Liam Noble’s fortnightly livestream on Twitch TV on Saturday afternoons from his home has been one of the joys of the lockdown, writes Tony Dudley-Evans. He picks a different theme each week, and improvises on classical pieces, rock tunes as well as jazz. Liam’s eclectic tastes and wide musical knowledge as well as his sense of humour and irony are to the fore. Live gigs are coming back, but – for the next few weeks at least – the plan is to keep the fortnightly commitment. There is one this Saturday 29 May on the theme of ‘Money (lack of it)’ and the next is on 12 June.
LondonJazz News: What gave you the idea of doing these sessions?
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Liam Noble: Actually I think it was my wife Elena in conversation with her friends. And the idea of giving each one a different theme (full list below) came from playing with Chris Batchelor’s Pigfoot group.
LJN: How many have you done?
LN: I’ve done 34 gigs now (and a couple more that didn’t get recorded for technical/human glitch reasons). In terms of the repertoire, that’s kind of dictated by who comes to the gigs. I like to do tunes people know because they are paying and constant jazz would probably send them away….I do bits of that for the jazz fans too, and also to try and convert people who possibly thought they hated it!
LJN: How do you approach the classical pieces you have tackled? How much improvising on those pieces do you do? Do you stay within the form when improvising on the classical pieces?
LN: Sometimes there’s something in there I can improvise with, like a very familiar phrase or melody that can be thrown around and stay intact (“The Thieving Magpie” by Rossini is a recent example). On the other hand, Moussorgsky’s “A Night On Bald Mountain” I needed to concentrate just to get through what was written..in that case I try and segue into something else, but that’s often to avoid the awful silence before and after a piece that classical pianists are used to…I never felt comfortable with that way of presenting music. In terms of the form, classical music often doesn’t work as a chord sequence because it goes on a journey that moves from A to B, you don’t go back. But “The Swan” from Saint-Saens’ Carnival Of The Animals is almost like a standard, and a really good one at that, great changes and the right kind of structure… Most standards largely come out of 19th century classical music as far as I can tell…
LJN: It’s really the same question about the pop and rock pieces. Do you stay within the form of the pieces or go much further in interpreting them?
LN: There’s more flexibility with the pop stuff….one good way I’ve found is to just play free and have the tune emerge from under that, almost like when people recognise the first few notes at a festival gig and all start singing along. There are lots of ways to transform the music, but it feels often easier to do it before rather than after the song… and some are suggestive of other styles, or fit with a different feel. With both classical and pop, there’s often a feeling like once you’ve started playing it, you can’t go back.
LJN: You clearly know quite a bit about pop and rock music and many less well known groups. How come? Are there particular groups you really like and whose music lends itself to your approach in these sessions?
LN: I’m glad I appear knowledgeable haha….I’m really not. The whole thing about this gig is that, whilst hating streaming subscription services, I’ve actually completely relied on Apple Music for material. So a lot of things I didn’t know about, I just typed in keywords and songs by The Smashing Pumpkins or Neil Young come up, both people and bands I know nothing about. Also, people on Facebook make a lot of suggestions and that helps. There’s so much that I simply can’t do even if I like it: anything which is spoken word-heavy (any rap for example) is pretty much out.
LJN: You come across really well in the sessions and I really enjoy the talk as well as the music. But could you capture the same relaxed atmosphere in a live session?
LN: I’d give it a try! The problem for me is the concept of the stage and the audience. Being close up means people see your hands, it means you can kind of mumble things to the microphone rather than do “announcements”…and most importantly, you don’t have to get the sound of the instrument to the back of a room. But also, it might just be the informality that comes with such a regular gig: if I mess up number 35, I can look forward to number 36 and correct some mistakes….and there are many!
LJN: Do the donations reach expectation? (I don’t need or expect detail on this).
Well, it’s tricky. A lot of people that watch these gigs are musicians or other people in the arts who haven’t worked for a year and a half. But I will say, the first gig and the few after that were a lot higher in terms of donations, but that’s to be expected. It’s kind of levelled off now, and I have regulars who always come, and if they don’t they watch it on YouTube afterwards, and they always donate. It’s kind of like a book club now! So the short answer is, my expectations have lowered the longer I’ve been doing it, but they now have levelled out….
LJN: Future plans: do you plan to continue now that things are opening up?
LN: I still don’t know….perhaps I’ll do a monthly one. There’s a certain amount of family disruption that comes with making time and space to do it when there’s a toddler around. But really I don’t know how to stop! Let’s see. Maybe I’ll put it to a vote!
LJN: What’s the story with the piano in the house? The current piano is so much better.
LN: I had been renting the other one, which was small enough to get in the flat where we used to live. The new one was bought, with enormous help from my parents-in-law and my mum and yes, it makes a big difference! It only just went through the door though…
LJN: You have worked well with singers. What was it like working with your daughter?
LN: Singers are singers, you know how it is! Haha...
…No I’m joking. It’s been really nice to play with Sylvie, she’s just starting to get into jazz and is on the course at the Royal Welsh where some good friends of mine like Nia Lynn and Huw Warren are busy brainwashing her…the attitude of young musicians gives me hope for the future! I’ve been listening to Sylvie sing musical theatre songs since she was tiny, so it’s nice to be able to accompany her and see her progression…she’s got a lower voice now, extending her range….the feeling and the sound are there I think, that’s what I need to be able to play with someone.
LJN: Anything else?
LN: I think I always wanted this series of performances to be distinct from gigs somehow. They are not replacing them, but just doing gigs down the internet doesn’t work for me. I wanted to replace the energy of a room with the intimacy of something close up, and maybe capitalise on the fact that it’s my house so I needn’t get nervous. That hasn’t worked: I get nervous all the time! Also…I don’t get much time to prepare so I have a high tolerance level for mistakes, never watch anything I’ve posted on YouTube and would add that a conservatoire training has helped me get things together in a short space of time (as a counter argument to those who would say it’s all over for these institutions!)
I think that’s everything!
LIST OF THEMES
1 Growing Up
2 Richard Rodgers
3 Folk Musics
4 My Tunes
5 Female Composers (Guest Sylvie Noble)
6 The 80s
7 Led Zeppelin
8 Nick Drake/Black Sabbath
9 One piece per decade (1920-2019)
10 Black Music (fundraiser for Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust)
12 Sunrise to Sunset
13 Dusk ‘Til Dawn
14 The Mind
15 The Body
17 Free Improv
19 Paul Simon “There Goes Rhyming’ Simon”
20 Jimi Hendrix
23 Travel (part 2)
26 The Rain
27 The Sun
28 Questions, Questions
29 Clothes (not hats or shoes)
30 One Year Anniversary
31 Hats And Shoes
32 Places (guest Sylvie Noble)