Feature/Interview

Giles Thornton “All At Sea” (new, second album, Bandcamp, 24 October)

Giles Thornton’s first album, Be In Today, was issued in mid-2018, just as he was graduating from Guildhall School. It was a complex enterprise, involving 25 musicians and featuring his compositions for large ensemble. Since graduating he has worked extensively as arranger and orchestrator, including projects with Jules Buckley and the Metropole Orkest.

His second album, All At Sea, about to be released, again features his compositions, but is on a much smaller scale, and is much less “planned”. It mainly features a quintet, and includes sections where the musicians improvise freely. The recording, mixing and mastering was done in two days, in Soup Studios, engineered by Simon Trought. String parts were added later, and the string contributions were produced by Malcolm Edmonstone, and composed by Giles. Interview by Sebastian.

The musicians at the recording sessions for “All at Sea” at Soup Studio/ Lightship 95 on the Lee Valley. Photo Credit: Eddie Cheung

LondonJazz News: If I understand right, you have wanted this album to be less about you and more about the five musicians in the quintet – tell us about them and why you like to work with them?

Giles Thornton: I wanted to showcase the musicians in the group to the best of my ability. Although it is my album, comprising of most of my compositions, I want to make it known that it was a very collaborative process.

Gustavo Clayton-Marucci plays the bass clarinet on the record, as well as showcasing one of his compositions. I have worked with him since Guildhall, as I can’t imagine not working with him! He is an absolute joy to work with and will always bring something to the table that you might not be expecting.

Cellist Shirley Smart and I have been friends since she played on my album launch and blew the whole big band away. She plays the cello like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Also, she says things like it is and is always supportive, which is always a plus!

Chris Eldred recorded a version of my composition Glisten in lockdown, and totally blew me away, and I have been wanting to work with him again since then. Wonderfully unique and expressive playing!

Louise Balkwill and I have worked together since last year on my Be In Today tour, where she sang with the band in St Ives Jazz Club. Her background in jazz is in a New Orleans style, which actually helps with the improvised bits of my music. She is an absolute joy to work with. She’s hilarious, amazing and professional! I wish she knew how good she is at contemporary jazz – she blows me away every time.

I knew Demi Garcia-Sabat through Shirley Smart’s trio. I have always admired his sensitive playing. I hadn’t worked with him before the recording so I was slightly nervous as to how it would sound, but it was the best decision for this album, debatably. I was absolutely blown away by his playing and I look forward to working with him again in the future. We all joked that it was six months of banter crammed into one day. It was a joyous occasion.

Marianne Haynes and I met whilst working on a Heritage Orchestra BBC Prom four years ago, conducted by my mentor Jules Buckley. I’ve been on great terms with her ever since! We worked together on a BBC Concert Orchestra gig just before lockdown, so it felt right to get her involved in fixing the string quartet and playing Violin 1. She was so easy to work with and I look forward to working on future recordings with her.

LJN: But there are some quite personal themes which are yours?

GT: Yes, there are themes of loneliness, love and mental health throughout my pieces. I explained to the band what the pieces were about before we started working on them in the sessions.

L-R: Louise Balkwill, Demi Garcia Sabat, Giles Thornton, Chris Eldred, Shirley Smart, Gustavo Clayton-Mariucci. Photo Credit: Eddie Cheung

LJN: Why is it called All At Sea?

GT: The album shares its name with my second composition of the album. This is because it has so many connotations that are true at this time. The literal meaning of “all at sea”, being that we recorded it on a real ship, that got converted into a recording studio. Metaphorically, it’s a feeling that a lot of us have felt in lockdown: hopelessness. Whilst I have been dealing with mental health issues in my own life, it’s a phrase that has come into my head a lot. I suffer with anxiety, depression and mild OCD. I talk about this as openly as I can on my blog, and with people who want to listen, as I want to help others who may be going through the same things that I have gone through, and am still going through, that it is OK to get help and it is OK to talk. As men, we are taught from a young age that we shouldn’t portray our feelings, and that it is weak to do so. I want to show that this is wrong and shouldn’t be the case. Also, it has other connotations like love, which is also true in my life.

LJN: Is it a response to lockdown?

GT: I haven’t thought of it as a response to lockdown, but I suppose it is. I was so sick of sitting at home with no work and no creative output. That is partly why I choose to do the album. It was also an opportunity to work with my friends again. Also, it was partly because during lockdown, I had struggled with my self-worth and my identity as a person and a musician, and I am still struggling with this, and I wanted to feel like I had accomplished something. As I said before, it was also a moment to showcase the amazing musicians around me, and, I can’t emphasise enough that I wouldn’t be where I am musically without the support and amazing playing of the people around me.

LJN: You seem to like the idea of the kind of order and beauty that emerges from chaos?

GT: Yes, I think that chaos can be beautiful in a way. I believe that in order to grow as people and musicians, we need to get through the darker times. However, if you are using the word “chaos” in terms of the improvised sections in my pieces, I think that is the wrong word for it, because it is organised, even though it may not sound like it. I believe that any music should be a multi-sensory experience, and not just a listening experience. If I haven’t made you feel something, or picture images in your head in response to the music, then I feel I haven’t done my job as a composer.

LJN: And the album has a genuinely happy ending?

GT: Yes! We had 20 minutes left of the recording session, and I had recorded everything I needed to record. I decided the best way to use the rest of the time was to get the musicians to jam on Shake It But Don’t Break It, which is a vocalese written by Louise Balkwill on a tune by Erroll Garner. It was never meant to be on the album, just a stand-alone piece. However, when listening to it, I thought it portrayed the joy, happiness and hope that we all felt in the sessions. With that in mind, I thought it was the perfect ending to the album as it portrays the fact that given the dire state the music industry is in at the moment, there will always be music. There will always be hope.

LJN: When is it released and where and how can people hear it?

GT: It will be released on 24 October on Bandcamp and all digital platforms. I look forward to sharing it with everyone.

LINK: Giles Thornton’s releases on Bandcamp. All At Sea will appear here when it is released

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