to playing sooner rather than later.
Most memorable incident/event in your career or education?
I started playing in social clubs round the North East when I was about 15 with a bunch of older guys, it was definitely an education. I’ve since been lucky to have some incredible experiences with some incredible players who’ve taught me a lot. I do remember playing at Frankfurt Jazz Festival with Troyka and then me and Kit (Downes) had to get to Karlsruhe to play our first gig with German drummer Benny Greb. We thought it would be impossible but they sent an absolute nutbar driver in some insane car to get us there just before we had to play. We thought we were going to die on the autobahn. It was equally terrifying and exciting.
Instrument you wish you played?
I definitely would have learned to sing. I think to be able to write songs and deliver them entirely with just a guitar and voice is a gift. I am always very envious when I play with Sarah Gillespie that she has these beautiful songs with so much wit and intelligence, and can do entire sets where she can hold the gig on her own.
What are you most looking forward to once this is over?
There are a few things. I miss seeing my son play with his friends, I can’t wait to see that happen. And going to the pub to hear some of my friends play.
Is there someone relatively undiscovered you think people should know about or has one of your friends/colleagues recently released new music…?
My good friend Rory Simmons has just released an EP on Whirlwind with me and Jon Scott entitled Bernabe Jurado. I think he’s a genius and very prolific. There’s a 7″ vinyl of it. and the music is HERE.
LINKS: Chris Montague website