Feature/Interview (PP)

Tim Garland (Winter Encounters series – first session with Norma Winstone + Kit Downes 6 Dec)

“We should be celebrating the shared values of music-making together – this is everything to do with dialogue and listening and also the emotional commitment,” says Tim Garland of the first of his new “Winter Encounters” with Norma Winstone and Kit Downes.

The series is a set of live performances captured in the intimate setting of Garland’s new home studio in Kings Langley, and the first session will be available on ViewStub at 9pm on Sunday 6 December. Feature by Dan Paton.

A saxophonist, pianist and singer are performing together in an impressive studio space. The atmosphere is warm and intimate and there’s a sense of empathy and understanding between the performers. Each musician has one or more dedicated camera angles, often in close up. It is possible to get a sense of their collective narrative and the logical, musical editing rhythm gives a strong sense of the interaction and understanding between them.

The musicians are Tim Garland, Kit Downes and Norma Winstone and this is part of Tim Garland’s Winter Encounters series, a set of live performances captured at Garland’s new home studio in Kings Langley. For this project, Garland is working with ViewStub. The filmed performance will be streamed on Sunday 6 December at 9pm (“not too late for Europe and Sunday lunchtime in the USA”) followed by a live Q&A where ticket holders can ask questions. The performance will also be available to watch again for a period of two weeks. It is a distinctive offer, bringing the emotion and relaxed freedom of an informal musical interaction into the homes of the audience, but with a more personal mood than a live stream from an empty club or concert hall.

Discussing the series over FaceTime, Tim Garland is both enthusiastic and positive in the face of adversity. Was this idea born from the pandemic experience, or was it something Garland had been looking to explore anyway? “It’s a bit of both”, he explains. “This studio here was completed three weeks before lockdown. I had no idea how much of a lifesaver this would be for me, on a mental level – being able to write and record here in a proper dedicated space. I have also spent so many years travelling pretty relentlessly – am I going to keep doing that until I eventually drop?” He laughs at this prospect. “What would be really precious is to have somewhere where I could invite a few more people to me rather than going there all the time.”

The film has a feeling of spontaneity and closeness, a musical experience with invited guests (capturing “the shared intimacy of friendship”). Garland has musical history with Norma Winstone (Winstone appeared on a Lammas album in 1991). Perhaps surprisingly, however, this is his first professional engagement with Kit Downes, although the two played together during Downes’ time as a student at the Royal Academy of Music. While this is not a regular working trio, Downes and Winstone have recently been performing together (before the lockdown) and the format mirrors Winstone’s trio with Klaus Gesing and Glauco Venier, but with very different musical contributions. “My takeaway from this is that we should be celebrating the shared values of music making together – this is everything to do with dialogue and listening and also the emotional commitment. It’s more impressive for us if we’re not a band – let’s just have this encounter and see what comes out of it. You get the buzz of a live performance but with a bit less risk. Editing between takes is possible, although we’re trying not to do too much of it”. The powerful outcome is a result of a combination of shared experience and freshness between the musicians.

The looming imposition of lockdown deprived the trio of rehearsal time and they ended up exploring more familiar repertoire. This includes “beloved songs” from composers such as Kenny Wheeler, John Taylor and Ralph Towner (often with Winstone’s evocative and powerful lyrics). The improvising often becomes intense, but there is always a strong melodic and structural sense to the performances.

Interestingly, Garland has opted to invite similar trio line-ups for future instalments in the series, including the exciting prospect of a trio with Ayanna Witter-Johnson and Jason Rebello and another with Rebello and Liane Carroll (Witter-Johnson will also play electric cello).

The series started with vocals “because I’ve fallen in love again with great songs”, Garland says. “I’ve always written songs, way back to when I was working with Lammas, and this is a great opportunity to explore them with the intimate, nocturnal sense that this series has.”

There are some practical considerations too, with Garland yet to install a drum booth in what is still a new studio space, and the need to stick to social distancing measures. In addition to his musical guests, Garland has also established an effective working team, working with Andrew Lawson and his son Joe on the filming and editing aspects of the project. “I got to know Andrew through Edition Records”, Garland says. “He is also a musician, he plays drums, so he has this great understanding of the musical side of editing rhythm.” With his adult children finding themselves unexpectedly back at the family home during the pandemic, this also offered an opportunity for his son to find a project highlighting his sense of detail and skill with editing. “My kids have been amazing actually”, he observes. “If I was 21 and having to retreat from my life like this, I’d be in pieces.” He is aware that the combination of his skills, experience and different types of work have left him well placed to adapt to the current situation.

Clearly the studio has been personally sustaining for Garland during the periods of lockdown, which have interrupted a prolific streak of creative work as a bandleader, as well as plans to reconvene Acoustic Triangle (the trio with Malcolm Creese and Gwilym Simcock) for some anniversary concerts. “Like most musicians”, he explains, “I’m going a bit crazy not going on stage and sharing what I do.” Yet the situation has presented this opportunity to innovate and be entrepreneurial in the online world as well. Garland has an interesting perspective on this, seeing it less as a commercial exchange and more to do with emphasising community, not just between the musicians but also with the audience. “We have to be careful not to get people too used to not paying for anything”, he says. “There’s something very healthy in giving. I want people to commit to getting tickets knowing that this is a community.” Garland aims to provide a viewing and listening experience “with a fullness and richness about it, where you can really bask in the space aurally” and he has succeeded in this.

With this in mind, and against the background of a social media awareness campaign and an ongoing government consultation, does Garland have any views on the less positive aspects of the digital economy for artists? “We’re going to look back on this and wonder how we allowed this to sneak up on us. No-one is denying the benefits of streaming and an immediate global audience, but it’s a very noisy marketplace where everyone is throwing things in all of the time and it tends to be these niche, precious, artistic projects that need a bit more patronage, love and attention to grow. They are the Great Oaks of our music scene, and they spend a lot of their lives being small and vulnerable before they are Great Oaks.” Despite this, Garland recognises the need to operate within the world as it is, and applauds the stance taken by Dave Stapleton at Edition Records to embrace the opportunities of the immediate global audience offered by streaming, but to try and also innovate within this world, whether this be catering to the new market for vinyl or creating communities through digital marketplaces such as Bandcamp. The Winter Encounters series is, at least in part, Garland’s more individual response to the noisy online marketplace.

While he is understandably cautious about resuming live work in the new year (“as soon as it is safe”, he emphasises), Garland also has a fascinating and inspiring take on what 2021 might bring. This is partially a result of conversations with his daughter, who is an actor. “I think there is going to be an explosion of grassroots theatre, in a really positive way, especially as the weather improves again and more can be done outside. Jazz could be similar as you don’t need a huge light show. 2021 has a very good chance of being an amazing year, because we have all had this patch of being reminded what it is like not to have these experiences of togetherness”. Yet it is likely that his creative use of his home studio will continue to be a significant factor in his work, even if a return to normality can take place. For the moment, projects such as the Winter Encounters series allow us to experience togetherness while we are necessarily apart.

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LINK: More details and tickets from Winter Encounters on Tim Garland’s website

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